Closed Belief Systems – How Can They Possibly Be ‘Missional’?

"A closed belief system is a meme (i.e. a set of beliefs) which includes the belief that criticism of the meme is wrong and must be discouraged."

Big Horn Medicine Wheel
A Native American sacred site and National Historic Landmark in Wyoming


Before we started blogging, Dee and I each served for a year on the Community Panel for our regional newspaper.  We served concurrently for six months, and the editors with whom we met on a monthly basis had their hands full.  It was a fantastic experience.  We were encouraged to provide constructive criticism in order to help management see the newspaper through its readership's eyes.  The panel consisted of liberals, moderates, and conservatives.  We fell into the latter category, which might come as a surprise to some.  It was while we were on the panel together that we announced our vision of starting this blog. 

During our tenure, we realized that while the newspaper editors saw themselves and their colleagues as being fair and balanced, we firmly believed that overall the coverage was biased.  When we shared this observation with them, they were shocked!  We did our best to convey that from our vantage point, theirs is a closed system.  Journalists tend to talk amongst themselves and stay somewhat isolated from the rest of us.  As long as one believes he/she is being objective, healthy change will not occur.

Perhaps that is the best analogy we can use to describe what we believe is occurring in Calvinista cliques.  They are closed systems.  Here is a helpful description of such a belief system.

Closed belief systems are a powerful tool for causing large numbers of people to take actions that are generally harmful (or even against their own best interests) while believing they are doing so for a greater good. As such, they are very attractive to powermongers, who often use promotion of a specific closed belief system as a way of gaining personal power. The relationship between powermonger and meme is symbiotic: the meme gains promotion from the powermonger, and the powermonger gains power through control of the meme-infected population.

Fundamentalist branches of most religions are, almost by definition, closed belief systems.

While the Big Horn Medicine Wheel (pictured above) has little, if anything, to do with closed belief systems, it serves as a visual depiction of groups like The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), among others.  These like-minded individuals keep together inside the perimeter of the circle and limit their interaction with the outside world, which is comprised of both Christians and non-Christians. 

In case you haven't noticed, we have a vast array of readers and commenters here at TWW.  They range from strong brothers and sisters in Christ to agnostics and atheists.  We are amazed that we have loyal readers who once professed to be Christians and enjoy reading our faith-focused posts.  When they comment, we respect their opinions, although we might disagree.

What happens to those who post challenging comments on a number of blogs linked to The Gospel Coalition?  Often, they get deleted!  We have had a number of commenters testify that they posted comments on various TGC blogs, only to have them subsequently removed.  Some commenters have been banned.  So much for being missional. . .

In this post and the next, I plan to focus specifically on The Gospel Coalition, which is one of the driving forces behind the Calvinista movement.  About nine months after we started blogging, I investigated a relatively new organization, and here is a portion of what I wrote:

"First there was the Rainbow Coalition, founded by Jesse Jackson in 1984. Then we had the Christian Coalition organized in 1991 by Pat Robertson. Now we have the Gospel Coalition established by Don Carson and Tim Keller in 2007. When the average person hears the word “coalition”, this will likely be their thought pattern…

As background for understanding the formation of The Gospel Coalition (TGC), we highly encourage you to read Colin Hansen’s article entitled: “Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is making a comeback — and shaking up the church” , which was featured in the September 2006 issue of Christianity Today.

Dee and I are faithful subscribers to Christianity Today (CT), and I will never forget the day Dee called and said that her CT magazine had just arrived in the mail and that I really needed to read Colin Hansen’s article. She and I didn’t know that much about Calvinism in 2006, and we had absolutely no idea that we would get sucked into learning about Reformed theology through a very bizarre set of circumstances. When I first read “Young, Restless, Reformed”, I’ll confess … I didn’t understand it. I recognized a few names mentioned in the article (John Piper, Al Mohler, and R.C. Sproul), but that was about it. Who were C.J. Mahaney and Mark Dever?

Two years later, EVERYTHING changed! Dee and I began to do extensive research on trends within Christendom, and the light bulb came on, so to speak. Everything became VERY CLEAR! One of the reasons The Wartburg Watch exists is because we are terribly concerned that this Reformed crowd is causing deep division within the body of Christ. We cannot stress this enough. Colin Hansen wrote another CT article entitled: “Tethered to the Center” which was published on October 17, 2007. Hansen explains that The Gospel Coalition was launched in May 2007 with a conference headlining D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper. It took place in the chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS).

According to the CT article, the 500+ attendees were invited by word-of-mouth because the organizers “wanted to test their ideas on a relatively small, friendly group.” According to the article, TEDS initially funded The Gospel Coalition, “but the stakeholders’ churches paid back the seminary. The coalition has also received a substantial grant from the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at TEDS.” Hansen writes: “This new group, spearheaded by 40 stake-holding theologians and pastors, has big goals. They want nothing less than a renewed evangelical commitment to core confessional beliefs. And they have the strategy to match their ambitions.” The Gospel Coalition is made up of a diverse group of theologians, including some familiar names (if you’ve been keeping up with our blog)…

There is so much more to say about The Gospel Coalition and the Calvinistas who support it. We have focused quite extensively on some of the ring leaders of TGC in previous posts. As previously stated, we believe the Calvinista movement (not to be confused with the real Calvinists who are tolerant of differing beliefs regarding God’s sovereignty verses free will) is causing great damage to the body of Christ by pitting Christian against Christian. It seems to be a tool Satan is using to bring about disharmony in God’s family, and we are very saddened by it all."

Five years have passed since The Gospel Coalition was established, and in recent days we have begun to see the underbelly of this organization.  Just to reiterate, Dee and I were chatting on the phone on Monday about the post she was writing.  We had observed the growing friendship between John Piper and Doug Wilson (who came and spoke at the 2012 Desiring God Pastors' Conference) and the numerous posts over at TGC's website either by or about Doug Wilson.  Several have appeared recently.  Dee and I agreed that she needed to link to one of these posts to show that TGC  holds Doug Wilson in high esteem.  She was in a hurry to finish the post that afternoon, and she quickly linked to a post written by Jared Wilson.  Dee confessed that she did not take the time to read Jared's post; however, some of our astute readers did.  They went over to Jared Wilson's blog and challenged him on his quip about husbands 'conquering' their wives.   

It seems that Dee's link to that post and Wade Burleson's related article brought some unwanted attention to Jared Wilson's blog (which is linked to TGC's website) as well as and The Gospel Coalition.  We now see the inclusion of that link as "providential".  It certainly appears to us that Almighty God wants us to discuss these serious matters, and MANY are chiming in.

I have had a wonderfully busy day with both of my daughters who have needed my help, and I am burning the midnight oil.  You will not want to miss the upcoming installment which will focus on how Jared Wilson's post about Doug Wilson has gone viral.  It appears that we are reaching a tipping point, and Dee and I believe Christendom will be the better for it. 

Lydia's Corner:  Zechariah 14:1-21 Revelation 20:1-15  Psalm 148:1-14  Proverbs 31:8-9


Closed Belief Systems – How Can They Possibly Be ‘Missional’? — 116 Comments

  1. I’m still perplexed that Keller hasn’t shown up to say something. He’s one of the few in the TGC that I mainly respect.

