Denton Mystery Worship Two: The Subtle Seduction #UMC

Order or chaos?
© Paulus Rusyanto |

A very lovely woman greeted me and my friend after the 9 am worship service at Denton Bible Church, located on University Drive east of TWU. She eagerly asked, “What did you think about it?” I hesitated for a moment, looking for the right words to express my heart and mind and finally said, “It was impressively professional.”

And it was, with enthusiastic applause to the exquisite music performances that sandwiched a forty minute clearly delivered message.

We had arrived a few minutes before the 9 am service. The first thing we saw as we entered was the well-staffed media center, giving us opportunity to purchase copies of messages and books. Bypassing it, and after introducing ourselves to the ushers, we entered the worship center where the service would take place.

According to the posted notice, the space would hold about 4700 people in comfortably cushioned theater seats, complete with seat numbers. From the catwalk above the stage, to the strategically positioned cameras, to the massive screens, to the to-die-for soundbooth, to the set-up of the large orchestra to the subtlety of the ever changing lighting on the giant cross in the background, we found ourselves prepared to focus our eyes forward.

We found a couple of unclaimed seats in one of the front sections, noting that many prime seats were saved for later occupation by Bibles placed across arm rests. At 8:58, the orchestra began to perform JS Bach’s “Sleepers Awake”, with the space about 20% full. As the sounds of music helped usher in many others milling in the spacious hallways, the casually dressed choir began filling the wide risers at the back of the stage.

The prelude was immediately followed by several minutes of announcements made by a well-dressed man. The first thing we learned: multiple voter registration booths were set up around the campus to encourage greater participation in coming elections. The announcer stated that because of increasing threats to religious liberty in the US, the church would also be hosting a Religious Freedom Conference in a few weeks.

At 9:06, we were invited to stand, sing, and greet one another. Then the audience lights darkened, brightening the stage, as we were treated to an anthem that told the story of Jesus, almost a creed set to music. Another well-dressed man came to the pulpit and read the Scripture passage for the day, 2 Corinthians 1:12-24 ,as everyone around us opened their Bibles and followed along.

Now 9:24, all attention went to the screens as the youth pastor spoke on video of the challenges of their meeting space. Photos displayed clearly the overcrowding and how much they need the new building currently under construction, an 80,000 square foot, $10 million facility that will provide everything needed to keep the youth happy, taught and connected to each other.

At this point, the senior pastor, Tom Nelson, one of the thirteen male elders who oversee the church, came to the pulpit to deliver his message. As be began, he reaffirmed the need of the new building and explained the financing and construction timeline.  He also disclosed that the current youth building will be leased to Serve Denton, an umbrella organization which will bring together under one roof many social service agencies in the area. The lease terms? $1/year.

Pope Francis may be warning of World War III breaking loose in this messy world, but inside the walls of Denton Bible, things are clean and orderly. Nelson assured the congregation that children being raised in this church environment will not make the same mistakes of their parents. Within these ministry walls, they will be safe and far less prone to fall into error. They will, he said, pay their American Express bills on time.

Pastor Nelson then began an in-depth exposition of the 2 Corinthians passage. It begins with the writer, the Apostle Paul, straightforwardly addressing the Corinthian church’s complaint: that he had not kept his word and visited them as promised.

Nelson stated that this was the equivalent of someone complaining of a spiritual leader’s choice to drive 80 mph in a 60 mph speed zone and overlooks the far more important work of proclaiming the uncompromising truth. It is this task to which Paul is called, and he, as the bearer of that truth, is the glory of the Corinthian church–it is he who gave them the light of salvation. Without blushing, Nelson proclaimed that he, too, is the glory for this church and for other groups where he speaks and gives the unchanging, never-compromised truth. He reminded those in worship with him that they, too, can be glory-bearers as they take the truth from this place and offer it to others.

At about 10:20, before the orchestra began another piece to indicate the dismissal from our comfortable seats and back into the world again, Nelson offered the invitation to receive Jesus and be saved. As their doctrinal statement clearly reads, “Man is created in the image and likeness of God. In Adam, all mankind fell into sin with the result that all men are sinners. Men are justly condemned to eternal judgment and can do nothing to merit salvation.”

While gender-exclusive language is not the written or spoken norm in most other places today, it is here, both in the written statements and from the pulpit. I know that I personally have to interpret each use of “man” to see if the usage also includes women, but also know that such language reflects the important emphasis on male headship and leadership that characterizes this church and its uncompromising stance on truth.

