Conflating The Preacher with Expertise

experts 2

He stood in his pulpit and looked intently at the 500 people attending. Then he made his pronouncement:

“All mental illness at some level is the result of sin in a person’s life.”

He went on to explain how depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mania, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, and a host of other disorders were caused by combinations of unrepentant sin, lack of faith, demonic activity, curses, and lack of knowledge of the Bible.

At one point, he claimed that all schizophrenia is demonic possession and the only cure is exorcism.

At the time, he had not written any books or appeared on television. Now, he has books, television and social media outlets, invitations to speak around the globe. Though he has downplayed some of his previous views on mental illness, in several interviews he has reiterated his global stance.

From the pulpit, preachers take similar approaches to other areas of “expertise”:

  • City Planning
  • Medicine
  • Law
  • Immigration policy
  • Monetary policy
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Business practices
  • Investment strategies
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Physical Exercise
  • Law Enforcement
  • Education (both grade school and college)

…on and on.

In our world, we rightfully acknowledge some people have attained levels of expertise in all these areas. Over the centuries, we have come to define the Experts by looking at their education, experience, what they teach, how accurate their assessments and proposed strategies have played out, how respected they are among their peers.

That is how we can identify an expert.

When members of the NRA spoke out against a doctor who criticized their position on gun ownership by telling him to “stay in his lane”, the medical profession hit back. What they said was extremely valid: those who are wounded by gunfire are treated by doctors and nurses. This is our lane!

Society would be foolish not to rely upon experts who are renowned and published in their fields. We would never want someone who has no expertise doing surgery, building a skyscraper, or flying an airplane.

Yet we allow preachers to make bold statements on subjects for which they have no expertise. Not only do they often disagree with the experts, but they demand congregations accept them as the Experts instead.

Why do preachers do this? And why do we allow it? Continue reading “Conflating The Preacher with Expertise”

Why Pastors Make Poor Allies

It was 1992. The church I attended was heavily invested in the pro-life cause. Many of its members marched in front of the only abortion clinic in our town, shaming women who entered, and calling for strict change of law to make abortions almost impossible to get. There were prayer meetings in the church to defeat the “powers of darkness” surrounding the abortion industry.

One of the members was involved in a commission to help re-write some of the state’s laws on abortion. Another member had been thrown in jail twice for marching against abortion. We had our “pro-life credentials” well established.

No one knew the reservations I had about the pro-life movement. As a counselor, I knew that dozens of women in our church had abortions in the past. Some of them were the most vehement opponents of abortion. Some of them lived shamed lives, hoping no one ever found out about them.

I had doubts the movement was from God. I had researched the pro-life movement’s political roots, and knew I could not support any of the principal players. I searched in vain for any mention of abortion in the Bible. Even the few verses which spoke about God calling someone from their mother’s womb were found in poetic writings which are hardly substantial fodder for theological positions.

In short, I had my doubts about all the marching going on.

The worst part was the work of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The Spirit of God was convicting me of my hatred and judgment toward women who made the decision to terminate their pregnancies. God would not allow me just to ignore those hateful attitudes. In prayer one day, God directed me to publicly apologize for my attitudes and to make amends. I started to prepare a teaching but God showed me it wasn’t enough.

Continue reading “Why Pastors Make Poor Allies”

Explaining my Exvangelical Status

He was my mentor. He was ordained in a conservative evangelical church. He had been meeting with me for several years as I sought to reconcile what I believed about God and the Bible with the huge discrepancies I saw in the church. It was good to bounce my frustrations off his mind. I think I would have left Evangelicalism for good if he had not helped me cope with the hypocritical practices of the church.

That’s when he dropped a bombshell. He had been attending some evening meetings at a local charismatic group. We both believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still given to people in the Church today. We also believe that there are proper and ridiculous ways those gifts can be practiced.

Here was his bomb. The night before, he claimed he saw gold dust appear on people’s hands during worship. Someone else said God gave them a gold filling during the prayer time which replaced their regular filling. My mentor was full of thanksgiving to God for these miracles. I asked him if he could confirm the gold dust or the gold tooth. Could he say with full assurance that it was really gold and not just some glitter or sweat from dancing in worship?

He was really angry with me for asking that question. He warned me not to criticize what might be the work of the Holy Spirit in case I was blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

At that moment, I decided I was mentally done with the Evangelical movement.

I wish I could give you the entire delineated journey of the previous 28 years up to that point. I have written about some elements of the journey in my books, articles, and blog entries. But with this essay, I want to explain to my friends and readers–and perhaps to those in my denomination looking for a reason to disqualify me–why I am not part of that tribe any more.

