The Fracturing of Evangelicalism & Bethlehem Baptist

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The Roys Report
The Roys Report
The Fracturing of Evangelicalism & Bethlehem Baptist
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When Jason Meyer, John Piper’s successor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, recently resigned, he claimed that a “neo-fundamentalism” had crept into the church. Others throughout evangelicalism have cited similar opposing factions in the church—white nationalists, “woke” Christians, and ex-evangelicals, for example.

But what are these factions? And why is the evangelical movement—once united by firm theological convictions—now splitting apart?

On this edition of The Roys Report, we explore the answers with Michael Graham and Skyler Flowers, two pastors who have authored a groundbreaking article entitled, “The Six-Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism.”

Julie also presents new evidence, including leaked emails, revealing the deep divisions over racial and cultural issues at Bethlehem Baptist, which have led to major upheaval at the church. In some ways, what’s happening at Bethlehem is unique and spurred by alleged abuse. But in other ways, the factions at Bethlehem are a microcosm of a larger fracturing throughout the evangelical movement.

If you’ve been wondering how Christians supposedly adhering to the same evangelical movement could believe and behave so differently, this podcast is for you. Graham and Flowers offer profound insights and aim to help believers understand each other better—and think deeply about where they stand.

This Weeks Guests

Skyler Flowers

Skyler Flowers serves as an assistant pastor at Grace Bible Church in Oxford, Mississippi, where he lives with his wife, Brianna, and their pug, Sybil. Skyler received his MDiv from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He also serves on the steering committee for Rooted and contributed to the As in Heaven podcast.

Michael-Graham

Michael Graham

Michael Graham is the executive producer and writer of As In Heaven and executive pastor at Orlando Grace Church (Acts 29). He received his MDiv at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. He is married to Sara, and they have two kids. You can follow him at @msgwrites.

Show Transcript

SPEAKERS
JULIE ROYS, SKYLER FLOWERS, MICHAEL GRAHAM

JULIE ROYS
Recently, John Piper’s successor at Bethlehem Baptist Church stepped down, citing numerous issues, including a neo-fundamentalism that had crept into the church. But what is neo-fundamentalism? And why is the evangelical movement—once united by firm theological convictions—now splitting apart?
Welcome to The Roys Report—a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys.
If you’ve been following my reporting, you know that three pastors—including Jason Meyer, the successor to John Piper—recently resigned from Bethlehem Baptist Church. And a main issue cited by the pastors was spiritual abuse. But also prominent in Pastor Meyer’s resignation letter was a complaint that the church had become neo-fundamentalist.
And today, I’m going to present new evidence revealing more about this neo-fundamentalism—and the deep divisions at Bethlehem over racial and cultural issues that led to Pastor Meyer’s resignation.
But beyond that, I’m going to explore how what’s happening at Bethlehem is just a microcosm of a much larger fracturing across evangelicalism. There are now not just neo-fundamentalists, but neo-evangelicals, post-evangelicals, and even de-churched evangelicals!
If you’ve been scratching your head, wondering how Christians subscribing to the same movement could believe and behave so differently, you’re going to really appreciate this podcast.
Joining me are Michael Graham and Skyler Flowers—two pastors who have authored a groundbreaking article, entitled, “The Six-Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism.” Their insights on this topic are profound, and I’m so looking forward to this conversation. But first, I want to thank the sponsors of this podcast—Judson University and Marquardt of Barrington. Judson is a top-ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus, the school offers more than 60 majors, great leadership opportunities, and strong financial aid. Judson University is “Shaping Lives that Shape the World.” For more information, just go to JudsonU.edu.
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Again, joining me today are Skyler Flowers and Michael Graham, authors of a ground-breaking article entitled, “The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism.” And like I said, I think this article is crucial to understanding the landscape of evangelicalism today. I also believe it’s crucial to understanding what’ s happening at Bethlehem Baptist Church where John Piper pastored for more than three decades.
First, let me introduce Skyler Flowers. Skyler is an assistant pastor at Grace Bible Church in Oxford, Mississippi. He holds an MDiv from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He also serves on the steering committee for Rooted Youth Ministry and contributes to a podcast, called As in Heaven. So Skyler, welcome! It’s a pleasure to have you join me.

SKYLER FLOWERS
Thanks Julie.

JULIE ROYS
Also joining us is Michael Graham, executive pastor at Orlando Grace Church in Orlando, Florida. He also holds an MDiv from Reformed Theological Seminary, and he’s the executive producer and writer of the As in Heaven podcast. So, Michael, great to have you join us. Thanks so much.

MICHAEL GRAHAM
Thank you, Julie.

JULIE ROYS
I’d really just love to get a sense of who you men are and why the state of evangelicalism is so important to you. Obviously, you’re both pastors. So that in being an Evangelical pastor, obviously that is something that’s important, but I’m guessing that you have some background with this. I mean, did you grow up in the church, did you grow up evangelical? Or was it something that you came to later? Michael, why don’t you go first?

MICHAEL GRAHAM
Yeah, so I grew up in a church was churched basically from birth. Probably the best way to describe the churches that I grew up in were primarily SBC, dispensational, leaning slightly fundamentalist, certainly heavy political underpinnings to those things, certainly culture war underpinnings to those things, had a season of atheism in my teenage years, and then came back to Jesus in high school through an inductive study of the book of Galatians. The rest is, I guess, history.

JULIE ROYS
Interesting. Skyler, how about you?

SKYLER FLOWERS
Yeah, I grew up in a kind of similar church. I grew up in South Mississippi. So, a traditional Southern Baptist Church, heavily influenced by fundamentalism and things like that. Kind of the reach into broader evangelicalism that would have come much later for me, and I think Mike would say the same is more so in college, especially with the advent of social media when I was in college, and even a little bit before that being involved in various campus ministries, was kind of sort of the first insertion into the stream that I guess we could call American evangelicalism and all of the ups and downs and ebbs and flows that come with that.

JULIE ROYS
Well, it’s interesting for me, I grew up Anabaptist, which would be kind of similar in some ways to the Southern Baptist but very separatist holiness tradition, then got discipled by a bunch of Jesus people who came out of the drug culture, and were crazy charismatics, and then came to Wheaton College, where charismatic was a dirty word. At the time, I don’t think it is anymore. And then served in a Vineyard church, then was at Moody, then at an evangelical charismatic Anglican Church. So, I feel like I’ve been in every possible stream that’s out there. And so, I’ve seen evangelicalism from all of these different angles, and I’ve seen beautiful things in every single stream. And I’ve also seen some things that are pretty distressing. And I don’t think anybody would argue that right now, evangelicalism is fracturing. And you mentioned the Southern Baptist. I mean, that’s somewhere where it’s obviously fracturing on this macro level. We see black pastors, for example, pulling out of the SBC over critical race theory issues. There’s also denominations being split over the same thing or LGBT issues or white nationalism. But we’re also seeing this fracturing on a micro level within local churches. And I think the latest example, is what’s happened at Bethlehem Baptists were the successor to John Piper, Jason Meyer, and two other pastors recently resigned. And if you followed this story, you know, there’s reasons for these resignations that are very complex. They involve alleged patterns of spiritual abuse and toxic culture at the church. But there’s also some of this fracturing along theological and political lines. And as many of you may know, if you’ve been following my reporting on it, you know that Pastor Meyer, when he resigned, lamented that Bethlehem had become what he called Neo fundamentalist. And I had a lot of people reach out to me say, well, what’s Neo fundamentalist anyway? And he referenced your article. And I also have some exclusive communication between pastors at Bethlehem and an elder there, which is really eye opening, but I don’t want to get to that yet. Because I don’t think we’re going to understand it as fully until we’ve unpacked some of these different subgroups within evangelicalism. Let’s just start where your article starts, and that is with Neo fundamentalist. Who is a NEO fundamentalist evangelical, and what does he believe?

