Posts by Todd Pearson

Finding Joy in Christ While Remaining Discerning

Why this Topic

So, I have this friend, (she will recognize herself as soon as she sees the topic of this essay) that I have been ministering to for several years. She is dealing with quite a few personal trials and struggling for a few things. Not the least of which is remaining joyful in the midst of her trials. We communicate nearly every day and sadly I am rarely able to offer much comfort to her. Admittedly, I tend to press on her in many places, not the least of which remaining discerning. The toughest part in all of this is how to communicate to her what it means to be about finding joy in Christ and remaining discerning.

To her credit she looks for and latches on to resources that will comfort her and compel her toward finding joy in Christ. On occasion I will do what I am known for and point out where and why the resource she is leaning on my not be of the most help. Frequently, her justified retort will be to question my desire to critique apparent Christian brethren and ministries. If I am being honest, this tends to tick me off. I am not sure how sinful this response is. But I do know I have to keep it in check in effort to model finding my joy in Christ.

So, this essay is both a confession and an attempt to compel you to model the topic.

Finding Joy in Christ While People Push Back

Here is my confession. I am not good at finding joy in Christ when people push back on me. As much as I am known for spouting off at the mouth (literally and proverbially) I tend to not speak unless I am relatively certain that what I am saying is accurate. Even if I am less than perfect in articulating my thoughts. This is clearly an issue of pride on my part. When people begin to question me, I put up a wall instead of receiving their thoughts in joy and love. No one is subjected to this more than my wife.

What I, and I assume many others, need to learn, is that God intends for others to be a blessing to us just as much in push back as in affirmation. The wise Solomon reminds us in his writing that the kisses of an enemy are sweet but poisonous. But the wounds of a friend are faithful. If I am as wise as I like to think, it would be easy for me to tell you how to go about finding joy in Christ in those moments. But I am not as wise as I like to think. However, even in lacking sufficient wisdom to convey this message, I want to make it clear, we must learn how to do that very thing.

Remaining Discerning Does Not Mean Seeing Everyone as a Heretic

Look, there are plenty of heretics out there. More than I can shake a proverbial stick at. I do not relish having to point them out when they rear their doctrinally ugly heads. And there is even less joy in trying to decapitate those doctrinally ugly heads. All-to-often, as we see with many so-called discernment ministries, everyone who disagrees with us is automatically labeled a heretic. Just think of the Hyper-Calvinist types that insist on doctrinal purity to identify any one as a brother.

In a very close to home example I have been somewhat embroiled in the recently re-exploding argument about biblical father rule. In the course of this argument I have interacted with men and women who are fans of Rachel Green Miller and her book Beyond Submission. Having not read the totality of the book I will not comment directly on its content. However, I have listened to her interactions with several podcast hosts and read many of her statements on this topic. So-much-so, that I can safely say I strongly disagree with her on the issue  (See here for measured and loving correction from Mike Myers of RGM’s intentional misrepresentation of esteemed theologians from the past.) Consequently, that disagreement extends to those who have adopted her position.

With this in mind, it would be easy to fall into the trap of labeling RGM and those who agree with her, heretical. But is that what we really want to do? No! I want to be discerning in the Berean way. I want to redirect people away from those I believe hold to problematic views. However, I do not need to label them heretics.

Moreover, when someone counsels us to be wary or cautious of someone for legitimate reasons, we should not throw out, “Well they aren’t heretics so…” When we do this, we are discounting the love that brother or sister just showed.

Does Finding Joy Mean Only Affirming?

Every conversation we have with confessing Christians or mere professing Christians involves discernment. If you aren’t being discerning in a conversation, there are really only two options. The first is that you know this other person so well that you can drop your guard. This is never acceptable. But it is an easy pit to fall into. The second option is that you are just foolishly lax in using discernment.

In previous essays I have mentioned meeting my friends Ezra and Chelsea while open air preaching in Lanesboro Minnesota. The initial meeting saw me tense and a bit guarded as Ezra (a hulking mountain of cornfed Minnesota stock), approached me as I proclaimed the Gospel. In subsequent conversations Ezra admitted that he was as wary about approaching me as I was about his approach of me. Neither of us was ready to jump on the bandwagon of brotherly affirmation straight out of the gate.

Now, on the face of it, this would seem foolish. However, there are many solid reasons why Ezra and Chelsea were justified in being skeptical of me as an open-air preacher. Likewise, I had an equal number of reasons to not rush to calling them brethren as well.

