Some Thoughts on Doug Phillips

The internet is talking quite avidly about Doug Phillips’s letter that he posted on Vision Forum’s website, and the follow-up here. The reactions have varied from “I told you so” to godly grief and prayer. It is certainly inappropriate for those opposed to Doug Phillips’s ideas to gloat in his downfall, and to connect his downfall with his ideas in a direct line. I wonder if some of the talk is not lurid fascination with the scandalous. I am reminded of one of the Miss Marple videos “Murder at the Vicarage,” where the Vicar’s wife talked about the get-together that the ladies had every day, and called it “tea and scandal.”

A better tack has been advocated by some, and I think it is a better way to analyze the situation. Whenever a pastor preaches the Word of God on a particular sin, Satan will try mightily to undermine the pastor precisely in that area. This doesn’t happen only to people like Doug Phillips. Did you preach against greed on Sunday? Then beware of Satan’s temptations to greed throughout the week, and pray, pray, and pray some more. Did you preach against pornography? Then again, beware of Satan’s temptations in that area either in the immediate or even distant future, and pray, pray, and pray some more. The fact is, no matter what sin the pastor preaches against, Satan will love to tempt the pastor with that particular sin, because he knows he can cause more damage to the church that way.

Most pastors who have any experience whatsoever will be well aware of the fact that they are under almost constant assault from Satan’s temptations. He will try to make the pastor feel so hypocritical that the pastor will lose his preaching authority, and seek to water down the message so that he is no longer a hypocrite, or the pastor will preach only about one topic, trying to correct himself in that area, when he is in fact almost under the waves from that very temptation.

Note to those who listen to preachers: if that preacher has a hobby-horse, beware that something might be amiss in that particular area. The Word of God searches every area of life, not just one.

However, if the pastor is aware of this problem, he may try to over-correct by taking the teeth out of the practical application sections. How does a pastor avoid this? First of all, he does have to preach to himself first. Then, he must repent of his own sin and folly in that particular area. He must continually throw himself on the mercy of Christ. He must be the chief repenter. But then he must also believe that the blood of Christ really does cleanse him of that sin. Satan loves to lie to pastors with this simple, but effective lie: “Your sins, being that of the leader of the congregation, are much harder to forgive than the congregant’s sins.” Do not confuse consequences of sin with the guilt of sin. A pastor’s sins may have more grave consequences, but they are not more difficult for Christ’s blood to cleanse, since Christ’s blood has infinite power to cleanse.

It has been noted that Doug Phillips’s sin happened in the very area (marriage and family) that he preached most vociferously and counter-culturally. This is true. But given Satan’s tactics as noted above, it should not surprise us when Satan tries to get pastors to sin in just such areas.

In the following comment, I am making no judgment on what is in Doug Phillips’s heart. I am only using my imagination: it may not be true of his situation in any way. It is only a possibility. When a pastor preaches heavily on particular subjects, there is always the possibility that he can start to view the doctrines he has preached as safeguards for his own morality. He believes that extra-marital affairs are sin; therefore he won’t be tempted in that area, or if he is, he won’t fall. Again, given Satan’s tactics, pastors should be expecting the very opposite: the more strongly we believe and preach something, the more we should expect Satan to try to get us to fall precisely in that area. Doug Phillips may already know this. I don’t know, I’m just mentioning it, because I think it is important.

Our only true safeguard is the Triune God’s mercy and grace towards us, especially the Holy Spirit indwelling us and feeding us with Christ Himself. That is an empowering grace that enables us to put to death all (not just some) works of the flesh, and to put on Christ. This is what the Puritans called “mortification and vivification.” It is the putting off and the putting on. Another term to describe it is “sanctification.” We get this grace through the means of grace: Word, sacrament, and prayer.

As to Doug Phillips’s own ideas, I think he has some valuable things to say. There are certain areas where I think he may take some things to an extreme. But there is no doubt that he has pegged some serious wrong things about out culture and its vision of marriage. I say that because I have no joy whatsoever in what has happened to him or Vision Forum. I think it is tragic.

To those who would gloat over his downfall, just remember this: God is a God of resurrection. You may gloat over your fallen foe, but God may raise him up, Phoenix-like, and use him for His glory. I earnestly hope and pray that Doug Phillips will use this time to examine his ideas and doctrine once again in the light of Scripture, that he will listen to his critics, avoid completely a self-defensive attitude, and bring every thought captive to Jesus Christ and to His Word. May we do the same.

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35 Comments

  1. Todd said,

    November 16, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    This post raises two questions in my mind:

    1. In what sense is Doug Phillips to be regarded as a minister? Who confirmed his call externally? What legitimate body examined and approved him for ministry?