[Note: this article originally ran in the religion section of the Sept. 19, 2014, Denton Record-Chronicle.]

Additional Notes

I felt the subtle seduction of this perfect  and orderly world pulling at me the whole time I was there. In fact, I was very nearly hypnotized by it. I spent many, many years in the “non-compromised truth” world of the Bible church movement and received my first theological degree from one of the seminaries that affirms this stance. I worked so hard to buy into it and to be the perfect Christian, the one whose doctrines lined up neatly, complete with incontrovertible proof texts.

I failed. I saw too much, too much of what I eventually started calling privately the “great Evangelical lie,” this idea that when one’s life is guided totally by correct belief, then everything will turn out fine and our children will grow up drug-free, teen-pregnancy-free, trauma-free and become perfectly functioning, unscarred adults. It doesn’t happen. It’s not true. And it very nearly killed me. A very brief part of that story is here.

My companion on these Denton journeys into various churches, a local businessman and good friend, and I went to breakfast afterward at a restaurant near where I live in downtown Denton. We discussed the service at length and this near-hypnotic reaction I was having to it, this longing to find that perfect, that clean and orderly world instead of the chaos and doubt and questions I live with now.

He started looking around the restaurant and suddenly said, “Not one person in here would fit into that church culture.”

My back had been to the rest of the restaurant so I turned and followed his gaze. I saw the best of funky downtown Denton, scruffy looking college students deeply engaged in conversation, anything but clean-looking family groupings, quiet, poorly dressed elderly or near homeless nursing a cup of coffee, musicians still dazed from a long night of work. He was right: they don’t fit into the clean world of Denton Bible.

Nor do I. I will not go so far to say that it is an illegitimate world, this place of sartorial and doctrinal perfection, but I will say that those are not the types of people Jesus preferred to hang out with. He did indeed eat with sinners, and he touched the sick and unclean, and he dared heal on the Sabbath and speak with foreign women. He broke through that religious culture’s insistence on perfect order and cleanliness–and we, as the church, must continue that pattern of breaking through the safety of order and straight lines and embrace the chaos of swirling, scruffy, smelly humanity.

This is why I was so drawn to the United Methodist Church: it is here that I saw fluid enough boundaries around disputable doctrinal stances. yet with all sitting on the solid foundation of Wesley’s three general rules: Avoid evil, do good, stay in love with God. Here, I could actually do good while embracing my own slow and always uneven movement to perfection in love.

And it for this reason that I view with increasing concern the very loud and well-funded voices (like the IRD, Good News and other very conservative movements) that want to impose tight doctrinal boundaries and shut down discussion, particularly over sexuality issues. Yeah, it’s neater. It gives easy to see lines and clear “enter” and “exit” doors. But I don’t think it is in any sense Jesus-like.

So, I stay very concerned that a movement that began in the dirty, despairing parts of England is now scrubbing itself so clean that we who know we are imperfect and who also know that we know only in part, will no longer have a place.

20 thoughts on “Denton Mystery Worship Two: The Subtle Seduction #UMC

  1. I was grieved when I read that you told your readers that those whom you dined with probably wouldn’t be welcome in our church culture. As a staff member of DBC I could not disagree more strongly! Every week, within the walls of DBC, I meet with friends who currently or formerly have struggled with drug &/or alcohol abuse, sexual impropriety of every sort, difficult marriages, scars from abuse. Because of our imperfect backgrounds, we are keenly aware of the One who pulled us out of the pit and the enemy who continues to try to draw us back into it. We also have a lingering desire to be sensitive to those who are in similar struggles.

    No, we are not people living in a glass house who spend our Sundays polishing our self-righteous crowns or seeking to wear masks of pretense. Though, as with any place where sin remains, there are plenty of these things going on here! (But this is why we come!—to lift our focus off of ourselves onto Jesus Christ who IS glorious, who in Himself alone IS our righteousness). We are sinners who have been rescued, and beggars who are anxious to tell others where we found bread!

