Gospel Coalition as Harlem Globe Trotters

One of our many southern correspondents notified me of TGC’s year-end pitch for charitable donations. At the end of Collin Hanson’s post is a link to TGC’s 2016 Annual Report. Curiously absent are the financials. The Allies encourage people to give but those people have to trust TGC staff about funds.

The similarities and differences between the Coalition and a church are striking. Since I serve on the Christian Education Committee of the OPC and am also one of the OPC’s representatives on Great Commission Publication’s board of trustees, I see strong similarities among the OPC, PCA, and TGC at least in the arena of education, curriculum development, and publication. TGC’s report on website hits, best selling books or pamphlets, and plans for 2017 titles is the sort of information I see four times a year as an OPC/GCP officer. But what I don’t see from TGC is any financial spread sheet. Since the church and parachurch both operate in a voluntary world of free-will gifts, support, and self-identification of members, you might think that giving supporters some insight into the Coalition’s funds would be not only wise but honorable.

Chalk up one for the church over the parachurch.

Another note of concern for TGC supporters may be the popularity of Jen Wilkin. According to TGC’s report:

Our all-time bestselling resource on any paid platform is Jen Wilkin’s Sermon on the Mount study with LifeWay, but it may end up topped by her 2016 TGC release, 1 Peter: A Living Hope in Christ.

Jen Wilkin may be a great lady — I’ve never heard of her though she appears to take hairstyle-advice from Ann Voskamp (not Jen Hatmaker) — but do supporters of TGC have no trouble with a non-ordained person teaching the Word of God to Christians? Maybe Ms. Wilkin is ordained. Either way, TGC’s efforts to attract support from conservative Reformed Protestants runs up against church polity that again separates the parachurch from the church (not in a good way, by the way).

But when you look at TGC’s report, you have to come away impressed with all the effort the Allies put into their labors. But what would happen if those same people put their energies into the PCA with Tim Keller or into the Southern Baptist Convention with Ms. Wilkin who goes to The Village Church (is there only one?) or into the Evangelical Free Church with D. A. Carson (does he belong to the EFC?). Where’s the efficiency? Sure, a TGC supporter could argue that the OPC or PCA or SBC are competing with TGC and these other Protestants should join forces with the Allies. But this is always what happens with “unity” projects among Christians. You form one agency to unite everyone and simply add one more organization or church to the landscape. The United Church of Canada did not unite Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. It added the United Church to the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Anglican churches.

And then there is the question of officers or pastors who hold credentials in the PCA or SBC adding their energy and resources to another Christian organization. If I play football for the Philadelphia Eagles, would the NFL allow me to play for a European football league midweek during the season (or even in the summer)? Or if I am a contributing editor to Atlantic Monthly, do I write regularly for The New Republic? These are obviously apples and oranges — publishing and sports are not ministry (though to hear some neo-Calvinists. . .). But questions about which is the primary outlet for Coalition contributors and officers is a real question that supporters of TGC should question. If I give to TGC, do I want Tim Keller spending a lot of time on committee work for his presbytery?

Chalk up another for the church.

One last observation that makes me think TGC more like an exhibition sports team (Harlem Globe Trotters) than a Major League Protestant Communion: I went to the staff page of TGC and noticed that no one works in a central office. The executive director lives in Austin, Texas (no church mentioned). The executive editor lives in Birmingham, Alabama and is part of a local community church. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of the organization, payroll, accounting, general housekeeping, again staff is scattered. The director of operations lives in Austin (no church listed). The director of program development lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (no church listed). The director of advancement lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota (no church listed). The manager of operations lives in Minneapolis (no church listed). The business manager lives in Austin (no church listed). And yet, for full-time staff’s location in places far away from the Big Apple, TGC’s major publishing project for 2017 is a print version of Keller’s New City Catechism. When terrorists band together, we call them non-state actors to distinguish them from the military personnel of nation-states. Nation-states engage use coercive force legitimately (ever since 1648). Terrorist organizations do not. Does that make the Allies spiritual terrorists who have no geographical or ecclesiastical home?

