Update – 8/24/22
Last night Chocolate Knox invited me on Chock Knox Unplugged to talk over my objections to Farley’s comments with both Knox and Farley. I appreciate the opportunity.
More importantly, I think that move shows (a) the CrossPolitic guys conduct themselves distinctly from the Big Eva paradigm I mention below and (b) gives confirmation to their claims that they are happy to deal directly with critics. In my opinion this is one of the reasons God is blessing their work and I expect that blessing will continue.
My participation in the controversy created by CrossPolitic last week has largely been expressed on Twitter. Having now been tagged by two of the CrossPolitic guys in their responses to their controversy (and thanks, by the way, Toby and Gabe for giving me the heads up) I think it is better to go long form.
If for some reason you are reading this and have no idea what the sentence above refers to and you want to catch up I’d recommend scrolling through Gabe Rench’s post, watching the videos he links to in order, then coming back to read the rest of this (as well as his own writing on the controversy). Suffice it here to say Jason Farley, in concert with the CrossPolitic broadcast crew, tossed a grenade into the Reformed catholicity that had been developing for several years around various endeavors originating in Moscow, ID.
And I’m very much part of that group that draws, thankfully, considerable help from the Moscow crew. In the early 2000s Doug Wilson gave me the Kool Aid on Classical Christian Education and I’m drinking deeply to this day. If cCe was the gateway for me then Doug’s blog has been the pipeline keeping me connected. Then Canon Press. Then Fight Laugh Feast. I was an early supporter and remain one to this day. I was in the athletic arena outside Nashville for the first conference. I was in the ag building for the second. And, Lord willing, I’ll be in Knoxville – already got my ticket, using my discount as a FLF Club Member. Suffice it to say, as I told Gabe Rench not too long ago, if CrossPolitic has a supporter I’m it. I think I’m also (chronologically) the first person to say – literally – “Not Cool” to the FightLaughFarley controversy – which is a product of my paying attention to what comes out of Moscow generally and FLF specifically.
Where The Fight Really Is
So now two of the three CrossPolitic guys have responded to the backlash (including the glorious, glorious memes) Farley’s Leroy-Jenkins attack on credobaptists brought. As I mentioned above, I was tagged in Toby’s reply as well as Gabe’s and read both with interest. I’ve also spoken in various fashion with Knox and Gabe, both of whom (again) I deeply appreciate taking the time to talk it over with me. I legitimately believe the CrossPolitic guys want to continue on in the Reformed catholicity I talked about earlier. Nonetheless, I think the follow-up episodes and statements coming from the CrossPolitic side are aggravating the problem rather than helping.
In hopes of this reply not running too long let me get to where the fight between the Moscow guys and Baptists really is: Jason Farley said credobaptist theology caused the transgender crisis. I’m not going to offer a sophisticated theological rebuttal to that point – I have no sense of obligation to engage in serious debate with the man on the street corner telling me his underpants have become sentient and developed a wonderful cheese soufflé recipe. You don’t dignify lunacy as credible, you quarantine it and try to get the lunatic some help. Thankfully, though, James White has done an admirable job attempting to… reason?… his way through Farley’s ideological Jackson Pollock here. If you prefer a faster post-mortem turn to the pages of The Amazing Dr. Ransom’s Bestiary of Adorable Fallacies from Canon Press (which you really should buy & share): Farley produced a hybrid of what Dr. Ransom identified as the Creeping Slipfish and the Corella Bird. In this case the resulting aberration evidences not hybrid vigor but rather pronounced feebleness.
Carrying on, one of the ways you can see the CrossPolitic guys are out over their skis on this one is that, while they agree that what Farley said isn’t a problem, they disagree on why what Farley said isn’t a problem.
For Gabe the justification is, essentially, “What we meant to say is, ‘Baptists, police yourselves.’”
For Pastor Toby there have been two lines of justification:
1. “What? We’re rowdy. You knew that. We throw ‘em high and tight, throw some elbows. If you don’t like that find another show.” (Watch here and tell me if my summary is inaccurate or unfair, I’m very willing to hear that).
2. “Listen, we were perfectly clear. You just weren’t paying attention well enough. We qualified and made it obvious we weren’t talking about Reformed Baptists. Why are you ignoring all of our qualifications?” (Read it here, same request as above).
