Revoice, Evangelical Culture, and the Return of an Old Friend

By Carl Trueman

With moving job and house in the last two months, I was only vaguely aware of the Revoice Conference until a few weeks ago.  The suddenly my phone started to light up as friends forwarded me tweets and blog posts and interviews, pro and con.  Finally, at the weekend a whole pile of very disturbing soundbites landed in my inbox from various sources.  I have yet to listen to the talks so cannot offer any criticism of them but I have noticed that, in all the critiques I have seen, a couple of key dots have not been connected: those between Revoice and the general culture of Big Eva.  (For new readers, if any such exist, Big Eva is not a large German who works in border control for the Bundesrepublik but my term for the network of large evangelical organizations and conferences that seeks to shape the thinking and strategy of the American evangelical churches.  She used to be a regular in this column but has been away on an “extended furlough” for a couple of years). 

 

What Big Eva has done is create an economy of power, people, and indeed money which is non-ecclesiastical but highly influential within evangelical churches.  It is a populist movement of tremendous influence and minimal accountability.  It provides an identity for its most passionate acolytes.  And because it promises rewards to individuals and organizations – influence, students, platform – it is both very hard to criticize and functionally unaccountable to any but its own. The Trinity controversy of two years ago was a case in point: no church creed had ever taught the nonsense that had become so pervasive in evangelicalism.  Quite the contrary – the creedal history of the church was arguably constructed to exclude precisely the kind of views that were being espoused.  But key conferences and key organizations had a vested interest in sidestepping orthodoxy and demonizing any who pointed that out.  

 

There is an important distinction to be made here.   Discussion of matters of note in the public square is a good thing, whether by books, articles, blogs or, for those who prefer their arguments unencumbered by polysyllabic words, long sentences and, well, argument, Twitter.  But provoking people to think about issues by offering forthright opinions is one thing.  Aspiring to be a movement, to direct and shape the policies and testimony of the church is quite another.   That should be done through the appropriate ecclesiastical bodies – whether sessions, consistories, elder boards, presbyteries, synods etc.   

 

And this brings me to Revoice. Setting aside the content and specific intention of the conference, it is surely unexceptional on one level: it is just another example of that culture whereby a non-ecclesiastical movement incarnated in an online network and now a conference strives to speak to the church in a very directive manner and thereby to drive the church’s confession.  The big question for Big Eva then becomesHow can we respond to these people when the kind of non-ecclesiastical, populist, celebrity ecology of power and influence we have created and harnessed is the same in principle as that which makes them so significant and potentially influential?’  Or perhaps more bluntly ‘What have we done?’   

 

To give an example: A couple of years ago, I was asked to respond to what was arguably a pro-gay article written by an ordained minister in the PCA.  My ministerial credentials are in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church but I agreed to write the piece and afterwards received words of thanks from colleagues and friends in the PCA.   But none of those who expressed gratitude brought charges against the individual concerned.  Thus, while I had addressed the theological and ethical problems with what he wrote, the ecclesiastical problem remained.   That is ridiculous: you cannot solve an ecclesiastical matter via a blog post.  Only ecclesiastical process will do that.   

 

Such process is rightly hard, with the onus to prove the case placed on the accuser.  Paul was well aware of the existence of wicked slanderers within the visible church.  That is why he made it clear that no accusation against an elder should be taken remotely seriously without evidence from two or three eye-witnesses, 1Tim. 5:19. Hearsay or gossip is irrelevant.  To act on such is simply not Christian and those who do so should hang their heads in shame for the malicious harm they do.  Mob rule by the (self) righteous is still mob rule.

 

Now, if someone has taught falsely at a conference or in writing, the provision of witnesses should be no problem.  But Paul’s point is not simply about evidential criteria for action.  He is clearly indicating the need for due process: the presumption of innocence and the need for proper ecclesiastical adjudication.  Even the worst heretic, we might say, is entitled to a fair ecclesiastical trial.  And the people who make up the congregations in our denominations week by week are entitled to be protected by their elders and ministers not by blog posts or conference speeches but by holding ministers accountable for what they teach and how they act, and that in accordance with biblical, ecclesiastical process.  To state the obvious: it is part of what elders and ministers have solemnly vowed to do.   More importantly — it actually deals with the matter in a biblical way which therefore has an impact upon the church which no blog or conference, let alone tweet or hashtag, could or should ever have.

 

Unfortunately, the culture of Big Eva both facilitates the influence of a conference such as Revoice and makes an effective response unlikely.    To repeat one of my mantras, Big Eva is built around big conferences and big personalities.  Neither need to be problematic.  I have enjoyed attending the occasional big conference and have profited from books by big names.  What is problematic is that some of these conferences and their concomitant celebrities have an intentional significance beyond offering a time for some fellowship and some good teaching.  They are a movement.   Revoice is only playing the same populist, extra-ecclesiastical game as Big Eva — building momentum via conferences, networks and its own stable of celebrities.   And if Big Eva responds as it usually does – with an alternative conference or some blog posts or yet another statement/petition — then boundaries will for sure be more sharply drawn, it will be clearer who plays on which team, and maybe some laity will be genuinely helped to think more clearly about the issues — but nothing of ecclesiastical substance will really be accomplished. 

 

Those concerned that ministers in their denomination were involved in Revoice and who believe that they have thereby crossed theological and ethical boundaries have a duty to prove that in an ecclesiastical context and not simply offer critical tweets or mint new hastags.   They should look at their books of church order and, if the evidence warrants it, they should file disciplinary charges in accordance with the processes outlined therein.  Blogs, articles, and alternative conferences may all have their legitimate place in helping the laity think through the matters Revoice and its critics have raised.  But every minister has the right to due process.  More importantly — only decisive ecclesiastical action will actually deal with the problem.  And if Revoice is a Rubicon and no such action comes, then, to quote Julius Caesar, the die is cast.  Those whose orthodoxy lives by the dynamics of the Big Eva economy will find that it dies by the very same.

 


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No, The PCA Is Not Liberal

By Todd Pruitt

 

I am often asked whether the PCA is liberal or on its way to becoming liberal.
 

I have not been shy about voicing concerns about certain trends in the PCA that, if left uncorrected could lead eventually to a sad undoing.
 

But before addressing any concerns let me be clear on this point: the PCA is not liberal. If it were then I would be seeking a call to another Presbyterian denomination.
 

If you believe that the PCA is liberal then I invite you to ask the opinion of any minister in the PC(USA), ELCA, or Disciples of Christ. They will laugh at the suggestion. To them we are knuckle-dragging troglodytes. For example, the PCA does not ordain women to church office. That alone places us, in the minds of many, in the outer dark along with the other fundamonsters. The PCA holds to the inerrancy of Scripture. We uphold the biblical standard that sexual intimacy is to be enjoyed only within the confines of marriage between a man and woman. And while we are on the subject of marriage, the PCA does not recognize homosexual marriage nor are its clergy permitted to officiate homosexual weddings. Those standards were once again recognized and strengthened in our most recent General Assembly.
 

