The Spotless Bride (TBB)

The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what The Big Box is all about.

512px-Vladimir_Makovsky_-_Goodbye,_PapaEver noticed that dedicated followers of Christian patriarchy tend to look a little…different from the rest of us? Have you ever wondered why that is? Well, wonder no longer, because Doug Phillips will answer all your questions in The Spotless Bride. The title of the lecture derives from the description of the bride of Christ (the church) in Revelation 19:7-8, and Phillips’ stated goal is to defend this statement:

You cannot explain the Gospel apart from the language of family, you cannot live the Gospel apart from the language of family, and the way you approach your family is a reflection of what you really think the Gospel is about.

Central to Phillips’ approach to the family is the idea of antithesis:

Antithesis is our ability to see the distinctions which are made between beauty and ugliness, holiness and syncretism, and so we want to be part of the antithesis. We want to see our thesis in opposition to their antithesis. …

In this life that we have, don’t see how close to the fire you can bring your hand without being burned. Look for clear, godly distinction, Biblical distinction. You know, I don’t always know how that works itself out. I bet different men are gonna agree on some of those things. But can’t we agree on the principle? And can’t we strive for this principle?

In other words, Christian families should actively strive to separate themselves from the ungodly practices of the culture around them. Phillips goes on to claim that when this antithesis is properly practiced, non-Christians will be strangely attracted to the family’s beauty:

Where the true church, where the remnant, where the faithful people of God are acting like the faithful people of God, do you know the Bible teaches that even the heathen will see something in them which is beautiful and attractive? Even the pagans will say there is something different about these people. In fact, sometimes it’s the pagans who notice it more than the Christians whose minds have been distilled and broken down through compromise and syncretism. But the Scripture says the beauty of the spotless bride is recognized even among the heathen.

Notice the reference to believers whose minds have been “broken down through compromise and syncretism.” Longtime readers of this series will know that, for Phillips and his associates, it doesn’t take much for a Christian to fall into this category – examples could include a woman who runs home business; a father who allows his daughter to go the park unchaperoned with her boyfriend; and a pastor who starts a youth group in his church. So when Phillips says “clear, godly distinction,” we must remember that ordinary distinctives, such as a decision to not have sex until marriage, are not distinctive enough. Phillips’ particular views on gender, family relationships, and church organization are required as well. (The reference to compromising Christians can also be read as Phillips’ swift dismissal of those Christians who object to his extreme views; see below.)

Read between the lines

So why must Phillips’ distinctiveness be so very distinctive? The answer is one we should be quite familiar with by now: there is no neutral ground, so Christians must do the distinctively “Christian” thing in every area of life, avoiding syncretism (the blending of pagan ideas with Christian ones) at all costs. Phillips claims that this lack of neutrality is caused by two things, the sufficiency of Scripture and the lordship of Christ.

I’ll begin with the sufficiency of Scripture. I’m nauseatingly familiar by now with Phillips’ “desert island challenge,” in which he challenges his listeners to imagine themselves trapped on a desert with nothing but a Bible and see if they can still justify their beliefs using only that standard. As I discussed in my first post, this thought experiment is directly related to Phillips’ views on the silence of Scripture. He believes the Bible speaks directly or indirectly to every possible subject, through his oft-repeated triad of principles, precepts and patterns:

…every possible subject, including your educational methodology, all you need to go to is the Bible to find the principles, the precepts and the patterns whereby you can build your entire world and life view, and to challenge you that to the extent you are not building your worldview on the Scripture, you are a humanist.

A review of Phillips’ definitions of patterns, precepts and principles (drawn from his previous lecture How to Think Like a Christian) would be helpful at this point. A precept is a “direct command,” like Exodus 20:13; a pattern is a “normative example,” such as Peter’s confession of faith in Matthew 16:15-16; and a principle is a “broad conclusion drawn from patterns or precepts.” This is a pretty woolly definition of principle, which I’ve pointed out before:

…this is exactly why Phillips can claim that the Bible speaks, often in detail, to every possible problem. If he frames the issue broadly enough, he can make it apply to just about anything; and if you disagree with him about how the broader question should be specifically applied, you are denying “unchanging Biblical principles” and are thus “thinking like a humanist.”

