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.

Advertisements

On the Upside

James White takes an I-told-you-so pose in the face of Jason Stellman’s post about how difficult life as a Roman Catholic convert has been. On the one hand, Jason seems to have no sense for how he comes across. First, he was surprised that his Chamber of Commerce posts on behalf of his new religious hometown would strike those in his old Protestant neighborhood as infuriating. Why not simply follow your conscience and shut up about it? Now he also provides his former co-religionists with an excuse for grandstanding. (Hey, wait a minute. Maybe Jason was playing the tempter. Pretty clever.)

On the other hand, White does not refuse the temptation but decides to gloat:

Rome never satisfies. It can’t. All the pomp and circumstance, all the liturgical fanfare, can never truly answer to the true needs of man. Since Rome has abandoned the gospel of grace and replaced it with a synergistic man-centered sacramentalism, she will never be able to offer to men anything but distractions, never true answers, to his real need. . . .

When it comes to Jason Stellman, I know one thing: I warned him, clearly, passionately, without question.

Actually, Mr. White, if you read Jason’s post, how can you say that Roman Catholicism doesn’t satisfy when Jason affirms explicitly that it does? And how can you, Mr. White, make it seem as if adversity for religious convictions is somehow a vindication of sola gratia? After all, didn’t our Lord say:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:34-39)

But there is a silver lining here for Protestants who don’t spiritualize everything and turn a blind eye to human suffering. It is that Jason must have been a heck of a Presbyterian pastor:

. . . I am denied entrance into the church I planted (where my family still attends on Sundays) — I wasn’t even allowed to attend the Christmas Eve service last year and just sit and sing the hymns. To most of my old Calvinistic friends I am simply a traitor to the gospel.

That sounds pretty rough and Jason’s original cheerleading for Rome likely accounts for some of this roughness, though I am only speculating. But that sort of resolve on the part of Jason’s family and former congregation, as painful as it is for him, is likely a tribute to his ability to minister the word and cultivate in both his family and congregants a commitment to what the Bible teaches. Is it any consolation to Jason that he was seemingly a successful Protestant pastor?

I Want A Church In Which I Can Feel Influential (not about me)

In a follow up to yesterday’s plaint about the plight of Reformed Protestantism comes a jumble of comments about what people are looking for in a church. One of the problems that Reformed Protestants face is that their provisions are so meager, more cheeze-wiz than brie. Paul did seem to be on to this in his first epistle to those saints in Corinth who wanted a glorious church. Preaching is folly, both its content and form. And these days, the ministry of the Word cannot sustain the show that would-be ministries can. “You preach the Bible and your services are full of Scripture?” “Great, but what about Trayvon Martin and the Muslim Brotherhood?” “You don’t get out much, do you?”

So what will millennials who think biblical instruction so 1990s find if they follow Rachel Held Evans?

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.

We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.

We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.

Well, she could find some of this in a confessional Reformed church minus the bits on sex and welfare, but I’m not holding my breath that Ms. Evans will be joining even the PCA soon.

Jake Meador, whom I assume to be a millennial, thinks Evans is bluffing (or worse):

It’s true that the younger evangelicals doing their Chicken Little routine are completely ignoring what happened to the last generation to insist that “Christianity must change or die.” But the far more amusing thing is not the historical ignorance on display in such comments, but the ecclesiastical arrogance of such declarations. Hearing it, one can’t help being reminded of the late George Carlin’s rant about environmentalists intent on “saving the planet”:

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles…hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages…And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference?

Meanwhile, Anthony Bradley calls Evans bluff and ask why she doesn’t find the United Methodist Church to be the communion millennials are looking for:

The UMC is outside of the culture wars. It has no conflicts with science and faith and clearly teaches what they are for instead of against. The UMC is a place where LGBT friends are welcomed. Moreover, if anyone knows anything about Wesleyanism, you know that Methodists have a deep emphasis on personal holiness and social action. Again, the Jesus that Evans wants to find is waiting for her and her followers in the UMC.

Again, herein lies the core question: Why doesn’t Evans, and others who embrace her critique of “the church,” simply encourage Millennials, who do not believe Jesus “is found” in their churches, to join churches like the UMC? If someone is passionate about Jesus and is truly looking for him, but doesn’t find him in one church, wouldn’t it stand to reason that a genuine search would lead that person to another church where it is believed Jesus actually is? It makes me wonder if the Evans critique is not about something else.