    2. No, we do not rejoice when someone sins and falls, but can we not rejoice that maybe less people will be led astray and damaged from his legalism? The trail of damaged lives from this guy is very long indeed.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    November 16, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Todd, I don’t think he has been ordained by any ecclesiastical body. It’s a good question, and I think that a recognition of the informality of his message is important to remember.

    As to your second point, I’m not sure if he is a legalist or not, since I haven’t read enough of his material to have an opinion. One thing that does stick in my mind is something I read somewhere on the internet about him, that he exalted a way of life over the gospel. That is certainly problematic.

  3. Bob S said,

    November 16, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Yeah, Lloyd Jones said to beware of your strengths, but that said
    VF’s catalog always struck me as the evangelical home schoolers version of Neimann Marcus.
    Two, VF is a para church outfit and DP is not ordained, right? It sure seemed to be a quasi church/cult tho in some circles.

  4. Michael Cavanaugh said,

    November 16, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Keeping in mind the constant threat of arrogance and hardness in my own heart, I do think that anyone who enjoys too much the “worship” and admiration of others thereby sets himself up for such a fall. Too often the pastor (or other leader) of a Christian organization is gradually viewed as something other than a fallen, broken messenger of the gospel. That is always the beginning of the end …

  5. November 16, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    I think Doug Phillips and Vision Forum served a purpose that (sorry to say) the local church was/is lacking in; practical ways to build up Christian families and home schooling support. We will continue to have para-church ministries until the local church fills the congregation and community’s needs.

  6. jsm52 said,

    November 16, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Your post brings to mind Martin Luther’s letter to a pastor who was having difficulty getting over his sin and believing that he was indeed forgiven and thus could resume serving the Lord:

    Therefore my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our Helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.
    -from Martin Luther’s letter to Spalatin.

  7. November 16, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Regardless of his actual ecclesiastical status as a minister (if any), you’ve given us a very thoughtful post, Lane.

  8. Alan D. Strange said,

    November 17, 2013 at 12:49 am

    I’ll say here what I’ve said on the Puritan Board.

    We simply don’t know enough about Mr. Phillips and what he did to make any informed judgments about this whole situation. We now know that it was bad enough for his board to close VF Ministries. Perhaps there are people who read this who might know more of the whole situation, but many commentators that I’ve read on the matter have only known DP at a distance, which is to say that they’ve not known him at all.

    Yes, as Lane and others have said, this should be a cautionary tale to us all, but this does not mean that we’re all in the same boat. It’s one thing for one who is genuine to fall; it’s another thing for someone who is not to be exposed. We simply don’t know which this is and thus reserve and withholding judgment befits such a situation.

    I appreciate what Jack cited of Luther to Spalatin. Here’s the difference: Luther knew Spalatin and thus had a basis for this sort of counsel. We can’t give such counsel to DP, once again, because we don’t know him or what went on here and given what it involves, we want to be very careful: we don’t know how deep this thing goes and we would never want to be part of minimizing something that could be quite serious and possibly involve serial sin. We just don’t know.

    We only have his description of sinful behavior, we don’t know what really happened, we don’t know his elders’ estimate of his sin, who it involved, what damage he did, whether his elders deem him repentant, and so forth. The more that we say that assumes that we know what’s gone on here, the more we may come to regret such judgments. I say this having been involved in discipline at every level of the church for more than two decades (Proverbs 18:13, 17).

  9. Brad B said,

    November 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I dont know Doug Phillips nor VF Ministries in the least way, after reading the linked letter at VF’s site, and the formal announcement that VF will stop operations, I think I see something. If I think I know anything at all, I believe that I know this one thing-that one person left to his own efforts and accountability is asking for trouble. Along with that, a “board” that is either detached or ineffective is just as responsible when things go well or poorly–even in personal issues. No one in this kind of position should win or lose alone. It is this thought that motivates me to pray form my own pastor, that God surrounds him with other men that will protect him–even or especially from himself if necessary.

  10. Brad B said,

    November 17, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    For reference sake, here are the Proberbs from Mr. Strange’s #8,

    18:13 He who gives an answer before he hears,
    It is folly and shame to him

    18:17 The first to plead his case seems right,
    Until another comes and examines him.

    Coincidentally ;~) vs.1 of that chapter speaks toward the point of #9

    18:1 He who separates himself seeks his own desire,
    He quarrels against all sound wisdom.

