Thursday Throwback: The ‘Religious People’ Boogeyman | Jared Wilson

There’s no blogger whose writing I have consumed or appreciated more over the last decade than Jared Wilson. I want to point back to an old post from Jared called “The ‘Religious People’ Boogeyman. Originally, Jared wrote this post in response to a controversy with Perry Noble in 2011. This was even before he was blogging at TGC, and when For The Church wasn’t yet a twinkle in his eye.

Now, it’s been edited and reposted at For the Church (which, if you don’t have FTC bookmarked, you should). You should take 10 minutes and go read the whole thing. Here’s a small snippet:

It is so common a rhetorical practice among the preachers and speakers that I fear it is a systemic dysfunction in the attractional church paradigm which has defined itself largely in contrast to the boring, irrelevant, “traditional” church. This is what I’m talking about: The warning that there are “religious people” in our churches threatening our contempo-casual culture.

First of all, there are people in every church, no matter what kind of church it is, who struggle with the distinction between law and gospel, who struggle with the driving place of grace in their pursuit of holiness, so it won’t do to deny that legalism looms in our churches. Legalism lurks in every heart, actually, mine and yours. But this constant invoking of the judgmental “religious people” is very often a boogeyman. It’s an imagined threat, a scare tactic employed to both justify dumb exercises in license and arouse the self-satisfied mockery of self-identified “grace people.”

Go read the whole thing for yourself.

Also, while you’re here, here’s a short and hilarious video from Jared that I found on a very old Vimeo playlist of mine. Enjoy!

A Prayer Before Study | St. Thomas Aquinas

The following is Thomas Aquinas’s prayer before studying. It is a helpful tool for students before study, pastors before sermon prep, or scholars before scholarship:

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. 


Do You Know About Uyghur Persecution?

A while back, I wrote a twitter thread that went massively viral about Uyghur persecution. In total, the thread was viewed over 5 million times. I’m grateful for any good that came of it, and any that were inspired to speak up by it.

I was sitting in my office, procrastinating a paper due for a doctoral seminar when I began reading about Uyghur Muslims. Out of that moment, I wrote this thread to share what I learned and share my reflections on my own silence. I had no clue anyone would read it outside of my small circle.

You can read the thread below. I have embedded it and created a “Twitter moment” for posterity, as well as to aggregate some other resources to go with it. I am not an expert on Uyghur people. (Only part of that moment is here, due to embed rules. You’ll have to click through to twitter to see it all.) I do not know as much as I’d like to. But I know this: in the face of this grave human rights abuse, I can not be silent.

We can not be silent.

You’ll have to click through to view the whole thread. Also, take time for this webinar on the issue from the ERLC. I’m really grateful to Russell Moore and his team there for bringing this issue to the fore:

Tim Keller on Why We Must Reach Cities

Over the last decade, a great debate has raged about prioritizing reaching cities in our church planting efforts. This past week, I looked back at this short (15 min) message from Tim Keller at the Lausanne Conference in 2010 answering these questions: Why must we reach the cities? How should we reach those cities? How can we reach those cities?

It’s an interesting debate, and has had wide reaching influence. Under similar frameworks, the North American Mission Board has spent the better part of the last decade focusing on “Send Cities” in their mission efforts. Keller’s own church planting network has focused on cities. The list could go on and on.

I thought this was an interesting video to look back on and reflect: how have Keller’s arguments proved to be true? Where have we learned otherwise, if at all? It certainly seems to me that we’ve learned about our limitations in influencing the culture. If anything, the trend of exvangelical deconversion from so many “major Christian figures” in city centers is worth exploring. Likewise, I would be interested to see if Christians have made any measurable impact on cities in terms of culture.

If you’re reading this, I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Anyway, here’s the message:

Against God’s Word: Anti-Epistle As A Devotional Tool

I’ve been reflecting on this old post from Tim Challies that I stumbled upon again recently: The Anti-Psalm. I encourage you to go read it. The general idea is from David Powlison. Taking a Psalm, he writes his own psalm in the exact opposite way, and it reveals some insights into ways me might deny the truth of the actual psalm, but with words we otherwise wouldn’t use.

