Rev Scott S. McKenna and Rev David Andrew Robertson – A Misjudged Conversation

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On Wednesday 30 September 2015 I made the journey to Edinburgh, to my home church, Mayfield Salisbury to listen to what was billed officially as a conversation between Scott McKenna and David Robertson. Scott is minister of Mayfield Salisbury and David is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland.

I should say at the outset that I knew both of these men before the conversation. Scott is someone with whom I have had a number of entertaining and informative as well as stimulating conversations. David and I were undergraduate students together in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We knew each other and were on friendly terms.

Scott’s ministry to my parents (who both died earlier this year) in their final years was exemplary and it is in this capacity and in that time that I really got to know him. I have heard him preach and have followed his sermons online. In terms of theological position, Scott and I are broadly in the same camp although there are issues and questions on which he and I disagree.

Dr Morrison, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland had, we were told, ‘lost his voice’ and John Chalmers, former Moderator and Principal Clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was the replacement chair. You can make of that last minute switch what you will. I know what I think.

Before the discussion began I asked whether the discussion was going to be recorded and made available online. John Chalmers told me that it would not. I spoke with David immediately after the discussion and he interrupted our brief conversation to ask one of his supporters if they had managed to record the proceedings. I have attached what I presume is the resulting audio file. It is not from the Church of Scotland but it is out there and I have made it available here so that you can listen and make up your own mind about the event. It was certainly online first thing the next day – possibly on the evening of 30 September.

Mayfield Salisbury

I arrived early and sat at the very front. I was surrounded by Robertson supporters a few of whom spent their time either saying ‘Amen’ to Robertson or making less than positive sounds in response to most of what McKenna had to say.

Scott McKenna came across as gentle, meticulously well prepared, gracious and willing to enter into conversation. David Robertson came across as arrogant and confrontational. He knew the will and purpose of God. Scott McKenna, as you will hear him state, he would excommunicate. Robertson is (according to Robertson) correct. Scott McKenna was more gracious.

In 1979 I would have been on the Robertson side. I found myself missing that certainty and yearning with a degree of nostalgia for the comradeship of knowing that one is in the ‘right camp’ and on the side of truth. I spent a lot of the hundred mile journey home reflecting on the length of my own journey which has stretched thus far from the fundamentalism of my 1979 self to the differently radical theological view of my second decade of the twenty first century self. It will, I am sure, continue as God calls and leads.

How different, dangerous and deluded the evangelical certainty of the likes of Robertson appears when viewed from the outside. It seems so, not because it is wrong. It is everyone’s right to be wrong. It is always wise to hold onto the truth that someone who appears to be wrong may in the end be right. Evangelical certainty of the kind we heard expounded on Wednesday is dangerous and deluded because it is expressed and used in a manner which is so unlike that of Jesus. Those who genuinely believe they are defending orthodoxy fail to appreciate that they are behaving, speaking and missing the point in the same way as do the Pharisees in the New Testament.

It is everyone’s right to be wrong but Jesus’ message is not about rights and it is never OK to be wilfully unkind. I think that David Andrew Robertson who repeatedly told the audience – as he had stated elsewhere before Wednesday evening – that he likes Scott McKenna, misses the point. Who cares if he likes Scott McKenna? What has that to do with anything? He would, he states, excommunicate him (neither Scott nor anyone else seemed to care about that either).

He has doubts about to whom Scott McKenna prays. There is, in Robertson’s mind more than one Christ (although one, I suspect, is prefaced with anti) and the whole of Robertson’s gospel seems to centre around a correct understanding and expression of what God did in Jesus on the cross. Robertson’s defence of scripture came from scripture. McKenna’s valid and correct question about the Old Testament canon and the date of its agreement was swept aside.

Two things in particular crossed my mind as I listened to these two men speak. Jesus told a story about a Samaritan who broke the rules and kept the commandment to love. And when John the Baptist’s disciples asked if Jesus was the one who was to come or not, Jesus’ reply was that they should report what was happening (pretty much that the excluded were being included). I was therefore left a little confused as to how Robertson can separate ‘talking about Jesus’ from caring for others.

He may still be a nice guy but whether I like him now or liked him thirty five years ago is not the question. None of it is for me to judge. And that is the point. Some fundamentalists may be impressed by a hardline, doctrine is everything, presentation of Jesus but it was the Priest and the Levite who kept to the Law and missed the point in Jesus’ parable.

