When injustice is enough justice: Parsing theology into nothingness (by Marty Duren)

Editor: If Baptist Blogging had a Hall of Fame, Marty Duren would certainly be enshrined there.  He still blogs at martyduren.com and always has something worthwhile to say.  I was thrilled when Marty offered this article originally published at his site.  Enjoy!

Part of this post deals with the terrible situation at Penn State University that broke in recent days. Because my website crashed and was down for several days I was unable to write a full post and was limited to expressing my outrage on Twitter and a few Facebook status updates. Suffice it to say that I am thoroughly disgusted with what happened to the boys involved and the cover-up that allowed former coach Jerry Sandusky to continue his pattern of child rape. That he used the auspices of a “benevolent” organization like the Second Mile Foundation to bring young boys into his sights is a most grotesque kind of evil.

Even with this in view I have friends who are utterly off the sports grid. Two of them had no idea who Joe Paterno was and had not heard this news at all even after Paterno was fired. My concerns as expressed here would not, as it will become clear, apply to such people.

In my last post I wrote a little about the current discussion as to whether justice is essential to the gospel, using a debate between Southern Seminary president Al Mohler and Sojourners president Jim Wallis as a launching point. That ongoing discussion, of which their debate is merely a microcosm, concerns the nature of the gospel itself. That is the reason why people on both sides tend to respond with such passion, and well it should be.

There is in the landscape of theological perspectives today a movement that is commonly referenced as “gospel-centered.” Many, if not most of the people in this movement, would align themselves with Mohler’s position, i.e., that justice issues are not essential to the gospel. These are opposed to any attempts to “add” anything to “the gospel” and define any kind of stand against injustice as works that spring from the gospel instead being integral to the gospel itself.

In the wake of the Penn State revelations I was looking to various people from the gospel-centered movement who would speak in defense of the victims, a need which took on growing importance when, following the firing of Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier, Penn State students rioted in support of Paterno (who was fired over potential complicity to the situation). For many of the students was the face of Penn State, and certainly of its football program. I thought of all the people online, of all who had an audience, the gospel-centered writers, bloggers and pastors would have been spearheading a call for justice for the victims. Or, a demand that well known people not be allowed to get away unscathed simply because they were famous or important to the financial position of Penn State. Or, given their strong and encouraging support of adoption, a defense of the defenseless, calling for a full and thorough investigation of those involved at Penn State for sure and The Second Mile if need be.

So, I waited. And waited. And waited.

Al Mohler wrote a piece that appeared on his website Thursday, November 10, 2011, as did Thom Rainer on his on the same date (but Rainer is not generally recognized as one of the “gospel-centered” bloggers). Then on Saturday, November 12, 2011, an article appeared on The Gospel Coalition blog entitled, Love Notices Wet Hair, which decried the Penn State abuses. The title came from a reported situation in which a young boy came home with wet hair after showering with Jerry Sandusky. His mother became suspicious, and, after confirming with her son what had happened, called the police. It was an important piece, but it wasn’t written by one of the big name bloggers at The Gospel Coalition website. It was written by Tim Henderson, the campus director for Cru at Penn State University.

I am not calling out a particular individual, because no blogger, writer or pastor can address every single issue that arises. But we are talking about the biggest American sports story of this year, and the most harmful story of any kind in the history of PSU. This was a story that dominated both sports channels and non-sports channels for days, and continues to do so with every new revelation. Counted among the gospel-centered heavy weights are rabid sports fans in general and college football fans in particular.

How is it that the most well known members of an entire movement have written almost nothing on their websites and blogs or have precious few tweets concerning it? I searched the terms “Penn State,” “Jerry Sandusky,” and “Joe Paterno” with every name or website I could remember, plus the term “gospel centered” and found, other than the two mentioned above, no quotes, articles or posts from the biggest most influential names in the movement. If I missed one it wasn’t for lack of trying.

I can only imagine how swift and thunderous would have been the response had Rob Bell suddenly endorsed NAMBLA as a legitimate expression of biblical love. Fifty-page pdf denunciations would have been published within hours. But why the near complete silence from this same group when pedophelia and child rape take place on the campus of a major university? It is this blanket of silence that is of concern. If those seeking to be gospel-centered are not motivated by that gospel to make their voices heard on such an issue, then one is forced to ask, “Why does this theology not, through the love of Christ, compel its adherents to speak out?” How in the world can adoption be a gospel issue, but the victims of pedophiles not be?