And here is why those replies simply don’t work: they aren’t accurate.
1. Farley said what Farley said. It’s video-archived. He said Baptist theology caused the transgender crisis. There’s no way around it. There wasn’t any qualifier (more on the idea that qualifiers should have been assumed and imported, as Pastor Toby asserts, in just a moment), at all. The hosts laughed. Gabe tried to give him a chance to qualify and soften (as is acknowledged in the show). Farley self-consciously rejected that opportunity. In fact, he ascribed it directly to Baptist pastors. These things didn’t happen under a bushel nor were they obscured. What happened, happened. It was the brainfart that launched a thousand memes.
2. Were they talking about American Baptists (per Rench)? Ok, let’s go with that. First – say that. Or say, “Farley, you’re talking about American baptists as a general summary of common evangelical culture, right?” It wasn’t said. You know why? Because everyone participating (and watching) knew that wasn’t the qualifier.
Second, and this is the real dead give away. We’re talking about American baptists, right? Are we to assume that the CrossPolitic guys – who according to them distinctly did not mean Reformed Baptists in this critique – believe that all Reformed Baptists live outside America? I’m an American Baptist and a Reformed Baptist. Those are distinct categories, I suppose, but I is both of ‘em.
And this is really the problem with Farley’s comment: he grounded the criticism in universals – not just American (although that certainly is a very big category that catches what I assume are the vast majority of CrossPolitic’s Baptist viewers) but credobaptism as a distinct theological tradition. Do, say, Rick Warren and I have much in common? Very little. But we do agree that baptism appropriately follows after a profession of faith (well, we agree on that now – who knows where Warren’s trajectory leaves him?). And that common space is where Farley’s criticism was grounded, inescapably.
I respect the CrossPolitic guys tremendously. I’d ask for a little of that coming back their audience’s way; don’t spit in our face and tell us it is raining. I also can’t imagine believing allllll of the pushback CP has caught in recent days is reducible to “They weren’t listening carefully enough.”
3. To Sumpter’s point that it was clear that Reformed Baptists were excluded: will you please, right now, click this link. When the video pulls up scroll to 18:50 if it doesn’t autoload. Listen carefully to what Knox says to Farley. Here’s the YouTube transcript:
interesting because because you got to do because okay all right i’m gonna let you do that but jason you got time to stick around for a
little bit so we can talk a little more about this because i want to talk about i think there’s a group of people that think that’s what they’re doing they are
doing family worship they are trying their very best they are seeking to honor god with how they’re
raising their kids in every way and and like we’re covenanted we’re back but we’re covenantal
right um and so i want to talk to how do we solve the problem with not just
trying to fix the the pimple right how do we actually get to the root of him pastor jared’s
over here smiling i know he’s excited about that too so if you get a chance to stick around i want to talk about that in the pay but in the back stage…
All the emphasis is mine, aimed at making the answer to the following question crystal clear: What is Knox saying he wants to talk about “in the Backstage”? It’s those baptists who say, “We’re covenantal.”
So you tell me, dear reader, what group of baptists out there go around saying things like “We’re covenantal?” If you answered, “Reformed Baptists” you’re correct. And that’s the group Knox says he wants to talk to Farley about more in the immediately following Backstage section.
And you know how that Backstage show starts: “Baptists are the cause of the transgender crisis. Well, their pastors are.”
In context, I mean – the context that Sumpter says should have been so obvious to all the Reformed Baptists watching.
What kind of baptist pastors?
It’s the baptists who say, “We’re covenantal.” They’re clearly and self-consciously talking about Reformed Baptists.
Again, don’t spit in my face and tell me it is raining.
So here is where the fight is: On your show, with your logo on the screen, on the app I pay you for, one of your regular guests – with several of y’all sitting there listening – said baptists, with no qualifier assumed, imported, or available through basic logic, and he said baptist theology (and pastors) are responsible for the transgender crisis. Contra Rench, as he and I talked about, I can think of no cause that does not necessarily carry culpability. Even if one can be produced, in this case Farley’s cause clearly indicated culpable. Furthermore, the preceding segment at the close of the main show makes it clear that Reformed Baptists were clearly not only included but foremost in the criticism levied at credobaptist theology.
