Seeking Clarity with Bruxy Cavey – Analysis And Recommendations

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When I first met Bruxy Cavey he had recently become the pastor of Upper Oaks Community Church – a church of about 150 people meeting in the gymnasium of a local high school. He had offices 3 doors down from mine in a little commercial complex just north of the QEW in Oakville Ontario. Over the last 22 years that little congregation has grown into a mega-church with a weekly attendance of more than 5000 people. I pastored for 13 years in the shadow of that growing movement. Everyone was talking about it – and everyone was affected by it. As Bruxy mentioned to me in one of our conversations, only about 30% of his congregation has come out of an entirely “unchurched” background.

Do the math.

That means that approximately 70% of those 5000+ people were drawn out of churches just like mine.

You bet we were talking about Bruxy Cavey!

But, as I said in the introduction to my first article, that doesn’t mean that we actually knew anything about him. I was a pastor in a church – which meant that I was pretty busy on most Sunday mornings. I had only attended one service at The Meeting House and beyond that, everything I knew about Bruxy’s doctrine came from rumours and anecdotal conversations.

Until about 2 years ago.

2 years ago I started seeing posts on Facebook and tweets on Twitter about how Bruxy was a heretic, a wolf and a false teacher. I clicked on the links, listened to the clips and saved some of the better articles to Evernote.

Slowly but surely, I started to believe.

In truth, the on-line caricature of Bruxy circa 2018 didn’t line up very well with the Bruxy I remembered from the late 90’s – I remembered a painfully shy guy who could barely hold eye contact when we would bump into each other at Swiss Chalet – but, maybe he had changed.

After a few of my former students told me about their positive experiences at The Meeting House I decided that I needed to stop dealing in tweets and rumours – I needed to look into these things for myself.

Providentially, the TGC Executive Council was also beginning to feel the need for some sort of formal inquiry into The Meeting House phenomenon. Many of our churches were wondering how to relate to this new movement. Should they be considered allies? Enemies? Or something in between? We had all seen the video clips and the tweets but in truth, no one on the council was more informed than me so I was volunteered to open a dialogue.

We had three basic goals for the conversation.

First of all, we wanted to understand. Bad things happen in our world when people shoot first and ask questions later. We wanted to do more than react to statements and clips, we wanted to seek context, ask questions, hear testimony and probe motivations.

Secondly, we wanted to provide some kind of summary analysis and recommendation for our people. TGC Canada exists to resource churches in their efforts to reach their communities with the Gospel. It’s our job to do homework on behalf of busy pastors and leaders and then to share and distribute what we’ve learned. This analysis and summary represents my personal effort to provide such a resource; a collaborative statement will be developed and released shortly by the council as a whole.

Thirdly, we wanted to model a better way of engaging in dialogue with our theological and ecclesiological neighbours. Social Media is a mixed blessing – at best. It encourages sharing things that we do not really understand and have not personally looked into. It encourages mob mentality and it by-passes prayer and sober process.

As Christians, we have an obligation to do better.

Having made the decision to abandon the Pope, Protestants have always run the risk of disintegrating into an angry mob – the solution to that is patient, sober, relational, collaborative PROCESS. This conversation represents our best efforts to re-establish a biblical pace and tone.

In this final article from me I will attempt to offer some concluding analysis and reflection as well as providing a few suggestions and recommendations moving forward.

Analysis And Conclusion:

Going into our first conversation regarding the doctrine of Scripture I had been led to assume that Bruxy Cavey was substantially aligned with the sort of hermeneutic represented popularly by Andy Stanley. Stanley has argued that Christians need to “unhitch” from the Old Testament and has made follow up statements that have led many evangelical observers to conclude that he is on a trajectory heading towards the classic Christian heresy known as Marcionism.

I was pleased to learn that this isn’t the case with Bruxy Cavey. In response to a question from me about the authority and inspiration of the Old Testament Cavey replied:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for training in discipleship so we can live loving lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17). … I hold that every book of the Bible, Old Testament and New, is the Word of God in print, given to lead us to the Word of God in Person.”

Cavey went on to volunteer:

“I appreciate a lot about the “Red Letter Christian” movement, but I am not a Red Letter Christian, if by that you mean that we can only learn from Jesus through the “red letters” of the Bible. All Scripture points to Jesus and is useful in Christian discipleship.”

Cavey thus affirms the inspiration, authority and utility of the entire Bible.

I had also seen a few things on-line that led me to wonder whether or not Bruxy was a mystic – having access to a Jesus outside of Holy Scripture. In answer to a direct question on this matter Cavey replied:

“I like to talk about Jesus. I want to get people excited about Jesus so that tends to be where my conversation goes. But to be clear, I am talking about the Jesus we encounter in the Bible. I am not talking about the Jesus of my imagination…. All I have for knowing Jesus is Scripture.”