MICHAEL GRAHAM
A Neo fundamentalist evangelical is somebody who has deep concerns about both political and theological liberalism. So, with respect to political liberalism, a Neo fundamentalist has deep concerns about the secular left. With respect to theological liberalism, they have similar concerns from the early 20th century, you know, like J. Gresham Machen would be definitely a big hero, for Neo fundamentalist with that kind of upholding of the inerrancy of Scripture from that time. But Neo fundamentalists would also be very animated about concerns on the national conversation on race, they would also have concerns about the conversation about gender, and have very particular usually ideas, a particular brand of complementarianism that they’re very concerned about kind of upholding. There’s a level of adjacency and or perhaps co belligerency with this group, with Christian nationalism, although those two things are not necessarily the same thing. Christian nationalism, being a kind of syncretism of right-wing nationalism in Christianity. These two groups have a lot in common in terms of some of their goals. But Neo fundamentalists are not necessarily Christian nationalists. And the reasons of how they come to want the same kind of desired ends are more theological than they are political for Neo fundamentalists.

SKYLER FLOWERS
One of the main things that the Neo fundamentalists are going to be heavily concerned with is any sort of secular ideology being imported into the church. And that’s what influences some of the concern and anger that they might see on topics of gender and race, is that any sort of hint that any secular ideology is being brought in is the ultimate affront to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, and therefore, that’s why they’re heavily concerned with the influence of mass media and social media and the government, and the way that other Christians in their mind seemingly are adopting these ideologies and then bringing them into the church.

JULIE ROYS
Although I would argue that concern seems to be somewhat selective, because and maybe this is my anabaptist background, but nationalism is a secular ideology, is it not? And to fuse that with Christianity, to me, is an affront to the gospel. And so, I find that very shocking, even though I consider myself politically very conservative, I find that mixing of nationalism and the gospel very concerning. Am I seeing that correctly?

MICHAEL GRAHAM
You are seeing that correctly.

Julie Roys
And I love that you have numbers that’s like one, two, or three. So, it’s kind of like the Enneagram, which I’m not going to get into very controversial as well, but they have numbers. And so, this, we have numbers here, whether are one, two, or three, but one, two, and three are all still connected in some way with evangelicalism. Would you describe what two and three are?

MICHAEL GRAHAM
Yeah, so probably the simplest way to put twos there may have been evangelicals. The technical term for an evangelical is somebody who fits the qualities of the Eddington quadrilateral. Eddington was a sociologist, also a theologian. And so that quadrilateral is basically just a fancy way to say evangelicals hold to these four things: conversionism, activism, bibulousism, and crucis centrism. These are just fancy ways to say, somebody believes in penal substitutionary atonement, the idea that Jesus died for your sins, and you can have access to that through repentance and faith in him. Activism, the idea that that faith, that vertical faith between us and God has implications for how we relate to one another. So, you know, loving your neighbor as self. Biblicism, which I think for most twos means at least holding to the infallibility of Scripture, and probably also inerrancy in most instances, and then crucis centrism, basically the idea that the cross is central for the Christian faith and the Christian faith hinges on the idea of penal substitutionary atonement. In addition to that, this group is primarily motivated on the idea of fulfilling the Great Commission. With respect to one’s in contrast to them, Neo fundamentalist evangelicals, their posture towards culture and society where their primary strategy and tactic is more culture war. Two’s their primary strategy and tactic is the great commission or Great Commission Christians. Sometimes you hear that kind of language kind of language that JD Greer and Summit Church uses, and he would say a lot when he’s talking about the SBC as being great commissioned Baptists, right. Twos would probably still vote very similar to ones, but they do not necessarily see the culture war as their primary tool that they’re trying to use in their relationship to the world. However, it’s still something that they want to be engaged with, particularly on issues, say pro-life. Pro-life for twos primarily, it looks like activism regarding abortion. You know, twos would probably be people who would have been very uncomfortable with the rhetoric of Trump and other folks in that vein, but they probably still would have voted for him, just because of the idea that the Supreme Court would be very important. They’re not beholden to Christian nationalism, or adjacent to them, like the way that ones are. However, if you asked a two which is more dangerous, the secular left or the secular right, they would definitely say the secular left. They might have a category for the secular right. But they certainly would probably not identify that as being as dangerous as the secular left. However, a two would probably have January 6th would have sat uncomfortable with them, but probably not in a way that it sits more uncomfortably with threes and fours.

JULIE ROYS
Hmm. And it is so interesting to me as I engage in social media, a wolf is often more dangerous if he’s dressed like a sheep. And so, this right, that is very anti- is very concerning to me because it comes disguised. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the far left is a real problem. And it’s dangerous I do. But if you engage and point out things about the secular right, you’re automatically dubbed as way on the secular left. Which stuns me the way that we do that and the way that we have in these different groups seeing each other and not been really listening to each other. There’s so much to discuss about each one of these camps. But describe if you would, the group number three, which you’ve dubbed Neo evangelical

SKYLER FLOWERS
When we refer to the Neo as evangelicals here, and mostly we use the numerical identifiers, referring to something that’s maybe akin to what other people would describe as global evangelicals. They’re doctrinally evangelical in the sense that they still hold to the traditional Christian beliefs as exemplified, maybe most basically in The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed and following that tradition. But what kind of separates them from the twos especially and even the fours that come after them is that they’re still willing to use the term evangelical to describe themselves. And though they hold these conservative beliefs, there’s a significant philosophy of ministry, differences between the two groups that are before and after them. So, whereas twos are maybe more so see and attack on the left side, the threes are going to be more attuned to the threat that is possibly coming from the right. And so, they’ll be concerned with conservative Christianity’s acceptance of Trump, they’re more willing to engage on topics of race and sexuality. But again, they haven’t totally abandoned that evangelical identification. And so, they’re more likely to serve in churches with a broader spectrum of other numbers, because of their kind of seeing the thread from both sides. Outside the church, they’re largely going to feel homeless. Mike and I were talking just the other day, that in a lot of times, it can feel for threes, that they’re the ones that are being talked over, they’re being shouted over by the numbers that are on the poles and twos can likely feel this as well. Depending on the person who might be a three, they will either see a larger threat also coming from the left, and they’re concerned with that, especially as it relates to religious freedom and possible threats from the left in terms of religious freedom.

JULIE ROYS
So, if I were to put this in terms of Trump, a NEO fundamentalist evangelical probably enthusiastically voted for Trump, a mainstream evangelical probably plugged their nose and voted for Trump, and a NEO evangelical voted independent or Democrat, would that be close?

SKYLER FLOWERS
Couching it in terms of Trump is helpful in some ways and it’s key to remember that we’re talking about a fracturing within the church not excluding people from the church and at least not until you know, the fives and sixes have self-forced themselves out. But again, within ones we’re saying they’re Christians or within the church, but yeah, I would say that that’s probably right with threes, possibly even there being some that are really plugging their nose and possibly voting for Trump. But again, the homelessness that defines the threes would likely mean many of them are voting independent or leaning towards voting democratic. And will possibly be feeling like they’re being pushed more towards that with every succeeding election.

JULIE ROYS
And you gentlemen, do you do divulge where you’re at on this spectrum?

MICHAEL GRAHAM
I do. I’m a three.

JULIE ROYS
You’re a three?