When we use the word liberal we ought to do so as those who know our history. Protestant Liberalism which bloomed in the United States near the end of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries was marked by a rejection of the authority and inerrancy of Scripture and pretty much everything supernatural about the Christian faith. H. Richard Niebuhr, no fundamentalist, famously described the theology of Protestant Liberalism as, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
 

The PC(USA) provides us with a sad picture of a liberal denomination. Over a period of years and decades the once orthodox communion came to embrace a post-modern approach to reading the Scriptures in which they deny its authority and divine origin in favor of a model whereby the reader is free to determine its usefulness. They abandoned the treasure of the gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of a bowl of spoiled pottage. They fully embraced the new sexual revolution and accepted the language and categories of the current gender chaos. They hold forth a Jesus who, rather than being the atoning sacrifice for sinners, is the ultimate social justice warrior; a hippy pro-abortion Pope Francis for the first century.
 

I could go on, but you get the picture. The PCA is most certainly not THAT.
 

We are a denomination that was founded out of the liberal chaos of the old PC(US) – southern Presbyterians who ultimately merged with the larger PC(USA). From its inception the PCA determined to hold to Scriptural inerrancy, a gospel unadulterated by the latest political and social fads, biblical standards for leadership within the church, and biblical sexual ethics. And while it would be foolish to think that those commitments will remain secure or that there are no current challenges, the PCA continues to be a Reformed and evangelical denomination with a high view of Scripture.
 

So why all the concerns? Why have there been so many laypersons and elders warning about a liberal drift in the PCA? Why have I shared many of those concerns?
 

That is the subject of my next post.

 


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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

Robert Gagnon on Revoice

By Todd Pruitt

Dr. Robert Gagnon, author of what is probably the most thorough study available on what the Bible teaches about homosexuality, has written a helpful piece responding to the upcoming Revoice conference being held at Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA) in St. Louis (July 26-28).

 

 

Gagnon writes:

 

While I am glad for the fact that persons at the Revoice Conference (July 26-28, St. Louis, in a PCA venue) and those who align with the “Spiritual Friendship” program want to refrain from engaging in same-sex intercourse and thereby uphold this part of the orthodox witness, I have seven consequential concerns about their views.

 

1. Inadequate engagement with the need for “renewal of the mind” as regards homosexual desires. Is there any asking of: “What is the false narrative that gives these impulses particular strength? Why am I viewing a person of the same sex as a sexual complement or counterpart to my own sex? Why am I aroused by the distinctive sexual features of my own sex, by what I already have? Am I thinking of myself as only half of my own sex? What kind of strategies for renewing my mind can I use to counter this false narrative beyond ‘washed and waiting’?” Instead, the benefits of a generalized “gay” perspective (minus the sex) are celebrated or lifted up. Even if one’s attractions may not change with such an evaluation, they can be disempowered by exposing the lie that lies behind attempts to gratify same-sex desire or (for “transgenders,” so-called) to deny one’s biological sex altogether. There is more to be addressed here than refraining from homosexual sex.

 

2. The adoption of terminology for self-identity that cannot be sanctified and inevitably brings in the whole “LGBTQ” baggage (“sexual minority,” “gay,” “transgender”). This terminology is normally associated with self-affirmation rather than sin and switches the obligation of the church from a call for repentance and restoration to a call for inclusion and diversity that celebrates what should be mortified. The fact that evangelical proponents of the “sexual minority” language are unwilling to use it of those with a pedophilic or polyamorist orientation should tell us all something.

 

3. A greater focus on a victim mentality than on the need for disengagement with the LGBTQ agenda (hence their refusal to sign the Nashville Statement). It is more important for them to say that the church has treated persons with same-sex attractions in an ungodly way throughout its history (painting with a broad brush) than to say that those who promote homosexual practice and transgenderism in the church are committing heresy. Indeed, they usually reject the heresy charge and any arguments made from Scripture that homosexual practice is a particularly severe violation of God’s standards for sexual ethics. Many cast entering into homosexual unions not as egregious sin but rather as something less than the maximal “flourishing” that God has for us. Self-critique generally doesn’t go further than a non-moral disability model. This in turn often leads to favoring church membership (without church discipline) even for self-professed Christians actively engaged in homosexual relationships.

 

4. Support for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” laws that lead to the persecution of Christians and the erosion of the church’s own standards (since indoctrination in the sphere of the state affects the views that people carry into the church); even general support by some of, or at least strong sympathy for, “gay marriage.”

 

5. An apparent aversion to any thought of developmental influences on any homosexual attraction and discouragement of any who seek help for reducing the intensity and direction of same-sex sexual attractions. Indeed, the idea of some Christians who shift on the Kinsey Scale in the direction of less homosexuality is viewed as a virtual betrayal of the benefits of being “gay” and a threat to those who have not experienced any orientation change. They not only assert that such change is not possible for them but also appear to want to close the door for all others. Granted, a change in the experience of same-sex attractions is not requisite for being a strong Christian; God can declare “my grace is sufficient for you” without removing said attractions. Yet doesn’t God also at times remove or significantly ameliorate the deprivation or difficulty (see numerous Gospel miracles)?

 

6. A formulation of spiritual friendship that looks an awful lot like marriage minus the sex: viz., a promise of lifelong commitment to one person of the same sex viewed as one’s “significant other.”

 

 

You can read the rest of Dr. Gagnon’s post HERE.

 


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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

The Hard Apprenticeship of Sorrow

By Todd Pruitt

 

“Beloved the objects we look at are distant, and we are near-sighted.”
Charles Spurgeon

 

I am a melancholic; a depressive. I am typically rather sad and in some cases deeply sorrowing.
 

I have never been hospitalized for depression or received a diagnosis. But most days I walk about with what I refer to as my dark or stubborn shadow. He sits on my shoulder and whispers destructive and damaging things in my ear. That is a typical day. And then there are the days when that little shadow gets especially wicked and I feel as though I am dragging behind me a rotting corpse. That is a disturbing image. But the sort of melancholy I am referring to is not a case of the blues on a Monday afternoon. Depression is a deeply damaging and oft times deadly malady.
 

I do have times of genuine happiness and joy that are not infrequent. I will from time-to-time have seasons of peace such that I begin to wonder whether the sadness will return. Inevitably though he finds his way back to me and perches on my shoulder.
 

That was difficult to write. As much as we have learned about depression and anxiety and as openly as these matters are talked about there is nevertheless a stigma attached to them which causes the sufferer no small amount of embarrassment. Even as a pastor who can relate to depression I find it easier to talk to someone about their cancer than about depression with someone living in the pit.
 

Those who do not suffer with depression or paralyzing anxiety simply cannot understand the ones who do. They cannot understand how the mind can be in a state where even the most delightful blessings cannot be recognized much less enjoyed. The light is shut out by shadow. They speak to the sufferer with what may be generally true statements and counsel but as ones who use a tool unskillfully: “Just pray. Why can’t you believe God’s promises? Don’t you trust the Lord?” Instead of being a source of comfort, like Job’s friends, they wield true statements in such way that they feel like a cudgel landing on an already bruised head.
 

In his memoir of depression, Darkness Visible, William Styron laments the rather blandness of the word depression. He writes, “For over seventy-five years the word has slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its very insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control.” Styron suggests a term like “Brainstorm” or some other “truly arresting designation” (p. 37).
 

What a blessing then that Scripture gives the people of God a great lexicon of sorrow as well as examples of those who walked in the thick darkness of sorrow. Indeed, there is an entire book of the Bible entitled Lamentations and the poetry of Job illustrates the dagger-like pain of unremitting sorrow. The Psalmists put sorrow to music.
 

