Where Sex Trafficking Occurs in America

The Story: A recent report highlights the cities and states within the U.S. in which human trafficking is most reported.

The Background: Modern-day slavery, also referred to as “trafficking in persons,” or “human trafficking,” describes the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Trafficking in persons is estimated to be one of the top-grossing criminal industries in the world (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking), with traffickers profiting an estimated $32 billion every year.

Because the crime is kept out of sight no one knows for sure the extent of trafficking in America. But we can gain a better understanding of the crime by measuring the “signals”—phone calls, emails, and online tip reports—received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which maintains one of the most extensive data sets on the issue of human trafficking in the U.S. From 2007 to 2018, the Hotline received 195,215 signals representing 45,308 “cases” (i.e., distinct situations of trafficking).

The Geoffrey Nathan Law Offices recently analyzed the data from the Hotline to uncover where human trafficking reports are most prevalent.

Their report finds that on a per capita basis (cases per 100,000 people), Washington DC (6.1) and Nevada (5.6) have the most reports of human trafficking in the nation. In each of those states, trafficking reports are more than five times more likely than in states like Wisconsin (1.1) and Utah (1.1). Even larger states like California (1.9), Florida (1.7), and New York (1.1) had fewer reported cases than DC and Nevada.

The report also shows the total number of cases from 2007 to 2016 per capita among the 100 largest cities in America. The top five cities in America for human trafficking reports are Washington DC, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, and Las Vegas. Almost all of the top 25 cities for human trafficking prevalence are large metropolises, and many are major tourist destinations and/or have international airports. The exception is New York City, which has the twenty-second lowest rate of human trafficking in the country. Cities where human trafficking is less common tend to be smaller cities.

What It Means: Why is trafficking more prevalent in some cities and states than in others? A key factor appears to be prostitution. “Underlying much of the prostitution industry and illegal massage parlors is the horrible fact that many of the women supposedly working there are being held against their will,” according to the report.

“While some prostitutes may work entirely on their own accord, a very significant number of them are working against their will,” notes the report. “Even in Nevada, where prostitution is legal in certain parts of the state with a license, there are widespread reports of women working at brothels against their will or with falsified identification.”

Despite prostitution being frequently described as a “victim-less” crime, the connection between prostitution, both legal and illegal, and sex trafficking is exceedingly well established.

Nearly half of all incidents investigated by U.S. law enforcement agencies between January 1, 2008, and June 30, 2010 (the last date for which data is available), involved allegations of adult prostitution (48 percent) while another forty percent involved prostitution of a child or child sexual exploitation.

As Donna M. Hughes has noted, “evidence seems to show that legalized sex industries actually result in increased trafficking to meet the demand for women to be used in the legal sex industries.” Melissa Farley adds that “wherever prostitution is legalized, trafficking to sex industry marketplaces in that region increases.”

Christians in America too often assume that trafficking is a problem that only occurs in foreign lands. While sex slavery is certainly more prevalent in other countries, we can’t overlook what is happening in our own cities and states. We can help these women and children, though, by knowing the signs to look for. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the indicators of human trafficking may include a person:

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement or immigration officials
  • Shows signs of substance use or addiction
  • Shows signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment, and/or fatigue
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is frequently monitored
  • Is not in control of their own money, financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of their own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where they are staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Appear to have lost sense of time
  • Shares scripted, confusing, or inconsistent stories

Each individual indicator should be taken in context and not be considered in isolation, notes the Hotline, nor should be taken as “proof” that human trafficking is occurring. But if you believe you may have information about a potential trafficking situation, you should contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

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Jesus Christ Has Authority Over Death

The great hope of every Christian is that the grave will not be the end for them when they die. Jesus Christ will one day raise them up to everlasting life. Jesus has authority over death, and He proved this during His earthly life as He raised the dead back to life.

Loving Jesus in a Secular Age

“If you really do say truth is subjective, that you find truth inside, then you’ve got absolutely no ability to ground your calls to justice. You’ve got nothing to build on. . . . You’ve actually just destroyed your ability to talk about any moral obligation at all.” — Tim Keller

Date: April 2, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast or watch a video of the discussion.

Related:

Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page.

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Taylor Turkington and Courtney Doctor on TGC’s Women’s Training Network

Taylor Turkington and Courtney Doctor are excellent Bible teachers. They are also educated Bible teachers (Turkington earned an M.A. and a D.Min. from Western Seminary, and Doctor an M.Div. from Covenant Seminary.) And they are on a mission to train women around the country—in fact, around the world—to better interpret their Bibles. Through the Women’s Training Network, they want to teach women to handle the Bible, grasp the story of the Bible, and live and lead according to what’s taught in the Bible. At these two-day intensives, women get to choose a particular track that suits their interests and experience, choosing from workshops such as ministry practicals, unity and dignity, and Christlike leadership. I talked to Turkington and Doctor about how their love for Scripture and for teaching it developed in their own lives, and what their dreams are for the Women’s Training Network.

Watch this video about the Women’s Training Network and check out information on tracks, registration, dates, and cities. Registration is open now for workshops in Austin, Sacramento, and Philadelphia. For more information about the Biblical Theology Workshop for Women with Nancy Guthrie, go to nancyguthrie.com.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.

