For a number of months, the temperature has increased greatly on issues related to what is being labeled as the social justice movement. For many people, this has come as a big surprise, but for others the trajectory has been anticipated as things continue to develop. It’s often difficult to follow language, logic, and motive in a Twitter conversation (or debate). For that reason, I would like to point out some of the troubling terms that are emerging from the social justice movement that demand our attention.
Terms and Definitions Matter
For anyone who has ever engaged in a friendly debate on the doctrines of grace, it’s quite clear that to have a profitable conversation we must be using the same dictionary. If one person comes to the conversation with a different set of definitions—the conversation will be derailed from the very beginning. Back in the days of the conservative resurgence period, liberals and conservatives both embraced the term of inerrancy, but the liberal had a completely different definition for the word. Therefore, as we enter into important conversations and engage in necessary debates over matters of social justice—we need to understand that our terminology matters.
What exactly does social justice mean? Is a social justice warrior (SJW) one who is defending the gospel or is that individual guilty of putting emphasis on something that isn’t the gospel in order to promote and empowerment and unity agenda? How we view these terms and positions are critical in order to engage in this profitable cultural conversation. Intersectionality is another term that you need to be aware of in this social justice conversation. Although it was originally coined by a radical feminist to defend oppressed homosexual women—now that same strategy is being employed within evangelical circles. What does it mean to embrace complementarianism? There is a minimum and a maximum view of this doctrine, so which view is most biblically accurate? Such terms and how we define them are key to this conversation.
As we move on, I want to mention a few terms emerging from the social justice movement that trouble me. I will explain each term and how it’s being used within the social justice movement and why we should be concerned.
Christians should care for oppressed people, and we can state that with quite a bit of theological force. As we look back at the history of America, we see periods of time where oppression was systemic in nature and explicitly sinful. Such eras of time included oppression on black people and women. Even beyond the Emancipation Proclamation and eventual end to slavery—both groups were targeted with ungodly discrimination and systemic oppression.
As laws were passed, both blacks and women were eventually free to enjoy the same freedoms in America. Although our culture was slow to change, it eventually led to their advancement in our culture to our present day where both blacks and women occupy the highest seats in our nation. We have seen blacks and women as successful business owners, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, professors, and politicians. The richest black American is a woman—Oprah Winfrey. Her net worth as of February 15, 2018, is $2.8 billion, according to Forbes, making her the richest black American. Just take a look at the Supreme Court of the United States and the office of president as prime examples of how the former years of systemic racism and systemic oppression have ended.
We should be grateful for such freedom and advancement, however, the social justice movement continues to claim that we’re presently holding back people of color and preventing women from flourishing as God has intended from the beginning—within evangelicalism. Is that true? Specific leaders in evangelicalism are calling for the dismantling of present hierarchies so that a new era can emerge where this oppression will not continue. For that reason, the language of modern oppression concerns me; and if we’re brutally honest, people of color and women are not being systemically oppressed in evangelicalism today—it’s simply not true.
If the idea of oppression is one of the key motivating factors for this need for social justice, we must identify who’s being oppressed and how they’re being held back. According to certain voices within evangelicalism, people of color and women have been held back from climbing the ladder to the top within our organizational structures, institutions of higher learning, and local churches—so we must do everything within our power to reverse this oppression by an agenda of empowerment. If systemic oppression was true, there would be a need to work together for liberation. However, if true systemic oppression is not a reality within evangelicalism—why is there a such a radical push for empowerment?
Within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), we have seen a massive surge in conversation centered on empowerment. Scholarships are being set aside for people of color that are not being offered to white people at the same institutions. Many people are talking about the sudden need to empower a women to become the president of the SBC. Consider the language of Dwight McKissic as he posted the following on his Facebook just a few days before the 2018 annual meeting of the SBC:
If I thought Beth Moore would accept the nomination or be agreeable to being nominated, because of her qualifications and the current context the SBC finds herself in… I would nominate her for SBC President. The SBC is a parachurch organization – not a church. Therefore, there is absolutely not one Bible verse, or SBC constitutional bylaws prohibitions, nor any BF&M 2000 prohibitions against a woman serving as SBC President. Tradition, sexism, fear and other non-biblical factors would probably prevent any woman… from being elected President of the SBC.
Is the SBC really guilty of sexism or any other sinful oppressive behavior because we have not elected a woman to serve as president of the SBC? Should we create scholarships for people of color within institutions of higher learning just so that we can increase the percentage of a specific demographic in our classrooms who will eventually go on to occupy the office of pastor in local churches and serve as missionaries on the field?
Back to the important term of complementarianism—what exactly does it mean? If we truly believe that we have been guilty of holding women back, what does that mean for the future of our local churches if we engage in a “women’s liberation” movement in the SBC? Will we begin to see women preaching and teaching in the local church on a regular basis as the fruit of the social justice movement? What if a woman is elected as the president of the SBC, will she be invited to preach in the chapel services of the seminaries and Bible colleges of the SBC? How far will those who are championing the idea of systemic oppression be willing to press this issue of empowerment? What if our excitement about empowerment leads women to walk away from their calling that God has established from the beginning—one rooted in creation itself?
In many ways, the logical conclusion of the social justice movement is to embrace the unbiblical category of LGBT Christian. Just over one week from now, the Revoice Conference will be held in St. Louis. The front page of the conference states the following:
Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality
Did you notice the key word, “empowering” in the sentence? The empowerment agenda is fixed on liberating those who have been held back from flourishing. Therefore, this mindset claims that we have held back people of color, women, and homosexuals through systemic oppression that has prevented them from occupying specific offices, positions, or enjoying membership in our local churches. Is this true? Have we held back homosexuals from flourishing and refused to care for them properly?
