Have Christians forgotten how to repent?
Updated: Mar 8
A major Christian publishing platform, The Gospel Coalition (TGC), published an article that resulted in more unity within the Christian online community than I've seen for a long time. Sadly it was a terrible article rather than a sign of revival and I won't bother engaging with its content here though there is a link at the bottom from someone far more qualified than me. The response from TGC over the last few days, however, is another showcase of how a significant portion of Evangelical Christianity, on both sides of the Atlantic, seem to have forgotten how to be accountable. The most elementary part of the faith, repentance, seems to be missing.
The author of said article has resigned, his resignation has been accepted. Then TGC go on to say,
"To our fellows and our readers, please forgive us. The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics is a new effort by TGC, and we are still learning how to work with our directors and our fellows to produce content that will serve our readers in a way that is trusted and wise. To ensure greater accountability with our fellows, we will develop better review systems for our work together. We will also review our publication processes more broadly at TGC and develop plans to ensure greater accountability to you, our readers.
Again, thank you for your patience with us. At TGC, we want to provide a venue for healthy dialogue and robust debate on important matters that affect us all. We want to model grace-filled conversations, and we want to learn from one another. In this case, we failed you and hurt many friends. Thank you in advance for your continued prayers."
Now for many Christians who love TGC and have benefitted from them or donate to them, this may well look like repentance, but, if you look again, it isn't.
What are we supposed to be forgiving TGC for? Where in the text have they said sorry? Is it really a matter of systems and processes that need 'reviewing'? TGC have been praising Butler's views and, as of the publishing date of this article, still have a podcast up of the very same teaching from December 2018. Sure the author does need to face the consequences of writing an article that bordered on cultish views of sex that has arguably led to abuse within marriages. Resignation may well be appropriate. However, TGC have encouraged Butler to write his book, endorsed his views on multiple occasions over multiple years, and given him more of a platform for his views to be taught globally. Now that they have major pushback, with many highlighting serious biblical and ethical concerns, TGC backtrack. Of course, it is the systems that are the problem, right? It couldn't be the theology.
Notably, TGC's first attempt to navigate the pushback was to try and claim that it was because there wasn't enough 'context' to the first article. They pulled the article but published the first chapter of the book being promoted in its place. The defensive move to suggest that the readers who are highlighting issues can't understand an article's argument without reading a book is not just insulting, but bordering on gaslighting. It is what politicians do when they get caught out due to their WhatsApp messages being published in a national newspaper - "you need more context to really understand what we mean because we obviously couldn't mean what the words in front of you mean".
Following on from publishing Butler's first chapter from the new book being promoted, the pushback only got louder. Multiple endorsers of the book scrambled to 'repent' online by retracting their endorsements, several claiming they barely read the book. Most depressingly, several Christian writers who I have a lot of respect for seem to have not only read this book without critique but have claimed it is the best book of the year. This only serves to raise even more questions of honesty and trust in the Christian publishing sphere as well as the theology of sex being taught within many evangelical churches (see article linked to at the end of this post to see why it is so problematic).
It is only now, after the calls for accountability got too loud that TGC have asked for forgiveness. Note there is no asking for forgiveness for the content of the article. Sadly, TGC have been here before, on this very topic, and have not learnt from 2012 - what hope from their 'review of processes' is there now?
When we teach children to apologise we make sure they say 'sorry' but also acknowledge what they did wrong or what they did that hurt someone else. Repentance is similar with an extra emphasis on the behaviour then visibly being different going forward. Asking for forgiveness without acknowledging what has been done wrong is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. It is a sham apology and it has been happening too often.
As Christians, repentance is at the core of our faith, Christian leaders and organisations should be at the forefront of modelling repentance. Sadly, over and over again, there is a rush to defend, cover up, slander those who raise concerns, or, in the case of Josh Butler, allow another to fall on their sword and hope a vague reference to 'reviewing processes' will be enough to placate the evangelical world for another decade. Repentance and humility are the two main safety nets against the misuse of power, and the longer these are not practiced, the more damage these platforms and leaders will cause.
For a detailed article explaining the theological issues with the article and why it is legitimately called 'dangerous', this article by Beth Felker Jones is one that deals with it well: https://bethfelkerjones.substack.com/p/protestant-bodies-protestant-bedrooms
Scott McKnight, the author of A Church Called Tov, writes his concerns regarding the culture of TGC and why this article shouldn't be a surprise to anyone here: https://scotmcknight.substack.com/p/social-media-speaks
Dani Treweek also discusses the theological failings and implications of the article from a slightly different perspective: https://danielletreweek.substack.com/p/ok-lets-do-it-lets-talk-about-that