A taster: "I have been around many leaders. Some I've worked with, some I've interviewed, and some are friends. All are human, yet the ones willing to speak tough truths, especially within their own organizations or companies, is sadly too small."
In the second post in Ref21's brief series which Todd started yesterday with 'What Is Not Happening,' I want to focus on the last qualification for eldership, 1Tim. 3:7, 'Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders....'
At first glance, that is an odd qualification for Paul to include in the list. Often, Christians are not well thought of by those outside. I am fortunate to have two jobs which shelter me to a large extent from the rough and tumble of life in the secular world. Many in Cornerstone's congregation work in secular environments where there are many pressures on Christians precisely because Christians are not liked or respected in the wider world. Yet that is often because of the offence of the cross. The message of the cross is that we are all sinners and in need of a savior. That is an offensive message.
Clearly, Paul is not requiring Christians to abandon the offence of the cross in order to qualify for office. What he is saying is, to use the old English idiom, that elders should be decent people. Their neighbours, work colleagues, and non-Christian friends should know them as people of integrity, who embody the Christian virtues in which they profess to believe.
The reason should be obvious: the church's leaders are the public face of the church. When a Christian falls, say, into adultery, it is a bad enough scandal. But when a leader falls, the impact is so much greater because the general public regard leaders as the moral barometer of the church as a whole. A further implication of this is that the manner in which a church handles the sin of its leaders will be seen by the wider world as indicative of the church's own commitment to her stated moral standards.
Returning to recent events, it is surely a good thing to see some movement towards repentance on behalf of Mark Driscoll. As Todd indicated yesterday, when a brother sins and repentantly asks for forgiveness, we must not withhold that forgiveness. Yet in every case, we must not only trust but also verify by looking for fruits in conformity with repentance. That is what makes the language of 'hey hater' and the claim that the moral onus is suddenly all on the critics so inappropriate.
The world, however, takes a different line. It does not trust and then verify. It verifies and then, after a period of time, if at all, it trusts. And that is not something we can simply dismiss as the way of the world and as of no relevance to us. When Paul speaks about 'of good reputation with those outside,' he demands that the church take the logic and the opinion of the world seriously when we are dealing with leaders and when we are not talking about the offence of the cross but rather the offensiveness of some Christians' behavior.
This has twofold relevance in the current climate. First, what has become the standard New Calvinist approach to the critics (either ignore them as irritating upstarts or point to them as the real problem -- but never, ever, treat their concerns as worthy of serious respect) fools nobody but those who want to be fooled. It certainly does not fool the outside world as it looks on. And as the various Mars Hill scandals have made their way into the secular media, we can assume that the favoured strategy of 'Now, see here, you little whipper-snapper...' will be seen for what it is: a deflective move to avoid addressing the root problems.
Second, we need to remember that overseers are held to a higher standard because they are the public face of the church. That is why behavior such as we have witnessed actually disqualifies from office, no question. Now, there are some sins, such as adultery, which I would argue disqualify from office permanently. For some other serious public sins, it can be for a period of time. As restoration to office requires restoration of reputation inside and outside the church, such a time cannot be specified precisely in advance. It requires the fallen leader working at some other calling while being pastored under the Word by wise and godly men until such time as he has grown to maturity in the faith. Then he may again be qualified to be considered once more for office. As Todd pointed out yesterday, disciplining fallen overseers is not hateful but the best thing that can be done for them.
The moral onus is on the church. It is on the church to make sure that its leaders are of good
This week's MoS is now available, where the team interview the lovely Barb Duguid. As usual, we ask the questions nobody else dares to touch, such as 'Is Iain's preaching any good?'
In the meantime, the addition of La Byrd to the team has indeed started to change the dynamics. Here is a recent snap from the Underground Bunker of the moment when Nunchucks discovered Todd and I had unwisely not separated the blue M and Ms out into a separate bowl for her. We apologised in good contemporary fashion, 'Mistakes were made....'
Kevin DeYoung has an interesting post over at the Gospel Coalition, addressing the issue of celebrity pastors. By and large, most of the points are incontestable and certainly the first half dozen helpful. Even so, as he addresses a large number of the issues I raised over at First Thoughts last week, it seems appropriate for me to offer a couple of points of clarification.