If gospel-centeredness does not lead to a vocal, biblical response to injustice of all kinds, then it has become perilously close an exercise in theological parsing. And, like water flowing downhill, extreme theological parsing leads to fundamentalism where the de facto result is striving to be more right than the next guy philosophically with no concern about it practically. If being gospel-centered creates a spiritual state in which adherents are not moved to speak out against such an atrocity as what we’ve seen at Penn State, then how could any serious follower of Jesus take seriously the gospel-centered position? If, as Al Mohler contends, justice is merely an expectation of the gospel, then, at least in the Penn State case, gospel-centered has proven to be a theological assemblage to which some issues of justice do not raise flags. When justice, which is a pronounced concern of God’s, becomes an optional expectation of the gospel in the real world then that theology, no matter how systematically astute, ignores the very gospel around which it purports to be centered.


  1. Ron Hale says

    You linked to the article entitled: Love Notices Wet Hair. It was a powerful piece and especially this quote:

    “In order to love like that we need to first mourn over this evil. There has been an urgency for us at Penn State to get past or even deflect this shame. Don’t do that. Let the shame into your heart. Grieve. Mourn. If we will accept the glory of Penn State, we must also accept the shame, and this is a shameful moment.”

      • Christiane says

        “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall,
        and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land,
        that I should not destroy it;
        but I found no one.”
        ( Ezk 22:30)

        . . . powerful statement, that, MARTY DUREN,
        about ‘standing in the gap well’. Quite a tribute to Henderson.

  2. Bill Mac says

    This verse comes to mind:

    He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

    Micah 6:8

  3. cb scott says

    Syracuse is now going to be investigated because of Barney Finn, long time assistant basketball coach, is being accused/charged with the same crime.

    • says

      I saw that headline, too. If they start finding the insular, protective cultures at these universities treated child molestation and rape they same way SMU treated cheating, we may just be getting started.

  4. says

    It’s worth noting that those Baptist leaders who have weighed in on the Penn State scandal/tragedy, have not yet made a peep about the recent news involving the former Prestonwood minister who left Dallas to later abuse more boys while in a ministry position in Mississippi.

    In the context of blogging, Matthew 18 is often referenced. I was truly disturbed to see former megachurch pastor turned Texas Baptist theologian-in-residence invoke Matthew 18 in the context of this Penn State scandal. Anyone with concern for the victims ought to be horrified by this “biblical” advice that an abused child should confront his rapist prior to informing others, including the police.

    See here: http://tinyurl.com/jimdenison

    • says

      That must be one of the worst attempts to apply scripture I’ve ever read. And I read some pretty bad stuff.

      I don’t know anything about the other case, but I can already tell that what happened was pathetic. When we start getting aggressive about this stuff–rather than passive/aggressive–we can shut those people down.

    • says

      Jim taught at SWBTS when I was working on my MDiv. I am saddened by his column and believe the same hermeneutical method used in his class then would have resulted in failure.

  5. Lydia says

    “Why does this theology not, through the love of Christ, compel its adherents to speak out?” How in the world can adoption be a gospel issue, but the victims of pedophiles not be?”

    Thank you for this post. It is a wake up call and I am so glad you wrote it.

    This is going to be uncomfortable but I think it must be pointed out that while Al Mohler wrote a piece on this, he also was quick to defend CJ Mahaney/sgm in a secular newspaper while rebuking the sgm bloggers. Why is that bad? Because those blogs are full of stories (which are systemic in sgm and not just a few isolated incidents) of SGM pastors telling victims of sexual abuse not to call the police but to let the church mediate. The bloggers have been sharing instance after instance of this in SGM churches over the last 4 years.

    Mohler knew about the blogs and rebuked them in the Courier Journal for blogging these things saying they did not like authoritative leadership. No, it was much more serious than that. Little children were harmed and victims families told not to call in the authorities. I am very disappointed that Mohler defended such a system as SGM.

    I am not sure what to make of his piece because of it.

    • Chase says

      Surely you jest! The Apostle Mahaney has been endorsed by such theological luminaries such as Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan, so he must be a swell guy!

    • says

      I was checked out of the blogosphere for a while and don’t keep up with SGM so I missed virtually all of that debacle. While I can’t speak to the truth of the allegations, if there were leaders who encouraged minor aged victims of sexual abuse to face the predators who preyed upon them, then those leaders have–to put it charitably–a skewed sense of both the church and the government.

      If someone murdered their mother would they insist on not reporting it and only confront the murderer at an elders meeting? If someone raped their spouse would they insist on not reporting it and only confronting the rapist? If someone broke into the study and stole their autographed set of “Calvin’s Institutes” would they…

      You get the picture.

