Revoice, Nashville, And The Therapeutic Revolution

More than 50 years ago Philip Rieff alerted us to what has been called the “therapeutic revolution.” The West did not pay attention and now our broader culture is awash in therapeutic categories and rhetoric. Anyone, on most any university campus, who dares to proclaim the existence of objective truth or reality would be immediately denounced as “hurtful,” and possibly attacked physically by masked, black-clad fascist thugs (the so-called Antifa movement). When Rieff published his seminal work, The Triumph of the Therapeutic Billy Graham, for good or ill, was the nation’s de facto pastor. Today the nation’s pastor is Oprah, who rose to famous by popularizing the therapeutic revolution.

The Triumph Of The Therapeutic

Consider the way people think and speak about civil government in our time. Remember that the civil government is empowered to use physical violence to enforce its laws. It is a blunt instrument fit to accomplish a few basic tasks: collect taxes (Rom 13:6; Matt 22:21), defend the people (Rom 13:4) and to keep order (Rom 13:4). It is common, however, for people to think and speak about government in therapeutic (helping) categories so that when the magistrate does what he is called to do, to arrest criminals and prosecute them, people are genuinely shocked. We are so persuaded of validity of therapeutic categories that, when someone does something evil, we immediately turn to them to explain it: “he must be mentally ill.” Now, mental illness is a reality but so is evil and so is sin but the latter two are severely neglected in our age. Where therapeutic explanations predominate, personal responsibility shrivels.

Therapeutic ways of thinking and speaking are so common, so interwoven into the fabric of late-modern Western culture, that we are mostly unaware of how deeply we have been influenced. The result of this revolution is that how one feels is considered of much greater importance than the truth of what is said. We might speak of the triumph of the affective over the effective. To effect is to bring something about. To affect is to move one emotionally.

Truth Is Not A License To Kill

To be sure, to value truth and to prioritize it over feelings is not say that feelings are unimportant and still less is it to license rudeness. The Apostle Paul explicitly contrasts love with rudeness (1 Cor 13:5). Kindness is work of grace in the Christian (2 Cor 6:6; Col 3:12) and a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). According to God’s Word, however, truth is and it must be spoken in love (Eph 4:15). We may not substitute, “in a way that makes one feel warm and fuzzy” for “in love.” This is how the triumph of the therapeutic subtly changes our frame of reference and thus our understanding of Scripture. We read into Scripture an alien, late-modern, subjectivist, therapeutic framework rather than realizing how Scripture challenges our cultural assumptions.

Pastoral Is Not Therapeutic

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly recently concluded its business and perhaps the major piece of work before those assembled was to decide to how address the Revoice Conference held last summer in St Louis. That conference was held to affirm that there are Gay Christians, that it is morally right to affirm that one may be a Christian and experience sexual attraction to persons of the same sex (SSA) so long as one does not act on this impulse. In other words, homosexual orientation and attraction is not sinful per se. This is the so-called “Side B” approach to homosexuality and Christianity. So, the conference was affirming of a variety of attitudes and behaviors that traditionally have been considered beyond the pale of Christian sexual ethics.

Before the assembly was the question of how to respond. Two or perhaps three positions emerged. Some, represented by the lengthy report produced by a committee of the presbytery in which the conference was held, defended the intent and substance of the conference while criticizing it mildly for some rhetoric excess. A second group is deeply concerned about the theology, piety, and practice of the Revoice Conference but convinced that the Westminster Standards are sufficient to address it. A third group wanted to adopt the Nashville Statement, which was produced in August, 2017 in response to the ideas behind the Revoice Conference.

Such Were Some Of You

Greg Johnson, the PCA pastor whose congregation hosted the Revoice Conference and who, in late May, announced in the pages of Christianity Today that he is, in fact, “Gay,” i.e., he has a permanent, irrevocable SSA but he does not act on it,  argued on the floor of the assembly that we should think of same-sex attraction (SSA) the way we think of alcoholics, paraplegics, and those afflicted with infertility. Watch for yourself:

The influence of the therapeutic revolution appears immediately in this speech. The first thing to which this shepherd of God’s flock appeals is not God’s Word but his feelings. Article 7 of the Nashville Statement says that it is sin to adopt a homosexual self-conception. That statement is true.

