Contending For Truth - Ligonier Ministries Lawsuit Scandal

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ligonier Ministries Requires Biblical Instruction

Ligonier Ministries Balaam's Ass
Will It Take a Balaam's Ass To Speak Before They'll Listen?

For most of my life I've professed Christ as my Savior, and for a number of those years I've also held to Reformed theology as what I believe to be the purest expression of the Christian faith. Because of Dr. RC Sproul's own commitment to Reformed theology, and the lucidness with which he expounds the Word of God, I've for years been appreciative of his labors through Ligonier Ministries, particularly for his books and his radio ministry. I give Dr. Sproul some credit in motivating me in "renewing your mind."

Imagine my shock at discovering that Ligonier Ministries doesn't practice what it preaches. Perhaps the most obvious example of that is their recent lawsuit against me. I wouldn't think it necessary for a layman like me with no formal biblical education to have to expound the Word of God to Reformed theologians like RC Sproul, but evidently that's the case.

Christians shouldn't be suing Christians. 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 not only states that plainly, it even explains why:

1 Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life? 4 If then you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? (1 Corinthians 6:1-7)

If Ligonier Ministries as a Bible teaching ministry didn't know the Bible well enough to have figured that out before, then they've probably figured it out by now (whether or not they're willing to admit it is a different matter altogether). After the withering criticism they've come under in the past month they could've figured it out without ever reading the Bible at all. Even if Ligonier as a Bible teaching ministry had never seen 1 Corinthians 6 before, just good old common sense would've by now taught them that suing a fellow Christian isn't a smart public relations move. But even if I weren't a Christian (as some now ex post facto wish to allege in order to find some elusive biblical escape clause), or even if I were a "Muslim" as Doug Wilson has alleged, suing me would still have been an incredibly stupid move.

Prior to suing me hardly anyone had even heard of Frank Vance and his little dispute with Ligonier's President Tim Dick. Suing me has just turned my obscure little blog into front page news in the biggest newspaper in the United States. If I could afford to match Tim Dick's $230,000 salary (2004 figure, probably much higher now) I'd hire him as my PR director. Great job Tim (for me anyway -- not so good for Ligonier)!

RC Sproul's good pastor friend John MacArthur certainly seems to understand why Christians shouldn't sue Christians. In his Study Bible John MacAurthur says:
6:1 Dare. Suing another believer in a secular law court is a daring act of disobedience because of its implications related to all sin -- the displeasure of God: a matter against another....
6:4 ...the basic meaning is clear; when Christians have earthly quarrels and disputes among themselves, it is inconceivable that they would turn to those least qualified (unbelievers) to resolve the matter.
6:5,6. Shame. Such conduct as suing a fellow believer is not only a sinful shame, but a complete failure to act obediently and righteously. Christians who take fellow Christians to court suffer moral defeat and spiritual loss even before the case is heard, and they become subject to divine chastening.
6:7 why...not...accept wrong? ...Christians have no right to insist on legal recourse in a public court. It is far better to trust God's sovereign purpose in trouble and lose financially, than to be disobedient and suffer spiritually.
One of the reasons that we as Christians shouldn't "dare to go to law before the unrighteous" is because it's a lot like disrobing in front of strangers, or as others have put it, "it's like airing our dirty laundry for the whole world to see." Tim Dick and his defenders would argue that it was I who was responsible for airing Ligonier's dirty laundry by posting my articles on the internet. He'd argue that because of my blog anyone in the world could see his dirty laundry and that the Ligonier lawsuit was merely a method of pulling the dirty laundry off the line. In theory that might be true... in theory. In practice however that's completely ridiculous.

Prior to Ligonier suing me no unbeliever had any reason or inclination to go searching for my blog, and the same also applies to the vast majority of Christians. In order to search for something, anything, you first have to know that it exists. Then you have to know how to search for it. Prior to Ligonier suing me hardly any Christians knew about my dispute with Tim Dick, let alone any unbelievers. It's only because of the lawsuit that many thousands of people now know, including a lot of unbelievers who should've never found out.

