Results tagged “Celebrity pastors” from Reformation21 Blog

The worship of men: an old problem

Some of us are fond of bemoaning evangelical celebrity culture as largely the product of a church too much tinged with the spirit of the age. A few weeks ago, Michael Haykin was kind enough to let me see a brief pamphlet from 1645, entitled Anthropolatria; or, the Sinne of Glorying in Men, especially in Eminent Ministers of the Gospel. The author is one John Tombes, for whom I have a soft spot because, despite (as far as I know) communicating all his life as an Anglican, he gloried in the reputation of an antipaedobaptist. What he would make of the current debacle with the Anglican approval of women bishops I should love to know.

But, my friends, do not any of that put you off, one way or the other, nor the fact that he spells like Paul Levy, for Tombes in this pamphlet speaks good solid sense. He deals with the sin (or, sinne) of the evangelical celebrity culture afflicting seventeenth century London. His way of dealing with it suggests that - while certain times and circumstances may well lend themselves to such a sin - it is a perennial problem arising from the human heart. I read through the pamphlet while away in Australia, and found it coinciding with and illuminating other thoughts that may appear here in due course, but I give you some of the essence.

We would do well, I suggest, to consider this matter carefully, both in terms of our own appetites for ourselves and our offerings to others. Both of these are important, because Tombes would have us understand that the problem is often not primarily in the teachers and preachers themselves, even those of the "Look at me while I make a big deal about my humility in telling you that I am not worthy to be looked at so wonderfully exhorting you to look away from me at someone else" school of preaching. The problem lies more in the hearts of the hearers - in mine and in yours. I do not remotely believe that this problem is restricted to any particular circle. Indeed, those who boast in their orthodoxy are often as prone to this as any others. There is no sphere where it cannot raise its ugly head, and some of those who most readily hurl their thunderbolts against others are lauded by their own followers with the same kind of mindless adulation that they criticise in their targets.

Tombes defines the problem in this way:
And so to glory in men, is to glory in other men, whom we conceive to have singular excellency, and ourselves to have some proper interest in them, or relation to them, and accordingly to boast of them, and the conceived property we have in them. Thus men glory in their Ancestours, Princes, Generals, Teachers: And the glorying in this last sort of men particularly as Teachers or Preachers of the Gospell, is here forbidden, as the occasion of this precept shewes. (4)
He goes on more carefully to define his terms, and then asks and answers the following question:
But what then is the glorying in the true Teachers here forbidden?

To this I answer, 1. Negatively, 2. Affirmatively. Negatively I say, 1, That it is not the magnifying of the Apostles above other Ministers, by ascribing to them an eminent, and extraordinary authority in assuring us of the will of God, and in establishing the Churches. . . . 2. That it is not the giving of that regard to the true Teachers, which is due to them as Ministers of Christ. . . . 3. That it is not the proper love to esteeme of, and rejoycing in some as our fathers in Christ, as the Apostle calls himselfe, 1 Cor. 4.15. . . . 4. That it is not the desire of having, or rejoycing that we have men of best gifts . . .

Affirmatively I say, here is forbidden inordinate glorying in men which are Teachers, and this is [sic] sundry wayes; 1. When some Teachers are gloried in peculiarly, as if they were the only Teachers worth the hearing, none else to be regarded. And that this is the speciall branch of glorying in men here forbidden is manifest from the Apostles reason why the Corinthians should not glory in men: because all were theirs, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas. It may seeme that some of them accounted Paul the only Teacher, for his singular knowledge in the mystery of Christ, of which we reade, Ephes. 3.3, 4. Some delighted only in Apollos, because of his eloquence, of which we reade, Acts 18.24. Some magnified Peter, as non-paril, whether by reason of his fervency and zeale, or his seeming dignity among the Apostles, which seems to be intimated, 2 Cor. 12.11. Gal. 2.9. Now this branch of inordinate glorying in men, the Apostle doth studiously forbid, as considering that this was the egge out of which their contentions were hatched, and perhaps foreseeing that in time, out of it would spring Prelaticall greatnesse, and Antichristian tyranny; therefore the Apostle forbids this, 1 Cor. 4.6. that they should be puffed up for one against another: so it is usuall for hearers to take an inordinate affection, to have an inordinate esteeme of some Preachers, and thereupon to count them theirs, to glory to be their followers, disdaining all others as not to be named with them, though Teachers of truth: because they have an high conceit of their learning, wit, eloquence, holinesse, or the like quality. 2. When the so-magnified Teachers, are esteemed not as servants to a higher Master, but as Masters themselves. And that this it was with those Corinthians, it may be gathered in that the Apostle doth so diligently admonish them to looke higher then [sic] himselfe or Apollos, that they might not esteeme them authours of their faith. Thus 1 Cor. 1.13, he expostulates with them, Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified with you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? And chap. 2.1, 5. When I came to you, I came not with excellency of speech or of wisedome, that your faith should not stand in the wisedome of men, but in the power of God: and chap. 3.5, 6, 7. Who then is Paul? and who is Apollos? but ministers of whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man. I have planted, Apolos watred, but God gave the increase; so then, neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth, but God that gives the increase: and 1 Cor. 4.6. that ye might learne in us, not to think above that which is written. Now this sin is very incident to many hearers, when they admire some Teachers wit, eloquence, zeale, holinesse or the like quality, to ascribe their conversion, edification to them; to praise them superlatively, to assume their names, forgetting that they are but Gods instruments, and Christs servants, and that their graces come not from the abilities of the Teacher, but the power of Christ. Wherefore the Apostle, 1 Cor. 4.7. expostulates thus with these Corinthians: for who makes thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why doest thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? (7-9)
In one of his most perceptive sequences, he identifies ten "pernicious effects" that arise from this sin:
But the evill of this sin is most cleerely seen in the pernicious effects that are consequent upon it, which are many: As 1. it is a direct cause of schisms: . . .

