An 11 year hiatus

Posted in Uncategorized on February 18, 2022 by jaymallow

Ok so it’s been a while. There have been many reasons I quit blogging. Among those are multiple significant life changes (including going to war). But I think I’m ready to start back up because there are things that I want to write about that don’t fit in a Facebook post (also Facebook). Also I’m mature enough now to not obsessively check my engagement. So here we go… again…

PCA Overture 15 and Political Theater

Posted in Evangelicalism, Politics and Ethics on June 25, 2022 by jaymallow

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

If the above is true than well over 1000 delegates to this years PCA General Assembly might qualify as insane- if they we not being intentionally mean. What I’m referring to is the passage of Overture 15 which states: “Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.”

This overture passed even though it is coarser than the previous Overtures 23 and 37 which did not reach the 2/3 presbytery ratification requirement. This overture passed even though the Overtures Committee expressly stated that this new overture did not address the stated concerns many who voted against the previous overtures raised. The overture passed even though there was even more antagonism towards Overture 15 than the previous similar overtures. The overture passed even though it almost certainly will not be ratified by a 2/3 majority (and by the vote count of the General Assembly it may not even get a simple majority of Presbyteries).

Why then was this overture presented? Why vote on something that clearly has little to no chance of succeeding? The answer is political theater. The answer is a kind of meanness that values “truth telling” even when that “truth” violates clear Biblical teaching. 

Before I talk about the overture itself let’s be clear about some things. First, there is no need for this overture. Period. As multiple persons have stated (over and over again) no Pastor, Elder, Deacon, Professor at any Seminary, in fact no one has advocated for the ordination of homosexual persons living in an unrepentant sexual relationship. There is no “homosexual agenda”. There is no “progressive agenda”. Those who claim that there is have not been able to produce compelling evidence substantiating their claims. Even still, as many argued against overtures 23 and 37 last year, if such a “movement” did exist the rules and requirements for office that currently exist are sufficient to disqualify persons if their profession was out of line with Presbyterian Orthodoxy. 

Secondly, we must address that this “crisis” has been directed at one man: Greg Johnson. Greg Johnson has submitted (at his own request) to inquiry. He has endured a trial of his life, witness, and ministry. He has been found faithful by his Church, Presbytery, and ultimately the highest Court of the PCA. Greg has, at nearly every challenge, admitted his faults and has shown admirable humility. Yet there are those who have decided to ruin his life, discredit his ministry, and change the very Constitution of the PCA to excommunicate him. Because he has been honest about the struggles he has as a same sex attracted person. A same sex attracted man who has never been in a romantic relationship, has multiple accountability partners, has served for multiple decades without incident or scandal, and has lived a life of celibate faithfulness.

But this last point is where the problems with the overture begin- The basic premise of much of those who support this overture and of the Gospel Refomation Network is that those who confess same sex attraction as Christians are lying. At best the assumption is that they are deceived. The assumption is that the honest, overwhelming witness of those who actually struggle with this sin must be false. This is because of a perhaps good but flawed view of the Gospel that demands “deliverance” from “certain sins”.  While understandable it is dangerous as I’ve written about before

This view of salvation is coupled with an inability to recognize an extreme view of sinfulness when it comes to homosexuality. There is an unwillingness to acknowledge that the view that takes Romans 1:26-27 as establishing a categorically different sin is rare, even among Reformed Conservative Theologians. There is a presumptive assumption that this categorical definitive distinction is shared among believers both now and historically. That presumption is quite frankly wrong. Also there is a lack of graciousness towards those who do not share this extreme perspective. As well, there is an utter lack of concern for the “slippery slope” one embarks on when defining certain sins categorically unique.

This categorical error with a lack of gracious willingness to take earnest brothers and sisters at their word is clearly revealed in the Overtures statement “and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct”. There is an inference that one cannot practice celibacy while acknowledging sexual desire. The clear indication is that those who are celibate must somehow be asexual; and if a person seeking to live faithfully as a single man or woman admits a sexual attraction, they are somehow living in unrepentant sin. Even worse, there is the assumption that someone who admits to sexual desire cannot be faithfully celibate, and is lying if he or she claims to be. 

Time does not permit me to articulate how Biblically flawed these assumptions are. At the very least this overture fails to charitably treat a brother in Christ at you yourself would wish to be treated. 

Yet we must speak about the political theater aspect of this overture. There is something decidedly Trump-like with this overture. What I mean is that Trump changed our political landscape in that there were things he did that ultimately did not need to succeed. It didn’t matter that Trump’s “Travel Ban” was poorly thought out, executed, and illegal. It didn’t matter if Trump’s gambit to shut down the government ended as an utter failure. What mattered is that the “base” was signaled to. 

Here in the PCA with Overture 15 you have the same spirit- it does not matter if the Overture gets ratified. It does not matter that meaningful dialogue and charitable disagreement are ignored. It only matters that “we” communicate to “ourselves”. Many during the discussion of this Overture described it as a “line in the sand”. If this “line in the sand” allows those who want to continue to act this uncharitably to find some way to leave; then perhaps this Overture will have done what its writers intended all along.

What Abandoning “Winsomeness” Reveals About Us

Posted in Evangelicalism, Politics and Ethics on May 20, 2022 by jaymallow

Recently a discussion has arisen about the issue of “winsomeness”. Tim Keller has been the focus of this conversation as his attempt to navigate a “third way” eschewing politics and culture wars. I’m not going to comment on James Woods’ article nor on David French’s excellent response. However, I do want to comment on a reality I’ve seen throughout my life within American Evangelicalism and that is the continual “crisis” mentality that so many are comfortable with.

The Sky is Always Falling

Doom and gloom is hardly new to American Evangelical expression. One only has to look at many Christian writers of the 19th century to see predictions of the loss of Christian influence within a generation or so. I like what Ryan Reeves says about that time, “there was an idea of a dystopian world around us and the recovery of something pure and undefiled that will lead to utopia…” The culture around us is always crumbling. The church is always on the brink of disaster. This only gets ramped up with pre-millennial dispensationalism. 

