Does Satan attack our strengths or our weaknesses? Does he try to destroy us where we’re strong or where we’re weak? For most Christians, it’s usually our weaknesses that the devil targets. But for Christian leaders it’s usually their strengths, the areas they’ve built ministries upon, the moral and spiritual qualities they are best known for promoting.

Why? Why does the devil go for the citadel rather than for the little cracks in the wall?

Because the damage is so much greater, the fallout is more horrendous, the church is more discouraged, and the world is most delighted when a Christian leader falls in the one place he really planted his flag and made a stand.

No surprise
That’s why when I heard that Doug Phillips had resigned from Vision Forum Ministries, it was no surprise that it involved an “inappropriately romantic and affectionate” relationship with a woman not his wife.

Here’s a Christian man who built a much-loved ministry out of promoting Christian marriage, Christian leadership, Christian family, etc. He was a strong leader with strong views, courageously taking a public stand against the weakening of Christian marriage and parenting, producing lots of valuable resources to strengthen Christian marriages, to instruct children, to call men to bold leadership of their families, and to promote virtuous behavior through quality Christian films.

And this morning so much of what he built now lies in ruins, with many Christians he helped (and I include myself and my family in this) demoralized and depressed at the fall of a man in the one area that he went to war with our culture on.

Serious warning
What a warning to us all, especially to those of us who have leadership roles in the church, and especially in the areas we are strongest and most vocal on.

Is defending the doctrine of justification your big thing? That’s where the devil will attack.

Has the Lord given you a passion against Internet porn? Be sure the devil has targeted that area of your life.

Do you preach against materialism? Know that the devil is planting seeds of discontent, greed, and covetousness in your heart.

Do you protest against the promotion of homosexuality? That’s right, the devil’s set his sights on kindling that lust within you.

Is gospel-centeredness your “thing?” Watch the devil turn that into a new “law” to forcefully impose on others.

Do you major on humility and service? The devil has pride and tyranny lurking just round the corner.

“Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

Niggling worries
I must admit, over recent years, I did worry at times that Phillips’ leadership and some parts of his wider homeschool/full quiver/patriarchy movement were coming across as a bit arrogant and overly self-confident. Although I valued so much of what they were promoting, I’d grown increasingly uneasy at the somewhat condemning and condescending tone towards any who did not sign on 100% with that agenda. Sometimes I feared that the Gospel of grace seemed to be lost in the midst of all that we were meant to be and to be doing as Christian fathers and mothers.

That’s why I hope that, awful though these events feel to all of us this morning, perhaps this is a much-needed opportunity for humble re-evaluation for all concerned. On the one hand, I dread telling my children about this; we’ve grown to love Doug Phillips over many years of homeschooling. On the other hand, God can turn it into a blessing by reminding them (and me) that the best of men are men at their best and that the Gospel of Christ is not just something we need at conversion, but every day of our lives. I also plan to read Doug’s letter of resignation with my kids, as in many ways it is a model letter of repentance and faith for Christian leaders everywhere.

This morning we pray for Doug, his family, and the other woman and her family. But, more than ever before, I also pray and beg the Lord that I will never have to write such a letter.

UPDATE: Comments are now closed

  • Christine

    Much the same reaction here. So very sad. I have seen this devastation to those close to me. But also witnessed the amazing power of God’s restoration.

    I read the following comment regarding this matter:
    Legalism says “what a shame”, Grace says “that could be me”, humility says “that IS me”.


    • annette

      Having suffered abuse from VF types who glorified fecundity at the expense of the gospel, or rather replaced the gospel with their ability to procreate, no one should look any farther to find the “weakness” of anyone militant about the matter. Turning something peripheral into “the heart” of Christianity is falling into a trap. Sinful and sad.

  • Homeschool on the Croft

    Sad. But while Mr Phillips’ enemies may rejoice, we rejoice only in God who is a God of grace.

    I have often prayed for men in such positions for the very reasons of which you speak – Satan is out to get us where it will cause most damage to the name of the Saviour.

    Indeed, who of us can cast the first stone, but let all of us ‘Watch, lest we fall into temptation’.

  • Trillia

    Wow. So sobering. This is incredibly helpful. Thank you, David.

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    Phillips’ failure does not invalidate his beliefs. To act or claim otherwise is cheap politics, not thoughtful engagement or consistency (after all, fully orthodox Christian leaders have also failed in this area).

    Rather, Scripture alone refutes these patriarchal posturings and false teachings, for reasons I’ll be glad to share if someone asks. I do feel a sense of hope that this will awaken some people to Vision Forum’s *doctrinal* failings, not just one man’s personal failings. I can hope this at the time as I hope for reconciliation among Phillips and company, perhaps even a turnaround on many of those same harmful beliefs.

