Results tagged “celebrity” from Reformation21 Blog

The shame of the cross

|

The Apostle Paul talks about not being ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16). He also encourages his co-worker Timothy not to be ashamed of Jesus or of Paul himself, when he is in prison (2 Timothy 1:8). I've often wondered how that kind of shame might manifest itself, both then and now in us (musing on it in my expositions of 2 Timothy 1, for example). Especially in a culture where we have celebrity atheists scoffing at Christianity because they say it's so petty, it's so trivial, it's so local, it's so earth-bound, it's so unworthy. How can a man dying as a criminal, nailed up on a piece of wood, naked before the crowds, be anything special or anything to me?

I think one reaction we sometimes have is to hide the shame and apparent powerlessness of the cross.  Many of us are tempted do it, for instance, intellectually.  We want to grasp the logic of God, to see behind what's going on at the cross and consider God's plan just in the abstract or the long term, and not in the blood and the guts and the pain. We even talk about "the atonement" or "the cross", in the abstract like I just did, as if it were just a concept, and not an horrific instrument of torture and barbaric cruelty.

But that is to miss something vitally important.  Seeing through the cross to what's behind it - focusing just on the mechanics of atonement - can be a way of avoiding looking directly at it, in all its weakness, ugliness, powerlessness, and silliness.  Sometimes our doctrinal defensiveness can be just another form of self-defence - if we can neatly fold the cross into a nice orderly framework of thinking, then it won't hurt us.  It won't challenge us.  We've got it sussed.

A true theologian of the cross has to look at the cross as it is, not look behind it.  The message of Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, Paul told the Corinthians.  But sometimes as Christians, although we know somehow that it's the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24) we don't like it, we don't want it to be weak and stupid.  We don't want people to think we are weak and stupid...

That's what was going on in Corinth I think. There was too much Corinth in the Corinthian church. They were far too interested in outward appearance.  After all, the word of the cross and the way of the cross was nonsensical in their environment.  Can you imagine the PR men in Corinth chatting it over with Paul?  "Not a good marketing strategy for your product, old boy, talking about a man dying on a cross.  Might work with some weak-minded folks who need a crutch and an inspiring example of suffering.  But not here in Corinth.  Gotta be more upbeat, old chap.  Go for the glory rather than the gory.  That'll work better here, according to our focus groups."

Which of course was exactly the strategy the devil had offered Jesus.  When he tempted him in the desert he offered Jesus all the glory, all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8), without a cross, without pain, without suffering.  But he chose a different way.  He turned down the chance of conventional power and influence when it was offered to him on a plate.  And he succeeded in winning our salvation and glory for himself, seated on a throne made of roughly-cut wood and smeared in his own bodily fluids. Nasty.

But the Corinthian idea of success, and too often the evangelical idea of success is measured in terms of worldly indicators isn't it?  Bums on pews (as we Anglicans sometimes put it), performance style/liturgical correctness, popularity, money, Twitter followers, number of franchises opened in the last 10 years, prestige of location, publishing deals. Are we so busy building marbled platforms for ourselves, that we've forgotten what the cross is really all about?

Revd Gatiss denies he is just giving out extracts from his new book The Forgotten Cross (published by Evangelical Press) as a way of raising awareness of this ideal Lent book or "Book of the Term" for small groups...

