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I’m not saying their positions are always wrong, but their position on their positions makes me nervous. I’m talking about those pastors, politicians, pundits, and publications which, at the first sign of firefight, always scramble for the cleanest spot above the fray.

The ones that always claim to transcend old polarities. The ones that always claim to be above all the silly nonsense that used to drag us down. The ones that keep their noses clean by putting them high into air. The ones that are never dirty enough for the trenches.

Why not get shot at with the rest of us? Are there not right sides to be on in some battles? Or do you not want us to see that you are at war as much as everyone else?

I get nervous when the middle ground is always the safe spot. I wonder if the two sides are being described fairly. Or if there are really twenty sides instead of two. I wonder if the sane voice of civility crying in the uncouth wilderness has something it doesn’t want me to hear. I wonder if instead of getting an intellectual argument for the truth I’m getting an emotional appeal to feel superior than the lowbrow rabble-rousers. I am skeptical of those whose first instinct in the midst of theological, political, or cultural controversy is to plead with everyone that there doesn’t have to be a controversy.

I have no desire to turn every skirmish into a war. There is more to life than belligerence. But there is also more to life than boasting of civility when battles need to be won. When the Bible tells us to seek the things that are above, it doesn’t always mean the fray.

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47 thoughts on “Hiding Above the Fray”

  1. DA says:

    A moment of self-reflection today, Kevin?

  2. Bishop55 says:

    Avoiding controversy? Kind of like TGC when James MacDonald and the Elephant Room 2 were running roughshod over central doctrines of the historic Christian faith?

  3. Michael B. says:

    Pastors and other church officials are often eager to stay out of fights because anyone who has any experience at all in church leadership knows how quickly and how nasty church disputes can become. All the combatants think they have God on their side, and there’s simply no room for negotiation.

  4. Jeff Atnip says:

    Can’t we all just get along?

    Seriously, I agree with you. I love your description, “keep their noses clean by keeping them high in the air.”

  5. Is this a response to Michael Horton’s MR article (which I liked)?
    More seriously, I am curious re: what’s wrong with not wanting to fight? I get the feeling there were a good many arguments Jesus wasn’t into.

  6. I totally agree Kevin. Pastors must contend for the faith and we can’t do that from a stand-off distance of 3 or 3000 miles. It’s the way we go about it though that is important. As the apostle Paul wrote:

    “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will”(2 Timothy 2:23-26 ESV).

  7. Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate that you use your gifts to get on the front line for God’s glory. You are (along with a few others) my hero!

  8. Agreed. And we need to choose our battles. We cant “go to the mattresses” over every disagreement even if they fire the first shot.

  9. Scott says:

    You have no desire to turn every skirmish into a battle? Really? You’ve got about 200 blog post and a whole lot of face-time at conferences suggesting otherwise. The TGC crowd spends 90% of its time in polemical engagements. At least be honest about it.

  10. Kevin DeYoung says:

    A few quick thoughts:

    1. I was not writing this in response to Mike Horton’s article. The thought never entered my mind. I agree with almost everything Horton has ever written.

    2. By my count, several TGC bloggers weighed in on the ER2 controversy including Trevin, Justin, Thabiti, and me. Plus there were lots of private conversations. Plus Carson and Keller both weighed in more than once. We may not have done everything right, but we hardly floated above the fray.

    3. Yes, we should not fight over everything. I written about that before too. It takes wisdom to know which battles are worth engaging. And no one can wage war on every front (nor should they try). This post was not so much a call to arms as it was a reminder that we can’t avoid being in thick of things if we are to be faithful.

    4. A friend wrote to me making a good point: there is a kind of middle ground which puts you squarely in the fray. It’s the middle ground that tries to ward off mistakes on both sides, as opposed to the middle ground that claims to transcend all sides.

    5. I think if someone were to count up all the posts put out in the last year on the TGC website one would find that well over 90% of them were not polemical. In looking over my posts from the past month, I see only one that is clearly polemical (theistic evolution). I’m not interested in arguing over what is or isn’t polemical. But the false assertion that our “crowd” spends almost all out time fighting with others needs to be put to rest.

  11. David Axberg says:

    Amen and amen thanks for the comment for clarification Kevin, God Bless Now!

    A polemical argument going on in Love and Interesting and watching how it goes.