It made me think what this would look like applied to a different kind of text, such as an epistle. In particular, my mind turned to 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8;

3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

An anti-epistle might read something like this:

3 God doesn’t care about the particulars of your life . He created you with these urges anyway, 4 so let loose: look at porn, have an affair, or at least give into your fantasies; it’s your body, your choice. It’s not even that bad. 5 Everyone is doing it, even some people who call themselves Christians. 6 God isn’t going to be angry with you like your family or friends might. He understands. There’s nothing to worry about. 7 God just wants you to be happy, whatever it takes. 8 Therefore go ahead, because no one will see, and God doesn’t care.

I’m no David Powlison (who Challies initially quoted). But even my amateur an attempt brings it into stark light. Some of these thoughts are utterly worldly–things you might hear on TV or see on Facebook. But some of them have been in my heart too; only, I never would have said them out loud. It seems like a good Bible study practice to think about. The anti-Word, whether anti-Psalm or anti-epistle, as I’ve tried here, teaches us to ask a very important question about the Bible:

If God’s Word is true, then what is the lie?

Sir Isaac Newton: Rank Heretic

Well, with a title like that, you just had to click didn’t you?

What follows isn’t a longform takedown on Isaac Newton. However, I was incredibly surprised to read about Isaac Newton’s theological beliefs in a recent book that I reviewed, “Athanasius and His Legacy” by Thomas Weinandy and Daniel A. Keating, and I thought I would share what I learned. In that book, Weinandy and Keating considered modern challenges to Athanasius’s Trinitarian doctrine. That is where this rollercoaster ride began for me.

Isaac Newton is well known for his work in science and mathematics, as well as his philosophy. Most notably, he “discovered” the law of gravity. If you don’t know the story…well, I’m not going to recount it here. It involves an apple. Google is your friend. Alright. Back to the heresy.

According to Weinandy and Keating, Newton became engrossed in theology while a fellow of Trinity College in Cambridge. During his lengthy theological study, wherein he applied scientific methods of his day to the Scripture, Newton became highly skeptical about the status of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. He ultimately was convinced, “that the traditional Christian teaching on the full divinity of Christ and the Trinitarian understanding of God was “deeply flawed” (89). From here, he began to read heavily in the patristics and comes to an interesting conclusion: Athanasius was wrong and Arius was right.

According to the authors (and their work is heavily footnoted; please get a copy if you’re interested), Newton was convinced that Athanasius’s doctrine was a novel invention and the Pope aided and abetted Athanasius’s corruption. [Aside: No word on his 17 years in exile.] He goes so far as to say that the fundamental error of worshipping Christ as God is idolatry.

It doesn’t end there. Newton involved himself in a movement that came to be called the British Arians, and set out 12 points of his newfound Arianism. These are true Arians, not Unitarians or Socinians. They believe Christ to be a mediator, but he is not the monad God and is a created being. However, while his views are Arian, there’s no proof he was pro-Arius. It was more of an avowed anti-Athanasian view with a commitment to Arian belief. Because of Newton, the chair of mathematics was given a permanent exemption from holding to Christian orthodoxy.

This is where it gets extreme. Newton became obsessed with biblical prophecy, writing 4 commentaries on Daniel and Revelation. He became convinced that the “beast” in Revelation was the Roman Catholic Church (not uncommon in his time) and that the Nicene Creed of 381 represented the seventh seal of judgment. In his reading, the Whore of Babylon is the doctrine of the Trinity. Isaac Newton made Left Behind look like Calvin’s Institutes. Newton believed he was part of a faithful remnant standing against the perversion of Athanasius, Rome, and Trinitarianism.

So how did Newton get away with such views in an era dominated by the Church of England? Simple: he didn’t publish his views. Though Newton would mentor two of the most prominent proponents of British Arianism, he did not put his own views on the record for examination. Many of his fellow citizens who did publish such views lost their posts. While he shared his views in private, “Newton hid his theological views to preserve his place in society” (93). Additionally, he seemed to belief the doctrine was losing it’s hold anyway. Why risk it?

