Our Suffering Profits Us and Benefits Others
There is no power in our strength, but there is much power in our weakness—God’s power—made infinitely more visible and glorious against the backdrop of our frail humanity. I am convinced that the more trials we endure, the more opportunities God will give us to comfort those who will have to walk where we have limped so that we may dispense the same grace that we received along the way.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…
The apostle Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because he knew that God was using them to produce growth in his own life through the experience of receiving divine comfort, which would then touch the lives of those whom he served. Writing to the Corinthians, he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3–4). Suffering enhances ministry because it produces a common ground on which to relate to others who are in the midst of the same types of trials that we have already experienced and endured.
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You Can ObeyBy Stephen Kneale — 1 year ago
Our sinful nature is not zapped away when we trust in Christ. But does that mean we cannot obey? No. We have God’s Word and God’s Spirit to guide and empower us to obey. Which means any time we sin as believers it is not because we are unable to do what is right but because we did not yield to the Spirit who dwells within us.
I wonder whether sometimes we give up on holiness before we even get started. We know that we are sinful. We know that this side of glory we will not be sinlessly perfect. We believe in the doctrine of Total Depravity. All stacked together, we can give up before we even get going.
We thank the Father that he sent Jesus to die for us. We are grateful that Jesus lived the perfect sinless life that we couldn’t. We trust in his atoning work on our behalf. We know that we are given the righteousness of Christ and rely upon that to see us made right with God. We believe all of this and know our salvation is secure because of it.
But we just don’t think we can obey. We are sinful, we think. Our old sinful nature remains with us. We thank Jesus that he came, died for us and transferred his perfect life to our account. And then we can think that we won’t be perfect until glory so we kind of give up trying. Sinners gonna sin, innit.
But the fact is, we can obey. Yes, when we were outside of Christ our hearts could only incline towards sin. But being made alive by the Spirit means that we are capable of obedience.
The PCA Presbytery of The Ascension Receives Report On “Still Time To Care”By Ascension Presbytery — 10 months ago
At its July 30, 2022 stated meeting, The Ascension Presbytery voted unanimously to receive the Report of their Ad Interim Committee to Study “Still Time To Care,” by Greg Johnson. In its conclusion the Study Committee stated: “Our careful interaction with this work has demonstrated to us that there are several areas of agreement with Johnson’s thought. At the same time, our study has uncovered fundamental and foundational problems with both the biblical and confessional fidelity of Johnson’s underlying thesis and the clarity and coherence of the demonstration of that thesis.
At the January 2022 meeting, the Presbytery of the Ascension gave the following assignment to an ad-interim committee: “To study and report on “Still Time to Care” by Greg Johnson, making recommendations on its compatibility with our Standards, the AIC Report on Human Sexuality, the commended RPCNA report and the Nashville statement, advising as to the book’s implications for the church, such as counseling and Candidates and Credentials exams, and, if appropriate, recommending further action in the courts of the church.”
The members of the committee, after ensuring the book and materials were read, discussed the areas of agreement and affirmation, areas of disagreement or concern, and the practical implications of those disagreements (in counseling and other areas). We then settled on various areas to explore in a report: Sanctification, Identity in Christ, Orientation Change, the heinousness and various aggravations of different sins, and the gift of continence.
Before exploring the substance of the book and areas of concern, we first wanted to state our thankfulness for the testified work of God in the life of the author, Greg Johnson. We do not intend, nor desire, to offer pastoral care or counseling in the area of his personal battle against sin and temptation. Such would be inadvisable to attempt from many miles and many presbyteries away. Indeed, the appropriate manner of addressing sin struggles is with a trusted pastor, in close and frequent contact with the believer, and in diligent use of the means of grace.
Our concern in the report is the content of the book and the implications for ministry offered by the book and its approach, along with his call to repentance and change in our ministries, especially in light of the actions of the courts of the Presbyterian Church in America.
The reading and review of any book is no simple matter. Serious engagement requires that the reader wrestle with a work’s content, context, and purpose. Even where disagreement emerges, few books are utterly and extensively flawed – and Greg Johnson’s book is no different. Indeed, our careful interaction with this work has demonstrated to us that there are several areas of agreement with Johnson’s thought.
