Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Former Sovereign Grace Youth Leader Convicted of Sexual Abuse, CJ Mahaney and Joshua Harris Resign From TGC [UPDATED]

Posted by Christine Pack

 Nathaniel Morales Convicted 

[UPDATED: Former Sovereign Grace Ministries youth leader Nathaniel Morales has been sentenced to 40 years in prison, as of 8-14-14]

Christianity Today is reporting that C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris, both key figures in the history of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), have resigned from The Gospel Coalition (TGC), a parachurch organization of which both were members, following the May 2014 conviction of former Sovereign Grace youth leader Nathaniel Morales of multiple counts of child sexual abuse. That article can be read here.

Former SGM leader-turned-whistleblower Brent Detwiler has written extensively on the ongoing sexual abuse scandal at SGM. You can read his blog here.

While I recognize how difficult this subject matter is, I think it is important for us as Christians to think on this issue from a biblical perspective. We know from the Bible that the human heart is prone to idolatry, and idolatry can take many forms, including elevating some men and regarding them as being above reproach. According to some former SGM members (among them Brent Detwiler), this was the pattern of behavior at Sovereign Grace. Also, beware of the church that subtly models to the congregants, or gives the impression that certain leaders are above being questioned or held accountable. Having studied spiritual abuse very extensively in the past two years, I can affirm that this is something that occurs even in good churches, with good doctrine and good teaching. Let us always hold fast to God's word, and never be afraid to lovingly, and with Bible in hand, ask questions of our church leadership, and challenge the answers we receive, if need be. The SGM sexual abuse case should be a sobering reminder to us to do that.


Justice for the weak and disenfranchised is a big deal. It's a big deal to God, and it should be to us as Christians. I obviously don't mean in a social justice/social gospel kind of way, but rather, in the sense that we ought to look after the members of our church body as if they were members of our own blood families. One concept that was a big takeaway for me the year that I did a study of Isaiah was that God is angry with those who don't seek justice. He also despises those in authority, especially spiritual authority, who prey upon the weak and helpless in their care:
"Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." (Isaiah 1:17)
"Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them." (Isaiah 1:23) 
"Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent." (Isaiah 5:22-23) 
"Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless." (Isaiah 10:1-2) 
"This is what the LORD says: 'Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.'"(Isaiah 56:1) 
"No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil." (Isaiah 59:4) 
"So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice." (Isaiah 59:14-15)
Yes, justice matters to God. It's a big deal to God, and it should be a big deal to us. We should remember that the church has a responsibility to protect the disenfranchised and other words, those who cannot protect themselves, and are often at the mercy of the world (orphans, widows, children, etc.). Are we prepared to do that in the Sovereign Grace situation? Or is it too painful and distasteful to look at and think about? Maybe we should approach this as if these were our own children who had been abused. Would you want others to be brave enough to speak up and seek protection and justice for your children? Then I urge you to do so for the children who are not your own physical children, but who belong to the body of Christ, as if they were your own.

 Additional Resources 

Joe Carter of The Gospel Coalition Says “Detwiler Is Making Up” Admission by Joshua Harris 

C. J. Mahaney, Joshua Harris Resign from Gospel Coalition after SGM Abuse Conviction (Christianity Today)

Mahaney, Harris leave Gospel Coalition council (World Magazine)

Resolution on Sexual Abuse of Children -  ("If this issue is not a valid subject about which Southern Baptists should publicly express a strong voice, I'm not sure what qualifies as an issue we should address.") (Peter Lumpkins)

Joshua Harris comments on SGM child sexual abuse lawsuit

SGM Survivors' Blog

Nathaniel Morales trial: Victim Jeremy Cook testifies

Brent Dentwiler, former Sovereign Grace leader turned whistleblower, interviewed

Former Sovereign Grace Ministries Founder Calls For Christian Leaders To Separate From CJ Mahaney Due To Class Action Sex Abuse Case

Former respected SGM leader Nathaniel Morales accused of abusing boys for decades in Montgomery Co. (ABC affiliate, WJLA)

Sovereign Grace Ministries and Abuse: Time to Speak Out (Patheos)

Lawsuit Claims Sovereign Grace Ministries Concealed Sex Abuse

Sovereign Grace Ministries: In Sex Abuse Case, Courts Shouldn't "Second Guess" SGM's Pastoral Counseling

