This is hard to explain and causes me a lot of anxiety, so I ask my readers to be charitable and patient with me.
Once I realized that I had become a Christian, I started reading the Bible seriously. In addition to reading reading, I also bought an audiobook of Johnny Cash reading the New Testament (it’s just amazing and I recommend it most highly) and started listening through it when I went running. I had read the New Testament a number of times before, but always filtered heavily through the lens of Mormonism. This time, I did my best to approach it without so many preconceived notions. I don’t know if that’s ever really possible, but I gave it (and continue to give it) my best shot.
I still remember exactly where I was when I heard Romans 9. It hit hard and then wormed its way into my mind. I spent the next six months, at least, just struggling and grappling with predestination. I read Augustine’s Confessions. The idea of unconditional election was really disturbing to me, and went against everything I had grown up believing (Mormonism has strong Wesleyan roots and has an Arminian-esque belief in “free agency” that is absolutely central to Mormon belief), but I could not shake the idea that it was Biblical.
So early last fall, when I was perusing Jack’s blogroll one day instead of working, I found myself on Parchment and Pen, reading some of their posts on Calvinism. I was intrigued. This was really interesting stuff, and seemed so much more filled with grace than the Calvinist stereotype. Somewhere I saw that they have a podcast, and one of their podcast series was called “An Invitation to Calvinism.” So I downloaded it and listened.
It was great stuff. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley and Sam Storms seemed warm, earnest, knowledgeable, and authoritative. What they said made sense, and really fit with the mighty wrestlings I had been having with parts of the Bible like Romans 9. It felt like my mind was opening up to a newer and deeper faith in Jesus Christ.
I started following their blog, and then before too long I was reading the Gospel Coalition and Challies.com (which I first heard about from Tim’s blog but wasn’t really interested back then because ew, Calvinism). From there I found Reformedish and the Heidelblog. I bought the Reformation Study Bible. I read Pilgrim’s Progress. I was praying a lot more, and reading the Bible all the more eagerly. This was all so heady.
And lo and behold, I found myself reading Calvin’s Institutes, and just loving it.
And then I heard about Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Google it if you want, but I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It’s a charismatic/Reformed network of churches that is in the middle of a child sex abuse scandal right now that will make you want to vomit. And the sexual abuse is all tied up in an abusively authoritarian system of church governance that is of obviously Calvinist provenance. Church discipline that is out of control and far worse than the worst stories I have ever heard about Mormon excommunications. “Covenants” held coercively over the heads of members. It’s all just so obviously poisonous.
And then (thanks, Wartburg Watch) I also started reading similar things about Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, and the Acts 29 Network. Not the sexual abuse, but the same kinds of authoritarian spiritual and ecclesiastical abuses. And it’s all just different flavors of the same kind of poison.
So why does that matter? It matters because then I read about how much the people at the Gospel Coalition just have fawned over Sovereign Grace Ministries and it’s founder, C.J. Mahaney. And I read about how they all basically have closed ranks around him. And it matters because Derek Rishmawy posts at the Gospel Coalition. and so does Kevin DeYoung (I’m in the middle of a book about the Heidelberg Catechism by him, and I like it a lot, except every time I pick it up I throw up in my mouth a little bit because the back cover has an endorsement by C.J. Mahaney).
It matters because Michael Patton and Sam Storms are members of an Acts 29 church. And that breaks my heart because these guys seem like just, incredibly good and smart guys who love Jesus and love to teach God’s truth. My wife and I are about 3/4 through their Discipleship Program and we’ve loved it–it’s brought us so much closer to Jesus Christ and to each other. But at the same time, it’s not like I know Michael Patton personally. How am I supposed to trust him, knowing that he’s in bed with Acts 29?
I talked to one of the partners at my firm the other day, he’s an elder in a PCA congregation nearby. I’ve visited his church, and it seems just lovely. But in our conversation he told me how much he looks up to Marc Driscoll and “those Acts 29 guys.” What am I supposed to do with that?
How do I know how far the poison goes? How do I tell the sheep from the wolves? How do I protect my family from abusive churches?
Look, I’m not naive. I was raised Mormon. I went on a mission. I was endowed. I know for a fact that a religion can seem just wonderful and happy and Jesus-centered and Holy Spirit filled but really be rotten to the core. And I don’t think I’m being crazy or alarmist here: Jesus made this stuff absolutely clear. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” The Bible warns us again and again to beware of false prophets and false teachers. And I have four kids and a beautiful wife I have to look out for. So yeah. I’m wary.
What am I supposed to do with all of this? How am I not supposed to feel betrayed and distrustful? And how am I supposed to navigate this as a new Christian?
What am I supposed to do?