Psalm 88:3-7
    For my soul is full of troubles,
      and my life draws near to Sheol.
    I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am a man who has no strength,
      like one set loose among the dead,
      like the slain that lie in the grave,
      like those whom you remember no more,
      for they are cut off from your hand.
    You have put me in the depths of the pit,
      in the regions dark and deep.
    Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
      and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
 

Psalm 69:15
Let not the flood sweep over me,
    or the deep swallow me up,
    or the pit close its mouth over me.
 

Job 7:13-19
 When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me,
    my couch will ease my complaint,’
    then you scare me with dreams
    and terrify me with visions,
    so that I would choose strangling
    and death rather than my bones.
 I loathe my life; I would not live forever.
 Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
 What is man, that you make so much of him,
    and that you set your heart on him,
    visit him every morning
    and test him every moment?
 How long will you not look away from me,
    nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?
 

The Bile also provides us with portraits of those who experienced times of deep depression and anxiety. Elijah experienced a time when he wanted nothing more than to lay down and die. As we have seen, the Psalmists and Job drank deeply from the cup of sorrow. Jeremiah was The Weeping Prophet. Jonah’s ministry was often accompanied by times of despair.
 

How often do we contemplate the fact that Jesus knew what it was to walk in sorrow and anxiety? Of course Jesus’ times of despair were not due to nor did they result in sin. But the circumstances which pressed upon him were such that he was referred to as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He wept at a friend’s tomb. He grieved over the spiritual blindness of his people. He experienced grievous physical reactions in the Garden of Gethsemane. Does it comfort you to know that our Lord experienced the deepest sorts of anxiety and sorrow?
 

Think also of the Apostle Paul. He expressed a longing to go home to be with the Lord (Philippians 1:23). He juxtaposed the Lord’s good purpose of using him further for the sake of the churches and his own desire to depart and be with Christ. This seems to be more than simply a wholly positive function of his knowledge of the goodness of the Lord’s presence. It seems to me that Paul’s eagerness to gain heaven was also tied to the weariness caused by his sorrows and suffering.
 

Paul, who wrote to the Philippians that they should be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6) confessed to “the anxiety” he bore for caring for the churches. In fact he compared his anxiety for the churches to the pain he had experienced at the hands of torturers, shipwrecks, and threats from bandits (2 Corinthians 11:28).
 

Once when waiting to hear word about whether the Corinthian church had repented of their sin or remained steadfast in their rejection of him as their shepherd he fell into a time of despair that can only be described as depression. So great was his sorrow that the Apostle could not even fulfill his mission to take the gospel through the open door provided for him in Troas (2 Corinthians 2:12ff). Imagine all that Paul had endured over the years for the sake of the gospel. He had endured beatings and lashings and imprisonments and all manner of physical pain and depravation. And yet he kept preaching. But in the face of depression he collapsed and walked away from an open door the gospel.
 

Church history provides many examples of those who suffered from depression and anxiety. Martin Luther seemed to feel everything deeply. And because he seems to have never had an unarticulated thought we have records of his suffering from despair and sorrow.
 

In Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan wrote of the Slough of Despond, the Giant Despair, and Doubting Castle as ordinary impediments that every Christian must endure.
 

William Cowper, the great poet, hymn-writer, and friend of John Newton, suffered with such maddening depression that he made multiple attempts at suicide. Nevertheless, through those times of thick gloom he could write words of sublime consolation:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head

 

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust him for his grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face

 

Or

 

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

 

When this poor, lisping, stamm’ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save:
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.

 

Of all the examples afforded by history the man who has been of most help to me is Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon was pastor of the world’s largest church at the time and one of the most famous men in England. He is the most prolific writer in the history of Christendom. His sermons were in such demand that for some years the transcripts were the largest weekly parcel to leave the coast of England on their way to be read by Christians around the world. His accomplishments in ministry which included an orphanage and school for pastors were so prolific that they boggle the mind.
 

Spurgeon also knew frequent times of melancholy so deep that he could be reduced to a heap on the floor. He was remarkably open about his struggle with depression especially for a man in Victorian England. For example in one sermon Spurgeon said, “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” References to depression, sorrow, melancholy, etc pepper his sermons. He showed unusual insight into the various causes and “cures” for depression.
 

Knowing that many of the Lord’s servants have been afflicted with deep melancholy Spurgeon wrote:
“There are some true souls whom God loves who yet do not often enjoy a sunshiny day; they are very dark as to their hope and their joy, and some of them have perhaps, for months, lost the light of God’s countenance.”
 

Spurgeon did not berate the depressed or belittle their suffering. This is no doubt due in part to his own experience of affliction. But his empathy certainly owed also to his confidence in the Lord’s compassion:
“Some of you may be in great distress of mind, a distress out of which no fellow-creature can deliver you. You are poor nervous people at whom others often laugh. I can assure you that God will not laugh at you; he knows all about that sad complaint of yours, so I urge you to go to him, for the experience of many of us has taught us that, ‘the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.’”
 

The causes of depression are wide and varied. Much of my experience of depression has been the result of anxiety and shame. Shame is a tough one. There is a helpful role that shame can play in people’s lives. We refer to people who seem to have no boundaries on their behavior as shameless. Shameful acts ought to prompt godly sorrow and repentance.
 

But when God’s redeemed people continue to hear the loathsome accusations of shame the experience can be crushing. In my worst moments that little shadow on my shoulder whispers in my ears words that confirm my worst suspicions about myself; that I am a failure as a husband, a father, a pastor, and a friend.
 

My typical response to even the gentle correction of friends is not defensiveness but far greater recriminations and loathing. My mind quickly concludes that not only must the correction be true but the truth of the matter must be much, much worse.
 

While serving in a difficult church my sorrow and anxiety were greatly intensified. One evening I passed out in an elder meeting and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. In those few years there were days so dark that I would arrive home unable to speak; unable to think of anything but the pain. It was like stepping on a nail. In that moment every bit of reality is subsumed into the intensity of the wound.
 

By God’s grace, my wife Karen did not try to “fix” me. She did not try to argue me out of my pain. Yes, she would gently challenge my perspective and that is needed at times. But the best thing she did as I would collapse into my chair unable to feel anything but fear and sorrow was to open her Bible and begin to read to me from the Psalms.
 

The combination of the power of God’s Word and the tenderness of my wife’s care would begin to poke holes in the opaque shroud that had settled over me. Never underestimate the power of God’s living word to comfort the fearful and sorrowing soul. The Psalms continue to be my choicest place of refuge when the voice of shame shouts and the cloud of sorrow settle over my life.
 

I do not expect to be completely free of this affliction so long as I am on this side of the New Creation. I will continue to ask the Lord to take it away. But at this point it looks like that is not in his plan. What is more, I can tell this affliction has served some purpose in my life. I suspect that were it not for this painful thorn my sins would be far greater than they already are. Without the mitigating effect of sorrow and anxiety I think my pride, anger, greed, jealousy, and lust would all be far worse. In fact the sorrow and anxiety that accompany me daily may be the prime instrument the Lord has used to keep me from bringing reproach upon the name of Christ and his church.
 

Please don’t misunderstand. I do not have a romantic notion of depression and anxiety as though they are something I bear bravely or gladly. I do not like this affliction. When it flares my first response is never, “I thank you God for the wonderful test of my faith. Oh the wonderful things I will learn from this!” Nor do I stoically accept the great sorrow when it comes. I hate it. I hate every second of it. And while to this day I still persist in asking God why he chose this affliction for me to bear I am not completely blind to the necessary things he has done in me through it.
 