    We do, however, endeavor to bring our best to Him. Therefore, most of us do shower (at least a day or two before we come!) and put on “our best” in light of Whom we come to worship. Sounds like you sat in (or around) the same section I sat. Apparently, (based on your sartorial comment) it sounds like you may have been so tuned to what folks were wearing that you didn’t see the homeless guy sitting in front of me with a family he met at Vision Ministries. And you didn’t see the single moms or those struggling with homosexuality or the guy whose wife is in drug rehab, or the woman battling alcoholism, or the host of others I “saw”—because I ‘ve spent the time to get to know them and their stories, not just making assumptions based on how they were dressed. By the way, chances are some of those sitting around you after church, DO attend DBC—perhaps our (more laid back) evening service. We definitely have friends & members who fit your description of those you were dining around.

    As a strong willed, seminary trained, woman ordained by Denton Bible Church, who sat through the same service you “reported” on, I don’t see any reasonable basis for your observations. Then I read through your entire blog to try to better understand your perspective. As I did, I put my guns back in their holsters and my heart broke for you. I don’t pretend to know you, but I have a strong “suspicion” you’ve been hurt deeply (I’m guessing by men) which in large part (I’m again guessing) frames your views (perhaps without you even realizing it.)

    No doubt my own experiences frame this suspicion. The man who played a large role in my coming to Christ also abused his position of leadership and did things to me that “ought not be mentioned among believers”. Coming from that background of hurt and shame, I can tell you that Denton Bible Church has been a restorative place for my soul. The leadership here has affirmed me as a woman as well as my teaching and shepherding gifts. They invested in me by helping to put me through seminary and opened doors for me (and many other women on our staff) to train other women to become leaders (both in our community and around the globe) with their full support. It is an understatement to say that they have shepherded my wounded heart and loved me very well. I am grateful to be under the umbrella of their servant-hearted authority. I would argue there are precious few churches who send more women to seminary and also reproduce (in house) the volume of women we send out who take the gospel throughout our country as well as the four corners of the world, proclaiming the hope of the Savior that the Bible declares as true. Our complimentary view on gender roles in no way suppresses women. On the contrary, this church exalts a Trinitarian view that frees women to serve the Lord with boldness, not as second-class citizens of the kingdom of God nor of His Church.

    Your misrepresentation of Tom’s tongue in cheek comment about being “our glory,” left out his disclaimer that clearly identified it as such. At Dallas Theological Seminary, where I’m told you also attended, I was taught that when you argue, you should leave out the pejoratives and represent the other person’s perspective fairly—in terms they would own. It would seem you have sought to intentionally misrepresent. That is unfortunate.

    As for the lack of gender inclusive language, we believe our folks are smart enough (as you acknowledged yourself to be) to realize when a gender is being singled out and when it is speaking to all mankind. At points where this could be unclear, it is repeatedly clarified, graciously. I’ve never been in a church that valued women and their contribution to the body of Christ more. Perhaps that wasn’t clear from one visit, but as one who has had the benefit of hearing more, I can assure you that women are treated with great dignity, honor and care at Denton Bible Church.

    Surely, as Austin mentioned in his response, there are perceptions we need to be aware of that those who are just looking at us for the first time can misinterpret. Thank you for bringing these to our attention. We’re glad you came and hope you will come back.

    In lieu of Michael’s comments hopefully you will take a deeper look to realize there is far more to Denton Bible Church than you represented in the snapshot of your visit.

    Could what you called the “subtle seduction” be the wooing of His Spirit? Could He be drawing you back to uncompromising truth (which remains true even when we are not)? Surely, none of us will represent His truth fully and flawlessly on this side of heaven. In spite of the flaws of His servants (just as those flaws painted—and not whitewashed—of the saints in the Bible, adds to it’s credibility), His Word stands as a true invitation to the order, peace, and rest that are found in Him alone. Just as we pray:

    “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven”,

    we indeed seek to pursue that—not only within our worship services but as we seek to live it out in our culture and, as we depend on Him to bring that prayer to fruition.
    We don’t live with our heads buried in the sand and this is not a “5 step to perfection” formula church! It’s a place where we seek to walk with one another in the real struggles of life, going to the cross together and believing the promises of the One who offers

    “though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow, though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.”

    Who also beckons,

    “Come unto Me ALL who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

    He alone is our hope. He alone is our delight. He alone is our Savior! If He is wooing you, come back to these unchanging truths!

    Jean Klughart


    1. Jean, thank you for taking the time to write and present your experience of DBC. It is good to know that it has been a healing, empowering place for you, despite the fact that you, as a woman, have to do what no man has to do: interpret each time the word “men” or “mankind” is written, whether it applies to you as a woman, or to men specifically. I very much disagree that this in an appropriate way to open the doors to the kingdom of heaven to one-half of humanity. In fact, one woman who read that portion about the horrible fate facing men who don’t believe in Jesus said, “Thank goodness this doesn’t apply to me!” It’s a set up for misinterpretation.

