Meaning of the Term: Atonement
The theological meaning of the word can be explained by a simple cliché that is at the same time accurate, atonement means “at-one-ment”; to atone is to reconcile a broken relationship on behalf of another. The state of being at one or being reconciled by the work of another. Atonement is reconciliation. Thus in theology it is used to denote how christ saved us. Particularly, the effect which flows from the death of Christ. Some comments should be made about how we are to rightly approach the doctrine, much of the debate that surrounds the doctrine centers on four questions.

Approaching the atonement in Four questions.
These four questions get at the basic assumptions behind a discussion of the atonement.

  • The Foundation Question: Does the atonement need to be rooted in History?
  • The Interpretation Question: How can a historical event have a definitive meaning?
  • The Integration Question: What other doctrine(s) are in the background and frame any discussion of the doctrine in view?
  • The Existential Question: On a personal level, why should I study this doctrine?

We will look at each question in turn. The first two questions have a history of debate surrounding them. A little expiation is in order. Yet space will not permit a full dialogue. I chose to simply state my answer rather than give the arguments and counter arguments. I stated my position with some ability for the sake of brevity.

1. The Foundation Question
Does the atonement need to be rooted in History?

Some hold that theological ideas are free from Historical obligation. They see the actual verification of historical fact as unnecessary and modernistic. Religious ideas don’t have to be rooted in historical reality to be theologically valid. The epistemological justification of a religious idea comes directly from experience, for religious feeling is the essence of faith. Those in this camp, think it does not matter if the event happened as it is recorded or if it happened at all. Religious truths don’t need a historical foundation to be reliability. What maters is the religious tradition and the scared myths of the religion. Those tradition and myth are enough for theological foundation.

My answer: An actual death, not an abstract concept.
For the historical Jesus, theory and practice were made one in mission. The cross had to be carried before it could be preached. It had to be endured before it could be proclaimed. Jesus came to be the sacrifice, not clarify the concept of sacrifice. He did not come to wax poetic about the cross, but to be nailed to it. Jesus did the heavy lifting so there would be a gospel to preach. Any discussion about the atonement must take into consideration that Christ’s work is a historical reality, an actual death not just a intellectual concept.

More centrally, atonement is viewed in Christianity not as a conceptual problem for human speculation, but an actual event in history with eternal repercussions. The Christian teaching of atonement is not just about the general idea of dying for others, but about an actual, horrible, death. A death that happened to a man from Nazareth on a particular hill on a particular day. Most theories through the history of the church until the modern period held this aspect in common.

2. The Interpretation Question
How can a historical event have a definitive meaning?

Some sophisticated doubters, I mean theologians, believe we attach meaning to events and events don’t have meaning in themselves. They divide the historical act from the message applied to it. Such people posit that in-between an objective historical event and the subjective human response is an interpretation of the act. Such thinkers slyly suggest the meaning of the act can never been known for it could have many interpretations. They would say, any view of atonement is Jesus’ death but our interpretation of Paul’s meaning. Thus we can’t understand the cross in any meaningful way.

They ignore the idea that an event can be a call to response. Event are speech acts and that demand a response of us. I “direct” message that need not be interpreted for it demands a response of acceptance or rejection. They create space for interpretation where they’re is no space for the Event is a word to humanity. The cross is a massage as much as it is an actual redemptive death.

My answer: A Message in blood
Christianity proclaims not merely that Christ died, but that his death had inestimable significance. It is a word spoken to us from outside ourselves. A word that God speaks to us through an event. An event unlike all other moments in history, an event that is as inescapably concrete and irreversibly permanent, as it is undeniably distressing. The meaning of the event is it’s message. This message can be stated as simply as “He died for us.” “He died” is a historical fact. “For us” is the meaning of that fact. The cross is a word to every sinner and the means of salvation for those who respond in trust to it’s message.

3. The Integration Question
What other doctrine(s) are in the background and frame any discussion of the doctrine in view?

My answer: No separation without deviation
The doctrine of Christ is needed to view the cross rightly. From that doctrine we learn of the personal union of deity and humanity, which is the incomparable nature of the person we call Christ, our Savior. The doctrine of Christ’s atoning work focuses upon what this “incomparable” person has done for us. The two doctrines can’t be separated. The person of Christ is inextricably linked to the work of the cross. You can’t divide one from the other without draining the cross of meaning. For what the work of salvation required, the person of the Mediator supplied. This is the economy of salvation. Salvation requires a Savior. But not just any Savior, this unique work could have only been done by this unique person. This salvation can only be accomplished by this Savior—not just anyone on any cross. Christ the God-man had to die on that cross for it to be salvation.