Celebrity and credibility

|
In exposing and critiquing the shallow culture of Western celebrity that too easily infiltrates the church of Jesus Christ, we must be careful not to allow that to become an equally crass dismissiveness of legitimately-earned reputation. Empty pomposity and unfounded adulation deserves to be lampooned. However, that can too easily become a pyrrhically satirical spirit in which almost any kind of authority, however legitimate, is mocked and decried. This necessary distinction has been brought home in recent days of travel. (And, it should be pointed out, before the recent resurgence of concern over Mark Driscoll, which seems nevertheless to prove an illustrative case. This post was sketched out several weeks ago.) The context was a conference at which the organisers were, it seemed to me, slightly disappointed with the turnout by way of comparison with past years. There were, they suggested, a number of reasons as to occasion and circumstance why that might have been. They graciously refrained from making what I thought was the obvious connection with the relatively low numbers, which was that they had invited me to preach. A little prompting brought the allowance that this was a possibility, but there was still a little disappointment that people who were willing to make significant investments to attend in previous years had not shown the same level of commitment in this year. My response was that, while recognising the hope that, under normal circumstances, a faithful church member will show commitment to his or her faithful church and its faithful pastor, regardless of who else turns up in town, a conference is a different environment. In such an environment, it is reasonable that men of worth, gift and character proven over time may and even should prove a more significant and legitimate draw than a relative unknown. This need not be a matter of celebrity drawing a crowd but of credibility providing a platform.

There are shooting stars in the professing church, men who erupt on to the scene, and streak across the sky in a blaze of glory. But their brightness is passing and their trajectory uncertain. For a while they are lauded, but there is no necessary track record of a valid life and productive labour. The man is measured often in terms of mere numbers, with people, sermons and books being counted rather than weighed. The assessment is largely quantitative rather than qualitative. As the lights begin to flash and the entourage begins to grow, others jump on the bandwagon, and before long Me Ministries Intergalactic has taken off, and those enamoured with and even seemingly hypnotised by an extravagant personality or a crafted reputation afford the big cheese whatever he demands, even if there is no real foundation for it. The result is a pyramid balanced on its point rather than its base, a great top-heavy structure teetering precariously on a man who, despite what may be an array of impressive reports (often generated by himself), is essentially unproven. There is celebrity but no credibility.

By contrast, one of the delightful things I sometimes see is churches of varying sizes, but often smaller rather than larger, where the elders of the church clearly have, in great measure, the hearts of the people, usually because the people clearly have the hearts of their pastors. Here is credibility at its most fundamental level, the proven character of the man of God validating his call and his ministry, winning the affections and the ears of the people he serves and the people that he is trying to reach. That credibility is obtained first of all, of course, in the domestic sphere, as the man demonstrates his fitness to shepherd the flock of Christ by his capacity to shepherd his wife and any children granted to his care.

Then there is the development of that credibility as the man, by dint of gifts granted and opportunities improved, obtains a measure of wider credibility in the local sphere. There he begins to be recognised as a man with a measure of wisdom, both given and cultivated, a believer with a growing experience of life as a man of God in a fallen world. Perhaps others start to look to him for counsel and leadership in a particular arena, geographically or ministerially. He is not a man who always has to have the last word but others start to look to him to give it. He chooses and weighs his words, and speaks, and others find them to be choice and to carry weight. He works faithfully, intensively and inventively, and his capacity for leadership becomes more apparent. There is a measure of giftedness in or fruit from his labours that again commends him in the eyes of those around him. His development of Christian character keeps pace with these opportunities, and he brings a savour of Christ with him as he goes, bringing credit to his Master wherever he is.

Perhaps further opportunities are provided. There may be chances to invest on a slightly larger scale. Other churches may seek his input. If they are available, he may be given scope to preach at fraternals and conferences at a relatively low level. If he writes, his articles and reviews or posts may provoke invitations to develop some theme into book form. Perhaps his intellectual gifts open doors to teach. Again, that may develop further until he is given a sphere for service not afforded to other men starting out or showing different or less God-given capacity.

A few short-term, sudden or stunning achievements, reported or even real, are no substitute for long-term labours of proven worth. Few men of lasting substance have been mere flashes. Someone like Spurgeon is sometimes held up as a man who erupts on to the scene and creates a monumental stir, a model for the progress of celebrity. But Spurgeon earned his spurs as a Sunday School teacher, as a travelling preacher sent out under a measure of authority, as the hardworking pastor of a small village church, and - many forget - as the man who not only took but held his station, risking his own life repeatedly, when a cholera epidemic swept through London during the early years of his ministry there. To be sure, he was unusually gifted, and his curve of prominence unusually steep (and the two may be connected), but he was also a proven commodity, with credibility earned over time and in the furnace of pastoral labour.

