This Is A Trap

Beyond the many problems inherent in and attending to the Side-B/Revoice theology this argument might be even more fundamental. Before we can argue about what Scripture teaches about concupiscence (a corrupt desire), human sexuality, and the qualifications for pastoral office in a confessional Presbyterian and Reformed church, we must first be able to communicate. If I say, “the sky is blue” and you willfully decide to interpret those words to mean, “The sky is gray” we shall never be able to communicate because in every communication there two parties: the party sending the message and the party receiving the message. If the party receiving the message willfully misinterprets the message by disregarding the sender’s intent, the broader context of the message, and the plain sense of the words themselves, the communication process breaks down irrevocably. 

I say, “willfully,” because, in the communication event, both parties are morally responsible for their part. This is a matter of God’s moral, natural law. Christians know this from the Ten Commandments, which our Lord Jesus summarized in Matthew 22:37–40. We may summarize the entire law thus: love God with all your faculties and your neighbor as yourself. This is the law of love. That the two parties in communication owe each other basic obligations is also plain from nature. The ancient pagans wrote about this. Anyone with a modicum of sense could infer that I should treat my partner in the communication process the way I would want to be treated. 

Thus, the message sender is responsible to make sure that the words used can be interpreted reasonably, by a fair-minded recipient, to communicate what the sender intends. If I mean to say, “the sky is blue” but say instead, “the sky is red,” I cannot reasonably expect an interpreter to understand that I intended to communicate that I perceive the sky to be blue. The message sender must take reasonable measures in his attempt to communicate with reasonable parties.

The receiver of the message is also morally bound to do his best to interpret the message sent in the way the sender intended. Because we live in a fallen world communication is naturally difficult. Our minds are clouded by sin. Our wills are corrupt. Our attempts at communication with others are imperfect because they corrupted by sin and the effects of sin. Thus, communication is often more difficult than it would otherwise be. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, perhaps because of preconceptions, because of confusion on the part of the sender or the receiver or both communication breaks down but where there is good will, the two parties can come to a mutual understanding. They may not agree with each other but they can at least understand each other and repeat to one another what is being said. Where the receiver simply refuses to fulfill his part in the process, communication necessarily breaks down. This refusal is known as bad faith. Just as the sender is obligated to communicate in a way that can be understood by rational people—away with the nonsense about “whose rationality?” I am sorry that I ever indulged it—so the receiver is obligated to act in good faith by seeking to interpret the message as intended.

When, as is evidently true in this case, the receiver refuses to act in good faith, when he manifestly twists clear, good-faith efforts at communication, the sender has two choices: 1) try again in the hope that the receiver has had a change of heart; 2) give up. 

What the sender (in this case, the critics of Revoice/Side-B/Gay Christianity) must not do is to accept the premise of the criticism. The premise of the criticism of the orthodox Reformed view of human sexuality is that articulating that view and critiquing the Side B view is emotionally hurtful and therefore the critics should be quiet. This is blackmail.  In the case at hand, the receiver of the message is willfully misinterpreting the message being sent and then taxing the sender for sending it. This is a grown up version of the game we played as children. Out of sight of the parents one sibling would take the hands of another and would strike himself with his sibling’s hands and whilst doing it would say just loud enough for the parents to hear: “Stop hitting me!” Of course the sibling whose hands were being used was doing no such thing. A more cruel version had the older, bigger sibling hitting the younger, smaller sibling with his own hands whilst the older sibling warned, “Stop hitting yourself” but I digress.

In short, this critique is a trap. The sender of the message has expressed himself as clearly as possible, in words widely understood in the social-cultural context, in words the sender reasonably believed could and would be understood by the other party assuming that the receiver is acting in good faith. To accept the premise of the criticism is to engage in an endless, frustrating loop. 

What does one do when one’s intended recipient effectively sticks his fingers in his ears and shouts, “I can’t hear you”? 

