Principles Over Personalities—A Response to Conservative Resurgence Voices

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Chris Bolt at Conservative Resurgence Voices has written a critical piece against “discernment ministries” which has the appearance of applying to FTNCI, but in addition to his criticism being very misguided, it also contains a deep irony. 

Before getting into the details of Bolt’s blog post, a quick note: He doesn’t say exactly which “discernment ministries” he has in mind, but taking all of his commentary together, it certainly seems as though my work (or FTNCI more generally) is included. I reached out to ask if this was the case, and he said that he did not have FTNCI in mind. 

However, that is irrelevant to the point of this article because Bolt’s line of criticism—whether intended for me, or not—is characteristic of the type of criticism I often receive. So, I want to take the opportunity to respond to such criticism, and I thank Bolt for granting that opportunity, even if it wasn’t intended for me. 

Here is the most relevant excerpt from Bolt’s piece: 

“Sometimes discernment ministries and associates don’t base their ‘arguments’ on the Bible, confessions, or even conservatism. They unthinkingly attack those outside of their tiny tribes. They determine ‘downgrade’ by failure to conform to a personality, or a particular way of addressing things, not Christianity. That’s why a guy like Owen Strachan can write a series against Critical Race Theory – which the discernment crowd is also supposedly against – and become a target. That’s why Al Mohler faces opposition for inviting James Lindsay on his show to speak against wokeism. That’s why Denny Burk is denigrated even when he says something that falls squarely in line with what the polemicists have said. That’s why Tom Ascol gets called out for entertaining ‘wolves.’ And that’s why this crowd even has its doubts about Doug Wilson. How far ‘right’ does the downgrade go?”

I will readily confess that I have openly criticized all of the above mentioned men in the above mentioned contexts. And I would like to ask Bolt why he thinks such criticism is supposed to be evidence that the one giving the criticism is doing so “unthinkingly,” tribalistically, or in such a way as to not be based on “the Bible, confessions, or even conservatism.” But first, let’s dig into the criticisms listed above, lest the reader lose sight of what is important here: Why the criticism has been issued. 

Why The Criticism of These Conservative Leaders?

In each case, the criticism of these men is based on their unwillingness to consistently act as though Critical Race Theory—or “wokeism,” if you prefer—is as dangerous as they, themselves, claim.

When Owen Strachan released his series on Critical Race Theory, it was glaringly obvious that he had omitted specific examples of CRT being taught in the Church, and especially within the Southern Baptist Convention. If Critical Race Theory really is as dangerous as Strachan has taught, one would expect that Strachan would very eagerly draw Christains’ attention to those places where the evil ideology is infiltrating the Church—with an emphasis on his own denomination. While Strachan’s mere silence about specific examples in the Church is not nearly as bad as the men who actively defend such specific examples (see below), it is still a noteworthy danger (further elaboration here).

When Al Mohler invited James Lindsay on his show to speak against wokeism, he was simultaneously employing professors (including the highest ranking officer at his seminary below himself, Provost Matt Hall) who taught “wokeism” at his seminary for several years (details here) and who had given no indications that they had recanted or repented of that teaching. Moreover, Mohler had given several indications, himself, that he had bought into egregious aspects of wokeism—including the signing of a statement which arbitrarily linked the killing of George Floyd to Jim Crow and to slavery. Thus, seeing Al Mohler invite James Lindsay onto his show to talk about the dangers of woke ideology was a bit like seeing Joel Osteen invite John Piper onto his podcast to talk about the dangers of the prosperity gospel—if not in degree, at least in kind. 

Denny Burk, an employee of Mohler’s, has followed masterfully in his bosses footsteps—and the criticism of him has fittingly been similar to that of Mohler. When a former professor of Southern Seminary, Dr. Fuller, went public with concerns about several other professors—including the aforementioned Provost, Matt Hall—the Seminary rushed to produce damage-control style videos to paper over the concerns. And poor Denny Burk must have drawn the short straw in order to be assigned the task of “interviewing” Dr. Hall about Critical Race Theory. Of course, Denny didn’t ask Dr. Hall about any of the concerning things he’d actually taught (e.g., that he will always be a racist because he is a white person living in America, or that “the rotting corpse of white supremacy” is hiding behind everything you thought was normal in the world). Instead, he asked him very general and abstract questions about “Critical Race Theory,” to which Hall very masterfully responded with perfectly orthodox answers which completely contradicted the things he had been caught teaching. In other words, Denny Burk helped Matt Hall and Southern Seminary to pretend to the world that Matt Hall had never taught the kinds of wicked and obviously “woke” things he had taught. Then, Denny began to come out strong against the woke rot in the culture—pretending as though he was some stalwart against it, after behaving like a cowardly little weasel in order to cover it up at his own place of employ. 

