A False Gospel of Reconciliation

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. /2 Corinthians 5

I begin with this passage for one reason: I believe in the “ministry of reconciliation.”

And I want to frame everything that follows here in the gospel that truly reconciles. I have no interest in contradicting that gospel. I have no interest in abandoning it. I aim to give my life to experiencing and sharing in that very same message.

But here’s the thing.

There’s a false gospel on the loose in the evangelical church.

And it is nothing less than a diabolical doctrine that comes clothed in a bright, angelic, counterfeit message of “reconciliation.” It is a word entrenched in institutional power and amplified by hierarchies reaching up into the halls of religious academia and pressing deep into the world of prestigious publishing. Far from a message that subverts the empire of selfish power and control by reweaving justice and peace, this gospel is one that glorifies the way of empire, often calling it “God” and claiming to be his ambassadors. Then, when injustice strikes, instead of healing there is worse abusing; instead of honesty and advocacy, complicity.

And the ministers still mouthing “reconciliation.”

It’s an old, old story really, but it is playing out with new people in new ways. I’ve written before about the current lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries and how it represents a rapidly approaching counseling cliff for the evangelical church at large – a cliff especially perilous when conservative churches deal with matters of abuse. Well, this week, more allegations were filed against SGM, and they are horrific. And, as of now, the major evangelical institutions that are closely connected to SGM – namely, The Gospel Coalition (where C.J. Mahaney, a defendant in the suit and founding leader of the SGM movement, is a council member) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (major supporter/ally of C.J. and SGM, with President Al Mohler as close friend and staunch defender of C.J.) – have not issued anything in the way of cautionary or even concerned statements regarding the man or the movement (that I am aware of). There has been total silence about a celebrity preacher and an organization that is now literally inundated with accusations of sexually and physically abusing children and conspiring to cover it all up over many years. Nor have any/many connected big-name individual leaders, themselves also institutionally powerful, come out with words of warning or grieving. Instead, powerful men like John Piper have made gestures of support in the midst of C.J. and SGM’s legal troubles.

The silence is deafening.

Just like it was when priest after bishop after archbishop in the Catholic Church were convicted and exposed having maintained silence and conspiracy and complicity all the way until the court’s verdict finally came down. And just like it is even afterwards, as Vatican supporters try to minimize the atrocities committed, citing statistics and percentages and “we’re doing pretty good, considering”‘s. Because that’s how it goes with power. That’s just the way empire does things.

Hey, here’s an idea. Where’s the guy that’s willing to lose his job by coming out with some STRONG statements of alarm, warning, grief, and mourning, at the sheer wretchedness of these allegations? Where’s the guy who doesn’t care if the leg bone’s connected to the thigh bone from whence his big publishing deal cometh and decides to tear the freaking tarp off of this twisted metal wreck of a system that halts and hesitates to even empathize with these victims and weep with those who weep at the first sign of their weeping (not to mention their months of legal case-building)? I mean, we all know how this ends, right? WE ALL KNOW HOW THIS ENDS.

But this is the way the false gospel works, and it’s an old, old story. This false gospel starts with a false god – a god who is anger. Yes, the god of this SGM movement was said to be just that – gracious – but the seedy backdrop behind this notion of grace is a god of sadistic and irrational rage. C.J.’s famous quip that we are all doing “better than we deserve” is grounded in the idea of a god of such cruelty that no matter what injustice we may have suffered in life – or perpetrated – all is better than what we really deserve, which is unending conscious torture at the hands of a concentration camp commander christ. So don’t complain! Stop being depressed! And if, by some miracle of miniscule probability, you have been chosen for eternal life by the sovereignly electing mind of this raging god (a matter, of course, to be discerned by your SGM elders), then no matter what happens to you post-regeneration, you REALLY have no reason to whine!

The most grotesque allegations to come out of this lawsuit have to do with the culture of “gospel-centered reconciliation” in this movement, where victims of abuse – often, children – were simply told to “forgive” and “reconcile” with their adult church member/leader abusers. I mean, it’s better than you deserve, right? So get over it. And smack dab in the center of this demonic-gospel culture were leaders who rise to levels of immense influence over their cruelly “humbled” people, all the while claiming to be humble themselves. These guys held the keys out of unspeakable eternal hells, and that gave them unspeakable power. Yet because the hell inside of some of them was almost as bad as anything postmortem, they perpetrated their patriarchal darkness upon innocent little ones, and then helped each other keep the concealing tarp firmly intact.*

And this false gospel of reconciliation doesn’t stop here. It is not only reserved for churches fraught with sex abuse scandals. It rears its ugly head in all kinds of conservative evangelical circles, taking the similar shape of pain-denying theologies that counsel victims to get over it and get back together with those who harmed them. The gospel is about reconciliation, right? So if your spouse hits you, forgive them and reconcile. And if your kids are starving because of a father’s gambling, get some counseling from an elder and make it work, honey. And if some friends cheated you in business, or a church member is spreading vicious lies about you, or a family member won’t stop manipulating you into situations of terrible emotional pain, hey, it’s better than you deserve because you’re a hellbound sinner too, so just reconcile with them because that’s what grace means (i.e., subjecting yourself to present pains presumably less than the eternal pain of conscious torment in hellfire).