Flagship Churches Prepare To Leave As Lawsuit Charges C.J. Mahaney's Sovereign Grace Ministries With Covering Up Child Sex Abuse

Copy of Lawsuit Filed Against Sovereign Grace Ministries

 Janet Mefferd Interviews About the SGM Class Action Lawsuit 

What's On Deck

Posted by Christine Pack

Any of our regular readers know of my deep and abiding love for hymns. I am constantly finding and downloading new hymns:  some old, some new, some contemporary, some traditional, some gospely and bluesy, some on the pipe organ, and everything in between.  I am also constantly being surprised at hearing from readers who report that they have had little to no exposure to hymns.  With that in mind, I'd like to share my current iPod playlist, for anyone who would like to check out a few of these hymns and see what they've been missing. Be blessed.
Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted (Fernando Ortega)
Come, Come Ye Saints (Libbie Linton)
Wayfaring Stranger (Trent Wagler and the Steel Wheels)
What Wondrous Love Is This? (Chelsea Moon and the Franz Brothers)
I Know Whom I Have Believed (Jesse Lee Campbell)
And Can It Be? (The Enfield Hymn Sessions)
Wading Deep Waters (Crooked Still)
He Hideth My Soul (Mark Miller)
My Faith Has Found A Resting Place (Billy and Cindy Foote)
Just A Closer Walk With Thee (Damian Jurado and Rosie Thomas)
Go Down, Moses (The Lower Lights)
It Is Well With My Soul (Jesse Lee Campbell)
O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (The Enfield Hymn Sessions)
Nearer, My God, To Thee (The Lower Lights)
I Stand Amazed In the Presence (The Village Church)
photo credit: chrisgrayphotos via photopin cc

 Additional Resources 

A Few Thoughts On Christian Music (Sola Sisters)

Expressions of Worship - A Biblical Examination of Worship (Pastor Chris Anderson)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts: A Christianized Version of "Sexytime" with Ghosts?

Posted by Christine Pack

A Facebook friend recently tagged me with the article What's Behind Reports of Ghost Sex?, an article in which it has been claimed by some people that they have had sexually intimate relations with, as the title of the article implies, ghosts. Yes, you read that right, and no, I'm not making this up. A few celebrities have even gotten into the mix, including actress Natasha Blasick and singer Kesha. In fact, Kesha revealed in an interview with Ryan Seacrest that her song Supernatural was about her own encounter with a supernatural being, an encounter she described as "sexy time with a ghost."

But wait, you might be saying right about now. That's the culture, and we're Christians, so what on earth does that have to do with us? It has to do with Christians for this reason: this kind of mystical sexual experience, while not uncommon in the New Age (which can be very sensual anyway because of the paganism element), is now in the Christian Reformed camp, with their very own mystical girl looking for sexytime with God. I'm referring to Ann Voskamp, a bestselling author who has written in explicit terms in her popular book One Thousand Gifts of having intimate relations with a supernatural being. Only, it's not a ghost Voskamp claimed to be sexually intimate with: it's God.
"Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving." (Ephesians 5:4)
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29)
Let me just back up for a moment, and state that the premise of Voskamp's book (being thankful for God's sovereign provision and care) is good. She also shares a very emotionally moving account early on in the book of losing a sibling at a young age, an incident that was apparently foundational to her desire to learn how to trust God and rest in his sovereignty. But Voskamp goes very far afield from this good start by lapsing into language that is reminiscent of panentheistic mystics she seems fond of (Phyllis Tickle, Teresa of Avila, Brennan Manning). And even though she expresses wide-eyed dismay over Tim Challies' recent article stating that she has been influenced by Roman Catholic Teresa of Avila, a mystic who also wrote in explicitly carnal terms to describe her mystical encounters with God, Voskamp's denial rings a little hollow, given that she quotes Teresa of Avila liberally in One Thousand Gifts.