Sure, it can be clearly documented that many Christians have refused to care for homosexuals in a proper Christ-honoring manner, but the best way to care for homosexuals is not to call them Christians. That would be a soul-damning mistake. Paul never calls homosexuals brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, he roots their identity in the gospel of Jesus and points to the past tense reality of their sin (1 Cor. 6:9-11). As Christ followers, they are new creations in Christ and they have a new desire to identify with Jesus and do war with their sin. To call struggling sinners “gay Christians” is to lead them into deeper oppression of sin rather than to the light of Jesus Christ. Owen Strachan observes:
There will be no “queer treasure” in the New Jerusalem. There will be nothing unholy in the celestial city, nothing sinful that will be brought to the worship of the crucified and resurrected Lord of the church. There is no righteousness in a believer, a truly born-again Christian, identifying as “bisexual.” This identification alone would not qualify a man or woman to serve at a Vacation Biblical School event, let alone instruct the church on sexual ethics.
As this social justice agenda continues to morph and move down the tracks, it’s essential that we have some important conversations. Can we engage in the necessary conversations with respect for one another? Sure we can engage in a Christ-honoring manner, but the reality is—many of the lead voices in the social justice agenda are unwilling to have an open conversation on these important matters.
We must fight to uphold the dignity of women as God has instituted from the beginning. We must encourage women to flourish within God’s design as image-bearers in the home, the local church, and beyond. However, to ask of women what God never asked is to lead them down a road of oppression and discouragement. We must likewise preach the gospel faithfully and labor for unity in the gospel that transcends all socioeconomic boundaries and ethnic lines. It’s in Jesus where we find true purpose, hope, and identity. This identity brings about true unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3-6). The same gospel that encourages women to flourish and unites different skin colors also brings about the salvation of sinners—including those lost in the perils of homosexuality. We should celebrate this gospel together.
In order for our engagement on these matters to be profitable we must understand the terms—but most importantly we must understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ we will find true unity and purpose to labor with one another to bring people out of darkness and into the marvelous light of Jesus Christ. May the Lord raise up gospel saturated ambassadors who bleed Bibline (like John Bunyan) rather than champions of social justice. The gospel has not been recalled and the Word of God doesn’t need a revision for our modern challenges within our culture. I fear that the modern social justice movement in evangelicalism is communicating to the world that the gospel is somehow insufficient to deal with our social challenges. The gospel is still the power of God unto salvation and the Word of God is sufficient.
This is a guest post by Pastor Tom Buck. Tom Buck is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas. He holds a BA in Pastoral Ministries and New Testament Greek from the Moody Bible Institute, a ThM in Bible Exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is presently completing his doctoral work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tom previously served for 12 years as the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Fellowship in Florida. He has been at First Baptist Church since 2006.
The Ongoing Push to Empower Women
Last month, I drew attention to the redefining of complementarity occurring in the SBC (https://bit.ly/2Jkn386). Various leaders were using similar language calling for “the tearing down of all hierarchy” and “empowerment” of women in the SBC. This rhetoric began to translate into action as the election of a woman as the “first trustee chairwoman” at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary was celebrated, followed by the proposal for a woman to serve as president of the SBC.
Some pushed back against this movement with Scriptural responses. For example, I wrote several articles carefully exegeting 1 Timothy 2:12-15 in order to offer a biblical argumentation for the complementarian roles of men and women. With that Scriptural foundation, I argued that a denomination comprised of local churches should not desire a model of teaching and leadership different from God’s design for those same individual churches.
Proponents of empowering a woman as SBC president have given arguments such as the Baptist Faith and Message only prohibits a woman from serving as a pastor; the office of president is not the biblical office of pastor; and the job description for president does not prohibit a woman from serving. What they have yet to advance is an argument for the roles of men and women that proceeds from a careful analysis of Scripture. Rather than interacting with any biblical arguments offered, one writer simply concluded, “in short, there’s no reason a woman cannot be SBC president.”
The impetus behind this recent movement is critical to understand. This conversation did not arise in a vacuum but surfaced in light of the sad revelation of mistreatment of some women in the SBC. To be clear, there is no justification for the abuse of women and it is right to take a strong stand against all its forms. In addition, when such abuses come to light, we should look to Scripture to guide both our reaction to them and the solution for how to rightly move forward. However, emotional pragmatic answers have been controlling the conversation instead of ideas rooted in Scripture.
For example, in a panel discussion at SBC 2018, solutions were discussed for how to respond to the accusations of mistreatment and marginalization of women in the SBC. Repeatedly, the call to empower women and give them roles of leadership were echoed. One panelist commented that when situations arise where women have been mistreated in the church, the wisest answer is to empower women in leadership to bring about a peaceful solution. At face value, that answer might appear completely logical, but it is absolutely unbiblical.
The NT Model of Leadership
In Acts 6, the church encounters its first crisis that created a division in the church. Luke writes, “a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (6:1). The text does not ascribe the motives behind the marginalization of one group of widows over the other as deliberately sinful. Nevertheless, the unequal distribution among these women was serious and needed to be confronted.
This matter was of such importance that the apostles summoned the entire church to address the problem (6:2). Although it was necessary for the apostles to not be distracted from leading the church in the preaching of the Word, the needs of the widows must not be overlooked. Therefore, the apostles called upon the church to choose individuals from among the body to lead in this important task to assure that these women were cared for and no longer marginalized.
The first recorded problem in the church directly involved the mistreatment of women. The apostles identified the need for individuals to lead in the task of bringing about a peaceful resolution that would result in godly care for these women. If there is any task that it would seem appropriate to place women in positions of authority, surely this would be a perfect case. Yet, the apostles directed the church to “pick out from among you seven men” (6:3).
