A post on the potential Redeemer Arlington has especially if it repents for its past association with SGM. How that could set an example for SGM in Louisville, other former SGM churches, and the Washington, D.C. area. Why I believe Redeemer has potential and some recommendations made to help make Neo-Calvinist theology better. It is my hope that Redeemer Arlington will go far in the course of time. The first part of this post will be difficult to read but I believe its necessary to discuss some of the issues of SGM in order to see where Redeemer is going and why I believe it has potential. This post is meant to encourage.
“Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty”
“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
2 Timothy 4:2-5
At one of the final gatherings of President Eisenhower’s National Security Council there was a lot at stake. In a few short weeks a young John F Kennedy would take over the reigns of power having defeated Richard Nixon in one of the closest elections in American history. Eisenhower was apparently frustrated with the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles. There remained a number of issues that had been contributing to Ike’s frustration. Allen Dulles had resisted 8 years of change at the CIA, and from 1957 onward he shunned voices of moderation and reason. In his last days of office Eisenhower came to realize that he did not have an intelligence service of value. The first indication of that came on December 15, 1960 when the Joint Study Group report on the Gary Powers U2 incident was reviewed by the President. The report was damning and pointed put critical flaws in Dulles’ CIA. Some of those flaws included never coordinating military and civilian intelligence analysis. Or how Dulles also never created the capability to provide warning in a crisis situation. Instead Dulles had spent 8 years mounting covert operations instead of mastering American intelligence. On January 5, 1961 the President’s Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities issued its final recommendations. It included a “total reassessment” of CIA’s covert action. It also urged the President to consider the “complete separation” of the director of central intelligence from the CIA. It stated that Dulles was incapable of running the CIA while coordinating his duties in American intelligence. Gordon Gray raised these issues of the CIA again to Eisenhower of which Ike replied that he knew of the problems but he can’t change Dulles, he’s tried. At one of the last meetings of Eisenhower’s National Security Council Dulles boasted of how the CIA was fixed and of the accomplishments that took place. All is well and the United States never had a more agile and adept American intelligence. Dulles dismissed the president’s intelligence board’s recommendations. Dulles said that without his leadership American intelligence would be “a body floating in the air.”
Eisenhower exploded in anger and frustration and cut off Dulles. “The structure of our intelligence organization is faulty” he told Dulles. It makes no sense, it has to be re-organized and we should have done it long ago. Nothing has changed since Pearl Harbor. Eisenhower continued to dress down Allen Dulles and said “I have suffered an eight year defeat on this” and that because of Dulles he would “leave a legacy of ashes” to his successor. This pivotal conversation on page 167 becomes the foundation for the 2007 national book of non-fiction called “Legacy of Ashes” by Tom Weiner. Legacy of Ashes is a modern, complete history of the CIA. A picture is painted of an inept, and bumbling intelligence service that goes from failure to failure. Tom Weiner is a veteran reporter of the New York Times who reported on the US intelligence services for decades. His book received a glowing review by the New York Times. The CIA meanwhile issued a strongly worded dissent that ripped apart the book which was based on the CIA’s primary sources.
So why am I telling all this? Is it because I love history? Partially…however it’s also due to the subject of which I am about to dive into next. I write this to capture and discuss another organization that leaves in its wake another legacy of ashes.
Sovereign Grace Ministries “Legacy of Ashes”
There is another organization that leaves a legacy which contains corruption, deceit, dishonesty, and alleged criminal activity. When one looks at the legacy of Sovereign Grace Ministries it honestly begs the question…if this is what Christianity is to be about – something this decadent and corrupt – why did the Protestant Reformation even occur? Let me spend some time reminding people of the problems and activities of Sovereign Grace. This is necessary in order to write the second part of this post.
Sovereign Grace has become a damaged name, it went from the premier Neo-Calvinist organization to one marked by scandal and identified with the largest lawsuit in evangelical Christian history. To those on the outside of Sovereign Grace let me relay a story that I experienced a couple of years ago. I was working with a guy in a homeless ministry and somehow the topic of Sovereign Grace came up in the conversation. He looked at me and the first words he asked, “Isn’t that the organization that forced a three year old child to forgive her molester?” That is how many people outside Sovereign Grace view the organization. But its much more than just the alleged criminal activity of covering up child abuse.
- You have an organization that has deep roots in practicing shepherding theology. It has never repented nor formally disowned it.
- You have CJ Mahaney who wrote a book about humility after allegedly practicing blackmail against Larry Tomczak. In addition he tried to hide this for years before it eventually came out in 2011 if I am not mistaken.
- You also have CJ Mahaney who allegedly approved a hush fund to buy a pastors silence and keep them from joining the SGM lawsuit in the process. I mean how insane is that? You have a lawsuit beating at your door and amidst that here you are allegedly engaging in criminal conduct which helped to bring about the lawsuit?
