The Wondering Eagle visited The Bridge Fresno on Sunday December 31, 2017. This is my response to Jeff Loven’s sermon. In addition its time for churches like The Bridge Fresno to start to push back on issues that are hurting the national EFCA. In this post I raise the issue of D.A. Carson from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School who defended C.J. Mahaney by attacking a rape victim in a statement from The Gospel Coalition. Churches like The Bridge Fresno need to speak out and challenge the denomination leadership on acts of injustice. The days of being indifferent are now over. If churches like The Bridge stay silent on difficult issues then they are duplicating the behavior of the Jewish Priest who walks by the wounded Jewish man in the story of The Good Samaritan.
“For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”
“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.“
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant[b] walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins,[c] telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Luke 10:25-37 NLT
Jeff Loven teaching at The Bridge Fresno
The Wondering Eagle visited The Bridge Fresno last Sunday. I had a good time there and being present brought back memories from my time in that church in the 1999 and 2000 timeframe. I appreciate the conversations I had with David Peters, Jeff Loven and Richard Parr. This post today will be challenging for The Bridge Fresno to process. Yet I hope they receive it with love. One of the goals I have is to push back against the Neo-Calvinists by writing about these topics so as to make the EFCA healthier. There is a lot to write and research and by being an outsider to the EFCA I have the freedom to give an independent perspective. The Bridge Fresno is a good church. You guys just need to work on your prayer policy which I have written about. But before we get into Jeff Loven’s message let’s look at who Jeff is and the role he plays at The Bridge Fresno.
Who is Jeff Loven? What Jeff Preached and Some Thoughts on What Jeff Taught
Jeff Loven is from Kingsburg, California. Kingsburg is a small town on Highway 99 that is known for its Swedish population. Jeff attended Kingsburg High School and then went to Fresno State where he graduated in 2006. Jeff earned a Bachelor of Arts in music education. After which he enrolled at Fresno Pacific and he earned a Masters of Divinity in 2015. Before Jeff started working for The Bridge Fresno he worked for the Sports Authority. I am personally wondering if this was the location in River Park. Sports Authority filed for bankruptcy in March of 2016. Jeff’s relationship with The Bridge Fresno began as a junior high leader from 2004 until 2006. He then interned in the college ministry program. From June 2008 until June 2010 he was the assistant worship leader and student ministries intern. In June of 2010, Jeff became the college pastor which he did for three years. That was followed by becoming the pastor of service which he held until May 2015. Then he became the pastor of missional life and students, which is the role he holds today. Jeff and his wife publish a blog called “Life of Loven” which hasn’t been updated in a number of years.
Jeff gave a talk at The Bridge Fresno that I listened to and observed. In addition to sitting in that service I gave it another listen while I was trying to kill a three hour lay over in Denver International Airport. You can watch Jeff up above in the sermon, but I will give you a summary. Jeff started out by talking about New Years resolutions and thinking about the past year and looking at the next. The purpose of a person’s heart is deep waters and a person of deep insight draws them out. Looking at those waters and pausing to reflect is important. There are four ways that people deal with internal emotions. The first one is the stuffer where people stuff up their emotions and ignore them. Then comes the scheduler who is detailed and schedules every aspect of their life. Next comes the power thorougher where you plow ahead in life and just deal with things while you ignore issues. Jeff describes himself as this personality. Then there is the natural reflectors who reflect on their life. Reflection is a strategic pause to look at your life and consider your ways. Many people need to do a strategic pause and evaluate themselves. God won’t allow our plans to compete with his purpose. In the end its about not choosing well. His faithfulness in the past should result in us considering what God wants in the future. Christians shouldn’t make plans or resolutions because God’s will overrides. After all God directs the steps and to reflect on where God was in 2017 and where will he be in 2018. A good chunk of the talk after this was how to reflect back and remind yourself of God’s faithfulness or means to do so.
