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.

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Don’t Take the Bait

Lots more hue and cry doom and gloom about President Obama’s “letter” (is that have the same authority as an apostolic exhortation?) that instructs all public schools to make bathroom provisions for transgender students. I’m not sure how the president has the stomach for this kind of helicopter presidency when he has time for stop-and-chats with Marc Maron and Marilyn Robinson. Is he really prepared to send federal troops into schools — a la University of Alabama under George Wallace — that don’t comply. If the IRS lets $20 billion get away every year in unclaimed, unpaid, or fake returns (I hear), what’s a bathroom or two to the cause of transgender rights? Heck, is President Obama going to write a letter that specifies the most environmentally friendly way for bathroom users to dry their hands (in the light of climate change; has transclimate as an identity dawned on anyone, a hot planet trapped inside a cold earth?).

But culture warrior Christians feel embattled and are itching for a chance to show the state is tyrannical, wicked, and liberal. Denny Burk’s blood is boiling anyway:

The Obama administration is announcing its intent to coerce through force of law every public school to accept this. He expects your local school to allow boys to use bathroom and shower facilities with girls and vice versa. So long as the child’s parents are willing to go along with their child’s new identity, the school has to let students into the bathroom and locker room of the opposite sex.

This directive is jaw-dropping. The Obama administration doesn’t care whether the local or state school system supports such a move. It doesn’t care whether parents want male students showering with the female students or vice versa. . . .

What is going on here? The answer is very simple. President Obama feels the wind at his back in advocating LGBT rights. Gay marriage is now the law of the land, and gay people are now serving openly in the military. Now President Obama is turning to the “T” in LGBT, and he’s making bathrooms and locker rooms the issue. As the Attorney General has made clear, those who refuse to go along will be treated like Jim Crow bigots.

This radical directive is a heavy-handed, unconstitutional overreach in order to force Americans to pretend that some boys are girls and some girls are boys. It is absurd and wrong. And I wonder if this may not be a bridge too far even for people who are otherwise liberal. Are fathers going to be okay with their daughters undressing in locker rooms where boys can see them? No matter how much one may support President Obama, what dad would go along with this?

Has Prof. Burk considered that a school principal could ignore this letter in much the same way that U.S. drivers ignore speed limits? And what if conservative pundits also decided to ignore the letter and not push the indignant button. After reading recently Andrew Hartman’s book on the culture wars, I tempted to think that conservatives overreacted to matters (like Serano’s Piss Christ) and by protesting gave such transgressive displays more weight than they would have had had no protesters shown up — like millions were going to see Serano’s exhibit without the politics of self-righteousness to motivate them.

If only Kim Davis would come back and lead the charge against bathroom reforms. That’ll work.

The Gypsy Curse

“May you get everything you want.”

Some Calvinists have a special attachment to the original Westminster Confession:

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God. (23.3)

2kers point out that U.S. Presbyterians had good reasons for revising that affirmation, reasons like Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or James Madison (Virginians all) having jurisdiction over church assemblies.

For some, though, it takes Donald Trump to recognize what 2kers have long understood:

It would be one thing for Trump to disagree with Moore. That would be totally fine and appropriate. But Trump does more than that here. Trump criticizes Moore not for bad views but for being a bad evangelical!

The problem with this is obvious. Do Americans really want a president who thinks it a part of his job description to pontificate about who is and isn’t a good evangelical? Or a good Catholic? Or a good Muslim? Or a good Jew? This is totally outside the norms and traditions of the presidency.

Presidents are fine to have convictions, religious or otherwise. But to single out a political opponent and to define him as an unfaithful evangelical simply because he opposes the Trump candidacy is an absurd and dangerous precedent.

Deep down, everyone understands 2k. Sometimes they even recommend it.