Joshua Ryan Butler, the pastor who drew controversy in March for his article on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) that compared sex to Christ’s relationship with the church, has resigned as pastor from Redemption Tempe in Tempe, Arizona. A copy of Butler’s resignation letter was posted online May 3.
“I love you,” Butler began. “You are my church family, and I want to share an update with you.” He mentioned that the church had been updated about the uproar surrounding his article and that he and the church elders had taken some time to “pray and process” how to move forward.
“I am resigning as co-lead pastor of Redemption Tempe,” said Butler. “I have processed this with our elders and am writing this together with them, with a desire to share my reasons for resigning with you.”
Joshua Ryan Butler’s TGC Article
On March 1, TGC published an excerpt of Joshua Ryan Butler’s then-forthcoming book, “Beautiful Union: How God’s Vision for Sex Points Us to the Good, Unlocks the True, and (Sort of) Explains Everything.” The excerpt was published under the title, “Sex Won’t Save You (But It Points to the One Who Will).” The article caused a firestorm online, initially uniting Christians of many theological stripes in agreeing that the language in the article was disturbing.
Critics faulted Butler, who was then a fellow at the newly formed Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics, for presenting a male-dominant view of sex and for sexualizing believers’ relationship with God.
Among the passages people took issue with was one where the author described a wedding night by saying, “The groom goes into his bride. He is not only with his beloved but within his beloved. He enters the sanctuary of his spouse, where he pours out his deepest presence and bestows an offering.” Another section, which compared Jesus to the bridegroom, said, “Christ penetrates his church with the generative seed of his Word and the life-giving presence of his Spirit.”
Two days after the excerpt was published, TGC pulled it from the site and posted the introduction and first chapter of Butler’s book in order to give more context. But the criticism did not abate.
Pastor and author Rich Villodas and church planter Dennae Pierre each retracted their endorsements of Butler’s book and admitted they had not read it in its entirety. Preston Sprinkle, the president of the Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender (who had also endorsed the book), tweeted “Killer book!!” when the controversy erupted and has stood by his endorsement. Other ministry leaders who have endorsed Butler’s book include John Mark Comer and Albert Tate.
On March 5, TGC pulled the introduction and first chapter of Butler’s book and replaced them with an apology. In that apology, TGC president Julius Kim said TGC had accepted Butler’s resignation as a Keller Center fellow. Some took issue with The Gospel Coalition for this response, saying the organization was simply reacting to the pushback instead of doing the work required to understand why the excerpt was a problem in the first place. Meanwhile, others faulted the “mob” who had unfairly attacked and canceled Butler.
Butler has since admitted that he made a mistake in allowing the excerpt to be posted, but has stood by the content of his book, which was released April 11. He defended his position in an appearance on Preston Sprinkle’s Theology in the Raw podcast on March 27.