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Speaking in Tongues: A Good Gift from the Father of Lights

My new book, The Language of Heaven: Crucial Questions about Speaking in Tongues, is available at Amazon for pre-purchase and will be released on June 4. What follows below is the introduction to the book that I hope will give you a sense for why I wrote it.

Like many, if not most of you, I grew up loving Christmas. I couldn’t wait until Christmas morning when my sister and I would tear into the many gifts that our parents had worked so hard to purchase for us. Even more enjoyable was when I became a parent of two daughters and experienced the satisfaction of blessing them with gifts they so passionately desired.

My sister and I were, as best I remember, always appreciative of what our parents gave us. And my own daughters were likewise grateful. If they ever felt disappointment, they never let on to me or to Ann. But I can easily envision how I would have felt if they had. If, after opening a particular gift that I personally picked out for them, they responded by frowning at it, expressing virtual contempt for what I thought was in their best interests, only then to cast it aside and never take it up again, I confess that I would have been heartbroken. Perhaps those of you who are parents have experienced precisely this scenario and you know the awkward feeling that comes with watching your children treat your best efforts at blessing them with utter disregard and disdain.

I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to suggest that this is what a large portion of the body of Christ has done with the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. Our heavenly Father, with our best interests in view, because he loves us and in order to bless us beyond anything that we ever deserved, carefully conceived, crafted, and then lovingly bestowed on his children this gracious gift. Yes, it’s a gift. Yes, it was God’s idea, not that of any human being. And yes, God thought up and generously poured out on his children a gift that sadly so many of us have frowned upon, made fun of, tried to explain away, and largely ignored.

Try to imagine how that makes our heavenly Father feel. How would it make you feel if, out of love, you conceived of a special gift for your children only to have them laugh at it, mock it, and then cast it aside? Speaking in tongues, or what I call heavenly language, was God’s idea. He thought it up. He invented it. He graciously bestowed it upon the church. And how have so many responded? Some, with utter contempt. With statements like: “But it’s so weird.” Or perhaps something like: “It’s actually useless. It doesn’t make much sense to me. I have no desire to receive this gift and I’ll do whatever I can to discourage others from making it an object of their prayer requests to God.”

The gift of tongues, and in particular those who regularly practice praying in the Spirit, do not have a good reputation among many outside the charismatic movement. Those who practice this gift are thought by many to be mushy-minded and spiritually uncoordinated. They are perceived as incapable of chewing their theological gum and walking in a straight line at the same time. I’ve been told on several occasions that someone who prays words that he/she does not understand is probably an intellectual lightweight who prefers feeling to thinking. Such a Christian is likely averse to deep and rigorous engagement with the Scriptures and avoids theological argumentation at all costs.

Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I have found the gift of tongues to be a tremendous boost to my spiritual zeal and an immensely effective way for deepening my relationship with Jesus. Contrary to the caricatures that many have of this gift, I can still tie my shoelaces, balance my checkbook, drive a car, hold down a job, and I rarely ever drool!

So why is it that speaking in tongues is not what one might call polite dinner conversation, especially in more conservative, Bible-church evangelical circles? Speaking in tongues is considered only a notch or two above snake-handling (or in the opinion of some, below it) and the drinking of deadly poison! Be courageous enough to admit you speak in tongues and you’ll likely be met with scrunched-up faces and looks of incredulity. “What did you say? You speak in tongues? You? But you always struck me as being normal, and you always appeared to love studying the Bible and engaging in rigorous theological debates. But tongues? Ah, you must be kidding, right?”

The gift of tongues is often treated like the proverbial “red-haired step-child” in the family of God. We can’t completely dismiss its presence, but we regard it as something regularly found only among doctrinally weak-minded Christians who are emotionally unstable, at best. What accounts for this reputation in the Bible-believing world?

Some of you may be tempted to think I’m being overly negative in even asking this question. You may think that no one really cares much about the issue these days, especially since the spiritual gift of prophecy has usurped tongues as the most controversial of all spiritual gifts. But I assure you that the prejudice against tongues is alive and well. Whereas prophecy is looked on as a potential threat to the sufficiency of Scripture, tongues is just plain weird. It’s only people who lack self-control and have little regard for their public image who admit to possessing and making use of this spiritual gift.

So, why is it that so many of you, right now, are nervously twitching and sweating profusely at the thought of someone speaking in tongues? Why is it that you carefully hide the cover of this book lest someone sitting close by takes a quick glance at the title? After all, some of you do make certain that when you pause your reading you place the book face down! As you’ll discover later in the book, there are numerous ways to answer this question, but here I want to focus on only two.

First, the disdain many have toward tongues is primarily the result of a misunderstanding of what is likely the most famous of all biblical texts on tongues. I’m sure you know it well:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1).

And who wants to be a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”? No one, obviously. But the image (or sound) of tongues in this passage has often served to lodge in the hearts of many a deep dislike of tongues, or at least a healthy fear of it.

But Paul isn’t denouncing or denigrating tongues. Far less is he making fun of the gift. His criticism is aimed at tongues devoid of love. He’s talking about tongues pursued and practiced selfishly, without regard for others. He’s talking about tongues being sinfully used to promote oneself or to draw attention to one’s spirituality, as over against others who are “lesser” Christians because they haven’t been blessed with the gift. The same would apply equally to every other spiritual gift. Any and all of the charismata that are exercised in the absence of love for others and a commitment to their spiritual welfare could easily become a noisy and offensive intrusion into the life of the local church. The only reason Paul mentions tongues in particular is that this is the gift more abused by the Corinthian church than any other.