This is all BS.

And it’s BS because it twists the truth of the ministry of reconciliation into something that perpetuates the abuse of power instead of subversively stopping it.

See, in a very present and real sense, right now, God is at work to reconcile and restore the entire cosmos to shalom, to peace and justice and wholeness:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. /Colossians 1

This cosmic dimension of true gospel reconciliation takes precedence over all interpersonal situations of wrongdoing, conflict, or abuse. The goal toward which the resurrected Jesus is working in the world right now is not some imaginary peace where people “reconcile” in name only while the abuse is never stopped and the wrong never righted. No, this is instead a total bending of the violent and unjust world back toward God’s shalom, until it is completely put to rights on the final day.

Thus, any ministry of reconciliation that does not, as a matter of first importance, advocate for the innocent and safeguard the physical and emotional protection, not exposure, of the people entrusted to the church, is no ministry of reconciliation at all.

Because reconciliation is right.

Reconciliation bends things back to to justice and peace.

And reconciliation, rightly lived as part of God’s cosmic work to restore all things, always subverts the empire of unjust power and control. It messes with thrones and powers and rulers and authorities. It takes them to task.

And forgiveness, which is the fundamental heart-level releasing of those who have done us wrong to the capable hand of God, hoping and praying for their redemption, refusing to live in bitterness and resentment (even in the midst of our righteous anger), endeavoring to love even our enemies, does not require a faux interpersonal reconciliation that merely opens us back up to the dangerous abuses of power that caused so much pain in the first place.

Because that’s not what God is up to in the world. He is angry over abuses like these, to be sure, but that is precisely because he is not that sadistic, irrational being who is callous to all earthly pain in contrast to the eternal pain he intends to inflict upon the non-elect (and of which all are deserving). God is not anger.

God is love.

And that love is what any and every victim of injustice truly deserves.

What do you think about this case, and about this issue? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

*And remember, though I am responding strongly to the allegations as they have been presented – and I believe everyone should react strongly to them – they are not yet legal facts. We do not wait for a verdict before we speak out or empathize with the victims (because that is injustice in and of itself), but we respect due process before passing the final verdict ourselves.

[Update 5/17/13 8:30pm: Today's civil suit hearing has run into a severe statute of limitations setback. Read more here. It appears that some of the plaintiffs' allegations may still be admissible, and a criminal trial may be forthcoming. Regardless, the court of common sense will cast a strong verdict in light of the evidence, and the truth will shine, no matter what. Let's just hope that the abusers and complicit institutions and leaders are all held accountable.]

About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

Find him on Twitter & Facebook!

  • http://spiritualsoundingboard.com/ Julie Anne

    Zach!!!!!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!   I often wonder if they force reconciliation on victims because they are projecting their own need to reconcile the sins they have committed by covering up these horrific crimes.  Thank you for getting fired up about this.  It is BS.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @Julie Anne thanks julie. praying with you for justice and accountability here.

  • kinnon

    Zach,
    Righteous anger IS the appropriate response. Well said and well done.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      kinnon thanks brother, right back at you. great post today.

  • Pingback: Now is the Springtime of My Discontent | kinnon.tv

  • tc_moore

    Preach Preacha!!

  • http://mattsbibleblog.wordpress.com/ Matt

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that the church’s horrifically inadequate and inappropriate response to abuse – spiritual, sexual, physical – is *the* defining crisis facing Christianity today. How many people are being driven away from God because of this? How much moral authority have we sacrificed? “Whatever you did for the least of these…” Jesus once said; well, that’s true for how we treat survivors of abuse too.
    Sometimes it feels as though the church exists to protect the church, not the marginalised and oppressed. Then we wring our hands that people aren’t coming to church and that atheists are saying mean things about us. We fail to do the math.

  • KrisE

    As a former member of a SGM church I greatly appreciate this post.  I have sent this to some other “survivors” and it is being passed around heavily.  Thank you!!! I pray more people can be this vocal about what is happening.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Thanks for letting me know, that’s encouraging. Sorry for what you’ve experienced and glad the post has been helpful.

  • MAGuyton

    Better than you deserve? Eek!

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      MAGuyton dude. you don’t even know. spent some time in a church closely connected to sgm and influenced by cj’s brand of neo-reformed theology. it’s soul-killing stuff.

      • brian

        zachhoag MAGuyton 
        I spent 3 1/2 years on staff in a similar church.  Walked away a functioning agnostic.  There is nothing about that god that I want to be a part of.

  • Chuck

    I guess it doesn’t matter to you that these were ‘allegations’? Does it matter that the judge dismissed these ‘allegations’ yesterday? You have created a straw man and done a great job of arguing with him. You have also misrepresented this situation and I hope you will have the humility and integrity to acknowledge your mistake. In my experience with SovGrace I’ve never heard these kinds of teachings or seen this kind of leadership. I’ve observed people who are abused cared for in ways you would appreciate I’m sure. You should sit down with some of those accused and seek to listen to them before you form strong opinions about them if you want to be a part of the conversation. I think you’d be surprised at how SovGrace churches how much that is said on the internet, etc., in this situation isn’t accurate.