And then we come to Tom Ascol, whose first offence also pertains to Matt Hall (he’s just the woke gift that keeps on giving). After Hall’s wokeness was exposed, while conservatives were waking up to the fact that this ideology had penetrated even our most conservative institutions, Tom Ascol came to Matt Hall’s defense. He declared that he had conducted a personal phone call with Hall, and that he was sure that Matt Hall fully rejected “Critical Race Theory.” Here, Ascol was doing a more private version of the cover job that Denny Burk would do later (as described above). Did Ascol ask Hall about the specific things he had taught which were obviously influenced by Critical Race Theory? Did he ask Hall whether he would repent of and recant those teachings? Ascol doesn’t say. But that would be the only relevant reason for publicly announcing any sort of conversation with Hall on the issue. It doesn’t matter if Hall says that he rejects “Critical Race Theory.” What matters is whether he rejects the specific things he taught, which were inspired by Critical Race Theory, whether he realized it, or not. For Ascol to announce Hall’s rejection of “Critical Race Theory” apart from a rejection of his specific teachings, was to help Matt Hall to pretend to the world that there was nothing to be concerned about with him and his teaching.

Then just recently, Conservative Resurgence Voices raised concerns about Dr. Paul Chitwood, the President of the International Mission Board, based on an email he sent out which was very heavily influenced by Critical Race Theory and woke ideology. Ascol very mildly endorsed these concerns by retweeting the article and saying, “this needs attention.” Apparently that was enough for another special phone call—this time between Ascol and Paul Chitwood. And once again, Ascol announced that all his concerns had been “allayed” because the IMB “no longer uses the language in the email.” But the concerns raised surrounding the email weren’t merely about “the language.” They weren’t concerns about semantics. They were concerns about the ideas which had to be deeply absorbed into the minds of the leadership all throughout the IMB in order for that language to be tolerated. These are the things it would have been relevant for Ascol to be concerned about, to discuss with Chitwood over the phone, and to announce publicly. But he didn’t. Instead, just like with Matt Hall and Southern Seminary, Ascol made an announcement which gave the appearance of everything being alright with Chitwood and the IMB, while never addressing the actual specific concerns which had been raised (more here). 

Finally on Bolt’s list is Doug Wilson. I have to be honest that I’m not aware of anyone criticizing Doug Wilson “from the right” other than myself, but I’ll take Bolt’s word that he doesn’t have me in mind here. Nevertheless, the only criticism of Wilson that I am aware of concerns his comments in defense of Mohler’s apparent inaction and cover-up in response to woke teachings at Southern Seminary. When asked about it on a podcast, Wilson cautioned against criticizing Mohler, explaining that an institution like Southern Seminary is analogous to an aircraft carrier, and thus cannot be turned around sharply. The irony, though, is that Mohler used the exact same analogy to make the exact opposite point about his rather sharp turning of Southern Seminary during the conservative resurgence (in this message). Mohler argued that institutions cannot turn conservative slowly. They can only turn liberal slowly. According to Mohler, the only way to turn the “aircraft carrier” of an institution conservative is to do so sharply, and to risk losing all the cargo if necessary in order to do it. In addition to this ironic contradiction between Mohler’s argument about turning institutions around and Wilson’s defense of Mohler regarding wokeism, it has been over a year since Wilson defended Mohler for his lack of sharp correction. Even if Wilson had been right that Mohler must make gradual corrections, we still have not seen any corrections over a year later. How long would Wilson say this process is supposed to take? 


Principles or Personalities: Who Are the Real Tribalists?

The above are the reasons I am aware of that any “discernment” types have criticized the men Bolt lists. Bolt seems to object to such criticism, but he doesn’t explain why. Rather, he tosses out the seemingly irrelevant accusation that such criticism is not based “on the Bible, confessions, or even conservatism.” My response is, “okay—but is it accurate?” Perhaps Bolt believes that the criticism is inaccurate, and he somehow bases that belief on “the Bible, confessions, and conservatism.” If so, let him state what he believes is inaccurate about the criticism, and make his case. Until he does, this accusation is nothing but a red herring at best, and a straw man at worst. 

In referencing the Bible, confessions, and conservatism, Bolt wants to give the impression that he is calling us to an objective standard, but I fear he may have lost sight of the issue which is in need of such a standard. The criticism of the men above was not about their teaching. It was about their actions in response to false teaching. To my knowledge, there has not yet been a confessional consensus on polemics—the art and science of publicly addressing false teaching—though, I would certainly be delighted to contribute to such an effort. So, I am not sure how the above criticism is supposed to be based on confessions. 

However, I do agree with Bolt that we need to have an objective standard in this controversy about how we ought to deal with public error. And herein lies the deep irony of Bolt’s accusation: his standard appears to be the relative public status of the men in question. Bolt’s reasoning appears to be something like the following: “Ascol, Strachan, and Wilson are publicly known as staunch conservatives (‘the good guys,’ if you will), so how is it possible that they could be subject to criticism ‘from the right’?” 

