Jack Phillips and Lydia Booth: Updates on their Stories of Courage
To be a Christian and to hold to Christian conviction about what is true about the nature and person of Jesus Christ, about human nature, and about the place of Christian conviction in the public square is to be more than out of step with the larger culture. It’s to be potentially at risk to some degree, something that Christians have faced since the beginning of the Church. It may very well be that we, too, will be forced to choose between our wellbeing in some sense and our convictions.
Leaders of the early Church, both the Apostles and their disciples, wrote letters to churches facing difficult challenges. These epistles were to encourage and instruct, shoring up new believers against internal conflicts or creeping heresies and increasing persecution.
I think of these letters whenever I think about what Jack Phillips has faced for over a decade now. After being harassed, mistreated, and maligned by Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission for not baking a cake for a same-sex wedding at a time when same-sex marriages did not exist in the state, Jack’s been targeted for harassment by a Denver lawyer for refusing to bake a cake celebrating gender confusion. Fearful that they would, once again, be smacked down by the Supreme Court for how they treated Jack, the state of Colorado had initially dropped their second case against Jack, based on a complaint filed by a man who presents as a woman. Early on, the transgender activist stated that he would not stop harassing Jack until either his (Jack’s) beliefs changed or Masterpiece Cakeshop was put out of business.
A Colorado judge then allowed a civil case to proceed and, last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against Jack Phillips and for the Denver lawyer, claiming that designing a cake to celebrate so-called gender change does not constitute speech. Jack, still represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, will appeal, and the case is likely headed back to the Supreme Court.
To be a Christian and to hold to Christian conviction about what is true about the nature and person of Jesus Christ, about human nature, and about the place of Christian conviction in the public square is to be more than out of step with the larger culture. It’s to be potentially at risk to some degree, something that Christians have faced since the beginning of the Church.
You Might also like
Therapeutic-Gnostic Pentecostalism?By R. Scott Clark — 2 years ago
Written by R. Scott Clark |
Thursday, September 23, 2021
There is such a thing as a message of “cheap grace” and the Dela Cruzes would seem to be the poster children for it. Any preacher who only offers “free salvation” but who omits “take up your cross” as a consequence (not a prior condition) of that grace is a preaching a false, antinomian, Gnostic, therapeutic gospel.
Julie Roys ran a story yesterday by Sarah Einselen about a new congregation, which apparently opened this summer, in San Diego. Living Faith Church is a small congregation pastored by a husband and wife team, Stephen and Angela Dela Cruz. The salacious part of the story is that she was (is?) a porn star and he is a business coach. They met at the former Bethany University, which closed in 2011, an Assemblies of God related school. Together they claim to run ten multi-million dollar businesses. They do not say of what sort. It is not clear whether Angela Dela Cruz is still active in the porn industry but the two are clearly capitalizing on her past to generate “buzz” and interest in this congregation. One social media ad identifies her as an “adult actress,” which is code for pornstar. Judging by what one can see from videos of the services the porn angle may be generating more outrage than new members. They are clearly meeting in a very small space with relatively few people. What is more impressive, however, is how formulaic everything is. We see three musicians on a platform singing the same awful “praise music” as every other would-be mega-church in America. The messages seem to be firmly in the middle of the American evangelical therapeutic religion. Stephen is the poor-man’s Joel Osteen and he is going to help you live your best life now.
Your Porn Life Now
For the sake of discussion, since they are clearly capitalizing on her life in the porn business, let us presume that the Stephen and Angela believe and are teaching others that a being a Christian and living a judgment-free successful life are entirely compatible. The congregation’s statement of faith looks as if it were written by students from an AOG “university” circa 2011. Whoever wrote the confession wants to be an orthodox, Arminian, Baptistic, Pentecostal. It has a relatively high view of Scripture:
The Bible is God’s Word to all people. It was written by human authors under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit. Because it was inspired by God, the Bible is truth without any mixture of error and is completely relevant to our daily lives.