    • kinnon

      @Chuck Sorry Chuck, but this is simply spin. The “allegations” were not “dismissed”. The statue of limitations for a civil suit for most of these situations has apparently run out. This is far from a victory for SGM. Nor is it a victory for the church universal — it was and is profoundly sad.

      • KatR

        kinnon And now we see what SGM’s new spin will be. “The allegations were dismissed!”, never mind WHY. My first thought is “are they even capable of telling the truth”, but maybe they don’t even know what it is anymore.

        • Chuck

          @KatR kinnon

        • Chuck

          kinnon 
          Wow…why would you say this? You seem to have reached conclusions and simply are using this to make your case without being concerned about the facts? Anyway, 9 of the 11 complaints were dismissed. I’m not sure why you are saying they weren’t? They were dismissed ‘with prejudice’ meaning they cannot be refiled. The judge hasn’t written the judgement yet so ‘why’ isn’t clear right now but will be soon. This isn’t spin it’s just the facts. Please be honest with people whether you are against SovGrace or not. You’re being very misleading. If there is spin here it is you. Also, I am glad that the authorities in MD have said that they are / have been following the civil suit to investigate allegations of criminal activity. Regardless of the result of the civil suit the allegations will be investigated according to their statements. Unless we question the authorities in MD it appears abusers will not get away with their crimes and SovGrace has stated they are cooperating with these authorities. You may not believe them…but wouldn’t it be clear if they don’t?! Anyway, I certainly am glad that there is an ongoing criminal investigation.
          2 complaints remain…the complaints against the church in Fairfax. Those complaints must be refiled in VA, though. The plaintiffs have 10 days to prove that SovGrace conspired to hide those allegations (to the court in MD). As a member of a SovGrace church I have no reason to doubt that this situation has been handled with integrity. I care…I’m paying attention…most importantly, I know the people personally. I don’t know you! I must say you aren’t very convincing.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          Chuck, here’s what makes your comments “spin”: they take this obviously technical issue in a civil suit to mean that all of the plaintiffs are simply liars. With allegations of sexual abuse like this, that is simply impossible. These folks aren’t lying. They may have felt terrible shame which kept them from talking until now – but now, they certainly are not lying, not all of them, not about everything. That’s just impossible. Say this with me: Sandusky…Sandusky…Sandusky.

        • Chuck

          zachhoag 
          It could be a technical issue…but we don’t know at this point…it isn’t ‘obvious’ except to you, I guess…you do seem to think you’re omniscient! The fact is we do not know why the judge dismissed the complaints (we will know this week…you may be correct) but regardless of the ‘why’ the authorities are investigating any allegation of a criminal charge regardless. And you and I agree this is a good thing. So, if the complaints are dismissed on a technicality (and it may NOT be a technicality) it certainly does not mean the plaintiffs are liars which is why it is good that the authorities are investigating criminal allegations. You say ‘these folks aren’t lying’…then you say ‘not all of them’…so…you seem to be talking out of both sides of your mouth but the fact is you don’t know and I don’t know what the truth is. We do know child abuse is an atrocity…legitimately. And in my SovGrace church it is viewed that way. We protect my kids. OK…Sandusky, Sandusky, Sandusky… Zach, I can’t believe anyone takes you seriously. Stop sensationalizing to hide your overstatements.
          Say with me… ‘Joseph, Joseph, Joseph’…we know the inside scope on Joseph from God’s objective and inspired Word (Genesis 39ff). We know the potential for false accusations against innocent people exists. I can’t imagine anything worse than the sexual abuse of children. It is an atrocity. It is also a bad thing when innocent people are falsely accused (not necessarily an atrocity). The good people that I go to church with in my SovGrace church are glad for the police and courts in MD. We’re glad this situation is on the table and being investigated by them. We trust that those who abused children will be punished. And we’re glad that we live in a society where people are not assumed guilty but are at least supposed to be given a fair trial. I hope if you are ever accused you will receive just and fair treatment and that’s what I hope for all those involved in this obviously tragic situation. Don’t call me names. Let’s pray that the Lord will allow justice to prevail and when he does let’s not seek to justify ourselves where we have been mistaken in our judgments or made overstatements about others.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          Are you *actually* comparing these plaintiffs to Potiphar’s wife?
          What’s your real interest here, Chuck?

