Lifeway's Curious Doctrinal Guidelines
October 28, 2016
My social media newsfeed lit up last night with a Christianity Today article covering the story that Lifeway has pulled bestselling author Jen Hatmaker’s books over her recent statement affirming homosexuality:
The Southern Baptist chain stated Thursday that the author’s statements “contradict LifeWay’s doctrinal guidelines,” and it has discontinued selling her books in its 185 stores or online. Spokesman Marty King said:
In the past, LifeWay Christian Resources published several resources with Jen Hatmaker. In a recent interview, she voiced significant changes in her theology of human sexuality and the meaning and definition of marriage—changes which contradict LifeWay’s doctrinal guidelines.
My newsfeed was divided between people who are celebrating this stance and who are upset over this decision. And I find myself annoyed over the whole thing. While I affirm that the Bible clearly shows that Christian marriage is between one man and one woman and that homosexuality is a sin, I still find myself scratching my head over Lifeway’s “doctrinal guidelines.” Why is Lifeway, or any of us, surprised at Jen Hatmaker’s statement?
Lifeway had no problem profiting from the sales many copies of her other books. In fact, their bestseller’s list tells me that they have low doctrinal guidelines when it comes to selling so-called Christian books. These books err on primary doctrines: who God is, the message of salvation, the word of God, and what the Bible says about man. And the books that are sold in the “women’s” genre can be the worst offenders. So those who read from Lifeway’s bestsellers of Christian books to women have already been conditioned to have a low view of God, a high view of man, and a distorted gospel. I have already opined over and over that Hatmaker has offended in these very ways.
So, I wonder, what are Lifeway’s doctrinal guidelines to a statement like this:
Consequently, I have heard more sermons, talks, messages, and lectures on Christianity than can possibly be impactful. I have spent half my life listening to someone else talk about God. Because of this history, I’ve developed something of an immunity to sermons. . . .
Teaching by example, radical obedience, justice, mercy, activism, and sacrifice wholly inspires me. I am at that place where “well done” trumps “well said.”
That is an interesting take on the preached Word and its effectiveness. We see from a statement like this one from Hatmaker’s bestselling book, 7, that for years Lifeway has been promoting a view that authoritative, transforming teaching is not from the preached Word, but from man’s actions. She could have taken an opportunity to teach about how faith without works is dead, that by participating in the ordinary means of the preached Word and the sacraments we are putting ourselves where God has promised to bless us in Christ, and how that should then produce the fruit of righteousness and good works as we are sent out into the world with the benediction. But since Hatmaker teaches a priority of our good works over receiving God’s Word to his covenant people, it’s no wonder that she would now proclaim that man gets to decide what is good when it comes to our sexuality. Why are we surprised?
Later in her book, Hatmaker shares a monastic practice called seven sacred pauses:
Each pause has a focus, and like Wiederkehr explains, “Each day we are summoned to be creators of the present moment. Artists know the value of white space. Sometimes what isn’t there enables us to see what is. Perhaps you are being called to the spiritual practice of bringing a little of the white space—of nada—into your workday. There in that white space you will find your soul waiting for you. Allow the anointing rhythm of the hours to touch and teach you each day.”
We should ask some discerning questions here. Does Scripture ever even insinuate that we need to find our souls? Are we to be taught by something as vague as anointing rhythms that we need to seek out each day? Are we to empty ourselves, creating a white space, in order to gain our souls? What does this even mean?
Over three years ago, I wrote an article after Hatmaker announced her “new tribe,” the IF: Gathering, again, asking some discerning questions. This movement aims to disciple women outside of the context of church. The language Hatmaker used in that announcement was full of red flags.
But Hatmaker’s doctrine on all these matters made it through Lifeway’s guidelines. I’m curious about how homosexuality is the marker of orthodoxy. What message are we really sending to homosexuals? We don’t care what our Christian authors teach about God and his Word, but we are going to take a stand when they start making statements about your lifestyle being acceptable---that’s where we draw the line.
I’m not only speaking of Lifeway here. This latest just illustrates something very bothersome---more than that---very dangerous. The reason I care about social issues and sexuality is because of my doctrine of God and salvation. I know that God is true and that he is good. I know that I can trust his Word and I know that he can change hearts and he can forgive the worst of sinners. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be bold in calling a sin, sin. But if we care about homosexuals, and if we care about anyone else, we will want them to hear the true gospel message. Hatmaker now proclaims to love homosexuals more than Christians who rightly say that they are living in sin. And yet her message to them will lead only to despair.
This is the same message she has been teaching for years.
We have got to care more about the teaching that is marketed to our churches. What is Lifeway really taking a stand for? If you are perpetuating the teaching of a higher view of man than God, don’t get righteous when it comes to the social issues, because it comes off as self-righteousness, not God’s righteousness.