The Holy spirit is said to be given “subsequent to salvation” and the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is a second blessing. “This immersion into Spirit-led living provides the Christian with the power to live a fruitful, victorious life, understanding of spiritual truth, and boldness in sharing the good news with others. He also gives us spiritual gifts. As Christians, we seek to live under His daily guidance.” If Mrs Dela Cruz is impenitent about her role in the porn industry, a major source of human trafficking and exploitation and a source of spiritual destruction for many, then they are proposing a definition of the victorious higher life hitherto unknown. Without a hint of irony their statement of faith unequivocally affirms the existence of a literal hell. Salvation is said to be by grace but the statement offers nothing on the doctrines of mortification of sin or vivification in the new life.
If the mainstream of American evangelicalism has become entirely captive to what Christian Smith, in 2009, called “moralistic therapeutic deism” much of the rest of it has become a subsidiary: Gnostic therapeutic pentecostalism. In Deism God is largely absent. In Pentecostalism, especially of the sort being marketed by the Dela Cruzes, God is a cosmic Door Dash driver. This is not old-school Pentecostalism, which was rooted in the Holiness tradition. As Marx materialized Hegel (by turning the dialectical process of history into class warfare) so the real second blessing offered by the likes of Stephen and Angela Dela Cruz is an emotionally satisfying, financially prosperous life now. Joel Osteen has routed the Azusa Street Revival. Like all the other second-rate business coaches in the world they have the secrets to success. Mind you, unlike Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos, they are not actually producing wealth themselves but they will show you how you can do it. Instead of cheesy late-night television commercials they are holding church services with the requisite praise music, which promises to give participants that shot of endorphins followed by a rousing pep talk.
This is fundamentally Gnostic because it offers a perverse salvation through secret knowledge (Gnosis). This, of course, is what the Gnostics offered in the second century. Like the Gnostics, they hijacked Christianity through redefining terms and changing the story dramatically. In Gnosticism the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh, was rendered a mean, demiurge tied to creation, which was said to be inherently evil. The immaterial, i.e., the spiritual, was said to be good. The key to deliverance from the material world is a secret known only to true Gnostics. They developed an elaborate hierarchy of being and promised to guide followers through the maze. The Jesus of the second-century Gnostic texts is not the Jesus of the Gospels.
Response to Tom Hervey’s ‘Reflections on the Statement by the PCA Coordinators and Presidents’By Chris Bryans — 10 months ago
What Mr. Hervey also means by the “separation of law and gospel” is as unclear to me as some of the issues of the Statement seem to be to him. How the separation of law and gospel relates to the issue at hand is also a puzzle to me. The same statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is part of law AND gospel. This needs further elaboration and I look forward to it.
Mr. Tom Hervey has offered a lengthy and searching essay concerning a Statement by Coordinators and Presidents of committees and agencies of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), that appeared in ByFaith webzine concerning racial justice. In his thought-provoking essay, he takes the agency heads to task on many issues that need further discussion. I believe that many of the points he makes in his piece are excellent, well balanced, and represent an honest, Christ-centered commitment to the Scriptures and to our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I certainly applaud Mr. Hervey’s concern that zeal without knowledge is not productive. I share his concern. My hope is that Mr. Hervey will continue to read and think deeply about the experiences of people of color, present or past. However, some of the assumptions lead me to believe that more research and careful listening is needed.
For one thing, the issue about who “we” are. The article lists the staff. Responsible people and those who feel that they must respond to the times. One could ask the same question of the Founders in their drafting of the Preamble. Certainly, “we” did not include everyone either. Justice and righteousness is something to strive for. It is part of the race we are in. Whether or not Mr. Hervey agrees with the authors of the Statement, one must ask who he does identify with if not the “we” included in the Statement.
Hervey suggests that in a time of moral foment that words spoken in truth and humility are NOT likely to be well-received so perhaps we should find some other vehicle. But for the people of God, the current climate should never dictate whether we respond biblically. Is he distinguishing between law and gospel here? I hope not. Truth and humility, especially when I am under pressure from unbelievers are non-negotiables according to I Peter 3:15-17.
