Some Thoughts on Ministry Success Being an Idol

An article by Benjamin Vrbicek’s who writes about ministry success being an idol. This article which was published in The Gospel Coalition website and my response to this post in the context of The Gospel Coalition making ministry a success an idol, especially in regards to C.J. Mahaney. Today’s journal entry examines the corruption of The Gospel Coalition and C.J. Mahaney and points out that as good as Benjamin Vrbicek’s article is, in the end its power is diluted due to the ministry of The Gospel Coalition being deeply tainted as the modern spiritual version of Tammany Hall.

“The negative side of the American Dream comes when people pursue success at any cost, which in turn destroys the vision and the dream.”
Azar Nafisi
Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.
Judges 10:14 ESV

The other day I was reading The Gospel Coalition website looking for ideas to write. I have about a million and one to work with, and I was looking for one more. Against this I read a post by Benjamin Vrbicek who teaches at Community Evangelical Free Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Just so you know in the future I plan on writing a post about the Celebrity Pastor and how the Neo-Reformed crowd has made the Celebrity Pastor an idol. I was drawn to this article because it flirted with that idea but went in a different direction in examining success. Plus as many of you know I have a history in the Evangelical Free Church. Since many Evangelical Free Churches have been theologically hijacked by Neo-Calvinists, in the spirit of Josh Harris one of the themes of my online journal will be “I Kissed the Evangelical Free Church Goodbye”. There are many things that Benjamin Vrbicke touches on that I would like to explore. There are some positive aspects and a couple of issues to raise especially in the context of The Gospel Coalition.

What is Idolatry?

In Benjamin’s Vrbicek’s article at The Gospel Coalition called When Ministry Success Becomes an Idol he starts by examining the role soccer played in his life and his dream of playing professional sports. I don’t think his dream of playing professional sports is un-common among many young men of that age. In a pivotal part of the article Benjamin writes, “the players were just as exciting as before I lost interest in professional sports; they hadn’t changed. But somewhere along the way, as I grew up, things had changed for me. My perspective had become twisted. I loved sports because one day I could be a star, or so I thought.”  I seriously thought this was an honest self assessment of motives and desire. Why does a person desire to become professional sports player? Or a doctor, lawyer, engineer or civil servant? People do it for lots of reasons and I do appreciate Benjamin’s willingness to explore his motivation. It takes a lot of courage to say that his perspective was twisted. It was a recent article in Christianity Today that brought about this self examination by Community Evangelcial Free’s teaching pastor. Its with that interest that I read what he said about idolatry. In all fairness I read nothing that deeply bothered me early on in the article, but Benjamin did highlight for me why I need to write a post about celebrity pastors being idols. In the Neo- Calvinist crowd I can think of no other movement that has embraced idolatry so boldly then through their celebrity pastors. They have done it to the point of division all the while creating needless enemies. For many of the Neo-Calvinist either John Piper or Tim Keller becomes the fourth person of the trinity and is not to be questioned, as the Lord’s anointed is not to be touched. Or another way to put it is Jesus walked on water then so does John Piper and Tim Keller. One example of idolatry in this regard comes forth when a person goes directly to someone like Tim Keller instead of scripture. I mean while I agree with what is being said by Benjamin, shouldn’t scripture be consulted before Tim Keller? With that said here is what I wrote about idolatry a few weeks back in my post of The Dark Knight Rises.

What is idolatry? Merriam-Webster defines idolatry as the worship of a picture or an object as a God. In the Old Testament that meant the worship of pagan deities. When I think of idolatry I think of the worship of the Golden Calf at Mount Sinai in Exodus 32. Israel I would suggest was called to worship God. It was what it was created for and it was that reason alone why idolatry was such a pervasive threat. The major problem with idolatry, I would suggest is that it robs the Lord of glory which is his alone (Isaiah 42:8). Idols which become a substitute for God have many problems in itself. They have no power to save, (Isaiah 45:20) and when people called upon idols they could not be saved (2 Chronicles 25:15Plus idols have no life to them and mean nothing. (Psalm 106:28) Idols are crated by human hands and not to be feared since they can’t do any good. (Jeremiah 10:5) According to scripture whoever worships idols is both foolish (Jeremiah 10:8) and deceived (Isaiah 44:20).  In the New Testament idolatry keeps coming up as a sin being mentioned frequently. For example its mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,Galatians 5:20, and 1 Peter 4:3Whereas in the Old Testament I get the feeling the idols were worshipping statues and things of the like, in the New Testament idols becomes a matter of the heart and include things like gluttony, pride, greed, sexual sin, and materialism for starters. If you have not read it can I recommend you read my journal entry on gluttony. The real risk with idolatry I would suggest is that it can be dangerous and mislead people, and that in the end you can think you are worshiping God when in the end we are not. (Exodus 32:1-6; 1 Kings 12:28-30)

