Jennings and Garner Final Responses

Editors' Note: This is the final installment of a three-part series. The previous installment can be found here.

Dr. Nelson Jennings's Final Response

It is indeed a privilege to testify to God's goodness and greatness, as well as to try and work together regarding how best to serve the cause of the Christian gospel.

It is a painful reality, however, to be thoroughly misunderstood and mischaracterized on important matters too numerous to list, much less to try and discuss, in this brief response. My earlier response (and essays) already attempts to address some of the misunderstandings and mischaracterizations. Let me quickly add that, insofar as I have (unintentionally) misunderstood and misrepresented Dr. Garner on certain points, I sincerely apologize.

Cross-cultural interaction runs the strong risk of misunderstanding and mischaracterization. I believe that these essays and responses - despite being articulated in common English vocabularies - are cross-cultural interactions that, sadly, have indeed led to confusing misunderstanding and mischaracterization. (Such an assertion will no doubt be misunderstood and mischaracterized.)

One low-blow mischaracterization that I firmly reject is that I somehow advocate that we "turn a deaf ear ... turn a blind eye ... [and that] we are simply to say, 'be warm and be filled'." That mischaracterization may be my esteemed colleague's logical and rhetorical inference, but it is not what I would ever advocate or knowingly practice. Friends do not "turn a deaf ear...." Neither do friends dictate what friends should do and believe apart from understanding them and their situations. Friends humbly engage and serve.

Many other mischaracterizations are rooted, I believe, in my esteemed colleague's well-ordered conceptual framework that seemingly can only conveniently employ familiar labels and categories, whether or not they apply, e.g., "postmodern," "open theism." My own shortcomings in communicating, coupled with the challenge of trying to communicate cross-culturally in this impersonal forum, have led to more confused rather than constructive interaction, I am afraid.

Since 2011, after being approached for help regarding so-called "Insider Movements," the overriding concern of us in the PCA, as mandated to the SCIM, has been one of evaluating and instructing others by our standards of biblical faithfulness. In these essays and responses, I have contended that our concern has been misplaced. I believe that the overriding question we actually face before God and others is whether we will unwittingly remain in our Euro-American-tribal gated communities, e.g., Greco-Latin theological instincts, or exhibit an ever-reforming growth through humbly engaging with other parts of the omnilingual Creator-Redeemer's worldwide Church. Our cultural-linguistic limitations, enforced by our U.S. nationalism and clannish historical sensibilities, keep us devotedly singing one Christian note and prevent us from hearing the splendor of divinely orchestrated music resounding throughout the earth.

I pray that future generations of our ecclesiastical circles will develop wider cultural-linguistic breadth than we currently have. Within God's Providence, that may or may not happen. He knows best. (I must acknowledge here my own corporate self-identity lapse while composing my earlier two essays and response. Within this specific discussion I have not been cognizant of the particularly noteworthy and significant Korean portion of the PCA, not to mention our less sizeable cultural-linguistic minorities. The latest byFaith issue's "One-on-One" piece(1) about how diverse who "we" in the PCA actually are by membership - even though not functionally so in most every majority portion of our denomination - served as a corrective reminder to me regarding the limited corporate self-identity I have uncharacteristically carried within this discussion vis-à-vis our actual membership (thankfully, if I am not mistaken, with little to no effect on what I have presented). Thanks be to God for this gentle rebuke and for how he expands sectors of his people's ranks in his own way and time. May the entirety of who "we" in the PCA actually are - still limited as that is - permeate our functional corporate self-identity.)

In the meantime, the SCIM majority report self-assuredly is right. Carry on - in precise monotone.

Kyrie eleison. Shu ga mamotte kudasaru you ni.

Dr. Nelson Jennings is Executive Director of the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, Editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, and Teaching Elder in the Southern New England Presbytery (PCA).

1. An interview with TE Bill Sim, "What You Didn't Know about Korean-Language Presbyteries,", Q2.14, 10.

Dr. David Garner's Final Response

A Surrejoinder: Is Silence Golden?

The Value of Debate

Vigorous debate can aid biblical discernment, and when carried out without malice or ad hominem argument, vividly displays Christian charity. 

Nelson Jennings has commendably avoided personal attack--not only in this recent interchange, but consistently over years of our engagement. I am grateful for his kindness. Though my theological disquiet over his writing rattles the Richter scale, as best as I can discern before God, esteem for Christ's Church and brotherly love also govern my words.

May the understanding coming out of debate serve the worldwide Church unto her peace, purity and faithful witness.