4. The Existential Question
On a personal level, why should I study this doctrine?

My answer: Grace begs for clarity
It must be acknowledged, that it is more important for the believer to know that they are saved by the cross than precisely how. Yet, St Ambrose taught that saving grace “begs the question”. The recipient of saving grace is compelled, by that same grace, to ask how and why of the cross. (1)

We are not given all there is to know about the cross, for all that happened in those dark hours are far too terrible and far too wonderful to be compressed into one mold of human comprehension. Yet we can confess that what is given for us to know, in whatever degree, is meaningful. Scripture is clear enough on this point that we can be assured a meaningful answer is possible. By faith, we hold with warmth the truth, “He died for me” while acknowledging we will never exhaust, what those four words mean for us. Even when we don’t understand we can still worship for In the place of ignorance the Spirit imparts awe and wonder.

The atonement is a well that never runs dry, for in our thirst we come to a God who understands and calls us by name. A God who takes from us the sin tainted tar-like dredges of our soul, that unspeakable darkness within and gives to us light, hope and a home. In this exchange, he draws out refreshing water for us, saying, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters”. And as Isaiah reminds us, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 55:1a, 12:3).

“Sin dug a gulf in a relationship. The cross bridged it. Sin resulted in estrangement. The cross reconciled it. Sin made war. The cross made peace. Sin broke fellowship. The cross repaired and restored it.” - Thomas C. Oden (2)

Glory Be to the Cross bearer!



NOTE: This blog is brought to you by The Remnant Radio, a theology broadcast that exists to educates believers on Theology, Church History and the Gifts of the Spirit. If you would like to know more about Remnant Radio. Here is a short video. If you like this content and you want to know more about Atonement Theory. We have a video with an overview of five different atonement theories [Here]. As well as interview videos on the subject from William Lane Craig and another with Bruxy Cavey. In the next blog, we will take a short look at various theories.



[1] Ambrose, Of Christian Faith 2.11
[2] Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity



In the previous post we looked at the first three yellow flags. Flags that point in the direction of someone being a toxic leader. Here are the last four flags.

4. Fake Faith

A toxic person can learn to talk the talk. They typically have been in christian circles long enough to learn the faith lingo. So they know what to say. They can know "The Faith" and even teach sound doctrine. The crazy part is the way they make themselves sound like they are full of faith. Yet watch what happens when they are frustrated. Frustrating situations have a way of showing the cracks in our character (we all have them). But a real life crisis will reveal the real you. So look for what comes out of them when a real crisis hits. Their self-centered and tender ego doesn't rely on God. Depending on the type of crisis, they will try to control the situation or spin the narrative. If its more personal in nature they will turn to people and expect help. If they don’t get the help they think they deserve they often play the victim while plotting revenge.

James 1:1-4 teaches us real faith brings stability and serenity in trials. A real believer can have a song of joy in their heart while all hell comes against them. The joy comes from knowing that God is deepening our character and capacity to know him through the trials. Also in james 2:17 reminds us that “faith without works is dead”. We cant be a person of faith without showing the fruit of faith. If they are all talk then their faith is phony, as fake as my five year old’s superman costume. (Superman pajamas and an old ratty red towel is not a costume but don’t tell him that)

5. Fake Repentance

Toxic leaders don’t apologize. Yet these people do understand that repentance is part of the christian process. So they have learned the art of the non-apology. When they do apologies it is shallow and full of christian spin.

They don’t apologies for a very specific reason it would wound their fragile ego. This in one reason such leaders don’t like to apologize. They may not even realize the shallow nature of their repentance. It hurts them to perceive themselves as flawed and imperfect. In their minds, any harm they do is collateral damage and not something they should be held personally responsible.

At first, when such leaders are not apologetic. People take this as strong leadership but soon the offenses begin to build up and resentment begins to fill the workspace. They may fool people with their half-hearted often side-handed apologies but only for a time. Typically people will begin to realize the blame is being covertly put back on them. The begin to hear in the apology that they are made to shoulder sum or all of the responsibility for the wrong committed.

