A few weeks ago over at Phoenix Preacher in one of his Linkathon postings Brian Daugherty asked why we don’t see more “Why I Am Not A Calvinist” or “Why I Am Not Reformed” postings on various blogs. It’s a fair question, and one that has been much on my mind.
It isn’t a subject I want to wade into very deeply now, but I think if I had to I might start with something like “because I would go out of my mind hearing a sermon out of Romans every Sunday.” But that’s hardly an adequate answer, and it’s not what I want to talk about today.
If instead I had to put together a list of reasons why I’m not a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I might start with a couple of recent sermon reviews from Issues Etc.:
- A review of what appears to be a sermon from Saddleback Church on “The Daniel Plan” diet program [mp3], featuring Chris Rosebrough
- A review of a sermon by Brent Kuhlman on 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [mp3, link]
I’ll give you a clue up front: Wilken and Rosebrough hate the first sermon, while Wilken doesn’t just love the second sermon, but recommends it as a pattern for every sermon.
The first sermon (if you can call it that) is a discussion by Rosebrough and Wilken of Rick Warren’s endorsement of a diet plan based on the story of Daniel and his fellow captives and their choice not to eat the king’s food, but to eat only vegetables and drink only water (Daniel 1). Let me be clear: I think it would be a great idea for many of my fellow Christians (including myself) to get a grip on their calorie intake, be mindful eaters, etc. I think it’s a great spiritual discipline, and a defense against the sin of gluttony. That being said, I can’t agree with Warren’s approach here. I don’t think this is appropriate use of the pulpit, and I’m embarrassed for Warren and Saddleback.
But I can’t take the tack Rosebrough and Wilken take here; I don’t hear Warren suggesting that losing weight gets a person into Heaven, and that’s what they say he’s saying by responding to this with the neat soundbite “there are lots of skinny people in Hell.” They’re right to call Warren out for connecting God’s blessings with our “blessability,” or whatever, but their analysis is all wrong. I think they’ve misunderstood what he’s saying, so their response is unhelpful. Fleeing various sins is part of the process of sanctification, not a part of salvation, and I’m surprised to hear them responding to this as if Warren were saying it is.
I hesitate to mention that when Wilken has a Roman Catholic guest on Issues Etc. he doesn’t cover this same ground, where it would seem to be more appropriate. But I digress.
By way of contrast, Wilken highly recommends Kuhlman’s sermon. The core of the text is Paul’s quote that when he was in Corinth he was “determined to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified.” Wilken interprets this to mean that every sermon should be about Jesus’s death on the Cross as the sufficient sacrifice for our sins. This is apparently orthodox Lutheran teaching, at least in the LCMS. I tend to understand this text as being a description of Paul’s description of his intent when he was visiting the young, vulnerable, worldly, etc. Corinthian church and not as a basis for a universal directive applicable to all believers at all times in all places. It’s indicative, not imperative. Also, I think this reading is contrary to the spirit and intent of Paul’s letter; I consider his letter to be a sermon, since it was meant to be read openly before the church, and Paul deals with many issues in addition to soteriology.
Beyond that, Kuhlman’s sermon makes me cringe. He trots out straw men, and lousy ones at that. He belabors familiar and accepted points in a funny voice. And Wilken’s analysis of Kuhlman’s sermon compounds the problem by drawing a false dichotomy between Kuhlman and straw men of his own. I have to suggest that when Wilken suggests that the only choices for preaching style are either what he and Kuhlman have to offer and ear-tickling consumer-driven pablum he’s at best oversimplifying and at worst condemning other Christians on the basis of the teaching of men.
I have to admit that if I had to sit through a sermon like this every Sunday I would go out of my mind. The only rationale I can imagine for doing this week after week would be the mistaken (and I dare say mystical) belief that simply hearing Scripture read is a means of grace, and the text itself doesn’t matter, etc. Wilken suggests that he has been accused (conveniently by unnamed accusers) of creating fat, lazy, spoiled Christians by preaching the same sermon every Sunday. Let me be one of them: I believe preaching the same thing every Sunday dulls the soul and stunts spiritual growth. I can’t imagine why anyone else can’t see this too.
BrianD picked up an interesting interview with Matt Chandler at Out of Ur [link] as part of his weekly Linkathon [link, link]; as an aside I recommend Brian’s link collections; I don’t know how he keeps up with as many sources as he does to produce such consistently good collections of links.
Anyway, this interview is mostly about what Chandler has learned during his bout with brain cancer. He’s the 36-year-old pastor of the three-campus Village Church, a 3500-person megachurch in Texas. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in late 2009 and has been undergoing radiation treatment. Of course we wish him a complete and speedy recovery.