Or - more scripturally - think of Timothy, and consider his track record. Here is a man who manifested a genuine faith which dwelt first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, and competent judges were persuaded was in him also (2Tim 1:5). From childhood he had known the Scriptures which were able to make him wise for salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ, the same Bible which was and for a long time had been thoroughly equipping him for every good work (2Tim 3:14-17). That is not to say that a godly upbringing guarantees or is necessary for such maturity, but it can offer something of a head start. That this was true in Timothy's case is suggested by the fact that when Paul found him at Derbe or Lystra, he finds a disciple "well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium" (Acts 16:2). Timothy subsequently receives instructions that when he helps churches to identify and appoint elders, he is to focus on the credibility gained from a man's good character, gifts taking a quite significant back seat in the saints' estimation and assessment of the man who would serve in their midst:
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Tim 3:1-7)
Toward the end we have the insistence of some kind of proven track record of this godliness of life, that the man be no novice, and - in addition - have a good testimony among the unbelievers. Timothy is no celebrity, but he enjoys a credibility grounded in his home church environment, developed and demonstrated in often thankless service, and obtained from good association with and definite commendation from other credible men.

Similar principles are at work in other portions of God's word. Apollos, already an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, shows himself humble and teachable in submitting to the private instruction of Aquila and Priscilla. Then, "when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him" (Acts 18:27). Here again is a man whose gifts and graces, both on appropriate display, wins a commendation from a church of Christ, and its weight is felt by other wise believers. Or think again of Paul's readiness to commit responsibility to "whomever you approve by your letters," that he might "bear your gift to Jerusalem" (1Cor 16:3), possibly the same fellow as the unnamed "brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches," "who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift" (2Cor 8:18-19). Even in the matter of financial responsibility, a man of proven worth and character among the saints, a credible man, is sought. Similarly, Paul's faux-boasting is the boasting of worth tried and proven in the furnace of affliction and not the parading of prominent public giftedness without any spiritual substance. When he deals with the Thessalonians he emphasises that these men and women knew "what kind of men we were among you for your sake" (1Thes 1:5), going on to describe in detail the kind of character that had been credibly demonstrated among them, the firm ground upon which he stood to plead with and instruct the church (1Thes 2:1-12).

Those of us who set out to root out from the church the weeds of celebrity should be careful lest we also pull up the plant of credibility. Indeed, the very platform from which we set out to speak to the issue is - or should be - the platform of credibility. Destroy that, and we destroy something good and necessary in the church, something appointed and designed by God to obtain and maintain a hearing for the gospel. When we roam the interweb, for example, it ought not to be the self-appointed airbags that we heed, but the men and women whose praise is in one, some or all of the true churches of Jesus Christ, earned over time by the steady accumulation of genuine credit and spiritual authority in some particular and well-established sphere of labour (and not simply a chain of mutual celebrity endorsements).

So, there will be men who attract a larger crowd. Put their picture on the website and their name on the flyers and people will come to hear them. The questions should be, "Why and on what basis?" Is it for reasons of quantity alone, or of quality also and even primarily? It is appropriate, even right, that men who have earned a good reputation by serving the Lord consistently and faithfully over years in some particular place should be more readily and eagerly heard than the latest tyro on the scene, even giving legitimate weight to distinctive and potentially unusual measures of gift and ability and the appearance of blessing upon a man's labours. Is a man to be heard on account of the temporary glamour of the celebrity spotlight and a platform built on the crumbling sand of shallow human adulation without any good reason? Or should it be the lasting glow of credibility of character and proven godliness that wins the ear, the platform established on the solid ground of faithful service, identified and owned by recognised and recognisable judges with demonstrable credibility and spiritual authority of their own? The former comes quickly but collapses rapidly. The latter will almost by definition not be pursued, may take years to build, if it comes at all, but will more likely ensure that the platform will not be swallowed up by scandal or error, potentially causing collateral damage on a grand scale. Let celebrity wither and die, by all means, but let credibility have its proper and God-given place.