Considering the arguments being made about empowering women, it should be striking that the apostles did not recommend for even one woman to be enlisted in the oversight of this ministry to the widows. It cannot be that the apostles lacked wisdom, failed to be sensitive, or merely acquiesced to the cultural norms of the day. When the apostles saw the need for oversight of this critical ministry in the church, they set a clear example of God’s design for authoritative leadership to be men.
The argument I am making is not that no women could have assisted these men chosen to lead. If they were wise leaders, they would have sought women to assist them in this task. However, the empowerment to lead in resolving this ministry crisis was given exclusively to men. Apparently, male authority in the church is not exclusively restricted to the teaching role of a pastor as some suggest.
It seems unreasonable to believe that the apostles did not deem it appropriate to enlist women to exercise authority in resolving the crisis of the widows, but the SBC should elect a woman as SBC president to address its problems. Perhaps the reason that individuals have not given biblical examples for their argument to “empower” women in the church is because none exist. The apostles were all men; the planting of churches was led by men; the writing of the New Testament was the work of men; and leadership in the churches was given to men.
That said, my ultimate point is not that women should have no leadership in the church. They most certainly should. In fact, I contend that this push to empower women in unbiblical ways will only serve to minimalize and discourage women from valuing the very leadership God has called upon them to exercise.
We Desperately Need Women to Biblically Lead
One of the dangers of responding to issues of this nature is appearing unbalanced. While trying to defend against the onslaught of those promoting unbiblical roles for women, it is easy to get entangled in only addressing what women cannot do. The reality is that women are a wonderful gift from God and their leadership is needed both in the home and the church.
My experience as a pastor is that we need more women, not less, leading as God calls for in Titus 2:3-5: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior… and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” In other words, God calls women in the church to lead other women in fulfilling the vital role that he has given them. Only in Scripture can God’s intended design for women be found.
Paul respected women and worked side by side with them in the work of the gospel (Rom 16). However, the only ministry in which he called upon them to lead was the discipling of children and other women. Mothers in the home should take great joy in the privilege to raise their children in godliness. Women in the church should devote themselves to the crucial role of discipling other women. Women have the unique privilege and responsibility of leading in these significant ways. It is sad and tragic that so many women feel unfulfilled in the beautiful design for which God created them. It is an even greater tragedy when the church cultivates that emotion.
Rather than enticing women with empowerment and cultivating a dissatisfaction towards their God given design, the SBC should call upon churches to equip women to serve in their Titus 2 role. I believe in the radical equality of men and women as image bearers of God. I also know that women have suffered greatly in this world at the hands of sexism. But it is the sin in this world that truly oppresses women, not the role God designed for them or the biblical authority structure of the church. Ever since Satan deceived Eve in the garden, the world has been selling “liberation” for the price of rebelling against God’s design. We should not allow them to set up shop in our individual churches or in the SBC.
Therefore, we should stop “empowering” women and start discipling them to follow Scripture.
Satan delights in denigrating what God created as good. It has always been God’s plan for his Church to possess a certain masculinity in leadership and that masculinity flows into the general membership as well. One of the depressing realities of our modern culture is the assault upon masculinity as if it’s somehow a bad thing. While we can all certainly agree that male dominance is not God’s plan for his Church—the plan to extract male leadership and characteristics from God’s Church is certainly not healthy—in fact it’s downright sinful.
When Paul was closing out his letter to the church in the city of Corinth, he wrote these words in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” We must recall that Paul was writing to a church that was in desperate need of theological and practical correction. The apostle took a firm stance against their sin, and then pointed them to the proper means of living out the gospel of Christ. Apparently one of their struggles was centered on love and their lack of manliness. William Robertson Nicoll observes that these exhortations are “directed respectively against the heedlessness, fickleness, childishness, and moral enervation of the” church at Corinth. 
Today, we continue to see the Church of Jesus Christ suffering from a lack of manliness. This has been the result of the radical feminist attack as well as the problem of perpetual adolescence that continues to prevent men from rising up and taking lead roles within the local church. These problems together create added friction over offices, giftedness, and the need for strong leadership. We would do well to remember Paul’s words to the church in Corinth—”act like men.”
The Feminization of the Church
The liberal agenda has masculinity in its sights and has for many years dating back to the radical women’s liberation movement. From this rank liberal ideology, they teach that God is not a male, Paul was a sexist, and Jesus was a feminist. This agenda took aim at Bible translations in an attempt to produce gender neutral texts while removing references to God’s masculine characteristics. However, the progressives of our day within evangelical circles have adopted that type of language and it has continued to soften the church. Today’s social justice agenda is moving rapidly through evangelicalism beneath the banner of liberation. They claim to work for the liberation of oppressed segments within our evangelical circles—and women are at the center of this debate.
Apparently, we have done a poor job of allowing women to flourish and use their gifts for God’s glory so we must tear down our hierarchies and develop new leadership structures to allow women to bloom. With varying degrees of opinions on this subject—including an eclectic array of interpretations on biblical texts such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:1-15; Titus 2, do we stand in need of clarification on complementarianism? Is The Danvers Statement (1987) unclear? More importantly, is the Bible silent or insufficient to answer these questions?
In her article “God’s Feminist Ideals” published in Christianity Today, Wendy Alsup writes:
Gloria Steinem famously said a feminist is “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” Is God then a feminist by her definition? If feminism in its purest sense is the quest for justice and equal rights for women, then, yes, God was the first feminist. God created woman in his image and bestowed on her equal dignity with man. By a woman’s mere existence, God has bestowed on her dignity and privileges that transcend race, economic status, and physical ability.