  1. De-escalate. Clearly the recipient is not yet willing or able to communicate. At the moment the best message is, “Brother, I’m sorry that we are unable to communicate right now.” (We may be sure that he will hear that message).
  2. Pray. God the Holy Spirit is able to do more than we even know to ask. Ask him to open avenues of communication, to soften hearts, to turn away wrath. 
  3. Wait. If he unstops his ears, you have a communication partner. If he does not, then it may be time to reconsider the relationship but the outcome is out of the sender’s hands.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


Thanks to Brad Isbell for his editorial help.

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  1. As an ordained elder, I fear for the conscience numbing effects of displacing the dark fruit of sin on everyone else. It’s true that reproof may sometimes be delivered in ways that are not well received. But praise God for the example of David succumbing immediately and profoundly to Nathan’s “you’re the man”. Repentance is s beautiful thing to behold. Stiff arming those who bring Scripture to bear in an effort to seek the peace snd purity of Christ’s Church is a fearful thing to behold. May each of us seek to be open to reproof and correction, beginning with me.

  2. Those kinds of statements are clearly an outgrowth of the CJT miscreants who have been influencing churches recently in a way that has caused uninformed members and pastors to nod in agreement with their confusing rhetoric associated with deconstructionism – i.e., words aren’t what they may seem to mean unless one properly peels back the layers of the existential onion in a particular a way, one can’t get at the root cause of the communication. Mixing things together in such a way as the author of that Tweet (or whatever it is) has done twists the meaning in a way that makes the reader think his final conclusion can be the only correct one. I’m finally ready to give up on the culture, assuming our country has slowly been going insane.

    One of my favorite SF authors in the past was Phillip K. Dick (think Minority Report, Bladerunner, etc. movies that have been produced based on his novels and you’ll get the general idea) was, in fact, mentally ill and ended his life as such. While his alternative views of reality might have been entertaining, they have no place in the reality of our lives. Yet, we have a country with citizens who now willingly adopt some of the same insanity as defacto reality. Incredible.

    • CJT = Critical Justice Theory is another popular way of saying “CSJ” or Critical Social Justice” that incorporates the ever important “Theory” definition into the acronym. I didn’t make that up, I’m just reading it in what’s being written nowadays.

  3. Yeah, doesn’t it seem like the people who are continually misunderstanding common phrases should educate THEMselves? Doesn’t it seem like Greg Johnson could be helping to educate those who misunderstand, rather than trying to re-educate pastors? Why, it’s *almost* as if he just prefers to complain..

  4. “This is a trap”… ?
    I am somewhat confused by this whole post, with its links. Although, I get the bit about good faith comms.
    R. Scott Clark, could you be willing to summarise, maybe in a para, if that is possible, w.r.t. the pro and con about the Side B comms stuff?
    If so, my appreciation is in advance, and with thanks.
    Aussie Pete.

    • Peter,

      The trap is to accept the premise of Johnson’s complaint: “When you say x, I hear y.” The premise is that Johnson (or whoever) is entitled to make whatever he will out of whatever anyone says. That’s crazy. No, he’s not. He’s obligated either to interpret, in good faith, or else reasonable people should stop engaging with him until he decides to be reasonable.

    • Thank you Scott,
      I supoose I have endeavoured to understand what “This” was meant by you, in your title.

      I have re-read the post and understand that “the trap” is to accept the criticism that my/our argument or statement (of Side B, or whatever…) is emotionally hurtful to the hearer, even tho we have articulated clearly and logically, tendered in good faith within the norms of a balanced socio-cultural context, all the while using words and concepts as traditionally (and Biblically) understood for eons.
      Thats what I hear Johnson (unrelated) saying. But you serm critical of Johnson. Maybe there is an ‘in house’ context that I am missing.

      Of what you said above in reply, ‘The premise is that Johnson (or whoever) is entitled to make whatever he will out of whatever anyone says’, I don’t see Johnson saying that; but quite the opposite. To be sure, I am not entitled to make a judgement on what you said based on what I think, rather to understand you, to your satisfaction. So, am I misreading you or are you misreading Johnson? Is your ‘This’ tge same as his?