I'm in no way pleased that so many unbelievers have now found out. In fact I'm very troubled by it. But there's only one reason they did find out -- the lawsuit. My blog comments brought some personal embarrassment to Tim Dick, but on an extremely limited scale. Even Tim Challies is now admitting this. However, Ligonier's lawsuit against me brought shame and reproach to the entire body of Christ and it also reinforces the preexisting biases of many unbelievers that "the church is full of hypocrites." As one "atheist (an agnostic when facing surgery)" put it:
So as you do, I had a little google. And lo, a whole can of worms came forth... and particularly slimy, wriggly ones at that, considering these are supposed to be the 'moral' people. The blogger, Vance Tribe, has issues with the financial management of Ligonier Ministries.

His criticisms are not only managerial, but spiritual and theological, and he's been unafraid of saying so on his blog. Ligonier Ministries is a massive moneymaking publishing affair largely exempt from tax and public scrutiny and it appears that in this instance, as they always do, the leeches have battened onto the credulous faithful. There's defrocked priests, nepotism, hypocrisy and greed, and bad behaviour by the bucketful if you don't mind wading through the sanctimony. Juicy.

It's a interesting story, and doubly so for bloggers, because this religious business is trying for prior restraint to stop blog criticism before it even happens. That has implications for many bloggers if it's successful. If they can do it, so can other churches, and a lot of churches have a lot to hide.
Christians shouldn't be giving atheists cause to rejoice over sin and hypocrisy in the church. Ligonier's lawsuit has brought shame and reproach upon many thousands of Christians and rather than repenting for it they've issued pubic statements full of excuses, self-justifications and more lies. Furthermore, by his actions Tim Dick has just reinforced in the minds of many the fact that he's a thin-skinned crybaby. No doubt the judge thought much the same. One of the running jokes now is that Tim Dick sued me because I called him a "nincompoop." Amazingly enough though it's not just a joke. Tim actually lists that in the lawsuit as one of the reasons he sued me!

Tim Dick is trying to make this whole thing out as a purely honorable act on his part in defending the good name of Ligonier. But anyone who's actually taken the time to read the lawsuit knows that Tim's motives were only about himself:
"8. VANCE has published several false statements about Plaintiffs on his blog including, but not limited to:"
"Plaintiffs" is plural, meaning both Tim Dick and Ligonier. Yet every single one of the thirteen alleged "false statements about Plaintiffs" are about Tim Dick, and practically all of them are only about Tim Dick, and if they refer to Ligonier at all (which is debatable) it's only by extension and the fact that Tim Dick is Ligonier's President/CEO/CFO. Tim Dick didn't act to defend Ligonier's honor. He sued me only because he's a thin-skinned crybaby who was too cheap to hire his own attorney to sue me. So he used Ligonier donor money instead to sue me.

One of the more remarkable aspects of Tim Dick's lawsuit is that he brought matters that are clearly of a religious nature before a secular court. For example:
f. VANCE's August 14, 2006 statement that "Incompetent and unqualified family members are to be found running around (or sleeping on the desk) everywhere in Ligonier, often in key positions, with little or no understanding or appreciation for the Reformed theology championed by Dr. Sproul.

j. VANCE's July 18, 2006 statement that "From everything I've heard, Tim Dick is a very corrupt man. Some have told me that based on his behavior they don't think there's any way he could be a converted Christian. To have such a man heading up an honorable Christian ministry is an embarrassment to the church of Jesus Christ."

l. VANCE's June 27, 2006 statement that "It would be one thing if Tim Dick were qualified for the position... it's self-evident that the man is as unfit to head Ligonier Ministries as is RC Sproul Jr to be a pastor."
Tim Dick alleges that those are "false statements." But no judge is just going to take Tim Dick's word for it, especially through some sneaky ex parte procedure. In order to grant Ligonier's request for a temporary injunction, and then a permanent injunction, the judge would have to first determine if my allegations were false by examining various evidence and the testimony of witnesses. Just one of many problems with doing so is the fact that the above statements touch on questions of faith and religion, and no civil judge in his right mind would get anywhere near trying to determine the veracity of religious opinions.

Judge Nelson likely knew her own jurisdictional limitations, both civil and ecclesiastical and she wasn't willing to touch this case with a ten foot pole. I don't know if Judge Nelson is a Bible believing Christian, but odds are she's not. It wouldn't surprise me if she was mystified over why a Christian ministry was bringing a religious dispute before the civil magistrate.

