The Gospel Coalition, Matthew Bates, and Renew.org
This is one of the most in-depth posts we have written so far explaining the distinctive purpose of Renew.org. Thank you in advance for taking the time to carefully read it.
Can we just start by mentioning how grateful we are for The Gospel Coalition? What a valuable group of men and women who are doing much for the cause of Christ.
Leading a church in the 21st century feels a bit like driving on a rain-soaked highway. If you don’t drive cautiously, you’ll find yourself hydroplaning into a ditch.
The ditch that’s easiest to slide into these days is progressive Christianity.
It boasts an inclusivism and subjective theology that appears like an on-ramp, one that might lead the unbelieving world into the church. However, the truth is that progressive Christianity is an exit-ramp that leads to apostasy and the death of churches (please see Renew.org’s book by David Young, A Grand Illusion, on this point).
The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is our ally as we guide an alternative path back to the Bible and away from progressive or liberal theology. It is so refreshing to read the solid thinkers who write for The Gospel Coalition (TGC). They help us steer the right way when it comes to some of Christianity’s core doctrines and life-style issues.
But there was a dustup recently that we want to bring to the attention of our Renew.org network, because it highlights some of the important distinctions between The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and Renew.org.
Greg Gilbert, an important TGC leader, recently slammed the teachings of Renew scholar Matthew Bates. At the root, it is a conflict about how one understands the gospel, exposing an underlying and non-disclosed rift between those who insist on Calvinism and those, like Bates (and Renew.org), who understand the Bible differently.
Calvinists uphold God’s predestination of everything in salvation (including free will). In other words, they believe that God alone chooses those who have faith and those who don’t. The person with faith is only doing what God predestined for that person in salvation. So logic leads them to uphold that God-given faith must be a core part of the gospel.
Bates summarized the conflict in a recent Christianity Today post where he focused on whether faith is a response to the gospel or an essential part of the gospel itself. Bates, like Renew.org, teaches that faith is a response to the gospel.
Renew.org sponsored the publication of Bates’s book, Gospel Allegiance (our imprint is on the cover), and since his book is at the heart of the debate, we want to highlight some key points about the underlying difference that may be debated.
Why Renew.org? What are the differences between TGC and Renew.org?
Without minimizing the numerous, substantial similarities, here are four nuanced differences in emphasis:
- The Spirit Is Resistible – Whereas TGC champions God’s choice in who receives salvation, Renew.org emphasizes more space for human free will in responding to the gospel and the Spirit, where a person can go either way—to resist or accept the Spirit’s lead—and they must choose faith to receive salvation (Acts 7:51).
- A Saved Person Can Renounce Faith and Turn Away from Christ – TGC upholds the sufficiency of a saving transaction and how, after that transaction, God alone ensures that one’s salvation can never be lost (“once saved, always saved”). However, Renew.org acknowledges the importance of both the Spirit and human choice in faithfulness and allegiance. A person can choose, over time, to resist the Spirit and turn his or her back on salvation (Hebrews 10:26-35).
- Jesus Died for Everyone – Whereas TGC tends to uphold limited atonement (Jesus only died for the pre-determined elect), Renew.org holds that Jesus died for everyone and anyone (1 John 2:1-2).
- Individuals Are Not Predestined by God for either Heaven or Hell – TGC tends to define God’s Sovereignty as the determination that God alone has already decided, from before the creation of the world, everyone who will be saved and everyone who will be sent to hell. Renew.org believes more in human freedom, that our choices will have a big role in who makes it to heaven and who does not (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
It is easy to think that these issues are just the quibbling of the academic mind, but, in practice, these differences are important over time. We pray that ministers, pastors, church leaders, and everyday disciples can see the practical implications (see the practical implications we describe below).
The mission of our network is to renew the teachings of Jesus to fuel disciple making. Note the focus on disciple making. The ramifications are in that area.
Here are five practical differences and outcomes:
- Renew.org Upholds both God’s Grace and the Human Response of Faith – The Word of God teaches that we are saved “by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Both Matthew Bates and Renew.org advocate the balance that comes when we do not believe that God does everything in salvation without human cooperation. God provides us with salvation as a gift. He woos those who hear the gospel by his Spirit, but we must respond to the gospel with faith. The real understanding of faith in Scripture is not just “mental assent” or “trust”; it is often better described as allegiance, faithfulness, and loyalty. The role of human choice is fundamental to true faith.
