Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Monasticism Redivivus

Note: The following is a response to a person who left a comment a few days ago in the combox of an article written by us over a year ago titled New Monasticism. My response is in blue font.

Lindsay stated:
You said that they [the New Monastics] accept everything nominally Christian, even thought 2 denominations might be mutually exclusive. I don't see this as a bad thing, Paul himself warned us about denominations. Being Christian means believing that Jesus is the one savior, that should be what brings us together, denominations should not get in the way. We may have different approaches to things, but we can still worship together, love each other, and love the world, together, we still believe the same core beliefs, we all believe in Jesus, the trinity, and the apostles creed, these are what matter, not the the different ways we go about believing in them. Jesus is not divided, nor should we be. Paul himself warned us about denominations.
Hi Lindsay,

Thank you for your comments. We also agree that there must be essential unity in the church of Jesus Christ and that Christians must strive for such so as to maintain a strong and effective witness to a lost and dying world. However, I have several disagreements that I would like to share:

1. Paul was not warning against denominations in 1 Cor. 1:10-17, for such a reading would be anachronistic. Instead, he's condemning sectarianism/factions within the local church at Corinth. This is not the same thing as denominationalism as it has been historically understood. Denominationalism has been historically rooted in a core set of Protestant beliefs; i.e., The Five Solas of Protestant Reformation, the doctrine of the Trinity, the virginal conception of Christ, and the literal resurrection of Christ and of all people at His second coming. In other words, various local churches could have different views on say the mode and subjects of baptism but in order to be considered a true church of Christ they had to adhere to certain cardinal doctrines of the faith in order to be considered truly Christian.

Being Christian means believing that Jesus is the one savior, that should be what brings us together, denominations should not get in the way. We may have different approaches to things, but we can still worship together, love each other, and love the world, together, we still believe the same core beliefs, we all believe in Jesus, the trinity, and the apostles creed, these are what matter, not the the different ways we go about believing in them. Jesus is not divided, nor should we be.

2. Roman Catholics also believe in the Apostle's Creed, believe that Jesus is the "one savior . . . believe in Jesus, the trinity", etc. However, they deny one of the essential truths of the Christian faith, justification by faith alone (Sola Fide). In The Council of Trent, Catholic Church declared,
CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema. [http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct06.html]

CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XIII.-If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema.

CANON XIV.-If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.

CANON XV.-If any one saith, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; let him be anathema.

CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

CANON XXX.-If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.
By virtue of their clear denial of Sola Fide, Catholics and other pseudo-Christian groups like them are preaching a damning lie. Here's an example of modern Rome's heretical denial of the exclusivity of Christ:
841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."
Thus, according to 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Christians cannot have fellowship and work together in mutual ministry with anyone who preaches a false gospel and says that Christ is not the only mediator between God and man, no matter how nice they are (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5). That is because those who wholeheartedly affirm such things are not Christians.
Lindsay: "Jesus didn't command us to cozy up to people who did not believe in the truth of the gospel. A lie believed by a thousand people is still a lie." I agree with you to an extent, you're right that a lie is a lie no matter what. However, I think we are called to cozy up to people who don't believe in the truth. That is what Jesus did, did he not? He was friends with the tax collectors and the prostitutes. He said himself, a doctor doesn't try to heal the healthy, a doctor is there for the sick. We are here to form relationships with those who don't know him, and to show His love to them, we are not here to surround ourselves only with other believers, what good does that do the world? Being close with unbelievers does not mean that we support their beliefs, and it doesn't mean we have to deny ours, but we are called to go to the poor and the sick and the lost with God's love and God's truth. I don't believe that a Christian can love another and not be sharing God's truth.
We are not saying that we shouldn't develop relationships with unbelievers so as to bring the gospel to them. We wholeheartedly affirm such things! During the semesters, we do weekly evangelistic outreaches on our local college campuses as we seek to engage the lost at every turn. We engage in cordial conversations, welcome debate (formal or informal) because we fully believe in the life-changing power of the gospel.