  12. Melody says:

    It’s a great post.

  13. Bishop55 says:


    In regard’s to thought #2, TGC’s response was neither timely nor decisive. The only response I would commend for its timeliness and decisiveness is Thabiti’s. He was the only one that drew a line in the sand early on. The rest waited for the dust to settle and then voiced their tepid disagreement.

    There are many other people that have made this point much more eloquently than I ever could, for instance here:

    and here:

    Many were also well out in front of this, questioning the wisdom of ER2 while it was still in the planning stages. One example here:

    Meanwhile TGC, for the most part, waited to respond until after ER2

    Kevin, I love you and your posts are generally edifying and full of biblical wisdom, but I don’t think you are being honest with yourself about TGC’s response to the ER2 controversy.

    Thank you.

  14. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Bishop55, I don’t want to get sidelined dredging up the remains of the Elephant Room. This is all I’m going to say about it. When I wrote my piece on the event I explained my hesitancy in responding directly. I wish I would have said more earlier. But friend, I humbly ask that you allow that you may not know all the details. You may not know everything that happened behind the scenes. You may not what conversations I or others were having that don’t show up on the blogs. You may not know the many tough judgment calls and the way in which godly people prayed and labored and tried to pursue the course of action they thought would best serve Christ’s church.

    I can’t speak for others, but I try to be very “honest” with myself. I have no problem admitting a mistake or when I wish I would have done something better or something more. I admitted as much with the Elephant Room. But please understand that family matters which look simple when they are in someone else’s family can be quite complicated when they occur in your own. Grace and peace to you.

  15. Bishop55 says:


    Thank you for your response and I will respect your wishes not to sideline the conversation here. Thanks.

  16. Ken Pierce says:


    Excellent. The “above the fray” crowd reminds me of the “Christ” party in Corinth. You people follow men, but WE follow God. It is inherently a prideful position, and hypocritical to boot.

    There are foes to be faced.

  17. AStev says:

    “But the false assertion that our “crowd” spends almost all out time fighting with others needs to be put to rest.”

    It’s a waste of breath – people like Scott just pop in here from time to time to accuse us all of being divisive polemicists, and then just as quickly vanish, never to be seen again.

  18. Rob says:

    I agree that some debates are worth having, and that civility doesn’t mean non-engagement. But I have some difficulty with the idea that such debates are “battles to be won” rather than illuminating dialogues to be had. While we need to stand firm and defend what we believe, I’m concerned that the battle mindset can lead to us doing apologetics and theology in a triumphalistic, anti-intellectual way that can’t help but be uncivil.

  19. Kevin, with all due respect brother, where are the articles you penned that called TD Jakes to repentance for being a wolf, a Modalist, one who fleeces the people of God with his Word/Faith dogma and for being an unregenerate heretic who needs the Gospel?

    Where are your articles that called brothers Carson and Keller to repent of their recreant actions on this issue? It is arrogant and cowardice to hide behind “there were a lot of things going on behind the scenes that I just cant reveal.”

    Where was your brave war zone courage in any articles calling Driscoll and MacDonald to repentance for publicly affirming anti-Trinitarian Jakes as being orthodox? In our church, we would have begun church restoration on both of them for partnering in ministry with and affirming a heretic as Jakes as being orthodox.

    Lastly, what essential doctrine does someone have to not affirm, if not the Trinity, to be considered a false teacher and called to repentance?

    Contend for the faith brother. Fear God, not man!
    2 Cor 4:5

  20. DRT says:

    Kevin, while I great appreciate your allowance for my views on your blog, I must object to the references to “battle” and “war” in your post. You did quite well with the reference to the “fray”. But the whole war theme is quite un-Jesus like on the whole and well overused by the radical elements. I ask that you stay above that level.

    While you did, late in the article, say you don’t want to turn skirmishes into war, earlier you said we are at war.

    lt;I am not at war with you Brother, regardless of us having different views

  21. David Lovi says:

    DRT, we ARE at war! It is a spiritual war but a war nonetheless (eph 6:12). Not to mention our God is a Warrior as well.

  22. Joe Horn says:

    Kevin-I agree with you, my friend. Always remembering that the central issues are not always at stake, not every fight is worth the candle, not everyone who disagrees with me is necessarily a false teacher, etc., it remains true that some fights are worth it, false teachers are out there, and when central issues are at stake, we must speak with grace and truth.

