The Toilet Effect: T. David Gordon on Distraction

Whenever I see something penned by T. David Gordon (The Insufficiency of Scripture, Constantinianism) I can never resist. In the latest issue of Modern Reformation he briefly takes up what he calls “Distractions from Orthodoxy.” The title immediately grabbed my attention.

Gordon sketches out six distractions which are vulnerable to what he calls the “toilet effect.” Insert here clever reference to the project of the Outhouse. By this he means that in our haste to be about the legitimate work of the church we get caught up in efforts that really have nothing to do with it. It is not dissimilar to being about the closing business of the loo and inordinately knocking a perfectly good toiletry item in and flushing it before taking the time to realize what we have done. Some have been known to employ the term “majoring on minors,” but since baseball is for wusses (or is that an educational reference?), and this is the Outhouse, I think I’ll stick with the toilet reference.

The first three distractions I’ll leave to those who are both smart and actually theologically trained. But his case against the length-of-creation-days distraction seems to make sense to me. Looking ahead to his fourth distraction, my hunch is that what subsumes this whole debate has more to do with leftover modernist controversies concerning apes and schools than anything immediately at stake for the church. In other words, it’s yesteryear’s culture war. Speaking of culture wars and wastes of time, it would seem to me that RC Sproul could find better things to do than eagerly interview Ben Stein about his No Intelligence Allowed propaganda film.

Then come Van Tilian apologetics and biblical theology versus systematic theology. Here’s where the smart and trained can go off into a corner and talk to each other. However, I will say that I was struck in Meuther’s biography of Van Til that he rued the day “seminary students knew nothing of Van Til.” When a man speaks of himself in the third person it may be a sign that self rather than ideas is being taken a bit too seriously and distraction indeed is looming. I must say, as Gordon points out, the idea that biblical theology and systematic theology ought to be pitted against each other does seem to make little sense to me.

Next come Christian America/Culture wars, then “Christian” education and finally Women in the Military. I am not sure why he splits them out since probably the latter two could comport under the first one, as they seem like necessary battles in the larger kulturekampf. But I’ll give him 25,000 points for just using the term “the spirituality of the church.” Ok, take away 100 points for a bit of modern moralizing over slavery.

If only more Presbyterian and Reformed ministers spoke as bluntly and clearly about compulsory education. You go, boy. That’s all I have to say about that.

I’m a bit puzzled by this women-in-the-military thing. Don’t get me wrong, like he suggests, it’s a great example of asinine wastes of resources by churches. But, because it’s so relative to the Clinton-era culture war, it feels a bit like the way folks might look back on uproars over Elvis’s swaying pelvis and bongo beats as quaint. It’s so passing and relative to the early nineties. Nobody is talking about that anymore (are they?). I think he could have done better to maybe include pontifications about abortion or gay marriage. A part of me wonders if it was deemed too risky. But then I see to make his point about women in the military he argues that “…the Scriptures do not prohibit…females from defending innocent human life.” That sounds like he may be yet harboring sympathies for what is perhaps the most irresistible siren song of culture war, fetus politics. If militarism is the point, even percolating tendencies for pacifism seem more relevant as a distraction from orthodoxy today than whether Jane may fly fighter jets. GI Jane issues seem pretty irrelevant.

Anyway, give it a read. It’s pretty good.

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20 Responses to The Toilet Effect: T. David Gordon on Distraction

  1. David R. says:

    Don’t you think Gordon deserves “saint” status?

  2. Zrim says:


    I do, yes. Maybe we can fast track him and overlook miracle making?

  3. Rana says:

    This is totally random, but does anybody know Paul Manata? He just came by with his realtor to look at our house. Small world.

  4. Bruce S. says:

    Yup. I’ve known him since he was about 12 years old.

  5. Rana says:

    Sweet, tell him I will throw in some of my old Westminster CA seminary books with the house 🙂

  6. David R. says:


    Sure, cut through the red tape in this case!

  7. Rana says:

    i think people distract themselves with these things because they feel these things are relevant to their lives, NOW. i think as broken humans we have a hard time having eyes set on Christ and the eschaton.

    it takes less faith to deal with what we know and see than to trust God and seek His Kingdom and His righteousness even now, or already but setting our eyes/ hearts/ minds to the not yet.

  8. Zrim says:


    Yes, good point.

    My problem is when others make their ideological NOW-issues mine simply because we share a theology. After all, while we have a greater unity that is beyond our individual selves, my wife doesn’t always speak for me or me for her.

  9. Rana says:

    I hear you.