        • Chuck

          zachhoag
          Let’s see…what did you say to Mr. DZ above… ‘Do you want to engage my argument or defensively dismiss it?’
          I said nothing of comparing the plaintiffs to Potiphar’s wife. Do you want to engage my point that we have a judicial system because people can be falsely accused or not? Joseph was falsely accused. It happens. YOU said in YOUR post that ‘not all of them are lying’…meaning of course that we need a justice system to do our best to determine truth. My interest here, Zach, is to challenge you and people like you who can say whatever they want without accountability and do real harm to people. I’m standing up for those you have judged and made overstatements about and you seem to be doing exactly what you accuse Mr. DZ of…not engaging my argument. I want those who abused the plaintiffs punished and my interest is to see this happen with justice for all.
          How about it, Zach, let’s pray that justice prevail? That child abusers and that anyone who has tried to protect them go to jail? AND…let’s pray that no one…or ministry for that matter…is falsely accused. I don’t know these plaintiffs and neither do you. I know my SovGrace church…your experience is what…you went to a church that was influenced by SovGrace for a while? You don’t seem to be qualified to be the judge. Let the qualified – the courts and those who are investigating any criminal allegations –  evaluate , investigate, speak, prosecute, etc. Pray for justice…if you are truly about opposing abuse.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          @Chuck No sir, I’ve engaged your argument at the foundation – you are seeking to defend the defendants and I am asking for common sense empathy and outrage for the victims. I honestly have no horse in the race regarding what happens with ALL of SGM or ALL SGM churches. Just that the allegations against leadership at the highest level about crimes so atrocious be acknowledged for what they are.
          Due process, sure. Jumping to the “possibility” that this can be compared to the Joseph story (false allegations based on vindictive motives, a la, Potiphar’s wife) – no way. Common sense compassion and advocacy – definitely.
          Let’s end the conversation there, Chuck. Your position is clear, let’s not keep drawing it out. I’m the moderator of the blog, so please respect this as an end point.

        • Loo L

          @Chuck zachhoag
          We do know it is over technicalities, check this out.
          http://thewartburgwatch.com/2013/05/17/analysis-of-breaking-news-in-sgm-lawsuit-its-just-beginning/

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          GREAT link, thank you!

  • DZRishmawy

    Zach,
    Hey, so I guess I’ll be the token Reformed-type guy on here, so here goes:
    1. If even half of these allegations are true, it is shocking and horrible. It makes my heart sick and my blood boil. Christ’s church is a place for healing and wholeness, not abuse and spiritual torment. Those directly involved either in the abuse or in covering up the abuse ought to be removed from office and, in submission to the laws of the state (Rom 13), prosecuted for the sake of justice, the protection of the weak, and their own repentance. Those who were harmed need to be protected and counseled with care and grace. 
    2. I’m a nobody so I can’t really speak for why some of the big organizations haven’t said anything. Maybe they know things we don’t, are waiting and with-holding judgment until more truth comes out because they’ve had such a long-standing relationship of trust and ministry together, or I don’t know. I’ll take Carson and Keller’s judgment on how to handle it over mine. 
    3. Here’s what I do know: your silly linking of spiritual abuse in a sort of one-to-one relationship with a caricature of Reformed theology is gross. Really? You’re going to take this time of sadness and grief, the torment that these victims might have, and turn it into an opportunity for a theological hit on a tradition you don’t like? I mean, it’s fine to call out false forms of reconciliation. That’s totally fine. But the whole “raging god” smear is just too much. If anything it’d be easy to make the case the the “raging god” who is so loving he gets mad about sin (which is what the best Reformed claim) ought to lead against abuse, against totalitarianism, against a lust for power, because pastors who truly believe that God is just and his judgments are terrible, know that judgment begins in the house of God and that God has wrath against shepherds who devour his flock. He loves them too much to leave their wounds untended and offenses un-dealt with. It’s the God taught by the Reformed who offers not a cheap reconciliation, but one purchased at the cost of the blood of his own Son, that urges pastors to walk meekly among the sheep and guard over them with the sacrificial self-giving of the true Shepherd (1 Peter 5.)
    What I’m saying is that it’s good to advocate for the broken, the weak, the hurting and the abused. In fact, please don’t stop. What isn’t good is taking an opportunistic cheap-shot at a tribe you don’t like in the middle of it. 
    You know, acknowledge the nuance. 
    Welp, I truly hope this finds you well. 
    D

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Actually Derek, what’s gross is that you quickly defend a system of theology without actually considering how that theology may be implicated, using charges like “gross” and “caricature.”
      If you were honest, you’d address how torturing non-elect abuse victims for eternity in hell makes that god any better than the abusers themselves.
      It’s the chink in Calvinism’s armor that only blustery indignation can defend.
      Also, why the hell do you trust Carson and Keller?

