#churchtoo: What Do We Do With King David?

Two weeks ago, Matt Smethurst and Rachael Denhollander ignited what turned into quite the Twitter war over her contention that King David’s conquest of Bathsheba was not a consensual affair but rather a sexual assault.

(For the record, I agree with Denhollander, and that is a position at which I arrived almost 30 years ago.)

But accepting that assessment–that David indeed committed rape–leaves us in a quandary: how does this affect our theological assessment of King David?

This is not a trivial question, as–over the years–commentators, both academic and devotional, have given a large amount of time to David. Beth Moore became a rock star with her Bible study, A Heart Like His. Just go to Google and search for books about King David and you’ll get a voluminous number of results.

First, I want to address the blowback against Denhollander, some of which I incurred in the Twittersphere.

The backlash was severe, coming from a faction of hardline conservative–hard Calvinist–devotees. This crowd, with very few exceptions, was very combative, not collegial at all, and downright insulting. Myself and a Twitter ally–a pathology professor–were called “stupid”, “liar”, “fool”, “heretic”, and told “you don’t know the first thing about Scripture”, all for pointing out the obvious, including the Hebrew and basic grammatical structure of the text.

Personally, I was not so much offended as I was beside myself as to why they were so passionate about digging their heels regarding this matter.

Keep in mind that as an old-school conservative, I am used to hard fights about tough issues: Biblical inerrancy, inclusive language, the Atonement, the Deity of Christ, the veracity of miracle accounts in the Bible, the Resurrection of Jesus, the end times, pedo-versus-credo baptism.

In those fights, it gets spirited to say the least. But in this case, the “David did NOT commit rape” crowd was fighting as if this was the last stand against the enemies of Jesus.

Oh, and then they “blocked” me. I’m not so much offended at that–I’ve got thick skin and big shoulders–but mildly entertained at the level of angst that they seem to convey. For people who oppose the “easily-triggered” crowd, they were quite easily-triggered.

My question to them: what do you have invested in this that explains the butthurt? Has Rachael Denhollander hit a nerve?

Kyle Worley provides as an insightful piece, writing in Christianity Today, as to why it’s hard for people to accept that David was a rapist.

My take: most people cannot envision themselves as rapists. We can see ourselves having illicit sex given sufficient motivation and opportunity; we can see ourselves doing great bodily harm to others given sufficient provocation; given the right circumstances, some of us may even be willing to kill another person.

But rape? We run from that one. No one likes the “sex offender” tag. Not even a sex offender.

But that brings us back to King David: what do we do with King David? What do we know of his character? Do we view him as a great man of God? Do we view him as a sexual predator and a murderer? How do the Scriptures assess him in the final analysis? And what are some of the implications of that for us as Christians?

First off, it is important to remember how David came onto the scene. The first king–Saul–started out strong but turned sour in a hurry. The Israelites had picked him, as he looked the part: he was the tallest man in the kingdom and looked like a warrior. Despite some early successes, he fell out of favor with God, as the Judge-Priest-Prophet Samuel chastised him for showing an utter lack of regard for the things of God.

After Saul failed a sufficient number of times–particularly in his disobeying the command of God to kill the Amalekites (including all livestock) and leave everything as an offering–God had Samuel anoint the next King.

As you read the story, God led Samuel to the tribe of Judah, to the house of Jesse. As Samuel met the seven sons of Jesse, God indicated that none of them were His choice for King. Then Jesse told him there was another son: the youngest, who was out taking care of the sheep. (In other words, the lowest of the bunch, as he had the task no one else wanted.)

That son was David, and that is the one God chose, and Samuel–in turn–anointed him as the next King.

The next time we see David, we see the Philistine warrior–Goliath, a 9-foot super-fighter–challenging the Israelites to send out a fighter to take him one-on-one. The Israelites, including Saul–ironically the tallest man in the kingdom–were not up to the challenge. One day, as David was taking food rations to his brothers, he took up the challenge:

What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?

I Samuel 17:26 (NASB)

The response by this brothers was nothing short of an insult, amounting to, “You sure talk tough for a sheep herder who’s not even a fighter.” And David’s words to Saul were poignant:

Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.

I Samuel 17:34-37 (NASB)

Clearly, David is a man of faith in God. For a young man–otherwise untested in battle–he’s confident that he can win. Is it because he knows that he has been anointed as the next King (which happened in the preceding chapter)? Is it because he sees Goliath as less-threatening than a lion or a bear? Is it because he has a level of marksmanship that awaits Goliath, who has no idea what kind of unconventional attack he is about to experience? I believe David knew that God was on his side, and–as of that point–he also was on God’s side.

The depth of David’s faith–and understanding of God’s word–is laid bare in the Psalms. He understood the importance of meditating on God’s word (Ps 1); he had a glimpse of the Godhood of the Messiah (Ps. 2); he trusted God for protection from the wicked (Ps 5); trusted God for mercy (Ps 6); worshiped God fervently and called others to do so (Ps 8, 9), implored God for forgiveness (Ps. 32, 51), extolled the great mercies of God (Ps. 103), spoke greatly about the law of God (Ps. 119); gave glory to the providence of God (Ps. 23).

We also know that David had great respect for God’s order. In spite of being the anointed King, David respected that Saul was King until he died, and David was in no rush to make that happen. He was willing to wait his turn. In fact, he was best-friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan. His first wife was Saul’s daughter Michal. Even when Saul tried–on multiple occasions–to kill David, he refused to fight Saul.

Even when he became king upon the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, David was gracious to Saul’s legacy, extending kindness to Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth. In taking the throne, David would become the standard for Godly kings.

But something happened between his anointing in 1 Samuel 16, and his assault with Bathsheba in II Samuel 17.

During the time in between, David killed a large number of people in battle. When he was first anointed, he was a lowly shephered who had fought off a bear and a lion. But from there, he killed tens of thousands of Philistines. This is one reason why God would not let King David build the Temple.

This high death toll is a big deal, even if it was in the course of “just war”. Any time you kill someone, even if the killing is justified, there is a price to pay. This is because justifiable homicide is still homicide. And the more you kill, the more it impacts your soul.

And that large death toll was a likely factor in making David cavalier–even Machiavellian–with the lives of others when it became expedient.

But there was another factor that seemed to play against David: his own success. From his victory over Goliath to his years on the run from Saul to his ascent to the throne, David was successful in his endeavors. Even as Saul sought to kill him, he still managed to score great victories against the Philistines, and even gained a popular following. As a King, he enjoyed great success against longtime enemies of Israel.

That also likely stoked a pride in David that lurked under the surface. That pride may have motivated him to stay in Jerusalem during that fateful Spring. That would be the kind of pride that says, “I’ve been successful; I have a competent army; they don’t need me; I can defeat my enemies without even being on the battlefield.”

Why do I point these things out? David’s “great sin” was not a spontaneous act, but rather a series of actions that required (a) a heart inclined to evil, (b) premeditation, (c) the use of other people to carry out the evil, and (d) purposeful action. In the process, David showed a callous disregard for the Law of God, a sense of entitlement to what was not even his, a callous disregard for the well-being of others, and a callous disregard for the lives of others.

Had David gone to battle like he should have, we would not be having this discussion. When he saw Bathsheba, he began lusting immediately. Had he stopped there, we would not be having this discussion. Had he harkened to the warnings of his men–that Bathsheba was married and therefore off-limits–we would not be having this discussion.

But let the record show that a man after God’s own heart–who cherished God’s word, who had a deep faith and understanding of the character of God–trampled over all that is holy and pure and did the unthinkable: he took another man’s wife, got her pregnant, whacked her husband to cover it up–oh, and she mourned over her husband’s death–and then tried to make himself look like a great hero by taking her in her pregnant widowhood.