There are several serious problems with Pastor Johnson’s reasoning here. First, his speech was highly biographical, emotive, and even prejudicial. He implied that anyone who disagrees with his position “hates” homosexuals. It equates traditional Christian sexual ethics with anti-gay bigotry. Second, he assumes that, except for his commitment to Christ, he might have taken a same-sex husband and had a family and that by not violating God’s natural and moral law thus he has made a great sacrifice for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. He even invokes Matthew 19:29 to that end. Giving up sin is not a sacrifice. It is required of us who have been bought by the blood and grace of Christ. When our Lord commanded us hyperbolically to cut off our offending right hand (Matt 5:20) there is no hint that we are treasure it. Paul says “such were some of you” (1 Cor 6:11). He assumes that SSA is natural or so innate that it is irrevocable. This is an assumption that is a gratuitous and false as it is essential to his argument. His argument would be much more credible had Johnson bothered to find any of the numerous believers whose sexual orientation has has been changed by the grace of God.

Pastor Johnson is welcome to attend the AGR Conference later this month featuring Rosaria Butterfield, who was a practicing Lesbian, whom the Lord gave new life and true faith and whom the Lord has given a husband and a family. Johnson is well aware of Rosaria’s story and if he is not it is not the fault of those who have tried to notify him and the Revoice Conference about her work. Learn more about the conference and register here.

The category of “Gay Christians” is utterly foreign to the history of Christianity. There are Christians who struggle with sin but there are no “Thief Christians” or “Murderer Christians” nor “Pedophile Christians.” So his analogies fail spectacularly. The drunk whom the Lord has redeemed from addiction to booze makes no great sacrifice to the Lord by not drinking or getting drunk. He is doing only what is expected of one redeemed by grace: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10; ESV). It is orthodoxy in Alcoholics Anonymous to say that one is always a drunk but we do not confess The Big Book. We confess the Good Book, God’s Holy Word. The concept of an “alcoholic” is unknown to Scripture. Certainly the disease model is a fabrication, for which there remains no scientific evidence and certainly no biblical support.

The appeal to the analogy of paraplegia and infertility borders on the offensive. It certainly assumes what must be proved: that homosexuality is as innate as those afflictions. The evidence for this claims is wanting. Scripture never treats such cases as sin but it is explicit that homosexuality is sin.

Johnson worries about how those who identify as Gay or homosexual will regard the PCA after this. I can answer that question: They should regard themselves as sinners welcome to visit PCA congregations, to see themselves as fellow sinners, to repent of all their sins (including their homosexual orientation), and as welcome to receive the free and full forgiveness of all their sins for the sake of the righteousness and death of Jesus. All are welcome, not exceptions. It is not mean to tell sinners that they are sinners. It is not mean to specify sins. It is not mean to resist the culture when it demands that the church capitulate on this or that point as a condition of being accepted.

Jesus loves sinners. He loved his elect from all eternity. Among those elect are those who have SSA, those who have abused alcohol and drugs, those who have murdered, and those who have lied. Grace is the abounding free favor of Christ to helpless, lost sinners. As a consequence of his grace, however, he calls us to repent, to turn away from our old life—not to adopt aspects of it as our permanent identity. Our identity is in Christ, not in our sins nor in our former way of life. Our name is defined by our baptism into the name of the Triune God, not by our former way life.

Grace is healing. It restores. It renews. God Word says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).

In this life none of us realizes the full benefit of God’s renewing grace. We have but a beginning but by his grace we do have a beginning. Let us endeavor to speak and think about our old life and our new the way God does.

R. Scott Clark

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  1. “I trust that He will enable me, in His time, in His own way and by His own power, to overcome this sin to such a measure that it will only be a distant memory, stirring sometimes but not being able to have dominion.”

    It may be that (the celebrity?) Butterfield is an exception in a host of ordinary persons who don’t make sanctified improvements in such leaps and bounds. In fact, Reformed piety is marked by having humble expectations for what inward sanctification looks like throughout this life–the Christian life is hard, don’t expect too much. Suggesting the probability that one can become “as straight as Butterfield” doesn’t seem like something Reformed Protestants should be doing; in fact, it seems more Charismatic and ironically a little closer to what a worldly therapeutic deism might hold out.

    “The concept of an ‘alcoholic’ is unknown to Scripture.”

    So is schizophrenic but I doubt you’d want to say that the concept is fabricated and thus suspect. You’re Reformed, not biblicist.

    Agreed that some of what is coming out of the Revoice stuff is problematic, but critiques like this also worry me. My guess is that what these groups are trying to say is simply that sexuality is a human faculty just as vulnerable to the effect of sin as any other and that just like anyone who suffers from the effects of one damaged faculty likely the rest of his life, so will those whose sexual faculties are damaged. They may need to tighten up some of the language they use to say this but the point seems plain enough.