I can say this much for certain. This hard apprenticeship of sorrow has caused me to long for Christ’s appearing more than I otherwise would have. The promise that our returning Lord will wipe away every tear from our eyes is fuel for my desire for the New Creation. Christians who suffer from depression and anxiety tend to long for that home for which we were ultimately made.
 

I often exert great effort to make this world my home. But the only thing that restricts me from settling down too comfortably is my stubborn shadow. Nothing has humbled me or driven me to prayer and dependence upon Christ so much as depression and anxiety. And so in my best moments, even if through gritted teeth, I can say, “Thank you for this thorn.”

 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”  (Revelation 21:1-4)

 

Recommended Reading:
The Psalms
Romans 8
2 Corinthians
Revelation 21 & 22
Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray
Depression: Looking Up From The Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch
Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
 


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

Robert Gagnon Responds to Thabiti Anyabwile

By Todd Pruitt

 

Thabiti Anyabwile has stirred up a bit of controversy with an op ed published by the Washington Post. In it he makes some rather serious statements concerning fellow evangelicals who differ with him on certain political issues.

 

In the interest of full disclosure, in the 2016 presidential election I voted third party for the first time in my life. I do not like Mr. Trump. I find his boasting, his personal life, and his Twitter wars to be highly troubling. I am also exceedingly thankful that Hillary Clinton is not the President of the United States. I am also thankful that Justice Kennedy is retiring during the term of the President who selected Neil Gorsuch to replace Justice Scalia.

 

Dr. Robert Gagnon has written a clear and thorough reply to Pastor Anyabwile which I believe deserves greater exposure. Gagnon is a graduate of Harvard and Princeton Universities. He taught New Testament for years at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where he stood courageously for the biblical standards for marriage and human sexuality. It is fair to say that Dr. Gagnon has paid a price for holding to these convictions. He is also the author of THE definitive study of homosexuality in the Bible – The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics

 

Dr. Gagnon writes:

 

A Faustian Bargain Indeed
 

What a delusional and ill-informed op-ed piece this is by an Evangelical who claims to care a lot for the life of the unborn and for the male-female foundation of marriage ordained by God and self-evident in the material structures of nature. Not shy about criticizing fellow Evangelicals, he accuses those of us who voted for Trump to avoid the cataclysm of a Clinton presidency of being in league with the Devil (!), having “made a Faustian bargain for the mere price of a Supreme Court nominee,” a bargain in which “the Devil gets the better end of that deal!” This injudicious language deserves the reprimand of every fair-minded Christian, not just Evangelical.
 

Thabiti Anyabwile “(MS, North Carolina State University) is a pastor at Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC, and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition” (TGC). He even misses that this is not just “a Supreme Court nominee” but a chance to finally get a solid majority of SCOTUS justices who won’t legislate from the bench left-wing positions on abortion and “LGBTQ” coercion of religious consciences (Kennedy was typically a swing vote for the Left on abortion and all matters “gay”) This is arguably the single most important judicial pick in more than a century. Moreover, Rev. Anyabwile ignores the fact that this is Trump’s second appointment of a SCOTUS judge (Gorsuch was a solid pick) and that Trump might get one or two more before his first term ends, and certainly 1-3 more if he gets reelected, thereby putting in place a potentially solid majority for a generation. In addition to this, Trump has appointed 41 other federal judges and has taken a number of presidential actions of his own against abortion, transgenderism, and “gay” indoctrination, and for religious liberty and free speech, as well as other issues congenial to most Evangelicals. So Rev. Anyabwile completely understates what is at stake.
 

It is bad enough that Rev. Anyabwile dismisses not as inconsequential but as relatively so the damage that can be done on the abortion front (i.e., relative to the issues that he cites), not only by keeping Roe intact and unchallenged but also by expanding the powers of abortionists into sectors of speech, mandatory indoctrination, and compulsory funding.
 

Worse still is that he completely ignores the even greater destruction of freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion through “LGBTQ” coercion. The great “sea change” issue in the country is the requirement that all bow down to the idol of homosexuality and transgenderism. And what does that idolatry entail? Oh, it entails a great many things that apparently has escaped Rev. Anyabwile’s attention.
 

That agenda entails that children be coercively indoctrinated into the belief that anyone who does not support that agenda is a bigot akin to the most virulent racist; that children be confused as to their own sexuality with the increased risk of harm that attends “LGBTQ” identification; that colleges and universities become places for punishing free discourse about the subject on the claim that anything other makes pro-“LGBTQ” fanatics “unsafe”; and that schools lose their accreditation if they do not foster such ungodliness.
 

And that’s not all, not by a long stretch. It also entails that people lose their employment if on social media (let alone in the workplace) they speak critically of “gay marriage” or fail to use the “preferred pronoun” and name of a “transgender” person who denies his or her biological sex; that males who have deluded themselves and others into thinking that they are females, but many of whom remain sexually attracted to women, be allowed complete access to the private spaces of women (restrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, showers, women’s shelters) and to female sporting events (regardless of the mismatch) and that anyone who attempts to stop them from doing so be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law as a “civil rights” violation; and that the workplace, like schools, must be turned into places of heavy-handed indoctrination (brainwashing) into the ideology of homosexualism and transgenderism, instituting affirmative-action policies for immorality or otherwise be denied contracts or grants from the federal government.
 

And still we are not done. It entails that people with businesses at all connected with weddings (photographers, bakers, caterers, florists) and even some that are not (like T-shirt designers) be forced to use their artistic talents and write messages that express approval for intrinsically immoral “gay” agenda or else be fined tens of thousands of dollars (or more) and lose their businesses and even life savings; that businesses have to accommodate male employees who want to come to work dressed up as women, with a female hair-style and make-up; that bed-and-breakfast places in a private residence must accept persons having “gay” sex under their roof irrespective of personal religious beliefs; and that churches be forced to let their facilities be used for “gay weddings” or any “gay” or “transgender” celebration if they allow their facilities to be rented by anyone else.
 

Is Rev. Anyabwile even aware of the bill about to be passed in California that would make it a violation of the law to talk in an approving manner about changing not just one’s orientation but one’s behavior from “gay” to straight or from “transgender” to conformity to one’s biological sex, so long as there is an exchange of funds, possibly including even the sale of books? And that this violation is not limited to professional therapists but includes pastors and other Christian leaders? Is Rev. Anyabwile this uninformed about the dangers Christians and other people of faith face?
 

I make no pretense to having created an exhaustive list of all the ways in which the “LGBTQ” coercion can affect our lives and the lives of our children, from cradle to grave. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations. You can rest assured that “LGBTQ” zealots have unbounded imaginations for ways in which they can compel us all to serve their interests and ideology, against our religion and against our conscience. Their primary instruments for enslaving us are the executive and judicial branches of government. At the federal level it is the President who has the greatest influence on the shape of the judicial branch.
 

On what basis does Rev. Anyabwile deny these paramount concerns? For sea-change issues elsewhere? No, but only because he is upset with Trump’s travel ban for select (not all) Muslim countries that don’t properly vet for potential terrorists. Now, one can agree or disagree with whether Trump should exercise his power in this way. But the majority of justices, including Kennedy, were quite right that Trump was within his power as President to take such action and, moreover, that the ban was not strictly an attack on Muslim religion insofar as the ban took in only a small percentage of Muslims around the world as well as some countries that were not Muslim. That Muslim countries were hit hardest by the ban is hardly surprising in view of the fact that nearly all of the international terrorism is inspired by Muslim fanatics.
 

