Editor’s note: I received the following email from Dave Williams regarding my latest comment on judging professions of faith. You can read that article here. It included some response to another article by Dave Williams. I agreed with much of what Dave said but took issue with a couple of his points. Below is Dave’s reply to me which is published with his permission.
Thanks for your latest article and for linking to mine. It’s good to have this type of conversation to help sharpen both our thinking and communication.
First of all, regarding making individual pronouncements. I would say “be wary” not don’t ever do it. I think it is good at times to be cautious, especially in a world where people rush in to pronounce their assessment not just of what someone has said but of their character and motives. When you read David Robertson’s article, you see some of that caution. He is not rushing to judge Vicky. He does not try to read into her heart, he includes the caveat that God knows the heart into eternity. However, he is forced to look at her own words, her own description of what was driving her and of what she know about God. I think David’s question was really whether or not she was ever really introduced to the Gospel or to an appearance of it. This is as much a challenge to evangelical culture. I have some hesitancy there because I think it is possible that we have someone who may have a genuine if fragile, faith, who is not well taught but did put her trust in the cross. It may well be that there was a genuine wrestling with various temptations including the same sex attraction but also some of the other respectable temptations in terms of Christian fame. It could be that there is a believer who has now fallen and desperately needs restoration. That is something of the pastoral challenge. What I would say is that we should not get too hung up either. At some point and in some way, the challenge David raised with Vicky does need to be raised, she needs to be challenged lovingly with that possibility, she needs to be brought back to the Gospel. Further, I would add that in David’s case, I don’t think I’m looking at someone rushing in to a lone wolf instant judgement but someone reflecting part of body discernment but having the guts and love to say what others are frightened to say. Sometimes you will have to do that. Often it is loving pastors who have to take the lead.
In contrast by the way, we saw people very quick to make judgements about the character and motives of David, Gav and Pete. They second guessed their inner life and by implication, they were pretty much second guessing their status with the Lord. They chose to read in a tone that is clearly missing in David’s article. It is robust and direct but certainly not harsh. It contains uncomfortable truths but is not an attack on the person. This leads sometimes to a kind of mob rule.
These points link to your question about point 3. I am not trying to water down what Scripture says when I say we are not second guessing. We really are not second guessing because we are not through some kind of mystical intuition saying that we can feel if a person is a Christian, rather we are looking at the evidence given to us and we are drawing the conclusions that Scripture asks us to draw. As I said in the article, there is then the confirmation of how someone responds to correction and challenge, The refusal of an invitation to come together and look at God’s word, the resistance to a plea for repentance, the hardening of a heart against the beauty of the Gospel are giving us objective evidence of a lack of fruit and we have to draw those conclusions. The conclusion, and for clarity, having read and reread David’s post I think he models this right is to recognise our own fallibility but to draw conclusions on the evidence presented to us.
P.s 1. I suspect in VB’s case, despite David’s great care, people won’t have listened to what he was actually saying and prejudiced him as saying that she could never have been a Christian because of her struggle with homosexuality.
P.s 2. A related point to this is how people can try to misuse processes to stop proper discernment and correction. I don’t think for example that Matt 18 requires a linear and lengthy process of 1-1 meetings going on forever when a public sin or false teaching is already out there. Sometimes you need to get quickly to the whole church to respond and guard. That’s why I picked up on Vicky’s misunderstanding of the EA policy statement. A policy aimed at avoiding gossip, misrepresentation and second-guessing should not be used to delay response when the facts are already out there.