Getting Jefferson Right Gets a Rise from the Fall of Mars Hill Church

I haven’t written much about the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church because I wanted to hear the whole thing before I did. Now that I have, I will say more about it over time. On the whole, I recommend it. Several years ago when Mars Hill Church was unraveling, I assumed someone would do a deep dive into the rise and fall of the church; I just didn’t think it would be Christianity Today.

On the level of individual work, Mike Cosper did an superb job of weaving characters and various story lines in and out of the narrative.  Having written and produced a documentary in the past, I can appreciate the amount of work that goes into that beast.

What brings me to the blog backroom at this time is something I just learned over the weekend: Mike Cosper’s casual mention of my book with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, has led to a modest Mars Hill bump in interest in Getting Jefferson Right since The Tempest episode came out on November 12. I’ll call it a Mars Hill Rise.

Here is what Cosper said about the Jefferson book starting at 1 hour and 11 minutes into The Tempest episode.

There’s a sense in which he (Throckmorton) was an ideal candidate to respond to this particular moment in the story (the plagiarism aspect). For several years, much of Throckmorton’s blogging had been focused on debunking the work of David Barton, a Christian nationalist, known for writing books and curriculum about the origins of the U.S. that are popular in some very conservative homeschool circles.

That led to the publication of a book called Getting Jefferson Right which Throckmorton co-wrote with Michael Coulter. The book carefully deconstructs many of Barton’s Christian nationalist myths and it led to one of Barton’s books being pulled from publication. His foray into looking at Driscoll didn’t come from any specific interest in his work. I think in a way that’s also reflected in his interest in Barton. Warren has a mind for detail; a mind attuned for the kind of research and cataloging necessary to track instances of plagiarism.

I love it when threads of my life come together and this was a significant couple of minutes for me. The modest sales boost or the Facebook page interest aren’t the remarkable points here. For me, it was Cosper’s matter-of-fact dismissal of Christian nationalism. The reference to David Barton’s “Christian nationalist myths” was extremely gratifying. As I listened, I became aware that numerous people who had never thought about Christian nationalism in a negative way (or at all) were listening to the podcast since Rise and Fall has remained near the top of the podcast charts since it came out.

Indeed, in Getting Jefferson Right, we deal with some of the foundational stories that Christian nationalists like to tell. Did Congress publish the first English Bible in the U.S. for the use of schools? Did Jefferson create an abridgment of the New Testament to evangelize native Americans? Was Jefferson forbidden to free his slaves by Virginia law? Did Jefferson sign his presidential documents in the Year of our Lord Christ? Christian nationalist history is unlike any history most of us have heard or studied. In our book, we focus on claims involving Thomas Jefferson and give the facts.

For more on Getting Jefferson Right, click through this link. You can find the book in Kindle and paperback format on Amazon. Conveniently, Amazon says it arrives before Christmas!

For more on the removal of Barton’s book from publication, see this link.

Christianity Today Calls for Trump to Be Removed from Office; Fireworks Ensue

Yesterday afternoon, Christianity Today‘s Mark Galli wrote an editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump from office. Since then, Christianity Today has trended nearly non-stop on Twitter and Trump has rage tweeted several times with attacks on the publication. Trump’s court evangelicals are up in arms and have commented with the aim of minimizing the damage.

Mark Galli placed CT’s position in the context of the magazine’s stance on Bill Clinton when he faced impeachment. CT advocated for impeachment then and Galli and the magazine’s editorial board now believe Trump’s conduct in office, most recently during the Ukraine scandal, is of similar bad character.

Of course, Galli and his board are correct. If the Constitution means anything and the oath taken by our legislators means anything, they must convict Trump. It is refreshing to see it print in a magazine I came to respect as an undergraduate.

Immediately, the objections come. He’s done good things. He is pro-life (unless of course you ask the Kurds, Yemeni children and their families, and Ukrainian soldiers on the Russian front). The Judges. The economy.

My reaction to those objections is one name: Mike Pence.