The impression TGC gives overall is doing all the stuff a church does (including solicitation of funds) without many of the rules that give accountability to churches in their work of word and sacrament ministry. The Allies produce conferences and literature and a website presence that provides much of the teaching and encouragement that churches also give. And yet, the Coalition has no mechanism for discipline or oversight or even ecumenical relations. To be in TGC’s orbit is like following an exhibition basketball team instead of the National Basketball Association. I guess, when your home team is the Sixers, the Globetrotters look pretty good. But it’s not real basketball.

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71 thoughts on “Gospel Coalition as Harlem Globe Trotters

  1. TGC claims to help local churches. I am part of a local church. It is a small and somewhat struggling church plant in a medium sized town in southern Indiana. The closest Reformed church is an hour to the East. Nothing for miles to the North, South, or West.

    What does TGC actually do? I see that they offer resources, such as online sermons, blog posts, journal articles, etc. Do these things really aid the church? I mean, there are a bunch of places to find sermons online. Blog posts abound. Besides, none of these things offer my church anything necessary or all that helpful. And it is not like a tiny church of 30ish people can bringing in a celebrity pastor to speak.

    I will tell you what has helped my church (besides the Lord, obviously), it has been the members of the congregation as they give and try to invite people to church and try to be as involved as they can. It has been our presbytery that has supported the mission work for years. It has been our denomination’s Home Mission Board. It has been area elders and pastors that have served as our elders and governing body.

    TGC talks a big game. I admit that I haven’t done all that much research. Maybe they do a bunch of good stuff. But in my, admittedly limited, experience, it has been the church that has helped the church.

    TGC claims to exist for churches, but I have a sneaking suspicion that, in reality, it exists primarily for itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am going to try to maker more sense on this thread. I’ve seen this New City Catechism advertised but i have not read it. I am curious why a new Reformed catechism is being written. I thought your Westminster shorter catechism and Heidelberg catechism pretty much spelled out P&R beliefs. The new ACNA Anglicans have a new catechism which makes sense to me but why a Presbyterian?

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  3. As the year comes to an end DG gives us superb in depth piece.Thanks is due as no-one else is doing such research into the GC which has such gaping holes in it’s practise like having women teach via books which should not happen, if they are ‘ordained’ or not. Call me a thicko or simpleton on the matter of women teaching, but once the cat is out of the bag the church is ruined eventually and fundamentally as Scriptural teaching on the subject is ignored or explained away.How do Kev. deYoung and all the leaders in the GC allow such unbiblical practise? Perhaps they could come out with a long winded answer to such a question. In England the once somewhat Reformed Church of England is now a laughing stock and a ship of fools as women have teaching and leadership status in the name of equality.
    Financial transparency is so fundamental to integrity – is the GC really accountable down to the last dime? Is this matter being questioned in this blog? ‘TGC claims to exist for churches, but I have a sneaking suspicion that, in reality, it exists primarily for itself.’ A cracking one liner which sums up this post.
    Please keep doing the best blog in 2017 ; it is unique and much appreciated even when I can hardly get my head round the points being raised and the often highly academic responses.

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  4. Robin, TGC is baptist/indy-dominated. It is by no means Reformed. Unless Reformed has nothing to do with ecclesiology and order. DG has previously referred to the Allies as Divine Sovereigntists, albeit of the restless and slightly confused variety.

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  5. CW I see what you are saying but Keller is PCA so why not just tell all husband new co horts “hey here are two great catechism you all could learn from!” I haven’t read the New City Catechism but a local PCA church where we are about to move is using this catechism and I can’t understand why if your church body already has one. Thanks CW. TGC will never stop confounding me. I am assuming the New City Catechism will have to do away with concrete explanations on sacraments? If Lutherans and the Reformed can’t see eye to eye how can the Baptist and Reformed? Thanks again.

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  6. Jason and the Callers, the Obedience Boys, Thabiti and the Hustlers . . . TGC is indeed a mixed bag! I suspect that the prestige of being a TGC “counsel member” helps the counsel member’s church more than TGC helps the visible church.