    • This language…

      “It MAY BE that (the celebrity?) Butterfield is an exception”

      “Suggesting the PROBABILITY that one can become “as straight as Butterfield” doesn’t SEEM like something Reformed Protestants should be doing”

      “Agreed that some of what is coming out of the Revoice stuff is PROBLEMATIC, but critiques like this also worry me. ”

      …exposes the position of the ones who utter it.

      Whatever you and others like you are preaching isn’t the gospel Paul is preaching. Please stop.

    • Steve,

      Your shot at Rosaria is unworthy of you. People want to hear from Rosaria because she has something of value to say, because she’s says it well and graciously. She’s not “building a brand” or “creating a platform.” She actually does very little public speaking.

      Rosaria is not alone. There are others who have left homosexuality behind. That’s one of the more troubling thing about the Revoice movement: out of all the speakers they could find no time for a single speaker with a contrary view.

      I’m not promoting Methodist, perfectionist piety here. I’m offering a confessional alternative to Greg Johnson’s revision of Reformed anthropology, his denial of the nature/grace distinction, his revision of the Reformed doctrine of sanctification.

      I expect sinners to sin but Johnson doesn’t agree with the Standards about what is sin (a homosexual orientation, contra Johnson) is sin but he denies that. By re-defining “Gay” as a permanent, immutable homosexual orientation, he’s not working with “mortification” and “vivification.” One of the major emphases of Revoice was to affirm the validity of homosexual orientation and to call the church to repent of calling homosexuals to repent of that orientation.

      Schizophrenia is a fluid diagnosis. It isn’t what it used to be. Check it out. I don’t think this argument helps you. Mental illness is a reality and the complex of afflictions that are included in what used to be called schizophrenia are real but you might be assuming facts not in evidence here.

      The modern notion of “alcoholism” is a fiction. Show me any real, scientific evidence for the disease model. It doesn’t exist. AA started off claiming, again without evidence, that alcoholism was an “allergy.” They were just making up things then and they’ve been making up things since they changed horses to the disease model. I’ve spent a lot of time with drunks. I grew up in and around AA. Sinners drink to excess because they’re miserable. It’s self-medicating. Getting hooked on booze is not a disease. It’s the product of abusing a substance in order to cope with some other issue. Cancer is a disease. Abusing booze is a sin. To confuse the two is a category error. We’re not helping drunks or homosexuals by making up stories about their sins.

      You’re guessing about what Revoice is saying. Have you paid attention to what they’re actually saying? I’m not being reactionary Steve. I’m responding to what they’re actually saying.

  2. I had dinner this evening with 3 friends. All of us are straight, single Christians, ages from 55-62. None of us have ever married, none have children. All of us are members of PCA churches. We discussed Greg Johnson’s comments at GA, especially his comments about how he spends holidays alone, there are no family pictures on his mantle, his family ends with him. We all agreed that he was describing our lives. He is not sacrificing anything more than any straight single Christian does who follows Jesus.

    • Kim, you may be proving too much–it doesn’t appear he’s trying to say he’s sacrificing *more than* straight singles. He may simply be saying he’s mortifying his flesh and perhaps in ways more difficult than you and your friends whom you seem to suggest have chosen celibate lives as heteros. If so, what have you sacrificed?

    • Steve,

      Good to see you here!

      I read/hear him rather differently. This business of sacrificial homosexual celibacy was a major theme at Revoice and it’s a part of the whole “Side B” movement. Carl Trueman commented on this in 2015. If Johnson is talking about mortification, that’s far from clear. He’s convinced that his homosexual orientation is not immoral. He clearly implied that he was making a sacrifice by not acting on what he regards as a natural, innate (and therefore, in is view, not sinful) orientation he’s making a sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom. That’s the point of invoking the Matt 19:29.

  3. Dr Clark and others,

    I’d like to retract my earlier comment and apologize. After giving my comment some thought, I realize that I wrote it in haste and frustration; my cynicism and sin got the best of me.

    Please forgive me and God bless.

  4. I agree with the critiques you made. Much of Greg’s arguments he presented on the floor that night were illogical. But did you offer for Greg a chance to respond before you published? IMO that would have been appropriate.

    • JP,

      Rev Johnson made his comments in public, on the floor of GA. I published his comments (in the form of the video) so that readers could hear and see his words, in their context, and even his tone of voice and manner without any interference from me. That seems fairly gracious.

      I’m replying in kind, in public to publicly made comments.

      The HB combox is open.

    • In any case, I hope Greg takes the opportunity to respond.

