Just because the mob is after you doesn’t mean there isn’t a real problem

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The saga about the bloke who wrote an article about sex and salvation, had it withdrawn and then had to resign continues.  Now, some more prominent evangelicals are beginning to find their voice on the matter.  Now, for what its worth, I’m not too worried if people were quiet in the early stages, we can rush to give our counsel on things and we should not feel compelled to speak on everything. 

However, there does seem to be a bit of a tone to some of the responses, especially coming from my side of the theological divide. I’m increasingly reading comments that talk in terms of a mob ir witch hunt against Butler, leading to him being cancelled. Kevin De Young has written as follows:

The article was not good. The mob was worse. Butler did not deserve to be pilloried. The internet can be a cruel place—and the most censorious persons can be those who think tearing down the “powerful” is the same as lifting up the weak. Some of the loudest critics seemed intent on believing the worst about everyone involved in the whole fiasco. This is what happens all the time in polarized politics. Democrats don’t want Republicans to make good decisions. Republicans don’t want Democrats to be careful. Each side wants the other to make gaffes, the bigger the better. This ordeal quickly moved away from theological sharpening to pitchfork-toting and axe-wielding. I fear that an apology for “hurt,” without naming any identifiable sin, sends the wrong message: it cancelled Butler, when it could have clarified the issues at stake and pointed out a better way.


Now, as it happens, I agree significantly with much of what De Young says here and I notice that most of the other 5 points he makes are taking with critique of problems with the article, some of which I agree with, some of which not so much (I also don’t think that he has got as sharply to the root issue as he could have).  However, I think he is right that people can be quick to believe the worst and sieze on gaffes and I’ve said a few times that the discussion got too quickly and too easily distracted from what is actually at stake pastorally and theologically to the personal and the political.

My opinion is that there have been examples of people being quick to assume guilkt by second degree association of Butler, they are aware of bad things that others either in or close to his theological camp have said and so they’ve been quick to assume that Butler was aligning up with them.  To give two examples.  I’ve seen people quoting John MacArthur as suggesting that a husband does in some way save his wife from things like loneliness.  Additionally, people have turned back to horrendous, so called Biblical Counselling examples from people like Jay Adams suggesting that if a woman withholds sex then she is to blame for her husband’s sexual sin.

Now, whilst there may be significant issues with what Butler said, and whilst you may even think that some of his language might have unhelpfully got people thinking in terms of hose kinds of tropes, if we are going to be fair to him, we must acknowledge that he was attempting to argue the opposite of that kind of take. He was explicitly saying that sex and by implication those involved, both husband and wife are not the saviours.  He may have had a view about asymmetry in relationships but he also consistently talked in terms of the husband’s sacrificial love and giving towards his wife.  We should be careful not to read things into his argument, we would do better to engage with what he actually does say.

And therein lies the rub.  We don’t need to go behind what Josh Butler says in order to find problems.  We don’t need to second guess his motives, assume the worst of his intentions, engage in guilt by association. There’s enough of a problem with what he actually does say.  And this is also why comments of the kind made by DeYoung here are also deeply frustrating.  At least Kevin has taken time to offer some critique an challenge, however, some of the responses on social media have assumed that the whole thing is just a witch hunt by liberals and egalitarians.  However, that is to ignore the robust and thoughtful engagement by a number of people, pastors  and theologians male and female, single and married, complementarian and egalitarian who have identified significant issues (I would say one, very specific issue) with Butler’s theology, a faulty hermeneutic which unbalances what he has to say.

This is important because one of the reactions I’ve seen, especially from evangelicals away from the US culture war scene is “why should we all be commenting on something that has nothing to do with and no effect on our congregations.” Well, the political fall out of another US based evangelical messing up has very little to do with us and our congregations.  The reality is also that most of your church members will not have read the article nor seen the social media fall out.  However, a book that has been heavily promoted on such a hot potato subject is going to either directly or indirectly have an impact on congregations around the world.  Furthermore, the problematic hermeneutic identified, is (as I will argue in a later post) something that is already a problem with the potential to affect teaching, discipleship and pastoral care in our churches.

When Jesus was called to come and heal Jairus’ daughter, he turned up to find a noisy commotion of (possibly professional) mourners.  Jesus didn’t say “ah, I can see the problem here, there’s too many noisy mourners around.”  He put the noisy people out of the room and then he addressed the girl and the problem of death.  We might do well to follow that example.

There may be a mob and a bit of pitchforking going on but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a serious issue that needed addressing.  This will be true in lots of other examples both in the local and the wider church scene. Let’s stop complaining about, or even attempting to talk to the mob and start addressing the problem.

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