      Now, you also wrote, “Then I read through your entire blog to try to better understand your perspective. As I did, I put my guns back in their holsters and my heart broke for you. I don’t pretend to know you, but I have a strong “suspicion” you’ve been hurt deeply (I’m guessing by men) which in large part (I’m again guessing) frames your views (perhaps without you even realizing it.)”

      As with several of the other commentators from DBC, I’m fascinated by your collective ability to psychoanalyze me! What is your background in that particular discipline? And did you really read all 800 posts? Or did you just pick and choose the ones that might support the decisions you have already made about me? If you did not read all 800 posts, but still feel sure you can decide who I am and what I am about, then perhaps you might understand better the way I described DBC in a short newspaper article and after only one experience of worship.

      Again, I’m glad to know that you find healing and ministry in this system. Many others, both men and women, find it oppressive and dangerous. It works for you. That is a good thing. But this is not the only or final repository of truth. God is much, much bigger than the theology taught at DBC.


  2. Ms. Thomas-

    I came across your website after first reading your article in the Denton RC. My name is Michael Pirtle and I serve as the Director of Vision Ministries at Denton Bible Church. Vision Ministries is a ministry to low-income families and homeless men and women within our community. More on that later….

    I’m not sure who you might have talked to, but I don’t think you’ll ever hear from the pulpit, or members of Denton Bible Church, what you stated – that a life guided by correct belief will turn everything out fine. Your charge against us that we take the Bible literally (which is true) should tell you that we don’t hold that. We can look to Jesus as our example. Here is a man whose very thoughts were PERFECT yet had to endure persecution and death on the cross. You’ll never hear me say that if you think right, everything else will fall in line. The benefit that doctrine has is that it gives you hope a midst those circumstances which may be difficult and trying.

    Regarding who Jesus came to dine with, I can’t argue that he often found himself with the sick, with the unclean, with tax collectors, with the ostracized of the community. TRUE – but he went out and sought those people out. Let me share with you a few facts about Denton Bible Church:

    – Did you know that Denton Bible Church has 5 staff members whose very job is to equip and empower its members to love our neighbors in our community that you might consider as the “sick, the unclean, the ostracized”?

    – Did you know that Denton Bible has a ministry called Vision Ministries which resources and attempts to meet needs of our homeless and low-income neighbors and has been doing so since 1991?

    – Did you know that Denton Bible has a SWEAT Team that provides physical labor for those that cannot afford repairs to their homes? Often times they are serving widows in our community, the very thing that James calls “pure and undefiled religion”.

    – Did you know that Denton Bible has a ministry called Mercy Heart which ministers to the families that have incarcerated loved ones? It’s actually the largest Mercy Heart in the country….and they meet INSIDE Denton Bible Church.

    – Did you know that we have a Ministry to the Incarcerated where men and women volunteers go into the jails to meet with and teach the word of God to those we might consider as “outsiders”?

    – Did you know that Denton Bible supports the largest community garden in the United States? A garden that has provided 25,000 lbs (year to date) of fresh fruits and vegetables to food pantry’s, soup kitchens, and low-income daycare’s in our community.

    – Did you know that Denton Bible started a Cattle Ministry which provides 50,000 servings of fresh ground beef and pork to food pantries and ministries in our community that feed those that are hungry?

    – Did you know that Denton Bible supports a Sunday morning fellowship at Vision in which 30 of those “outsiders” attend because they are hungry for the word of God yet intimidated by ALL churches?

    – Did you know that Denton Bible partners with Immaculate Conception Catholic Church to provide emergency shelter during the summer and winters to our vulnerable residents?

    – Did you know that we have men and women that go to 33 different nursing homes and rehab facilities in our area each week to teach those that are unable to come to church?

    – Did you know that each Saturday morning a group gathers and goes out to some of the homeless camps in our community to encourage and befriend those that find themselves homeless?

    – Did you know that Denton Bible partners with First Refuge Ministries to fund and support the Denton Dental Mission which provides dental services to those that can’t afford it?

    – Did you know that we have a Tutoring Ministry that works with 20 children at Village East Apartments, one of the most crime ridden apartment complexes in town, every week to help them do their best at school? Many of those tutors eat lunch with the children weekly as well.

