Four Pajama Axioms 12

If you have been following the discussion in the various Reformation posts, you, as I, may have been surprised at the conclusions that NewSpring’s representatives have arrived at. We have had one contributor argue that there’s no important difference between the Protestant and Roman Catholic church, so history’s verdict is that the Reformation was pretty much a waste of time. Another complained that Luther’s 95 Theses and the great documents of the Reformation were old and dated. As I survey the comment thread as I write, the arguments have not yet been refuted by another NewSpring member or leader, so we are left to assume that their NS colleagues don’t see a problem with the arguments or don’t think they’re important enough to clarify or denounce.

In case no-one comes along and does that, let’s set down a few Pajama Axioms.

  1. Numbers are meaningless unless they are linked to an underlying truth. NewSpring supporters commonly point to the number of people responding to altarcalls or attending on a Sunday as proof that the church is a Good Thing. Numbers can count some aspect of an item, but they can’t always measure its value. Let’s consider some recent examples.
    • In 2001 Barry Bonds put hit 73 home runs, yet that number masked the likelihood that it was drug enhanced.
    • Through the late 1990s, dot com businesses made millions of dollars on the stock market, until it became apparent that the actual businesses weren’t really businesses.
    • For last decade or more, American housing prices have been increasing, proving that the housing market was strong, until it became obvious that those prices masked a great deal of bad debt.

    Numbers aren’t an entirely useless argument, but when they are used on their own, you may just be hiding a big fat zero.

  2. God’s mercy is not a sign of his approval. On a few occasions, NewSpring’s boosters have claimed that if God wanted NewSpring to fail, the church wouldn’t be there. Because it is there, he must want it to succeed. The lack of a lightening bolt from the heavens is taken as proof positive that everything the church is doing must be of God. It is an argument for an ethical system based on fatalism, and goes something like,
    1. God has the power to wipe out evil things.
    2. Some thing exists.
    3. Therefore, the thing must be good.

    It assumes that God only stays his hand for the righteous, and immediately and publicly punishes the wicked. How many times did David wish that were true? If God always acts in history as a noisy morality cop, how do you account for the longevity of the Holocaust, tyrants, abortion, and Billy Mays?

  3. The persistence of error does not diminish its threat. One commentator on the Reformation threads supposed that the endurance of the Roman Catholic church after the Reformation meant that it wasn’t obvious which side was correct, but that we’d find out when we meet God after we die.

    Almost 500 years of debate has not defeated either side. It seems that if one was so much more right than the other–someone would have won by now.

    Just as God doesn’t wipe out evil as soon as it appears, he also doesn’t immediately eliminate error. Peter’s warning against false teachers in 2 Peter 2:1-3 puts the threat into a future perfect tense: there will be false teachers among you. The  early church was warned about encroaching heresies, and Peter’s warning reaches down to us today. Until Christ’s return, sin and error will be with us. Even–and especially–error in the church. This is the great danger of stripping away the creeds and turning your back on the Reformers; these were moments in the history of the church when sober men guided by the Holy Spirit stood up to persistent error. If we ignore their teaching now, we’ll likely slip into the heresies they once fought against. Are we so much smarter than all the saints who have come before us?

  4. The age of truth does not diminish its power. One of the most disappointing arguments in the last 24 hours came from a NewSpring insider who reasoned that we could ignore the creeds and Reformers because they were old and out of date.

    I’m thinking those creeds were written by a man, and for a certain time period since Luther were wanting to invoke the church leadership to go deeper, could it be possible that they could be alittle out of date? Obviously, he didn’t intend for them to be the basis of a reformation so does that make some of these reformation documents old and out dated?

    This, folks, is what we feared. This is why we don’t trust you when you talk about reformations. What truths no longer apply today? What sections of the Apostle’s Creed, the 95 Theses, or the Westminster Confession are worn out? God is the source of truth, and he does not change. If these majestic documents describe God accurately, their power and authority endure.

12 thoughts on “Four Pajama Axioms

  1. Mere May 8, 2009 11:23 am

    I am in no way trying to be disrespectful or controversial in responding to your blog. Nor have a read very many of your posts. But, I would like to respond to this particular claim. When mentioning numbers at Newspring it is no way trying to boast about the church or anything that any staff or church member has done, but that it is the work of God. We are talking about SOULS here…salvation. People coming to know Christ. How can there even be a correlation between home runs and people going to hell, or people hearing the Gospel? Newspring is not interested in just pure numbers. The church is interested in what the numbers represent. People submitting their lives to Christ. If that number was significantly lower, the salvations would still matter–whether it is two or 2,000.