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!
Not wanting the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals to be painted as ever saying a negative comment of another or depriving one of their moment as a celebrity, I strongly urge Carl to select and forward to the staff for immediately posting a suitable photo of Paul for use on reformation21!

The free offer of the gospel

|
Not long ago, I received a very generous offer. One of the current glitterati of the evangelical scene was going to be preaching, and I was invited to go along and hear him speak . . . in person . . . for free.

I must confess that, living as I do in the UK, I was not able to take up this very kind proposal, but I was certainly perturbed by it. I recognise that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel, and that there is a responsibility for those who make such plans to take account of the fact that the labourer is worthy of his hire. I also recognise that many men and the organisations with which they are associated make a phenomenal amount of high-grade material available free of charge. I appreciate that many of these men do minister regularly in a congregation which they faithfully serve. I know that many of these prominent men have a desire to equip others to serve, and I am grateful for that investment. I would like to think that this was, in some measure, an aberration, and not the idea of the gentleman in question.

But has it really come to the point where a chance for us underprivileged to hear the Great Ones speak in the flesh without having to pay for it is worth advertising as some kind of bonus? Is there a tacit admission that usually you will need to fork out for this kind of privilege? Does this 'incarnational' ministry (you know, the one where they actually walk among us) now come with a price as standard? Are we so in thrall to men that the opportunity to see and hear one of our demagogues without having made our deposit first counts as an event?

The cult of celebrity and the elevation of the conference over the church seems to be taking ever deeper roots. While appreciating the dynamic of a gifted man with a reputation for insight and competence drawing others to hear him - "Come, see a man who told me all things that I ever did" (Jn 4.29) springs to mind - there is a danger in our case that the attraction becomes the vessel rather than the treasure. Indeed, the more the pot cracks, the greater the visibility and the more evident the splendour of that which resides within. The better encouragement ought to be to come and hear Christ preached rather than to come and hear this man who, by the way, preaches Christ. We are trying to play God's game by the world's rules. Besides, outside of our narrow little world with its shoddy little celebrities, these names mean nothing. It may be different in other places, but where I live advertising a meeting at which some evangelical guru is going to be speaking simply fails to float the boat of the man on the street. Inside we may be sweaty with applause and greasy with adoration, but outside they could not care less. We get a gang of fan-boys within and a careless crowd going about their business without. And even if we could somehow stir up interest in the man, do we not thereby begin to fall into the error of the Corinthians, in thrall to their superapostles?

In real life it requires the earnest labours of the unknown evangelists to press home the need of salvation in dependence on the Spirit to awaken an appetite to come and hear, not first and foremost a man, but a message of life and light and hope for those lost in darkness. Our call ought to be not so much, "Come and hear So-and-so preach Christ," but rather, "Come and hear Christ preached." That is the route to greater spiritual health. You might tell me, for example, that a man like Spurgeon could be lampooned as one of the great draws of the age, his name a surefire way to gather a crowd. Yes, but on those occasions when Spurgeon urged all the regular members of his congregation to stay away in order to give others an opportunity to hear the gospel, the Metropolitan Tabernacle filled up even more quickly than usual, and many were turned away for lack of space. I acknowledge that you cannot entirely separate the man from his message, but I suggest that this indicates not just the nature of the reputation but where the true power lay. Let it be known that the Great Ones of our day are preaching Christ to any who wish to hear, and how quickly will the building fill? We have a long way to go.

If we are going to put our top men on this gospel thing, could churches not more often give opportunities for them to exercise their gifts on the front line without us and others needing to pay to hear Christ proclaimed in person by the best - or, at least, most famous - we have? After all, don't we believe in the free offer of the gospel?