Smoke screens and feigning indignation

So in the last couple years I’ve noticed a number of controversies erupt within our “orthodox” circles. At first glance there seemed to be some good points and some interesting questions, but as the drum beat rolled on, it really caused me to question the motives and ask the question I often ask myself when reading the secular news; “why are they telling me this(?), what do they want me to believe that I purportedly don’t believe already(?)”. So here’s a few more questions.

Not an exhaustive list, but…one controversy seemed to be the drum beat surrounding the eternal subordination of the son, in its relation to complimentarianism. Another was federal guilt, in relation to social justice and past occurrences of racism. And the popular one lately has been justification by faith alone, in relation to FV/theonomy/holy living.

I understand that those three things are not exactly analogous, but it seems like there are trends and motives unknown to us, and will we be able to discern what from what before we are sitting in a pot of boiling water?

Is our concern over the eternal subordination of the son, bigger than our concern over egalitarianism? Isn’t one issue much clearer than the other? Is our concern for our Samaritan neighbors, greater than our concern for our freedom in Christ? What does that do to the Gospel? Is our concern for Federal Vision or even theonomy, greater than our concern of antinomianism?

How much of these concerns are legitimate, how much of the indignation is a smoke screen?

Do you think the same people tend to land on the same side of each of these controversies?

Sorry for the million questions but am I off base thinking these controversies are connected?


I agree that there is a lot going on in the Church regarding these issues. We have to strain our eyes to see through the fog in order to tell where the ship is going.

Of the three controversies that you mentioned I know the least about ESS, but I know many (though not all) of those opposing it are openly egalitarian or at least have egalitarian leanings. I would note that some of those who are most vocal opponents of ESS also hate the federal vision with a passion and seem to have made it their mission to isolate anyone who has even a small association with its adherents (present or former). There definitely seems to be two camps that have formed on these subjects. I see the social justice/racial reconciliation issue as a different area, but I have seen some signs that those who oppose ESS and the FV might also side with social justice warriors though I have to wonder if this is mainly because those opposing social justice/reconciliation movement have also fought hard against egalitarianism (i.e. the enemy off my enemy is my friend).

I have learned some about the FV in the last few weeks because of a recent controversy (see below) and I find it incredibly hard to describe exactly what it is. At the risk of sounding like a Pentecostal TV preacher, maybe I should start addressing it in the plural as “Federal Visions” since there seems to be some diversity among those who hold (or held) to it. What I have learned tells me that it is indeed erroneous but I would like to see it addressed in a more irenic manner than I have seen in the recent back and forth twitter polemics. A sermon/sunday school lesson at Trinity Reformed Church in Bloomington that was given a few months ago was very helpful in getting to the core issues with the controversy. I greatly appreciated it.

One of my greatest concerns is what all this holds for the unity of the body of Christ. In the western world, we are entering a time where holding a consistent Christian confession is going to cost us more and more. As the pressure ramps up, we are going to need the love and support of our fellow believers - even for those who might believe a little bit different than us. Two people might come to a different conclusion on ESS, but if they both agree in the full deity of Christ and that the Church must not yield an inch to the egalitarians who are trying to batter down the door, they should respect each other as brothers even while disagreeing.

As an example of how wrong things can go, I have followed the apologetics ministry of Dr. James White for several years now for several years and have profited greatly from his work. Recently, he participated in a conference with others who were in some way connected with Doug Wilson and a small twitter war erupted. There are some people who are trying to build a wall around Moscow and attack anyone who does not completely repudiate Wilson and anything that he has said over the last 15-20 years. Apparently, I am supposed to completely abandon Dr. White and his ministry because of the conference and his refusal to completely dissociate from Wilson. It reminds me of the strict form of “secondary separation” that is often taught in some fundamentalist circles! No matter how I feel about the FV, this should not be happening.

Sometimes, I have to confess that I just get worn out from all this stuff…


There seems to be a concerted effort to wall off any of us who would associate with Christ Church or Apologia, and that largely bleeds over into animus against Evangel Presbytery as well.

The Reformed Church is trying its hardest to affiliate with the mainliners. Moscow and Apologia are great litmus tests to assess how far gone a given theologian is; if mentioning Doug Wilson or James White causes your fellow interlocutor’s face to turn white, red, or green, then you’re probably dealing with a compromiser (or maybe in the case of certain “polemics blogs,” an outright wicked fool).


I agree that’s happening, but it seems to be more the fruit of it, than the cause; what ever it is. These theological arguments have a larger arch than any one person’s ministry, so I’m not so sure we can chalk it up to just personal attacks.