 A few excerpts from her book, in which Voskamp describes her alleged sexual encounter with God:
"I fly to Paris and discover how to make love to God." (One Thousand Gifts, p 201)
"I think how lives, whole generations, were laid down to built this edifice, to find a way in. But they thought the steps to God-consummation were but three: purgation, illumination, union." (One Thousand Gifts, p 208)
"I remember this feeling. The way my apron billowed in the running, the light, the air. The harvest moon. I remember. The yearning. To merge with Beauty Himself. But here.......Now? Really?.......I am not at all certain that I want consummation.......And who wouldn't cower at the invitation to communion with limitless Holiness Himself?" (One Thousand Gifts, p 211)
"I run my hand along the beams over my loft bed, wood hewn by a hand several hundred years ago. I can hear Him. He's calling for a response; He's calling for oneness. Communion" (One Thousand Gifts, p 211)
"This invitation to have communion with Love---is this the edge of the mystery Paul speaks of? "'A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.' This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one" (Ephesians 5:31-32). The two, Christ and the church, becoming one flesh---the mystery of that romance. Breath falling on face, Spirit touching spirit, the long embrace, the entering in and being within---this is what God seeks? With each of us?" (One Thousand Gifts, pp 212-213)
"God makes love with grace upon grace, every moment a making of His love for us. And He invites the turning over of the hand, the opening and saying Yes with thanks. Then God lays down all of His fullness into all the emptiness. I am in Him. He is in me. I embrace God in the moment. I give Him thanks, and I bless God and we meet and couldn't I make love to God, making every moment love for Him? To know Him the way Adam knew Eve. Spirit skin to spirit skin." (One Thousand Gifts, pp 216-217)
And yet, despite describing an encounter with God in the most sensual and carnal of terms, Voskamp gets a pass because.....why exactly? Is it because she's been featured by the Reformed powerhouse Desiring God? Is it because of her artfully limpid exchanges with Tim Challies? Is it because of her Pinterest-perfect, camera-ready rustic farm life? I'm not sure what the answers are, but I know that some of the same Christian women who would (rightly) cringe at the Ghost Sex article are falling over themselves to read Voskamp's book and give it out to their friends, with nary a thought to the idea that eroticizing the relationship between a high and holy God and man wouldn't be right.

Christian researcher Marcia Montenegro has also challenged those who would take exception to any kind of critique of Voskamp, and who claim that her use of sensual language is on par with the language used in Song of Solomon: Writes Montenegro:
Many have defended Voskamp's erotic language about God by pointing to the Song of Solomon. However, there are three important differences. First, the Song of Solomon, as is true for all Scripture, was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, the Song depicts two human lovers, whereas Ann Voskamp places herself as a lover with God (or vice-versa). And thirdly, I would not be embarrassed to read any passage in the Song aloud to others, but I cannot say the same for Voskamp's book. This final reason is the acid test. 
No matter what some men may have written (Voskamp has offered this to support her sexual language), evaluation of any book about God should be consistent with biblical principles, not based on man's standards, which are ever changing -- no matter who those men may be.
With these thoughts in mind, I'll close with a few passages about sensuality from God's word. The scriptures I've posted from 2 Peter have some very hard words to say about sensuality. This passage from 2 Peter is written in the context of addressing false teachers, and while I am not calling Voskamp a false teacher or heretic, the way she has eroticized the relationship between holy God and man is clearly outside the bounds of what is biblical and God-honoring. Yes, the relationship between God and his redeemed is precious and marvelous and mysterious and wonderful.....but it is not sexual, and must not be thought of in those terms. That is blasphemous in the extreme:
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality......." (Galatians 5:19)
"And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed." (2 Peter 2:2)
"Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual
immorality and sensuality........" (Romans 13:13)
"I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced." (2 Corinthians 12:21)
".....and especially those who are abandoned to sensuality--craving, as they do, for polluted things, and scorning control. Fool-hardy and self-willed, they do not tremble when speaking evil of glorious beings....." (2 Peter 2:10)
"For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality,
those who barely escape from the ones who live in error....." (2 Peter 2:18)

 Additional Resources 

Romantic Panentheism: A review of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts (Bob DeWaay)

A Commentary on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts (Marcia Montenegro)

Ann Voskamp: Mystical Estrogen (Fighting For The Faith)

Tim Challies Reviews One Thousand Gifts
 (Tim Challies)

In Which I Ask Ann Voskamp's Forgiveness... (Tim Challies)

An Open Letter To Tim Challies (Sola Sisters)

Concerning One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (by Ken Silva)

Panentheism: What Is It? (Apprising)

Panentheism Is Not A Gift (Amy Spreeman)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Being 'Radical' and 'Missional' The New Legalism?