If nothing else this entire episode has proven to be a valuable learning experience for many other ministry leaders. If ever there was a practical example of the folly of Christians suing Christians this would be it. Unfortunately there are still some who in their pride, and their blind defense of Ligonier, won't take heed.

If there are those who remain sympathetic to Ligonier Ministries (and there are) the vast majority of them are smart enough to keep their unbiblical opinions to themselves. But there are a few noteworthy exceptions. In an article this coming week I'll give honorable mention to at least one of them.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

RC Sproul Sinning By Silence

"Could it be that too many of God's true children are sinning against God by guilty silence? When those whose eyes are opened by the touch of Christ become vocal and active God may begin to fight again on the side of truth. There are moral situations where it is immoral to say nothing and basely immoral to do nothing."
A.W. Tozer

Over a month has passed since Ligonier Ministries violated 1 Corinthians 6 with impunity and filed a lawsuit against me. In that time not one word has been publicly uttered by RC Sproul, the Founder of Ligonier and current Chairman of the Board, not to mention the official Minister for the ministry. In short, it's his ministry and he's nowhere to be heard from.

Ligonier Ministries and its senior management has come under withering criticism over this lawsuit and yet its founder hides in the home that his donors paid for, refusing to comment, refusing to provide leadership, and refusing to be held accountable.

By his month-long silence RC Sproul has sent a message -- RC Sproul appears to be in full agreement with the unbiblical and very foolish actions of his "senior management" -- Tim Dick and John Duncan. Furthermore RC Sproul appears to be in full agreement with the pathetic public statements issued by Tim Dick and Ligonier's senior management. To assume otherwise would be naive.

What was called for was thorough and unequivocal confession, contrition and repentance. Instead what we got were just more excuses, lies, cover ups, blame shifting and self-justification. As a donor-funded Bible teaching ministry Ligonier needs to do one of two things:
  1. Publicly explain how its lawsuit is biblically defensible and why 1 Corinthians 6 doesn't apply to Ligonier Ministries or apply in this particular case.
  2. Publicly acknowledge that Ligonier's lawsuit isn't biblically defensible, issue a public apology, and restructure Ligonier in such a way that such abuses can never happen again.
The public statements issued by Ligonier Ministries should have never been penned by Tim Dick and John Duncan. They should have come from RC Sproul. In the midst of such a crisis what's called for is strong principled leadership. Tim Dick has more than amply demonstrated that he is an unprincipled man. For RC Sproul to hide out in the midst of a crisis and fail to accept responsibility and exercise manly leadership only makes him look like an abdicator.

In his public statement Tim Dick "accepted responsibility" but he failed to admit any wrongdoing. At best all that Tim Dick has confessed to is that he might have "caused confusion," which is to say he doesn't think he's done anything unbiblical, unethical or sinful at all. Nor is Tim Dick willing to come to grips with the fact that he has terribly offended a large portion of Ligonier's donor base.

However the greater responsibility falls to RC Sproul, for it was he who appointed Tim Dick, a man who clearly has no professional or ministerial qualifications whatsoever. Worse yet Tim Dick has no moral and ethical qualifications. Tim Dick does need to accept responsibility for his own moral shortcomings and incompetency, but far more importantly RC Sproul must accept responsibility for appointing Tim Dick in the first place. RC Sproul must accept responsibility for the consequences to Ligonier and to the body of Christ as a whole for appointing an unprincipled nincompoop.

In the past several weeks many have asked the question, "When will RC say something? When will he issue a public statement?" Ligonier's supporters are looking to RC Sproul for leadership, but he's nowhere to be found. This only tends to confirm the suspicions that many now have that the problems at Ligonier don't just begin and end with Tim Dick.

Several prominent Reformed ministers are personal friends of RC Sproul and regularly share the podium with him at various conferences. These include John MacArthur, John Piper, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan (brother to Ligonier General Manager John Duncan). I've received a number of emails from people who are mystified over the silence of these men regarding the Ligonier Ministries lawsuit. It seems that many people are having a hard time knowing what to think about the silence of these men. Many Christians look to them for leadership and from all appearances there doesn't appear to be any of that being exercised right now.