Rev. Anyabwile is also upset by Trump’s attitude toward “Dreamers,” seemingly unaware that there are about 150 million people around the world (per a recent Gallup poll) that want to become US citizens. The US simply can’t accommodate everyone who wants to be here, which means that it must rigorously safeguard its borders. The Bible provides no support for the view that countries should do little or nothing to protect their borders against illegal immigration. Like many, Rev. Anyabwile misappropriates Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, which is really more of a missionary text than a social justice text. Compare the parallels with the Mission Discourse in Matthew 10 (esp. vv. 13-15, 40) and the earlier part of the Eschatological Discourse of which the sheep-and-the-goats text is part (esp. 24:9-14). Jesus is referring to a judgment on the nations for how well or badly they treat itinerant Christian missionaries that proclaim the gospel in their midst.
 

This isn’t just my understanding. Among those over the centuries who viewed “the least of these” as Christians or Christian missionaries are Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli; among scholars of Matthew in the last half century, Ulrich Luz, Donald Hagner, Graham Stanton, Robert Gundry, R. T. France, and David Garland. Jesus’ advocacy for inviting “strangers” (xenoi) into one’s home in Matt 25:35, 38, 43 provides absolutely no support for illegal immigration. As an itinerant messenger of God in Galilee and Judea (and occasionally Samaria) Jesus himself was a “stranger” everywhere he went outside of Nazareth but not an illegal alien. Paul traveled throughout the Roman Empire, himself a “stranger” but not an illegal alien.
 

The Bible does indeed encourage Christians to obey the laws of governing authorities (Rom 13:1-7). Neither this text nor the texts about resident aliens (the ger) in the OT (referring to non-Israelites who have permission to be in the land) sanctions illegal immigration. There are very limited grounds given in Scripture for violating a country’s laws. Cheating a country’s relatively generous immigration laws is not among them. However one feels about the travel ban or the so-called “Dreamers,” this is manifestly not a “sea change” issue. The US already has a generous immigration policy, providing a pathway for citizenship for 1.1 million people each year. There are immigration opportunities for legitimate claims to asylum (which do not include wanting a higher standard of living because everyone in the world wants that). Everyone else needs to get in line rather than cut in line. It’s not as if legal immigration is going to be cancelled anytime soon.
 

Other than immigration issues, which hardly rival the moral weight or significance of abortion and the coercive “LGBTQ” assault on marriage, Rev. Anyabwile can come up with only the “Russian collusion” claim (which appears to many observers to amount to very little) and Anyabwile’s concern for the Trump administration’s rigorous drug enforcement policy, because he feels that this accelerates the imprisonment of “black and brown” drug offenders. Yet the offenders are doing their greatest damage in African-American and poor-white communities. Again, one can argue for greater or lesser sentences for criminal offenses but this is hardly a “sea change” issue affecting the basic human rights of law-abiding citizens. The Trump administration hasn’t changed any drug laws; it is just enforcing the laws on the books. And here’s the real kicker: According to a WashPost article from Jan. 5 of this year, “The number of people in federal prisons is falling, even under Trump.”
 

Is Rev. Anyabwile blind to the fact that he is doing the bidding of the Washington Post, the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party whose main interests lie in the promotion of the coercive “LGBTQ” and abortion agendas and in assaulting with every state mechanism at their disposal Evangelical “bigots” who don’t treat homosexual orientation and transgenderism as the moral equivalent of racial diversity? He is allowing himself to become a pawn of an agenda intensely hostile to orthodox Christian faith. And yet groups like the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptists and The Gospel Coalition regularly give him a platform? It seems that the WashPost keeps going to the “well” of the ERLC (Russell Moore, “If Donald Trump has done anything, he has snuffed out the Religious Right,” Oct. 9, 2016) and the Gospel Coalition (Collin Hansen, “This is the last spastic breath from the Religious Right before its overdue death,” Oct. 8, 2016) to depress Evangelical support for the Republican candidate so that the radical anti-Evangelical left-wing Democratic candidate for President can win.
 

If I were an Evangelical with Rev. Anyabwile’s political views, I wouldn’t be accusing other Christians of being in league with the Devil because they preferred Trump to the Clinton cataclysm. The argument is much stronger that Rev. Anyabwile’s preference for Clinton (he wrote an article espousing this back in 2016, which was published on the Gospel Coalition website) and similarly minded, hard-left Democrats (he preferred the socialist Bernie Sanders!) is both unwise and immoral. There’s not much to commend supporting Democratic candidates hostile to Evangelical Christians (“deplorables” in Clinton’s terms), hostile to any protections for the life of the unborn, hostile to a biological basis for gender and to the notion of divinely ordained sexual complementarity between “male and female,” hostile to a judicial philosophy that respects the process of amending the Constitution and disallows treating that founding document as so many tea leaves into which left-wing ideology can be regularly imputed by unelected jurists, and hostile to every form of free speech and free exercise of religion that calls into question left-wing tyranny.
 

We are on the cusp of molding a Court for a generation that will not be hostile to those concerns, concerns that all amount to sea-change issues of society. Does it really make sense for Evangelicals, conservatives, and fair-minded moderates to throw all that away for policies that are certainly not societal sea-change issues and at best are far more debatable from a Christian perspective than Rev. Anyabwile lets on? There is a Christian case for enforcing the generous immigration law of the US and for prosecuting those who spread drugs into African-American and poor neighborhoods. There is no Christian case for promoting the coercive “LGBTQ” agenda and abortion.
 

Rev. Anyabwile’s WashPost op-ed should be an offense and embarrassment to any Evangelicals affiliated with him.


 


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Six Years On

By Carl Trueman

It was some six years ago that I accepted the call to become Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (O.P.C.) in Ambler, Pa., as a bi-vocational appointment.  I had been on the session there for two years as Teacher and took the call because it was clear that finances meant a full-tike pastor was not then an option.  At the time, I speculated on Reformation21 that bi-vocational pastoring might be the wave of the future.

 

 

Six years on, I am not so sanguine.  A few months into my pastorate, an academic friend who had done the same thing for nine years wrote me a letter and urged me to be careful – as soon as I ceased to enjoy the hobbies and casual pleasures of life, he warned, I would be close to burn-out and would need to step down.   I was glad of the warning – every minister I have ever know who has burned out has told me that there was no obvious warning: one day everything seemed fine, the next they were barely able to get out of bed.

 

 

Thankfully, I never reached the crisis point, but in retrospect I see that I came close.   And that is why I have stepped aside and why I think bi-vocational ministry, if it is the wave of the future, is more complicated as a concept than I envisaged all those years ago.

 

 

When I took the call in 2011, I told the congregation that I would commit to five years in order to make the church beyond the immediate financial and numerical challenges she faced.  Thus, five years later, at the annual session strategy meeting in the spring of 2017 I indicated that I would be stepping down from the pastorate by June 2019 at the latest.  I then informed the congregation at the annual meeting in June of last year that I had become convinced the church needed to move towards a full-time pastor and that I was not that person. I am an academic who happens to pastor, rather than a pastor who happens to be an academic, I wanted to go back to the classroom and my writing.    The call from Grove City College merely brought the decision forward by twelve months.

