Week 8 in the year of our Lord 2022

Pointers for understanding, identifying & dealing with snakes

15 minutes to read

Effective deceptions are subtle. Bold faced lies can be easy to spot and dismiss, so deceivers will generally use smooth words, flattery, and innuendo to cloak their machinations.

They rely on the assumption of good intent, and use hedge statements which allow for plausible deniability.

They are, in a word, slippery.

You see this addressed repeatedly in Scripture:

The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords. (Psalm 55:21)

To keep you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. (Proverbs 6:24)

For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. (Romans 16:18)

Smooth words are often drawn weapons used to deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

One of the marks of a mature believer is that they are no longer “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14). As they mature, Christians learn to spot the subtlety, see the angle, and clear out the smokescreen.

The real trick is to do this without becoming a cynical fault-finder. It’s hard because the issue isn’t always that people are ignorant or unsuspecting.

Some people cultivate a willful gullibility.

Isaiah 30:9–11 warns, “this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits…”

In the same way, Jeremiah 5:30–31 describes the mind of a people turned to deceit:

An appalling and horrible thing
Has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule on their own authority;
And My people love it so!
But what will you do at the end of it?

There are times in which a rebellious people want nothing but smooth words and deceptions. When this becomes a defining factor in the culture, it’s easy even for the well-meaning faithful believer to absorb some of that mindset through cultural osmosis.

Such is our age.

A timely example of smooth deception comes in a review of our book by one Rev. John Mahaffy, an OPC pastor. It is instructive to walk through some of Mahaffy’s methods in the review. He is a very sly man.

For instance, before he talks about the substance of our book at all, he opens by mentioning Bnonn’s excommunication trial. Now, the identity and background of an author is material to a book. But pay attention to what Mahaffy emphasizes. He writes:

It is ironic to read a book which emphasizes dominion, male leadership and submission to authority, when one of the authors himself outright dismisses, on his website, not in the book, the validity of the lawful exercise of church authority simply by appeal to his own personal right to stand in judgment over that authority rather than honor it even in disagreement.

The irony here is thick. Mahaffy is known to publicly oppose the abuses of authority he says he has seen in the “patriarchy movement.” He also was publicly supportive of censuring another minister in his own denomination for what he saw as an abuse of his office.

Clearly, ministers, and entire sessions, can abuse their authority.

Bnonn submitted himself to the ecclesiastical process of his local church—but, being a baptist church, there was no court of appeal. Mahaffy refuses the possibility that Bnonn, too, was an object of pastoral abuse. That doesn’t fit his purpose. He seems to reserve that possibility only for his feminist-leaning friends. If Bnonn were a woman writing about being abused by her husband, the presumption of guilt and innocence would immediately be reversed—and entrenched just as strongly.

By calling attention to Bnonn’s excommunication, he poisons the well from the get-go without needing to deal with the substance of the book itself. He implants the suggestion that Bnonn is a hypocritical blowhard who is a law only to himself.

Bnonn went on to interact with Mahaffy in the comments of his review. His strategy, based on extensive experience dealing with slippery ministers, was to find the point where Mahaffy got lazy—namely his claim that Bnonn dismisses the validity of the lawful exercise of church authority:

As you will know from reading my account, my church trial was characterized by:

  1. Denying the presumption of innocence
  2. Discouraging those voting from examining the evidence brought against me
  3. Refusing to let me speak in my own defense

Do you consider an exercise of authority which is characterized by these three elements to be in accordance with God’s law? Or are you saying that it is a lawful and valid exercise of authority in some other sense?

In his answer, Mahaffy does exactly what Bnonn expected him to: he avoids the question and shifts the goalposts, claiming that his point was something different all along:

…You clearly believe that your former church erred in disciplining you. I suspect that your former church believes it did not. My review does not attempt to sit as a court of appeal. I have no standing to do so. I would be foolish to attempt that on the basis of hearing one side. And the internet is a terrible place to do church discipline. But there are issues beyond who was correct in that discipline case.