      (For me, sometimes I just have to move on and let the hearer get sorted out, by the grace of God, if He so chooses. I had to do this earlier this year with a long-time friend; a decidedly difficult tho necessary thing to do.)

      • Pete,

        For Johnson to say, “When you say x, I hear p” is emotional blackmail. It means that the orthodox, i.e., those who in the PCA who affirm without equivocation the Westminster Standards on human sexuality and concupiscence (see the essay linked at the bottom of the essay for more about concupiscence) can no longer say to Johnson orthodox things because he has determined to misinterpret them deliberately. It is passive-aggressive tactic. It is manipulative.

        The trap is, as I say, to accept the premise of Johnson’s complaint, i.e., that the receiver/hearer is entitled to do as he will with the message communicated by the sender. He is not. The receiver of a message is not autonomous. He is not sovereign. The late-modern subjectivist turn is radically wrong. There is such a thing as objective reality. Please take a look at the “STOP” essay linked in the resources above.

        Johnson isn’t saying that the hearer is autonomous. He is doing, i.e., he is willfully misconstruing what is being said. He’s not admitting to doing it. If I see a man robbing a bank I need not wait for the robber to admit that he’s robbing a bank. I can see with my eyes that he’s robbing a bank. I can see what Johnson is doing whether he admits to it or not.

        The trap is that laid by Johnson for his critics. The trap is premise upon which he is operating.

  5. As the reporter who attended the “coming out” speech at Calvin College of the CRC’s first openly gay minister, and who covered his case for many years until his ministerial status was finally lapsed on technical grounds by Classis Grand Rapids East, thereby dodging the issue of his homosexuality, I think I’m in a position to know a few things about the issue now being faced by the PCA.

    I got to know the CRC’s gay minister fairly well. We haven’t had a reason to speak in many years since he left the CRC, but back in the 1990s during the controversy over whether he could retain his ordination, I think he believed I was both fair and accurate in my news coverage of his case. I know he defended me repeatedly in liberal CRC circles, and I know that because liberal CRC ministers called me to apologize to me for statements they had made about me after that gay minister told them they were wrong.

    I cannot speak for Dr. Greg Johnson. I don’t know him personally and I haven’t read enough of what he’s written to address motives behind what he’s written. Addressing motives is always difficult and requires great discernment, extensive research, and a sincere desire to understand what someone is trying to say, but perhaps not saying very well. Even though it’s not easy, in the Christian world, unlike the secular world, we have to address motives since they are often the key in how we understand people’s actions and statements. I can’t do that with Dr. Johnson.

    I don’t want to automatically assume that Dr. Johnson has bought into a “theology of victimhood” or the “feel my pain” secular language which has become common in recent years with religious and political liberals on many issues, not just the issue of homosexuality.

    However, I do think we need to recognize that Dr. Johnson’s approach, whether he intends it or not, is an approach which I see more and more commonly among liberal activists. Even if Dr. Johnson has not bought into that approach, we need to understand that many others have done so.

    We’re going to see that approach of “feel my pain” more and more often, and we need to know how to respond.

    Unlike many conservative Christians, I wasn’t raised in an evangelical home, and for most of my life I’ve worked in what for many decades before I was born has been a radically secular profession. I’ve often been the only evangelical and the token conservative in newsrooms. Partly for that reason, I’ve known many homosexuals over the years. I met my first “open and out” gay person four decades ago and have gotten to know many gays since. I get along with a number of gay people, some of whom have worked for me or worked with me in secular companies, and several of whom have been conservative Republicans of a libertarian stripe. The chairman of the college Republicans club at the college I attended before transferring to Calvin College was gay — and that was **WAY** before it was acceptable to be gay in politics. It’s no secret that a number of conservative Republicans, even at the federal level, have hired semi-closeted gay staff members, not because they agree with their orientation, but because they are good at their jobs.

