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Earlier this year, a convictional firestorm ensued over advice Alistair Begg, a prominent North American pastor and radio host of Truth for Life, gave to a woman about attending her grandchild's gay wedding. Bob Lepine, the on-air announcer for Truth for Life, joins today’s episode to speak with Tim and Rick about how this situation provides us with an opportunity to clarify our thinking around convictions and guidelines for faithful conduct. Bob provides a quick summary of what happened before they discuss some ideas to help foster biblically-based convictions around attending a gay wedding.


Rick Langer: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction Podcast. My name's Rick Langer. I'm a professor here at Biola, the director of the Office of Faith and Learning, and most importantly, the co-director of the Winston Conviction Project with my good friend Tim Muehlhoff, who's here along with a very special guest. So Tim, talk to us about who we have here with us today.

Tim Muehlhoff: Rick, one of the great things about this podcast is we get to have friends on and people that we greatly admire. None of them can make it to this podcast, so we know... That is so not true. And the laughter you hear is a Bob Lepine. Bob's a dear friend. Bob, we have known each other, Noreen and I tried to calculate this. I think we have known each other for almost 32 years.

Bob Lepine: Crazy. Isn't it crazy to think about that young men like us could have known each other for so long?

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh my gosh. You know, we're going on our 29th year on the speaker team, Bob. It's just crazy. So Noreen and I, Rick, we've talked about this a ton. We've been on family life, marriage speaker team for going on 29 years, and when we got on the team, you just notice certain people and Bob Lepine was one of those individuals that you just gravitate towards because he's so creative and varied. He is both a theologian. He is a pastor. He has produced films. He was on the speaker team forever and gave leadership to the speaker team. Many of you will probably know the voice immediately because he was the co-host with Dennis Rainey who created Family Life. He did Family Life Radio. For how long, Bob? How long were you the co-host with Dennis of Family Life Today?

Bob Lepine: It started in 92, and then Dennis rolled off in I think it was 19. And I worked with Dave and Ann Wilson for another couple of years. So just short of three decades on Family Life Today.

Tim Muehlhoff: And you had experience in radio even before that?

Bob Lepine: Yeah, in college, my plan was to go to law school and I took a summer job at a radio station and decided I was having too much fun to go crack the books again, that I would pursue radio for as long as I could. And if it didn't work out, I'd go to law school. That's still my plan, by the way.

Rick Langer: That's good that you have a plan that proved so durable, Bob. That's wonderful.

Tim Muehlhoff: And you were on the speaker team for how long, Bob?

Bob Lepine: Well, when I joined Family Life in 92, I think it was the next year that we began with the speaker team. And during the whole time I was at Family Life Today, so again, almost three decades on the Family Life Speaker team.

Tim Muehlhoff: And then you've been married to Marianne for how long?

Bob Lepine: We got married in 79. We're coming up on 45 years of marriage together.

Tim Muehlhoff: Bob, I graduated from high school in 79.

Bob Lepine: Let's not.. Do we have to do this right-

Tim Muehlhoff: No, we don't. No, we do not need to do that. Hey, will you tell us just briefly, and it's going to become very obvious. Well, we're going to break this into different segments and you're such a good writer and communicator, thinker, producer. We do want to mine a little bit just general communication principles in today's crazy argument culture, but there's something that happened recently with a person that we know, we all deeply respect, Alistair Begg. But can you tell us a little bit about your association with him and what you are within his ministry and his podcast radio station?

Bob Lepine: Yeah. And I should make it clear that as we talk about this, I'm not an employee of Truth for Life. I do some contract work for them. I do the opens and the closes for the daily broadcast, Truth for Life, and have done interviews with Alistair in support of projects and ministry initiatives that Truth For Life is doing. They reached out to me about 15 years ago and said, "We are looking to make some changes. We'd like a new announcer for our program. Would you be available?" And I went to Dennis because I was full-time at Family Life and I said, "Boy, what do you think about me being heard on Family Life Today, but also on Truth for Life?" Both of us had such respect for Alistair. I had stolen so much content from [inaudible 00:04:21]-

Tim Muehlhoff: We all have. We all have, yeah.

