<aside> 🖨️ Click for printable PDF version.


<aside> ⚠️ The elders' accusations involve complex and specialized theological issues that most people know little about. I do not expect you to become fluent in these issues, but if you are not, how can you judge with right judgment? If you are committed to learning my views in order to judge them, I welcome your effort. Please be warned: this is quite a technical document.


What follows is the document originally called "Summary of Theological Disagreements with Ryan," which I shared with David Marshall, Euan Alderton, and Sam Hight in 2019. I have updated it since then with the section on gendered piety, but it is otherwise substantially the same. This document proves my Reformed bona fides beyond any shadow of doubt, by quoting Reformers and other post-Reformation theologians saying exactly what I say. Ryan has never even acknowledged the existence of these quotes to me, let alone addressed them.


<aside> 💡 The key disagreement between Ryan and myself is over the nature of saving faith, and whether works are necessary to salvation (not justification). He asserts that faith is entirely passive, consisting only in receiving and resting on the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus. I say that faith is both passive in receiving the righteousness of Jesus, and active in living out that received righteousness through good works prepared beforehand for us: a faith "that works," as our confession puts it (11.2). Ryan considers this view unreformed, unorthodox, and unchristian—a kind of works righteousness that denies justification by faith alone (sola fide). His rejection is characteristic of antinomianism. By contrast, I extensively document the Reformed pedigree of my view below, quoting many respected Reformed theologians throughout history.



For a number of years Ryan and I have been involved in occasional disputes over a number of doctrines. The most significant of these, to my mind, are:

  1. The necessity of good works for salvation
  2. The role of the church in discipling the nations
  3. Gender duties as grounded in nature ("gendered piety")

I have made serious and concerted efforts to discuss these issues with him, in the hopes that by explaining and arguing for them I could perhaps persuade him that they are correct—or at least that they are well within the bounds of orthodoxy. On the role of the church, I gave him a copy of my book (The Spine of Scripture (2019)), which develops an argument for construing the telos of the gospel as necessarily postmillennial and "theonomic" (i.e., following Westminsterian general equity; the Establishment Principle). On gender roles, I have shared with him some key arguments developed both on my own blog, and in conjunction with my brother Michael Foster (e.g., Five clear reasons Christians should oppose female heads of state (November 2018); "Got a verse for that?" (June 2019); Head coverings #1: the logic of glory and veiling (August 2019)). Ryan has rarely responded even so far as to acknowledge receipt.

Gendered piety

This is the term I use to refer to the idea that men and women have unique duties on account of their sex. It includes the idea that men are to rule on behalf of God (patriarchy). Note that, as with any doctrine, I do not agree with everything previous Reformed theologians have said on this issue. My views are in continuity with our forefathers, but they are also often much milder. Even if you disagree with these views, even if you deny that the Spirit of Christ guided his church on this matter for 1900 years, even if you believe that it took the spirit of our age to guide us into the truth, it cannot be reasonable to excommunicate the broad historic Reformed position.

As part of my work with It's Good To Be A Man, I am compiling a library of quotes on gendered piety from pre-modern theologians. It is a work in progress, but you are welcome to peruse it below; it very adequately proves the Reformed bona fides of my position.

The main issue: necessity of good works for salvation

The only significant discussion between Ryan and me has revolved around the necessity of good works for salvation. This is what I will confine myself to explaining from here on.

The disagreement between us came to a head when I invited him over in the hopes of understanding why he had been avoiding me rather than interacting with my views (October 18, 2019). It seemed to Sarah and myself that the role of the pastor would minimally involve discipling members, especially those with views he considers aberrant. Surely the pastoral role includes seeking to understand such people, and engaging their arguments to refute and correct them.

Ryan indicated that he did not see the point in pastoring us, as he didn't detect any willingness in me to be taught by him on the points of disagreement. This was discouraging, as I had earlier in the year invited him over specifically to acknowledge my respect for his pastoral role, to ask if there was anything I could do to help him in it (while recognizing that our disagreements made my teaching in the church impossible), and to encourage him, as a young man appointed as a father in the church, to make himself a son to older fathers like David Marshall, in view of the principle that you cannot be a father until you learn to be a son. (Nothing came of this earlier meeting.)