Doug Phillips: Repentance and Restoration – Is it Possible?

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Articles continue to be written about fallen pastor and Christian ministry leader and pastor, Doug Phillips, who resigned from the non-profit arm of Vision Forum Ministries and from his public speaking engagements.   But what is next?  What does repentance and restoration look like?  Can or should he assume his former positions again?

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While many are commenting on how beautiful and appropriate Doug Phillips’ public statement was, others are saying, “wait, not so fast.”  I’d like to explore some thoughts by others on repentance and restoration.

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Repentance, Restoration of a Fallen Leader and Pastor

Over at Pastor Doug Wilson’s blog post, I saw this excellent comment:


November 5, 2013 at 4:54 pm

In truth, we don’t know that he has repented. Repentance in such cases takes time to discern as it must be proved (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). It is going to be harder to discern if he was caught in this affair versus coming forward and confessing of his own volition as the later case demonstrates repentance in a more immediate sense. If he was caught, it’s going to take some time to see if his confession is complete and that he isn’t doing damage control (which isn’t repentance). Hopefully his church will censure him for an appropriate period so that these matters can be reasonably discerned. In a similar vein, I must confess I find his resignation vague as to the nature of the relationship. “While we did not “know” each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.” This seems to imply that the relationship was not physical but merely emotional. That’s how many people are taking it. However, upon closer inspection, he is not saying it was merely emotional. What he is saying is that intercourse was not involved but he leaves the door wide open for the potential discovery over other indiscretions. Should it be discovered that he was physically intimate in other ways, he can claim that he never denied it. My concern is that equivocal language is more indicative of damage control than it is of repentance. If there were a physical aspect to this relationship, I think it would have been better to simply call it an affair and leave it at that. Regardless, it is the duty of his elders and church to oversee this matter. We need to remember them in our prayers, that God grant them wisdom.

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Commenter 1689er is saying what I and many others have been saying – it’s too early to see repentance.  He also rightly suggested that we have no way of knowing  if Phillips voluntarily issued the statement or was told to do so.  That is important.

Some may think this is not our business.  I disagree.  It is our business.  This man has been in a public position of leadership affecting scores of Christian families and their lives.  Many have shaped their lives around this man’s teachings.  I dare say that many families have heeded the words of this man more than the words of their very own pastor.  You better believe his words and life are going to be put under a microscope.

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Dr. Douglas Weiss, has written an article entitled, Restoring the Fallen.  Dr. Douglas Weiss Ph.D., is the executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  He has been counseling pastors with infidelity, pornography, and other sexual sins for over 20 years.  Weiss listed key patterns he saw for people who were able to be successfully restored.  Here is a brief summary of the list.

Key patterns to look for in successfully restored leaders:

  • this person voluntarily discloses the sin to his spouse an/or spiritual authority.  This action is prompted by a desire for restoration and healing.
  • he has a humble heart, truly remorseful, and broken by his sinful actions
  • he is ready to accept 100% responsibility for his sin, not blaming anyone else for his sin
  • he is willing to take direction and guidance from others and fully submits to those people placed over him
  • he readily embraces accountability
  • he voluntarily makes efforts to work on the restoration of his marriage
  • he voluntarily seeks out professional counselors who can help discover why he did what he did
  • he submits to regular polygraph tests (this helps in building trust for the spouse and others).

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Also on the topic of forgiveness and restoration is a recent article by Heather Doney, “We All Sin:” A 15 Step Path To Forgiveness for Doug Phillips.  This article is a pertinent read because she identifies specific patterns often found within this “movement” and offers her predictions based on her familiarity of how this movement typically responds.

I was very intrigued by the comment my friend Brad Sargent left at Doney’s blog:

brad/futuristguy says:

Heather, thank you for posting this. I’ve been doing research on systems of spiritual abuse for over five years. I believe you’ve provided one of the best pieces of analysis I’ve read about a particular christianized authoritarian system. You’ve succinctly addressed the core theological, cultural, and personal dynamics involved here in a way that shows a depth of reflection, discernment, and compassion. As a survivor of spiritual abuse myself, I see these all as indicators that significant healing is happening for you, and I trust that will continue for you and thereby encourage the journeys to health of those you relate with.