    – Did you know that Denton Bible purchased a building and leases it out to Serve Denton so that homeless mothers will have a space to regroup and get back up on their feet?

    – And… I think you heard the note that Denton Bible is giving away a 32,00 sq. ft. facility so that another organization, Serve Denton, can come and create a space where needs can be met.

    – And did you know that all of these ministries are funded by our church members who give sacrificially every week, with no outside assistance from the community, in keeping with Paul’s command to Timothy to “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share”? (1 Timothy 6:18)

    They (those that our world considers “Outsiders”) may not come to us, but we go to them as we are commanded to in the Great Commission and it certainly isn’t the “clean world” that you suggest we hold so dear. You’re welcome to your opinion but I think it should be an informed opinion. What you see for an hour and a half on Sunday does not tell the whole Denton Bible story. It does not show you what happens when the SWEAT Team goes out on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. It does not show you what happens at Vision Ministries during the week or at the Mercy Heart dinner on a Wednesday night. It does not show you how much those kids from Village East enjoy Monday afternoons after school. You know better than to judge a book by its cover

    Also, to say that the only people that Jesus ministered to were those “Outsiders” would be unfair. Jesus himself says that he came for the sick does he not (Mark 2:17)? Jesus doesn’t put conditions on how one should dress (or not dress), the only thing is that they have to know that they are sick. I think, if you spent more time, what you would find is that DBC is full of a bunch of sick sinners coming together to worship a God that is sovereign and gracious. Are there bad apples among us? Probably, but isn’t that true among any church?

    We will probably never agree on certain doctrines, I’m not here to argue that. However, to say that the outsiders aren’t welcome at DBC is misleading. We spend a large amount of resources to minister to those “outsiders”. If we didn’t believe that they had dignity and worth in the eyes of God, why would we do that? We’d have even more comfortable chairs to sit in!!!!

    Michael Pirtle


    1. I want to make a comment here about those who have gone to great lengths to describe the powerful ministries that have and are emerging from Denton Bible Church. I rejoice in every one of them. What I wrote is what what I personally experienced and heard on the morning I visited. It was what most walking in blank that morning would hear. Certainly I brought my biases in–we all do. But the goal of this series is to show those on the outside what different types of worship services are like.

      Denton Bible provides a professionally excellent, performance based worship service. People in attendance are passive consumers of a well-done theater. This is not an insult–it is one type of worship. There are many others.

      Personally, and after years of intense theological study, I have come to a deeper appreciation of the Holy Scriptures as authoritative and inspired, but find the word “inerrant” to be a Western, modern concept overlaid upon an Eastern, pre-modern text that ends up too-often doing violence to the text, particularly with its tendency to overlook the genre of the literary structure of the text.

      Such interpretive methods have too often turned something that is descriptive and time-limited into something that is prescriptive and time-free. They have provided a basis for some of the worst of religious practices.