      • DZRishmawy

        zachhoag Speaking of blustery indignation…tell me how you really feel about Calvinism, Zach? :)
        But seriously, these descriptions are a caricature. I mean, that is an accurate description of what you’re engaging in here.
        And that’s why I find this whole post to be somewhat disingenuous, or, unhelpful at least. See, if you actually wanted to engage anybody in the Reformed camp in honest dialogue, or move them to action, or reconsider an unwise or even cowardly silence on their part, you wouldn’t do it by lobbing rhetorical-theological bombs like you have in this post and in your response. I mean, this is great for stirring up the anti-Reformed faithful, but as an attempt to actually talk to someone connected to the movement, even on the outskirts, it’s the equivalent of saying, “Hey immoral dumb-#$%, why are you so evil in your thoughts?” Umm, yeah, let me pay close attention to you now…
        As for “why the hell” I trust Carson and Keller: I dunno, I think they’re wise, humble, biblically-oriented, godly men–certainly more than I am (and, no offense, probably more than you are.)  There are a lot of brash hotheads in that wing of things, to be sure, but those two generally conduct themselves with grace. Also, I’ve benefited greatly from their writings, especially Keller’s. Does that meet your approval? I mean, is it okay with you for me to respect them? 
        Well, that’s it for now.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          DZRishmawy Derek, this is where we hit an impasse, and it happens often here on the blog. Someone who disagrees with my perspective reacts with extreme umbrage saying that I am misrepresenting them/their group. They assert the goodness (or godliness) of their group in response, or draw attention to other seemingly good aspects of their theology/activity (point 3). 
          But what you haven’t done is engage with anything substantial in my post.
          You just claimed it was a caricature, not nice or engaging enough to reformed people, etc. And that’s supposed to be that.
          The aim of my post is to stand up for the abused and challenge those who may very well be complicit.
          Do you want to engage my argument or defensively dismiss it?
          Also, I have no interest in being “as godly” as Keller or Carson, but I simply don’t put them on any kind of pedestal. The intent of my question was to see why you do. You’re welcome to respect them, I’m just not convinced of anything by your answer.
          Please remember Derek – you came on my blog to express your frustration/anger at my post. That’s how this conversation started. So, do you want to engage the content, or simply make blanket assertions?

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          DZRishmawy Oh, one last thing, *how* is my representation of Calvinism a caricature? I think it cuts to the chase rather than mincing words, but that’s not a caricature. Unless Carson, Keller, and Mahaney suddenly deny unconditional election & ECT.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          DZRishmawy I lied. Last thing. In re-reading your initial comment, it seems your beef might be that I’m saying all Calvinism is automatically abusive. For the record, nope. Not at all. But tracing abusive behavior back to an extreme neo-Calvinist perspective and saying “it starts there” is not the same as saying all Calvinists are abusers.
          If that’s the caricature your assuming, lack of nuance, etc., you’ve misread me.
          Ok, that was the last one!

        • DZRishmawy

          zachhoag

          The reason I didn’t “engage” in anything substantial in your post was because what I saw were your blanket assertions about people who believe in a “God of rage” as the “seedy backdrop” to a gospel of grace. (And, maybe you’ve seen it but I’ve never read a normal Reformed theologian claim that God is a God of rage, but rather, with Tony Lane (a Calvin expert), God is a God of holy love who is only provoked to wrath in the presence of creation-destroying sin, but who, in himself is the fullness of beauty, life, and love.) It was not a measured examination of whether or not certain theology, taken to an extreme could lead to an abuse, but an exercise in guilt-by-association. “Sovereign Grace is Calvinist and is abuse kids? Well, Calvinism is inherently abusive, etc.” That’s not an invitation to constructive conversation but a broadside that, yes, might provoke a “knee-jerk reaction”  (saw the lovely tweet, btw) from some Calvinists. (Especially before my coffee. I’ll own that I was a bit testy in the morning. Also, I’m still not sure whether I’d call myself a Calvinist in any case. More Reformed than anything.)
          And yes, I raised the issue of other strands of Reformed theology precisely because that’s how it works. Each doctrine takes its place within the broader context of the whole, just like individual verses do. The doctrine of election takes its place within various other doctrines like union with Christ, common grace, church discipline, epistemological humility, ecclesiology that tries to spread out power in order to prevent abuse (at least in classic Reformed), etc. Reformed theology has a place for submitting to the authorities in the issue of crime, and with its practice of discipline, a strong place for “thick” reconciliation of the sort you’re advocating. Not everything is read through election. That’s like me claiming that Arminianism leads naturally to pastorally negligent ecclesiologies because everything’s about human freedom where God can’t do anything. If the allegations are true, and it’s sadly looking like it, my point is that it represents a failure, not a natural consequence of Reformed theology and practice taken, both with respect to election and to the whole. 
          On the Keller/Carson thing, my point is, looking at someone’s character gives me reasons to with-hold judgment when they act in ways I might not understand at first. It’s not about a pedestal, but my respect does cause me to slow down before passing judgment.  
          If I’m being dismissive, I’m sorry. I usually try to work at that, but your initial post was dismissive. I guess you call that not mincing words. But, I would point out that I came here because you put your post out there to be read and apparently wanted Reformed-types to engage it.  This conversation started with your post linking what looked like a caricature of Reformed theology (and now I see below you mean “extreme Calvinism”, which, still, but thanks for the clarification) with abuse. I didn’t just jump onto a random post on some other subject entirely. 
          Well, I’ll leave this alone for now and say at the end of this post: If I’ve misread you, I’m sorry. If I’ve been sinfully testy (which is entirely possible), I’m sorry. Yes, I get defensive because it’s not just a “system” of theology to me, but rather a rich tradition which has taught me about beauty, grace, forgiveness, deep repentance, wisdom, and truth, bringing me great comfort and solace in times of pain and distress through Christ.
          Okay, so, for reals this time, good night.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          DZRishmawy Derek, read the comments from nickelshrink and mb above. They get what apparently you don’t.