The Gospel Coalition and the Idolatry of Success

While Benjamin has good things to say in the article in the bigger picture the context of an article like this against the behavior of The Gospel Coalition is what I find deeply troubling. I would suggest that The Gospel Coalition, which is a pillar of the Reformed Industrial Complex has become all too often an organization about the idolatry of ministry success. Why do I say that? Its for a number of reasons, but one major issue in particular. In 2012 and 2013 the largest lawsuit in evangelical history at the time raged against Sovereign Grace Ministries. CJ Mahaney was accused of engaging in a cover up of child sex abuse. On the basis of a technicality the SGM lawsuit was mostly dismissed due to statute of limitation issues on or about May 16, 2013. Against that the Gospel Coalition stood by their man with this outrageous statement of spin by DA Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor on May 24, 2013. The Gospel Coalition which had no problem talking about sex abuse cover up at Penn State was silent for 178 days when it came to their boy who also engaged in sex abuse cover up.  I would like to point out that as of today that statement has never been repudiated, removed, withdrawn, etc… by The Gospel Coalition. (Why am I writing all this…please bear with me I am wrapping this up in the end) Yet information kept bleeding out of SGM related to the cover up of child sex abuse. That cover up became fact when CJ Mahaney’s brother in law testified under oath in a Maryland courtroom that he didn’t report Nate Morales to law enforcement for child sex crimes, when they should have. A few days later on May 22, 2014 CJ Mahaney of SGM Louisville (gotta love those run away church plants!) issued this statement denying the claims made against him and SGM. Actually Mahaney put it like this, “I’m saddened, too, by the confusion and the damage that has resulted in public comments and speculation about these events” Information about sexual abuse cover up in SGM was hemorrhaging from the organization. On May 24 my East Coast Mom, released a statement from both Wallace and Happymom refuting CJ Mahaney’s claim. And against all this reports and information still were flowing out of SGM. Despite that it in January 2015 it appeared as if The Gospel Coalition is trying to resurrect the embattled CJ Mahaney on the speaking circuit. You can read more about that here. And in the never ending habit of hemorrhaging information from SGM it emerged that CJ Mahaney approved a hush fund to cover up child sex abuse in 2013 and to keep a SGM pastor from joining the lawsuit for the sexual crimes committed against his son. Brent Detwiler’s claim put a dark and sinister spin on CJ Mahaney’s disingenuous statement of not knowing about child sex abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries. So why has The Gospel Coalition continued to stand behind Mahaney and work to resurrect his speaking career? Is it in fact due to their embrace of the idolatry of ministry success especially when money is riding on it? After all what is more important to an organization like The Gospel Coalition and the Reformed Industrial Complex? Is it the sovereignty of God or is it the sovereign nature of the American dollar?

There are several things that are troubling in addition to the cover up of alleged criminal activity by CJ Mahaney. First is the fact that many evangelicals have never learned from the attempts or efforts of the Roman Catholic church to cover up child sex abuse. If the Catholic church couldn’t do it, why does Sovereign Grace believe they can?  Second if The Gospel Coalition is standing behind their man (You know quick side note…we need to have a Youtube parody of Mark Dever, Al Mohler and John Piper singing Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man with CJ Mahaney standing around in the background) it is just proving the point that ministry success is an idol. Ministry success at all costs even if it leaves divided and broken families of Sovereign Grace in its wake only confirms how ministry success is an idol. Success at any cost I would argue is not the core of what Jesus taught. Maybe The Gospel Coalition should spend a little bit more time reading their Bible. After all Jesus came to serve but for celebrity pastors determined to achieve success at any cost expect to be served. It is also for this reason that I have and will continue to state that The Gospel Coalition is a spiritual version of Tammany Hall. Its corruption is so deep, pervasive and ugly that I will not get involved in a church that affiliates itself with The Gospel Coalition. Plus its corruption is so brazen that it honestly makes me wonder why the Protestant Reformation even occurred? Keep in mind that I write this as a guy who sits in the pew trying to re-engage and grow in my faith after spending half my thirties walking away from Christianity due to a major faith crisis and exploring atheism. Plus I have also watched how Neo-Calvinism has hijacked parts of the Evangelical Free denomination which has all but guaranteed that I will not step foot into an Evangelical Free church to try and grow my faith in the Lord in that denomination.

So Benjamin Vrbicek I just want to say that you have a good post but in the context of the scandals hemorrhaging out of The Gospel Coalition it really makes my point. Faith is about what you do in addition to what you believe. Many Neo-Calvinists have this backward and organizations like The Gospel Coalition are only reinforcing this behavior by the “do as I say but not as I do” approach to theology. Also while you have a good article its power I would suggest has been diluted by being posted on The Gospel Coalition website which has been tainted by deep “Gospel Centered” corruption. So good job Ben! That is a great article! By the way I am curious…who is the new Boss Tweed of The Gospel Coalition these days? Is it Kevin DeYoung or DA Carson? This Friday I am continuing my journaling about my faith crisis that consumed 5 to 6 years of my life. I will continue to explore how to engage someone in a faith meltdown and will explore the necessity of evangelicals needing to be open to their doubts. If more Christians were honest about their doubts that could have gone a long way in helping someone like me when I was deep in my faith crisis. I’m also working on an essay on Christopher Hitchens and my reflection on him. Also being worked on is a journal piece on some aspects of Calvinism I do admire. But who am I to say anything? After all while I am not Calvinist, nor fully Arminian I am barely saved according to RC Sproul.

2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Ministry Success Being an Idol

  1. A couple of points if I may. Unlike Sovereign Grace, the Catholic church was taking their priests/pedophiles and just shifting them to another venue. After they had molested boys in one congregation, they sent them to another congregation.. SGM is accused of not reporting people within their congregations; people who were members, not pastors. As far as I know, SGM is not accused of shifting pedophile pastors from one church to another, If I understand the Maryland law, C.J. Mahaney as a pastor was NEVER required to report sexual abuse, therefore various commenters wtih hopes that they can see C.J. do the perp walk are probably delusional. It says much more about them then it does about C.J.
    [ C.J. was far from perfect, that’s for sure. But actually, I’ve never sat under a spiritual leaders that was perfect. Never sat under C.J.either ]

    Secondly, I’d certainly like to hear more about the “corruption” of TFTG. Have you got anything besides your accusations against C.J?

    Thirdly, I would certainly agree that you probably shouldn’t darken the door of any church that has connections to people you despise. Taking a bad attitude to a new church is bound to cause problems for all involved. There are churches whose theology and practice I disagree with. I’m not inclined to attend.


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