He insists that the writers of the Statement do no exegete the Scriptures properly. However, I want to point out that the Statement does not say that foreigners were MORE oppressed than citizens but that they were oppressed and Isaiah calls this out as sin. Missing from the Hervey’s discussion is the clear prohibition of such in the Exodus 22. Why is the command even there? To remind the Israelites that they, too, were ethnic strangers in Egypt and oppressed. In other words, don’t do it – you know what it feels like (empathy?) Yet he chooses to quibble with the fact that sometimes foreigners were the oppressors themselves within national Israel. I’m not sure I understand all the ink devoted to watering down the clear prohibition of oppression of outsiders.
Hervey also appears to erect a straw man by assuming that “people of color” and “ethnic outsiders” are synonymous when the Statement does not imply such a relationship. Ethnic outsiders could include any category of immigrants. And need I remind the author of an entire OT book devoted to such sojourners/outsiders? I really don’t understand the point. Don’t oppress the vulnerable. Period. We do not want to lower ourselves to the clever gymnastics of pro-slavery apologists trying to counter the growing abolitionist sentiment in the Antebellum era. Suddenly there was this crying need to defend the institution of slavery by clever exegesis without dealing with the other, more basic scriptural issues such as the impact of slavery on the institutions that God had created – the family for one.
To me it is perplexing that he attempts to undercut the argument of extending justice and care for all people in Exodus to make the argument that this passage did not include criminals and the Canaanites. I would not imagine linking the two together. I am not sure why he does.
Too, his quibbling over the meaning of “Jesus serving outsiders proactively,” makes me want to ask more questions. Precisely then how does Mr. Hervey define service? Does it include evangelism? Healing? Preaching? Or are these separate categories of ministry (perhaps I shouldn’t use that word since it is a synonym of “service”). And if Jesus’ initiation of contact with the Samaritan woman was not proactive, then how would the author define it? Reactive? Jesus initiated the contact and chose to take the direct route through Samaria rather than around it as many devout Jews would do. And how does he assess the value of the parable of the “Good Samaritan” which clearly would have been an insult to devout Jews (represented by the priest and Levite)? I could go on. Does not the Holy Spirit’s initiation of the mission to Cornelius qualify as “proactive?” Philip’s trip to Samaria? His conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch? One pillar of the Reformed faith is that God is always the proactive one. We are not. Hervey seems to imply that because Jesus’ interactions with Gentiles were few, that they were relatively unimportant. Unless, of course, one delves into Acts, right?
His discussion of the passages in Galatians and Ephesians regarding spiritual and social unity is certainly on target. However, I fear that these same arguments are often used as an excuse for Christians to avoid confronting injustice in biblical terms wherever we find it. When I was in the Air Force, I confronted a senior NCO who was using some very inappropriate language toward a young female airman. Should I have refrained from this because there was no specific command to do so? The author’s argument has often anesthetized churches against confronting any injustice, including racial injustice, especially in the 20th century or failing to carefully listen to the voices of the oppressed wherever we find them. And when they did, they were labeled either liberal, social gospel advocates, outsiders, or worse, Communists. Today, they are just called “woke,” leftist, socialist, and yes, Communist. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson’s words about calls for American liberty from Britain, I find that the loudest calls for the status quo come from those who do not take these voices seriously.
“But it is a fair question just what is entailed in standing against injustice in the church.” I am reminded of the question of the Pharisees to Jesus in Luke 10:29, “But he wanted to justify himself,” so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” I believe Mr. Hervey is a godly, skilled expositor and interpreter of Scripture. Surely, he would recognize that the authors of the Statement are not advocating a radical socioeconomic restructuring of our church and a muzzling of the gospel but a recognition that there is or there may be a problem and we need to do something about it. Only in the area of racial injustice does there seem to be a pulling back from the clear demands to examine ourselves.