At least that’s the language being used by leaders in evangelical circles today. In a recent article on SBC Voices, the question of a woman leading the SBC has once again emerged for discussion and debate. William Thornton critiques our current culture within evangelicalism by stating, “Seems we can’t celebrate women doing much of anything without inserting ‘in biblically appropriate ways.'” Apparently it’s taboo to appeal to the Scriptures and to uphold God’s original design for men and women within the local church and society as a whole.
Make no mistake, complementarity is under assault today and it’s a divisive agenda fueled by ancient errors that not only degrade masculinity—but they call into question God’s sovereign design. Does God need to revise his design for women and men and their roles to align with our modern culture? That type of thinking depicts our God as an aged grandfather in the sky who is not up with the times and apparently hasn’t been reading the latest blogs on his iPhone. In short, it’s a blasphemous assault on God and his sovereignty.
The fruit of this assault will be the feminization of the church. Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt, in their book Megatrends for Women wrote the following back in 1992:
Women of the late twentieth century are revolutionizing the most sexist institution in history—organized religion. Overturning millennia of tradition, they are challenging authorities, reinterpreting the Bible, creating their own services, crowding into seminaries, winning the right to ordination, purging sexist language in liturgy, reintegrating female values and assuming positions of leadership. 
The leading chatter within evangelical circles suggests we suddenly have a need to liberate women in 2018 and swing all doors open for our sisters to flourish in God’s grace. Was Paul sexist in his appeal to the church in Corinth to act like men? Certainly not since we understand that Paul is driving at spiritual maturity. Therefore, spiritually mature men and women will desire to serve God within their roles as God designed from the beginning.
Today, men are behaving as if they must apologize for being created as a man and desiring to lead in the home and in the church. Is it sexist or is it Scriptural for men to desire to act like men and desire offices of leadership in the church while humbly leading in the home as well? Another question should be asked at this juncture—is it oppressive to women for men to act like men? Today’s church doesn’t need softer hands—it needs humble men who act like men and lead with biblical conviction.
The Childishness of the Church
Notice Paul didn’t say, “Act like boys.” There is a pervasive trend among many men today who desire an extended childhood. They avoid responsibility, delay marriage, downgrade family, and elevate play-time far above the need to work. That mindset has crept into the church long ago, and in many ways that’s why we have worship services that look like extended children’s church for adults. Furthermore, that’s why we have such a disconnect among leadership roles in the church in many cases where women are taking the lead because the men want to focus on delaying adulthood and the necessary responsibilities that come along with being a man.
Paul thunders over and over through the New Testament about the need for maturity. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, he placed it as a central goal of pastoral ministry that labors to bring the church to spiritual maturity—to mature manhood (Eph. 4:13). Here in his closing words to the church at Corinth, Paul simply writes—”act like men.” We read Paul’s words today, and seek to make application to our context while the radio and television is providing another message that says growing up and becoming an adult is a really bad idea.
In many church cultures, men find no problem getting together to watch MMA fights or to have video game parties, but they find it extremely awkward to get together and talk about the doctrine of God, the meaning of the atonement, or the meaning and purpose of marriage. We have adopted delayed adulthood and created the “forty-something teenager” mentality—a perpetual adolescent who finds no value in adulthood and maturity. What an appropriate time to read and mediate on Paul’s words to the church at Corinth as he says, “act like men.” Paul had already written to them earlier in his letter providing them a warning:
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (1 Cor. 14:20).
We would do well in our day to heed this warning and to obey Paul’s words to “act like men.” One of the most loving things that a church can do is to pursue maturity and celebrate masculinity which produces true love. This is where both men and women can flourish within God’s original design. Biblical manhood is not defined by how much a man can bench press, the thickness of his beard, or how many tattoos he has about Jesus on his arm. It’s not even connected to his love and affection for cigars. Biblical manhood is rooted in the gospel and has a profound submission to Christ and a love for the roles of men and women as God has designed.
- W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary, vol. 2 (New York: George H. Doran Company, n.d.), 949.
- Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt, Megatrends for Women (New York: Villard Books, 1992), 119.
This is a guest post by Pastor Tom Buck. Tom Buck is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas. He holds a BA in Pastoral Ministries and New Testament Greek from the Moody Bible Institute, a ThM in Bible Exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is presently completing his doctoral work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tom previously served for 12 years as the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Fellowship in Florida. He has been at First Baptist Church since 2006.
Russell Moore is not generally known for his silence nor slowness in addressing hot social topics. For example, recently he spoke loud and clear about President Trump’s immigration policy that separated children from parents who were arrested for crossing the U.S. border illegally. Dr. Moore expressed his legitimate concerns about the damaging effects that this could have upon those children. When Trump reversed direction, Dr. Moore tweeted his support of this decision within minutes of the announcement.
Therefore, I became increasingly troubled by Dr. Moore’s silence regarding Revoice – a conference designed for the purpose of “supporting, encouraging and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians.” If the ethical implications of a U.S. Immigration policy were worthy of Dr. Moore’s attention, surely Revoice holds equal weight. The latter hits much closer to home for evangelicals and has the potential to result in a far greater and more lasting damage.
Russell Moore’s Days of Silence
On June 13, during the ERLC report at the SBC, Dr. Moore was asked by a messenger about Revoice and its endorsement by ERLC Fellow, Dr. Karen Prior. Dr. Moore responded by saying, “I don’t know about the Revoice Conference,” and then proceeded to give a lengthy defense of Dr. Prior. I consider Dr. Prior a friend, and although I disagree with her endorsement of Revoice, I share Dr. Moore’s appreciation for her. However, Dr. Moore dismissed the core of the messenger’s question, “Will the ERLC disavow Revoice?” Furthermore, he ignored the messenger’s disconcerting description that quoted Revoice’s promotion of the conference as a “celebration of queer culture and the plight of LGBT Christians.”