      I will add that I’ve heard one of Greg’s argument’s before, that “I don’t know of one single case of a person who’s no longer SSA”. I heard it from another pastor as well who said he’s even counseled someone who identified as SSA, has turned it over to God, is now happily married and with a family but STILL identifies as SSA.

      My concern is: Is that Greg’s and soon to be the PCA’s message now when a gay person walks through the door of the church? Do we say, “You’re more than welcome to come here. We love you. Now…we’ve got to warn you, you more than likely will NOT be delivered from your SSA until glory.”

      How depressing. Is THAT the message of the gospel now? What happened to the gospel “with the power of God that brings salvation to EVERYONE who believes?”

      How does “we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness” fit with this message of “SSA for life”?

      God help this denomination.

    • JP,

      One of the blessings of being a confessional church is that what the church believes about the Word and from Word is contained in official summaries, which are binding of the REs and TEs.

      The PCA doesn’t confess the (very) contemporary “orthodoxy” about SSA because God’s Word does not teach that drunks are always drunks or that thieves are always thieves.

  5. The only reason society uses the term “gay” is because it is the word chosen by the people engaged in the sin. Society has been made receptive to the idea of homosexuality by soft-soaping it with the word “gay.” The Church should have better sense. It we had stuck with the traditional term “sodomite,” we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Would any ostensibly conservation denomination be willing to condone the term “sodomite Christian?”

  6. Rev. M: As I’m sure you are aware, the Christian Reformed Church was once the largest denomination in NAPARC and was among its founding members. For a long time after NAPARC’s founding, before the explosive growth of the PCA, the CRC was not only the largest NAPARC denomination but accounted for a majority of its membership. No other NAPARC denomination has ever been close to the size of the PCA and CRC, and many of the other NAPARC denominations, then as now, both were and are a lot smaller than the United Reformed Churches are today.

    It’s not just that the URC is relatively small. The OPC, RPCNA, RCUS, and even the ARPs are not very big compared to the PCA or the CRC. Many of the other NAPARC denominations are even smaller than those.

    Nevertheless, NAPARC did what it needed to do and told the CRC that it was wrong to ordain women and wrong on the principles of biblical interpretation it used to justify ordaining women. The CRC was removed and the URC was admitted.

    The PCA today isn’t where the CRC was back in the 1990s when NAPARC was deciding what to do about the CRC, but the principle still stands.

    It doesn’t matter how large or how small a denomination may be. What matters a great deal is whether the denomination is faithful to Scripture and the Confessions.

    As a PCA teaching elder, you should know that. If you don’t, please look back to your own history, and the role of the PCA in realizing what went wrong in the CRC and why the PCA decided to support the efforts by smaller denominations to remove the CRC from NAPARC.

  7. The PCA adopted the Nashville Statement but the comments on this thread and Johnson’s behavior are proof that this is not enough. Johnson has been maligning people who oppose his agenda, which is “The Agenda.” He said he was going to start an “Aqueerla Report” because The Aquila Report was running too many articles against him. His speech at ReVoice defamed those who have a Biblical and natural view of human sexuality. His speech at GA was all about him. In all his actions, he seems indifferent to the shame he brings on the church and the slander he makes against his brothers, yet he wants us to care about his feelings as if they’re some sort of idol we should all worship prostrate on our faces. Does he care about the feelings of anyone else?

    Greg Johnson does not meet the qualifications of an elder due to his homosexual affections and his public defamation of his brothers. He should not be a minster AT ALL. I certainly would never bring my family to his church much less join it. He has made himself an obstacle to the gospel. Why have no charges been brought against him? The people applauding him should be ashamed. Do they have any shame?

  8. Thanks for your post Dr. Clark. A correction should be made on the dating of the Nashville Statement. I believe it was published in the summer of 2017, prior to the Revoice Conference. If I’m not mistaken, Revoice was meant to be more of a response to Nashville and not the other way around.

