A Lesson from Our Forefathers

Víctor Chininin Buele

Nothing incendiary here. Or at least not purposefully so. But I’ve been slowly reading through the Old Testament over the last several weeks. A story caught my attention. Nothing new. Nothing that I have not read before. A lesson from our forefathers in the faith.

We meet some friends in Numbers 32, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, who promise to go fight with Israel until the end before returning to the land that they asked to be their possession. They all crossed the Jordan and did what they promised they would do. These men of integrity kept their word.

In Joshua 22, we read of their return trip. These people received a great commendation: “You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the LORD your God” (3). They kept their promise and did not forsake the rest of Israel. The historical precedent to this episode is, then, one of faithfulness. This truly is what they did. They did what they said they would do.

Joshua blesses them and before sending them on their way, he charges them to “only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (5).

The charge is clear. Despite their display of faithfulness, they are blessed with/through a reminder of their need and calling to holiness, to obey Yahweh, to cling to Him, an impossible task without the pursuit of holiness. Joshua doesn’t assume they know. Joshua doesn’t assume that their past faithfulness will necessarily result in holiness once they return to their land.

Grace does not mean we are to strive to always see the best in others. This story would have turned out very differently if our friends would have turned on Joshua and said, “Why are you not seeing us with the eyes of grace? Are you accusing us of something? Don’t you see we have been faithful at great personal cost? Maybe your connection to Achan (cf. Joshua 7:10-26) has poisoned everything you see? Perhaps you are acting like this Achan thing is a hammer and so, everything you see is a nail? Maybe you are harboring bitterness over Achan?” Grace is not ignorant of the reality that we must always be watchful and actively working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Grace is not ignorant of temptation. Grace is not ignorant of the reality that there is sin that must be warned against and called out, proactively and reactively pursuing holiness.

They received the blessing, the warning, the exhortation. And they went home.

The text then tells us what happened after they got back: “And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size” (10).

That is simply a fact. They built an altar.

What happened next? When Israel heard about this, their first reaction was to go make war with them. This is far from the false grace we have come to expect in our days: trust unquestionably, see the best in people, affirm the evidences of grace in them. Of course, there is a time under the sun to trust, to overlook minor offenses and mistakes, to affirm the work of God in a person. But it is not always the time for such responses.

Were the people of Israel vengeful? Was that why their first possible response was war? Let’s answer that from the text:

Then the people of Israel sent to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. And they came to the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord, that you too must turn away this day from following the Lord? And if you too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the Lord or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God. Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.’”

Joshua 22:13-20 (ESV)

The sin of Achan is still fresh in their minds. They remember the wrath that fell upon them as a result of this sin. They recall the loss and consequences due to this breach of faith. They fear the Lord and do not desire for this to happen again. This kind of sin, as they have realized, is possible to prevent. They even had a fresh memory to which they can appeal in their plea for repentance.

You may want to ask, why did they jump to conclusions so fast? Why are they assuming sin? I would ask back, have you read the Old Testament? Up to this point in the biblical narrative we have had sufficient evidence that Israel can and will build altars for idolatrous purposes (Aaron built an altar for the golden calf, for example). They actually did not assume the best in this situation. They actually assume the very worst. They see Aaron all over again. They see Achan all over again. There is a pattern, and this sure looks like it.

So, they assembled a delegation on behalf of the whole congregation of Yahweh and sent them to make a diligent inquiry of the matter and to explicitly call for repentance. And they went and asked hard questions, not the kind of tentative insinuations we are accustomed to in our modern days “maybe, perhaps, I don’t know if you are seeing this, I think…”

Did these questions sound like accusations? Or better said, were these questions accusations? These questions show the tribes that the whole congregation of Israel believes that the tribes have committed a breach of faith, that they have sinned, and that have rebelled against the Lord. They are being called to repent. A better question to ask is, what kind of a heart did the questions reveal? A broken and contrite heart? A defensive and evasive heart? A bitter heart?—“One who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart’” (Deuteronomy 29:19 ESV).

What happens in the text? What is the way that the tribes respond to these questions?

Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance. No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord. Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.”’ Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away this day from following the Lord by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle!”

Joshua‬ ‭22:21-29‬ ‭ESV‬‬

They did not resent the questions. They were not defensive. Their intentions and actions clearly show they are pursuing holiness. Not just in what they did in the past but also in how they are going through the process of being called to repentance.

When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes. And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the Lord. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the Lord.” Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the chiefs, returned from the people of Reuben and the people of Gad in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them. And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”

Joshua‬ ‭22:30-34‬ ‭ESV‬‬

That was it. There you have it. Unity was preserved. It was not because they hard questions were avoided, or because people were assumed to be in the right despite seeming evidence to the contrary, or because the events were put in their best possible light. Unity was preserved precisely because people on both sides were willing to follow the Lord and do their job, calling for accountability and repentance, showing truth and submitting to God in responding.

Let us not miss these lessons from our forefathers in the faith. There may be a thing or two out there that we very well may be called to put into practice today.

No se habla de Bruno, no, no, no

Victor Chininin Buele

Well, Encanto finally hit Disney+ close enough to Christmas that I decided I should watch it before the kids got around to asking me about it. The baby woke up super early, so I watched it at about 4 AM or so.

I was left an emotional wreck after it.

There are dozens of things I could write about regarding this movie. It is that thick with things that merit a thorough theological discussion.

But, at the end of the day, since you and I don’t have a lot of time, I am going to focus on Bruno.

Honestly, I do not understand how can people possibly be enjoying this song. It is perplexing to me. But it wouldn’t be the first or the last time.


The song is masterfully catchy.

As a musician, I know what the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda has done here, and it is remarkable. Layering and beat, harmony and melody. Outstanding. Simply high quality. Add the wonders of the animation to it, and it is mesmerizing.

But, did you spend a moment thinking about what is coming in this packaging?

Redimi2, a Christian urban musician presented a musical project titled Trapstorno. He managed to use trap, a music style of incredibly dark and worldly roots, to present the message of Christ to many who are walking in darkness.

He says in that song,

Ningún género musical es malo, dime quién eres tú para condenarlo
La música es el papel de regalo, pero ese regalo hay que revisarlo
Si tiene música, voy a usarlo, el Evangelio voy a anunciarlo
Si este código no puedes descifrarlo, es por estar consumiendo Conejo Mal

Let’s attempt to explain that in English: “No musical genre is bad in itself; tell me, who are you to condemn it? Music is the gift wrapping paper, but the gift must be thoroughly examined. If it is music, I’m going to use it–the gospel I’m going to announce. If you don’t understand this, it may be because you’re taking in so much Bad Bunny.”

Quite a bit there to argue about theologically, but the idea of thoroughly examining the gift inside the wrapping is one that we must take seriously. Latin beats are wonderful. Like my dear friend, one of the pastors who married Ang and I, also an Ecuadorian like me, joked at our wedding, “Spanish is heaven’s language.” There is just something about Latin beats that just grab you and won’t let go. Our music is catchy and reaches in deeply. I remember that long summer where it didn’t matter where I went, Despacito would be in the air: London, Barcelona, Paris, even Buffalo, NY! Hardly anybody knew what it said! Don’t try to go there and seek to understand what Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee managed to squeeze into those almost 5 minutes. It is just not good for your soul.

So, Come Back to Us, What About Bruno?

Miranda himself describes this song as “the family gossip song.” Everybody is in it, behind Abuelita’s back, that is. This song is the outworking of collaborative cover up. Everybody knows not to talk about Bruno, but they just cannot be quiet. The song starts when the clouds take over the pretension of ever present sunshine, when the nightmare is acknowledged, when the pressure to put on a good face to the outside world fails.

I don’t know how else to say it, but Bruno was right all along. Everything he saw came to pass, but he did not make these things come to pass. Bruno saw what others in their fear couldn’t as they sought to protect what mattered most to them. And it also mattered the most to Bruno. Otherwise, Bruno would not have gone on a self-imposed exile deep inside the walls of Casita. He quietly covered up the cracks and spent his life doing so amongst the rats. The family erased Bruno from existence. But, they actually didn’t. The mere mention of his name was enough to jumpstart this song. There was no peace, no shalom, in Casita. There was no love in Casita, despite the pretty flowers, the mighty works of apparent charity to the townspeople, the songs, and the excitement. The magic was fading long before the cracks were obvious. So was the love.

But It Is Such a Cute and Catchy Song

Let me paint with a different brush. Let’s pretend that Bruno is a member of a church led by an abusive pastor. Well, that doesn’t really require much pretending. We are plagued with allegations and confirmations of spiritual abuse throughout churches, parachurches, schools, homes. It is a mess!

Bruno ends up being abused by this pastor. To acknowledge Bruno’s existence, pain, and story requires the church to act. After all, “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). Actions have consequences. Abusive actions have catastrophic consequences.

If the church, like Abuelita, is telling the world outside that the magic is still strong, that there is nothing to see here, that they should have a strong drink and dance to music played in a piano that couldn’t even be pushed anymore by a languishing Luisa, cracking under the pressure to keep up with the appearances, well, is it a surprise to us that our churches have been effectively singing We Don’t Talk About Bruno, no, no, no as part of their corporate liturgies, so to speak, for quite some time now?


If we speak about Bruno, we have to acknowledge that there is sin inside of the church. We have to acknowledge that some have not repented of that sin, and that a hardheartedness is growing in the church because, if what ultimately matters to us is the appearance of godliness, e.g., to (1) not close our church, (2) not fire our pastor, (3) give an appearance to the world that all is well within when it isn’t, well, we need to reconsider our obedience to Christ’s calling.

We cannot, as Christ’s church just take a horrific situation, throw some good Latin beats to it, some nice chords, some good overlapping vocals, nice animation, timely comic relief. And there you go, we can keep pretending that Ichabod Bible Church is a healthy, growing, Great-Commission-advancing, missional, Reformed church, light of the world, salt of the earth, city on a hill.

Because it isn’t. The glory has departed. It is Ichabod.

And Where Is Bruno?

Some Brunos end up deconstructing. Some Brunos never open a Bible again. Some Brunos can’t trust anyone again. Some Brunos crack under the pressure. Some Brunos end up taking their own lives. Some Brunos fight. Some Brunos remember with nostalgia what seemed to be good times. Some Brunos do carve a little hiding place that allows them to be somewhat close and watch those loved ones who reject them. Some Brunos wait for the Lord, but not in that passive, let go and let God sort of fashion they were always taught by their abusers. Some Brunos do just that and regret it all the time. Some Brunos do just that and can’t yet regret it at this time. Some Brunos need sometime to get their bearings back. Some Brunos can’t get up and keep moving. Some Brunos live in sadness and darkness. Some Brunos end up chronicling the evils that affect the church. Some Brunos just have no idea what to do next. Some Brunos are suffering deeply and alone. Some Brunos are being told their suffering is a result of their exposing of the sin committed against them.

And meanwhile, the one thing they do very clearly hear from the church is: “We don’t talk about Bruno, no, no, no.” Bruno wants to destroy us. Bruno hurt us. Bruno is bitter as all he speaks about is this. Bruno has a flair for the dramatic. Bruno is a gossiper. Bruno is a slanderer. We just don’t talk about Bruno.

If we talk about Bruno, we have to deal with the fact that Bruno is made in the image of God and is a human being. Someone we are called to love.

Talking about Bruno (and not just gossip about Bruno saying he is a gossip) would require us to surrender before the Lord, acknowledge our corruption, and cry out for mercy. It would require us to look at Bruno in the eye, clearly acknowledge what we have done, what we have not done, what we have done half-heartedly. It would require us to listen to Bruno and not overpower him with the narrative we would prefer to hear. Doing so would require us to repent. And repentance of this kind is costly.

Does Bruno have things he must repent of? Absolutely. But we are experts at only blaming the abused and protecting the abuser. That’s the sad reality at Ichabod Bible Church.

Everybody pretends they are better off without Bruno.

Goodbye, Casita

But there is a whole town watching Casita collapse in the meantime, and they will be best served by being told the truth, by watching true repentance and reconciliation take place before their eyes. In times of canceling one another, we are hungry for redemption. And our present cultural norms don’t make room for redemption. After all, how in the world did Casita get rebuilt, folks? How can anyone truly come to be saved these days if they don’t see examples of redemption, real redemption, not false grace?

One of my favorite analogies from Scripture about the church comes from Peter. He describes the church as “living stones” that “are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The ending we know is true is far better than Encanto‘s: the townspeople don’t just come to repair the house. As they come to the Lord in true repentance, they become the spiritual house. After all, the same Peter reminds us that “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17a). Everything truly does work together for good, for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

We cannot ignore the Great Commission impact of being truthful and humble about our sin.