The part of his interview I found interesting were these:
It’s made me think a lot more about my mortality. For example, if I die and The Village Church falls apart, do I care? I’ll be honest, I don’t. It seems to me that when you look at history, God raises up certain men for certain seasons in certain places. He pours out his Spirit on them, and when they’re done its very rare for God to continue the work that was done uniquely through him. If I die and The Village ends, I’m alright with that. If believers here find a place where the gospel is preached, and people are being saved, and the mission is being lived out, then I will not have failed.If I’m going to die in two years, I started asking God what I should do. I put a lot of pressure on myself because in our culture there is the expectation that a ministry has to flourish even after you’re gone. That’s unfair, unhistoric, and maybe even unbiblical. Realizing that took a lot of pressure off of me. I had peace to just faithfully do what I’ve been doing here since day one. Then just let go and see what the Lord does with it.
They’re focused on “their legacy.” That’s why we see churches with senior pastors in their 70s and no succession plan. They can’t let go.
Let me say first that I don’t know anything about living with cancer and I’ve never been a megapreacher, so I have no idea what the world looks like from Chandler’s perspective. I really do think that when dealing with a person who has suffered one needs to give that person a great deal of leeway. I might feel qualified responding to someone whose suffering resembles something I’ve lived through personally, but that’s about it.
However I have to admit that I’m troubled by what Chandler says here. It seems to me that he’s overestimated how necessary he is. I’ve bolded two pieces above, where it appears to me that he believes that The Village Church will come to an end if he dies. He mentions succession plans in the interview, but he doesn’t mention having one himself. I’ve heard the language he uses here, e.g. “God raises up certain men for certain seasons in certain places” before, and it has always turned out to be damaging. Where I’ve heard this language in the past the pastor has seen himself as being the primary thing that God was doing, rather than the church (or parachurch ministry, or whatever) being the primary thing God was doing.
I am inclined to suspect that if I were in Chandler’s shoes (subject to the disclaimer above, etc.) I might be tempted to believe something like this: God doesn’t need Matt Chandler. I am a little puzzled not to find a takeaway to that effect in this interview.
As I’m sure everybody knows by now Kevin Roose interviewed Ted Haggard and wrote a substantial piece about it for GQ Magazine [link], and Sarah Pulliam Bailey has written a pretty good summary at GetReligion [link]. Bailey correctly points out that Roose has done good work here in going back and filling in some gaps in our understanding of what exactly caused Haggard to leave New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
Let me say first of all that even though Haggard was head of the National Association of Evangelicals he didn’t mean much to me as an evangelical. This is something that folks in the media don’t seem to understand about evangelicals: we tend to get our themes and talking points top-down, but we don’t follow our so-called leaders in a way that fits the popular political narrative. But that’s another topic for another day. Instead, I had heard of Haggard in an episode of This American Life [link], and I’d seen his bizarre appearance in the already bizarre documentary Jesus Camp. It wasn’t entirely clear to me from those media appearances that Haggard was actually a Christian, much less an evangelical. In retrospect I’m willing to chalk that up to editing, narrative restrictions, etc.
But when Haggard left New Life I felt I’d seen that particular movie before, because the plot seemed so familiar:
- Pastor gets caught up in scandal that’s distasteful enough that nobody will actually say what he did
- Church leaders fire pastor; important aspects of severance agreement are undisclosed
- Many rumors rush into information vacuum; various stories fail to completely line up
- Former pastor, church leaders repeatedly claim the other side is misrepresenting him/them
- Church broadly divides into four camps: loyalists to each side, the don’t-cares, and the disillusioned
- Two camps stay, two camps go
- Pastor re-enters the ministry, possibly with a triumphant return to his old church
- Both the former pastor and his former church soldier on with mixed success
We definitely got most of this basic template in this story, especially when Gayle Haggard resurfaced with her book and Ted appeared to contradict some of the established story, saying that he never did some of the things the leaders at New Life said he did. I don’t know where you saw this, but I saw some of it at Phoenix Preacher [link], see also [link]; unfortunately Haggard’s appearance and comments are no longer available, having as best I can tell been archived with the old Phoenix Preacher site.
The facts of the story, as best I can tell, go like this: Haggard was in Denver and asked his hotel concierge to recommend someone who could give him a massage. The concierge recommended Mike Jones, who turned out to be a prostitute and drug dealer. Haggard purchased drugs from Jones on a handful of occasions, as well as receiving one or more massages from Jones that were not strictly speaking therapeutic massages. Haggard also took crystal meth.
As best I can tell Haggard and his wife are aggrieved at his dismissal by the church leaders. It has never been clear to me what the Haggards expected was going to happen when his behavior came to light. He never actually says that he expected to be retained at full salary as pastor while having sexual encounters with both his wife and at least one man and at the same time experimenting with hard drugs, but I can’t figure how else to interpret his actions and comments over the last several years.