Because of this nebulous definition, Phillips is able to maintain the illusion of interpretive freedom. He may tell his audience to pray for discernment, and claim that different Christians can disagree about “how [godly distinction] works itself out” – but the boundaries of what he considers acceptable disagreement are much, much narrower than they appear at first glance. Take, for instance, this statement:

We know God has put in the 21st century, but we also know there are certain things which are always true because God is transcendent. His truths are transcendent. We know that God has decreed a teaching relationship between parents and children which was true in the 6th century and the 21st century. We know that God has given an order within the Body of Christ and a hierarchy within the family, whereby the father is the head, and the man is not made for the woman but the woman is made for the man, and this is true in the 2nd century and the 9th century and the 19th century.

Phillips labels as “transcendent truths,” not the Atonement, the Trinity, and the love of God for humanity, but homeschooling and hierarchal gender roles – issues most other Christians consider to be debatable at best. Also, though Phillips objects strenuously to egalitarians’ interpretation of Galatians 3:28 as allowing women’s ordination, their reasoning matches up with his definition of “principle” perfectly. This “broad conclusion” drawn by the egalitarians is no less broad than Phillips’ “broad conclusion” that Deuteronomy 6:7 forbids age-segregated education. In fact, it could be argued that it’s far less broad!

My worldview can beat up your worldview!

The other reason Phillips denies neutrality is the lordship of Christ. This is related to his opposition of syncretism, which he claims undermines the lordship of Christ because it combines paganism with Christianity rather than opposing paganism – or, as his father Howard put it, “Our mission is not to accept reality, but to define reality.” In other words, Phillips wants to completely purge Christianity of pagan influences and ideas.

Now this sounds good on the surface, and there are plenty of periods when the people of God have mixed paganism with God’s commands – think, for instance, of the prostitution booths in the Jerusalem temple in 2 Kings 23:7, and the many instances in which the Israelites sacrificed to Baal and Asherah. However, as usual, Phillips and his associates expand the definition of syncretism far beyond such flagrant, obvious violations. We’ve already seen their redefinition of age-segregation as “pagan” and “unbiblical,” but in this lecture Phillips outdoes himself by rattling off all the “pagan” things he’s discovered in Western culture – probably the two most telling examples are rock music and Michelangelo’s David.

As it turns out, David is the perfect jumping-off point for my criticisms of Phillips’ reasoning about syncretism. I’d first like to address, yet again, the idea of neutrality. It’s well known that a revival of Greek ideas about art was a huge factor in what we now call the Renaissance, and that this revival facilitated enormous advances in all fields of art. Phillips, however, blasts Michelangelo for embracing Greek thought, which leads to an interesting conclusion. No matter how insightful the Greeks were about art, Christians must reject those insights simply because they came from a pagan source. Phillips, as usual, never says what the Christian alternative to Greek artistic thought would be – would he find poor David acceptable if he put on some clothes? – but one thing is clear: Christians are not to incorporate pagan ideas of any kind into their belief system. If they did, a “zone of neutrality” would be created, and we already know from Van Til that these (supposedly) don’t exist.

This leads directly into my next point, which is that Phillips has committed the unforgivable sin of inconsistency. He may rail spiritedly against David as a product of Greek paganism, but what about the cover of his own CD?


Any first-year art history student knows that the Renaissance had an explosive impact on art, and that its influence continues to be felt today. Thus, this painting has been influenced just as much by Greek thought about art as Michelangelo’s David, and as such, according to Phillips’ own reasoning, it qualifies as pagan!

But the inconsistency doesn’t stop there. Phillips decries rock music as pagan, but the chord progressions used in rock music are derived from much older sources (as this video satirically points out). In fact, they appear regularly in the music of Bach, who is often held up as the ultimate Christian composer. But both rock music and Bach are based on the Western tonal system, which is derived from – you guessed it – ancient Greek music and music theory! So a true purge of paganism from Western music would involve – well, the complete abandonment of Western music, since it uses Greek ideas at its very foundations.

Probably Phillips’ worst inconsistency, however, is his high praise of mathematics. Phillips loves math and talks about it frequently (even though he admits to getting out of all his college math classes). But it’s common knowledge that not only were the ancient Greeks involved in mathematics, they laid the foundations of the field as we know it today! How, then, can Phillips be so enamored of a subject which owes its very existence to the labors of Greek pagans?