Considering that concerns about Revoice had been echoed across social media for weeks, it was hard to believe that Dr. Moore could not know about it. Dr. Owen Strachan, an ERLC Research Fellow, published his concerns on May 31. Drs. Jason Allen, President of MBTS, and Albert Mohler, President of SBTS, both tweeted about it on the same day. It is strange that Dr. Moore, who was on Twitter that day and most every day since, could have missed a highly promoted article that addressed such a hot social topic.
Nevertheless, whatever Dr. Moore’s knowledge about Revoice was on June 13, his voice remained silent. After a week, I began to call for Dr. Moore, via Twitter, to please address Revoice. His busyness with other things – both trivial and significant – appeared to communicate a lack of concern. In the days after June 13, he tweeted twice about a rap video, in which he appeared, congratulating J.D. Greear on his election as SBC President. He tweeted about hoping to never hear another political address at the SBC. Four times he tweeted about an ERLC initiative on abuse of women. No less than twelve times he tweeted about his concerns with the effects of President Trump’s immigration policy upon children.
Surely, the risk of redefining the ethical teaching of Scripture on sexuality was as important to Dr. Moore as the danger of children being separated from their parents at the border for a matter of days. Long after any emotional trauma those children experienced has passed, the children of our churches will still be spiritually traumatized growing up with the false teaching that could take root in our churches if Revoice gets its way, while leaders like Dr. Moore remained silent. However, the silence finally broke.
The Silence Breaks
On Friday, June 22, at 4:27 PM (EST), Andrew Walker with the ERLC tweeted an article (https://bit.ly/2txd3i8) that spoke of his “pastoral concerns about how the Revoice Conference is being framed and the potential confusion it might sow among impressionable audiences.” At 5:26 PM (EST), Dr. Moore retweeted Walker’s article with the comment, “Good balanced analysis by my @ERLC colleague @andrewtwalk.”
I was immediately thankful that the silence had finally broken, and that Andrew Walker was “deeply skeptical” about The Revoice Conference. He expressed his concern for how Revoice was labeling homosexuals as a “sexual or gender minority,” and how they were “appropriating the language of sexual and gender progressives who have zero interest in maintaining any semblance of Christian teaching.” In addition, Walker stated that “speakers and presenters at Revoice have made alarming arguments in the past.”
That said, I was surprised and remain concerned by several things. I know, some will say, “First he had a problem that Dr. Moore had not said anything. Now he has a problem with what he did say.” As a pastor, I know what it is like to have people who are never satisfied with anything I do. I pray that is not my attitude. I have not been an avid critic of Dr. Moore, and I detest those who paint him with a tail and a pitchfork no matter what he does. However, I share equal disdain for the fanboys who circle the wagons whenever a legitimate concern is raised. Certain things are still troubling.
The Timing and Manner of the Response
The timing of the response’s release was strikingly odd. If you missed the statement altogether, you are likely not alone. It was released, in what is called in media, as a “Friday News Dump.” No one who is media savvy publishes anything remotely significant on a Friday – especially at around 5:00 PM. In addition, while Dr. Moore tweeted no less than twelve times in a week about Trump’s immigration policy, he has not pointed to Walker’s article since his Friday evening tweet. It makes one wonder whether Dr. Moore sees this issue as critical of an issue as Walker communicates.
This raises the question of why Russell Moore would delegate addressing this issue to a colleague. It was Dr. Moore that was personally asked at the SBC about Revoice, and he claimed ignorance about it. Why would he not educate himself and personally address the concerns?
Understanding the problems with the Revoice Conference does not require PhD level research. Fifteen minutes is sufficient to familiarize yourself with its direction. Dr. Moore could have gone to the Revoice website (http://www.Revoice.us) where he would have discovered topics such as, “Redeeming Queer Culture,” where attendees will learn about the “virtues of queer culture,” and “what queer treasure… will be brought into the New Jerusalem.” Dr. Moore could have been enlightened to “mixed-oriented marriages” where “gay men” – who continue to label themselves as such – are married to “straight women.”
If Dr. Moore did not want to take the time to peruse the website, he could have relied on the vast amount of research that was already available. On June 20, Dr. Mohler once again drew attention to what he called an “important article by Colin Smothers” that extensively detailed “the Revoice conference and its fundamental problems” (https://bit.ly/2tgGUeH).
If Dr. Moore had personally taken the time to research and respond, he would have been prepared to give a much stronger argument against Revoice than was offered in Andrew Walker’s piece. Walker’s approximate five-hundred-word response to Revoice was less than robust in comparison to all the lengthy and thorough responses that preceded it. Amazingly, neither Moore nor Walker even referenced any of these articles – many written by SBC leaders – that warned about Revoice.
While Walker merely referenced that the speakers held troubling views, other articles gave their graphic details. There is little doubt that Revoice is intended to be revolutionary in shaping the thinking of evangelical churches. What was once unimaginable to even openly voice is now considered worthy of “celebrating.” The views of many of the speakers are an assault on the doctrines of sin and sanctification. Although they all declare that LGBT people should not engage in homosexual behavior, they offer new definitions that are not biblical and will not help people overcome its power. Consider the published words of some of those speaking at Revoice :
- “the desire to have sex with others of our own sex is a temptation to sin which is a result of the fall, but it is not, in itself, sinful.” – Ron Belgau
- “the sexual aspect of Sodom’s sin involved gang rape, not a consensual and monogamous relationship between two men.” – Ron Belgau
- “It wasn’t, for me, a matter of whether to be gay or Christian; I knew that I was both…” – Wesley Hill
- “Perhaps celibate gay and lesbian Christians, precisely in and out of their celibacy, are called to express, rather than simply renounce and deny, same-sex love.” – Wesley Hill
- “What if we could imagine a scenario in which a Christian businesswoman, after hearing her pastor preach a sermon about these issues, decided that her conscience would allow her to sell products to a gay couple to use in a wedding ceremony?” – Nate Collins
- “To discern a path forward that enables gay people to view their sexuality as a possibility and not merely as a problem.” – Nate Collins
In addition to these few examples, Nate Collins, is the founder of Revoice. In his personal bio, he describes himself as a “married, same-sex-attracted/gay man.” At one time, this would have been shocking language coming from a pagan. However, it is stunning that this biographical description is chosen by Dr. Collins – a graduate and former NT Professor at SBTS.