We are all sinners and conflict is inevitable. That is why part of life together involves confession and forgiveness. The cross is not just our means of forgiveness between God and us but also between other Christians. When leaders don’t lean into that but seek to appear above it all that’s a yellow flag.

6. Fake Thankfulness

In the gospel, we are all given something we don’t deserve. We deserve hell and judgment. We get Jesus and life eternal. If this is at the heart of the gospel then two things must be true of all Christians 1.) we ought to be thankful 2.) we cant be entitled.

What if the IOS system in your brain ran on the assumption that you were entitled to every good thing you got. What if you assumed you deserved everything you got. How could you be thankful? This is a big problem with toxic christian leaders.

Toxic people aren't thankful. They have learned to fake a thankful spirit because no one likes a selfish and arrogance Christ follower. They will pretend to be thankful but deep down they feel entitled to what was given them. Slowly expectations are raised and if not delivered on they become resentful that those around them haven't given them everything they feel, they truly deserve. Leaving those around them scratching there heads, and often conditioning those around them to all expectation no mater the sacrifice. Such leaders create a staff of people pleasers with one carnal rule, keep the leader happy. All because of a lose of thankfulness. It is little wonder why the Puritans summarize the doctrine of sanctification under the heading of “Thankfulness”. Entitlement is not just a character flaw it may be evidence that don’t get the gospel or have not grown very much as a christian.

Toxic leaders are often entitled. As leaders they have grown to believe that everything is owed to them because they are the talent. They deserve special treatment (And sometimes special exceptions) because of who they are and what they think they do for the kingdom. Yet a church could go years without detecting the truth. Especially if all is going well for them and the people around them serve their purpose. It is when the tide changes as they always do the leader will often heap unrealistic expectations on other while excusing themselves.

7. Fake Promises

Toxic leaders often make promises but have no follow through. Promises are not bad if you intend on keeping them. Sometimes plans change and promises are broken but the toxic leader promises with little or no intention of follow through. Proverbs 25:14, states “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.” Growing up in Georgia, I have seen my number of droughts. I remembers spending summers on the farm and how happy my granddad looked to see rain clouds. His livelihood was connected to the rain. When the rain clouds never actually produce any rain he would get visibly frustrated. Likewise, when someone makes lofty promises and does not follow through it can make the follower very frustrated. Depending on the promise, the person’s livelihood could be jeopardize. Toxic leader will often use promises to manipulate people into following their agenda. They use the promise of employment or future ministry opportunities to keep someone on the hook.

The abuse of hope is problematic in the church. It is a common tactic for motivating ministry minded followers. I have seen it destroy people’s faith and confidence in the church. While it is up to us to guard our hearts (Pro. 4:23) fake promises can destroy as much as they can motivate. First, We avoid fake promises by holding people accountable for the promises they make to you. One time a leader made a fantastical promise to me. I pulled out my phone and asked if I can film him making that promise. He declined. At the time he was a little offend but soon realizing how fantastic the promise. Later we talked, and it became a teachable moment for his leadership style. The promises of man should never be used to motivate. Only the promises of God have the power to motivate for they alone are Yes and Amen in Christ. Another way we guard our heart is by knowing when to stop having our trust used against us. At some point, we must say enough is enough and stop believing someone’s word. Instead we hold their word with a grain of salt and for they have shown themselves to be untrustworthy. Don’t keep giving people chance after chance expecting them to finally follow through when they have consistently failed you in the past.


This blog is brought to you by The Remnant Radio, a theology broadcast that exists to educates believers on Theology, Church History and the Gifts of the Spirit. If you would like to know more about Remnant Radio. Here is a short video.

Yellow Flags and Fake Flowers

Today more than every, the American church needs a smell test for fake leaders. Some way to identify the phoniness. They're fake like the flowers on my friends table (see previous post). They look the part but they can’t pass the smell test. They put up a good front with no real substance behind the facade.

I want to give you 7 yellow flags. Something of a smell test. They are types of behaviors that reveal someone is a phony. The list is not exhausted but it does give you an idea of what to look for if you smell something but are not sure.