Bob Lepine: I felt like I would be negligent if I didn't say yes to this. So I've been doing that for, again, about 15 years and do it as a contract employee for them. But I'll just say I do it as much out of love as I do out of any contractual obligations. I have deep respect for Alistair's ministry and for how he handles the scriptures.

Tim Muehlhoff: And to be honest, Bob, if you were to pick the Mount Rushmore of people that not only do you enjoy, but you trust, I think I'd put Alistair on that Mount Rushmore along with Tim Keller would certainly be on that. So it was interesting, and this is why we're very much interested in what happened recently is that he came under fire for comments that he made on a podcast when he was asked a very specific question about attending a wedding. Would you care to bring the listeners up to speed on the question that he was asked and then just paraphrase what his response was?

Bob Lepine: Yeah, since I was the one who asked the question, I can probably be the one who [inaudible 00:05:35]-

Tim Muehlhoff: You have some expertise in this regard. That's good.

Bob Lepine: We were doing [inaudible 00:05:37]-

Tim Muehlhoff: But the question was from a listener, right? This was a real question from a listener.

Bob Lepine: We were doing an interview on a book that Alistair had just released that is about the Sermon on the Plain from Luke 6. We were talking about the revolutionary content in that sermon and in the context of that, I brought up the question of how we respond to our enemies, how we deal graciously with our enemies that's covered in that content. And I said, "So what does that mean when you get invited to a gay friend's wedding?" And in his answer, Alistair, he said, "These are difficult questions and different people are going to answer them in different ways" he said, "but I just got a letter from a grandmother who listens to us" and she has a, I forget whether it was a son or a daughter, but a grandchild who is getting married and somehow transgenderism, I don't know if the grandchild is transgender or if the person they're marrying is transgender, but the grandmother wondered, "Should I go to the wedding?"

And Alistair said, "I asked her, does your grandchild know about your biblical convictions and how you feel about gender and sexuality and what the Bible says about these things?" And she said, "Oh, yes, we've had those conversations and the grandchild is clear." And Alistair said, "Well, then I would say, go to the wedding and take a gift." And then he went on to say, "Again, these are difficult issues. Not everyone's going to handle them the same way." He kind of book ended that, but he made that declaration. And honestly, we went on with the conversation. It was right near the end of the interview. We wrapped things up, but I don't think anybody looked back and said, "Boy, that's going to create a firestorm." And it didn't.

The interview came out back in August or September of last year, and I don't think we heard anything about it until there was a guy who wrote a blog post and tweeted about it and said, "I love and respect Alistair, but I think he's completely wrong here and he needs to confess that he's wrong. He needs to repent. He needs to come out and disavow what he said." And that blog post ignited an online firestorm with all kinds of people weighing in with all kinds of opinions. I would say most of them from conservative evangelicals who weighed in saying, "We think Alistair was wrong." And notably one of the radio networks that carries Alistair's program, Truth for Life, that's American Family Radio, they made a very quick decision after about a 24 hours after a conversation with the team at Truth for Life, they decided that they were no longer going to carry Truth for Life on their network. And that also added fuel to the fire. And things went on for about a month with a lot of interaction and a lot of ongoing online conversation about it.

Tim Muehlhoff: Was there a private conversation between American Family Radio representatives and Alistair? Did they reach out to him to have a conversation about it?

Bob Lepine: They reached out to the team at Truth for Life. They didn't speak directly with Alistair, but they talked with the people, the executive director of Truth for Life and the folks who work with the radio stations. So yes, they did have a conversation, but it was not directly with Alistair.

Tim Muehlhoff: Can I ask why? That seems-

Rick Langer: Yeah, I was intrigued by that as well. What exactly was the point that was so significant that you had pulled the program off the radio?

Bob Lepine: Well, for them, the reason for pulling the program was they felt that this was an indication that Alistair could not be trusted to handle the scriptures well. That the position that he had taken and his clarification, his explanation for why he took that position. In their view, it's a categorical non-negotiable. No Christian should ever attend a wedding that is a wedding that is honoring something that the Bible condemns. So they shouldn't go to a gay wedding or a trans wedding. There have been conversations about what about a Roman Catholic wedding? What about a Jewish wedding? And most of the people that I've read have said there's a difference between going to a wedding between a man and a woman, which is what the Bible defines marriage as versus going to a "wedding", I'll put that in air quotes, not scare quotes but air quotes, a wedding that is between two men, two women or a confused transgender wedding.