  11. November 17, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    It’s odd that I find myself, a reformed Presbyterian, coming to the defense of Doug Phillips and Vision Forum, but as the daughter of parents who divorced, perhaps I can add something to the discussion. First of all, Doug Phillips and VF were not in a vacuum. They had accountability from the greater Christian community and were well respected. I think the author of this article hit the nail on the head. We really need to stop speculating and pray for the Phillips family instead. There is a wife and 8(?) children involved and they deserve some privacy and Christian love from those of us who are in Christ. We need to love them as Christ loves us.

  12. Alan D. Strange said,

    November 17, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    I agree, Angela, that we need to love and pray for Mr. Phillips, his family, other parties involved in this and VF as a whole. I do: I pray for true repentance all around the board, for the sanctification of all concerned and the glorification of our Lord.

    My point is this–none of us at a distance can do more than this because we have no idea what went on here. My comments are intended to say that we should only wish the best for all the parties concerned and let those close at hand deal with the issues.

    I am not speculating. I am asserting, rather, that many well-meaning folk are speculating who simply read what DP wrote and figure that they’ve got a pretty good handle on what went on. It is not possible for us to have such a handle, because we have no way of knowing what has gone on here. Let me be clear: I am not asking to know what went on. I am just encouraging saints who may not be used to dealing with such, and who don’t have all the facts, not to be naive and think they know something that they don’t. I stand by such counsel, Angela.

    So let’s all agree to pray for the Phillips’ family, other injured parties, and all associated–I pray that this whole matter will be turned to their good and God’s glory. There’s nothing more for us to pray or to take away from this at this point than that.

  13. November 17, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Dear Rev. Strange, I agree 100% with all you’ve said here regarding the situation. I am mostly expressing frustration with all the “buzz” on the internet – you responded very biblical and with great wisdom. May the good Lord bless you! :)

  14. SLIMJIM said,

    November 18, 2013 at 1:11 am

    Great post. Very sanctifying read as a minister myself. I am praying for Doug Phillips, I don’t know much about his theology but you brought up a good point about our attitude towards those fallen.

  15. jsm52 said,

    November 18, 2013 at 2:23 am

    Alan D. Strange @ 8,

    I appreciate what Jack cited of Luther to Spalatin. Here’s the difference: Luther knew Spalatin and thus had a basis for this sort of counsel. We can’t give such counsel to DP, once again, because we don’t know him or what went on here and given what it involves, we want to be very careful: we don’t know how deep this thing goes and we would never want to be part of minimizing something that could be quite serious and possibly involve serial sin. We just don’t know.

    I do agree. The quote by Luther wasn’t wasn’t meant as a prescription for DP regarding the resumption of his ministry. Lane brought forth some important points for all to keep in mind – of how our Lord died for real sinners who commit real sins and Christ’s forgiveness is indeed for those real sinners. No shock that DP has sinned grievously as lamentable as that is. And not to say that there aren’t real consequences (for him and others) to sin… whatever the extent of his is. As you wrote, there is much unkown about the situation, so no comment from me intended as to what should happen going forward.

  16. CD-Host said,

    November 18, 2013 at 9:30 am

    @Todd —

    In what sense is Doug Phillips to be regarded as a minister? Who confirmed his call externally? What legitimate body examined and approved him for ministry?

    One of the earliest cases I ever dealt with on my blog was an excommunication from Doug Phillips church. His position and authority has been upheld by numerous PCA churches and other conservative reformed churches. They considered his discipline binding and returned the family to his church for restoration rather than just rejecting his discipline. So he’s been examined by your community and accepted as being at least on par with a NAPARC church.

    1) Faith PCA verbally and in writing affirmed the legitimacy of the excommunication process of BCA (Phillip’s church)
    2) Faith PCA affirmed the exclusive jurisdiction of BCA, both to give and to remove the censure of excommunication from the (last name), “Knowing that Boerne Christian Assembly is an orthodox evangelical Christian church, we recognize your excommunication of Mark and Jennifer as a valid ecclesiastical act with continuing effect.”

  17. Todd said,

    November 18, 2013 at 9:49 am

    CD,

    Thanks – But the actions of one session is not binding or even necessarily normative; I may be wrong but I would imagine most sessions in the PCA or OPC would not have gone that route.