  2. I have been reading this nonsense from Wilson for years and expected so much more from the Gospel Coalition. But Wilson isn't the only one with nutty views of marital sex. I remember reading the Bayly brothers (both PCA pastors, mean-spirited and misogynists) talking about birth control and the need for men to "unsheath their swords," and that men are the ones who pierce, women are the piercees.

    And then there is James McDonald (not the Harvest church guy but the husband of Stacy who wrote her treatise on stay at home womanhood, both leading patriocentrists in homeschooling circles). He quoted Victor Hugo one Valentine's Day, describing the bride in her wedding night chamber as "gently alarmed and sweetly terrified" by "the husband the priest." Perhaps in other circles, this would be merely literary but coming from patrios who teach the concept of the husband as "prophet, priest, and king" of the home, and in the context of Wilson's Fidelity book, which McDonald promotes on his church website, it goes far beyond literature.

    The fact that these are closed systems that feed only on these distorted views of marriage is scary. And all of this after the Driscoll sex book stuff, what gives? And why the need for sex to belong to men? Curious minds want to know.

  3. Curious minds? That would imply *thinking* and you know, thatmom, we're not supposed to *think* but obey and be recepticles (somehow cowering in terror as if that is titilating in some way.)

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  5. This is a good post explaining closed belief systems. Several times I’ve noticed Cavinistas exclaiming in surprise “I don’t know how you can be offended! I wasn’t talking to you!” Jared Wilson tried that one in the comments of the original offending post, trying to explain that D. Wilson never told women that being raped was judgment. He was telling men that the rape of women was God’s judgment. Years ago Mark Driscoll used to say the same thing – he was not only talking to men, he was directing his thoughts to pastors. Of course all three (D. Wilson, J. Wilson and Driscoll) publish this personal discourses for the purposes of fame and fortune, oops, for the edification of men only.

  6. "And why the need for sex to belong to men? Curious minds want to know."

    I believe that this bizarre view of marital sex ties in to the modesty/purity doctrines, which are intended to control sexuality from a very early age in children (especially girls), up to teens and adults. Girls are taught to fear their sexuality, to repress it, to ignore it until their wedding day then *bang-o, switch-o* they are supposed to turn into sex goddesses for their insatiable husbands, who were starved of all things sexual and now need to find fulfillment in their wives (whether or not the wife has any desires seems to be unimportant).

    I remember my own pre-marital counselling, my reformed-baptist pastor sat me and my beloved down, and with a very straight face informed me that I was to never deny sexual advances from my husband, even if I were sick or just 'not in the mood', because he had a god-given right to my body. Interestingly enough, there was no flip instruction to my beloved, that I had a god-given right to his body. Thankfully, my husband is not an ass, and he has never attempted to manipulate me with such misogynistic twaddle… I'm so glad he wasn't raised with such a mindset.

    I so appreciate this blog (thank you, lovely Blog Queens) and others that are speaking out against the bizarre, wacked, and weird in Christendom.

  7. Searching,

    You are so very welcome!  We’re just getting revved up!  There will be much more to come in today’s post. 😀

  8. Searching on–

    “Thankfully, my husband is not an ass, and he has never attempted to manipulate me with such misogynistic twaddle.”

    I almost spit my coffee all over the keyboard lol. I often say that to my husband…joking, yet so serious–yes, thank God indeed. I am glad my husband was not raised in this either. Keepinng our teen out of it also.

    Thanks for the interesing post Deb.

  9. I have respect for Keller, Carson and others at The Gospel Coalition. From what I know about the organization, it is good, and has a good purpose. I am sure that most of what is posted on their site is good and helpful.

    But as I have said before, associating with the wrong characters can destroy an organization and can negate all the good the one is doing.

    And associating the Gospel with bad ideas that are not consistent with the Gospel does damage to the proclamation of the Gospel.

    The guys over at the Gospel Coalition may begrudgingly end up owing you a big thank you for helping to point this out. So far, their judgment has been affected because these men they are promoting are also saying lots of good things, so they underestimate the damage being done to their reputation and the reputation and future of their organization.

    I am hopeful that they will sever ties with these guys. Keller lives and ministers in an area that is not “closed”. He has to know the damage this kind of thing can cause.

    It would be disastrous for them to circle the wagons, double down on Wilson and his kind.

    If they do that, they will eventually be preaching to a crowd that you can fit in a phone booth. AND the crowd will be crazy at that!

  10. “You are so very welcome! We’re just getting revved up! There will be much more to come in today’s post. :-D”

    Excuse me for being all “fangirl”, but Deb just replied to my comment!! 😀 I’ve been lurking and reading TWW for over a year now, and I’m practically a card-carrying Deb & Dee fangirl. Do you offer cards? I have a few empty spots in my wallet… 😉

    “I almost spit my coffee all over the keyboard lol. I often say that to my husband…joking, yet so serious–yes, thank God indeed. I am glad my husband was not raised in this either. Keepinng our teen out of it also.”

    Haha, thanks Diane. I did say it playfully, but like you said, there’s a serious side to it.. I am very very thankful for my husband, who respects me as a full human being, and doesn’t view me as a ‘receptacle’ for him to conquer.

  11. If they were accurately portraying themselves through their name, it would be called The Alpha Male Coalition because the alpha male is the only one to benefit from the spew that emerges from their collective keyboards.

    Woman’s sexuality is feared and to be controlled at all costs and children and teens are neutered particularly girls that are sheltered and hidden under voluminous prairie dresses and birkinis.

    This outward pseudo holiness is not the true Gospel nor is it particularl attractive to the casual onlooker.

    Little wonder it is a closed system.

  12. Excellent post. I had only read TWW once or twice before this recent incident, and I think your writing on the subject is fantastic.

    I think the “closed belief system” is perfectly illustrated by the way Jared Wilson conducted himself in the comments section of his post: clearly, if you disagree with the Doug Wilson quote, you must actually be too stupid to understand it…

    Incidentally, the Calvinista love for/friendship with Doug Wilson is nothing new. I was heavily involved with a Sovereign Grace Ministries church in my college years (thank God I was freed from that), and I remember Wilson’s books on marriage and courtship being sold and promoted at New Attitude conferences circa 2005.

  13. Ryan M

    Thanks for your comment. It was spot on!

    I am glad you can see the problem so clearly. I am concerned for those who blindly follow these guys.

    This discussion is long overdue. May our brothers and sisters in Christ have eyes to see what is really going on here.

    I hope you will continue to comment.

  14. Deb –

    Are they missional? As we saw from Jared’s interaction with other “believers,” some of whom may be in TGC churches, some who have been Christians longer than he has been alive, ALL having the same Spirit indwelling them, yet he couldn’t hear the problem with what he posted and instead degraded those who commented (apologize?) He didn’t see how it actually detracted from the Good News, instead of pointing people to it. It makes me wonder . . .

    1) Does TGC realize that anyone and everyone (believers and non) can read what is on the internet?

    2) Do they care?

    3) Do they just want to be right?

    4) Do they realize that post was not even about the Gospel?

    5) Was that post helpful to people? (Besides the fact that God can use it however he pleases!) Did it teach us truth about God?

    6) Did Jesus interact with those around him in this manner? (And, no, I don’t think Jesus was a wimp!)

    The main thing I got out of the post was condemnation toward the world because they have screwed up views about sex. But, HONESTLY, so do many Christians! But Jesus didn’t come to fix our sex lives, though it might be a welcome by product for many 🙂 I just don’t see that anything on that post was helpful to a passerby who read it (certainly not missional). So what was the point of it? Jared liked the quote and felt he had to connect it to 50 Shades and share it with the world?