And I need to explain the parameters of what I left behind. Continue reading “Explaining my Exvangelical Status”

Cursing, Swearing, and Cussing Explained

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Before, you start reading, I am going to warn you explicitly and nicely.

I will be using the “F” word several times. And not a bleeped out version of it. There is a reason for it. This is a very serious explanation of words and how we use them. I am concerned that people are making many mistakes with their speech. We get bent out of shape about the innocent words, and we overlook the really dangerous ones.

So, if seeing the “F” word in print bothers you to the point of distraction, please don’t read further. I post here a sanitized summary of what the Bible says about these things:

Cursing is all about sending verbal harm to others

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is about empty religion

Swearing has to do with taking oaths to guarantee you’re telling the truth.

Cussing is a verbal response to intense emotions inside.

More than any other point I am making, understand this. No word is bad in and of itself. No word. It is the context, purpose, and heart condition that makes a word wrong.

Again, read no further if your purpose is to be outraged that I am using the full version of the “F” word. Continue reading “Cursing, Swearing, and Cussing Explained”

The Dopamine Factor in Porn

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In 2016, I published my book “Overcoming Porn”. At this time, it has sold over 20,000 copies even though I did little advertising and published it only in e-book format.

Over the next month, I will be excerpting selected portions for this blog. This second article reviews the role that dopamine plays when people use porn.


Porn does stimulate the production of dopamine, but in a much different way than opioids and chocolate. This difference changes the way we must approach kicking this habit.

To understand how porn causes unique brain reactions, we need to review a few things about how the brain works. At this juncture, it would be best to discard most of the metaphors you have ever heard about the brain. It is not a telephone switching system or a complex computer. There are no switches in the brain. You don’t remember things the way a computer does. There are no memory banks ready to spew out information like a laptop.

The brain is a complex chemical soup, able to differentiate between chemicals which some laboratory instruments could not detect. There are hundreds of different chemicals rolling around in the brain, and each of these can affect how you react to information and how you perceive the world. Every time your external senses detect something, the brain releases chemicals from the end of neurons to signal other neurons how to react. You do this a million times an hour, billions of times in a month.

I don’t want to get too technical, but this next part is crucial. Electricity is produced in the brain via biochemical reactions. These reactions take place in the tiny gaps between neurons called Synapses. The signal is carried across the gap by chemicals. When the chemical hits a receptor on the other side, it causes the message to be carried electrically down the next neuron to the next synapse. Think of Paul Revere passing word about the coming of the Redcoats. Your brain sends signals by chemical Paul Reveres. Continue reading “The Dopamine Factor in Porn”

The Five Lies that Victims Believe

falsebeliefs

In 1987, I wrote an article telling the story of four sisters who had been molested by their father. Each of them had been molested the same way. Each experienced this at the same age–he moved on from one to the next with maniacal precision. Of course, each of them had been emotionally damaged by the abuse.

I wrote the article for a psychological journal more to point out the differing outcomes of each one. Though they were all affected negatively by the abuse, they all compensated differently to it as adults. They each gave me permission to share their story since I had counseled every one through to health.

But I was intrigued by what they wouldn’t allow. Their father was still alive and still married to their mother. I had talked about the possibility of all four of them confronting him on what he had done. Though they could not have him charged because of a Statute of Limitations, they could have the satisfaction of letting him know how his crime had changed their lives. There is a healing aspect to confrontation.

But all four refused to do it. Curiously, each of them had a different reason:

  • One was afraid it would kill their sick mother
  • One felt she had somehow participated in the abuse and had no moral grounds to confront him.
  • One was sure confronting him would destroy her inside
  • The final one felt she would never be able to get the words out of her mouth.

Their unique responses to confrontation underscores how each victim experiences abuse and assault differently. But it also shows that every victim wrestles with different beliefs emerging out of the abusive situation. Continue reading “The Five Lies that Victims Believe”

A Conversation on Inerrancy – My “Heretic” Credential

This is a fictional story; somewhat.

This is a true story; somewhat

Because the Doctrine of Inerrancy (the belief that the Bible is without error) is the doctrine which holds together all other traditional doctrines, most conservative theologians may allow slippage on other doctrinal positions, but not this one.

They will not even allow it to be challenged. Or questioned. Or modified in any way.

This often leaves people who prefer to examine everything without “just” believing it in a tough spot. If something cannot be challenged, or questioned, or modified, then it becomes the trysting spot upon which allegiance is called for.

In other words, you either accept the entire package or you’re out of the Club. The Club is the group of conservative Evangelicals.

Here is where this conversation comes in. In my 47 years of being a Christian, I have questioned every doctrine of the church continuously and repeatedly. As a result, the things I believe, I believe VERY strongly. The things I question, I question deeply. Because of that, I ask questions about Inerrancy that many of my colleagues have been reluctant to ask, at least openly.