      If what you’ve summarized was the case, as with Denison mentioned above, then I would assert that their systematized theology has grown to overshadow what the Bible says in simplicity.

    • Jim G. says

      Sovereign Grace Ministries grew out of the charismatic shepherding movement of the 1970s. The high-handed shepherding methodology is part of their church DNA. It is a very authoritarian structure and it appears CJ took advantage of this in ways we would all be uncomfortable with. He’s now attending Mark Dever’s church. There is a website called “Sovereign Grace Survivors” who have stories that would make your toenails curl. But two prominent (Calvinistic) Southern Baptists, Mohler and Dever, give Mahaney their full support, likely based largely on Mahaney’s Calvinism. I can’t see other places of real common ground.

      Jim G.

  6. Robert I Masters says

    Maybe one does not consider Denny Burk part of the “Gospel Centered Coalition” but he had several posts on the matter from a justice perspective.

  7. Lydia says

    “If someone broke into the study and stole their autographed set of “Calvin’s Institutes” would they…

    You get the picture.”

    Ok, I laughed out loud.

    Jim G is right. And I respectfully hope that we will start looking beyond the surface of these celebrity relationships and asking hard questions about practices. I was a bit shocked that Mohler, as a paid employee of the SBC, gave such an immediate defense of Mahaney/SGM and a rebuke of bloggers in a public newspaper venue.

    “then I would assert that their systematized theology has grown to overshadow what the Bible says in simplicity.”

    And therein lies the big problem. This is becoming all too common.

  8. says

    There are two issues I wish to address. One is the charismatic issue. From my childhood, I have had an acquaintance with the charismatics; they were called “tongue talkers” back then. The local charismatic woman preacher had really built up her church with great doses of emotionalism and wild explications and applications of scripture. She had them rolling in the aisles quite literally. Then she ran off with one of her deacons who had four sons, and no one has heard from her since that time. Fast forward to the years following my conversion, and I have had various encounters with charismatics. I am not particular hostile to them or their views. I just simply don’t agree and feel that the whole matter is a diversion, designed to advance other agendas. In fact I read somewhere that one catholic source said they had made more headway among protestants by means of the charismatic approach than any other. Whether there is any truth in that, I cannot say. Also let me point out that I think there are catholics who are truly converted, saved, and good people..although I am inclined to think that it is inspite of their church and its failures more than anything else. Please understand that I speak from a time 40 years ago, when members of my church were threatened with physical violence for being opposed to a state school bus bill that would have allowed catholics to ride public school buses to their own schools. But returning to the charismatic issue, I could mention women rolling in the aisles and sticking their legs up in the air with the results to be imagined. One former minister of a situation like that told me his people kept blankets handy for the ladies to stand around those ladies who were in such a state. Enough said. As to actual speaking in tongues, I know of one or perhaps two cases that I might accept, namely, where one who spoke in another language which another person who spoke the language understood and to which they responded. Such cases, I accept as reflective of Divine influence, especially where conversion is the result. As to an unknown language, a heavenly one, Paul speaks of such as words no one ought to speak, if I understand what he stated on the issue. In any case, to see people put through the wringer by the emotionalism of such approaches and then left like materials deposited by a river in flood on the banks, all interest gone, is quite distressing to say the least. Then to have a President of one of our institutions back representatives of such theological viewpoints, especially in a group that can be traced to questionable origins, is to feel that someone has been remiss in understanding in the theology of Sovereign Grace on which Southern Baptists were originally founded and based. And, no, I do not trust all of the new Reformed Baptists. I had some encounters with one representative of the Reformers and found he could not care less for a believer in Sovereign Grace who had been so for years..and he cared more for a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and getting him into a Sovereign Grace Southern Baptist Church which he then proceeded to try and make into a presbyterian church with predictable results.