However, to reach people with the gospel we, as professing Christians have to first be agreed on what the gospel actually is. Feeding the poor is no good if the feeders are trumpeting uncertain and inconsistent sounds. If my Catholic friend wants to yoke with me in ministry to bring the gospel to abortive mothers, he must first renounce his Catholicism and then put his faith in Jesus Christ and embrace the true gospel as it is presented in the New Testament. Anything else is merely another welfare movement, and not a fulfillment of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.
Lindsay: I understand your concerns, and they are definitely important to consider, but I urge you to look more closely into the beliefs on the New Monastic movement.
I have read their books, listened to their presentations, and weighed them in the balances and found them doctrinally wanting.
Lindsay: I find a lot of truth in their lives,
According to what standard? Yours or Scripture's? Truth is that which corresponds to the mind of God. We only come to know the mind of God by studying the word of God. Anything else is guess-work. If people do not speak according to His word in the main and plain things, it's because they have no light in them, no matter how many poor people they've clothed and fed (Isaiah 8:20). Remember, Ghandi helped a lot of poor people, but Ghandi rejected the gospel and is in Hell today. Feeding poor people isn't going to matter for a hill of beans if you and they don't embrace the gospel of Christ. People can feed the poor till the cows come home, but without Christ, all of them will burn in Hell.
Lindsay: . . . and they aren't claiming to be right all the time, they want to live a life glorifying God and spreading his love, Shane Claiborne said so himself in his interview with Tony Campolo.
"Claiming to be right all the time" isn't the issue, the gospel is the issue. I am not expecting anyone to be "right" all the time because no one individual person understands all parts of Scripture with equal clarity due to the noetic effects of sin on our minds. We all have false beliefs about Scripture to one extent or another, but to flatten out all doctrinal propositions with the result that you confuse the Catholic "gospel" with the Biblical gospel in order to promote helping the poor and indigent is grossly mistaken at best and heretical at worst.

The bottom line: We do not yoke ourselves with unbelievers who clearly deny the Biblical gospel in order to work together in mutual ministry nor can we share fellowship with them (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

I'll conclude with a statement from the article you commented on:
The only problem with the New Monasticism movement is its foundation--and therefore everything built upon the foundation. There is no clear theological basis for New Monasticism; they accept anything & everything that is nominally Christian, promoting what Pastor Dustin describes as a "buffet bar" mentality to Christianity.
"Buffet bars" are great when it comes to getting a meal with the family after church, but they are horrible when it comes to doing theology and developing theological foundations for ministry. New Monasticism is wrong because it confuses Biblical discipleship with social justice; and the two are not the same. We are not commanded to go into the world by first adopting a least common denominator faith that allows us to strategically join forces together with heretics in order to feed the poor. Instead, we are told to preach the gospel, make disciples, and then baptize them. If we do that, everything else Christians are supposed to be doing will follow.


  1. Dustin,

    This is off topic from the present post but I have a question. You stated in a fairly recent post that you thought that Greg Bahnsen had overstated the trancendental argument. Could you elaborate on this? I'm not looking for an argument or anything but am simply interested in hearing your thoughts on Bahnsen's use of TAG.

  2. Hi JMattC,

    My view is that TAG is useful in apologetical discussions. However, when pressed by the unbeliever, intellectual honesty dictates that the apologist openly admit that the premise(s) in question are assertions/beliefs held by the apologist based upon Scripture rather than that which can be externally verified and agreed upon by the unbeliever. Every philosophically astute user of TAG that I've personally interacted with has admitted this.

    Here's an example of what I mean formulating the TAG using the logical laws known as Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens:

    Modus Ponens form (X > Y, X, :., Y)

    P1 - If reality exists and is intelligible then God exists since God is the necessary precondition for the intelligibility of reality.

    P2 - Reality exists and is intelligible.

    C - Therefore, God exists.

    Modus Tollens form (X > Y, ~ Y, :. ~ X)

    P1 ~A: (Assume the opposite of what we are trying to prove): The Christian God does not exist.