I say all of this to emphasize that just because we are supposed to be about finding our joy in Christ does not mean we are required to lower our defenses. Furthermore, it is as important to watch out for incorrect views in apparent Christians as it is to point out the errors of the known heretics. Simply put, it is not an act of finding joy in Christ to affirm things that sound correct. Especially if the person communicating those things has a track record of being wrong in many places.

A Brief Example of why Discernment is Important and Aids in Finding Joy

I am not being pedantic here so please bear with me as I lay out my argument.

You find yourself sitting with a newcomer to your local church. Another person suggests that you all pray together and beseech God on behalf of one another.

The stranger eagerly agrees and as the time of prayer together ends, they finish with this. “Father God I am so thankful that you chose to willingly die on the cross for us. Amen.”

I am going to let you go back and reread that closing line. I will wait.

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Did you see the error and if you did how would you address it? If you didn’t see the error are you willing to hear me out? Good. Because I am going to explain anyway. While the ending may seem sweet enough, it is all wrong and confuses the nature of the Godhead. The Father did not die on the cross. The Son did. I know we all know that. But would we dare to address it? That particular error is a variant of Patripassianism Theopassianism.

While it may seem downright mean to question the sincerity of the stranger who prayed such a sweet prayer, it needs to be addressed. Not to steal joy from that person in that moment. No. Instead to ensure their joy is in the true God, not in doctrinally errant god.

We All Have That Person in Our Lives

I don’t care who that person is, we all have them in our lives. One may lack any discernment and embraces anything and everything that claims to be Christian. The other may be the person that has never met another Christian anywhere ever. No one is good enough.

Sometimes that person that thinks that being Christian means walking around with a fake smile plastered on their face. Because being saved means always being happy. Still another may be the dour old Christian who doesn’t look like they can spell joy much less experience it.

On any given day this may describe any of us. However, finding our joy in Christ and maintaining discernment means a proper balance in all things. It means that we count it all joy brethren and also relinquish the rubbish to cling to the surpassing value that is Christ.

We don’t need to be artificially happy and we certainly don’t need to be always angry. The person that walks around with their bow constantly bent with flaming arrows is dangerous. But then again, so is the person that always tells us that they were only kidding.

In the end, we have the most to be truly joyous about. Not happy mind you. But truly joyful in Christ. I posit to you my dear reader(s?) that the path that leads to finding joy in Christ often travels through the work of discernment. And as I said above, we have to strike the balance.

Now when I figure out what that looks like I will let you know…

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

Sarita my Little Sister

Joey and Sarita and Friendship

Maggie and Sarita at a baby shower for Sarita

Several years back we (Maggie and I) met a young couple at a local church. To say we became friends of sorts would be a bit of an understatement. As our time together grew, our familial love for each other grew as well. Eventually Joey and Sarita became a part of our lives spending time with us in our home and often sitting together during worship.

Time passed and Joey and Sarita decided to obey the Word and followed Christ in baptism. One of the most humbling moments in my life was when Joey asked me to baptize him. The profoundly moving moment in that was watching Joey then turn and baptize his young bride.

As time went on, we walked with Joey and Sarita through various trials. They too walked with us during some of our very own. Having them over to our home for dinner and discussion or for moments of intentional and often messy discipleship was common. In short, we grew to love them. This love was not always easy. At times, it was hard and uncomfortable.

After some time and some disagreement, Maggie and I moved on with our family to a new congregation and both Joey and Sarita expressed dissatisfaction with our reasoning. Despite that, they remained our brethren and they eventually followed us to our new church home.

Change Brings Burgeoning Tragedy

Sadly, with this change also came increasingly difficult marital problems for our beloved friends. Let it be said, as with all marriage problems Joey and Sarita each bore their own guilt in these struggles. Unfortunately, the longer these struggles went on the less responsive Joey became. Even under the heavy specter of church discipline Joey remained continually unrepentant. Sarita too struggled in her walk and found her faith faltering at times.

Eventually Joey’s rebellion led to hardening and he abandoned his family more than once. This ultimately culminated in his abandonment of his covenant marriage to Sarita almost two years ago. In walking away from his covenant bride, he also turned his back on the covenant children he had fathered. At the time he chose to walk away he left behind four children in dire need of their father.

Since this time Sarita has struggled with the apparent permanent loss of her husband. A man she has loved ferociously and often in failing ways. To this day she has not given up hope that God in His sovereign power and plan, would break Joey’s impenitent heart and draw him back to Himself.

