Christian: You Must Learn to Distinguish Friend from Foe
Christian culture warriors, writers, influencers: Do you know the nature of the battle you are fighting?
You must learn to distinguish friend from foe.
Have you watched the impotence of conservative Christians on Twitter over Critical Race Theory and Egalitarianism this past year? Almost no one aims to expose the truth of the matter.
Instead, seemingly good men attempt to have a positive influence upon corrupt leaders and actual enemies within the church by publicly praising them.
In the following two case studies I will examine this stunning error in our battle strategy and I will suggest correctives. The case studies name specific men and give all necessary supporting details. The purpose of these case studies is to offer help to these men via a sympathetic critique, not to castigate them.
Christians have tried just about everything else; isn’t it time we try absolute candor?
This article is available in video form:
Case Study 01: Owen Strachan
Consider whether it is wise for Professor Owen Strachan (MBTS) to publicly praise Danny Akin (President, SEBTS), a notable compromiser on complementarianism and enabler of erroneous CRT teaching (sources here, here, and here).
In September 2019, Owen Strachan publicly praised Danny Akin to his students, saying, “I love Danny Akin’s blend of fearlessness and winsomeness.”
Owen Strachan’s complimentary words to Danny Akin do not match reality.
Still more concerning, we have every reason to believe Strachan knows it.
Let me explain:
In May 2019, Danny Akin told a seminary class that Owen Strachan’s position on complementarianism (the orthodox position, by the way), was “flat wrong, both in tone and content.” Strachan had written an article politely criticizing Beth Moore’s rebellious position, and Akin told his seminary students he rejected Strachan’s views. Danny Akin did not know that his words were being recorded by a student that day. By June 2019, the recording was public, and Owen Strachan had heard it. When September 2019 came and Owen Strachan publicly praised Danny Akin, these were not merely misleading words — they were words Owen Strachan easily ought to have known were misleading.
Perhaps Owen Strachan somehow thought he was being gracious and conciliatory, or that he was keeping his focus on the bigger picture and being the bigger man. I will not represent myself as knowing his mind, except in cases that he has personally told me it. But what color is the sky in Owen Strachan’s world? Why would he think Danny Akin should be commended as an example of Christian faithfulness to the souls under his care?
Whether he knows it or not, Owen Strachan is acting as a compromiser, and likely as a flatterer. Danny Akin is a hypocrite; Owen Strachan knows it; yet he speaks as if it were not so.
Consider the following example of Danny Akin’s blatant hypocrisy, also from June 2019. (The timeline is somewhat important.) Compare Akin’s over-generalized approximation of Paul’s teaching on men in the preaching role vs. the specific, concrete words in Scripture itself (1 Timothy 2:12). And compare the way Akin positions himself here vs. how he spoke when he did not know he was being recorded. Danny Akin tweeted:
“Male and female gender distinctions and roles are grounded in God’s good creational design. We should never call evil what God calls good. Rather, we should rejoice in, celebrate & proclaim the goodness of what our great God has ordained.”
Danny Akin’s hypocrisy has been revealed time and again as he has attempted to defend his own reputation and the reputation of his seminary through a season of being exposed. Consider Danny Akin’s response to John MacArthur’s well-publicized advice that Beth Moore should “go home.” Without having even the decency to name the target of his condemnation, Akin tweeted:
“It is heartbreaking when heroes of the faith say and do things that can only be characterized as unkind and unloving. We must speak the truth but let us speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Like our Lord Jesus, let us be men and women full of grace and truth. Both are essential.”
Is this still the man Owen Strachan intended to praise to his students?
Justin Peters pointed out Akin’s hypocrisy in calling out MacArthur for being “unkind and unloving,” all while never saying a word publicly to correct Beth Moore’s dangerous error. In fact, Akin never even said a word to point out that, putting aside concerns about mode of speech, MacArthur’s advice was biblical. So much for shepherding the church.
Oddly, Danny Akin, the man criticizing MacArthur for saying and doing “things that can only be characterized as unkind and unloving,” was the same man that had, earlier in the year, told his class that Beth Moore was being stupid.
“Beth says: Preaching at such-in-such — preaching on Sunday March 8, shhh don’t tell anybody. Absurd. Which is stupid… I think she said something dumb.”