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  7. Robin, I have no objection to a new catechism per se. We can turn catechisms and creeds into museum pieces. But I’m not sure Keller is the guy to write one. And if we go back to the pattern of pastors writing for their congregations, fine. Just let Redeemer keep the Big Apple Catechism to itself. Oh, that’s right. TGC is the PR platform for TKNY.

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  8. The first point made about the accountability of how funds are spent is fair though it doesn’t apply to all parachurch organizations. Other than that, this post seems to chalk one up for the pharisee from the parable of the two men praying. Whether we are talking about Christians from churches or parachurch organizations, we need to remember several things:

    1. Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples when they rebuked others because they were not one of them
    2. Jesus died for all true believers and thus we need to be careful in how we criticize others
    3. How God worked out of the ordained way of working in the OT because there was something for his people to learn from it.

    And with regard to one of the specific criticisms, why must all of our efforts be inside our own particular church or denomination. After all, doesn’t this blog parallel TGC website?

    And finally, in what context should we not learn anything from women?

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  9. Curt, you do realize that most of your comments sound like a professor’s comments on a paper. (I’m not in your class.)

    Why must our efforts be inside our particular denomination? Maybe because we promised?

    (2) Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?

    (3) Do you approve of the government, discipline, and worship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?

    (4) Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?

    church members

    (5) Do you promise to participate faithfully in this church’s worship and service, to submit in the Lord to its government, and to heed its discipline, even in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life?

    Or do you advocate taking vows with crossed fingers?

    No one has to take those vows, you know. It’s a free country. But once you do, just like when you take vows to your wife, you’re sort of stuck.

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  10. I go to one of the big-name TGCers churches. His job is always first and foremost a pastor of the church, not contributor to TGC.

    You (as well as many others in this comment thread) take a lot of unnecessary potshots at gospel-believing, God-fearing, church-dedicated people that makes me think your argument is based less on logic and more on personal resentment.

    “The impression TGC gives overall is doing all the stuff a church does… The Allies produce conferences and literature and a website presence… And yet, the Coalition has no mechanism for discipline or oversight or even ecumenical relations.”
    #1- TGC does not claim to be a church, nor are conferences and websites the work of the church, nor is TGC trying to “chalk one up” for the parachurch over the church. Your fundamental premise is faulty to begin with.
    #2- TGC is not a church, so why would you expect it to have the discipline and correction of the church?
    #3- It seems like all the material they publish is good stuff. What’s wrong with that?

    You claim a lot of things for TGC they do not claim. Your ax to grind is against those who blindly follow TGC without being a part of a church, not TGC itself.

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  11. David,

    If TGC is not the church, why are council members ministers and why is TGC in the “business” of ministering God’s word?

    If TGC isn’t supposed to engage in discipline, then what about C. J. Mahaney and James MacDonald? You mean they will let anyone into their circle of council members and staff?

    If TGC publishes good stuff why does Tim Keller publish his best material with secular trade presses.

    Any thoughts about their lack of financial accountability?

    TGC’s claims are one thing. I claim to love my wife. Is everything I do consistent with that claim? Or some of my words and actions have implications that suggest otherwise?

    THINK!

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  12. David, one more thought. Since you say you’re in a church with a TGC council member, what do you think your pastor’s vows mean for extra-ecclesial involvement? If officers take vows to uphold the peace and purity of a Presbyterian communion, and to submit to their elders, why are those same officers associating in acts of ministry with non-Presbyterians? Marriage vows don’t let men engage in relations with other women, right? So why don’t ministerial vows matter?

    Does your pastor THINK?

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  13. D.G. Hart just like when you take vows to your wife, you’re sort of stuck.

    Stuck? Please.