Note: I say “yellow flags” because we all do these from time to time. One infraction does not make the person “anathema” it only make them a sinner, like the rest of us. So a yellow flag means caution. It tells us to slow down and look more carefully. Our judgment about a person should be measured and weighed over a extended period of time. Also, yellow flags are always cumulative. Someone hits seven of the eight and we should take note. Lastly, these are sinful behaviors. So if you see yourself in any of them. I suggest you repent and stop the behavior immediately before it becomes problematic. You don’t mess with another man wife and not suffer the consequences. How much more do you heap on your own head for hurting the bride of Christ?

1. Fake Humility

C. S. Lewis once wrote, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.” Philippians 2:3 tells us “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

The toxic leader does not count others more significant. In their own estimation, look at what they are doing for the kingdom. Yet they also know it's not christ-like nor socially acceptable to be selfish. So they mimic humility by faking it. Publicly putting themselves down while selectively avoiding platforming or praising anyone who could take there spotlight. Yet few know this and all are afraid to share it. You should watch out for this seemingly humble person. When no one else is watching they will not put other first.

2. Fake Niceness

Who doesn't like a nice and agreeable person. As proverbs tells us beware of the faltering tongue. The toxic leader has learned this one. It seems as if they are trying to win you, like a politician on the campaign trail. They seem sweet. They smile to your face but will throw you under the bus if you get in their way or it suit them to do so.

Such people have read the leadership books. They know the tricks. They pretend to be interested in what your saying. Truth be told they operate on a reciprocal ethic (like those books teach). It's kind of a give to get thing. They're only looking for you to be nice to them, often to feed their fragile ego. If they don’t get the expected result something is wrong with you. You don’t know how the game is played and so they move on to the next person. Like in Poker some of these have a “tell” all you need to do is trigger it. So go ahead and disagree or offer constructive criticism. You will see an entirely different side to this seemingly nice person

3. Fake Sincerity

Have you ever had someone agree with you to your face. Only to find out later they disagreed with you behind your back. It can be frustrating. The toxic leader will not have the courage to disagree with you nor be truthful to your face. Such behavior is seen in more personal relationships than in formal conversations where public opinion is at stake. In public settings such leaders appear bold but use the truth without grace or love. In private settings, they will tell you what you want to hear and then go do what they want anyway.

In Matthew 5:37, Jesus gives us some insight on how to have sincerity in your speech. “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Even if the inconsistency is obvious and you confront them 30 times. Every time they will have a excuse. Don’t try to hold them accountable for those lies disguised as oversights. Such people have no intention of being real with you. They will never just let there yes be yes and their no be no. They have no intention of being sincere with you, your just a tool to be used.


The last four flags will be in the next post. This blog is brought to you by The Remnant Radio, a theology broadcast that exists to educates believers on Theology, Church History and the Gifts of the Spirit. If you would like to know more about Remnant Radio. Here is a short video.



Matthew 7:15

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."

Some initial observations of Jesus’ words.
Everyone knows Jesus’ description of bad leaders (false prophets). They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. The imagery is evocative. Jesus pulls from the prophets where wolves are a common metaphor for the wicked who prey on God's flock (Ezek 22:27, Zeph 3:3). Let’s look at the description Jesus gives this leader.

1.) Inwardly a wolf’s heart
The name wolf identifies an inner nature. People that look normal but have a wolf’s heart. The wolf is bold, opportunistic and ruthless in contrast to its victim, the sheep, which is naive, trusting and vulnerable (Mt 10:16).

3.) Outwardly a sheep’s appearance
The wolf is covered in sheep's clothing. Wolves in sheep’s clothing will likely be very good at blending in and being accepted. They have sheep‘s clothing that means they know how to win people over and appear like the real thing.

The text gives us the clear sign of a toxic leaders. Bad toxic leaders are phoniness. They are phonies, deep fakes of real leaders. Since they are faking it, they lack authenticity and have to copy the behaviors of others just to gets them what they want.

Knowing the Fake
Onetime my wife and I were invited to a friends house for dinner. In the middle of the dining room was an exquisite flower arrangement. The Daisies were perfectly shaped and the tulips appeared bright and alive. It was a beautiful sight to behold. The arrangement made for the perfect centerpiece. Although I enjoyed its beauty, I was not surprised. The husband was a florets. I complimented him on the work. He chuckled and insisted I smell them. I did but they had no sent. I smelt nothing. It was then I realized they weren't real. The Flowers were fake. His wife had made them. They looked good but were complete phonies. In the end, they could not pass the smell test.