- Renew.org Emphasizes Disciple Making Theology – Renew.org was started because we believe God wants us to articulate and proclaim the theological foundation (from Scripture) that best supports disciple making movements—especially because we believe in true free will and that the details of the future are not all pre-determined.
- Renew.org Teaches that Human Choices Can Mean the Difference Between Heaven and Hell – We believe God leads people to salvation, but he uses human beings and their choices. There will be more people eternally lost if we do not choose to follow God and lovingly reach and disciple them. We must also call the people we reach and disciple to the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5). In short, at Renew.org we do not think it is “all up to God”; the eternal state of humanity is not what God wants, and he asks us to join his saving mission.
- Renew.org Champions Obedience-Based Discipleship – The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 calls disciple makers to teach people to “obey all the commands of Jesus.” The goal is not just salvation; it is obedience and faithfulness that leads us to joy with God in eternity. A “once saved, always saved” focus can diminish the necessity of an obedient faith in the minds of many everyday people. It can lead people to embrace sinful lifestyles that turn them from saving faith (Galatians 5:19-21).
- Renew.org Calls People to Allegiance to King Jesus – We must call people who respond to Jesus and his gospel to see themselves as disciples of King Jesus. There are reasons too numerous to state briefly, but here are three that cause us to emphasize being disciples and making disciples: 1) it is the teaching of Scripture, 2) there is too much brokenness which can be addressed only by personal disciple making and 3) a Sunday morning focus alone—as distinct from a disciple making focus—will not result in creating the faithful people envisioned in Scripture.
Here is our catch phrase that distinguishes our theological emphasis at Renew.org: the Jesus you preach, the gospel you uphold, and the faith you coach will determine the disciple you get.
Again, we state the following with strong conviction: we are grateful for our brothers and sisters in The Gospel Coalition (TGC). Both TGC and Renew.org exist to spread the teachings of Scripture and champion the ways of Jesus. And we believe that there will be no separate Renew.org and TGC sections in heaven.
But on this side of heaven …
There are important nuances and underlying points of divergence, as both Renew.org and Matthew Bates continue to demonstrate in what we write, say, and practice. You can get a good introduction to some of our theological points of emphasis applied to life by reading the following resources:
Some Resources by Renew.org Leaders…
- Matthew Bates – Gospel Allegiance – We will send a free copy of this book (and Mark Moore’s book below) to everyone who subscribes to a trial one-month Renew membership for just $1 (following months are adjusted to $25 per month and include lots of resources)— subscribe by clicking here now.
- Mark Moore – Core 52: A Fifteen-Minute Daily Guide to Build Your Bible IQ in a Year – This recently published book is written for the everyday disciple and it has become wildly popular in a short period of time. Again, we will send a free copy of this book (and Matthew Bates’s book above) to everyone who subscribes to a trial one-month membership for just $1 (following months are adjusted to $25 per month and include lots of resources)—subscribe by clicking here now.
- David Young – King Jesus and the Beauty of Obedience Based Discipleship – This forthcoming book published by Zondervan is a practical and theological exposition of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Renew.org is partnering with various networks and organizations to host webinars on this book when it is released in early July (look for announcements about the webinars and seminars in the Renew.org network newsletter).
*When you sign up for the trial one-month membership, enter $1 in the custom amount.
Additional Resources Recommended by Renew.org …
- William Lane Craig – Craig is one of the foremost Christian apologists of our time. See the blog summary of the differences we have discussed in his post Molinism vs Calvinism.
- Austin Fisher – Fisher provides, in the first 50 pages of his book, one of the best short critiques of Calvinism you can find: see Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism.
- Bill Hull – Hull is a close friend of Renew.org and he has written more books on discipleship and disciple making than anyone else in modern times. See his important book that focuses on “the gospel” and “discipleship” in Conversion and Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without the Other.
For those who have made Renew.org their tribe, it is indeed exhilarating to glimpse what disciple making movements can look like in North America—especially through our partnerships with other disciple making movements around the world.
Make sure you check out Renew.org’s resources (website, podcasts, books), learning communities, disciple making mentoring, and events. You will find people like Matthew Bates and others who are coming together, with God’s help, to champion the teachings of Jesus to fuel disciple making.
The Renew.org Leadership Team