Loving Bruno

I think if we haven’t acknowledged it yet, we are just being dense or hardhearted. Or perhaps just a little naive or distracted. After all, the music is pretty good. But every time we push Bruno aside, we ostracize him from the very community that Christ died to redeem. We leave Bruno hopeless, excluded from the only place where Justice is supposedly magnified. We leave the adopted Bruno thinking he is alone, that his Father has left him behind. We leave Bruno hiding, ashamed, believing lies about himself and his identity. We leave Bruno doubting the Word of God, the true word of prophecy. We leave him. And we move on. We replace the floors, we paint the walls, we platform our guy, we convince ourselves that we are right, we talk ourselves into thinking that Bruno is just nuts, a tool of the devil, snared by the devil, if not the devil himself.

Is that what God calls us to do? To complain that our dirty laundry gets aired while completely ignoring the putrid smell coming out of the hamper? This doesn’t require Febreze to cover up the smell. It requires to actually wash the laundry, to clean the source of the foul smell. And for that we have the blood of the Lamb who was slain for it all.

Is that the witness that we are to give to the town outside of the walls of the church? We get on these militant campaigns about love, but we don’t really love our Brunos.

The people outside our walls are watching. They always have been watching. They act like they don’t want what we have, but they do. We shouldn’t be surprised that they are not enticed by our invitations when they see what is lacking inside.

Let’s be frank, own our junk, confess our sin thoroughly and sincerely. Let’s display humility that images Christ to the watching world. Let’s obliterate “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from our churches’ practical liturgies.

Every time we act as if nothing happened, we make the problem worse.

And there is no amount of singing and dancing, mesmerizing distractions, and major chords that can pierce through the darkness and point to the ascended, resurrected, crucified Messiah. For that, we need the Word of God, not edited, not adulterated, not slanted.

When we don’t talk about Bruno, let’s not beat around the bush anymore, we exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:25). And from there, we are on the fast lane, singing and dancing along to denying the Name by which all must be saved: “So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Today, we don’t even need to be threatened into silence. We just remain quiet on our own.

My thanks to Disney and Lin-Manuel Miranda for this wonderful opportunity to reflect about our need for Christ. And yet, I also leave certainly aware that I might just be Bruno here, effectively making your fish die, turning your excitement about this movie into a discussion about spiritual abuse. Well, Bruno actually didn’t make the bad things happen. He was given sight to see them. But we can almost get ourselves into portraying him as the bad guy, as the one that brings the misfortune upon the family. This is a dangerous narrative, all too common–we focus on Bruno and blame him for the rightful consequences of the sin of those who abused Bruno. So, yes, I might have turned a happy hour and half of your life into a difficult discussion. But, if we really piece the magical green puzzle plates together, this is what it shows. We would rather pretend our house has no cracks and the magic is still strong. We truly are Abuelita. And that’s not very Christlike.

Yet also, I don’t want to be harsh to my dear brothers and sisters that are singing this song and quite happily. I am thankful for you. I am thankful that you have not had to face darkness like Bruno’s. Perhaps you have, and you have been healed by our Maker in a truly marvelous and complete way, and for that I am also thankful. Yet, one thing I see time and time again is that in our graciousness and kindness, we end up setting ourselves up for wolves to enter our flock and really harm us. So, if nothing else, just be aware. There are ways in which we can predispose ourselves to be complicit in systems that obliterate Brunos.

¿Llamado a migrar?

Víctor Chininin Buele

Durante mi preparación para un sermón reciente, estaba buscando noticias que utilicen la palabra Éxodo en el título. Uno de los primeros resultados fue un artículo del Dallas Morning News en español Al Día. Se titulaba “Un éxodo desgarrador: más personas de Ecuador se sienten obligadas a emigrar a Estados Unidos”. De acuerdo al artículo la Patrulla Fronteriza encontró 17.314 ecuatorianos en el mes de julio en la frontera entre los Estados Unidos y México. Eso sería el equivalente de qué, del número de personas que podrían asistir a unas cien a cuatrocientas iglesias. Y este número solamente incluye a quienes fueron encontrados por la Patrulla Fronteriza. Es mayor.

No escribo para el público en general. Sino específicamente a quienes han sido redimidos por Cristo y han sido adoptados a Su familia. Estoy escribiendo al cristiano que está considerando emigrar. Este es un artículo para la familia ecuatoriana de Cristo. Si aún no conoce a Cristo usted, si por cualquier razón no considera que Cristo es el Señor, anhelo que lo pueda llegar a conocer muy pronto y obviamente puede seguir leyendo. Sería un gran honor para mí que lo hiciera. Pero el objetivo de este artículo es tener una conversación franca acerca de la complejidad de la migración para el cristiano ecuatoriano.

No podremos abarcar todo en este momento, así que esta será la primera entrega de una serie de preguntas respecto al tema.

Ya hemos vivido momentos de crisis. Ya hemos visto las complejidades de la migración. Pero aquí tenemos otra ola de salidas. Mi pregunta general para usted mientras escribo es la siguiente: “¿Le ha llamado Dios a migrar?”

Nada de cuentos, ni mentiras

Recuerdo siempre la propaganda en la radio durante el fútbol. Prometía nada de cuentos ni mentiras al decirnos quién era el que más barato vendía en la ciudad de Loja. La mercadotecnia se especializa en ayudarnos a percibir algo que no es necesario como que fuera una necesidad apremiante. Como algo urgente, crítico. Nos obsesionamos.

Recuerdo estar sentado en el aeropuerto Mariscal Sucre escuchando los cuentos de la gente: que tenían pisos en España, casas en Queens, carros de lujo, viajes por Europa, visitas a Disney World.

Lo que yo no sabía es qué era un piso en Europa o una casa en Queens. Ver un baño compartido por al menos una docena de migrantes en una casa pobre. Ver al migrante sufrir por no tener acceso a una vida en la luz, sin esconderse. Ver al migrante trabajando sin cesar llevado no por un llamado de Dios sino por la codicia. Ver al migrante traicionando a la mujer que dejó. Ver al migrante no poder cumplir sus obligaciones financieras y decepcionar a quienes confiaban en él. Ver al migrante adicto a comida chatarra, a la bebida, a las drogas, a la aprobación de la gente.

Y al pensar acerca del artículo en mi preparación para predicar me puse a pensar acerca de cómo mis propias publicaciones en las redes sociales pueden dar la impresión de que vivo en la Tierra Prometida y crear esta falsa impresión de prosperidad que puede contribuir a corroborar el impulso a migrar. Todo se ve tan bonito.

Algo que siempre comento con mis colegas es que tenemos la tendencia a simplificar la complejidad de la vida cuando ya hemos decidido hacer algo. No escuchamos los consejos. Nos sentimos inmortales. Nos sentimos como que somos la excepción a la regla. Lo malo no nos pasará.

Mi primera pregunta práctica para usted para ayudarle a responder a la pregunta general de que si esto es el llamado de Dios para su vida es esta: ¿está viendo y describiendo correctamente tanto su situación actual como su situación soñada?

Yo hubiera querido saber que a pesar de que iba a vivir en un país con cuidado médico de calidad increíble, que hasta le salvó la vida a mi amada hermana, iba a pasar veinte años de una u otra forma mendigando al sistema médico por rebajas y acuerdos de pago para cancelar deudas exhorbitantes por atención de salud. De una forma u otra, he pasado los últimos veinte años pagando cuentas médicas. Y eso es adicional a los pagos de seguro médico que he realizado mensualmente y que mi compañía paga juntamente conmigo. No tengo recuerdos de mi vida en los Estados Unidos sin deberle algo a algún médico u hospital o proveedor de servicios.

Si le llevo a mi hija a emergencia, deberé mínimo mil dólares y eso con seguro. Mejor ni le cuento a cuánto asciende el costo del nacimiento del lindo bebé de las fotos en el Facebook. Y esto es con seguro, con trabajo legal, siendo ciudadano estadounidense. El inmigrante indocumentado no tiene este lujo. Muchos no reciben cuidado médico por esta razón. Muchos tienen temor a ir al hospital incluso cuando tienen accidentes laborales por temor a la deportación y eso es adicional al costo de salud.

Yo hubiera querido saber que iba a pasar quince años pagando al gobierno y a abogados de pacotilla, aprovechadores de la desgracia ajena, para ayudarme a hacer los trámites de migración. Al final me cansé de regalar plata a gente que no compartía mis intereses y yo mismo me representé legalmente al final. Pero cuando uno está con temor y no quiere que algo salga mal, uno va y cae con gente abusiva. Una vez cuando era estudiante recuerdo haber pedido un préstamo a un amigo para ir a ver a un abogado en North Kansas City. El aprovechador este me cobró para decirme que busque novia. Eso me dijo. Que el único camino legal que tenia para vivir en los Estados Unidos era casarme. Una vez una señora me robó en la avenida Amazonas a pesar de mi aplicación de las reglas de Mamita y del Mayor Murgueytio para protegerme de dichos atracos. Este robo de este abogado se sintió peor. Y yo he pasado de lujo con los abogados. Las historias de terror de otros inmigrantes llenarían este artículo. Gracias a Dios, no fue siguiendo el gran consejo legal de este ladrón que pude obtener mi ciudadanía sino con quince años de esfuerzo y trabajo.

Yo hubiera querido saber que iba a pasar mucho tiempo sin poder explicar a mi familia por qué no progresaba económicamente. Hubiera querido saber que ser hombre menor de 25 años iba a tener que trabajar muy duro simplemente para pagar el seguro del vehículo para poder manejarlo en una ciudad que no fue diseñada para peatones y en la cual es imposible movilizarse sin carro. Yo tenía un trabajo solamente para pagar el seguro del carro. Muchos inmigrantes no pagan este seguro y ponen a la colectividad y a sí mismos en graves peligros. Hubiera querido saber que iba a tener que entregar los primeros dólares que pude ahorrar cuando compré mi chatarrita linda que solamente pude pagar porque me lo vendió una prima. Y después no tenía ni para la matrícula.

Hubiera querido saber que el sistema educativo no es tan maravilloso como lo vendemos al mundo. Hubiera querido saber que con lo que aprendí en el Colegio Militar me iba a poder casi hasta graduar de ingeniero con mínimo esfuerzo. Hubiera querido saber que la idea de anhelar estudiar acá especialmente en el nivel básico y secundario no es el sueño de todo padre tiene para sus hijos. Simplemente no es bueno, por ponerlo de forma simple. Un artículo entero no sería suficiente para explicar las razones. Si el cuento es aprender inglés, hay otras maneras de hacerlo que usar las escuelas públicas de los Estados Unidos. Y gracias a la globalización de las redes sociales, los mismos problemas de acá se exportan para allá y viceversa. No es que mágicamente las escuelas se vuelven maravillosas al cruzar el río. Y no nos olvidemos de la tristeza de los tiroteos que han ocurrido y siguen ocurriendo.

Y recuerde que estas son experiencias de alguien que entró por la vía legal y nunca sufrió los engaños de coyotes y aprovechadores, que nunca sufrió el dolor de vivir en la oscuridad.

¿Le ha llamado Dios a migrar?

Pues, mi llamado a usted en este artículo es a preguntarse con toda la sobriedad del caso cuál mismo es su situación actual. Y vea que yo mismo debo hacerme la misma pregunta.

El grupo musical Jah Love escribió una canción que empieza con estas palabras: “Quiero cumplir Tus sueños, los que un día Tú creaste para mí”. A mis hijas les encanta esa cancioncita, estilo reggae. A mí me gusta que ellos toman el lenguaje que todos hablamos de los sueños porque siempre estamos pensando en los sueños. Y lo lleva a su lugar correcto para el cristiano.

“Porque somos hechura Suya, creados en Cristo Jesús para hacer buenas obras, las cuales Dios preparó de antemano para que anduviéramos en ellas.”

Efesios‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NBLA‬‬

Debemos preguntar en nuestras oraciones, cuáles son las buenas obras (los sueños de Jah Love) que Dios ha preparado para nosotros de antemano. Cuáles son Sus sueños para nosotros.

Porque si estamos respondiendo a problemas y buscando oportunidades apartados de la voluntad de Dios para nuestras vidas, lamento informarnos que los problemas nos esperan de todas formas. Y son problemas graves y serios. No subestime el calor de un abrazo de su madre o el sabor de un tamalito.

Obviamente, la necesidad acá es grande, faltan muchos obreros para la obra del Reino. La iglesia es pequeña en comparación a la multitud de latinoamericanos que vivimos en los Estados Unidos. Puede ser que Dios le esté llamando a ser misionero acá, a buscar su sustento mientras obra para ministrar a quienes han venido a este país y aún no reconocen que su necesidad más grande es Cristo.

Pero le recuerdo que la santidad es un requisito indispensable del llamado al ministerio. No podemos predicar el evangelio si nuestra vida es una mentira, si estamos más enamorados de los sueños y del dinero que de Dios, y si andamos divagando sin rumbo certero en las buenas obras que Dios ha preparado para nosotros.