Posted by Christine Pack

Are you embarrassed, as a Christian, because you and your family have not sold all to go and live in a war-torn, third world country where you can minister to orphans behind enemy lines while taking incoming fire? If so, you may have bought into a movement that has been coined by World Magazine as the "new legalism." From the World article:
"I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and young adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not be doing something unique and special. Today’s millennial generation is being fed the message that if they don’t do something extraordinary in this life they are wasting their gifts and potential. The sad result is that many young adults feel ashamed if they 'settle' into ordinary jobs, get married early and start families, live in small towns, or as 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says, 'aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] affairs, and to work with [their] hands.' For too many millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about." (The 'new legalism' -World Magazine, May 4, 2013)
There are a few writers of today that I suspect might be contributing to this mindset of, I've got to Go Do Big Things For God. And the reality is that these subtle teachings about being great for God can pluck at our flesh, and cause us to be prideful and to subtly shift our thinking into a sort of hierarchical framework. By this I mean that we can perhaps unconsciously begin to think of some Christians as being "Good," some "Better," with some (especially the overseas missions one) garnering the coveted "Super Christian" label.
"As missionaries (for 9+ years) in an open and 'popular' African country, we saw the damage this ('radical' and 'missional') mindset has had on the gospel going forth in power and truth! Experience and 'suffering' have superseded what really matters--that of preaching repentance. While there may be more orphanages built, wells dug, and food programs established, the country remains biblically illiterate, and therefore remains in darkness. All because a bunch of twenty year olds were challenged to go shoeless and get dirty." (a commenter on the Sola Sisters Facebook ministry wall, my emphasis)
I am especially observing younger Christians being caught up in this "Super Christian" mindset, and really, is it so hard to see how that happens? In our 20s and for some of us, even into our 30s, we're at the top of our game, humanly speaking. Still in good health, still productive, still mentally sharp, we're firing on all cylinders. But fast forward five or ten or fifteen years, and reality begins to set in. There are unexpected illnesses, and death. Family difficulties. Job losses. We realize our flesh and strength and abilities can, and do, and will, fail us. We begin to really understand those passages in Scripture about clinging to the Lord in the trials. And those Super Christian dreams begin to fade.
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3:23-24)
On this particular issue, Bob DeWaay's teaching on Pietism (linked below) really settled me down (and I'm not talking the good, Puritan kind of pietism.....I'm talking the self righteous kind, in which some Christians are regarded as "Super Christians" because of their lifestyle choices). Yes, there is a proper place for exhorting each other to know our gifting, and to exercise our gifts, etc. But let's be honest: we can also make ourselves nuts trying to figure out if we are fulfilling our God-given purpose. There is nothing at all wrong, or second tier, or second rate, or somehow "less than" about being an ordinary Christian, living one's life day in and day out, and fulfilling one's responsibilities, however small or menial they seem, as unto the Lord. Just think for a moment about what a peculiar time it is that we live in, in the midst of an intensely narcissistic, navel-gazing culture, in which we are bombarded with the idea of a Grand Purpose For Every Life. The lost mind can pick up on this idea of the Grand Purpose, and have starry eyed dreams of being a rock star or an American Idol or a great sports star. But the Christian might also unwittingly pick up on this idea and begin to think that they, too, must live out the Super Christian life. Contrast this thinking to how people lived a mere hundred and fifty years ago, in which time a person might be born, grow up, work, live and die in one small community, without having ever traveled past the county line, much less state lines or country borders. They might have an impact on a hundred people, or twenty people, or just their immediate families. But can it not all be done for the glory of God? Can a blue-collar Christian man who is quietly living his life, working hard at his job, being faithful to his wife and day in and day out teaching his children about God be just as honoring to the Lord as the high-powered Christian executive who is giving millions? What about the behind-the-scenes Christian wife and mother, who is going about the menial tasks of doing laundry, washing dishes, mopping floors, and teaching her children the Bible? Is she somehow a lesser Christian? What about the older Christian man or woman, who quietly seek to disciple those younger than them in faithfully learning the Scriptures, and serving the Lord and their families? Are these not needed and necessary ministries in the body of Christ? I submit that there is no shame in living a quiet, God-honoring life, and that Christians ought to take care not to allow themselves be confused by extra-biblical hierarchical concepts about the Christian life.