It is possible to disagree respectfully, even over such serious matters as church discipline. In case you missed my point, your critique of the church discipline on your website showed lack of respect of those with whom you disagreed—even to the point of being contemptuous. Your book calls for respect for authority. I find the juxtaposition ironic.

Bnonn’s strategy is based on a simple method: try to make the snake follow a straight line. There is a reason the Bible uses serpents as a symbol of cunning and deceit: their undulating movement is a fitting physical image of their spiritual nature. The straight line extends directly from the initial point of discussion—so it is important not to get distracted with all the new things being introduced by the evasion. You must press the same point again.

The purpose of pushing the snake forward is not to actually make it go in a straight line. Many people get suckered into this because they don’t realize the snake is a snake. They think it has gotten lost on the way to its destination, and keep trying to draw it back onto the straight and narrow. Big mistake.

No, the idea is to make the straight line clear, and allow the snake enough space to move that everyone can see how far off that line it keeps going:

John, you specifically claimed that I have outright dismissed “the validity of the lawful exercise of church authority.”

But now you say, “My review does not attempt to sit as a court of appeal.”

Are you judging that my excommunication was lawful, or are you not?

If you are, can you confirm that you believe it is lawful to deny the presumption of innocence, the examination of evidence, and the right for the accused to speak in his own defense?

If you are not, then are you claiming that we owe respect to people in positions of authority who unjustly abuse those given to their care? Should we not rather try to expose them?

Alternatively, if you are not judging one way or the other, can you please amend your review to clarify that you do not know whether I was unlawfully excommunicated, and remove the line starting with, “It is ironic that…”

Naturally, the response is again a circular movement:

Bnonn, you have not persuaded me to modify my review. In the review I linked to your statement on your website regarding your excommunication, and I have given you space in these comments to express your dissent from my review. I believe I have treated you fairly, and I do not believe that continuing this discussion here would be edifying. From my perspective, my linking to your writing give readers the opportunity to judge for themselves whether or not you model godly masculinity.

This is the hallmark of snakes, whether they are in churches or political offices or just in a cubicle somewhere. They will not give straight answers. They are practiced at sounding like they have answered a question, as long as you’re not paying very close attention, while actually slipping around it.

But it’s all circular movement. There’s nothing solid to grip onto.

They rely on people’s natural desire to be agreeable, and to pretend they have understood, to get away with this…again, and again, and again.

So if you call attention to their lack of answer, if you reveal that you are not agreeable to deceit, the conversation will become mysteriously unedifying—and often there will be an immediate DARVO: deny, attack, reverse victim and offender.

“Why do you keep asking the same question? I’ve already talked about that. You are being very aggressive. Your behavior is very troubling and divisive.”

Notice also a second characteristic of snakes we alluded to previously: their laziness. They usually believe, deep down, that they really are much better than the people they seek to devour. Superior. They don’t think you can see the circular movement. (In fairness, many people do not notice it.)

This arrogance makes them lazy, and allows you to expose them simply by chivying them forward a bit. Identify where they are exposed, and keep hitting that spot repeatedly—without taking whatever bait they offer up as part of their circular strategy.

Once you do this, it becomes easy for others to see how they are not answering your question. In this case, how Mahaffy has been completely dishonest in bringing up the excommunication, pretending to be impartial when in fact the only reason he could have to bring it up is to sow partiality.

Remember: snakes want you to follow their circular path. Doing so mesmerizes and confuses everyone, so no one realizes what is happening. But if you don’t take the bait, if you just keep moving in a straight line, it gives people a reference point to notice how much slithering is going on.

Another great example of slithering occurs a little later in Mahaffy’s review, where he says:

IGTBAM tends to paint with a broad brush, using emotive, pejorative terms with some frequency, such as “white knights” and “loud woman.”

Is this so? Here’s where we talk about the “loud woman:”

A passage on the loud woman in It’s Good To Be A Man: A handbook for godly masculinity

Notice that we are speaking of a category of woman explicitly given in Proverbs itself (Pr 7:11). Yes, it is a pejorative category—just like the fool is a pejorative category for men in Proverbs. But we are not engaging in name-calling; we are calling attention to the kind of woman that Scripture itself warns about.