            However, in my life there is one basic, unifying, and ever-present impulse that I have experienced in my adult life as a Conservative Evangelical and that is fear. I have been told constantly and consistently that I should be afraid. I actually made a list of things I have been told to fear or be “concerned” (essentially the same thing) about (here). Remember the Black UN helicopters? The One World Government? The ever-present threat of “communism” and “liberal” indoctrination? The threat that the government would outlaw private or homeschooling? 

Remember when women in the military was going to lead to women being drafted? Remember when gays in the military was going to destroy morale and lead to ineffective units? Remember when gay marriage was going to destroy the fabric of the American family? Remember the “Death Panels” that would happen under Obamacare?

Remember when all the dangerous things that “might” happen if/when Democrats and liberal’s gained power? Remember when none of those things happened?

Fear is a powerful motivator. It gets people to do things like vote. It focuses people on threats outside the church instead of those inside. To quote one of my favorite authors, “It was much easier to blame it on Them.  It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us.  If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault.” But this fear-based outlook (correctly diagnosed by Skye Jethani) in the case of abandoning “winsomeness” is worse because it seeks to justify attitudes and actions for pragmatic reasons. Wood’s and other’s rationale is one that I’ve seen over and over again especially from more conservative and dogmatic persons: that the issues seriousness, or my passion for what I am convicted is important justifies what I do. 

If you’ve been in church for any amount of time you’ve encountered the person who’s “committed” to “truth”. Or the person who has a personal conviction that they demand everyone not only know about but agree with them about. There is something quite frankly immature about someone who demands to not only get their way but sees their own actions and attitudes as justified in achieving their end. 

Yet what we’ve seen recently is a growing demand that Conservative “concerns” not merely be recognized but be prioritized whether they are valid or not. These same regularly justify misrepresentation and even slander because again the “issues are too important”. Even more there is the adoption of secular Conservative Media rhetoric and combative style as if the abrasiveness of Tucker Carlson or Donald Trump in necessary to communicate to a hostile world. This embrace of secular rhetoric has successfully labeled any language that isn’t as harsh as it is “woke” or “soft”; even going so far as to suggest that those who refuse to be as combative are “currying favor”. 

Becoming the Very Thing God Forbids

“He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth” 1 Tim. 6:4-5

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” Titus 3:1-2

“But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” Titus 3:9-11

The Bible is far more interested in what is being done in us than how effective we are or are not in the world. The above was said in the midst of an increasingly hostile pluralistically religious culture, one which tolerated sexual sin and casual infanticide, which also survived on a slave-state. What one sees in Timothy, Titus and James is not a commendation of combative rhetoric or “hard stands on truth” but rather a warning that those very things are evidence of sinful corruption. We would do well to look at James as a whole and ask if our commitment to the “TRUTH” leads us to:

  • Show partiality (James 2:8), 
  • Doesn’t lead us to show mercy (2:12-13)
  • Doesn’t lead to our neighbor’s physical good (2:14-16) 
  • Doesn’t restrain our speech (3:1-12)
  • Leads to boasting, selfish ambition, and jealousy (3:16)
  • Causes quarreling and fighting (4:1-3)
  • Causes us to speak evil of our brother (4:11-12)
  • Leads to Boastfulness or Anxiousness about the future (4:13-16)
  • Leads us to be satisfied in our comparative wealth and either indifferent to, or active participants in injury to the poor (5:1-6)
  • Leads to impatient complaint against our Brothers (5:8-10)

If we find ourselves doing these things we should ask whether we are doing the Lords work or that which is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15). 

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:16-17) 

Genuine Questions and Valid Concerns

Posted in Politics and Ethics on April 4, 2022 by jaymallow

At some point in the last 12 years, I became afraid of heights. I don’t know when it happened or how whatever “switch” in my brain flipped from being “ok” to “utterly stressed out” once I get above 10 feet off the ground. But this discomfort comes regardless now, it simply doesn’t matter if I’m in a building, standing on an obviously stable bridge, or not even close to an edge that in no way would I fall off. This discomfort along with my struggles with CPTSD and anxiety have given me a perspective when I see people argue from “genuine” places and the confusion when they are challenged as “valid” or not. What I fear now is that many on the extreme Right are preying on genuine fears with things that are, in fact, either inconsequential or in some cases fabricated. That these same are seeking to pass laws and control institutions for these frivolous reasons, seeking to restrict or control things like free speech should be alarming to everyone, but especially those who claim to be “Conservative”.

At first we need to distinguish between “genuine” and “valid” as these two words have become confused especially as some seek to be “validated”. When we use the word “genuine” in these contexts we often mean that which is authentically expressed by the individual in question. When I say I have a “genuine” fear of heights I’m saying that in certain contexts I feel real anxiety, that this fear is native to me and is not an affectation I am putting on (as if one would be among the “cool kids” if one adopts a certain thing). In many cases when someone says their feelings are “valid” what they really mean is that they are “genuine”- that they feel what they feel and may or may not have a reason for feeling that way. 

This gets only slightly more complicated when someone wishes for “validation” from another for what they feel is “genuine”. One type of “validation” is simply an acknowledgement from another that the person in question feels what they feel. A good example for me was my mother’s care for me when as a family we went to Tallulah Gorge. She acknowledged that I had anxiety and that we wouldn’t spend too much time in certain places. Now at no time did my mother acknowledge that my anxiety was valid as in justified– that I had a reasonable expectation of falling and that my feelings were justified. That is a different kind of validation and we must differentiate the two. It is possible to “validate” someone’s feelings as true to them and their experience while at the same time question their “validity”- i.e., that what they feel is justified, appropriate ect. Sometimes we need to distinguish what someone is asking for when they are asking for validation. However, that does not mean that both types of “validation” are operable- one can acknowledge someone and their feelings without agreement or one can acknowledge someone’s “validation” is justified.

