What Christian Authors Can Learn from Academia

by | Jun 29, 2022 | Bare Marriage, Research | 26 comments

What Christians Need to Learn from Academia
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Science often makes leaps and bounds by disproving previous assumptions and hypotheses.

Galileo turned the world upside down (literally) by positing that the world wasn’t flat; that it was round and revolved around the sun.

For centuries Newton’s theories were the backbone of physics until Einstein came along with his theory of relativity, allowing scientific discoveries to accelerate.

In academia, someone makes a hypothesis, and then everyone else tests that hypothesis, looking to either prove it or disprove it. It’s not personal; it’s the quest for knowledge.

Sure, in academic circles different professors can have petty jealousies and academic politics can take over in terms of who gets funding, etc. But on the whole, it’s understood that this is not personal. This is about knowledge. If two academics disagree about what theory best explains how the economy recovered after The Great Depression, they can hash it out and then go for a drink afterwards.

And if someone did prove it definitively, then we all could move on to the next question, knowing that we had greater knowledge.

I wish the evangelical world could operate like academia.

When someone says, “Hey, that interpretation has had these negative effects,” I wish people could say, “Oh, that’s interesting, let me look more closely at it,” instead of, “Why are you so hateful?”

Let me take a step back and fill in the picture a little bit more.

First, Context A: Keith and I are in our RV this week camping near where Katie, our youngest, lives. Rebecca and Connor and the kids are on their way up to visit for a few days too, and we’re going to go to the beach and just relax a bit. Because we’re away, I’ve had more time to process and reflect. 

I’ve been dealing with so many extra hard and heartbreaking emails over the last few weeks, more than normal, for two main reasons: Our Bare Marriage podcasts with Alyssa Wakefield opened the door for so many used and abused in Gothard circles to share their stories, and so many are unbelievably heartbreaking.

I also opened the floodgates last week by talking about the sexual effects of spanking on children. So many have been struggling with unwanted sexual fantasies and compulsive masturbation that they can trace back to being spanked as a child–even “spanked in love.” So many said they never understood until my articles were up, and many are so grateful for now finding therapists to talk to about it.

The emails and DMs I get are really, really heavy–but I appreciate so much the trust that you all have shown me.

In the middle of all this, I’ve also seen on some authors’ online platforms, and from some comments behind the scenes, that many are really, really angry and think that our whole community is hateful and just out to ruin their lives. Honestly, I am actually worried about a few of them, because they don’t sound emotionally well right now.

Okay, now Context B: It was five years ago almost exactly that I started naming names for the first time on this blog–though even then I did it in a backhanded way. I wrote my series on the problem with the “every man’s battle” philosophy that all men struggle with lust. 

When that series first ran, I was contacted by one of the authors that we’ve been critiquing lately (though I didn’t then), because he was concerned that I was making men feel guilty for lust. He thought I should take it down, and I was going too far (interestingly, he’s had the same critiques of me lately, and he’s doubled down in his own writing). That threw me through a loop. I really struggled and couldn’t sleep that week because this very well-known author felt I was doing something wrong. But I knew that what I was saying was true. Jesus saves. To say that men have a sin struggle they can never get rid of, and that men aren’t capable of looking at women as whole people, is theologically wrong.

Men may have more of a struggle, but it is not inevitable, and it’s okay for wives to expect that men will stay mentally faithful. And women are not responsible for stopping lust by having more sex and dressing more modestly. The Bible lays the blame for lust at the feet of the person who lusts.

It’s just wild to me that I spent nine years on this blog without really calling anyone out, and then when I did, that’s when authors started getting concerned about me. And today, it does look like some are having an emotionally difficult time at what I’ve been saying.

What would happen if Christians were more like academics?

In academia, we know that it’s not about personal reputation; it’s about the pursuit of knowledge.

Well, in Christianity, we should know that the focus shouldn’t be on the author’s reputation or platform, but instead on the well-being of the sheep.

We need to keep the main thing the main thing, or else it all becomes about protecting platforms. And Jesus was never about that.

The good thing about that is if your focus is on the well-being of the sheep, then if you find out that you’ve been teaching something wrong, it’s honestly not a big deal to apologize. Your ego has not been tied up in your platform, but instead your focus has been on making sure that people are safe and hear truth.

When someone discovers that a way that you’ve been seeing something is off, then, you rejoice, because your goal is actually to help people, not to build your own platform.

And you realize that someone else critiquing what you wrote, if it was harmful, was not them being hateful. It was them having integrity and caring for the sheep.