I also find the analysis of Jesus response to the question of the Tower of Siloam and Pilate’s brutality curious. Jesus responded to their questions in ways that truly revealed their hearts. After 9/11 I heard John Piper speak of what should be a similar response to the question of that tragic day. People who ask such questions are focused less on socioeconomic injustice than they are about why “bad things happen to good people.” Jesus cuts right through that. And so should we. Jesus responded in much the same way that he did with the question about taxes to Caesar. He was not going to be drawn into a trap by dealing with secondary issues. Neither should we. But if the matter is a primary issue for which prophetic responses are appropriate, this is a different story. Here, we must go back to the role of the Church in every age for calling out injustice. We did it in the early church with infanticide, with gladiatorial combats, with indulgences, with slavery, with fascism, with Bolshevism, with civil rights, with abortion. Are we to stop now because we are afraid of misunderstanding the terms of the fight? The answer to that is not less talk about the issue but more and, as Mr. Hervey rightly points out, more precise talk. And all in love.
I am not sure where Mr. Hervey is going in his brief comment about Romans 13:10. In attempting to separate law and gospel he believes that Paul is not discussing the gospel but the Law. The author is correct but only in a limited sense. And, as I am sure Mr. Hervey will recognize, although Paul lays out the gospel in Romans chapters 1-11, the applications of the gospel present themselves in the beginning of chapter 12 and continue to the end of the book. Just as he did in Ephesians and Colossians.
“This may seem an unfair charge….” Hervey seems to believe that the expression of sorrow over oppression would therefore, logically include supporting those whose values we do not share (i.e. BLM). I agree – this is certainly an unfair charge and I am puzzled why the author would include it. It is, however, consistent with his fears that recognizing our responsibility to condemn and destroy racism automatically leads to losing ourselves in social justice movements and destroying our mission. One does not logically follow the other. It reminds me of the many fears generated by Black equality in the 50s and 60s which I will not go into here. It seemed logical to those who feared it. But it is a fear. That is all.
Perhaps if the Statement had defined its terms more carefully, Hervey may have had less of an issue with its so-called ties to “contemporary activist rhetoric.” Unfortunately, apart from three examples (also inadequately explained) he seems to fall unintentionally into similar errors. It may have helped if he had cited precisely what makes these terms “activist rhetoric” and to cite the sources he is using. Certainly, we can all profit from careful attention to definition and eschew the claims of CRT. Yet labeling something as “contemporary activist rhetoric” rather than careful exegesis of why this rhetoric does not align with Scripture takes more than the paragraph allotted for it in this essay.
The author’s comparison of the level of rioting with the 1960s seems to be ahistorical. Suffice it to say that “1960s rioting” taken over several years beginning with the tragedy of Watts in 1965 cannot be compared with what took place over the past two or three years. I am not sure where the author has obtained his history of the 1960s. It is important to keep in mind, too, that many of the key marches and rallies in that decade and since the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956 were non-violent although there was plenty of provocation that would have made them violent apart from commitment of the movement’s early leadership to Christian non-violence. It seems that the author is gravitating toward a “Et tu, What-about-them?” argument rather than engaging with the Statement’s aims and designs.
The author also contends that certain so-called “contemporary activist rhetoric” identifies sins that the Bible never calls out including “racial sins,” “silence in the face of racial injustice,” privilege.” This statement reminds me of the argument I often here that since Jesus did not condemn homosexuality, it must therefore be ok. When we approach those sins – any sins in the light of God’s complete revelation from Genesis to Revelation we realize how extensively corrupt our sinful hearts really are – especially those of us who are redeemed. The Puritans practiced a form of self-examination at least weekly before the Sabbath – rigorous as it was – to root out every conceivable barrier between them and God. Dare we do less? Can I claim that because the Scriptures do not specifically call out racial sins that I am therefore not obligated to repent of it if I am guilty of it? Do I look at an attractive woman and then look at her again? Do I steal a few paper clips or a sharpie from my desk at work? Do I unconsciously look behind me on the street because a person of color is following me or hold tightly onto my possessions? Do I get nervous when a see a car full of young Black men circling my block at night? If the answer is “yes” or “maybe” to any of these questions, I need to take a Puritan approach to my own indwelling sin, call it whatever you wish.