What we’ve seen recently however is a different type of demand. It is a demand that one’s concern be acknowledged and acted upon simply because the concern exists. Let me give an analogy: I hate seafood. I’ve never enjoyed the taste and it doesn’t matter, shellfish, salt water, or fresh I equally despise all forms of aquatic food. Yes, I’ve tried it prepared well. No, there is no mythical seafood that doesn’t taste “like fish” (Also you know what doesn’t tase like fish? Beef, Chicken, Pork…). At this point (mid 40s) one could say my dislike is “valid”. But let’s imagine something different: Imagine I dislike seafood because someone told me that eating fish causes mercury poisoning. Thus I see eating fish as poisoning myself and others. I never actually eat fish. I am firmly anti-pescatarian because those fish eaters want to poison people. I’m also very skeptical of people in education and the health industry because they keep recommending fish dishes that poison people. It’s obvious that they are in the pocket of BIG FISH. As well, I’m sure these persons are conspiring to poison children because you can see them eating fish at the conferences they attend. I’m so anti-fish that I won’t let my children eat fish. What parent would subject their child to being POISONED? What’s more I refuse to allow fish to be served in schools. How DARE you expose my child to something that might poison them and goes against my beliefs? I for one will not allow the vast conspiracy of pescatarians to influence the next generation of Americans!

Here’s where the current state of our politics have landed- the far Right has carved out a full AGENDA that revolves around issues as ephemeral as my “fishy” story. Election fraud, CRT, anti-LGBT legislation that subtly suggests “grooming” or “brainwashing” in elementary schools, these are things that quite frankly are not happening! These are “concerns” that have little basis in reality. They are neither legitimate nor in most cases valid. Even repeated assertions that CRT is not being taught in schools or that no schools are teaching sex ed to younger elementary school children has assuaged the push for unnecessary legislation. Not to mention the farcical search for “fraud” in the 2020 American election. Repeatedly persons are asked for examples or for evidence for their bold claims. None is ever given. Yet the “seriousness” of people’s “concern” has somehow become validating in and of itself. Simply being able to articulate a “concern” about something that “might” be happening is enough to demand legislative change (and not just in public legislation both the SBC and the PCA have been threatened this way). 

What is potentially terrifying is the willingness of some to cater to these “concerns” in a broad and even Constitutionally questionable way. The push for points with a decided minority has chilling implications if these same legal devices are then used by a majority in retaliation. The same effort to curb certain speech (if it somehow survives review) could be used to quell religious or conservative speech. OR a legal loss or ultimate backlash might SECURE legally the very things those on the far right are so afraid of. Yet these far-reaching ramifications are seemingly ignored for the short-term win. Even in some cases the PROBABILITY of a law being declared unconstitutional (as Florida’s recent law concerning LGBT education will probably be) has not stopped legislators from even passing good law.  At some point the majority will tire of being dictated to by a minority over things that are, in fact, irrelevant. When that happens let’s only hope they repeal and move on…

Why Hillsong Exposed and the Fall of Mars Hill are not Just About Theology

Posted in Evangelicalism on March 31, 2022 by jaymallow

The recent notoriety around the Hillsong documentary and fallout matches with the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill in many ways. Similar themes in terms of leadership and culture are present in both cultures and what follows is an excerpt from my yet to be published book. 

Conservatives (more specifically religious Conservatives) are particularly susceptible to the pull of a charismatic leader. This is due to two very intertwined things that early 20th century German sociologist Max Weber points out, the “miracle” of the leader’s ascension, and the continuing duty their followers feel in obedience.[1] This is doubly impactful for the Conservative because the “System” reinforces both of these aspects. 

When it comes to the “miracle” of a leader’s ascension, depending on the context it need not be extraordinary. A person with a unique combination of personality, oratory skill, and “fitness” may by these things alone qualify in a miraculous sense. This is coupled with a sense that the “system”/God has “uniquely” gifted this individual. Lay persons even talk this way, “We were so fortunate to find Pastor Bob, it is a miracle we have him for a pastor.” If one adds unique or seemingly uncommon “blessing” (especially in material gain), the Leader’s claim to power is doubly enhanced. Not only does the uncommon lend itself to the miraculous, but the “System”/God allowing it makes the matter even more miraculously authoritative. Weber, “It is recognition on the part of those subject to authority which is decisive for the validity of charisma. This is freely given and guaranteed by what is held to be a ‘sign’ or ‘proof’, originally always a miracle, and consists in devotion to the corresponding revelation, hero worship, or absolute trust in the leader. But where charisma is genuine, it is not the basis of the claim to legitimacy. This basis lies rather in the conception that it is the duty of those who have been called to a charismatic mission to recognize its quality and to act accordingly.”(359) In other words the charismatic leader invites the follower into participation: “Does the follower want to be a part of ____?” “Do you want what we have?” “Are you willing to join us?” This is almost always accompanied with evidentiary material support: “Look at what we’ve done.” “See the example____” “Look at our numbers!” This evidentiary support is even more concrete in a Laissez-faire assumed Conservativism. The implied argument is “If we were somehow doing something wrong the System/God wouldn’t allow us to do this.”[2]

[Let me briefly explain what I mean by “Laissez-faire Conservatism”- In Western Capitalistic cultures we normally assume that we are in a meritocracy. Thus we tend to naturally assume that persons with power/position have risen to whatever level they have because of merit or gifting. We also assume that the “System” will self-correct and remove persons or institutions if they are doing something “wrong”. This is coupled with an utter myth of perpetual enduring growth (i.e. if the institution is doing the “right thing” it will naturally produce unending and exponential growth). However, if an institution’s material “blessing” is evidence of God’s approval, any challenge is NOT seen as divine or deserved, but diabolical and external.  Thus, challenge to the “narrative” of our “blessing” is opposed.]

In this leadership structure Weber states, “Recognition is a duty.” Even if there are competing claims on a person’s loyalties the charismatic authority must win out, “When such an authority comes into conflict with the competing authority… the only recourse is to some kind of contest… In principle, only one side can be in the right in such a conflict; the other must be guilty of a wrong which has to be expiated.”(361) This is why accountability is so difficult when dealing with charismatic authority structures. It is because the buy-in for the followers is so high. To follow this person means to participate in a pseudo-divine (and many times not so pseudo) calling. One isn’t simply believing in a person but what that person represents. As well the “loyalty” on the “believer’s” part is often in total terms. The leader/organization demands the “believer” organize his/her entire life around the organization. Multiple service areas, numerous meetings, financial obligation above and beyond demanded tithe/buy-in; these are ways of ensuring loyalty where when threatened, the leader can simply “cut off” the offender expiating the problem. 