SKYLER FLOWERS
Yeah, I’m pretty comfortable stating that I’m within the three range there. Depending on various issues, certain specific things may make me feel more twoish. Some specific issues may make me four, and especially in moments of crisis that we see pop up. For instance, you know, instances like January 6, 2021, can really make you feel more willingness to critique evangelicals, and maybe even pushing more towards the four at times. So, it’s hard to always say, and we mentioned in the article that they’re not just, you know, one, two, there’s all kinds of gradients between the numbers, that someone can be a 3.5, or a 2.8. And, of course, it’s not scientific. But because of that, I would say I’m more comfortable in the three range.

MICHAEL GRAHAM
One of the reasons why I’m a three is because if you look at Jesus’s ministry, you can kind of see these various groups in the groups that Jesus is interacting with. For example, like Pharisees would be folks that would probably more trend on the one end of the spectrum. And the Sadducees, would be more on the four, four plus kind of end of that continuum. Where the ones are primarily looking to just show me the rules, and I’ll make sure that I follow those to the letter. And then you had the Sadducees, which kind of trend towards theological liberalism, in terms of like, say, four, you know, four and a half and, you know, up. You know, Jesus was critical of both of these forms of establishment. And so, I think that’s kind of why I land, kind of as a three. You know, Jesus was critical of both of these different institutions. He was looking to disrupt, you know, both of them in a way that was right doctrine, right affect, and right actions. And so that’s why I’m a three.

JULIE ROYS
Well, I know, as I’ve looked at myself within these categories, I have a really tough time even pinning myself down because I would say, mainstream evangelical is who I’ve been my entire life. The centrality of the gospel has always been incredibly important to me. And the activism has mainly taken nonpolitical forms, though, at times has taken political forums, when appropriate. I’ve been very involved in the pro-life movement, for example. But I will say following 2016 and seeing so many friends go into the number one camp, the Neo fundamentalists and become very white nationalist. That has been shocking to me. Absolutely shocking. But at the same time, do I still have conservative convictions? Yes. Am I doctrinally conservative? Yes. Do I have more affinity for the left than I did before? No, not really. I just see that the right acting just like the left. And so, I don’t really understand how Christians can be so staunch about only seeing one side. And so, before 2016, too, I had a radio program called Up for Debate, and we’d debate both sides and try to get people to actually listen to each other and see both sides. And I think there’s a need for that. But like I said, I do have some exclusive communication from Bethlehem Baptist, which I think is illustrative of what we’re talking about. It’s like watching it happen on a microscopic scale, so to speak at a local church. And again, there’s more to it. Much more to it. In fact, some would say the main factor of what happened at Bethlehem Baptist with three pastors resigning about 10% of the membership resigning as well, the church is in upheaval, and a lot would say that’s because of spiritual abuse happening there, and a toxic culture. And I’m just going to shelve that for now, even though I think it has a lot of explanatory power. And I’ve explored that in articles and actually my last podcast. But this whole issue, again, of the different subgroups, I think, is a part of what’s happening at Bethlehem as well, and it’s happening again across evangelicalism. I have an email that was sent from Tom Lutz, who’s an elder at Bethlehem Baptist, and it’s addressed to two of Bethlehem pastors who have since resigned. One is Ming Jin Tong, and the other is Brian Pickering. And the email is then copied to Jason Meyer, who again was John Piper’s successor, who recently resigned. So, I’m going to read a portion of Lutz’s email, and then I really would like Michael and Skylar, your response to it. And just for some context, Lutz wrote his email on Monday, March 22, 2021. That’s just days after the spa killings in Atlanta and Lutz is responding to a congregational prayer that Brian Pickering prayed in Sunday services the day before. as well as a sermon, that Ming Jin Tong preached on that Sunday. Apparently both Pickering and Tong talked about the victims in the spa shooting being of Asian descent and decried the sin of racism. I actually have a written copy of Pickering’s prayer. And Tong’s sermon is still available online. So, if you want to read the full prayer, you can do that. I’ll post the link as well on my website, JulieRoys.com to Tong sermon so you can get both of those, the document and link to the audio there. But here’s a little bit of what Tom Lutz writes and I’m not going to read the whole thing, but he writes, Brothers, I’m wrestling with this question. Why do some of you feel the need to frame the story of the Atlanta area massage parlor killings in the light of race/ethnicity? The recent killings in and around Atlanta are terrible. Image bearers of the Almighty God were killed by a man tormented by a sex addiction. But let us please understand that this was not focused on people of Asian heritage, but on people working at massage parlors with a known reputation for providing sexual services. The world is casting this in the light of race or ethnicity, but it is not what we should do. Here are some facts and figures that are important to know. One, the killer Robert Aaron long was and is a sex addict. The three massage parlors were particularly known for providing sexual services. The three massage parlors, along with many others across this country were listed on the website specifically designed to promote this illegal activity. And then he goes on to name several other things. And then he states, Media sources like Forbes, the Federalist, USA Today and others have consistently pointed out these facts and made them available. And yet the world quickly frames this up as violence against Asian Americans. It was violence against sex workers in an industry largely owned and populated by Asian Americans. We look like the world when we view this first as a crime perpetrated with racial motives when it clearly was not. And then he says, skipping through some of this, the story in Atlanta should first serve as a reminder to all of us of the dangers of sin, particularly sexual sin. And that forgiveness of that sin and the providing of a means of escaping that temptation was purchased for us by Jesus Christ. I also have the response that Brian Pickering gave to Tom Lutz. And I’ll read portions of that. But first, I would just like your response to what you just heard, Tom Lutz express. What does that sound like to you when we’re thinking of these different subgroups within evangelicalism, Michael?

MICHAEL GRAHAM
I think this response maybe is not well trauma-informed, and particularly racial trauma. So, it’s probably a more complicated conversation than what the elder who was struggling with the pastoral prayer maybe realized. As it pertains to the six-way fracturing, which is probably more where you’re getting at, it seems to me that the probably the person who’s writing this is somewhere in the 1.5 range, you know, plus or minus a few. And he’s probably writing to somebody who’s a three, an evangelical. And so, there’s probably a level of miscommunication.

JULIE ROYS
Hmm. Skyler, do you have anything to add? Do you think that’s coming from like a 1.3, which would be sort of leaning more towards Neo fundamentalist?

SKYLER FLOWERS
Yeah, I don’t want to add too much more to what Mike said. I think especially when he was mentioning of the trauma gap there, it’s really informing as a pastor, I remember that Sunday. And just the response and the feelings of our Asian American brothers and sisters, regardless of whatever the motivation of the crime was. Just the plain optics of it are, especially with someone with a history of racial trauma is certainly going to impact in that way. As it relates to the sixfold fracturing what you’re seeing unstated in that email, that is abundantly clear when you think in terms of six-way fracturing, is a deep concern from this elder that these other two pastors have broad worldly categories and notably intersectionality and the fact that Okay, these are not just women, okay? They’re Asian women. They’re not just white Asian women, they work in this line of work. And so, this elder is concerned that they are importing, even though he’s unstated maybe wouldn’t even know the term intersectionality, he’s concerned that they’re importing this worldly ideology. And so, as we talk about if he’s a 1.5, or 1.3, and, and he’s writing to these men who would possibly classify themselves as more threes. This is one of the key fault lines that we’ll see, and you’ll see as a pattern in churches as these types of leaders that are ones and threes interact with one another is that they’re going to be concerned anytime that there’s a critique of what they perceive as conservative evangelicalism or the church in general from a three that they’re importing worldly categories. And so those that’s unstated, that seems to be clearly a way saying and that would seem to insinuate that he would probably somewhere in the one range.

