(Photo: The Gospel Coalition)
In the wake of three high-profile departures from the Reformed community, The Gospel Coalition, its founders have asked for prayer for their organization and have chosen to focus on doctrinal differences as an explanation rather than a controversy surrounding some of its council members.
"Pray for us that moves and changes like these will be marked on all sides by the startling, visible graciousness that should be present in all saved by grace," wrote New York City's Redeemer Presbyterian Pastor Tim Keller and Canadian Reformed theologian D. A. Carson in a statement released on Wednesday.
Over the weekend, the names of two members of the TGC council with backgrounds in Sovereign Grace Ministries, C. J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris, were removed from the site's list of leaders.
Mahaney founded Sovereign Grace Ministries and currently pastors a SGM church. Harris pastors Covenant Life Church, Mahaney's former church, which broke away from SGM in 2012.
SGM was the subject of a class-action lawsuit which accused the church's leaders, including Mahaney, of not notifying authorities in cases of sexual abuse of minors from 1983 to 1991. The lawsuit was thrown out in May 2013 but will be appealed in June.
Last week, Nathan Morales, a former church volunteer was convicted of abusing three boys. Over the course of the trial, Grant Layman, Mahaney's brother-in-law and former CLC pastor, acknowledged that he withheld information about sex abuse allegations from the police. Harris has temporarily stepped down from leading CLC because of the conviction.
In the wake of the conviction, Tullian Tchividjian and TGC cut ties, with Tchividjian telling The Christian Post earlier this week that although his departure from TGC came with little warning, he had already made the decision eight or nine months ago to leave in August.
Tchividjian also told CP that he was "pretty disturbed" when Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor published a statement on TGC website in May 2013 which defended Mahaney, saying that it looked "like the good-old boys club covering their own."
"I thought it was premature. I thought it was insensitive. I communicated with the guys who wrote this statement that I was disappointed, that I thought it was unwise and premature and that they needed to clarify that their statement was not a statement from The Gospel Coalition, per se, but was their own personal statement," he explained.
"There were some of us on the coalition, or who were associated with it, who didn't want to be associated with their defense of C. J.," he continued. "I've just been sort of disgusted by the whole thing."
Keller and Carson chose to focus on doctrinal differences over "sanctification" as the reason for the split with Tchividjian.
"In Tullian's case, it was obvious to observers that for some time there has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of sanctification," wrote Keller and Carson on the TGC website. "The differences were doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom."
Keller and Carson did not address the SGM controversy beyond saying that despite the relationship between Harris and Mahaney, and the timing of their departures, "it would be mistaken to think the reasons and processes for these decisions were the same."
"C. J. had been considering stepping out for a good while — both a year ago and a month ago he offered to do so for a variety of reasons, including a major move and change in his role, the responsibilities of a new church plant, and other issues. Joshua has spoken publicly about his reasons for resigning. In light of the ongoing civil suit against his church he felt it best for TGC if he stepped down," it stated.
Tchividjian told CP on Tuesday that "no one from The Gospel Coalition formally reached out to me or questioned anything I ever posted or asked me to clarify anything I ever posted." And commented that he began to feel a shift in the site's theology and how his doctrine was being received based on what other contributors were posting.
"I was told the other day that conversations about me and about what I had been saying had been going on for a year, which I didn't know about until the other day," said Tchividjian.
Keller and Carson's statement acknowledged the abruptness of Tchividjian's departure, confirming that he had only been notified last week that he had to move his blog onto his personal ministry site Liberate.
"As the years go by, we may face other situations in which similar hard decisions will have to be made. We commit ourselves to not recount the parting of the ways in such a fashion that it makes us look good and the departing persons look bad," wrote Keller and Carson.
The Reformed leaders explained that the doctrine of sanctification "is supposed to produce in us the humility and kindness (yet courage) that enables us to speak the truth in love and builds up our brothers even as we give reasons for stepping away."