La migración es un tema muy complejo y no quiero parecer indiferente a sus necesidades, que son reales y duras. Seguiremos en el diálogo, Dios mediante, mientras buscamos juntos el camino a la Nueva Jerusalén. Y no olvidemos que la pregunta de la migración necesariamente nos lleva a reflexionar en por qué anhelamos migrar:

“Pero en realidad, anhelan una patria mejor, es decir, la celestial. Por lo cual, Dios no se avergüenza de ser llamado Dios de ellos, pues les ha preparado una ciudad.”

Hebreos‬ ‭11:16‬ ‭NBLA‬‬

Reading Dr. Barr Soberly and Prayerfully

Victor Chininin Buele

I argued previously that two things Dr. Kevin DeYoung did in his review of Dr. Beth Allison Barr’s book The Making of Biblical Womanhood were highly concerning and could be taken by readers to ignore Dr. Barr’s entire argument primarily because of her emotional portrayal of her stories and the trauma she has experienced. Also, there were implications of doubt planted regarding her telling of both her experiences and history as a whole.

Today I do not want to write about the more superficial kinds of controversy that have come with the book’s publication. Instead, I commend Dr. Barr’s work to you to be read soberly (thoughtfully, critically) and prayerfully. Her voice and arguments must be engaged fairly and thoroughly. She is associate professor of history and associate dean of the Graduate School at Baylor University, a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a professing sister in Christ. She is no history aficionado as I am.

She writes,

I have found it useful in my work as a historian—what if I am wrong about my conclusions? Am I willing to reconsider the evidence? I have found it useful as a teacher, especially when a student presents me with a different idea. The question “What if I’m wrong?” helps me listen to others better. It keeps me humble. It makes me a better scholar.

Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood, 41

I have always found that reading in that spirit is very important. Without endorsing him, I want to point out something Doug Wilson said in Heaven Misplaced, as he asks the reader to consider postmillennialism,

Someone can really enjoy The Lord of the Rings and agree to temporarily set aside his knowledge that orcs and elves are not exactly real. But once the reader is in story grip, the story comes alive and is made real to him because of that willing suspension of disbelief. Even if the reader does not really “believe in it” after he has closed the book, he still knows the story far better than he would have if he had been saying, “yeah, right” every other page. He knows the story “from within,” even if he cannot accept it at the last.

Wilson, Heaven Misplaced, 10

Willing suspension of disbelief. I argue for that today. I want you to read Dr. Barr’s work as a charitable Christian ought to read it. And to ask yourself and Dr. Barr the questions that need to be asked.

I should make a quick note about my presuppositions and convictions in the interest of fairness. I confess complementarianism as an appropriate framework to synthesize the Bible’s teaching about men and women in Christ, in God’s image, on mission in the world for the Kingdom as co-heirs of the promise of a new heavens and a new earth after the return of Jesus Christ, our Lord. I confess it with a couple of important caveats: 1) I strongly believe there is a hyper-complementarianism that is as devastating as in Spurgeon’s times hyper-Calvinism was to Calvinism, leaving caricatures and devastation behind that can turn anyone away easily–who wants to cause pain and abuse?, and 2) abuse does happen in any and every context in a fallen creation, but the abuse of complementarianism does help breed cultures, churches, families, and institutions where the subjugation of women, the silencing of women, and the dehumanization of women are very real. This is not me having itchy ears or going with the spirit of the age. This is just reality. Also, in the interest of fairness, I should state that Dr. Barr has not persuaded me of an egalitarian reading of Scripture or of history in her work. Willing suspension of disbelief and all.

As I’ve read the book, I have noted the following areas and questions that I believe any thoughtful reader of this book and the Church at large must be willing to ask and seek to answer and research thoroughly. We will all be better off from it:

  1. The first words of the book will turn off many and will help facilitate confirmation bias for Dr. DeYoung’s tone on his review: “I never meant to be an activist,” she writes. Dr. Barr’s story certainly is full of emotion–how could you not leave a church so dear to you under such difficult circumstances and not show any emotion about it? How could you go through what she reveals at the end of the book and not be affected by it at your core? So, the key question here for the Christian reader is this, what can we do better as the Church and as individual Christians to help those who have experienced abuse and to grow mutually through doctrinal disagreement rather than rush to institutional protection mode? Not just Dr. Barr’s testimony but the testimony of so many is that at minimum the perception of institutional protection and, at worst, actual institutional protection come to the forefront over and above the well-being of the person, of the image bearer of God, who incidentally is going through what very likely is the worst time of her life. Let us not rush to discount truth and to call out falsehood because a person has been through the emotional wringer. Our God is truth.
  2. Dr. Barr reports multiple times, “I stayed silent.” In what ways are we, as individual Christians and as the Church, directly and indirectly silencing women? Are we communicating clearly and unequivocally, even if indirectly, that women have no place in theological discourse, mutual discipleship, the sharpening of the saints, or to raise up concerns or suggestions to the leadership of the church? Where can women go when things do go wrong because they will? What have we built so that suspicion is not our natural reflex or the charge of usurping of authority is not our initial reaction to valid concerns or legitimate charges? Have we built just structures and procedures? Is our discipleship and participation in corporate worship one that testifies to the whole truth of Scripture? Our God is justice.
  3. Dr. Barr assumes that complementarian theology necessarily will result in this concept of biblical womanhood as we observe it in complementarian churches and institutions today, as taught and advanced by the CBMW, the Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, etc. She says, “I knew that it was based on a handful of verses read apart from their historical context and used as a lens to interpret the rest of the Bible. The tail wags the dog […] cultural assumptions and practices regarding womanhood are read into the biblical text, rather than the biblical text being read within its own historical and cultural context” (6). She argues, then, that proponents of complementarianism are misreading Scripture. This is a serious charge that needs to be considered thoroughly. So, is she right? Is complementarianism the reading into Scripture of American mid-twentieth-century preferences or the reading into Scripture of a Victorian worldview? Is complementarianism based on a handful of verses? A good start to this question can be found in Matthew Barrett’s Simply Trinity. I point out to you his discussion of the role of hermeneutics in questions like these starting on page 238 of chapter 8 Is the Son Eternally Subordinate to the Father? Eternal subordination does play an important part of this argument, and Barrett asks, by whose rules are you reading Scripture? His discussion is not about complementarianism and egalitarianism, but I think that frame of thinking and way to address a related subject can be helpful for further discussion about Dr. Barr’s statement. Our God is our Triune Creator.
  4. Dr. Barr joins complementarianism with patriarchy very tightly, and in her defense, she has citations from Dr. Russell Moore to do it. I believe that mixing these concepts can cause unnecessary distraction. I believe we need to discuss fairly what patriarchy is and is not, what abuses of patriarchy are and are not, and that we don’t go past the boundaries that Scripture has for headship. It is not fair to conflate categories on both sides. After some discussion on The Epic of Gilgamesh, Dr. Barr presents what is in my opinion, the most significant claim of her book: “Patriarchy wasn’t what God wanted; patriarchy was a result of human sin” (29ff). Dr. Barr argues, then, that complementarianism is a theology of Genesis 3 and not of Genesis 1-2. I happen to disagree with that. If complementarianism were a theology of Genesis 3, that is, a result of the Fall, I would be fully standing by Dr. Barr’s side on this. But it isn’t. In his article Gendered Exegesis of Creation in Philo (De Opificio Mundi) and Paul (1 Corinthians) in Paul and the Greco-Roman Philosophical Tradition, Dr. Jonathan Worthington presents exegetical work that is substantial that Dr. Barr ought to consider in her analysis not only in her chapter about the Beginning of Patriarchy but also on her proposed reading of 1 Corinthians. Complementarian theologians, how can we show exegetically and practically that complementarianism is not a result of the Fall, that it is rooted in creation? I think Dr. Worthington has given us all a good example to go deeper.
  5. The second heaviest argument presented by Dr. Barr in her book is her chapter 2, What if Biblical Womanhood Doesn’t Come from Paul? In this chapter, she argues for a reading of 1 Corinthians and the rest of the Pauline epistles that is different than the complementarian reading. The thoughtful reader will want to know why this is and how to scrutinize both readings to reach a Scriptural conclusion in the Spirit. Not because we can read Paul differently (42), it means that we must read Paul differently. Is there warrant to do so? Dr. Barr does present her case, but please do not ignore that she is intellectually honest here. Yes, she inflects certain words in 1 Corinthians 14 (What! Did the Word of God originate with you?), but she also says, “While I cannot guarantee this is what Paul was doing, it makes a lot of (historical) sense” (62). What we need to ask is, is she correct? Do we have exegetical and historical warrant to say that Paul was quoting a bad practice common to the cultural context of the day that he is rejecting? Is Dr. Barr right in saying that all the household code sections of Paul mean the complete opposite of what the complementarian reading says they do? Can we take the medieval sermons cited as evidence that the reading is wrong or not? If so, why? If not, why not? What does it mean for the complementarian to affirm that there is both mutual submission and individual wifely submission in Ephesians 5? Can we also make clear that Paul nowhere calls a woman to submit herself to all men? Can we also make clear that none of these readings should make a way for the subjugation of women? Can we also be honest that sometimes the egalitarian writings on Romans 16 seem to be stronger than the complementarian arguments and deal with those cases fairly? Our God does not support favoritism. There is no room for insults or fearmongering in our interaction with these arguments. Sometimes it feels that we are more afraid of being called an egalitarian than we are about missing the truth of God.
  6. How can the historical charges that Dr. Barr make be properly assessed? Are our history books that slanted? I do have to admit that it is rare to find references to women in them. DeYoung’s review is the most extensive in this area. He charges Dr. Barr with ambiguous language and selective information. I want to point out that history is an area that the Christian has to be willing to engage with all the way–our historical heroes are rarely as clean as they’ve been cleaned up by time and distance and by our own idolatry of them, at times. My encouragement to the reader is to engage the historical positions presented by Professor Barr, a professional historian, again, willing to hear them and consider them thoroughly. Then, feel free to ask if anything is missing, and if it is, point it out. We all need to ask, once all the historical evidence is on the table what the role of history/tradition and Scripture are. R. C. Sproul was fond of saying that salvation was not by statistics. I can’t just poll the sermons in America today and argue that because 80% of them say something about a given subject that such a thing is gospel truth or that it is biblically solid. The Church is always in need of reformation. Just because a whole bunch of preachers are preaching the same thing, it doesn’t make it true. But it should alert us to look at it comprehensively. That is a long way of saying, let’s make sure we do understand the medieval Church, what it thought and taught and the reasons why. Then, we can engage in processing that information in the light of Scripture and moving forward without ignoring the saints of the past.
  7. On the subject of Bible translation, can we all be intellectually honest and accept that our favorite translation has made translation and meaning choices that even if well-intentioned can slant our reading of the text? The ESV’s changes to Genesis 3:16 are not neutral! They communicate something. We should be willing to enter chapter 5 of that book with that reality in mind. Bible translators have to make choices for defining meaning and for communicating meaning. Those choices cannot always be isolated from one’s most dearest convictions.
  8. All the these seven areas will impact how we apply these concepts to our lives. Our interaction with chapters 6 through 8 will be marked by whether we listen or not. We all ought to desire complete freedom in Christ for every creature breathing today. There is no distinction. The gospel is the most liberal in its call to every creature to proclaim and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. The gospel is the most progressive in truly advancing humankind by renewing the person who believes in Christ to the core, renewing her mind through the gospel truth, and in humility from the Spirit helping her to find a greater degree of Christlikeness every day through every circumstance.

My sincere thanks to Dr. Barr for taking the time and the massive effort to put all of this into published words. The weight of the footnotes pains me to not be able to go and read every single one of those sources for myself. Yet, that’s why we don’t read in isolation. That’s why we are the Body of Christ, or at least, we are supposed to be. Can we give it a good read? Can we really immerse ourselves in the Word of God so that it sweetness would permeate through Word-based arguments? Can we truly love charitably? We have a lot to learn from Dr. Barr and from one another.

Godspeed, fellow reader. God be with you.

A Hermeneutic of Suspicion: Don’t Waste Your Book Review

Victor Chininin Buele

“Whether because of her own pain, or maybe because of her stated aim to fight for a better world, Barr is frequently guilty of reading material from the other side with a hermeneutic of suspicion.”

Kevin DeYoung, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: A Review, Themelios, Volume 46, Issue 2.

This is hard to start. People in my circles love this prayer: “Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, You have brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see You in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Your glory. Let me learn by paradox.”

I remember walking the streets of Toronto reading a book I picked up at the Indigo Books store at the Eaton Centre. The book spoke of the role of paradox in the life of the Christian, paradoxes leading to worship: Paradoxology. We worship the God who is faithful to the unfaithful, who is far away yet so close.

These paradoxes are not trivial. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12) and Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:32). What is the difference between a contradiction and a paradox? Is the language of paradox a cop out to not have to answer hard questions? It is not.