        • caldwa

          DZRishmawy zachhoag I really want to like Keller. He’s seems the most reasonable of the TGC camp. But it’s truly baffling (is there any way I could stress that more?)  to me that Keller has remained silent on so many of the issues in TGC, not to mention SGM. I’m walking a fine line of calling someone’s character into question, so I say this with trepidation, but where is Keller’s wisdom with respect to all these issues? He NEEDS to be addressing them. Why is he not?

        • kinnon

          caldwa DZRishmawy zachhoag
          Not to blow my own horn, but I asked that question here:http://kinnon.tv/2012/02/purple-prose-the-gospel-according-to-whom.html

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          caldwa DZRishmawy precisely. now is the time when character will prove itself.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          kinnon caldwa DZRishmawy bill, exactly.

    • claire

      DZRishmawy “pastors who truly believe that God is just and his judgments are
      terrible, know that judgment begins in the house of God and that God has
      wrath against shepherds who devour his flock.”
      Huh. And yet not a one of the Reformed rockstar pastors have offered so much as a single word of empathy or concern to the victims and instead have locked arms with Mahaney and the abusers.  As much as these guys like to wax poetic about “male headship” and the Titanic and “women and children first”, blah, blah blah, they sure seem to be looking out for their own interests at unspeakable costs to these children.  I guess it’s only manly to  go down with the ship when the ship in question isn’t your personal brand and profit margin. Then, you gotta throw the women and children overboard the keep that ship from sinking.  Every fifth word out of their mouths is a directive towards women to give up autonomy in exchange for the protection of  men.  Is THIS what that protection looks like?  If so, I’m not just severely underwhelmed, I’m appalled. Really, there are no words. 
      I’ve spent many, many years in Reformed churches (including a TGC church) and SBTS churches, and I can unfortunately tell you from experience that the whitewashing, dismissing and ignoring of both domestic violence and the abuse of children is a feature not a bug. Don’t get me wrong, now, I’ll admit that they’ll happily come down hard on a Sandusky or priest or any abuser outside of their fold. They’ll turn themselves purple screaming and spitting about how abusing women is wrong…as long as the camera’s still rolling, anyway. But when one of their own gets caught, those wagons get circled before you can bat an eyelash.

      • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

        Precisely, Claire.

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  • http://www.whatgoddoes.com/ AliceDeanSpicer

    In a sense, every believer has a common heritage with the both the Hebrew slave and the Egyptian.  First, we were born spiritually, not because we chose to be born, but because God chose to bring us to life.  Then we were either made slaves to the system, immediately thrown to the crocodiles, or we were embraced in the arms of the system and included as a member of it.
    First, the slaves to the system are “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  Think about it.  The system teaches people about God, who supposedly annihilates or banishes the majority of mankind to darkness for eternity, tormented by loneliness and despair.  Even if one trusts this God, therefore becoming exempt from the terrible fate of the majority, one must also come to terms with the fact that many of his or her beloved family members, friends, and co-workers will not have the “joy” of spending an eternity with this God.  They do what they are told, make the best of a bad situation, and don’t want anyone to cause trouble and make things worse than they already are.  They try to focus on the positive, the smiling faces of their little ones, holidays, weddings, the rare moments of rest and relaxation.
    Second, those who are thrown to the crocodiles are those who recognize the hypocrisy of some of the teaching, who see that those teachers are no better than anyone else, who recognize the inherent worth of every human being.  But they have no idea what to do about the situation.  They are numerous, and the Egyptian government is afraid of their numbers.  Perhaps, if they are permitted to enter into or remain in the system, they will unite in purpose and overthrow the system.  They are systematically removed from the system before they ever have a chance to be a part of it or shunned out of it in a timely manner.  Perhaps Protestant orthodoxy would identify them as “those spiritual-but-not-religious folks” or “those fake/backslidden Christians who don’t go to church” or “secular/carnal Christians.”
    Third, those who are embraced in the arms of the system are Egyptians – members of the system of Egypt.  Egyptians may be decent people who mind their own business.  They feel bad for slaves, but what can they do about it?  They recognize that Pharaoh is a god-man in a position of authority and power, and submitting to his rule is just another way of ensuring that there isn’t some kind of horrible, bloody revolution.  Things aren’t so bad.  As long as the slaves do what they are told, they get along just fine.  These people busy themselves with doing good, proving to themselves that the system isn’t so bad.  They point to the giggling slave children throwing mud at each other along the Nile River or the slaves having a wedding ceremony with singing and dancing, and they fool themselves into thinking that the slaves must be content with their circumstances.  The system gives them food and shelter.  Without the system, what would those poor slaves do?  Wander in the wilderness?  There are some Egyptians who let the power of the system go to their heads.  They enjoy the way slaves lower their heads as they walk by, the way slaves cower when they make threats, the way slaves fall in the line and do what they are told under threat of the whip.  These Egyptians congratulate and honor one another with banquets, wall plaques, titles, and bonus checks.  They compete with one another to ascend in the hierarchy and become higher than mere slave-drivers; those who succeed become the slave-drivers of the slave-drivers, and their whips are words.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      I think I understand the metaphor but not totally sure about the application to this story. Can you flesh it out a little more?