To his credit, Joey has remained somewhat involved in the lives of his children. However, that involvement comes at great cost to the children and to Sarita. Many battles and arguments have been waged over custody and child support and Sarita has found herself in great debt in just trying to see herself fairly represented by a competent attorney who will fight doggedly for her.

For Sarita bad Turns to Worse

Worse still is the fact Sarita struggles simply to make ends meet on her current hourly income. Then, on top of this she is in need of a larger van to transport what will soon be five children all under the age of 7. This is further complicated by the reality that she is almost solely responsible for taking time off work when any of the children falls ill. Quite recently one of her daughters was so gravely ill that she needed to be hospitalized. So, not only is Sarita missing hours at work but she fears that her hold on steady employment is about to slip. If this were to happen, she would lose what little she does still have.

Now, with the COVID19 pandemic sweeping across the nation Sarita has seen that she is likely to be without work very quickly,as “non-essential” employees and even businesses are sent home for the sake of safety. No one would blame Sarita for feeling at times that God has abandoned her, and she has expressed as much to me in hundreds of conversations. But she still clings to God, growing every day in repentance and desire to do the right thing, even in the face of losing the great love of her life.

A Plea for the Church to be the Church to Sarita

As I have said, Sarita has been far from perfect in all of this. Her sins bear down on her in a way that doubles the burden of her broken covenant relationship. But I am not writing this to drag Sarita or Joey through the mud. I am writing this to appeal to the wider church at time of compounding crisis for my beloved little sister and her children.

When I call Sarita my little sister it isn’t done lightly. I have never had a sister in the flesh, and Sarita is perhaps the closest I have ever come. At times she seems more like a daughter because I tend to take her to the woodshed more than I should. But I love Sarita and her children as kin. Even with all the human and sinful frustrations that come with that. Moreover, I still love Joey and want nothing more than for him to return to the Lord that he once claimed purchased him with His own blood.

Sarita is as close as any woman can get to being a widow here on earth while her husband still lives. The husband of her youth has abandoned her in her youth and battles her for their children. As I have said, she fights hard to keep not only her job but her precious kids. Her church family has offered much help both in counsel and in material benefit. But her needs are far above what most can offer individually.

The Plea for Tangible Help

At this time of great national need, it may be asking much of those who read this to dig into their pockets yet again. But I am asking anyone who is capable of sending even a single dollar to do so. I can’t promise a financial windfall will befall you like the prosperity types would. I can’t tell you that you are planting a faith seed that will grow into a mustard tree of boon for Sarita and her children.

What I can tell you is that they are precious, and they need our help. If you have the wherewithal to do so would you consider sending a gift of any size in the name of the Lord? You will find Sarita’s PayPal here, and you can find her on Venmo as (@Sarita-Awdng). I will not do any laying on of guilt. If you can help, any amount will be appreciated more than you will know.

And above all, please lift Sarita and the children up to our Lord and plead with Him to comfort and guide them as this moves on.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

Celebrity Street Preachers and the Christian Cult of Personality

Is There Such a Thing as Celebrity Street Preachers?

If you have to ask who this is you are too young for the internet…

As with any topic I cover in my essays there is a personal note in this. I have been engaged in varied levels and styles of what is commonly called Street Evangelism since my salvation in February of 2004. I am not a newcomer to evangelism in the public sphere. At the same time there are days when I feel like a novice or plebe. Mostly, I just perceive myself woefully inadequate for the task. In the formative days and months of my foray into public evangelism I ran across no small amount of well-known men involved in the same work. These men were lauded as experts in field preaching and their words on the topic were taken as gold. Men like Ray Comfort and Tony Miano and Jeff Rose carried the air of celebrity around themselves.

Admittedly, in many cases this was the result of a certain fanboy mentality that is natural to the human condition. Present company included. However, in some cases, the perception of celebrity is not always eschewed by the men who wear the label. Even if it is not “accepted” by them…

Todd, what do You Mean by Cult of Personality?

Merriam-Webster sums up Cult of Personality by saying that a very public figure is presented as someone to be admired or loved. This sounds rather harmless on the face. But what should we take from it in the context of my essay?

Is there an inherent problem with looking to fellow Christians and respecting them and loving them? Of course not. Scripture is abundantly clear in many places that we are to love the brethren and respect them.