This is further confounded if the “believer” has individually benefitted. To challenge the charismatic leader is to challenge the system that put him there, to challenge the obvious benefits I/we enjoy, even to challenge God. This is why we shoot messengers. This in part explains a reluctance to believe victims. To believe the victim/messenger is to challenge my entire belief structure, and what I have given my life to for perhaps numerous years. “I can’t be wrong about him, because if I’m wrong then…” We must confront the fact that our reluctance towards accountability isn’t about one person, or one church, or one movement. It’s about a systemic belief that presupposes “worthiness” based on “gifting” and confuses material success with divine blessing.

-Abusive systems are not exclusively theological (Hillsong tends to be Egalitarian as opposed to Mark Driscoll’s “Complementarianism”). Nor are they wholly sociological (though it says something that Hillsong adapted American Evangelical and decidedly Capitalistic practices). However, I firmly believe we will not grasp why we continue to create abusive institutions (that continue to fail in the SAME WAYS) until we look at BOTH our deeply presumed cultural ideologies AND our theology. There is something about how we as Conservatives NATURALLY ASSUME power WORKS that when we marry it with poor doctrine produces (over and over again) toxic cultures.


[1] Weber, Max, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Trans. A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, Free Press Div of Macmillan Pub, London, England (1964), 347

[2] I stated in 2019 that Persons in Power “Have an almost unhealthy relationship with materialism. Material growth is almost the only marker for success and is often pointed to as justification for their methods/blessedness.” https://www.facebook.com/jason.mallow.9/posts/10220090992403376

Fundamentalism: Necessarily Missing What is Essential

Posted in Evangelicalism, Politics and Ethics on March 22, 2022 by jaymallow

Over the next two months two of the biggest and most vocal conservative coalitions of the already conservative SBC and PCA will meet prior to those denominations annual meetings. The Conservative Baptist Network will be meeting late April and will feature speakers like John MacArthur and Voddie Baucham. The Gospel Reformed Network will meet in May. Both of these associations have attempted to influence if not take control over their respective institutions. I bring up these two “movements” as prime examples of a trend within broader Conservative Evangelicalism- that is the entrenchment of far-right neo-fundamentalism. 

I may in the future write about the characteristics of this entrenchment. My purpose here is not to engage with the various concerns these two associations have (real or imagined). Rather I want to engage with an essential presupposition most fundamentalists have- namely the assumption of slippery slope thinking. The assumption on almost whatever issue will be something along the lines of “If we do not take stance A the church will inevitably embrace stance G.” For those on the Right the slippery slope only goes one way- towards liberalism. Thus either antithetical views opposing “the world” must be taken, or resistance towards any kind of moderation of our current position must be resisted. Both tacts’ must be taken irrespective of history, failure, or multiple testimonies because any challenge to what we take as “truth” must be a liberal conspiracy. 

What fundamentalists fail to recognize is that the “slippery slope” goes the other way as well. The slide towards ever more radical fundamentalism isn’t just an observable reality, but a readily diagnosed issue in scripture. A part of this lack of recognition is that, from my observation, fundamentalists have an inability to discern between that which is essential and that which is necessary. What they will often do is agree to what is essential, but then state a necessity that they believe flows from an essential or that they believe preserves that essential. For example, they may say that a belief in the truthfulness of scripture is essential. However, to have a “correct” view of the “truthfulness” of scripture (and to not fall into error), it is necessary to believe “this” about scripture. The problem is that whenever you add a necessity on to what is essential you run the risk of making what you deem necessary essential, and the danger ultimately is that you make what was essential unnecessary. I’m going to argue this is Paul’s argument in Galatians but let me define what I mean by essential and necessary.

I want to first acknowledge that we tend to use these two words interchangeably. I have no doubt said something was necessary when what I meant was essential and vice versa. Yet there is a significant difference. Essential means that thing which is modified (both essential and necessary are adjectives) cannot be that thing unless it has what is essential. A good example would be: “Water is essential for human survival.” Without water humans cannot survive. When we say something is necessary there are two components. First, we are admitting that what is modified can happen without the modifier. Take this statement for example, “Hard work is necessary for success.” There is the acknowledgement that hard work is important, but that success may happen without it. Using “necessary” at least leaves a bit of room if you will. Secondly, “necessary” means a desired goal will not be achieved unless it has what is necessary. There is a “inner meaning” to “necessary” that implies a desired result. Going back to my example of work and success, when we state that hard work is necessary for success there is a type of success we have in mind. The hard work necessarily brings out the desired end. 

It appears to me this is the nuance that fundamentalists cannot grasp. Either everything is essential, or fundamentalists do not see that what they deem necessary is motivated by desire (even a good desire). Especially on the latter there is a failure to recognize that they are starting from a good desire, or image, or ideal and then dictating what is necessary to achieve that. Be it heterosexual marriage (with children) or being “anti-woke”, the starting place is either an ideal or the antithesis of something else which makes their prescription necessary.

This is the precise blindness that confronts the early church. We see in the New Testament that the Pharisaical sect argued that Torah obedience was necessary (Acts 15:5). We see in Acts, Galatians and Romans the main responses to that assumption. Namely that obedience was not necessary to faith (Acts 15:7-21; Gal. 3:5-18; Rom. 6-8). Secondly that law observance did not prevent sin (Acts 15:10, Gal. 3:18-24; Rom 5:20-21). Thirdly that law observance was never what distinguished the people of God, rather what always distinguished them was God’s sovereign initiative (Gal 4:21-5:1). The irony of the Pharisaical Judaizers is that what they claimed was necessary did not even do what they desired! 

But in Galatians Paul goes further in chapter 5. He states that to make circumcision essential is to make Jesus unnecessary (Gal. 5:3)! He says this because if you can get what you desire apart from Jesus you make Jesus irrelevant. Moreover, you forfeit the grace that is yours in Christ (Gal. 5:4). Because only through the Spirit by faith do we achieve the hope of righteousness, that is faith working itself out in love (5:5-6). This faith working itself out in love actually does what those looking to law hope their obedience will do- it leads them to forsake the flesh and pursue righteousness. 