 

 

As I look back on the last six years, I am struck at how tiring it became.  Three brutal discipline cases took hundreds of hours and a huge toll on energy levels.  Few if any Saturdays – or any other day – off was hard on my wife.  And even with an excellent part-time co-pastor, a stellar session, and a conscientious diaconate, and a largely supportive, low-maintenance congregation, it was hard to do everything that needed to be done.  And, as usual, it was the miscreants whom we had to discipline who devoured the little spare time that there was, not the people who actually worked hard as volunteers week-by-week to make sure the congregation kept going.  The decent people had to settle for whatever time was left over after all the necessary unpleasantness.  And slowly but surely I ceased to enjoy those hobbies and casual pleasures of life which used to mean so much.  Even writing – a matter which has typically been a weird and pleasurable psychological compulsion for me – became something of a chore.  Time was up.

 

 

And so I now wonder about bi-vocational ministry.  Given that it was comparatively easy for me, since my other job – seminary professor – co-ordinated nicely with my pastoral calling, how hard would it be for others?  What about those who drive buses or work in factories or call centers and whose employers might not be as flexible and whose work routine does not translate easily into sermon preparation?  If bi-vocational ministry is the wave of the future – and finances and church size may well dictate that it is – a whole host of expectations need to change.  And the human cost on ministers will likely be brutal.

 

 

A number of people have asked if I intend to demit the ministry.  At the moment, I am a minister without call on the rolls of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.  My role at Grove will likely involve regular chapel preaching.  A conviction Presbyterian, I believe that one who regularly preaches the Word needs to be under presbytery oversight and so it is likely that I will ask my brothers in presbytery to call me as Teacher to Grove.  But in the meantime I am looking forward to sitting through whole worship services with my wife, hearing the Word preached, taking the Lord’s Supper, and though probably serving on the refreshments roster, for which any who have ever tasted my attempts at baking can give hearty thanks to God.


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One Reason Men and Women Can’t Be Friends: We Don’t View Each Other Holistically

By Aimee Byrd

Friendship between men and women is a taboo topic in the evangelical subculture. It makes us uncomfortable. Apparently, we are all time bombs on the brink of having an affair—or of being accused of having one. Because of this, men and women often feel uncomfortable around each other, even in innocent contexts, and we impose strict hedges on behavior in order to avoid the threat of sexual impropriety. 
 
Most of us instinctively know what constitutes sexual impropriety in conversation and action—but, due to influence from our overly sexualized culture, we tend to scandalize ordinary acts of kindness and business. It becomes suspect to give someone a ride, share a meal with a coworker in a public place, or text the other sex without copying our spouses or another third party. Prohibitions of these acts are couched in language of protecting our purity, honoring our spouses, or wisely avoiding the threat of temptation. Challenge any of these suggestions, however, and the language of danger is invoked. If these ordinary acts are dangerous, it must be downright foolish to use a meaningful term like friendship to describe a relationship between the sexes. 
 
Do ordinary acts of kindness and business give you anxiety? Have you been reluctant to introduce someone of the other sex as your friend? Even in something as simple as a conversation with someone of the other sex, there seem to be too many ambiguous factors. Am I holding eye contact too long? Oh no, I just laughed at his joke—is someone going to think I’m flirting? Is my body language sending the wrong signals? These can be noble questions in certain situations. However, if we view one another more holistically, they don’t have to be a common anxiety. 
 
Distinction without Reduction 
 
There are plenty of distinctions between men and women, and cross-sex friendships are different from same-sex ones. Let’s not pretend that this isn’t true! But distinctions are special qualities, and we should never be reductive about them. When we reduce others because of their physical assets or on the basis of ideas we’ve received from cultural expectations, we fall into objectifying or stereotyping men and women who are made in the image of God. 
 
A healthy dynamic between men and women engages the whole person. In my family, I was raised with a proper understanding of distinction between the sexes without reduction. Having a brother helped me to understand an aspect of my own sisterhood and femininity that was distinct from what I learned about my sisterhood and femininity in my relationship with my sister. In all my family relationships, I had a sense that my mind, body, and soul were valued, and I thrived. 
 
Society’s message, however, is for both sexes to follow our baser instincts. When Harry Met Sally is the cultural icon of this mindset—Harry representing every man, and Sally every woman. Sex is the endgame of all Harry’s friendships with women: he pursues friendship in order to get sex, or he dismisses women whom he isn’t interested in sexually pursuing, which is equally demeaning. When Harry tells Sally that men and women can’t be friends because the “sex part always gets in the way,” we Sallies read between the lines. Our holistic personhood is not valued—friendship is merely a conduit to sex. Man’s baser instinct overshadows anything else that matters. Savvy Sallies may as well accept the facts and maximize on this outlook by using their sexual appeal to get what they want. Reduced to objects of physical pleasure and consumption, women become a commodity. 
 
Harry Burns isn’t the only one to blame. Decades before When Harry Met Sally came out, Sigmund Freud reduced all affection to erotic desire— to our genitals—meaning that every look, gesture, touch, and thought holds sexual motives. That sounds jarring and crude, but it is in our history, so we need to talk about it. Freud’s psychology still affects the thinking of our postmodern age. His explanation of maturity revolves around which psychosexual stage we’ve reached in life. These are genitally-oriented stages showcasing a male superiority, in which females go through an anxious stage of penis envy before reaching mature sexual identity. This view reduces friendship, whether it is same-sex or cross-sex, to role-playing for sexual gratification.
 
The church has accepted and semi-sanctified these reductive views: sexuality is good for landing a spouse, but it’s a barrier to friendship because men and women can’t possibly just enjoy each other’s company. We associate all intimacy with the bedroom, so we expect every meaningful interaction between a man and a woman to be laden with repressed sexual desire. That means that all intellectual, creative, entertaining, or conversational enjoyment with someone of the other sex needs to be fulfilled by our spouses. That’s an awfully heavy load for one person to bear! 
 
Harry Burns isn’t interested in friendship with women because he can’t look at them as friends. The wider evangelical mindset doesn’t quite put it that way. Acts of friendship are viewed as “unnecessary temptation.” (What falls under the purview of necessary temptation, one wonders.) As one person responded to me, saying and doing are two different things. Saying that we should resist our sinful, base instincts and pursue pure friendships no matter the gender is a “‘good preaching but hard living’ bit of church-talk that isn’t especially helpful.” Sure, we’re told, friendship is biblical and sounds good, but it isn’t necessary and isn’t worth the trouble of fighting the sin in my own heart. Your body is a threat to me, and I must protect myself from you. 
Of course, this is pitched as an act of protection for both parties. Men and women are reduced to a temptation and a danger to each other. Acts of friendship are all suspect; therefore it feels much safer for us all to keep them taboo. 
 
But if friendship doesn’t matter, then a lot of other parts of our design don’t matter either. Viewing one another holistically means we will consider all our faculties that reflect the image of God—our minds, bodies, wills, emotions, and souls. All these need to be rightly ordered toward God in communion with him, because they all matter. 
 
*This is an excerpt from Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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Moving Forward in the PCA

By Todd Pruitt

 

It remains to be seen whether the unity displayed at this year’s General Assembly represents an ecouraging trend or something fleeting. There are times when I wonder whether our differences are largely pragmatic or whether they represent something more fundamental. If our differences are more pragmatic then a greater unity is quite possible. However, if our differences are deep and fundamental in nature then such unity may well be beyond our reach. I am praying for the former.
 