Bruxy Cavey is not a Marcionite and he is not a mystic – he does however avoid using the word “inerrancy” to describe his doctrine of Scripture and this has caused a fair bit of alarm among his reformed evangelical neighbours. When asked about this Cavey replied:

“As an Anabaptist I don’t feel compelled to defend reformed terminology. Anabaptists in our tradition – the Brethren In Christ (or “Be In Christ” in Canada) – do not use the word “inerrancy” in our theology statements. An emphasis on the concept and word “inerrancy” comes from your struggles and battles, not ours….. but I suspect that you and I mean basically the same thing when it comes to the authority and inspiration of the Bible.”

One of the things I think we in the reformed world need to understand is that the failure to use a particular term is not the same thing as denying the substance of the doctrine being so described.

Of course that isn’t to say that we shouldn’t pursue precise language within our own working groups – we most certainly should! I think the word inerrancy is an incredibly useful word in communicating the reliability and essential trustworthiness of the Scriptures. However, if a brother or sister from another tribe affirms the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible using different terms – I feel no particular inclination to quarrel with them. The Apostle Paul said:

Charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. (2 Timothy 2:14 ESV)

We will never be able to partner effectively across cultural and ecclesiological lines unless we allow people to communicate in language and terminology that arises naturally out of their own history and particular context.

Of course, granting people the right to their own language does not imply complete agreement or comfort with the terms and approach that are being used. In our first conversation Bruxy indicated that he had arrived at an egalitarian approach to gender and ministry through his reading of the Apostle Paul. That to me suggests a dangerously flexible hermeneutic. I’m worried about any interpretive approach that would allow a passage of Scripture such as 1 Timothy 2:9-15 to mean the opposite of what it seems to plainly say. I’ve experienced in my own denomination how often that sort of approach with respect to gender quickly leads to a similar departure from historic Christian doctrines on matters of human sexuality and marriage. Bruxy assures me that he has no interest in doing that but I feel compelled to register my personal and pastoral concern. While disagreeing with him strenuously here, I must concede that the hermeneutic Bruxy is using and the egalitarian convictions that he has arrived at thereby do not mark him as a heretic – rather they show him as being in alignment with a growing segment of the evangelical mainstream.

The second article in this series focused rather narrowly on the issue of the atonement – specifically on atonement theories and the reasons behind Bruxy’s opposition to the traditional reformed formulation known as Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

To be clear, there does not appear to be any disagreement with respect to the facts of the atonement – Bruxy and I agree 100% on the “what” questions. My first question to Bruxy attempted to establish this fact. I asked him clearly, “Do you believe that Jesus died for our sins?”

He responded faithfully and biblically by affirming, “Yes. Absolutely. Jesus “died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3 ESV) – this is a central tenant of the Gospel.”

In a sense, an answer like that ought to immediately lower the polemical temperature and position the conversation as one occurring between bible believing Christian brothers. Heresy, with respect to the doctrine of the atonement, has typically been understood as relating to the denial of the principle elements of the statement referred to by Cavey above. Meaning that a heretic is someone who denies that Jesus died bodily on the cross – as per the Docetists in the 1st and 2nd centuries – or someone who denies that the death of Jesus on the cross was for us – as per some modern liberals who hold exclusively to the Moral Influence view of the atonement.

Neither of those charges could be fairly leveled against Bruxy Cavey.

The concern that many in the reformed community have with Bruxy is specifically related to his refusal to make use of the term Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Tensions have been further inflamed by his statement that he would like to convert evangelicals away from the sorts of presentations associated with the PSA model of the atonement. Having spent about 2 hours talking with Bruxy about this matter and asking a multitude of follow up questions it seems to me that it is inaccurate to say that Bruxy Cavey denies the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Rather it seems more accurate to say that Bruxy affirms the “S” and the “A” in PSA without qualification or reservation, but he has a quarrel with certain versions of the P. Of course, this sort of nuance plays poorly over social media. Social media is good at dealing in binaries: Heretic Yes or No? Few people will stick around to hear you explain how you are 83.6% in agreement while reserving a 16.4% reservation with respect to a particular  – YAWN! In a world of likes, tweets, gifs and emojis we have by and large lost the capacity for that type of minute analysis.

The truth is simply more complicated than most people are willing to hear.

The nub of the issue comes down to how we see and speak about Christ on the cross. Traditionally Christians have drawn extensively from John 1:29, Mark 10:45 and Galatians 3:13-14 in formulating their theories of atonement.

Justin Martyr for example (early second century AD) said:

“For the whole human race will be found to be under a curse. For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.’ And no one has accurately done all, nor will you venture to deny this; but some more and some less than others have observed the ordinances enjoined. But if those who are under this law appear to be under a curse for not having observed all the requirements, how much more shall all the nations appear to be under a curse who practice idolatry, who seduce youths, and commit other crimes?

