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Matt Recker and The Gospel Coalition, Part 9: Summary

In the Nick of Time

Over the past few months, I have been responding intermittently to Pastor Matt Recker’s evaluation of the New Calvinism, and particularly to his assessment of The Gospel Coalition. What I would like to do now is to summarize my responses and to offer a word of appraisal concerning the larger dimensions of the discussion between Pastor Recker and myself. What Pastor Recker and I have been doing is helpful, I believe, for the most conservative evangelicals, namely, fundamentalists.

My responses to Pastor Recker can be divided into three categories: expressions of agreement, expressions of disagreement, and expansions upon themes that he raises. The expansions were not so much aimed at him as necessary detours because of the importance of the subject matter (in fact, a couple of those essays hardly even mentioned his name). In my judgment, the areas of disagreement have been far less important than the areas of agreement. In fact, I applaud a good bit of what Pastor Recker and written, and I share many of his concerns.

The significant areas of disagreement are few. One is that Pastor Recker drew a parallel between the New Calvinism and the (now old) New Evangelicalism. He based this parallel largely on a single primary source, an article from Christian Life magazine in 1957 entitled “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” Pastor Recker took this article to provide a point-by-point summary of the New Evangelical mindset. While I agree that the article is important for understanding New Evangelicalism, I think that the treatment needs to be more nuanced: the article is about evangelical theology in general, and not about neoevangelical theology in particular. Pastor Recker has appealed to secondary sources by Rolland McCune and Ernest Pickering in support of his reading. I am quite prepared to concede that McCune and Pickering grant a great deal of importance to the article. My appeal, however, is not to secondary sources who are commenting on the article, but to the article itself, set against the backdrop of evangelical (including fundamentalist) developments during the mid-1950s. I do not believe that the article can rightly be assumed to summarize New Evangelicalism or that it deals only with neoevangelicals.

Also, Pastor Recker expressed concern that the New Calvinism, and The Gospel Coalition in particular, is weak on the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. I believe this concern to be mistaken, at least formally. All members of The Gospel Coalition boldly confess belief in inerrancy, and some of them are among its foremost defenders. Still, Pastor Recker’s concern has a grain of legitimacy: some Coalitionaires hold to a version of progressive creationism or theistic evolution, the effect of which is to undermine the actual authority of Scripture. Their hermeneutic damages the usefulness of the very inerrancy that they profess to believe.

In spite of these areas of disagreement, Pastor Recker and I shared several concerns over positions taken by figures in The Gospel Coalition. During this part of the discussion, Tim Keller was probably singled out disproportionately. In one way, I regret that, because there are aspects of Keller’s thought that are very, very good. Nevertheless, he provides a convenient illustration of a couple of significant doctrinal mistakes.

One mistake is Pastor Keller’s adherence to old-earth progressive creationism and his endorsement of the work of Biologos. Most evangelicals and some fundamentalists believe that this is a relatively minor difference of opinion. Pastor Recker and I, however, are on the same side here. We are convinced that any perspective that puts animal death in the created order prior to Adamic sin is going to have important consequences for the entire system of theology. This is one of our greatest concerns—we believe that this error does begin to touch on the gospel.

We are also concerned with Pastor Keller’s inclusion of social activity as an aspect of the gospel. We do not question Pastor Keller’s sincerity or the acuity of his intellect in coming to this position, but we are alarmed at the result. To be clear, Pastor Keller does not deny any of the gospel. By adding to the gospel an activity that is not directly part of its message, however, Pastor Keller effectively begins to dilute the gospel. Pastor Recker and I agree that this constitutes a rather serious error.

A third area in which we agree is in our concern over the charismatic theology within the New Calvinism. Once again we understand that most evangelicals see the debate between continuationism and cessationism as relatively unimportant. Nevertheless, it is a debate that involves a major misunderstanding of the present work of the Holy Spirit. It involves significant misconstruals of key biblical concepts like revelation and prophecy. It leads to some fairly radical extremes, against which the more moderate charismatics seem unable to erect any effective barrier. For these and other reasons, Pastor Recker and I both believe that every form of charismatic theology constitutes a serious error.

Pastor Recker and I both agree and disagree. Our disagreements, however, revolve around relatively fine distinctions, while our agreements center upon important doctrinal concerns. If we do not quite see eye to eye, we certainly do not see each other as opponents.

Throughout this exchange Pastor Recker has been a wonderful interlocutor. He has seen the drafts of the essays before they were published. Where he has thought them to be unfair, he has felt free to say so, always with great respect and kindness. I have tried to alter the content so that he is charitably represented. During the exchange, I have grown to know him better and to appreciate him more. Far from being his opponent, I consider it an honor to stand by his side in the battle for truth. In the meanwhile, his words have had the effect of sharpening my thinking in several areas.

Disagreement is not always opposition. Debate need not always be hostile. When we started this conversation, I only knew Pastor Recker by reputation. To his credit, he has used our conversation in both public and private to make me his friend. I am grateful for his investment, which reflects well not only upon him, but upon the organizations that he serves and the venue through which he published his essays. Fundamentalism would profit from more discussions of this sort.


Conference Notice:
Signs and Wonders? The Pentecostalization of Global Christianity

In Acts 2 Peter declares that God’s Spirit will be poured out on all people in the last days so that they prophesy, perform miracles, and have visions. Contemporary Pentecostals claim to practice these and other related miraculous gifts of the Spirit, and the influence of this movement is increasing greatly throughout the world, predominantly in the Global South.

Central Seminary professor Dr. Jeff Straub has written and taught widely on the history and present condition of Pentecostalism. His travels addressing this topic have taken him to Africa, India, and China. During Central Seminary’s MacDonald Lecture Series on February 10, Dr. Straub will trace the history of Pentecostalism, describe its current state, and make a case for the cessation of miraculous gifts from the Scriptures.

We invite you to join us for this one-day conference on the campus of Central Seminary.


This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.


What Various Hindrances We Meet
William Cowper (1731–1800)

What various hindrances we meet
in coming to the mercy-seat?
Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,
but wishes to be often there.

Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
gives exercise to faith and love,
brings every blessing from above.

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright;
and Satan trembles, when he sees
the weakest saint upon his knees.

While Moses stood with arms spread wide,
success was found on Israel’s side;
but when through weariness they failed,
that moment Amalek prevailed.

Have you no words? ah, think again,
words flow apace when you complain;
and fill your fellow-creature’s ear
with the sad tale of all your care.

Were half the breath thus vainly spent,
to heaven in supplication sent;
our cheerful song would oftener be,
“Hear what the LORD has done for me.”

O Lord, increase our faith and love,
that we may all thy goodness prove,
and gain from thy exhaustless store
the fruits of prayer for evermore.

About Kevin Bauder

Kevin T. Bauder is Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that this post expresses.