So in their view and in the view of others who I've read, who I respect, they have said this is a clear dividing line and there is not biblical warrant. It is not only bad counsel, it is unbiblical counsel and I had a long back and forth with a friend of mine who said, "Alistair should be removed from ministry. His elders should hold him up, they should take him out of the church until he publicly repents." And even then it's going to be a time of restoration before he could be back in public ministry.

Tim Muehlhoff: Wow.

Rick Langer: I am curious what Alistair's response has been, or I don't even... I have seen this episode by the headlines and for example, when you mentioned this thing came out in August, I was surprised because for me it came out in February. I don't know when it hit the headlines, but I was unaware of the whole situation until that time.

Bob Lepine: And most people were. It really didn't come onto the radar screen publicly until the blog post got written in February. And since then, Alistair has preached at Parkside, the sermon that he preached, this was a little more than a month ago where he preached a sermon in response to this and preached from Luke 15 about the lost coin and the lost sheep and how the shepherd leaves the 99 to go find the one who is lost and use that as his text to address some of this controversy. I won't try to paraphrase all that he said .that's online and folks can dig that up if they want to hear or see his response to it. But his response was that we have to be clear, and he has been clear in his views on what the Bible teaches about gender and sexuality, but that there may be missional reasons why it would be acceptable for someone, or relational reasons for why it would be acceptable for someone to decide to attend a wedding like this, even though they don't believe in what's going on at that wedding.

Rick Langer: And let me just underscore something that you've been describing here that is really helpful that we talk about sometimes on the podcast in other contexts, but one of our concerns is when it comes to forming convictions, there's a set of things that I think all orthodox believers, and I'll go ahead and put all in quotes, because you give up on literally every single person, but there's confessional beliefs, there's clear biblical teaching that you would assume every Christian would embrace. If someone says, "Hey, I've been thinking about this whole thing, thou shalt not kill. I've just decided that's overblown. So I think I'll go ahead and kill." That isn't an argument that works in a Christian context, and I have never heard someone do that. Now what happens is you then have to tease this all on, but no one's setting up a law that says, "Hey, it's okay to kill people."

Well, you don't know what's happening, perhaps relative to abortion, or it could be some other things. In effect, we're killing people by not having adequate healthcare. So we need the Affordable Care Act, whatever these issues are that end up with someone dying. So they make the connections that way. And the thing that we always say is that, yeah, this is what we need to do is we need to do it like a junior high math problem where you don't just give the answer, you have to show your work. So what is it that you're attaching it to? And it's helpful for you, for example, to identify with what Alastair was saying about this is a thing about going to find the lost sheep.

You have someone in your life, in this case, a grandchild who you believe is lost on this matter. They're in a mistaken relationship and have problematic views, and you need at some point to act on that principle. And one of the ways to do that might be to show them support and give them your continued presence, even though you've already communicated to them your different convictions. But the goal in that story as you've related in terms of the logic goes back to the issue of caring for the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son.

Bob Lepine: And I appreciate those categories and those distinctives because as I've had to wrestle through this in my own thinking, and as I've read what the critics have said, what Alistair has said and tried to sift it out on my own, I do think we're coming down to the issue of are we dealing with something that's a clear biblical absolute where we must stand appropriately? And by the way, I would say when it comes to the issue of gay marriage, for example, I think there's a clear biblical absolute. I don't think we can compromise on that and say, "Well, in some cases this is pleasing to the Lord", but that's a different category than whether I attend that ceremony or not. And I will say the best argument contra to Alistair's position that I read came from Kevin D. Young, who is somebody that I greatly appreciate and respect, and he is clear and ironic in his thinking.