So what do you think Paul would say if our speaking in tongues was motivated by love and thoroughly characterized by humility, consideration for others, and for the praise and glory of God? I think Paul would have said something like this:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, and do so in a loving and gentle and merciful way, I am a glorious and melodious sound, a virtual symphony of sweet music that is pleasing and satisfying to all who might hear me. If I never make use of my gift to put others down but only to serve them and build them up in their faith, what a marvelous and beautiful blessing this would be for everyone!”

So let’s be sure that we don’t take what Paul says about the selfish abuse of tongues and apply it to the loving and other-oriented use of tongues.

A second reason many maintain a deep-seated prejudice against tongues is the careless and unbiblical way in which tongues is flaunted in corporate gatherings without the benefit of interpretation. We’ve all seen it. And we’ve all cringed as the speaker appears to flaunt his/her “anointing” by delivering what we are told to believe is a crucial message from God. The only problem is that this “message” is never interpreted for the benefit of those who hear it. It grieves me to say it, but some charismatics give every appearance of simply not caring what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14 about how tongues are to be exercised when God’s people are gathered in corporate assembly. Perhaps they are thinking that we’ve moved beyond the need or relevance for such guidelines. What may have been important for first-century church life simply doesn’t obtain in the 21st century. Or they may think that there are times when the Spirit comes in such power and the prompting one feels within is so overwhelming that to insist on interpretation would be to quench the Spirit or to grieve him.

It really matters little what justification they may provide for violating Paul’s instructions. There is no excuse, at any time, for intentionally violating the guidelines set for in Scripture for the exercise of spiritual gifts. The conclusion of some on the cessationist side of the debate is that any alleged spiritual gift that is subject to such obvious abuse and mishandling cannot be of any value or hold any validity in the life of the church today.

So, let me be clear about something in this book before we get started. I will do my very best to stay rooted in and tethered to the inspired and infallible Word of God. I will strive to justify my conclusions based on what Scripture says. I realize that some in the professing Christian community believe that this is too restrictive, that it puts limitations on what God might choose to do in our day that the church so desperately needs. I do not share that fear. My fear, in fact, is that once we step outside the governing rule of the Bible we are subject to all manner of deception and abuse. God doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth. He didn’t say something about the nature and operation of tongues in the first century, only then to reverse himself and render those guidelines superfluous for us in the present day. The Bible is our functional authority when it comes to the gift of tongues (or any other gift, for that matter). I am governed by and submissive to its teaching. Its guidelines and the boundaries that it articulates are no less applicable and essential in the contemporary church than they were in the early days of church life in the middle of the first century. I trust that my commitment to the functional authority of Scripture will be evident on every page of what follows.

I hope and pray you enjoy and are edified by this book.

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How to Call Christians Out on Twitter

Every day on Twitter and other social media sites, Christians call each other out for being “woke” (or not woke enough), “misogynist,” “politically correct,” “heretical,” and much more. Such debates seem typically (on all sides) to generate a lot of furor but not much mutual understanding between Christians.

This is a history blog, so how should we think historically about Christians calling each other out publicly? Public rebukes have a long history in Christianity, though I suspect we tend to remember only the instances that went well. Christ rebuked the Pharisees, and Paul rebuked Peter “in front of them all” (Galatians 2:11-14). Martin Luther nailed up the 95 theses, and Charles Spurgeon had the “Downgrade Controversy.” J. Gresham Machen rebuked the modernists, calling theirs a “non-redemptive religion” which was no longer true Christianity. So Christians who call out fellow believers, or who expose wolves in sheep’s clothing, have a noble history of precedents to which they can point.

But the problem is, not all of us are Paul, Luther, Spurgeon, or Machen. More importantly, none of us are like Jesus Christ, who was incapable of error. We may think we’re making a bold stand like Luther, but might just end up looking like jerks or busybodies.

Moreover, Twitter and similar venues have made it easier than ever for Christians to engage in thoughtless, immature, and rash indictments of fellow believers. Our default mode should be maintaining peace and charity among believers, and when we do rebuke, we should only do it with principles such as those in Matthew 18:15-17 in mind. (Even Matthew 18 can be easily abused, however, as Don Carson has noted.)

There is definitely a place and time for rebuking or warning believers, then, but especially in the age of Twitter I would encourage readers to keep the following questions or principles before them, and hopefully not fall into the errors of rash anger (James 1:19) and foolish airing of opinions (Proverbs 18:2).

  1. What is the purpose of the rebuke, and the means of sharing it? Twitter arguments almost never convince the “other side,” and they routinely damage relationships, even between people on the “same side” on the essential issues (salvation through Christ alone, the authority of the Bible, etc.). Could you approach the person privately with your concern? If not, why not?
  2. Is there a reason why you need to be the one doing the rebuking? Social media (and our culture more broadly) has way too many self-appointed ideological police. Your agenda is not everybody else’s agenda. If you barge in and lecture people every time you perceive they are in error on your chosen issue, you will lose credibility quickly.
  3. Do you have expertise or experience in the controversy in question? As in point #2, social media and blogging has aided the “death of expertise” in America. Anyone with a phone can now berate people with decades of studied wisdom and hard-earned experience about a topic. Sometimes the uncredentialed phone-tapping critics just end up looking foolish, but sometimes the people who scream the loudest actually shape the terms of debate and policy.