Certainly “All Lives Matter, as Mr. Hervey says.” But I must remember when I make that claim that I have just communicated something very different to the person making the claim that “X” Lives Matter. I have told them in so many words, that their experience or pain means nothing to me. What if it were a believer confessing a real and painful encounter to me? Do I disregard their own real experiences simply because “All Lives Matter?” Doesn’t this violate the nature of the body of Christ and our call to suffer and rejoice with those who are suffering and rejoicing, as the author rightly pointed out earlier?
I grew up white in Honolulu – not on a military base, not in the middle-upper class communities that attended private schools but poor, on welfare, and the product of a single unmarried mom. Thus, as a minority, I was extremely conscious of my color and how intensely hated I was in some areas of the city. Suppose I mentioned this to some of my brethren and was be greeted with “All Lives Matter”’ I would feel that the message really was “Your experiences do not matter – your pain does not matter and therefore, you do not matter.” All lives matter, but so do individual lives. And we are called to love individuals. One cannot picture “all lives.” But I can picture one. And loving and taking seriously the claims of one does not mean that I reject the others. Love is not a zero-sum game – if I love Joe, I cannot therefore love Jack.
We can and should ask for clarification of terms as Mr. Hervey does. But I must always ask myself the same questions I ask unbelievers who are testing me. “If I answer your question to your satisfaction, will it influence what you think about Jesus Christ?” If the answer is “No, then I do what Jesus did when asked about the authority of John the Baptist, “Then neither will I tell you.” So, my question to my brother in Christ is this – if the Statement did answer your questions to your satisfaction would it influence your own reading, listening to, spending time with people who are really hurting in these ways? I must assume that the answer is yes.
Hervey appears to narrow privilege to economic privilege and there I agree with him. But to assume that this is all that privilege is narrows it outside of reality. Certainly, we are aiming for equality of opportunity rather than outcome but let’s take the issue of privilege further. In 1960s and early 1970s Honolulu, I longed for the privilege that came from having Asian or Pacific heritage. I’d be able to blend in. I’d have teachers who looked like me (I had three during my K-12 years). I also wouldn’t be beaten up on the last day of school or isolated in Boy Scouts. I also wouldn’t be teased by my 7th grade shop teacher for being white and dumb. I have since spoken to my peers in education who have been pulled over in their own neighborhood because of their color, had the cops called in front of their own house. Privilege is real. The larger question is, am I humble enough to investigate its manifestations, both present and past, without succumbing to unscriptural ways to dismantle it?
Hervey believes rightly that Scripture speaks for itself. This was a hallmark of the Protestant Reformation and its leaders’ desire to put the Scriptures into the hands of the people in their vernacular. But it was also recognized that Scripture needs to be interpreted. And a false interpretation can lead to disaster. So, when my brother contends that we merely need to let the Scripture speak for itself and not be influenced by contemporary movements or worldviews he is absolutely right. The problem, though, is that history is replete with examples of misinterpretations of Scripture. Using the Scripture to one’s own end. Sometimes I fear that many of my brothers are doing the same thing and I too, must be careful of using the Bible for my own selfish ends. Too many times in American history have we forgotten that our interpretations merely service our own worldviews. Lincoln recognized this in his Second Inaugural Address. In rejecting the German Christian movement’s antisemitic “Aryan” view of Scripture in Nazi Germany, so did Bonhoeffer. White supremacists insisted on the natural inferiority of people of color because of the so-called curse of Ham. This is why we need to listen carefully and read carefully to draw conclusions that do not accord with the Word of God. It takes a tremendous degree of humility and openness to correction to do this. As a history professor I shudder at how much I took for granted until I really started to do this. The assumptions I hear and read on all sides of the ideological divide astonish me. God preserve me from unwarranted assumptions about the people around me. One thing I have noticed is that our society asks few questions anymore. I mean real questions about people that are designed to help me get to know them. No, the questions I see in print and elsewhere are more like the questions a prosecutor poses to a witness. They are accusations disguised as questions and designed to win – not to understand. And, as Proverbs 18:13 warns, giving an answer before one hears is a folly and shame.