If we are going to utilize an objective standard, it seems that the question ought to be, “Regardless of the public status of the man in question, are his actions right or wrong?” Is it right or wrong for Al Mohler to say that he opposes Critical Race Theory while employing men who teach it, and signing letters which assume it? Is it right or wrong for Denny Burk to help Southern Seminary pretend to the world that Matt Hall’s teachings are not dangerous, and then to turn around and loudly condemn much of the same sort of teaching in the culture? Is it right or wrong for Tom Ascol to use his conservative reputation to assure Southern Baptists that their institutions are not fostering woke ideology, while they clearly have been? Is it right or wrong for Doug Wilson to defend Mohler’s inaction, quite in contradiction to Mohler’s own stated beliefs about what is required? 

Are these questions to which an objective standard can be applied? I believe so, and that is why I very unashamedly answer the questions, and encourage others to do so as well. But does Bolt believe so? Does Conservative Resurgence Voices believe that such questions have objectively true answers? Do all the hoards of mid-level company men in the SBC, who mindlessly attack me for answering these questions publicly, believe that there are objectively true answers to these questions? Or do they prefer to place personalities over principles, in order to overlook the mistakes and failures of their favorite conservative personalities, for the sake of their tribal cause? 

Who is the mindless, baseless, cultic, tribalist? The one who consistently applies an equal and objective moral standard to everyone, including those “on his side”—or, the one who insists upon the inconsistency of never criticizing those “on our side,” no matter what they do? The true cultic tribalists are the adherents of that damnable 11th commandment, “thou shalt not criticize a fellow Southern Baptist.” And it makes little difference if you qualify it to say, “thou shalt not criticize a fellow conservative Southern Baptist.” 

Let my critics, and the critics of “discernment ministries,” state their position openly: Do they believe there are objectively true moral standards for how one ought to deal with public false teaching? If they don’t, then let them shut their relativistic mouths. If they do, then let them state their principles, and openly defend the inaction and cover-ups of the men discussed above. Or, if they come to realize (as I suspect they know deep down already) that the inaction and cover-ups are indefensible, then let them stop trying to silence us for saying so. Those are the only options available to a self-respecting man. And no respect ought to be afforded to any man who attempts to open his mouth on this topic while evading the necessity of choosing between those options. 

A Word About Motives

Finally, I would like to say a quick word about motives regarding the men cited above. I have been falsely accused of claiming that these conservative men are “woke sympathizers,” because I have criticized their inaction or their cover-ups regarding the woke heresy. This is an obvious straw man, but it comes from a very simplistic assumption about motives. The assumption is that the only possible motive for inaction or cover up toward a given false teaching is secret “sympathy” for that false teaching. But that’s absurd. There are plenty of other, seemingly more “innocent,” motives which could be at play—like the salvaging of friendships, the maintenance of institutional unity, political aspirations, etc… All of these are potential motives for turning a blind eye toward specific instances of false teaching—and there are likely many others. 

The truth is that I’ve always emphasized that I don’t care much about the motives of these men; that I care more about the effects of their actions (or inactions). But I suppose simple-minded readers will always assume what I think their motive is so long as I don’t name it. So, in order to clear the air of the stupid staw men I keep seeing, allow me to take a stab at guessing about these men’s motives. 

I do not think that Ascol, Strachan, or Wilson are motivated by any sympathy for woke ideology. I think Mohler likely is. Ascol appears to be motivated by concern for maintaining institutional unity, along with possible political aspirations within the SBC. Strachan likely has similar motives as Ascol, though possibly without the political emphasis. And Wilson is likely motivated by an attempt to salvage any friendship he might have had with Mohler and other BigEva associates. Keep in mind that this is all conjecture, and I only mention it in order to put to rest the foolish notion that I think these men are motivated by sympathy for woke ideology. 

But even these more benign motives matter very little when discussing the very malignant actions they have taken. I do sympathize with the motive of maintaining institutional unity. Despite Bolt’s claim that we “discernment” types only want to tear down institutions, I very much want to build them up. But you don’t build institutions by making terms with those who want to tear them down—or by pretending that they are not already being torn down all around us. I also sympathize with the motive of maintaining friendships, but the one friendship which we all must maintain above all else is our friendship with Christ. If ever we must choose between our humanly friendships and protecting His Bride, the choice should not be difficult. 

Brothers, Let’s Get Serious

Brothers, it is time to stop behaving as though we were unaware of the devil’s schemes. We know what is required to protect the Church from false teaching. We know it from Scripture, we know it from Church history, and we know it from common sense. The wordy “denunciations” of “Critical Race Theory” by name only, which shy away from naming all specific instances of it in the evangelical Church, are a weak and embarrassing mockery of true conservatism. The devil laughs at such impotent “valiance,” and then redoubles his efforts to spread Critical Race Theory within the Church while being careful to never allow it to be named. If such is the fiber of our most staunchly conservative leaders, the devil knows that he has nothing to fear from us. 

If it is true that the only thing evil needs to prosper is for good men to do nothing, imagine what power is given to evil when good men leverage their good reputations in order to pretend that evil is not so evil, after all. We would be far better off with those good men doing nothing. Let us repent of such impotence. Let us repent of being such patsies. And let us fight the evil wherever it may be found—especially within the Church. 


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