Years ago, a prominent professional acquaintance of mine took exception to a claim I made in one of my books. Instead of denouncing me in public, he approached me about it over e-mail. He seemed fairly irritated about the issue at first, but after exchanging a few e-mails we reached something of an understanding. I knew I needed to be more careful about the way I discussed the issue in the future, and he realized that there was actually something to the point I was making. We now correspond occasionally about similar questions regarding American history.

Would this have happened if this acquaintance had torched me on Twitter first? I seriously doubt it. Instead, we might have been permanently estranged and neither of us would have grown in knowledge or wisdom.

There may come times when some of us will need to rebuke or denounce someone on social media. But if you want to maintain relationships and actually change someone’s mind, it is almost never the best approach.

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20 Quotes from Don Carson on Gospel Centrality

The following quotes caught my attention as I (Matt Smethurst) read Don Carson’s new little book, Prophetic from the Center (10Publishing, 2019).


Perhaps more common yet is the tendency to assume the gospel, whatever that is, while devoting creative energy and passion to other issues—marriage, happiness, prosperity, evangelism, the poor, wrestling with Islam, wrestling with the pressures of secularization, bioethics, dangers on the left, dangers on the right—the list is endless. This overlooks the fact that our hearers inevitably are drawn toward that about which we are most passionate. Every teacher knows that. My students are unlikely to learn all that I teach them; they are most likely to learn that about which I am most excited. If the gospel is merely assumed, while relatively peripheral issues ignite our passion, we will train a new generation to downplay the gospel and focus zeal on the periphery. (4–5)

It is easy to sound prophetic from the margins; what is urgently needed is to be prophetic from the center. (5)

When we insist that as a matter of first importance, the gospel is Christological, we are not thinking of Christ as a cipher, or simply as the God-man who comes along and helps us like a nice insurance agent: “Jesus is a nice God-man, he’s a very, very nice God-man, and when you break down, he comes along and fixes you.” The gospel is Christological in a more robust sense: Jesus is the promised Messiah who died and rose again. (12)

The cross and resurrection are not nakedly historical events; they are historical events with the deepest theological weight. (13)

From the beginning, sin is an offense against God. God himself pronounces the sentence of death (Gen. 2–3). This is scarcely surprising, since God is the source of all life, so if his image bearers spit in his face and insist on going their own way and becoming their own gods, they cut themselves off from their Maker, from the One who gives life. What is there, then, but death? (14)

In all our sinning, God is invariably the most offended party. That is why we must have his forgiveness, or we have nothing. (15–16)

The God the Bible portrays as resolved to intervene and save is also the God portrayed as full of wrath because of our sustained idolatry. As much as he intervenes to save us, he stands over against us as Judge, an offended Judge with fearsome jealousy. . . . How often when we preach the gospel are people terrified? (16, 18)

To be saved from our sins is to be saved not only from their chaining power but also from their consequences—and the consequences are profoundly bound up with God’s solemn sentence, with God’s holy wrath. Once you see this, you cannot fail to see that whatever else the cross achieves, it must rightly set aside God’s sentence, it must rightly satisfy God’s wrath, or it achieves nothing. (21)

Any approach, theological or evangelistic, that attempts to pit Jesus’s death and Jesus’s resurrection against each other, is not much more than silly. (24)

The Bible never asks us to believe what is not true. By the same token, one of the principal ways the Bible increases and strengthens faith is by articulating and defending the truth. (30)

We are not saved by theological ideas about Christ; we are saved by Christ himself. (31)

The new humanity in [Christ] draws in people from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. The gospel . . . is not universal in the sense that it transforms and saves everyone without exception, for in reality, those whose existence is connected exclusively to the old Adam are not included. Yet this gospel is gloriously universal in its comprehensive sweep. There is not a trace of racism here. (34)

Humility, gratitude, dependence on Christ, contrition—these are the characteristic attitudes of the truly converted. (41)

When the gospel truly does its work, “proud Christian” is an unthinkable oxymoron. (41)

Corinth speaks to the lust for endless innovation that casually cuts a swath away from the practices and beliefs of other churches, while quietly side-stepping the careful instruction of the apostle. . . . Always be suspicious of churches that proudly flaunt how different they are from what has gone before. (43)

The gospel is boldly advancing under the contested reign and inevitable victory of Jesus the king. (45)

There is no place for triumphalism in the church of the blood-bought, in the church led by apostles who eat everyone’s dirt at the end of the procession. (49)

A Christianity where believers are not patient and kind, a Christianity where believers characteristically envy, are proud and boastful, rude, easily angered, and keep a record of wrongs, is no Christianity at all. (51)

The conventions and expectations of the world are pervasive and enslaving. The gospel must be worked out for these women, and demonstrated in the life of the church, so that it issues in liberation from the wretched chains of idolatry too subtle to be named and too intoxicating to escape, apart from the powerful word of the cross. (53–54)

[Pondering how the gospel transforms various areas of life] must be done, not by attempting to abstract social principles from the gospel, still less by endless focus on the periphery in a vain effort to sound prophetic, but precisely by preaching and teaching and living out in our churches the glorious gospel of our blessed Redeemer. (54)

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Will the Real Shakespeare Please Stand Up? Looking at Historical Fallacies

Readers of this blog have almost certainly heard a sermon illustration to the effect that bankers learn how to discover counterfeit money not by studying fake currency but by spending so much time handling the real thing that they learn to feel the difference. (I’ve never independently verified this, but it seems plausible. And as they say, It’ll preach!)