    P2 (~A--> B): If God does not exist, then there is no intelligible experience since God is the precondition of intelligibility.

    P3 (~B): There is intelligible experience (Contradiction!)

    P4 (~ ~A): It is not the case that God does not exist (Modus Tollens on 2 and 3)

    C (A): --> God does exist (Law of negation.)

    Unbelievers are going to question the bolded premises in the modal forms of the TAG I presented above. Some (i.e., solipsists) will also question that reality (at least reality external to them) is intelligible as well. At this point is it the job of the person using the various forms of the TAG to point out that the basis for the questionable premises in the above forms above is based upon Scripture and then go on to refute their unbelief via an internal critique and show that Christian theism necessarily provides said preconditions per the Scriptures.

    However, again, if pressed, it must be openly admitted by the apologist that TAG cannot show the necessity of the Christian God based upon premises that are agreed upon by both believer and unbeliever alike through external verification, but instead said premises are based upon God's own declaration in Scripture of the true nature of reality. And so, the bolded premises above in the various forms of the TAG are Scripturally derived, not externally verified and agreed upon by the unbeliever since an unbeliever doesn't have the ability to verify what he cannot affirm in his heart of hearts.

    In other words, the questionable premises in the various forms of TAG are questionable to the unbeliever because they are factual statements of Christian belief, and by virtue of that, they are not statements that the unbeliever will readily agree to due to the unbeliever's spiritual deadness. Nevertheless, that doesn't stop the apologist from using TAG to begin fruitful conversations with unbelievers regarding the nature, scope, and limits of knowledge, reality, and ethics and in so doing present an opportunity for an internal critique of the unbeliever's worldview and the proclamation of the gospel.

  3. Hi Dustin,

    I appreciate and agree with your presentation of TAG. However, I'm not clear on how Bahnsen overstated it. Are you suggesting that he did not openly admit what you say Christian apologists ought to admit?

  4. Hi JMattC,

    Let me first state that in my opinion, Dr. Greg Bahnsen was the greatest debater and Christian apologist of the 20th century. I have learned more from him than any other apologist and the fact that he upheld the Van Tilian tradition of the primacy of Biblical revelation in apologetics means that he will always have a warm place in my heart. Now on to my qualifications.

    Dr. Bahnsen argued that Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. In other words, according to Bahnsen, all contrary worldviews are impossible because on their own standards they refute themselves. He summed this up in a more pithy way, "The proof that God exists is that without Him you can't prove anything." Indeed, it is true that all non-Christian worldviews are false. However, this is not only because they contradict themselves, for that doesn't necessarily prove Christianity true, but primarily because they contradict the Bible, which both affirms Christianity and denies all her opponents by explicit declaration (2 John 9). Thus, My contention is that Bahnsen's definition of the impossibility of the contrary is overstated since it doesn't necessarily prove Christian theism to be true, but only shows that all other known worldviews are false. To say that Christian theism is true because all other known worldviews are false is to overstate the case, for that doesn't necessarily prove Christianity true, it only notes that all her competitors are false. To demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity, we need proclamation of the gospel combined with Holy Spirit regeneration (2 Cor. 4:6). Any demonstration of the TAG, while very useful and necessary, must admit this upfront if pressed by an opponent of Christian theism. Some will decry this as fideism, but we respond by saying, "If you can provide me an authority higher than God by which we can ground the preconditions for the intelligibility of reality, then I'm all ears." In other words, we are honestly and openly admitting what most other worldviews fail to admit, we begin with our divine Criterion in order to justify our divine Criterion.

    I think that presuppositional apologist Dr. Scott Oliphint has a more biblical definition of the impossibility of the contrary wherein he defines it as "Christianity is true and everything else that opposes it is false." Thus, given how Oliphint defines it, what follows is my modification of the "impossibility of the contrary":

    P1 - Since there is no authority higher than God's word to confirm God's word, the Scriptures are self-attesting and self-authenticating (Heb. 6:13).