Frankly, I was stunned reading this. I certainly did not learn it in any history, science, or philosophy course. And now you know, too.

Isaac Newton was a heretic.

Ee-Taow: A Stirring Story of Gospel Advance

I can hardly think of a more discouraging time in the church, our nation, or our world. Unity seems like a naive wish in each. You get the sense that the world is falling apart at the seams. What are Christians to do? Take up arms (metaphorically)? Fight one another? Give in to fear or despair?

No way. I was reminded tonight of a video that I have seen before, but which never fails to stir my affections for Christ. It’s the video “Ee-Taow”.

Here’s how it’s described by the organization that owns it, Ethnos360: Your heart will rejoice as you witness the Mouk tribe of Papua New Guinea respond dramatically to the Gospel. You’ll follow their story from murderous sorcery and deceit, to a life-changing understanding of what God has done for them. This is a powerful story of God’s Word, presented clearly and chronologically in their own language, breaking through the darkness that held the Mouks in bondage.

In such a difficult time in the world, Ee-Taow has reminded me of the mission of Christ and the urgency of eternity. I am reminded of the ultimate fight worth giving our lives for is the fight against sin and Satan, the fight to win the world to the salvation that is found in Christ. I hope that this bolsters you love for Christ and his mission as well. If, like me, you’ve grown weary then I hope you will be reinvigorated by this video. I would encourage you to introduce this video to your family, your church, and your friends. Now is a good time to be reminded of the work God is doing in the world.

Don’t miss this follow-up video on the next chapter for the Ee-Taow after this stirring original documentary.

Don’t Just #CancelNetflix

In recent days there has been a widespread call to #CancelNetflix over the new film “Cuties”, which is now streaming there. The IMDB parents guide speaks for itself. Whatever the intention of the film was (the director claims it was to expose child exploitation), the film itself is ultimately deeply troubling as children are portrayed sexually throughout.

It is not surprising that the outcry has been massive. Calls to #CancelNetflix have been successful, with countless men and women cancelling their account. Netflix stock prices have suffered. My social media feeds are full of this hashtag. I am empathetic to this call, and I appreciate the widespread indignation towards the exploitation of children. At the same time, I am certain that the meaningful change that is needed to protect children will not happen merely by cancelling Netflix. To protect children from exploitation and sex trafficking, we need to go a step further.

If you #CancelNetflix because of “Cuties” but you’re still watching pornography, then you are contributing to the crisis of child sex trafficking. The pornography industry creates the market for pedophilia. Pornography sites meet the demand by providing a platform for sex traffickers and by conditioning men and women alike to tolerate, or even crave, pornographic material that exploits minors.

If you #CancelNetflix because of “Cuties” but you’re still watching pornography, then you are contributing to the crisis of child sex trafficking.

Consider the following video about PornHub’s failure to protect child rape victims on their site:

Pornography: A Trafficking Scandal Right Out in the Open

This is not a hidden problem. It’s not something that is hard to learn about. Fox News reported only this year about the problem of child pornography and PornHub:

“Pornhub’s failure to remove nonconsensual pornography from its website is destroying lives,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said in a statement provided to Fox News on Tuesday. “I’ve spoken with many survivors who have been driven from careers, fields of study, and lost family and loved ones due to this insidious practice. In the worst cases, people have been driven to suicide.” Speier’s comment came just a day after Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting an investigation into the company. Sasse pointed to a slew of high-profile incidents involving sexual exploitation on the platform, including a case from last year in which Florida police arrested a man on charges of sex crimes against an underage girl who was missing for nearly a year before her mother learned that 60 pornographic videos of her had been posted to Pornhub, Snapchat, Periscope, and ModelHub.

For consumers of pornography, there’s as much acting off screen as on-screen. User must pretend that it’s all just entertainment, produced in a studio by consenting professionals. But if you’re reading this, you’ve lost that excuse. The truth is, countless acts of sex, bondage, and rape on pornography sites is real. Real torment, real pain all for the consumption of men and women who have been conditioned to crave such things.