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc


The 'new legalism' (World Magazine)

A Review of Francis Chan's 'Crazy Love' (by Pastor Gary Gilley)

A Review of David Platt's 'Radical' (by Pastor Gary Gilley)

 Critical Issues Commentary - Article (Bob DeWaay) 

How Pietism Deceives Christians

 Critical Issues Commentary - Radio (Bob DeWaay) 

How Pietism Deceives Christians, Part 1

How Pietism Deceives Christians, Part 2

How Pietism Deceives Christians, Part 3

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Roman Catholic Church Is Now A Christian Denomination?

Posted by Christine Pack
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)
A Roman Catholic scapular.
The wearer is promised release from hell.
 (Similar to New Age amulets
& witchcraft incantations to ward off evil.)
A recent article by Pastor Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries reveals that more and more inroads are being made to unite Catholicism and Christianity. To give a little background about why this is such a big deal to Christians (or should be, anyway), it should first be understood that Catholicism and Christianity went through a split during the Protestant Reformation, during which the Reformers (Martin Luther, John Huss, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale and others) separated from the apostate teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Pure and simple, Catholicism and Christianity have different beliefs on how it is that man is saved. The Reformers (precursors to the Protestant Christian faith as we know it today) championed the concept, straight from God's word, that man is saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Catholicism, on the other hand, while it affirms concepts that are familiar to Christians (God, Jesus, salvation, hell, heaven, forgiveness for sins, etc.), also teaches that Jesus's death wasn't all sufficient, that Jesus didn't have the power to save to the uttermost, and that His death only served to help us get closer to God, but that our own works must close the rest of the gap. That's heresy.

From the article by Pastor Silva, which highlights a recent TV show with professing Christian James Robison, in which Robison affirmed to the current Catholic pope that he views him as a Christian brother:
James Robison: "Pope Francis, let me just say to you that I see Jesus in you; and in Christ we are brothers, we are family. Thank you for speaking the language of love that all may come to know him and love him and love one another. Tony, that is incredible. I have had a longing in my heart for many years now to see the prayer of Jesus answered that we be one with the Father God through Christ, perfected and sanctified in truth, not divided by it."
Continue reading the rest of the article here.

The Rosary. This is a "Christianized" ritual designed to
assuage the consciences of those enslaved to the
dead religious system of Roman Catholicism.
A prayer to Mary, mother of Jesus, from the cover of an "indulgence."
Roman Catholics can purchase indulgences in order to reduce time in
Purgatory (a concept found nowhere in the Bible): From the front
of the indulgence, in small print encircling Mary: "O Mary,
conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."

 Additional Resources 

Explaining The Heresy of Catholicism (GTY)

Rick Warren Calls Christians to Pray For the Catholic Council?

Rick Warren Endorses "Catholics Come Home" Campaign

Catholicism is Not Just Another Christian Denomination

Christianity vs. Roman Catholicism - A Side-By-Side Chart of the Beliefs

Testimony of Richard Bennett
 (former Roman Catholic priest)

Berean Beacon (website of former Roman Catholic priest Richard Bennett)

Catholics, Physical Suffering and Doctrines of Demons (Sola Sisters)

Preparing for Eternity (former Roman Catholic Mike Gendron)

Proclaiming The Gospel (former Roman Catholic Mike Gendron)

Why the Reformation Was Important (Sola Sisters)

After The Darkness, Light (Post Tenebras Lux) (Sola Sisters)

Redeemer's Tim Keller Recommends Ignatius of Loyola? (Sola Sisters)

Far From Rome Near To God (Amazon)

On The "Faith" of Mother Teresa: John Ortberg Strikes Out (Sola Sisters)

The Myth of Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa, A Lost Soul (Berean Beacon)

Mother Teresa in Her Own Words (Sola Sisters)

CNN Reports That Mother Teresa Underwent Exorcism (CNN Archives)

BBC Reports About Exorcism Performed on Mother Teresa (BBC Archives)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted (Fernando Ortega)

Posted by Christine Pack

I recently went with friends to see Fernando Ortega, and this was one of the worship hymns he sang. I haven't been able to get this beautiful old German hymn out of my head since then. I pray it is a blessing to our readers.