Matt Recker and The Gospel Coalition

Are Pastor Recker's criticisms of The Gospel Coalition well-founded?

All human organizations have faults and are liable to criticism. The Gospel Coalition is no exception. Those criticisms, however, must be thoughtful and fair, not based upon guilt-by-association or misunderstanding. Parts of Pastor Recker’s evaluation are spot on. For other evaluations, he relies upon a flawed appropriation of a 1956 article from Christian Life magazine. In yet other places he bases his evaluation upon a misunderstanding of his opponents’ position. This misunderstanding is most apparent in Pastor Recker’s remaining criticisms, particularly his criticism that The Gospel Coalition has taken a soft position on the inerrancy of Scripture. That criticism also deserves a response.

 

For many years, Matt Recker has been a church planter and pastor in New York City. He has started churches in Brooklyn and Queens, and he presently pastors the Heritage Baptist Church in Manhattan. He has written and taught on urban ministry, becoming recognized among fundamentalists as something of an authority in these areas.

Recently, Pastor Recker has also been writing against what he calls the New Calvinism, by which he means mainly The Gospel Coalition (he also mentions Together for the Gospel and a few other groups and individuals, but only occasionally). His thesis is that the New Calvinism is recapitulating the New Evangelicalism of the 1940s and 1950s, though he sometimes looks for parallels in evangelical trends as late as the 1980s.

What is Pastor Recker calling the New Evangelicalism? He finds its chief characteristics primarily in an article, “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” published in Christian Life in 1956. That article listed eight evangelical theological trends of that era, and Pastor Recker thinks that he can discover parallels for each trend in The Gospel Coalition.

This methodology presents an immediate problem. The Christian Lifearticle did not intend to define the New Evangelicalism, but simply to describe certain new directions within evangelical theology. It cited a number of evangelical theologians, some of whom were neoevangelical, but some of whom were sharply critical of the New Evangelicalism. Consequently, the trends are of different kinds. Some were genuinely characteristic of neoevangelicalism, while others were characteristic of evangelicals as a whole. In other words, parallels between The Gospel Coalition and the trends in Christian Life do not necessarily constitute evidence of some nascent neoevangelicalism in TGC. Everything depends upon the nature of the parallels.

In some areas, the parallels are quite marked. For example, as Pastor Recker points out, one is the reluctance to denounce so-called “progressive creationism” or even theistic evolution. This characteristic really did become a significant distinction between fundamentalists and some neoevangelicals of the 1950s and 1960s. By his participation with BioLogos, TGC leader Tim Keller takes a position that identifies him more with the New Evangelicalism than the fundamentalism or even moderate evangelicalism of that era.

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