I cannot accurately count the times that in the face of what my eyes see (and don’t see) I have reached my practical atheist conclusion in the last three years: “Well, therefore, God must not exist. Let’s free up some capital and live large. Let’s move to Leawood and upgrade the Camry. Forget about this nonsense!”

I have read a lot of books. I have read a lot of books that have formed my theology and practice. I have read a lot of books that are the complete opposite than what my theology and practice are. I read. One of my main goals in reading is to jump in and really get to know the author and the cause or concept they represent, to see the author as a person first and to love Christ and the author by not caricaturizing the person or the argument.

Easy example: it is super easy to dismiss everything that Joel Osteen has written because his face looms large on the cover, and one can make an argument that somebody who seeks to imitate the lowly and gently Jesus Christ ought not to be doing things his master wouldn’t do. We could go back and look at the many times Osteen has flaunted his wealth in stark contrast with Jesus who did not have a home on this earth. We could see the ways the organization they call Lakewood has responded or not responded to the needs around them. But, have you actually sought to understand what he writes? It turns out that Joel and I have a proclivity towards a very similar practical theology. I don’t mean I affirm him. I don’t mean I think he is orthodox. I don’t even mean that I affirm he is a Christian. I mean that I also want to live my best life now. When I drive by the homes of the people who use their money differently than I do, I envy their bigger kitchens and the appearance that they lack nothing. Then I walk up their driveways and hear cursing and fighting, or I see the tears in a child’s eyes during a parent exchange. It is easy to realize my discontentment on the other side of what Stephen Altroggee called the greener grass conspiracy. I want the prayer that will make everything be all right, right now. I want the promise that I will lack nothing and my family will not need anything. I desperately want the prosperity gospel to be true. That doesn’t make it true. But I understand why somebody would be highly effective in an attempt to Christianize the power of positive thinking and end up making a ton of money off of people who don’t have very much money and from those who have a ton of money that they want to keep and grow.

A long introduction. I know.

We are terrible with paradoxes.

We can’t handle that somebody can be super nice to you and be abusing his closest friends at the same time. We can’t handle that the man who preached the gospel to you and God used to spark the flame of regeneration in your heart has been sleeping with prostitutes.

We default to simplifying such paradoxes towards the side that makes us feel most comfortable. The world describes this through the concept of a cognitive dissonance. We do the same with God, and when we do so we end up making a god after our own likeness, a false idol that cannot save. Powerless. Imbalanced.

This is a very long way of saying this: in Reformed circles we ignore criticism. And we do it in a way that discourages (at best) or flat out prohibits (at worst) others from looking at the evidence or the facts.

I know why reviews like Dr. Kevin DeYoung’s can receive wide acclaim from pastors, seminary professors and presidents, while at the same time receives tons of Twitter responses (and some more elaborate or academic responses) that are far from acclaim.

Can we accept with the fact that we can learn from Dr. Beth Allison Barr, and that we must do something with what we have learned from her, even when we disagree with her conclusions or her historical analysis or her application? I do not fully agree with her. I am also not a historian. But I do take her work seriously. I must. God did not make her in His own image to be discarded by us mindlessly.

And I will never stop anyone from reading her book. I encourage it.

Because we need to talk!

We are very quick to dismiss arguments based on obvious logical fallacies even as we boast with great pride on how we are teaching our children logic and a Christian worldview. We have Doug Wilson Logic books in our children’s curriculum, but the minute a serious allegation is made against someone we fear and love, or the second our precious place in the inner circle of a church is threatened, you can grab the same Logic book and start looking into all our logical fallacies.

Let’s take the criticisms that have been raised lately in several books as a test case.

The point I want to make is this: I don’t agree entirely with these authors, at times with their methodology, their writing style, their exegesis, their conclusions, their presentation of/understanding of historical narrative, their hermeneutics, their application. That does not mean that they don’t have something to say that I should be careful to understand thoroughly and seek to take before the Lord and His church.

Put simply, hopefully: Listen!

Abusive environments restrict heavily what is acceptable and, dare I say, permitted. There is a running list somewhere (formally or informally) of what you can and cannot read, of who you can listen to or not, of who you can associate with or not.

Interesting fact: The end of Matthew 18 for those who have refused to repent is not to disassociate from them. It is not to treat them like all of a sudden they have the plague. It is to treat them as a Gentile and a tax collector. That is, the local church cannot affirm that they are Christians and members of the local church. That’s it. There is nothing here about cutting them off or leaving them to fend for themselves because they are evil or snared by the devil. As a matter of fact, treating someone as a Gentile and a tax collector requires much love and presence. How else are they going to hear the call to salvation, the gospel of truth, unless they hear the message of salvation with their own ears? Who is going to proclaim it if not those inside of the Kingdom? How are they going to see with their eyes the good works prepared by Jesus for these Christians to do and long to imitate them? I know of an organization that prides itself in being a training post for Christian leaders, a sort of training hospital. The problem is that when the sick show up, the head doctor calls the police to have them removed from the premises. Jesus died to heal the sick. His presence is, in the words of Dr. Craig Blomberg, “contagious holiness.” That is what the body of the church is to embody, the kind of holiness that you can catch through incarnational embodiment of the nature of the Triune God, a holiness of higher transmissibility and infectiousness than the Delta variant.

We do not know how to have these conversations. We certainly can and must ask questions, even express disagreements, express our doubt or our hesitation. How else are we going to have constructive arguments that will reform the church? Somebody has to write the 95 Theses.

Question: have you read the 95 Theses? If you have, you will know that Luther had nothing to do with seeing the Papacy as an unbiblical office when he wrote them. Will you entirely discount the point about the error on the indulgences because Luther’s theology is far from what it would become? The book review of the 95 Theses, especially if it’s written similarly to Dr. DeYoung’s would have the effect that the Roman Catholic priests would have wanted: that the common people would not read them. Or the Bible. Let us not forget it that the common person did not have a way to read the Bible in his own language. And Luther has a thing against the Jews that many have written volumes about. We have to reckon with that, too. We don’t just get to cancel people. But we do get to judge rightly. Ourselves first. And then others. Basic Matthew 7.

Abusers are great at pointing out how all of us are sinners. That’s right. How none of us are good. That’s right. We have all sinned. None of us has lived the perfect life only Jesus lived.

What they rush to conclude is this: “Therefore, leave me alone! Don’t ask me to pursue holiness. I’ve been forgiven by grace. And so have you. Shall we talk about your sins now?”

Notice how instead of having a mutually sharpening and edifying exchange and rebuke even, we have a unidirectional expectation of cheap grace. Always in their favor. Be gracious to them while you do not receive grace.

Before I continue, let me be very clear: I am not saying Dr. Kevin DeYoung is an abuser. I most certainly am not. What I am saying is that his book review has the content, color, and flavor of something that an abuser can use to silence dissent. What I am saying is that whether he intended for this or not, this review has the clear effect of dissuading people from reading Dr. Barr’s book and from taking her seriously, her qualifications ignored, and her ideas reduced to mere emotion. Suspicion is planted in our hearts about her alleged hermeneutics of suspicion of the complementarians.

I should also state clearly that I am a complementarian, and that I do not believe that everything can be reduced to or blamed on the patriarchy. Yet, we are in need of listening well to the allegations, charges, and plain common sense of what is being raised out there. We have silenced women, and I do include myself in that. We have made clear directly and indirectly that they have no voice in the church. We have used a manipulated Trinity to get away with a distorted structure of power. We do have to solve that. We have to fix it. And we cannot let the vulnerable to be hurt in our pews right before our eyes.

I want to thank all the authors that I have read. I needed a lifeline. I needed to understand what I was going through. I needed to know if I had truly become evil and hardened my heart. Or if I truly was a believer or not.

Ironically, I was pointed to Diane Langberg in one of the last attempts by my former pastor to silence me. He wanted me to read about self-deception. And Dr. Langberg really knows about that subject. Something didn’t sit right with me when I was given the article to read, not in her writing but in the recommendation, so I bought the book instead. I was deceiving myself and others, it turned out, but I digress.

I read Suffering and the Heart of God. I have never read any resource like it in all my time in pastoral ministry. That book gets to the heart of the challenges of the person who has experienced trauma in their faith and understanding of God and life. That book must be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to minister to people. This book has great potential not only as a counselor’s help but to form a church culture where we are aware of the causes and consequences of abuse and how that ends up preaching a false gospel. Here is the problem: most Reformed folks will dismiss it entirely because she has a psychology background, and that shows throughout the book. She writes with psychological categories and concepts in mind. This is inconsistent with how many people in Reformed circles see the sufficiency of Scripture in counseling. And sadly, the arguments get lost in the chopping block. I must confess, this was part of my initial reservations with reading the article I was given: why would somebody trained in nouthetic counseling who once gave me the book Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology? recommend a Christian psychologist? But I’m thankful for overcoming this barrier. It doesn’t mean that I line up entirely with Dr. Langberg, but I have learned a lot from her. And her latest work Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church is also highly recommended and a mandatory read for anyone struggling to grasp the aftermath of abuse or working at trying to prevent it. Sadly, this book will perhaps be dismissed because of her background, and let’s not kid ourselves, because it is about power in the church and was written by a woman.

Somebody that came across my world and did a very good descriptive job explaining it is Dr. Wade Mullen. He has put together in Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse and Freeing Yourself from Its Power an excellent description of the tactics used by abusive individuals and organizations to cover up and to perpetrate abuse. He gives language to a lot of those things that you have had doubts about in your life, but haven’t quite been able to articulate. He steps into that place where you ask, “They are quoting the Bible, supposedly preaching from the Bible, but something is not right, what is it?” His dissertation goes into a lot more detail than this popular-level work in showing his research, and it was because of his interaction with Sovereign Grace during his research that I learned about him. Sadly, his work can be easily dismissed because it is not a theological work primarily. So, you are not going to find Dr. Mullen given an exegetical explanation of why something is wrong, for example. Also, he has analyzed the crisis response tactics of several organizations that would call themselves Christian, and we know that addressing such subjects in public is considered and condemned as gossip and slander in the same circles. So, I don’t believe that his work will have the visibility necessary in such contexts where it can be greatly beneficial to help people open their eyes to the reality that they live in.

Late in 2019, Rachel Green Miller published a work titled Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society. Quite frankly I don’t remember the objections I had to it, or the things that I didn’t fully agree with in the book. Time has a way of doing that. I honestly don’t remember what my criticism was. I may have to go back and revisit the work. But, this work addressed some fundamental challenges I was going through, essentially this: Ontologically, who am I and who is my wife? A lot of what happens in abusive situations is never direct. Hardly anybody actually states plainly and completely the heresy they are preaching (sometimes they do, and Miller quotes them—they then respond and mock and insult her). So people get away with saying, “Well, we don’t believe a husband is supposed to control his wife, we don’t teach that a wife’s main purpose and calling in life is her husband’s primarily or only.” But they do. This book enters that space, and it was greatly helpful to me to help me start charting a better understanding of what misunderstandings of God’s design for humanity were instrumental in our arrival at a place of darkness and pain. My greatest disappointment with the publication of this book is that the conversations that ought to have followed became just a bunch of threads of insults and caricaturizing of what Miller brought forward. And let’s not even talk about the whole polity and intramural challenges that were, not awakened, but made more clear because of this.

And, of course, we couldn’t not speak of Aimee Byrd. God bless this sister and strengthen her. I remember following my wife around the house reading The Housewife Theologian to her back in 2013 I think. I stopped reading her book at one point because something about the way she was handling two kingdom theology didn’t set right with me. But we later went back and finished it anyway. That’s what I do with books. I want to know the author. I want to understand the author. And quite frankly, when reviewing the book again to restart reading it, I honestly could not find the place where I had stopped. What I suspect happened is this: I’ve been going to seminary, and in one of my theology classes, my professor used a seminar style. I think in that process I discovered that Aimee Byrd was not on the fringes but that what I had considered a post-millennial (in reality Doug Wilsonian) view was in reality not all that aligned with the Word and church history. I share that because in my amateur pastoral ways, I hit the brakes on a book in what I suspect is the same way others hit the brakes when they read or attempt to read the books I’m describing now.

I do not like fitness at all. I despise it. I try to cram for my doctor’s exams. So I could not relate to Byrd’s Theological Fitness, but I was thankful to study Hebrews alongside with her. No Little Women is a very important work to be read by Christians, both in leadership and not. Can We Still Be Friends? for me got more difficult because she points out a gaping hole in pastoral care—my words, not hers—are we diminishing the image of God in women and her equal worth with man with these walls of “protection” between the pastors and women? Unfortunately, the book got her called names instead of thoughtful and orthodox and charitable discussions about things from the Billy Graham rule to the place where women who are not little can go in the church not just to being up concerns but also to wholeheartedly serve. We must be able to have conversations about the role of women in the church without being accused of going liberal, egalitarian, or of being ugly. We are not on a third grade playground.