If, then, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if he were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves?”[1]

In the Letter to Diognetus (second century AD) we read:

“He took upon himself our sins; he gave his own son as a ransom for us—the holy for the lawless, the good for the evil, the righteous for the unrighteous, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal” (9.2).[2]

Eusebius of Caesarea (third century AD) wrote:

“And the Lamb of God…was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonor, which were due to us, and drew down upon Himself the appointed curse, being made a curse for us.”[3]

Gregory of Nazianzus (fourth century AD) wrote:

“As for my sake He was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who taketh away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body. As long then as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ is called disobedient on my account.”[4]

Bruxy Cavey could affirm every single one of those statements[5]. He too prefers to define the atonement in language borrowed from these passages. What he doesn’t like to do is use the phrase “Jesus bore the wrath of God upon the cross”.

To be clear, I think he is wrong in avoiding that language.

I side with Martin Luther in viewing the term “wrath” as communicating roughly what Paul means in Galatians 3:13 by referring to Christ as “accursed of God”. Luther says:

“the curse, which is the wrath of God upon the whole world, has a conflict with the blessings; that is to say, with grace and the eternal mercy of God in Christ…Therefore if you look upon this person Christ, you shall see sin, death, the wrath of God, hell, the devil, and all evils vanquished and mortified by Him.”[6]

I would further contend that if the death of Christ upon the cross averts the wrath of God (as Bruxy agrees it does) as stated in Romans 5:9 then it is entirely logical to state that what is averted must first be borne and satisfied – and therefore the statement is legitimate. More than legitimate, I would suggest that it is necessary. If the cross is the climactic self-disclosure of God (which Bruxy and I both agree that it is) then it is necessary to see, say and celebrate absolutely everything that is there.

And wrath is there.

Wrath against sin.

Sin being borne by Christ in my place upon the cross.

Thanks be to God!

Therefore I register concern with Bruxy’s reticence to use that particular phrase, but his use of parallel phrases meaning substantially the same thing and drawn faithfully from Holy Scripture places him well beyond any rational accusation of heresy. There are many published definitions of PSA that Bruxy could affirm without reservation. Thomas R. Schreiner for example writes:

“I define penal substitutionary as follows: The Father, because of his love for human beings, sent his Son (who offered himself willingly and gladly) to satisfy God’s justice, so that Christ took the place of sinners. The punishment and penalty we deserved was laid on Jesus Christ instead of us, so that in the cross both God’s holiness and love are manifested.”[7]

Therefore, I think it more accurate to characterize this as an intramural dispute between Bible believing Christians with respect to the best language and terminology for use in our preaching and proclamation of the cross. In the context of such a conversation I can argue forcefully for the superiority of my preferred language and terms – but it would be inappropriate, ungracious and historically inaccurate to describe my opponent in this case as a heretic. Bruxy Cavey’s atonement views fall well inside those of C.S. Lewis and St. Augustine – two men, generally regarded as heroes within the reformed evangelical community.

In our third conversation Bruxy and I spoke at length about a wide variety of topics. I wanted in particular to press into the issue of language and the tendency of minority groups to define themselves almost exclusively in contradistinction to the perceived characteristics of the majority. Such a practice tends to be very helpful in the early days when recruiting members out of the masses, but very harmful over the long haul – particularly when the group grows beyond the status of a minority and wishes to come in from the cold. I do think that a combination of hyperbole on the one side and hyper-sensitivity on the other have combined to create an atmosphere of hostility that now threatens to distract us all from the main business of preaching the Gospel – hence the urgency of the present conversation.

I was pleased to hear “the backstory” behind some of the terminology and phrasing that has caused offense in the reformed evangelical world, nevertheless, I perceive that there are still several areas of significant disagreement between the two camps on a variety of significant issues.

More conversation is required.

With respect to methodology I actually think that there are many things that traditional evangelical churches could learn from the effectiveness of The Meeting House in reaching out to unchurched Millennials. While they haven’t been as successful as they would like – by their own admission – they have been far more successful than many others. I do think that Millennials are attracted to conviction. The days of assuming the Gospel and playing church are long since in the past. Style may get them in the door but only substance will invite them to stay. And only Christ will bring the dead to life. Whether you love it or hate it, The Meeting House is not “Christianity Lite” – it is a substantial offering of a particular flavour of Christianity known as Anabaptism. I’ve come to think of it as Attractional on the outside but thoroughly Anabaptist on the inside. I suspect that this apparent contradiction reflects the plurality of the leadership structure with Bruxy providing the Anabaptist core – and a group of other leaders designing and maintaining an attractive outer shell.

