Virtual Voices

Justin Taylor on a 'tragic mistake'

Religion

On Wednesday, our beloved columnist Andrée Seu wrote a column on her observations on Glenn Beck and his faith, which has drawn a lot of attention in the blogosphere. Our friend Justin Taylor wrote a thoughtful response at his Between Two Worlds blog, which we reprint below with Justin's permission.

WORLD's position: All of us need editing. Our website editing system failed in regard to Andrée's post about Glenn Beck. The breadth of response points out confusion concerning Beck and where he stands. Rather than speculating further, we will push to interview him and ask hard questions. One of the hardest aspects of reporting is assessing hearts, so we try not to do it: We look at what individuals do and say rather than attempting to analyze their relationship with God. For a sense of WORLD's current understanding of the Beck phenomenon, see "Beckoning Christians."

Justin Taylor: "Andrée Seu's Tragic Mistake on the Gospel of Glenn Beck"

Not to exaggerate, but reading Andrée Seu's latest article felt a bit like a punch in the gut. She is one of my favorite writers at World Magazine. She writes with skill, grace, wisdom, and spiritual insight.

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But now she is saying that she is convinced Glenn Beck is "a new creation in Christ," even though he is a practicing and believing Mormon.

It's tragic that she would believe this, write this, and that World would publish it.

A few short thoughts in response.

First, we should recognize that Andrée Seu's conclusion is a temptation that is common to all (1 Cor. 10:13a). It is easy to hear passion and mistake it for true spiritual zeal. It is easy to be moved by talk of having faith in Jesus, without asking who the person understands Jesus to be.

Even the great J. Gresham Machen-who became a stalwart warrior against modernistic liberalism-was initially captivated by his systematic theology teacher at Marburg, Wilhelm Herrmann. Machen wrote to his parents in 1905:

The first time that I heard Herrmann may almost be described as an epoch in my life. Such an overpowering personality I think I almost never before encountered-overpowering in the sincerity of religious devotion. . .

My chief feeling with reference to him is already one of the deepest reverence. . . . I have been thrown all into confusion by what he says-so much deeper is his devotion to Christ than anything I have known in myself during the past few years. . . . Herrmann affirms very little of that which I have been accustomed to regard as essential to Christianity; yet there is no doubt in my mind but that he is a Christian, and a Christian of a peculiarly earnest type. He is a Christian not because he follows Christ as a moral teacher; but because his trust in Christ is (practically, if anything even more truly than theoretically) unbounded. . . .

This attraction to passionate commitment even with Bible-denying theology can be hard to combat, but we must resist it at all costs (as Machen learned to do).

Secondly, more than ever we need to be clear that Mormonism is fundamentally incompatible with biblical Christianity-starting with the most basic building block that Christians are Trinitarian monotheists (one God in three persons) and Mormons are polytheists (more than one god). It is a religion founded by a false prophet.

For brief reviews on the differences, see the FAQ I pulled together from the ESV Study Bible, as well as this similar summary comparison. I have been helped in the past by reading Reasoning from the Scriptures with Mormons, by Ron Rhodes (who wrote the ESVSB essay).

Third, we simply cannot assume the gospel. Several pastors and theologians have been beating this drum for a while now, but it needs to get louder. Is there any better demonstration of this than Ms. Seu's line, "I can say without hesitation that I have not heard the essentials of the gospel more clearly and boldly in any church than on his program." Despite what mainline evangelicalism has taught for years, the gospel is not "I trusted in Jesus and he changed my life." Two things (at minimum) on this topic: (1) Listen to D.A. Carson's talk, "What Is the Gospel?", then (2) Read Greg Gilbert's What Is the Gospel?

Finally, we have to have a grid for thinking through degrees of error, damnable beliefs, essential beliefs, etc. I've been helped here by Michael Wittmer's excellent book, Don't Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough. He classifies Christian beliefs into three categories:

  1. What you must believe,
  2. What you must not reject, and
  3. What you should believe.

I asked him to explain the three categories:

In the book of Acts, the bare minimum that a person must know and believe to be saved was that he was a sinner and that Jesus saved him from his sin. As Paul told the Philippian jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:29-31; cf. 10:43). This is enough to counter the postmodern innovator argument that we can be saved without knowing and believing in Jesus.

But any thinking convert will inquire further about this Jesus. While he may not know much more at the point of conversion than Jesus is the Lord who has saved him, he will quickly learn about Jesus' life, death, resurrection, deity and humanity, and relation to the other two members of the Trinity. Anyone who rejects these core doctrines should fear for their soul.

According to the Athanasian Creed, whoever does not believe in the Trinity and the two natures of Jesus is damned. However, since it seems possible for a child to come to faith without knowing much about the Trinity or the hypostatic union (this is likely not the place where most parents begin), I take the Creed's warning in a more benign way-that we do not need to know and believe in the Trinity and two natures of Christ to be saved, but that anyone who knowingly rejects them cannot be saved.

The final category is important doctrines which genuine Christians may unfortunately misconstrue. I think that every Christian should believe that Scripture is God's Word, know its story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, and know something about the nature of God, what it means to be human, and what Jesus is doing through his church. However, many people have been genuine Christians without knowing or believing these things (though their ignorance or disbelief in these facts significantly diminished their Christian faith).

Thus, I believe that every doctrine in this diagram is crucially important for sound Christian faith. And some are so important that we cannot even be saved without them.

If Glenn Beck is a Mormon, he knowingly denies beliefs that one must believe in order to be saved. Let us pray that he leaves this religion in order to embrace the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, and his atoning cross-work so that he has fellowship by grace alone through faith alone with the Triune God.

Mickey McLean
Mickey McLean

Mickey is executive editor of WORLD Digital. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, teenage daughter, and a dog/administrative assistant named Daisy.

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