  3. Hi! My name is Austin Adkins, and I’ve been attending Denton Bible Church for 9 years. I found your recent article quite fascinating, and would like to offer a few thoughts and questions in response. First, though, thank you for taking the time to present a perspective of DBC that we members are occasionally in danger of missing – that of a first-time attendee. It can be all too easy for me to get into the pattern of worship and teaching without taking the time to consider the impressions it might make on one who is not familiar with our specific church. Your observations will aid us in addressing any blind spots we may have grown unaware of.
    As for the general order of the service, I agree that it is “impressively professional.” We utilize any musical gifts that God has given to our choir and orchestra in order to turn the heart towards worshiping God. Our sermons are designed to instruct biblical literacy and admonish growth in sanctification. To accomplish these objectives, we place our best-prepared men and women in these positions of leadership. However, far from being a pragmatic production of artificial holiness, these men and women are held to a very high standard. If their personal relationship with Christ were being neglected, the greatest skill-set on earth would not be allowed to lead at DBC. My question on this subject is: Would you prefer that we deliberately placed less well-trained or prepared folks in leadership?
    Concerning the general appearance of the church and its contents, I again agree that it is “clean and orderly.” We pay a staff of workers who have made it their job and ministry to prepare the facility for services, and they do an exceptional job. As a ministry, these men and women seek to remove any external distractions or detriments to the individual approach to worship and study. By maintaining cleanliness and order, organization and structure, they allow the rest of the congregation to direct their entire focus on the worship of God and the study of His Word, given to us in the Bible. My question on this subject is: Would you prefer that we deliberately allowed the premises to fall into neglect and decay, disorder and filthiness?
    Regarding the general comfort level of our church building, I agree that the chairs are “comfortably cushioned,” the cameras are “strategically positioned,” our screens are “massive,” our sound booth (don’t let our sound guys tell you otherwise) is “to-die-for,” and the lighting on our “giant cross” is “ever-changing.” What resources God has entrusted to us have been poured into ministry from every possible angle. North Texas, as you are well aware, having lived and served here for some time, is a unique socioeconomic climate, and our church seeks to meet that climate where it is without watering down the message of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. For some folks, a church that cannot manage to master the basics of lighting and sound cannot be taken seriously – so we place devoted men and women in leadership of that area of ministry in order to reduce any potential external distraction from the Word of God. Some people may want to sit in the back, yet have bad eyesight – we would hardly be good stewards of our resources if we did not use them to provide a way for them to follow the service through sufficient screens. As for the comfortable seats, I must confess, I may be selfish on this one. I have a bad back, and sitting in a rigid chair for 1.5 hours is painfully distracting. Cushions are yet another small way our church is able to take the resources of God and transform them into tangible, effective aids in worship and teaching. My question on this subject is: Would you prefer that we deliberately abstained from all comfort or convenience and adopted pseudo-asceticism?
    You and I seem to agree in many of our observations yet differ in our interpretations. “Impressively professional” is perhaps an appropriate designation, but is it a bad thing? Is it wrong to utilize the gifts God has entrusted to us? I’ll give you this: it is not the only biblically prescribed method for running a church. However, I believe it would be a difficult task to demonstrate that it is an incorrect method. Are there some who would turn away from our doors before giving it a chance? Absolutely. Such is the case in every church in history. But many give it a shot, and those who walk away are met by the myriad ministries our church extends into the wider city of Denton. Between missions, homeless ministry, our garden, small groups, evangelism and general off-campus ministry, DBC is able to encounter the great majority of the dynamic cultures in our fantastic city. Though we put our best foot forward on Sundays, we are absolutely open about our sins and struggles. Any appearance of perfection is simply our acknowledgment that there is a standard set by God that we should be striving for, but it is in no way a claim to have attained it.
    In closing, I have two final questions (possibly with sub-questions). First, if the Bible is not the standard for uncompromising truth, do you have one? First sub-question (figured this would happen), if the Bible is an insufficient foundation for truth and church management, how trustworthy is the foundation of a single man, John Wesley? Second question, and please forgive me if this sounds overly aggressive – it is only meant to be slightly so. By what authority do you claim to be able to critique the form and function of a church based on a single 1.5-hour experience? Second sub-question, is it possible that your experience of evangelicalism does not perfectly envelop all that it stands for?
    I’m done. Sorry for the lengthy post, but your article really got my brain juices churning and left me with a lot to think through. Thank you again for bringing to our attention the experience of a first-time attendee. If you would like to see more of what our church does on the front lines, feel free to come visit our small group on Monday evenings. We’d be glad to have you, and my friend Rachel will make baked goods.


  4. This is an interesting article. I would love to know what your preconceived opinions were prior to even stepping foot in Denton Bible Church. It would be difficult, after reading through your post on why you left Evangelicalism, to assume that you came into this completely unbiased. That being said, I will address your critique on the services that you attended but would first like to give some of my own background. I grew up in a church that was very low on love of mankind. I like to say that we condemned more people to Hell than we led to Christ. I became addicted to pornography at a young age and continued in that sin into my adult life. My addiction almost ruined my marriage and family. I also rode motorcycles, drank and was generally a fairly ungodly person all while holding to a Christian identity. All of that is to say that I was exactly the kind of scruffy person who you say would not fit into the Denton Bible environment. We drove past Denton Bible for 3 years because we had a preconceived idea of what it would be like inside. Once we were invited by friends and attended, what we found was something completely different than what we expected. We found people who greeted you and smiled and welcomed you in. We found a pastor who taught line by line through the Bible instead of picking a topic and then finding a verse that they thought would back up their opinion. We found a Men’s and Women’s ministries where were, for the first time, taught what it meant to live out the Biblical definition of Manhood and Womanhood. It was through Denton Bible that I learned who God called me to be as a husband and father. I was not taught doctrines of hate and judgement but doctrines of a love of God that superseded my own desires for self. I learned who God is and who I am in relation to Him (condemned sinner in need of a Savior). I learned that there is no way that, in and of myself, I could clean up enough or do well enough to earn my way into Heaven. This is the essence of Denton Bible teaching.