    In re: to those who think the middle road is always safest, I recall a line from Jonah Goldberg (I’m paraphrasing): “It may be extremist to recommend jumping all the way across a canyon, but suggesting jumping halfway across is suicidal.” The via media is sometimes suicidal theologically too.

  23. DRT says:

    David Lovi,

    Do you think that Jesus is the best representation of what god looks like in a human? If so, do you really characterize Jesus as warlike? Really?

    This attitude of being at war is inherently divisive and counter productive to Christianity.

  24. Ken Pierce says:

    Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

    (Revelation 19:11-16 ESV)

    For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
    (2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ESV)

    Nope, definitely no warfare there. Unworthy of Jesus…

    Like a mighty army moves the church of God…

  25. DRT says:

    Ken Pierce, certainly you know that you can not win this debate based on bible texts. Do you really not know the Prince of Peace? Really?

    “Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Mt. 5:39)
    “Remind the Christians to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing meekness to all men.” (Titus 3:2)
    “Follow Peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
    The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
    “Do all things without murmurrings and disputings, that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.” (Philipians 2:14:15)
    Jesus came “to guide our feet into the way of Peace.” (Luke 1:79)
    Whatever you to to another it is as tho you were doing it to Jesus for he said:”In as much as ye have done it into one of the least of these, my brothers, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
    “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (1John 3:10)
    “He that doeth good is of God, but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.” (3John 1.11)
    “He that kills with the sword, must be killed with the sword.” (Revelation 13:10)
    Forgive “one another if any man have a quarrel with any.” (Colossians 3:13)
    If anyone steals from you “take it joyfully” (Hebrews 10:34)
    Even if you are unjustly enslaved or imprisoned, you do not resist but seek to convert your Jailers as St. Paul did. (Philippians 4:22)
    “Be diligent that you may be found in Peace.” (2 Peter 3:14)
    But doesn’t the Bible say we are to obey the Government? Yes, in all things which are not contrary to the Gospel, but if Jesus says live in peace and the governments says go to war, then “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
    The Fruit of the Spirit is Peace…Love…Gentleness…Meekness” (Galatians 5:22)
    “Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of Peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
    Peace is the Gospel . This is the doctrine of Christ. “Whosoever transgresses and abides not in the Doctrine of Christ hath not God.” (2John 2:1)
    “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:18)
    “Whosoever compells you to go a mile with him, go with him twain.” (Mt.5:41)
    “When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another” (Matthew 10:32)
    This world is not your home. “You are citizens of heaven.” (Philippians 3:20)
    “I say unto you love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which desoitefully use and persecute you, that you may be children of your father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
    “Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore as wise a serpents, and as harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:15)
    “Have peace with one another.” Romans 9:50)
    “Let us follow after the things that make for peace.” (Romans 14:19)
    “God hath called us unto Peace.” (1 Corinthians 7:15)
    “Live in peace.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)
    Jesus mission was to “Preach Peace.” (Acts 10:36)
    Jesus came and “preached peace.” (Ephesians 2:17)
    “Seek Peace and ensue it.” (1Peter 1:3)
    “As you would that men would do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (Luke 6:31)
    “We are counted as sheep for the slaughter.” (Romans 8:36)
    “Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:19)
    “He hath given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18)
    “As far as your responsibility goes, live at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18 Phillips translation)
    “On earth peace, good will towards men.” (Luke 2:14)
    “If any man will sue thee at the law to take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” (Matthew 5:40)
    “Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, see that ye be not troubled.” (Matthew 24:8)
    “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight that I should be delivered of the Jews.” (John 18:36)
    “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
    “Bless them that persecute you: bless and curse not.” (Romans 12:14)
    “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20)
    “Recompense no man evil for evil.” (Romans 12.:7)
    “Being reviled, we bless . Being persecuted we suffer it. Being defamed, we entreat.” (1Corinthians 4:12-13)
    “Dearly Beloved, avenge not yourselves but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written Vengeance is mine, I will repay saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
    “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him drink.” (Romans 12:9)
    “See that none render evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing.” (1 Peter3:9)
    God’s primary title in the New Testament is The God of Peace. It is used six times (Rom. 15:33, Heb. 13:20, Phil. 4:9, Rom. 16:20, 1 Thess. 5:3, 2 Thess. 3:16)
    “Blessed are the Meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mt.5.5)
    “God is not the author of confusion, but of Peace.” (1Cor.14:33)
    “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of them that preach The Gospel of Peace.” (Rom.10:15)
    “Finally Brethern, farewell, be perfect. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace and the God of Love and Peace shall be with you.” (2 Cor.13.11)

  26. Q: do you think th doctrine of th Trinity is so essential 2 th Christian faith that to compromise it does insurmountable damage 2 th Gospel?