And while some will point out that God forgave King David, we cannot ignore the terrible consequences of his actions:

  • His first child with Bathsheba would die;
  • there was perpetual turmoil in his house;
    • Amnon raped his sister Tamar;
    • Absalom killed Amnon;
    • David exiled Absalom;
    • Absalom mounted a coup against David;
    • David was forced to flee Jerusalem for his life;
    • The most powerful King in the region couldn’t even protect his wives from being publicly raped by his son;
    • Absalom would be killed in battle;
    • Adonijah tried to make himself the King as David neared death;
    • Even in Matthew 1, God calls attention to David’s sin, referring to Solomon “by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah”, even as he refers to Jesus as “the son of David”;
  • his taking of the census resulted in mass death among his own people;
  • David–while not dying in the disgrace that Saul did–left this earth with a whimper;
  • successive kings would lead Israel to idolatry, then civil war, beginning a descent to captivity.

Was David a man after God’s own heart or was he a rapist and a murderer who played fast and loose with other people’s lives and dignity? Yes: he was all of those things.

Theologically, David was the closest thing to a Messiah in the Old Testament. And yet he was short of the glory by at least half a universe. He committed not just one, but rather two, death penalty offenses, one of which was a sexual assault on a married woman.

And yet, even as his actions reflect a profound spiritual degradation, I would note that David still was notable in his character.

When Nathan confronted him and gave him a prophet-to-king smackdown of all time, David’s response was one of uncommon humility. Contrast the way he received Nathan’s rebuke–admitting his sin–with the way other kings (Joash, Asa) responded to prophetic rebuke.

Contrast David’s response to the way many preachers and evangelists–caught in scandal–have responded. David does not respond with any expectation that he should live; in fact, he states that the offender “deserves to die” (II Samuel 12:5) and does not retract that when Nathan responded, “Thou art the man!” He owns his failure. When his son dies, he does not whine about the consequences, nor does he–at any subsequent point in his life–complain about his consequences.

In fact, for the remainder of David’s rule, he was humble in his dealings with others. When we read the Psalms, we see his anguish over his sin (Ps 51: “my sin is ever before me”) even as he rejoices in God’s forgiveness (Ps. 103).

The implications are staggering, as, without a doubt, many ministers today have committed similar abuses of power–taking sexual license with people in their care. The Andy Savage/High Point fiasco of 2018 brought this reality to light, as a 22-year-old Savage–a youth minister at the time–took 17-year-old Jules Woodson to a dark place and solicited a Clinton.

Many of Savage’s defenders called attention to King David and implored the Church for forgiveness, as Savage had “repented”.

The problem is, that wasn’t the case. When confronted with his past, Savage attempted to minimize what he did, spinning it as a “sexual incident” and even an “organic moment”. Even after his resignation–in which he finally admitted that what he did was “abuse”–he later tried to downplay the #churchtoo movement.

Over the years, the scandals have been voluminous. And almost every time the pastors are exposed, the immediate talk is of restoration: when will they return to ministry. Their fans will cite King David.

But in so doing, we miss the point. In so doing, we overlook the horrid trail of damage, the victims left in the wake. And before you overlook these offenses, chalking them up to “youthful indiscretions”, talk to the victims and ask about what they went through.

Ask Jules Woodson–she’s easy to find on Twitter and is outspoken about her experience. Ask Anne Marie Miller. Ask Brooks Hansen and Kenny Stubblefield; ask Kim Rung; ask Kelly Haines. And if you want to know what drives the predatory abusers, I can direct you to experts such as trauma therapist Mike Phillips and University of Michigan pathologist Julia Dahl, who will teach you more than you ever wanted to know about narcissists and their grooming and damage control techniques.

Sadly, by glossing over these abuses–chalking them up as “oopsies” or “screwups” or “mistakes” or “misconduct”–we overlook the price born by the victims, and, worse, the ugliness of sin.

David, by accepting Nathan’s rebuke, accepted that he was entitled to nothing good, that he deserved to die, that he did not deserve to remain on the throne let alone remain in the covenant that God had established with him. When was the last time you heard a minister–caught in his sin–admit that much?

We could use a lot more humility among our clergy and Church leadership, and less entitlement. And the better we understand how an otherwise Godly King abused his power and took a married woman for his own sexual pleasure–and comitted murder to cover it up, and then tried to spin himself as a hero–the better we’ll be able to understand that need for humility.

May we not become like David before we ‘get it’.

David and Bathsheba: #metoo Before The Hashtag

In the Twitter world, Matt Smethurst of The Gospel Coalition tweeted the following:

https://twitter.com/MattSmethurst/status/1179912370103160832

To which Rachael Denhollander responded:

In point of fact, Denhollander has a good point. Sadly, her view is not shared across the board among people who ought to know better. Over the years, I have, on many occasions, heard the David-Bathsheba “affair” portrayed as a case where Bathsheba bathed in plain sight in order to be seen by King David. The commentaries include everything but a winking eye, and poor David—he just couldn’t control his lusts!

I kid you not. Even in a Bible Study Fellowship presentation 23 years ago, a guest presenter provided exactly that take. And this was a fairly learned group of men.

Allow me to burst that bubble….and this, ladies and gentlemen, is not rocket science. (I’m going to use ESV for the translation, although–to be honest–it doesn’t matter. Pick any translation you wish: on this matter, it’s clear as daylight.)


Picking up 2 Samuel 11, starting at verse 1:

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

The chapter begins with a layout of the background:

  • It was Spring.
  • It was a time during which kings typically went to battle. And we know that David is himself a warrior who has established himself as an Israelite king to be feared and respected among her neighbors.
  • The Israelites were enjoying military success.
  • But David–a warrior-king–did not go with his troops.

In other words, David was not doing his job.

Picking up verse 2:

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.

While the ESV translation says “late one afternoon”, the Hebrew literally translates “in an evening”. (NASB indicates “when evening came”, KJV says, “in an eveningtide”, and NIV indicates, “in an evening”. For once, the NIV is actually closer to the literal Hebrew rendering.)

So let the record show, when David saw Bathsheba bathing, it was evening. This is an important detail.

Picking up verse 3:

And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”

Keep in mind that, at this time, David is married. In fact, he has at least two wives of whom we know by name: Michal (Saul’s daughter) and Abigail. When he saw Bathsheba, the proper response would have been to look away and go back to his official business, meditating on God’s Law, of which he wrote so eloquently in the Psalms.

But instead, he decided to entertain his lusts. In so doing, he asked his men about her. And their response was to the general effect of, “Uhmmm….your Majesty…she’s married, and you know both her husband and her father.” (Based on what transpired, he knew that Uriah was one of his most valiant soldiers.)

Had he dropped the matter there, all would have been well. Except he didn’t stop with that veiled admonition. We learn this in verse 4:

So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.

Now I’ve heard some commentarors use this passage to show that the David-Bathsheba “affair” was a consensual one, and that she was at least partially at fault. What gets lost in that take is that the passage does not say that.

Let’s just say that, if you’re a woman whom a king wants, and that king sends his men for you, you have two acceptable responses: “Yes, I will happily serve His Majesty” and, “which clothes does His Majesty prefer that his women wear?” Bathsheba had no choice; due to the power differential, “consent”–as we understand it–was simply not possible.

Moreoever, verse 4 gives us an additional, and important detail as to what Bathsheba was doing in the first place:

  • “Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.”

In Old Testament Israel, women were deemed unclean during that wonderful time of the month that Aunt Flo dropped in for a week. At the end of that week, women ceremonially washed themselves and were then declared clean. That is what Bathsheba was doing!

When women are sexually assaulted, a common response–albeit an unfair one–is to question the degree of victimhood of the woman:

  • What was she wearing?
  • Was she a prostitute?
  • Was she acting seductively?
  • Did she really want it and then just claim rape now that “buyer’s remorse” has set in?

2 Samuel 11:1-4 is not implying that those responses are legitimate in such cases; at the same time, those 4 verses are telling us that such a response–even if you think it is valid–isn’t in play here.

  • It was evening;
  • Bathsheba was bathing as part of her monthly purification.

In other words, Bathsheba was doing everything “by the book”. She was being discreet. In spite of her proximity to very powerful people, she is acting so as to not be easily-seen. She is the one minding her own business.

Contrast that with the way the passage presents David.

