Revoice, Nashville, And The Therapeutic Revolution

More than 50 years ago Philip Rieff alerted us to what has been called the “therapeutic revolution.” The West did not pay attention and now our broader culture is awash in therapeutic categories and rhetoric. Anyone, on most any university campus, who dares to proclaim the existence of objective truth or reality would be immediately denounced as “hurtful,” and possibly attacked physically by masked, black-clad fascist thugs (the so-called Antifa movement). When Rieff published his seminal work, The Triumph of the Therapeutic Billy Graham, for good or ill, was the nation’s de facto pastor. Today the nation’s pastor is Oprah, who rose to famous by popularizing the therapeutic revolution.

The Triumph Of The Therapeutic

Consider the way people think and speak about civil government in our time. Remember that the civil government is empowered to use physical violence to enforce its laws. It is a blunt instrument fit to accomplish a few basic tasks: collect taxes (Rom 13:6; Matt 22:21), defend the people (Rom 13:4) and to keep order (Rom 13:4). It is common, however, for people to think and speak about government in therapeutic (helping) categories so that when the magistrate does what he is called to do, to arrest criminals and prosecute them, people are genuinely shocked. We are so persuaded of validity of therapeutic categories that, when someone does something evil, we immediately turn to them to explain it: “he must be mentally ill.” Now, mental illness is a reality but so is evil and so is sin but the latter two are severely neglected in our age. Where therapeutic explanations predominate, personal responsibility shrivels.

Therapeutic ways of thinking and speaking are so common, so interwoven into the fabric of late-modern Western culture, that we are mostly unaware of how deeply we have been influenced. The result of this revolution is that how one feels is considered of much greater importance than the truth of what is said. We might speak of the triumph of the affective over the effective. To effect is to bring something about. To affect is to move one emotionally.

Truth Is Not A License To Kill

To be sure, to value truth and to prioritize it over feelings is not say that feelings are unimportant and still less is it to license rudeness. The Apostle Paul explicitly contrasts love with rudeness (1 Cor 13:5). Kindness is work of grace in the Christian (2 Cor 6:6; Col 3:12) and a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). According to God’s Word, however, truth is and it must be spoken in love (Eph 4:15). We may not substitute, “in a way that makes one feel warm and fuzzy” for “in love.” This is how the triumph of the therapeutic subtly changes our frame of reference and thus our understanding of Scripture. We read into Scripture an alien, late-modern, subjectivist, therapeutic framework rather than realizing how Scripture challenges our cultural assumptions.

Pastoral Is Not Therapeutic

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly recently concluded its business and perhaps the major piece of work before those assembled was to decide to how address the Revoice Conference held last summer in St Louis. That conference was held to affirm that there are Gay Christians, that it is morally right to affirm that one may be a Christian and experience sexual attraction to persons of the same sex (SSA) so long as one does not act on this impulse. In other words, homosexual orientation and attraction is not sinful per se. This is the so-called “Side B” approach to homosexuality and Christianity. So, the conference was affirming of a variety of attitudes and behaviors that traditionally have been considered beyond the pale of Christian sexual ethics.

Before the assembly was the question of how to respond. Two or perhaps three positions emerged. Some, represented by the lengthy report produced by a committee of the presbytery in which the conference was held, defended the intent and substance of the conference while criticizing it mildly for some rhetoric excess. A second group is deeply concerned about the theology, piety, and practice of the Revoice Conference but convinced that the Westminster Standards are sufficient to address it. A third group wanted to adopt the Nashville Statement, which was produced in August, 2017 in response to the ideas behind the Revoice Conference.

Such Were Some Of You

Greg Johnson, the PCA pastor whose congregation hosted the Revoice Conference and who, in late May, announced in the pages of Christianity Today that he is, in fact, “Gay,” i.e., he has a permanent, irrevocable SSA but he does not act on it,  argued on the floor of the assembly that we should think of same-sex attraction (SSA) the way we think of alcoholics, paraplegics, and those afflicted with infertility. Watch for yourself:

The influence of the therapeutic revolution appears immediately in this speech. The first thing to which this shepherd of God’s flock appeals is not God’s Word but his feelings. Article 7 of the Nashville Statement says that it is sin to adopt a homosexual self-conception. That statement is true.