However, and this will be hard to stomach perhaps, many of the well-known Christian open-air preachers aren’t just loved and respected. They are lauded as paragons of virtue. Moreover, they appear to hold sway over many people and end up with hedges of protection built up around them. These watchdog-like lackeys will run interference for their “friend” and brother because “they know them so well”. They act as flying monkeys sent out to harass anyone perceived to be a problem. If there is a point of contention in the broader “community” it is expected that the lesser of the two parties kowtow to the wisdom of the celebrity or risk being ostracized.

This is dangerous and sadly I have seen it play out repeatedly over the last several years. On several occasions when in disagreement with a Celebrity street preacher the flying monkeys have threatened to find my elders and contact them about my sinful behavior. All of this is nothing short of a James 2 violation

Two Examples of what Humility Looks Like

Well maybe several…

Last year I started out on a project to watch and review both good and bad examples of what open-air preaching should look like. I highlighted two men as positive examples right out of the gate. These two men immediately replied in graciousness and humility by asking me to take the video reviews down.

Please note that I did not do what I did out of a sense of fandom. I was literally wanting to commend these two men as examples of what sound and biblically loving street preaching looks like. Yet, they were concerned that not only would my reviews of their preaching be perceived as vain, but also that they would become prideful.

In another case, I reviewed an individual that, frankly, wasn’t up to theological snuff. Instead of getting angry with me and calling me names he graciously accepted my critique and we have become “friends” of sorts through YouTube.

Another example of humble men with some solid theological chops are dear brothers. These brothers can preach the Gospel like nobody’s business. But do you know what they often do when finished preaching? They will ask, “How was that?” or “What can I work on?” They aren’t interested in fame or being well-known. They aren’t trying to build a following or trying to be seen as the end-all-and-be-all of Street Preachers. Instead, they are humble and gentle and kind and ready for correction in a moment’s notice.

Laboring Boldly and Invisibly Without Celebrity

All these men I just mentioned are the preponderance of Street Preachers out there. They labor behind the scenes not trying to make a name for themselves or gain a following. So many men out there are laboring in obscurity, and they prefer it that way.

I will hear from some of them from time to time when they comment on a video on my YouTube channel. Some of them have hundreds upon hundreds of videos. Each of those videos jam-packed with powerful Gospel presentations in out of the way obscure little towns on the fringes of the American hinterlands. Many of them have no subscribers and good video view counts for them will top out at 35. But they don’t post videos to be recognized and receive accolades. They post the videos for accountability and to push the Gospel out into the realm of social media.

Celebrity Status Means Blind Support

Most of us that are adherents to sound theology and labor on the streets and campuses of the USA and even Europe, have had our share of run ins with law enforcement. Most of us will never see our videos picked up by the broader Reformed community and blasted out onto a plethora of platforms.

This isn’t the case for the highfalutin celebrity street preachers. All it takes is for some of these men is to be arrested in Scotland or Great Britain and the video of their arrests will be everywhere in hours. Simply being questioned and cited by an officer in front of an abortion mill in Iowa City Iowa will result in other ministries picking up your video and running with it. (Links to videos is not to endorse said preacher or to endorse the actions of law enforcement, it is merely to demonstrate the fandom that these celebrity types enjoy and how it infects the broader Reformed Open Air Community, a simple view count alone will demonstrate that there is a large amount of favoritism playing into the way certain men are treated…)

James 2 Violations

Cries about the injustice of it all will result in rallying cries for phone calls to be made to the authorities. Demands that charges against our favorite celebrity be dropped will pour in and the celebrity will be made a heroic martyr for the cause. Meanwhile, still others labor in obscurity having near weekly encounters with law enforcement with nary a word of support from those who were previously most vocal.

But why? What causes this? It’s because the unknown preacher is just that, unknown. What happens to the “little” guy doesn’t matter because it just doesn’t have the oomph. No matter how severe the case, the rest of the Street Preaching community just doesn’t care.

How Celebrity can be Used to Further Sin

Almost two years ago I wrote about why I will never be a “full-time missionary” relying on the support of others to Advance the Gospel. It was an easy statement for me to make. I won’t ever be well-known enough to gain that kind of support. Make no mistake, I have received some incredibly gracious gifts over the last few years. Gifts that I have been thankful for. But I have never solicited money or donations from anyone.

Sometimes, the “bigger” the Street Preacher the more likely they are to be a full-time “missionary”. That level of celebrity status puts them in demand to travel to churches and teach and support that church’s local Gospel work. Sometimes, those Street Preachers get pulled away from one church to join another.