  • David wasn’t doing what he should have been doing.
    • He should have been on the battlefield with his troops, but he remained in Jerusalem instead;
    • Even in Jerusalem, it was evening and he should have been attending to his wives or other official business;
    • When he saw Bathsheba, rather than turn away from his lust, he chose to entertain those lusts by asking about her;
    • In spite of a veiled warning, David sent his men and took Bathsheba, at which point “he lay with her.”

In point of fact, the Scriptures put 100% of the blame on King David and none of it on Bathsheba.

This was not an “affair”; affairs are consensual acts of infidelity. (This is why the Law commanded death for both offenders in such cases.)

This was not consensual; in fact, it was a #metoo assault long before the hashtag arrived.

“The More You Love, The Harder You Fight”, A Review of What is A Girl Worth? by Rachael Denhollander

I remember the trial of Dr. Larry Nassar, a Michigan State University physician who was once the Gold Standard in the gymnastics community. For decades, he molested hundreds of girls and women, playing the part of the compassionate nice-guy who helped them heal from their injuries.

At the end of the trial, he finally buckled and pled guilty. As part of his plea deal, every one of his victims was permitted to give an impact statement. Up until that point, I had followed the trial loosely. But I paid special attention to the victims and what they had to say.

One by one, Nassar’s victims brought his world down with thunderous dunks that would make Julius Erving proud. It was glorious.

Enter Rachael Denhollander, who closed it out with both a blistering assessment of the culture that allowed Nassar to operate for years, and a wonderful Gospel presentation to Nassar. (If you haven’t heard Rachael’s speech, Google it and watch it. It’s pure gold.)

I became a Rachael Denhollander fan that day.

What’s a Girl Worth? is her story. And it is both riveting and inspiring.

First, a trigger warning: if you suffer from any form of PTSD, this book is going to hurt. Even if you don’t suffer from PTSD, this book is going to hurt. If you have any form of empathy whatsoever, this book is going to hurt.

She describes her assaults by Nassar in significant detail. I tried hard to keep my analytical hat on, but I still couldn’t sleep that night. On the other hand, I found it very instructive, as she is showing parents how easy it is for a predator to abuse kids. Nassar abused many of his victims in plain sight, with their parents only feet away!

There is a popular misconception that you can spot child molesters pretty easily, and if you are just careful enough, you can prevent their abuses or catch them in the act. Rachael destroys that myth almost immediately. Rachael’s mother—who was a protective, caring Christian mom—was in the same room when Nassar abused her. She never saw it happen, as Nassar was smooth enough to conceal her view.

In great detail, she points out the factors that kept her from reporting her abuse, the blowback she received when she tried to report her abuse, the effects the abuse had on her for many years, and how it challenged her relationships and even her faith.

When people ask victims, “Why didn’t you report [the abuser] sooner?” Rachael gives a vivid, well-reasoned answer to that question. Even when victims do report, very little is ever done. Police departments often shelve the complaints, as thousands of rape kits remain untested even today.

If the accused is a respected figure like Nassar, he probably has friends in law enforcement. Nassar almost got away with his crimes, as the county prosecutor attempted to cut an easy deal like Jeffrey Epstein once received. Thankfully, the Michigan State Police—with the help of a very hardworking, caring detective—had the resolve to tell the county prosecutor to go pound sand, and hand this to a very victim-friendly Attorney General, who went after Larry with every weapon in the arsenal.

And then there’s the personal cost of reporting your abuser. Her entire life was laid bare for the whole world to see. The details of her molestation became public record. Because she testified against Nassar, his team was able to pry into the most intimate details of her life, including her personal journals.

Nassar abused many victims because the system protected him at the expense of victims. That system included a Big 10 university, local law enforcement, and the larger athletics community that included USA Gymnastics. Rachael provides a devastating picture—with the clarity of the best LED television screen—of that abuser-friendly system which protected Nassar for years. Had it not been for the reporters at IndyStar—to whom Rachael appealed with her story about Nassar—he might still be abusing women today.

But Rachael took him on, even ditching her anonymity. What drove her: her concern for the other victims. As she said it, “the more you love, the harder you fight.”

Sadly, our society doesn’t really love, as we have commoditized people while lionizing ideas and institutions. USA Gymnastics turned a blind eye to abusive coaches like John Geddert, just as Penn State turned a blind eye to Jerry Sandusky, just as Michigan State turned a blind eye to Larry Nassar, just as churches turn a blind eye to abusive pastors, priests, and other leaders.

From conception, children are commodities. Even pro-life denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention and the Independent Fundamental Baptists have thrown children under the bus to protect abusive pastors and highly-revered leaders.

Against that backdrop, Rachael Denhollander drops a badly-needed FULL STOP.

For the Christian, What’s A Girl Worth? is very sobering, as the Church does not get off the hook here. For speaking out about the abuse coverups at Covenant Life Church by C.J. Mahaney—which put her at odds with her elders, who were friends of Mahaney—she was ostracized and her family would have to move on to another church. (This at a time when they needed the support of a church body.)

Having been around the block in church circles, I can attest that taking on abusers in the Church is not a popular endeavor. If you are a minister, there is a lot of pressure not to rock the boat. There is a lot of pressure to handle matters quietly—let the abuser resign, move on, get a fresh start somewhere else—and avoid the unpleasant consequences of making the brutal truth of abuse a public matter. As a rookie youth minister, I took on an abusive pastor. I won, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. I’d do it again, but still…there is a price to pay.

But the Church needs to pay that price, because people are worth more than institutions. Make no mistake: this is a Gospel issue. Jesus held a child and told the Disciples that “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

The pastorate is for real shepherds, not hired guns seeking to enrich themselves. The pastorate is not a corporate ladder, and until the Church decides that people—especially victims—are not commodities, she will continue to slouch toward irrelevance.

As Rachael said it, “the more you love, the harder you fight.” The Church needs to repent and start fighting like the third monkey on the ramp to Noah’s ark.

And for the men who are new to this fight, Rachael’s husband—Jacob—provides a great primer in how that is done. From the days before they even got engaged, to the runup to their wedding, and throughout their marriage, Jacob was a great listener, a hard worker, and a wonderful supporter of his wife. As life got turbulent, they still had children—4 of them—and Jacob provided great strength to ensure that their home was a refuge from a very nasty world. They endured great hardship, but came out stronger, and Jacob was a major part of that. Men, this is why you need to read the book.

Ultimately, the Denhollander family provides a portrait of the kind of love that defends, protects, advocates, and goes to the end of the world, for “the least of these”. On a scale of 1 to 10, no less than 20.

Kavanaugh: Who Didn’t See This?

Last year, as Brett Kavanaugh seemed headed toward certain confirmation as a Supreme Court justice, Christine Blasey Ford, a former high school classmate of Kavanaugh’s–came forward and accused him of sexually assaulting her at a party.

Immediately, I was skeptical. Kavanaugh denied not only the assault, but even being at the same party with her. That was a pretty hard denial, as all it would have taken to sink him would have been for someone to corroborate that he was at the same party with Ford.

Not even one of her friends could do that.

During her testimony, she insisted that she had no political motive. But the way she did that told me she was full of it. MrsLarijani also felt this was BS.

In a conversation with someone who was liberal, here is what I said at the time. She asked me what I do to protect women, so I gave her a complete answer.


I promised I’d get back to you on this. So…what do I do on behalf of women regarding their mistreatment? First off, I don’t limit myself to the mere mistreatment of women. I’m opposed to all abusers, and I act in my spheres of influence on behalf of those impacted by them.

I’ve encouraged victims to take appropriate action against their bosses. I’ve helped one of them record a meeting, risking my own job in the process. I’ve helped direct some to shelters and encouraged them to press charges. I’ve been a designated driver at events where there is drinking. I also look for people who might be putting things in drinks.

When I was a youth minister, I immediately realized my pastor was an abuser. Did I resign? No. That would have been the easy way out. Instead, I took him on, even alienating myself with leaders–ladies and gentlemen on the Personnel Committee–who would later seek to fire me for taking on that abusive pastor. It got me several negative references when I went to other churches, and it took me longer to earn the trust of those other churches, but it’s a price I have no regret paying.

As someone who works on the security team at my church, I am LOOKING for bad guys. And not necessarily ones who are armed. I assume the abuser could be someone on ministerial staff, someone I otherwise find likeable.

