The Brouhaha in Brazil. My turn.

August 29, 2016

Over the course of the last two weeks, a great deal has been written about the hubbub involving the four U.S. Olympic swimmers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and in particular about Ryan Lochte. In spite of the urging of NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines with his Twitter “#moveon” campaign, there are more articles to be written, simply because there is still more news coming, not the least of which will be the announcement of any penalties to the four swimmers that might be imposed by USA Swimming, or FINA, of USOC, or IOC. Furthermore, Lochte’s anticipated addition to the cast of Dancing with the Stars in mid-September will bring the matter back to conversation even if there is a temporary lull in the meantime.

It is my observation that during the week immediately following the “incident”, most of what was published or broadcast vilified Ryan Lochte. A great deal of what has been written since that time has been aimed at vilifying the Brazilian police and judicial system and most of the media that weighed in during week one. Symbolic of that first week is the piece by Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post with its harsh personal criticism of Lochte. Week two is well represented by Derek Hunter from Townhall who wrote a screed against the media using Lochte and the coverage of him as his pawn in making his larger point. There have been numerous other recent articles that reference a USA Today piece as the paragon in journalistic investigation and reporting. And for those so predisposed it is being used as the near-conclusive vindication of Lochte’s supposed framing by the powers-that-be in Brazil and the media. Those who are fond of that USA Today article use it to suggest that subsequent investigation “proves” that Lochte was correct in thinking he was robbed at gunpoint.

There is at least some level of agreement in the articles from week one and all those since that time. I have yet to see any denials of the following: Ryan Lochte and more than likely all three of the others in his group were intoxicated. They pee’d outdoors behind a gas station. Lochte removed and probably damaged an advertising sign that had been attached to the wall of the gas station. There were men serving as security guards who showed what appeared to be “police” badges to the swimmers. Those men also had drawn handguns. A combination of U.S. and Brazilian currency approximating US $50 was given by two of the swimmers to the men with badges and guns.  Lochte is not named among the two swimmers who gave the sum total of $50. There was a Brazilian passer-by who served as a translator between the swimmers and the men with the badges and guns.

There are a few more things that really ought to be beyond any doubt or questioning, although some of the details in the following list are occasionally present, occasionally missing from week one and subsequent articles, largely depending, it seems on a.) the object of ones vilification, that being either Lochte, OR the Brazilians and the media; and b.) whether or not they suit the author’s prevailing narrative of what happened during and after the incident at the gas station.