    The other issue is pedophilia. One can understand in part that people are quite nonplussed, when they first encounter such a situation. However, even the smallest amount of effort to acquire the necessary knowledge should lead them to start dealing with this issue as it ought to be handled. First, it is the law in our state that it must be reported to law enforcement officials and child welfare authorities, and one can be charged with a felony for failing to do so (if my memory serves correctly after 20 years). I first encountered this issue as in a pastorate, many years ago. A pastor had been discharged for such conduct. Then some years ago, I met with about 5 cases of incest and pedophilia…this led to my seeking a degree in counseling (I did the only one available at that time and consequently was in the first graduating class for a Master’s in counseling from Liberty’s distance learning effort, then called the School of Lifelong Learning). About 9-10 months after finishing the degree I was employed by a county school system as a counselor in a 4A senior high school with about 1800-2000 students. The staff of counselors was large enough that one could have assigned pathologies. Mine was incest and pedophilia, and they had to be reported to law enforcement and child welfare authorities. That was the pathology that was my responsibility for three years, along with ordinary and regular duties of career counseling and serving as an Industry Education Coordinator, until the latter position was abolished by the state. One of the reasons I had that responsibility for the pathology was that I had written a paper in my graduate work on the subject and how it affected the child victims. Those who have had training in counseling will perhaps appreciate the fact, if I illustrate by saying a child who has been sexually abused during the industry stage (6-9 years) will have real problems with holding a job and accomplishing things of a worthwhile nature in adulthood. I would note that most, if not all, regardless of the age stage in which the abuse occurs, are generally and usually promiscuous. What that does to a person’s self-respect, readers can well imagine.

    Permit me to point out why as a Sovereign Grace minister and believer, I moved from the position of complementarianism to egalitarianism. First, I often saw complementarian ideas abused by people with pathologies. In other words, they took advantage of the submission idea to accomplish their own hidden agendas, the very thing illustrated in the Penn State Case. As I studied the Scripture more closely, I came to realize that the complementarity issue is really one of functionalism and not of a substantive nature that involves the superior/inferior idea. Egalitarianism must be a part of the issue, too, as we are a family, spiritually speaking, being brothers and sisters, and brothers and sisters, need I say it, are equals. I was originally very strong for the complementary position, and i still hold it to some degree. However, such a concept must be balanced, and equality of relationships is the dissonant idea which must also be held in order to have the necessary tension that enables and empowers a believer to be balanced, flexible, creative, magnetic, and constant.

    The period from 1740-1820 is one of the truly great periods in human history, encompassing as it does two Great Awakenings, the birth of the freest nation on earth, the launching of the Great Century of Missions, the first soundings of real efforts to come to grips with the issue of slavery, and so many other things of great significance for the future of Christians and even the whole earth.

    We are now drawing nigh another time of great change and alteration, even a time of the possibility of a Third Great Awakening, one that could win the whole earth and every soul on it and continue to do so for a thousand generations. All of this I draw in part from the doctrines of limited atonement and reprobation, not to mention the other teachings of grace. Even the most seemingly repulsive forms (Jesus used one, speaking of casting the children’s bread to “dogs” and the Gentile to whom He spoke surely knew that the Jews looked on them as dogs then just as they do now) turn out to be paradoxical interventions, therapeutic paradoxes, intended to accomplish precisely the opposite of what they seem intended. With that I grow weary, but I praise God for the fact that the theology and the Savior that most resemble the Ugly Duckling, for Jesus is, indeed, the Ugly Messiah, “When we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him,”(Isa.53:2c) who turns out like the duckling to be a beautiful swan in the end. So is it with His teachings. When He said to the rich young ruler, “sell all, give to the poor and come, follow me,” He knew He was asking the young man to do the impossible. And the impossible is the issue that must be faced in order to understand and appreciate the power of the Gospel’s presentation to draw souls adverse to its appeals. The impossible becomes possible as it comes for God with whom nothing shall be impossible…He with whom all things are possible, even the use of apparent opposites to win souls, the use of words to raise dead souls, to win even the enemy (how does one deal with enmity). A friend of mine won the man who supervised her tortured for 8 hrs a day, 7 days a week, for two months and 28 days, and had her body tossed out on a pile of corpses, when it seemed that she had died. A philippino preparing to bury the dead noticed an involuntary gasp, got her to a hospital where she was hid in a nunnery and had a baby that night. Fast forward to America, that supervising officer came to her International House and was setting across the table from her, when he recognized her and turned white. He stayed around that place talking with the lady and her husband for several days, and it resulted in his being converted to the Lord Jesus Christ. God is sure in the business of doing interesting things, even working with things that seem utterly opposite to the way we think and act and believe….without violating any of His own principles!!??