I liked Jeff’s talk but I also think there are many ways to consider what he said. This perspective is going to come from a writer. When it comes to the four personalities I find that spot on. Of the four I would be in the natural reflector. I have written about a lot of things here at this blog. From my time in Mormonism in college, to my faith crisis and exploring atheism. Then I also write about being unsuccessfully recruited to Sovereign Grace, enduring a false accusation and the spiritual abuse and psychological trauma that came from the situation. I have written about the many issues I see in evangelicalism this past year I also wrote about my Mom’s illness and death. So I have laid open my soul in this blog, and yes I know its public but I also am tired of people getting hurt by religion. You can see much of the work, in my strategic pause and my overview of 2017 in, “The Wondering Eagle for 2017, The Year in Review, My Assessment and What is Coming in 2018.”
I write all that to set the stage for what I am going to say next. Most of those four internal emotions apply to many churches. There are churches that act like the stuffer. Where they bottle things up, suppress questions, and cover things up. I encounter these on a fairly regular basis. Not every time in a scandal but many churches want to be controlling and like to stuff up their emotions. Then there is the scheduler churches. Those that live and die by the schedule. In these places you can find highly controlling pastors who are authorterian freaks. I have heard of situations where sometimes pastors will be so controlling that they have guidelines for how the thermostat is set. Then you have other churches that just plow through. A scandal happened, a child was sexually assaulted, and they just go forward like nothing happened. Remember that scene in the first Naked Gun movie where the vehicle crashes into the fireworks store and Leslie Nielson says, “Nothing to see here!” That describes these kind of churches. The final description is about natural reflectors, well to be truthful I don’t encounter these places very often. I have found some incredibly kind and loving pastors across the country. But I wish many organizations acted like the fourth description. That would be ideal and healthy in the end. Likewise I also think too much of evangelicalism is about empire building. There are churches and church planting movements whose kingdom building reminds me of what the British, French, Dutch and others did in the 19th century in Africa, Asia and Southeast Asia. I wish the EFCA could do a strategic pause, if the national organization did that then I wouldn’t have to write about some of the topics I do here at The Wondering Eagle. Let’s look at one major situation affecting the EFCA next.
The deeply corrupt C.J. Mahaney
When D.A. Carson at Trinity Attacked a Rape Victim to Defend C.J. Mahaney
C.J. Mahnaey’s embattled Sovereign Grace Ministries was mired in allegations of criminal activity and child sex abuse cover up. Included were situations in which toddlers were coerced to forgive the sexual abusers when they were young. Or in other situations the victims were allegedly pressured to not take sexual abuse allegations to the police. At one Sovereign Grace church in Virginia as a father was sexually abusing his own daughter the pastor blamed the sexual abuse on the wife and ordered her to have more sex with her husband. At the time many of these situations culminated in the largest lawsuit in modern evangelical history. When the lawsuit was dismissed in Maryland due to statute of limitation reasons something dark happened which I believe is a dark stain on the national EFCA.
At SGM Survivors, a blog that documented sex abuse, spiritual abuse and other problems inside Sovereign Grace a woman, who at one point was very involved in Sovereign Grace, wrote a post in which she talked about how she was raped at 13 at a Super Bowl Party. She hoped that those involved in the lawsuit would be held accountable. When the lawsuit was dismissed D.A. Carson through The Gospel Coalition issued a statement in which he lashed out at that 13 year old who was raped. He did this all in defense of C.J. Mahaney. This statement through The Gospel Coalition was issued in 2013 and remains very public today. For four long years the EFCA has been silent on this statement. D.A. Carson has taught at Trinity. He has taught at national conferences such as EFCA One. He has taught at theological conferences. All the while that statement attacking that 13 year old rape victim remains and stands in the open. With the national EFCA remaining silent the national denomination has sanctioned the attack on a rape victim. It raises a multitude of questions, such as the following. Is the EFCA a safe place for sexual assault victims? I wrote more about the situation and have all the links that can be read in “From D.A. Carson to Steve Estes the Following Question Must be Asked: Is the Evangelical Free Church of America a Safe Place for Sexual Assault Victims?”