    Q: do you think that Bishop TD Jakes should be accepted as a genuine believer in the Lord Jesus Christ though he denies the historical, biblical, doctrinal teaching on the Trinity?

    Q: do you think that those who have recently affirmed Jakes as orthodox should publicly recant their position, and if not, be considered guilty of not holding fast the faith?

    I’d like an answer Kevin to this and my previous post. This is an important issue.

    In the Gospel of the One Triune God,
    Jude 1:24-25

  27. Samantha B says:

    Well. It’s apparent that the people reading and commenting on the article, save Bishop55 and Pastor SJ Camp, referring to ER2 and the trinity, have no idea what they’re talking about. The article itself skimmed the surface. It seemed shallow and the comments were shallow. I don’t understand the “you don’t know what was said behind closed doors” comment either. Heresy is heresy and no amount of chatter in the dark will show people the false teaching proclaimed that day. It’s somewhat sickening. If any one should get involved in church disputes, it’s the leaders and elders. Men of God that ought to be well studied and able to counsel.

    And no man is above reproach. No man.

    I am not a fighter. As a Christian, I try to be loving and peaceful as often as I possibly can be. But I absolutely am called to an anger. A righteous anger. And I think people forget that. God is loving and giving and forgiving. But he is jealous and full of wrath. Do we forget His destruction of sinful cities full of sinful men? And His reaction when any of His words are twisted? I don’t. I am a believer of the trinity. One God. Three persons. Period. That should be proclaimed outright and shouted higher than any noses can reach. Until these men – biblical leaders – can stand up for that in front of heretics, media, the world, they are liars and twisters of the truth.
    Amen, pastor Camp. I hope you get yours answers.

  28. suzanne b. says:

    I loved this post. Thank you.

    It was convicting. I kind of cringed when I read “to feel superior to the lowbrow rabble-rousers.” I haven’t thought of this as a pride issue before, but I think it is. You are right.

  29. Andy says:

    Appropriate? Maybe, maybe not. Humorous? Depends I guess. We all see this a lot on the internet, though not necessarily on this thread. My heart does go out the to the men, and women, who often end up in the crosshairs of numerous topics, blogs, articles. Certainly, some things need to be said, but it’s gotta be tough to be on the receiving end sometimes.

    Guys – This Bud’s for you. :)

    Real men of genius
    ( real men of genius )

    Today we salute you Mr. internet theology debate guy
    ( mr. internet theology debate guy )

    Where there is controversy, you’re there with an opinion, where there is unity you’ll disagree
    ( don’t change the subject )

    There isn’t a subject you won’t weigh in on, grammar you won’t correct
    ( get me some coffee )

    Red herrings, strawmen, non-sequitars, you’ve got this down to a science
    ( I’m goin’ caps lock )

    So crack open an ice cold bud O’ purveyor of the paragraph, once you have the last word here, you can always have it over there.
    ( mr. internet theology deeeebate guyyyy )

  30. Ken Pierce says:

    DRT, I find it interesting that one so into the image of God as the God of Peace (which he is) is so combative.

    I guess the difference is you have pitted the two truths against each other, and I embrace them both.

  31. Samantha B:

    Excellent response! As a pastor I daily face many battles in peoples lives that are guarded and held in strict confidentiality. No exceptions.

    But when it comes to public issues and public leaders, such as ER2, those same standards don’t apply (eg, 1Tim 5:17-21, Gal. 2:11-14).

    Though Kevin’s article here is shallow, general, and uncommittal – the title is quite good. It’s unfortunate that he is living up to its title and avoiding the very questions he is biblically required to answer.

    Hiding is never a solution…

  32. kyle says:

    This reminded me of a quote by Hans Kung, certainly a man in the trenches:

    “Partisan thinking and toeing the party line are out of place in a theology which is concerned with the truth.” -On Being a Christian, p.98

  33. Elizabeth says:

    The irony of this article is rich.