I am not sure if Mr. Hervey is actually charging the writers of the Statement with unintentionally seeking to overthrow God’s government or providence. Perhaps it appears that way. But conflating the Terror of the French Revolution and its outcome with the aims of the Statement seems to be on the level of the assumptions I mentioned earlier. May we seek to understand before we seek to destroy, whether these be systems or arguments.
Again, I don’t understand how Mr. Hervey separates the message of the gospel with its practical implications. As I view it, the Statement merely commits us to rooting out sin wherever we find it. If that sin is idolatry, it needs to go. If it is greed, it needs to go. If there is any kind of systemic injustice, it needs to go. But to paraphrase the author, what if there is no idolatry? What if there is no greed? Sin has consequences; it is written all over our history. The most deceitful thing we can say to ourselves is, “I don’t need to examine myself in this. I am clean.” Perhaps we are. But I would rather “examine myself (constantly) to see whether I am in the Faith” (II Cor. 13:5). That is my calling. That is the calling of the Church.
What Mr. Hervey also means by the “separation of law and gospel” is as unclear to me as some of the issues of the Statement seem to be to him. How the separation of law and gospel relates to the issue at hand is also a puzzle to me. The same statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is part of law AND gospel. This needs further elaboration and I look forward to it. Unfortunately, although the writer severely takes authors of the Statement to task for its application section, he does not seem to offer any real solutions himself beyond the exhortation to preach the gospel. I certainly applaud that. Workable solutions take time, work, love, blood, sweat, and tears. Perhaps this too, will be elaborated.
Chris Bryans is a member of Northside Presbyterian Church (PCA) and teaches history at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne FL.
The Living GodBy Joe Rigney — 1 month ago
King Darius, after being tricked into casting Daniel into the den of lions, calls Daniel the “servant of the living God” (Daniel 6:20). When he sees that God has preserved Daniel, he decrees that all peoples “tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end” (Daniel 6:26).
Christians confess that God is. Indeed, his name is “I am” (Exodus 3:14). According to Hebrews 11, a fundamental aspect of pleasing him is believing that he exists: “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). But unless we are philosophers, words like existence and being and is are fairly bland. They don’t awe us (though they should).
Perhaps that’s why the Bible regularly stresses that God doesn’t merely exist, but that he lives. “The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation” (Psalm 18:46).
A common oath throughout the Old Testament is “as the Lord lives.” What’s more, references to “the living God” are highlighted in some key biblical stories. Reflecting on the biblical witness to the living God may stir our affections more than simple statements about his existence.
Not Like the Idols
The Bible often refers to Yahweh as the living God in order to set him apart from the idols of the nations. In Jeremiah 10, the prophet exhorts Israel to avoid the vain customs of the people. He looks with disdain on the making of an idol:
A tree from the forest is cut downand worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.They decorate it with silver and gold;they fasten it with hammer and nailsso that it cannot move. (Jeremiah 10:3–4)
The idols of the nations are “like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak.” What’s more, “they have to be carried, for they cannot walk.” There’s no reason to fear them, since they can do neither evil nor good (Jeremiah 10:5).
Isaiah echoes the same truth in chapter 45 of his oracle. The nations “carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save” (45:20). Isaiah 46 elaborates:
Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;their idols are on beasts and livestock;these things you carry are borneas burdens on weary beasts.They stoop; they bow down together;they cannot save the burden,but themselves go into captivity.“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,all the remnant of the house of Israel,who have been borne by me from before your birth,carried from the womb;even to your old age I am he,and to gray hairs I will carry you.I have made, and I will bear;I will carry and will save.” (Isaiah 46:1–4)
The contrast couldn’t be clearer. Donkeys carry the idols of the nations; Yahweh carries his people. Idols can’t even save themselves; the Lord saves his people.
According to Jeremiah 10:6–7, this is why Yahweh is unique.
There is none like you, O Lord;you are great, and your name is great in might.Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?For this is your due;for among all the wise ones of the nationsand in all their kingdomsthere is none like you.