I've been asked repeatedly about that. All I can say right now is that I do find their silence at a time like this to be strange if not inexplicable. I'm reasonably confident that if it were anyone other than one of our own they'd have something to say about it. Reformed ministers find it all too tempting to criticize the failures of the leadership of Evangelicals and Charismatics and Fundamentalists. How they love to point out that "Bad theology produces bad leadership." The interesting thing about that though is that the Evangelicals and Charismatics and Fundamentalists themselves generally seem to do a reasonably good job of policing their own ranks. They're generally not afraid to hold one another accountable and, if necessary, publicly rebuke one of their own. But for some odd reason it seems that the Reformed leadership are often unwilling to hold one of their own accountable.

We can say the same of Christian publications that cater to Reformed Christians, such as World Magazine. World Magazine has yet to mention anything about RC Sproul Jr and his entire Session of Elders being defrocked. When's the last time anyone has heard of an entire Presbyterian Session of four Elders being defrocked? If that's not newsworthy for the Religion section of World Magazine then I don't know what is. If Ligonier Ministries suing me isn't newsworthy for the Religion section of World Magazine then I don't know what is. Yet once again Marvin Olasky and his "objective" editors have proven how compromised they are. They're eager to report on gay alcoholic Episcopal Bishops checking themselves into rehab, or the foolish public statements uttered by Pat Robertson, but they carefully avoid reporting on the scandalous lawsuit of a prominent Reformed minister and his ministry (and even of his son's defrocking). I'm sure it's just all a mere coincidence that that same ministry that World Magazine has turned a blind eye to also just happens to have spent many tens of thousands of dollars advertising in World.

I find it remarkable that the secular Press started contacting me just a week after Ligonier had sued me, yet the Christian Press is either too embarrassed, too intimidated or too compromised to devote one drop of ink to it. Now just this morning USA Today gave prominent mention to the Ligonier Ministries lawsuit in a front page article. Tim Dick is doing a wonderful job of making Ligonier famous. The problem is that it's the wrong kind of fame.

As for the silence of various prominent Reformed ministers, I hadn't particularly thought much about it until just this past week. My assumption was that they probably were doing something behind the scenes and that it might take some time before the rest of us knew what they'd been doing. But now that five weeks have transpired since Ligonier first sued me, and not one prominent Reformed minister has publicly challenged Ligonier over it (or for all we know even privately challenged them), despite two secular newspaper articles, dozens of blog articles and hundreds of blog comments, I have to admit that I'm growing increasingly concerned by the Reformed leadership's public silence.

Of course it could very well be that some or even all of these men have contacted RC Sproul and advised him to drop the lawsuit. But because they haven't publicly said anything we just don't know. For the sake of argument let's just assume that they all did contact RC Sproul and told him he needed to drop the lawsuit. That would've been the right thing to do, but would it have been adequate? Would that have been enough to fulfill their obligations as fellow ministers and personal friends of RC Sproul? No it would not. In addition, a rebuke of their friend and calling him to to repentance -- public repentance, is needed and also biblically mandated.

Ligonier's sins are public sins and therefore public repentance is necessary. Not only has that not occurred but through Ligonier's "senior management" we've heard nothing but excuses and more lies. RC Sproul isn't ignorant of what's been going on for the past month, and by permitting it to go on for so long, and by doing nothing to put a stop to it (at least that anyone can see) he's complicit in Ligonier's sins. That calls for public repentance and it calls for those closest to RC Sproul to call him to public repentance.

Again, it could very well be that some or all of those Reformed ministers have called RC Sproul to repentance (Matt 18:15-17). But if they have isn't it now more than obvious that he hasn't publicly repented? What are they to do now? Are they biblically permitted to maintain their silence in the face of a public scandal? To be silent about sin is to condone sin. The Reformed leadership needs to take cognizance of the fact that they're setting an example. RC Sproul has set an example that now communicates loud and clear that it's perfectly acceptable for Christians to be suing Christians.

If RC Sprouls' minister friends and associates continue to remain silent they'll be sending a very clear message that they agree with RC Sproul that it's perfectly acceptable for Christians to be suing Christians. The inevitable result will be that many of those who admire those Reformed ministers will follow their example and they'll come to believe that it's perfectly acceptable for Christians to sue Christians. They shouldn't be surprised when one day it's one of them who gets sued by another Christian and the plaintiff uses Ligonier vs. Vance to justify it.