Sadly, I came away with the impression that there are two Christs. There is the one in whom I believed more than half my lifetime ago and there is the loving, inclusive, Jesus who always invited and instructed people to do, to let go, to give away and tended to be mystified by the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. I suspect the Pharisees would have excommunicated Jesus but then they had got it wrong.

I think Wednesday evening was a mistake. It was not – and I cannot imagine that it was ever going to be – a conversation. Nobody’s mind was ever going to be changed. It had the potential to become a pitched battle or a theological and ecclesiastical freak show. It failed (just) to become either. What was achieved? Little, in my opinion, if anything. There was too much judging and too little judgement. Had it been judged less poorly it would never have taken place.

In the end the world will not judge the church on whether its doctrine is good or bad. The world will judge the church on whether it is a good neighbour. Interestingly, so will God, according to Jesus. The unequivocal statement by Jesus on the subject is there for all to read in Matthew 25*. Good doctrine doesn’t come into it and the so called ‘righteous’ come out of it badly.

Matthew 25:31-46*

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

12 thoughts on “Rev Scott S. McKenna and Rev David Andrew Robertson – A Misjudged Conversation

  1. Pingback: The Scottgate Tapes – A Revealing Insight into the Current State of the Church of Scotland | The Wee Flea

  2. Scott McKenna came across as someone with no understanding of basic Christian doctrine and who appealed to men (the Church Fathers) for his authority. David Robertson came across as well-versed in the Bible and able to argue from a biblical standpoint. Interestingly, only Robertson walked in carrying a Bible and only Robertson mentioned Jesus Christ in his personal testimony, which both were asked to give at the start.

  3. I have read Scott’s writings in Life and Work and listened to some of his sermons online. When I listened to his sermon denying the atonement I felt sick and saddened. I have commented on his contributions by letter in Life and Work. His theology appears to me to be simply a human construct and doesn’t seem to embrace the whole continuity of Old and New Testaments. He does not uphold the vows he took on ordination and so I question why he remains a C of S minister. I do wish, however, that David would be less abrasive in his approach but I share his passion for the Church at large to preach the central truth of Jesus Christ crucified and the need for repentance. So often in the C of S I don’t even hear the name of Jesus mentioned so now I go to a Church where Jesus is mentioned from the first minute. It’s also great to be able to go to the Scottish Northern Convention or Keswick to hear good Bible exposition and I would urge others to take such opportunities to grow their faith.

  4. I find it strange that you talk about the dangers of evangelical certainty with scripture and then turn around and quote Matthew as an “unequivocal statement” by Jesus in your defense.

    What about the unequivocal statement by Christ that he would give his life a ransom for the many? I guess that doesn’t fit the cherry picking approach you take to the Bible.

  5. Dear Rev. Campbell,

    I have been a Christian for more than 50 years and have been “around the block” many times. My faith was consolidated, as a student, sitting under the ministry of great C of E evangelical teachers such as John Stott and Dick Lucas. I love biblical truth and still love studying the gospels and the epistles. But I admit that I have had no formal theological training like yourself. I am not a “religious expert”.

    I have read your post and am trying to imagine what the “commentary” would have been in Antioch, presumably around AD 50, when St Paul and St Peter met. (Galatians 2, 11).

    “When Peter came to Antioch , I opposed him to his face because he was clearly wrong”.

    The background to this is Ch.1, 8 “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned”.

    Two things are clear: firstly that St Paul was deeply troubled by the false teachers who were infiltrating the Galatian church. Secondly that even the great St. Peter was in error despite Acts 10 and indeed Mark 7, 24-30. If Paul had not challenged him then there would have, from the earliest days, been a Jewish and a Gentile church.

    I learn from this that it is not wrong to challenge church leaders; indeed it is essential if they are clearly in the wrong. This is not “unloving” . St Paul was quite definitely “confrontational” and probably perceived as “ungracious”. If they had Twitter or YouTube in those days then I am sure there would have been a major campaign against him.

    The Lord Jesus was very gentle when he spoke to the general people; indeed some of the conversations recorded are the most wonderful in scripture (e.g.the woman at the well). But most of his hardest sayings (and there were many) were reserved for the religious leaders who were leading the people astray (e.g. Matt 23).

    The issue here is not whether or not David Robertson was confrontational or ungracious (he admits to being a frail sinner who often gets things wrong) but whether or not the Rev. McKinna is an apostate and false teacher.

    I have watched the recording of his infamous sermon where he denies the basic tenants of the Christian faith and I was deepl y shocked. That the Church of Scotland can tolerate this is the most shocking thing of all!