And he would say that at one level to attend an event like this is to bear false witness. You are giving the appearance of approval simply by attending. And that really is the crux of the argument as we've gotten into this. When you attend, are you making a statement by your presence that you are celebrating and approving of what's going on? And Alistair would say, "No, we've made that clear at the beginning that you've already said, I don't celebrate or approve. I'm coming for other reasons." Kevin would say, "You can't be too careful here because you may have made that statement to the groom, but have you made that statement to everybody else who's in attendance, who sees you there and we'll draw conclusions? Do they see you bearing false witness to what you believe?" And then the other part of the argument here is we are aware over the last decade of how far the gender revolution, the sexuality revolution in our culture, the inroads that have been made culturally.

You look back 10 years ago, and we had a US president who was a Democrat who said, "I don't support gay marriage." Gay marriage is what we're talking, that's 10 years ago, and now we're full into a transgender revolution. And so I think there are people who are saying, "Look, if we don't erect a retaining wall and put some borders in place here, this thing, we're just going to shipwreck this." And I've talked with friends on the other side of this who have said, "Don't you know", this is the phrase, "Don't you know what time it is? Don't you look around and see what's going on in the culture. We got to build a wall here." And I would say to that, "I agree with your concerns. I'm going to be careful in giving pastoral counsel to people that I'm not building walls where the Bible doesn't build walls."

So we may need to redouble our efforts, but I can't bind the conscience of someone under my care as a pastor with something less than the clear teaching of God's Word. And so is this a matter of God's Word being clearly taught there's a prohibition against this kind of activity, or is this a wisdom issue, a Romans 14 issue where we have to apply biblical wisdom, but we may come to different conclusions?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Yeah. So I had one clear question and then I want to go in a different direction now that you talked about. And again, with mad respect for Kevin DeYoung, we very much respect him here at the Wisdom and Conviction Project. So this idea of giving the appearance of false witness, does it clarify things when we consider Jesus's table fellowship with notorious sinners? I remember reading a book called Contagious Holiness by Bach, and he said many of these dinners were outside. So is that a case where Jesus did not feel the need to, I mean, I assume he didn't stand up and said, "Okay, just to make it clear, these are all sinners I'm having fellowship with." Does that help at all to evoke Jesus's table fellowships?

Bob Lepine: So I think that's part of the wisdom we bring in in trying to make a decision about how we can proceed what our conscience allows us to proceed. But Kevin DeYoung and others would say there's a difference between having a meal with an unbeliever and going to an event where you are a participant. I mean, I'm a pastor. When I have weddings, I say to those who are gathered together for the wedding, "You are not simply here as observers. You are here to support this couple. By your presence here, you are offering yourself in support of this marriage, not just today, but going forward." So my understanding of the biblical ceremony of marriage is that yes, we're coming together to provide support. Now, I've never heard that expressed at a gay wedding or a trans wedding. In fact, somebody had said, "Well, what would you do if the minister at the gay wedding says if there's anyone here who knows any reason why these two may not lawfully be joined in marriage, let him speak now or forever old his peace." That's old kind language.

But I said, "Well, nobody at a gay wedding's ever going to throw that out there. They're not going to take a risk on that. They're just going to keep their mouth shut. They don't really care about that." So I'm not sure that we can apply our biblical understanding of the wedding ceremony, which the wedding ceremony is biblically informed but not biblically prescribed. I think we have to be careful there that the ceremony doesn't come off the pages of scripture. We inform that ceremony with biblical understanding. But I think we have to be careful between coming to a wedding that's being held as a biblically sanctioned ordained wedding and going to a marriage ceremony in a secular sense. And still, I look at that, Tim and I say, "This is not an easy thing", and I don't think we're going to get to this and say, "Well, there's a clear yes and a clear no, and it's fine for you to go, or it's absolutely not fine for you to go."

I think it's a case-by-case situation. I've landed in the place personally, again speaking for myself, not for Truth for Life, for Alistair. I've landed in the place personally where I don't see that I can bind the conscience of someone to say, "If you attend a gay wedding, you are in sin. You have violated the scriptures, and we must handle that like any other sin. We must confront you and ultimately put you out of the church if you don't repent of it", which is what Matthew 18 would tell us. I don't think I can get to that point. I think we can have a winsome conversation about whether this is wise counsel or not, whether it's good biblically informed counsel. But I don't think it comes to the threshold. Rick, you made the point. Somebody comes and says, "Well, I think murder in certain situations is okay, or adultery. Adultery in this case is probably fine." No, there we draw a clear line and say, "Thus sayeth the Lord." I don't know that we can say that about going to a gay wedding.