  18. Tony King said,

    November 18, 2013 at 11:55 am

    I have a question that is brought up by this situation, but I ask it because I believe it is something to be considered by Christians with regards to all para-church ministries. Should we look at a situation such as this and assume there is accountability? How can we assume that accountability exists and thus it is appropriate for us to support and participate in the ministry if there are not obviously people that are around the leader(s) regularly enough to actually know them and hold them accountable? In this situation, I believe the three board members all live far enough away to require an airline flight to actually go to the ministry HQ. Perhaps there was other accountability, but Mr. Phillips did mention a lack of accountability in his resignation letter. We have seen this type of fall happen all too often and my first thought is may God have mercy on me. But, I also wonder if we as believers before supporting a ministry have a responsibility to ask and understand what accountability exist? I have attended many events with VF and DP. I have learned much and am thankful for it. But are I and others that have attended events and supported efforts such as this been guilty of assisting DP in “thinking too much of himself” (from his letter)? I pray for Doug and wish only to look now in my mirror and ask what I have done to be even a small part of it all. I want God to instruct me on how I should go forward to ensure I walk in a manner that would be pleasing to Him. I thank you in advance for consideration of my question. By His Grace and for His Glory.

  19. Alan D. Strange said,

    November 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Tony:

    I appreciate your humility in this. Was there real accountability? Likely not. This is part of the problem with extra-ecclesiastical agencies.

    Having said that, men can, and often have, hid right in the church. We are only as accountable as we make ourselves and/or those around us insist that we be.

    That is why, as Lane has said here, that this is truly a cautionary tale for us all, even though DP is not a minister and this work is not the work of the church. We in the church ought to be careful to be evidently accountable.

    May the Lord humble us all, so that none of us thinks that he stands, lest he fall. The best of us, whoever that is, are, at our best, very weak and needy.

  20. November 18, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Amen! It blesses my heart to read the exchange between the godly men at this forum. :)

  21. CD-Host said,

    November 18, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    @Tony —

    Just my $.02 and YMMV. There are 3 agencies here you are conflating:

    Boerne Christian Assembly (http://boernechristianassembly.org/ ) which does have a typical congregationalist style session and offers whatever kinds of accountability you think exist in Reformed Congregations with a star pastor where the overwhelming majority of the membership is there for the pastor. Definitely a serious problem but not unique to Phillips.

    Vision Forum Ministries (http://www.visionforumministries.org) which disbanded over the scandal. So there is nothing to support.

    Vision Forum Inc (http://www.visionforum.com) which is a for profit company fully owned by Doug Phillips. Structurally there is no accountability. But in a broader sense Vision Forum Inc is what makes Doug Phillips genuinely accountable, since he needs to sell to a broader public.

  22. Tony King said,

    November 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Please don’t exalt my humility. I well know my own depravity. If God can save me, he can save any. I too easily think of myself better than I should and it has always led to grief. To exalt man is to seemingly diminish God. To exalt God is to diminish man. May God alone be exalted.

  23. michael said,

    November 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    I’m confused! “…A better tack has been advocated by some, and I think it is a better way to analyze the situation. Whenever a pastor preaches the Word of God on a particular sin, Satan will try mightily to undermine the pastor precisely in that area. This doesn’t happen only to people like Doug Phillips. Did you preach against greed on Sunday? Then beware of Satan’s temptations to greed throughout the week, and pray, pray, and pray some more. Did you preach against pornography? Then again, beware of Satan’s temptations in that area either in the immediate or even distant future, and pray, pray, and pray some more. The fact is, no matter what sin the pastor preaches against, Satan will love to tempt the pastor with that particular sin, because he knows he can cause more damage to the church that way. …”!

    There is something in this paragraph that doesn’t set right for me about Satan and so this whole post doesn’t ring true to my understanding about his liberty with God’s people.

    There may be Greek scholars reading my comment here that can bring out the plain Greek meaning to the following text rendered by the ESV that can clear up for me the confusion?

    6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
    7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
    8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
    9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
    10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
    11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

    It seems to me Peter’s words give “no” liberty to Satan to attack any one of us unless permitted by Our Heavenly Father.

    When I read Job’s first chapters I get the same sense, that is, that Satan can only do to us what God permits no matter what Satan wants?

  24. November 20, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    In response to TW Eston’s comments posted and at Doug Wilson’s blog- I am one of those who rushed to DP’s defense out of a sense of loyalty and respect for his deceased father, Howard Phillips… But I did not have all the facts at the time and now make a public apology to those whom I’ve dismissed and chastised when it appears they were for the most part seeking to make the truth known.

  25. Tim Harris said,

    November 21, 2013 at 9:18 am

    The fact that Phillips is keeping the money-bags part of the outfit and ditching the part that was probably something of a pain in the neck anyway, is telling. When he gives the money part away, then I’ll take all the public posturing seriously.

    Also, what is all this stuff about “accountability”? What do people think accountability would entail? Having a chaperone follow him about? Making him go to Confession once a week? I think “accountability” may be another one of these empty-box-car kind of words bandied about today, like “responsible,” “nuanced,” and a half-dozen others.