I suspect your conclusion about Doug Phillips’ probable restoration to public ministry is correct, barring some revelations that make sidelining him long term absolutely unavoidable. This rush to restoration without rehabilitation seems to have become a hallmark of those held enthralled by their charismatic leader. Those so entrapped fail to see that, as you pointed out, the greater problem is Mr. Phillips’ entire paradigm and systems of control with their pervasive evil … not merely his personal sins and moral failures with their supposedly limited impact.

For those who insist on his restoration to ministry, I have my own opinion about an appropriate period of rehabilitation: I believe Mr. Phillips needs to spend seven years away from public speaking, leading, or ministry of any kind for every one year he was engaged in the self-proclaimed “lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman.” [And, since it appears that his business is viewed as resourcing ministry, he should step down from that as well.]

According to this formula, restitutionary repentance may indeed take the remainder of his lifetime. However, if there is true change of heart, mind, and behaviors, then that shouldn’t seem an undue hardship or inappropriate. In fact, that lengthy, appropriate time of reflection will hopefully give Mr. Phillips the substantial opportunity needed to consider the widespread and destructive impact of his paradigm, his theology, and his personal activities.

Actually Phillips’ own words on repentance are pretty compelling and could very well line up with some of Brad’s thoughts.

Here’s one additional comment/dialogue I found on Voddie Baucham’s Facebook page.  I was especially interested to read his perspective because he is a friend of Doug Phillips.

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  • Dennis-(removed) How many times do we see this in Christian leadership? They come out explaining their mistake “sin” and then within a few months they are right back in the same leadership position again. They get to write a book and do interviews on the news about how they’ve overcome their past. Everyone just smiles and nods but nothing really changes. Creating a relationship with someone other than your wife is not a one time event. It takes time and effort and a lot of deceit. You have to live in the sin and cover your back over a long period of time to make this work. Foregiveness is one thing, trust to lead again is another.
    • Voddie Baucham Ministries Dennis,You ask, “How many times do we see this in Christian leadership?” The answer may surprise you, but it is actually quite rare. There are hundreds of thousands of churches in America. We hear of these types of things on a national basis when they happen to high profile people. However, considering the number of people in Christian leadership, the numbers are quite small.As to your other point, most men who go through something like this never recover. Of course, there are exceptions. Moreover, there are some circles wherein things like this, and much worse, are merely swept under the rug. However, in circles where leadership is taken seriously, it is very difficult for a man to come back from things like this. People have long memories, and tend to be rather unforgiving.Of course, I’m on the outside looking in, so I don’t know the details. This could be a matter where people are involved and have a program of restoration in place (sometimes these things take place over a number of years).

      Nevertheless, it is important to remember that failure is not final in the Christian life. Forgiveness is available. And even if one finds himself disqualified in the short run, there is always the possibility of future service in a legitimate capacity after proper restoration. As you said, “forgiveness is one thing, trust to lead again is another.” But praise God, they are both possible!

    • Dennis-(removed) The question I ask is if Moses wasn’t allowed to lead the Israelites into the Promise Land because of his sin and if David wasn’t allowed to build the Temple because of his sin, then how do Christian leaders today feel they can sin and have no life-long repercussions? How can a person be above reproach if they are not? If so few are doing the wrong thing then it should be easy to replace them. (Source)
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Here are some of the questions mulling around in my head:

  • Do you think Phillips can ever be restored to ministry?
  • Can Phillips return to ministry because of the fact that he didn’t “Biblically know” the woman?
  • Where does God’s grace fit in this aside from forgiveness?
  • Are we cruel and heartless to not want him to go back into ministry?
  • Is this really not our business?
  • Have you ever seen anyone fall from ministry and have a glorious restoration and healing and assume old ministry positions?  What was that like?
  • Is it cold-hearted to keep someone out of ministry altogether after this kind of sin?
  • Can you give Biblical examples of a fallen leader and end results?

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Special thanks to crecmemes for permission to use image.

188 comments on “Doug Phillips: Repentance and Restoration – Is it Possible?

  1. Blackbird

    Your comment touched my heart. I’ve read it a few times.

    “I prayed for the first time in a long time,
    “God, please show me what I’m missing.”

    “The resurrection validates what happened at the Cross.
    And it means that God = Sacrificial Love.”

    “I want to find a way to understand the bible
    so that it make sense as a whole.”