This was the case with Tony Miano, a man that was once a friend of sorts. Tony was talked into leaving Grace Community Church (think John MacArthur) to join Grace Fellowship of Davenport Iowa. What makes this particularly problematic isn’t merely the hero worship of Tony. (Something I was terribly guilty of in the past and have repented of.) It is problematic because GFC is a cult and Tony’s celebrity status lends credibility to GFC.

This battle has been raging for several years, but recently it has kicked back up. Many of Tony’s loyalists have doubled down in their support of Tony, insinuating that there is no way he would be involved in such a thing. But here’s the deal. Celebrity Street Preachers are like all celebrities. They need their egos stroked. This is Tony’s story and the leadership of the GFC cult gladly strokes Tony’s ego. And because he is Tony, many will act as flying monkeys and will fight you if you speak out.

A Final Word

I am not writing this to tell people to delete their YouTube accounts or their “ministry” Facebook or Twitter. I am not telling you that having any of those things means you are seeking to be a celebrity. Moreover, I am not insinuating that anyone who falls into the category of celebrity Street Preacher is doomed to fall or become involved in a cult. Sadly, many of them head-up their own cult of personality already.

I am writing to tell you that we need to check our hearts.

First, if you are the guy with an active presence on the streets preaching the Gospel and a social media presence, consider your reasoning for that.

Second, if you feel slighted that no one watches your content you need to go back and read the above point.Count Zinzendorf

Third, preaching the Gospel isn’t about being famous. Count Zinzendorf said, “Preach the Gospel. Die! And be forgotten!” This should mark the motivation for each Street Preacher.

And, if you are one of those that intentionally or unintentionally has made a celebrity or hero out of well-known names in the Street Preaching community, repent. Seek their forgiveness and then confess to God that you may have had an idol.

The last thing the Reformed Street Preaching Community needs is more people lending credibility to cults. Be they cults of personality or actual cults…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Todd

Christians Please Stop Labeling Atheist Immoral

A Sign of Weakness with Christians

Almost a year ago I wrote an essay in which I chided Western Christianity for embracing shallow emotionalism. Sadly, this trend will not be stopped by the publishing of one essay from some obscure Christian in the northern reaches of the American Heartland. For generations Christians have been slouching toward a form of uselessness in the culture they reside in.

It is often said that the Church is ten years behind in the current trends. I am not sure if this is meant to be an insult or an encouragement. As I look at Scripture, I see the Church called to being different than culture not merely behind it. Moreover, Christians are commanded to be setting trends, not waiting to adapt to them.

One of the surest signs of weakness in Christians today is the adoption of the modes and means of society. None of these is worse than the inability to engage on an intellectual level. When faced with the reality that not everyone agrees with them, broader culture, by-and-large, engages in name calling and shaming. Try being a conservative on the average college campus today, you will be called NAZI or bigot or racist. Sadly, the average Christian has resorted to the same tactics. Instead of studying the beliefs (or lack thereof) of our opponents, we label them. Nowhere is this more readily apparent than with other religions.

Furthermore, this has extended to disagreements within our own religious worldview. One can be a conservative, Bible believing Christian, sharing almost everything in common with another Christian. But let there be one point of disagreement on doctrine and the name calling begins.

So, is it any wonder that when it comes to Atheists, Christians seem to be unable to engage civilly?

Atheist are not the Enemy of Christians

There may be no other group of people that are as loathed by Christians more than Atheists. Muslims and JWs and Mormons do not even come close. Consequently, this loathing has led to an overwhelming sense of hostility in broader Christendom. Admittedly, some of this is brought on by the New Atheist movement in America. This movement is intentionally hostile and vitriolic often targeting Christians and Christian organizations for attacks and smear campaigns bent on driving the Church from the public realm.

However, Christianity is not above reproach in this realm. As is the case with most schools of thought, Christians tend to fear what they do not know or understand. This is why one can look down the street as the JWs or Mormons are going door-to-door and see houses being shut-up tighter than Fort Knox. The average professing Christian doesn’t know a thing about Mormons and JWs. Instead of learning, they disengage.

So, it is with Atheism. Atheists provide a formidable front to the Church. As Christian thought is increasingly inundated and inculcated with emotionalism, Atheist are seen as the bright intellectual lights that Christian philosophers once were. Instead of engaging with Atheists the “normal Christian” runs from them terrified that they will be made to look the fool.