  26. Reed Here said,

    November 21, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    T.W. Eston, as per blog rules here, please identify yourself, at least to the moderators. I tried tracking back to your blog but it is marked as private and so WordPress would not grant me access.

    Feel free to tell us on blog who you are, and a bit of your background vis-a-vis faith in Christ. Or, if for some reason you’d prefer to do so privately, you can reach me at reedhere at gmail (dot) com. I will be glad to forward to Lane and other moderators. Thanks.

    Reed
    moderator durationem vereor

  27. Reed Here said,

    November 25, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    T.W. Eston, I sent you an email regarding your last comment, to the address you used to post here at GB. If for some reason you do not get it kindly let me know and I’ll send it to you again, or will post it here for you to read.

    Just to encourage you on your two primary concerns: the rules are not unpublished, nor selectively enforced. Appreciate that sometimes things might get missed, but a search of the archives will turn up the rules the moderators follow here at GB.

    Thanks for your interest.

  28. Reed Here said,

    November 27, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    T.W. Eston: as I have not heard from you, I have no way of knowing whether you got my response top your queries. Accordingly, I am posting here the email I sent you this past Monday. It should answer your questions:

    T.W.,

    Not unpublished rules, but published. I can understand that you might not look them up before commenting. That’s o.k. We try to be gracious and explain to folks once they’ve commented, giving them time to comply with the rules.

    As per the blog rules, and to be gracious to you, I posted a comment explaining that the blog owner does not allow anonymous comments. My comment requested that you identify yourself (name, religious background, that kind of thing). As per the blog owner’s rules, if some reason you didn’t feel comfortable doing that publicly I included my email address so you could send this information privately. In that way the blog owner and his moderators could truthfully say that they know who you are and can keep you accountable for comments. I.e., this is just ordinary application of biblical honesty and integrity.

    I left your comment up for a couple of days. After I did not hear from you I placed your comment (and one other asking you to so identify yourself) in the pending que. Not hearing from you after a couple of more days, I then moved your comment (and the other) to the trash. After another day of not hearing from you I deleted the comments.

    Again, nothing untoward or even unkind, just a basic application of the rules the blog owner has established to help us all communicate consistent with biblical standards. I had no right to expect you to identify yourself, as you have no right to expect that anonymous comments are allowed at Green Baggins.

  29. Joshua24:15 said,

    December 18, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    In response to the identity of TW Eston. He self identifies as a firmer member member of Boerne Christian Assembly and posts regularly on the site of an excommunicated BCA member that appears to be primarily purposed to the defamation (deservedly or not) of BCA and Doug Phillips as a cult.

  30. Reed Here said,

    December 18, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    Joshua24:15: same goes for you. Sorry.

  31. Joshua24:15 said,

    December 19, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Reed Here,
    Sorry. I didn’t read the email copy on your post. My name is Joshua. I am a recently reformed presbyterian that was raised in the Campbellite church. Homeschooling father of 9 with one on the way. I found this sight, as well as the one I previously mentioned, following discussions over the events currently effect BCA, VFM and the Phillips family. I am sad that the sins of one man are being used to tarnish a message I believe in. I am neither a rabid fan nor opponent of Mr. Phillips knowing he is just fallen man as am I. I only posted due to the previous postings I had seen by Mr. Eston on the aforementioned site. If there is any further information you would like, let me know. Again, sorry I overlooked that.

  32. CD-Host said,

    December 21, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    @Joshua —

    I assume by X-member you mean Jen? In which case she also had rather substantial theological objections to BCA.

    And I wouldn’t worry to much. Homeschooling, family integrated churches, patriarchy… are if anything stronger than 6 years ago when Phillips was at his height. You now have a mainstream systematic theology preaching the semi-arian doctrine of eternal subordination as part of complementarian / patriarchy. The ESV is a mainstream bible, while the TNIV died and Zondervan partially retreated to NIV2011.

    Losing Phillips is a bump, NQA but your beliefs are doing great.

  33. Joshua24:15 said,

    December 21, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Semi-arian?

  34. CD-Host said,

    December 21, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    @Judhua can you clarify what you are asking? Are you asking for a definition semi-arian?

  35. Joshua24:15 said,

    December 22, 2013 at 8:21 am

    No. I’m wondering how you’re applying the Arian heresey to family integration, complementarism, and/or homeschooling? Also the beliefs I was referring to are the reformation of church and civic life through the reformation of family life and that fathers need to take an active role in the spiritual lives of their families.


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