So the question is, what do I do if a child comes to me and says John Doe asked him (or her) to do something, or touched him (or her) somewhere, or…[name the act]?

While it may not have corroboration, I would still immediately report it to the police and tell the appropriate leaders about it. The accusation could be something, or it could be nothing. It may be indeterminate, but that could change if someone else comes forward.

If a woman tells me she’s being abused, I’m going to direct her to the shelter, and report what I must. I will also encourage her to file the police report. Aside from my own experiences with abusers, I once dated a gal–a former running buddy–who had been physically and sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriends. She is about the same age as LA. It took a while before I realized she was bulimic. Damn-near went broke trying to save her.

So yeah, I do what I can in my sphere of influence. Still, when it comes to #BelieveWomen, I think the question is wrong. I neither believe nor disbelieve accusations; instead, my position is to take them seriously–because their veracity is very possible–and encourage appropriate action. If it’s something criminal in nature, I push them to press the charges, because that is what is likely to start the ball rolling toward real change.

The accusations may be true but unsubstantiable; I believe that, if that is the case, we will one day know the truth, even if that doesn’t happen in a timetable I would prefer.

The accusations may be true, and subsequent investigation–and I’m talking law enforcement, not in-house folks–corroborates it. Then you can take it to the house.

They may also be false. I say that not as a, “Women lie all the time!” line that misogynists use, but rather an acknowledgement that members of both sexes have been known to tell lies, especially when they have motive. And contrary to popular opinions, we humans generally do a horrible job of telling whether someone is truthful or lying.

There are times when the circumstances–which establish a motive–compel me to take accusations seriously while having an understandable skepticism. Being skeptical in those cases hardly makes one a misogynist or one who would shove victims aside. Quite the contrary: the liars are in fact the ones who ruin it for the victims.

That brings me to the case of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.

I did everything I could to maintain an open mind on that one. But I had serious problems:

(1) No corroboration whatsoever. Everyone she named was unable to so much as place themselves, let alone Kavanaugh and Ford, at a party that she described. Had there been one classmate who would have vouched for that much under oath, it would have been enough to demand explanation.

(2) Not even her friends recalled her mentioning anything about the alleged event at the time.

(3) While her not filing a police report then would have been understandable, that she did not file one recently–even though the police said they would investigate if she did–makes me question her motives. If he is an abuser, then reporting him now would at least trigger an investigation. If there are other victims–and if he is an abuser, there will be many victims–they could be discovered in the process of that investigation.

(4) The way Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) handled the “letter” tells me that this was a political matter, not a criminal one. If she took Ford’s account seriously and wanted to stop what she believed to be an abuser, she would have sent this to the FBI.

(Think about it: if I’m in a church, and someone comes to ME with a story like that, what do you think I’m going to do? Give it to the police, that’s what! I don’t NEED permission from the accuser to do that.)

(5) She has a motive to lie, and that motive is political. When she answered this issue with the, “Anyone who knows me knows I would never…” line, my cynicism meter spiked.

(6) While many found her story to be compelling, I did not. In fact, she came across to me as an actor. And she could do that, given that (a) she’s a PhD in psychology and (b) therefore she would know how to construct a story that would appeal to anyone who knows the first thing about that kind of trauma. I have friends who are in that boat who also weren’t buying it.

Now does this mean I think Kavanaugh is all that and a pound of bourbon-cured honey bacon? Not necessarily. He could turn out to be great, or he could turn out to be horrible. He could be upstanding, or he could be scandalous. Sometimes, God allows time for one’s sin to find him or her out. Could that happen with Kavanaugh? You bet, assuming he’s a psychopath.

In the case of judicial nominees (including SCOTUS), my views on the matter are comparable with Lindsey Graham’s: Presidents ought to have wide latitude in those picks, because elections have consequences. This is why I have no problem with Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan or Sotomayor on the bench, as much as I disagree with their views on almost everything of major importance.

I just see no compelling reason to keep Kavanaugh off the bench, and an uncorroborated accusation from his high school days doesn’t cut the mustard. I found it ridiculous that this devolved into haggling over yearbook comments or who said what about whom.

Fact is, there were gals and guys–during my high school days–with whom I had a hostile relationship at the time, but who are now FB friends of mine today and we get along like we were buddies all along. I have other folks who were good friends back then but, due to a number of factors, are very chilly toward me (and vice versa) today.

There were also a number of things we all joked about–and yes, sex was among those–and that’s all it was: jokes. Locker-room banter. Yes, I confess to having said, “I even wouldn’t put an American flag over so-and-so and do her for Old Glory!” a few times during high school. It was a common joke among us guys, and–while I’m not proud of that–we’re really screwed as a country if those juvenile moments are enough to stop a guy like me from being in a position of public trust today.

The crowd with whom I hung out, a few of whom were in the top 10% of the class–talked a lot of smack about sex, but I can also tell you we weren’t into chasing the gals: we hit our books, got our grades, played sports together, and stayed away from the party scene. But if we’ve reached the point where we’re going to mount character assassinations–based in part on such banter in high school–all because we don’t like a person’s politics, then we have a larger problem in this country.


We are now learning that she indeed had a political motive. Her own attorney said so.

Another High-Profile Leader Abandons Christian Faith

A couple weeks ago, Joshua Harris, author of the infamous book I Kissed Dating Goodbye and former senior pastor at Sovereign Grace Ministries flagship Covenant Life Church, left his wife, renounced Christianity, and is now participating in gay pride marches.

This week, former Hillsong worship leader and songwriter Marty Sampson has announced that he is on shaky ground, citing issues with longstanding theological dilemmas.

The responses to each have been somewhat predictable. Harris has received everything from empathy and prayers, to outright condemnation. (Over here: I empathize with his departure from the cult of Sovereign Grace while calling him to account for his coverups of sexual abuse during his tour of duty at CLC.)

Sampson, however, struck a cord like no one else. Christian recording artist John Cooper, the lead singer of Skillet, dropped a long-needed hammer on the issue.

Cooper is making a point I’ve made over here several times: we need to stop elevating young Christians into positions of leadership.

Fact is, a young adult, no matter how intelligent, has not yet proven himself. Let him go to college or trade school, get a real job working long hours. Let him get married if he is inclined to that, and live that out for at least 10 years. Let him establish a track record of living the Christian life in the midst of hard seasons of life–career, marriage, children, or extended singleness if he doesn’t marry–and THEN maybe go to Bible school and/or seminary. Get some maturity in the faith before going the pastor route.

I found that, in my years coming out of college, I was well-liked by a pastor in no small part because I was a good public speaker. While that is not a bad thing to have if you’re going to be a preacher, it ought not be the be-all/end-all, as charisma is not character. Back then, I had some decent grounding on the fundamentals, but I still didn’t have enough grounding to be a pastor. I was a quick study, but–even as a straight-A student at SBTS in my mid-20s–I would not have considered myself qualified for that.

What prepared me as a teacher?

Was it seminary? Was it sitting under other preachers? Was it listening to great preachers on the radio?

Answer: None of the above.

Seminary was good in that I got exposure to some methodologies that top scholars use. That is helpful, as there will always be people who ask questions from those angles. Still, that does not prepare you to be a teacher. And none of the preachers I had were particularly solid teachers. Nor did I listen to popular preachers, as I have never been a fan of the celebrity preacher circuit.

So what prepared me?

  • In 1993, I bought an International Inductive Study Bible, promoted by Precept Ministries. I delved immediately in the inductive study method. The big picture clicked like nothing else. In the process, I learned to appreciate both the forest and the trees. (Yes, there is a punch line there….) I also wrote my own notes rather than reading the notes from other “study Bibles” that do your thinking for you.
  • As I studied the Scriptures, I gained a great appreciation for the life struggles chronicled by the wisdom writers and the prophets. Prosperity Theology is crap, and the corpus of Scripture tells us as much.
  • I gained a great appreciation for the presence of Jesus, even in the Old Testament. Reading the OT Christologically is a lost art among evangelicals.
  • I never stopped studying. Even though I sometimes consulted commentaries–seminary required that–I rarely use them except for comparison purposes.
  • I learned, from my college days, to always keep one foot on the ground. There will always be popular fads and popular preachers and teachers in the evangelical world. Big Evangelical is a vast marketing enterprise that has a huge amount of influence. But Church history did not begin with modern evangelicalism…
  • As I lived life, I fell down more times than I care to count. And I got back up every time.