    Jesus: be imitators of God Eph 5:1

    I will make an everlasting covenant with them… I will never stop doing good to them…
    I will rejoice in doing them good ..I will heal their waywardness….and love them freely

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  14. Former TGC council members make up a who’s who of scoundrels. Mahaney and McDonald have alreday been mentioned, let’s not forget Joshua Harris, Mark Driscoll and Tullian Tchividjian. And then you have D.A. Carson, Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor, current members in good standing who were proud signatories of the official TGC statement of support for C.J. Mahaney. To my knowledge they have never walked that statement back.

    Yes sir, TGC sets a shining example for stone throwing peasants such as myself. I suggest there are many more worthy causes deserving of your funds . TGC could fold tomorrow and there would be minimal effect, with the exception of the few select celebrities who benefit by increased book sales from the free publicity.

    BTW, I like the article!

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  15. This time of year as church budgets are approved and salaries and services are scaled back, I have a special contempt for all things parachurch. Give to your local church, first, second and last and maybe you’ll find that’s where your heart will be.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. D.G.,
    I don’t remember promising to work exclusively inside my own denomination. Can you cite the part of the membership vows that say that? And the same applies to the vows given to church officers. I can’t remember any part of those vows that require that any church officer must work exclusively in the OPC.

    Your interpretation our promises, as far as I can see, is unhealthy for both the denomination and its members. For there is no check on the denomination when it is so insular. As for its members, such a requirement is the kind people experience when they are in cults. And despite the weaknesses of the OPC, I never regarded it as a cult.

    So I guess I didn’t have to cross my fingers to promise something I was never asked to promise. In addition, why be offended at questions?

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  17. Curt, I produced the promises. You say you don’t remember. I feel the bern.

    So where do you draw the line between healthy and unhealthy promises? Marriage? Church? Exalt the family, and belittle the church?

    No one has taken any vows to TGC and yet when I point out that people do take vows to churches you say it’s unhealthy. hmm.

    You’re under the oversight of your session. TGC gives you a website.

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  18. But what I don’t see from TGC is any financial spread sheet. Since the church and parachurch both operate in a voluntary world of free-will gifts, support, and self-identification of members, you might think that giving supporters some insight into the Coalition’s funds would be not only wise but honorable.

    Did you ask for the financials?:

    If you have questions, or would like to make a stock gift or see TGC’s financials, contact Dan Olson, director of advancement, at dan.olson@tgc.org.

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  19. vdm, m, still no answer after four attempts (sequiter or not). Obedience cat got your transformationalist swagger?

    Yeah, Old Life finances really need accountability. You probably also believe the Protocols of Zion.

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  20. From Jen Wilkin’s modem to Tim Keller’s inbox:

    Consider the analogy of marriage. Most pastors would counsel a young husband that he must pursue his wife to keep their union strong—that he must make a study of her needs and wants, that he must celebrate her strengths and find ways to leverage them for the good of their marriage. They would warn against the dangers of passivity. I submit that similar awareness is necessary on the part of male leadership in complementarian churches. A culture of permission can communicate passivity and dismissiveness to our women. They long to be pursued.

    Exactly. Consider what the PCA would look like if Tim Keller “pursued” his communion rather than his communion “permitting” TKNY leadership in TGC.

    Even they see. See?

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  21. Yeah, Old Life finances really need accountability
    But you said TGC needs it. You could’ve 9th commandment-upped and noted their financials are available.

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  22. the hills you climb.

    Yeah, that hill you’re perched on looking down on TGC. Parachurch bad. Except when you and your buds do it. LOL….

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  23. Oh no, projecting (slime) again. Ask your doctor about risperidone?

    Or at least you could ask for those available TGC financials.

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  24. D.G.,
    I believe my response to revolved your interpretation of the promises, not the promises themselves. Again, there was nothing in those promises that dictated that we, either church officers or non church officers, work exclusively in the OPC. And the unhealthy part I am referring to is in your interpretation of the promises, not the promises themselves–though we should note that the ones to the elders allow one to have exceptions to the confessions.

    So you are barking up the wrong tree here or one could say that you are complaining about a straw man. At the same, note your tone and compare that with I John 3:23. For there, John tells us that the commands of Jesus we are to follow are to believe in Jesus and to love one another. But how much of your complaining about TGC folks or neoCalvinists with Tim Keller or SJWs who are Christians is done out of pride than love?