JULIE ROYS
I also have the response by Brian Pickering to this email. And I think it’s really interesting as well. So let me just read some sections of that, and then I’d like your response to it as well. He writes, Hi, Tom, thank you for clearly articulating your perspective. It is so very important, as you did in your email to acknowledge that the victims who lost their lives in Atlanta are image bearers of Almighty God. And then he names them. And he says, I do not think there is an either-or choice to be made between condemning the sin of racism and sexism on the one hand and sexual immorality on the other. But the command to weep with those who weep compassionate wisdom does help me prioritize what I say and when I say it. One of the particular aims I had in my pastoral prayer on Sunday was that our Asian American and Asian immigrant brothers and sisters in our church and beyond would know one, that the Lord sees them and that we as a body, see their continued pain and deep grief and fear. And then he quotes Joash Thomas, an Asian American ministry leader at the International Justice Mission in Atlanta. And he writes, Make no mistake, many of your Asian American neighbors are in deep grief, fear and mourning right now. And not just because of the killings in Atlanta. Asian American hate crimes have spiked 150% in 2020, because of COVID related fears, even as the number of overall hate crimes fell, and those are just the reported hate crimes. Then he goes on to mention how that community is feeling. Brian ends the email with, I would also like to note that many of my Asian brothers and sisters who feel both crushed and energized to speak in this particular moment, are not doing so in a worldly way. They are not deluded into thinking that the world or the flesh, or the devil has a solution that Jesus Himself does not. It is precisely because they are united with our Lord Jesus Christ, by grace through faith, that they are speaking up about their great pain, and the deep disappointment from not hearing their white brothers and sisters see and acknowledge their experiences. It’s a longer letter than that. And I can post that letter on my website as well. But he’s making the point that, again, it’s not an either/or, these are both gospel concerns, yet, it seems like ones and threes, as you call them, seem to prioritize or not see some of these other concerns. Are people in the one group, for example, just failing to see and understand people in three? And maybe it’s happening vice versa, as well, I don’t know.

SKYLER FLOWERS
The three again, as you can see here, is trying to maintain the bond of peace between these two groups of ones and threes and everything. And so, I think we’re certainly seeing they’re coming at it with totally different worldviews as they’re seeing the exact same set of circumstances play out on a global scale. And that’s why when we open the article, we mentioned some of these major things that have happened in American culture over the last, really over the last six years or so. And the whole point of opening with these things is because what we’re saying is everyone on the spectrum sees these few events completely differently, because they’re approaching it with a different worldview.

JULIE ROYS
About a month after this email exchange between Tom Lutz and Pickering. There’s also, I have an email from Min Jin Tong. I didn’t read that just because I don’t have his permission to do so. But they were accused in an elder meeting of subordinating the gospel and it sounds like Tom Lutz was key in that accusation. And in fact, I have a written explanation by Lutz of those accusations, and I can post that to my website as well. This needs context too. I mean, all of these things need context. The elder meeting came after Brian Pickering had accused Andy Naselli, who’s another elder and professor at Bethlehem College and Seminary of “displaying a pattern of controlling an egregious sin against God and His people.” And Pickering, Tong and Meyer all voted to investigate Naselli while most of the rest of the elder board voted to dismiss the allegations against Naselli. So that provides a context as well. And Jason Meyer did say in his letter that this elder meeting where he was accused of subordinating the gospel felt like a tribunal and felt like retribution for again voting for an investigation, which never happened. They never did an investigation into these things. So, they may have been retribution. But they also, I think, betray this fundamental difference. And so, this is what Lutz writes in his explanation. He says, “My intent when I said the words to the effect, the gospel has been subordinated at Bethlehem’s downtown campus, that the gospel in my mind, the whole counsel of God is revealed in Scripture, both the Old and New Covenant as it points to Christ and His accomplishment, does not have the place of primacy and that the gospel is being treated as of lesser importance than something else.” Here are some observations and experiences that he notes. “One, that suffering hardship, partiality, abuse, in the grip of sin on this world is repeatedly acknowledged and agonized over to a degree equal to or greater than the greatness of God and His love, mercy and justice towards us demonstrated in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.” And he has a number of observations there, but then he also gives examples, and one is, “The tone and tenor, and conclusion of Jason Meyers sermon relating to the death of George Floyd.” It’s my understanding, and he mentions a closing statement, where he said, if you don’t agree that this is bad, and I don’t know the exact quote, but he basically said, then you’re free to leave, kind of thing. Pastoral prayers rather than a prayer of praise. They instead of focused on the dimension of the recent killings in Brooklyn Park and then Atlanta. He says a number of different things here saying our church has become something other than what it used to be. And I don’t think the gospel is spoken of enough. Boy, this seems like something that’s being played out all over the country. I think we heard it in the latest SBC annual conference as well. Very curious in your thoughts, when you hear that.

MICHAEL GRAHAM
One of the things that you can have between one, two, three or four, is you can have doctrinal alignment. You know, you can have complete agreement, you know, on substitutionary atonement, the sovereignty of God. Where the rubber meets the road, though, is not just gospel doctrine, but it’s what kind of gospel culture are you looking to inculcate in your church? There’s a wide variety of perspectives, in terms of what do you see the mission of the church to the world being? Is the mission of the church to the world, truly just, you know, penal substitutionary atonement, and loving your neighbor as yourself? Primarily just not doing harm? Or are there things that are, you know, more significant than that. What I hear in some of these things, in terms of the critiques that are probably more coming from the new fundamentalist elders at this particular church, is kind of what Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as the white moderate in his seminal essay Letter From Birmingham Jail. He critiqued those who would question the timing, tactics or the extent to which Dr. King and those who are fighting for civil rights at that time, were doing those things more than he critiqued say the Ku Klux Klan, or the white citizens’ counselor. So, he was more frustrated at the silence of his theological friends, than he was the sins of commission of those who were not Christians and who were fighting against his freedom. That’s where I think sins of omission kind of come into play. I never said the N-word. Or I’ve never had the sin of partiality. But maybe you’ve been in situations where you should have stood up for somebody in a situation where they weren’t being treated fairly. And your failure to act was morally problematic. And so, these are just some of the things, some of the categories I’d like to introduce in this particular interaction.

JULIE ROYS
I know we’ve spent a lot of time on categories one through five. And that’s because that’s where so much of my reporting and writing takes place. I think, four through six, those subcategories which are post evangelical, de-churched, but with some Jesus as you put it, and de-churched, and de-converted. Those three, unfortunately, I think are the results of a lot of this fracturing and polarizing within evangelicalism. If you would Skyler, can you just kind of go over, we don’t have a lot of time, but just the post evangelical, de-churched, and de-churched and de-converted, who those people are, and maybe how we can respond to them.