In Matthew 7:17-20, Jesus talked about how trees can’t be fake. Behind Jesus’ statement is the common sense assumption that apple trees make apples. If you pick from an apple tree you expect apples. The nature of the tree can’t change. An apple tree cant produce oranges. It’s fruit will reveal what it is by nature. Good trees produce good fruit. People unlike trees can be shifty. They can be unhealthy and try to staple fake ‘good’ fruit on their branches. Yet even with all the fake fruit and shiftiness no one can get away from their hearts true nature. It will come out in little ways. People will take note of the inconsistency. The observant will see the staples. Jesus states this truth, “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matt 7:20) Jesus’ point is that the wolf’s inner nature no matter how hard they hide it, will show itself in unguarded behavior (Mt 7:15-16). It will be phony behavior, no matter how skilled they are at faking it.

Phoniness or being fake is the first sign of a Toxic leader. In the next blog we will look at the seven warning signs that exposes this phoniness. They seven signs are something of a smell test for such leaders.


Brought to you by The Remnant Radio, a theology broadcast that exists to educates believers on Theology, History and the Gifts of the Spirit. If you would like to know more about Remnant Radio. Here is a short video.



In the book “A Church called Tov” by Scot McKnight, he gives eight false narratives that toxic churches often tell to protect themselves. In Part one we looked at the first four false narratives. In part two we looks at three more false narratives and in this post we will look at the last of the false narratives as well as make some concluding remarks on how to detox from these worldly ways.

The majority of this content comes from the third chapter of McKnight’s book, “A church called Tov”. All quotes are in italics and quotes other than McKnight are cited below. I have ordered McKnight material into sections: First a description of the false narrative and Second some examples for clarity.



 fake apology, [are] not an apology at all. Fake apologies are not issued out of confession or repentance like a true apology. Instead, they condemn the victim, appease the audience, attach excuses, and try to justify inappropriate behavior.

Types of Fake Apologies

Wade Mullen in a post titled “What I’ve Observed When Institutions Try to Apologize and How They Can Do Better.” He describes five types of apologies that are not up to snuff. They don’t make the cut. 9 out of 10 doctors (of theology) would not recommend them. they are the wrong way to do the right thing.

1. The Condemning apology

“the apology that condemns” the other person. “The classic example of this is the apology that says, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’” [1] There is no admission of wrongdoing, only a manipulative suggestion that the other person is either too sensitive or has misinterpreted the situation.

1. The obligatory apology or insincere apology

The next “apology” is one that appeases. “It is not an attempt to do all that is necessary to right wrongs, but an attempt to offer only what is needed to quell [an] outcry. ” [2]

2. The “But And” apology

The “apology” that comes with excuses attached. Mullen calls this an “apoloscuse.” It can take many forms, but they all seek to shift the blame or one’s perception of the evildoer.

3. The Self-promotion apology

“apologies” that are couched in terms of self-promotion. “Many public statements of apology . . . become pitches for why [the organization is] still worthy of continued support and engagement from [its] followers.”” [3]
* Mullen adds that organizations should never announce that they are “on the same side as the victims.” That decision, he says, is only for the victims to make.

4. The apology with a hook 

non-apologies that attempt to garner sympathy for the institution. This is the “we’re hurting too” type of statement that tends to “displace the pain of the wounded with the pain of the wounder.” [4] ”

Conclusion: Real apologies, a painful promise and the upside to Genocide

As a people with forgiveness as a core tenet of the faith we should be experts in forgiveness. Something like world class forgivers, a people who hold the gold standard in apologizing. Yet when i look around all I find is elite level apologists of our sin. People able to give an reasoned account why that sin is not really sin. The church need to relearn how to apologies.

Components of a real apology include 
five elements

    1. surrender the need to be right and the desire to defend yourself 

    2. confession of our sin without qualifiers or explanations

    3. ownership of our sin and it’s effects on others 

    4. recognition of the full consequences of sin 

    5. empathy over the hurt you have caused.