    IN the meantime, my original observations stand:

    1. Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples when they rebuked others because they were not one of them

    2. Jesus died for all true believers and thus we need to be careful in how we criticize others

    3. How God worked out of the ordained way of working in the OT because there was something for his people to learn from it.

    Remember that those were the observations you used a snide remark to ignore. And that use of a snide remark indicates the answer to the question above. Don’t go there. Pride is the opposite of and contrary to faith.

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  25. D.G.,
    No, you are not trying to help. Rather answer than answer question or address points, you make accusations. Helping would be answering the questions and addressing the issues brought up. Helping would be discussing subjects as equals.

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  26. Curt, when will you see that your questions are accusations? “But wasn’t Mencken a racist?” “Why do you ignore the Nazis?” “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

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  27. D.G.,
    So what you are saying is that all of my questions are accusations. And then you list the one that seems to be most accusatory for your example. BTW, who am I accusing in the example you just provided? Obviously I believe Mencken was I do so because it is obvious from his words. But do you think I was accusing anyone else?

    So let’s examine the issues and questions I brought up in the article above:


    1. Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples when they rebuked others because they were not one of them
    2. Jesus died for all true believers and thus we need to be careful in how we criticize others
    3. How God worked out of the ordained way of working in the OT because there was something for his people to learn from it.

    And with regard to one of the specific criticisms, why must all of our efforts be inside our own particular church or denomination. After all, doesn’t this blog parallel TGC website?

    And finally, in what context should we not learn anything from women?

    The numbered points are accusing you of what? The question about whether your blog parallels the TGC website accuses you of what? And the question about which context should we not learn anything from women accuses you of what?

    As for the questions, they came in a context. And again, who did my question about Mencken accuse besides Mencken? About the Nazis, that context came from our discussion on corporate sin and some of your refusal to address questions and points. So the compare the questions previously asked from other articles with the questions I first asked here.

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  28. Curt, you think Jesus teaches that rebuking, criticizing, and not learning from others is wrong. I rebuke, criticize and maintain that the church should not learn from Mencken about the mysteries of the faith.

    But you’re not criticizing, rebuking, or opposing learning from mmmeeeEEEE.

    I disagree with your interpretation of Jesus. I disagree with your understanding of church vows. I disagree with your apparent understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture. Do we have to parse how we talk (the way a man and woman do)? Just agree that we disagree.

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  29. D.G.,
    Do you know what implication means? It means that if the premise is true, then the consequence must be true. But if there is another possible consequence to the premise, then there is no implication. So what you are saying is that when I asked about Mencken’s racism or why you were ignoring the Nazis, that the only subject I could be addressing was you. And how can you determine whether the statement is a personal attack if you list individual questions outside of their context? Doesn’t context help us understand the meaning of statements.

    But such was not the case. I can understand why you initially took my inquiry about Mencken’s racism personally, and I am sorry if you did because that was never my intention. But the context regarding my statement on Mencken was an article you wrote in praise of him. So I brought up a weakness about Mencken. I knew of the possibility of that weakness because he was on a reading list for the Alt-Right. So I looked up his statements. And while you took my statement personally, I listed the some of the statements Mencken made that indicated racism. Thus, the context of my statement wasn’t about you, it was about Mencken. Again, if there is an alternative consequence for the premise, then there is no implication. That comes simply from the mathematical definition of the word implies.

    The context for the question about you ignoring Nazis was a discussion on corporate sin. You stated that there was no corporate sin. I kept up a counterexample of the Nazis and their invasion of Europe as well as the Holocaust. And as usual, you ignored my mention of the counterexample. So I asked. The context of that question did not revolve around you as a person, but it did focus how do we account for the denial of corporate sin when we have examples like the Nazis and what they did. Does the behavior of the Nazis contradict the denial corporate sin?