As to the various miscellany covered in our wide ranging conversation, I would suggest that Bruxy Cavey has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is not a Reformed Baptist Pastor. He is far too friendly with Greg Boyd, far too open to Open Theism and far too Arminian by half.

Having summarized my observations, I am ready to render my conclusion.

Bruxy Cavey is not a heretic.

He’s an Anabaptist.

To be clear, I have no interest in bringing the Anabaptists into my metaphorical bed, I am merely arguing for their right to exist within our ecclesiological neighborhood.

To be even more clear, and slightly less metaphorical, I’m not suggesting that the pastor of a reformed church should allow Anabaptist commitments to exist unchallenged within his own congregation. To be a church in any functional way you have to come down clearly on a variety of contestable issues. I’m not arguing against the appropriateness of a sturdy and defining fence – I’m arguing for the possibility of useful and charitable dialogue overtop.

In the end, I find I come down very near to the position historically advocated by Martin Bucer and more recently commended by Baptist historian Dr. Michael Haykin. At the conclusion of his presentation on Anabaptism at the TGC USA annual conference in 2017 Dr. Haykin said the following:

“Having done this study has given me a deep appreciation for these brothers and sisters… they were remarkable men and women. I would that we had Bucer’s attitude. These men and women were martyrs for Christ, they were friends of God, even though we may disagree with some of their theological convictions.”[8]

Suggestions For Moving Forward:

As I mentioned in the introduction, when the TGC Canada Executive Council asked me to initiate this dialogue, one of our stated purposes for so doing was to fulfill our responsibility to busy pastors and leaders within churches struggling to make sense of The Meeting House phenomenon. Many pastors have been asking how they ought to deal with the incursion of Anabaptist ideas and “Meeting House” terminology in their churches. The following three suggestions represent my personal counsel to such pastors.

Within your church, state your convictions clearly

Preach, write, blog and publish what you believe. Work very hard to ground all of your terminology and definitions in the text. Go through your Statement of Faith with your Board. Make sure you understand what you believe.

Preach, pray and proclaim your heart out!

Be wonderfully and marvelously precise in your statements! Getting it right MATTERS! See, say and savor every aspect, shade and nuance that is legitimately present in the display of God’s glory in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Don’t pull your punches and do not be afraid to require essential agreement upon Gospel matters within your membership – and particularly within your leadership culture.

Across your fence, discuss your differences charitably

Try very hard to understand the difference between the boundary markers of your tribe and the boundary markers of your clan. To identify someone as a non-Baptist does not necessarily make them a non-Christian. Develop a few categories between “intimate ally” and “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Think through categories like co-belligerent, neighbour and friend.

Get to know the pastor of the church down the street. Decide to speak to him personally several times before posting any of your thoughts about him on-line.

Make every attempt to understand what your neighbour is saying – make the effort to press behind foreign terms and unusual accents – and be sure that you are presenting his ideas to others in words and ways that he would be happy to own for himself.

Rejoice in the knowledge that the work of every servant will be weighed and measured by a righteous and holy God on the last day. Remember that with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Meditate on that verse (Matthew 7:2) slowly and prayerfully before passing theological judgment upon a brother or a sister in Christ.

As soon as it is possible, return to your primary duties

Extended polemics is bad for the pastor’s soul. Remember that Jude said that he wanted to write about something else – make sure that you do too. If you see in your soul a desire to define yourself by attacking and destroying others, take some time to pray and repent before God.

Remember these words:

if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:15 ESV)

Fighting ought to be the strange work of the pastor. It should never be his default. Martin Bucer listed the 5 primary duties of a faithful shepherd souls. You’ll notice that fighting with other pastors isn’t one of them. From time to time over the course of your career you may be forced to do it – but pity the church stuck with a pastor who delights to do it.

Check your heart.

Repent if need be.

And get back to your primary duties.

Even still, come Lord Jesus.

 

SDG

Pastor Paul Carter

To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.

 


[1] Borrowed from a recent article published on the TGC C website. See here: https://ca.thegospelcoalition.org/article/did-calvin-popularize-penal-substitution/ Emphasis mine.

[2] https://ca.thegospelcoalition.org/article/did-calvin-popularize-penal-substitution/ Emphasis mine.

[3] https://ca.thegospelcoalition.org/article/did-calvin-popularize-penal-substitution/ Emphasis mine.

[4] https://ca.thegospelcoalition.org/article/did-calvin-popularize-penal-substitution/ Emphasis mine.

[5] Which I confirmed prior to posting.

[6] Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1988) 184-185. Emphasis mine.

[7] Thomas R. Schreiner in The Nature Of The AtonementFour Views (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 67.

[8] Michael Haykin, http://resources.thegospelcoalition.org/library/anabaptists-and-the-radical-reformation 48 minute mark. Used with author’s permission.

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