But it was not until Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose that I thought to myself, “Two things: (1) It is never going to be good enough or proper enough for local church bodies to actually process this information and these questions, and (2) where are the Reformed exegetes and careful students of the Word, the gatekeepers, and why aren’t they engaging instead of rehashing the same arguments again? There has been a lot of theology done. The application of said theology is not always clear. A lot of people are seeing Dr. Grudem’s work on the ESS as not orthodox, and I would line up on that side of the argument as well. Basing gender roles not on ontology but on function and a dubious flavor of function at that is dangerous. Yet, Dr. Grudem recently published an amendment to his theology of divorce where he presented a case for divorce’s permissibility in cases of abuse. Why aren’t we talking about that and examining that? How does that intersect with Dr. Piper’s view of marriage’s permanence in cases of abuse? How does that intersect with something like Dr. Ruth Tucker’s experience shared in Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse? If an eminent church historian like her goes through this…

I realized that Byrd’s use of egalitarian and Roman Catholic sources was going to be just one excuse to ignore her. But, I also would like to note that there is a gap in the literature. The CBMW does not have it all figured out. We got the closing minutes of Dr. Piper’s panel at T4G. That is just not enough time to address these deeply disturbing issues.

Women are being abused under our watch.

Women are being ignored by us. And we don’t do anything about it. The PCA commissioned the study of the role of women in the church recently. Brittany Smith and Doug Serven Edith a volume titled Co-Laborers, Co-Heirs. We must pay attention to what’s in there. I don’t like it all. I disagree with a fair bit of it, but it was critical to show me that we communicate in clear terms and practices to women that they have a very small place in the church, and that the are very few if any safe spaces for them to share concerns or present their testimony of abuse inflicted upon them in the church.

Dr. Beth Allison Barr is an academic historian who has produced a book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood. And, quite frankly, it is just as uncomfortable for me to read unabashed praise of this book as it is to read Dr. DeYoung’s review of the book. I line up more with something like Wendy Alsup’s review since I, like Alsup, cannot deny the harm done in some complementarian contests—I’ve lived it— yet I have questions about dealing fairly with history that I think must be asked charitably and with ears open to understand. Regardless, I also see the footnotes and understand that even if she produced a 5,000 page volume with incredible historical detail, it may still have produced similar reactions. I am not an academic historian. Just an aficionado.

I could add more examples from the rest of the literature that has been written in the last two years, but I have reached the point of no return. I’m at the point where I believe we must stop for now.

The criticism is a moving target. Period.

Drs. Köstenberger and Schreiner’s Women in the Church is on its third edition. These subjects take time. Revisions to our thinking, dare I say, reformation, are one of the Reformation’s heritage most valued ongoing tasks for the Church.

One of my friends is gracious enough to allow me to read his books before they are published. I work hard at finding grammatical or theological suggestions. I think I’ve gone through it all, and then in print I see something glaringly missed. We are fallen humans. Our minds are being renewed day by day, if we are in Christ, but they are still not what they will be. The flesh, the world, and the devil play their part. We are weak and feeble. We are proud and foolish. We are afraid. We fear man and not God. And sometimes, even if we have all our pursuit of holiness and our kindness and our graciousness, even if we are filled with the Spirit, we are still fallen. We will miss a comma, we will let a poorly worded phrase get through. Or we will actively, in our pride, try to get our way and not God’s.

These authors get criticized because of their credentials—if they have them, they don’t count; if they don’t have them, they count. These authors get criticized because of their use of sources—if we are going to be covering our ears because somebody is an egalitarian or a feminist (or say they are egalitarian or feminists even if they are not), how do we possibly expect others will extend to us the kindness of listening when we talk to them? We can’t change minds if the other side is not listening. Women get slandered about being slanderers all the time. They are said to be egalitarians or radical liberals in a quest to destroy the OPC or Sovereign Grace or the SBC. They are not. And since they aren’t that is just slander about them being slanderers. Period.

Dr. Valerie Hobbs has written a really valuable work in her An Introduction to Religious Language: Exploring Theolinguistics in Contemporary Contexts, but once again, the response is caricatures in Twitterland. These authors get mocked about the way they look, even by their style, by the way people perceive their submission or lack of submission as they would say to their husbands and pastors (a whole other conversation to be had).

When I was a pastor inside of Sovereign Grace, I was told directly and indirectly by the national, regional, and local leadership to not read or listen to the allegations that were presented. Brent Detwiler was painted as an evil mind bent on a vendetta against CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace, as somebody bitter and unforgiving. To read him would be as damaging to the soul as viewing pornography. At around the time my local church was adopted into Sovereign Grace, he reached out to me personally via Facebook and asked me to turn around, to consider the evidence of cover ups and evil perpetrated. I didn’t turn around. I perused things, but how I wish I had taken the time to read. I wish I would have allowed myself to ask, “Something is not right. What is it?” But no, I dismissed it because of this caricature of Brent that I was given that fit with my cognitive dissonance that desperately needed to reconcile what I perceived as the goodness of the pastors in the Sovereign Grace Midwest-Northwest Regional Assembly of Elders in contrast with these accounts of evil and allegations of sexual cover up at my own local church. I told myself I did the research. But I just took some people at their word. And ignored others.

Rachel Denhollander and Jennifer Greenberg were the kind of people I was taught to ignore and avoid. When my wife was being yelled at in a moving vehicle once, my pastor said to her that he had given her everything she needed to be the next Rachel Denhollander. That she had the heart of a discernment blogger. I remember the shame I felt because the message I got from that was this: On one side of my cognitive dissonance was this—our pastor is abusing my wife right now, and he knows she will not shut up about it because she knows this to be abhorrent to the Word. My wife was going to be like “this woman,” or like Dee Parsons or like Todd Wilhelm or like Brent. But on the other side of my sinful mind was this: “Why can’t you, wife, just shut up like a nice, gentle and quiet spirit, 1 Peter 3, Sarah kind of wife and take it? You know that he is right about your sin. Let’s get along with life and not make a big deal out of this. Everything will work out if we do what he says.”

How I wish I would have said I would have been proud of my wife if her work would have the impact that Rachel Denhollander has had. So I listened to them in Texas at the Caring Well conference and read their published works. It felt like I was being a naughty boy speaking with Jennifer about her book Not Forsaken at The Good Book Company book stand. I felt like a traitor for listening to what Rachel Denhollander was saying from the stage and reading what she had written. I felt like I was some sort of lower man, a coward, a sell out, a liberal for buying and reading to my girls the kids version of What’s a Girl Worth?

And we need to ask: What is the image of God in our fellow image bearers worth?

We need to talk about some of the larger points of Dr. DeYoung’s review. But it’s more than that. Don’t waste your book reading. Don’t waste your book reviews with this “hermeneutic of suspicion,” especially if you choose to be blind to your own suspicion.

Be a Berean. That’s Scriptural. But be bold and kind in preaching the gospel. I read Dr. Matthew Barrett’s book on the doctrines of grace for a project I was doing related to total depravity. In The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort, he showed me something amazing. To this day, Calvinists and Arminians disagree. We all know that. But when you get to read the actual documents, Barrett is right to highlight the amazing well of encouragement towards piety that the Christian receives from these doctrinal articulations of belief and refutations of error. They used language to bring glory to God even as they sought to refute errors that have remained until our present day. Your faith will be strengthened as you read these saints of old address the issues of their day.

Don’t trash the person. Assess the evidence. Assess the ideas. And refute them if necessary. Just don’t do it cheaply. And don’t do it in the “you don’t have to bother to read this” sort of way. The whole “make me a sandwich” nonsense that Byrd and Green got.

And remember this, there is plenty of questions I have about Dr. DeYoung’s own book, which is a reprint of sorts of the original version. And we have to have these conversations without vilifying the other.

Let’s be salty. The right kind of salty.

And let’s live in the light.

After all, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and if we cannot process the arguments presented by someone like Kristin Kobe Du Mez against a John Wayne kind of masculinity being presented as biblical and commendable, perhaps even as greater than what the Bible actually teaches, are we actually being men of the Word, gentlemen? Are we being good shepherds of the sheep?

In Shepherds after My own Heart, Timothy Laniak says, “Psalm 23 is reminder that even the king—especially the king—was dependent on the God of Israel for personal nurture and guidance. Israel’s kings had to understand that being a member of the flock of God was more fundamental than being an appointed shepherd over that flock” (114).

We talk so much about being kings and shepherds in our circles, but we can’t even handle the simple paradox that somebody can be right about something while being wrong about some of the parts. Or the fundamental principle of Philippians 2 humility, that we are to count others as more significant than ourselves.


Those sympathetic to Barr’s perspective will likely resonate with the personal narrative, considering it one more reason to dismantle patriarchy once and for all. Others, however, might be curious to know if there is another side to these stories (Prov 18:17) and, more importantly, might wonder whether the author’s scars get in the way of giving complementarianism a fair hearing.

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Same Review

There is another element to Dr. DeYoung’s review. Absolutely Proverbs 18:17 matters, and it matters a lot. For example, I mention an encounter with the police. One of the members of the security detail of the church wrote their account of the events on my wife’s Facebook page and immediately defriended her. He said that we would remove those comments. We have not. We will never do that. Because truth matters, and the response itself is part of the events.

Here is the difficult challenge with using the book of Proverbs to silence someone who has been abused. You can use it all day long as part of this narrative where someone with a tender conscience would rather die in shame and silence than in the freedom for which Christ has set them free. All stories have two sides, at least. It took a great deal of time and work of the Spirit of God for me not to be parroting the “other side” of my story.

It goes something like this: My wife was spiritually abused by her pastor of almost twenty years. But, she was idolizing children and was very angry with God. She was also not being able to respect me a whole lot. And I was complicit with it all anyway because I didn’t do anything when this happened before to others. If I were a better Christian, or a Christian at all, I would have stopped this train long ago, but I didn’t because I loved the praise and supposed love of this man towards me more than I loved Jesus.

Guess what? My wife couldn’t respect me because I had distorted the gospel, and submitting to something so vile is precisely what she is not supposed to do. And all of the other stuff is also true. There is another side to the events. But they do not change what happened. Abusers love to focus on what the other has done to get away with their sin and without consequences.

The Word asks us to inquire diligently and to include witnesses because truth matters. Mattthew 7, again, requires us to judge ourselves rightly first, but it doesn’t stop there. We take the thing off from our eye before we can assess if the thing we see in the other is a 2×4 blocking their vision.

The other side of the story is something that the person who has dealt with abuse has had used to silence and shame them.

Don’t let the scars be used as an illusionist trick. Abusers also have scars. Look at the facts. And remember, Dr. Langberg has seen a lot of these stories being told: not in order, with a lot of repetition, and from a lot of pain and trauma. Be patient. Back to the humility of Philippians 2.

Words that Tear Down

Victor Chininin Buele

We as Christians are very gullible. We strive to see the best in people in the name of grace, but that makes us vulnerable to wolves who herald grace but are nothing like Jesus. They put on a good show, that’s for sure.

Today I want to highlight one common fallacy in North American churches, a false dichotomy that brings about much pain and abuse and devastation—the false dichotomy between words that heal and words that tear down.

I recently heard a class based on Ephesians, specifically chapter four, where this dichotomy was prominently featured.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)

The contrast presented was clear: you can use your words either to build up the Body of Christ, the church, or you can use your words to tear it down.

And of course, that is true. To some extent.

The tongue has much power and is very difficult to tame (James 1:26, 3:1-12). I remember as a child the common proverb that the pen is mightier than the sword. I remember spending a lot of time thinking about how my BIC pen from school could hurt more than the swords I saw the army officers carry. There is much power in our words, and if we use them for evil purposes, we will tear down the Body. We will tear down everything.

As I was listening to this young man teach this seminar on biblical communications, I give him credit for doing his best to handle the text. He gave a lot of background information and tried to summarize things effectively. But this dangerous dichotomy was left there. And it is not a passive dichotomy.

I was reading Dr. Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer’s A Church Called Tov, and they mention that scientists say that “when our brains are not focused on a task, when they are in downtime, our minds naturally go into storytelling mode” (55). That is entirely consistent with our daily experience. It is also a great kindness of God to reveal Himself to us through the history of redemption in His Word, so we can understand and relate to Him. The gospel is partly a story. It is the true narrative. It is also good news. It is metanarrative. It is a call to repentance and belief. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).

That’s why it is imperative to address this dichotomy. When we go into storytelling mode, hardly ever do we find that we were the losers in a verbal encounter. We always find ourselves the victors. And most importantly, we spend more time rehashing something that happened in our minds than the time we actually spent living the event itself. That’s why the dichotomy of words that tear down versus words that build up is critical. It colors our recollection of events, and it will do us harm.