This Danny Akin, this pretender, is the man praised by Owen Strachan.
I don’t have any animus toward Owen Strachan, nor he toward me. For all I can tell, he is an intelligent and god-fearing man — one of the best to be found within the Southern Baptist hierarchy. He has always treated me with courtesy. I hope he succeeds beyond all his peers. And I hope he sees many of his colleagues and superiors exit the seminary careers for which they seem so poorly fitted.
So I do not tell the story of Owen Strachan in order to do injury to his reputation. Those who can affect Strachan’s career would have no interest in my comments. I bring up Strachan to illustrate a broader point:
Those who are contending for truth are not doing a very good job, in part because they have failed to distinguish friend from foe. If Owen Strachan has made any errors, they are the errors of over-extending the benefit of the doubt and of failing to identify and publicly name threats within the church.
A man can hardly be blamed for caring about feeding his own family. And he can hardly be blamed for having committed to a difficult, important, and dangerous career path, as Owen Strachan has done. But with such a career path there can come temptations — toward compromising on principles, toward confusion, and toward turning a half-shut eye toward evidences that seem horribly inconvenient.
If Strachan is keeping his true views about the enemies within the SBC concealed, we should wonder how in the world the concealing of truth has become a necessary part of success in a Christian career. We should also wonder why a Christian man would want to work in a religious institution that would penalize him, were his true views known.
But if Owen Strachan is not keeping his views about these enemies within the SBC concealed — if he doesn’t even know they are enemies — and if his praise of Danny Akin is sincere, then how can Owen Strachan (even Owen Strachan, whom I count as a giant of honesty among moral hobbits) be spiritually qualified for any prophetic role?
Are we too hard on Dr. Strachan?
Are we calling him a company man, when there are other considerations we cannot judge? Perhaps. But here is what we can judge: words and actions.
Consider that Owen Strachan recently wrote a 4-part series entitled Critical Race Theory: Is it Christian? First Principles. By publishing this analysis of CRT, Owen Strachan followed in the pattern of Albert Mohler:
- Discuss a false idea in theory.
- Cite secular examples of it.
- Avoid mentioning the fact that the ideas have taken root within SBC churches and seminaries. Don’t name names.
Jacob Brunton summarizes the pattern of Albert Mohler as follows:
Like Albert Mohler, Owen Strachan condemns CRT in name and he condemns it in secular instances, but he leaves the reader wondering:
If CRT is so dangerous, then shouldn’t we want to identify it in the church?
But why don’t you want to do that?
In the following video, Jacob Brunton explains the problem in detail.
Had Owen Strachan said nothing at all, he would have done no real damage. But in publishing his theoretical analysis and yet continuing to avoid naming the names of those he knows are teaching these very ideas in the churches and in the seminaries, Strachan’s readers may easily come to wonder whether the concerns of outside critics are overblown: Maybe the ideas being taught in the seminaries aren’t really CRT.
Jacob Brunton points out: “What he’s doing is a little bit in the right direction. But that little bit makes the lack of the rest worse, not better.”
Start at 11:50 for the relevant section:
In the following Twitter thread Jacob Brunton further explains the problems caused when Christian leaders condemn a false teaching in name but then fail to publicly correct the teachers who have been caught spreading it:
In the case of Owen Strachan we see a long-term failure to identify (and to publicly name) the opponents of sound Christian teaching within his own professional sphere. And we see the confusion this failure brings.
Perhaps Owen Strachan’s earthly career will be the better for his choices. But what is he losing?
And what is the church losing, when a man who can identify the enemy chooses not to?
Case Study 02: Tom Buck
This case study will be shorter. The work has been done by others, so I will link to it.
To summarize: Certain men of good Christian character, Tom Buck among them, show a troubling pattern of:
- Defending wicked people
- Giving known wicked people the benefit of the doubt
- Speaking to wicked people in public as if they were acting in good faith when they clearly are not
- Publicly calling wicked people “Christian” or “brother”
Undermining your allies
When a solid Christian teacher chooses to legitimize a wicked person, it undermines the project of discernment within the church. One careless tweet by the right person, if not recanted, can do much harm to that person’s own cause.