In the midst of this argument Paul makes a surprising statement- “A little leaven leavens the whole lump (Gal. 5:9). You have a “slippery slope” argument from Paul but on the side of fundamentalism! The “little” the Galatians had acceded to the Judaizers (switching to the Jewish calendar and festivals) threatened to corrupt their whole theology. Paul’s fear (and some of his harshest words) comes to a church embracing something as “necessary” at the cost of what Paul deemed essential. 

This is where our modern interaction with those who are leaning towards fundamentalism should take us. I am convinced that difficult discussions need to be made, not about what those who embrace these more “fundamental” elements believe, but why they see what they champion as necessary. We need to have these discussions because what they deem necessary will reveal what they ultimately deem as essential. What I fear is that many within conservative Evangelicalism see not being “liberal” as essential to their Christianity. I fear that for too many marriage and children are essential to not just their Christianity but their anthropology. I fear too many see their cultural comfort as essential to their Christian experience. 

It is they who are on a “slippery slope”. They are sliding towards a church that is defined by its embrace of Conservative, white, hierarchical, authoritarian, heterosexual nuclear family centric procreative evangelism. We are already in danger of telling single people, “Get married, have children and Jesus loves you.” Of telling LGBT persons “Be straight, and Jesus loves you.” Of telling persons of different ethnicities, “Ignore your lived experience and culture for our comfort, and Jesus loves you.” Telling women, “Submit more, and Jesus loves you.” Telling families, “Please hold the weight of all of our evangelical energy, and Jesus loves you.” 

Sooner or later people will no longer believe Jesus loves them… 

The Sad Familiarity of GCC’s Reported Abuse

Posted in Evangelicalism on March 14, 2022 by jaymallow

In light of Julie Roy’s reporting last week on the actions of John MacArthur and his church towards Eileen Gray and her children, I wanted to look at the underlying theologies that they displayed. I’m sure many could look at that story and wonder how a church could become so blinded as to not only demand a battered woman stay with her abuser but would defend a man up until his eventual conviction on multiple counts! There is also I believe confusion as to what is going on theologically to cause this kind of church abuse.

  1. A Wrong View of Authority

This is probably the most visible issue in Roy’s article. Eileen is told over and over again that she must return to her husband and not only forgive him but submit. For those who are authoritarians (MacArthur certainly is one) this is what their view of marriage IS. Unless a woman is submitting to her husband as she would to God, she is not married. Unless the husband is receiving that kind of submission, there is no marriage. Consider this from Doug Wilson, “Nevertheless, the dominance of the husband is a fact; the only choice we have in this regard concerns whether that dominance will be a loving and constructive dominion or hateful and destructive tyranny. Arguing with the fact of the husband’s headship in the home is like jumping off a cliff in order to quarrel with the law of gravity.”* Even in what Wilson just said one can see the irrelevance of the husband’s actions in the marriage, even if he is abusive his authority remains and is God ordained. Thus unconditional submission is the only option. 

This is because authoritarians like Wilson and MacArthur have a wrong view of sovereignty and authority. They believe that those in positions of power are to be obeyed as if they were like God. Thus those in “authority” deserve to be obeyed in the same way God deserves to be obeyed. This fails to acknowledge that human beings cannot be sovereign in the way God is sovereign. We have neither the power, wisdom, or even essence of being (locked in space and time), to demand God-like obedience. Even worse they claim imperfect authority still demands absolute obedience (unless the authority is doing something they disapprove) because of God’s ultimate sovereignty… somehow… Where this ends up is it robs the submitted of their agency. They have no choice but to submit (even when there might be other Biblical options). 

Also we must acknowledge that this authoritarian ideal at least contributed to David Gray’s abuse. As reported, “When confronted, David told Eileen that God had made him the authority and that his child ‘needs more pain,’ Eileen testified.” It says something that apparently David wasn’t confronted on his misunderstanding (because apparently he didn’t misunderstand what his “authority” was).

2. A Wrong View of Sin

This is where the wrong view of sin and salvation I recently wrote about comes into play. There is first an inability to believe that such egregious sin is possible. If this person is a “believer” than certainly someone is exaggerating, it simply “cannot be that bad”. There’s also an inability to separate personal experience from the circumstance. Thankfully most people do not abuse. Many people have never really experienced abuse. Yet (similarly to racism) because something lies outside of your personal experience it does not mean that thing does not exist. What is then revealed is an almost shocking level of naivete’. Not only is there a failure to treat sin as serious as it is, there is prescribed a formulaic remedy that doesn’t really address the problem. 

Rebecca Davis writes well on the dangers of Nouthetic Counseling (poorly called “Biblical Counseling”). What is telling is that she outlines exactly the actions of John MacArthur and his church, “In Jay-Adams-following churches, the details may vary, but the basic scenario has been the same. The criminally abusive husband gains favored status by jumping through the designated hoops. The wife who wants to protect her children and herself—unless she allows him back in the home without mentioning his sin again—will find herself facing the possibility of losing almost every person in her life.” 

But the process of this “counseling” is simply another form of conversionalism. Sin must be acknowledged, some sort of acknowledgement/determination to do better, “repentance” which leads to “forgiveness” (i.e. “saying sorry” leading to “lets act like it never happened”). Does God “convert” some this way? Certainly. But should we make it a model for every counseling application? Quite frankly no.

3. A Misunderstanding/confluence Between Biblical Principle and Civil Necessity

Where Grace Community Church repeatedly fails is in taking 1 Cor. 7:10 as a rule (I’ve previously written the whole verse actually allows for separation). Even worse they conflate an absolute Biblical rule with a necessary Civil procedure. I’ve seen this happen a number of times. There seems to be a genuine ignorance that for a woman to get court protection, to keep her husband from cutting off her finances, to keep him from absconding with the children, or any number of legal protections; SEPARATION MUST BE FILED! Even if the wife desires to reconcile, in order to secure her legal rights she must file for separation! I’ve seen this elsewhere with abandonment and financial abuse where the wife was forced to file separation because it was the only way they could feed and clothe their children (the fact that their husbands were unrepentant didn’t matter to the church in some instances). 

