John Piper recently ignited controversy when tackling the topic of whether or not a Christian should arm themselves. This post is not about the debate on guns, instead I want this to be a discussion on how Christians are being stunted in their faith by the celebrity pastor culture. Too many people are being told what to think and not how to think. Christians need to be encouraged to wrestle with questions themselves as that would better prepare them for life. This post is about how the celebrity pastor is crippling and handicapping Christians today.
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having them think.”
Martin Luther King
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Philippians 2:12-13 NLT
This is going to be a tricky post and I want to see if what I am trying to say makes sense. The purpose of this post is not to discuss Christians using guns. It’s to use the issue to illustrate how celebrity pastors are crippling the Christian faith today. After all one of the problems with Neo-Calvinism is that it has an answer for every situation. It has an answer for everything. But let me set the post up and give you some background. On December 22, 2015 at Desiring God John Piper wrote a firecracker of a piece called, “Should Christians be Encouraged to Arms Themselves?” It was written in response to what Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a Liberty University chapel service where he encouraged students to get permits so they can carry guns. Virginia is a concealed handgun permit state. Falwell Jr. clarified his statement by saying on December 9, 2015 that Liberty has a policy that allows students to have guns in their dormitories. In the start of his article John Piper says the following:
“My main concern in this article is with the appeal to students that stirs them up to have the mindset: Let’s all get guns and teach them a lesson if they come here. The concern is the forging of a disposition in Christians to use lethal force, not as policemen or soldiers, but as ordinary Christians in relation to harmful adversaries.
The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question. The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.”
I would encourage you to read the entire article for perspective. Strong dissent came from several in the Reformed/Neo Puritan camp which some would be classify Neo-Calvinist, even if they might disagree. That opposition to John Piper comes from Steven Wedgeworth, Bob Thune and Douglas Wilson. By the way its a small world as I wrote about Bob Thune in my Cru post as I panned the Minneapolis Cru conference in December because of Bob Thune speaking. My concerns rest (and still remain) over the health of the Acts 29 movement which still has Mark Driscoll’s DNA all over it. But in getting back to the topic, in wrapping up this paragraph Tim Challies summed up his thoughts here.
Celebrity Pastors Being the Final Authority
Having laid the foundation for what happened I want to take this post in a different direction. In the last few years there has been an emergence of Neo-Calvinist pastors who have been the “go to” (note I put that in quotes…) person for topics. You have after all “Ask Pastor John” and Mark Driscoll when Mars Hill Seattle was running encouraging questions. People would ask many things and just fire away. What happened from time to time is that advice that was often given was inappropriate, think Mark Driscoll and sex. Or you had some like John Piper give answers on topics like domestic abuse when he wasn’t even qualified to give a response. Who has taught that a woman should submit to domestic abuse? John Piper has taught this policy in the past. But what has emerged is a system that gives answers left and right for small, little to major things and everything in between. These celebrity pastors are also causing needless division I would suggest in that their “authority” is trumping the local body.
Take the topic of a Christian getting a permit to carry guns…and please understand I want to stay away from that debate as that is not the intent of today’ post. But does the church need to have someone teach on that topic? Do we need to have a debate on Christians carrying concealed weapons? With all the theological issues out there is that a debate that we need to have on top of other points of contention? The other problem is that people are surrendering their own personal authority and ability to make decisions in these kinds of topics. But why must the celebrity pastor have to give an answer to everything? Why must there be a response to a wide range of topics in full detail? Why must there be all these blog posts, podcasts, about so many topics all across the board? By having all these topics it leads me to pen a post to try and push back against this phenomenon.
Celebrity Pastors Crippling the Modern Evangelical Church
In the future and I keep forgetting to do this, but at some point I will author a post about celebrity pastors being a modern form of idolatry. Part of my opposition to celebrity pastors today is quite simple and for the following reason. Many people today go around and read these books and learn other people’s beliefs and go and walk around and spit out those answers for themselves. For example some go around having read Kevin DeYoung and spit out what Kevin thinks. Others go around reading Mark Dever and spit out his answers in the process. Yet others go around reading John Piper since John Piper is the fourth member of the trinity for many people and repeat what John says. A culture has been created where everyone goes around quoting and regurgitating others but hear me as I say this: no one wrestles with these topics themselves and thinks through them individually. In the end you have people regurgitating what someone else thinks and they just absorb it without any critical thinking. People’s faith is being crippled by having these celebrity pastors because they come along with this “read my blog/book/pamphlet” and it stunts people from thinking for themselves and asking these questions of themselves. The celebrity pastors are growing a culture that is dumbed down and neutered. John Piper does this regularly and did it again I would suggest with guns. Like I said, does the Christian church need to have a debate on guns? Why doesn’t John Piper say, “Why don’t you give some thought, search the scriptures and wrestle with the topic yourself?” The other problem is that there are many things in life in which there is no clear answer. After all can I say that having an answer for everything in the end shows a lack of faith? By having an answer for everything really you end up having faith in the answers. Often times when you are a fundamentalist you often don’t believe yourself to be one. However one mark of a fundamentalist is that a fundamentalist always has an answer for everything. However, if more people wrestled with questions personally instead of taking them to the celebrity circuit, I would suggest Christianity in the United States would not be as sick as it is.