    I’m reminded of Nathan saying to David, “You are the man!”

  34. DRT says:

    Andy, thanks for that, I loved it.

    Ken Pierce – goodness. how am I combative? Is anyone who disagrees with you combative?

  35. Roger Fields says:

    Great article! Simple, profound point. Some of the snarky comments from its detractors make it even better.

  36. Laurette says:

    I was going to mention my surprise that Christians can be so harsh and ungracious towards others about their motives. Then I remembered that I certainly do it too to those outside my “camp”. So I’ll just say this: we must always try to give others (especially fellow Christians) a gracious reading, not putting words and motives into their mouths, and not guessing the worst about them. In this comment thread, Kevin has been accused of being too quick AND too slow to engage in “battles” in the Biblical sense. Doesn’t that give his critics pause to think that they MIGHT have been too hasty in forming a judgement?

  37. Greg Long says:

    Andy… hahahaha! Internet Theology Guy!

  38. Peter Bamikole says:

    LOLOL @ Andy’s “Mr. Internet Theology Debate Guy” comment — easily the funniest thing I’ve read on this website. I take my cap off to you, sir.

    Great blog post, Pastor DeYoung. I also appreciate you showing up in the comments section a bit. I know you have real(er) duties to attend to, but it’s nice when a damper is put on some of the stuff that’s casually (& repeatedly) launched into the echo chamber.
    Was also blessed by your T4G ’12 sermon. Have a great week!

  39. Michael H. says:

    I am reminded of Melville’s words: “Woe to him who seeks to pour oil on the waters when God has brewed them into a gale!”

  40. Jules says:


    It seems that TGC has become an echo chamber. It’s very disappointing that it’s members appear to refuse and rebut any and all counsel and block those who mount even the most mild of challenges. Does TGC view itself as above reproach?

  41. Matt Privett says:

    The prelude to ER2, ER2 itself, and the aftermath (the videos where MacDonald turned the issue to race) were very public. These things merited a very strong and very public rebuke. Some were willing to give it – beforehand, while it was occurring, and after. Others were not, content to hide above the fray through less than convincing reviews, statements, and blogposts. There are many pastors who are a part of TGC and I and many others are left to wonder just how seriously they take Titus 1:9. What is the use of being “together for the gospel” if we are not equally willing to be vigilant to defend a core doctrine of the faith, such as the very nature of God?!? This whole episode continues to leave me very disappointed and it is hard to take TGC as an entity seriously at all.

  42. Dan McGhee says:

    Kevin, by way of full disclosure, I am a former Harvest Bible Fellowship pastor. Our church in Detroit disconnected from HBF for a number of reasons, among them, the sad compromise of ER1 and especially ER2. These issues, in our opinion, were just manifestations of deeper problems that lie at the core of the organization.

    In response to Bishop55 you wrote, “But friend, I humbly ask that you allow that you may not know all the details. You may not know everything that happened behind the scenes. You may not what conversations I or others were having that don’t show up on the blogs. You may not know the many tough judgment calls and the way in which godly people prayed and labored and tried to pursue the course of action they thought would best serve Christ’s church.”

    When I read your response to Bishop55 in was like Déjà vu for me… Your answer to him is virtually the exact answer that leadership in the HBF gave to us as we made continuous inquiries into the matter of ER2. We expressed DEEP concern to HBF as soon as Jakes was allowed as a participant and called a brother. We saw (and still do, btw) this action as a direct violation of 2 John 9-10. As we continued to inquire we were told, “Trust us. You don’t know the great conversations that are happening behind the scenes… God is working in a great way through this…” We said, “OK, we’re big boys, why don’t you tell us?” Response? “You’ll just have to wait to see what happens in the ER2. Just trust us.” What?!

    This elitist attitude was the final straw for us. We were done. This was a very public tragedy that needed a bold, courageous, response from TGC. I’m sympathetic with the dilemma in which you found yourselves. Believe me, I am…. But I was disappointed with the elitist rubbish being thrown at guys like the TeamPyro guys who were being faithful to sound the alarm, yet being chided as rabble-rousers for doing so. I, for one, am thankful for the courage they displayed during the whole sad, debacle.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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