In other words, complaining that a term like “loud woman” is emotive and pejorative and paints with a broad brush is like saying the same of terms like “fornicator” or “fool.”

What Mahaffy is doing with his review is trying to give the sense that the book is negative towards women in general. It’s a way to subtly create outrage, and preemptively discourage people from reading it.

But our book teaches that there are…

  • good men and bad men
  • good women and bad women

In fact, our focus on toxic masculinity is far more sustained and forceful than our focus on toxic femininity. In the very first chapter, we talk at length about evil patriarchs—Pharaohs and Absaloms—and even in the chapter where we discuss loud women, we start by focusing on the sons of the devil, before we talk about his daughters.

It is also instructive to note the two examples that Mahaffy calls out. Apparently he doesn’t have a problem with us warning against seductresses and violent men. He doesn’t take issue with us describing obvious forms of masculine and feminine immorality.

He only singles out our condemnation of loud women and white knights.


Deceivers and flatterers use smooth talk to lull their enemies—but they also use strong talk when the situation requires it.

They are just as capable of striking and biting as they are of slithering and hissing. In fact, like smooth words, calculated rebukes are one of their chief ways to signal their virtue.

Consider Judas, who notably used a kiss to betray his Lord. He used strong disapproval to signal his (non-existent) virtue.

Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…

Mary worships Jesus. What is Judas’ reaction? Outrage. He says:

Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?

Poor people matter, guys. Mary is being irresponsible. Wow, Judas really gets it. He loves the oppressed, right?


Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.

Say what? Someone can cloak their sinful motives as loving the poor? No way?

Judas was a disciple in good standing. Yet his outrage, dressed up as virtue, was only a show. He didn’t love the poor. He loved money and all it afforded him. He was using the poor.

You’ll see exactly the same pattern of behavior in big churches today. Whether it’s white knights pretending to defend women, or SJWs pretending to defend the “oppressed,” or jellyfish conservatives punching right, it’s always the same.

Those who are most adept at feigning gentleness to get their way, are equally adroit at attacking socially acceptable targets to get their way.

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Notable: #

Is something missing from these magazine covers?

Parents magazine covers notably depict no natural couples

Brian Sauvé reflects on a central theme of our book:

Androgyny is a much bigger problem than misogyny or misandry.

God made a world of variegated glories, ten-trillion notes of diverse wonders all ringing together in symphonic exaltation of the Creator.

There is hierarchy.

It’s not flat.

There is definition.

It’s not homogenous.

Another way of saying this would be that God isn’t a one-trick pony. He’s got range.

What satanic perversions always do is try to upend God’s hierarchies, flatten out the glories, homogenize the diversities, and leave you with a great big gray lump of sameness.

This is what you’re looking at when you see women shaving their heads and dressing like men, or men talking with a lisp and a bent wrist.

You’re looking at the flattening of God’s world. It’s also one of the reasons for all the real misogyny and real misandry afoot.

It’s a lot easier to despise womanhood when womanhood is being degraded and trampled down. It’s a lot easier to despise manhood when manhood is being made a laughingstock.

So the answer to all of it—androgyny, misogyny, and misandry—is a return to the Creator.

The answer is to lay down our arms in the war against God and His good world and embrace the symphony.

Wherever Christ is honored as Lord, there you will find that symphony. You’ll find gloriously feminine women and gloriously masculine men. You’ll get back all the notes.

You’ll find soft and firm, beautiful and striking, lovely and dangerous, gravitas and dignitas, feasting and building, grand-babies and grandmas.

Androgyny is flatness. It’s one note blaring out of a thousand broken-down radios.

God’s world is better.

Postscript: These ponderings brought to you by listening to Michael Foster and Bnonn Tennant’s new book while doing deadlifts at 6:00 AM, then eating a pile of bacon made by my gloriously feminine wife immediately following. A potent combo.

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Talk again next week,

Bnonn & Michael

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