It’s also the case that studying fallacies and errors—the fake news, as it were—can be helpful as well. In the realm of biblical studies, seminary students and pastors have benefited from D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies (and he humbly includes examples from himself, earlier in his career). The classic in the field of historical studies is a book I read as an undergraduate: David Hackett Fischer’s Historians’ Fallacies.

Carl Trueman—a church history professor who wrote a book called Histories and Fallacies—recommends that his history students read Richard Evans’s Lying about Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial in order to see historical fallacies refuted. (See my interview with Professor Evans here.)

If you want to work through a contemporaneous real-world example of historical-fallacy–making at work, you could read an article in The Atlantic entitled “Was Shakespeare a Woman?” by Elizabeth Winkler, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal making the case that “William Shakespeare” was actually the English poet Emilia Bassano (1569–1645).

Then you could read a response written by Dominic Green, Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA (HT: Prufrock).

Green writes:

The ‘case’ for anyone but Shakespeare is always a fantasy in pursuit of facts.

Winkler’s article, like every case for Shakespeare not having been Shakespeare, repeatedly commits the elementary error of historical writing. Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.

It is strange that Shakespeare doesn’t refer to books in his will. But it doesn’t mean that he didn’t read.

Hitler, after all, did not attend the Wannsee Conference. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t order the Holocaust.

Green goes on to identify five inaccuracies in Winkler’s piece, from false claims to irrelevant interpretations.

Again, reading this kind of critique can attune you to the sort of fallacies that authors can make.

By the way, if you are interested in the subject of Shakespeare’s identity, you may find the following two resources helpful as a starting point:

(1) Richard McCrum, “How ‘Sherlock of the Library’ Cracked the Case of Shakespeare’s Identity.” (“Wolfe’s research nails any lingering ambiguity in which the Shakespeare deniers can take refuge.”)

(2) A 15-minute interview with Oxford English Professor Jonathan Bate on the question:

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Mind Battles: Victory Over Wrong Thoughts

There are many wars that have taken place and are taking place in this world. But one of the greatest wars constantly taking place is in the mind of Christians. Evil and wicked thoughts can bombard our minds incessantly and greatly grieve us. What are some things that can help us in this hellish warfare?

When #ChurchToo Hits Close to Home

You’d think the church would be the last place where abuse would be ignored, but, regrettably, that’s not the case, as the #ChurchToo movement has shown. Even knowing the statistics on abuse within churches, it’s a shock when you find out one of your own members or leaders has abused someone in your church family.

In this conversation, Rosaria Butterfield, Melissa Kruger, and Trillia Newbell talk about how to be prepared if someone comes to you with a revelation of abuse, and how to overcome the shock of the moment to readily offer comfort and protection. All three women agree that police should be notified of any accusation of sexual abuse. Rosaria Butterfield recounts a recent conversation in which a woman requested prayer for an ongoing abuse situation: “I said, ‘Well, let’s call the police first, and then let’s pray.’”

Too often, the pain of abuse has been intensified when church members or leaders respond to abuse revelations inadequately. We can’t always prevent abuse from happening, but we can prepare ourselves to respond—to do the right thing right away—when we discover there have been wolves amid the flock.

Related:

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast.

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10 Things You Should Know about Complementarianism

I’m a bit hesitant about posting this article, for the simple fact that there are differing versions of what is known as complementarianism. Although there are several foundational truths that all complementarians embrace, differences emerge when it comes to application in the local church and in para-church ministries. So be aware that not all complementarians will necessarily agree with the way I articulate the concept.

(1) I’ll begin with identifying some foundational truths on which both complementarians and egalitarians agree.

Both complementarians and egalitarians agree that men and women are equally created in the image of God, and that neither is more or less the image of God than the other. Both agree that men and women are equal in personal dignity, that neither is more or less worthy or of more or less value as human beings. Both insist that men and women should treat each other with kindness and compassion and love, and that any and all forms of abuse or disrespect or dishonor must be denounced as sin and resisted. Both complementarians and egalitarians believe that women should be actively involved in ministry. Complementarians agree with egalitarians and celebrate the fact that women, for example, served as “co-workers” with Paul and held the office of deacon.

(2) Where complementarians and egalitarians disagree is whether women can serve as the Senior Pastor or as a governing Elder in the local church, what I call senior governmental authority. Egalitarians believe the Bible permits women to hold such positions of leadership, while complementarians do not (1 Timothy 2:12-15; 3:1-7).

(3) I embrace a very flexible form of complementarianism. What this means is that I am extremely reluctant to place restrictions on anyone of either gender or any age in the absence of explicit biblical instruction to that effect. In other words, if I am going to err, it is on the side of freedom. In my opinion, the only restrictions placed on women concern what I call senior governmental authority in the local church. I have in mind, as noted above, (a) the primary authority to expound the Scriptures in the regular, weekly, corporate assembly of a local church, and enforce their doctrinal and ethical truths on the conscience of all God’s people, and (b) the authority to exercise final governmental oversight of the body of Christ.