In Luke's gospel, Jesus gave a painful promise.  Jesus promised, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17).  So when this promise is fulfilled on this side of the judgment day, it is always mercy. A severe mercy that offers a church or individual the opportunity start over the right way. The five aspects to starting over are 1.) Repent Well 2.) Authentically Apologies 3.) Trust the Gospel 4.) Learn to do right the next time 5.) to live more transparently all the time. These five aspects ought to be lived out. We are to walk them out and as we do we experience something of a detox for the worlds ways. Sadly this way is narrow and few find it.

The havoc that these false narratives have inflicted on a church making it impossible in many quarters of the church to know objectively who is telling the truth. Such a sad reality makes me long for the days when the Holy Spirit killed people who lied to the church. These days if the Holy Spirit returned to that practice we would likely have “help wanted” signs on many churches in America. An upside, fear and awe would fill the church at least until our Starbucks order was completed.



If you like this content then you may enjoy our video featuring Dr. McKnight on this subject. [Click here]. Also if you like this blog you will love the McKnight’s book amazon link below:

A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight.


[1] Wade Mullen, “What I’ve Observed When Institutions Try to Apologize and How They Can Do Better,” personal blog, Oct 4, 2022,

[2] Mullen, “What I’ve Observed.”

[3] Mullen, “What I’ve Observed.”

[4] Mullen, “What I’ve Observed.”



Scot McKnight gives Eight false narratives that toxic churches often tell to protect themselves. In Part one we looked at the first four false narratives. In this post, we will look at three more false narratives, leaving the last false narrative for the third post.

All quotes are in italics and come from the third chapter of McKnight’s book, “A church called Tov”. All quotes other than McKnight are cited. I have I have ordered McKnight material into sections: First a description of the false narrative and Second some examples for clarity. We will pick up where we left off with the fifth narrative.


A narrative that make the perpetrator out to be the victim. In it everything is flipped and the perpetrators become the victims. This self-victimization narrative is a textbook example of flipping the script by playing on peoples emotions. The perpetrator uses all the social capital they have to convince others they are the victim.

The aim of the narrative
Such a narrative is seeks to winning in the court of public opinion by falsely claiming victim status often through emotional means. The narrative aims at causing others to give to the perpetrator the compassion as well as the support people would normally give to those that were wronged. They play on the sympathy and emotions of bystanders thus triangulate and win allies.

Common Tactics

Bringing attention to your own pain and thus diminishing the the victims experience. The perpetrator claiming, “we are all hurting here” or calming how ‘sad’ it was they were being exposed. Also claiming things like, How hard the ordeal has been on them and especially  their family.

False accusations that reverse the moral landscape
“a survivor telling her story to others may be accused of hurtful gossiping or divisiveness. Anger is misdirected and listeners are angry with accusers for their mistreatment of the church or pastor.”

In a larger church context, the primarily the use language games to shift narrative by throwing shade at the victim while polishing the church and the leader.

A.) Subtly smearing the victim
Such smearing is seen in subtle ways and well crafted word choices.

They say things like: The “opinions” of a “few” “disgruntled” “former” members, in this way a church can tries to establish the unfairness of the issue.

They use non-verbals to suggest the accusations lack credibility without actually saying it lacks credibility only intimating by non-verbals and tone that its no big deal thus lower it's credibility. Or hint at the people involved are motivated by malice without outright saying it.

They marginalize the concern by passively implying the victim is alone in there option. They make it sound like the victim is the only person with that option.

Then there is my personal favorite The "he is a good guy but" smear. This one caters tot he biases of the larger group. where you seem to affirm the person but also draw associations with groups seen as suspect to the in-group.They say things like "He is a great guy but he has been known to hang out with "those" people. AND You know they are suspect."

B.) Polish their image
“The church seeks to polish its own image — using phrases such as “carefully expressed viewpoint,” “a happier and healthier church,” “God’s kingdom moving forward,” “we have chosen the high road,” and “grace-filled . . . attempts to reconcile.”

Types of Appeals use by church’s or leaders

1.) Appeal to sympathy

“[An] appeal for sympathy can be seen in the church’s reframing of the harm done to others as “mistakes” that the church has now “owned….these events are then described as something the leadership had to ‘endure,’ revealing a perspective that sees one’s self as the primary object of harm.”