SKYLER FLOWERS
The way that Mike and I have begun talking about de-churched is essentially there’s two types of de-church, there’s those who are casually de-churched, which probably makes up a large majority of de-churched people. And those are people that have, because of a different change in life circumstance, may be suffering, especially something like moving, they just never really returned to church. But we also speak of, and this is what you’re kind of getting at here, Julie, is the casually de-churched. And so, the casualty de-churched are people that did not self-select themselves out in many ways but were pushed out. And that’s going to be especially in the way that the church is addressing sexuality questions, racial questions, and especially like you said, maybe they were harmed personally by abuse or the way that abuse was responded to by a church they were in or in a situation that happened to themselves. And so, the de-churched, especially in these fives and sixes, now the fives are someone that if they’re a casualty, they’ve been pushed out of the church for various reasons. They still believe in Jesus, but they no longer feel like they belong, or they still believe in Jesus, but their ethical lives do not necessarily match what they say they believe. The six de-churched and de-converted would be those who no longer feel like they belong, they no longer ethically would live in with Christian ethics. But that’s mostly stemming from the fact that they no longer believe in Jesus as the only way. And those can be both casually and casualty. And so, if you’re in a church, it’s one in the way that they’re addressing cultural issues in a way that if you’re in a church, that’s twos and threes, or whatever the combination may be the way that these bigger cultural moments are addressed from the pulpit are significantly affecting what we’re seeing in de-churching in America, which is a growing trend, especially like you mentioned among young people. And one of the primary things that they’re citing whenever they’re de-churched, if they’re, especially if they’re a casualty, is that they no longer found, they found the church to either be backwards or outdated in the teachings to no longer be applicable. And that can be traced back to the fact that these certain issues are not being addressed in a way that they feel actually wrestles with the question and what they’re seeing in the broader world.

JULIE ROYS
And this to me is the great travesty of all of this. Is that in name of the gospel, supposedly we’re alienating large swaths of people from the Gospel. I think all of these groups need to really think about how do we really communicate Christ to this generation, and to be open to new ways to doing that? I mean, my prayer is that there would be some humility on everyone’s part to be able to maybe have some reconciliation. I don’t know if that’s possible. We seem so polarized. I know with God; all things are possible. Michael, do you have any belief or hope that that can happen? Or do you think this is kind of the beginning of and I really do wonder if 25 years from now we’re even going to have evangelicalism, or we will have moved so far apart that were completely different movements by that time. What do you think?

MICHAEL GRAHAM
The only thing I would add to what Skyler had to say about the de-church phenomenon is that the size and the scope of this phenomenon is massive. We’re currently witnessing the largest religious shift in American history. This religious shift is larger than the First Great Awakening or the Second Great Awakening, or the re-churching that occurred after the Civil War. And so, I think we have further to go down on the de-churching end of things before there’s change. Now, my hope, and this is a kind of a classic three hope would be for three things, repentance, reform, and renewal. Repentance would be for anything that you know, that we’re doing either individually, in our churches, individual churches, all the way to the denominational level, and all the way up to the movement level of anything that needs to be repented of; reformed would be things that need to be put into place to prevent the kinds of things that we just had to repent for; and renewal being maybe a more healthy word for revival. But renewal will not happen without, you know, repentance and reform. And I’m not sure Julie, I see a critical mass yet reached of people who are concerned with repentance, reform and renewal. I think that that population is growing. I think that there are people who want to be consistent doctrinally, ethically, and culturally. I’m encouraged by that. But I don’t think that there’s a critical mass. I think most evangelicals are twos and twos, I think are a little bit more concerned with just kind of maintaining the status quo. They might be willing to hear that there are things that are problems. But I’m not sure that they see those problems as being serious enough to seek the repentance and reform required to see that those problems are not further promulgated in the future. But I think in the short run, we have more to go down before we can see repentance, reform and renewal. However, I am encouraged by the growth of those, you know, who are very serious about their faith and who are willing to maybe eschew the safety of a particular tribe and be willing to be an equal opportunity offender across multiple axes, cultural, political, theological. So, I don’t know. I do have hope for the future. But I think in the interim, we’re going to be more focused on our intramural squabbles than with the idea that we’re kind of getting killed in the broader culture in our country. And we’re gonna continue to be distracted from the things that really require repentance and reform.

JULIE ROYS
So much of what you just said resonates with me. I know when I publish, like I do regularly about the abuse and corruption within the church, I always get the question from some people like, how is what you’re doing restoring the church? and how is airing our dirty laundry helping? We cannot get to reform without repentance, and admitting our sin is the first step. And I do believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant. But you’re right, we’re not at a critical mass yet. It seems to me that there’s way more energy in protecting which you know, we saw at Bethlehem, but I see it that every church I report on every organization, there’s so much momentum protecting the image of the church or the institution. Very little in really wanting to own and admit sin and repent of it and reform. Skyler, any last words you have.

SKYLER FLOWERS
As I look at the fracturing, and I consider the future, I look at it kind of under two ways. There’s the big scale, big evangelicalism, and then there’s also the more local lived expression that we see within our churches. And so, I think that those two fractions while the one impacts the other, and it’s going both ways, that it’ll look different in both settings. And so, I will see it as Tim Keller mentioned in a breakout session that he did with Mike Graham and his team in “As In Heaven,” he spoke of a sorting that we’re seeing happen that is similar to what happened in the 1940s when Carl F.H. Henry, in tandem, also with J. Gresham Macon is looking at seeing threats from both the left and the right and trying to navigate a center course between the two. And that’s ultimately what formed what we know now as evangelicalism. And so, I don’t think we have to be afraid of the sorting. I think from an institutional level, you’ll see organizations say let’s lop off the extreme of whichever one makes us most uncomfortable. Or if you’re a parachurch organization or a publisher, and your support base is largely ones but then your staff is largely twos and threes and the people you’re reaching are largely threes and fours and fives and sixes, you’re going to continue to see tension within larger organizations. And on churches, you may see less distance between the numbers but still see that discomfort. And so, I think as we move into the future, and we see these two categories, they’re going to be impacting one another, the main hope that I think we can move forward in is that the bond of unity that unites the church is not ultimately our political affiliation. It’s not ultimately the way we read the currents, it’s not ultimately the winds of culture, it’s ultimately the bond of the Spirit. And so, I believe that we can have confidence as pastors, as church members, as Christians in America, that the Lord is preparing us and the Lord is at work, even though truth telling the Lord is at work through even in the fracturing even in the sorting that He is preparing the church for fruitful mission in this age. And so, I don’t think we have to despair when we see fracturing. But I think we can also say what is it that the Lord is trying to work out here so that his gospel would go forth unto the nations and that he would be ultimate glorified?

JULIE ROYS
Hmm. So good. Well, thank you Skylar and Michael, so much for taking this time. It’s been really just such an eye opening and just enlightening time. So, I appreciate what you wrote. I appreciate this discussion. And just pray for God’s grace on your continued ministry in your churches and larger community through your podcast and your writing. Thank you so much.

MICHAEL GRAHAM
Thank you so much, Julie. It’s been a pleasure.

SKYLER FLOWERS
Thanks, Julie. Thanks so much.

JULIE ROYS
And thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. If you’d like to connect with me online or see some of the documents that I referenced today, just go to JulieRoys.com. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcasts or Google podcasts. That way, you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review and then if you’d share it on social media, we’d appreciate that as well. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you have a great day and God bless.

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30 thoughts on “The Fracturing of Evangelicalism & Bethlehem Baptist”

  1. Divisions are as old as the Church, and may be the point, not the issue the division is over. We would all do better in our differences if we together look to Christ, focus on Him and stand against division more than each other. It’s hard to be against your brother and sister when you see them in Christ I read this today, it’s from 1956:

    “Error, false teaching, and heresy have always been a major means by which the Devil has sought to destroy “the testimony of Jesus”… He has thus wrought great havoc, but one wonders whether even that is comparable to the mischief of his second and closely related barrel. By it he has poured out volumes and clouds of suspicion, fear, mistrust, apprehension, and all the grievous effects of these among true Christians. There is not a single person today who is quite safe in this ‘Christian’ world and atmosphere. Some of the most outstanding and erstwhile evangelical stalwarts have at length fallen under its awful miasma, and died of a broken heart because of it – and all so untrue! The enemy stops short at no point short of dividing the last two Christians, and if he cannot find true ground for doing it by spreading suspicion and mistrust – “evil report” – he will make it by giving a twist to anything that is capable of being twisted. It is like an evil disease, a blight, a cancer, working in the very system of Christianity…”

  2. When I listened to the emails back and forth from the staff at BBC, I heard right wing media headlines from one, left wing media headlines from the other.