Anti-Intellectualism is not what the Bible Means by the Foolish Confounding the Wise

In 1 Corinthians 1 God tells us that it is the foolish things of the world that He will use to confound the wise. This is not some urging by God through the Apostle Paul for Christians to be morons to the glory of God. Instead, what Paul is saying to his readers is that the thought system of the world will see the thought system of Christians as overwhelmingly stupid and confused.

I have literally had well-meaning but confused Christians tell me that pursuing higher-education is a violation of the principles taught in 1 Corinthians 1. Yes, you read that right. According to these folks, in order to be used by God effectively, they need to remain as unfettered as possible from the way the world thinks and educates.

On the face this may seem like sound biblical thought. However, is that really what God would have us understand from that passage of Scripture? I would be negligent in my duties as a Christian evangelist if I said yes. Even in the early days of the Church we see that thought and philosophy play major roles in the ability of Christians to Advance the Gospel into the world.

Paul engages the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Luke, a physician, records the life of Christ in his Gospel account and also records much of Paul’s work in Acts. Jude engages intently with Gnostic thought in his epistle. He didn’t merely call Gnosticism names and run from it, he refuted it.

In order for Christians to best engage with the world we have to understand the world. This does not mean that we become immersed in the sins of the world. Conversely, it means that we should be learning how to engage on many levels.

The Accusation of Immorality

Frequently, Christians will label Atheists as being immoral. While I understand why they wish to do so, it is inherently wrong. Worse-still, it demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the principles of God’s Word.

Look, if your best argument against an atheist in any conversation/argument/debate is, “Yeah well, you are immoral.” You are already done for. You’ve lost the argument before it ever began. Additionally, you’ve exposed your view that morality is inherently something only you can do. On its face this seems true. But it isn’t. Surely Christians should be moral people. However, the morality of Christians is contingent upon their relationship to Christ and their desire to be conformed to His image.

Atheists, JWs, Mormons and others are not only capable of being incredibly moral people but are often outwardly far more moral in appearance than many Christians. This is not to say that a Christian can be immoral because they have Christ. That would be Antinomianism. Instead what it means is that many times the professing Christian world is full of incredibly perverse and sinful people making excuse for their license. While at the same time, Atheists will strive to live outwardly moral lives for a plethora of reasons. Many ranging from societal mores to personal convictions.

Christians and Atheists Draw Their Morality from God

For Christian and Atheist alike, morality flows from God. He has not only revealed Himself to all of mankind through natural revelation, think Romans 1. But He has also written His law on the hearts of all people. And as basic as this may sound, this is why everyone knows that is wrong to steal and murder and so on.

While Atheist will make arguments for morality based on cultural and societal norms, the Christian argues for a universality of certain moral norms based on the transcendence of God across those cultures. Thus, while Atheist have argued that morality can shift with time and influence, but that it is always wrong to murder and eat infants, Christians will lean on this being wrong because God has declared it so. This may seem like intellectually weak argumentation. Yet, it is the only argumentation that allows for consistency.

Thus, when I hear professing Christians label Atheists Immoral for not believing in God, I cringe. Here is why. The argument implies that belief generates morality. Therefore, righteousness will rightly flow from that morality. But many Christians today have forgotten that in his epistle to the Church, James rebuked his readers with this, “You say you believe. That’s great. But even the demons believe, and they tremble…”

Admitting My Presuppositional Leanings

It is arrogance to claim that your belief in God makes you moral over someone who states they don’t know there is a God. Moreover, belief is not the same as being regenerate. There are pagan cultures all over the world that worship gods made of wood and stone and precious gems. But why do they do this? They do it because they know a god exists. But they do not know the true God.

Thus, it is with the Atheists who claim that they do not know there is a god but still live moral lives. Their actions betray their confidence that there is no God. In a conversation with several young collegians at the University of Northern Iowa I spoke about the concept of Universally Preferable Behavior (UPB). This atheistic concept was developed by Libertarian Philosopher Stefan Molyneux. While overall not wholly his idea, he was one of the first modern thinkers to write it down and publish it in book form.

UPB is basically the idea that morality is determined by whatever is best for society. Whether that society be a small local group of individuals or wider humanity. It is universally better for men and women to live monogenous lives and to refrain from stealing and murdering one another. The greater good of the whole is served by these things. The society stays cohesive and human flourishing becomes possible and normative. Thus, when “cavemen” learned to stop murdering one another for meat and mates, they were able to band together and conquer nature and then do better than eking out meager subsistence.