I chose to not attend General Assembly this year since my beloved congregation graciously gave me a sabbatical. But I did watch rather closely through some of the means made available to the various debates and votes.
 

For the most part I was left encouraged by the reports coming from GA. Of particular interest were the votes on overtures 13 and 24. I am thankful that a version of overture 24 was approved overwhelmingly by the assembly and that overture 13 was not sustained. These are good signs. In my previous post some of the details concerning the approval of overture 24 were either incomplete or not accurate. So, let me offer an insider’s view of the process…
 

These Are My Recollections from inside the committee for the curious, A more general account of the whole process I am sharing elsewhere, but this is for the procedural-minded (I hope this can help inform on questions some have asked):
 

After the Assembly sent the Overtures Committee back, the debate was started by a motion that the Minority Report become the majority recommendation of the committee. (Later RE Howie Donohoe would insist we also must “vote to reconsider,” though some of us believed the action of the assembly did this, we voted on that to make sure we were doing everything according to procedure.) Debate ensued with a few people formerly in opposition voicing support to Overture 24 if it was cut down to 59-1, 59-2, and 59-3. But a few men voiced continued opposition due to the content of 59-1 and 59-2. One elder objected that the language of 59-1 was perhaps not sufficient for civil disobedience. Another elder objected to 59-2 for its assumption that Reformed ministers would necessarily be performing marriages (as in our tradition some have said the church should not perform weddings, the civil government only should). It seemed like they would be in the minority to vote against it, but still a significant minority.
 

At this juncture, TE James Kessler introduced a substitute limiting the constitutional status just to 59-3, and retaining all the old language of the rest of the Chapter. This was attractive to many who had wanted to retain the old language because it was historic and had been useful to them. RE Melton L. Duncan and TE Guy Waters spoke in favor of it.
 

A few members, including myself, still had opposition. I voiced opposition to making just 59-3 constitutional because 59-1 as binding had use for religious liberty and civil disobedience reasons. 59-2 was also useful as binding due to the instructions on not marrying those unequally yoked. And finally, those instructions in the BCO would be important even if these are in the Westminster Confession of Faith, because the BCO gives us our PRACTICE, and 59-3 at the time only concerns belief (59-3 was merely a restatement of the WCF).
 

A final motion was made to amend 59-3 by TE Daniel Schrock, adding the line about restricting the practice of ministers who marry. (he deftly worded it as “minister who solemnize marriage” so as to allow that we may have ministers who refuse to perform weddings)
 

A short time of discussion followed, but soon TE David Hall called all questions before the house. We voted. The amendment about the practice of ministers passed. Then the vote to make the substitute the main motion passed. (at this point I voted yes, with the addition of the sentence of practice and having been convinced by the speech of TE Sam DeSocio that this was not only what could pass on the floor, but also presbyteries, and could be our overwhelming recommendation to the Assembly). The Substitute of the now revised 59-3 became the main motion and the vote was 104-1-1. One other note: without revealing identities, I knew the man voting against it, and he formerly supported the Minority Report, so I assume voted against the final because he did not believe 59-3 was enough.
 

To close the session, it was suggested and agreed we should sing the doxology. Another note, there exists a man on Overtures with perfect harmony to the doxology that is indeed goose-bump producing. This is not exhaustive, but as well as I can remember.

 

The overwhelming vote on overture 24 is something for which we should be encouraged. Now, why so many of the commissioners chose not to vote I cannot say. But that is disconcerting. Commissioners to GA need to be present for votes. Period. But I rejoice that we can say as a denomination that there is no move to create a path toward the solemnization of homosexual marriage.
 

This is worth giving thanks for. And I thank everyone of the brothers who labored in Overtures to give us something that is truly helpful and unifying.
 

I would encourage you to read Rick Phillips’ reflections on this year’s General Assembly.

 


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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

One Friendship Doesn’t Diminish Another (Or Your Marriage)

By Aimee Byrd

Part of the beauty of friendship is that one friend can’t possibly be adequate to share every discovery and experience with us. Having another lover would dishonor and diminish a marriage, but additional friends actually enhance the friendships that we already have. God has fashioned friendship in such a way that we can learn different facets about one friend from another (see C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 61). 
 
For example, my elder Dave Myers has a shared interest with me in friendship between the sexes, since his roles as a Christian counselor and a church elder deal with relationships. We had many fruitful conversations on this topic as he read my manuscript and offered his insights. But my husband’s friendship with Dave through their service in the church shows a different side of Dave to me. Additionally, we look up to Dave and his wife, Dawn, for encouragement and advice in parenting, as all their kids are grown. My friendship with his wife has taught me more about Dave’s history and faithfulness. And, through his friendship with someone else at the church, I’ve learned that Dave is quite the jokester. Dave’s many friends, and his exclusive relationship with his wife, boost my own friendship with him because they enhance his many qualities. I get to know more of Dave through other friends. Likewise, his and Dawn’s many friends do not take away from their marriage but enrich it. 
At the same time, we have a greater natural affection toward some brothers and sisters in God’s household than toward others. While Scripture directs us to act in loving service toward all our siblings, we enjoy investing extra time with some of them, sharing joys, struggles, interests, and counsel more deeply. Some we will hold as closer friends. This isn’t something to feel guilty about; Jesus himself had closer relationships with certain men and women than with others. It’s impossible to be “close” with everyone, so enjoying deeper friendship with a few brothers and sisters is a gift. And these closer sibling relationships should benefit our godly marriages, not the reverse. 
 
This is not only a warning for male-female relationships. I have seen numerous situations in which a husband is out with the guys so much that his wife is feeling neglected, or a husband is hurt by his wife’s excitement for talking and hanging out with her best friend, while she lacks interest in him. Friends and siblings should never come in between a marriage unless abuse, addiction, or adultery calls for advocates to step in. 
 
This is especially true with male-female relationships. I would never want another wife to feel threatened by my friendship with her husband. I would never want to step into their exclusive inner circle—not just physically, but emotionally as well. My aim for my brothers in Christ is that my friendship with them would encourage them to love their wives even more, and I expect the same from my brothers with whom I invest my own time in friendship. Friendship is not exclusive like marriage is, so there is no need to behave as if it were. Marriage is exclusive, and therefore we should care for it in that way. 
 
Exclusivity in a marriage relationship does not mean that our spouses will fulfill all our relationship needs. While Matt and I have a lot in common and enjoy doing many things together, there are areas in which we are not as compatible, and we are both happy that we have numerous other people in our lives, both single and married, with whom we can still grow and can share those separate interests. Or sometimes I need the kind of conversation that I can get only with another sister, as wonderful as my husband is to talk to. While my husband is the only one I look to for romantic affection, it is unfair of me to look to him alone to fulfill all my social, emotional, and intellectual needs. We need good friends. That’s why God has given us brothers and sisters as well. 
 
Matt and I share most of our friends in common. I am thankful that my sisters and brothers in Christ spur Matt on in his love for me— whether through razzing him, encouraging him, or praising him. That’s what siblings do! They look at us not as singles but as two people joined together in the covenant of marriage. Likewise, we honor our marriage by speaking well of each other to our friends. We want to build each other up to our siblings, and our siblings reciprocate the respect we have for each other. Matt and I do a good bit of socializing in groups and sometimes double-dating. We also open our home to friends often. So our brothers and sisters are familiar with more than just whichever one of us they may feel closer to; they are familiar with our marriage dynamic as well. 
 