- You have child sexual abuse and domestic abuse allegedly being covered up.
- You have a growing scandal that fed and contributed to the corruption of other ministries and organizations. The chief one I would suggest is Capital Hill Baptist Church. It begs the question what is the point of membership and church discipline when you are going to flee it and hide behind Mark Dever in the process? I would suggest that out of the proposed 9 Marks the following five were violated: membership, “The Gospel”, leadership, disciple, and discipleship when Mahaney fled CLC and hid at Capital Hill Baptist Church. I did analysis in detail here.
But the level of corruption is just staggering, and it led me to wonder…is there another equivalent of such overwhelming corruption that comes to mind? When I was in grad school I had to do a bibliographic essay (here’s a sample of one from the University of Southern California) on Watergate. So I did this in depth study of books, articles and primary sources, and later historical works on the Watergate scandal and how historical thinking of it evolved and changed over time. It included quite a bit from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men” to Stanley Kutler’s “Abuse of Power” to H R Haldeman’s “The Ends of Power.” Today in watching the SGM scandal unfold and continue to unfold it’s reminded me of a theological equivalent of Watergate. The level of corruption was so pervasive, the abuse of power was incredibly unethical, and the fact that it came from a ministry so mired in scandal is deeply disturbing. All of this hung over many SGM churches and it forced some of have to make choices or figure out a way to respond. Having explained all that let me press into the next part of this post.
Breaking Away from SGM and My Sympathies
In 2012 I believe Redeemer Arlington broke away from SGM, and to my knowledge it was one of about 40 plus churches that broke away from SGM proper. When I was being invited to Redeemer by Andrew White, a Care Group Leader and Air Force Officer we clashed and fought deeply over SGM related issues. When I was being invited my jaw hit the ground when I started to read in detail all I could about Redeemer Arlington on SGM Survivors. I pushed back hard against Andrew, partially I was spooked and concerned about what I read. Plus I had pushed back and walked away from Mormonism years earlier and I was still haunted by that experience. Sovereign Grace was the first organization since Mormonism that had red flags. While those concerns about SGM are legitimate my mistake was over-reacting. I had grouped together Redeemer’s leadership and stereotyped that leadership. I took Eric Simmons and Jordan Kauflin to be nothing but company men. Created by the SGM machine with a blind obedience to the machine, and corrupted by the machine in the process. That is what I thought, and that is what I believed.
In the past few months I realized I was wrong, and I want to go on the record openly and admit my mistake.
What I realized and what popped up in my thinking these past four months is that I should have realized that it must have took a deep amount of courage to be in leadership of a church like Redeemer and to break away from an organization like SGM when all your family is still deeply involved and supporting it. In trying to resolve the mess with Andrew White, Jordan conveyed how his family’s name has been dragged through the mud. For that I offer my deepest sympathies and I empathize with you. To be in leadership at Redeemer and have broken away when you had family deeply loyal to SGM in light of all the corruption and other problems must have been difficult. I’ve got a gut feeling that is telling me there is probably some degree of tension, a few arguments and its probably affected some holidays in the past or family get-togethers. For that please know my heart grieves with you. If such conflict has occurred its my desire and wish that it doesn’t happen further.
Redeemer Arlington’s Incredible Potential
I’m a history freak having studied it deeply in college, and pursuing graduate education in history as well. I was trying to think of how to frame this post and even write it in a good context. I’ve rowed at the gym and worked out trying to think…how do I say not only was I wrong but how do I describe it? After all I have about another 15 to 20 essays in the works on varying subjects, but I also wanted to get this out. Last Saturday night July 11, 2015 I walked around the national mall and spent some time at the Lincoln Memorial. I stood there reading Lincoln’s words was amazed by the eloquence that existed in his speech and writing. I was reading the first Inaugural speech that Lincoln wrote. The part that jumped out to me was when Lincoln penned the words “we are not enemies but friends…” I wanted to use that to frame the second part of this post. I think of all the 40+ (rough estimate) churches that broke away from SGM the one that has the most potential actually is Redeemer. Here is why I believe that…given the ties that Redeemer had to SGM national breaking away took more courage I believe than a church like CLC or Sovereign Grace Fairfax. After all while its hard to stand up to your enemies, it can even be harder to stand up to your friends or family. In some ways that has happened in some extent just by breaking away. Its under those circumstances that Redeemer has potential I believe to be able to do something different, something unique that makes it stand out, and allows it to go forward without being haunted by its past. The past is only the past if it remains undealt with, it is not how things need be in the future. Having broken away what could further make Redeemer stronger is if the church as a body repents of its history and past affiliation with SGM. In that act it could do something unique and healthy that would indeed be rare. Furthermore it