Therefore, unlike a number of other complementarians, as long as the principle of male headship is honored in the above two respects, I believe women can lead worship, lead small groups, can assist in the celebration of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, can serve as deacons (or deaconesses), can chair church committees, can lead in evangelistic and church planting outreach, can (and should) be consulted by the local church Eldership when decisions are being made, and can contribute to virtually every other capacity of local church life. Women should be encouraged to pray and prophesy in corporate church meetings (1 Cor. 11) and should be given every opportunity to develop and exercise their spiritual gifts.

One of the things we do at Bridgeway Church here in OKC is to have a group of some ten ladies who rotate each week in the public reading of the Scripture text on which I’m preaching.

(4) That being said, complementarianism asserts that God has created both men and women in his image, of equal value and dignity as human persons, but with a distinction in the roles and responsibilities each is to fulfill in both church and home. All complementarians assert that these two assertions are perfectly and practically compatible with each other. Complementarianism asserts that functional differences between men and women in church and home, as expressed in the biblical terms “headship” and “submission”, do not diminish or jeopardize their ontological equality.

(5) Complementarianism believes that submission to rightful authority, whether wives to husbands or children to parents or Christians to elders in the church or all citizens to the state is a noble and virtuous thing, that it is a privilege, a joy, something good and desirable and consistent with true freedom, and above all honoring and glorifying to God.

(6) My understanding of complementarianism is that male headship in the church and in the home is designed by God to facilitate the spiritual growth of women and wives and to provide the loving and gentle protection and provision that those shaped in God’s image always need.

Male headship does not mean that a wife must sit passively and endure the sin or the abuse of the husband, as if submission means she has no right to stand up for what is true and good or to resist her husband’s evil ways.

There are several things to keep in mind when it comes to male headship in the home and marriage. Husbands are never commanded to rule their wives, but to love them. Headship is never portrayed in Scripture as a means for self-satisfaction or self-exaltation. Headship is always other-oriented. Headship is not the power of a superior over an inferior. Human nature is sinfully inclined to distort the submission of the wife into the superiority of the husband. Headship is never to be identified with the issuing of commands. Headship does not mean that the husband must make every decision in the home. Unfortunately, some men have mistakenly assumed that it undermines their authority for their wives to take the initiative in certain domestic matters. This is more an expression of masculine insecurity and fear than it is godly leadership.

(7) What, then, is male headship? Headship is more a responsibility than a right. Headship is the authority to serve and the opportunity to lead. Headship is always Scripturally circumscribed. Husbands have never been given the authority to lead their families in ways that are contrary to the Bible. On a related note, if a wife is ever asked or told by her husband to do something that violates Scripture, she is not only free to disobey him, she is obligated to do so. Headship does entail the responsibility to make a final decision when agreement cannot be reached. This final decision, however, may on occasion be to let his wife decide. Headship entails gentleness and sensitivity (Col. 3:18-19).

Headship does not give men the right to be wrong. Simply because God has invested in the husband the authority to lead does not give him the freedom to lead in ways that are contrary to God’s Word. Headship means honoring one’s wife as a co-heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). Headship means loving and caring for one’s wife as much as we love and care for ourselves (Eph. 5:28-29) and as much as Christ loves and cares for us (Eph. 5:25-27).

(8) My understanding of biblical complementarianism also has implications for the meaning of submission. “Submission” (Gk., hupotasso) carries the implication of voluntary yieldedness to a recognized authority. Biblical submission is appropriate in several relational spheres: (a) the wife to her husband (Eph. 5:22-24); (b) children to their parents (Eph. 6:1); (c) believers to the elders of the church (Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12); (d) citizens to the state (Rom. 13); (e) servants (employees) to their masters (employers) (1 Pt. 2:18); and (f) each believer to every other believer in humble service (Eph. 5:21).

Submission is not grounded in any supposed superiority of the husband or inferiority of the wife (see Gal. 3:28; 1 Pt. 3:7). Submission does not mean a wife is obligated to follow should her husband lead her into sin. Submission does not mean the wife must sacrifice her freedom nor does it entail passivity. Husbands who exercise godly leadership can be introverts and wives who submit can be extroverts.

Submission does not entail silence. Many mistakenly think a wife is unsubmissive if she ever: criticizes her husband (constructive criticism that is lovingly motivated and corrective in nature is not inconsistent with godly submission); makes requests of her husband (in particular, that her husband and family act responsibly in private and public; submission of the wife is not an excuse for sin or sloth or sloppiness in the husband); or teaches her husband (cf. Prov. 31:26; Acts 18:26; it is not inconsistent with godly submission that a wife be more intelligent or more articulate than her husband; on a personal note, I’ve probably learned more from my wife than from any other living soul).

(9) Submission is the disposition to honor and affirm a husband’s authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership. John Piper puts it this way:

“[Submission] is an attitude that says, ‘I delight for you to take the initiative in our family. I am glad when you take responsibility for things and lead with love. I don’t flourish when you are passive and I have to make sure the family works.’ But the attitude of Christian submission also says, ‘It grieves me when you venture into sinful acts and want to take me with you. You know I can’t do that. I have no desire to resist you. On the contrary, I flourish most when I can respond creatively and joyfully to your lead; but I can’t follow you into sin, as much as I love to honor your leadership in our marriage. Christ is my King.’”