“A pastor may lament his weariness or confusion about attacks against his character and against the ministry he spent his life building—and how wounded he was by his accuser going public with the allegations….. These manipulation narratives are highly effective because they plead sympathy for the evildoer. “

2.) Appeal to biblical protocols (as they see interpret them)

"Voices of authority at the church may explain how accusers are “not behaving biblically” or are refusing to engage in relationship restoration.... Churches also appeal to their commitment to biblical standards as another means of falsely claiming victim status. Church leadership contends the accusers are behaving contrary to biblical teaching. The church claims the high road because they are following the Bible. The accusers are discredited and the church becomes the victim".

3.) Appeal to Protecting Reputations

Leaders may appeal to protecting the reputation of the ministers involved or of the church. In this way, the church is the victim because accusers are harming its reputation and good work.



Sometimes churches create a “silencing narrative” often through legally means. This is the main distortion with the next narrative below, suppressing the truth. Silencing the truth draws most of it’s power from legal consequence.

The church preserves its public reputation, and its false narrative remains intact. Narratives that silence people prevent the truth from becoming known, create confusion for people who sense something is wrong but can’t put their finger on it, and sow discord between those who try to speak up and others who choose to believe the false narrative.

Aim of silencing narratives
An added layer of Protection by the prevention of “negative information from becoming known.

Two common kinds of silencing narratives
1.) Members covenant (legally binding contract with a group)

Membership covenants, which have become increasingly common in some American churches, are a way for church leaders to prevent negative information from becoming known.

2.) A nondisclosure agreement (NDA).

[A] nondisclosure agreements are designed to silence people who know about bad things that happened behind the scenes and who agree to keep their mouths shut in exchange for some type of severance package or other compensation.”

If you sign a NDA you're legally bound under threat of the law to remain silent. They are “incapable of establishing justice by speaking truthfully about what they know or have seen or heard.



A variation of the silencing narrative is suppression of the truth, Forms of this include shaming, intimidation, threatening spiritual or financial consequences, or destruction of evidence.

There are numerous ways to suppress the truth it is all a matter of finding the leverage needed for the situation. Here are some common ways to suppress the truth:

1.) Leader responds to accusation, or suspicious questioning, by threatening a lawsuit.
Note: Such threats are heavy handed intimidation. It power rises from the economics of the situation. For the collective resources of a church community will always outweighs the the financial ability of an single individual.

2.) They may also accuse the accuser of sowing discord and division, or “bearing false witness” against one’s brother or sister. Social stigma and shame is a powerful tool to suppress the truth. Making speaking up the problem not the actual problem being the problem.

3.) They may state that an independent investigation has been done and found no wrongdoing, and thus cut off any further inquiry. This tactic draws power from the appearance of due diligence to the initial inquiry.[1]

4.) They may also appeal to the pastor’s or church’s reputation to manipulate the victim into silence. They say things like, “Don’t tarnish the public wittiness of the church, you love!” Or don’t tarnish the name of Christ in bringing this to light..

5.) Another way of suppressing the truth is by coercion and intimidation of the witnesses. This one runs the spectrum from heavy handed clarity to implicate but threatening.

Where there is a lack of transparency, there will always be some suspicion. When the truth is suppressed and silence is maintained, abusers are able to move on and abuse and wound others. The victim and the silencers are the only ones who know what happened. When silence and suppression become false narratives, the story they tell is that victims don’t matter and the abusers’ acts are not worthy of discovery.


In Part Three, we will look at the last of McKnight's false narratives.  If you like this content and you may enjoy our video featuring Dr. McKnight on this subject. [Click here]. Also if you like this blog you will love the McKnight's book amazon link below:

A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight.



[1] An independent investigation is support to be unbiased. The investigation is suppose to leave no stone unturned as they look for wrong doing. So that if no wrong doing is found is is justifiable to drop the issue.  In today's world transparency is needed at every point of the process. Questions like, How the independent investigators were selected need to be freely answered. As well as the evidence, methods and prodigals uses by the team should be open to scrutiny. Such openness insures the findings of an independent investigation will be above reproach or at least reasonably done without bias.



Scot McKnight in his book “A Church called Tov” gives Eight false narratives that toxic churches often tell to protect themselves. The narratives are something like institutional defense mechanisms. When criticisms or crisis arise look for these false narratives. They are signs of toxicity, marks of a toxic church culture. Evidence that there is some poison in the pound-cake.