The devil is in the details…sometimes included and sometimes neglected

  1. Ryan Lochte told his mother about the events of the early morning in question, claiming to have been robbed at a party. This resulted in his mother contacting the media claiming that all four swimmers had their wallets stolen. It should be noted that it is impossible to know exactly what Lochte told his mother and whether she passed it along exactly as it was told by her son, or if she embellished it in any way. In any case, this was not Lochte’s first mistake that night and morning, as will be noted below, but without a doubt it was the one that served as the catalyst for the eruption that ensued. By Lochte’s own admission, had he not mentioned “something” to his mother and subsequently discussed it with NBC News (see below), NONE of what has been written since (including this blog post) would be necessary.
  2. Ryan Lochte “over-exaggerated” his account of the evening and morning to NBC’s Billy Bush. Using more conventional language, he lied to Billy Bush and he lied to the world by virtue of the reach of that recorded interview. He lied about being pulled over by a car with no lights, the cocking of a gun to his forehead, about having his wallet taken, and being robbed of $400 in cash. He may very well have also “over-exagerated” about his heroics in standing up to the “robber” prior to having the gun cocked and placed on his forehead. In fairness, at least one of his fellow swimmers did say Lochte disobeyed instructions and yelled at a man with a gun. (Stop for just a second and ponder that. No really, think about that. Think about not only the potentially dire consequences of that sort of behavior, but also how recklessly irresponsible it was.) Lochte now claims that he was still drunk at the time he talked to Bush. If that is true, it may be an explanation for the “over-exageration,” but one can only hope that no one uses his intoxication as a reason to excuse it.
  3. Ryan Lochte adjusted his story when confronted by NBC’s Matt Lauer a few days later but only after the story began to unravel in Rio and, it should be noted, after he was safely back in the U.S. Lochte still maintained he was robbed at gunpoint but without a gun to his head. According to Lauer, Lochte also categorically denied that his story was in any way being used to cover up other embarrassing behavior that night and morning. This, as it turns out, was also implicitly false as he himself has subsequently termed his overall conduct that night and morning as immature and that he is embarrassed by it.
  4. Insofar as the newspaper reports, witness statements and apology letters are concerned, Lochte never surrendered any money during the supposed robbery at gunpoint. Instead, it was Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen who handed over cash. And as will be noted below, at least two witness accounts indicate that there were conversations, even negotiations, and an understanding among the parties about the nature of that exchange. Not intending to split hairs here, but for those who are arguing that new evidence supports the idea that Lochte was justified in “thinking” he was being robbed at gunpoint, that line of reasoning falls apart when, as it turns out, HE WAS NOT ROBBED. If anyone could possibly make the claim of being robbed at gunpoint by virtue of handing over cash, it would be Bentz and Feigen. To my knowledge they have not specifically claimed to have been robbed. And if they have and I have missed it, then their personal integrity would need to come into question, as you will soon read, but those assertions would also stand contrary to other witness accounts, and common sense…keep reading.
  5. Jimmy Feigen has confessed to having “omitted facts” in his initial report to the Rio police. He said he did so for the protection of Lochte. If you are being intellectually honest, you must reasonably conclude that Feigen knew that Lochte had done something that needed to be obscured either during the incident at the gas station, or in the comments following it. For his being less than fully forthcoming with the Brazilian officials, Feigen agreed to pay a negotiated financial settlement to the Brazilians for filing that false police report that will in turn ostensibly be made as a donation to a Brazilian Judo academy. For those who think that punitive consequences for filing a false police report is unique to a “corrupt Brazilian system,” you might want to research the consequences of the same sort of dishonesty in the United States.
  6. Gunnar Bentz, who is age 20, appears to have deliberately violated an “order” given by USA Swimming Olympic Team Director Frank Busch. That order, as reported in the New York Times, stipulated that only those swimmers who were over the age of 21 years had permission to leave the athlete’s village on the evening in question. Further, according to the New York Times, the entire team was warned about the impact of foolish behavior on not just the participants, but the entire team. Bentz chose to disregard both the imposed age limit and the warning about impact to the team. I have read nothing about any consequences due him for his blatant act of disobedience of the Team Director.
  7. Jack Conger, while more than likely a party to the drunkenness and definitely to the urination, seems to be the most credible participant and witness to the entire evening and morning, given the character and integrity defects among the other three swimmers, described above. His after-incident statement says that it was understood by the parties that the money that was exchanged was compensation for damages caused by Lochte to the advertising sign, and was not a shakedown or robbery. It was suggested to me by Twitter user @Matt_DeLancey, who has since blocked me (apparently because inconvenient facts that run counter to his narrative will not be tolerated), that Conger’s statement was given under duress. That seems highly unlikely as I am citing Conger’s account from his apology statement that was issued and published after he had returned from Brazil to the U.S..
  8. Fernando Deluz, the “good Samaritan” disc jockey and providential translator is also a witness whose recollection of the interaction between the security guards and the swimmers seems fairly unimpeachable, particularly when it is independently corroborated by Conger in his statement. It is Deluz’ attestation that the money that was exchanged was for damages to the sign and NOT as a result of a robbery or shakedown by rogue cops moonlighting as security guards. Interestingly, the details of Deluz statement, (corroborated by Conger) is published in several places but most notably is found in the USA Today article that so many feel vindicates Lochte.
  9. The dollar amount that was exchanged was in the neighborhood of $50. While assigning a value to the damaged sign might be difficult, this amount hardly seems grossly out of line. But more importantly, that dollar amount seems rationally more consistent with an attempt to provide restitution for the vandalism than it does a robbery. If it was indeed a robbery, as Lochte claimed, is it plausible to any reasonable person that $50 would satisfy the perpetrators when we have been told that they perceived the foursome to be “rich American athletes”? And apparently, the foursome left with their wallets with money still in them as well as other valuables such as watches and cell phones. If this was a robbery the “criminals” who performed it had pretty low expectations for a payday and ought to be the laughingstock of all the other street criminals in Rio.

Other observations

On Wednesday last week I watched David Marsh’s live studio interview on the SEC-ESPN television network with Paul Finebaum. Marsh, has as much recent, close-in, personal experience with Lochte as nearly anyone, being his coach at SwimMAC Elite. Marsh was still scratching his head about Lochte’s conduct and cannot explain it and will not excuse it by trying to parse the facts to suit some narrative that is favorable to Lochte. This to me is very revealing as it comes from someone who knows him well and who has made a career of coaching and mentoring young people like Lochte. In that interview that can be downloaded here (find Hour 3, Aug. 24, 2016 and advance to approximately the 22 minute mark), I was unsettled by part of what Marsh said that speaks to the person that Ryan Lochte appears to be. Marsh said that when Lochte moved to Charlotte for the purpose of training with SwimMAC, he called Marsh during the process of moving his belonging in with his friend Cullen Jones. No overtures to Marsh in advance of his arrival to inquire if he could join the team. And similarly, Marsh found out that Lochte would be leaving SwimMAC to move to Los Angeles from announcements Lochte made to others while in Rio. No personal conversations, no exchange of messages or emails between Marsh and Lochte before a public announcement. I will leave to others with the appropriate background to diagnose the psychology behind this sort of conduct. As a layman, I will characterize it as entitled, presumptuous and inconsiderate. Marsh seemed gracious about it all, but you could still tell he thought it was more than just a bit odd, as did Paul Finebaum. If you have not heard this David Marsh interview I encourage you to take the time to listen. Marsh has as much insight into the character of Lochte as just about anyone. And you can hear both his bewilderment and regret.