Sometimes those falls were due to other people’s acts against me, sometimes they were my own sins, other times they were just bad things that happen in life that are no one’s fault. And yes, failure can be demoralizing. When you get your legs knocked out from under you every time you get moving, life can be very frustrating. When other believers treat you like crap because you aren’t like they are, it can get unnerving. Those of us who are/were long-term singles know that drill.

But life is more akin to an Ironman triathlon: it is long, and–while there are often times of triumph and euphoria–there will always be a suck factor.

Still, you keep swimming, you keep pedaling, you keep running or walking. You may stop to get water or electrolytes or carbs. You may stop to poop or pee.

But you never quit.

And the closer you get to the finish, you get encouraged, even amidst the mounting pain, even as you feel the pale dread of hitting the wall. Even as the pain and the dread hurt, you begin to see the endgame.

With very few exceptions, a young adult–no matter how intelligent–knows NOTHING of this. No, I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to take up endurance sports; I am saying that, to be an effective Christian leader, you need to have experience enduring–that’s what the Greek word for abide means–in Jesus.

Mass Shooters: Nihilism On The Margins

With the latest mass shootings–in El Paso (22 dead) and Dayton (9 dead, not including the gunman)–we are now getting the obligatory calls for gun control, with new focus on “mental health” issues. We’re getting the same old arguments:

  • We have a white supremacist problem. (The El Paso shooter was a White Nationalist).
  • The El Paso shooter was a Trump lover, so it’s Trump’s fault.
  • Access to firearms is too easy.
  • We must have a better way to keep mentally-ill people from obtaining firearms.
  • We need to ban “assault weapons”.
  • We need “Red Flag” laws: laws which allow for the rollback of Second Amendment rights–even allowing firearm confiscation–from people who might be violent, even if they otherwise have no criminal record.

So far, I have yet to hear anyone–not on the news, not in either political party–take notice of a large elephant in the room: Nihilism.

Let’s get a few things straight:

  • While many “mass shooters” indeed have mental problems–the Sandy Hook and Aurora shooters are perfect case studies–mental illness is not what drove them to kill people. People who are depressed, bipolar, and even schizophrenic function without slaughtering people. When you flip that switch to plan and execute a mass assault, it is not mental illness, but rather a character issue.
  • As abhorrent as racism and white supremacism are, such views alone do not move a person to walk into a store and mow people down. Does such a person have an ideological motive? Sometimes. But killing innocent people at a store or a festival or a concert usually requires more than just a lower view of another race of people.
  • Economics has nothing to do with this. Mass shooters tend to be middle-class.

And here’s the thing: look at the largest mass shootings–Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Marjorie Stoneman-Douglas (MSD), Santa Fe, El Paso, Sutherland Springs, Orlando, San Bernardino, Dayton, Pittsburgh (Tree of Life), Wisconsin (Sikh temple)–and you will find a common thread.

It’s not ideology. Two (San Bernardino, Orlando) were Islamist; two were death worshipers with Nazi leanings (Columbine); four were white supremacists (El Paso, Charleston, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh); one was hard-left/Antifa (Dayton); two were mental cases (Sandy Hook, Aurora); two were alleged bullying victims (Santa Fe, MSD).

Nor is it mental illness, as every mass shooter was not mentally ill.

Here’s the commonality: Every single one of them has/had a Nihilistic outlook on life.

What is Nihilism? To put it simply: it’s a line of thought that rejects the premise that life, or anything about life, has meaning. In the mind of a Nihilist, there is no objective morality.

While there are philosophers–most notably Nietzsche–who develop this framework, one does not have to study philosophy to be a nihilist; one only has to reach the conclusion in one’s own mind that life has no meaning and that there is no objective morality.

Can one suffer mental illness and reach that conclusion? Yes. But depression is not a new phenomenon; some of the best people in the Bible suffered from depresssion. No, Nihilism seems to be an epidemic among younger folks.

A friend of mine, a longtime therapist who has counseled mental health patients and trauma survivors for years and who is opposite of me on gun control, puts it this way: “Mentally-ill people barely overcome themselves; to say mass shootings are a mental illness issue ignores the real problem.” He and I don’t agree on the problem–he says it’s the guns–but we agree that it isn’t a mental health issue.

Can one suffer other traumas and flip the Nihilism switch? Yes. But trauma alone doesn’t explain the growth of Nihilism among the general population. Otherwise, our country would have been a big free-fire zone at the end of the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

No, what we are seeing today is a completely different animal.

Even worse, I don’t think there are easy, pat answers to this. I realize that many Christians will point out: “we’ve taken God out of classrooms”, “we’ve rejected God as a society”–and they’ll point to abortion, gay marriage, the whole LGBTQIAWTH brouhaha as examples. And while that may be part of the answer, I don’t think this completely explains the problem.

I would submit that it comes from a number of factors:

  1. Societal trends have taken a large number of people away from meaningful relationships, including with the opposite sex. This includes social media, porn, community structures, and even the degradation of the nuclear family to name a few. As a result, an increasing number of men are growing up to be “incels”: men who are smitten with profound hatred and anger toward women, as they lack even the most basic social skills necessary to have even platonic relationships–let alone any romating relationship–with women.
  2. The Church is losing her standing in society due to a mountain of scandals and other “own goals”.
  3. As the Church has lost ground in society, other elements have risen to fill the moral void.

Over the last 20 years, America has seen the growth in the “nones”: those identifying as atheists, agnostics, or otherwise having no religious affiliation. As the Church has declined, those identifying with the Head of that Church have declined as well.

No, I’m not suggesting that all mass shooters are atheists–although many of them are.

I am suggesting that in a society in which Atheism and agnosticism are more popular, some of the tangential ideas that come with those outlooks–among them the premise that life, and elements of life, have no meaning–also become increasingly popular.

And no, I am not suggesting that all Nihilists are going to become mass shooters; most, in fact, do not.

I am suggesting, however, that if I have a Nihilistic outlook, then it’s a lot easier for me to rationalize going there. And on the margins, that is exactly what is happening.

How do we fix this problem? There are no pat answers.

I can tell you that it’s not simply about “getting God back into schools”. God isn’t worshiped in most Christian homes. Posting the Ten Commandments on a school wall isn’t going to solve this issue.

How many Christian families read the Bible at home? How many pray with their kids? How many parents teach Biblical principles without making it the death of a thousand dogmas? How many live out their faith with minimal hypocrisy?

I can also tell you that it’s not just a matter of getting more conservative theology in the churches. The evangelical world is largely conservative in her theological outlook. The availability of solid Biblical study information for every American–including Bibles of every translation imaginable, Greek and Hebrew study guides, theological commentary, apologetics resources, Church history, all for free via the Internet–is unprecedented in history.

None of those things can account for a Church stained–in Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical sectors alike–with terrible scandals that span all levels of Church life from the local church body to the highest offices. In a world desperate for a meaning to life, the Church could not be weakened at a worse time.

While the SBC and other conservative sectors have declared Complementarianism as the hill to die on–even as their denomination drowns in sex abuse/coverup scandals–they miss out on a chance to provide a real answer to much larger problems in this world. Youth ministers are often shallow in their Christian walk, lacking the depth to provide substantive answers to teens who search for answers. Single adults are largely ignored by the Church, offering no hope to the incel who will never see the love in the Body of Christ, therefore never appreciating the meaning of that Ironman triathlon known as life.

The liberal denominations are busy offering the world a watered-down version of itself, conservatives are offering a robust theology soiled with abuses by wolves, who in turn get their cover from the masses.

Meanwhile, a significant subset of younger adults are deciding that life has no meaning, joining the ranks of the Nihilists. And while 99% of them are otherwise harmless, that one percent is flipping the mother of all switches.