    My question, “Was it Holy Spirit inspired?”

  15. Bridget

    The Gospel Coalition claims to be missional. If this is an example of missional, may God have mercy on their victims.

  16. Anonymous on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 10:02 AM, you said:

    “Keller lives and ministers in an area that is not “closed”.”

    Can you elaborate on what you mean?

    None of the Gospel Coalition members / contributors live in a kind of geographically or physically closed commune. They physically live in the real, open world along with everyone else.

    But it seems their minds and interactions are what occupy an area that is closed.

    A large part of their job is to think and communicate, and be the recipient of the thinking and communicating of others. It truly seems like they are very insular in this, feeding off each other.

    And as one of them grants themself the time and opportunity to think and analyze a topic until their brain begins to turn inside out like a paper cup — sort of like a self-imposed stranding alone on a deserted island & getting quite peculiar because of it — …. their “peculiar” ideas become a book or article or speaking topic, and the group receives it and mistakes the peculiarity for godly insight. This is how their ideas are fed.

    We could very well call “peculiar” weird, goofy, odd, etc.

    While this all really bothers me, this is the worst part: it’s not even all that relevant (whether or not it be true and correct). Exploring topics for the sake of exploring topics. And getting praise, fame, and revenue out of it.

    And in the end, as my dad says with a scowl, “It didn’t matter a hill o’ beans!”

  17. Elastigirl:

    I was referencing the fact that Keller went to Manhattan about 20 years ago and started a church and has ministered there since with some considerable impact.

    I have been to Redeemer. It is not anything like what I am reading about goes on in Moscow, ID.

    Have you read any of Keller’s stuff or heard him preach? If you had, you might have a better grasp of what I am talking about.

    Keller has just written a book on marriage. I saw him on a show on MSNBC talking with the hosts and other guests about it. NYC is the media capital of the world.

    It’s not the Keller simply has an NYC address. Keller lives with, works with and ministers to New Yorkers.

    What I am saying is that Keller does not agree with this Wilson guy, and that Keller is wise enough to see how unbalanced all of this is.

    If you get a chance to hear a couple of his sermons or read one of his books you may grasp what I am trying to say.

  18. We may reach a tipping point on this one dustup, but I don’t hold out too much hope of changing the closed system. Those within it simply have too much invested to allow it to be weakened.

    One of the marks of those in a closed system is that there is really no way to seriously engage them in dialogue because opposing views are considered a threat, not a conversation. As a result, those who bring a different perspective are often dismissed, as we saw in Jared Wilson’s responses to recent criticism. This was extremely disappointing, but not really surprising.

    Other sectors of Christendom also have a vested interest in their closed system. John MacArthur’s empire is one of those. They ended comments a few months ago on the gty blog, then re-opened them about a month ago with severe warnings that basically said dissent would not be tolerated.

    I pray for God to soften hearts, but I think the task of cracking open these systems is going to be very, very difficult.

  19. I’m thinking one of the biggest problems with TGC and the YRR crowd is that none of them have to answer to any woman in any meaningful way. They are the masters of their homes and the lords of their churches. This is NOT how the real world works. I’m employed by a Fortune 500 company and work under both men and women. I can tell you that the shenanigans and belittling of women that goes on in these Calvinist circles would be totally unacceptable at my employer. I’d like to see these YRRs actually have to work for my employer. With their attitudes, they wouldn’t last.

    I could say lots more but we’re unwrapping the special guest pinata for Space Alien Cult Fest (a party full of joking and degrading) and I must go.

  20. John –

    Your comment about MacArthur’s blog is exactly what I don’t get. Why have a blog if you don’t want to interact with people? If you only want “atta boys” and commenters who agree with everything you say (or are they drawing attention to themselves for some other reason??), then make the blog some kind of internal church blog with a pass code to get into it (just like a real country club). BUT don’t pretend you’re missional and love people, and then tell commenters that they have to agree with everything you write, or that their reading comprehension needs help, and they are misunderstanding. Don’t have a public blog and then treat people poorly when they comment. It just makes the blogger look like a “spiritual bully” or “spiritual elitist.” Jesus was all about that – right? What is so hard about this 🙁

  21. Pingback: “Douglas Wilson Worships Zardoz,” and Other Inflammatory Accusations I’ll Try to Refrain from Making | The Back of the World

  22. You folks have to remember that the mindset of the Calvinists is from a worldview where God is sovereign over all things, particularly those who are saved. He controls who he chooses for salvation, in their minds, as they emphasize GODS responsibility to chose, versus MANS responsibility to repent. A typical evangelical lives his/her life with the awareness that there is a need to share faith in Christ with unbelievers. The “hyper” reformed population…………just leaves it up to God. No worries, man! So they DON’T typically have the same evangelical zeal…they usually just stay among their own sanctified, holy, set apart, CHOSEN brothers and sisters. They are not missions minded, in the same way that the rest of the evangelical world is.

  23. DebraBaker said: “Woman’s sexuality is feared and to be controlled at all costs and children and teens are neutered particularly girls that are sheltered and hidden under voluminous prairie dresses and birkinis.”

    When female youth group leaders instruct your high school daughter to wear clothing a size or two larger than her actual size so that her curves won’t show, and the young adults group pastor tells your college son that it’s his job to be the “spiritual head” of a girl he’s only taken out for coffee after class, it’s time to look for a new church.

    John said: “Other sectors of Christendom also have a vested interest in their closed system. John MacArthur’s empire is one of those. They ended comments a few months ago on the gty blog, then re-opened them about a month ago with severe warnings that basically said dissent would not be tolerated.”

    I live at the epicenter of John MacArthur’s empire. I know some here on TWW have great respect for MacArthur, but many of the men around him, many coming up in the ranks of GCC, and many TMC/TMS graduates in leadership of churches all over the country – and around the world, for that matter – are as off-the-charts-YRR as anyone TWW has discussed. There is a serious lack of humility, perspective, compassion, grace and love among these men, and I fear that their sharp edges will only be smoothed out by personal consequences resulting from their hubris and stubborn legalism.

  24. Anonymous

    As you know, Keller has been on my short list of approved Calvinistas. How do you know that he does not apporve of Doug Wilson?

  25. Dee, ex-Scientologists and critics (I’m a critic) are gathering on the East Coast for a weekend of eating, drinking, joking and degrading. Lots of interesting stuff going on.

  26. Thanks Sergius….glad you are listening….more coming down the road as I broadcast my second interview with Jon Zens in a couple weeks. He and I talked about the core doctines in the FIC and how they are influencing evangelical thought.

  27. The ideas on modesty etc….

    So what, pray tell, is important enough to make a public statement about when it comes to modesty and the culture? Take a look at this article in my local newspaper and the comment section where patriocentric Stacy McDonald, author of Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, addresses the issue. Is it any wonder so many people think Christians are nutty?

  28. Dee, ex-Scientologists and critics (I’m a critic) are gathering on the East Coast for a weekend of eating, drinking, joking and degrading. Lots of interesting stuff going on. — Southwestern Discomfort


    (Poor little clams — Snap! Snap! Snap! Poor little clams — Snap! Snap! Snap!)

