Really Trueman? Only in America?

Thabiti Anyabwile

Who in their right minds would do a little "push back" with Carl Trueman???

Okay, there's my disclaimer.  Right up front: I'm not in my right mind.  This is crazy.  Really.  It's stupid.  He'd hate my saying it, but Carl Trueman is one really, really smart dude.  If I were sensible, I'd leave this alone and cave in to the fear of man.  I'd at least have someone read this before posting.  But I'm not in my right mind this morning.  Blame it on too much Caribbean sun.  But here we go.

I read with profit  a couple of Carl's recent posts about American celebrity pastor culture (here and here).  All his warnings are basically correct.  The heart is an idol factory, and it's happy to make idols of nearly anything--pastors included.

But c'mon Carl... this is a uniquely American phenomena?  Our waist-coat wearing brethren across the pond are immune to this, or more discriminating about this?  From what I can tell--admittedly a small sample compared to your more native knowledge of the land--there's as much hero-worship in England as the States.  And guess what?  The heroes our British friends worship are very often American pastors.  What does that tell us?  If we don't grow our idols at home we'll secretly import them from the Canaanites?  

When Keller or Piper or any of the "rock stars" (deplorable term) visit the U.K., people throng the meeting places.  If I peruse the evangelical blogs across the pond, they're filled with the same video clips of popular pastors, book reviews of the latest best-selling authors, and person-dependent "____ says" arguments that fill most American blogs.  

Your recent conference sounded refreshingly free of much of this, but I did wonder if there simply wasn't another kind of homogeneity and conformity at work--"We're the guys who aren't cool, who don't wear funky glasses, and who would never quote that guy."  Parts of the post sounded like we're making the "not-so-in-crowd" the new "in crowd."  

I'm with you in spirit--and to some degree strategy, as well--but I have a suspicion that laying this flatly at the doorstep of American evangelicals might suffer a bit from speck and log syndrome.  Or perhaps the grass always looks greener "back home." I don't know, but it seems a fairer appraisal warrants either condemnation of "hero worship" wherever it exists and/or more charitable judgment of American evangelicals.  For all our warts, I've yet to meet the person worshiping a conference speaker.  Respecting, appreciating, even being a fan ought not be confused with idolatry.  Surely we can esteem others--even esteem them highly--without being tagged and blasted with "hero worship"?

I'm greatly indebted to many of the conference speakers I have the privilege of hearing.  And I would gladly hear them any chance I get.  But I'm not worshiping them.  Nor am I denigrating the so-called "ordinary pastors" or unknown pastors that I also appreciate and regularly listen to.  Like most of you, I could name several faithful pastors who have at one point or another shepherded my soul and fed me spiritually that no one else is likely to know.  I love them all, respect them all, and gain much from them.  There's no "either/or" here.  Love and respect all the faithful brothers the Lord blesses you with, whether well known or plowing the fields in relative anonymity.  

I had the privilege of spending time with a faithful brother from Kent, England during the TGC conference.  He's leading a small congregation with all the problems that suggests.  He's also a Keller fan.  His assessment after the conference: "I don't know that I've ever been to a conference where I was both well-instructed and felt so full (of Christ).  I've been to conference where I've been instructed but not really full.  And I've been to conferences where I've felt full, but not very instructed.  I don't think I've ever been to a place where I received both."  I have to agree.  I felt the same way--"celebrity" marquee and all.

By the way, how many brothers do we know who are trying to be 'celebrities'?  Quite frankly, if we knew that or observed that in a man's character, wouldn't we be repulsed?  I can't name a man at the conferences I attend that I can say is self-seeking in that way, who wants the celebrity spotlight.  That's the real difference between Jerusalem and Hollywood "celebrity"--in Jerusalem no one is seeking the photo op and no one would really respect them if they were.  For that reason, isn't "celebrity pastor" a bit of an unnecessary slur?  Doesn't it suggest a motive that we'd have to question in these men?  A motive we ought to have some evidence of before we assign the tag?  

So this is a little friendly push back.  Give honor to those to whom honor is due.  Let's outdo one another in showing honor.  Give double honor to those who serve well in the word.  And let's at least be suspicious of the inclination toward what we might call "hero envy."  One has to wonder why there is so much protest over another brother being known to preach and teach God's word well, and people desiring to hear him. 

One last question: Anyone going to this conference?  If I were in the area, I certainly would!  I would love to hear Carl Truemanaddress these issues.  Really.  I'm in my right mind when I say that.