  9. sal says

    Thanks for your comments, Dr. Willingham. As to the matter of the charismatic movement, I find two things alarming. First, it seems to pay too much attention to the unseen. It is my belief that a Sovereign God would have us trust his providence and not analyze what’s happening, since ultimately we have no way of knowing anyway (and I don’t think we’re supposed to know). Attention paid to such matters seems mostly counter-productive to me. Witness the story of Job. Secondly, while I consider the Spirit works in more ways than we can imagine, I don’t know that the church carries on in exactly the same way it did in Acts. I agree that pedophilia and other forms of abuse leave life-long scars, and people affected by this often grapple with the issues to the very end. The impact is usually overwhelming. I agree that the egalitarian position better expresses the image of God in humankind than the complementarianism that’s been popular in the evangelical world up to now. The historical period which you cite is a glorious one. I sincerely hope your projection for the church’s future and the future of the world holds true. It remains to be seen how it will work out as we continue to pray the prayer our Savior taught us to pray by saying, Our Father….

    • Louis says

      I have been out of pocket for a few days and am looking over some blogs before I head out to an annual Thanksgiving Day road race in our city.

      Thanks for posting this. I don’t know this guy, but I am glad to know that he doesn’t believe what he wrote previously.

  10. cb scott says

    The theologically and biblically faulty statement was written on the 10th. It was published by ABP on the 14th. Today is the 23rd. He writes the column every weekday morning. Why did it take so long to rectify the error?

    • says

      I agree. Took him way too long to respond.

      As my wife said, that was a rather HUGE error to make. Can’t get much more sloppy than that.

    • Lydia says

      “The theologically and biblically faulty statement was written on the 10th. It was published by ABP on the 14th. Today is the 23rd. He writes the column every weekday morning. Why did it take so long to rectify the error?”

      Exactly! Seems like it is now damage control. In his original article he said that Joe Paterno “followed the policy” by reporting it to his superiors.

      1) Paterno was the superior in influence. 2) One calls the authorities. How many little kids could have been saved if he had just made the right call?

      • Louis says

        You may be right, Lydia.

        But look at it this way, if he truly believes Matt 18 required victims of criminal acts to confront their accusers first and try to resolve it there, he has had to publicly repudiate that view. That is tough on people like this you know.

        My first reaction is to be distrustful of anyone in leadership who raises Matt 18 in a defensive mode. It wasn’t written that way.

        But leaders who want to hide something will often appeal to Matt 18 as a reason not to tell anyone else.

        If someone ever raises Matt 18 in my presence as a reason not to call in law enforcement, SEC officials (not the sports conference) governmental investigators or other third persons whose job it is to investigate such matters, it makes me want to dial 911 all the more.

        • cb scott says

          Jim Denison used Matthew 18 completely out of context. He has a theology degree. He has studied the Scripture in his own and in the original languages. He should have known better than to use Matthew 18 as he did in either column. He is not a novice. He is not supposed to be a theological dwarf, nor is he to write like one.

          On the other hand, if he did not know better than to use Matthew 18 in the context of which he did, something is flawed beyond his cognitive ability to understand Scripture and Christian theology. There is a flaw in the institution/s that educated him. There is a disconnect somewhere in the system.

          If you think I am being too hard on this, maybe you are right. Or, maybe your thinking is flawed relating to such matters also. Nonetheless, this kind of foolishness has occurred and continues to occur far too often in our SBC camp and it is time we ended it. Our history contains too many horror stories of this nature. It has to stop.

          • Lydia says

            I was all set to answer you Louis, but CB said everything I was going to say but much better.

            But it makes me very nervous that he has taught the Word in the high positions he has had and can get something so basic so very wrong. This is what SGM as a system was teaching it’s victims of sexual molestation, too. In fact, it was considered a sin to talk about it to anyone.

            I don’t really care if it is hard for him to repudiate publicly a wrong belief he holds.

  11. Dwight McKissic says



    I don’t know how anyone could read the mission of Jesus as recorded in Luke 4:16-20, and not see how the gospel includes justice. Mohler’s position seperates the great commandment from the great commission.

    Great read Marty. I’m working on a similar post.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  12. Lydia says

    Re: Denison article. I hate to pour on but something else struck me as seriously problematic concerning the editing of the two articles together. There is a HUGE difference between sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Yet they were presented as similar.

    If the ABP article was a problem, check out some of the comments to Denison’s original article on his forum. It really concerns me that so many think Joe P did the right thing in the first place by simply reporting it to his superiors. But then Denison alludes that he did do the right thing in the original article.

    (I don’t have to cook today!)

    • cb scott says

      “It really concerns me that so many think Joe P did the right thing in the first place by simply reporting it to his superiors.”

      Herein lies the problem. To report something to one’s superiors is sometimes not sufficient. There are times when superiors are not up the the task for what is necessary. There are many reasons as to why this is true. But in many situations it is because the superior does not want to make waves large enough to rock his personal little boat.