  29. One of the marks of those in a closed system is that there is really no way to seriously engage them in dialogue because opposing views are considered a threat, not a conversation. As a result, those who bring a different perspective are often dismissed, as we saw in Jared Wilson’s responses to recent criticism. — John

    It’s like Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory, where any evidence against The Conspiracy is Disinformation planted by The Conspiracy, and lack of evidence for The Conspiracy is PROOF The Conspiracy is vast enough to silence anyone.

    The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

  30. thatmom;

    This probably just shows how incredibly childish and immature I am, but the very first thing I noticed about Stacy’s comment wasn’t the actual words, but soft focus 90s glamour photo avatar.

    As for the giant statue, it just seems like mid-century kitsch. Far from classy, but not horrible.

  31. “There is a serious lack of humility, perspective, compassion, grace and love among these men,”

    Jenny, You have just described the rotten fruit of the YRR movement.

  32. Jenny – I agree with you 100%. I have always appreciated John MacArthur’s teachings, but there is something amiss when I read the interactions between these men and readers on the internet. The grace and love is lacking.

  33. Jenny, as Deb and Dee know, I comment here once in a while and for lack of a better term, “I’m on their side.” I’m not a fan of ANY of the TGC guys, I’m not a fan of John Mac, etc.

    I have to comment though on your point about the dress of the teens, and sadly, their mothers, in most “churches” these days. From my angle, I see a LOT of women, dressing in ways that I don’t believe are appropriate for much of anywhere, let alone church. I see the daisy duke shorts, the shirts that are about 3 sizes too small, lots of cleavage, and on and on. Yet, I see no call for modesty. Pretty sad that I have to walk around my church staring at the floor.

    I realize I’m about to get killed for this comment, I just want to know when the command to “honor God with your bodies” was done away with.

  34. Dee:

    You’re right. I have not heard Keller say, “I disagree with Doug Wilson.”

    On the other hand, what I have read from Keller and heard from him and Redeemer is not like what Wilson teaches.

    Redeemer is not organized like Wilson’s place. Their priorities appear to be different. Keller is not trying to build a cloistered environment.

    Women at Redeemer don’t use the same language, act in the way that Wilson’s devoutees appear to.

    Keller has a new book out about marriage. I have not read it cover to cover, but it is different from what little I have heard from Wilson as reported on this blog and others.

    I suspect that Keller is not a paleo Confederate. I don’t think that apologists for slavery do too well in Manhattan.

    These guys are cut out of different cloth. They have similarities, too.

    But we have similarities with Wilson, too, and that doesnt’ mean that we don’t disagree with him.

    That’s the best I can do.

  35. Alan –

    The article that thatmom referred to which started the “modesty” conversation was an article where Christian commenters were complaining about a business that had a 1950’s era women in a bikini. They were engaging the world about “modesty.” I agree with some of their comments. But what is the point about going to exteme’s in conversation with nonbelievers about their dress. Will that help you share the Good News? Will changing someones behavior help them become Christians?

    The issue of dress in church is a different story, although many have been beat over the head with it. My daughter has about given up and resorted to wearing sweatshirts — sad! Do you have to wear a shirt 2 sizes too big? Should a man be considered your spiritual leader after a coffee (at all)? There are extremes in both directions to be sure. If a daughter is not yet saved, can we help by controlling their dress? We can gently encourage and help them to love themselves. But remember the next time you are “wondering why,” that you may be looking at a woman with a self-image problem and think what Jesus might lovingly say or do. He let a prostitute anoint him with perfume.

  36. Alan,

    “Pretty sad that I have to walk around my church staring at the floor”

    While I understand there is a time to look at the floor, both figuratively and literally, I think the conversations here at TWW show that the church needs men who see women, not as bodies with more or less clothing, but as people who you can look in the eye and say “hello” to.

    Perhaps you will be able to honor God with your body by looking for someone to shake hands with, to hold a door open for, to hand a bulliten to, to smile at, to talk to. And maybe the inappropriate clothing will – as that old hymn says “grow dim in the light of kindness and grace” – I paraphrased it a bit! Lol

  37. If the wrath of Tim Bayly against Tim Keller is any indication, Keller must be one of the good guys. Bayly spends a lot of pixels denouncing him on his blog for things like … gasp … allowing women deacons in his church.

  38. I would imagine Katie Travis Sitler has been taught to do this–

    “Take, for example, Nancy Wilson’s The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman. Here are just a few of Wilson’s claims about what submission means for married women:

    ■A woman shouldn’t go on a trip without her husband’s permission, because she is her husband’s helper and can’t help him if she’s not with him. (55).

    ■It is the wife’s job is to cheerfully submit to her husband’s decisions on all matters, including decisions about how many children she should have, about family planning, about child-rearing and education, and to support and help him in these decisions. (44-6; 60-1).

    ■A woman should only say things about her husband to her friends “that would please him to hear her say” (48). She should never share his flaws or mistakes with anyone, unless they are drastic enough to require pastoral or police intervention. She is always required to talk about her husband with respect, no matter what – so basically, a woman has to “show respect” to her husband even if he’s, say, an abuser or a pedophile (28-9; 34).

    ■A woman should not work to provide for the family, even if her husband refuses to work or they are in dire financial circumstances, unless the husband deserts the family (50-52).

    ■A woman’s body is like a garden tended and owned by her husband.* She is obligated to have sex with him whenever he wants, and to make sure that he enjoys it. It is a woman’s job to keep her husband constantly satisfied sexually: “A husband is never trespassing in his own garden.” “Your breasts are his to enjoy.” The wife should keep her husband “so completely sexually satisfied” that he is “like a wet noodle” – ewww. (89;91-2)

    ■Women who are victims of rape or sexual assault are obligated to forgive the perpetrators – meaning no matter how much trauma they might still be dealing with, or how triggering they might find sex, they shouldn’t “make [their] husbands suffer” by denying them sex (94-5).”

  39. Alan — Yes, some women in the church dress like they’re headed for the beach. In reaction to this, some are making an idol of 19th century modesty. Like me, all are the Holy Spirit’s work in progress!

    Bridget — Our youth leaders’ comments were to the entire group of girl campers last summer, but my daughter felt singled out nonetheless because she’s the curviest girl in the bunch, even at 5’2″ and 115lbs. She is a serious athlete and wears t-shirts and jeans most of the time which her dad and I feel are plenty modest. I think the motivation behind our youth leaders’ advice is their fear for their own teen daughters. By concealing their girls’ emerging physical maturity, they somehow think they can keep them from growing up.

  40. I was a little curious what Nancy Wilson teaches about marriage, having never read anything written by her and thinking about what kinds of things Katie may have been taught… and after reading this review of Nancy’s book, my curiosity is sufficiently shocked and repulsed. I would never read her stuff (although I would read a book by the first reviewer).

    “If our marriages are not in order, if our children are disobedient, or our homes a wreck, then we give the gospel of Jesus Christ a black eye. Criticism form the outside should be the result of our godly behavior, not our sinfulness….What a disgrace to read of Christians divorcing, children rejecting the faith of their parents, pastors forsaking their calling. Christian wives and mothers need to awaken to the need for personal holiness and obedience. Let us receive criticism for our faithfulness and fruitfulness and count it all joy; but if we receive it for our unfaithfulness and fruitlessness, then we deserve everything we get and probably more” (100).

    In the margin, I wrote, “HOLY CRAP!” And, I am praying that you are thinking the same thing. It’s atrocious.”

  41. Hi, Alan.

    I’m not going to kill you.