Convicting Donald Trump does not undo the 2016 election. Mike Pence would become president. While Pence has his own issues, there is little chance he would be investigated for them prior to the 2020 election. The people who are all in for Trump must really dislike Mike Pence. Pence would be the GOP standard bearer in 2020 and continue many of the same policies appreciated by evangelicals.

Let me continue with that thought. Removing Trump from office now does not force a choice for a liberal Democrat. Some commenters have thoughtfully suggested removing Trump leaves us with a liberal Democrat as the only alternative. However, acting on principle right now does not present that choice. There is a clear choice right now: take a stand for the rule of law, separation of powers, and an executive who is not above the law or allow the executive branch to function without accountability to anyone, not just now but in future administrations.

To make it personal, the choice right now is between Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

The CT editorial calls Congress to do the right thing. It calls Christians to do the right thing and let God handle the rest. There was a time when walking by faith and not by sight was considered a good thing. Now according to the Christian leaders among us, we need a king. We need a man who decrees this:

According to Trump, CT wants someone to “guard their religion.” He has it all wrong. If Christianity needs a president or any political power to guard our religion, then it is no religion at all. Donald Trump wants us to believe that James Madison was wrong when he said “a dependence on the powers of this world” was “a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself.” Today’s evangelicals appear to believe Trump is necessary for our religion to survive. As indicated by his tweet above, Trump sure believes it.

To me, Galli’s editorial is important because he goes beyond a political opinion and lays out what is at stake by partnering with deception and immorality to attain policy goals.

 Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?

Personally, I think the horse is out of the barn for many people outside of the evangelical world. However, it is never too late to do the right thing. Here’s hoping Mr. Galli’s editorial helps that happen a little more each day.

The Nashville Statement and God's Design

Nashville logoAs they say in journalism, the Nashville Statement has legs.  Mark Galli has a critical editorial about the NS in November’s Christianity Today. The President of NS sponsor Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Denny Burk answered that a couple of days ago. Downstream, I am now responding to Burk.
Because it is behind a paywall, I can’t read all of Galli’s op-ed. However, my main focus is what Burk has to say in reply. In particular, I want to briefly discuss God’s design and sexual orientation and gender identity.

God’s Design

Article 7 of the NS says:

We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

In his CT op-ed, Mark Galli criticized Article 7 of the NS for this position which stigmatize some Christians who consider themselves gay even though they refrain from gay sex.* Burk isn’t having it:

In response to this, I would simply point out that Galli’s criticism is not that Article 7 of the Nashville Statement is false or unsupported in scripture. His argument is simply that those who embrace a gay identity might disagree with it. He may be right that some who embrace a gay identity will not wish to support the statement, but that fact should not be confused with a substantive critique of Article 7 on the merits. Nor should it obscure the fact that Christians who experience same-sex attraction can and do endorse the statement (e.g., Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, Christopher Yuan).

Burk says Galli doesn’t use the Bible to criticize the NS, then Burk resorts to a defense which relies less on the Bible and more on natural law. As I will demonstrate below, Galli and Burk both look to nature but see different things. Burk continues:

Notice that Article 7 focuses on God’s purpose in his creation design and in his redemptive work through Christ. The careful reader will recognize that this article is concerned with the revelation of God’s design in both nature and scripture. In what sense does Galli think it consistent with God’s design to embrace a transgender self-concept? In what sense is it consistent with God’s design to embrace a gay self-concept? Does Galli think that adopting such self-concepts are a part of God’s original design in creation? Does Galli believe that people will embrace a gay or transgender self-concept in the new heavens and the new earth?
Galli offers us no guidance on these questions, but they are precisely the kinds of questions that ordinary Christians are asking and that Article 7 of the Nashville Statement answers. And I believe the statement does so in a way that is consistent with both natural law and scriptural revelation.

