You may be aware there’s a debate among evangelical friends of the Bible Society of Australia – especially those from a reformed perspective – who have very different views about the venue and speakers for the 200th anniversary of that excellent institution.

I want to propose a listening exercise I’ve attempted to sharpen understanding of each other.

It’s this: 1. Listen to the other. 2. State your own concerns. 3. Review whether you felt the force of the alternative view. Then we may see better ways forward.

In what follows, I have chosen not to name the actual venue of concern, although most people reading will know, and anyone else can soon find out. I do this simply to make my exercise a little less personal. Others can judge whether that is realistic. I certainly indicate no personal animus or judgment against the Christian commitment of those involved.

(1) The first step in my listening exercise is to say what I think I hear people saying when they celebrate chances taken by (non-liberal) Christians of different stripe – yet who profess Christ and love the Scriptures – to work together.

I think such brothers and sisters feel the very high value placed by Scripture on

  • maintaining Christian unity (e.g. Ephesians 4:2-3);
  • exercising Christian charity (including not presuming the worst of others, e.g. 1 Corinthians 13:5 & 7); and
  • seeing room for walking together, by allowing different convictions over “disputable matters” (e.g. Romans 14:1-8).

They also note the value of Christians of different, but creedally and ethically orthodox, denominations exercising what’s often called “co-belligerence”. That’s when, for example, Christians, who differ on justification or the sufficiency of Scripture, work together to defend a biblical ethical position on the definition of marriage or on the sanctity of life, in matters at dispute in our wider society.

Additionally, ‘cooperationists’ can see a strategic teaching opportunity for a reformed speaker to bring strong biblical theology to a wider audience.

And perhaps, above all, they prize the perceived missional value of Christians being seen to love each other – working together rather than fighting – as we bear testimony to Jesus and his gospel (John 13:34-35).

Now I and some of my friends may not quite agree with exactly how to express these priorities, and might dispute precisely how the Scriptures I’ve mentioned apply to current disagreements. But I think the force of the concerns of the ‘maximal cooperationists’ has some weight and is worth pondering.

(2) My second step in this listening exercise is to ask those who celebrate such cooperation to say what they think the force is of the concerns expressed by people like me who hesitate about some forms of cooperation.

In particular, I am talking about evangelicals of a reformed flavour cooperating on a prominent charismatic Christian platform, specifically one which hosts preachers of the Prosperity Gospel and even of dubious Trinitarian conviction.

To aid such attempts to hear I will detail my concerns a little further.

One reason is that every year at CMS Summer School, I hear multiple, heart-felt messages about the deep and destructive damage done by the false Prosperity Gospel so commonly peddled in parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. This year, the visiting Tanzanian Bishop, Mwita Akiri, was particularly strong on this.

Dr Joe Radkovic is a returned CMS missionary colleague in our congregation with a decade’s experience working in a Nairobi slum. He’s given powerful eye-witness testimony about the damage done there by prosperity theology to those who can least afford it.

John Piper is certainly no cessationist in regards to the spiritual gifts, and is a man of undoubted spiritual passion. So let me quote this Reformed hero of so many from his most famous attack on the Prosperity Gospel:

It is not the gospel, and it’s being exported from this country to Africa and Asia, selling a bill of goods to the poorest of the poor: “Believe this message, and your pigs won’t die and your wife won’t have miscarriages, and you’ll have rings on your fingers and coats on your back.” That’s coming out of America—the people that ought to be giving our money and our time and our lives, instead selling them a bunch of crap called “gospel”.

I think it hypocritical to affirm respected missionaries, pastors and bishops who denounce such preaching and then cooperate on a platform of an influential group that welcomes preachers who promote it.

And sadly, the church venue chosen to celebrate the Bible Society’s anniversary  has consistently invited a range of prosperity gospel preachers to feature very publicly on their platform at the annual conference, which is advertised and prominent among the whole Australian Christian community.

I also know they seem to have moved away from some of the more extreme bits of Pentecostalism and the grossest versions of the Prosperity Gospel. The senior pastor now regrets the title of his older book, You Need More Money. However, it is less clear to me whether he regrets the essence of the teaching of the book or now just expresses it in a more nuanced, middle-class way.

In recent years their annual conference has featured headline speakers such as Joyce Meyer, Joseph Prince and Joel Osteen, who often come from an unbiblical ‘Word of Faith’ background and preach erroneous Prosperity Theology.

Further, this platform has repeatedly invited T. D. Jakes, who not only pushes the prosperity line, but is of very doubtful Trinitarian theology. Though he has moved from strict modalism, as far as I know, he still refuses to affirm biblical Trinitarianism of “three persons”, as expressed in the historically accepted Nicene Creed. He is vague on the God of the Trinity, something central and essential to our faith. (I wrote about this a few years back.)

Anyone in the world of reformed evangelicalism ought to have concerns about associating with a ministry that promotes such speakers. The denomination that hosts them is tarnished by these speakers. They do not carefully handle God’s Word of Truth. The lack of solid biblical doctrine and discernment is disturbing.

In fact, I believe that Prosperity Theology is such a big problem it cannot just be ignored, or shifted away from. It needs to be repented of, and when you have publicly promoted it, it needs to be publicly rejected.

In my opinion, we cannot be seen to endorse – even indirectly by cooperating on their platform for a worthy third party – such a prominent ministry that gives air time to such woefully inadequate teachers.

If you’re an evangelical and are more supportive of cooperation with the kind of platform I’m critiquing here, can you articulate back the nature and force of my concerns?

And if you think cooperation on such a platform may still be appropriate, what alternate steps can you suggest for persuading their leaders to move decisively away from Prosperity Theology? How can you encourage much stronger biblical and doctrinal discernment among their people?

(3) My last step is to ask (myself included) whether people have properly found and weighed the kernel of truth and concern in the view opposite to theirs.

My hope is that my friends in favour of greater cooperation might actually stop and feel the force of my very deep concerns.

But at the same time, I would like concerned friends like myself to reflect on how to maximise appropriate cooperation wherever possible.

It would be lovely to be able to suggest better ways forward for supporting biblical cooperation among Christians of different flavours in the future.

As for myself and the church I serve, we will definitely be finding other ways to support the Bible Society, in its bicentennial year, with its goal to translate, publish, distribute and engage people with the Bible.

I await your comments on my Facebook page[1]I am happy to receive comments from anyone as mentioned, but I generally only accept friend requests from people I have got to know – https://www.facebook.com/sandy.grant.988. But I warn that if you just vent, or take narky pot shots, I will delete the comments. Be firm and strong in giving the reasons for your opinions. But please use moderation in your expression.

References   [ + ]

1.I am happy to receive comments from anyone as mentioned, but I generally only accept friend requests from people I have got to know – https://www.facebook.com/sandy.grant.988