There are several serious problems with Pastor Johnson’s reasoning here. First, his speech was highly biographical, emotive, and even prejudicial. He implied that anyone who disagrees with his position “hates” homosexuals. It equates traditional Christian sexual ethics with anti-gay bigotry. Second, he assumes that, except for his commitment to Christ, he might have taken a same-sex husband and had a family and that by not violating God’s natural and moral law thus he has made a great sacrifice for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. He even invokes Matthew 19:29 to that end. Giving up sin is not a sacrifice. It is required of us who have been bought by the blood and grace of Christ. When our Lord commanded us hyperbolically to cut off our offending right hand (Matt 5:20) there is no hint that we are treasure it. Paul says “such were some of you” (1 Cor 6:11). He assumes that SSA is natural or so innate that it is irrevocable. This is an assumption that is a gratuitous and false as it is essential to his argument. His argument would be much more credible had Johnson bothered to find any of the numerous believers whose sexual orientation has has been changed by the grace of God.

Pastor Johnson is welcome to attend the AGR Conference later this month featuring Rosaria Butterfield, who was a practicing Lesbian, whom the Lord gave new life and true faith and whom the Lord has given a husband and a family. Johnson is well aware of Rosaria’s story and if he is not it is not the fault of those who have tried to notify him and the Revoice Conference about her work. Learn more about the conference and register

The category of “Gay Christians” is utterly foreign to the history of Christianity. There are Christians who struggle with sin but there are no “Thief Christians” or “Murderer Christians” nor “Pedophile Christians.” So his analogies fail spectacularly. The drunk whom the Lord has redeemed from addiction to booze makes no great sacrifice to the Lord by not drinking or getting drunk. He is doing only what is expected of one redeemed by grace: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10; ESV). It is orthodoxy in Alcoholics Anonymous to say that one is always a drunk but we do not confess The Big Book. We confess the Good Book, God’s Holy Word. The concept of an “alcoholic” is unknown to Scripture. Certainly the disease model is a fabrication, for which there remains no scientific evidence and certainly no biblical support.

The appeal to the analogy of paraplegia and infertility borders on the offensive. It certainly assumes what must be proved: that homosexuality is as innate as those afflictions. The evidence for this claims is wanting. Scripture never treats such cases as sin but it is explicit that homosexuality is sin.

Johnson worries about how those who identify as Gay or homosexual will regard the PCA after this. I can answer that question: They should regard themselves as sinners welcome to visit PCA congregations, to see themselves as fellow sinners, to repent of all their sins (including their homosexual orientation), and as welcome to receive the free and full forgiveness of all their sins for the sake of the righteousness and death of Jesus. All are welcome, not exceptions. It is not mean to tell sinners that they are sinners. It is not mean to specify sins. It is not mean to resist the culture when it demands that the church capitulate on this or that point as a condition of being accepted.

Jesus loves sinners. He loved his elect from all eternity. Among those elect are those who have SSA, those who have abused alcohol and drugs, those who have murdered, and those who have lied. Grace is the abounding free favor of Christ to helpless, lost sinners. As a consequence of his grace, however, he calls us to repent, to turn away from our old life—not to adopt aspects of it as our permanent identity. Our identity is in Christ, not in our sins nor in our former way of life. Our name is defined by our baptism into the name of the Triune God, not by our former way life.

Grace is healing. It restores. It renews. God Word says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).

In this life none of us realizes the full benefit of God’s renewing grace. We have but a beginning but by his grace we do have a beginning. Let us endeavor to speak and think about our old life and our new the way God does.


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  1. Well said, thank you Dr. Clark! In our attempts to reach out to sinners we can’t take away the power of God’s law to point out sin. The law offends, hurts, and kills so that we may raised up a new man by the power of the Gospel. Being a member of the PCA I’m glad the N.S. was affirmed but we still have a long way to go as we speak the truth in love.

  2. Hadn’t heard of Antifa so I had to look it up. Interesting how these Leftists who bully anyone who disagrees with their “you can’t criticize anything that anyone says” attitude represent the very antithesis of what they themselves are against – fascism. I suppose that if one were to apply the more fashionable label, “post modernism,” they would be content with it. But it’s the same difference.

  3. Shouldn’t Pastor Johnson be the subject of church discipline for his complicity in the sponsorship of the Revoice conference now two years running at his home church?