First, Kevin seems to be operating with the simple identification of 'celebrity' with 'fame' or 'being well known.' On that level, his claim that one can become a celebrity by criticizing celebrities is true. Perhaps I myself have become such. But the problem in the YRR movement is not that its leaders are well-known. 'Celebrity' applied in that context is a far more complicated issue. It involves fame, certainly. But it also involves cultivating, via twitter and other social media, that false friendliness, that intimacy of strangers, which one finds in Hollywood culture, where the consumer thinks that they know 'Brad' or 'Anjelina' without having any real relationship with them. It involves a careful system of branding and marketing, supported by formal and informal mechanisms, from literary agents to PR departments to promotional agencies, all geared towards the marketing, promotion, and protection of the brand. The result is that a pastor's power and influence are intentionally enhanced and expanded while accountability is in practice detached from a proper ecclesiastical body. In this sense, I appreciate Kevin's concern about the term but I think 'celebrity pastor' remains a very useful concept because it highlights a particular category of person who currently holds influence in sectors of the evangelical church.
Second, the criticism of the silence of the leadership of the YRR (certainly in the form I have made it) is not a claim that nobody in the YRR has spoken up. Nor is it merely a claim that none seem to speak up in a timely fashion, though I believe that claim, if made, would be fairly easy to defend. It is a claim that none of the very top leaders, the really big movers and shakers in the Reformed evangelical world, the men who are known for their strong opinions and who are typically very quick to speak, have spoken up in a clear, transparent, timely, specific, and decisive manner on the big issues and the big personalities that have challenged the movement internally, from the Jakes fiasco to more recent events. That claim seems to me to be perfectly reasonable and, indeed, incontestable.
I am grateful to Kevin DeYoung for the timely reminder that we must all examine our hearts when offering criticism of others. That is a convicting point. I would submit, however, that the YRR does not at this point look sleazy to outsiders because of the sinful motives of the critics of celebrity pastors but because of the sinful behavior of celebrity pastors. Until the movement accepts that and does something to change its own culture, more and more scandals are likely to follow.
About twelve months ago, I was invited to start writing for the magazine, First Things, which was founded by the late Richard John Neuhaus and which continues to offer critical comment on the intersections of religion, culture, and politics from a broadly conservative perspective. Later on, I was honoured to be asked to join the online team, which includes not only Roman Catholic writers such as Robert George and but also Protestants such as Collin Garbarino.
Thus, when George Marsden's new book on the collapse of the Enlightenment project in modern America came in to Ref21 for review and I was asked who would be a thoughtful and provocative person to review it and the name of Rusty Reno was suggested, I thought it an excellent idea. Rusty is the editor of First Things, a thoughtful Roman Catholic writer, and someone well-known for his astute commentary on politics, religion, and society in modern America. It is thus a distinct honour and pleasure to point readers to his review. Rusty is a scholar and theologian, series editor of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, but he is is also a graceful and thought-provoking advocate of conservative thought.
Have no fear: Ref21 remains as madly Protestant as ever. But we know great writing and excellence when we see it. Thus, we are delighted that Rusty agreed to step into the Lion's Den.
Logos has today launched a set of Reformed base packages. For those who do not use Logos products yet, I can highly commend them. Not only do they help cut down the amount of shelf space needed for all those tomes which the rest of your family simply find annoying, they also offer amazing access to a wide variety of key sources.
The advent of the Reformed packages makes available some standard works in a new convenient form and, in some case (e.g., Vos's Dogmatics) some works for the first time.
Here are some the most important ones in these latest products:
Some of the key resources are:
Calvin's Commentaries (46 vols.)
Crossway Classic Commentaries (25 vols.)
Preaching the Word Commentaries (26 vols.)
Early Church Fathers Protestant Edition (37 vols.) (edited by Philip Schaff)
History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (5 vols.)
History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin (8 vols.)
Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 vols.)
Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.)
The Works of John Owen (24 vols.) (Includes Owen's 8 vol. commentary on Hebrews)
The Works of Charles Hodge (29 vos.)
B. B. Warfield Collection (20 vols.)
Select Works of Geerhardus Vos (14 vols.)
The only English translation of Vos' Reformed Dogmatics (5 vols.) (only available in Logos)
Louis Berkhof Collection (15 vols.)