    • James Duncan May 8, 2009 11:29 am

      That’s right, salvations are always significant. I acknowledged that the numbers argument has some validity, precisely because of this. However, my point still stands. Numbers are useless unless we know what is being counted.

      When PN reports that 1,000 people were saved during a series, what is he counting? Aren’t some of those numbers clicks on a website?

      BTW, you seem to be quite respectful and reasonable. Welcome aboard.

  2. JT May 8, 2009 12:39 pm

    It seems like both sides keep arguing over every little inconsequential thing, while ignoring the real areas of disagreements. Why don’t we just get to the bottom line? What is this debate over NewSpring all about?

    I posted a summation of my thoughts on these questions in the “congressional strength hypocrisy” post, but never received any response. I’ll re-post my thoughts here:

    I really think that the problem that many people have with Perry Noble isn’t that he promotes a vision, but rather the way he does it. Every pastor or ministry leader promotes a vision. Twenty years ago they didn’t call it ‘vision.’ Back then it was a ‘plan,’ or a ‘passion.’ Same thing. Find a pastor without a plan and a passion, and I’ll show you a dead (or dying) local church.

    Theologically, NewSpring is in-line with most evangelical churches. The concern I keep hearing is over Perry’s methods. And here’s the rub- Noble tries to shock and offend, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when he is criticized– he is asking for it by purposely offending. The purpose of NewSpring’s “unchurchiness” is to get people talking. And it’s working. And whether you are skeptical about the sincerity of the numbers or not, nobody can deny that many people are being saved and growing in faith at NewSpring.

    Let’s get to the bottom line here. NewSpring’s unofficial slogan is that they’ll do anything short of sin to reach people for Christ. The debate over NewSpring is essentially this question- Are the leaders of NewSpring sinning in the way they lead the church?

    I’ll offer up this as an answer– Of course the leaders at NewSpring are sinning! But so is every other pastor in the world.

    So I’ll offer up this second fundamental question- Are the sins of the NewSpring leaders enough to warrant creating division in the body of Christ? I don’t believe so. I often hear Noble preaching something that makes me uncomfortable, or that causes me to think, “Isn’t there a more gracious way to make that point?”… but I do not hear heresy in Noble’s preaching.

    So here’s my opinion- Perry Noble is a pastor who tends to put his foot in his mouth, but God still uses him to bring people to His kingdom. He says things that make me cringe (like “why is it that many of the reformed guys are complete…”, but he also says things that challenge me to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. He annoys me when he tweets about every meal he ever eats, but he inspires me by his honesty and openness (and his need for daily prayer). Yes, his criticisms of the traditional church sometimes seem out of line and his justification that Jesus rebuked the religious is overused, but I’ve never once heard him criticize anyone in any church by name. Yes, I’m bothered by Tony Morgan’s departure. Morgan seemed to me to be a mature and distinct voice in NewSpring’s leadership. But I’m also realistic enough to realize that personal styles and preferences have led to many many ministry splits.

    I could go on and on, but here’s the simple version: Perry Noble and NewSpring aren’t perfect, but they are far from apostasy.

  3. James Duncan May 8, 2009 12:55 pm

    If you want to boil it down, I’d say the real issue is Who is church for? (But that’s another post for another day.)

  4. JT May 8, 2009 1:16 pm

    James,

    To answer your question: The Church’s purpose is to bring glory to God.

    I’d say NewSpring’s “To make the name of Jesus famous” is pretty much saying the same thing. So again, I think the issue comes down to disagreements over methodology.

  5. Tommy F. May 8, 2009 1:17 pm

    I agree partly (mostly?) with JDuncan, but I’d frame it slightly differently: I say the issue is that NS leadership brags that their church is not deep. So, what we have is a weak, shallow church, led by someone who brags that it needs to stay that way, and then claims Reformation.

    If people want a shallow church, then Reformation is what’s coming, but they’ll wake up in a generation with no sense of history and no depth of theology. Every Sunday NS leadership has a mass of people that could be taught and discipled, but every Sunday the opportunity is lost.

    It’s a bit sad that they don’t even realize the lost opportunity, and that NS-ers don’t demand more from their leaders. Sure, they mumble about it (at least around me they do), but they don’t demand it from their leaders. But the worst part is, even if they did Perry would tell them to go somewhere else, since the church (NS) is not for them, it’s for the lost (which is the focus of NS, rather than God).

    Of course, they have AC/DC music and a great building with fancy computers and a coffee shop, but not much else. NS is not building a community (quite the reverse), it’s building a social hour, with a prayer or two added in, by a group of leaders who intentionally don’t want to learn more, leading people who don’t even care.