I also wonder if the reason why people ask these questions is because they want to be told what to do and how to think? Or do they want to do something and affirm their decision? For example people would ask Mark Driscoll about such topics as anal sex, and I often wonder if people would ask stuff like that so they could get someone’s “blessing” to do something and say, “Well Pastor Mark said…” I think its safe to say that many evangelical Christians struggle with critical thinking skills and the celebrity pastor movement only verifies this issue and feeds into that problem. Why wrestle with something when someone is going to open their mouth and tell you what to think? By the way as long as I am writing this, this also applies to me. These are my thoughts, the thoughts of Eagle. I never, never, want people to take me on my word or thoughts. I want to encourage all you out there to think about things. People are empowered when they are taught how to think; not what to think. In this blog I want to teach people how to think so they can go forward and analyze and think for themselves. I have no problem with people asking questions or challenging me in the end. Any organization that discourages questioning is an organization that is intrinsically flawed. I am not so insecure that I can’t handle or deal with someone else challenging me.
Evangelicals and Personal Wrestling with Questions
Here in the United States we live in a very lazy and insular society that provides anything and everything you want. If you want to have an indicator of how bad our society can be look at what is entertainment for many people today. I’m not complaining about sex in entertainment, or immoral movies, I’m talking about the lack of complex, intellectual and educational movies or shows. Material that can be intellectually engaging and draw you in not numb you out. In my life as I have gone around I have found many evangelical Christians to be lazy. Often what I have discovered is the following; many people want to be told how to live, how to think, who to follow, what to read, and what to do. Often when evangelicals ask questions its only to select people which is done in a tunnel vision I would propose. After all when John Piper is your final authority on anything…why question or explore anything at all? Why question John Piper at all? So questions are limited and discouraged. But then consider this…the other day on Neil Carter’s (Godless in Dixie) Facebook page he said the following about Christians. “I don’t think I became an atheist because I’m smarter than other people. I think they just quit asking the harder questions, and I couldn’t.” I honestly hope Neil Carter turns this into a post at Godless in Dixie because I very much would write about it, and as a Christian I agree with much of what he is saying. Many Christians don’t ask the hard questions or wrestle with them. I think that’s why Christians are hammered and avoid difficult subjects like the problem of evil, evolution, and a host of other issues. This is one of the things I realized as a result of my own faith crisis. Actually one of the people I approached for forgiveness in my quest to reach 140 lives in the NE and was involved in one of the churches in the D.C. area told me in a message that my faith crisis was a gift, and a special time. Looking back I agree. It allowed me to go deeper, and by asking the difficult questions I had to wrestle with them. Yes I looked at stuff all across the board and read some stuff from Greg Boyd, to Tim Keller to watching Christopher Hitchens. But the difference is that I didn’t let it influence nor did I build my foundation on it. You won’t see me spitting out what Greg Boyd says, or repeating what Tim Keller says. I banged my head on the wall and wrestled with the difficult questions myself. I did it in a way that is quite unique. In the end I think the person who it helped the most was myself – Eagle. In many ways I am kind of similar to Neil Carter in that I love to ask questions and go where many evangelicals are afraid. You know what, I’m honestly not afraid of asking the difficult questions. After what I endured in my faith crisis for 5 years I am comfortable to charge ahead in the unknown and ask away.
This is one of the problems I have with celebrity pastors like John Piper. Too many people follow, not enough wrestle with the material themself. Those who follow John Piper or Mark Dever today are easily going to be those who fall away tomorrow because in their own faith crisis or life circumstance they are going to realize that what John Piper has taught doesn’t work in their life. Those consuming Mark Dever are going to discover that 9 Marks of a Healthy Church doesn’t work in a gray world, and they will chuck the entire system. You see guys the end result of following the celebrity pastor is that it chokes and spiritually kills people. It keeps them from making their faith their own and individualizing it. Its like a football team that gets close to the end zone and is kept out. It is long past time that we have these discussions as they are long overdue. I hope this makes sense and I hope what I am saying is coming through loud and clear. There is so much more to say on the topic and flaws of a celebrity pastor driven church. I intend to speak my mind and push back in much of this area. I encourage you to leave a thought and push back if you like. As always I love you guys.