At the risk of boring my readers to tears, I’ll move on to my third and final point. Take another look at Phillips’ quote from his father: “Our mission is not to accept reality, but to define reality.” Phillips also described Christianity as “culturally imperialistic.” So my question to Phillips is, what are you so afraid of? If you want to “define reality,” then why do you reject Christmas as a pagan holiday? Many symbols used at Christmas were originally used in paganism (holly, pine trees, etc.) – but so what? I thought Christianity was “culturally imperialistic.” What’s to stop you from redefining these things? And if you don’t redefine them, aren’t you accepting reality rather than defining it – or even worse, letting pagans define it for you? In other words – is Christ the Lord of holly, ivy and pine trees, or not?

Agree with me…or else

Before we close, I’d like to examine a statement at the very end of the lecture (emphasis mine):

Tonight, brethren, in closing, I say to each of you: adorn yourself with the beauty of the bride, the spotless bride, and that beauty comes not from you, but it comes from Jesus Christ. It means that Jesus will be Lord over every area of your life, and there will be some tough issues, we know that, but press on for God. Press on and cry out to God, and seek the wisdom of God, and understand that the stakes are incredibly high. They’re so high, your eternal destiny rests upon them. This beautiful thing God has given you called a family – your children, your wife – this is a picture, but it’s a picture that must be painted the right way, and you’re in the business of painting it. May God grant His mercy and grace that we will be victorious as we come forth as the spotless bride of Jesus Christ.

293563666_152c2109bd_oAt first glance, Phillips appears to be saying that a man’s failure to correctly “paint the picture” of Christ and the church in his family will cost him his salvation. Given that Phillips is Calvinist and thus supposedly believes in eternal security, this would be a strange thing for him to say. It would also be patently heretical, as it amounts to adding a works requirement (patriarchy) to salvation.

I really hope that I’m misreading Phillips here. Unfortunately, I have to wonder if I am. From the very beginning the lecture he emphasizes the ideas of “the remnant,” the “true church,” and the “faithful people of God.” These are, of course, contrasted with the “professing church,” which is “committing harlotries” with false gods and “other suitors” via syncretism and thus making the bride of Christ a “spotted harlot.” In this same vein, when complaining that other Christians accuse him of wanting to turn back the clock, he says this (emphasis mine):

Christians who care about family revival, Christians who care about the spotless bride are not interested in resurrecting the 19th, the 18th, the 17th, the 15th, the 14th, or the 13th century, or the 16th, or the 20th, God forbid.

Apparently only Phillips and his followers are concerned with the purity of the church. Finally, immediately before the comment above about the high stakes of picture-painting, he makes what I think is the most concerning (revealing?) comparison by referencing 1 Cor. 1:18:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In context, Phillips is telling his audience that those who want to keep syncretism and other such things out of the church should not be surprised when they’re called “irrelevant,” since “the message of the cross is foolishness.” Phillips is not only equating his take on family life with the Gospel, he’s equating other Christians who disagree with him with the unregenerate!

Let the full implications of that sink in. If you disagree with Doug Phillips about gender roles, you are apparently “perishing” and cannot understand the Gospel. Now would also be a good time to remember that Phillips’ stated goal in The Spotless Bride was to defend this statement (emphasis mine):

You cannot explain the Gospel apart from the language of family, you cannot live the Gospel apart from the language of family, and the way you approach your family is a reflection of what you really think the Gospel is about.

This is dangerous territory. Adding works to the Gospel is serious business; to use Phillips’ phrase, “the stakes are incredibly high.” As I said above, I honestly hope that I’m misunderstanding Phillips, and that the above adds up to nothing more alarming than bad phraseology and poorly thought-out analogies.

There is, however, one thing I can say for certain. Phillips is playing on his listeners’ fears. But given that his arguments fail so badly – is there actually anything to be afraid of?


3 comments on “The Spotless Bride (TBB)

  1. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    In other words, Phillips wants to completely purge Christianity of pagan influences and ideas.

    Didn’t the Taliban claim the same, except for Islam? A Pure and Spotless Islam, purged of all that is Infidel or un-Islamic, as if on a desert island with only the Koran and Hadiths?

  2. […] preferences to marks of salvation.  But then again, he appears to have done that before too (see here under the last […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s