Theology is one thing; Character is another

Over at First Things, a Lutheran pastor has offered a critique of Gerhard Forde's Lutheran theology and connected it to the recent fall of Tullian Tchividjian.  Mark Jones has offered a measured response at Reformation21.   Both articles make good points.  Tchividjian's understanding of Luther was historical and theological drivel, a montonous mess confected from cool soundbites.  Whether it played into his fall, only God and maybe Tchividjian himself know.  Certainly adultery is no respecter of theology or even of the correct interpretation of Martin Luther.

My problem with the whole Tchividjian debacle is akin to my problem with the Driscoll disaster.  Even setting aside theological issues, something was obviously wrong for quite a long time before the specific fall -- and would continue to have been wrong even if the public falls had never happened.  If Tchividjian had never betrayed his wife, the earlier questions about seeing him as some kind of evangelical leader would still remain, given the nature of his theology, the way he talked about his critics, and the model of ministry he represented. 

Tchividjian and Driscoll are both products of the way American showbiz aesthetics and values drive so much of the evangelical subculture. Style and swagger and soundbites -- and little else. And they both benefited from the fact that nothing immunizes one to accountability in America like success.  As long as you are successful, no-one calls you on your behaviour, no-one makes you answer the hard questions, and plenty of people are happy to use your name to sell tickets to their gig.  The tragedy is that good men are then allowed to go bad, and outright charlatans are allowed to continue with influence, with groups like TGC backing them until the public relations problems, not the obvious theological and accountability issues, render them too hot to handle -- long after others have been pointing out the obvious. 

The crises of the YRR are recapitulations of the crises of an earlier generation of televangelists, and the comparison I made years ago between the culture of the headline acts of the YRR and the creeps of the 1980s is sadly more apposite now than it was then.  They had their mischief mongers.  Well, looks like we have our equivalents, right down to the loyal camp followers who can never bring themselves to accept the consequences of the failure of their leaders.  Who could have seen that coming?  Well, just about anybody who looked at the branding, the twitter accounts, the swaggering, and the constant self-promotion of these people, and found themselves asking the questions 'Hang on a minute, where does Philippians 2 fit into all of this?' or 'What do these men's local elders think about that?'

Unless the culture of broader reformed evangelicalism in the US changes, the real lessons of these spectacular falls -- lessons which are not primarily theological -- will not have been learned and the phony will continue to be sold as if it were the real thing.