    My thoughts — what is modest is very subjective, from making sure one is completely covered (especially those naughty ankles) to not needing to cover anything.

    Also, some women are built in such a way that cleavage starts high, and simply is there unless they wear turtlenecks — what in the world are they supposed to do in hot weather??

    I think christian men are terrified of boobs.

    Is it possible to relax a bit, and not be so frightened by acknowledging that a woman is shapely? It’s just kind of a bummer — to have one’s body be taboo. Almost considered evil — at least that’s the feeling.

    Is it possible that even acknowledging that a woman looks nice and is shapely is mistakenly considered lust?

  42. Jenny, thank you for your gracious response.

    Heather, sorry to burst your bubble, but I’ve done every one of those things that you’ve asked. And no, wearing cutoff shorts and tight, shoulderless shirts (or whatever, you get the idea) is never appropriate clothing for church. For the record, I don’t like seeing guys dressed for church like they’re headed to the beach either, so it’s not a sexist thing. For the record (also in an effort to cut down the straw men attacks on me) my wife and I are full fledged egalitarians.

    Heather, I reject the kind of church where we just sing kumbyah and love everyone the way we are, blah, blah, blah, I’m ok, you’re OK. We’re supposed to build each other up, of course in a spirit of love. I’m just saddened that cultural standards for dress have totally taken over the church. We’re supposed to be in the world but not of it. Please tell me again why a “Christian” women wants to show off her body to the men of the church?

  43. I’m having trouble with the box here to post. Maybe somebody’s trying to tell me something 🙂 I wanted to add in my previous post, the church should be a place where if I am either sinning or heading down a path that’s not the best, someone in the church should be able to (in love) help me get back on “the path.” When I display an attitude of “how dare you suggest to me!!”, or “I’ll do as I please, leave me alone”, those aren’t attitudes that serve the church much good. I get that this is very hard to do, because it has to be done in love. But our “I answer to nobody” attitudes sure don’t help the situation much.

  44. Elastigirl, first, I appreciate the tone of your post and the fact that you aren’t beating me over the head. So, thanks for that.

    I fear that this entire topic is too difficult to even discuss in this forum because on all sides, it generates instant reflexes and characterizations. trust me, I’m not a prude and I don’t fear boobs as you say. I am in no way asking for a church where the women all wear dresses to the floor and turtelneck sweaters, and have hair in buns. That was one extreme that I am NOT in favor of. But I fear that we live closer to the other extreme, where the goal appears to be to show off as much skin as possible, and I don’t think that extremem is good either. Fair enough?

  45. Eagle, that’s over the top my friend. Now you’ve simply resorted to name calling and frankly, from all of your other comments I’ve ever read, you’re above that and I expect more from you. I’m not a fan of MacArthur by any means, but I’d take him any day of the week over a guy like Driscoll.

  46. Alan,

    I don’t disagree that Christians should be mindful of how the dress. That said, however, some of the things I’ve heard said to myself and other girls/women about modesty and dress have been ridiculous, including that having red nail polish on toenails is inappropriately arousing for men. My opinion, encouraging all Christians to think about how they dress is good, making specific lists of do’s and don’ts is unhelpful.

  47. Alan

    Could you email me and tell me what trouble you are having with the box? We are trying to keep ahead of problems. I assure you, when we want to tell you something , we will. We are not known for our reticence. 🙂

  48. Anonymous

    One of my daughter's dearest friends attends Keller's church. She is a sharp young lady and likes it very much.

  49. Alan

    On the issue of dress, I am totally conflicted. I was careful with my daughters as well as my son. i guess you could say that their dress fell squarely in the middle of the road in terms of modesty. But, and here is a big but, we claim to want people to come to our churches who are not saved. 

    The minute you leave the church environment, the rules for dress change and soceity, as a whole, does not necessarily view modesty in dress as essntial except in the work environment. So, if we want to be missional (really missional, not the fake stuff that the Calvinistas spout), the people sitting in our pews might look a bit edgey. We should see ghetto dress, prostitutes, druggies, etc dressed and coiffed in odd ways. In fact if we don’t feel a bit uncomfortable, maybe our churches are not doing the job.

  50. Jenny, to your post of 8:06, I say, Bravo for your and your husband, and I really do mean that.

    I’ve tried to avoid specifics, because I don’t want to have a list of “this is fine to wear”, “this is not fine to wear.” But I really liked it when you said your daughter wears t-shirts and jeans. Standard jeans and T-shirt would be a big step up from the type of dress I was refering to.

  51. Eagle, trust me, I totally hear what you are saying. I USED to attend a macarthurite church. “USED” is the operative word there. I still do battle with some of my friends who are in that camp. I’m not a fan of JM and his brand of labeling seemingly everyone else, a heretic. But for me, at the end of the day, I appreciate that at least he does stand for something, and I count him a fellow believer.

  52. Diane

    Interesting. She is to submit to him in everything but she must never work, even if her husband is out of work. This makes no sense whatsoever. I swear, these people are nuts.

  53. Dee, I’ll E-mail you and explain the posting trouble I’m having. I was making a joke about you all trying to tell me something. I know full well that you and Deb will call things as you see them. That’s one of the things we all like about this site.
    To your other post. I agree. I have ZERO problems with a non-Christian who comes to church dressed however. My issue is with Christians and the way some of them dress for church. I’ve tried to make the point that I’m not a prude, but I feel that we have gone to the total opposite extreme.

  54. Hi, Alan.

    I’m sure you’re not a prude. & sorry to immply anything like that. I was responding to christian culture in general, not really you.

    I do understand what you’re saying. But i also know that it is highly subjective. What one person can deem inappropriate would never have occurred to another person.

    There are certain things i like about my body (certainly not everything), and my body is as much me as my personality, character, talents, abilities, spiritual aptitudes, voice. I enjoy looking nice, in my own particular style, and dressing in things that look good on me — including those parts of me I like. To me, nothing is inappropriate or immodest.

    …the conclusion i’m quickly coming to at the moment is that the only “safe” way for a woman to dress in christian culture is to wear something baggy & shapeless that completely hides her form. Anything else, and there will always be people saying tsk tsk.

    And truth be told, some women are so well put together that even in shapeless, baggy clothes their form & beauty of body still come through. I suspect such a woman will be judged by christians wherever she goes. She will be left out, overlooked, not greeted or treated in a normal way like others. Because she is too dangerous.

    This won’t always be the case, but it will a good deal of the time.

  55. Eagle,

    I once went to a funeral Mass for the dad of a dear friend. By all accounts, he was a wonderful man, very devout, loved God with all his heart, kind to all, etc. But my friend was in despair: you see, our church had convinced her that Catholics couldn’t possibly be saved, so her dad was most likely in hell. I never forgot that… it’s as inexcusable and appalling as it is widespread.

    I pray that your grandmother is enjoying her reward, and I pray that you know the strength of her prayers for you even now.

  56. Interesting discussion about dress. I’ve felt both extremes in my time in the same church. On the one hand I’ve seen teenage girls dressed in ludicrously short skirts that even to a rocker like me looked a bit too micro-sized. On the other hand the introduction of some of the ideas from the “Calvinista” camp have created an artificial clampdown on normal male-female relationships. It’s sadly interesting how the weathervane has swung so much in about ten years and two ministers.