      • http://www.whatgoddoes.com/ AliceDeanSpicer

        zachhoag Specifically, “And the ministers still mouthing ‘reconciliation.’”  In this case, the LACK of public words is as much a weapon as the words spoken behind closed doors.

  • AlisonWilliams1

    Thank you so much for this Zach. As an Australian I haven’t heard that much about this case, but what you’ve written about here is truly horrific.
    I have recently been involved in a painful dispute in my own church community, to the point of having to leave the intentional community I was living in and the church I was involved in. Despite consistent attempts to rise above the irrational and horrible behaviour of leadership towards me and a number of my friends, and to seek reconciliation, it became obvious that not only were the entire eldership and the minister unwilling to admit any wrong-doing but they were backed by the broader denominational structure. There has never been much humility.
    The strange thing is that this type of abuse of power and gospel twisting is not exclusive to conservative or fundamentalist churches/groups. I was involved in a radical, progressive community that turned out to be almost fundamentalist in its defense of its progressive theology. ‘If you don’t agree with us, your either stupid or you just haven’t figured it out yet.’
    This is all to say, that while my difficulties over the last few months barely compare to the SGM case, I was so encouraged by your clarity about reconciliation and peace. This is the type of real reconciliation I long for…. “And reconciliation, rightly lived as part of God’s cosmic work to
    restore all things, always subverts the empire of unjust power and
    control. It messes with thrones and powers and rulers and authorities. It takes them to task.”

  • nickelshrink

    I’m not sure anybody who’s as badly-educated in theology as I am
    should even come in on this, but I’ve been talking to a friend about the
    Wrathful God/we’re unworthy scum theology, and I have to come out with
    my take, that it’s wrongheaded and emotionally dangerous.
    The
    friend I’ve been corresponding with is in one of those churches, and
    hers is a good illustration of a differing point that another
    commenter made -  it is not intrinsically abusive.  Children in their
    church may be taught the Unworthiness gospel but are nurtured, not
    abused.  But Zach was not denying that.
    I think the
    we’re-pieces-of-crap theology sets up abuse.  It’s not just
    passively rich ground to plant abuse in.  Basic theology of God’s love has our inability to be sinless built into it, and doesn’t need to destroy members’ feeling of worth.  One’s church driving so aggressively the point about how utterly loathsome we are has, this is just me, a highly suspect agenda.

    It may not outright deny that God “so loved” the world, and its
    theologians might justify John 3:16 by saying, Hey, just because God
    loves us that much, it isn’t because we’re worth anything.  But that
    seems nonsensical to me.  And every time another of her friends
    declares to me “I’m suffering horrific losses and painful
    disabling illness but it’s still more than I deserve,” I think What in
    all that’s Holy are they teaching people??  How submissive does this
    require us to be, and how evilly will some people, from the merely
    power-mad to the seriously twisted, use that?  How wrongly does it morph
    submission to God into submission to people who…um, were appointed
    overlords by what infallible entity exactly?
    Strictly the opinion of a non-theologian who sees nothing in the
    Gospel that makes any sense except a God of incomprehensible love, way
    beyond human powers of understanding. If i’ve misinterpreted anyone’s views, it was not intentional.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      YES! That is EXACTLY my point. Very, very well put :).

  • MB

    I grew up my entire life in a Reformed Baptist church, and I think this post is incredibly necessary and timely. When I was 14, a man six years older than I manipulated me into a relationship. When my parents found out, they were naturally angry… at me. I remember going to a meeting with the elders of the church where they talked about how I needed to have more wisdom and discernment. I saw the guy every single Sunday for the next several years. I absolutely agree that the Reformed doctrine can be twisted into false reconciliation, rather than dealing justly with the issues at hand.
    I am certain that I would have rejected all things Christian is I had stayed in the Reformed church, but thankfully I found the Episcopal church. I am attempting to recover my faith in a loving God.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @MB so sorry for your experience. it resonates with some of what I’ve seen in a reformed baptist context, and it’s heart breaking. but to find the love of God in the wreckage of that kind of experience is the essence of redemption. prayers for you this evening.