That’s where the fight is. And let’s have it on honest terms.
No one is upset that you are jocular or willing to throw punches. A lot of us like that. And a lot of us are willing to get into a fist fight with you on this topic. What we aren’t willing to do is sit back and pretend like what was said wasn’t said or that we misunderstood or weren’t listening carefully. You said it. We listened. Own it or back off but if you own it let’s have the fight.
One thing I’ve learned from the Moscow set is the principle that you have to love your own in order to learn how to love others. I think I heard it from Doug first but I am pretty sure I’ve heard it on the CrossPolitic show, too: You have to love and respect your own mother before you can love and respect someone else’s; you have to love your own country before you can love someone else’s.
So, to use the analogy and principle: Farley & Crosspolitic released a video insulting my mother and my country – the tradition in which I learned of Christ and which I think best reveals His glory. I love being a Baptist. And you, unavoidably, issued an insult and one of gross ignorance and misrepresentation.
As a result, I and a lot of others are very willing to fight at this point. We’re willing to fight it out without saying friendship and partnership are done with. We can have drinks and cigars after. But lets get into the ring and have it out.
I agree with Knox from a few weeks back: What good is a Baptist who won’t fight?
But what the CP guys really shouldn’t do is dance away from the fight into another empty stage and record an episode of Fight King Story Hour where you self-identify as really jocular and pugilistic while also conscientiously avoiding all those people outside wanting to have the fight, standing with their sleeves rolled up.
The Big Eva Moment
So why does this matter? Why not drop it and move along if I really do consider the CrossPolitic guys good guys?
First, because I agree with them that fights like this matter. I’m really glad for any chance to put credobaptism face to face with paedobaptism. I think we have a considerable strategic advantage. So I want this and want it done well. There’s lots of brothers who will fight. I’m no heavy hitter but I’d show up to this scrap. James White would have this fight. Tom Ascol would have this fight. So let’s have it. Loser buys smokes in Knoxville.
Second, I think this really and truly represents a test of CrossPolitic in specific and Moscow in general.
Here’s my read as an outsider on what led Farley to his Not-Quite-Top-Brass moment. He was in a room like you have been in before. It feels like a locker room. You’re with friends, talking about important stuff. Eventually, as tends to happen with guys, an unspoken competition develops – who can say the most based & insightful thing? The rhetoric ramps up. Sometimes, though, it goes too far. Someone says something clownish and the rest of the group has to say, “Hey, wait a minute.”
We reached the “says something clownish” point with Farley. But instead of “Hey, wait a minute” the guys on stage did a quick calculation and came to a business decision: They’re not going to tell their boy, Farley, he’s gone walkabout while the cameras are rolling. They’re sure not going to side with credobaptists against their based paedo brother who they have known forever. So the show goes on. And it went too far because in that moment they didn’t self-police well enough.
I get it. I’ve been there. But the fallout becomes an integrity check. Do you say something like Ron Burgandy – “Boy, that escalated quickly” – then own that you dropped the ball?
Or do you say, “You know what? Now, after some time of cool reflection, I really do believe that credobaptist theology caused the transgender crisis and if that’s a problem for y’all then it’s a problem. Let’s hash it out.”
What you can’t do – or at least what you can’t do and maintain credibility – is offer various competing reasons why what Farley said isn’t what Farley said and, even if it is, it isn’t a problem because you should have been listening better and, well, and… you know. Stuff.
Why can’t you? And why can’t I drop it? Because Moscow – and CrossPolitic matter.
For myself, I’m thankful to have lived in a time where R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Doug Wilson, and Tom Ascol were at the height of their powers. These men aren’t perfect but they each modeled standing in allegiance to Christ against the destructive fashions of their age in a way I am thankful to have witnessed first hand. As a result Sun Valley and Cape Coral and Moscow matter a lot to me – largely because they function as centers of Christianity. In God’ s providence, Moscow (founded by, I’m told, an evangelical Arminian Baptist name Jim Wilson, who thankfully didn’t cause trannies) has been our best proof-of-concept that robust Christianity has a future in the West in terms of actually building culture.