    P2 - Christianity is exclusively true because God says so in His word (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5).

    C - Therefore, it necessarily follows that all contrary worldviews are impossible since they contradict God's word and as such are self-refuting (Pro. 26:4-5).

    This modification is rigorous and Biblical. Teaching this to Christians is clearer and it would force them to learn their Bibles and use that as their primary source in apologetic engagement. This is a more profitable and wise use of time versus spending most of your time studying secular philosophy and false religions; a task that can never be completed since newfangled philosophies and religions are being created all the time. In sum, my exhortation is this: defend the Biblical God and the Biblical gospel with the Bible. Stand on the hill of God's word to defend that selfsame Hill. Jesus and the apostles did it, and we should too.

  5. Hi JMattC,

    UPDATE 7-2-10: A good friend, Sye TenBruggencate of Sinner Ministries (www.proofthatgodexists.org), who is a careful student of Dr. Greg Bahnsen, informed me this evening that Bahnsen clearly affirmed what I have stated above in one of his recorded talks. While I await this clarifying information, I want to give Bahnsen the benefit of the doubt since I respect him as a careful Christian scholar.

  6. Hi JMattC,

    UPDATE 7-4-10: As I noted earlier in this combox, my friend Sye TenBruggencate of Sinner Ministries (www.proofthatgodexists.org), who is a careful student of Dr. Greg Bahnsen, informed me that Bahnsen clearly affirmed what I have stated below in one of his recorded talks.

    This clarifying information is found in the Q & A at the end of lecture 1 (@ 1:15:35 in http://media1.wts.edu/media/audio/gb201_podcast.mp3) of this series (http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2009/07/greg-bahnsen-on-van-tilian-apologetics.html). I am grateful to learn that Bahnsen affirmed that the demonstration of God's existence from the impossibility of the contrary is first and foremost *grounded* in the self-attesting Word of God. Thus, I will make the necessary changes in my past and future teaching regarding my "reformulation" of Bahnsen's argument. Thank you for prodding me on this issue, for I have wondered about this for some time and am relieved to hear that Bahnsen agreed with my suggestions.

  7. Hi Dustin,

    Thank you for following up on this. Your explanations here have been very helpful.

  8. Dear Dustin,

    For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. (2Timothy 4:3-4)

    SOLA FIDES... The Protestant Revolt had many causes including state politics. Also the worldly lifestyle of certain popes, bishops and priests of that time helped to fuel the fire.

    However, the doctrine,
    Justification by Faith Alone , was the spark.

    This heresy exaggerates the truth concerning salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

    Even though some members of the Church at that time, such as Tetzel and Erasmus, may not have fully understood the doctrine of salvation, this does not excuse this heresy.

    It claims that Christians are saved by faith alone. As biblical support, St. Paul is usually cited: "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." [Romans 3:28]

    Now this verse does not contain the word "alone." Martin Luther actually added "alone" to this verse in his Bibles in order to promote this new doctrine.

    According to the RSV and NAB Bible translations, the phrase, "by faith alone", only occurs once in the Bible, and that verse condemns this doctrine: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." [James 2:24]

    The other error is interpreting the "works of law" in Romans 3:28 as all good works.

    From the context, it is obvious that St. Paul is referring to the Law of Moses, and the "works of law" are circumcision, eating kosher and other Jewish practices (Acts 15:1-21).

    St. Paul writes elsewhere in the Bible: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love." [Galatians 5:6] St.

    Paul’s understanding of faith, as expressed in the Bible, includes more than a confident trust in God, but also obedience to God (Romans 1:5).

    Also according to Catholic understanding, good works are not what I do but what God does through me by grace (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Romans 2:7), so there is no reason to boast (Ephesians 2:9).

    Even though Martin Luther still understood salvation in terms of grace, some later Christians did not.

    With the loss of focus on grace, this heresy eventually led to a "faith-alone" version of Pelagianism.

    This is the reason that some (not all) Protestants reject some or all of the Sacraments, sometimes even Baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3; 1 Peter 3:21).