The Imperialism of Silence

Out of the gate Jennings has made one thing clear: the only proper answer by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) to the Insider Movement Paradigm (IMP) is silence. Evidently, "we in the PCA lack the cultural-linguistic breadth to know, particularly when significantly different cultural contexts are involved, what true gospel communication involves."(1)

How do we juxtapose this statement with plain biblical teaching? Jesus commands us to make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:18-20). Missiologist Paul tells Timothy to "follow the pattern of sound words you have heard from me" (2 Tim 1:13a). Jude 3 beckons us "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." Doctrinal error ("different gospel", Gal 1:6) puts Paul himself in debate mode: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8).

The light of Scripture illumines the global confessional Church (of which the PCA is blessedly a part). Our Bible speaks not with equal clarity about everything,(2)  but it speaks clearly to many things, including idolatry and Christ-centered gospel grace.

If God has spoken clearly, can we defend churchly silence before glaring IMP errors? With no small amount of irony, mandated silence revives the greatest enemy of contemporary missiology: imperialism. The demand for silence replaces cultural imperialism with a sophisticated missiological form of the same. Silence before unfaithful witness imposes its imperialistic western hermeneutic of anti-certainty and relativism.

The IMP at Work

The IMP is the cutting edge, emergent church paradigm in missions. In all its forms, the IMP warms itself to Muslim faith and practice.(3) It encourages Muslims to cling to Islam, to love Jesus, but in the Muslim way. 

Consider some IMP themes. 

If you believe that continuing to go to the mosque and participating in Muslim ritual washings and prayers are compatible with the gospel, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM. 

If you believe that a follower of Jesus may affirm Muhammad as a prophet, a messenger of God, in any sense of the word, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe that declaring the shahadah ("There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet") is compatible with faith in the Son of God, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM. 

If you believe it appropriate to be a follower of Jesus (a Christian) and a Muslim simultaneously, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe it more important to stay openly connected with your mosque, "society" or "birth community," or to maintain your "religious" identity as a Muslim, than to identify yourself openly with other Christians in a visible church, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe that for the purpose of "evangelism" giving credence to the Quran's teaching on theology or history (including about Jesus) is legitimate, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe that being salt and light means retaining a Muslim identity and/or rejecting the label "Christian," then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe that discipleship of Muslims requires leaving them to learn to follow Jesus without teaching them the absolute uniqueness of Scripture and the unqualified idolatry of Islam, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe that contemporary Christians and Muslims largely parallel first century Jewish believers and Gentile pagans, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe that the God of Scripture is the same as that of the Quran, or believe that the points of similarity between these monotheist religions supply a legitimate basis for authentic spiritual connection, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe Muslims and Christians mean the same thing by "love God and love neighbor," then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe that someone can retain Muslim cultural identity without associations of false religion shaping that identity, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe that Islam and Christianity are just different points on the same line of monotheism rather than mutually exclusive faiths with mutually exclusive theologies, then you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

If you believe the religious rites of Islam are not inherently idolatrous, but practices to be enfolded into gospel or transformed by it, you should promote or at least tolerate IM.

Despite pervasive problems with such common IMP ideas, eagerness swells in many circles to commend the Islamized "gospel" of the IMP. Now the PCA faces a decision. Will we speak definitively or not?

Silent or Faithful

Whatever the professed motives by its advocates, IMP adorns Islam rather than the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. Careful study of its written advocacy and its regular practice make these points simply not debatable. 

To be sure, many mission organizations do not publicly advocate IM practices. At the same time, missions collaboration frequently forces missionaries, who themselves may not personally endorse IM, to their own decision: either oppose IM and squelch "effective" ministry or continue complicitly in partnerships with IMP advocates and practitioners, tolerate it silently, and hope for the best. 

Yet silent collaboration does not enjoy impunity. The knowledge of error combined with silence effects the promotion of error. To tolerate IM is to promote it. To promote it is to merge Islam and Christianity, to align Jesus and Muhammad, and to advocate the fellowship of darkness and light. To promote or tolerate IM is to advance Islam.

Can the PCA remain faithful and silent? In this case, silence is not golden. Rather it helps sculpt a golden calf.

Dr. David B. Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and former missionary in Bulgaria.

1. "Jennings' First Response," Reformation21 (June 2014), Emphasis added.

2. WCF 1.7 - All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

3.This article considers IM only in its Muslim contexts. Parallels can and should be made to other religious contexts where IM exists.