Friendship welcomes others into our circle who share our convictions. This is particularly special in the context of spiritual friendship, as Lewis points out, highlighting the joy of adding others into friendship while we all reflect Christ in different ways. “In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God” (The Four Loves, 62).  Additional friends do not diminish our existing friendships. Rather, we get to know more of Christ through our various Christian friends. 
 
*Excerpt from Why Can’t We Be Friends, p. 100-103.

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The Plus Factor

By Aimee Byrd

Praised be God that he has not created me a gentile; praised be God that he has not created me a woman; praised be God that he has not created me an ignorant man  (Tosephta, Ber. 7,18; Talmud, pBer 13b; bMen 43b.)
 
This was a popular prayer attributed to the first century rabbi, Eliezer, during the time after the Mishnah but before the Talmud. This was over a thousand years after Ruth, a book that exposes the cultural backdrop of Patriarchy while pointing to God’s great, active, faithful love for his people. I picked up Carolyn Custis James’ little book, Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth, and it was so good that is led me to read her longer book, The Gospel of Ruth. I highly recommend both to you and I’m going to quote from them extensively here so that you get James in her own words. 
 
In Finding God in the Margins, James presents the book of Ruth as a Critique Against Patriarchy, explaining, “Patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Rather, it is the cultural backdrop against which the gospel message of Jesus stands out in sharpest relief” (FGITM, 10). We get to read most Ruth from the woman’s perspective as “the book gives us the saga of two women on their own in a patriarchal culture. The narrator tracks their amazing struggle to survive against all odds in the workplace, the community of God’s people, and the legal system” (The Gospel of Ruth, 28). And if you want an amazing example of “biblical manhood” look no further than Boaz, who “in response to Ruth’s initiatives, will subvert the very patriarchal mores that most benefit him as a man. Instead, he will sacrificially employ those benefits and privileges to empower Ruth and to benefit Naomi. In the process, he will put on display Jesus’ kingdom brand of manhood that is desperately needed in today’s world” (FGITM, 10-11).
 
“The book of Ruth turns a spotlight on the plight of women in the world for the whole church to learn” (FGITM, 22). And the incredible faith of a Moabite woman works actively to fulfill the vow she made to her mother-in-law, against all odds. In the end we see, “It takes an outsider like Ruth” to “combine two laws and expand their reach, “ with a “single, innovative sentence”—“Spread the corner of your garment over me for you are a go’el of our family”—she “merged the levirate and kinsman-redeemer laws—property and progeny. She was asking Boaz to purchase Elimelech’s land and to father a son to become Elimelech’s heir and the eventual owner of his land” (FGITM, 75). It’s truly an amazing story of God’s love. 
 
“The book of Ruth puts God’s hesed on display. We will learn among with Naomi that God’s hesed love is indiscriminate, unearned, and persistent. YHWH’s hesed will reach Naomi through the selfless and relentless commitment of Ruth to fight for her, and Boaz will join Ruth in this effort. Events in the field of Boaz this day will give Naomi fresh insight in YHWH’s hesed. What she learns is indispensible to us—because so often we struggle to put suffering and God’s hesed together in our own stories” (FGITM, 51). This Hebrew word, hesed, which is used three times in Ruth, gets lost in translation, as James says, because we just don’t have an English word good enough to describe it:
 
Hesed is a costly brand of love that involves going above and beyond what anyone has the right to ask or expect. It is the brand of love at work in the actions of Ruth, Boaz, and ultimately Naomi too” (FGITM, 51). “Hesed transforms legality into sacrificial love, gives life amid despair, and draws one deeper into the heart of YHWH” (FGITM, 79).
 
There is a beautiful picture of this with Ruth, a vulnerable Moabite woman, on Day One of her using “the ancient welfare system” as a gleaner on a wealthy Israelite’s field. She challenges the letter of the law put in place to help widows like her and Naomi by making the bold request to glean in a more productive area among the harvesters (Ruth 2:7). Her brave request shows her hesed love for Naomi and presses Boaz to a “higher level of obedience…and understanding of God’s law. The letter of the law says, ‘Let them glean.’ The spirit of the law says, ‘Feed them.” Two entirely different concepts. Ruth’s bold proposal exposes the difference” (TGR, 102).
 
How does Boaz respond? He isn’t threatened by Ruth. And he doesn’t ignore her. “This powerhouse of a man, this native-born Israelite who grew up on Mosaic law, listens to this newcomer’s request, learns from her, and throws his power behind her effort” (FGITM, 58). Ruth’s initiative and strength spur Boaz to be a better man, and he too shows God’s hesed. At mealtime that day, he does something amazing. James calls it the plus factor. “He invites Ruth to join his table and share a meal with his workers. When she does, Boaz serves her himself, heaping more roasted grain for her than she can possibly eat” (TGR, 104). He treats her as one of the best employees rather than a gleaner on welfare. In this “powerful gospel scene,” we see the opposite of the prayer of the Rabbi Eliezer: 
 
A gleaner seated alongside paid workers, a Moabitess “dining” with Israelites, a man serving a woman, the poor included among the rich, an outsider embraced by the inner circle. Looks like the kind of feasting Jesus would have enjoyed, a prefiguring of the kind of world his gospel restores, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galations 3:28). Ruth was on the losing end of all three categories, but Boaz refuses to maintain those boundaries. Ruth embraced God’s people sight unseen on the road from Moab. Now they are embracing her. (TGR, 104-105)
 
While we don’t share the extreme reductive views of women as the patriarchs in Ruth’s day, or the rabbi contemporaries of Jesus, this book of the Bible gives us a picture of manhood and womanhood that is radically different than we see in much of contemporary evangelical teaching. “Ruth herself becomes a powerful catalyst for change. God gave us Ruth…to remind us that courage, boldness, and godly leadership are important feminine attributes when it comes to living for God” (TGR, 105). Boaz recognizes this and grows in response. In this scene, we see the plus factor at work. He serves her a meal, and instructs his workers not only to permit her to glean with the harvesters, but to leave extra stalks for Ruth to pick up. He commands them not to touch, rebuke, or embarrass Ruth (2:9, 15-16). James points out that Boaz’s response is not only to permit, but also to promote. And he makes sure that his workers do the same. Hesed. “The story puts on display a brand of masculinity that is desperately needed in a world awash in changes today that strike at the core of masculine identity and leave so many men adrift without a sense of meaning and purpose…the book of Ruth puts on display a radical, not-of-this-world brand of masculinity that foreshadows the masculinity Jesus embodied” (FGITM, 84).  
 
I know some in Reformed circles might write off James, as she doesn’t fit into the CBMW complementarian box. As a matter of fact, they gave The Gospel of Ruth a negative review, concluding that it was not good news after all. (Ironically, this same journal—Fall 2008 – Volume XIII, Issue 2—showcases an EFS study by Bruce Ware titled, “Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead.”) I urge you to read these books for yourself. I especially think it beneficial for pastors to glean from James’ work on Ruth. Complementarians may be challenged by the spirit of the law, and see where they have added to the letter of it—the minus factor.
 
Praised be to God that he has created me his daughter in Christ. Praised be to God that he has placed me in his household among my brothers and sisters in Christ.

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