When we believe this narrative, or even more dangerously, when we believe that God teaches this dichotomy through the inspired words of the Holy Spirit to the Apostle Paul, we find that we have closed the door and locked it to any meaningful call to repentance.

We lose the gospel.

False grace will teach us that our words must only build up, and that would define building up as saying words of affirmation or praise or at least knowing to shut your mouth if you don’t have such words of affirmation or praise.

This false grace would take any call to repentance and holiness, any challenge to misappropriated spiritual authority as a tear down event. “These manipulation techniques [discrediting the critics, demonizing the critics, spinning the story, gaslighting the critics, making the perpetrator the victim] are highly effective because they plead sympathy for the evildoer. Suddenly, anger is misdirected and listeners are angry with accusers for their mistreatment of the church or pastor” (66). Any words that would call an abuser to repentance are now not about the abuse but about the character of the person who is calling the abuser to repentance, or about the way that it was done or the way it was not done. It is a tear down event. Motive is read as the destruction of the abuser. A vendetta. Being snared by Satan to do his will to damage the reputation of the abuser and the church, to destroy the work for the Kingdom, to malign the name of Jesus, to be divisive.

This dichotomy does not leave any space for the confrontations of Scripture. Paul went to Peter to challenge him for distorting the gospel for both Jews and Gentiles. There is no space in this dichotomy for such a rebuke. There’s no space in this rebuke even for a letter such as 1 Corinthians, much loved to allegedly prove the point that believers must be quiet about abuses inside the church and suffer silently and be defrauded rather than to expose these things to light. (I wrote about this in another occasion asking who the people of Chloe were and teasing some of this out. Spoiler: the people of Chloe are in large part why the letter to the Corinthians was written, and there is no rebuke of them as gossipers or slanderers).

I was reading Dr. Matthew Barrett’s book The Grace of Godliness recently, and I was greatly edified by seeing the doctrines of grace as a call to piety, to holiness, to a more intense and loving pursuit of living in the presence of God. One thing I noticed in his analysis is that this false dichotomy has no place for history either. The book’s starting point are the Canons of Dort. If you read how they addressed the Remonstrants you will see there that words such as the ones used to write the refutation of errors in the Canons would easily be considered words to tear down under the modern church’s strategies of self-protection and mishandling of abuse. But the heart of the Canons was to build up the Church. And what they left us was an intensely devotional document that can be a great encouragement for the discouraged, and a motivation to holiness for the one who is weary.

There is such a thing as words that expose the darkness in order to build up. And that is just the motive: to shine the light in the darkness until Christ comes back. If we frame our life only in terms of this false dichotomy, our devotional life will fizzle out, and we will become intensively combative and actually divisive.

We do have a choice, will we build up or will we tear down the Body of Christ?

Abuse and neglect are tearing down the Body even if pious, carefully-crafted words or false narratives seem to win the day.

In order to leave this in a positive note, I want to show something the authors of the book mentioned above list: seven steps for public communication about sexual sin in the church from Jim Van Yperen. This obviously applies to more than sexual sin, and they are a great way to help us to think of ways to overcome this false and dangerous dichotomy:

1. Speak God’s Word—that is, “use the words God would use to describe sin”

2. Be specific and succinct, honest and direct

3. Take unconditional and comprehensive responsibility

4. Express genuine remorse, and humbly ask forgiveness

5. Submit to change

6. Make appropriate restitution

7. Seek full reconciliation—with an important caveat: “The goal of reconciliation is to restore a sinner to fellowship, not a leader to power”

Jim Van Yperen, How Can a Church Witness Well in the Aftermath of Sexual Abuse?

Or you could just sit there, cowardly, and keep saying that those who are calling you to repentance are evil, snared by Satan, committed to a radical agenda to destroy you and your beloved church, bitter and angry, unforgiving and full of deceit.

The choice is clear:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (ESV)

Or as a different man, one of the pastoral residents at my church, rightly challenged me on his sermon on Sunday:

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…

Psalm 95:7b-8a (ESV)

Help, The Worship Pastor Found Reggaetón, But He Still Won’t Play Oceans!

Victor Chininin Buele

I am as Andean as it comes. Minor keys. Give me a song in A minor or D minor any day. I can turn any song into a melancholic Andean tune. And love it.

I also happened to have gone through the days of the Young, Restless, and Reformed, and I benefitted greatly from a renewal of theology that produced a lot of songs that prompted me to think about the depths of the knowledge, wisdom, and beauty of God.

And then, life all fell apart–my sin and the sin of others brought something that was very dysfunctional to a necessary end. I have not led a congregation in singing in many months, and it has taken a while to even find the desire or the affections to sing on Sunday mornings.

Abuse resulted in a strange adventure, one that would take me down some strange paths. I had written earlier about reformation over deconstructionism. I had to think about a lot of things I had taken for granted and try to line them up with what God actually says, not what others told me God said. I had to learn to think in Nicene categories: social Trinity thinking creeped up everywhere to justify unorthodox views of many things.

But my adventure also has a musical side to it. Today I’m writing about that.

The last song I led at the church before the wheels of what I knew to be life came off the bus was fresh out of the oven from Sovereign Grace Music:

O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
Gracious Savior of my ruined life
My guilt and cross laid on Your shoulders
In my place You suffered, bled, and died

You rose, the grave and death are conquered
You broke my bonds of sin and shame

Music and words by Nathan Stiff © 2017 Sovereign Grace Worship/ASCAP

And there I was, holding secrets, not letting anyone know my shame–both the shame I knew came from my actions but also the shame of the inevitability of exposing the mess. How can a pastor sing about the Savior that rose from the grave, conquered shame, while living in shame–my own and the one that was drilled into me. Be loyal, be the guardian of the stories entrusted to you, be the guardian of your pastor’s reputation. Those kinds of words drag you into shame when the reputation of an abuser is on the line.

I led that Sunday. No one in the team knew what I already knew. That I would never play with them again. I have not spoken to any of them in many months.

Speaking with brothers and sisters in retrospective, I learned that while seeking to be theologically sound, there was ever hardly any space in my song selections for people to breathe, for people to emote, for people to rest, for people to wander to where the Lord would lead them. You see, singing the kind of songs we love in Reformed circles is exhausting. It requires great discipline. But it also at times makes you feel pretty dumb because you don’t seem to be able to keep up. And when a culture is already dysfunctional towards abuse, you have a big problem because the leader and those in the inner circle don’t need one more thing to set them apart from “the rest of the sheep”–they get these songs, we don’t. They are special, we aren’t. That is just not how God works.

This is not, please, do not misunderstand, any kind of dirt on the hard and beautiful work of the Gettys, Matt Papa, Matt Boswell, Nathan Partain, Indelible Grace, and many others. I am thankful. I remain thankful. Your music has affected me deeply and still does.

But, I had no idea what the next stop of the journey would involve.

I crashed against Latin coritos. There is this sort of Latin Pentecostal-originated little choruses. Very simple songs that are definitely the opposite in the spectrum of theology. “The sweet presence of God is in this place. The Holy Spirit over His church is going to be poured out. Just praise Him, Just praise Him, Just praise Him with the heart.” No nuance. No description of the presence of God in the believer, no ecclesiological understanding that God dwells with his people and not in a place or a building or a temple, as they say in Spanish. What does “just praise Him” mean exactly? How does one do that? “If you want to feel like me the presence of God, raise up your hands, and open your mouth and praise the Lord.” Well, how does that line up with repentance or the conviction of sin, with the Lordship of Jesus, and the call to believe and repentance? “He arrived, He arrived, the Holy Spirit arrived. I feel Him in my hands. I feel Him in my feet.” What does that mean? What are we singing?

And of course, there were translated songs that I used to sing when I was in college. Celebrate Jesus! Come, Now Is the Time to Worship, things like that.

And one day, a light came on: “Immerse me in the river of Your Spirit. I need to refresh this dry heart, thirsty for You.” And I said, this is such emotional language. It reminds me of… Oceans! “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders/Let me walk upon the waters/Wherever You would call me/Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander/And my faith will be made stronger/In the presence of my Savior.” Which is actually just fine, especially translated. Hillsong music is particularly great in Spanish because a lot of the nuanced, obscure statements that are wide enough for an unorthodox trailer to drive through are just not there. The translators had to fill the void with legitimate theology. But I had a seed of thinking–why do people want to sing the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over again?

I mean, I knew the joke of Chris Tomlin’s bridges to old hymns. He had to be my attempt to give space in the songs I picked for services for many years since he shines in that gap between the kind of hip, kind of modern, and still retaining what I love about old hymns (weight, lyrics, eschatology). But his incredibly high keys and range made it quite strange for me to always be lowering him to singable keys, for example.

How does a man whose music preference is more like Sojourn Music lead a worship service? For years, a song that has captivated my heart is Sojourn’s May Your Power Rest on Me. I’ve found nothing like it. Musically, lyrically, in tone and care, in emotion and in expressing what my heart wanted to say to the Lord in my weakness.

Yet, on my third stop of the journey, I was taken back to my roots. And I was incredibly uncomfortable in it. I couldn’t sing some of the songs without memories of difficult things, of loved people who just simply will not speak to me, of loved people we hurt when we thought we were standing on the right side of things.

And then one Sunday, one of the music leaders hit me with a ton of bricks with this one. I had never heard it before:

Bring your sick, your restless fevered, filled with anxious shaking moans,
Who would kill for some relief from, all the itching in their bones.
Who still search for some elixir, that could ease their gasping breath,
Some sweet drink to drive the poison, from the writhing in their head.

Bring your wounded, all your broken, who can’t stand up on their own.
Who are weak beyond dignity, who will never become strong.
They will only need more helping, each investment is a loss.
Yes, bring all those who could never, return any of their cost

Jesus Christ, says “Gather to me, all you lost, you poor, you dead!
I’m your sacrifice, your ransom, I was given in your stead.
I have found you, freed you, healed you, my compassion you can trust,
I redeem the undeserving, I am generous with my love.

Bring your fearful, bring your cowards, bring your hiding cornered strays.
Those who fly at every shadow, those who run without a chase.
Bring the cursed, abused, neglected, who have lived their lives in caves,
Who distrust the light as darkness, while they long to be embraced.

Bring your bound, the souls imprisoned, bullied by the threat of pain,
Who have tried and tried for freedom, but have always failed escape.
Those who live with their aggressor, whisp’ring doubts into their ear,
Who dare not hope on a savior, lest they be crushed by despair.

Nathan Partain, 2014

WOW! I couldn’t sing it. I was weeping. Driving to church I had all these doubts from years of conditioning to being OK with abusive environments. And there it all just came to a halt. Jesus Christ called me to gather me to Himself.

I remember being led to sing from CityAlight:

Come rejoice now, O my soul
For His love is my reward
Fear is gone and hope is sure
Christ is mine forevermore

And mine are keys to Zion city
Where beside the King I walk
For there my heart has found its treasure
Christ is mine forevermore

CityAlight Copyright © 2016 CityAlight Music (APRA)

Yet, somewhere along the way, because of a track where Marcos Witt (it is impossible to separate him from the influence of a church I could not possibly affirm, Lakewood, with leaders I could not possibly affirm either, Joel and Victoria Osteen) featured Funky, one day during the pandemic, we got sent down a rabbit hole where we found Funky, Alex Zurdo, Redimi2, Musiko, Indiomar, Lizzy Parra, Natan el Profeta, Jay Kalyl, GabrielRodriguezEMC, Madiel Lara, Evan Craft, Jaydan, VAES, and all of their friends. I was struck by something. Their evangelistic zeal and their passion to connect the hard realities of life and sin to the hope of the gospel. We had enjoyed for a number of years the work of Juan Luis Guerra to make much of God through music that most would not touch with a ten foot pole. But this was a whole other level of fun but also lyrical richness. Yet, one cannot overlook doctrinal differences and areas of disagreement. However, the unity they display is quite remarkable. The UNO album that Funky, Redimi2, and Alex Zurdo put together during the pandemic was certainly an amazing testimony to God’s faithfulness to make His church one.

So, that’s where we are. We are back to singing dense songs on Sunday mornings. We are listening to urban music. Our time at the piano is some mixture of the two. My girls are back to singing. For a while at the beginning of everything my oldest daughter just quit singing. That grieved my heart greatly.

A dear brother asked me where I stood with relation to Sovereign Grace Music after everything.

It is impossible to separate the music from the leadership structure and the BCO and the polity and the deaf ear towards the suffering of people. Even if we pretended for one second that Sovereign Grace has been victim of a massive work of Satan to deceive hundreds of people to arrive at the wrong conclusion that they have been abused within Sovereign Grace, that they have not been silenced, that they truly are gossips and slanderers, tools of Satan, snared by the enemy to destroy humble servant leaders who love their congregations and Jesus Christ, the lack of responsiveness and of humility in reaching out to such “tools of Satan” shows a different story. The degree of abuse that has been covered up is unreal. I have email correspondence where we are explicitly told to not read the accounts of people exposing things to light and discouraging our congregations from reading it. It is impossible for me to separate Behold Our God or Jesus, Thank You or any of those beloved songs from this massive mess. Even if it were all made up, I would expect people who sing every Sunday rich lyrics of the greatness of God’s grace to respond differently to people who have had their lives turned upside down.