I’m not super studied on all these topics, but there is a ring of humanism at best, and liberalism at worst (is there a difference?). This strikes me as very similar to how Machen was run out of the PCUSA and how he identified Liberalism as a religion entirely separate from Christianity. The question is, since those doing the attacking don’t appear to be outright liberals, can we identify the problem clearly enough to shepherd ourselves from falling prey to the same errors?

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Apart from the substance of the controversies themselves there is always a lot of lizard-brained tribalism that gets stirred up.

With the ESS specifically I remember hearing the folks over at Mortification of Spin ragging on all of the complementarians for spouting heresy. It seemed to me that their main concern was having a club to bash their opponents and not zeal for Trinitarian orthodoxy.

I’m not going to lie though… sometimes I enjoy people being triggered by Doug Wilson, etc. It’s my lizard brain.


I suppose this is an historical question, but are we sure of how far apart these folks are from Machen’s liberals?


I left off reading Pulpit and Pen and a few other sites some time ago over this kind of stuff. I can’t tell you precisely where the line is between discernment and factionalism because I’m not sure it works that way.

I do know there’s a massive difference between identifying false teachers and good teachers who hold some concerning opinions.

I think Neil Postman would say that some of this is a function of the media itself. You cannot unpack complicated theological propositions in 280 characters. You cannot introduce complicated theological propositions in 280 characters. So the very idea that there would be a “twitter war” over anything of any kind of significance is absurd. All you can do in such an environment is fabricate and attack a caricature and maybe that’s why there’s so much drama.

I am much happier being something of a luddite. I like my Sanityville, but apart from that I don’t even engage online. On December 31st 2018 I swore off all discretionary news media consumption. In December 2019 I find myself no less informed, no less equipped, and no less capable of carrying out my duties as a husband, dad, elder and worker. In fact I think I am less distracted and worried about things outside of my purview and things that I am impotent to change anyway. Not a prescriptive thing! But, it has worked for me.



I first got rid of Twitter. Then I stopped commenting on FB. Then I stopped visiting entirely. If I want entertainment online I read random stuff on Hacker News.


Are Doug Wilson and James White being attacked for some concerning stances? Yes.

Are they being attacked because of these stances? No.

Are they being attacked because their public and successful ministries contradict the quietism of the R2K Escondido Truly Reformed? Bingo.


One thing so frustrating for me on that point is that I absolutely love WSC’s Robert Godfrey’s Survey of Church History from Ligonier Ministry. Maybe there are issues I’m not aware of, but I’ve been blessed by it. It has been disconcerting to see R.Scott Clark play little drummer boy for so much warmongering. Had to stop listening to him altogether, same way with ACE’s Mortification of Spin.

I’ll admit my libertarian sympathies sometime are scratched by a 2K viewpoint, but I’m clearly just not in that camp.

FB and Twitter can be good teaching mediums. Luther used tracts. Reformers even used comic book format.

Much pastoral instruction is momentary. Think of the doorway of the church as the sheep leave, and what the shepherd says to them there and then.

I remind myself that the sheep will listen to our podcasts and read my FB posts and Tweets—but almost never my posts or books. So that’s why I do these without stopping those. Love,


FWIW, I think Michael Foster does a great job of this on his twitter feed. He promotes his stuff usually through small, actionable points that readers can immediately put into practice. There are also longer threads which basically serve as a micro-blog. Little, if any, energy gets wasted on mud wrestling.


Wrestling can be quite instructive. It’s not always in the mud.


T. Baker Bayly, MDiv (beard/mustache/chest hair)


True. But it’s also true that social media has a unique way of funneling us toward those conflicts that end up being the least worthwhile. Not always. But usually. In my experience, anyway.


Honestly, more power to you. I am too weak for it. But let Christ be proclaimed in all channels.


Point 1: Like what? I hate when folks do this. Acting like White or Wilson are lovable crazies that we “allow” is condescending and patronizing to brilliant, godly men.

Point 2: What?

Point 3: I have no idea what any of the words in that last phrase refer to. Can you clarify?

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@jonswerens will have to clarify, but I think he means that these men are being attacked for speaking clearly, boldly, and most of all publicly basic Christian truths, which embarrasses those who have compromised on those things, as well as those who have compromised on the basics of the great commission.

But nobody wants to actually attack somebody for believing the Bible. So they make a show out of attacking for another reason. There are varying levels of legitimacy to these other complaints, but the move is disingenuous at its core.


Yeah, much better than I could say or even think. :sweat_smile:

Ah, that makes sense. I managed to read the exact opposite out of it and appreciate you taking the time to clarify.

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I think that is an excellent summary of what is going on…