Almost finished…wishing Lochte well.

Lochte has admitted he made mistakes and says he has taken full responsibility for them. We’ll see. Only time will tell. To the extent that he has now lost four of his sponsors, he will surly be feeling the weight of that responsibility. As David Marsh said, this will be a very expensive lesson for Lochte. But ultimately, what will make this go away and in turn produce a truly favorable outcome is a visible change in the actions and attitudes of Ryan Lochte.

In his televised interview with Matt Lauer there did seem to be contrition, particularly when he reflected upon the impact of his actions on his teammates who were “stranded” in Brazil.  I hope that was genuine and the regret intense enough to push him to an entirely new level of self-awareness. I wish him well. It would be a shame for his significant athletic accomplishments to become secondary because they are over-shadowed by his out-of-the-pool missteps. But that is where we are right now. He needs someone in his life who will push him to grow up to a level of emotional and behavioral maturity that approximates his physical age. While that person or group of people may exist, the last 4-plus years have not made that fact manifest in his life. In the near term, Lochte needs a kind of close supervision that most 32 year olds do not. That is sad, but I fear, true.

To those who are his confidants and close friends as well as those who are his most ardent fans and admirers, it is not unreasonable to expect Lochte to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3: 8) before full trust is restored. It’s not a matter of keeping a foot on his neck while he’s down, it is a matter of NOT settling for the kind of nonsense that he displayed in Rio and the immaturity he has demonstrated elsewhere and at other times. To his credit, he apparently has a big heart, but it resides next to what almost seems is a teenage mind, all contained in a grown man’s body. I hope he retains the one, and grows the other to match the person he is chronologically. It’s time to grow up!


We Get Trump, Thanks To Rush

May 4, 2016

I will grant you that I do not listen to Rush Limbaugh’s radio program every day. But I do consider myself to be a “regular listener” in the sense that whenever I am in my car during the 11 am to 2 pm time period, I listen. And there are occasions when I listen to him on my computer when at home or in my office. I cannot say with absolute certainty that Rush has not made the declaration before, but I can say without any reservation that I heard Rush say for the first time today “Donald J. Trump is not a conservative.”

And there-in lies the problem. Rush is hardly bashful in calling out those who are “not conservative.” His ire is usually directed at democrats and other “liberals,” whether they be in the political or social realms and in the overlaps between the two. And he is unreserved in his criticism of those on the political and social “right” when they do not conform to true conservative principles. The GOP establishment is an example of one of his favorite targets. The exception to this rule however seems to have been Donald Trump, who we learn today from Rush, “is not a conservative.”

I am convinced that Rush’s fascination with Trump’s ability to handle the mainstream media, GOP establishment and other adversaries, clouded his judgment about Trump’s politics to the point of ambivalence. And in that fascination and resulting ambivalence, he failed his audience and by extension the country. Rush’s normal approach to those who are “not conservative” is to call them out and to squash them rhetorically. Had Trump been dismissed by Rush very early in the primary process in 2015, his ascendancy to now the presumptive candidate of the GOP and opponent of Hillary Clinton in the November 2016 General Election might have been avoided.

Rush demurs when identified as the heart, mind and soul of the conservative movement in the U.S., but it is virtually irrefutable that he is indeed a thought leader among conservatives. I contend that his silence on Trump’s political positions was deemed by listeners to be implicit support for him.

For the last month or so, Rush has attempted to defend his “neutral” stance on the GOP primary candidates, but the fact remains that he deviated from his normal modus operandi with Trump with respect to a thorough analysis of his politics and look at what we have as a result.


Parable of the SUV

January 21, 2016

He put another parable before them, saying, “A certain ‘mainline’ Christian denomination may be compared to an SUV. This SUV was large, and held many passengers. It was a vehicle that had been on the market for many years and the world was quite familiar with it.

For perhaps as many as 30 or more years, this make and model of SUV had an increasing tendency to swerve very sharply to the left when it was driven. In fact, it almost seemed as if the SUV would move to the left while it was parked. It was possible for drivers to steer this SUV straight down the road, but only with a great deal of difficulty. And sometimes, no amount of effort would keep it from drifting to the left.

This SUV’s tendency to swerve to the left was well known by most people. Drivers and passengers alike knew about this tendency, as did other drivers on the road. Some of the drivers of these SUVs hoped, some even prayed, that the SUVs would stop swerving to the left, but none of their efforts met with success. Interestingly, some drivers and passengers actually liked this characteristic of the SUVs and never wanted another kind of vehicle. They appreciated this left-swerving tendency.

