Evangelicalism's Last Taboo

It was bound to happen. Sooner or later, Carl and I would violate one of the vague rules of evangelical decorum.

In a recent edition of our humble little 12 minute podcast, The Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit, Carl Trueman and I critiqued comments made by two mega-church pastors at a recent conference. Some of the things these two pastors said were, to us, troubling at best. Actually, in comparison, the response Trueman and I offered ought to be considered quite uncontroversial. And I suppose that would be the case if evangelicalism weren't such a vaudevillian sideshow.

Certainly, with a title like "Mortification of Spin" Carl and I are not aiming to discuss the merest sort of Christianity upon which everyone from Oprah to Fred Phelps may agree. From time-to-time we are willing to grab hold of some of the "third rails" of contemporary evangelicalism.

Don't misunderstand. We are not looking for opportunities to offend. We also have no desire to be controversial for the sake of controversy. But the boundaries of what it means to be evangelical have been pushed out so far that to even speak about why Jesus died gets one into hot water with the keepers of the big tent.

There have been some well-meaning brothers who believe the critique Carl and I offer on the above mentioned podcast was "irresponsible and damaging," that we should have had a conversation with these two pastors and we would likely have found that we "land on the same theological page" with them. To be fair, it was also pointed out that if the two pastors mentioned were truly guilty of "heresy" then indeed they should be called out.

Where to begin? First, it seems odd to label as "irresponsible and damaging" a critique of counsel offered to pastors that was itself irresponsible and damaging. Their counsel both diminished the sufficiency of Scripture and the role of preaching, and indicated that men and women ought to find God "on their own." Second, the "have a conversation with them" line of reasoning is, biblically speaking, unnecessary. These two pastors are highly visible men making public statements. The correction therefore ought to be public. Third, I don't see how we would end up on "the same theological page" since it is their theology with which we disagree. Finally, heresy is a technical category that is decided by church councils. But correction is not to be reserved only for those guilty of heresy. In addition to heresy, there is error. It is possible, indeed common to be in error (a bad thing) without being guilty of heresy (a worse thing). I hope that the church cares enough about God's truth that we will correct error before it becomes heresy.

In an age when being nice is the highest virtue, publicly confronting error from a well-known Christian is perhaps the last taboo in contemporary evangelicalism. I am a pastor. I write things that a very small number of people here and there read. I say things that a relatively small number of people hear. If I write or teach something that is in error it ought to be corrected. In fact, if my brothers turn a blind eye to error in my teaching then they have done a disservice to the church.

Finally, I would like to humbly offer one more word of explanation for why publically identifying public error is necessary. For pastors who have or are seeking to have wider influence through preaching and writing please carefully consider if the wider church needs what you have to offer. If you write books I assume that you would like people who attend the church I serve to buy your books. I'm a capitalist so I don't begrudge you that. If you go to the trouble to write a book or gather a large audience to hear you speak then I assume you are seeking buy in (so to speak) from people in other churches. I am highly in favor of good books and good teaching for the wider church. In fact I recommend loads of books. However, I also have the responsibility to protect the men and women I serve from errant preaching and writing to which they have access. I would expect you to have no less of a sense of obligation to your own church.