And as a result, I am often cornered by pastors, professors, interested armchair theologians and asked to dialogue about my beliefs on inerrancy.

Two of those conversations are burned into my memory. They were very uncomfortable for me and them.

What I have done here is reproduce both of those into one conversation. I am probably not doing justice to what they said and probably editing/improving my comments. They both know who they are and what they said. If they want, they can publish their own conversations.

In the interest of space, here are my two conversations on Inerrancy compiled into one semi-fictional discussion. As will be obvious, I am starting somewhere in the middle. Continue reading “A Conversation on Inerrancy – My “Heretic” Credential”

Two Doors—Two False Ideas

I grew up in a “cowboy” town in central British Columbia in the 1960s. I say it was a cowboy town because our area was surrounded by 100s of ranches, and everyone in the region attended our rodeo and exhibition which centered around 4H events and ranch life. Our rodeo occupies a place in cowboy lore just a step behind the famous Calgary Stampede.

I hung out with several legit cowboys in high school. After high school, I worked on a cattle ranch and cowboy life became part of my biography.

Most Cowboys like to drink, and the men in our town were exceptional at it. My dad loved to drink beer and play poker, both of which were pasttimes of our town. My dad spent many afternoons and evenings at the saloon near our house. He spoke about it in glowing terms. It was like a mistress he was not ashamed to admit he visited.

One day, Dad, Mom and I were out for a walk. We walked by the bar and Dad pointed out this was the place he told me about. I had seen it before, but now I noticed one of its features. It had two entrances.

On the one door was the word “Men”. On the other door it said “Ladies and Escorts”. (Note: in the 60s, “escort” did not mean prostitute. It referred to a person who escorted another person to a social event. It could refer to either men or women).

I asked Dad why they had two different entrances. “It’s to protect the women”, Dad said. “If a woman goes into the man’s side without a man with her, she is not safe. No woman would want to do that.” I believe he was telling me this: This place is not safe for women without male protection. Continue reading “Two Doors—Two False Ideas”

Anger is Increasing – but why?

This morning, my dog and I crossed the road at a four-way stop crosswalk. There were cars at all four corners of the intersection. I waited until all four who had been waiting went and then I started across. It was 7:50, which probably meant some of the drivers waiting for me were almost late for work. That’s the setup for a situation you have already guessed at.

I was halfway across, when the driver right beside me honked the horn. Neither I or my dog was going slowly. As that happened, the car opposite just screeched her tires and ran through, missing me by about four feet. Inexplicably, she gave me the finger.

Yesterday, the Interstate by my house was closed for several hours. At 4 am two men had an incident of road rage. They stopped by the side of the road to argue some more. One of the men beat the other to death with a blunt instrument. Then he walked away from it and while he walked up the freeway, he was hit and killed by a car going by.

Another friend barely escaped an incident in Portland two weeks ago when white supremacists and anti-fascist groups were protesting *something* and my friend came out of a brunch engagement into the middle of it. She told me she had never seen anger like that.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the abominable show of anger and vitriol at Charlottesville, Virginia. Who can get those angry images out of the head?

In the January 5, 2016 issue of Time Magazine, one of the editorials had the title “Why Are Americans So Angry About Everything”. This was two and a half years ago, and they reported that every year for the past decade, people in this country have gotten angrier than the year before. They presented some fairly plausible reasons for this surge of indignation, but they proposed no real solution.

Since I seem to have a regular front row seat for other people’s anger, I am curious as to the reasons myself. Is it the same as it has always been? Perhaps. But I think our obsession with telling the rest of the world our opinion and the means to truly get it out to everyone (television and Internet) has coalesced together into a firestorm of anger.

For the spiritual woman or man, this anger feels like a degenerative disease. Though we have to admit that few things change without someone getting angry, the anger of Today does not seem constructive in any shape. Destruction exists at the core of most anger these days.

What is fueling it? There are many reasons, maybe as many as there are people. But there are some psychological trends which show up a lot.

1. Entitlement. Nothing fuels anger quicker than that sense you are not getting treated the way you are entitled. If someone cuts you off in traffic, doesn’t represent you in government, doesn’t give you a raise, won’t listen to you, this brings out that sense of indignation.

2. Deficit. We do not like to feel we are falling behind others on no account of our own. We do not want to hear the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. This sense of deficit I believe is what caused the person to honk their horn at me and the woman to almost run me down. I had let four cars go before walking through–but I had made them wait. Abraham Lincoln was asked one time why his boys were fighting. “They have this world’s disease” he answered. “I have three cookies and they both want two.”