For example, consider the overall effect when a trusted man like Tom Buck legitimizes a wicked subversive like Karen Swallow Prior, and then someone like Danny Akin comes along and echoes what Tom Buck is saying. Danny Akin, himself a totally untrustworthy man, begins to appear rational. Afterall, he and Tom Buck agree — and if Tom Buck and Danny Akin, two men on opposite sides of many topics, can agree that Karen Swallow Prior is an honest woman, then you would have to be crazy to say otherwise.
Suddenly, anyone who says otherwise appears to be a radical fringe dissident. The compromising moderates benefit, because it provides them some cover for ignoring those radicals.
The members of the wicked Twitter horde love it too: Danny Akin’s more openly leftist tag-alongs and defenders will feel greatly empowered, because the whole discussion has been shifted by a single unenforced error.
Learn the lesson
All it takes is for one or two well-known, good men to make the poor choice to lend their credibility to a wicked person in a given discussion or controversy. When they do this, they empower the members of the horde to lend their own moral support to the person being criticized.
They can say: “See I’m just agreeing with your favorite conservative; how wrong could I be?” Thus, the wicked are greatly legitimized — and the remaining principled, good voices are muted.
For an illustration of the above, study what happened in the following interaction involving Karen Swallow Prior, Danny Akin, and Tom Ascol. I link to the various sides so a careful reader can compare what each party said — and what facts some parties chose to leave out.
Danny Akin Lies to Public, Claims Karen Swallow Prior is a Complementarian and Conservative
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president, Danny Akin, was caught in a bold lie to the public over the…
A Follow Up about the Karen Swallow Prior Kerfuffle
Dr. Karen Swallow Prior was removed from her position as a Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission…
Not Everyone Is Thrilled by Karen Swallow Prior's SEBTS Appointment
Karen Swallow Prior , currently a professor at Liberty University and soon-to-be-faculty member of Southeastern Baptist…
What Is the Solution?
In short: Learn to treat friends as friends, allies as allies, neighbors and neighbors, and enemies as enemies.
Christian culture warrior, I offer the following summarizing remarks to remind you of the importance of appearances, and the importance of message discipline.
You should care about the effect your words have on your allies. And you should give great care to deciding who is and who is not worthy of being called “friend” or “ally,” vs. simply “neighbor” or something else.
Should a Christian care about appearances?
Today I was reading through the stories of David in his later years of his reign, including his battle with Absalom and many other battles.
As I read these stories, I couldn’t help but wonder whether pastors are very familiar with them or whether the people that are Christian cultural commentators are very familiar with them.
And I’m not just talking about the liberal ones or the moderate ones.
I’m talking about the very conservative ones: the guys that are trying to stand up for what’s right within the Southern Baptist Convention and the PCA today.
Do they realize that it’s important that you think through who are your friends and who are your foes and that you don’t humiliate your friends?
Do they realize that?
If you had read the story of David, and if you had read of his encounter with Joab (after the death of Absalom), you would realize the importance of appearances.
Pay attention. Give thought to whom you strengthen — and whom you humiliate.
After David’s armies defeated Absalom and killed him, Joab and David were talking, and David had heard the news that his son Absalom was dead.
David said he wished he would have died instead.
Joab harshly corrected him and said, in effect:
You have just humiliated the armies that fought for YOU by saying that.
You need to sit at the city gate and you need to listen to the people, and you need to not go into isolation right now, because if you do, your armies will leave you.
You need to strengthen them at this time.
That’s what you need to do.
Similarly, in the story of what happened right before that, there were some advisers that told Absalom what to do, and they disagreed.
And they were strategic, and one of them was a spy.
There are all these things that happened that make me think, wow, people used to have wisdom.
We are in a time of war, ideologically. You must learn to distinguish friend from foe.
Let’s make the advice from the last two videos practical.
Let’s apply it.
If you are treating somebody as your ally, if you’re working with them, if you’re sharing information with them, if you’re promoting them, if you’re encouraging them in their work, and then all of the sudden you go and you see somebody else is attacking that man, and you favorably retweet or share that post of that attack, you’re an idiot.
You are an idiot.
And you should expect to be treated as somebody who humiliates his friends.
It is time in the kingdom of God for there to be men who understand that we are in a war and who are willing to act like it.
And one of the things that you have to do, since that is the situation, is to determine who is a friend and who is a foe.
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