Many years ago I read a piece by Peter Masters reviewing IVP’s ‘New Bible Commentary Revised’ in which, among other things, he criticised it for its ‘liberal’ dating of the Exodus. I checked the book to see who this nasty liberal was and discovered – to my surprise – that it was Hywel Jones, a man I knew and know. Now, Dr Jones may (or may not) be wrong about the date of the Exodus, but he’s certainly no liberal. That was the first indication I had of how naughty Masters can be when criticising others – it wasn’t (by any means) the last.
I was surprised when he criticised Iain Murray, in the eighties, for compromising the gospel. I was saddened, when Lloyd-Jones died, that he got no mention in ‘Sword and Trowel’ – in spite of his major influence on evangelicalism in the UK and on Peter Masters personally. (Even today, the Met Tab bookshop website only lists two of Lloyd-Jones’ books – and on closer examination they turn out to be two editions of the same title (‘Why does God allow war?’).) It’s somewhat amusing therefore, in a sardonic kind of way, that Masters positions himself as the faithful upholder of the Lloyd-Jones position. And I’ve been saddened to see him condemn men such as Carson and Piper and Macarthur, none of whom have escaped his lash. None of them are beyond criticism – of course not. But they all – to a man – are faithful evangelicals standing for truth in a compromised world. Masters’ thesis, however, seems to be that everyone outside his own small group is somehow neo-liberal – and to see just how small his own group is, check out the names of speakers at their Summer School. How many different names can you spot? How many of the UK speakers have you ever actually heard of?
My regular reader will know that I have, from time to time (and very recently) blogged positively about PM and the Met Tab. I commended his evangelistic preaching in the only article I’ve ever written for Banner of Truth. I have tried to uphold the view that – although he is unnecessarily narrow and critical in some areas – he is a man of God, blessed by God and should be recognised as such. Some of my friends ‘cluck’ in amazement at my support for him, even though it has been limited.
Now, however, he has taken a step too far for me. The Sword and Trowel’s publication of the vicious attack on WEST is just too much. You can read it here and read, also, on the WEST website, a response from 'a friendly third party' here.
I take leave to wonder whether such articles would ever be published if the author were not confident of the protection of 1 Corinthians 6 which prevents believers going to a secular court to settle differences (Actually, I’m not sure it does – but that’s a different matter.) WEST is an Evangelical, Reformed Bible College standing firm on a strong basis of faith. Palgrave, however – without any shame – attempts to destroy the work of that seminary as she suggests that they are to be condemned because of imagined association with various heresies and heretics. Well, you may read the articles for yourself. You may, of course, decide that her international credibility lends weight to her criticisms. Or you may never have heard of her.
And then, today, an email comes to me – and other FIEC pastors – from another internationally-known theologian, ‘Susan’. In it she attacks the FIEC for its involvement with the ‘Explicit’ conference later this month.
What connection does this have with ‘the Tab’? As far as I know, only that the talks linked to are given by Dr Ted Williams at a Tab Summer School.
Now, regular reader, you will know that I’ve expressed serious concern about Mark Driscoll – which must mean I have some reservations about Acts 29. You may even have read my review in Evangelicals Now of Matt Chandler’s book ‘The Explicit Gospel’ (Chandler is a major speaker at the ‘Explicit’ conference’) which ends ‘In summary: it’s a good book in many ways, but for me its flaws and flippancy make it one that I’m unlikely to use.’ And I haven’t always agreed with the FIEC, either. But when Andy Paterson is quoted as saying "Everything I have seen and heard confirms that these men love the gospel, love the Saviour, love the Bible and would be regarded as orthodox, main-stream evangelicals. I would also commend to you the ‘Gospel Coalition’ website where Chandler plays a significant role alongside Carson, Keller and Piper" I see no reason to doubt him.
But what of their associations – the people they meet with, fellowship with? ‘Susan’ comments ‘I cannot comment on the Cardiff speakers, they may well be sound, however their association with Acts 29 and others raise serious concerns.’ But she fails to notice that, also involved in the Gospel Coalition and speaking at one of its conferences, is Joel Beeke – a regular at the ‘Tab’ Summer School. (See here) The same logic would see the Met Tab condemned for its association with Joel Beeke who is himself associated, through the Gospel Coalition, with the ‘New Calvinists’.
I am not saying, of course, that WEST, or the FIEC, or any of the men involved are beyond criticism or should not be questioned. BUT - and it's a big BUT (that's why it's in capitals), there is all the difference in the world between 'Brethren, I think this conference, or this partnership, is a serious mistake and I urge you to reconsider it for the gospel's sake' and 'Oh, look: WEST has joined the ranks of the compromised too. Come out from among them and be separate!' Readers can judge for themselves which category Palgrave and Susan fall into.
I have little doubt (a little doubt, to be frank) that both of these ladies are genuinely and sincerely concerned for the truth. Certainly, that’s a Biblical concern: ‘Earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.’ At the same time, maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is ALSO a Biblical concern – and there is none of that in these writings.
Perhaps it’s inevitable, in a fallen world, that we should all overplay one and downplay the other to some degree. We have to learn to live with that. But there are, I think, limits. And that limit is now passed, in my opinion. It is time for those who love truth AND gospel unity to show their disapproval of the Met Tab’s ongoing critical spirit by cancelling orders for Sword and Trowel and refusing to attend their Summer School, until these matters are put right. But it won’t happen, for as Lloyd-Jones commented to TT Shields, ‘I’ve noticed that whenever dogs fight, a crowd gathers.’
Disclaimer: lest I be accused of hiding it, I admit to counting Jonathan Stephen and Andy Paterson as friends (I hope they don't mind) as well as faithful gospel ministers, and I am currently doing a course of study with WEST.