Last month Ryan Kelly and Kevin DeYoung posted an essay on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) blog (that originally appeared in the spring 2014 issue of Affinity) defending the existence of interdenominational or extra-ecclesial partnerships. Though the essay addresses a few different examples of these kinds of partnerships, the main focus is on TGC. After a quick historical look (that, oddly, focuses primarily on state-sponsored efforts) they briefly discuss Together for the Gospel before providing a quick synopsis of TGC and then attempt to answer several criticisms that have been leveled against TGC. Whether or not they are successful at understanding and answering these criticisms is not under consideration here. Instead, I’d like to consider an interesting statement about TGC and Dispensationalists.
In the midst of defending TGC against the charge of being either too narrow and exclusive or too broad or ambiguous in its doctrinal stance, they discuss the nature of TGC’s Founding Documents:
“TGC circumscribes certain doctrinal positions and not others, because some are central to the preaching of the gospel (for example, penal substitution, the uniqueness of Christ, eternality of hell); some differences evince deep hermeneutical differences, and are practically necessary for something like a preaching conference (complementarianism); and some so affect our understanding of God’s glory and grace that they must be made explicit (Reformed soteriology)….TGC’s Confessional Statement falls within the broader Reformed tradition, and, as noted earlier, it is particular regarding monergistic soteriology, complementarianism, inerrancy, a historical Adam, and double imputation in justification; yet it is unspecific as to eschatology, church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like. The Foundational Documents could not be fully embraced by hard-line dispensationalists, Lutherans, emergents, or mainline liberals. However, among the council there are Presbyterian, Reformed, Episcopalian/Anglican, Baptist, Free Church, and nondenominational, all of which must agree with what is contained in the Foundation Documents. At a little more than 2,300 words, the confessional statement is not aiming for the kind of doctrinal specificity found in the Westminster Confession of Faith or The Second Helvetic Confession. The points of doctrinal specificity in TGC’s documents are intentional, as are the areas of silence.”
Though I’m not certain what they mean by “hard-line dispensationalists,” I find the listing of four categories of “Christians” who could not fully embrace the Foundational Documents interesting: “hard-line dispensationalists, Lutherans, emergents, or mainline liberals.” The latter two would not be able to embrace the documents because they do not affirm things like inerrancy, penal substitution, the uniqueness of Christ, etc. In other words, they could not be part of TGC because they effectively deny the gospel. I’m not certain why Lutherans would be excluded (perhaps this is a reference to the controversy of the Lutheran view of sanctification espoused by former TGC blogger Tullian Tchividjian), but it seems odd that they and “hard-line dispensationalists” would be excluded along with those who have practically rejected the gospel.
So why would “hard-line dispensationalists” be excluded? Dispensationalism has no distinct teaching on areas related to “monergistic soteriology, complementarianism, inerrancy, a historical Adam, and double imputation in justification.” Many Dispensationalists—from a variety of flavors of Dispensationalism—would affirm all of those things. Where Dispensationalism offers a unique understanding in theology centers first of all in ecclesiology (e.g., what is the church, when did it start, what is its relationship to Israel) and secondarily in eschatology (e.g., when will the rapture occur, what is the nature of the kingdom, etc.) Those two areas seem to be matters where these authors claim TGC has remained silent: “[TGC’s confession] is unspecific as to eschatology, church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like.”
Why are “hard-line dispensationalists” excluded then? My guess is that, despite Kelly and DeYoung’s claims, TGC has taken a stand on eschatology. As Kevin Bauder has noted, most traditional dispensationalists (perhaps this is what is meant by “hard-line”) do not believe that the kingdom has been inaugurated, while TGC’s Founding Documents explicitly claim that it has.
My question: why include a specific statement on the kingdom of God in the confessional statement but not specific statements on things like “church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like”? Where does an inaugurated form of the kingdom fit in their explanation for what doctrinal specifics are included? Is it “central to the preaching of the gospel”? Is it a difference that “evince[s] deep hermeneutical differences, and [is] practically necessary for something like a preaching conference (complementarianism)”? Does it “so affect our understanding of God’s glory and grace that [it] must be made explicit”? I don’t see how it fits in any of those areas. So why include a statement in a confession designed to unite believers around the gospel that excludes a large number of believers who fully embrace the gospel?