Importantly, this tendency for the SUV to swerve sharply to the left was well known by the executives of the auto maker. Some of the executives were actually quite pleased that the SUV had this performance characteristic and encouraged the engineers to keep and even enhance this design feature. Some executives seemed mostly ambivalent about the matter. They did not say anything one way or the other about it. Finally, there were other executives, who, while they were very much aware of this characteristic, did nothing to correct it even though they had the authority to do so.

It so happened that one of these left-swerving SUVs was driving down the road. This particular SUV was being driven and occupied by people who really preferred that the SUV not pull hard to the left. Not surprisingly, the SUV went off of the highway to the left, and rolled over in the center median of the highway. By the grace of God, all of the occupants were able, without assistance, to exit the SUV. Miraculously none of the them were injured physically. Yes, they were shaken up, some were trembling from the experience, but by and large they were reflective about what just happened and importantly why.

They huddled together in the median a short distance from the overturned SUV and prayed with grateful hearts for God’s gracious protection of them. Almost the instant that they said their ‘Amen’, the SUV burst into flames and it burned until their was nothing left but a smoldering shell of twisted steel. Curiously, several other SUVs of the same model passed by on the roadway immediately after the accident, their drivers struggling to keep their vehicles from also going off into the center median, many of them alternately driving back and forth between the left shoulder and the main lanes of the road.

The driver of that burned-out SUV soon had a new vehicle. This time, one that was able to be driven without the dangerous tendency to swerve to the left. And all of the driver’s passengers were quite relieved.”

 


John Wesley

January 21, 2016

[Note:  I recognize that there are folks who will disagree with the conclusions of this post and perhaps even assume that I have some ax to grind in my writing of it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I read the book and have written my conclusions.  Those conclusions are not necessarily flattering.  But even the editor of the book, who you will see was quite fond of Wesley, at least intellectually and academically, made note in the book that modern-day Methodists ought not be judged on the basis of the man who is credited with the founding of this stream of Protestantism.  If you hold some particular fondness for John Wesley, read the book yourself and see if you find me to be too far off base.  But read it objectively.]

John Wesley Albert OutlerJohn Wesley, (copyright 1964) edited by Albert C. Outler (1908-1989), is one of the volumes from the Library of Protestant Thought from Oxford University Press.

To my surprise, I have enjoyed skipping around through this book and reading sections from it.  The structure of the book allows for this approach, as it is a compilation of Wesley’s sermons, correspondence, and essays rather than a biography of Wesley or a history of his ministry.  Albert Outler, was regarded as a serious Wesleyan scholar.  He assembled a variety of these types of documents mentioned above, and wrote excellent introductory comments and provided numerous helpful footnotes and references to Wesley’s writings.

My enjoyment in reading this book was partly related to my acquiring information about one of the world’s better recognized  theologians (although one who held doctrinal positions that I disagree with) and partly because of what I found to be,  shall I say, unusual things about Wesley’s mind, his style and apparently his approach to theology.  The word that I would use to describe Wesley would be eccentric.  That characterization is certainly not unique to Wesley, and I concede that many might describe me using the same word.  But some of his eccentricities are curiously over-the-top.

The section of the book that I started with was one that Outler titled “Theologies in Conflict.”  Chapter IV of this section is called “The Struggle With Calvinists.”  (It only made sense for me to start here.)  “The Struggle” contains two essays that Wesley wrote and published; the first in 1752, the other in 1775.  Both dealt with his rejection of the doctrine of unconditional election, or predestination as Wesley usually referred to it.  The first of these two essays, Wesley titled “Predesitination Calmly Considered.”  I could not help but find the irony in that title because in reading the essay I felt like Wesley’s writing displayed neither calmness nor factual consideration.

Here are a few of my observations.  I hope that anyone who reads this will believe that these are not intended to be disrespectful of Wesley.  Clearly he was a brilliant man and his dedication to his understanding of the scriptures is beyond question.  Instead, the comments below are simply the impressions that I was left with from reading the very words of the man himself.