What I want to say when I retire

One day, I’m going to stop doing what I’m doing, and retire. On the last post I ever write, on the last podcast I ever do, I hope I say something like this:

Thank you for giving me your ears. I hope what I have said over the years has helped you in your relationships with others and with how you see and know God.

I hope and pray that I’ve gotten more right than wrong. Where I was right, I hope that others build on that and keep showing an even clearer picture of Jesus. Where I was wrong, I hope that this will inspire others to write more in that area, so that we can grow healthier.

I am a product of my time and my generation, and I know I have blindspots. I pray that history may have grace with me. Know that my heart was always to help, and also know that if, in the future, it’s found that some of what I said didn’t ring true, I’ll be the first to celebrate that it’s been discarded in favour of something more Jesus-centred.

We’re all learning. Thanks for walking this journey with me. I pray that  so many others will rise up to continue this work, and make it even better. And know that I’ll be watching, cheering you on.

And no, I am not retiring any time soon! But I hope, when I do, that that is what I will say.

I don’t think that’s hard to say. That’s my heart cry right now.

For some reason, others are calling me hateful because of that (I can’t link to it because they didn’t publicly say it was me they were referring to, but I know enough of our interactions to think that it definitely is).

But I am genuinely concerned. I think because of my work some authors are feeling as if they’re losing everything.

Please hear me on this:

If you simply displayed the attitude we’re talking about, where you rejoice in learning more about the fruit of different teachings, people would not think badly of you. People would respect you. You could continue to build on what you’ve written so far, just take it in a new direction. You would gain so much. You would gain your integrity. You would gain new followers. You would gain the trust of so many readers, because they see where your treasure is. They see it’s not in your platform, but in truth.

Einstein could not have gotten where he was without Newton. Newton may have been wrong about some things, but he advanced science, and gave Einstein directions for his own research.

Sometimes when we’re wrong, we actually make things advance faster. And just because you were wrong in the past doesn’t mean you have to be wrong in the future.

This is what academics understand. As Christians, focusing on Jesus, who is The Truth, can we not do this as well?

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It’s raining gently on the roof of our RV right now. It’s a lovely sound. 

And I want you all to know, I’m at peace. 

If one of the authors I’ve been critiquing said something like that, what would you think of them? Many pay attention to this space, so here’s your chance to tell them! Leave a comment.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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26 Comments

  1. Codec

    People knew the earth was round back then just look at Ptolemy. Similiarly, Tycho Brahe and Copernicus both dealt with heliocentrism.

    I find it odd to hear you called hateful. You have been nothing but pleasant to me and you work hard to be professional.

    I look forward to whatever you do next.

    Reply
    • Boone

      Every sailor knew that the earth was round back then, too. The story of the flat earth and that you were only safe near land was cooked up by sailors to protect their foreign sources of raw materials. Every sailor knows that the closer to land you are the more danger you’re in from rocks, shoals, etc.

      Reply
      • Codec

        The whole idea that Columbus sailed to prove the world was round in opposition to the Catholic Church at the time was invented wholesale by Washington Irving.

        You are right that sailors absolutely knew. Afterall if the earth was truly flat one would not experience the phenomenon of seeing a ship appear to grow smaller as it sails outward.

        Reply
  2. A.C

    I just want to say that I am so thankful that you have stood your ground when it comes to the men and lust message.

    Your series about lust was what really got me on the real track to overcome my porn addiction. It wasn’t easy though. I was angry at you because what you were saying went against everything I had been taught and that those criticizing you are teaching. I didn’t want to believe what you were saying. I remember that I was trying to find confirmation from others that you were wrong. But I felt that “holy nudge” that this was the truth and when I surrendered to the truth the real process of changing started. It hasn’t been a straight way forward but I am starting to walk in more freedom and I will always be thankful that you and your team have been faithful to God and His calling over your life even tough you have to endure so much persecution.

    Reply
  3. A2bbethany

    I’m focused on reading the Bible to understand God and how he wants me to live. I learned a long time ago that nobody is between me and him. Nobody can be, because we have completely individual lives. My leaders teach me to listen and pray to Jesus directly. Because man/woman is always tempted to achieve power and money. Literally every evil ever done is one of those. So the Bible encourages me to be “innocent as a dove, but intelligent as a serpent.”
    By refusing to acknowledge the obvious of how abusive marriages hide in plain sight, they are revealing that they never cared about people or marriages. They wanted the power and money of authorship.
    By refusing to acknowledge that they might’ve messed up how the Bible portrays a healthy marriage, they are choosing to be forgotten and dismissed. I used to firmly believe in submission, until I married and saw that it didn’t work and encouraged both of us to act in an unchristian way. Just like that I stopped and am now an independent mother, supporting by choice as a SAHM.