But I’ve been here before, kind of. I’m part of the Young Restless and Reformed generation. I watched institutions I had high hopes for go screaming over the falls. The Gospel Coalition was once something I read with eagerness. I don’t think anyone short of Mark Dever was as enthusiastic as I about 9 Marks (and Together for the Gospel). Modern Reformation (via The White Horse Inn) was important to me too. But they became Big Eva.
I’ve spent (at least) the last three years watching Big Eva run the same playbook: When you or your buddies say something dumb and create controversy:
1. Do not own your responsibility – Remember, being Big Eva means never saying you’re wrong.
2. Protect your own, at all costs. If Thabiti says white people are complicit in the murder of MLK then so be it. He’s one of ours.
3. Respond from safe places and at strawmen – Your buddy has a podcast or a big website. What’s a convenient caricature of the people angry at you? Get on there and flog that baby to death.
4. Call everyone who isn’t quieted divisive.
I’m not saying CrossPolitic is there. In fact, I am saying they aren’t there.
But I am saying CrossPolitic – and the FLF Network – has reached a size and scope that is pretty, well, Big, among Evangelicals. And maybe it is Battered Evangelical Syndrome but the “Y’all didn’t understand, we were right” approach they’ve taken sure looks like #1 above. And protecting Farley’s brainlet statement might just line up with #2. That whole, “We’re just rowdy – what did you expect??” follow up CP episode casts a silhouette like #3.
So I don’t think CP is over the falls or even on the river. But I also feel a nervous tic coming on.
See, the CP guys learned that you never apologize to a woke mob because that is how the mob will control you – then destroy you, after you acquiesce. But if that devolves into never apologize, period, they end up the same place Big Eva is, even if they take a different route. Apologizing when you shouldn’t is an ethical and strategic error but so is forgetting how to blush. That latter problem appears to be on the table here as a possibility.
Here’s the last Big Eva parallel and the one I’m legitimately most interested in:
As I mentioned, I watched a whole bunch of groups I had high hopes for embrace compromise and throw themselves on the scrap heap of obsolescence. Generally speaking, their compromise came relationally before it came doctrinally. Let me explain.
A lot of the Fathers in those organizations – Dever, who I have already mentioned, Lig Duncan, Keller – got roped into doctrinal error by their sons, either biologically or in the faith. The kid went woke – the kid they’d poured a ton into in terms of time and discipleship and affection, etc. The relationship mattered. So then the crisis came: would dad sacrifice the relationship for the sake of the faith or would they sacrifice the faith for the sake of the relationship?
In virtually all of these cases the Fathers chose the sons. Lig had Tisby. Dever had Thabiti. And Matt Maartens. And Bobby Jameson. And Isaac Adams. And PJ Tibayan. And Others. You get the point.
The decided they couldn’t tell their woke kids they were wrong. And the woke kids used the relational reservation to drag the father and their house into destruction.
Doug isn’t a spring chicken. If the Lord would leave him with us in vitality like a new Methusaleh I would be quite happy. But that isn’t often the Lord’s providence nowadays. So I’m looking to the next generation to see what the future holds.
Ben Merkle, Sumpter (as an elder), and the other CP guys look to me like the best candidates to continue the Moscow project if and when God brings Doug to glory. I’m rooting for that crew, like crazy.
But if the leaven of avoiding the actual argument, backing your buddy woodenly because he’s your buddy, and refusing to own your error sets up then the whole thing is going to get infected. I very much do not want that. To be clear, again, Farley isn’t Thabiti. Like everyone in Moscow, I like Farley and have been profited by him. I listened to the early metaphysics episodes he did with Knox multiple times and integrated them into my Old Testament class. But his statement about credobaptists and trannies is roughly as vacuous as Thabiti’s about white people and responsibility for MLK’s murder. I get he’s your boy. And I don’t want an apology. But you do have to say something like, “My guy was riled up there. I can’t sign on and, in hind sight, I should have told him to tap the brakes – at least while he’s on my show.”
So, to wrap up, I don’t think the Big Eva turn is likely here. I’m betting the CP guys will have James White on (as both Rench and White have mentioned) and this thing will get put to bed pretty well. But this has to be a learning experience.
And if White can’t come on then can we please just have this fight? After we do we can get to the (better) conversation I think the CP guys would prefer to have, the one about how the church is upstream from the culture and needs to police herself? I’d love to – and I know a really good pizza joint in Knoxville we can go for dinner after.