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Chortles Weakly tweeted a link to an old (2014) article by Kevin DeYoung and Ryan Kelly about denominations and parachurch organizations. One paragraph stood out:

The ministries of T4G and TGC are distinct and prominent on the landscape of American evangelicalism, but they are not novel or unique. Other ministries share many of the same aims and inhabit the same theological universe of evangelical Calvinism. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), founded by the late James Montgomery Boice in 1994, is something of a forerunner to today’s most popular partnerships. This multi-dimensional networking and resourcing ministry is similar in many respects to TGC. Several church-planting networks also contribute to the scene, including Acts 29 (now led by Matt Chandler) and Redeemer City to City (under Tim Keller). While some such church-planting networks function as something closer to denominations, with pastoral training and a vetting process, they nevertheless together represent this growth of intentional collegiality that is not merely denominational.

Notice that one parachurch organization is insufficient for all the interested parties. TGC wants unity. Its members want to be the voice of broadly Reformed evangelicalism:

A part of the criticism of TGC has centered on its perceived desire to dominate the evangelical scene, to become “the voice” of Reformed evangelicalism, or to “set the church’s agenda.” Perhaps one reason for this concern is the sheer size of TGC’s footprint on the web and social media. The numbers involved, already mentioned, are quite remarkable. In as much as these pageviews represent people reading good, thoughtful material, we rejoice that Christ may use those efforts to strengthen his church. The same would go for the number of TGC conferences and their attendees. Many have come. Conferences have been added. Hopefully those labors have borne true fruit, by God’s grace. We believe that they have, along with many other good conferences of our day.

But it can’t satisfy the appetites of its own members who not only belong to other parachurch organizations and denominations, but also have embarked on other church planting efforts.

What we are witnessing is paraparachurch.

But imagine if all the members of TGC’s council devoted their energies to making TGC the one-stop shop for broadly Reformed teaching and encouragement about broadly Reformed ministry.

As it stands, one of the council’s members has his own congregation, perhaps a regional meeting of his communion, then an annual one, plus TGC, plus a church planting network, and then a book contract or two.

At some point, simple wisdom suggests something about the danger of spreading yourself too thin. I guess that explains what makes TGC broad.

And yet, we’re supposed to look to these gents for wisdom?

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Is This What A McDonald's "Chef" Says To Himself?

That’s the analogy that Kevin DeYoung and Ryan Kelly’s brief for the Gospel Coalition brought to mind. They begin by asking:

Should Christians who share many of the most important theological commitments partner across denominational lines for mutual support and collaborative ministry? Are there historical precedents for the kind of gospel networks we see flourishing in evangelicalism today? How do popular extra-ecclesial gospel partnerships work (or not work) in the current U.S. church scene?

They answer (oh the suspense), yes, and more helpings from the Gospel Coalition, please:

We have no desire to spend our days as apologists for man-made ministry acronyms. If every organization in this article disappeared tomorrow, the gospel would keep going out and Christ would keep building his church. The question is not whether any of these partnerships are essential. The question, at least for us, is whether they help to support what is essential. Do they serve the local church? Do they help pastors? Do they defend the truth? Do they preach the gospel? Do they get people into their Bibles? Do they provoke people to pursue holiness? Will someone who gets deeply involved with the conferences, the resources, the websites, the documents, and the teaching of these networks end up more committed to the church, more engaged with Scripture, more sure of what they believe, more precise with doctrine, more equipped for reaching the lost, more passionate about the nations, and more delighted with the glory of God in the face of Christ? If the answer is a yes—or even a qualified yes—then for our part we are eager to see these movements flourish and eager to partner with those similarly concerned for and similarly committed to the same gospel.

The problem here is whether “ministry” can really happen outside the church or the context of a worshiping community that has clear lines of responsibility among members and their officers. In other words, is it not possible for Kelly and DeYoung to see that an outfit like the Gospel Coalition provides a meal — it is real food, yes — but a fast-food version of it. People who eat at McDonald’s are not going to be healthy if that is all they eat. People who only eat at McDonald’s have only a commercial relationship — the sales staff at McDonald’s doesn’t know my name and pays me no visit to find out if I’m eating regularly at home. I could also easily take my fast-food eating elsewhere — say to Burger King (Together for the Gospel) or Wendy’s (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) or In-and-Out-Burger (White Horse Media). But if I dine elsewhere, what does it cost me or McDonald’s except for some kind of numerical or accounting? Plus, does the staff at McDonald’s ever teach me how to cook, what to look for in the food I buy, the value of exercise, or how to set up a kitchen?

No.

But who does? Well, my mother did, which may be why we call the church our mother. Pastors regularly provide a sumptuous feast every Lord’s Day and then come along side to see if I am eating at home. They also provide instruction on how to read the Bible (cook for myself). And best of all, pastors and I have a relationship cemented by vows. Those ties are not always pleasant, sometimes boring, and maybe not thrilling in the Passion Conference sense (which since we are in the ballpark of analogies must be similar to the thrills of X Men though I wouldn’t know never having submitted to the gimmicks of its special effects). But those relationships are substantial and sustaining.

What is troubling then about the folks who cook up gatherings like the Gospel Coalition is that they don’t seem to understand the difference between spiritual fast food and ministerial slow food. And they don’t even seem to sense that the conveniences of fast food may not be healthy for those eaters who already have the rich fare of a local and disciplined congregation. I mean, if Gospel Coalition was providing spiritual fast food for a nation of starved eaters, then maybe their menu is the best they can do. But that isn’t the case. In fact, as Kelly and DeYoung admit, the designers of TGC are already pastors in congregations and denominations where real ministry already happens, where Christians are truly fed and instructed. So why would they purposefully offer an inferior product? Or could it be that they believe their product is superior?

If so, I’d like to know when Tim Keller takes Kathy out for their anniversary if they go to Jack in the Box.