    Thanks for opening your heart. – And – Like you – “I’m on a quest”
    “to understand the bible” – To understand – the Word of God – Jesus…
    To be one of His Sheep – To hear His Voice – And Follow Jesus…

    Sounds to me like you’re on the way – By asking God to show you…
    Because, Jesus is – “the way, the truth, and the life:” John 14:6
    Keep asking Jesus for the “Truth” that’s been written.

    Came a time, I could NO longer trust in mere man, for Truth, For Me, Today.
    If I wanted, Truth, For Me, Today – I had to go directly to Jesus.

    When I did my own research, I found today’s “Religious Leaders” were teaching many – Commandments of Men, Doctrines of Men, Traditions of Men, that Jesus warned us would Make Void “the Word of God and NOT the Bible.

    The “Religious Leaders” were teaching lots of stuff NOT in the Bible.
    Eventually found out – I was in agreement with Jesus – and His Word. ;-)

    Jer 17:5 Thus saith the LORD; *Cursed* be the man that trusteth in man,
    Matthew 24:4 …Take heed that no man deceive you.
    Mark 13:5 … Take heed lest any man deceive you:
    Luke 21:8 …Take heed that ye be not deceived:
    Ephesians 5:6 Let no man deceive you with vain words…
    2 Thessalonians 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means…
    1 John 3:7 Little children, Let no man deceive you …
    Ps 118:8-9 – It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.

    Yup – I had been deceived by man. – The Benefit? – I had to go to Jesus . ;-)
    Jesus wanted to be “The “ONE” Teacher. Mat 23:8. – And teach ALL Truth.

    John 6:45
    It is written in the prophets, And they shall be ALL taught of God.

    Deuteronomy 4:36
    Out of heaven he made thee to *hear His voice,*
    that *He might instruct thee:*

    Psalms 32:8
    I will *instruct thee and *teach thee
    in the way which thou shalt go: I will *guide thee with mine eye.

    And the best teacher is….

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}


  2. I see no reason why a pastor who betrays his profession should ever be eligible to go back into the job. It’s not that there is nothing else for him to do—it’s a big world out there.
    Well said, Patrice
    He should have a nice HUMBLE job where he can learn/relearn the values he promoted…. and have time to get to know the God who is love (agape).

    Taco Bell, Wal-mart and Dollar General are always hiring.

    But that’s just it. If this guy were your average Joe Schmoe church goer who sat quietly in his pew and was known only by a small handful of other families, we’d be more generous in compassion.

    This guy set himself up as a guru – telling other people how to live, admonishing them when they didn’t “follow” his orders, living high on the hog in a multi-million dollar house and property, and just generally being a jerk on the scale of Anthony Robbins.

    Time to eat some humble pie.


  3. BeenThereDoesThat writes: “This is a conflation of the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of God, Jesus himself made distinctions between the two.”

    This distinction is real enough: the question is whether it’s dynamically changing. Isaiah 9:6-7 says that the government is on Christ’s shoulder, and of the increase of that government and of peace there shall be no end. Like the mountain cut without hands in Daniel 2, it grows until it fills the whole earth. Then we will see the angel’s announcement realized, when “the kingdoms of the earth are become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ.” (Rev. 11:15). That is what making disciples of (not “from”) all the nations is about — the nations become Christ’s disciples.

    What is happening isn’t conflation, it’s absorption by the work of the Spirit, which is slowly being poured out on all flesh century after century.


  4. Chalcedon –

    Enough already. I can’t speak for everyone on the Blog but it would seem to me that laws that evolve/get rewritten/keep up with changing society are better for the Western world and its people. Laws generated in the 1st century belong with that society, in my opinion. I’m wondering what Biblical law, for instance, would apply to cyber-bullying. . .please get real. And give us all a break from your sermons.


  5. @Chalcedon Foundation: “Looks like posts here have triggered something unusual on Jen’s Gem’s: an Open Letter to Chalcedon, which prompted an invited response from Chalcedon’s Vice President in which he sets the record straight in an unexpected way. You can see it here:

    That would be a reasonable assumption. In fact it was this comment which motivated my writing the article:

    @Julie Anne: ” Reconstructionism (you’ll see footnotes from Rushdoony, a Reconstructionist), is the core of the Homeschool Movement and the driving force of many of the practices: keeping daughters at home, out of the work force, away from college, marrying young, having lots of babies, etc.”