    Alan Jacobs, in “How to Think”, makes the great point that no one ever truly thinks for themselves. We always think with other people.

    I think different sections of the church are thinking with different people. I think it’s incumbent upon both sides to critically evaluate the voices they listen to in order to see if those voices are actually telling the truth.

    But before we do that, I think we need a common understanding of how we actually arrive at truth, more or less.

    I think that at this point, at the epistemological level, is where the church is suffering the most damage. I have observed that blind loyalty to authoritarian leaders often trumps even the most simple critical thinking exercises.

    1. Paul, on reading and reflecting on Roy content, I find myself drawn to see “spirit” at the centre of what’s going on across what we are referring to as fragmentation.
      There is then likely to divides: between those who have differing understandings of spirit; and those whose understanding of spirit may see epistemology not figuring.

      It seems to me that “spirit” can be understood as being beyond the human, or as human being emerging from human process as a God hermetic is committed to.
      The former somewhat attaching to a reified God; albeit (perhaps elite) humans can be touched by it. The latter being what we bring about as we give over to a transcendent understanding and experiencing grounded in the God-centred hermetic.
      With the former, a Church (a community of believers) might secure community in a shared giving over to the spirit to be had in God and through Christ. In the latter a Church might work to author and sustain a spirit which holds together that Church as a community; while relying on the resource that God and Christ mindfullness provides them.
      Such that a difference in understanding about spirit, might be had in the metaphors, of over there with God and Christ, or over here in us in God and Christ.
      While the former understanding might tend to absolutism and already givenness, the latter might be open to being something we have to bring about amongst ourselves (and perhaps constantly renew and evolve).

      I like the idea that we think with other people. I then also believe that whatever we come to across processes with other people, we also have to take to where we are alone. There we might recognise what in our coproduction with others, we actually in our heart and mind have reservations about.
      What seems crucial then, is (epistemologically) to allow and reflect on that residue, rather than redefine ourselves in rejecting it. That residue speaks to the complexity of self and other. That residue, precipitated across myriad others, is the ecological setting of being human.
      My sense then is, that the challenge in contemplating this ecological setting, and the challenge of allowing our self to be informed by the God hermetic, are simply two aspects of the one challenge.

      There is then a difficulty in managing spirit, in both the cited variants. Being taken up in the spirit, is to be moved by powerful currents and forces. It proves difficult to remain balanced at the epicentre of where we partake of spirit. Such that what we see as reduction and negating of others, and what we see as fragmentation, proves difficult to resist. In the currents of spirit grounded human being, the ground for epistemology might be swept away.

  3. So your young guests have a 1-4 system of categorizing Evangelicals. I politely decline to be put into their boxes. I will, however, assign myself a 2 for the 2 commandments Jesus gave His followers.

    1. Bill. A couple of thoughts.

      The schema is a resource developed by and for persons finding themselves within a difficulty; a difficulty they are striving to grapple with.

      It’s then interesting that both our speakers put themselves primarily in category 3. Which indicates that the schema is of most utility for, and most relevant to, category 3 evangelistic Christians.
      So we might expect that others more flagged by the other categories, would respond to this category-3 phrasing, with phrasing which more reflects their own respective circumstance.
      So we might then have a dialogue between those currently suffering fragmenting of understanding, as all the phrasings come into play.

      I suppose the Christian question becomes whether the 6-category schema offers no obstruction to such dialogue. Such an ambitious grappling with such a large empirical matter will have limitations and perhaps flaws; but the sincerity of attempt might see those excused.

    2. Thank you Bill. Because we don’t have enough labels and crud in the church, let’s have two random people make up labels and slap them on us. Oh, looks like I have Neo-Fundamentalist tendencies because I am concerned about theological liberalism. How about engaging on specific issues rather than slapping labels on people? These two guys are no different than right-wingers or left-wingers. The sad thing is, they feel like they’ve accomplished something by coming up with a numbering system. Weird, a site that seems opposed to “Big Eva” and all that it stands for gives a platform to two guys who are creating their own brand…the four categories of Neo-Fundies, and how you can identify them.

      I guess I am struggling a lot with this site recently. How do you “restore the church” without the Bible? We have two “experts” on neo-fundamentalism (no biblical categories there)- that will somehow restore the church. Then we’ll bring in some “Christian” therapists (that is something of a misnomer if the person is simply a therapist who is a Christian)…they won’t use the Bible either, but they’ll rip on those who do. Hmmmm, does not sound like a recipe for restoration.

      1. Brian, These men aren’t therapists; they’re pastors. And they’re simply trying to explain what’s occurring in evangelicalism. They don’t claim their categorizations are the final word; they’re just a tool they’ve felt helpful to identify the different factions.

        That said, if you feel two pastors who are conservative theologically and moderate politically are “left-wingers,” then you may struggle with this site and my podcasts. I don’t believe those are fair categorizations.

        1. Julie, I think you were correct in the podcast by pointing out the 2020 political divide as being the primary fault line. It seems like the “3” group (including the creators of the 6-degree scale) wants to be both anti-Trump and pro-Fauci, and still claim the center-right.

  4. Everyone naturally seams to assume that their own position and way of looking at things in churches is “the right” way. Yet if that is true then there are a whole lot of people who are simply wrong. Yet I wonder how many people actually ask God what He thinks and what His opinions actually are? And we are all assuming that the basic system passed down to us with all of its modifications over 2 millennia is the right or at least an adequate system. But what if God hates it? What if we have elevated the role of pastor so high and stomped down and out all of the other gifts of the Holy Spirit? What if God hates the current system of Sunday Schools? What if He is not in all of the programs? What if He despises many of the contemporary worship songs that we sing? Not because of a new or old style but because our hearts are far from Him, so it is just a hypocritical slap in the face to Him? What if we are just playing church instead of making disciples who actually do Orthopraxy instead of arguing all the time about what Orthodoxy is? So if you are brave, before you go to bed tonight ask God what He thinks of the church that you love, or for that matter, the one you hate. Do not be surprised if He answers, because maybe, just maybe, He has been waiting for someone, anyone, brave enough to ask a legitimate question…

