Monday, October 3, 2011

Exporting our Evangelical Freakshow

Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches (2 Cor 11:28).

Little did I know that when I wrote on Asterisks for Celebrity Pastors, that very world of personalities and media platforms would furnish an ample illustration that very week. If you missed it, James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel and council member of The Gospel Coalition, invited T.D. Jakes - yes, that T.D. Jakes - to speak at The Elephant Room, for a dialogue-style conference. Perhaps even more implausible than the invitation itself, was MacDonald's defense of his invitation. It is a staggering and almost unbelievable lapse in judgment from such a prominent Christian leader. (I keep waiting for MacDonald to say, "Gotcha! Just kidding!").

Thoughtful and biblical responses have been offered by Tim Challies, Phil Johnson, Nathan Busenitz, and Thabiti Anyabwile, not to mention the glut of resources from Ligonier. Though, as usual, I find the rejoinders of Carl Trueman to be among the most perceptive:
Phil Johnson observed the same today in The Evangelical Freakshow. Though Phil notes an important disagreement with Trueman's analysis. Namely, could these sorts of celebrity pastors ever exert influence over Christians in other parts of the world? Of course, the shameful answer is that they already do.
It is precisely the celebrity of American evangelical rock stars that the rest of the world seems so attracted to. And the more outlandish the personality, the more other cultures seem interested. These things spread around the world, not only because American evangelicals are wantonly imperialistic but because morbid curiosity, worldly interests, and carnal lusts are a problem in every culture, and the mortification of those passions fell out of fashion among church people ages ago.

...And Dr. Trueman is right to point out that it is a uniquely American evangelical phenomenon to foster these cults of celebrity and to encourage each wave of superstars to push the limits of sobriety and propriety further than the last superstar did. American evangelicalism has become a large jingoistic freak show.
Read Phil's entire post here. I have personally observed this tragedy on 3 different continents. And every time it was emotionally taxing, as I vacillated from sorrow to rage to near comatose apathy - and usually in the same hour!

It should come as no surprise to us. The world is enamored with our salacious entertainment. They are desperate to catch-up to our styles in food, fun, and fashion. Even our political enemies cannot wait to eat at their own McDonald's or Starbucks! And the very real tragedy is that things are no different in the Church.

Just as quickly as evangelical movements and personalities take hold in the US, they export the same to our brethren around the world. Our brothers and sisters who need our time and our heritage of biblical resources, are instead deluged by our pointless fads.

If for no other reason than this, The Gospel Coalition - whose confessional statement actually begins with "The Tri-une God" - faces a pivotal moment:
  • Will TGC remain a coalition around the Gospel or will they defer to influential personalities? (Please remember that Arianism did not flourish in the 3rd century because Arius was a boring and unpersuasive communicator).
  • Is TGC actually a movement to "unite on the nature of truth, how best to read the Bible, on our relationship to culture, on the content of the gospel, and on the nature of gospel–centered ministry" (TGC, Vision Statement) or simply another manufactured platform for celebrity pastors?
  • What does subscription to TGC's own confessional statement mean for their own council members? Put more simply, what role does TGC believe doctrine should have in their vision for evangelicalism? Or put more pointedly, is TGC just another collection of ecclesiastical pragmatists with theological window-dressing?
This is no molehill. When we talk about doctrines like the Trinity, we are not debating peripheral issues. We are asking, will our generation of Christian leaders remain Christian?

Without any sensationalism intended, I do pray that there is an Ezekiel out there - perhaps a whole coalition of them - that sees "what they are doing" (Ezek 8:6). And that not only for the sake of the Church in America, but for all the churches around the world who are watching us - even now.

1 comment:

  1. The late John Stott on 'for His name's sake' (Rom. 1:5):
    "Some evangelism, to be sure, is no better than a thinly disguised form of imperialism, whenever our real ambition is for the honour of our nation, church, organization, or ourselves. Only one imperialism is Christian, however, and that is concern for His Imperial Majesty Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his empire or kingdom. The earliest Christians, John tells us, went out ‘for the sake of the Name’ (3 John 7)... Before this supreme goal of the Christian mission, all unworthy motives wither and die.” (Stott 53, The Message of Romans)