It would be one thing if this conference were being conducted by a group of liberals from mainline Protestant churches, but these individuals are from our own theological camp. Dr. Moore’s slowness, timing, and delegated response is far from adequate. But there is one more critical point.
The Glaring Oversight of the Response
Some suggested that Walker chose a more cautious approach in his article, writing, “the Revoice Conference has not yet even occurred, so speculation about the conference could potentially be unwarranted.” Many have declared that we should “wait and see” rather than “rush and judge.” Perhaps Dr. Moore is taking the posture of “wait and see.” The only problem is that an ERLC Research Fellow has taken an attitude that gives the appearance of “embrace and endorse.”
When Dr. Moore was asked about Dr. Prior’s endorsement at SBC 2018, he declared ignorance about Revoice and waxed eloquently about his confidence in Dr. Prior. He spoke of her commitment to Gospel centeredness regarding homosexual issues. I also believe Dr. Prior to be deeply concerned about giving Gospel answers to those struggling with homosexual desires. This is why, being concerned about her endorsement, I privately contacted her because I was concerned about why she would endorse this event. I was not convinced by her reasons, but it was a pleasant interaction.
So, if I contacted Dr. Prior, why did Dr. Moore not take the time to do the same? Why would he not seek to understand her position before taking a position himself? More importantly, if he now believes Revoice to be dangerous, why has he not asked Dr. Prior to withdraw her endorsement as a Research Fellow for the ERLC? I know several people who would confirm that Dr. Moore is not shy to confront those who take a position that is opposite of his – especially if they are leaders in the SBC.
Therefore, shortly after Dr. Moore’s retweeting of Walker’s article, I gave four responses with this tweeted reply:
1. Thankful @andrewtwalk of @ERLC finally spoke on this.
2. Thankful @drmoore pointed to it.
3. How does @ERLC rectify saying the conference is deeply problematic, yet it’s endorsed by @KSPrior (ERLC Fellow).
4. @drmoore was asked this at SBC & it’s still a valid question.
Although Dr. Moore did not respond, Dr. Prior did respond with this tweet:
“We’re Baptists, Tom. We’re allowed to disagree with one another in the application of biblical principles.”
“Yes. Baptists disagree. But there is complete agreement on this among the leaders of SBC about the serious doctrinal problems with this conference. After reading the strong words of @albertmohler and @ostrachan – and now @ERLC – would you reconsider your endorsement?
Dr. Prior responded:
“I never expected they would endorse it, and my endorsement of the aims of the conference is well-considered. I don’t know why you need everyone to agree on this, but I don’t have that particular struggle. I stand in support of those with SSA who desire to obey God.”
With all due respect, the issues surrounding Revoice are far deeper than “support of those with SSA who desire to obey God.” It is whether the kind of support Revoice offers is actually biblical and whether the answers the conference gives will help anybody truly obey God. I agree with every warning that I have read about Revoice – including that of Andrew Walker – and I believe this conference is a threat to the Gospel. Dr. Albert Mohler is correct to say, “My biggest concern in this conference and in the language that is used and in the conversation that many evangelicals are now having is that what you see in this conference is the acceptance of the idea that our sexual identity or any individual’s sexual orientation becomes a defining issue that isn’t changed by the gospel and isn’t transformed by sanctification.”
The glaring oversight of Dr. Moore, is that he has failed to ultimately address one of the fundamental questions that he was originally asked on June 13. The question that he answers only with silence. What about Dr. Prior’s endorsement of Revoice? Although his support of Dr. Prior was understandable when he was ignorant about Revoice, I believe his silence now is negligent.
Dr. Prior has every right, as a Baptist, to disagree and be the lone endorser of Revoice among SBC leaders. However, I do not believe that she has the right, as an ERLC Research fellow, to endorse something as dangerous as everyone declares that it is – including the voice of Dr. Russell Moore. I consider Dr. Prior my friend – I hope to remain her friend – but I believe she should step down from the ERLC or Dr. Moore remove her unless she withdraws her endorsement with a good conscience. I do not consider Dr. Prior to be a heretic, nor do I question her love for the gospel. My problem lies not with her sincerity, but her discernment. As Baptists, we can disagree, but our chosen views might prohibit us from being able to lead in certain capacities. It concerns me when someone serving on the ERLC does not exercise better discernment about crucial ethical matters that plague our culture. Dr. Moore should also be concerned, and once again break his silence.
In recent days, the cultural climate within evangelicalism has been chaotic. It seems that we are moving at break-neck speed with complex ideas being tossed at us like bombs. In recent days—many pastors have felt as if the racist card was being thrown at all white people—suggesting that those of us who are white need to apologize for our positions of privilege and our deficient gospel. This ideology has caused great division and confusion. The climate in evangelicalism is filled with chaos rather than peace.
