Friday, February 08, 2013

Too far, this time

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.  


johntindall said...

Good on you, Gary. Superb contribution. Very balanced and carrying that punch we love you for.

Jonathan Wood said...

Gary, I was going to thank you for your EN Chandler book review (saved me buying it). And then this too!! I was concerned when I read about WEST, but this has put another angle on it. Thanks.

Guy Davies said...

Good on you, Gary. Stephen Clark is working on a rebuttal of Palgrave's attack on Affinity.

Anonymous said...
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Darren said...

Just read the Met Tab article. It was just weird!

Having read it, your little piece now seems pretty reserved & moderate! I don't think it would be stretching it to say that really, it infringes on the 9th commandment.

We may have concerns about compromise & ecumenicalism. But there comes a point where someone is so anti-unity, that it becomes a new form of liberalism itself. Maybe she should write an article about the "liberal" Met Tab?

Peter M said...

A very fair critique I feel. I remember over 30 years ago giving up my subscription to the "Sword and the Trowel" because of the incessant critical spirit and negativism. In the end, perhaps unkindly, I began to call it the "Sword and the Scowl!"

Peter M

Martin Marprelate said...

Thank you for that Mr Benfold. Absolutely right. Sad to say, the breach within conservative evangelicalism gets bigger every day.

Mark you, the FIEC is not blameless in this. When one goes to the Leaders' Meetings one finds that ties are verboten, only the NIV can be used and all songs, even the older hymns have to be accompanied by drums. Some of us feel we are too old to be in the FIEC and to young to be with the Met Tab people. Perhaps there needs to be some sort of via media to enable us all to get on together.

Gary Benfold said...

So - Martin,your solution to having two groups that disagree is to set up a third that disagrees with them both? You must be a Presbyterian...

A better solution surely is for older Christians to behave maturely, recognise that ties and musical accompaniment are completely indifferent, stop making a fuss, and refuse absolutely to divide over them.

Martin Marprelate said...

Well yes, that would be great, wouldn't it? I don't know what your latin is like, but when I went to school Via Media meant a middle or mediating way, which is, I think, what Paul is advocating in Romans 14 & 15.

Wouldn't it be great if Before the Throne of God above, was sung at the Met Tab Summer School and an unaccompanied Metrical Psalm sung at Word Alive or somewhere? Alistair Begg at the Met Tab and Joel Beeke at the FIEC? When it happens (in either case) we'll know that revival really is on the way.

Just an old man dreaming, you understand.

Gary Benfold said...

OK, Martin, you're not advocating a third group; I am glad. Maybe you're not presbyterian! But you are still being unfair to FIEC; Joel Beeke would have been welcome, I'm sure - after all, when the FIEC did have conferences, Ted Donnelley, James Montgomery Boice, Geoff Thomas, Vernon Higham - were all speakers in the last few years. True, we didn't sing unaccompanied metrical psalms, but we did sing a couple of metrical psalms with accompaniment.

Martin said...

Are you then advocating a seperation from them because of their doctrine of separation?

The impending persecution will sort most of this out anyway.

Gary said...

Yes Martin, that seems a perfectly legitimate application of 2 Thessalonians 3:15 and 16 - note the 'not as an enemy', which distinguishes the Biblical way from the Met Tab way.

As for the 'persecution will sort it out' comment, it reminds me of those who used to be scathing about evangelism because revival would sort it out. The revival never came, and anyway it seems a wrong balance between sovereignty and responsibility.

Martin said...

Thanks for clarifying that.I dont agree with you, but understand where you are coming from.
I do think sometimes that the Masters Doctor would separate from himself if that were possible!! I have experienced first hand "the only way is the MT way", and don't like it a bit. However they are Gods people, and I value them as such, and so I try to love them warts and all as Christ loves me.
I think you misunderstood my persecution comment, and I realize that while I was clear what I meant, I didn't convey it.
What I meant was this - that persecution, which I believe is at the door, will help us to remember who the real enemy is and who our real brothers and sisters are, who is part of the true vine. It will mean that a lot of secondary issues become less important, - eg dress, translations etc, hymn style etc. The value of true and living faith, and the need of the indwelling of the Holy spirit will take its proper place.
Having interacted with the formally persecuted church in eastern Europe, I am chilled by a comment made to me a few years ago. "Persecution will revive the true fire, and get our priorities in the church right again." - that was from somebody whose father was imprisoned regularly.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gary Benfold said...

Anonymous comments are not allowed. Especially by someone who criticises me for not saying what I have, in fact, said many times on this blog.

Rebecca said...