    Please stop focussing on David Robertson – he is not the issue! The real issue is whether or not the Rev. McKenna, and I must include you in this, believe and preach the biblical gospel. by which men and women are saved from hell.

    You quoted Matthew 25 (out of context I think) but please note V. 12; 30, & 41.

    These are the words of “gentle Jesus”.

  6. Pingback: Devilish Advice about Dealing with Christian Ministers who actually believe the Bible (with apologies to C S Lewis) | The Wee Flea

  7. Rev Robertson is not a minister in the Church of Scotland but there are, no doubt, ministers in the Church of Scotland who share his views. How is it possible for ministers preaching completely contradictory gospels to be in the same Church? Would it not be more honest if each of these types of ministers had their own Church? It must be terribly confusing for the ordinary member in the pew. On the one hand the Church of Scotland approves ministers who preach the same gospel as David Robertson; on the other hand they also approve of minsters who preach the same gospel as Scott McKenna. What is the point of listening to a minister preaching if you cannot rely on his version of the gospel? What is the average churchgoer supposed to do? He knows that the minister he hears preaching has studied far more about these things than he has. Does he just accept what the minister says? Does he sit there taking notes and then goes home to decide if he agrees or not? To what purpose?
    On the subject of excommunication it might be of interest to read what Calvin had to say on the subject:
    “. . . the discipline of excommunication which has been committed to the Church. Now, the Church binds him whom she excommunicates, not by plunging him into eternal ruin and despair, but condemning his life and manners, and admonishing him, that, unless he repent, he is condemned. (IV, 11:2)

    [H]e is then, as a despiser of the Church, to be debarred from the society of believers. (IV, 12:2)

  8. How saddened I am that you have been able to be swayed over the decades from your faith in the certain hope of the gospel to the works driven, human-approval seeking lethargy of your currently dulled faith. The lack of vibrant understanding in your analysis of the debate speaks volumes. Voices that ring with clarity and truth are now deemed different, dangerous and deluded. I pray you may recover some forward impetus in your own faith soon, since you clearly still see yourself as a spiritual leader. Jesus did not see works as separate from doctrine, but as an individual’s natural and appropriate response to fully understanding what he did on the cross for them. Take away that link and you are left with a works-based gospel which is a false gospel. Oh that our hearts were so filled with gratitude for the substitutionary atonement of the cross that we would do more to express God’s love for mankind! John 3:16 sums up the heart of God who loves the world to the point of doing the most loving act in all history and all eternity. If you have settled for a lesser gospel, that is not good news at all. Not for yourself, the church or the lost.

  9. Thank you Neil. I enjoyed that post.

    I feel many Christians worldwide are questioning penal substitution theology, and in their hearts admire Scott and his perspective… whether they agree or not. Yet now they sit back quietly watching him being scorned.

    I appreciate that you took the time to stand up against a very vocal opposition.

    Love and Light,
    Tara

    • Dearest Tara, I am not here to attack you in any way and truly come in the name of peace with you. We must get something straight – extremely straight you or I nor Mr Robertson or Mr McKenna are totally correct. The only darn thing we have sister is the scriptures. Without these scriptures we have no solid anchor nor point of reference for all of us. My dear dear Tara – galatains chapter 1 verse 9 warns us ever so clearly about your comments and the whole of 1st Corinthians chapter 15 tells us that with out penal substitution theology we have absolutely nothing. If Christ did not die and was neither raised from the dead to pay the price for our sins, we may as well pack up the bags and go home.
      Dear, dearest Tara, I was a lost sheep a wicked, evil man filled with hatred, maliciousness, vindictiveness, debauchery and much more. I have transported drugs illegally through asia, I have ripped of companies, I am an adulterer and as the apostle Paul said – I am the chief of sinners, This is me writing to you now. It is through the revelation that Christ died and paid the price for my sins in full that I am a transformed individual. I am a free man because that fine is paid in full. So now I have beauty for ashes sister. Gods holy spirit works in me and through me as I understand the what happened on the cross. I would strongly suggest you go to the precious passage in Mathew 18 vs 21 onwards which talks about a king who cancelled the servants debt – yet that servant was not grateful, his finish was not a good one. Oh sister for Jesus sake be grateful to what happened on the cross. I think of those precious ones who suffered so much for the faith like Richard Wurmbrand, or Corey Ten Boom. How I wish they where here today to help you understand your straying from the faith that was delivered once and for all to the saints that is to be defended as Jude tells us. My prayer is that you cross examine where you are at now and that I do see you in heaven for an eternity with the risen King.

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