It has been stated that evangelicals (especially those within the Southern Baptist Convention) once slugged it out over the inerrancy of Scripture, but they soon turned their backs on the sufficiency of Scripture. This has given way to a longtime commitment, by many people within evangelicalism, to the god of pragmatism. Once a group of people bow to this false god, suddenly whatever is necessary to gain numbers receives the mark of orthodoxy. The direction is set by the cultural winds rather than God’s Word. This is the story of modern evangelicalism. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that when the cultural winds of systemic racism, white privilege, intersectionality, police brutality, and the oppression of women blow through our culture that such winds find their way into the Christian community. After all, if it’s in vogue in the culture it should be in vogue in the Church—right? Actually, no—that’s not correct at all on the basis of several key truths found in God’s Word.
The First Mark of an Authentic Church Is Not Woke Theology
You may or may not have been following the #wokechurch or #woke hashtag floating around social media in recent days, but the fact is—the movement is rolling through evangelicalism with a sense of entitlement and arrogance. For many, the idea of “woke” theology is synonymous with what it means to be a healthy church. Before we move on to address this assumption, it would do us well to define “woke church” in order to fully evaluate the claim.
Eric Mason, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, has defined woke as, “an urban colloquialism used by black nationalists and those in the black consciousness movement of being woke, in the sense of the systemic, sociological, economic, and comprehensive disenfranchisement of African-Americans.” Thabiti Anyabwile defined “Woke Church” by stating:
What we call “woke” today is pretty close to the Afrocentricism of the 1980s. Afrocentricism, a word coined by Dr. Molefi Asante, professor of African-American studies at Temple University at the time, was about centering Africa and Africa-descended peoples in their worldview much the way Europe has always been at the center of the worldview of European peoples. Afrocentrism taught that Black people should see the world as Black people.
He went on to write:
This has massive implications for local church ministries in communities of color. Churches must understand the need to reconstitute the whole person with biblical teaching responsive to the lived realities of those communities. In simpler words, our approach to discipleship must simultaneously repair the psychic and social destruction done to the identities/personhood of Black people while recognizing and equipping them to counter the social and political realities that contribute to that destruction in the first place. We have to teach people how to be their ethnic selves in a way that’s consistent with the Bible and how to live fruitfully in contexts that don’t affirm their ethnic selves. Hence, we need a “woke church.”
What if we don’t have a woke church—do we have a church at all? As the terms are defined—is woke church necessary to have Jesus’ church? Historically, the first mark of an authentic church was the right preaching of the Word. Interestingly enough, theologians of church history didn’t evaluate a the validity of a church or the health of a church based on cultural trends or political activism. The way a church has been evaluated historically speaking has been based upon, by order of importance, the preaching of the church. Is the gospel being preached?
Albert Mohler—the President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—preached the spring convocation chapel service on January 31st 2006. In his sermon, he said, “Preaching is the first mark of the authentic church, the essential mark, the mark without which the other marks do not matter,” he said. “… Where this mark is not found, there is no church.” What type of preaching is necessary to constitute a true church? It’s authentic preaching, biblical preaching—and as the Reformers taught it is the right preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, it’s not woke preaching or woke theology that constitutes a true church. We should find a biblical church and identify with those people (regardless of shades of skin color) under the banner of the gospel and the right preaching of God’s sufficient and inerrant Word.
The reason the emphasis is placed on the right preaching of the Word is because when the Bible is proclaimed and explained properly through a proper hermeneutic—the Spirit of God brings dead sinners to life, drives God’s people toward sanctification and a pursuit of holiness, and it creates unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. Such a gospel centered people will be moved to care for one another, pray for one another, and serve alongside one another for the glory of God. That type of gospel centered life under the preaching of the Word will produce genuine discipleship and passionate evangelism in the local community. Therefore, the question is not whether or not the church is woke that matters. A better question is—does the church have the right preaching of the Word? Cultural trends come and go with the winds of time like flowers of the field—but God’s Word will stand forever.
The Church Does Not Need Political Methods and Ideas—We Have the Bible
James Montgomery Boice once wrote, “Inerrancy is not the most critical issue facing the church today. The most serious issue, I believe, is the Bible’s sufficiency.”  If he said that back in 2001, what would he think of today’s evangelical climate? On an average Sunday, in our culture today, one almost has to strain to hear God’s Word coming from the pulpit. In some circles, the Bible has been so contextualized that you can hear more of culture than Christ coming from the pulpit. If the Bible is truly inerrant, and you embrace this reality, it should only follow that you would likewise cling to the absolute sufficiency of God’s Word. To suggest that the Bible is inerrant but not really sufficient for all of life and worship—is a contradiction of ideas.
When Jesus was questioned or tempted, where did he turn? He often quoted from the Old Testament to prove his point and to establish his position (Matt. 4:4; 5:27; 12:38-45; Mark 7:10). When Jesus called out the self-righteous Pharisees, he did so by asking a simple question, “Have you not read the Scriptures?” Remember what Paul said to the Jews in the city of Rome? He told them that they had been entrusted with the oracles of God to bring people out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ (Rom. 2:17-29 and Rom. 3:1-8). To deny the sufficiency of the Bible is to become a slave to the culture. That culture may cling to the radical leftist arguments in one neighborhood while leaning radical right in another neighborhood. At the end of the day—under this way of thinking—culture drives the ship rather than God’s Word.
Before we set sail on this trajectory—it would be wise to ask honest questions about God’s Word. Does the Bible talk about personal racism and human depravity? Does the Bible explain how the church is to be organized and the distinct roles of men and women in the life of the church? Does the Bible talk about homosexuality as a sin? If the Bible addresses these cultural agendas—why do we need to look to the culture for the definitions?
It’s the Bible that teaches us how to treat all people—including different ethnicities. It’s the Bible that provides us with the best way to uphold the dignity of women and to lead them to flourish for the glory of God. It’s the Bible that teaches us how to submit to the governing authorities and to honor and pray for those in public office. It’s the Bible that provides for us the definition of Christianity and allows us to see our identification in Jesus rather than a sin category. It’s the Bible that provides for us the qualifications for the office of elder. This is true of all cultural categories—because the Bible is sufficient.
