In his current Evangel bio, Frank Turk lists one of his pastimes as “internet mayhem.” As evidenced by the current offense taken to him by Mark Olsen and various commenters at Evangel, he obviously hasn’t lost his spiritual gift in that matter. However, as he read through Olson’s last post, and after reviewing the procession of torches and pitchforks coming for him in that lonely castle on the hill outside town, Frank was surprised to learn that it wasn’t the actual Calvinistic monster that he is which all the haters want to destroy: it’s one they have created themselves out of the dead scraps of their own personal points of view.
In an effort to destroy that monster, and thereby save the internet villagers from themselves and their allegedly well-intention internet vigilantism (because of course: someone on the internet is wrong), the following interview has been provided.
You may be right to lynch Frank in the end, but his message is clear: at least head to the right mad scientist’s lair. and also: fire - good!
First Things - Evangel [FTE]: Well. Nice work.
Frank Turk: Thanks, I guess. I wish I could take credit for it. Looks like a lot of people are looking for someone to hold responsible for something — not sure why. It seems they get pretty angry when they come to this place.
FTE: What do you mean by that? Don’t you think you caused all this outrage?
Frank Turk: I am certainly the object of all the outrage, and I’m also certain that my posting here at Evangel caused these things. I’m just not really sure how — I think it’s because people want to be offended. I am certain, for example, that TUAD wants to be offended by me — because I find his approach to argumentation and reasoning pretty shallow. I’m sure that offends him to say that, but someone who isn’t seeking to find offense in criticisms would say, “how about an example,” rather than “I know you are but what am I?”
To answer your question, FTE, I am sure I “caused” the outrage — I was the one who started people thinking about their list of grievances. I just don’t think I caused the grievances.
FTE: That’s sort of self-congratulatory, don’t you think? That is: it’s a little of the same you accuse TUAD of to say it’s their problem they are offended when you say things like, “this fellow wants to find offense in others,” and “that fellow isn’t really saved?”
Frank Turk: Well, to the second example there, FTE, I’d like to get a short list of places where I actually said some person specifically is not saved. I’m sure I have said it maybe two of three times in my first 5-year mission to explore strange new worlds and to go boldly where others will only go kicking and screaming. I’ve said specific atheists are not saved; I’ve said specific apostates are not saved; I think I called one or two prohibitionists over the years purveyors of a different gospel and therefore not saved.
Here at Evangel I am certain I have not called any of my fellow bloggers “not saved”, and I am equally certain I have not called anyone commenting here “not saved”. I feel like I’ve taken great pains to do so. However, in that spirit, I’m open to examples of me doing such a thing here. I could be wrong, but because in about 10 years of internet apologetics (a really pathetic hobby, I admit) I have a significant list of “lessons learned”, I seek to avoid saying such things about specific people unless they make it clear they have abandoned the Gospel.
FTE: So what does that mean — “abandon the Gospel”?
Frank Turk: Wow. Great question — that seems pretty obvious to me, but I always forget that most people don’t frame up the Christian faith the way I do.
You know: this guy Jesus was born about 201 decades ago, and he was born in a feed trough even though angels announced his birth and prophecy announced his birth and all creation was waiting for his birth. And Jesus came telling people (Jewish people — the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) that all that stuff that God was talking about in the OT was about to come true. When he asked Simon (the son of Jonah) what it was that he thought all that meant, Simon said, “well: you’re the Messiah, Jesus — the son of God Almighty.” And Jesus agreed with him — said that this truth isn’t something Simon puzzled out on his own, but that God himself taught him it was true.
But right then and there, Jesus didn’t say, “so here’s how we’re going to set up the Kingdom, boys — take good notes because you’re going to be architects of a new kind of Judaism, and new way of being human.” In Mat 16, Matthew tells us, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
See: the point of there being a Messiah (a “Christ” in our Jesus-ese) is that Christ must die — not anything else. Jesus gives Peter and the 12 the word that the gates of Hell will not stand against his assembly, and that the church is what Christ builds, and the way Christ builds that assembly is by dying in Jerusalem and then raising from the dead.
This is the Gospel: the Christ-centered, Christ-exulting, Christ-made, Christ-intended, Christ-himself-only work of dying in fulfillment of the Scripture, and then raising from the dead in fulfillment of the Scripture.
The reason I pick this out from Mat 16 and not 1 Cor 15:1-4 is that after Jesus explains all that, Peter says, “hey waitaminit — that’s just not right. Messiah is supposed to restore Jerusalem, Jesus. Don’t talk like that.” And when Jesus listened to “the Rock” tell him that the Gospel is discouraging and shouldn’t be mentioned, Jesus says, “that’s Satanic, Peter: don’t get in my way — you want what you want in those things and not what God wants.”