Submission is fundamentally an attitude and act of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:22). Submission is a commitment to support one’s husband in such a way that he may reach his full potential as a man of God.

(10) What about submission when the wife is a Christian, but her husband is not?

Several things should be kept in mind (see 1 Peter 3:1-7). Submission does not mean she must agree with everything her husband says. 1 Peter 3:1 indicates that she is a believer and he is not. Thus she disagrees with him on the most important principle of all: God! Her interpretation of ultimate reality may well be utterly different from his. This indicates that submission is perfectly compatible with independent thinking. The woman in this passage has heard the gospel, assessed the claims of Christ, and embraced his atoning work as her only hope. Her husband has likewise heard the gospel and “disobeyed” it. “She thought for herself and she acted. And Peter does not tell her to retreat from that commitment” (John Piper).

Submission does not mean giving up all efforts to change her husband. The point of the passage is to tell a wife how she might “win” her husband to the Lord. Strangely enough, Peter envisions submission as the most effective strategy in changing the husband. Submission does not mean putting the will of one’s husband above the will of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter in no way suggests she should abandon her commitment to Christ simply because her husband is an unbeliever. This wife is a follower of Jesus before and above being a follower of her husband.

Submission to an unbelieving husband does not mean a wife gets her personal, spiritual strength from him. When a husband’s spiritual nurturing and leadership is lacking, a Christian wife is not left helpless. She is to be nurtured and strengthened by her hope in God (v. 5). Finally, submission to an unbelieving husband is not to be done in fear but in freedom (see 1 Peter 3:6b).

As I said at the beginning, many complementarians will disagree with some of the ways we apply or implement our views here at Bridgeway. But my response is consistently the same: show me a text that either explicitly or by good and reasonable inference prohibits a woman from doing such things and we’ll put a stop to it. Otherwise, our practice will be to encourage, equip, and release women into those areas of ministry where they can make the best use of their gifts for the glory of God and the good of the church.

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Should Christians Try to Become Rich?

I have a friend who says they want to be wealthy in order to give more money away. Is the goal of wealth a danger or a snare? In our jobs, should we try to become rich?


As an economist and a board member for a struggling non-profit, I appreciate the tremendous good that money can do. Many ministries need lots more of it! So should Christians desire wealth in order to do good, in order to give money away? Or is it a snare?

A Christian’s ultimate desire is for God’s kingdom to come, however it comes. We desire for God to equip all people according to his purposes. If God makes us “hands or eyes” in the body, so be it. Paul tells us that mercy is a spiritual gift, but he doesn’t say, “Earnestly desire to have wealth in order to exercise mercy.” If Christians should desire wealth in order to do good, 1 Corinthians 12–14 would have been a good place for Paul to say so.

If you are talented and gifted for a lucrative job, desire to be faithful with the wealth you have. But know this—being good at earning money doesn’t necessarily make you good at giving it away. It takes tremendous effort to research where to donate substantial sums—the field of “effective altruism” exists precisely because philanthropy is hard to do.

Still, many of us desire to be the ones giving money away. This is a tremendous danger. Indeed, there are at least two theological reasons to doubt our own motivations when we desire wealth in order to do good.

Opportunity Cost

First, when Jesus met the rich young ruler, he did not say, “Follow me by giving your money away.” He said, “First give your money away, and then follow me.” His ensuing conversation with the disciples suggests this order is the rule, not the exception.

Because for almost all of us, earning money to give it away is not the best we have to offer others. Jesus equips us to serve in his kingdom by doing good directly through our work (not just indirectly through how we give) and directly through how we use our time (not just indirectly through how our time is remunerated).

Remember, there is always an opportunity cost. Choosing between two jobs—one that pays more than another—almost always involves trading off something good for the money. With rare exception, serving God by earning more means doing something rather than doing the other good things we could do by working another job with less time at work, less stress, more creativity, or more direct service to others.

The biblical and historical evidence is that God does not primarily—or even frequently—advance his kingdom through philanthropy. He has this strange way of choosing the poor and the foolish. He has this odd way of “wasting” jars of perfume on worship instead of feeding the poor. He has this unexpected way of ignoring the basic rules of economics and scarce resources and instead choosing to flip the world upside-down.

Your Heart’s Treasure

Second, Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. The order matters. Unless we are vigilant in giving away our wealth before it accumulates, we will learn to accumulate, not to give. We might learn to love having wealth before we learn to love giving it away.

But when we do give our wealth away, our hearts will be with those to whom we’re giving. Our love will be re-ordered from desiring wealth in order to do good to desiring directly the good of those we’re financially supporting.

I know. I had one of those lucrative jobs. But a great mentor, Tom Sharp, discipled me well and showed me that being faithful with my money meant giving it away. My heart followed my treasure, and it didn’t take long for me to wonder if the best way to serve God was really by staying in a lucrative job I wasn’t suited for, even if I was donating my income. And because I followed Tom’s advice, I was better able to see the various ways God had equipped me to serve his kingdom.

Things would be different if our world weren’t dreadfully fallen. But money in our world is like Sauron’s ring in The Lord of the Rings. When offered it, Gandalf replied: “Do not tempt me! . . . The way of the ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it . . . the wish to wield it would be too great for my strength.”

Christians empowered by the Holy Spirit can wield power over our money. But until we are made perfect, any desire for wealth—even the desire to do good with it—might wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.

