Are you directly subversive of the Gospel?

A post from the old blog brought to the new

Posted on January 24, 2016

Nobody proclaims the gospel quite like an 18th Century Baptist! Have you ever listened to a sermon and thought it was "directly subversive of the gospel"?

A Haldane's Journal

The Haldanes were brought to my attention through listening to an online lecture by Nick Needham (which you can listen to here) and I was immediately hooked. So it made me more happy to discover that some of the published books of James Alexander Haldane are available free on Google Books. And there's some interesting stuff in there:

"Preached in the evening to about 3000 people, and bore testimony against the doctrine which had been preached in the forenoon, as being directly subversive of the gospel." 

Journal of a tour through the northern counties of Scotland and the Orkney Isles, in autumn 1797, p.66

It seems so natural and obvious to James Haldane that he would do this - That in preaching to a village the amazing truth of salvation by faith alone, he would have to make reference to the sermon they had all heard previously that contradicted it. Haldane makes specific reference to this part of his ministry in the introduction (p.23), essentially saying that pointing people to the medicine that heals is pointless unless he also points them to the poisons that need to be avoided.

So What

We have (which probably means 'I have') grown scared of addressing the opinions and teachings of people we do not agree with. In an increasingly intolerant society where only certain types of diversity are allowed, we all feel the pressure to hush our feelings of disagreement and instead just focus on the bits we can all agree with.

But surely there is a central core, that we cannot keep hushed. As long as we are still duty bound to go and make disciples, then we must also be duty bound to ensure that the gospel message is always one of utterly free and unearned grace. Do we not have an obligation to point out to people any time we witness teaching that would undermine this free Gospel? I believe it's this same compulsion that drives Paul to angry compassion when he shouts at the Galatians [Gal 3:1-3] Whilst we must be careful how we approach messages in public that we disagree with, I am beginning to feel strongly that highlighting which bottle is poison is very important when trying to point people to the cure. The gospel surely is an issue of life and death.

An After Thought

On a totally unrelated (but not really) note, I was interested to read how Carl Trueman dealt with some historical interpretation errors in one of Rob Bell's books. By focussing purely on a historical critique, and intelligently pointing out the context of Luther's words, Trueman was able to highlight the error without being mean or nasty. He stated that he did not "wish to comment on the theology of Bell's book", but by seeking to correct the error of Bell's interpretation he did in fact deal quite a blow to at least one theological point that Bell was attempting to assert.

Whether that was intentional or not, he still disagreed constructively and without finger-wagging or name-calling. I felt it was an accurate but non-hostile response, which clearly had the intention of being helpful to reader's of Bell's work. Trueman is good at this. He seems to have developed a confidence in commenting on people he disagrees with, and I believe he would probably happily stand alongside James Haldane in saying that he is genuinely trying to point people to the cure, which necessarily means pointing out bottles of poison when he finds it. (I should probably ask him first though!)

Post Script

I have been to Thurso a couple of times and will always remember the wonderfully shabby bookshop in the top image. It's immortalised now on Google street view. And aptly looks like it's last visitor might have been James Haldane himself! If anyone knows any more information about it, I'd love to know!