Jesus himself is not afraid to call his friend and his follower “Satan” for up-ending the Gospel — for thinking about what man wants rather than what God wants. And in that, we all do what Peter here did from time to time.
The problem is that some of us — you know: us people who attend congregations with crosses in high places and bibles of one sort or another in the seats — get married up to our ideas of what man wants. Let me say it clearly here so that nobody misses it:
Every denomination, every local church, and every individual person who systematically puts what man wants ahead of what God wants in the way Peter here does in rebuking Christ is abandoning the Gospel.
I don’t care if you’re a Baptist, a Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, COGIC, COG, Blog or Mablog: when you say, in some way, that Christ ought not to have to die and man can have it his own way, you’re abandoning the Gospel and you are putting yourself and others to eternal peril.
That’s what I mean when I say that. Anyone who approaches that point of view reductively and tries to pin their conclusions on me is just a liar — they are straw-manning me, and attacking someone and something I would myself repudiate.
FTE: Wow. yeah — OK. So since you brought up the question of denominations, which one has the purest expression of the faith?
Frank Turk: hang on a second ...
Gosh, that’s frustrating to hear someone ask that question! It’s like they aren’t listening at all.
See: I think that question entirely misses the point. It assumes that I think that the Gospel is contained in some sort of corporate hierarchy. The deck is stacked from the go for that person, and I worry about them investing in some institutionalized apparatus what Christ himself said is his work alone.
To make sure I answer the question succinctly: not one denomination in the history of the world ever could lay claim to a “pure” Gospel. Not one ever. No cooperative program of Baptists; no synod of reformed geniuses; no gaggle of baby-baptizers; no brood of anti-baby baptizers; no diocese; no prelate; no empire; no abby of monks; no catacomb of frightened potential martyrs (in spite of Joe Carter’s insistence that martyrdom was statistically insignificant); no Corinthians, no Hebrews, no Thessalonians, no Ephesians, no Galatians, no Catholics, no Mennonites, no Lollards. No bloggers, if I may say so.
Not one ever had a “pure” institution, or a “pure” Gospel.
So for us today to start seeking out which one is the “purest” is sort of like straining through a land fill looking for the “purest” sandwich. What a waste of time! To find the “purest” Gospel, we have to look to Christ himself — as he was proclaimed by Moses and all the Prophets, and then by his disciples and Apostles, captured by God’s grace and providence in Scripture.
The rub, of course, is that if we read Scripture seriously and with any manner of consistency, we have to admit that Christ wants an assembly of believers — not just in theory, but in fact, in person, together in fellowship for the sake of declaring Gospel and also doing and living as if the Gospel is true. That means there has to be some kind of local church, assembled in a way which resembles the order of NT assemblies (we translate that word “churches”, which is fine as long as we see what the word ought to mean rather than what we often make it mean) following in obedience to Christ and the Apostles.
FTE: So you don’t belong to a denomination? Or you think you don’t make this mistake yourself?
Frank Turk: Let’s think about that second question first: what sort of an ass would I have to be to think that I am the one guy who both finally figured all this stuff out, and finally got right what 201 decades of people working on this have never gotten right? I’d have to be a pretty gigantically self-involved moron with little or no historical perspective to think that if everyone were just like me, and listened only to me, they’d finally “get the Gospel right”. Think about that broadly and apply it liberally.
That sort of pontification [uh-huh] and self-involvement is itself a kind of denial of the Gospel. It refuses to admit that nobody is a finished product, and that like the Hebrews, and the Phillipians, and the Ephesians, and the Corinthians, and all of Israel, and Solomon, and David, and all the people in the book of Judges, and Moses, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and Noah, and Adam we are people who need to be saved, not a people who are somehow already triumphant and triumphal.
I myself make mistakes like this in my spiritual life all the time. The question is only if Jesus will save me and if the Gospel is the solution to the things I am doing and thinking, and the trouble I get myself into. Is the Gospel the solution to the culture of me personally? If the answer is not “yes”, and if I do not need to be buried in Christ’s death so I can be raised to Christ’s life every day, then I have denied the Gospel. What denomination I belong to is utterly irrelevant — and may in fact be part of the problem as I seek refuge in it rather than in Him.
So of course: I belong to a denomination. Everyone who is in fellowship with other people (whether they are believers or not; whether they will admit it to themselves or not) belongs to a denomination. Even the kooks who think that by not attending any church in protest to denominationalism belong to a denomination.
The question is whether we are taking refuge in the denomination, or in Christ.
To bore you to death on this subject, let me give you some examples which will really cause internet mayhem: in the exact same way I think many, many Catholics make this error, there are many, many, many Southern baptists who unquestionably make this error, and there are many, many, many, many pastors and members in the Shepherd’s Fellowship who make this error. This is not a merely high-church error: it is the error of thinking that some confession saves you, or some tradition saves you, or some association/relationship/membership/affiliation saves you.