There is a subset of Evangelicalism that is determined to be ignorant about whatever doesn’t fall within their experience. How they were raised, how they read scripture, how they view issues such as abuse or mental health or divorce. They start with an assumption- that they have received “God’s word” and anything outside their reading of scripture either is wrong or simply doesn’t exist! This inevitably leads to abuse. Grace Community Church is just a great example.

*Doug Wilson Reforming Marriage (p. 29). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“Ideal” Versus “Normal” 2

Posted in Devotions, Evangelicalism on March 9, 2022 by jaymallow

One of the attitudes I’ve seen when it comes to ideals is the notion that if the best examples are not advocated, then one is somehow promoting a lesser outcome. You see this particularly with divorce. Setting aside notion that went around some years back, “For the Christian divorce is not an option” (a completely unbiblical statement) there tends to be little acknowledgement that divorce even happens in the church. Jon Acuff once wrote that for Christians divorce is akin to there being reports that half your neighborhood is mauled by bears only to have people argue at the neighborhood watch that it’s only 30% and everyone is so relieved no one talks or does anything about it. What’s more I’ve personally seen churches so committed to “reconciliation” that they will say even a wronged person with clear biblical warrant must “forgive” and “reconcile”. 

Let’s admit as I said in the last post, we love reconciliation stories because we believe God can work. Again we want to believe that because God can work in a certain situation we believe He will. Where this gets abusive is when we assume a “Godly” (ideal) outcome then shame or force persons into that outcome (we do this with singleness too). The fact that the Apostle Paul does not do this in 1 Corinthians should tell us that there’s something going on culturally not “Biblically”.

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul deals with issues concerning marriage and singleness and it is obvious that Paul has preferences. Paul clearly believes that God generally forbids divorce (1 Cor. 7:10-11). As well Paul clearly preferences celibate freedom (1 Cor. 7:8, 7:25-38). Yet Paul is also clearly aware that what is prescribed by God or preferable to him is not always going to be the case (even acknowledging the reality of separation in 1 Cor. 7:11). This is expanded when we consider the context of Corinth. The reality of Paul’s day was that the only place to get a divorce was the civil court. Thus everything Paul talks about in chapter 6 regarding believers taking one another to court applies to divorce! In fact it is likely Paul chooses to speak about divorce in chapter 7 because in effect he disallows it in chapter 6! Yet in chapter 6 one sees this ideal/normal dichotomy work out again. Ideally believers should not disagree to the point of needing arbitration (1 Cor. 6:5-7), but if it becomes that severe the community should arbitrate it. 

There is the ideal with an acknowledgement that the ideal sometimes cannot be reached. 

This understanding of the church’s role in judging those inside the community (especially for sexual sin, 1 Cor. 5-6) also gives insight into how Paul speaks about divorce (and why in speaking about divorce he doesn’t mention adultery or other serious sin). When it comes to serious unrepentant sin the church community has a duty to excommunicate (5:2) and disassociate (5:11). Therefore, a “believing” spouse in sin (listed in part 6:9-10) should be excommunicated, treated as an unbeliever, then Paul’s direction regarding divorce becomes operable. 

Yet Paul still, with all these assumptions that believers in community would operate in accountability, and that the community would provide support and correction, even with all that Paul admits that separations still occur. Even though there is an ideal, and a means of addressing that which is not ideal, still there are realities and contingencies that are going to fall out of even that which we would consider “abnormal”. Paul has space for brokenness. 

I had a Seminary professor who disliked the use of “brokenness” because as he put it “sin is intentional”. I think there is a point there but I also believe in our present Evangelical culture that brokenness helps us express why things so often fall apart and why we live with less than ideal. 

Again in 1 Cor. 7 Paul navigates the reality of a broken world where people are often in less than ideal circumstances. Divorcees, widows and widowers, slaves, and betrothed persons in arranged marriages are all addressed and Paul’s consistent instruction isn’t that those in these situations should pursue some “ideal” of either marriage or celibate freedom. Rather he consistently calls persons to “remain as they are called (in their present circumstance)” and “be unconcerned”. Paul can offer this because of two clear truths- God’s sovereignty and Christ’s sufficiency. The believer can rest in their present condition precisely because God called them in it (vs. 17,20, 24,26,40). The current situation of the various classes and callings are clearly known by God and in His sovereign will He may change that calling as may be. This certainly may have been a comfort for the widow, the divorce, and the slave as their situation (whether due to sin or not) did not preclude them from the assembly of the blessed.

This doesn’t mean we do not have ideals. Nor that one cannot pursue an ideal (slaves can pursue their freedom, single persons can marry). Rather we are not beholden to a “best” expression of what we presume the Christian life “should” be. We can allow for the reality of sin, the uniqueness of individual callings, and God’s sovereign will working itself out in our lives. If only the church would allow that as well…

“Ideal” Versus “Normal” Pt 1

Posted in Evangelicalism on March 2, 2022 by jaymallow

I’ve been working on a project thinking about the issue of idealizing different aspects of the Christian life. As I was walking in the morning thinking about this, it struck me how many issues I’ve seen that have this ideal component. From the issues of masculinity/femininity, to marriage, to dating (courtship), to even divorce we navigate these issues often starting from an ideal then prescribing that as normative. In other words we start from a place of “best example” and continue to make that a “should”; something universal and timeless so that all people in all places “should” exhibit.

The problem is that often we have made the ideal so normative that we don’t even care to admit that there is a reality outside of the “ideal”. In many cases the “ideal” is so “normal” that anything that falls short of the ideal isn’t even admitted to. Thus, we have whole churches where every marriage is happy and thriving, where both men and women are completely satisfied in their roles, etc. These “ideals” even change depending on the “ideals” persons in the community are expected to exhibit. I’ve been in contexts where all the young men were expected to be involved in ministry (if not be willing to become pastors), and in others where everyone was expected to homeschool. In many of these cases what was seen as “good idea” became “Godly ideal” became “expected”. “A” way to express God’s goodness subtly became “the” way then the “only” way.

I think this reveals two key issues: first an over realized view of salvation and sin, and second an assumption about process and results.