All quotes are in italics and come from the third chapter of McKnight’s book, “A church called Tov”. All quotes other than McKnight are cited. I have I have ordered McKnight material into sections: First a description of the false narrative and Second some examples for clarity.


“This false narrative is based on an age-old trick: If you don’t want to admit the truth of an accusation, discredit the accuser instead.”

The aim is to undermine credibility by discrediting an accusers motives or character.

Two examples

1.) “[A] strategy is character assassination. Character assassination seeks to get the congregation to question the truth of the accuser’s story by casting doubt on the accuser.”

2.) “Another way of discrediting the critics is to question their motives. If you can’t get ’em on character, try collusion. Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory.”


“portraying the accusers as evildoers who are trying to harm the church and all its good work for Christ’s Kingdom. ..if the critics are evil, they are not to be trusted and one can therefore dismiss what they say about the pastor and the church.”

Example of demonizing language

“What the men are saying is Satanic to the core and must be dealt with very directly.”
“Separate from these false messengers.”
They have been deceived by the enemy
The enemy is using them


“Spinning a story is a deceitful strategy designed to hijack the accuser’s narrative and create an alternative version—an intentionally false narrative that supports the pastor and the church while creating doubt about the allegations.”

Examples of Spin

1.) When a story is turned around and people are told the accusations are false and just fabricated as a means of pay back for a perceived offense.

2.) When a leader misquotes and misrepresents someone to re-frame the issue in question. That is spin. The poker tell of spin is how difficult it is to believe that such distortions are accidental.

3.) When a pastor tells his congregation a vague explanation that is in the same emotional zip code as the truth. Often what is said sounding vaguely right like yet upon further reflection the statement is hollow or illogical. You realize they have not say anything all. It  sounded like a profound insight, the right thing for that moment but in reality they say nothing to avoid saying the real thing.

When a leader speaks gives excuses sees for letting someone go

wanted a bigger challenge
Transitioning out of his position
Leaving “on good terms”
Moved on to pursue other things

4.) When a pastor tells his congregation that a suspiciously absent minister has moved on to pursue other things. When in reality they were fired for clearly unethical behavior.


In practice, gaslighting is “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person . . . sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. . . . Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.” [1]

Gaslighting is psychological warfare. In Gaslighting the accuser re-framing the issue then making counteraccusations that contradict the perceived reality of the victim. Such a tactic is a powerful means of psychological manipulation with the aim of messing with someone’s head.

“A counteraccusations is designed to get into the woman’s head and make her question her own account—what she knows happened—and destabilize her to the point of wondering if she is sane….Some victims back down at this point because of the power differential and how much effort it takes to overcome the pain inflicted by gaslighting.”

The practice of gaslighting is intentional strategic lying. It is talking to someone in such a way as to make them feel destabilized, that is like they are going crazy. The result is a person so frustrated confused and destabilized that they to act crazy and so validate the gaslighter’s lies.

McKnight quotes Sociologist Paige Sweet to emphasize the “social characteristics that actually give gaslighting its power.”[2]

Specifically, gaslighting is effective when it is rooted in social inequalities, especially gender and sexuality, and executed in power-laden intimate relationships. When perpetrators mobilize gender-based stereotypes, structural inequalities, and institutional vulnerabilities against victims with whom they are in an intimate relationship, gaslighting becomes not only effective, but devastating. [3]

In churches, gaslighting often comes with the force of the whole community behind it. The social pressure can compound the destabilization. As McKnight explains:

“When an accuser is gaslighted from the platform of a church, by a trusted pastor with leadership support, the destabilization becomes all the more intense because the prevailing narrative now appears to be connected to God’s truth, and it has been broadcast to a crowd of people who accept the church’s story. No wonder many accusers choose not to report abuse or back down once they meet resistance.”


In Part Two, we will look at three of the last four of McKnight's false narratives. Thus leaving the final narrative for a third post. If you like this content and you may enjoy our video featuring Dr. McKnight on this subject. [Click here]. Also if you like this blog you will love the McKnight's book amazon link below.

A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight.



[1] “Gaslighting,” Wikipedia,
[2] Paige L. Sweet, “The Sociology of Gaslighting,” American Sociological Review 84, no. 5 (2019): 852,
[3] Sweet, “The Sociology of Gaslighting.”



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