Roose focuses more on the sexual side of this story than he does on say the drug issue or the church organization issue. This isn’t surprising; Roose is at some level aiming for a gripping read rather than doing a longitudinal study, or whatever. And he took a somewhat similar tack in his book about Liberty University. I’m left with the impression, however, that Haggard isn’t actively addicted to crystal meth: this many years of heavy use would have damaged his smile, for example, and Roose notes that while rectangular Haggard’s smile is apparently intact.
I am personally more interested in the church organization issues surrounding the Haggard story. I can’t figure how a man with as many responsibilities as Haggard must have had (dealing with both NAE and New Life matters) had enough unsupervised free time to carry on a relationship with a masseur in Denver when he lived in Colorado Springs, more than an hour away. I’m also a little surprised that he knew who to ask when he wanted a particular kind of massage, and didn’t have a church functionary/handler/flunky/whatever around to serve as a deterrent. There must be a lot about the lifestyle of a high-profile preacher I don’t understand.
But more than that, I’d be more interested in figuring out how to avoid people (preachers) like Haggard generally, and I’m not sure how much we can learn from this story that’s helpful. I mean, everyone is tempted to terrible sins, but not everyone succumbs. And there are lots of preachers who are in positions not very different from Haggard’s at New Life, and certainly not all of them feel entitled to boyfriends and recreational drugs, much less partake of either one. Surely there must be visible warning signs, and they can’t all be as remote from the final result as, say, Haggard’s fascination with “grid praying.”
I do not pay a lot of attention to the Mexican Drug War, in spite of the fact that it qualifies according to most people who pay attention to this sort of thing as a real war [link], is in danger of causing Mexico to qualify as a failed state, and is just a five-hour van ride from my house [link]. Michael Newham, owner and sole proprietor of the Phoenix Preacher blog [link] pays a lot more attention to these things than I do, and keeps up with much of the news coming from the conflict.Michael and I tend to disagree on how the Mexican Drug War should be viewed; he sees it as primarily a spiritual conflict with public policy implications; I tend to see it as a public policy problem with spiritual implications.
Over the weekend an article from The Economist [link] surfaced in my news feed that mentioned the death of Nazario Moreno, until recently the head of La Familia/La Familia Michoacán [link], a drug gang noted partly for their brutality and partly for their embracing of the works of American evangelical writer John Eldredge [link]. Eldredge for his part does not return their admiration, as articles on the connection take varying degrees of care to state [link, link, link]. In its simplest form, the relationship between La Familia and Eldredge goes like this: Moreno was both a professed Christian and a drug lord, read at least one of Eldredge’s books on what is sometimes called “muscular Christianity,” appropriated at least some of Eldredge’s concept of the Christian man as a (dominating) man of action, and applied it to his chosen field of work as drug lord with brutal consequences.
For the record I don’t think this one little point necessarily means my analysis of the Mexican Drug War is better or worse than Newhham’s: I think he suggests that some sort of Christian revival would end the drug war; I’d be inclined to claim that it wouldn’t if the various believers involved in the revival didn’t leave and resist the drug trade. I mean, I don’t really believe anyone can be both a Christian and a drug lord, but I’m not sure I’d make that claim foundational to my soteriology.
Also, for the record, the modern “muscular Christianity” shares a name and some characteristics with a Victorian movement [link], but the two aren’t closely related: one was primarily a mainline Protestant phenomenon, the other is primarily evangelical/nondenominational. There’s probably no good reason to bring up Tom Brown at Oxford when discussing e.g. Mark Driscoll. Teddy Roosevelt yes, Mark Driscoll no.
Various authors have taken Eldredge to task for recasting God in his own image and for presenting a loosely-defined “biblical manhood” that doesn’t really start or end with the Gospel. From having read a couple of his books (Wild at Heart and The Journey of Desire) I think I’d have to suggest that Eldredge also tends to adopt biblical stories that are historical as illustrative without good reason. Of the three points mine’s probably the palest.
Anyway, the strange case of Nazario Moreno gives me pause; it seems crazy on its face to read books on biblical masculinity and apply the lessons learned to running a drug gang, but honestly I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a weird isotope of Jesus CEO [link].
Brian of BrianD blog was kind enough to link here after I commented over there the other day and I’m returning the favor.
Brian and I go back a couple of years from our shared time at Phoenix Preacher, a blog run by former Calvary Chapel pastor Michael Newnham, and a home for wayward (and occasionally not-so-wayward) current and former evangelicals. I like Brian a lot and have had some good exchanges with him online; if I remember correctly he’s a former evangelical, and he’s increasingly Reformed. Me not so much.