2. The prohibited glorying in men, doth expose the Christian profession to obloquy and contempt, for whereas it is the honour of the Christian profession, that they have one body, one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptisme, one God and Father of all, Ephes. 4.5, 6. by the glorying in some Teachers afore others, the Christian society is made like the severall Schooles of Philosophers . . .

3. By glorying in men, as there is an over high esteeme of the guifts of some, so there is an undervaluing of the guifts of others: which thing as it is an unworthy abuse of those various gifts Christ giveth to his Church, so doth it inferred an injurious imputation to Spirit of God by whom they are bestowed. . . .

4. By the inordinate glorying in some, and despising of others, the despised persons are often discouraged and disheartened, to the detriment of the Church of God, and the grievance of the despised. . . .

5. By glorying in Teachers, it falls out that they are puffed up and perverted: much experience has confirmed this as true, that popular applause hath filled Teachers with vaine glory, and made them adulterate the word of God to please their auditors. . . .

6. This glorying in men, begets an aptnesse to receive their errours, to imitate their actions, which is the seed of heresies and superstitions: for admiration and doting love to a person, easily draws the admirers to a blind obedience, implicit faith in them, to an inslaving of their judgements, so as jurare in verba Magistri.

7. Adde hereunto, that this gloring [sic] in men makes mens endeavours remisse in things necessary, earnest in things vaine; that time and labour that should be employed in the maine duties of godlinesse, in seeking the advancement of Christs Kingdome, righteousnesse, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, is often bestowed in magnifying those in whom they glory, upholding their party, promoting their opinions: . . .

8. On the contrary, the word of God though soundly and truly delivered, is neglected, being either not heard, or without fruit, when it is spoken by such a Teacher as they affect not, but disdained, censured, contemned. . . .

9. By this meanes the rule of Christianity is changed; for whereas the rule and ground of our faith and obedience is the word of God as Gods word, through the addicting themselves to some mens authority, Gods truth stands at their devotion for its acceptance . . .

10. Lastly, They that glory in men, are either inconstant in their affections, as experience often shewes, they that one while would pluck out their eyes for him whom they magnifie, will at another time revile and hate him . . . (11-14)
Finally, he closes with a couple of applications, the second of which seems most apposite:
Application 2. In a serious dissuasive from this sin in these times, with some directions to prevent the infections thereof.
. . . It is an evill that usually doeth follow those Churches to which God bestowes excellent gifts, and worthy Teachers; . . . . But to what end is it [that God gives such blessings]? not that you should magnifie them, but use them to bring you nearer unto God, not to glory in the gift, but to rejoyce in the giver, reverence and make use of them, but reserve to their Lord his owne prerogative: may you not justly feare that God will take them away from you, when you give his due to them? (17)
As part of this application, he offers some suggested correctives for this sinful spirit:
1. Endeavour to have ample thoughts of Christ, his eminency, his fullnesse; the more high thy thoughts be of Christ, the lower will thy conceits be of men, the larger comprehension thou hast of him, the lesse wilt thou doate on his servants. . . .

2. Have a right esteeme of all true Pastours and Teachers as the Ministers of Christ, so the Apostle requires, 1 Cor. 4.1. Let a man account of us as Ministers of Christ, and Stewards of the mysteries of God, neither make more of them nor lesse. Heare them as messengers from Christ, not for their singular abilities, but for their message sake; respect them not only for their excellent wit and elocution, but for their faithfulnesse: note and retaine not only fine speeches, but every solid truth, that is from God, least while thou taste the dainty sawce, thou neglect the solid nourishment of thy soule; whoever he be that preacheth Christ truly, heare him gladly, and receive him respectfully for his Masters sake.