J.C. Ryle once wrote, “Whenever a man takes upon him to make additions to the Scriptures, he is likely to end with valuing his own additions above Scripture itself.”  How true those words are in our present culture. If you import your own ideas of black liberation theology, white supremacy, political left, political right, systemic racism, critical race theory, intersectionality, or any other cultural trend into the white spaces between the verses of the Bible—soon enough you will have a whole new Bible.
The more we read the Bible and aim to submit ourselves to the God of Scripture, we don’t become more woke, we become more conformed to the image of Christ. When we strive to setup the structure of the church according to God’s Word—we will no longer need to debate the role of women preaching and teaching to a mixed audience. Within our modern evangelical social justice movement, we need to ask an honest question—are we trying to make Jesus look like our culture or call our culture to bow to Jesus? The culture runs to politics, sociology, and psychology for the answers of life—and they remain miserable. The Church has been entrusted with the Word of God—so why should we run to the same empty wells and broken cisterns of the world? Yet, that seems to be the pattern of our modern evangelical culture and that’s what leads to a culture of chaos within evangelical organizations and denominations.
- James Montgomery Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001) 72.
- J.C. Ryle, Matthew Commentary, Chapter 15.
Years ago, the evangelical world was abuzz with controversy over inerrancy. This was especially true within the Southern Baptist Convention. You could ask two different people if they believed in the inerrancy of Scripture, and while both answered “yes”—both of them when pressed would provide two different understandings of inerrancy. For the liberal, his view was that the Bible “contains the Word of God” which is quite different from the other individual who was contending for total, verbal, plenary inerrancy.
In short, words matter and definitions lead to the defining of positions. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) was helpful in defining terms and providing clarity on a very important theological subject. It would take a good number of years before the Southern Baptist Convention would be rerouted back to a historic position on biblical inerrancy—and this move has been labeled the Conservative Resurgence.
Today, there are new winds of controversy blowing in the evangelical world. The winds of controversy are centered on the issue of women serving in leadership. With varying degrees of opinions on this subject—including an eclectic array of interpretations on biblical texts such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:1-15; Titus 2, we stand in need of clarification on complementarianism. In an age where being soft is in vogue—we must remember that watering down masculinity, beefing up femininity, and redefining biblical roles as designed by God for the home, the church, and society will have a negative result in all areas. We need real men and women again!
As we consider this issue, it’s not one that can be approached without crystal clear definitions. While The Danvers Statement (1987) deals with the issues of complementarity, there are some voices in evangelicalism who are suggesting that The Danvers Statement would permit a woman to serve as the president of the SBC. Others seem to disagree. While the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is rather broad, it points to the office of pastor in article VI and states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” Some voices are arguing that this is only in regards to the “senior pastor” within the local church, and does not place the same restrictions on associate pastors and denominational offices.
With all of the opinions blowing around in the wind, we need to clarify positions on the definition of comlementarianism. I propose the following list of questions that need to be seriously reviewed and considered.
1. What does the term complementarianism mean? There is a maximum view and a minimum view, so what exactly should we think when we use the term itself and from what passages do we derive the definition from?
2. Is the theological position of complementarianism oppressive to women in any way?
3. Is the theological position of complementarianism restricting women from doing what God has called them to do?
4. Should we tolerate both minimum and maximum views of complementarianism in the same way we tolerate dispensationalism and amillennialism within the same evangelical circles or local churches?
5. Does the biblical text in regard to authority (1 Tim. 2:12) forbid women from serving as a professor of theology in a seminary setting?
6. Does this passage, as it pertains to teaching and preaching, forbid women from serving as associate pastors in the local church?
7. Does this passage, as it pertains to teaching and preaching, forbid women from speaking to a mixed audience in a conference setting?
8. Does 1 Timothy 2 forbid a woman from serving in a denominational leadership role such as the office of the president of the SBC, ERLC, or similar position?
9. If evangelicals redefine complementarity boundaries for leadership in the church and denominational structures, what affect will this have upon the roles of the home?
10. Will a redefining of complementarianism lead to a redefining of sexual boundaries within evangelicalism?
At one point, The Danvers Statement states the following rationale for the formation of the statement in 1987:
the increasing prevalence and acceptance of hermeneutical oddities devised to reinterpret apparently plain meanings of Biblical texts;
It seems as if history has repeated itself. So it is within the world of theology. It has been stated well there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9) and all modern heresy is ancient error retooled for an urbane culture. One of the affirmations (#8) of The Danvers Statement reads as follows:
In both men and women a heartfelt sense of call to ministry should never be used to set aside Biblical criteria for particular ministries (1 Tim 2:11-15, 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9). Rather, Biblical teaching should remain the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God’s will.
Do we still believe that a subjective calling to serve in ministry should be tested by the biblical texts cited in the above affirmation? These are serious questions that need to be clarified. The women’s liberation movement with its egalitarian approach to life was birthed in the Garden of Eden, it has Satan as its father (Satan is the father of all lies), and it has oppression as its ultimate goal. If we fail to be clear on comlementarianism (as a political move, by neglect, or by mere oversight), we will lead people into the trap of the enemy.
People are asking legitimate questions. While I’m not an alarmist, I do believe many organizations and entities are postured for serious problems if we take a left turn at this juncture. With all of the talk of entering a new era where women can flourish and be respected as fellow image-bearers, we need to evaluate this “new era” through a robust biblical lens to be certain that it’s not a false promise from an ancient serpent. Does complementarianism disrespect women and hold them back from God’s intended purpose and his original design? If not, we need to stand firm and stop apologizing for what God has ordained from the beginning.