  • Instead of drawing comparisons between historic Calvinism and Wesley’s preferred Arminianism, he latches on to what would more accurately be described as Hyper-Calvinism.  This is the strange starting point for his rebuttals, which at times were pretty cranky.
  • Whereas historic Reformed theology, as I understand it, has never uniformly embraced supralapsarianism, (aka double predestination) that is the exact assumption that Wesley makes with respect to the meaning of unconditional election.  He contends that all Calvinists must necessarily believe in unconditional reprobation, if they (we/I) believe in unconditional election.  In Wesley’s words, “unconditional election cannot appear without the cloven foot of reprobation.”  In making this argument, he seems to overlook the teaching of Genesis 3 and elsewhere in scripture pointing to the doctrine of the natural depravity of mankind, which, as I understand it, is universally held in orthodox Christianity.  It would appear that on one hand he rejects the imputed sin of Adam (compounded by man’s personal sin), while at the same time receiving the imputed righteousness of Christ, for ALL mankind, mind you.  Oops, there is another area of dispute with the Calvinists he did not address…Limited Atonement.
  • There is comparatively little in the way of calm discussion in these essays.  Snarky and sarcastic at times, Wesley seems to get wound up the further he goes with his writings.  An apologist for Wesley would probably dismiss his tone as being passionate.  But one would have to be completely oblivious to the tone that was present in his writing to conclude that his argumentation was “calm.”  His style would be more accurately described as polemic.
  • As you read his essay, you can see that he is constructing a dialogue between a Calvinist and himself  But, the Calvinist is imaginary, and Wesley is playing both roles in this drama.  In so doing, he sets up all sorts of overstated straw men arguments (that generally have little to no basis in historic Reformed theology) and then knocks them down.  If this were parody it would be funny.  But, these were really Wesley’s writings.  The image I have is of an old man sitting on a bench rocking back and forth talking to himself.  But in this case, not just talking, answering his own questions, out loud.

Thanks to Albert Outler and his comments preceding each essay, as well as his excellent footnotes, we are given a peek into what I will call the psyche of Wesley.

  • There are several places in the second essay of this chapter, self-titled by Wesley as “Thoughts upon Necessity” where he identifies some particular theologian who he disagrees with and then quotes them.  One in particular was Jonathan Edwards.  Wesley indents the sections of text that are the “quotations” and then subsequently disputes whatever has been said.  Outler, however, sets the record straight with his footnotes.  It turns out that these are not, in fact, direct quotes of Edwards and others, just a “digest” or even a “rough digest” as Outler calls them.  I suspect a student in a modern-day seminary would be censured or even expelled for taking such liberties in quoting sources, especially if they were represented as direct quotes and then used as a part of a systematic rejection thereof.  I have to admit that I was simultaneously amused and alarmed by what had been revealed about Wesley.
  • In yet another example, similar in nature, Wesley cites a section of the Westminster Confession, in order to refute it.  But Outler notes that it is “a garbled version” of the Confession.  This, and the example above, have left me wondering if this apparent, shall I say, defect, was typical of Wesley, or if these were some rare exceptions that happened to be concentrated in one chapter, in one book.
  • Outler also notes, in his preface, that Wesley was so well versed in scripture that it was often difficult when reading him to know if his references to the word of God and his citations of it were direct quotations of an authentic translation or something else.  “The line between an obvious echo of Scripture and a definite quotation is often blurred” is the way Outler states it.  Does this mean that Wesley was prone to being a little loose with his quoting of scripture, even in his writing, when you might assume he could check his scriptural references?
  • Furthermore, Outler noted that Wesley was so well versed in the original languages, that he wrote his own translation of scripture AND quoted from it.  While on one hand, Wesley can and should be admired for his ability to translate the word of God from Hebrew and Greek, I have to say, for me, any translation of God’s word that has the benefit of a single human editor is something to be questioned.  Pick up a reliable modern, essentially literal translation, and there will have been a team of Biblical scholars working together to critically assemble the translated word of God.  This approach eliminates the potential of a single editor bringing his own doctrinal bias into the work product.  To suggest that Bible translation was not done by “editorial boards” during the time of Wesley is refuted by the fact that the Geneva Bible was translated by just such a board, and its first edition was in 1599.
  • That said, I was somewhat astonished that Wesley used comparatively little in the way of scripture to support his disagreement with Calvinism.  While simultaneously challenging his imaginary Calvinist sparring partner in the essay to provide scriptural support for “their” Reformed point of view, Wesley most often provided none in support of his contentions, as if they were to simply be accepted out of hand.

Not a book I would recommend to the casual reader, it is certainly a good one at providing a peek under Wesley’s “hood.”  Kudos to the editor, Albert Outler, who I gather was quite an admirer of John Wesley.  He referred to his interest in Wesley as “a rather tedious menage a trois” between Wesley, himself, and his wife.  (Eeeww!  I think I would have steered clear of that analogy.)  In spite of his obvious affection for the man and his theological legacy, Outler did a wonderful job of allowing Wesley, himself, to reveal his peculiarities, idiosyncracies, and eccentricities.


An Open Letter to Pastor Mark Driscoll

October 28, 2013

Dear Mr. Driscoll:

I have a hunch that you will never read this letter, but since you have used this same “open letter” technique as a means to communicate with someone (as evidenced by your open invitation letter to Dr. John MacArthur), I thought I would I would give it a try myself. Actually, it’s in regards to that letter to Dr. MacArthur that I write to you.