The requirement of the NT to belong to a local assembly of believers who actually assemble and actually love Jesus and live like the work of Christ has consequences in the real world — and obeying that requirement — is not the same as saying that my denomination is “pure” or “purer” or “purest”. It’s saying that I’m a filthy sinner who, without Christ, is dead — so the life I have is a life I will spend in the shadow of the Cross and in the joy of the empty tomb.
FTE: Huh. Do you ever answer in sound-bites? Something a little less wordy?
Frank Turk: Only on Twitter.
FTE: So what about Mark Olson, for example? Has he abandoned the Gospel?
Frank Turk: Did I say he did? I think TUAD says that he did — TUAD said Olson’s EO, therefore he’s a gospel-denying bogeyman. I deny that logic is in any way a decent way to reason
I leave it to TUAD to prove that Mark Olson is a person who denies the doctrine of original sin (that is, the inherent depravity of man’s nature as we are here after the fall), is totally sold on the concept of Theosis, and would demand that salvation is entirely a cooperative effort between God and man and not a monergistic work.
My opinion is that Olson would never do such a thing. He would label my understanding of EO as completely baseless and then explain how EO isn’t essentially pelagian, doesn’t teach that people are “deified” (cf. Maximus the Confessor), and doesn’t extoll the partnership view that man saves himself with God’s help.
I could be wrong: I welcome his correction and would apologize if his view of the Gospel is pelagian, synergistic and, well, can explain and embrace any very-astonishing explanation of holiness found in the doctrines of theosis. But a pelagian, synergistic view is somewhat excluded from what Jesus was talking about in Mat 16.
I leave that for TUAD and Olson to flesh out for us. I confess I don’t actually know for certain what Olson believes in these matters, but from what I’ve read from him I don’t think he’s what TUAD requires to make his point.
FTE: So you’re saying that someone could attend an EO church — even belong to the EO after being catechized and baptized — and because she has subjectivized the catechesis she has received, she could not actually deny the Gospel?
Frank Turk: Yes. Of course!
FTE: Isn’t that a little insulting? Aren’t you saying that people are kidding themselves if they join an EO church but still hold to Protestant definitions of the faith?
Frank Turk: You can put it that way if you want to — I don’t think that this is a charitable way to say it.
Listen: we have all done this in other areas of our lives. For example, many of us work for companies where we sort of look past some of the more-flamboyant points of the mission statement or work in spite of some of the objectives out employers have because they are unsavory to a greater or lesser degree. And we do it for the sake of self-preservation — that is, we know better than to do that, so we define objectives or statements in a way we can achieve them or accept them so that we are not compromised.
I know a lot of Catholics who do this. And let’s just be honest: I know a lot of baptists and their kin who do this to preserve their own semi-pelagianism, so it’s not always a good thing. But we are who we are.
FTE: So what about the people who signed the Manhattan Declaration? Are they kidding themselves?
Frank Turk: In a word? yes. I’m out of words on this subject. Next.
FTE: Well, not so fast, dude. If that’s what you believe about this, how is it that you’re not a pharisaic hypocrite who blogs here at Evangel among the Catholics and the Orthodox and the lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) and therefore dilutes the Gospel for the occasional reader? Aren’t you kidding yourself?
Frank Turk: Before I answer that, let me tell you what a clever interviewer you are. You’re a very sharp guy.
FTE: Well, I am actually you, Frank so ...
Frank Turk: Yeah, I’m just sayin’ that you’re not leaving any stone unturned. Thanks for your help.
Anyway, the wildly-ironic thing about that accusation is that it ignores every post I’ve made here at Evangel — including this one, and including the posts and comments that got Francis Beckwith’s text batch in a bundle regarding the advertising at the Evangel blog. It seems to say, “the only reason to come here is to cooperate with heretics and deceive people into confusion about the Gospel.”
Well: one good reason to blog here is to dispell that sort of Colson-esque, Hewitt-esque, Beckwith-esque view that ecumenism ought to come by painting in broader strokes and overlooking things like whether or not there’s a saving sacrifice at the mass, and whether or not people are born inherently good but just have to work harder — whether that be through prayer or through tea-totalling abstention from alcohol. “Ecumenism” comes when we preach the Gospel, and the Gospel destroys our idols, and then the church under the actual Gospel is a city on a hill, a light on a lampstand.
A good reason to blog here is to jiggle the Jenga tower of the foggy ecumenists and force them to consider and reconsider the Gospel. Hence: Evangel.
It seems to me that my blogging here so far has done that — if we judge by the mad rush to condemn me as a trouble-making, lifeless, etc. etc. bigot, anyway.
