Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. --John 17:17
The Truth Project (TTP) is a 12-part DVD series produced by Focus on the Family to encourage Christians in an understanding of a biblical worldview, and especially its application for their lives. Now, before anyone gets too excited (or put off) regarding the title of this article, let me say that there is much in this series that deserves praise. There are, however, some serious problems.
The first thing that blessed me as I began my 13-hour tour through the episodes was Del Tackett's exhortation to his mostly college-age students to "think!" That's not exactly a common characteristic among today's postmodern and experientially prone generation, and that includes young evangelicals whose biblical "education," for the most part, has consisted of some form of entertainment. Of course, Tackett wants them to think biblically and deeply. Amen to that!
Del Tackett is an excellent communicator. He not only has a command of his subject matter, but he also exudes an infectious passion for the Lord and for His Word. You can see that those "students" selected to participate in the program weren't just props for a well-designed production and set--it appears that they were really understanding, perhaps for the first time, some of the biblical insights that were being taught.
Many of the teachings are solidly biblical, such as the episode that addressed "The Family," which alone may be worth the price of the entire series. We couldn't agree more with Tackett's professed desire to encourage all believers to have a love for the Scriptures and to get to know the heart of God through the revelation of His Word. In view of the sad fact that there are very few quality productions that deal with apologetics and are directed at young adults, I initially wrestled with whether to raise any of the critical issues that concerned me. In other words, I didn't want to put people off regarding a series that I believe has biblical value. What finally motivated me to address what I found to be problematic teachings were two thoughts: 1) Everything in life, in every way possible, needs biblical scrutiny. If it has the support of Scripture, then we need to be encouraged to make it a life support. 2) A stated objective of TTP is to exhort believers to think through all teachings, test all theories, doctrines, and dogmas. They encourage one to ask relevant questions, especially concerning the consequences regarding what is being taught--in particular, where is it leading or headed? That seemed to be the video's marching orders, so there should be no objections to my doing just that.
In spite of all that impressed me about The Truth Project, there were still some troubling aspects that tempered, even dampened, my enthusiasm at times. It reminded me of an ocean voyage that I took before I started graduate school. It was a terrific cruise if you could handle the seas that the North Atlantic was dishing up. I'm not easily susceptible to seasickness, so it was quite enjoyable for me. The last thing that entered my mind was whether or not the ship was on course to Southampton, England. I assumed that it was and gave it no further consideration. That memory resurfaced as I thoughtfully sailed with the "good ship Truth Project."
I wasn't too far along into the series when I realized that some of the "crew and its captain" were Calvinists. Del Tackett, according to his biography, was introduced to the Reformed faith in the late 1970s and started The New Geneva Theological Seminary as a branch of Knox Seminary in 1992. Knox Theological Seminary is a ministry of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and is a bastion of Calvinism. Tackett is now associated with Coral Ridge Ministries and does a weekly TV program for them called Cross Examine. One of the main contributors to TTP is R. C. Sproul, perhaps one of the most influential Calvinists of our day. Although there is no overt teaching regarding Reformed Theology, its influence is noted throughout, including quotes from The Westminster Confession and a powerpoint slide presentation declaring man's needs: "Grace, Regeneration, Redemption." Calvinists teach that a person must be regenerated by (irresistible) grace before he can believe and be saved.
Perhaps even before my concerns about Calvinism, the fact that TTP was a production of Focus on the Family bothered me. Why? I can think of no ministry that has sown the seeds of psychotherapy among evangelicals more deeply than Focus on the Family, with psychologist James Dobson. Focus on the Family has made the humanistic teachings of self-esteem and self-love the pillars of their organization. Del Tackett was president of Focus on the Family Institute during the TTP production, and his organization's self-esteem bias shows itself as he declares that God has given everyone a "hunger for significance." That selfist teaching is certainly biblical--but not in a good way. It caused the fall of angels and mankind. Lucifer's desire to raise his "significance" level in heaven (Isaiah 14) and Eve's desire to be "as the gods" (Genesis 3) obviously indicated their "hunger for significance." Nevertheless, Tackett recognizes the errors of humanist psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. His criticism takes place in a TTP episode labeled "Anthropology." I find that odd because the issues in this episode are related specifically to psychology, which, curiously, is rarely mentioned in TTP. That missing topic appears less than honest, given the Focus on the Family connection.