First of all, I would like to thank you for your ministry. You have done a remarkable job of reaching a highly secularized part of the United States with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the Acts 29 network of churches is doing great work. I am acquainted with several men who are serving churches that are associated with Acts 29. Thanks also for standing against the unhelpful, even heretical theology that was typical of the so-called “Emergent” movement a few years ago.

Now, with regards to your open letter to Dr. MacArthur, I must say that I was somewhat surprised by it. I don’t presume to think that you care about my reaction since I am disconnected from the parties involved. But I’m not disinterested in the matter at hand. And since your letter was an “open” one and it could just as easily have been a private communication between just you and Dr. MacArthur, I am taking the liberty of responding as one who was an indirect recipient of the letter, given that it was posted on the Internet for any and all to read. Your letter to Dr. MacArthur was not some surreptitiously obtained, unauthorized posting of a private letter or email. You surely intended for it to be read by anyone with access to the World Wide Web.

Near the end of your “open letter”, you ask for suggestions on how your offer to Dr. MacArthur to attend and participate in your upcoming Resurgence Conference could be “more loving and reasonable.” I commend you for that. That’s a very gracious offer and request. So, I would like to offer a few suggestions, since you have invited feedback.

First, it occurred to me that a more “loving” approach to the invitation might have been to use the exact same means by which all of the other conference speakers were invited to participate. Were they were also invited in a blog post, that was fashioned as an “open letter”? If that was the case, then obviously you can disregard this suggestion. However, my guess would be that they received personal phone calls, personal emails, or personal letters of invitation. And I would not be surprised if I were to learn that some were even extended the invitation via an in-person, face-to-face conversation with you, or someone close to you. So, an “open letter” posted on the internet might fall a little short of the kind of expressed love you were maybe hoping for. Perhaps it’s only me, but the “open letter” could possibly be misunderstood as a bit of a stunt designed to elevate you and your thoughtfulness, while publicly shaming Dr. MacArthur if he fails to yield to your offer and drop everything he’s doing to accept your invitation. I’m sure that was not your intent, but I hope you can see how someone, including Dr. MacArthur, might draw that conclusion.

The second matter is perhaps a little delicate, but I hope you will indulge me. I trust that I am not the first person to tell you that you have a reputation for being a bit “edgy” when it comes to your inter-personal style.  I’m not sure I completely understand the expression, but I think I have heard or read your style described as “smash mouth.” I am guessing you know this since you point out in your “open letter” that you have been called to task for some of your words and deeds in the past. I bring this matter up now, because in your “open letter”, you go to great lengths to explain why you “dropped by” Dr. MacArthur’s conference in Southern California when you “happened to be in the area.” In the context of making your invitation to Dr. MacArthur more “loving and reasonable” you might want to reconsider the extensive explanation and defense of your actions, and simply apologize for the way that your actions might have been perceived. Again, I know this is delicate, but because of your history of doing, shall I say, knuckle-headed things, I’d like to suggest that it is entirely possible that some people might perceive that your actions during the Strange Fire Conference were intentionally provocative, maybe purposely antagonistic, even though you contend otherwise. I hope that you are tracking with me. What I am suggesting is that you should perhaps do less rationalizing and justifying of your actions and more acknowledging that because of your reputation and personal style, you are not really owed the benefit of the doubt, and that you then apologize (assuming you can do so sincerely) for taking advantage of the situation. And that you regret (if you really do) any problems or misunderstandings that may have resulted. Now, doesn’t that sound more loving than the self-righteous defense of your actions and your self-serving description of the incident that was presented in your “open letter”? In addition to being more loving and reasonable, it would also reveal a kind of humility that might surprise lots of people who may have incorrectly assumed that your appearance at the Strange Fire Conference was for reasons other than the ones you described in your “open letter.” I know that you cannot answer all the cynics, but I hope you can at least see how your reputation and personal style, mixed with the fact that you are on the record as being in disagreement with the particular doctrinal leanings of the Strange Fire Conference, might cause some cynical speculation about your real motives for simply “dropping by” for a visit without registering or being invited.

The third thing may be as delicate as the second, because I am sure that you are justifiably proud of your new book and are anxious for lots of people to read it. But I am trying to help you fashion a more loving and reasonable approach to Dr. MacArthur. Please accept this suggestion in the spirit in which it is intended, that is, of being helpful. The promotion of your book in the “open letter”, could appear to be more salesmanship and marketing than a loving and reasonable appeal for a man to adjust his schedule and change his plans on relatively short notice, to participate in your conference. Consider the discussion (promotion) of your book in the “open letter” in the light of the acknowledged fact that you were signing book copies and distributing them at Dr. MacArthur’s conference, on the property of a church for which you are not the pastor, without prior permission or invitation. Do you see how your mentioning the book so extensively in the “open letter” might be misunderstood? A relevant application of the teaching found in Ecclesiastes 3 might go something like this…there is a time for inviting a man to a conference, and a time for promoting a new book.