  57. @ Alan:

    I didn’t think what you said about modesty was out of line. But like Dee, I am a bit conflicted on this issue. When you grow up in the Christian homeschool community you get the full cocktail of modesty goofiness – hemline codes, miniskirt bans, warnings against purse straps that run between your breasts, etc. (Heck, just go look at Bob Jones University’s student manual!) After a while, you start to wonder why every third mom homeschool mom is wearing the same denim jumper.

    “Modesty training” was never a huge problem for me because if I tend to exist solely in jeans and turtlenecks. Personally, I’m uncomfortable with a neckline that goes too far below the top of my sternum and a skirt that goes above my knees; but that’s my personal taste. I don’t pretend to be able to defend it from Scripture or anything. But there were always those girls who got whispered about by the moms after they left, because they wore something the community deemed “immodest” for whatever reason.

    The other problem with a lot of modesty talk is that it’s one-sided. If a girl comes to church with a spandex tank top that shows off her breasts, she is called out for being “immodest.” But if her brother arrives in jeans so tight that EVERYONE at church now has WAY more information about certain parts of his anatomy than they ever wanted to have, that’s fine. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve actually seen Christian guys wear pants like that and get off scot-free.

    I always got the impression that the Bible’s idea of “modesty” was more in sense of not being ostentatious, as opposed to covering up as much as possible. And then of course we have the question of how to apply “modesty standards” to other cultures (think of the missionaries who made scantily clad Polynesian natives wear English clothes, even though it was 100+ degrees outside). So basically I tend to agree with Pam that getting people to think about how they dress and why is appropriate, but trying to make a list of “good clothes” and “bad clothes” can run you into problems pretty quickly. (Although I can definitely see your point about the cutoff shorts!)

  58. Per the bikini statue: A few years ago my mom, who runs a homeschool support group, got an irate phone call from a member who was upset about a billboard in a nearby town. It was for a dermatology practice and featured this painting (cut off above the woman's buttocks so nothing was actually "showing" but her back):,_La_Grande_Odalisque,_1814.jpg Lots of skin on that girl, yes? Makes sense, seeing as dermatologists deal with…(drum roll, please)…skin. Also, since odalisques were Ottoman harem girls, I'm not sure we should have expected her to be wearing clothes in the first place. This is one of only many stories I could tell of "art phobia" in the Christian homeschool community.

  59. Red nail polish causing, ahem, physical changes in a man’s manliness.

    I hate to break the news but if there was a shred of truth to this one, our Calvinista authors would be getting rich touting the alternative to the little purple pill.

  60. “A woman should not work to provide for the family, even if her husband refuses to work or they are in dire financial circumstances, unless the husband deserts the family (50-52).”

    As usual, just like with Michael Pearl’s daughter who is living in a shack with no running water while her “godly” husband studies Scripture several hours a day instead of getting a job, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 and 1 Timothy 5:8 do not apply to these people. The husband refusing to work in Nancy Wilson’s scenario is, according to Paul, worse than an unbeliever. I’m pretty sure the Puritans (whom the Wilsons revere so much) considered that AND desertion grounds for divorce.

  61. Hester

    I am starting a cult to ban the strange long denim skirts paired with polo shirts for girls and women in these movements. I think Clinton and Stacy ought to do a speical “What Not To Wear” if you are connected to a cult.

  62. On MacArthur. While in college, our daughter went to a MacArthur event and went back to college so confused that she almost quit being a Christian. We knew a theologian that attended the church she had been going to, and knew that he thought Mac was over the top. So we suggested she talk to him. He put her back on the right path. Mac is dangerous. God ceases to be a God of love and becomes a God hung up on whether people are terrified of him or not.

    On clothing. 20 or so years ago, we attended a church where it was coats and ties for the men and similar level of dress for the women. One year, I gave up dressing up for church for lent. First Sunday I wore some nice jeans and a short sleeve button up shirt. Several new people were in the church in similar dress and, when as usual I greeted the visitors, they warmed up to the fact that there dressing up was not a requirement.

    I do get uncomfortable with an associate pastor is in the pulpit in bermudas and a tee shirt to make announcements, and when the pastor is female, I do prefer a robe to something more revealing.

  63. Hester said: “… “art phobia” in the Christian homeschool community.”

    It’s not just homeschoolers, either. My niece travelled to WashDC with her public school 9th grade class. They weren’t allowed to visit the National Gallery because it contained “inappropriate art”. o-0

  64. Bill

    You are sure keeping your pulse on this thing! Thank you.

    Major problem with his apology-he does not mention his response to the numbers of people who objected to the post. It was the ESL comment, the reading comprehension comment, the tweet, etc. Frankly, we can all do dumb things. It was his response to the dumb thing that is idsturbing to me. Maybe he learned. I don’t know.

  65. The ESL comment was Doug, not Jared, but Jared didn’t call Doug out on it, which was disappointing. Still, I hadn’t expected an apology, so I’m surprised and grateful he did apologise and take the posts down.

  66. I am glad he apologized.

    Honestly, I was bewildered by his brashness in his replies to commenters and his tweets. I read one of his tweets just from yesterday-scratching my head here…


    @brandonsmith85 Do you know what hundreds of people yelling at you sounds like? Noise. 🙂 ”

    Are we just noise? Noise with a happy face?

    I am glad he (hopefully) does not feel that way today.

  67. As I observed 7/20 @ 3:39 – “I fear that [YRRs’] sharp edges will only be smoothed out by personal consequences resulting from their hubris …”

    I’m glad Jared apologized and I wish him well.

  68. Alan – I agree with elastigirl.

    But then, I am a former visual arts major who used to draw and paint nude models – male and female.

    I think that many evangelicals are afraid of the human body and freak out whenever it’s not covered up in a way that they deem “appropriate.” (Please note: I’m speaking in general, not referring to your comments.)

    There’s little doubt in my mind that tightly fitted cuts – for men and women – are currently fashionable, along with low scoop neck and v-neck tops for women. But – as others have pointed out – there are women whose curves are evident even if they’re wearing caftans.

    And on a personal note: I do get irked when *only* women are called out on matters pertaining to modesty in dress, because a lot of men (mostly younger ones) tend to pick clothing that’s extremely form-fitting and revealing. So why aren’t *they* singled out for it? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as my grandma would have said…

  69. I didn’t read all the comments responding to Alan, but wanted to say…

    I’m so glad when summer is over. You can count me among those who get tired of seeing people (especially women) dress in ways that are simply inappropriate. I’ve literally blushed and lowered my eyes when I’ve seen some women walk in church and I don’t think anyone would say I’m a prude in the way I dress myself or my daughter.

  70. Just want to say that I agree that there is a problem with immodest dress in our culture, including within the church. But, like my father-in-law often used to say, "They are stepping over dollars to pick up dimes."

    Seriously, a large fiberglass statues from the 1960's? Two other things that have hit Stacy's radar that she has made a public statement about have been the Sports illustrated Swimsuit Edition (tried to get a group of those denim skirt/polo-shirt gals to go with her to Sam's club to protest) and the Soul Surfer movie.

    I guess I just see those two things as much less damaging than, as that commenter in the article said, the real needs among women, like those who work in strip clubs or as prostitutes etc.

    Are you all familiar with the modest survey by the Harris Brothers who wrote the Rebelution?

  71. Eagle, I just read that Rick Warren tweet, ugh.
    Our church did his ‘purpose driven life’ book years ago, it’s still sitting on my bookshelf. That sort of insensitive and stupid (and insert a few other words) comment makes me want to burn the book when I get home from the USA.