Rick Langer: Well, and to pick up on Tim's comment about the table fellowship thing, that I'm still stuck in that one mentally because I think we misread table, the significance and meaning of table fellowship. In 2024 America, what does it mean to have table fellowship? Well, it means that the fast food mall was a little overcrowded. And so I sat down beside this guy and I had my cheeseburger while he had his Cobb salad. And we don't read anything into that kind of table fellowship in our moment. But that is nothing like reality in the New Testament world. And so when Jesus, it isn't just having fellowship with a sinner or something, He's having fellowship with a tax collector. This person is a traitor to the nation of Israel, and He's hanging out with him, He's hanging out with a prostitute, and He doesn't actually, we know He didn't stand up and explain to everybody because they're asking, "Don't that this woman is a prostitute."

I mean, He clearly didn't unpack that to everyone, but He did that anyhow. And by the way, to go back to what we've just been saying here, I am now articulating, showing some of my work when I think about this, and I think about it probably even more in this direction than perhaps the evangelistic direction, though I think both bear on this. But having said all of that, and given my little two bits here, that's really different. I don't have any feeling that Kevin DeYoung should repent and he might need to leave his ministry because he's wrong with this biblical position I've just given. I really do feel, and I think you've made this point, Bob, that there's room for reading this either way, and that's exactly the point, and it's probably really good thing to have an open conversation about. But if you bring it up and then you get fired, lose your job or whatever, you know, what we've decided, there's no room to talk. And that seems dangerous to me.

Bob Lepine: And I think you make a great point, and I think this needs to be emphasized. There was almost a sacramental characteristic of table fellowship.

Rick Langer: Absolutely.

Bob Lepine: When you sat down with somebody, that was implicit endorsement of that person, maybe not of their lifestyle, but of the fellowship that was going on with it. So I do think there is some parallel there that is often dismissed because we're 20 centuries away from how Middle Easterners understood table fellowship.

Tim Muehlhoff: And that's Bach's point. Bach makes that point very strongly, which makes it even more provocative. So when Jesus has asked, "Okay, what are you doing?" His response is, "Are they lost?" "Yes." "Well then that's why I'm here. I'm here to seek and save the lost", is what his justification would be. Let me ask this. Let's say you didn't agree with Alistair on this point. Could you still be a part of his ministry and a part of his radio program if you disagreed with his point of whether a person should attend or not?

Bob Lepine: This is where I'm indebted to somebody like Gavin Ortlund and his, it was Al Mohler who came up with the idea of theological triage and then Gavin in the book, Finding the Right Hill to Die On, I think gives us a great framework for dealing with this. And I would have to say, if I thought that this was a first tier issue, then I'd have to pull back. If this was Alistair talking about the deity of Christ, or Alistair was saying, "I think we're too tight on the whole issue of adultery and we need to loosen up on that", then I'd have to say, "Well, I can't be a part of that." So we have to analyze this and go, "To what level does this rise in terms of our participation?" And I'm still working faithfully with my friends from Truth for Life, just recorded some stuff for them yesterday, and we'll continue to do that because I don't see it rising to that level.

I might look at this and say, "I think you're wrong. I think this is unwise counsel", but I can still partner with people who have the gospel right, and disagree on other things. Now, there's a continuum there. If somebody is, I'll give you an answer here. So Jack Hayford, who is somebody who I heard speak a number of times, and I would say Jack and I would've disagreed on a wide range of theological subjects. Jack was the pastor at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. It's a four-square church. It's Pentecostal, it's Armenian. There are all kinds of reasons.

Tim Muehlhoff: Come on.

Rick Langer: Just thought you bring that up for Tim, right?

Tim Muehlhoff: We have final edits here, by the way, we have final edits.

Bob Lepine: Of course you do. Of course you do. But God is sovereign over whatever it's you make.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh my goodness.