Where do I stand in relation to the music of Elevation or Hillsong or Bethel?

I know that highly emotional music is remarkably effective. God made music very special. It affects us in very unique ways. There is a difference between singing something a couple of times and turning it into a mantra. Back to Oceans, is there anything wrong with such a little chorus? Not really. But there is something massively wrong about singing it 8-10 times in a row with a certain synth pad and space. At one point, you stop thinking. And we cannot divorce this music from the abuse that has recently come to light, the cover-ups, the way that unpaid interns were exploited for the gain of those at the top. And there are songs that are questionable at best. Do we really want our congregations to sing music that’s marginally OK and profoundly emotional? How do we make sure we are OK with verses 1 and 3 of So Will I but not verse 2. I remember being at Revoice and hearing the profound emotional impact of hundreds of voices singing together, “If You gladly chose surrender so will I.” I remember asking a friend of mine who was also there what he thought of the second verse of that song. Honestly, he couldn’t remember it. And music is implanted in our mind like that. Does it matter that the songs we sing come from a place where the leader had coloring books made for children that featured him and read, “UNITY: We are united under the visionary” and used Romans 13:1 to support this, “Elevation Church is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will protect our unity in supporting his vision.” Whose vision exactly? Does it matter that the songs we sing come from a place where the hopes of people are played with through an abuse of the ideas of the supernatural #WakeUpOlive?

It very much does.

The music we sing matters. It matters greatly. Worship matters, after all. So does the character and integrity of those who write our music, record our music, distribute our music, play our music, lead our music before congregations.

So, what then?

Well, this excursion has shown me that there is no formula. God will speak through simple songs. God will speak through incredibly dense songs. God will minister to His people. God will shepherd His sheep with love and care and with correction and strength.

What shall we say about these things?

The key here is this: The music we present to God has vertical and horizontal implications, and it originates from vertical and horizontal realities.

We sing because we are the redeemed (Ps 107:2). The Psalter is a songbook, the soundtrack of the worship of the people of God. It is a spectrum of the realities of life, the emotions of life, the cries for God, the praise of God, the thanksgiving due to God. Thus, we do not want to manipulate people into singing. We do not want to pretend to bring them into the presence of God. We do not want to start acting a mediators of God’s presence and favor and blessing. We want to shepherd God’s people to know God, to learn from Him in His Word (read by themselves and preached from the pulpit and taught in the life of the church and discussed thoroughly by all of God’s redeemed). We want the affections that people have for God to find their expression in worship, not to trick them into emotions through music. Missions exist because worship doesn’t, John Piper has said. The Word comes first. People are to fall in love with God. Musical expression originates from there.

We must be aware that music can be a great tool for manipulation and abuse. There is a way in which high commitment organizations can use music to keep people within a certain set of unbiblical dogmas and discourage any exploration or question. The Jehovah’s Witness have a very select songbook. “So preach the word/So that ev’ryone can hear!/Preach the word,/For we know the end is near” and so they sing their way into knocking the doors of your homes. The song is not unbiblical per se, but it is greatly used to keep the group cohesive. Verse 2 of this hymn of theirs is: “Seasons of trouble we will face;/Opposition may bring shame and disgrace./Though preaching may out of season seem,/Our trust is in our God, who is supreme.” Nothing really unbiblical about it, but horizontally, this means a lot more than what it says. This is a song that they can sing to one another after I have challenged their belief in forsaking a family member for stepping out of their cult, after I have shown to them that they really don’t believe what the Bible says but what the Watchtower tells them it says.

We cannot underestimate the impact of years of believing practically and theologically that something like Sovereign Grace Music is the only good music out there. The music is many times lyrically amazing as I hope you have already gathered from this. But when we are in a culture where exclusion and seclusion are consistent with abusive and manipulative authority structures, you don’t need one more differentiator to add to this culture–not only are our leaders the only ones preaching the true gospel, but our music is also the right and the best one.

You can make the best music to God. But your life and doctrine and practice and testimony must be above reproach. Elders are to be thought of well by outsiders. They are to live lives above reproach in every area.

So, faithful pastor, know your people. Don’t be complacent to what they want. Push, yes. Teach, yes. Instruct, yes. Challenge, yes. But don’t treat them like people who cannot think or who cannot reach the levels of theological sophistication you think you have. There is great power in singing corporately–in bringing prayers and concerns to the Lord together, as His church. Do not misuse this amazing gift of music to be consistent with cultures of abuse, manipulation, and shame.

Put urban music beats to old hymns if that suits your congregation. Sing Oceans without turning it into a mantra if you have really found it would lead your congregation to God. Don’t sing lyrics that are objectionable unnecessarily. We have a long church history of lyrics that are not questionable or unorthodox. Don’t think you are reinventing the wheel. You are not alone. You are not that big of a songwriter. You are not the organization that is going to turn the tide on Christian music. Be creative, faithful, theologically orthodox. Do it all with love for God’s sheep and for those who don’t yet believe, to His glory and not your own.

Do not lose heart, Paul would say.

Roberto Pineda

Víctor Chininin Buele

Mi querida mamita acaba de recibir un reconocimiento importante por el quincuagésimo aniversario de la UTPL, la universidad a la que ella ha dedicado una gran parte de su vida. Recuerdo desde niño subir a la universidad a pie, otras veces a manejar mi bicicleta y caerme, otras veces a jugar, otras veces a esperar hasta las 18:30 para que ya salga mamita. Después de que la familia pudiera adquirir un vehículo, pues la cuesta de subida a la universidad fue el terror que tuvimos que enfrentar todos los choferes camarones de la familia, incluido yo.

Fue un reconocimiento como docente inspirador.

Y es que eso uno lo entiende cuando se solía ir (antes del COVID) a hacer trámites. A veces parecía que por donde sea que uno vaya la gente sale de donde yo no sé, venía, la abrazaba: doctorita, Marianita, licenciada. Y no solo es en Loja.

Y pues, recordé a mi maestro y amigo Roberto Pineda, uno de los docentes inspiradores de mi vida.

Pues resulta que es su cumpleaños y me pareció justo escribir algunas palabras acerca de este héroe de mi juventud. Nos atraen los superhéroes de Marvel porque pretenden tener capacidades sobrenaturales. Nos asombran. Cautivan nuestra atención.

Y por eso a veces olvidamos a los héroes de carne y hueso. A aquellos que se asoman a ayudar en medio de sus propios caos y problemas, de sus propias dificultades y angustias. A aquellos que nos parecen tan valientes cuando la valentía es en realidad el valor de levantarse en medio de todo lo que les agobia y avanzar a pesar de todo eso.

En este día pues estaba solo, mi hermana estaba enferma y no pudo venir mi familia a quién sabe qué evento. Algo le pasó a mi ojo derecho, una crisis de estética y vergüenza para cualquier adolescente lojano. Hasta llovió y el evento fue realizado en las gradas del colegio. Pero ahí estuvo Roberto a mi lado.

Tuvimos el privilegio de ser la primera promoción del Colegio Militar “Tcrn. Lauro Guerrero” que en nuestros tiempos fue una inversión seria del estado y de su ejército así como también de nuestras familias que se esforzaron para hacer posible que semejantes diablitos pasen por el COMIL. Buscaron darnos lo mejor. Buscaron educarnos de una forma diferente e innovadora y lo lograron. Yo pude obtener mi ingeniería en ciencias de la computación y redes informáticas en los Estados Unidos en gran parte por tales inversiones: la gran inversión de mi abuelita y mi familia pero también la inversión académica del COMIL a pesar de yo haber sido en las palabras del gran cadete José Luis Balcázar: el alumno a distancia.

Cuando uno piensa acerca de la idea del docente inspirador, la informática no es el tema que surge en la mente. ¿Qué hizo que mi maestro de informática sea mi docente inspirador?

No puedo negar su conocimiento. Roberto es muy inteligente y capaz. Su cerebro opera en otra dimensión muy afín a los dilemas y problemas algorítmicos y de programación. Su teoría de lenguages de programación me dio las bases para poder hasta el día de hoy seguir aprendiendo nuevas cosas. ¿Quién hubiera pensado en aquellos tiempos de los programitas de Pascal y Visual Basic que yo iba a estar implementando soluciones de pago globales ahora hasta en la nube pública y con alta disponibilidad? Muchas cosas pasaron en las aulas–flujogramas y sintaxis, compilación y errores, teoría y práctica. De vez en cuando teníamos algo de visibilidad a sus programas y proyectos, a lo que hacía y había hecho cuando no estaba en el aula y era algo impresionante.

Pero no era solamente un conocimiento intelectual. Roberto me ayudó a aprender la importancia de amar lo que uno hace. A darle de corazón. Solamente hay otro maestro, el doctor Ernie Ferguson, a quien yo he conocido y de quien yo pueda decir, este hombre ama la informática y tiene una gran pasión por su vocación. Muchos son muy capaces desde el punto de vista técnico, otros desde el punto de vista pedagógico, y otros desde el punto de vista académico. Roberto es un amalgama de los tres–técnicamente impecable, pedagógicamente atento y académicamente riguroso. Es que a final de cuentas todos son ceros y unos. No hay tal cosa como la duda o la ambigüedad. Pero todos los alumnos tienen un corazón. Roberto no descuida los dos ámbitos–la rigurosidad lógica y las emociones del corazón.

Esos fundamentos me han ayudado mucho en mi carrera. ¿Qué hago? Por los últimos dieciséis años he sido consultor técnico de una compañía mundial de softare de pagos electrónicos. A través de ella he podido realizar implementaciones de nuestra solución de procesamiento de pagos en muchos lugares: en los Estados Unidos, en México, en Ecuador, en Tailandia, en Europa, en Brasil. He viajado a muchos bancos y tiendas grandes, a procesadores e intermediarios. Parte de mi trabajo es encontrar problemas y corregirlos. Pero la mayor parte de mi trabajo es vivir en el medio–entre mis compañeros técnicos y mis clientes. ¿Qué es lo que necesita mi cliente en realidad? y ¿qué es lo que podemos proveerle y cuán rápido podemos entregarlo?

Es ahí donde la inspiración de Roberto es más obvia. Él me enseño a programar con cuidado y a hacerlo con gran cautela, pensando en los demás. Muchas veces antes de poder depurar bien necesito meterme en el código y buscar por dónde empezar. No es tanto técnica, aunque sí lo es, sino que también es arte.

Y Roberto es un hombre, como se describiría él mismo, enamorado. Eso es lo que siempre me impactó más acerca de él. Roberto siempre ha estado muy enamorado de su esposa. Roberto ama a su familia y los momentos más preciosos que recuerdo son de verlo en familia. A veces no me salían los programas y caminaba de la casa a la suya, cuando todavía vivíamos por el centro, y recuerdo que eso requería atinarle bien al tiempo porque si era hora de que esté con la familia no podía ayudar.

Siempre que nos encontramos en la calle, siempre habla de su familia. Casi ni habla de él mismo. De hecho, creo que me habían dicho que estaba en La Dolorosa pero él nunca me lo ha confirmado. Siempre tiene otras cosas de las que quiere conversar.

Nosotros vivimos como una generación estudiantil los rezagos de la dolarización, la migración, la crisis económica y sus efectos en nuestras vidas. Personalmente viví la enfermedad de mi hermana (quien gracias a Dios y a pesar de los pronósticos más oscuros sigue a nuestro lado). En el medio de todo lo que colapsaba a nuestro alrededor, de toda la incertidumbre, de todos los desafíos, de todo el sufrimiento, por ahí venía en la calle, Roberto en ropa de deportes, Roberto con su esposa abrazadote, Roberto con su terno para dar clases, Roberto con los exámenes.

Pensé que esta era una buena forma de desearle feliz cumpleaños y de darle las gracias por todo. Gracias por ser parte integral de quien soy. Gracias por sonreír en una cultura en la que mientras más tieso uno es, más respetable se dice ser. Gracias por hablar de forma informal y cariñosa en una cultura en la que el formalismo y fingir buena educación es tan prevalente. De hecho, nunca recuerdo haber escuchado a Roberto solicitar a alguien que le llame por el título. En la sencillez y humildad hay gran nobleza. Y el respeto se lo gana, no se lo exige.