    Again, I think as broken humans we mistakenly identify ourselves with this world rather than rest in our identity in Christ and the eschaton.

    Therefore if you are Christian in this world you should also have this, this, and this ideologies.

    It bugs me too. And that is why I like hanging out with the OH. Speaking of which can we get an Outhouse Open House before it gets cold? Mi casa es su casa.

  10. Zrim says:

    Speaking of my wife and cold weather, she’d love to take you up on that invite…just as soon as you take up residence in southern Cali!

  11. R'na says:

    I don’t blame her, she has a sense of humor.

    Tell her you all have a home in California. We can have an OH party over there too.

  12. Chris Donato says:

    If militarism is the point, even percolating tendencies for pacifism seem more relevant as a distraction from orthodoxy today than whether Jane may fly fighter jets.

    O, if only evangelicals percolated toward pacifism! Wouldn’t that be a great problem…

    As it is, his point holds up well — scratch the surface and you’ll see. And ID is indeed a silly distraction, if not philosophy/theology posing as (modern) science. On the other hand, Lennox’s new book wasn’t half bad.

  13. mboss says:

    I enjoyed Gordon’s article, and it raised a question near and dear to my heart. Could it be the case that the creation of the URCNA was based largely on similar “distractions from orthodoxy” and that the CRC in the past 10 years would have benefitted greatly if many of the confessionally-minded Reformed folks had stayed in the denomination?

  14. Zrim says:


    You said the proverbial mouthful. Being something of a disgruntled member of the CRC myself, your question the last couple of years has lain heavy on me as well. I’ve often wondered the same thing. From my experience the answer depends on who you ask. The best I can come up with is that we ought to be careful of a denominational parochialism: I confess one holy catholic and apostolic church, not denomination. On the other hand, we Protestants are nothing if not able to judge between better and worse ways of giving expression to the church (read: denomination).

  15. Zrim says:


    I had you in mind with all the pacifism stuff. But, I don’t understand why pacifism should be yearned for any more than I have ever understood why I have to sign on for pro-lifeism or whatever else somebody deems “virtuous.” I guess I have never lost touch with my inner unbeliever when I say, “You Christians sure are funny people with all your ‘values and morals,’ as if nobody else has them. I know lots of pagans who love babies and peace.”

  16. mboss says:


    My parents attend a URC in W. Mich. and, in the event I would ever move back to the area, I don’t know if my wife and I would want to put down roots there. That particular church, for all its good points, seems to confuse the CRC circa 1950 with Reformed, confessional orthodoxy. For instance, you’ll probably pry the King James Version out of their cold, dead hands. I assume (hope) that URCs in other places (SoCal) are different. My experience has been that the URC tells newbies what it’s against rather than what it’s for and is content to siphon disgruntled folks from other churches and denominations. My parents were briefly part of a failed URC plant. I attended one of the informational meetings about the plant and the pastor was asked justifiably how this church would be different from others. His answer seemed to boil down to (1) no women, (2) no praise bands, (3) no evolution. I’ll spare the details, but it was a disaster from the start.

    The CRC I attend seems fairly committed (for now) to being Reformed both in belief and practice. But I just have the nagging feeling that the tide is going out and the exodus of more and more confessional folks is only accelerating the process. I’m no church historian, but I doubt these issues are on par with the issues that Machen faced with the old liberal Presbyterians.

    Well, that was cathartic.

  17. sean says:

    “Well, that was cathartic.”

    That’s what we strive for here at the Outhouse. We’re the fiber in your diet, we’ll keep you regular.

  18. Zrim says:


    Good stuff. It gets me into hot water with the resident URCers here, but your comments reinforce my own take on the URC in general: Reformed version of Bible church Fundamentalism. I cut my teeth on Bible church Fund’ism, so I like to think I knows it when I done sees it.

    I would add to your boiling down a fourth ingredient…Christian schooling.

  19. mboss says:

    sean –

    Thanks for sparing a square, too.

    Zrim –

    Christian school: the third rail in many Reformed circles. Touch it at your own risk. As a product of Christian schools, I have no problem with it and would like to send my kids there, but I groan sometimes when I read certain magazines or listen to certain preachers militantly advocate in favor it.

  20. WHISP says:

    Did our Lord banty about all this erudite show of force that comprises the comment/reply section of this subject? I some how get the idea that he did not have time for all this sort of
    prancing verbal display but kept the destiny of men’s souls as his primary focus. Higher scholarship is its own worst foe, or at least quite often. Truth is swallowed up by its own advocates.

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