3. Make a fruitful use of the gifts of every true Teacher, get somewhat by all, and then thou wilt not glory in some, and disparage others; if thou didst profit by them, God should have glory and every Minister due esteeme. . . .

4. Lastly, Be well grounded in knowledge, and constant in practice of what thou hast learned: Have thy sense exercised in the word of righteousnesse, that thou mayest be able to discerne both good and evill, Heb. 5.14. and so thou shalt be fitted to profit by every godly Preacher, and inslave thy selfe to none, nor glory in man, but in the Lord. (17-19)
It makes you wonder what the blogosphere, to mention just one arena, might sound like if - for one week at least - every true Christian undertook to give themselves less to assaults on or defences of particular men and their teachings, and more to the exaltation of the great Giver of every such gift to the church. With apologies to Wordsworth, bliss would it be in that dawn to be alive, but its perfection would be very heaven!

Trueman Down Under

The recent issue of Ambassador magazine, of the Melbourne School of Theology, features our resident celebrity, Dr. Trueman. Nevertheless, he still has street cred: few celebrity pastors get the title "International Scholar." 

The Trueman Show (or, "In it to win it")

And so it has happened. Carl Trueman, Puncturer of Bubbles, has been invited into the celebrity cauldron of T4G to discuss celebrity. Quite apart from the obvious irony of having the cachet actually to sit on the same platform as "Lig," "C.J." "Al," "Mark," "Thabiti," and other one-name monsters, and perhaps even to breathe - at least temporarily - the same air, it seems to have been fun. We are looking forward to the video.

But it is, sadly, at this point, that I must rip the carpet out from under Trueman's feet: he has a Facebook fan page. It is so select that it is a closed group. Perhaps that means you have to be invited. It is so exclusive that only five people have been allowed to join it. That means that the countless thousands of others who long to lick the ground that Carl has walked on are kept at bay, having to be content with a distant view (from seat 487ZZ) of their demagogue in the spotlights at T4G, willing to give almost anything for the merest wisp of wool from one of those scholarly cardigans. And if that were not enough, the ultimate accolade approaches: I hear that a Trueman bobble-head doll is on the way.

As an aside, it is rumoured that Paul Levy, Trueman's alter ego, enjoys the attentions of the Paul Levy Appreciation Society, an underground network of thousands, organised in chapters through every country of the globe, all imbibers of the tenets of "Free Writing" (which is to coherent communication what parkour is to marathon running). They meet to extol the virtues of writing untrammelled by the restraints of grammar and unshackled from the chains of punctuation, all the while affecting a Welsh accent.

Anyway, while a more mischievous man than I might be tempted to set up an open fan-page with the sole intention of seeing if we can get 10000 ardent devotees of Mr T signed up and so forever ruin his credibility as a destroyer of celebrity, I leave you with this gem from the soon-to-be-released "at home with Carl" DVD: "The Truman Show is all the more noteworthy for its remarkably prescient vision of runaway celebrity culture and a nation with an insatiable thirst for the private details of ordinary lives." Or have I got something mixed up?

Trueman Christianity Today Interview

Carl Trueman weighs in on James Macdonald's exit from the Gospel Coalition over at Christianity Today. Also, see Trueman's latest Wages of Spin article and a review of Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshear's Doctrine. A busy day at ref21!

Trueman Exposed

Finally! For all of his clamoring against celebrity pastors, photographic evidence has emerged that unmistakably shows Trueman as that which he loathes. It appears from the photo below that the good Dr. knows quite a bit more about celebrity than he was willing to admit. To be fair, it further appears that Trueman managed to out-celebrity even the upper echelon of celebrity pastors, given the company he kept.

Carl-zeppelin- Take 3.jpg

The Forgotten Best Friend of Celebrity Pastors

In between (at times heated) discussions with my wife as to how we can come up with the 250 quid for the new Trotter conference (on top of the airfare) and prepping for our podcast ("Woman, be quiet about the quid. I don't have time for this! I have important people to meet and important things to discuss!"), I've been reading the famed phenomenologist Edmund Husserl for a seminar at Temple University. Husserl was the founder of the aforementioned philosophical school, in the Continental tradition. From the fecund soil of the venerable Dr. Husserl sprang the likes of everyone from Heidegger to Paul Ricouer. 

How is Husserl the forgotten best friend of celebrity pastors? Because they have all (unwittingly)  imbibed the spirit of this passage from Husserl's masterwork Cartesian Meditations:

The Objective world, the world that exists for me, that always has and always will exist for me, the only world that ever can exist for me - this world, with all its Objects, I said, derives its whole sense and its existential status, which it has for me, from me myself, from me as the transcendental Ego, the Ego who comes to the fore only with transcendental-phenomenological epoché (p. 26).