At the same time, our study has uncovered fundamental and foundational problems with both the biblical and confessional fidelity of Johnson’s underlying thesis and the clarity and coherence of the demonstration of that thesis. While by no means limited to that which we highlighted, we were particularly concerned with his handling of the biblical and confessional doctrine of sanctification, his misuse of identity in Christ, his aberrant views on sexual orientation, his disregard of the confessional teaching on the heinousness and various aggravations of different sins, and his lack of interaction with the confessional understanding of the gift of continence.
The church desperately needs clear, careful, biblical, and confessional interactions with these issues. Still Time to Care, however, is not these things – for that reason, this AIC cannot recommend it as a general resource for our churches. Rather, we encourage our Ruling and Teaching Elders to carefully engage with Johnson’s work – both through the lens of this report and their own critical interaction with it – such that the serious deficiencies and errors contained therein can be counteracted through the preaching and teaching within our churches.
The entire Report can be read here.
Southern Baptists’ #MeToo MomentBy Megan Basham — 11 months ago
In a recent op-ed for the U.K. Sunday Times, Douglas Murray observed that the reason the wheels have come off the #MeToo movement is that it discredited itself by overstating its case and conflating unmistakable instances of abuse with messy adult entanglements. “The MeToo movement had some cases that were very clear-cut. Others were not,” he wrote. “And the insistence that a historic reckoning was occurring made the line between the two uncomfortably easy to breach.”
The same line-blurring could describe what is happening in the second-largest religious denomination in the U.S. (and the largest Protestant denomination). Known for its theological conservatism that includes reserving the pastorate for men, the nearly 15-million-member Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is currently undergoing what many major media outlets are characterizing as a reckoning over sexual abuse.
Indeed, some go further, with ex-SBC leader Russell Moore calling it an “apocalypse” and evangelical pundit David French calling it a “horror,” proof the denomination does not merely contain some bad apples, but is, in fact, a “diseased” orchard.
While purple prose has been flowing freely in regards to the SBC, little of it has bothered to detail what the apocalypse looks like in hard statistical terms. That’s likely because, according to the recently released report generating all the coverage, a total of 409 accused abusers were found over the course of 21 years in approximately 47,000 SBC churches.
Lyman Stone, demographer at the Institute for Family Studies, told me the actual data contained in the abuse report, the result of an eight-month investigation by Guidepost Solutions, does not come close to meriting the hyperbolic terms that are peppering coverage in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN.
“Statistically speaking,” he said, “there were not that many cases. This is not actually that common of a problem in this church body.”
Stone went on to estimate that there are about 100,000 to 150,000 staffers in SBC churches, but many thousands more volunteer in their ministries. Of all the allegations that Guidepost investigators reviewed, they found only two that appear to involve current SBC workers.
“If you wanted to argue that based on this report, executives of the SBC mismanaged the cases that were brought to them, then fine,” Stone said. “But if you want to say this shows that [the SBC] is corrupt, hypocritical, and rife with sexual abuse — the report doesn’t demonstrate that.”
Stone added that he was shocked that Guidepost investigators only found two current cases, given how many exist in the general population. “I mean, if I had been betting beforehand, I would have bet for a couple of hundred,” he said. “Because if you’re talking about 100,000 to 150,000 people who are disproportionately men, just your baseline rate of sex offenders tells you, you should have gotten a couple thousand sex offenders in there just by random chance.”
He concluded that while the report may show the need for reforms in responding to allegations, it does not show an endemic problem of sexual abuse, adding, “It is important to distinguish these.”
Advocates like attorney and Larry Nassar victim Rachael Denhollander have argued that misconduct within the SBC isn’t just a question of numbers. They also take issue with the executive committee’s resistance to creating a public database of the “credibly accused,” assembled by third-party investigators like Guidepost. But a deep dive into how Guidepost handled the most prominent allegation of abuse in its SBC report should set off alarm bells for anyone interested in maintaining a biblical standard of justice.
