Another Solution to Celebrity Pastors — Modesty

I’m betting (if I were a gambling man) that celebrity pastors are a bigger problem for God’s people than transgender bathrooms. At least, Denny Burk Jared Wilson concedes that famous ministers are a problem, though he writes at the website that would not have a following if not for — wait for it — celebrity pastors. Here’s how celebrity happens:

. . . we participate in the highest elevation of a pastor’s platform as we can manage and then load him up with all the expectation we can muster. The result, naturally, is that he is top-heavy and prone to toppling.

BurkWilson adds that “pastoral smallness and obscurity” have their own problems, but “the most prominent dangerous temptations in pastoral bigness are these idolatries — worship of the celebrity pastor by his fans and himself.”

The possible fix for the celebrity pastor include:

1. Transition your “video venue” satellite campuses to church plants or at the very least install live preaching.

2. No more book deals for gifted preachers who are not gifted writers.

3. Discerning the credibility of our experts.

4. Actual parity among elders.

What about recognizing that celebrity pastor is an oxymoron?

1. Celebrity pastors are not really celebrities. Bruce Springsteen and Scarlett Johansson are celebrities. D. A. Carson and John Piper are not. And if Protestants long for pastors with celebrity appeal, they may show a greater degree of worldliness than they should. What it says about an organization — Gospel Coalition — that thrives on celebrity is something that the celebrity pastors and professors may want to consider the next time their schedules permit them to meet.

2. Pastors are not celebrities. First, they are undershepherds. They serve their lord and master, and are mere stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1) — sort of like butlers. Unlike celebrities who avoid rubbing shoulders with the people and who hire servants to do work beneath them, pastors need to live and move and have their livelihood among smelly sheep (at least they’re not goats).

Second, real pastors serve a local congregation. That means real pastors have much more the fame footprint of a local television news show anchor than they do a Hollywood, NBA, or network star. Who outside eastern Michigan knows the NBC anchor for the 5:00 news show? I don’t. In other words, the genuine audience for a pastor is the local congregation, the one who called him. Fame outside the congregation is an indication that something is wrong.

What if the pastor writes books? Depends on whether the books are good, pretty good, or great. Great books won’t be so until they stand the test of time. Will Tim Keller’s books still be in print in fifty years? That’s one test of greatness. Simply having someone with fame write a book is no indication of merit. The bookshelves are full of promotional materials designed to feed off and enhance celebrity.

3. Celebrities can’t pastor. This may go without saying since celebrity is something that increases fame but decreases access. A pastor has to be available to his people almost 24/7. But imagine a celebrity pastor like Tim Keller paying a family visit. If he does, great. Chances are, with celebrity come handlers, schedules, and limitations to access. A celebrity is remote, a pastor is accessible.

What about recognizing that celebrity is unbecoming sanctification (where are the obedience boys now that we need them?)?

This is where the New Calvinists may want to take a little instruction from the original Calvinist (and notice the connections between 2k and piety that is modest in its affects and aspirations). Here is John Calvin’s commentary on the sons of Zebedee’s exchange with Christ about greatness (celebrity?) in the savior’s kingdom:

Their ignorance was worthy of blame on two accounts; first, because their ambition led them to desire more than was proper; and, secondly, because, instead of the heavenly kingdom of Christ, they had formed the idea of a phantom in the air. As to the first of those reasons, whoever is not satisfied with the free adoption of God, and desires to raise himself, such a person wanders beyond his limits, and, by unseasonably pressing himself forward beyond what was proper for him to do, is ungrateful to God. Now to estimate the spiritual kingdom of Christ according to the feeling of our flesh is highly perverse. And, indeed, the greater the delight which the mind of man takes in idle speculations, the more carefully ought we to guard against them; as we see that the books of the sophists are stuffed with useless notions of this sort.

Can you drink the cup which I shall drink? To correct their ambition, and to withdraw them from this wicked desire, he holds out to them the cross, and all the annoyances which the children of God must endure. As if he had said, “Does your present warfare allow you so much leisure, that you are now making arrangements for a triumphal procession?” For if they had been earnestly employed in the duties of their calling, they would never have given way to this wicked imagination. In these words, therefore, those who are desirous to obtain the prize before the proper time are enjoined by Christ to employ themselves in attending to the duties of piety. And certainly this is an excellent bridle for restraining ambition; for, so long as we are pilgrims in this world, our condition is such as ought to banish vain luxuries. We are surrounded by a thousand dangers. Sometimes the enemy assails us by ambush, and that in a variety of ways; and sometimes he attacks us by open violence. Is he not worse than stupid who, amidst so many deaths, entertains himself at his ease by drawing pictures of a triumph?