What do I mean by an “over realized” view of salvation? Well to start out let’s admit that this comes from a noble place. We want to believe in a God that makes us holy. We want to believe that addictions can be overcome, that marriages can be saved; in short, we want to believe in the powerful work of the Spirit to cause us “to will and do His good pleasure”. This becomes problematic however when we take the ideal or extraordinary as normal. We would love to say that one only has to pray a prayer and God will remove all sinful (especially addictive) desires. It is amazing when that happens. Sadly, that is not the normal experience of most sinners. This is where Luther’s Simul Ustes et Peccator comes into play, at once a saint and sinner. Often we are comfortable with a saint who is mostly holy with only mild sins but not a sinner who struggles mightily with being a saint while sinning. 

When we encounter this faulty view of sin and salvation it is because we have decided how sin/salvation is supposed to work then extrapolated from scripture justification for our preconception. Where this gets challenged is in our (or others) testimony. Mental health issues, addiction, and sexual orientation are all things that are excellent examples where there has been historically a faulty concept of “deliverance”. In almost all of these there have been versions of, “pray the prayer, believe, and just don’t…” This attitude first confuses a scripture, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. (1 Cor. 10:13a)” There is an assumption that all sin is similar in how it works itself out, and that there is a universal remedy to all sin. 

As well there is a true lack of understanding in that if you do not struggle with these things, you cannot fully empathize with them. Someone who is “down” for a day or month does not know what depression is like. Similarly with addictions or sexuality, or gender dysphoria a mark of real humility is to admit when one does not know what it is like to struggle with these things. The temptation many have is to idealize their own experience, especially with things they do not struggle with. Therefore what “I” do not have a problem with “you” shouldn’t either. This is a failure to love others as we would have them love us. 

The second way we over idealize is when we confuse ideals with process and results. What I mean is that often we call people to an ideal because we want something that ideal presumably produces. We want families to look a certain way because we believe families are evangelistic tools. We want relationships to work a certain way to produce security or avoid heartache. We want children to respond to discipline so that they’ll respond to God, etc. ect. Often we start at what we believe to be a Godly outcome, look for an example that produced it, then “industrialize” the example as an ideal to get the desired result. This is what we focus on in an industrial society- the process is only as good as the product; and if we want the same product we simply need to repeat the process. 

I’ve come to believe that many of the “ideals” that we say come out of scripture are mostly personal experiences that are idealized in order to recreate an outcome. Persons who grew up in a certain way saw their parent’s (and grandparent’s) relationships, the way they were raised, and the culture they grew up in (often informed by mass media) and made those things not only ideal but a Biblical ideal. What one should rightly say is “a” good was then prescribed as “the” way God intends to persons to work in not just this culture but in all cultures for all times. Often this “ideal” was prescribed precisely as culture was shifting as if a doubling down on tradition was inherently Godly.

Where I’ve seen this end up is a demand for the “truth” of the “gospel” which often is then prescribed regardless of persons or circumstance. A demand for “roles” in marriage or extremely narrow views on divorce are both examples where we tend to start from “ideals” then decry any pragmatic allowance as succumbing to “liberalism”.

Next post we’ll look at Paul’s ideals and pragmatism in 1 Corinthians 7 as an example for us to follow…

How to not Love Our Neighbors- Texas Style

Posted in Politics and Ethics on February 23, 2022 by jaymallow

Texas Governor Greg Abbot on February 23, 2022, issued an executive order directing the Texas welfare agency to investigate “gender-transitioning procedures” as child abuse

Let me first say that there can be legitimate discussion around what is loving concerning gender dysphoric children. There are arguments to be made by psychologists and doctors and I’m neither of those. However, there are preconceptions that Governor Abbot’s order presents that fall into the realm of ethical presumption. It is these that I think Christians should consider before championing his act.

  1. There is an assumption if not an insinuation that psychologists, doctors, and school counselors, not to mention parents who are affirming a child’s transition are doing so maliciously. There is an insinuation that medical professionals and parents are so blinded by their ideology that they would choose to permanently harm a child. There is the subtle insinuation that all those Psychologists and Counselors and Doctors who went to those LIBERAL schools just want to push their AGENDA on your child. This denies the possibility that highly trained persons are attempting to provide the best care in a DIFFICULT psychological situation. Can there be legitimate disagreement? Of course. But that doesn’t mean someone who believes or prescribes a course of action means to actively harm (especially when those persons have taken oaths to “do no harm”).
  2. There is an utter ignorance that there are ALREADY procedures and protocols in place! There is a persistent and UTTERLY FALSE belief among Conservatives that someone who desires to transition to another gender simply needs to say to a doctor “I don’t want to be my gender anymore” and the surgery is scheduled. THAT IS NOT HOW IT WORKS! Not in ANY medical realm (including the military). There are psychological evaluations. Multiple doctor consultations. Not to mention hormone treatments that take MONTHS if not YEARS. For liability purposes ALONE no medical facility is going to subject itself to the probability of future litigation, much less on a CHILD. As well these things often require parental consent! (Where is the parent’s “right” to care for their child according to the best available medical and psychological advice?)
  3. There is the assumption that those who struggle with gender dysphoria are being “flighty” or simply going through a “mood”. This completely disregards the overwhelming testimony of both parents and children that children who struggle with dysphoria are miserable. The suicide rate for transgender persons is frightening, and the assumption that “if they would just accept themselves, they wouldn’t struggle” is simply not born out. Neither is the assumption, “well if they just transition, they’ll be ok” also an immediate solution. Again, this is a complex issue, and sadly there might not BE a correct answer. This is where individual cases with particular children need to be navigated with medical and mental health professionals, ideally with parental involvement. But assuming (without any evidence) that one method of treatment MUST be beneficial or on the other hand abusive is a failure to appreciate the complexity and suffering of the particular child.