  9. Kevin DeYoung gave an excellent lecture the day before the PCA GA at the Gospel Reformation Network on Sin and Temptation. It is available online. His lecture does address Revoice but, as he noted towards the beginning of the lecture, he did not even have to mention Revoice or the specific topic of sexuality at hand to see Revoice is outside of the bounds of the Reformed confessions. DeYoung went through the Westminster standards and the history of the reformed theology regarding what has been taught and understood about sin and temptation in the reformed churches. It is truly a helpful and clarifying lecture. Personally, I do not doubt that Greg Johnson and others in the Revoice movement are sincere. I think it is unfair to attribute motives to the vast majority of these folks or their sympathizers. But… it does not change the fact that what they are teaching is outside of the bounds of basic confessional orthodoxy when it comes to what they are saying about sin and temptation. I think if you take the confessions seriously, you have to admit these folks are outside of the bounds of the *system of doctrine as taught in the Westminster standards.* I myself agree with pretty much everything in the Westminster Standards except what it says about the charismatic gifts, which puts me outside of being confessional. Greg Johnson et al are sincere, they are Calvinists (5 Pointers), and they believe in infant baptism. But just believing these things does not make a person confessional/Reformed. What they are teaching is out of line with the confessions. Perhaps another question we should be considering is why the Revoice folks insist on wanting to stay in a denomination that is confessional. To be a TE, you take a vow before God and the presbytery to uphold the Westminster Standards. The right thing to do is leave the PCA for a denomination that will allow you to minister according to the dictates of your conscience. That is the whole point of PCA churches owning their own property: association is strictly voluntary. The congregation is free to leave at any time.

  10. If this is the tenor of discourse currently encouraged and/or accepted among TEs in the PCA these days, I am so thankful to have left that denomination years ago. Anyone paying attention in the early 2000s could see issues such as this coming down the road, and Jon M’s response only solidifies for me the decision made to abandon a sinking ship. Thank you, Pastor M, for your display of arrogance that reaffirms to many the devolution of the PCA as a denomination committed to Reformed piety and practice.

    • SteveD,

      This saddens me, brother, because this is a winnable fight. We need men like you in ruling elder positions and for ruling elders to attend GA. Duty requires us to fight for what we have, including purging the wicked. If we can’t hold the line here, where can we hold it? The homosexualists will just follow you to the next conservative denomination. The homosexualists already have plenty of denominations they can call home, but they’re not satisfied. They must be defeated.

  11. As a Christian who daily fights against this temptation, I would like to thank you for your consistent opposition to this unbiblical ideology. I too have been entangled in this ideology of hopelessness. I too thought I was ‘born this way’ and that I was in some way ‘disabled’ and could not be helped.

    This way of thinking about sin is truly full of hopelessness. It makes it so that the power of the precious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be applied to my sin. If it is a disability, how can I repent of it? If homosexual desires are comparable to infertility, why should I expect the Holy Spirit to work a change in my life? If it is a fixed sexual orientation, what promise for alleviation do I have to take to the Father in prayer?

    It was actually because of the Revoice controversy that I started to really understand the issue (in part because of your reaction to it posted here). Now I can truly say with Psalm 124: Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Was it not difficult to recognize that I had ‘cherished’ a sin by giving it a special place in my heart apart from all other sins? Yes it was, it hurt a lot.

    But the Lord granted me to submit to His Word and His Spirit and to say: let God be true, and every man a liar.. I will not say my lust has completely been mortified, nor will I say it all has been easy. Yet I can say that the Lord has certainly enabled me to run to the blood of Christ for my justification and my sanctification. And now by His cleansing power I can say that this sin no longer has dominion over me. I trust that He will enable me, in His time, in His own way and by His own power, to overcome this sin to such a measure that it will only be a distant memory, stirring sometimes but not being able to have dominion.

    May many who read this be encouraged by this.

    Thanks and greetings from the Netherlands, where this kind of teaching is almost completely unknown.

  12. There is a small date error, saying that the Nashville Statement came out in August 2019. Should be 2018?

    • Part of good solid argumentation is the ability to characterize the other side of the argument in such a way that those you disagree with would agree with the way you state their case. That’s where this post fails.

      The article says Revoice wants to assert that homosexual desire is not per se sin. Yet Revoice, in the statement that is publicly available to anyone on their website, clearly says homosexual lust (desire) is sin to be mortified by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

      Had the article said “homosexual orientation” rather than “homosexual desire” it would have been acceptable. Instead, this mistake by the author sadly creates a falsehood about Revoice’s actual position. It then proceeds to knock down this strawman, which isn’t hard to do, biblically.

      Instead of helping to resolve the issue, it exacerbates it. That’s not a direction that contributes to the peace and purity of the church.

    • Hi Dan (if I may),

      I’m happy to make this correction. It’s not my intent to misrepresent the Revoice position.

      I am still arguing that a “homosexual orientation,” which is what I take the Side B/Gay Christian view to be, is contrary Scripture and confession.

      Thanks for your help.

  13. Dr. Clark,
    Thanks for posting this. I was telling my sister the other day why the church at large seems so pro LBGTIQQKJWSHCJFJDHDJSKDK (?). I said it is because they have forgotten the holiness of God and elevate a weird form of ‘love’; therapeutic is definitely the right word for it.

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