  5. I’ve only recently come across The Roys Report. The Roy’s content has then proven stimulating, refreshing, reinvigorating.
    Across reading content and reading the thoughts about content others have posted; what the idea of fracturing rather flags, leaps out; as does the sense of this being an American matter.
    I’ve read the transcript of this podcast, rather than listening to the audio, as these two forms use very different mechanisms, and I’m more comfortable fielding the written rather than the spoken word, certainly when grappling with complex matters of collective life.
    Rather than being a Christian per se (that is someone within a hermetic which is taken as Christian, where we look out at what is from that hermetic centre), I’ve developed to be concerned with hermetics. My own limiting hermetic, the enabling and mediating hermetics of others. Work wise that took me into working with special needs adults and children; with an eventual primary focus on those we see as “autistic”.
    My take on God is then shaped by all that has given me this orientation to hermetics. I see God as a crucial ideational invention across the process of evolution. Where the nature of meaning-making in being human, ensures that God becomes a reified existent if and as we commit to this God centred hermetic.
    The formation and continued existence of the Jewish people speaks powerfully to what can be secured across commitment to this hermetic; as does the later emergence of Judeo-Christianity in the part it has played in the rise of numerous nation States (such as America).
    We then have a circumstance, that I think is driving what the podcast’s speakers spoke to as fracturing (in an American evangelical movement). That circumstance being that commitment to the Judeo-Christian hermetic, can never fully transcend its origins in an Earth-bound evolutionary process. I say this while acknowledging I am not doing justice to the Christ idea of Jesus’s securing of that transcendence; so as to become a purely God-mediated being, a child or son of God.
    For the human race on Earth, for the Judeo-Christian constituency on that Earth, such transcendence remains a hope; where the ground and basis for securing that hoped for outcome, are and always have been disputed.
    Why this disputing. What drives the disputing, is the existential and individual evidence of the Earth circumstance; something often spoken of in terms of sin, flesh, temptation, secularism, the ways of the world, the politically left, the politically right, and on and on in reductive and negating tone.
    When Jesus dies on the cross, the author speaking to this, has Jesus beseeching God as to why he has forsaken him. That pearl of wisdom in the Christ narrative, is perhaps often glossed over. Here we have God as existent becoming absent, while Jesus’s faith in the idea of God continues. Which is as good as it gets with the God idea, because the idea is simply a prism exploited while alive on the Earth, to begin to see what lies beyond the idea. Where absolute commitment to that idea is the platform we need to so begin to see.
    What we are seeing as fracturing, while painful and so often violent, is part of a process. Individuals in a burgeoning Earth population, can but apply the Earth-circumstance evidence which beginning and development brings their way. They seek accommodation for who they are, within the Judeo-Christian hermetic and its potential community.
    What we then need, are fresh ontological and epistemological resources, for grappling with the unique circumstance of now.
    There is a ground to the fracturing. The aim has to be to recover that ground. Where the differences of accommodation in the J-C/God-centred/Biblical hermetic, are so respected as to be understood. The violence of self-protection giving way to Christian commitment to preserving the community.
    That ground has to be recovered in terms which are universal to all in the currently separated communities of hermetic commitment. This always the challenge for the JC impulse to take the Jewish hermetic (or the truth of it) beyond the Jewish people, and to all people. This a challenge which is ever present. A challenge likely to become ever greater as the scale of J-C changes.
    Church is just one element in the Christianising of a society. Evangelism is just one element in Church. Evangelism sits within a society which has been crucially Christianised; where that effect is diffused and decentralised. There is then a feedback loop between those who are somewhat Christian but neither Church-centred or evangelical. There is another feedback loop between what is Christian and what is secular development. I think we have to expand our focus to take all this into consideration, all the time.

    Thank you for making this content available.

  6. I appreciated this nugget in Pickering’s response to Lutz: “I also do not think there is an either-or choice to be made between condemning the sin(s) of racism and sexism on the one hand and sexual immorality on the other. But the command to “weep with those who weep,” compassionate wisdom, does help me prioritize what I say and when I say it.” This reminds me of James’s admonition to listen before speaking (James 1:19). Pickering wants simply to listen.

    Lutz has some excellent points, too. I think, however, that he wants to put the cart before the horse by emphasizing the facts about the occupations of the victims, rather than the fact that the victims bear the image of God. This amounts to blaming the victim. The murderer murdered, regardless of what his victims may—or may not!—have been doing. He alone was responsible for his actions.

    Divisions have been and will continue to be present in the Church until Eternity comes. The Gospel spoken without love is like a clanging cymbal. I need to ask myself whether the way that I act expresses the love of Jesus to my neighbor.

  7. As I listened to the last podcast on The Roys Report. At the end of the interview, Mrs. Roys made the statement (with a bit of tonality) that people have asked, (which I have several times) “How does this/her reporting bring the restoration of the church?” She believes that light is the best disinfectant. Agreed. My thoughts are that my tonality was nothing like as her tone displayed in the podcast. It was really because of my Biblical convictions, not with the tonality as voiced on the podcast. Projecting of what people are thinking as they ask a question, “ How her reporting is restoring the church?” My tone is not that at all! There is an honest concern about the church. I believe Julie does as well. But I assure that is not my attitude in my continued question. I believe that Matthew 16:18 is true. Jesus said, “I will build my church… that the gates of hell will NOT prevail.”

    My question is based on several texts within their context. How does this restore the church? I am all for exposing sin, calling out sinners by name. Paul did that in 2 Timothy. A coppersmith done Paul wrong. He also states that many have forsaken him. May it not be counted against them, was Paul’s words and his heart.

    Also, it would have been more objective (in the guest selection in the podcast) if there were two Pastors with different perspectives on the quadratic formula. From Neo-fundamentalism to Neo-Evangelicalism. The two men only represented one perspective. Above Julie stated, “ if you feel two pastors who are conservative theologically and moderate politically are “left-wingers,” then you may struggle with this site and my podcasts. I don’t believe those are fair categorizations.”These men made a few false dilemmas in the podcast creating to presuppositions from the letters, by which created a false narratives.

    My concern based on Biblical narratives. Galatians 2-6, Ephesians 2, Philippians 2 and Revelation (are just a brief list of texts). In the context of the body of Christ, Jesus is the end of ethnocentrism. Race becomes the aesthetics or the spiritual topography by which the church view situations, the gospel is at stake. There is beauty in different ethnicities. The lens of the New Covenant calls for zero distinctions

    Paul states, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

    The Greek reads that, “you are all one person in Christ.” It is Biblical to flesh out substitutionary atonement as practically what makes us Christian. One thing is to focus on Who has united us. What unites us? The Person and Work of Christ.

    Some may say it is not that simple. It is actually profound, life changing and unifying. When the church focuses on a certain race in the body, the church falls into categories that are unbiblical and theologically poor. In Christ we all have been crucified with Him and we live not according to the flesh, but the Spirit (Romans 8:1-2, Galatians 5:1-5). Why go back to a yoke of slavery? Paul was dealing with racism as well the application of the Gospel. That is why he confronted Peter. He got in his face. He had the goal of removing the doctrine of the Jewish Legalistic application of the Gospel. The focus was on the law and trying to make different ethnicities fall in line with the Jewish ethnicities was a yoke of slavery. That yoke of slavery on different ethnicities to focus on other ethnicity rather than the Gospel.

    The Gospel makes all ethnicities realize that they are from the same seed. The spiritual seed of Abraham. The New Covenant clarified the false thinking that one was saved by being a physical seed of Abraham. Paul states that fact was false. It was never the race of Abraham that was redeemed, but the faith of Abraham that made one an offspring of Abraham, more importantly an offspring of Christ.

    Call it whatever you want on the quadratic formula, but Theology in the church is vastly important. The problem with the optics is making a racial issue a key lens in the church. The treatment of different ethnicities is more therapeutic than theological in nature.

    My fear is that the statements made by these pastors, commenting on theletters between Pickering and Lutz are divisive. Not intended, but a consequence of not appropriately applying the beautiful ramifications of what the New Covenant did to and for all races. It ended the Jewish elitism. Legalistic Jews thought gentiles were unclean, unacceptable and deplorable. The Good Samaritan is such a good parable to display that truth of the Gospel and ending ethnocentrism.

    The social norms have drastically changed in the last 2 decades. Unfortunately they have crept into the church. Also the article, “ Survey Finds Only 9% of Self-Identified Christians Hold to Biblical Worldview.” With this letter exchange and the focus is why a Biblical worldview is needed and lacking in the church today.