could even be a model for other SGM churches that have broken away and separated. I plan to write more about this in the future but evangelical Christians don’t repent today, and neither do churches or congregations collectively. My church in Wisconsin did years before I showed up. But for a second could you imagine if Redeemer collectively and individually repented as a body and of their past affiliation and history of SGM association? Could you imagine if everyone in the congregation went back and repented to those they knew or cleaned up past sin? Redeemer could be part of the solution for a problem that not only plagues Christianity but it could even remind its former parent association – which I believe is profoundly lost since it fled to Louisville – a thing or two about repentance. In the process it could inspire other former SGM churches to repent and can you imagine if other churches followed suit? Plus can you imagine if a church actually repented in the Washington, D.C. area? This is an area that is comprised of type A personalities and intense pride. Trust me I’d trade DC for the life in Wisconsin or Montana in a heart beat. But if Redeemer did a repentance like that it would stand out and against even what David Platt has written and would truly be radical. To be at ground zero of the nation’s capital and to repent and do so in a way that goes against the culture. In this city people don’t own their mistakes or talk about their flaws, that’s because of how image conscious this area is everyday. But this is all waiting to be unleashed if Redeemer chooses or seriously considers this act. This I believe is an incredible potential as failures and sin can even be mistakes. On May 8, 2013 a Care Group Leader at Redeemer gave birth to a false accusation that I had to manage for 13 months. Even if it wasn’t intended it was something that was unleashed. However, I am not innocent nor am I claiming victim, as I drank enough atheist Kool-Aid as well. However I also learned that even mistakes and messes can be opportunities for redemption. That was one of the things I learned in approaching 140 people from around the United States.
Recommendations by an Outsider and My Hope
Having written all that these are my outside recommendations being made as an observer. This is just me offering my insight. I am not doing this to be difficult or hard instead I think if some of these actions were made then Neo-Calvinist theology can be improved and made more sound. Plus I would venture to suggest that it would make Neo-Calvinism more attractive in the long run, and better prepare it for tomorrow.
- Push back from the celebrity pastors and focus on classical or more established individuals. Many people in the Neo-Calvinist crowd are making celebrity pastors idols. When I had rejected Christianity for years I was puzzled why someone outside the faith can see the problems in Mark Driscoll or CJ Mahaney but many others could not. I was not only baffled the spiritual abuse hemorrhaging from them helped me to justify atheism. The celebrity pastor crowd has been nothing but scandal after scandal, and it leaves me to wonder who is next? Instead of the current fad pastor who looks “hip” or “popular” I would recommend looking at Martin Lloyd Jones or staying rooted in the likes of Charles Spurgeon.
- Above all else I would spend time focused in the Bible. That actually should be the first focus. For me its discouraging and alarming how many people are choosing to read a celebrity pastor but not spend time reading scripture. This is a major mistake playing out over and over in many churches plus I would also suggest Bereans are created when people study scripture over books or pastors sermons any day.
- Ditch the membership covenants. In the future I plan to write a post about how membership covenants are a modern form of slavery. Membership in many Neo-Calvinist churches are about control I would propose. Jesus came to set free and taught that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Membership covenants are a heavy burden that is un-necessary. I used to be a firm believer in membership but my thoughts have been changing and the Neo-Calvinist crowd is altering my opinion on membership all together by their emphasis on control.
- Drop the affiliation with 9 Marks. 9 Marks likewise is about control. That is its purpose and that is its function. As I said above 9 Marks is damaged goods because it was made worthless by exempting CJ Mahaney when he fled from CLC to Capital Hill Baptist. All the benefits of membership and importance of 9 Marks were undermined in letting Mahaney flee and take refuge at Capital Hill Baptist. I think about this every time I hear about church discipline as defined by 9 Marks/Jonathan Leeman/Mark Dever. But my recommendation is to drop the affiliation with 9 Marks. Plus I would also suggest that if more churches emphasized Galatians 5:22-23 much more will fall into place, and Christianity will be much healthier.
- Keep Jonathan Edwards in perspective. I never had a chance to speak to Andrew about this but for many people he has become an idol. I plan to write about this more in the future. What I don’t hear many people talk about is the fact that Edwards was a slave holder as well. Now I am not giving him a hard time while dismissing other slave holders such as Thomas Jefferson or George Washington. For me its deeply disturbing to know that the man who penned the words, “that all men are created equal” did so as a slave holder. However in the case of Edwards I would venture to suggest as a pastor that he should be held to a higher standard, and it should be remembered that he has his flaws as well.
- Stay away from the shepherding movement which has come back. I remember first hearing about the shepherding movement when I was a student leader in Campus Crusade and planting a chapter at Marquette years ago.