    So in the end, without providing any context for the questions I asked, you claimed that they implied personal accusations about you. But the context of my statements show the my concern wasn’t about you, it was about other issues. Thus, your claim that I implied something about you with those questions is false even though you sincerely interpreted them as making accusations.

    Now don’t you think that your taking my statements without providing the context of the articles from which they were taken and claiming that my questions implied something negative about you personally is fair?

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  30. Curt, I’m not sure I took your comments about Mencken personally. I took them as silly. As if racism is something that closes a book. If you think that’s not happening out there, you are even sillier than I thought.

    I also think using the example of the Nazi’s is juvenile. Stop hunger. Great. Who actually thinks the Nazi’s were good. But your appeal to them doesn’t prove your cockamamie idea of corporate sin or justice.

    Please think.

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  31. D.G.,
    Taking someone’s racism as silly? Really? You promote Mencken, and probably with some good reason, but with the number of racist comments he made, it was surprising that you didn’t mention that when talking about him. To me, that seemed similar to discussing Martin Luther King Jr. without mentioning his sexual immorality. Both his battles against racism, economic exploitation, and militarism along with his sexual sins are important for understanding who he is.

    You seem to be employing a black-white model in dealing with my comments about Mencken. You seem to be saying that either his racism closes the book or respond with why mention it. One mentions it because it is an important part of understanding who he was. At that same time one also needs to read how he promoted Black contributions in journalism and his comparisons between American Whites and Blacks.

    As for discussing the Nazi atrocities in the context of corporate sin, it is mathematical, not juvenile. For you stated an absolute: there is not corporate sin. If that is the case, then what do we call the sins of groups who provide the worst case scenarios? Don’t they serve as counterexamples to your claim? That is why one mentions it.

    Finally, if you did not take the statement about Mencken and the Nazis personally, why did you write the following comment?


    Curt, when will you see that your questions are accusations? “But wasn’t Mencken a racist?” “Why do you ignore the Nazis?” “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

    Seeing that you listed two questions about two different parties, it is difficult to see you interpreting those questions as revolving around anyone else but you. Of course the context of each of those questions showed that it was never about you and you said you didn’t take it personally. But your comment in response to me here indicates that you took them as accusations. So it seems that you are giving a mixed message here.

    In the meantime, what you have yet to address is my first comment responding to your article above:


    1. Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples when they rebuked others because they were not one of them
    2. Jesus died for all true believers and thus we need to be careful in how we criticize others
    3. How God worked out of the ordained way of working in the OT because there was something for his people to learn from it.

    And with regard to one of the specific criticisms, why must all of our efforts be inside our own particular church or denomination. After all, doesn’t this blog parallel TGC website?

    And finally, in what context should we not learn anything from women?

    Like

  32. Curt, “One mentions it because it is an important part of understanding who he was.”

    See? You haven’t spent any time with Mencken but from a century later and little knowledge you can conclude — contrary to lots of people who have read Mencken (and I listed books) that racism is important to who he was.

    Moral outrage trumps understanding. Way to go. You’ve achieved social justice warrior status.

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  33. D.G.,
    No, I haven’t spent time with Mencken, but I am working with direct quotes from him as well as from people who had spent time with him and who cited racist statements from the beginning to the end of his career. We should note that Blacks were not the only ones he throught of being inferior. At the same time, his racism was not the only part of him. That leaves him a mixed bag with enough good to learn from and enough faults to keep us putting him on a pedestal.

    So now, what are you objecting to? Do you feel believe that we should put him on a pedestal or should we recognize the good with the bad?

    My feeling from the beginning is that you relate to his libertarianism and that fine. I don’t relate with him on that. But I also have no trouble citing the flaws of the people I like. And I have no trouble because the people I like do not deserve to be placed on pedestals either. I find that pedestals are marketing devices created and used by authortarians.

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  34. Curt, wrong again.

    I relate to Mencken as a human being (aren’t I superior). and in relating to him that way, I recognize talent, energy, industry, and creativity I only wish I had.

    You have your moralistic lens. And it shows.

    Like

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