Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Elephant in the Room (and some better options for teaching on the Trinity)

The Elephant Room 2 has caused quite a stir in the circles associated with the Gospel Coalition. Billed as a conversation between Christian brothers about secondary matters, the blogosphere erupted when it was announced that T.D. Jakes was asked to join in. The original write up on the ER2 web site praised Jakes' preaching and leadership abilities, and reported that the organizers were 'totally fired up' (or something to that effect) that Jakes would be there. But for most associated with the Gospel Coalition, the real elephant in the room was plainly evident: T.D. Jakes is a modalist, and as such, does not hold to an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity; therefore, James MacDonald had invited a heretic into a discussion intended to be between Christian brothers. I have not followed the entire debate, but I have appreciated reading a few articles on the issue. Thankfully, since the originial explosion, MacDonald has broadened the scope of ER2 to include non-evangelicals and has self-confessedly eaten humble pie. But of the handful of articles I've read on this whole fiasco, two stand out as most helpful.

The first comes courtesy of D.A. Carson over at the Gospel Coalition blog. Besides explaining the nature of Gospel Coalition associations, and the difference between the Gospel Coalition and a denomination, Carson also explains why an orthodox, Biblical view of the Trinity is a part of the fabric of the gospel itself. He notes that a new Christian or a child could indeed be authentically saved without being able to articulate this doctrine (because of immaturity), he expresses concern when a mature Christian has a developed view that is contrary to the three-in-one Godhead (e.g. modalism), and then he gets to the Trinity and the gospel:
To say that the doctrine of the Trinity is tied up with the gospel is to make a claim about the structure of the gospel, about what the gospel is, about its content. The doctrine of the Trinity helps to establish the oneness of the purposes of God in the mission of the Son, to demonstrate the intra-Trinitarian love of God that bears so much on what the Son achieves in his death and resurrection (see John 17!), that differentiates the roles of the persons of the Godhead in the plan of redemption, and so forth: without the doctrine of the Trinity, the entire schema of the gospel would be transmuted into something unrecognizable. A modalist God, then, cannot save---at least not in any NT understanding of salvation.
I highly recommend that you read the whole thing here.

The second is a satirical piece by (who else) Carl Trueman over at the Reformation21 blog. I believe he hits the nail on the head, making us all laugh in the process. I reprint both paragraphs because they are worth reading:
As for me, I'm still trying to work out why a conversation between a few well-known guys, a couple of whom at least seem rather confused about the Trinity, is going to be a great conversation about the.... Trinity.

Meanwhile, for anyone interested, Paul Levy, Derek Thomas, Gabe Fluhrer and myself are planning a live podcast on the impact of developments in quantum theory since 1980 on the design of sub atomic accelerators. To be honest, we know little about the topic and, frankly, find it all a bit perplexing; but it should be a great and insightful conversation for you to listen to -- you know, four regular guys just hanging out, having a laugh, sharing the occasional inside joke, breaking down boundaries etc. Cheques should be made payable to the `Derek Thomas Holiday in Bayreuth Ministries International' No credit cards accepted.
In light of all this I'm left asking a question: why would anyone pay $99 for a simulcast of this event? I do not doubt that the ER2 will be profitable (no pun intended). I do, however, doubt whether it will be the most profitable way for most Christians to spend their time. I suspect that other venues would be better equipped to teach on this doctrine, which is essential to orthodox Christianity and a part of the fabric of the gospel itself. First, read the Gospel of John with a pencil in hand, marking up all references to intra-Trinitarian relationship (and do the same with Ephesians 1:3-14). Then, download and listen! A quick search over at turned up 179 free resources with the word 'Trinity' in their content, and Sovereign Grace Ministries have a bunch of great teaching on the Trinity for free download by a bunch of great speakers (again, all for free). Since the ER2 is bound to focus on the Trinity for a good chunk of its time, why not spend your time most profitably, and save your money at the same time!

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