    I found your critique of the Denton Bible environment to be completely off and was very disappointed to see you take a statement made by Tommy Nelson and not only take it out of context, but also not to give the full statement he made about when he was being used for glory. He went on to say that it was not for his glory, but for the glory of God that he was being used. All he did was speak the undiluted truth of God’s inspired Word. Your use of his words for impact in your article was mediocre journalism at best.

    I found it interesting that you said you felt the subtle seduction of a perfect and orderly world pulling at you. I think that perhaps what you felt was the Word of God being preached and its impact on your soul at a subconscious level. The Bible never speaks of a perfect world that we live in and I have never heard that preached at this church. We are a fallen people (all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)). We live in a corrupt and fallen world. There is nothing perfect about this church or any other church. However, God’s Word is perfect and He Himself is perfection. There will be a time when we get to leave this odious, fallen cesspool of human degradation and disobedience and live in His perfect presence. But it’s not now and it’s not here. I wish you would have come back this week and heard the message on the last 2 verses of Chapter 1 and the first 11 verses of Chapter 2 of II Corinthians. I think what you would have heard would have refuted almost everything written in your article with one exception. It is true that Denton Bible believes in an inerrant Bible and that God’s Word stands as true no matter how society and societies rules change. You don’t change the Bible and you don’t change your doctrine to conform to the world. Denton Bible unapologetically adheres to that standard.

    Despite your critique, I would welcome you back and would sit down and have a cup of coffee with you to share how this church has impacted my life and the life of my family. It’s a great place full of scruffy, fallen humans who love God and love each other as best as we can.


    1. Thank you for taking the time to write this and to give a fuller picture of Pastor Nelson’s message. Yes, I did not quote it fully. Always the case in limited space journalism, and your critique of my mediocre journalism skills is duly noted!

      Of course I have background and bias. All of us do. That is my point: even Pastor Nelson has background and bias–and his interpretations of Holy Scripture are affected by them.

      I have spent my life studying the Holy Scriptures, and know them to be the words that lead to the fullness of grace in the presence of the Holy Other. But those words themselves are not God. They lead to God. And there is a significant difference between the two.

      Having spent years in the inerrant Bible world, I saw too clearly how often it leads to a worship of the Bible rather than a worship of the Infinite One.

      Nonetheless, it delights me to know that you found a spiritual home there and that your journey toward God has been fed and nurtured there. There is nothing but goodness in that statement.


      1. Thank you for responding and for taking my critique of your journalism with grace. I agree with you that God is not the Bible and the Bible is not God. We do not worship the Bible but God who inspired its writings. However, the Bible is the primary way that we can know God and understand how He has moved and worked through the beginnings and also to know that what we are now experiencing is not the end of the story. You can’t equate errancy of Christian understanding and application with errancy of the Bible. That would be akin to a husband saying he will love his wife as he is directed when she submits to him as she is directed. Our obedience is not dependent on someone elses compliance.

        What I have found in my limited experience is that people reject the Bible because they cannot get it to line up with what they want to believe. It is not a book that lines up well with modern concepts of morality. Just as Christ (The Word) was rejected in His time on earth because He called people to a higher standard than what they were willing to give, so people reject now reject the written Word because it doesn’t match with how they want to live. Jesus loved more than we could ever fathom but He also called people to a standard of truth and morality.

        Thank you again for the dialogue and for your kind words at the end of your response.


  5. Hi! My name is Cody Kitchens. I attend Denton Bible Church. I agree that standards can come across and “lofty” and overall extremely unrealistic. I often struggle with the idea that Paul said “my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power”, How much of a church service should be “Slick”? is it worth being a little bit less organized and “preachy” to, so that everyone can feel comfortable in the church? How often do people come to the church because they were prompted by the Holy Spirit? I often feel like the external barriers in the church are extremely high for anyone to get over to enjoy the church (dress, music, ascetics), but i’m not sure how much we can really pull those down. I would love any of your thoughts.

    Also, when you say “Fluid” what do you mean exactly? As in doctrine shouldn’t have so much disconnect from our works? and i reading that right? Could you elaborate on that for me? I confess i am ignorant in Wesleyan structures, but i definitely see areas in my own spiritual journey that doctrine versus actual living seem to be way out of sync, (I don’t love people the way i should) Most of the time i admit i’m the one that needs to be adjusted, not the doctrine/structure/etc… How could i approach this?