  72. Numo,

    It seems that you missed my post from 8:31 PM last night. I stated in that post that the issue of dress (of course) also applies to men.

  73. Alan,

    I didn’t have a chance to weigh in on the modesty matter.  There is no question that immodesty is a problem in our society.  I have a problem with both extremes. 


  74. Bridget, Jenny and others who have responded re my comments on MacArthur and closed systems:

    Good points. I come to this with some knowledge as I have a close family member who is deeply involved in the MacArthur movement/empire/stuff. (and I have an MA in theology from an excellent seminary, though one that MacArthur derides:) The change in my family member and her immediate family as a result of their involvement over the years has been dramatic. My term for it is spiritual elitism. Don’t know how else to describe it. Serious lack of humility; concern only for those who accept their system; disdain for any others; and even justification of unethical actions because of aforementioned elite spiritual status; etc. If you have experienced it you’ll know what I mean, and it’s sure no fun being on the receiving end. MacArthur knows how to divide doctrine (though I don’t always agree with his conclusions), but what is the use of that if you don’t have love or compassion? Clanging cymbals, as the scripture says.

  75. Hmm…. In the latest from Blog and Mablog, it seems WE are the ones suffering from a closed belief system…
    “People who don’t get out much can suffer from a limited imagination, and consequently a creative understanding of metaphor is quite beyond them.” D Wilson

  76. ‘Don’t get out much’? Isn’t his empire one of those ones where people pretty much never come in contact with people outside of the group (excluding maybe the person working at the cash register at the grocery store)?

  77. “On top of that, they cannot imagine life outside their very own faith communities, as they like to call them.”

    Ha! Amusing coming from Doug Wilson. We can only dream of what life outside HIS very own faith community would have been like for him. He wouldn’t be pastor of a “kirk” (haha!). He wouldn’t be “faculty” at a college he invented. He wouldn’t have followers to buy his books. He might not ramble, rant, and act in completely asinine ways (let’s hope he wouldn’t anyway). He may have actually been a decent and kind person. Would have been good for everyone.

  78. Creative understanding of metaphor:
    “Darkeness Obviously Means Light!”
    “Bitter is clearly a metaphor for Sweet!”
    “What a shame you don’t get out much!”
    See Isaiah 5:20

  79. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it was a hack from some fanboy of Doug’s. I’m reading his latest diatribe and, wow, there’s not a compassionate bone in his body. He’s also got a really weird understanding of the Mark 5 passage about Jesus raising the dead girl – apparently the fact people laughed when Jesus said the girl was only asleep meant they weren’t real mourners. Personally, I think that laughing or ridicule would be the obvious normal response in that situation, even if you knew the person telling you was a great teacher and miracle-worker – people don’t rise from the dead, it’s a ridiculous idea, so of course people are going to respond to such a ridiculous idea in that way.
    And for someone who expends so much energy mocking people for their ‘feelings’ it’s pretty damn obvious his feelings dictate his own responses – his posts practically have flashing neon lights of emotion.

  80. No hack. Nothing to see here. Let’s keep moving / commenting.

    [I’ve deleted all the comments speculating about hacks and such.]

  81. I lived in an apt. complex years ago with MacArthur seminary students, college students and Grace church-goers.

    My misogynist, narcissistic husband (at the time) thrived while I and my kids almost died from the stress…literally. Health problems took over our lives and more than once we wound up in the hospital.

    And ironically, our Mac friends were there praying and bringing us casseroles.

    They refused to use any modern psychological terms to diagnose my ex’s stew of pathologies. I was once rebuked for using the term “dysfunctional” because it wasn’t biblical. And they never, never suggested I get help from any outside source…though I was pressured to go into MacArthur-approved counseling with my ex for his porn addiction as a “submissive” wife should do. It got to the point where I questioned my salvation on a daily basis. Five years…and now I have a legion of weird stories that have only just begun to make sense after I found blogs like this.

    I’ve tried to come to terms with this “movement” that has caused so much damage. I cannot bring myself to go to church anymore…even though this was over a decade ago and I’ve since divorced. I still see this behavior in differing degrees in many churches I’ve tried to connect to since that time.

    Nothing is changing.

    I miss fellowship and my children often ask why we don’t go to church anymore, but it just doesn’t feel safe.

    I can’t risk my kid’s souls, or their spirits, and most importantly, their future, to a closed-system church. I’ve too often seen kids grow up and shun their parents so they can stay in the system. I suppose I’m luckier than most. I got out. And before I got in…I really knew a loving relationship with the Lord.

    They tried to change it, but when the authoritarianism went away, so did the distance between me and God.

    For that I’m grateful.

    But the scars…I can’t read my Bible for comfort anymore. I can’t “hear” the Lord the way I used to. I feel…starved.

    I’d like to read more about others’ experiences with Grace Community in more recent times. My experience happened just before Wilson and his ilk were gaining some traction.

    Does all this start with MacArthur? He has longevity (something I often heard him brag about). Where did all this come from? And how does it matter? What changed, if anything, in the church? I’m still so full of questions because I want to find some hope that I can go back one day. After all these years…I still feel like an exile.

    Dear TWW ladies, thank you for doing this work. I know you take a lot of arrows for people like me who have to remain anonymous now. I don’t want to start a MacArthur bash-a-thon…really. The hardest part about my experiences was knowing that many of those people were actually very loving and their motives came from a good place. But the structure of the whole Grace system still confuses me. And it’s influence still frightens me. I need more information before I risk going back into any church system. And perhaps more than that…I need prayer. Thanks for letting me comment.

  82. Anonymous 1:09

    Would you be interedted in writing a post for TWW. I am very interested in your story.

  83. Anonymous,

    Thank you for your courage in sharing part of your story. I’m so sorry that happened to you and your children. I, for one, believe you are doing the right thing in keeping your children out of that system and taking as much time as you need to heal. I know it’s frustrating and hurtful and that healing is sometimes very slow, but you’ve done and are doing the right thing. I hope to hear more from you.

  84. Oh. Thanks Deb.

    I know you don’t want to MacArthur bash. But I’m really curious about some of your weird stories.

    I’m not a huge fan of MacArthur, but I did appreciate his lonely voice in the wilderness confronting Driscoll’s perverted take on the Song of Solomon.

    Like you said, I believe many people involved in these “structures” are loving. But they have been taught to look upon the structures as part of their salvation and the salvation of marriage and our nation. Many are starting to worship those structures attributing them to a narrow traditional view of God that has little to do with who God really is.

  85. Anon 1:09 – God bless you and your children. That’s all I can say because I have no words to take away the hurt you’ve been through.

  86. Thank you, Wendy and Deb, for your kind words.
    And yes, Dee, I’d be interested in writing my story for you if you think it would be beneficial. I have to admit, though, my heart did a little jump at the thought of any MacArthur people reading it, even though it’s been years and years.
    (I’ve read through Julie Anne’s blog…*gulp*)
    I’m afraid I’m not nearly as courageous as she is. And I have absolutely no support system (no friends or family to have my back. I’m very much on my own) where I’m living now, so I have to choose my battles carefully.
    I guess what I’m saying is…I’d love to be a light in this darkness, but it may not be a very bright light. 🙂
    Would you like to e-mail me? Or should I contact privately?
    (Anonymous 1:09)

  87. I read a book a couple of years ago – it was a work of fiction. In it the author poses the question of if a minister is aware one of his flock is being abused by her spouse and that woman later dies at her husband’s hands – is her blood on the minister’s hands. The answer the author arrived at is yes.