    I’ve known many gays for many years — not just one or two, but many dozens, plus others who were “in the closet” when I knew them but have come out in more recent years. Many were not casual acquaintances but rather people who I knew well, and who knew what I believe. We could agree to disagree on many issues since we both agree that government has no business telling them what they can and cannot do on their own private property, and we usually were relating to each other in the context of a secular school or a secular employer or a secular community, governmental or political organization. Most of the time, we agreed that private romantic relationships, let alone discussion of or open expressions of intimacy, have no place in a professional office environment and that means their romantic life never came up. I’ve had to deal with numerous heterosexual people whose sexuality caused problems in an office environment; most gays I’ve known have been a lot more careful than some men who think they are, as the old saying goes, “God’s gift to women.”

    When I helped a well-known local gay person get a resolution of appreciation for his work from the Missouri House of Representatives, some people were surprised that I helped arrange that. My response was that I wasn’t suggesting that the House make any statement about his personal life, but rather that he’d done a great deal of good in our community on issues that had absolutely nothing to do with his personal life, and deserved to be honored for that work.

    With that being said to establish that I can’t fairly be accused of being a “gay hater” or a “gay basher,” it’s important to say that things have changed.

    In the last decade, I’ve run into an increasing number of gay people — and more generally, people of liberal views in matters of politics and of faith — who no longer share a common vocabulary. I cannot assess what Dr. Johnson meant to say with his post saying (if I’m reading him correctly), “when you say this, we hear you saying this.” But I hear many others who say similar things, and I **DO** know what they mean by their comments.

    It used to be that I could sit down with a self-identified “gay Christian” and have a serious discussion of what the key texts of the Bible mean. I used to be able to discuss the proper translation of key Greek and Hebrew words. I used to be able to debate whether it makes a difference that many of the homosexual relationships we know about in Greek culture involved what we today would call abuse of power or even pederasty, and debate whether the key New Testament passages apply to consensual same-sex relationships between adults who were equals, without a power imbalance. I used to be able to make an argument that there is no biblical evidence that the relationship between David and Jonathan was sexual, and that it was quite normal for most of Western history for men to have very close friendships with other men, particularly in eras when marriages were often arranged and very few women had the opportunity for an education that would cause them to be seen by husbands as a life partner or even as a close friend and confidant.

    In other words, I was able to discuss based on dispassionate logic, not emotion.

    Today, emotion is all too often front and center. That applies to both sides.

    Today, even the mildest criticism of people’s views — and not just on homosexuality, but on many other issues of importance to religious and political liberals — is viewed as being words of hurt and hatred.

    All too often, we can no longer use a common vocabulary of reason and logic with self-identified liberals. We must instead deal with people who say, in some form, “Don’t you know it hurts me when you say things like that?” and insist that their pain must not only be acknowledged but that we must empathize with their pain, and if we don’t empathize with their pain, we are not only being hurtful but hateful.

    Perhaps due to the fact that I live in a very conservative area, a number of local gay people don’t try to use that approach with me, and get annoyed when other gays do. They know it’s not going to work, and while I generally prefer to be nice when confronted with such tactics, a lot of other people — particularly since Donald Trump’s 2016 election enabled and encouraged angry voices — will respond very differently from me.

    When liberals use a “your words hurt me, feel my pain” argument, I see many conservatives, including many conservative Christians, responding with some version of this: “I’m glad I hurt you. You deserve to be hurt, and I love to bathe in my enemies’ tears.”

    Obviously I’m Reformed. I can’t say, as many evangelicals do, that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” I believe in a sovereign God who hates sin, and who has elected people not only to salvation but also to reprobation. I believe in an eternal judgment, and I believe in singing imprecatory psalms. I can’t rule out fiery speech unless I am prepared to say that Calvin and many of the Reformers were wrong in the words they used.