The New York Times has also acknowledged this problem. In 2019, NYT reporters wrote about porn producers being arrested on sex trafficking charges:

“…the owners and employees “used deception and false promises” to lure women who had answered modeling advertisements on Craigslist to participate in the videos, telling them that their identities would be shielded and that the videos would not be posted online.

International Justice Mission recently found that child sexual abuse online is up 250% in the Philippines. Those videos don’t stay there. The market is here.

To Fight Sex Trafficking, Fight Pornograpy.

According to a recent report from Huffington Post, 30% of all internet data usage is for pornography. Porn sites get more monthly visitors than Amazon, Twitter, and Netflix combined. Recently a rumor was circulated that the internet furniture store Wayfair was actually a front for child sex trafficking. It turned out to be baseless, but a great deal of energy was expended fighting WayFair, a company best known for cheap accent chairs and clearance pricing on rugs. How is it then that there is such a deafening cultural silence against pornography companies that have been proven to host child pornography on their sites? How can it be that these sites can advertise categories for “teen”, “high school”, fantasies about underage students and teachers, rape and abuse fantasy, etc. and we sit idly by or settle for “that’s just the way it is”?

Canceling Netflix feels good. It feels like we are doing something tangible. In reality, cancelling Netflix is little more than a temporary political football with hardly any long-term consequences if it does not lead to meaningful action against pornography and the pornography industry in our personal lives and in our public advocacy. We should be at war against the pornography industry. This industry not only permits and enables sex traffickers, it also creates a desire for such material in those who watch it, and is destroying the minds of young men and women who are learning about sex at a young age from its sites. Even in a porn affirming article from Psychology Today, the author admits that in porn usage for teenagers “the adolescent brain is being shaped around a sexual experience that is isolating, visceral, and completely void of any love or compassion.”

One researcher at Wichita State says that porn and sex trafficking are “inseparably connected.”

Anti-Porn as Apologetic

It is interesting to me how much time is spent in Christian ministries, particularly youth ministry, on apologetics and arguments for God that are almost entirely intellectual. While I do believe they are helpful, I also believe that many churches are ignoring one of the primary reasons many young people leave the church as soon as they have the opportunity. Young people are leaving the church because they’ve been watching hours upon hours of porn unchecked for years and the church was just a box to check to keep their parents off their case.

For a rising generation, no-strings-attached sex is the dominant religion. PornHub is their bible, and Tinder is their prayer book. One night stands are their sacrament. When these students leave the church, they aren’t leaving the faith. For many if not most of them, they’re embracing the idol they’ve worshipped all along; only now, mom and dad aren’t around to make them go to church once a week. I have seen it firsthand. I have never discipled a man that pornography was not an issue that we actively discussed. This is not a coincidence.

Porn is destroying our families, our neighbors, and our churches. It is quenching long-held desires for marriage in place of immediate sexual gratification. It is hurting sexual abuse victims and creating a market for more of them in order to satisfy the cravings of a national audience taught to hunger for video of such sexual abuse. It is shaping the minds of young men and women towards isolation and loveless intimacy.

What now?

  1. Educate Yourself: You can learn more about this issue at Fight the New Drug , IJM, and (for information on pornography). Only IJM is a Christian organization, so use discretion.
  2. Stop Watching Pornography
    If you’re struggling with a porn problem, get help. If you’re actively watching, stop. Some resources I recommend for a accountability in the fight against porn are your local church, confessing regularly to a friend who will fight with you and for you, Covenant Eyes (I have used this for a decade), R Tribe (with a partner or group), and Bark.
  3. Advocate for restrictions against pornography and investigation into the pornography industry. Public calls have been made to ban pornography. Sen. Ben Sasse recently called for an investigation into Pornhub. Consider contacting your representative to advocate on this issue. This is worth your time. Pornography, sex trafficking, and abortion are not separate issues.

If we want to fight sex-trafficking, we need to fight porn. If we really believe that the material on Netflix’s “Cuties” is problematic, we need to address the massive databases of material readily available online and consumed constantly nationwide. The driving force behind #CancelNetflix needs to be about more than personal discomfort on how publicly accepted such things have become. It is time to speak up against pornography, and address this problem at the root.