  88. Anonymous, I’m so sorry for what you and your family went through. It’s so hard reading all these stories of people being hurt by those meant to be protecting and serving them. Seeing people in the church being driven away by others in the church makes me so mad. They’re acting in exactly the opposite way to how they’re meant to.

    Melissa, what book was that? I agree with the conclusion, if the minister does know what’s going on but never says anything, they must bear some responsibility.

  89. anonymous,

    People from Grace Church can’t touch you (I don’t see how they could after this many years, and the severing of relationship). You are completely free to tell your story. It will be something the Grace Church Community needs to hear and understand, whether or not they connect the dots as to your identity.

    I’m making some assumptions here now, but I get the impression you are bound up inside to some degree — perhaps you’ve been shamed into silence (as in, to disagree, express dissent, speak ill of church & leadership is a grave & evil betrayal). If so, it’s absolutely not true. Telling your story and getting it all out in a safe place like this will be hugely cathartic and healing, leading to more and more healing as time goes by.

    Again, Grace Church needs to hear and understand. There’s nothing new under the sun, and thus logic says there are people there now who are trapped in toxic dysfunction in similar ways to how you were. They need to hear. The culture needs to hear.

  90. @Pam it was Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian. Again, it is a work of fiction, but very worth the read.

  91. Anonymous, In comp doctrine churches it is impossible for them to recognize NPD because it resembles what they teach as roles. Narcissistic men love comp doctrine. They flock to it. Worst place to find a husband.

    You are wise to stay away. Read the Gospels. Read Jesus’ words.

  92. Anon @ 1:09 — It breaks my heart to hear what you and your family went through. I completely understand your experience. We hail from the same neck o’ the woods and probably know some of the same people. May God bring you and your children comfort, healing and His own precious peace.

    Anon1 @ 11:07 — Truer words were never spoken.

  93. Anonymous –

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so, so sorry about what you’ve been through. My heart breaks to hear of your hurt and the continued pain you are in as a result of your experience at GCC.

    I feel somewhat familiar with the Grace Community system, since my family and I went through a very damaging church experience at the hands of a young pastor who had studied at Master’s Seminary. You might be interested to know that we are not from the USA. I think this shows that the Grace Community model of church can be harmful when perpetuated elsewhere.

    GCC and its associated ministries form a powerful empire. It is a strongly established, very well-run machine. When pastors train there and take up posts elsewhere, I believe that many try to emulate what they’ve seen at GCC. I can see how the ambitious pastor of the church I left clearly aspires to build a ministry as influential as John MacArthur’s. (As famous…?)

    I also had a brief, direct exposure to the GCC ‘bubble’ when my brother and I travelled to the USA a few years ago to visit friends from GCC (we’d met when they visited our church on a short term missions trip). We also attended a certain young adults’ conference which I now wouldn’t dream of associating with!

    My friends at GCC were (are) lovely, sincere people. And we had a wonderful time with them. But I came away noticing how insular the GCC world could be. Moving within those circles, it would have been entirely possible have a very full social life but never have to interact with people from other churches, let alone non-Christians.

    I get the impression that when you agree with everything MacArthur teaches (or have been conditioned to unquestioningly accept all his beliefs as your own, and to accept GCC’s methods as the biblical standard), GCC is a very ‘good’ place to be. Because it is so large and well-run, there is the appeal of apparently great support networks and strong community.

    But because it is so large and well-run, it also wouldn’t be a good place to have dissenting opinions on the teachings or the pastoral methods. There are mechanisms in place to discipline those who step out of line.

    And, tellingly, after our fall-out with the pastor and elders at my church, our friends from GCC totally cooled in their responses to me and my brother.

    Concerning the impact of John MacArthur’s ministry: I think that the kind of training offered at Master’s Seminary, matched with an ambitious, cocky personality (as was the case with our pastor) is a dangerous combination. When we expressed grievances and called the pastor out on duplicitous behaviour, his response was to rally the support of the elders and attempt a character assassination, all while claiming to be conforming to biblical protocol.

    Even if my theology didn’t now greatly diverge from John MacArthur’s, I still wouldn’t be able to stomach his teachings because of the trickle-down effect of his empire in my life. I think that the GCC system can produce pastors who firmly believe in their individual capacity to direct a church, who learn that their words shouldn’t be questioned, and that those hurt along the way are collateral damage in the ultimate goal of growing their own influence.

    Anonymous – while I can’t claim to understand or know what it was like to go through the pain you experienced at Grace Community Church, while dealing with the private anguish at home, I do know how the effects of a harmful church experience stay with you. Four years after leaving our church, my family and I are still dealing with them. It’s taken an emotional and spiritual toll on us all. I still am a Christian, but am extremely cynical about church, pastors, and Christian culture.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for using your voice. I hope that some measure of healing might come from discussing it openly and safely here. For what it’s worth, I send you love and a (virtual) hug.

  94. I had hoped to hear some feedback from those whose lives have intersected with GCC. Thank you, thank you JJ, for sharing your story. It helps me. I told Dee I would write mine in more detail, but I still linger over “the worst thing that could happen”…a common trait in co-dependency I’m afraid.
    …and I think your term “empire” to describe GCC is chillingly appropriate.

    Just to clarify, my ex-husband was not a part of GCC and we did not meet there. We had children and were Christians barely two years when we moved to Santa Clarita. He was transferred to work for an outside company at the Master’s College. That is how we got involved.

    Pam, elastigirl, Jenny and Eagle…a heartfelt thank you for your kindness. It is difficult to talk about–to acknowledge even, and your words are very affirming. I spent years being shut down and shut up whenever I tried to talk about what my husband was doing to me…and not just by GCC. Sometimes I still reflectively flinch waiting for the rebuke while I’m writing.

    Anon 1, I appreciate that you recognized the symptoms of NPD. This was my ex’s overriding issue, even to the exclusion of his addictions. They are high-functioning, intelligent and often charismatic people who will destroy, over time, anyone that loves or depends on them. Their main goal each day is to make sure the mask never, ever comes off.
    And yes, you’re right. They (the men) do flock to comp churches like GCC.
    (signed) Anonymous 1:09

  95. I would bet that in these churches the consumption of pornograghy is higher than those outside the church. — Eagle

    Just like Saudi Arabia — world record for per-capita male consumption of pornography. And whose competition for the title are usually various Islamic Republics also under strict Shari’a.

  96. I get the impression that when you agree with everything MacArthur teaches (or have been conditioned to unquestioningly accept all his beliefs as your own, and to accept GCC’s methods as the biblical standard), GCC is a very ‘good’ place to be. — JJ

    You know what that statement brought to mind?

    (Godwin’s Law Warning…)

    The TV-movie adaptation of The Bunker I saw many-many years ago. There’s a scene early on between Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer where the Fuehrer comes across as kindly and fatherly — until the instant Reichsminister Speer disagrees with the Fuehrer. Then the infamous Hitler screaming rage fit starts.

  97. Creative understanding of metaphor:
    “Darkeness Obviously Means Light!”
    “Bitter is clearly a metaphor for Sweet!”
    “What a shame you don’t get out much!”
    See Isaiah 5:20 — Dave A A