Thursday, April 01, 2010

Can Truth Distort the Gospel?

Earlier today, a friend emailed me asking, "In a sentence, what's the thing about Rick Warren that you dislike most? What's the thing that gets closest to being insufferably bad?"

My reply:
Warren dilutes the gospel (Purpose Driven Life) and marginalizes the gospel (PEACE plan).

To put it a different way, a man can affirm nothing but true things but still confuse the gospel by ordering those truths improperly. Denying the gospel isn't the only way to deny it.

As Carson writes, "I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever, the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry." (Cross and Christian Ministry, 26)

Or J.C. Ryle: "Let us never forget that truth, distorted and exaggerated, can become the mother of the most dangerous heresies." (Holiness, 24)

Or Paul Alexander in his 9Marks PDL review: "The difficulty is that even though the gospel is not presented clearly to the unbelieving reader Warren presumes to reach, anyone who “prays the prayer” is nevertheless immediately affirmed in their conversion and encouraged in their assurance. Yet even if the Gospel had been presented clearly, the effect of Warren’'s evangelistic method is to produce questionable converts, and the effect of the Purpose Driven model is to replace the primacy of the gospel with the primacy of purpose. The result is a confusion of conversion with living on purpose, giving the whole book a moralistic flavor that matches the hermeneutic which gave it birth."


Andy Efting said...

You know, what Paul Alexander says about PDL could apply almost word for word to what goes on at FBH, probably more egregiously when under Hyles, but I have never heard any retractions.

d4v34x said...

Your statement about ordering things properly and Carsons words about the so-called periphery come dangerously close to the heresy of primary-secondary-tertiary doctrines. Beware!

Shayne McAllister said...


Do you think there are many people who were going to the 2010 conference but now are not because of this?

Your post helped me think through this. Thanks.


Ben said...

Andy, surely you're right, and I actually think the Carson and Ryle quotes apply to much of fundamentalism. Even the anti-Hammond crowd.

Dave, I've been accused of worse.

Shayne, if I had to guess, I'd say a few who would go otherwise don't, but most who would have gone still go out of curiosity, and maybe they pick up some of the RW crowd so the overall numbers are up. But I really have no clue.

Ben said...

Michael Horton's post at White Horse Inn is excellent. Can't remember where I heard about it. Lou, let me know if you posted about it and I'll get an HT up right away.

Horton makes points similar to mine on RW's gospel dilution and marginalization. He proceeds to document his chameleonic talents and his pluralistic approach to pastoral training.

Kent Brandenburg said...


You have an uncanny ability to take a problem with Piper or whatever other popular evangelical and make it about the fundamentalists with whom you have a beef. Could someone's dislike of people's wrong emphasis take an emphasis over the gospel? Just a momentary contemplation. I actually don't mind your one string banjo. It's playing a string that is of interest to me, and you play that one note with great passion. It reminds me of a harmonica player standing outside of a coffee shop in Berkeley last night. With him it may have been the tourette syndrome, however.

I don't think we should assume that if someone deals with one truth in the Bible that happens to be the one that people are not believing and practicing that they are diminishing the place of the gospel in their life and service. I think it is possible, and perhaps that's where your banjo solo may come into play, but I don't think it is something we can assume.

Ben said...


I didn't follow much of that comment because I'm not sure what you're responding to.

Shayne McAllister said...

I think he's saying that you tend to talk about the same things, therefore you have a misplaced emphasis in the gospel just like Rick Warren.

However, this blog has a purpose driven life (sorry I couldn't help it). It has a particular audience and purpose, and that effects how Ben takes a particular controversy and applies it to certain people or principles. What Kent is not seeing is Ben preaching on Sunday morning, or counseling, or writing in other venues. We tend to see more of Rick Warren than Ben Wright.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Shayne caught the irony that seems to have missed you, Ben.

Shayne McAllister said...

It's not irony when it's not accurate.

Kent Brandenburg said...

But that is the point in a way, Shayne. We don't assume that this blog is all Ben is about. Others should be afforded the same assumptions based on that standard of judgment.