    Reply
  4. Sarah O

    If one wants to be a leader (pastor, author, speaker, celebrity) then be a leader. That means more accountability, not less. That means more scrutiny, not less. That means more temptation and attack, not less. If you don’t want your name named, don’t put it out there.

    If however, you feel called to bring a message and lead, then pray fervently for the fruits of the spirit Paul encouraged, pray for wisdom and understanding, like Solomon, ask God to continually search your heart and reveal your own wickedness, like David, pray for courage, like Esther. And especially, pray for people who will hold you to your integrity – BY NAME.

    Reply
    • Angharad

      Another reason to call people out by name is that they may not necessarily realise their teaching is the harmful stuff if you don’t.

      I’ve been reading 2 Samuel in my quiet time this month and I’m reminded of chapter 12. The prophet Nathan comes to King David with a tale of a rich man who has everything he could want, yet steals a poor man’s most precious possession. You’d think that a guy who has just raped a woman, murdered her husband to cover up for it and then taken her as his own wife would be a bit hesitant to point the finger at others. But no, David doesn’t even SEE the parallels with his own actions, condemning the man in Nathan’s tale to death for his heartless behaviour! It’s only when Nathan says ‘YOU are the man’ that David is convicted of his own sin.

      It made me think that if we just say ‘books that teach this are harmful’ or ‘believing these ideas causes these problems’ many people may not even realise that their own teachings are part of the problem!

      Reply
      • Mara R

        This is spot on, Angharad.

        Men in power say things that they like concerning underlings because they can and have no personal experience of abuse from the fall out. Their positions of authority protect them from the cries of those that are hurt by their decrees.

        Since they have no understanding or empathy, and since they love their doctrine more than people, they are able to stop their ears from hearing the voices of those they hurt.

        When the voices get louder, they can double down and declare the wounded to be malcontents and rebellious.

        Samantha, you’re gonna hate me for this. And I’m sorry. But Piper’s doctrine is unsafe and he is in unrepentant sin for doubling down and refusing to hear the cries of those he has been oppressing with his words for years.

        An added thing here. Piper’s doctrine is also a thief. His doctrine steals away women’s voices and personhood so they are hamstrung and unable to protect themselves from those husbands that are oppressors.

        Reply
  5. Phil

    Oh I have lots to say Sheila. First thank you for all you have done for me and directing me to Jesus. It is quite amazing that any author would view the ministry here as hateful. What? Dear Christian Authors: If YOU (Christian Author) have any other agenda than What Would Jesus Do? WWJD! Then your agenda as a Christian Author is not credible. We don’t need you to prove the bible. We don’t need you to prove YOUR point by backing it up with scripture. We need you to use the bible to form your thinking and help us form ours for the better too! The bible is a historical reference. THE RESURRECTION IS THE PROOF. The best historical proof is provided by James! The proof is simple – what brother would call their brother Lord? Jesus loves! Thats the message that should be conveyed in ALL of your writings/teachings. If you have been called out here well then why don’t you look at yourself and reflect! If indeed you have been wronged and in fact you are correct then you will Love us for trying to look like Jesus even though we got it wrong. However – when you stalk and label and take actions that ARE UNLIKE JESUS – this further tells us the story of your agenda. YOU HAVE BEEN CALLED OUT AS NOT BEING LIKE JESUS. THAT IS NOT HATEFUL THAT IS LOVING. COME AND JOIN US IN UNITY JUST LIKE JESUS WANTS.

    Reply
  6. n

    Dear Christian authors that aren’t maturing in Christ enough to believe your books may need revision… please grow up. No hate or condemnation intended, but you need to grow up, for your sake and that of everyone who reads or listens to your stuff. Christ is about growth, things that are actually living show growth.

    Reply
  7. Nathan

    Much of the problem lies in a three-stage issue.

    First, science teaches us to investigate and challenge, even our own assertions. Religion (which isn’t necessarily the same as faith or spirituality) teaches us to accept without question. A good example is that bumper sticker that reads “God said it. I believe it. That settles it”.

    That’s fine as far as it goes, but in some Christian circles we often extend that blind acceptance beyond God and to human interpreters of His word. We often elevate people to see them as the direct mouthpiece of God Himself, and this is often based on whoever speaks first, or the loudest, etc.

    Then, whenever somebody disagrees with “John Smith” and his interpretation, we’re denounced as hating God.

    Many of us need to stop creating an equivalency between God and those who claim to speak for Him.