Focus on the Family has not only been a chief promoter of psychological counseling; it is the foremost referral service among evangelicals for professional psychotherapists. Although TTP says that it desires to turn young people from the ways of the world to a biblical worldview, it seems to have intentionally avoided that "sphere" of psychology and its devastating effects upon mankind.
The prestigious Princeton Review reports that the number two most popular field of study for all U.S. college students (secular or Christian) is psychology. Young evangelicals, perhaps even more so, are attracted to and encouraged to choose a career in the pseudo-science of psychotherapy. Ironically, here is what Dr. James Dobson recommends: "Christian psychology is a worthy profession for a young believer, provided his faith is strong enough to withstand the humanistic concepts to which he will be exposed...." No. So-called Christian psychology is both a contradiction in terms and the chief dispenser of "self" teachings in the church, yet too few are warning our next generation about this incredibly destructive worldview.
There was certainly no hint of an alarm in The Truth Project! The series devotes two hour-long sessions to exposing the pseudo-science of evolution but clearly avoids the even more spiritually deceptive pseudo-science of psychological counseling.
The single-most puzzling item in TTP is the inclusion of a man who unequivocally represents a false gospel: Roman Catholic priest Robert Sirico. Who made that decision? And why is he in The "Truth" Project? Although nothing could be worse than featuring a man, under the guise of truth, who participates in leading one billion-plus souls away from the biblical truth, Sirico has some other issues. Prior to his being ordained a Paulist priest, he was a minister for the Metropolitan Community churches, a professing evangelical movement that was developed to refute the biblical condemnation of homosexuality. In 1975, Sirico performed the first-ever civil-licensed same-sex marriage. He is now a pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Kalamazoo, MI, and president of Acton Institute, an organization that promotes the "coming together of faith and liberty" through "integrating Judeo-Christian Truths with Free Market Principles." His "faith" is not the faith, for which Jude urged believers to contend. But such distinctions are increasingly blurred in this ecumenical age. One of Acton Institute's board members is Dr. Gaylen J. Byker, the current president of Calvin College. Sirico seems to hold the same attraction for evangelicals as does Mormon Glenn Beck, both of whom are very vocal in their promotion of "getting America back to her Christian roots."
Almost none of "Father" Sirico's involvement in TTP seems to make sense (especially considering the historic anti-Catholicism of Calvinism) until one pulls back to see the direction in which the "ship" is headed. It seems to be a reprise of Christian Reconstructionism directed at this next generation of evangelicals. Reconstructionism is a Calvinist-based movement that was popularized by Rousas Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, and Gary DeMar. Also known as Theonomy, it proposes social and civil governments that are based strictly upon the Laws of God in the Old and New Testaments.
Reconstructionists believe that through the application of God's Laws the earth will be transformed and the Kingdom of God ushered in. Del Tackett preaches that concept in subtle and not-so-subtle ways throughout the series. There's little doubt that he is attempting to emulate John Calvin's vision for the city of Geneva, which Calvin hoped would be a utopia of Christian principles worked out in daily life. That may be the reason Tackett called the seminary that he founded The New Geneva. He is currently on its Board of Directors and a faculty member. Calvin's "biblical Law" experiment in Geneva, however, became so legalistic that he was referred to as "the Protestant Pope."