    Being Reformed is going to affect many things about how I interact with people who believe things that I believe are fundamentally wrong.

    But I think we need to follow language of the Psalms in distinguishing between those who hate God and those who are caught in bondage to sin. We need to recognize that the Psalms call down God’s wrath on those who are **GOD’S** enemies, not our enemies — and we don’t know on this side of eternity whether a person who claims to be a Christian but is advocating serious heresy, or even spewing out venom toward God and His Word, is someone who God has elected to reprobation or whether that person will be the next Paul — or, for that matter, the next Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.

    A very patient Reformed Presbyterian minister took the time to get to know Dr. Butterfield, who was at that time a gay activist who had written an attack on Christians. The details aren’t relevant here, but the principle is — responding with fire and vitriol is almost always the wrong response.

    Occasionally it’s appropriate and even necessary. Otherwise, God would not have commanded the singing of Psalm 139:19-22: “Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men. For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain. Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”

    But those occasions are rare. They require certainty that the person is — or at least for the moment is acting like — an enemy of God.

    I understand what it is like to have an angry mob attacking a church building, throwing paint on the building, and breaking windows. Serious hated is out there, and the Psalms have words of response to that hatred.

    In almost every case, at least with professing Christians, the right response is not fiery emotional anger, or to acquiesce to the “feel my pain” approach, but rather to have a serious discussion about what Scripture says, exegeting the text.

    It won’t always work. God tells us that in His Word. Even the best of all preachers, Christ Himself, sometimes had his hearers not just reject but seek to stone Him for His preaching.

    However, I fail to see that responding to emotion with emotion, which was not the approach of Christ or the Apostles, will work better than the method taught in God’s Word of how to deal with those who profess to be believers.

  6. The exhortation “You shouldn’t identify with your sin” would be more helpful if it explained HOW Revoice identification is different from historic Christian identification with sin. If it’s guilt that leads to the grace that results in gratitude, then we actually all agree that we need some identification with guilt.

    Maybe we could clarify: “You shouldn’t encourage, glorify, teach, support, welcome, or recommend sin for friendly and comforting relational affirmation; let alone publicly platform the sin as a positive means of achieving power, authority, and political solidarity.”

    We could include citations but let’s oversimplify for clarity: The mark of the Christian response to sin is sorrow and repentance, whereas the mark of Revoice theologies is celebration.

  7. If anyone has trouble understanding why there are clear biblical warrants against ordaining someone whose self identity is one who entertains unnatural lusts then they need look no further than TE Johnson’s very public tweet which is based on his new book. It is a dangerous place to be when not only are you hardened in your own sin but in your position as a TE, you teach others that what God calls sin is not. Those who maintain him in his position as TE may actually be more culpable because they have the power to intervene on behalf of the sheep but steadfastly refuse.

    • Yes, and one of the most clear and succinct passages is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, 5:9-13:

      “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have it to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES” (caps original in the text) NASB

      And this quotation pretty much supports what Darrell says, as well.

  8. Where the receiver simply refuses to fulfill his part in the process, communication necessarily breaks down. This refusal is known as bad faith.

    Leftists only converse in bad faith. At some point – now, I’d say – going through the charade of pretending they are operating in good faith is tedious and wrong, like when Charlie Brown assumes Lucy won’t pull the football away.

    • Bryce,

      I can think of “leftists” and “rightists” who operate in bad faith. There are those on the left w/whom I profoundly disagree but whom I trust. There those on the right with whom I probably agree but whom I regard as grifters.

    • Perhaps we need a taxonomy of grift – definitions and populations. For example, rightist grifters tend to be like FBI infiltrators at Tea Party meetings who call for violence, or Republicans who say they’re going to do something but who do nothing (bad faith), or CONservatives who say they have your back but turn on you at the slightest hint of trouble.

      Leftist rhetorical bad faith tends to be like you see above – emotive, shrieking, accusatory. Leftist grifters stick together though. They are LOYAL.

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