One reason Evans may not join the UMC is that she might find there another version of the culture wars, one that goes on under the old name, Social Gospel. Here, for instance, is a description of the United Church of Christ’s General Synod (John Winthrop and John Williamson Nevin are turning in their graves, though in opposite rotations):

Earnest discussion and debate focused on the status of women in society, tax reform, immigration reform, financial support for seminary students (backed up with a synod offering), mountaintop removal coal mining, racism, discrimination, and denominational restructure. An outdoor rally in celebration of the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA affirmed the church’s position on gay marriage. Delegates and speakers lamented the ruling on voting rights.

Deep commitment to advocacy and justice matters was and is inspiring. I hope for critical thinking about gospel justice and advocacy at any RCA General Synod. In Long Beach, as discussions wound up and down, I marveled at the impassioned advocacy. Yet, my RCA yen for a solid biblical foundation kicked in. Sometimes I yearned to hear a word of scripture or more of the theological premise behind a passionate speech.

Worries about the Social Gospel even exist among Protestant converts to Rome, where the Social Teaching of the Church has become one of the top items on the list indicating the Vatican’s superiority and which Francis appears to be stretching in ways that call upon various and sundry lay Roman Catholics to explain what the Holy Father is up to. Here is one worried priest:

The social gospel is a heresy, and like every heresy, it is not completely wrong. It is only half right. We are supposed to feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick and work for justice and peace, but this is the fruit of our faith in Christ. It is the result of our redemption, not the primary point of our faith. The first objective is the salvation of our souls, and from this faith in Christ we are transformed into his likeness, and as we are transformed into his likeness we begin to do his work in the world. If we jump straight to the good works, then we are guilty of the old heresy of Pelagianism: trying to be good enough under our own steam.

The reason I say this is a problem for the new pope is not because I think he teaches the social gospel, but because it will be perceived and promoted that he does. I am convinced (despite the worries of some of my friends) that Pope Francis is God’s man for the church today. I’m convinced that he is fully orthodox, and that he will not compromise the Catholic faith at all, but instead will build up Christ’s church and be a wonderful global evangelist.

What concerns me is that the man and his message will be hi jacked by the worldly powers who would love nothing more than to emasculate the message of Jesus Christ and reduce the whole of the Catholic faith to an nice system of inspiring people to be nicer to one another. The stupid worldly powers try to persecute and obliterate the church. The really smart ones embrace the church and use it for their own ends. Henry VIII, for example, was one of the smart ones. He did not seek to abolish the Catholic Church. He simply stole it and turned it into an instrument of English nationalism and a force for consolidating his power over the English people.

Likewise the really smart worldly powers of today would like nothing better than to co-opt the Catholic Church into a one world system of bringing about peace, justice and niceness for all. If the Christian gospel can be reduced to a message of good will and kindliness, and if the Christian religion can be reduced to a network of soup kitchens and homeless hostels, the worldly powers will be happy.

We have seen the capitulation of most Christian groups in the developed world to this agenda already. The mainstream liberal Protestant denominations adopted the social gospel long ago, and are now not much more than a group of peace and justice campaigners who meet on Sunday for strategy sessions. The hip Evangelicals have gone a different, but similar route. Increasingly their message is one of self help, success strategies, rehab therapies, good parenting and how to manage your money. The cross of Christ and the need for repentance and redemption is quietly downplayed, diluted and discarded.

Pope Francis’ admirable emphasis on simplicity, ministry to the poor and justice for the marginalized will play into this tendency in our modern world. That’s why he is, at least at present, such a media darling. The mainstream media will play up his social gospel appearance and quietly ignore everything he says about true Catholicism. They will ignore any call for repentance and the need for forgiveness. They will ignore the cross where Christ the Lord was sacrificed for the sins of mankind. They will ignore everything he says about the Mass, the communion of the saints, the reality of heaven and hell and the need for the salvation of souls.

Meanwhile, for millenials thinking that the High Church traditions may hold the solution, consider this (thanks to Jeff Polet). Maybe I should say no thanks since not even the feline factor can redeem such blasphemy.

All of this makes me very thankful (all about me) for a local church where the pastor proclaims the word and administers the Supper every Sunday. It’s not very flashy. Then again, neither was manna in the wilderness.