At this trajectory, we are well on our way toward the breakup of our nation.

Joshua Harris Kisses Jesus Goodbye

It would be a major understatement to say that Joshua Harris has had quite the rise, and fall, in the Christian world.

As an otherwise intelligent, but untested, young man, he rocketed to the forefront of the evangelical world with his landmark book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In it, he made several controversial propositions:

  • Dating–in which relationships are often temporary–only conditions people for marriages that break up, contributing to the divorce culture;
  • Dating also contributes to more sexual immorality;
  • Courtship is the prefered model.

The book would become a best-seller; it would make Harris a proverbial rock star: he would go on to serve as a pastor under the wing of C.J. Mahaney at Covenant Life Church. As a high-profile megachurch figure with two bestselling books, he was one of the “go-to” men in the evangelical world. Even though he got where he was, not on the basis of having fought the good fight and having kept the faith, but rather on the basis of a bestselling book that promoted an unproven thesis without Biblical veracity. The book would become the field manual for the Purity Culture.

At Covenant Life Church, Harris became both a victim of, and a perpetrator in, one of the most abusive church settings in the history of American evangelicalism. While former Boundless editor Ted Slater, a friend of ours, contends that his experiences at CLC were very good, it is also demonstrably true that Mahaney and Harris–and the others in their circle–left a trail of victims that extends miles. The overbearing, micromanagy church discipline model, the sexual abuses by staffers–and ensuing coverups–those are a matter of record, and Harris continues to be mum about his own culpability in that.

In 2014, in the wake of the fallout over the sexual abuse scandal and resultant lawsuit–which was dismissed due to Statute of Limitations and not merits–Harris ultimately resigned from CLC and subsequently decided to attend seminary.

(Having spent some time at seminary myself, this set off some red flags for me, as that signaled to me that Harris was “trying to find himself”. I saw a fair share of these types at SBTS: they go to seminary expecting to find the answer to some internal conflict they are having. I do not recall one instance where that ended well. In fact, when I was there, there was one suicide.)

From there, he began to question the basis of IKDG in light of the trail of damage it caused. On one hand, the developments seemed positive–he finally repudiated the very book that made him a rock star. OTOH, he still did not come clean about his role in the abusive system at CLC, particularly the coverups of sexual abuse and the overbearing system of church government.

Then, a little over a week ago, he Instagrammed a message that he is separating from his wife. Any time a major evangelical figure has a marital failure, it’s a very big deal. In Harris’ case, it is far, far worse: he became a mega-star in the evangelical world for promoting a formula as a key to strong marriages that last. And his was failing.

Most in my circle were concerned that this was the prelude to the next chapter in his life: I Kissed Jesus Goodbye.

And sure enough, on Friday, Harris announced exactly that. In his announcement, he also specifically apologized to the LGBT movement. (Yes, there is an elephant in the room.)

At Wartburg Watch, Dee has expressed considerable skepticism about Harris’ stated “deconstruction”, and I agree with her for exactly those reasons.

Here’s my take, and I think Dee is absolutely correct: Joshua Harris’s “deconstruction” is, at least in part, a cowardly attempt to shirk his responsibility for his role at Sovereign Grace, which was was a cog in the abusive machine that is NeoCalvinism. It’s not just CLC and Sovereign Grace; it’s 9Marxism, it’s in many Acts 29 sectors, it’s various SBC churches, it’s a model of church government that micromanages peoples’ lives; attracts and encourages ministers who are narcissistic and Machiavellian, promoting them as models for leadership; promotes a good-old-boys network by which the key leaders travel to conferences, get paid lots of money, promote each others’ books, and market their brands; all while ignoring–even covering up–flagrant abuses at their churches.

Here’s my hot take: many of these “preachers” aren’t even Christians. And if you think Joshua Harris is a one-off, you’d be mistaken. There are thousands of Joshua Harris types in the evangelical world. He is the tip of the iceberg.

Those who know me or have casually followed my blog, know that I don’t like to throw the “false teacher” tag around very often, as I’m a big-tent Biblical conservative. There are many pastors and ministers who are concerning to me, but I don’t throw the “wolf” tag at them, as I prefer to let them out themselves. Many in the discernment blogging community suffer from the hammer-nail syndrome: when you’re a hammer, everything is a nail. For many of them, if you’re off on one little micro-detail in the Bible–not a young earth creationist, not a five-point Calvinist, etc.–you’re a heretic. I don’t waste my time throwing such invective around. If you affirm the basics–a high view of Biblical authority, the Deity of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, the Substitutionary Atonement, the bodily Resurrection, the Second Coming–you’re inside the realm of sound doctrine.

On the other hand, being a peddler of false doctrine is not the only qualification for being a false teacher. It’s easy enough to target the Joel Osteens and the Benny Hinns and the Creflo Dollar types, but let’s be honest here: you can preach exceptionally on Sundays and Wednesdays and still be a wolf. And if you think Prosperity Theology is just about material riches, you’d be mistaken.

I would contend that modern evangelicalism promotes its own brand of Prosperity Theology. The type of pastor they seek to develop and promote–from Bible Schools to seminaries to churches–is more akin to a business executive than a shepherd. One of my pastor friends, speaking of Harris, said, “everyone around him said ‘he’s a natural at expositing Biblical text.'”

My response: Biblical exposition is not brain surgery. Fact is, I can take someone of good intelligence and oratory skills, teach him how to study the Bible, show him some good commentaries and resources, and–with some practice–he can exposit well enough to preach. And he can do this while not even being a believer. This is because exposition is something we can objectively teach. What we cannot impart, however, is a relationship with God.

I can teach you the fundamentals of Biblical exposition; I cannot make you like Abraham, who made time to offer sacrifices of thanks to God, or returned to Bethel to seek God after a big failure, never giving up even as it took 25 years from the time of his calling from God until–at 100 years of age–his promised son was born.

I can teach you how to navigate the Old Testament, especially how to read it in light of Jesus–that is a lost art among modern evangelicals. I cannot make you like Moses or Elijah–who loved God. I cannot make you like Peter, who fell on his keister and failed often, but would go on to be the lead Apostle. I cannot make you like Paul, who–before God knocked him on his butt on the way to Damascus–was a major persecutor of Christians, who went on to become one of the greatest Apostles. Peter and Paul loved Jesus and were devoted to the well-being of His sheep. They were about Jesus; the “system”–in this case doctrine–was a something they preached from their love of Jesus; it was not a business model.

The problem is this: what if I am seeking to develop teachers, and I am fixated on developing qualities that are indicative of charisma and academics, while not cultivating the shepherdlike qualities that you see in Jesus and the Apostles from Acts through Revelation? The end-result: you get leaders who are more likely to take sexual advantage of parishioners, leaders who are more likely to be heavy-handed and micromanagy, leaders who can teach with great charisma who do not get along with people, leaders who do not love their wives or their children. They may be able to, like a competent sports coach, talk a great game about Xs and Os, but their character is majorly lacking because they are either immature believers or not believers at all!

Make no mistake: Big Evangelical gave us Joshua Harris!

He was raised in a system–homeschooled in a system, churched in a system, became famous by promoting his own system, learned how to preach and promote a system.

That’s not to say that all such systems are bad. Any educational regimen–homeschool, private school, church community, even public school–has to rely on a “system” at some level. Every church community has its own “system” that defines their bent or flavor; all of those are not evil, some in fact are very good.

The problem is, the Christian life is not about knowing a system, even if the system is good. Knowing and loving the system is not the same as knowing and loving God, whom your system articulates with eyes through which we will always see darkly on this side of eternity.

Still, when your system is attracting, developing, and rewarding ministers who are charismatic marketers who turn out to be scandal-ridden, then it is long past time to revisit the very system that is producing such ministers.

As for Joshua Harris, it is my hope he will spend some time with Satan so that his flesh will be destroyed and–ultimately–he may be saved. I hope that his ensuing years are times of utter misery, and that God bashes him upside the head with the almighty Louisville Slugger and brings him to his senses.