What I find sad (and in my most cynical moments telling) is that this is really a RARE issue. This is in fact an extreme minority, and when it comes to Republican politics an easy win. For Republicans they get to enact policies against persons who represent less than 2% of the population that in many cases (as I’m sure Abbot’s order will be) will be declared in some way unconstitutional (doctor’s rights if not parent’s and patient’s rights will defeat it). Former President Trump’s transgender military ban is an excellent example of something that in fact didn’t stop anything presently, was procedurally unworkable, and probably would have failed legal challenge. I think we can diagnose where Abbot is inspired in his executive order. Not only do I believe that this is a failure to love our neighbor in failing to assume the best of persons dealing with a complex and not easily solved problem, but we can question the motivations (even the eventual expectations) of the person effectively “creating” it.

Irredeemable “Deconstruction” or Just “Signaling”

Posted in Evangelicalism on February 19, 2022 by jaymallow

Alisa Childers’ blog article “Why We Should Not Redeem ‘Deconstruction’” is… problematic. It is even more unfortunate to be prominently featured on The Gospel Coalition’s blog. There are serious trajectories that she suggests those who read her should follow but before I address her argument directly, I want to point out the way her argument is framed. What she does here is a form of argumentation that I’ve seen across Conservative and Christian media.

            The argument essentially goes like this:

1. Define a problem and admit that the issue is complex and diverse
2. Point out that SOME are defining terms in extreme ways
3. Suggest that the examples given are representative of the whole or that the whole are somehow “tainted”
4. Dissuade engagement out of fear of being misunderstood or “tainted” yourself
5. Conclude argument asserting that clarity in our communication is more important than compassion because of “gospel”

This argumentation isn’t necessarily wrong. However there are some leaps that are made that we should not allow to pass by- Firstly that either something is complex or it isn’t. Either a definition is vague and no one agrees or there is a definitive consensus. It is unkind to those whose word usage and expression of “deconstructing” doesn’t match Childers’ examples to insinuate that by association they agree or approve. Even if a majority of persons using a term insinuate a definition (and I would argue the “deconstructing” space is far broader than Childers’ assertion) it is unfair to paint ALL who use certain terms as if agreeing or “tainted”. Also a subjectivity or growing subjectivity towards SOME issues does not mean a wholehearted embrace of subjectivism.

So let me get to some of her main arguments- Her first main concern seems to be that even though she admits there are a variety of persons “deconstructing”, AND that the term itself has a tenuous definition even among those who embrace it, the “deconstructing” space is so toxic that it should be avoided entirely. So even though there is admitted diversity and ambiguity Christians (and certainly TGC) should not engage for fear of promoting what is false or being misunderstood.

            This makes me wonder whether this argument would apply to Paul in Athens (Acts 17). I imagine someone saying to Paul, “Hey those Stoics and Epicureans are all polytheists, they’ve decided to worship their open-minded progressivism. Also they’ve been arguing their philosophies for literally centuries so I doubt they’ll listen. As well they’re really proud of their culture and heritage and they think they are superior to all the other cultures, Paul you really want to be careful in engaging them. Be careful using their language or identifying with them, that would give people the wrong impression. And really, almost everyone is going to reject what you say the minute you bring up the resurrection so why not stick to the synagogue so that no one gets the wrong idea?”

            The argument that something is so toxic that we should avoid speaking to it or identifying with it belies the Gospel that TGC purports to proclaim. Rather we should walk boldly into areas of confusion and disagreement. We should not be so afraid of being “misunderstood” that we fail to speak. This leads me to my second contention- What’s wrong with Derrida?

            Hear me out, even IF those who are “deconstructing” are abandoning “objective truth”. Even IF persons are giving themselves over to subjective relativism (a fear that has been repeated for 20 YEARS!). So what? I believe the Word of God and the Truth of Scripture can stand up to that scrutiny. Lay all the cards on the table, put it all on the line, either the one who “leads into all truth” will be there; or there was no faith to be found to begin with. James K. A. Smith puts it well (his entire chapter on Derrida in “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism” is directly applicable), “But our confidence rests not on objectivity but rather on the convictional power of the Holy Spirit (which isn’t exactly objective); the loss of objectivity, then, does not entail a loss of kerygmatic boldness about the truth of the gospel. Deconstruction’s recognition that everything is interpretation opens a space of questioning- a space to call into question the received and dominant interpretations that often claim not to be interpretations at all. As such, deconstruction is interested in interpretations that have been marginalized and sidelined, activating voices that have been silenced. This is the constructive, yea prophetic, aspect of Derrida’s deconstruction: a concern for justice by being concerned about dominant, status quo interpretations that silence those who see differently.”1

            Smith’s last point directly applies to Childers’ end points on both the TGC article and her blog: that interaction should be limited to certain words or terms and not others. In her blog she goes further to define whether someone should consider themselves “deconstructing” or not. In this she is drawing lines for what is acceptable or not in what can be questioned, essentially saying, “You can question THIS, but not THAT. You’re allowed to struggle HERE but not THERE.”(the cool kids call this “gatekeeping”)

            This is problematic for multiple reasons: First “deconstruction” and those navigating it are not places for Childers (nor TGC for that matter) to police. These places exist precisely to eschew the definitive limitations Childers’ attempts to place upon them. What’s more, these spaces exist because of the very demands Childers makes. Thus people who are already pushing against one type of silencing will more than likely not be dissuaded by Childers attempts to confine the argument.

            This brings me to a second and more pertinent question as to why TGC would publish and display Childers’ blog post so prominently, who is this for really? Let’s be real about one thing, those Childers’ references in the “deconstructing” space are not reading TGC looking for affirmation. Even those memeing Matt Chandler are doing so from a place of sarcastic irony. It is extremely doubtful that those reading the TGC article Childers’ references would infer a whole-sale endorsement of those “deconstructing” that Childers mentions. Therefore, one has to wonder if the article and TGC’s publishing are not a signal to an in-group “THIS BAD! NO TOUCH!”

            What I find to be most unfortunate is that there have been excellent examples of how to engage with the issue of deconstruction empathetically and truthfully. Russell Moore has done this well both at his blog and at Christianity Today. As well David French and Curtis Chang navigated this issue well in their Good Faith podcast. With such great examples it is unfortunate that TGC decided to promote an article that seeks to limit terms and draw boundaries. But again perhaps that was their wish…

Footnotes

  1. James K. A. Smith “Who’s Afraid of Post Modernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI (2006) Kindle, 51-52