Our Lord enjoins his followers, indeed, to feel assured of victory, and to sing a triumphal song in the midst of death; for otherwise they would not have courage to fight valiantly. But it is one thing to advance manfully to the battle, in reliance on the reward which God has promised to them, and to labor with their whole might for this object; and it is another thing to forget the contest, to turn aside from the enemy, to lose sight of dangers, and to rush forward to triumph, for which they ought to wait till the proper time.

The advance of the kingdom of grace does not come from great awakenings or grand gestures or bestsellers or big conferences. It comes through Gideon’s small band, an obscure Palestinian kingdom, a suffering savior, and apostles who died as martyrs. It is time more than ever for New Calvinists to get over George Whitefield.


Know Your Presbyterians: Charles G. Finney

Why you should know him: Finney has been described by Michael Horton as “the tallest marker in the shift from Reformation orthodoxy, evident in the Great Awakening (under Edwards and Whitefield) to Arminian (indeed, even Pelagian) revivalism. evident from the Second Great Awakening to the present. To demonstrate the debt of modern evangelicalism to Finney, we must first notice his theological departures. From these departures, Finney became the father of the antecedents to some of today’s greatest challenges within evangelical churches, namely, the church growth movement, Pentecostalism and political revivalism.

Positions: evangelist, Presbytery of St. Lawrence, professor of theology and moral philosophy, and president of Oberlin College.

Education: no degrees.

Areas of interest/expertise: science of revival; moral philosophy, ethical perfection

Associations: abolitionism, temperance, feminism.

Books: Lectures on Revivals (1835); Lectures to Professing Christians (1838); Lectures on Systematic Theology (1846).

Unlike some, Old Lifers do not rely upon celebrities to boost their image, nor do they deny the less wholesome aspects of their past (or present) to root, root, root for the home team.

Celebrating Celebrity Law-Breakers

It may seem like an easy shot, but for a group of Christians who think of themselves as and talk about being Reformed, the blatant disregard of one of the most characteristic marks of Reformed devotion is breathtaking. The Co-Allies have done it again and failed to understand the importance of sanctifying the Lord’s Day.

Joe Carter posted about Bubba Watson’s victory at the Masters Tournament. What matters to Carter is Bubba’s witness, not whether the golfer conforms to God’s revealed will (though to the credit of some readers, a discussion of the Fourth Commandment did ensue):

Last month Watson’s Tweeted before his third round: The most important thing in my life? Answer after I golf 18 holes with @JustinRose99. #Godisgood

Later that day he posted on his account, “Most important things in my life- 1. God 2. Wife 3. Family 4. Helping others 5. Golf”

“Lecrae said it the best,” Watson said of the Christian rapper he listens to on his iPod. “He doesn’t want to be a celebrity. He doesn’t want to be a superstar. He just wants to be the middle man for you to see God through him.”

Of course, the Co-Allies do not neglect of the Sabbath or exhibit inconsistency alone. Evangelicalism is awash with Protestants who want public officials and school board superintendents to post the Decalogue in court and schools rooms, all the while failing to pay attention to the first table of the law and what it says about Sundays and worship.

But is it too much to ask followers of Jesus Christ to keep his day holy? Maybe it is thanks to the instruction from neo-Calvinists that all the days belong to Christ equally. I mean, if all the days now need to show Christ’s Lordship, then maybe I need a break from that week-long holiness on the day that previous generations of saints believed was reserved for holy duties. How do you keep the Lord’s Day holy when everything I do 24/7 is holy?

Still, some Christian athletes did try to honor the day. Eric Liddell, the Olympic caliber runner featured in Chariots of Fire, is one that comes to mind. Just the other night at Hillsdale we saw Chuck Chalberg (who does a pretty good Mencken, by the way) perform his one man show on Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed Jackie Robinson. Turns out that Rickey was reared a holiness-seeking Methodist who promised his mother that he would never play baseball on the Lord’s Day. And speaking of Dodgers, what about Sandy Koufax who would not pitch on the first day of Passover? Precedents do exist for devotion-based sacrifices.

Of course, the problem for athletes of the professional variety is that they would never become celebrities if they did not play sports on the Lord’s Day. Jeremy Lin, Tim Tebow, and Bubba Watson, would not have careers if they reserved Sunday for rest and worship. And without celebrity, Lin, Tebow, and Watson would be useless to those inspiration-deprived believers who need their pastors and mentors to be popular and famous if they are going to believe that God is really in control and carrying out his plan of salvation.

As a cure for this affliction, I recommend Bible reading. It is hard to see in stories of Israel or the early church any kind of fame or power or celebrity. Celebrity is not something that characterizes exiles and pilgrims.