Burk looks at nature, sees the typical arrangement, calls it God’s design and asks Galli questions. He wants Galli to answer that embracing a transgender or gay self-concept isn’t consistent with God’s design. Burk wants him to say that such self-conceptions were not part of the original plan nor will they be part of the eventual eternal state. Therefore, we shouldn’t affirm them now.
Let me now speak for Galli and ask some questions of my own. Mr. Burk, what about the exceptions? Do they not exist? Are they not valuable? In what sense do you think it is consistent with God’s design to pretend that LGBT people don’t exist now? Do you think straight and cisgender people become undesigned if we acknowledge that non-straight and transgender people exist? If those people who exist in exception honestly acknowledge it, will anyone be excluded from the new heavens and the new earth? Can’t the typical and the atypical coexist in your world? They do in mine.
Galli points to one part of nature and says the NS doesn’t fully capture it. Burk comes along, points to a more orderly part of nature and says everybody is supposed to be straight and cisgender even if they aren’t.

Exceptions Happen

In fact, there are many exceptions to “design” in nature.  Among humans, some people have extra bones or teeth, some have webbed toes, some are missing limbs. Some couples are unable to have children. Among sheep, some rams attempt to mate with other rams. This does not alter the behavior of the straight rams. Arguing against LGBT people from God’s design is a weak argument because LGBT people also exist in God’s world. I don’t believe they are a surprise or have thwarted His plans. The basic means of furthering the species is intact even if a small percentage of people aren’t going to find love and attachment in the usual way.
Oppose same-sex sexual behavior if that is your conviction, but don’t tell LGBT people that their very existence is an attack on God’s created order and then tell them in the next breath that your statement to that effect is “an expression of love” for them.
Read my other posts about the Nashville Statement here.
*The issues are similar for transgender persons but for simplicity, I will focus on sexual orientation.

Gospel for Asia Accuses Certain Bloggers of Misrepresenting Facts

GFA HQ inside
Inside Gospel for Asia’s HQ. HH Architects website

I wonder who they mean.
Gospel for Asia apparently will only talk to Christianity Today. About the recent RICO class action suit against GFA, an unnamed spokesperson for GFA told CT (go read the entire article):

“While we are more than willing to answer any questions asked of us, it would be irresponsible for us to do so at this time since we have not yet been served any lawsuit,” GFA told CT. “All we know is what has been posted on the internet by certain bloggers who have previously misrepresented facts related to Gospel for Asia in a relentless attempt to discredit our ministry.

The first statement is a blatant lie. For months, GFA has not answered questions from donors and media (e.g., 20 year donor Bruce Morrison). GFA stopped answering my questions on May 7, 2015. At the end of this post, I have provided statements from survey respondents regarding the unwillingness of GFA to answer questions.
UPDATE: (Since I first posted this, I read an article posted by the Christian Post with the same statement. CP identifies the source of the statement as Daniel Punnose, K.P. Yohannan’s son. So, Rev. Punnose, please point out any facts you believe I have misrepresented.)
GFA also told CT:

“Once we know the nature of the accusations, we will respond accordingly and transparently,” GFA stated. “We remain—as we have been for over 30 years—committed to operating with integrity on behalf of so many of the world’s most desperate people. That is our commitment and we will remain focused on our Christian mission. We are so grateful for all of those who support our work.”

This statement insults the intelligence of everyone who has done any kind of investigation into GFA. Let’s review GFA’s recent record.

  • On October 2, 2015, the board of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability disclosed that GFA’s membership had been terminated due to multiple violations of ECFA guidelines. The letter from ECFA outlining the violations of financial integrity standards can be viewed in this previous article.
  • In their response to the ECFA, GFA admitted smuggling cash to India. While GFA says it didn’t know such smuggling was illegal, questions remain about their conflicting stories.
  • The Independent Charities of America did not offer membership to GFA due to GFA’s failure to provide a clean audit for 2014.
  • The Office of Personnel Management banned GFA as an approved charity due to violations of eligibility requirements. The OPM imposed the most severe response allowed by law. GFA will not be allowed to solicit donations from federal workers for at least the next campaign year.