Update:

“This Ain’t Hell, but I Can See It From Here!” After-Action Report: Ride Across Indiana (RAIN) 2019

This year, I decided to take a break from triathlons and just do one event: Ride Across INdiana (RAIN). I enjoyed that ride last year, and my wife said she and Abigail enjoyed the time.

I figured this would be a long, tough ride that would otherwise be uneventful. It didn’t seem bad last year: I used it as a training ride for Ironman Chattanooga, and it was a good time.

The problem?

Last year, the conditions were perfect: high temperature was in the low 70s with occasional light rain, and a really nice west-to-east tailwind that made the last 45 miles wonderful.

No such joy this time.

Here is a simple comparison, by the numbers:

20182019
High Temperature77/light rain97/sunny
Winds18mph (tailwind)16 mph (crosswind from south)
# Starters~1,1001,032
# Finishers1,042644
Total Riding Time (hrs:mins)9:3011:06
Avg Moving Speed (mph)16.814.7

I woke up at 4AM and began my preparation for the ride: brushed my teeth, strapped on my Garmin heart rate strap, checked my gear to see if I had forgotten anything.

Dangit!!!! I had forgotten sunscreen! And I was going to need it today!

So, making no delay, I hightailed it to Kroger and bought some sunscreen. On the way back, I pulled back into St. Mary of the Woods College–where we were staying, and where the ride began–to see a couple riders taking off early. (That is legal, as this is a ride, not a race. As long as a rider completes the course before the 9PM cutoff, it counts.)

It was 5:25 and still dark outside. It was already 80 degrees.

This was going to be a long, hard slog.

Still, I felt ready.

While I was not training for Ironman–and therefore was not as fit as I was last year–I was still pretty darn fit: I had three century rides in the last 2 months, and I had done a fair amount of strength work, as I had bulked up considerably. I wasn’t in Ironman condition, but I was still in good shape. And my training rides were in hot conditions.

I figured I would go slower, but this course shouldn’t be too tough. I had two extra tire tubes “just in case”, and I am experienced in changing out flat tires. If I ran out of fluids, I knew there were convenience stores around. I carried extra cash just for that purpose. I also knew that my wife would be trailing me on the back section.

I made it to the start line with 5 minutes to spare before the official start. There seemed to be a solid turnout. According to the folks in-the-know, the number of starters was less than they had last year, but not by much.

My problems began early: My rear tube blew out at mile 6. Apparently, my tire pressure was too low, and I hit a bad section of road, causing a “pinch flat”. I was able to swap a new tube, and a SAG driver had a pump ready for me, so I did not have to use my CO2 cartridges. I was back in business within 5 minutes.

Unfortunately, I had trouble getting a good pace going due to (a) many traffic lights and (b) bad road quality. I also noticed the climbs, due to the lack of a tailwind. I was clearly working harder for my miles. But I still felt ok considering the conditions.

Pulling into the first rest stop at mile 39, my wife was relieved to see me. She thought I had suffered a really bad accident, as I took longer than she expected to get to the first stop. My riding pace at the time was close to 15mph, but the flats and the traffic congestion–and traffic lights–slowed me down. But at the rest stop, I got some food down, got some fluids down, refilled my bottles, kissed the wife and toddler, and headed back out.

On the second stretch, I felt better and my pace was improving, even as the temperature climbed. I was having a good time until mile 57: that’s when my front tire blew out.

Thankfully, I was ready for that: I had a spare–although I was down to my last one–and was changing it out when a Good Samaritan came by. He let me use his pump–once again keeping my CO2 cartridges unused–and even gave me a bottle of ice water. I was back in business.

Pulling into the second stop, at mile 64, I still felt pretty good. Even with the flat, I was doing well. For the sake of precaution, I purchased two additional tubes from the SAG mechanic at the rest stop. I figured I’d rather have them and not need them, than need them and not have them. In this heat, anything can go wrong.

I made it a point to get more food down, refill the bottles, get some more fluids down, kiss my wife and toddler–who was having a great time–and head back out.

The ensuing 28 miles were brutal. Indianapolis traffic slowed us all down: traffic lights, traffic circles, stop signs, railroad tracks, and some stretches of bad road quality. Making matters worse, I ran out of water and Gatorade. I could feel the heat; I knew I needed to hydrate.

At about mile 87, I found a CVS. I pulled in to get some Gatorade. The manger saw me and invited me to use his walk-in cooler–which was 38 degrees!–to cool off. (I <3 CVS.) Still, I felt pretty good going into the lunch stop at mile 92.

Remarking about the heat, I told my wife. “This isn’t Hell, but I can see it from here.”

From there, I got some food down, got some water and Gatorade down, refilled the bottles, kissed the wife and toddler, and headed back out: 21 miles to Greenfield.

The stretch to Greenfield would have been a killer, except there were several wonderful families who handed out bottled ice-cold water to riders. I had, once again, expended both my water and my Gatorade, and those Good Samaritans saved my butt. (Every finisher with whom I conversed, shared the same story.)

Pulling into Greenfield at mile 113 2 was lonely–no personal service vehicles were allowed, so my wife was camped out after that on US40–so I did my business quickly: refilled the water bottles, peed, got food and fluids down, and headed out.

My only problem: I forgot to unpause my Garmin. As a result, I lost about a quarter mile on my data feed.

Turning onto US40, I saw my wife parked at a Speedway station. I stopped, gave her a quick update, kissed her and the toddler, and headed out. We agreed to meet every 8 miles. I was feeling the heat, so I figured I’d sit in the car for a couple minutes to cool down. She also had extra Gatorade in case I needed a refill before I pulled into the final rest stop at Dunreith.

That last stretch of US40 was pure brutality. The heat radiated from the ground, ensuring that we had no relief, even as the air temperature began to slowly drop. The climbs, while not as difficult as the hills of Kentucky’s century routes, are still noticeable when you’re on the back end of a 160-mile ride with heat indexes above 100 degrees. Being able to cool off in the car was a game-changer.

I pulled into the Dunreith rest stop, with 28 miles to go, exhausted. I knew I was going to finish, but this was going to suck. I inhaled more fluids, ate some carbs, got some pickle juice down, and sat in the car to cool off. Then I kissed the wife and toddler and headed out.

I met my wife 8 miles later, and–to my surprise–felt pretty good. I was tired, but I felt better than I did at Dunreith. I told her to meet me in 10 miles.

About 10 miles later, I met her again. As I cooled off, I had one problem: I needed water, not Gatorade, as I was almost out of water. I told her to meet me at the next gas station–or at 5 miles–to get some water. At this point, I had about 10 miles to go. The next stop was going to be precautionary only. I was getting strength back.

With 5 miles to go, I saw my wife on the opposite side of the road. A Good Samaritan had a bottle of ice-cold water: exactly what I needed going into the final climb! Oh, and there was shade now, as it was later in the day. I thanked God for the shade. I told my wife, “Meet me at the finish…we’ve got this!”

The last 5 miles felt easy. Yes, there was a climb left, but it didn’t feel so bad with the shade and some cold water. I finished with 45 minutes to spare. At the finish, I chatted with the folks at the finish line, enjoyed the moment with my wife and the toddler, and downed some chocolate milk.

After the finish, I followed the RAIN Facebook group for updates from other riders. There were mass casualties: riders were dropping like flies. Heat exhaustion TKOd a large swath of folks.

Every rider I know who finished indicated that the Good Samaritans with the ice water saved their day. I can attest to that. The DNF rate was above 37%, which exceeds the mega-brutal Ironman Chattanooga 2016, which was in comparable weather. Heat exhaustion took a lot of riders out of the fight. Several ended up leaving in ambulances. To my knowledge, however, there were no fatalities.

Another dynamic I saw was the support crews out there: just as my wife did for me, other riders had help from their spouses and/or cycling clubs. They parked their cars, vans, and RVs at churches, gas stations, even open fields, providing food, water, and A/C for riders on that last stretch of US40.

As I look back on the day, I was happy to come out on top. I had never suffered a flat tire during a century ride, and I took TWO of them in the first 60 miles. I had never biked in conditions this hot, but this time I did it for 160 miles.

That tormenter of Ironman triathletes–Ironbitch–showed up for a rematch, and she brought the heat with her. I took her best shot, and I won. I even had the legs to tour the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB with the wife and toddler the next day.