My argument is always going to come back to “By what standard?” I have profound respect for Molyneaux. Yet his development of UPB is based off an external objective of what defines human flourishing.

In Conclusion

It would behoove Christians to be careful in uttering condemnatory statements about the morality of people who claim there is no God. Instead, the best way for Christians in WCC to argue with Atheists is to begin to understand the worldview and address that. I am not calling for all Christians to become Presuppositional in their apologetic approach. (However, I do believe it to be the best way to argue against secular atheism.) I merely suggest that Christians become versed in the worldviews that cause them the most consternation.

It is in this practice that we become models of what God was teaching in 1 Corinthians 1. So, even an ignorant, undereducated simpleton like me can become capable of dismantling faulty worldviews. We do this, not with our minds set on defeating our opponents. Instead, our minds will be set on preaching the Gospel to humbled hearts. All of this is done to the glory of God!

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

Cults: How I Lost my Friend Tony Miano but Gained Even More

 

Friendship Begins

I was saved in 2004. Yes, 16 years ago. Shortly after that I began to hand out tracts and engage in one-to-one witnessing. This eventually led me to listening to what was then called Way of the Master Radio. As part of that program I became familiar with Tony ‘The Law Man Miano’. Consequently, I also became familiar with a now defunct website called Answers in Christianity. Between WOTMR and AIC I was introduced to cults and how to combat them and how to answer their members.

Over time as I interacted on AIC I had occasion to share witnessing encounters and outreaches I conducted. After one such occasion I shared that I had run out of tracts and was in dire need for a cheap resource. I had several folks reply and ask for my address so they could provide materials for me for free.

Back in those days, the street evangelism community was not the amorphous hostile battle-lines drawn beast that it has become.  One of those to come to my aid was the Law Man. It was in that moment my friendship with Tony began.

Well I Called it Friendship

Even back then Tony was a bit of a celebrity in the street evangelism world. He had an uncanny ability to find the most interesting people to talk to about the Gospel. Consequently, for me, meeting him through AIC was a bit like meeting a Hollywood star or politician for some.

We interacted off and on for quite some time on AIC. Eventually, as I grew in my faith and in my understanding of sound doctrine I began to run into some often self-induced problems with the church I was in. As I began to consider the need to move on, Tony was there for me by way of several phone calls and many messages. Tony helped me with the search for truly reformed congregations.

I am not sure that Tony remembers any of this or will even care too. However, I remember it with a bittersweet fondness. It will stick with me for the ages. Maybe more so now.

How do Cults Play Into This?

During this time I grew busy and my interactions with Tony grew more and more sporadic. At times we would lose contact only to meet up one way or another. Hopes to meet Tony in person at Bethlehem Baptist and then at the Deeper Conference were dashed to pieces due to travel constraints.

But then the impossible happened and Tony launched his YouTube channel I got to see him preach the Gospel in Los Angeles and many other places. I watched him interact with cults and cult members and dismantle them. Sometimes gently and sometimes not so much.

This is what I admired about Tony. He was real. He owned his errors and even when doggedly sticking to his guns in the moment he would later come back and apologize. Tony was not afraid to repent.

I learned so much from Tony then. Even though our interactions were few and far between I cherished him as one of my first Christian friends. It was because of Tony’s insight into different cults that I was able to eventually stand my ground in my own right. I am forever thankful for this.

New Friends and New Cults

After my entrance into the world of Facebook I began to make “friends” all over the world. In August of 2011 I met my dear friend Kevin (K1) McDonnell. Our friendship was normal FB stuff at the start. But as we interacted more we became quite close. We went from mere exchanges on each others’ walls to phone calls and texts.

Then I started to have some concerns with another situation and Kevin was there. However, he also introduced me to my other friend named Kevin (K2) in April of 2014. K1 and K2 began to be my counsel as I walked through an incredibly trying time in my life. They were my sounding boards. My confidants if you will.

Shortly after K2 and I met Tony released a series of videos in collaboration with two other ministries. In these videos Tony did a breakdown of the Church of Wells Cult in Texas. Tony was genuine, but brutal in his takedown. Rightly so. I admired him greatly for tackling the topic.