It is clear that GFA has learned nothing from their recent problems. Despite the removal of ECFA and ICA memberships and the disciplinary action of the OPM, GFA continues to blame bloggers for their problems.
I challenge GFA to back up the statements to CT. Where have I or any other blogger misrepresented facts relating to GFA? I have asked repeatedly for clarification and information which might clear up these matters. However, GFA has consistently refused to answer any questions from me and has made no effort to address the many loose ends surrounding their management of donor funds.
Because GFA has attacked my integrity, I challenge the organization to provide me, CT or any media source with evidence that I have misrepresented facts about GFA. I will gladly provide their explanation and any evidence GFA offers to my readers.
In October 2015, I created a survey designed for anyone leading and attending a Calvary Chapel. I have 77 responses so far. For participants who had contacted GFA, I asked if they were satisfied with answers given by GFA.  Most did not answer (59), but of the 18 that did, four were satisfied and 13 were not satisfied. Some of the negative replies are below. The four positives simply indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with GFA’s responses.

  • Saddened, not satisfied. Sin is blinding and deceptive. The answers the leaders and staff members gave me have broken my heart, and I pray for them daily that they will turn and be restored.
  • I got no answers or responses to my concerns and comments.
  • Not at all satisfied. They tried to turn the tables on the dialogue basically saying: “Prove the accusations to be true.” No offer of explanation or dialogue. This has been the recurrent theme with others in our congregation who attempted to address the issue with them.
  • Standard response was to blame the blogs as propaganda for former staffers.


Teen Mania Puts Out the Fire; Letter from Ron Luce to Honor Academy Alums

Screen cap from You Tube. MSNBC documentary on Teen Mania
Screen cap from You Tube. MSNBC documentary on Teen Mania

Christianity Today is on a roll. After solid articles by Bob Smietana on Gospel for Asia and The Gathering, Morgan Lee scores an interview with Ron Luce on the end of Teen Mania. I am impressed that Lee got Luce to talk about the Honor Academy. What emerges is a study in self-justification and blame shifting. Essentially, Luce blames the kids for being soft. Luce told Lee that kids changed over the years.

Luce said coaches and military leadership used to be able to motivate young people by verbally threatening them. “Don’t you dare demand something hard out of me,” gets construed as “you’re abusing me,” he said.

One can watch an MSNBC documentary on Teen Mania and decide for yourself (part 1, part 2, part 3) Teen Mania is still in debt to several groups and individuals. Luce claims to be working on that. World magazine brought much of the financial concerns to light.
In a letter to Teen Mania Honor Academy alumni sent last night, Luce includes the pastoral staff at Gateway church as encouraging the end of the ministry. As an aside, is there some workshop or course where flamboyant, controversial ministry leaders learn to overuse the word “season?”

Dear Alumni Family,

First, may we wish you and your family a blessed Christmas season as we celebrate our Savior’s birth. We hope that you and your family will be blessed in the coming New Year.