Perhaps these Reformed ministers believe that it's still too soon to speak out publicly, and perhaps they may even be justified in their beliefs. The problem for them is that there are too many troubled Christians looking on who disagree and believe that too much time has been wasted as it is. The continued silence on the part of Reformed ministers is calling into question if any of them can be trusted. As one blogger put it, "This latest scandal has really made me wonder if there are any good ministries out there anymore." It's those kinds of doubts that will cause financial supporters to not just cut off Ligonier but also any other Reformed ministry that fails to speak out against the Ligonier scandal.

Some have suggested that I post the names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers of RC Sproul's preacher friends so that they can be contacted and asked what they've done to call RC Sproul to public repentance. After giving the matter much consideration I now agree that, in the interest of accountability, that's probably a prudent thing to do:

Dr. John MacArthur
Grace Community Church
13248 Roscoe Blvd
Sun Valley, CA 91352
phone: 818-909-5500
fax: 818-909-5712

John Piper
Desiring God Ministries
2601 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55406
toll free: 888-346-4700
phone: 612-435-2401
fax: 612-338-4372

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
First Presbyterian Church
1390 North State Street
Jackson, MS 39202
phone: 601-353-8316
phone: 601-973-9104

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
2825 Lexington Road
Louisville, KY 40280
phone: 502-897-4011

C.J. Mahaney
Sovereign Grace Ministries
7505 Muncaster Mill Road
Gaithersburg, MD 20877
phone: 301-330-7400
email form

Mark Dever
Capitol Hill Baptist Church
525 A Street Northeast
Washington, DC 20002
phone: 202-543-6111
phone: 202-543-1224
fax: 202-543-6113

If you call or write any of these ministers please show them due respect: "Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren." (1Tim. 5:1) Here's an example of a letter that you might want to send them, or use for talking points if you call them. It might be useful at the top of your letter to include the names of all of them so they all know the others have received copies too:
Dear ____________,

My understanding is that you're a friend and ministry associate of RC Sproul and that you've spoken at some of the same conferences. As you no doubt already know Dr. Sproul's Ligonier Ministries sued a Christian blogger on August 25. That lawsuit was withdrawn "without prejudice" on September 27. What that means is that Ligonier reserved the option of suing Frank Vance again and in fact in an article in the Orlando Sentinel it stated that, "Ministry attorney Daniel Brodersen said Thursday that if the group does find Vance, it may file a new suit."

To date Ligonier has issued two public statements, neither of which offer any apology for Ligonier's unbiblical and unchristian conduct. Regardless of Mr. Vance's allegations and methods I'm far more concerned about Ligonier's unbiblical response and the terrible example they've set and the terrible testimony for Christ that they've been.

As a personal friend and ministry associate of Dr. Sproul's I'm wondering where you stand on all this. Do you side with RC Sproul and Ligonier Ministries and believe that their actions can be biblically justified in light of 1 Corinthians 6:1-7? If not I'd like to know what you've done to encourage RC Sproul to issue a public statement of repentance. If you've already done that then I'd like to know why you haven't issued any public statements yourself. My concern is that your continued silence will be viewed as an endorsement of Ligonier's sinful behavior.

In the unlikely event that you're unaware of these significant events please see the following links:
Ligonier Ministries Sues Frank Vance
Public Statement by Tim Dick
Public Statement by Ligonier Senior Management
Ligonier Ministries: More Lies Exposed By Orlando Sentinel

You should also take note of the fact that on the front page of USA Today, October 3 edition, Ligonier Ministries was prominently mentioned in an article about lawsuits and bloggers. This Ligonier scandal requires immediate damage control and any continued silence by Reformed leaders such as yourself will likely only make things much worse.

Thank you in advance for your concern about this matter and for the godly leadership that I'm confident you will soon begin to publicly demonstrate. I appreciate receiving a timely response to the concerns that I've raised here.



If you've been a donor to any of the above ministries, or you've supported these ministers or their ministries in any other way (purchased their books, attended their conferences, etc.) make that known in your letter or email. Demonstrating a personal connection makes it more likely that your letter will get by the screeners. As you receive responses from these men, please post those responses as comments to this thread, or if a response is very long then email it to me.