    This news should bring us a reminder for at least four truths:

    1) All the extra rules Vision Forum, et. al, enacts around Scripture (including how to court, how to run families, how to educate children, and how to divide the sexes) have no value in restraining the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2).

    2) We must pray for the woman involved, for Phillips, and for all their families: praying for repentance. Pray also that this will be an occasion to re-evaluate what led to the problem, and solve it NOT with just More Rules.

    3) Pray also for followers of Vision Forum’s folly, that they’ll begin to re-evaluate the plain chauvinism and legalism that’s long been marketed as “Biblical.”

    4) Pray that everyone else who thinks he (or she) stands will take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12).

    • Lou G.

      Amen, Mr. Burnett!

    • Perry

      Mr. E – excellent reply and example of leadership showing what our Christian response should be. Period.
      All others – by the grace of God…

    • Jen D

      Well said!

    • pastorway

      Well said, Stephen!

  • Angelina Degelder

    put no trust in prince or rulers~in a man however wise~in him is no help or power~

    Christ died for this man’s sins too. We are not in any position to condemn. David was a man after God’s own heart and fell deeply ito the same sin. May God graciously restore all that is broken here, Sola Deo Gloria!

  • Hal

    I am a long time reader of your site. Love your material. I also am a long time pastor and homeschool father of four grown and almost grown children.

    But I must disagree with your characterization of Doug Phillips. His teaching is not and was not rooted in the gospel. I would take your “niggling worries” comment and multiply them many times. They were tremendous worries. The times I heard him speak, he was not true to the text. He was an activist using the text to support his application. His teaching has confused many with what true godliness looks like. His legalistic applications took no prisoners when dismissing other Christians.

    I am too am sorry for this development in his life and agree with all the warnings you give. I just think that this attention will be a good time for Vision Forum followers reevaluate some teaching.

    The hardest false doctrine to discern is when it is mixed with a little truth and doing some good.

    • Ingrid

      Vision Forum and Doug were never about pointing to the cross and the Gospel. The whole point was to live like Doug in his photogenic, beatific vision of what he called Christian family life. His burden of legalism has damaged many, and now, ironically has taken him down as well. Enough of this hero and celebrity leader worship. Having grown up in a parachurch ministry, I have seen more than enough of the internal rot of these organizations where the boards are incestuous and enabling shams and where narcissistic personalities are able to maintain their false image to the public while doing vast harm behind the scenes. Doug will be back very soon, as these men can never stay out of the limelight for long. There are always more than enough people to enable them and provide narcissistic supply. Always.

      • Brian Rollins

        That’s a bit harsh, Ingrid. I think your impressions of Doug and VF are false. No need to paint with such a broad brush. I’ll be praying for Doug and VF.

      • audrey

        Amen to that! Yeah, he’ll be back!!

    • Tana

      Glad others see this, as well.

    • Ashley

      Great point Hal. I’m not going to beat a man down any farther than the law already has. Any yet, he who lives by the law dies by the law (II Cor. 3). He who live under the burden of the imperatives without the indicatives is frankly not much better than a good moral Jew.

      Thankfully there’s grace even for the chief of sinners. And having tried living under the burden of the law and failed, maybe now he’s in the best possible place to receive and rest in Christ’s sufficient work!

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  • sam

    Just a reminder. Confession does not equal repentance.

    • Laura

      It is repentance:
      Doug Phillips; There has been serious sin in my life for which God has graciously brought me to repentance. I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the board of Vision Forum Ministries.

      • Julie Anne

        Repentance cannot be judged by a public statement, but an ongoing heartfelt response of sorrow, humility, and care for those he has hurt. The focus should always be on the ones hurt, not on self. It’s far too premature to decide if this public statement of repentance is authentic. Notice, there was no mention of asking prayer for the “other woman” in his statement.

        • Hack

          No, repentance will be judged by you (rather than by a public statement). You apparently know the thoughts and intents of a man’s heart better than anyone… even better than God Himself.

          You demand of a short letter things that cannot be possibly accomplished in a short letter. You stumble into a horribly complex, hurtful situation as a Moses, but you have no authority to lead.

  • Timothy J. Hammons

    Hello David,

    Thank you for writing such a solid post in view of what has happened in Doug Phillips life. Thank you for not throwing him under the bus, as so many are willing to do. You have reminded us that Doug’s position and ours, is merely a matter of grace in the end. It is only by God’s grace we don’t fall into moral decay. All things are truly held together by Him and for Him. May we cling to Him in these trying times. AND may the LORD restore our fallen brother in the course of time.
    Timothy J. Hammons

  • Kevin Jandt

    This is an excellent article David. How quickly will those that disagree with Doug Phillips use it as an opportunity to criticize everything he ever said or did.