Finally, while I don’t question the authenticity of your offers, I hope that you will see the possibility that the various descriptions of your generosity (paying for travel, honorarium, you working without fee, waiving on-line charges live-stream, etc), could be misunderstood as singularly pointing out what a great and generous guy you are. After all, paying the travel expenses for out-of-town conference speakers and offering honorarium is not out of the ordinary, and Dr. MacArthur himself streamed the Strange Fire Conference for free (because the conference sold out). So, you are not really offering anything unusual or extraordinary, nor something that merits special attention by Dr. MacArthur. In other words, I am guessing that the descriptions of your benevolence will probably not be persuasive to your intended reader. But the way in which you present them for the benefit of all of the other recipients of your “open letter” on the Internet, seems to have at least the faint fragrance of some species of pride, maybe even hubris, though I am pretty sure that was not your intention…right?

There were a few other matters in your “open letter” that deserve some conversation, but perhaps another time. Like your assertion that because the “majority of Christians” are not cessationists, there must be something inherently right about continuationism. This logic falls in the category of “everyone is doing it”, and is not particularly convincing. Using that same approach, I could say that because all Christians continue to sin from time to time, it must be okay. Like I said, perhaps another time.

Thanks for reading and graciously receiving my suggestions. I hope that they will help you make the more loving and reasonable offer to Dr. MacArthur that you were hoping for.

God bless you and your ministry, and God bless your Resurgence Conference early next month,

Chuck Thomas


Reflections on T4G 2012

April 14, 2012

I returned home Friday afternoon from Together for the Gospel 2012, held in Louisville, KY.  It was a remarkable week, and Lord willing and if the resources are available, I am looking forward to attending the conference again in 2014, and this time taking Leigh with me, if she is interested.  This was the first time I have attended a T4G conference, although I have been aware of the conferences since 2008 which was the second time it was held, the first being in 2006.

For anyone unfamiliar with T4G, this page gives a brief background on its origins and also an entry into their website where more information can be found about this year’s conference.  In brief, T4G is a biennial conference held primarily for pastors, but others do and may attend.  However, since it is targeted to pastors, lay persons may find the topics and the vocabulary a rung or two higher than would be found at conferences aimed primarily at the laity.  While it is a bit of a strained analogy from the outset and breaks down on many levels, T4G could be thought of as for pastors, what Passion is for college students.

Following are a few reflections on my experience in Louisville this past week.

General Sessions  There were 9 General Sessions, each with a different man giving the session message.  By virtually any definition, each of these men would be considered a “celebrity pastor.”  And that description is not meant to be disparaging, but instead to state that each is well-known beyond the sphere of their primary pastoral responsibility.  The T4G founding four (Al Mohler, Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney, and Ligon Duncan) all delivered messages in the general sessions.  Conference regular Thabiti Anyabwile also presented, but because of conflicts, John MacArthur and RC Sproul could not attend this year.  In their place, David Platt, Matt Chandler and Kevin DeYoung were included among the general session presenters.  Each delivered excellent messages, all focusing in one way or another on the sovereignty of God.  It was my opinion, confirmed by others since the conference that David Platt is the one who may have delivered the Grand Slam of all General Session messages.  It was remarkable in many ways and can be watched here

Singing  Each General Session was initiated with congregational singing.  And this preparation for worship was nothing short of amazing.  The songs were either traditional hymns, or contemporary songs which for the most part are the product of Sovereign Grace Music.  Bob Kauflin from SGM led this singing and the only musical instrument was a Steinway grand piano.   Another thing that was remarkable was the singing in an octave (if that is the right word) that suited men, who represented probably 98% of the attendees of the conference.  And 7,500 +/- men singing together was really quite impactful.  The other thing that struck me was that the songs were without exception more theological than the usual “love songs for a savior” that have become so popular in recent years.  The distinction being that most if not all of the songs that were sung at T4G were expressions of the Gospel, which is God’s love song for sinners.

Oh, Brother  I am evidently more “Presbyterian” than even I thought, although this may not come as a great surprise to others.  I don’t recall another 3 day period of time, ever, when I have heard the word “brother” or been referred to as “Brother” more than I did between April 10 and 12.  I get that it is supposed to be an affirmation of our common position with other believers in Christ, but for me, a little of it goes a long way.  On some level its welcome was a bit worn out, not unlike how the term “dude” wears a bit thin.

Attendees  At the beginning of the conference, an informal demographic analysis was done by asking people to stand up, or remain standing as various criteria were set out.  Naturally, a great many were pastors, or on church staffs.  Attendees were of all ages from, 8 (sons of attendees, probably home schoolers) to in their 80’s.  Folks were from all over the world, with Malaysia and New Zealand being among the furthest distances.  And it was acknowledged that there were more women in attendance, although it is worth mentioning that none were pastors, although that certainly would have been newsworthy and would have created an interesting dynamic for the panel discussion on complementarianism.