Calvin's historic failure to apply the Law didn't seem to dissuade Tackett in The Truth Project. For example, he turns to the Fourth Commandment as a principle for New Testament Christians to incorporate into their lives regarding what he calls "The Sphere of Labor." Although the commandment is directed at the Israelites, instructing them to "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy," Tackett presents it as a principle meant for believers, especially regarding their attitude toward work. This is Theonomy, as well as being a misapplication of the Scriptures. Nine of the 10 Commandments involve moral issues (do not steal, lie, murder, etc.) that are written upon the conscience of man; the Fourth Commandment is not. It is a separation law written for and to be obeyed exclusively by the Israelites (Exodus 16:29; 31:14-16; Deuteronomy 5:15, etc.). We can certainly appreciate Tackett's application of New Testament instructions for the believer today, but attempting to apply the Laws of Moses could constitute legalism, as well as leading to "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6-7).
Reconstructionism is never mentioned, but The Truth Project's suggested reading material list is loaded with Amillennialists/Calvinists such as Abraham Kuyper and A.W. Pink, some key Reconstructionist figures such as Rushdooney and DeMar, and Coalition On Revival enthusiast Gary Amos, among others. Reconstructionists are Calvinists, and many, if not most are amillennialists and preterists (with some notable exceptions).
This means they believe that the church and the world are now in the Millennium and that nearly all the prophesies of the Bible have been fulfilled. That may be why prophecy is nowhere to be found in The Truth Project, which is a huge loss for the hope of developing a confident biblical worldview. Fulfilled prophecy is the best apologetic for proving that the Word of God is of supernatural origin and that we can turn to it with great assurance. It also indicates what lies ahead for the church and the world. Simply and clearly, Scripture foretells that the imminent Rapture of the church, the Great Tribulation, the Second Coming, the Millennial Reign of Christ, the Dissolving of Our Present Heavens and Earth, and the Creating of a New Heaven and New Earth, will all take place, in that order. (see Temporal Delusion)
The reason that this isn't presented in TTP no doubt has to do with its eschatological perspective. The above prophetic biblical scenario does not fit with amillennialism (or postmillennialism) or any of the other attempts to "transform our culture," "restore our nation," or "fix the world's temporal economic, social, health, injustice, ecological, and other problems." All of this contributes to a temporal delusion, which is simply not biblical. The "worldview" of Scripture is not global transformation, a term used throughout TTP--not, that is, until the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ. Even then, it will not be a perfect society because the Bible tells us that it will end with the rebellion of those who went along with the laws and principles of Christ's rule but who never committed their hearts and minds to Him.
Tackett chides those who have a "why polish the brass on a sinking ship?" mentality. He seems to be referring to Christians who have abandoned their biblical responsibilities because of an erroneous interpretation of Scripture. We would also take issue with those who think like that, if it indeed characterizes their attitude. The true scriptural view is that the events presented above will literally take place and need to be considered in regard to any plans or agendas of men or ministries. We should not expect worldwide revival when the Bible indicates that the Last Days will be characterized by great spiritual deception in the world and apostasy in the church. Does that mean that we bail out on the world? No. But there is no scriptural basis for believing that the world will be or can be transformed through biblical law or biblical principles. To truly believe that, one would have to literally excise the Book of Revelation from Holy Writ, along with hundreds of other Scriptures.
We believe that the mandate for believers in our day is a rescue operation of individual lost souls, not a program of collective global transformation. True believers certainly need to reflect the teachings and love of Christ in every aspect of their lives, but they are to do so first and foremost to please the One who saved them. It may be that some will turn to Christ because of a believer's steadfastness and fruitfulness in the faith, but that will be the exception in this rebellious world, as biblical prophecy clearly indicates. The message of the gospel will never be popular in the world because "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness....unto the Jews [it is] a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness...." (1 Corinthians 1:18,23). Furthermore, rather than drawing the multitudes to Christ by example, Scripture states, "...all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus declared, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:18-19).
In summary, The Truth Project, in our view, is akin to a troop support ship with a mixture of supplies aboard that need to be carefully scrutinized. More importantly, if the ship's compass is off even a few degrees, the vessel will not reach its intended port. TTP has some excellent content along with some erroneous teachings, but its "intended port" of transforming the world is not on the course set by the Scriptures.