    “If” he is a true Believer he will be chastened and corrected for his sin. Just like I will be for mine but so many will attack and say this completely discredits anything he’s ever done.

    We would all do well to heed Proverbs 24:17-18 Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the LORD see it, and it displeases Him, and He turn away His wrath from him.

    I’m hopeful it gives me an opportunity to evaluate my own life and look inwardly rather than outwardly.

    May God be merciful to me a sinner!

    • Lou G.

      Kevin, If I were an unbeliever and considered Doug Phillips my enemy, you concern would be valid. Most of us as Christians do not wish to “completely discredits anything he’s ever done”. However, we do pray that this might be an opportunity for Christian leaders to evaluate the Biblical nature of the American Vision ministry and perhaps see this as a spotlight on the areas where they are in error.
      Over the years, I have tried to understand and support this ministry because I have friends who are ardent supporters. However, I could never reconcile the false teachings with my faith or the scriptures.

      The most optimistic view “friends” of Doug and American Vision might take is to ask what God is trying to teach or show believers and the Church in this this tragedy, which is what David set out to do. But I think the answer amounts to quite a bit more than “that tricky devil made him do it”, so we all better watch out for the devil. We do need to ask deeper questions, I believe. I need to, and I hope my all of my friends will do so as well.

      • MIke

        American Vision is Gary DeMar. Doug Phillips is Vision Forum.

        • Lou G.

          yes, my mistake.. Comment still applies to both.

      • Kevin Jandt

        Lou – I agree with you, and the reason I chose that verse, is that some that claim Christ act as though Mr. Phillips is an enemy and it would appear they are rejoicing in his fall.

        We are all much better served looking at our own hearts and asking the Lord to reveal sin in ourselves. Mr. Phillips should be accountable and as a public leader he needs to be called out if he is not rightly dividing scripture. Perhaps there is a time for that and it might very well be a great opportunity to re-evaluate VF’s mission.

        I don’t agree with the whole Dominion mandate agenda outside of preaching the gospel to the lost as outlined in the Great Commission, but have been blessed by VF in other ways.

        I appreciate your comments.


        • Lou G.

          Kevin-Amen, brother! I agree fully agree with you here. Thank you.

  • Michael Hsieh

    Thank you for a very sharp article.

    “If you O LORD should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand?

    Oh!!! What a verse. And Brother Doug’s failings are common to all males. Have we not lusted incessantly since our adolescence? It takes a brave man to confess his sins publicly and to prove his repentance. May God sanctify us all completely!!

    I myself have not heeded God’s words in 1 Peter to “Be sober and vigilant”. The Adversary has wreaked havoc on my life many a time. And yes – your observation on the methods of the Tempter is 100% accurate. Thank you for the diagnostic question! Indeed the very areas which I major in is where the Devil has attacked me in… :(

    Thank you again Brother David!!!

  • Mendy

    You know him personally? Pretty strong comment from someone who is also a sinner. Be careful. I am praying for all involved, including the people who seem to want to judge him.

  • Mikee

    The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

  • Les

    Romans 7:7-8:11 come into focus. I don’t think Paul ever believed he had somehow ‘arrived’ at some plain of moral perfection. I don’t know anything about this man’s ministry since I’m single but I’m still haunted by the tragic end of the leader of another parachurch ministry. I struggle with rationalizing things away and accepting everything as it is.

    “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

    Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

    So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

    You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus[d] from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (ESV)

  • Les

    Sorry for posting a long scripture reference when you could look it up.

  • http://none Kimberly Cunningham

    I’m saddened and a bit disheartened by it all, but not surprised. Anywhere or any time that we build a church/family or ministry, relationship or business on the foundation of doctrine, worship, family or something else equally good, The foundation will crumble. The only foundation which is permanent and can withstand the forces of evil is the Word of God.

  • Jim S

    I don’t know what Mr. Phillips did or did not do, but I can tell you that it’s possible to be completely addicted to lust without ever “doing the deed.” That’s one of the pitfalls of legalism: We can tell ourselves that we’re OK, because we didn’t break a particular rule. In reality, the Lord looks on the heart.

  • John W.

    I’ve often noticed this pattern. If the enemy can strike a blow to one of the leaders it can do greater damage to the body, and if it can strike that leader in one of the places where they’ve specifically tried to make a stand in their ministry it has the potential for much greater destruction.