Fanatics  I was actually quite surprised and bewildered by the number of young men in attendance who I would describe almost as groupies.  After each General Session message, they crowded the front of the arena floor seating area trying to get autographs from any the 9 presenters and photos of themselves with said presenter at the same time.  What was most unsettling was their requests that the presenters sign their Bibles.  It just seemed a bit odd.  I always think of authors signing the books they have written.  I was not alone in my bewilderment that this was happening.  I have to wonder if the profile of T4G attendees has changed to this, or if the fanatics have always attended.  The good news is that the VAST majority of attendees were content to simply let the messages delivered by the presenters be their take-away from the conference.

Welcome to their world!  The men attending T4G had a little taste of what women go through in most public places.  There were vastly too few restrooms for the number of men in attendance at the KFC Yum Center.  The solution was to dedicate some of the women’s restrooms to the use of men.  What was a bit disconcerting was the fact that the conference was nearly 2/3 over before the organizers saw fit to bring about this remedy.  How disconnected were they from the regular conference attendee to have not been able to see the lines form at each break between sessions?

Peretti should write about this.  The irony is rich that the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is located directly across the street from the KFC Yum Center where T4G was held with literally thousands of Reformed pastors in attendance.  PCUSA is a dying denomination as a result of its questioning the veracity of scripture, the Lordship and exclusivity of Christ’s atonement unto salvation, and most recently abandoning historic orthodoxy with respect to the normalization of homosexual behavior for its elders.  I can imagine that there was plenty of activity in the spiritual realm and Frank Peretti has a skill for bringing this out in his novels.

The Up and Comers  Three of the General Session speakers are “young men”, at least relatively speaking.  But the founders of T4G openly affirmed them as guys for whom they have a great deal of confidence and feel good about entrusting the future of American Reformed evangelicalism.   And each of these three guys is the pastor of the kind of church that many new church planters hope to someday lead.  One of the things that struck me was that each of these three are regularly clean-shaven and none had any tattoos (at least none that were visible).  Draw your own conclusions.  But no matter how you land on these clearly and undeniably debatable matters, I would just say that there is very a thin line between contextualization and syncretism.  But that can be the subject of another post.

Grateful  While I know that none of the organizers of T4G will read this post, I do want to say that I am grateful for their efforts in putting together and executing the conference.  And I am grateful to Leigh who took care of things at home while I was away.  And I am grateful that I was chosen before the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless before him, adopted according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace.


Washed and Waiting

March 5, 2012

Washed and Waiting – Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill is an important book to be read by anyone who finds themselves in a leadership role in the church, and frankly is a helpful one for anyone who finds themselves involved in ministry.  Given the protestant doctrine of the “priesthood of believers,” that would be everyone who claims the identity of “Christian.”

Wesley Hill is a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.  He grew up in a decidedly evangelical family setting, was educated at Wheaton College, holds an M.A. in Theology from Durham University in the U.K., and is working on a PhD. in New Testament.  He also candidly admits to having same-sex attraction.  And these, are not transient feelings.  By his admission, he is a homosexual.

But unlike some “gay-Christians,” Hill is not advocating for a tolerance of homosexuality within the Christian church.  He concedes that to do so would necessitate a rejection of the perspicuous teaching of scripture on the subject of homosexuality.  Instead, he vigorously embraces and defends the teaching of scripture and in light of it, has chosen to live a celibate life.

And it is this decision and its implications that make up the essence of his book.  He shares openly about his experience and his struggles and in so doing provides not only a very important insight into the ways in which the church is failing to be real ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a specific segment of unbelievers, but is also failing to be the kind of shepherds it ought to be of those who are believers and who struggle with same-sex attraction and homoerotic urges.  Understanding this failure of the church is critical if we are to be the body of Christ that we are expected to be.

But the book also provides great encouragement to those who are completely unacquainted with the struggles of homosexuality.  You see, every believer is both “washed” and “waiting”.  While we have been redeemed and set free from the bondage of sin in the matter of the doctrine of our justification, we still struggle with sin in the course of our being progressively sanctified, and as we look expectantly to our goal of complete Christ-likeness in glorification. Our persistent struggles may not be same-sex attraction and homoerotic urges.  But many of those struggles that we can name in our own lives, stand in opposition to the clear teaching of scripture.  If we are to live faithful lives, we know that we must resist them, taking on a form of celibacy against those sinful inclinations. Hill’s book describing his journey as a Christian and homosexual stand as a great example for those who are Christian and whose sinful proclivities have nothing to do with sexuality at all.

Read this book.  It offers some helpful and important insights into the subject of homosexuality in the church, and Hill’s testimony of his own life offers a great example for everyone who professes to be a Christian, washed and waiting.