    1. KC,
      I appreciate your thoughtful engagement. But I do not believe the Bethlehem pastors (Pickering and Tong), nor my guests on the podcast, were making racial issues “a key lens in the church.” They simply were acknowledging trauma among a certain racial group after a mass killing of 5 Asian women. The fact merely doing so would prompt a letter like Lutz’s point to an incredible tone-deafness in the church that must be addressed. This tone-deafness is what is divisive; not naming the tone-deafness and discussing it.

      Also, I challenge your argument that the “lens of the NT calls for zero distinctions.” If that were true, why would Paul have urged Timothy to get circumcised (Acts 16:1-5). Also, if there are no distinctions, how can every nation, tribe, people, and language be represented in heaven (Rev. 7:9)? The point of Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, nor male and female, is not to erase those distinctions. (Do we also erase all gender distinctions?) The point is to say that salvation is available to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender–and that our identity in Christ is primary over these distinctions.

      It is odd to me how many of my fellow conservative Christians will argue so vociferously for gender distinctions and yet want to ignore racial ones. It also is grievous to me how many of my fellow white evangelicals refuse to listen to the perspectives of Christians from other ethnic backgrounds, and pontificate to them about how they should think and feel. This is a serious problem, separating white believers from those of other races and it grieves me deeply. Yes, we are all one. And yes, our identity in Christ supercedes all others. But this should result in us identifying more closely with those who look and feel differently from us and empathizing with them (contrary to what Joe Rigney and Doug Wilson say).

      1. “It also is grievous to me how many of my fellow white evangelicals refuse to listen to the perspectives of Christians from other ethnic backgrounds, and pontificate to them about how they should think and feel.”

        You hit the nail on the head. Why can’t we give the benefit of the doubt to other people’s perspectives? What are we so threatened by?

      2. Where does the Bible establish racial distinctions in the church the way it establishes gender distinctions? It does not. It does the opposite. It breaks them down. Not to say people no longer have different shades of skin color, different languages or different cultures, but that those things do not divide us in the church. Jesus breaks down all sorts of factionalism and certainly doesn’t divide the church into separate groups of ones, twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes. And it does not divide the church and create sub-churches based on people’s skin color. It’s strange to see this worldly talking point repeated here that there are so many white evangelicals who refuse to listen to perspectives of others and pontificate to others how they should think and feel. I’ve never witnessed such a thing happen, but have heard people of the world make that statement repeatedly, and falsely. Most times I have heard that statement applied to a person speaking their mind it is used in a very racist way, to slander a white person for daring to have an opinion or daring to express their opinion, as if only non-white people are allowed to have opinions and speak their mind. Just because a person has an opinion that disagrees with someone else, doesn’t mean they haven’t listened to what the other person has to say. But when the world says a white person is not allowed to have an opinion or speak their mind, that is an actual example of refusing to listen to another’s perspective, so the whole thing is quite hypocritical. I’m speaking to the way this talking point is used the vast majority of the time. If people are mistreated because of their skin color, of course the church should advocate for them and defend them against racism, just as the church should advocate for the poor and defend the poor against injustice. In this way, the church acknowledges there are differences between people in this world and people can be mistreated because of those injustices, but that doesn’t mean we see the poor and rich as having distinct roles or having a distinct presence in the church.

        1. Eric says, “It’s strange to see this worldly talking point repeated here that there are so many white evangelicals who refuse to listen to perspectives of others and pontificate to others how they should think and feel. I’ve never witnessed such a thing happen, ”

          Seeing it happen, right here, right now…

        2. Julie, for me, this was your best podcast yet. Unlike a few of the commentators here, I found the distinctions your guests made between current (and former) Evangelicals very helpful. I’m a 50+ year old pastor, and if I simply ignore the fracturing that is currently taking place and do not attempt to name it, I soon won’t have a congregation left.

          In my view the problem is that older Evangelicals feel as though they have found the pristine Truth and any deviation in any matter is a rejection of this gospel. The thinking seems to say, “If you carry an egalitarian view of gender relationships…you are following a false gospel.” “If you vote with or carry primarily political views that align with the Democrats…you are following a false gospel.” “If you read scripture with the lens of the poor and outcast and not primarily with the lens of the victor and overcomer…you are following a false gospel.”

          The reality is that one would be incredibly hard pressed to look back 100 or 200 years ago to find anything mirroring what most of today’s leading Evangelicals believe in regards to the gospel. It’s as if the YRR/9 Marks crowd have found the Truth and if you deviate from their thinking, your are simply proving you are not among the chosen.

          1. Bob Jones,
            You clearly haven’t read the Puritans. I would agree on the political end but some of the texts listed above in response to my comments were taken out of context.

            It’s not pristine one bit. It’s Jesus in my place. The most humbling doctrine ever. As for egalitarianism. I can not get around I Timothy and Titus. Paul is crystal about the office of an elder. It is gender specific. He lists it twice to be clear.

          2. KC, my response wasn’t too you. I thanked Julie for an excellent podcast and then listed what I have seen to be problems in the current Evangelical leadership in America. First, a broad stream of Evangelicals in the past have believed very differently than you on women in Christian leadership. The AoG, the Nazarenes, the Church of God (Anderson) and a myriad of other groups not only had a theology of women in “elder” leadership and pastoral roles, but a significant core of their ministers were women. (i.e. In the ChOG Anderson, 1/3 of all pastors in the early 20’s were women.) Today’s Evangelical leaders would like to ignore that.

            I could go on and on about Junia, the first preachers of the gospel after they saw the risen Lord, the fact that the poured out Spirit was upon women and men, etc. But I’ll leave that for another time.

            Once again, the point of my text is that today’s New Calvinism, Dispensational, 9Marks “Gospel” is a johnny come lately. Today’s Evangelicals would have a very, very hard time accepting the godly forerunners of Evangelicalism. Why? Because the beliefs of those forerunners do not comport with the pristine gospel that Evangelicals feel that they now hold.

  8. Hi Eric,

    I’m white. I’ve adopted black children. I’ve also got white birth children. I’ve seen/experienced my black children being treated differently among white culture broadly and within the evangelical church. It’s easy for us within the white world to deny bias. We personally don’t experience it. I have many friends and family within the Church and outside the Church who construct arguments to deny POC’s lived experience. We need to get past our defensiveness. Praying that the Church can lead the way, rather than continue denying the experiences of so many.

    1. It is strange that anyone would want to deny the experiences of others, Just as it is strange that anyone would want to lump countless numbers of people together as having the same exact life experiences or lack of life experiences, just because they share the same skin color.

    2. The church should take a stand against what has been done to your children and against any form of racism, especially when it victimizes children.

    3. The most blaring example of that in America today is Critical Race Theory, which “seeks to tear apart what Jesus Christ died to bring together.” (Erwin Lutzer.)

    4. The church should reject all forms of racism and racial collectivism and segregationism, including CRT, white nationalism, black nationalism, brown nationalism, etc..

  9. Julie,
    I am glad that you listed those texts:) Revelation 7:9 is actually a distinction of what John saw versus what he heard in previous verses. The listing of the tribes was what he heard. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” The Greek reads literally that he actually turned around to look and saw. He was like was like check this out (behold) saw something different than what I heard.

    The distinction of all the people groups is not the focus, but the power of the Lamb. As John the Baptist said in front of Jews as He saw Jesus coming, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Not the sins of the Jews. Revelation 7:9 fulfilled the promises of the Seed (Christ) and the (seeds) spiritual sons of Abraham. It shows John the Baptist was right.
    The point is theologically based not ethnicity. It is a fulfillment of God’s promise. So in a sense the the 12 tribes were not really there. Now if you hold to a 140 year view of dispensationalism. Then, you make a distinction that avoids the language used by John.

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