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Mark Noll on the Potential Benefits and Dangers of The Gospel Coalition

Here is Justin Taylor's post this morning,

Collin Hansen writes, “From time to time we find it helpful to solicit critical feedback on The Gospel Coalition’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential pitfalls. So with this eye toward self-reflection, we welcome Mark Noll’s observations based on years of studying the history of evangelicalism.”

Professor Noll’s interview with Petar Nenadov is, as expected, thoughtful and insightful.

An excerpt:

Such movements also provide an opportunity for positive articulation. Sometimes cooperative efforts have a way of combining weaknesses with weaknesses, rather than strengths with strengths. Yet the ideal Christian world is where everyone puts their best foot forward. Networking together, listening to one another, and sharing experiences provide the opportunity to sharpen one’s beliefs and practices so that the strengths of one another are maximized and the weaknesses minimized.

 In as much as The Gospel Coalition represents the networking of various ministries and persons that grew independently of one another, there is a great opportunity to build confidence in its foundational principles, sharpen one another in the practice of ministry, and positively articulate the best of Augustinian/Reformed theology.

 Some of these positives also represent dangers. The opportunity to put our best foot forward can create larger-than-life personalities and heroes, when in reality, such movements rarely survive the driving forces or persons that bring them into existence. These kinds of movements have strong short-term potential but minimal long-term influence. Without some transition from ad hoc cooperation to established, institutionalized relationships, the work of maturation and discipleship will happen elsewhere. A person can come and enjoy fellowship and teaching at a conference, but ought not to assume that such things can replace the learning and maturing that require years of pastoral practice and study with the accountability of a seasoned pastor or denominational board.

 Then, there is also the danger of schisms. As a broad coalition with differing views on church government, the sacraments, the gifts of the Spirit, and practices of ministry, there is always the danger of schisms over any of these items or something that develops in the future. A recent historical example that comes to mind is that of John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

 Another reality to acknowledge is that the assumptions of much of American culture are not Calvinistic. So you would do well to fight against three things: the tendency to turn leaders into heroes, minimize the importance of institutions, and divide over secondary issues—all the while recognizing the pervasive influence of the dominant culture on religious life.


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