See previous installments in the Thorns & Thistles series.

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The One Thing I Tell Moms of Wayward Children

My church inbox is normally nothing more than threads I’ve been copied on, an email asking our church’s position on an issue, and the weekly update message I keep meaning to unsubscribe from. About a year ago, though, I noticed an email from a concerned dad about his wandering young adult.

His son had moved from somewhere in Canada to Pittsburgh, and he was living with his girlfriend in an apartment near the church I pastor. He wanted nothing to do with the Christianity his parents had spent nearly two decades instilling in him. Uncertain of what to do, his father found my email and threw a Hail Mary. He asked if I would give his son a call and try to meet with him.

All this reminded me of Monica, the mother of Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430). I was reading Augustine’s Confessions at the time of this email, trying to make sense of the young adults in my church. At one point, Monica reached out to a priest about her wandering son. She was worried about him, and she didn’t know what else to do. He had left his childhood religion, “swooped recklessly into love” (3.1), and begun exploring a cult called Manicheanism. Near the end of Book 3 of his Confessions, describing the conversation between his mom and the priest, Augustine wrote, “This woman asked him to be so good as to speak with me and refute any mistaken notions, to teach the bad things out of me and the good things into me” (3.21).

If Monica had lived in the 21st century, it would’ve been an email.

Worried Parents Should Pray

It’s a common story. As a young-adults pastor, I’ve had many conversations with parents of wandering children—with dads like the one who emailed me a few months ago and moms like Monica who contacted the priest 1,600 years ago. And, admittedly, it’s hard to know exactly what to tell them. Try too hard and you’ll probably push your kids farther away. Do nothing and it feels like you’re abandoning them.

Confessions, at its heart, is the story of a mom who wouldn’t quit praying.

Monica, for her part, often leaned closer to the “trying too hard” end of the spectrum. Imagine a mom who would move into the dorm at her son’s college. That’s Monica. She followed Augustine as he moved around the Roman Empire, and sure enough, Augustine was often looking for ways to run away from her. Yet even as she nearly became the patron saint of helicopter parents, she did something I wish every parent of young adults would do.

She prayed for him.

Augustine spent his 20s messing around with a cult and chasing sexual experiences, but Monica spent the duration of that decade on her knees in prayer. He reflected to God:

Around eight years followed during which I rolled around in the mud of that deep pit and in the darkness of that lie, often trying to rise out of it but always taking a more forceful plunge back in. She, meanwhile a chaste, pious, and sober widow, such as you love, was already more lighthearted with hope, but she didn’t slack in weeping and groaning; she didn’t cease in all the hours of her prayers, to beat her breast before you, and her pleas were granted an audience with you; and yet you left me to wallow and be swallowed in that darkness. (3.20)

At another point, Augustine described his mother’s prayers as “rivers she addressed to you daily for my sake, irrigating the ground under her face” (5.15). She believed that God would eventually turn Augustine to himself, even as she felt he was walking farther away.

When Monica reached out to the priest, he told her to keep praying. He was unwilling to meet with Augustine because, as Augustine writes, “I was still unteachable, as I was full of hot air due to the heresy’s exciting novelty.” When Monica persisted, sending request after request begging him to have a conversation with her son, he became “sick of it, and rather annoyed” and told her, “Get out of here. . . . Just go on living this way. It’s impossible that the son of these tears of yours will perish” (3.21). If any one historical figure illustrated the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1–8), it was Monica.

Wandering Young Adults Need Prayers

I told the dad who emailed me something similar. I told him it was unlikely his son would have any interest in a conversation with me, especially after finding out his dad had already told me everything about his life. I told him that for many young adults, there’s a period of wandering, as they’re searching for what they believe, when they won’t listen to anyone’s advice—no matter how insistently or eloquently it is given. And I told him that the best thing he can for his son is pray for him and be there for him when he runs out of options. He never replied to my email.

Wandering young adults, more than anything else, need moms like Monica, who will drench the ground with tears on their behalf. They need moms who will let them wander, believing—as Evelyn Waugh wrote in Brideshead Revisited—that God has already caught them with an “unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let them wander to the end of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.” I believe that behind many of the lives I’ve seen transformed in my years of young-adult ministry are moms who refused to quit praying even when it felt hopeless, pleading with the same kind of adrenaline-filled intensity of moms who have been to known to lift cars to save their kids.

Don’t Stop Praying

In his early 30s, when Augustine finally does convert to Christianity, the first person he told was his mother. He prayed, “She was thrilled and exultant and blessed you, who in your power do more than we ask or understand. She saw that you had granted her so much more, in me, than she had been used to asking for in her wretched, tearful groaning. You had turned me to you” (8.30). She died at 55, shortly after his baptism. Augustine spendt a large portion of Book 9 of his Confessions eulogizing her and praying for her, “so that all of them who read my account remember at your altar your servant Monica” (9.37). Confessions, at its heart, is the story of a mom who wouldn’t quit praying.

I can’t promise that your young adult will convert to Christianity and write enough theological pages to fill three shelves of a seminary library if you just pray hard enough. What I can promise is that God is watching over your young adults, listening to your prayers, and working behind the scenes in ways you can’t see. Irrigate the ground with your tears. Often, it’s the prayers of moms like Monica that will open up the hearts of their young adults to hear the preaching of pastors like me.

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