Katie and I wanted to make sure that you heard the latest significant news regarding Teen Mania directly from us. You may remember for most of you as you were getting ready to graduate, I talked about seasons of our life and the changes we all encounter. I referred to a passage where Jesus was talking to Peter and He said to Peter “Simon, Simon behold, Satan’s desire to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Luke 22:31  There are seasons in our life when everything looks like nothing could possibly go wrong and then there are other seasons in our life when it looks like every single thing has gone wrong. We talked about during those seasons of grace when God’s favor is so strong upon you that you build yourself up in your faith and get strong, so that when the seasons of sifting come, which Jesus seemed to promise would come here, you will be strong and able to stand.
Over the course of the last 30 years, we’ve experienced many seasons of extraordinary fruitfulness. You all know the story how Katie and I started with just a few hundred dollars and a little car and a big dream to build an army of young people who would change the world. Over these years, we wrestled, we have fought, and we have prayed together with thousands of intern alumni, hundreds of staff and tens of thousands of youth leaders and have impacted millions of young people at Acquire the Fire and over a million souls through Global Expeditions mission trips. At that time, little did we know that God would allow us to be a part of launching a new era in youth ministry and witness the movement of ministry to young people here in America.
The fact is that in life there are seasons and when the birth of a new season comes change is inevitable. After talking with our board members and pastoral leadership at Gateway, we have decided that the season of Teen Mania as an organization has come to a time of conclusion.
I personally feel so grateful to the Lord for all that we have been able to do together. We saw a new era of youth ministry launched and a world-class youth conference propel innovation into youth ministry culture and traveled 24 tour seasons, making what I believe is the largest and longest running youth conference in America’s history to date. Together we saw nearly 80,000 young people travel around the globe seeing more than 1 million people coming to Christ. Together, we have seen countless ministries blossom, youth ministries explode with growth, youth leaders become pastors, mission organizations started, entrepreneurs creating businesses and many of these businesses have grown to become multi-million dollar companies helping to fund missions around the world. My heart is so full of gratitude to God.
In spite of the challenges and the Great Recession, we were still able to struggle and continue to push forward to reach hundreds of thousands more during those challenging times.  You might know that up to 80% of businesses started end within the first year, and about 80% of those businesses that survive end within the next seven year period. Here we are nearly 30 years later thanking God for a fruitful ministry every single year.
When we started in 1986, it would have been terribly hard to imagine that we would have regular television programs being aired in 190 countries around the word being viewed by 200,000 people monthly, literally affecting countless millions of people, that we would have been able to survive such financial difficulties and have thriving ministry each weekend at Acquire the Fire. Think about it this way, since 1986, think of the bands that have come and gone, and the tours that have come and gone, but by the grace of God we kept going and going.
Our hearts are grateful and I want to thank each of you Alumni for being a part of this legacy. As you may well imagine, these last few years have been almost unbearable as Paul described of ministry in some of his writings. It has been heartbreaking to know that some of you have been hurt either while you were an intern or sometime in the aftermath, please forgive me for that. Please note that we have tried to learn from each comment we have read or any notes we have received even those that are very critical. We personally have not dismissed any of these, but asked the question, “Is there a thread of truth in this and how we should respond as a result?”
I want you to know that over this past year, Katie and I have done everything we know to do in regards to the financial situation of Teen Mania. As you can imagine, running a ministry with the scope and size of Teen Mania costs millions annually to operate and can become excruciatingly difficult to manage effectively when a huge part of revenue is cut off (especially due to canceling a tour) while maintaining a large amount of the operating expenses for ministry outreaches and operations. One thing we did to try to offset these losses, was to take out a significant mortgage on our home and put this money into Teen Mania to pay staff salaries, pay vendors and refunds to youth pastors, believing that we could keep operating and keep the ministry moving forward. The fact is that- season’s change, economies change, youth ministry changes and many of the fluctuations that have happened in our culture, we simply were not prepared for. I’m sure many of you could think of the things I could have done better, and I probably would agree with you as I seem to be way more harsh on myself than anything I’ve read regarding my leadership.
However, I can say that through the sweat, love, and prayers of all of us together (all interns, staff and volunteers), that we all worked as hard as we knew how and did our very best to stay the course put before us to reach as many kids as possible with the message of the Gospel and love of Christ. I’ll look back at the last 30 years of this amazing season with gratitude at what God allowed us all to participate with Him to accomplish.
At the encouragement of our board and pastoral leadership, Katie and I are going to be taking a season off from public ministry. We will be spending time refueling our hearts and our minds preparing for the next assignment God has for us. We will be unplugging from social media during this season. After carrying the mantel of this organization, which at one point had 200 staff, multiple volunteers and hundreds of interns and traveling nearly every weekend for nearly 30 years, we believe it’s time to call a time out and get refreshed and refocused for what will probably be the final chapter of our lives.
I want to encourage you to think about seasons in your own life. You might be in a season of blessing right now or you might be in a season of challenge. The hope is that if you are in the middle of winter and it is cold and it feels dark, that springtime is coming. Seasons don’t last forever. If you are in as season of flourishing, thank God for that, but spend that time while you are flourishing preparing for the next season, just as Joseph did as he prepared for the years of hardship that are sure to come. It is just part of the nature of life. God gives us wisdom to prepare for the seasons of winter and grace to deal with the hard times in the midst of that season.
God bless you, your families, your businesses and your ministries. It has been an honor to serve the King together.
Still Consumed by the Call,
Ron and Katie
P. S.  To be a true season of restoration, we have been advised to essentially unplug for a true season of rest, so you will not hear from us personally or publicly.  Although we cannot write back, we would like to stay connected with you all and so if you have anything we can pray for, or just an update on your life, family or challenges you can write us at [email protected]