  6. JT May 9, 2009 11:20 am

    Tommy,

    You say NewSpring is a “weak, shallow church.” I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that. What makes NewSpring weak? Having thousands of converts makes them weak? Growing rapidly throughout the local and regional communities makes them weak? Having a global impact makes them weak? As far as being shallow, I’ll argue that God is more pleased with the Christian who serves Him with his life, than the Christian who can accurately chart the harmony of the gospel accounts. I’m not disparaging scriptural knowledge (and I’ve never heard Noble knock it either… just it’s overemphasis at the expense of living a life pleasing to God). “Shallowness” is thinking that God is pleased with my knowledge, irregardless of my actions. A deep, rich faith is always marked by what we do.

    I’m still waiting for someone to explain how Noble is preaching heresy.

    Matthew 7:15-20

    15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits.

  7. Tommy F. May 9, 2009 1:10 pm

    JT:

    I labelled NS as weak (I’m merely agreeing with Seth) & shallow (since shallow is the opposite of deep, and deep is what Noble abhors). If yo don’t like the terms, you can ask Seth & Noble about them.

    NS-ers almost always focus on numbers and conversions, but then duck the “make disciples” portion of the Great Commission. In light of your defense of NS by pointing to converts, I am curious why you didn’t reply to this portion of my post:
    “If people want a shallow church, then Reformation is what’s coming, but they’ll wake up in a generation with no sense of history and no depth of theology. Every Sunday NS leadership has a mass of people that could be taught and discipled, but every Sunday the opportunity is lost.
    It’s a bit sad that they don’t even realize the lost opportunity, and that NS-ers don’t demand more from their leaders. Sure, they mumble about it (at least around me they do), but they don’t demand it from their leaders. But the worst part is, even if they did Perry would tell them to go somewhere else, since the church (NS) is not for them, it’s for the lost (which is the focus of NS, rather than God).”

    Agree or disagree?

  8. Nolan Gottlieb May 11, 2009 12:34 pm

    @Tommy F…

    Why would you say that Perry abhors deep? If Perry abhored living deeply then he wouldn’t study scripture as much as he does, pray as intensly as he does, etc. To say that he isn’t deep is a statement of ignorance…you obviously don’t know the man personally.

    As with any church in the country…some sundays are better than others. Some weeks are “deeper” than others. What is spoken from stage EVERY week is from the pages of scripture…is scripture not “deep” enough??

    About making disciples…that is done with intention and effectiveness in the arena of small groups, home groups, etc. You can contact the groups pastors at NS and they would be glad to tell you all about how they NS is making disciples.

  9. Tommy F. May 11, 2009 7:42 pm

    Nolan,

    1) It appears you’ve misread my post. If you read it again, you’ll notice that I have not labeled Ace “anit-deep” on a personal level. Notice that I labelled his church shallow. I have no clue if he himself is deep, and certainly cannot attest to the intensity of his prayers.
    What is abundantly clear is that his own comments explicitly attack deep preaching, which is then confirmed in his preaching (which can be called many things, but deep is not one of them). See the link below for this line of thinking in Ace’s own words. Once you read Noble’s post (and you should), you can wonder with me what Ace would say about 2 Peter 3:16 which seems clear in showing that scripture needs to be articulated to a congregation so that it can grow in the faith and not be misled.

    2) Scripture is only as deep as the teacher of it. Noble promotes shallow teaching, which begets shallow knowledge, which begets shallow Christians.

    3) In reference to my 5/8 post, I am sure that some of the NS-ers are being discipled, but why does this need to be reduced to a home group? Why not maximize the opportunity with 10,000+ in attendance? “Make disciples” gets shoved off to a home group led by people teaching all sorts of things (I know some leaders – discipleship is not what they advertise – it’s food).

    http://www.perrynoble.com/2008/12/10/five-arguments-you-just-cant-win-part-two/

  10. Nolan Gottlieb May 11, 2009 8:19 pm

    Well what is your definition of deep?? If it isn’t scripture, then what is it?? I would contend that some of our boy Paul’s stuff is pretty deep…would you agree??

    And how do you suggest that Perry disciple 10,000 people from stage for 1 hr per week?? There’s no pastor in the country that can disciple his congregation with one hour per week speaking from a stage…unless his congregation is only 5 or 6 people.

  11. Tommy F. May 11, 2009 8:41 pm

    Paul = deep? Sure. Why not, then, say: “yes, my preaching is deep. It’s based on Paul’s writings (Or Jesus’ teachings, or the Torah, etc) which are deep.” Why all of the … “I’m not going to be deep”? This is my point. Shouldn’t Ace welcome the adjective deep? Why oppose it?

    Are you suggesting NS is too big? Uhhh. Interesting thought.

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