So whether it's the intentioned objects of phenomenology or your name strewn all over your three different webpages like wreckage from a bad turn at Lowe's Speedway, the self, the ego (not now in the technical Husserlian sense) is at the center. The only difference is that Husserl was adamant in his unbelief and was trying to make sense of the world apart from Christ. On the other hand, those who make themselves the centerpieces of a ministry and bully those who disagree with them can't claim Husserl's "excuse" when called to account. Theirs is a willful ignorance with Bible in hand.

A Hymn That Would Not Be Written Today

Reading (and watching) Dr. Trueman's posts the past couple of days regarding rock star pastor Perry Noble (a disgrace to my hometown area of Greenville, SC), coupled with Dr. Eglinton's excellent piece, reminded me of one of my favorite hymns by John Newton. In my estimation, it is a hymn that would (could?) not be written today.

For those who know a bit about Newton's amazing pastoral relationship with the famed English poet William Cowper, it may seem like the words of the hymn are straight from one of Cowper's episodes of "melancholy."  The words, though, are universal in scope, for any Christian who has walked with the Lord for even a modest amount of time can resonate with this hymn.

The words of Newton would not be written today because so many times, as Trueman has tirelessly (and thankfully) pointed out, we are a shallow, overfed, silly, and rootless people in the evangelical church. Yes, of course, this happens in the Reformed world - no glass house to protect here. But let us remember that Newton himself was reformed (and cared for the poor and raised a family and...well, you get the picture. His was a holistic ministry without all the modern day neo-social gospel baggage that comes with such a label). In fact, perhaps Reformed theology alone could be the fertile soil for such Biblical reflections in song.

Read these astonishing words of Newton's and make sure you're at a church where you know your pastor. You won't be asking him to sacrifice his family on the altar of the ministry by doing so (a false dichotomy if there ever was one); rather, you'll hopefully find a shepherd and a group of believers that suffers and has suffered well to walk with you when such suffering inevitably comes. Trust me, you won't be singing "Highway to Hell" when cancer hits or loved ones die or children wander or jobs are terminated. Indeed, you will be pleading for the wisdom of those older saints that were annoyed (and mocked) by men like Noble. Why? Because many of them know deeply and experimentally just what Newton means.

So may we all have the courage to ask the Lord that we might grow - even if it results in this:

I Asked The Lord

1. I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

2. Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

3. I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He'd answer my request
And by His love's constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

4. Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

5. Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

6. Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
"Tis in this way" The Lord replied
"I answer prayer for grace and faith"

7. "These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me."

©2004 double v music (ASCAP).
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A True Non-Celebrity Pastor Moment

There are at least two things that the world at large should know about the Rev. Dr. Trueman. First, he does not have fangs, does not make cuddly puppies run in the opposite direction, and shows signs of having smiled before. So much so is this the case, that, judging by my 4-year old daughter's reaction whenever she sees Dr. Trueman (shouts of joy, running to him after worship), I've been tempted to wonder if perhaps he isn't either (a) a celebrity pastor after all or (b) an astute American politician with a British ruse. 

Second, and despite protestations to the contrary, Trueman is no celebrity pastor (Dr. Thomas's prodigious Twitter following notwithstanding). The demonstration of Dr. Trueman's non-celebrity status, however, was nowhere more on display than yesterday's morning worship service. As the good Rev. ascended the sacred desk, he pulled out the sine qua non of the celebrity pastor - the ubiquitous iPad. I know, I know - the scandal is unbearable. One can almost hear the sniggers of "hypocrite" ringing in the halls of a meagchurch somewhere.

But what happened next demonstrates that such sniggering would be unwarranted. After ably reading the text, with the glow of the fabled device illumining his countenance and a few seconds pause, the good Dr. spoke to the people, "I'm afraid I can't find my sermon. I will hand my iPad over to my son to sort it out and preach from memory."

No legions of interns to assist the hapless technological troglodyte. No iPad backup fetched whilst the cameras for the big screen cut to a shot of a stunning ocean scene while "How Great Thou Art" echoed forth from the praise band. No,in the ultimate demonstration of un-hipness (in a fashion that would make Tower of Power smile), the middle-aged man hands off the "new-fangled" device to the tech-savvy son. How uncool! And, to top it all off, Trueman was wearing a suit while doing this. A suit! The writers for an ABC family series could not have scripted it better. Indeed, with this kind of device malfunction, I couldn't help but be transported to the Stonehenge scene of This is Spinal Tap.

So, while his politics may be a study in contradiction, his celebrity pastor status is not. Despite the appearance of one who secretly wishes to join the ranks of the multi-site, it was all too clear yesterday that Trueman is like us, after all: our gadgets outdo our competence. And you can't fake that.