- Steer clear of the fads, as evangelical Christianity is hurting because of fads. Fads create problems that bring deep harm and danger. The first fad I was exposed to was the ‘Left Behind’ craze and then some got more ridiculous with the passing of time. In the future I would like to write a post about some aspects of Neo-Calvinism I do appreciate, and not having rapture theology is number one for me! 🙂 That said, the prayer of Jabez one was the worst fads I witnessed. Even to this day I can’t believe how some people took it hook, line and sinker. Whatever the next fad is steer clear of it.
- Focus on love and serving. Much of evangelicalism is missing love today and that is a huge part of the problem. Pure, un-adulterated love can indeed move mountains. I am not talking about the “emergent” or any kind of liberal love by the way. I am talking about a sacrificial and sacrificing love. For example Christianity grew in Europe when Christians risked everything to show love and grace to victims of the plague, especially when others would not. Sacrificial love can be beautiful.
- Don’t make doctrine an idol. You can have correct doctrine and still be miles away from the faith. Its not about having the right set of beliefs its also about what you do with those beliefs as well.
- Drop the affiliation with The Gospel Coalition as the Gospel Coalition is tainted and corrupt. I look at The Gospel Coalition as a spiritual version of Tammany Hall that is bleeding corruption. The difference is that in the days of Tammany Hall people were at least honest about their corruption.
- Be open to outside voices. I do not mean you harm instead I would like to see Redeemer Arlington thrive and grow. There is always room to improve. But outsiders can offer a perspective that can be useful and needed. I’ll explain shortly below as to why I want to see Redeemer succeed but in order to be healthy one needs to be able to absorb and take differing point of view. By the way I am not exempt from this at all, as this applies to me. Plus I should note none of this is coming from an emergent but rather a pretty conservative guy who is very orthodox in many ways.
- Finally it would be beautiful if Eric Simmons or Jordan Kauflin led Redeemer in repentance where they repented of the past association with SGM. It would be beautiful if the entire church engaged in that repentance. There could be a lot of freedom that could come out of it. I think I made my case up above.
If some of these were incorporated in time I believe things could be sound and my concerns about former SGM and Acts 29 churches would indeed mellow out. There is another reason why I would passionately propose these thoughts. Christianity needs to be diverse and diversity is indeed a strength. I think there are things that Neo-Calvinism can offer, but not in its current form. It has the potential to offer quite a bit to the church. I would be open to hearing more and learning as I am neither on the full Arminian side nor the full Calvinist side. As someone in the middle I believe that there are attributes that can be revealed on both sides.
While the first part of this post may have been difficult for some to read I articulated it with the intent to have this closing. The Bible isn’t a pretty book, as it’s filled with stories of corruption, murder, incest, and genocide among others. Modern evangelicalism is filled with corruption, waste, decadence, and other issues as well. But I want to write a closing that is encouraging. Your past will become your past if you work to distance yourself from it. You can’t outrun your past just as I or anyone can’t out run their past. Like I said I do believe that Redeemer Arlington has a lot of potential. I am looking forward to hearing stories in the near future of how things are doing. Trust me, between the two I would rather write posts like this or this, instead of posts like this one. It is my hope that both Eric Simmons and Jordan Kauflin go far. This is not me drinking the Kool Aid either if I may state, and to those of you from SGM Survivors and other blogs who contacted me and urged me to stay away while I was in a faith crisis I want to say thank you. Thank you for your concern. Sovereign Grace is a broken, corrupt and damaged movement; and the red flags are indeed legitimate. I believe your concerns were valid and based upon your experiences. In the past I referred to Redeemer Arlington as a cult and it was wrong to think so. In regards to a few interactions I have stepped back and re-evaluated my thinking. Today I remain convinced that its best for differing points of view to meet and talk as compared to speaking past one another. I spent a lot of time searching my soul and re-evaluating myself these past two years. While I disagree with Neo-Calvinism I also realize that it was wrong to call it a cult. I am writing this publically so as to be open about admitting my error and mistakes. The hardest thing is that in 2013 and 2014 I wanted to approach Redeemer and ask for forgiveness for being wrong. However, due to the false accusation Andrew White gave birth to, I just couldn’t do that. Due to the false accusation I couldn’t approach Redeemer as I was investing all my strength to defuse an allegation that was not true. It made it particularly challenging, especially when my list of 140 dwindled to a handful of people. When one is wrong its important to admit and say one is wrong. Again this came about due to my own diligent searching of my soul and my desire to be my own man. My hope is that Redeemer does well, that it thrives, and becomes a vibrant part of the Arlington and northern Virginia community. My hope is that you preach the Gospel, and preach it boldly. So its with that all said that I want to wish Jordan Kauflin and Eric Simmons the best. If they need anything they are free to let me know. However that doesn’t limit itself just to them, if anyone else at Redeemer needs anything even if its moving a couch up a flight of stairs (after all this is a transient area!) I am also willing to be an indentured servant for a day! With that I will close with something from Hillsong.