    Reply
    • Em

      Yes, along these lines, religion seems to be something that people hold very tightly and very closely. Anything that even resembles questioning makes people defensive. It is perfectly okay to reason and also perfectly okay to sit in an “I don’t know but I believe in God” space.

      Reply
    • Laura

      I used to quote that bumper sticker example a lot. But, here’s the thing: How did I know if God really said this? Paul wrote a lot of the New Testament and many people who quote what Paul said often claim that was what God said. This is especially regarding those submission doctrines. How do we really know if it was God who said them because Paul was the writer?

      Reply
  8. Jo R

    I can’t help but think that these teachers who don’t want to be corrected in public have fallen into a spiritual version of math’s transitive property, generally given as

    If a = b and b = c, then a = c

    For these authors, it’s

    Men in marriage = Christ and Christ = God who is infallible, then men in marriage = infallible.

    I’d suggest such men take a page from your own life, Sheila, where you have adjusted and even withdrawn various blog posts and EVEN ENTIRE BOOKS because you learned better, so you wanted to do better.

    But then I guess that’s doubly bad, because not only would such a step (1) deny the transitive-property thinking above but it would also (b) very strongly imply such men were learning from a woman. 😱 😱 😱

    Reply
  9. Samantha

    Sheila, in academics, making an attack on the person’s whole character and not their argument would never be considered valid. You stated, emphatically, “John Piper is not a safe man.” This isn’t something you’d ever use to further your point in an academic argument. Perhaps in politics, with some mud slinging… The point is that your critiques of the ideas are valid and truthful, but the delivery was emotional and overstated. I hear your heart… but my friends, who need your message the most, can’t get past the aggressive tone and name calling to hear the message. That’s why I grieve. Keep up the good work, season it with love, and enjoy your vacation. ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
    • Jo R

      Sheila has addressed these teachers’ teaching at length and on numerous occasions. Those posts are not hard to find via the site’s search mechanism.

      When she has a series of such posts in a short time, then yes, the last post is going to skip all the recapitulation and go straight to a conclusion of someone not being a safe teacher. Again, it’s not hard to do a search to find the material that leads to that conclusion, and most such summary posts contain either links to all the other posts or to the first post in the series.

      I don’t think it’s remotely fair that she should be stoic and unemotional 100 percent of the time, when she freely admits just how demoralizing it is for her to receive countless emails and DMs about the vast amount of hurt this stuff has caused. Overall, I think Sheila does an excellent job of displaying a vast amount of empathy while also not pulling her punches to tell the truth. The truth is, all too often, unpleasant, unpalatable, or downright painful. It would be weird if that reality didn’t occasionally bleed over into her word choice and tone. But overall, she does an excellent job to just share the facts and not let emotions form part of her argument.

      Reply
    • Phil

      Hi Samantha! Its been a while 😬. I know your reply was directed at Sheila but I am pondering it. Reason being is I am a science guy and I work in all kinds of Industrial environments as well. Sometimes people can be disqualified for their expertise due to unsafe practices. I would certainly not hesitate to call someone unsafe if their work directly effected my safety. You can bet that emotions are involved also. People get angry when their life or others lives or injury is threatened. I am however going to ponder your statement for my own “look at self” evaluation. I did something over the weekend I kinda regret. I saw this guy I have known for quite some time. We have a mutual friend and I have also worked with him on jobs over the years. He is just ok and I otherwise wouldnt hang out with him. He can be a bit of a pompous a*. Aka ego. So I havent seen him in 7 years and his kids are in their early 20s. They were always trouble makers as kids and this guy was bragging about “their success” that he created for them as young adults because they failed. He wouldnt shut up about it. Finally I looked at him and told him his kids were still punks. He gave some argument that he wouldnt want to meet his kids in a dark alley (must be a proud Dad). I told him that doesnt change anything. He shut up. That was rude. That was not Jesus like. That was mudslinging. Maybe Sheila has some emotion attached – maybe she has even said some wrong things. Her message however has been overall correct. If you recall I took issue with her calling people out originally also. It is a shame your friends and folks you know need her help have blocked it out. I think there is a balance here and while labeling someone unsafe could be viewed as mudslinging – one has to look at the big picture. The overall message is correct and it was done professionally. Data enforced, No law suits, no stalking, no ugliness. Just good old fashioned Jesus. Anyway hope you are well and good to see you 😊

      Reply
      • exwifeofasexaddict

        Phil, I don’t see anything wrong with what you said. Answer a fool according to his folly.