The reason that’s different than, for example, signing the Manhattan Declaration (and remind me to come back to that regarding where the outraged contingent of the signers are right now) is that the MD has to, by rights and by nature, diminish what it means to say “preach the Gospel” or “declare the Gospel” or “Gospel” in order to say that all the signers of all manner of stripes of tradition mean the same thing when they say that.
Here I can simply proclaim: I can proclaim what I mean to proclaim, and if Olson disagrees he can disagree, or if Beckwith disagrees he can disagree, or if TUAD disagrees he can disagree (though I admit I have deleted his more-offensive comments for the sake of his own well-being), and the differences can be obvious and clear.
If that confuses people, so be it: but it would confuse them because they would come to the table with the ambiguous notion that all religions are the same, and all sociologically-similar “Christians” all believe the same thing. The disambiguation of those ideas is, by a long shot, a spiritually-prosperous endeavor.
I’m not doing anything ambiguous here: I’m taking great pains to clarify, and it has lead to all manner of offense.
FTE: Hmm. So what about the “the outraged contingent of the signers”?
Frank Turk: Oh yeah. Thanks.
You know: RC Sproul has said what I have said about this document. And many people have received what he has said without all the cataclysm and apocalypse. But there are, of course, a contingent of people who cannot disagree without being hell-bent to make those who have disagreed with them (you know: not just in theory or in general, but in fact and specifically with what they have said) into the Devil himself because that’s the only way to get to the end-point where they are right, dammit: RIGHT!
So for example: to say, “the Gospel itself is obscured when we say that the the way it is defined by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants is more or less the same thing, and I won’t sign on to a document which does this,” is then manipulated into saying, “All Catholics be damned! And Mark Olson especially!” is not even remotely rational. It’s not even sensible — it’s simply demonizing the other side for the sake of eventually raising the argument, “and who would want to be associated with a guy who would say that?”
I didn’t have to demonize anyone to say what I said — in fact, I have taken privately flack for failing to demonize Catholics and Orthodox in my objection. Can you imagine? Because I have said, and will continue to say, that there is something exclusive among the three major banks of theology mentioned in the MD — and that they may all be wrong, but that they cannot all be right — I have been told I have myself watered down the Gospel!
You know: wow.
But the outrage contingent has to have an enemy, not just a position or a disagreement. So when someone points out to them that making someone your enemy for nothing is disreputable, they have to see and raise: they have to amp up the reproach because of course — saying, “wow — that’s right. maybe there’s a good reason to disagree about this (as Al Mohler did) and I shouldn’t make someone into an enemy of all people who’s trying to make a rational point,” would be admitting they are wrong.
So they marginalize themselves for the sake of one incidental document which will, long term, save zero babies, reform zero marriages, provide not one extra second of religious freedom, but philosophically makes the actual definition of the Gospel ambiguous and unimportant.
Honestly, I think there’s room for very vigorous discussion here — but running full speed with scissors toward the room full of marbles which is the “hypocrite pharisee” rebuttal is not helpful at all.
FTE: Yeah, but what if they think you’re wrong? can they say you are wrong?
Frank Turk: Sure. But “hypocrite pharisee” is not an argument — even reasoning out reasons to call me a “hypocrite pharisee” is not an argument. They should be a little more concerned with my objections as they come rather than how they think they apply to me. I may in fact be a hypocrite pharisee — that’s not a good reason to sign the MD. The MD throws a large blanket over all manner of theologies and calls the blanket “the Gospel”, and therefore all manner of people “believers”. Prove to me that it doesn’t do that (Colson says it does; he wrote it), or that they are, and we’re having a discussion. Pretending that my (alleged) flaws are reason to sign the MD is simply not convincing.
FTE: OK — to summarize, you think the Gospel is the solution to culture (including your own cultural problems), sound faith in Christ doesn’t mean someone makes wise practical choices, claims of denominational purity are all over-rated, the charge that Mark Olson is a heretic for belonging to an EO church is unfounded (and not your argument anyway), and you think people trying to make you out to be the bad guy here aren’t following the arguments very closely.
Frank Turk: Yes. Exactly. I would also like to find a way to tell everyone reading here to pray for Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Highland, TX, And Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, who are both in medical distress, but you didn’t bring it up.
FTE: Yeah, well, I wanted to get the high points first. Do you have a few minutes to talk about some other stuff?
Frank Turk: This is the unscripted part, eh?
FTE: You didn’t see it coming?
Frank Turk: like I said — you’re a sharp guy. WORD says we’re over 10 pages already. You think anyone is still reading?
FTE: Good point. And it is the weekend.
Frank Turk: Exactly. If anyone reads this and responds, you can come back and we can try to talk some sense to them again. Next time we can talk about why people should respect the faith of others before us and anachronisms and all manner of other things related to this stuff.
FTE: Sweet. Will you take a shot at someone?
Frank Turk: You’re the interviewer, dude. Paul Edwards tried and failed, and he’s better at this than you are.