Little did I know…

A Strange Confluence of Events

Time went on, K2 and I had many conversations about the church he was in, Grace Fellowship of Davenport Iowa. We debated many fine points of GFC teaching. But overall it seemed solid. Eventually I was invited to come and minister with GFC in Davenport for a week-end and I accepted.

That was a great time and meeting Kevin and his family and the people of GFC was encouraging. But, (isn’t there always a but in these situations), something unsettled me about the bible-study I attended that Saturday morning. The elder, “Pastor Nick”, (It is required that all GFC people refer to the pastors and elders by their titles.) ran the study with such tight reins that speaking was almost impossible. The few that did speak seemed only to parrot specifically what was fed to them.

As unsettled as I was I tried to 1 Corinthians 13 the situation and chalked my discomfiture up to my normal disposition in new churches.

Time went on and I began to meet up with GFC for abortion ministry and campus preaching in Iowa City. The more I ministered there the more I became unsettled and began to gently (wish I learned to do this with others more often) question K2 about what I was seeing. Unbeknown to me, K1 was sharing many of the same thoughts.

Then the news broke that Tony Miano was leaving Grace Community Church of Los Angeles and coming to Davenport. Thereby, putting Cross Encounter Ministries under the umbrella of GFC. This was staggering. Tony was going to be four hours away from me. I was going to get to meet a long time friend and deeply beloved brother. Moreover, maybe I was wrong about GFC; Tony wouldn’t submit himself to dangerous teaching would he?

Would he…?

The Fecal Matter Hits the Whirling Blades of an Industrial Air Circulator

Enter Chuck O’Neal. Chuck was concerned enough with this move by Tony that he started sounding the alarm. Not just once but repeatedly. Accusations of overreaction by Chuck flew easily. Chuck and Tony, long time friends, were done. Chuck was accused of being needlessly divisive and jealous of GFC.

Despite this, Chuck labored on. Soon a few folks heeded his warnings and I began to hear inklings that the word cults and cultish were being used with GFC. I was still reserving a final decision. I needed to meet my brother Tony face-to-face.

Finally, the man I had known and loved in Christ from over one thousand miles away was in Iowa City on the same day as me. I wrapped my arms around him with tears streaming down my face. Here Tony was in the flesh. My friend; my brother. A man I had known longer, but certainly not better, than everyone at GFC, was finally there so we could minister to PreBorn children together. This would be the first and only time. I would see Tony one more time, at his trial in Iowa City in 2018.

As all of this was taking place K2 began to express grave concerns with the nature of GFC and the authoritarian autocratic heavy handedness of the pastors at there. I will let Kevin speak for himself in the provided links. Here, here, and here.

Cults do Damage to Relationships

Once Kevin broke free of GFC and led his family away, it became clear more needed to be done. Several of us who love Kevin and his family fiercely started to speak out. Tony immediately severed our friendship and doubled down on defending the aberrant teaching of the rulers of GFC. Understandably so.

Kevin too soon found himself disbelieved by at least a few friends of Tony and fans of GFC. Sadly, relationships were severed and much damage was done. In some instances Tony too was losing friends. Still others have recently begun to call him out. In at least one case a ministry/church has pulled their endorsements of Cross Encounters. There may be even more.

What am I Aiming For?

I want to make it clear that I have no animus towards Tony. Furthermore, I love him fiercely and there have been moments where I have wept tears of pain over how this has gone. I will also admit I am praying imprecatory prayers against GFC and her pastors. Overall, the terms used to define cults fit GFC well. I want nothing more than for GFC to shut her doors and for the current crop of men calling themselves pastors to be out of those roles. Forever!

I want to be reconciled to Tony with a heartrending pain that should be the desire of all those who love him but have seen their relationship severed. Think of Philemon here. If this essay touches even one of you, that will be sufficient. But if any of you read this and consider Tony a friend and brother, please reach out to K2 or K1 or me. There is no malice in my heart. We simply desire the good of Tony and the good of the visible church. That good, will be the proverbial conflagration of Grace Fellowship of Davenport Iowa. They fall in and amongst the cults.

For those of you out there doggedly sticking to your loyalty to Tony and therefore refusing to speak up and learn more. Shame on you! If your place as part of the in-crowd within street evangelism and Abortion abolition work mean more to you than the purity of the Bride of Christ, you are disqualified from Gospel work. Shame on you!

I am prepared to be shunned. I already lost one of the earliest Christian friends I made in Tony. But I gained my beloved brothers K1 and K2…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Sadly and humbly,

Todd

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