Bob Lepine: But in that situation, I'd have to look and say, "Okay, how far afield am I from where somebody else is theologically?" I might have respect, and we might agree on gospel issues, but how closely aligned, where are those dividing points. In this case if it's whether you should go to a gay wedding or not, in my mind, I can continue to work side-by-side with Alistair. I'm looking forward to going there in May for the conference that they'll be doing in May and plan to continue. Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: See, I thought it was Sean McDowell and I, and of course we all love Josh McDowell, a legend within crew, have a book coming out called End the Stalemate, Moving From Cancel Culture to Meaningful Conversations-

Bob Lepine: Which I can't wait to read, by the way. I'm really glad you guys are doing that book and looking forward to it.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, he's amazing. I mean, Sean, he has 250,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, and the people he invites on is remarkable and that they come back. If it was a hit job, they would never come back. So I thought it was interesting that a representative from the American Family Radio was sensitive enough to say, "Listen, this is not canceling Alistair. We are not canceling him because he has a wider platform." They mentioned how many spots he has even when the 180 American Family Radio stations dropped him. That's an interesting way to frame that, one to be aware of, "Hey, we're about to get hit with the canceling charge and we're going to try to preempt that." One, do you think this is canceling with the 180 American Family radio stations?

Bob Lepine: Well, having managed radio stations and having been in charge of who gets airtime and who doesn't get airtime, and having had to remove some programs from our station because I thought that they ran afoul of things, I would say it's perfectly within the right of a radio station to decide we're no longer going to provide you a platform in the same way that as a pastor, I'm going to open up my pulpit to some people and not to others, and I might have somebody on at one point and then choose not to have them on again if things changed for that person. So I'd say that's within their purview to be able to do that. Now, if they decide to make a campaign out of that and try to influence others and say, "You shouldn't either, and this is wrong and we need to take this person down", then I think it goes to the level of canceling. And that's something that I think is on a different level, and I haven't seen the guys from AFR doing that to date.

Rick Langer: Okay. Yeah, and it is. So this is a great example of you've lived in the radio world and you have a whole context for that. When I think of what I think mean when I say the word cancel, it sounds to me like I canceled this program. I'm like, "How can you say that?" Of course, they can't shut down everything a person does. That isn't what we mean by it. It means you've had this person on your platform for a long period of time. It isn't just it was a one-off thing. It was like, no, no, he's been there for however many years he has. And now he's there no longer. Why? Because we've canceled his program. So anyhow, I don't have a dog in the fight, so to speak. But it is interesting when I think of the cancel word, I think we should be honest about the fact that yes, this was a cancellation, and if you feel like it should be a big deal, then give an account of why it was big enough to warrant that.

Bob Lepine: And I think we do. I mean, there are times when you will cancel someone. I mean, John MacArthur canceled Alistair from speaking at the Shepherds' Conference about a month after. He had Alistair scheduled to speak when this came up, he and Alistair spoke, and they agreed that it would be a distraction to what John was trying to do for Alistair to come out and speak, given the current state of this. And so he was canceled. But there's a difference between disinviting someone or removing them from a platform and what we think of as cancel culture today, which is where we are out to destroy or discredit or remove that person from the public square altogether. And so I think we have to be careful which version of the word cancel we're using here.

Tim Muehlhoff: No, that's well said. Yeah, that's really good. Well, listen, there's so many questions we have, Bob, about communication in general. We were wondering if, with all your experience, if you had come back and we can talk, not about this situation particularly, but if we could talk about the shifts you've seen in your ministry of what's the communication climate like today and how do we need to adapt to it? Would you be willing to come back on?

Bob Lepine: You are saving the harder questions for the second time, and the take-down happens in episode two, right? I'm up for it. I took some batting practice this morning, so yes, I will come back. Happy to do that.

Tim Muehlhoff: Cool. We'd love it.

Rick Langer: Well, we'd like to thank all of our listeners for joining us for this episode of the Winston Conviction Podcast and would encourage you to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, wherever it is that you get your podcasts. We'd also love to have you communicate back with us. So if you go to website, you would find a place that you could submit questions, comments, issues that you would love to hear us respond to. We'd love to hear from you. And it would also be great to have you sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter just so we can keep in touch with you that way as well. So thanks for joining us for this episode of the Winston Conviction Podcast.