  4. Dr.Clark, while I have read many articles addressing the “therapeutic” error of Revoice and Derek Webb’s article discussing the desire to change SSA into a condition rather than sin, has anyone written on their teaching of celibacy? In listening to Greg Johnson it’s easy to see that he strongly desires companionship and sexual intamacy. Could Revoice actually be putting an unfair burden on these men by calling them to celibacy? We have seen the detriment the Roman Catholics have caused by doing this. Is Revoice causing these men to “burn with desire”?Could his desires for these things be call to find a wife? I would love to see a blog titled “homosexuality is not the gift of celibacy”.

    • Russ,

      I do think they err significantly when they conclude that a homosexual orientation is irrevocable. This is simply untrue. On that assumption they conclude that they must live single, celibate lives. As you suggest, the longing for companionship and sexual intimacy is fairly obvious and thus they have created a crisis. It is hard to see how this will not, eventually, resolve itself into finding a way to affirm the legitimacy not only of homosexual orientation but also of homosexual desire and union.

      Your concerns and suggestion seem reasonable to me.

  5. We are assuming that those who claim to be celibate are telling the truth. I see no basis for doing that. Pastor Johnson concealed his orientation from his session and presbytery until very recently. When a person’s whole identity is defined by their sexuality, I am not convinced that they really have any desire or ability to suppress those desires or practices.

    • Does anyone else see the same PCA Presbyteries allowing its presbyters (for many years and on different issues) to disturb the purity and peace of the church with their false doctrines?

      I think it is very sad that we had to have a General Assembly to deal with perverse and abominable desires, and wanting to identify in those things! It’s like saying a man who has incestuous desires and practices, will, after conversation, identify as an incestuous Christian. Can we have a conference about those who want to give relevance and sympathy and identity to those who love bestiality? I guess those who have had abortions, who have murdered are going to call themselves Killer Christian, Baby Killer Christian; because they are so tempted to kill for fulfilling their desires? I am guessing he was allowed to partake of the elements at G.A. A little leaven leavens the whole lump… (1 Cor. 5, Romans 1,c.f. Lev. 18).

  6. Exhibit A of such a presbytery is the Missouri (St. Louis metro area) presbytery of the PCA. I could quote chapter and verse about their established pattern of circling the wagons around any pastor or session in their presbytery who is teaching heresy. It started with the Federal Vision and now involves the gay/“celibate” movement with its epicenter at Memorial Presbyterian church in St. Louis. Don’t take my word for it. Their actions have been well documented on the internet for a number of years. If anyone has the answer to how a church deals with a rogue presbytery, I’d sure like to hear it.

  7. Curious if there is a place within orthodox Christianity to hold a view teaching a person could be born gay? This doesn’t necessitate it is sanctioned by God as good. It could be a birth defect of the fall. We all are born in and with sin. Some say they’re Irish if they have a bad temper or drink a lot. I think we all have sinful conditions. For some it could be they are born with a perversion. Regardless, it’s sin and they need to repent from it just like one does from anger and drunkenness.

    • I am no M.D. or PhD in Biology. But from my understanding of Scripture and observing of humans in general, I would say this:

      I would be very wary of saying someone can be born gay just as much I would with anyone saying that they are born with definitive sexual attractions. Not that these don’t develop (sexual attraction in general), but no one is born in their DNA as gay, anymore than someone would be born a pedophile, murderer, or sexually attracted to sheep or goat. The problem is because of the Fall that the heart is wicked and desires unlawful and unnatural desires (contrary to their being created in the image of God, male and female), and all in faithless thanklessness to God.

      Although creation itself cries that they are contrary to nature, yet sin will try its best to rationalize its own corruption (and those who say they are born gay are of a debased mind).

  8. In addition to the link RSC posted, there’s this, the humble admission and push-back from a gay confessional Lutheran congregant against an ELCA (liberal) poster who says we are required to accept all people wherever they may be :’s-not-about-love-it’s-about-the-truth-–-profession-of-a-homosexual-sinner-on-the-bjs-site-by-pr-rossow/

    Also, don’t forget about something that has long been dismissed by both modern “science” and modernist theologian: possession by demons. You point to the Irish who drink a lot an who have bad tempers. My experience with them has been similar, but I sometimes wonder if their ethnic has, in fact, been burdened by subjection to demons, as well.

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