3. Threatened. Many times, anger is fueled by fear. We are afraid and need to protect ourselves. The Amygdala in our brain is designed to respond to fear with a countering burst of angry emotion. This emotion may be what spawned the fatal road rage incident near my house. It certainly creates the attack/counter-attack scenarios associated with many public protests.

4. Status. We do not want to lose ground in life. The most common “game” interaction between humans is called the Zero Sum Game. That is, if one person is perceived to win in a situation, the other person is perceived to have lost. Because so much of American culture is built around the Zero Sum Game, we don’t even see it any more. We no longer see the Cooperative Principle which states “unless we all win, we all lose”. When we believe we are losing in any relationship, our natural reaction is anger.

5. Intimidation. Building on the concepts of Status and Entitlement, the idea that only the strongest survive also fuels our anger. From the child who throws a tantrum even before entering the grocery store, to the gang member who brandishes his weapon the first time he meets a new gang member, many people feel the need to stake out their territory before it is taken from them or challenged. The best way to indicate this is anger. It is our way of saying to someone, “be wary, I’m watching your every move”.

You may be able to see that all of these are incompatible with the life lived following Jesus. He cared nothing for Status. He could have intimidated others, but instead washed their feet. He felt no need to threaten anyone, and even when he could have called down angels from heaven, he refused to. He warned his disciples to ignore the deficit they felt inside toward each other and to serve each other instead. And he did not feel he was entitled to hold onto his status as God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.

As goes the Master, so go the servants.

It is time we looked at our anger to see if we are being angry in a godly way. “Be angry and sin not” the book of Ephesians says.

Is that your anger?

Fast Food Doctrines of 2018 – A Warning Label

Modern society has sharpened its critical focus on food with empty calories. All food and drink has calories. But not all calories are created equal. Some calories benefit our bodies. Some food has calories which only contribute to obesity and illness.

I’ll let y’all figure out which foods go in which category. I’m just using that as an analogy.

Though some fast food chains are trying to make their food more healthy and wholesome, few people believe they’ve accomplished it. Food which has many calories and few healthy elements is often desirable from a taste point of view, but bad for our health.

There are certain doctrines which are like that. They appeal to many people, but actually are harmful to spiritual health and growth. Every generation has doctrines like these, so we should never be surprised to discover them. Hebrews 13:9 has a name for them. It calls them “strange doctrines”. The word means “foreign” in the sense of “something imported”. There are doctrines which come at us like exotic, tasty food. They are not really part of clear historical doctrine, but at first bite they taste so good.

But are they good for us?

I have identified three current teachings in our day which fall into this category of Fast Food Doctrine. For each of these I will simply identify the following features:

1. The Doctrine

2. Why people like it

3. What is wrong with it

4. What you can replace it with that “tastes” similar but is better for you.

One qualifier and explanation before beginning. Most of us, myself included, are not professional theologians. I consider a professional theologian to be someone who has studied, been mentored in, been examined in, and has published in the arena of Theological disciplines. For the most part, the true Theologian should have at least a Masters Degree in Theology. Most of today’s professional theologians have both a doctorate in Theology and have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

I can hear someone saying “anyone who studies the Bible is a theologian.” I call that viewpoint “Credential Bleeding”. It results from diminishing the minimum requirements needed for someone to be considered professional at a task.

It is like someone looking up a medical condition on WebMD and considering themselves as well-informed on it as a doctor. It is like saying that anyone who has ever talked about their faith with someone is a missionary.

When you broaden a definition, you water it down so it means nothing.

I have a Bachelors degree in Theology. I have written papers on theological topics. I read and study theology regularly. Yet I’m nothing more than an amateur. Many pastors are the same. John McArthur, John Piper, Rick Warren, Francis Chan, Bill Johnson, T. D. Jakes, Jack Hayford, are all experienced pastors. They all have opinions on theological topics. In the case of John Piper, he even has a doctorate. But none of them qualify as a professional theologian.

The professionals–such as N. T. Wright, Marg Mowcsko, Alastair McGrath, Douglas Moo, Sarah Cokely, Grace Kim, Michael Horton, Roger Olson, etc.–are not as well known as the pastors. Yet, they form the foundation of knowledge, experience and learning upon which amateurs rely. Their writings give the background, credence, and historical context needed so the pastors and other more well-known Christians can speak with confidence.

Many of these theologians have identified these Fast Food Doctrines of our day. But because most people do not read theologians as much as they read pastors and bloggers, I thought I would explain how these three doctrines make Christians spiritually unhealthy.

Providential Determinism

The Doctrine: Continue reading “Fast Food Doctrines of 2018 – A Warning Label”