  • csethrima

    “The gospel is about reconciliation, right? So if your spouse hits you, forgive them and reconcile. And if your kids are starving because of a father’s gambling, get some counseling from an elder and make it work, honey. And if some friends cheated you in business, or a church member is spreading vicious lies about you, or a family member won’t stop manipulating you into situations of terrible emotional pain, hey, it’s better than you deserve because you’re a hellbound sinner too, so just reconcile with them because that’s what grace means (i.e., subjecting yourself to present pains presumably less than the eternal pain of conscious torment in hellfire).”
    I typically avoid commenting on posts like this, but if this paragraph isn’t a straw-man, I don’t know what is.  I realize that perhaps you have had or have heard of experiences like this in churches.  But hey, I have a friend who recently told me about a situation of abuse at a mainline protestant church that was hushed up due to the fact that the perpetrator was a “well-regarded member”, so is it now okay for me to propagate this as the norm at all liberal churches?  No, not at all.
    It’s honestly just disheartening to me to see every person on here who disagrees with your arguments run over roughshod, while those who agree wholeheartedly or commend you for writing it are met with pastoral care and love. 
    As someone who would be lumped together with those crazy reformed-types (although I don’t ever refer to myself as such, or a calvinist, or what-have-you), I would say that my perception of your mischaracterization stems (and I know you will correct me when I’m wrong ;) ) from the fact that when I reckon with a tragedy in my life, I go to Scripture.  And what I find there is hope, not just when God’s love for me is on display (which is all over the place), but also when I recognize the incredible vastness of who God is and what God does/knows/feels/et.al as it relates to the brevity of me.
    Is it not at all comforting (and challenging) to come face to face with the fact that a God of infinity cares for a speck on the timeline?  It’s comforting in times of tragedy to recognize the smallness of my ills, because of the grace showed by an infinite God who cares.  But that God cannot be, if there is no wrath against sin…Christ is just a ridiculous side-story without the sin of the world that he came to bear, right?
    I guess I just have never been able to understand why when I speak to people who do not like Reformed theology, they close up or become angry as soon as my half of the conversation betrays hints of its influence.  Let me know if anything I said made sense.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      csethrima http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man. My argument isn’t a straw man. And yours doesn’t negate the very real experiences represented here, nor the allegations themselves. But other than that, thanks for the comment :).

      • csethrima

        zachhoag I wouldn’t want to negate experiences, that wasn’t my point.  My point was that it seems that you associate conservative evangelicalism with a pain-denying gospel that does not deal with abuse adequately.
        I would say, firstly, that it is unfair to lump together all of conservative evangelicalism together with the worst of it.  Is it fair for me to lump all mainline protestant churches together with the one my friend had an experience at? 
        and secondly, I think your statement is a straw-man.  This understanding of a pain-denying gospel that you propose those CE churches believe is really just a failure to see (or a denial of) the nuance of what they are saying when they preach on the topics of suffering and their response to tragedy.  I touched on that in my previous comment.

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  • Mar

    Just found you for the first time through Huffington Post … Just thank you. In the vacuum created when people stay silent about abuse, complicity does result. I have had these things on my heart, unvoiced, for so long … And then, your words appeared. Pure ointment to me and other spiritually abused while “friends” stayed silent. Recently someone said to me that abusers should be shown “grace” as well … But to leave such things unaddressed is not grace. It is cowardice. As you said, we are to tangle with powers that abuse, sometimes (if we are following the Savior) at great cost and peril to ourselves. It’s cost me a lot. And … Not one ounce of regret.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @Mar thanks mar :).

  • Nicholas

    This isn’t the only case in which Al Mohler has promoted men who have engaged in coverup of child abuse. Here is another case:
    http://thewartburgwatch.com/2012/11/07/phillip-gunn-sbts-al-mohler-legal-rightmoral-right/

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @Nicholas wow, thanks for sharing this. in the very least, it’s a good look at the realities of large, powerful institutions like this – there is cause for concern.

      • Nicholas

        zachhoag   It’s almost a parallel to the Paterno-Sandusky situation at Penn State, which makes all of Mohler’s big talk during the Penn State scandal ring hollow. Mohler’s a hypocrite. As they say, power corrupts.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          @Nicholas bingo.

  • J Scaggs

    T4G leadership speaks up. http://t4g.org/statement/

  • http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2013/05/sovereign-grace-and-saving-face-amended.html VirginiaKnowles

    Zach, as a mom of 10 and a longtime former SGM member, I just compiled a long list of links related to this lawsuit.  Yours is one of them.  You can find it here: http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2013/05/sovereign-grace-and-saving-face-amended.html

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  • GavinJohnston

    Another thing you say, “Where’s the guy that’s willing to lose his job?”  Exactly!  I’m highly suspect of anyone receiving money, a salary, and making a career out of ministry based on the New Testament.  Of course like public school teachers there are absolute diamonds in the rough and many harmless ministers doing a fine job, but overall it is a broke all-too-human system.  Wolves in sheep clothing.  You don’t think Jesus would be bringing the bullwhips into the pulpits chasing many ministers right out of the churches?  Of course he would be!  Using the Gospel to quiet abuse allegations is not much different than people in secular organizations using power, money, sex, and so on to do the same thing.  The Gospel has been used to start wars, kill people, and torture others.  The Christian Church as we find it today will slowly become insignificant so we should be making the naïve people still hanging out in the wolf dens that they are listening and being part of much ado about nothing.  Dry, dry bones.  A shell of the Promise.  As we watch more and more “666s” appearing on peoples foreheads where shall we go?


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