        Reply
    • CMT

      The term “unsafe” is used a lot in conversations about abuse, mental health, etc. In that context it’s not a pejorative or a personal attack. It’s an observation about negative impact on people who are vulnerable in a particular area. If someone with influence over vulnerable people says “if you’re being harmed in your marriage, put up with it and pray more,” that’s unsafe, full stop.

      Reply
    • exwifeofasexaddict

      John Piper ISN’T a safe man. Just see Natalie Hoffman’s blog about how his church handled her abusive marriage. Piper wasn’t directly involved, but his proteges were, and you better believe his teachings were. TLDR: the excommunicated her instead of him. Piper isn’t safe. And it’s ok to be emotional about harm like that being done to people.

      Reply
  10. Andrea

    I presented at an academic conference a few years ago and a senior scholar decimated my research (my research, not my person!) point by point. Then she e-mailed me afterwards to say “Disagreement or not, I very much enjoyed your presentation” and after a few more weeks she sent me another e-mail with an article related to my research. Just an example of how you can disagree with someone’s argument and still be kind to the person. I read a Christian review of Kristen DuMez’s and Beth Allison Barr’s work that made fun of their haircuts!

    A few months ago research was published showing that women being operated on by male surgeons have a 30% chance higher of complications and even death than when operated on by female surgeons. No difference when female surgeons operate on male or female patients. (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jan/04/women-more-likely-die-operation-male-surgeon-study)
    I have not seen one male surgeon protest this is as misandry. This is valuable information that will help them do better. But how do evangelical Christian men react when research shows their writings are hurting women? They double down.

    Reply
    • Laura

      When these male evangelical authors with harmful teachers double down after being called out, I know they are not safe. I just stop reading their stuff.

      Reply
  11. Nessie

    When an author/pastor/etc. models humility and asks for grace and forgiveness because s/he had been mistaken, I know s/he is giving their absolute best due diligence to live as Christ. Christ was never wrong and so never had to apologize but try to imagine if He did- how would He go about doing so based on His Bible-recorded behaviors and actions?

    A pastor and friend about 18 years ago made an apology to the church we attended for something… I honestly don’t even recall what anymore- but I DO remember that he was humble, biblical, and loving, and THAT spoke volumes! I trusted his word moving forward from that even more than before because I knew he WALKED THE WALK.

    Christ is the Rock upon which we are to stand. If you have given erroneous advice in the past, you have poured sand on that Rock and our footing is less stable because of that. To admit wrongness, apologize, then move forward in truth is to sweep off the sand you added, allowing us more secure footing on our Rock. That is a great and godly thing.

    Reply
  12. Angharad

    Oh my, if just ONE of these authors were to admit they’ve made mistakes in their past writing and that they’re going to fix it and do better going forward, it would fill me with so much joy and hope for the future.

    Just imagine what would happen in the church around the world if our Big Name authors and speakers started to show this grace and humility. It would transform our churches.

    Reply
  13. CMT

    *LONG, sorry. I’ve got a lot of thoughts*

    Dear evangelical leaders,

    Let’s start with something we can agree on: the body of Christ is hurting. Corruption, betrayal, scandal and abuse are rocking the institutional church, and followers of Jesus are left feeling like sheep without a shepherd.

    I’m sure you have your own ideas about why all this is happening. Here’s the tough part. I ask you to consider one question: what if this is actually exactly what Jesus warned us about-bad fruit from bad trees?

    Now, I can’t imagine what it would be like to spend a career in what you see as Kingdom work, only for people to say you’ve got it all wrong. How frustrating, even threatening and enraging that would be! How terrifying to even consider that the place where you’ve labored might not have been the kingdom of heaven at all, but a petty human fiefdom. That self-examination is painful even to think about.

    I’m not saying people like me have it all figured out. I suspect we will all find in the end that some of our proudest labors were really piles of straw. To the extent it was built to prop up human systems, shield our own egos, or hold on to power, it’ll go up in smoke.

    Thankfully, it’s ok to get things wrong and have to start over. It’s not fun. The rabbi from Nazareth did say we’d lose our lives-and find them again. He also promised rest to weary souls, and an easy burden for the heavy laden. There’s room to be wrong, and still be perfectly loved and valued. That’s how he is.

    One last thing. Those of us calling for change aren’t asking for our own sakes. We are going further up and further in, whatever you choose to do. It’s a big beautiful country out here, and we would love for you to explore it with us, if you’re willing to come.

    Reply
  14. Anon

    I’ve been around academia much of my life and it’s more similar to evangelicalism than most would believe. That’s not a compliment.

    Reply

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