The Pen

On The Gospel Coalition’s “Wretched Infatuation” With Culture

Phil Johnson posted perhaps the most appropriate response to it.  His one-word reaction evokes a sort of slack-jawed, eye-rolling, bang head on desk, “Father forgive them” chiding.

(Phil Johnson is the Executive Director of Grace To You.  According to the website, “He has been closely associated with John MacArthur since 1981 and edits most of John’s major books. Phil also maintains several popular websites, including The Spurgeon Archive, The Hall of Church History, and the Pyromaniacs blog.”  In other words, he’s a sound resource, and preeminently poised with both authentic evangelical credibility and a penetrating, pithiness of pointed vernacular to address such nonsense.)

“Seriously?” may seem rather nonplussed, but an appropriately scornful tone of rebuke may certainly be eisegeted into Johnson’s use of the query.  And then, reinforcing his rightly-placed chagrin, Johnson offered the following to a Facebook commenter who suggested the increasingly popular-among-Christians – but no less inane – advice of “eat the meat and spit out the bones.”

Yet it’s altogether true.  What The Gospel Coalition served up as worldly fodder worthy of your attention is as noxious as the gut-blasted expulsion of blow flies, entrails, and bowel-juices from a heat-swollen Zebra carcass on an arid African grassland.  But they – TGC – served it up anyway.  “Let’s talk about Jesus, y’all” seems to be the point, absent though such legitimate discussion – as well as the actual Gospel – is in the article.

Entitled Learning From Self-Help Guru Tony Robbins, the article attempts to exegete Christian truth from the psycho-babble of a man who amounts to little more than a non-Christian version of Joel Osteen.  While Osteen slathers his motivational missives in enough Christian-ese to make them sound like authentic teaching from faith, Robbins skips Scriptural overtones and cuts right to the carnal chase of becoming self-actualized, self-absorbed, and secularly successful.  Where Osteen is guilty of illicitly citing the Bible for effect, Robbins just drops F-bombs for emphasis.  But they each can quickly whip out the doubtlessly minty-fresh, toothy grin that makes them appealing to an audience.

In case you’re not familiar with Robbins – and if you aren’t, please don’t presume that you need to be, despite that TGC has served him up as a useful teacher – his entry in Wikipedia gives a clear enough description.

Tony Robbins is an American businessman, author, and philanthropist. He became well known from his infomercials and self-help books: Unlimited Power, Unleash the Power Within and Awaken the Giant Within.  (Source)

Robbins bops around the private-jet accessible globe – it’s what you do when you’re the “master of motivation” and worth some half a billion dollars – selling seats to his conferences with such “don’t be a loser” titles as Unleash The Power Within, Date With Destiny, and Life & Wealth Mastery.  In 2016, numerous participants in a Dallas, Texas Unleash The Power conference had to be rushed by ambulance for emergency medical treatment and hospitalization as a result of injuries sustained from the “fire-walking” portion of the event.  (Source) Where Christianized charlatans swing their magic, healing blazers or bop the gullible in the forehead to cast out demons of disease and sickness, Robbins uses the red-hot coals of “fire walks” to guide acolytes in conquering their inner demons of fear.

The Gospel Coalition knows all about Robbins, including these things. “In Tony’s case, he covers most of the topics we consider part of the good life: health, wealth, meaningful work, and meaningful relationships. He also has an immense amount of charisma and charm, even when dropping f-bombs,” the article states.  Unsurprising for the culture-embracing zeal of TGC, it even goes so far as to recommend Robbins’ Date With Destiny training for Christians.  “If you can handle the language, Date With Destiny is worth watching. There’s something compelling about the message that you can change your life for the better.”

(Better than … say … the Gospel? Hmm.  Sounds a bit more like The “American Gospel” Coalition, huh? Frankly, TGC could have lauded Osteen more justifiably than Robbins.  At least with Osteen, they’d have gotten a culturally-approved participation trophy if only for his occasional, albeit erroneous, references to Scripture.)

Still, TGC goes on to add a disclaimer of sorts about Robbins. “Make no mistake: his world is thoroughly secularized and self-interested, and he takes no interest (at least in his published work) in anything beyond self-improvement and ‘self-actualization.’ Which is what makes it all the more surprising that we can learn a few things from him.” (Emphasis added)

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.”  1 Corinthians 3:18-19

While you can read the TGC article for yourself, and hopefully discern the obvious problems of using Caesar’s methods to find Christ’s truth, perhaps most helpful would be to ponder the pithy, pointed responses from Phil Johnson to TGC Editor Joe Carter’s query about Johnson’s distaste for the post.  The Twitter dialogue is screen clipped below for your consideration.

It’s not merely The Gospel Coalition looking for Christian truth from a secular character like Robbins that’s the real problem. Johnson nailed the deeper issue as deftly as a hammer-wielding Luther standing, parchment in hand, in front of those “oh, so in need of a Reformation” castle doors.

“The bigger, more timeless story is TGC’s wretched infatuation with treating popular movies, rap music, and other kitschy expressions of postmodern superficiality as serious ‘art’ worthy of evangelical attention.”  Phil Johnson

But he added: “In fairness, it’s not just TGC.  They learned it from CTmag [Christianity Today magazine].”

“It was one of these silly pillars of neo-evangelical belief, that if we could just blend into the world and learn to be ‘more constructive than critical’ in assessing the various popular expressions of worldly lusts, we could win the world’s admiration and affection, and that would be just as good as actually winning the world.  TGC seems to be blindly pursuing the same course that rendered the entire neo-evangelical experiment moot.”  Phil Johnson

And to this, only an “Amen” and a reminder from God Himself seem an appropriate response.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  1 John 2:15-17

[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]