    I have high regard for Julie Anne, but I believe she is misinformed on this point. As I have noted in my article, R.J. Rushdoony is one of the founding fathers of the modern home school movement. It would not then be unreasonable for those who condemn home schooling to disdain Rushdoony. But oddly enough there are many home schoolers (Julie Anne being one of them) who believe in home schooling but who at the same time disdain one of its most significant pioneers. Such is the sad state of confusion so many live in today.

    We are all vulnerable to the temptation of seeking out easy targets to blame for all the evils we see around us. What makes for an easy target? Someone (or some thing) that it just feels good to blame. In other words, easy targets are often not especially logical targets. Apparently R.J. Rushdoony is one such easy target. Feel good as it may for some to blame Rushdoony, it simply doesn’t follow logically that Rushdoony bears responsibility for the numerous aberrant and extra-biblical teachings and practices that are so widely manifested in Christian home schooling today. To the best of my knowledge, Rushdoony never advocated for, or practiced, any of those things Julie Anne mentioned above (anyone here is welcome to correct me where they can provide evidence that I am wrong, with the caveat that it must come from primary source documentation — with the volume of material Rushdoony published there is no shortage of that). Therefore, to say Christian Reconstructionism and Christian Patriarchy, as Rushdoony taught it and practiced it, was, or is the “driving force” for “keeping daughters at home, out of the work force, away from college, marrying young, having lots of babies”, etc., is simply false. Rushdoony taught nor practiced any such things.

    Nevertheless, Chalcedon’s Vice President does not “set the record straight”, as you claim, Chalcedon Foundation. I have invited you to do that very thing but, so far, it hasn’t happened. Martin’s reply so far has been helpful but my challenge remains unfulfilled. The invitation remains open.

    Martin Selbrede has, in his reply to me, at least referenced an insightful article of his in which, speaking of Kathryn Joyce and her less than scholarly research approach evidenced in her book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, he says, “She would have recognized that the second and third-hand information she appeals to is a sad caricature of Rushdoony’s position.” I’ve read Kathryn Joyce’s book and I quite agree with Selbrede’s critique. I believe this is exactly the problem with the vast majority of those who have blamed R.J. Rushdoony and the doctrines he promulgated for all the abuses and evils we see evidenced today in Christian home schooling. They have taken second and third-hand information and turned it into a sad caricature.

    Julie Anne, it would seem to me that’s what you, and many other commenters here, have done in unjustly attributing to Rushdoony those things in the modern home schooling movement that you (and I too) object to. Place the blame squarely where it belongs: Phillips, Sproul, Swanson, McDonald, Botkin, and others of their ilk, not with a man who did not promulgate those things that you have unjustly accused him of.

    Lastly, this thread has gone way off point from the original comment of Julie’s that triggered all this unproductive back and forth. It started out with a poorly informed charge against Reconstructionism, which made a leap of logic turn into Dominionism, and then off into the weeds with Theonomy. I’d respectfully request that the discussion return to the original point that Julie made. Please?


  6. Mr. Eston, could you kindly reiterate your challenge? If I can, I will try to fulfill it.

    I also drew attention to the “into the weeds” deflection. I could either ignore the questions (nonresponsive) or answer them (windbag). I’d prefer to rerail the train too.


  7. T. W. Eston,

    When I first posted here, I logged in as Chalcedon Foundation. When your Open Letter to Chalcedon on Jen’s Gems was forwarded to me late Monday night, I was at home, and I completed writing my reply around 3 AM. Exhausted by the late hour, I mistakenly used my Facebook account to log in and post my response at Jen’s Gems, thereby listing me under my personal name rather than my affiliation.

    Because I thought that interested parties here would like to see what had developed at Jen’s Gems regarding your Open Letter, and because I intended to retire this login shortly to avoid any ensuing complications as a result of responding to two different websites, I briefly described myself in the third person. The generic login lasted longer than intended (things didn’t wind down here as expected), and although I never used more than one name at any individual site (I regard that as unethical), I felt obligated to reply to the continuing questions here with the login name everyone already knew.

    After your last post, I realized that you were monitoring both websites, and this put you at a disadvantage I never intended. In short, Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens are the same person, and Martin Selbrede at Jen’s Gems is Chalcedon Foundation at Spiritual Sounding Board. From your vantage point switching between the two sites, this must have been as confusing as the statement found in Zechariah 3:2 — “And Jehovah said unto Satan, ‘Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan.'”