I recently finished some work on Martin Luther. Of course, Luther is not Reformed but my project did allow me to test the Logos edition of Luther's works in terms of its helpfulness for research purposes. The search engines, the facility for collecting together key quotations, the capacity for having multiple works open on the screen at one time, and to cross reference them, was a real boon. I still prefer paper on the whole, but I simply could not have done what I did on Luther without the use of this software.
Jim Garretson's wonderful new book on Samuel Miller and the pastoral ministry is on sale at half price this week at the WTS Bookstore. And let me at this point say, with hands on heart, that the fact that the two managers are both members at Cornerstone, and one serves on session with me, in no way biases me towards plugging their stock on Ref21.
This week we did something slightly different for the Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit. In line with that vital rule of private eyes and historians -- 'Follow the money' -- we did the show undercover in a Christian bookshop. Looking at the shelves in such an emporium gives an excellent idea of what sells; and what sells gives an excellent idea of the health of the evangelical church. All went well until the manager called security. Plus, as you can see, Aimee, despite the best attempts of Todd and myself to cheer her up, was not best pleased that her award winning book, was not on prominent display. Clearly, she should find a better agent and hire a sharper marketing company.
When I raised the 'celebrity pastor' issue a few years ago, my primary concern was the distasteful self-promotion and the cultivation of cults of personality which it seemed to involve. The first time that I caught serious flack for this was when I mentioned an incident where a group of European churchmen was evicted from the VIP seating at a conference to make way for some young folk. I well remember a conversation with one of the organizers shortly thereafter when, having declined an invitation to be part of the next gathering (and thus find myself standing inside the tent, as President Johnson would have said), I was told that I needed to understand that the only thing that would be changed as a result of my article was the VIP nomenclature for the seating. In retrospect, that reaction was pregnant with significance: the critics were to be treated as the problem, but the band was to play on.
We have come a long way from discussions of seating nomenclature and the issue of self-promotion as a merely distasteful thing. The Elephant Room demonstrated that the big names with dollar power, if they could not quite get away with doing what they wanted, could certainly be sure that nobody of any public stature in the reformed evangelical movement was going to call them publicly to account, whatever disciplinary deals were brokered behind the scenes.
More recently, we have witnessed the plagiarism/ghost writing debacle and now the use of not-for-profit money for market manipulation. The sums involved dwarf many church budgets and indicate the disconnection between the showcase pastoral talent and the everyday experience (and financial circumstances) of most pastors. Perhaps most disturbing is the way in which we also seem to be living in our own version of that final scene of Animal Farm. The language being used by the church regarding its behavior ('it is not illegal,' 'it was unwise,' 'mistakes were made') is obviously parasitic on the venal patois developed by secular politicians caught with their trousers down.
All of this is old news. But here is the rub: If there are people out there who still believe that there is such a thing as reformed evangelicalism as a trans-denominational movement, if they believe that this movement will play a key role in the future of the church, and if they believe that they are important leaders in this movement, then they need to speak directly, clearly, and firmly to precisely these issues. You cannot be a leader without leading publicly on the major issues and major personalities of the day who impact your movement and your chosen constituency. It is not enough to say 'That person is no longer one of us' when you helped to create a culture in which accountability is not transparent and where your public silence encouraged the big names to think they could do what they wanted and not be held publicly to account. That is where today's problems started.
That accountability question has always been the Achilles' Heel of the evangelical parachurch movement. Now that there are huge sums of money involved, that question is far more pressing and yet far more complicated than ever before. We who are associated with the so-called reformed evangelical movement, whether because we want to be or because others just make the connection, now look as corrupt and worldly as the despicable televangelists of a previous generation.
Part of me thinks that, if the early warnings had been seen as significant for something more than the nomenclature of the seating at the big venues, perhaps things might be different today. Maybe we might have a culture where bad behavior is publicly called out by the movement's leaders, no matter how significant for ticket sales the person at issue might be. But I think the game back then was more to do with sending signals about who counted, where patronage was to be found, and who needed to know their place and keep their mouths shut.
You know society is in trouble when the politicians start stooping so low that they begin to adopt practices akin to those of celebrity megachurch pastors in order to inflate their cultural share price. I knew politics was a dirty, desperate business. But that dirty and desperate? Oh dear. Oh dear me.