¿Y saben qué? Roberto me enseñó a no ser envidioso y a luchar contra la codicia en mi vida. En una cultura en la que si uno habla de lo que en realidad hace, los demás se apuran a copiarle o a buscar hacerle daño, lamentablemente, Roberto es alguien a quien le he podido confiar mis sueños y mis aspiraciones sin temor. Y cuando le comento de lo poquito que he podido llegar a hacer, siento su sano orgullo y felicidad. La sonrisa de Roberto no es falsa. Es sincera. Doy gracias a Dios por los alumnos que él tiene el privilegio de formar y les quiero alentar a emprender con humildad y sin temor, a buscar soluciones a los problemas que todavía no las tienen. Dios les ha dado un gran maestro.

Gracias, Roberto.

Deconstructionism and Reformation

Víctor Chininin Buele

One more story came through the Twitter world this week onto my eyes. One more human being, made in the image of God, abused by someone who professed the Christian faith, and ignored and not believed by those who were protecting the abuser, published a tweet announcing yet another exit. Leaving Christianity. Removing herself from church and Christian culture in order to heal.

I have always loved legos. It turns out that I spoil my children because I never had a lot of legos. My family worked super hard to provide for my needs, and I’m profoundly thankful. That includes both my blood relatives in Ecuador and my not-formally adoptive family in the United States. I know I cost them a lot of money. And they made sacrifices for me. I am thankful. But that still meant I didn’t have every thing I ever wanted. And that was good for me. My wife often reminds me of the wisdom of not giving the children everything that I didn’t have.

I always worked on building a city for Dedé, my cousin’s doll. And if I am honest, my doll as well. The doll had an airport with its own Air Force, a fire department, police station, train depot, an army. All the things a little boy could add to a city. And somehow abuelita managed to squeeze a few sucres here and there to make this possible. The doll even had its own church with me saying mass there.

When I started hearing stories related to deconstructionism, I felt like when it was time to tear down Dedé’s city to clean up before my mom would come back from the university. You spent all afternoon setting everything up. Only to have to put it all away and clean up. I remember once setting up every toy in our long hallway in Dedé’s triumphal parade only to have to tear it down and put the toys away. Abuelita did sneak in a lot of sucres here and there over time for us to have a hallway full of toys. So no complaining here!

I cannot believe how little I understood about how much people have suffered in churches. I still cannot believe how naive I was and how judgmental I was of those who seemed to be struggling and of those who didn’t seem to be struggling and still left.

Deconstructionism felt very pointless to me. And the conclusion always seems to be someone new calling himself or herself an #Exvangelical. It felt like somebody spent all the time setting up Dedé’s world only to tear it up and have to start all over again.

Until I had to go figure out what happened in our life and how to move forward. How to make sense of things that just don’t make sense.

I wouldn’t call what I have gone through deconstructionism. But I did have to go deconstruct a cohesive system of beliefs that resulted in a lot of hurt and pain. It was like trying to figure out at what point of the interstate we got off on an exit that seemed to just be getting us on a parallel road and before we knew it ended up taking us in the opposite direction of where we were supposed to go.

So, it struck me that Martin Luther went through this. If you really read the 95 theses, you will see that he didn’t have everything right. He wanted reformation. He didn’t want schism. Much less ever deepening schism. In the document he is very much under papal authority and is trying to spark a discussion by nailing thesis to the door. Instead, he ended up hiding under threat and setting the world alight.

What is different between the deconstructionism stories we see on Twitter and the Reformation that Luther sparked?

Tweets at their best spark the imagination. Barnabas Piper got me on a bit of a predicament the other day with a tweet where he stated this: “It’s remarkable how much deconstructing of the faith echoes the serpent’s words in Eden, ‘Did God really say…?’”

He, then, commented on the responses he received, “Some folks responding to this think I’m opposed to questions. I’m not. I wrote a book called ‘Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith’ in which I lift up questions as vital to faith.”

Precisely. We need to ask questions. I wrote elsewhere that when the heart is presented with a challenge, we have to respond. We either repent if we have been convicted of sin and live out that repentance and make restoration for what we have damaged. Or we make up reasons to justify to ourselves why we didn’t sin or why our sin is not that big of a deal or why we are justified to do what we did. However, before this spiritual and intellectual choice is made, another spiritual and intellectual choice must be made. We ask if the person is preaching the truth or not. Is what we are being presented with actually from the mouth of God or not? We must know.

It is remarkable how much indeed we have to be careful. Faith is supernaturally rational. We are not called to check our brains out at the door. We do need to determine if what we are hearing, reading, etc., comes from the Bible and if it’s an accurate representation or application of the text in its proper context. We can’t just make the Bible say anything we want. My theological hero John Stott said, “It is commonly said that the Bible can be made to mean anything one wants—which is true only if one lacks integrity.”

So, integrity is a key element here. We need to walk into asking questions fully aware of the potential deceptive nature of my own heart and of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in my heart if I am in Christ. We need to be people of integrity. Not of deception. Of light, not of the shadows.

We ask, then, questions with integrity, ready to go where the text takes us. Ready to demolish strongholds in our lives that keep us from Christ. Ready to learn and relearn. In essence, ready to reform.

And I don’t know why we are not ministering better to those who are said to be deconstructing. The motto of the Reformation church is to be the church reformed, always reforming. Reformation requires asking questions, having debates, being encouraged by one another’s faith. Being called to repent and calling others to repent. Reaching agreements. Studying the Word together. Squeezing that Bible for all that it has. Trusting in God, not in men. But not with a predisposition towards suspicion only.

I’ve had to ask questions about church governance, the roles of men and women in life and the church, church discipline and polity, the definition of honor and loyalty, slander and gossip, faithful preaching, counseling, pastoral ministry, and salvation.

I’ve been able to identify some of the exits that made the horrible detour possible, but I would be a fool to think I’ve got them all. Questions are still needed. If God were to grant repentance to those who hurt us and with whom we hurt others, there will be many other exits that will need to be explored together, deconstructed, if you will. For what reason? To build up the church, to reform it, to make it a more friendly and Christian home for the saints, a place of safety and holiness. A city on a hill for the unbelieving world to see.

Asking questions does not need to result in leaving the faith. I ask serious, legitimate, difficult questions about God, about the gap between His promises and what I experience, about the reasons He may have to not fix things the way I want them, when I want them, perhaps too much how I would want them fixed.

We have to ask questions. But our frame of reference must be not ignorant of the twin realities: (1) God is, and He can be found through the Word; and (2) we have made our local churches in many cases hostile places for people who are asking questions as a result of abuse. We are quick to call them gossipers and slanderers when we leave them with no recourse to seek justice and restoration within the church. We are quick to call them anti-institutional when we have built ecclesiastical structures that are slanted and unfair. We have sinned against many with the sin of favoritism, of preferring our leaders and the abusers over those who have had their lives destroyed.

Where is the compassion of Christ when we slam the doors on people or isolate them? Instead of leaving it all behind to go find the one sheep that is lost, we build tall walls and install electric fences to prevent them from coming in. We are masters at blame shifting and at focusing on the sins that come as a person responds to abuse and trauma. We discredit the accounts of those who end up lying because they were trying to be loyal and do what they were taught all along they needed to be—a submissive wife with a quiet and gentle spirit, a loyal pastor and a trusted friend, one who keeps confidences and protects the reputation of others.

We get our priorities upside down when we get on the defensive. Perhaps so many of these deconstruction stories would have different results if we really allowed these questions to penetrate our pride and deception and get us to where we need to get to together: reformation.

Are we ready to obey God and truly pursue reformation? It’s not like Dedé’s world out there. We need to get it right. We can’t just put it all away tonight and start all over again tomorrow. It’s not simple. It’s not pretty. It’s going to be humbling. This will require a lot of us.

When the Sleep of Jonah Is Not Passive but Abusive (Part 3)

Victor Chininin Buele

Continuing to show a kind of preaching that may look like expository preaching if you turn your head about 45 degrees, squint your eyes, take copious notes, and try to do exactly as it says, we have gone through a couple of marks of such preaching already.

We have established that this counterfeit preaching instills doubt on the hearer’s heart (but hardly ever on the preacher) by magnifying radical depravity in the hearer and minimizing the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. We have looked at ways in which this preaching drives in the concept that grace is silence and silence is grace, always instilling an equation that a confidence is the same as covering up unrepentant sin, that we are guardians of stories or of reputations in order to keep things quiet that shouldn’t be secret. Repentant sin is not something that goes in a vault. It comes up. In celebration.

Today, we will discuss the third mark of this abusive preaching: demonizing doubt and challenge.

Counterfeit Preaching Demonizes Doubt and Challenge

We saw that we are taught that grace is silence and silence is grace. What do I mean by that? Everybody has questions. You hear something in a sermon, and it raises up alarm bells. It could be because you are guilty of sin that the Word is exposing. You go on to resolve the dissonance between what you heard and what you are living. You have two choices: you either repent of the sin or you may excuse it away in a number of ways (dismiss it as not being sin, or as not being as bad as other sins, or as being statistically acceptable by the society at large, or that it is a rare indulgence, whatever).

The problem is that there is one mental and spiritual process that takes place before this choice. Is the preacher preaching the truth?

If you think about it, everybody loves the Bereans. In theory. Who are the Bereans?

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Acts 17:11

They are famous for excelling at this mental and spiritual process of examining the source of truth, the Scriptures, to see if what was preached to them was true.

So, before action is taken, we decide whether we are listening to the truth or not. And that is where this pesky mark of counterfeit expository preaching creeps in.

It suppresses the questions even from being asked out loud. The person who has bathed in this preaching will resort to accepting unquestionably the words preached as if they were true. If doubt arises, a spiritual problem is assumed in the hearer, or a lack of understanding or knowledge or experience. Thus, in what’s boasted of as grace, the person preaching is supposedly given honor by not asking him about it.

This is the wrong way to sort out the dissonance. If I hear something preached, and it sparks in me a conflict, I must carefully and prayerfully inquire the Word to see if it is true or if I’m being deceived. I must carefully and prayerfully make sure I understand what was being preached and how and where it came from in the Bible.

If the exposition or application are found to be consistent with the overall biblical text and the history of redemption, then I need to take action to kill my sin as I repent and find a way to restore what I have broken.

But if the exposition or application are eisegetical, or put another way, if it’s whatever the speaker wanted the text to say rather than what it says in its proper context, then we must ask questions. And we must ask them out loud. And please remember, these false teachers are often sounding like they are offering an exposition of the text. You may even be stuck in a long series that’s gone on for a few years on the same book of the Bible. Remember, the question is, does the text say what they preacher said? Does the text ask me to do what the preacher asked me to do?

Everybody loves to commend the Bereans. But I suspect that because we don’t have an instance of the Bereans challenging a false teacher in the book of Acts, we somehow have concluded that they did not confront false preaching. And maybe they never needed to do so. Yet, the whole point of examining to see if something is true is to know the truth.

This counterfeit kind of preaching requires the appearance of being a Berean while keeping any objection or questions suppressed. It paints it as taking things in the best possible light, as giving grace, as showing honor, as being godly and submissive, and teachable, as being the personification of 1 Corinthians 13. Víctor keeps no record of wrongs.

So, allow me to ask this big, takeaway question to you, What will happen when you raise your question to your pastor?

If you are afraid to ask it, that tells you a lot of what you need to know.

The pastor’s reaction will also tell you most of what you need to know.

Will you see humility even if error is not spotted or acknowledged? Will you see humility even if there is a difference of opinion that seems at least immediately not something easy to sort out? Will there be humility and true grace in the face of disagreement? Will there be repentance if sin is called out and appropriate (even public) restitution be made?

Or will you get mockery, excuses, manipulation, smooth speech, dismissive laughter, bellitling? Will the person turn the table on you and start talking about your sins? Will the person want you to see asking the question as sin, disrespect, disloyalty, ungratefulness, bitterness, unforgiveness, hardness of heart on your part? Will you start getting a regurgitation of your sins or will you start seeing a bully at work?

It is all around us. Men who are supposed to be shepherds calling sheep names, being rude and disrespectful and dismissive.

This kind of counterfeit preaching puts you in your place, so to speak, and clearly communicates (as indirectly as it does, it does so rather easily) that if you have questions, you need to trust the man up front. Asking the question will not be welcomed. It will not be encouraged. And it can be the end of the appearance of peace. It will cost you. And if you were in the circle of trust, you will be out of there.

Be not deceived, this is requiring you to lie to God and to swear allegiance to a manipulator who is deceiving the people of God and turning them away from a pure and sincere devotion to Jesus Christ.

I asked a question to my pastor this week. Not an easy one. He responded saying in clear and no uncertain terms that my questions are welcomed and that they were not received with hostility.

I felt safe. I felt cared for and shepherded for properly. I still have questions and will keep on asking them because the horror of living under counterfeit preaching that demonizes doubt and challenge is not worth it. God knows all, and “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 ESV).

If you live under this oppression, know this: we have walked this path, and we are happy to walk it with you. There is freedom. God saved you for freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:1