Ah so this is where all the dedicated Pastors gather! No wonder the church is in a state when Pastors spend their time blogging and less time winning souls! But that's a topic for another day. Maybe we should look to the Tab and see why they have been blessed by Dr Master's ministry so much, you certainly wouldn't catch him wasting time with any blogs or hobbies!

Anyway, back you your article. Shame it is so inaccurate. You say of John Piper that he is a 'But they all – to a man – are faithful evangelicals standing for truth in a compromised world.' NO brother, THEY are the compromised ones who are bringing the church more and more into the world. Macarthur's young peoples conference shows so called Christian girls dressing completely immodestly and dancing around to Christian pop music. If a worldly saw a clip they would think it would just like a night club! You're a fool of you believe these men are leading the way out of worldliness, they are doing the opposite!
You claim Master's has a 'small group' you are wrong! Dr Master's doesn't even think like that, he never ever elevates the Tab or men because he knows only the Lord should be elevated and lifted high. I've read lots of your blog posts and other pastor's and you all seem to elevate man, for exaple your comment on what preachers at school of theology have you heard of? They may not have 'fame' status but they are doing more good for the gospel than all those so called evangelicals you rate so highly.
Dr Masters is not 'unnecessary narrow', he just wants to protect the gospel as much as he can, as should we all do. Martin L-J DID approve of secondary separation much as your little blogger friend Guy seems to think otherwise - does Guy not know how the DR rejected invitations from Billy Graham?
Please, I urge you to carefully consider your comments because from the outside you are coming across as liberal and a very angry man.
In Christ

Gary Benfold said...

Dear Rebecca - thank you for reposting your contribution. Unfortunately, I could not have asked for a more perfect illustration of my concerns. May the Lord bless you, keep us both faithful to the light we have, and increase our light.

Jim M said...

WEST does have a very sound basis of faith. However, my experience is this : when it was ETCW it regularly sent men to preach in the fellowship I attended. Invariably, the ministry was very good indeed and never poor.We were often greatly blessed and encouraged. When ETCW started offering degrees the standard declined considerably. The congregation perceived that the general level of preaching was, in the main, poor and rarely very good. The concerns were made known to one of the lecturers. I fear WEST icontinues to head in the wrong direction.

Seb H said...

Yes WEST is on the slippery slope sadly. The 'Negative Publicity' response is very poorly written indeed and not well researched especially the Dr comments.

This bit on the website is worrying:

'We are seeking to enhance an already world-class faculty, improvements in accommodation and communal areas and urgent maintenance of historical buildings that add such character to the School. For the sake of our community, we believe we have a responsibility to provide not only an excellent learning environment but also student living spaces that are both attractive and functional'

I'm sure the apostle Paul didn't have these luxuries so why is this necessary? I'm not so sure it's Peter Masters who has the wrong priorities!

Gary Benfold said...

Seb H,
What a strange comment!
First - how well did you know Dr Lloyd-Jones? As I understand it, the 'response' you criticise was written by men who were his friends, who stood with him to the end, who didn't wait until he was dead before they decided they admired him. In short, it needed very little 'research' at all.

And no, the apostle Paul didn't need a world-class faculty, etc. Neither did he need church buildings, a Summer School of Theology, the London Reformed Baptist Seminary, (nor WEST, nor LTS), instantaneous translation into several languages, a very good bookshop, tracts, magazines, microphones, video recording and a host of other things.

Which all goes to prove - what?

Seb H said...

The point I was making (which i'm sure you actually were aware of you just wanted to add your usual touch to a debate) was that actually is the attractiveness of a student living space so important it needs to be used a reason for studying at WEST? It's funny how you list all the things that Met Tab do against this as actually you have raised the important point that the things that matter to Tab most centre around the gospel - not a nice room for seminarians to live in! So thank you for recognising those priorities :)

Gary Benfold said...

Dear Seb,
There - we're almost like old friends, now, aren't we? I can only say that if you'd seen the living accommodation at WEST you'd understand why they want to advertise that it's changed!
But in reality it isn't their priority; yet it's not something they need to be ashamed of either - any more than the Tab needs to be ashamed of (say) its simultaneous translation, which it does advertise on its website.
Lots of things are not NECESSARY for the gospel to spread that are actually HELPFUL in the gospel's spread - a point which I think Dr Lloyd-Jones missed from time to time.
Blessings upon you.

Jane in Cumbria said...
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Irv said...

[Gary, if you like punchy stuff, this web bit is your cup of tea!]

Just wondering if Dr. Patterson and other dispy SBC leaders have ever Googled "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty," "Pretrib Rapture Pride," and "Pretrib Rapture Stealth." The last item has enough passages from Acts etc. to blow the pretrib rapture all the way back to 1830 and to the doorstep in Scotland of Margaret Macdonald!