The Responsibility The Bridge Fresno has in the EFCA to Confront Problems in the Denomination, Plus the Good Samaritan Parable Applies
The EFCA from floor to ceiling is congregational in church government and polity. I understand that, and yet the time has arrived for many churches in the EFCA to start to engage the denomination more and speak out on difficult topics. One of the issues in the EFCA today is that of D.A. Carson attacking a rape victim in a statement through The Gospel Coalition. Its time for churches inside and throughout the EFCA to speak up and challenge the denomination leadership on issues such as this. Up above I reprinted the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke. I would suggest to you that if churches like The Bridge Fresno become aware of such situations and stay silent on them then they are acting like the Jewish priest just walking by and leaving someone wounded alongside the road. The Bridge Fresno is not Neo-Calvinist and instead is Mennonite influenced. But The Bridge Fresno also is active in the denomination. I believe they are most likely attending EFCA West District Conferences and events. Its also quite possible that individuals like Andrew Smith or Jeff Loven have attended EFCA One and have listened to D.A. Carson speak. Many pastors in the EFCA do so. The time has come for The Bridge Fresno and other like minded churches to speak up and speak out on the situation with D.A. Carson. After all Martin Luther also said that you are not only responsible for what you say but also for what you do not say. This is a responsibility of those who work on staff at The Bridge Fresno. This applies to Andrew Smith, Chris Calvert, Dave Cowin, Jeff Loven, Richard Parr, Sam Jessup, Dave Peters and Keith Catron. When churches like The Bridge Fresno are silent on such issues inside the EFCA what they are communicating is approval. They are sanctioning how the EFCA is handling D.A. Carson attacking a rape victim. They are saying that its okay for the EFCA to look the other way on this issue with D.A. Carson. In the process they are also validating many parts of atheism when they stay silent. Now I am using The Bridge Fresno as an example but the reality is that this is the responsibility of many churches inside the denomination. Last year I composed 300 posts at this blog, and the reality is that the change that is needed at the EFCA needs to come from the inside.
So the question stands what can The Bridge Fresno do on this issue? The first thing they can do is engage their leadership. When EFCA West District Superintendent Steve Highfill travels through the territory and meets with the staff at the Bridge Fresno they can raise this issue. The church can reach out to the office in Turlock, California and raise concerns about this situation with D.A. Carson. When there are district events in EFCA West this issue can be raised and discussed by many churches. If the leadership of The Bridge Fresno actually cares about the Christian Gospel they claim to preach then they would not look the other way and be deeply troubled that the national EFCA is silent on this issue. I can only do so much, the fact that an outsider is writing, researching and composing a post like this for the blog I think is sad. This issue needs to be handled internally. I hope this post gives The Bridge Fresno and other liked minded churches who will read this post some strategic pause and contemplate this situation. I want to let The Bridge Fresno know that I enjoyed sitting through your worship service. I look forward later this year to traveling back to Fresno and sitting through church there again. You are always free to engage me, I have interacted with a number of EFCA personalities, members, attenders and pastors around the United States. One final point I want to make before ending this post. Its sad that Jeff Loven as a pastor would choose to block someone on Twitter. At this stage in my life nothing really surprises me given some of the stories I have written and conversations I have had with people. But for a pastor to act that way I think is pretty shameful. I let people contact me and express themselves all the time. I let people comment, and tweet me and email me. And yes I have received some dark tweets and emails but for me it goes along with the territory. For the most part I try to get back to everyone who emails me. But I am also struggling with the growing volume as well sometimes. But I hope Jeff will reconsider that as a part of a strategic reflection as he says. A pastor should be open to all feedback, and be gentle. Let me also state that I have never blocked a person on Twitter. The only two times I blocked on Twitter were a couple of bots and that was it. Christianity can either be profoundly beautiful or extremely toxic. That’s it for the day, to Jeff Loven and others on staff at The Bridge Fresno know that I love you.