As I talked with my wife last night, I remarked that I am not an elite cyclist.

She laughed. “Why do you say that?”

Me: “I’m not pulling that course at 18-19+ mph. To me, that would be the sign of an elite cyclist.”

Her: “You may not be the fastest one on the course, but I’m not sure that matters.”

I don’t have elite speed; I do have elite endurance.

But there is one important difference in me now compared to what I once was: I don’t quit. Yes, I’m in better shape than the average bear, but let’s be honest here: fitter people than I punched out on Saturday. You need to be fit to finish a 160 mile ride in that heat, but you need more than physical fitness; you need mental toughness.

Learning that isn’t an academic exercise. You can only learn that the hard way. I’ve suffered DNFs, so I know the humiliation that comes with it. That teaches you more about perseverance than anything. In general, you don’t start learning until you get pushed to the edge of what you think your limits are.

In my case, as I am getting old, I have severe disk problems in my neck, middle back, and lower back. My heat tolerance isn’t what it once was.

Still, in the nearly two decades with such health issues, I’ve learned to adjust and improvise, and focus on what I could control, and roll with the punches. I couldn’t make it cooler outside, but I think of all the times I got into the car to cool off. I think of the time I walked into the cooler at CVS to cool off. I think of the times I stopped to grab some ice water, the time I sat in front of a fan.

Even with the 2 flats. Even with heat exhaustion. I had no doubt about the outcome, only the finish time. I didn’t quit; I just stopped to regroup and get my bearings. I was never out of the fight.

Over the years, I have learned to embrace the suck.

And on Saturday, I French-kissed it.

Joshua Harris, of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, and Wife, are Separating

This is both saddening and infuriating.

As a very young, intelligent–but untested–adult, Joshua Harris rocketed to the top of the evangelical world on the basis of his landmark book–I Kissed Dating Goodbye–which promoted the notion that dating was evil and that courtship is the preferred Christian alternative to dating.

Sadly, a large sector of Big Evangelical embraced Harris and imposed this dogma on the larger segment of singles, making getting married marginally harder at a time when it was already difficult due to many factors in play. Focus On The Family ran with it. Many homeschooling families ran with it. Churches used it to banish singles into a proverbial black hole.

The book made Harris an evangelical rock star. He would become C.J. Mahaney’s right-hand man at Covenant Life Church, the flagship church of Sovereign Grace Ministries.

As a student of Mahaney, Harris helped commandeer a dysfunctional church whose model of discipline was overbearing. Worse, multiple child abusers operated with impunity. The gross negligence was so severe that even Al Mohler–and the larger Southern Baptist Convention–are now reconsidering their support and alliance with Mahaney.

And make no mistake: Harris was an integral part of that abusive system. He was an executive under Mahaney, and therefore he has command responsibility.

(That is the price of being in charge.)

To his credit, Harris has recently repudiated his book and apologized for the damage he caused with it.

Sadly, it now appears that his marriage was not all he made it out to be.


I am saddened for his children. They didn’t ask for this. They will bear the brunt of this epic disaster.

Do I feel bad for Harris and his wife? Yes. The Church failed Harris, his wife, and his children.

I believe Big Evangelical used him for their financial gain. Yes, he benefited–sort of–but it was other parties which made the really big money at the expense of the larger Body. Harris was a means toward their ends.

NOT ONE evangelical leader stood up and tried to stop this big promotion of Harris.

NOT ONE evangelical leader stood up to question the wisdom of IKDG.

NOT ONE evangelical leader lifted a finger when Harris, an untested young adult, was Mahaney’s right-hand man.

Where was Piper? Where was Keller? Where was Mohler? Where was MacArthur? Where was Duncan? Where was Dever? Where were all of these super-knowledgeable mega-leaders? Most of these leaders pride themselves on their ability to ask hard questions. But none of them bothered to ask any of their own ranks.

Who was holding Harris to account? No one.

This is what happens when you take an untested, young adult–even someone otherwise intelligent like Harris–and make him a General.

Ravi Zacharias In More Trouble

For decades, Ravi Zacharias (RZ) has been one of the most popular faces in the world of Christian apologetics. Not since C.S. Lewis has a public apologist made such an engaging case for Christianity. A very conservative, articulate, and bold speaker, RZ has been a reliable, popular source for conservative evangelicals interested in making a case for their faith and worldview.

Up until the last 18 months, RZ’s record has been sterling.

(On a personal note, I always thought he was a solid speaker, although I was put off by what appeared to be a lot of self-promotion. Personally, whenever a minister names his ministry after himself, it’s problematic to me, as it strikes me as narcissistic.)

But in late 2017, RZ ran into some serious trouble.

For one thing, while he has promoted himself as a “doctor”–which is legitimate for those with doctoral degrees–he has never earned a doctoral degree. He has an MDiv degree along with several honorary doctorate degrees, but no earned doctorates. And yes, there is a difference: representing yourself as a doctor, with only an honorary doctorate, will get you fired in every legitimate professional circle, as that is a violation of academic integrity.

Moreover, he claimed to have taught at Oxford University. In point of fact, he has never taught there: he once did a sabbatical at a Ridley Hall, which has a relationship with Cambridge. (Again, such inflation of one’s vitae is a firing offense in the professional world, and RZ knows it.)

On top of that, he had a sexting scandal. Without getting into the details–I’m going to tell you I believe he’s guilty, and I say that on the basis of HIS ACTIONS as well as the emails I saw (he threatened suicide toward his alleged victim). His settlement of the suit–with a non-disclosure agreement–gave him the mother of all “have your cake and eat it too” deals: he took to Christianity Today to deny any wrongdoing, while falling back on the NDA to avoid answering the hard questions.

But it gets worse.

Now, we have an account, provided by Julie Anne Smith of Spiritual Sounding Board, of a woman who, in 1973, was romantically involved with RZ’s brother (Ramesh) and got pregnant. RZ allegedly pressed her to have an abortion.

(Julie Anne, shortly before breaking her story, informed the Twittersphere that she had a big story coming on RZ. I knew it would be damaging, but this is far, far worse than I expected. And given my cynicism, that’s saying something!)

No, RZ will not face any criminal charges here, nor is he facing a lawsuit, as Steward, the alleged victim, is not seeking monetary damages.

The problem here: if true, this scandal, dating back to RZ’s early days in ministry, would–combined with his false representations of himself and his sexting scandal–show a pattern of conduct that has RZ showing callous disregard for other people as well as the truth.

He has a record of lying about his background–he has never earned a doctoral degree, and he has never taught at Oxford–so his credibility is problematic. His evasions regarding his sexting scandal are also damaging to his credibility. So far, I have not seen a response from him regarding the allegations from Shirley: no denial, no explanation, nothing.

And make no mistake: I do believe he owes the Body an explanation. And not just regarding the allegations from Shirley Steward. It’s long past time for him to cut the veneer and speak plainly for everyone.

For the record, I know Julie Anne. I’ve never met her personally, but we are friends in the Interwebz. She and I have differing viewpoints on theology and politics–I’m a conservative, knuckle-dragging Biblical Patriarch and she’s a moderate-liberal egalitarian.

Having said that, she’s a friend of mine. She is a fair reporter of facts. She knows what libel and slander are, and she is meticulous about avoiding them. She was sued before, and she won the suit. She’s careful about covering her tracks.

I believe Julie Anne is reporting factually, as I am convinced that she has the paper trail. I believe Shirley Steward.

I’m not saying this with any sort of happiness. In fact, I’m outraged. Not at Julie Anne or Shirley, but at RZ.

At this point, RZ is not “above reproach”. As I said, he has a lot of explaining to do. If the reporting is correct–and I believe it is–then he has a lot of apologizing to do, and I would suggest he isn’t fit to be a minister.

I wish I could say otherwise, but I believe Julie Anne and Shirley are being truthful. Can RZ produce facts that prove otherwise? The cynic in me says he’s in serious trouble, but I’m open-minded. I’m just not convinced–based on his recent conduct–that he has it.

The ball is in your court, RZ.