    There are two verses that always come to mind for me. One is the one you quoted in 1 Corinthians 10:12. The other is a word of caution found in James 3:1

    “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

  • george canady

    As someone who did “know” someone other than my wife, I would say that the worst is not over for you Doug even if all forgive. I would not wish the pain you are now in on anyone.I do not know you Doug and it sounds like you let down alot of people who trusted you. Some will never trust you again. But I’ll just bet there are some who know God through your Previous witness. And if its real, no behalvior of yours will cause them to lose that.

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  • Laura

    It is despicable to me how many are rejoicing here! They’ve been waiting for this moment. We’ve been with Vision forum (as customers) for years! And, we didn’t agree with numerous things, but we didn’t trash them. As a family, we chose what to practice in our home, the biblical way. Where’s your love for your brothers & sisters in Christ? Many of his teachings were very convicting, and so many are not very happy with that feeling. Those who are trashing Mr. Phillips & his ministry should repent from their sin. I will pray for everyone, and the Phillips family.

    • Brian Rollins

      Thanks, Laura! Some of us are with you.

  • David Murray

    I’ve removed a few comments from the comment thread as they go over the line in attacking Mr Phillips. I’m prepared to allow some criticism of course, but some of the accusations have been inappropriate. I’m not doing this to defend Mr Phillips; I would do this regardless of who was involved. I do not know and I’ve never met the man himself.

  • Rachael Starke

    David- Once again you’ve written incredibly well about an incredibly hard turn of events. I’ve been personally impacted by VisionForum, but sadly, only in a negative way. The Christian community in our area seems to be divided into the VisionForum-ites and all the so-called worldly others. I know of women who are on the verge of nervous breakdowns trying to live under the weight of legalistic expectation and even verbal abuse by their overbearing husbands. My prayer is that God would use this to first break Doug *free* from his pride and legalism and that God would use him to then bring that same freedom to the many families and churches who have been hurt by his teaching.

    • ttpog

      ‘Overbearing’ ‘verbal abuse’ of husbands is something that Doug never has condoned. If that is truly going on, these women need to seek Godly counsel together with their husbands. I would venture to say that many more have been helped by the teaching of Doug than those who claim to have been hurt by it. While you may disagree with some of his theology, that is no reason to take advantage of a man when he is down. The proper response is grace, mercy and prayer for Doug and all involved. To be publicly argumentative and judgmental is to further the damage inflicted to the body of Christ, thus playing right into Satan’s scheme.

    • Amy

      Honestly, if women are on the verge of nervous breakdowns living under their overbearing husbands, it’s not because of Doug Phillips or Vision Forum – it’s because the husbands are obviously in sin. Doug Phillips never taught that husbands are to rule with heavy hand, but to love their wives as Christ loved the church.

  • Richard

    Paul Tripp said a neat thing about legalism: “In my many years of pastoring, counseling, and traveling, I’ve found an all-too-common and dangerous theme among Christians: no one lays down the law better than the one who thinks they’re keeping it themselves.” I think this is a particular issue with those who are in the theonomic camp.

  • Lynn Burgess

    David Murray gives Satan far too much credit for Doug Phillips’ sin. Murray beings with the question, “Does Satan attack our strengths or our weaknesses?” The answer according to James is he attacks where we are already sinning in our heart. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed BY HIS OWN DESIRE. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15 ESV).

    The false theology of trying to restrain the flesh with legalism is a big part of the message in this tragic story. I agree with Hal, Ingrid, and Jim S., that this is a warning to reconsider this false legalistic worldview.

  • Valerie

    There is no ministry that is wise enough, holy enough, and biblical enough to escape the wrath of our Enemy. The more it pleases God, the more he hates it.

    Wounded and weakened though he is, that hasn’t put a dent in his hatred of the chosen ones and their Kingdom efforts. Poor though our little works may be, anything offered in faith and hope offends and enrages him.

    So pray for grace and live in repentance, because sometimes the ones who say “that could never be me” are in the greatest danger.

    And trust in God’s good Providence. He never gives Satan an inch without remembering His glory and our very best good.


    Wow so sobering, and I’m still reeling from Doug Phillips news. This is a sobering warning of what it is we are strong is, is an area we have to watch out for, for Satan’s clever trap.

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  • Anna

    Perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps he so valiantly tried to stand up for the family, marriage and headship to a fault because he was particularly aware of his weaknesses.

    • Lou G.

      Anna, that makes sense. Paul discusses the weaker brother as the one whose conscience requires him to obey extra-biblical ordinances so as not to fall into temptation. Paul also warns that the weaker brother’s conscience should not be binding upon others who are free in Christ. So, I’d agree this is probably a factor in the mix as well.
      Still, it’s incredible sad and tragic for the body of Christ. I hope we can all learn, repent, and grow from it in grace.

  • Ezra

    Praying for both families, and for God’s grace in my own life and family! Oh, how fragile we are! God, give us the grace to see it!

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