    As a result, should I post anything more here, it will be under my personal name rather than my affiliation, in deference to any others monitoring both sites like you’ve been doing.

    As a gesture of good will, I will email you my phone number tonight via your Gmail account. I’ll be driving from Austin to Houston tomorrow between 4PM-7PM CST, and you are more than welcome to contact me by phone during that time so that we can better address your remaining concerns about the issues raised in your Open Letter.

    With respect,

    Martin Selbrede


  8. Pingback: Chalcedon Foundation Privately Donated Funds to Joe Taylor to Help His Legal Defense Against Doug Phillips | Spiritual Sounding Board

  9. I am posting this at both Spiritual Sounding Board and at Jen’s Gems in response to yesterday’s charge that my presence and statements at these sites amount to nothing more than “damage control.” And by damage control, the critics don’t mean what the Good Samaritan did, but what King David did (getting Uriah drunk, sending him to the front lines, etc.).

    This accusation at first looks to gain weight when we read how surprised people at these sites are that Chalcedon is even there in the midst initiating a dialogue. As if to say, “Okay, so now Chalcedon comes out of their ivory tower and tries to reach across the aisle to their critics. NOW they start a dialogue — how convenient. They never did before. Pretty transparent damage control, isn’t it?”

    This is a challenge concerning Chalcedon’s track record. This is something of a no-win situation: if I correct the record, I look like I’m touting our track record and therefore lack humility. So those who can evaluate the matter objectively might learn something, but the sceptics won’t be able to see beyond their confirmation bias (which, given the church’s general’s track record, is understandable).

    So, is our participation at these sites merely a flash-in-the-pan attempt by Chalcedon to reach across the aisle and dialogue with critics, or does Chalcedon have a record of doing so, which would make our participation here just one more example of its consistent conduct? Let’s take a look.

    In 2005, Chalcedon attempted to enter into dialogue with critics gathered in New York at an Anti-Dominionism Conference, doing so in person in several instances (e.g., with Katherine Yurica). No takers.

    In my Nov.-Dec. 2006 FFAOL review of Rev. Mel White’s book, “Religion Gone Bad,” I was saddened to note that the author had adopted a policy of refusing to dialogue with the other side, despite his critique of fundamentalists and their “no discussion” attitude.

    In 2007, Chalcedon invited journalist Jeff Sharlet, a critic of perceived historic revisionism, to enter into a dialogue in the wake of his Harper’s Magazine article. He didn’t take us up on it (but did acknowledge that my published response to him in the March-April 2007 issue of Faith for All of Life was, to his surprise, quite good).

    In the Sept-Oct 2007 issue of FFAOL, we ended up publishing “Answers to Tough Questions About Christian Reconstruction,” answers I offered to questions posed to Chalcedon by a major Bay Area atheist group. The group had initiated the exchange, promising to publish our answers, but after they read my responses they failed to follow through. We had to publish the resulting dialogue ourselves.

    An clear and explicit invitation to dialogue with the author of Quiverfull (Kathryn Joyce) was extended to her in the March-April 2010 issue of FFAOL. No response (yet!).

    In the July-Aug 2012 issue we appealed to Dr. Paul McGlasson to address concerns about his new book, “NO! A Theological Response to Christian Reconstructionism.” (Insert sound effect of crickets.)

    Chalcedon has regularly reached across the aisle: it’s in our DNA to do so. And it’s not a hard thing to do. Nonetheless, nobody accepted our overtures. So when T. W. Eston’s Open Letter appeared at Jen’s Gems, we accepted his invitation, not grudgingly but gladly. Constructive dialogue with those across the aisle was something we’ve been openly seeking for years, without success.

    But it was not for lack of trying.


  10. Home School Enrichment Magazine just sent me a Black Friday add for Vision Forum’s Catalog. I could see Vision Forum sending it to me, but another homeschool company? Doesn’t that seem like an innapropriate endorsement given the circumstances? Maybe I am reading into it too much!


  11. Pingback: Compelling Evidence that Vision Forum Inc. is Closing, Liquidating and Doug Phillips “Show” of Repentance Revealed | Spiritual Sounding Board

  12. Pingback: Fallen Patriarchy Leader Doug Phillips Leaves Former Church and Becomes Member of New Church without “Letter of Transfer” | Spiritual Sounding Board

  13. Pingback: Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare? | The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

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