    1. Thank you for writing Cody. You’ve asked some extremely important questions and those types of questions have informed many wrestlings with the nature of theology and doctrine.

      I often go to the story of the good Samaritan and know that the one who was asking Jesus about being saved was pretty darn perfect in doctrine and action. But Jesus effectively said, “unless you love sacrificially the ones you would prefer to hate, you’ve missed the boat.”

      That’s the tough part of the message. Appreciating it intellectually is a nice challenge, but it tends to separate us from the dark parts of our soul where we need to do the deep wrestling. Personally, I have come to realize that if I am willing to push anyone out of the Kingdom of Heaven for my own comfort, then I am in major danger of walking away from any hope for myself.

      What most of us don’t realize is that the older brother in the Luke 15 story of the Prodigal Son is actually us. Perhaps this blog post will give you some idea of what I mean:


      1. That makes sense. I completely agree with you. I often would be a Jonah, who doesn’t share the Gospel because I don’t like the people God cares about. So is it wrong to keep sin “out of the camp”? I know that God can save anyone he wants, but is it wrong to hold people the standard of Christ in their life? I.E. I wouldn’t be ok with Muslims in Heaven because they clearly reject Jesus, same with people who live their lives in blatant sin and never surrender their sin to God to chanoe them.

        How do I approach this?

        Thanks in advance


        1. Sorry to be so slow in replying. I left town on Sept 23 for a few days in NYC with family and missed this post.

          OK, you say you are not OK with Muslims in heaven because they reject Jesus, nor with people who lives their lives in blatant sin. But what if God’s grace is much bigger than your own decisions about who gets in and who gets out?

          What if God wants to fling those gates wide open? Will you seek to overrule God in such matters? And what about your own sin of deciding who does and who does not get into heaven? Is that not idol worship of the worst kind? Worshiping your own decisions about eternal life for others rather than submitting to the will of God who does want all to be saved and wishes none to perish?

          Please note: I am not a universalist. I don’t think everyone is saved. But I do think that the doors are much wider than most of evangelical Christianity believes. And I have most definitely learned that I am a poor one to make the decisions about the eternal state of another.

          I can and do throw myself upon the grace of God multiple times each day as I live in awareness of how much I fall short–and how much I am held and transformed by grace. I just don’t think my experience is unique to me because I adhere to a certain sets of human-made (and wildly disputed in the world of biblical scholarship) doctrines.


  6. I too was at that service. My husband and I have attended this church for about a year. We are not yet members, but went to a Bible church in Arlington before moving to Denton. We were Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian previously, but I must tell you that none of those denominations ever showed me the true path to my salvation. After much reading and research, I have decided that I must believe the Bible as God-breathed and worthy of my belief. Otherwise, I am making my own humanistic interpretations…making the Bible say what I want it to say. Where do we get our guidelines for living if we are the ones making them up and not a higher power? So, I guess I am also saying that one trip to this church should not be the basis for your unfavorable commentary. What I heard the pastor saying pertaining to teens and the new building is that they sure have a better chance of staying on track if they have Christian guidelines and principles and are surrounded by Christian leaders. Also, Denton Bible has done more than any Church I’ve attended to help the people of Denton who are in need and the number of missions they support is amazing. My last comment would be concerning the “gender-exclusive language” in the doctrinal statement and that men dominated the service. I would imagine, as a female minister you have felt “gender threaten”. I have never felt that the word “man” is in exclusion to the word “woman”. If God did not value women, he would not have chosen one to bear our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope you will return to another service to realize the true identity of Denton Bible.


    1. Susan, thank you for taking the time to write and to speak of your own spiritual journey. It is a good thing that you have found spiritual life at Denton Bible. I rejoice at that. Please note that I am not “threatened” by the male dominated world that Denton Bible represents. I just think it is not the world that Jesus would find find as one that opens the kingdom of heaven to all.


  7. “IRD, Good News and other very conservative movements that want to impose tight doctrinal boundaries and shut down discussion, particularly over sexuality issues.” Please note: They want proper enforcement of standards and rules passed by 66% and more of the delegates at General Conference. This is not some right-wing fringe group. This is a strong majority voice of the UMC. And it’s in pretty good unison with the Bible.


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