From the broad outlines of Jennifer Lyell’s story, it’s easy to understand why the members of the executive committee might have felt some hesitation to unquestioningly label her as a victim of abuse.
In 2004, Lyell was a 26-year-old master of divinity student when she met cultural anthropology professor David Sills, who is 23 years her senior, on the Louisville campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Shortly after, she became close with the entire Sills family, including David’s wife, Mary, as well as his college-age son and teenage daughter. She alleges that it was on a mission trip with Sills and his daughter that Sills first “sexually acted” against her.
That incident, she says, began a pattern of abuse that lasted 12 years until she was 38, continuing even as she moved to Chicago in 2006 and, later, Nashville, to further her career in publishing. During the time that Lyell was a publishing executive, she often worked with Sills, contracting with him for books, and, arguably, holding more power over his career than he did over hers.
In essence, Lyell was claiming that Sills was able to continue committing acts of sexual abuse against her even after she’d left the state because she would return to visit the family.
In 2018, at the height of the #MeToo movement and two years after her contact with Sills had ended, Lyell told her boss, Eric Geiger, at the Christian publisher Lifeway of the allegedly abusive relationship. Geiger, in turn, arranged a meeting with Southern Seminary’s president, Dr. Albert Mohler. In short order, Sills’ employment was terminated. A year then passed before Lyell provided her account to the Baptist Press for an article she hoped would present her as Sills’ victim.
As the house media organ of the SBC, the Baptist Press (BP) falls under the authority of the executive committee. When committee members read Lyell’s account, which did not contain any concrete description of violent behavior, in a March 2019 BP draft, they had doubts about framing it as she wanted, in part because they feared Sills might sue. They asked BP editors to replace the word “abuse” with “morally inappropriate relationship,” though the story retained a quote wherein Lyell accuses Sills of “grooming and taking advantage” of her. The editors informed Lyell of the change shortly before going to print.
Once the story was published, commenters on BP’s Facebook page criticized the fact that Sills had lost his job while Lyell had not, prompting her to demand BP restore the term “abuse” to the article or link to a statement from her rebutting their word choice.
Months of sporadic back-and-forth communications followed, in which committee members weighed options for coming to terms with Lyell. Then, at an October 2019 SBC conference on sexual abuse, Denhollander recounted Lyell’s story from the stage, identifying Sills by name and calling Lyell a “survivor of horrific predatory abuse” who was “cast away” by BP editors and the executive committee. Almost immediately after, Denhollander threatened the executive committee with a defamation suit on Lyell’s behalf.
Executive committee sources who agreed to speak with me anonymously say that the SBC’s insurance agency did not want to settle with Lyell, believing she did not have a strong case. But already facing bad press over Denhollander’s conference comments, committee members feared further fallout from dragging the issue out. In May 2020, the same sources say the committee paid Lyell just over $1 million, thinking that would be the end of the matter. It wasn’t.
When Guidepost issued its report on May 22, Lyell was by far the foremost accuser in it.
Again and again in the 35-plus pages that feature her case, Guidepost investigators claim Lyell’s version of events is “corroborated.” What that would mean in a police investigation is that witnesses offered other evidence against Sills. What it appears to have meant to Guidepost is that Lyell told her story to Geiger and Mohler, and both men said they believed it, according to the Baptist Press. In fact, Geiger, the first person to whom Lyell revealed the alleged abuse, told me Guidepost never even asked him to provide statements or evidence.
The report does briefly mention testimony from unnamed employees at Sills’ missions agency and his former pastor — referring to Dr. Bill Cook — but both Guidepost and the task force refused numerous requests to provide me with the agency staffers’ specific comments. And Dr. Cook told me that in his case, once again, all “corroborate” means is that he found Lyell’s story credible, not that he had any additional evidence to offer.
Guidepost defends its choice to refer to Sills as an “abuser” rather than an “alleged abuser” by noting that they didn’t find any evidence that “indicated that the interactions between Ms. Lyell and Professor Sills was anything but sexual abuse.”
Perhaps that’s because they weren’t looking very hard.