Go Away Pastor Tullian And Give Us A Chance to Miss You

Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham with the funny name, was pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Miami, Florida until 2015 when he resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair.

Tchividjian is back.  He has written a blog post along with Chad Bird, a former pastor who likewise committed adultery, in which he calls upon Christians to extend forgiveness to disgraced leaders.

Here are some choice quotes:

The grace of God is not reserved for the “well-behaved.” Yet that is the message we send every time the word “fall” is used in reference to someone who is by nature already fallen. These people are sinners, just like everybody they ever led. That doesn’t justify destructive behavior, diminish the sting of consequences, or minimize the harming effects of destructive choices. But if we’re only okay with preaching grace in theory, but not when someone—even an esteemed leader—is actually in need of it, then perhaps we should all take a sabbatical. As someone once said, “People love it when preachers say they are broken just like the rest of us, until that preacher does something that the rest of us broken people do.”

…It is anti-Christian to remember people primarily by the scandalous things they’ve done. We love to whittle an entire life-story down to a single season. Then, with the authority invested in us by the state of self-righteousness, we proclaim, “This, and nothing else, is who you are.” But the truth is, all of us (including disgraced Christian leaders) are more complicated than the singular narrative by which most people identity us. We have done very bad things, very good things, and plenty of cocktails of them both. Sadly, most people remember only the bad. Thankfully, we have a God who remembers only the good. And the only good he remembers is the good that Christ has done for us, in us, and through us. So, if we want to reduce our life story down to one adjective, if we want to whittle our biography down to a single word, then let it be this: Beloved.

…If the church truly wants to stand apart from the world, it will stand alongside those who have been disgraced. It will risk being falsely attacked as “soft on sin” because it knows how hard life is when guilt and shame are one’s only companions. Rather than shooting its wounded, it will pick them up and carry them to safety, to rehab, to repentance, to whatever it takes to make them whole again. While the world drinks itself drunk on outrage of every kind, the church will exercise outrageous grace and scandalous mercy that doggedly refuses to give up on those ensnared by evil. In other words, the church will be exactly the kind of church Jesus established. Not a gym for spiritual muscle flexing but a triage for the wounded, where moral insurance isn’t checked at the door, but all are welcome and treated, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.

Okay.  I am with you on that.  As the Church, we talk a great game on grace but are largely AWOL when it comes to showing actual grace.  As Michael Spencer would say:

“Amazing Grace” may be the church’s favorite hymn, but I’m not the first person to notice that the subject of God’s actual grace seems to give many Christians a case of hives. Singing about it is way cool. After that we need a team of lawyers to interpret all the codicils and footnotes we’ve written for the new covenant.

That should not be.  The Church should be a place where people are scandalized not by sin but by the forgiveness shown to sinners.  If you are truly dealing in grace then there will be no shortage of voices saying that you are soft on sin.  And you never said, and you made it clear you were not saying, that grace and forgiveness involved restoring fallen pastors to their former positions.

BUT…

You don’t get to go around waving forgiveness in the faces of family, fellow pastors, former congregants, and others impacted by your poor decisions, while continuing to build your brand and profit from your story/ministry.  That’s not how this works.

At this point your calling is to quietly and humbly receive the scandalous grace God has extended to you, and to–quietly and humbly–walk the path God has laid before you, working quietly and humbly for restoration of the relationships damaged by your poor decisions, to whatever extent that is now possible.

I now live with ghosts because a beautiful young woman whom I liked a lot and wished to go out with could no longer feel safe or comfortable in my presence after I expressed that to her.  That is the path God has given me to walk at this time.  That is hard enough.  I can’t imagine what it must be like for you–you had a wife and a family and now you have lost all of that.

But that is your path to walk, and walk it you must.  Quietly and humbly, before God and the community of faith where he has placed you.  You don’t get to put this part of your journey on blast for all the blogosphere to see, building your brand and driving sales of your book (I have a copy.  I got it back in happier times before all this broke).

Just go away and let this part of your journey be between you and God and your faith community.  Go away, and give us a chance to miss you.

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Michael W. Smith Thinks He’s Going to Spark The Next Great Awakening

I am not making this up.

Christian singer/songwriter Michael W. Smith apparently thinks he is going to spark the next Great Awakening.

I have learned over the years to cultivate a healthy skepticism towards anyone who claims that whatever event they are putting on is going to spark the next big move of God.

For starters, Michael W. Smith hasn’t graced the CCM top 40 in a decade and a half.  And he thinks his deal is going to launch the next big move of God?  Or is this just a way for him to get himself out there?

But here is the larger issue, and I’ve touched on this in prior posts.  We live in an age in which 81 percent of American evangelicals are completely and totally infatuated with a president whose message is the exact opposite of anything even remotely connected to Jesus Christ.  The black evangelical world has been rocked over the past few years by scandals involving prominent leaders in that world.  The Catholic Church has a grease fire on its hands because of a basic failure to protect its youngest and most vulnerable members.  Willow Creek, one of the most prominent churches in all of American evangelicalism, also has a grease fire on its hands because its leaders have taken a deny-everything-blame-the-victims-they’re-all-liars approach to handling allegations of sexual misconduct by its pastor Bill Hybels.  The SBC just escorted Paige Patterson, one of its longest-tenured and most influential leaders, out of the building because a pattern of wrongheaded counsel to women in abusive marriages and failure to report domestic violence made him too toxic to keep around.

What we have here is a basic failure of justice, a basic failure of love, a basic failure of Christlikeness that is pervasive throughout the American church, and especially evangelicalism.

To his credit, Smith seems to realize this.  Sort of.

“It all started with the Surrounded record, the worship record that I did. I just felt like, it has a lot to do with unity, honestly. It has a lot to do with justice,” Smith told The Christian Post earlier this month.

He referenced the Amos 5 in the Bible where God corrects His children despite their worship to Him.

“He (God) says ‘I’m tired of your sacrifices and I’m tired of your music.’ That really got my attention. He said, ‘Turn it off. I can’t stand it.’ He said, ‘You know what I’m looking for? I’m looking for justice to roll like a waterfall.’ And it rocked my world,” Smith revealed.

And yet what is he doing?  Planning a concert that is going to draw a lot of people and be broadcast on TBN this fall.

And that is supposed to launch the next big move of God that will right all the injustices in the American church and in our world.

Let me know how that goes.

Carey Niewhopf on Mediocre Churches

Today I give you this piece from Carey Niewhopf entitled “7 Signs Your Church Is Honestly Mediocre“.  This is representative of where a goodly portion of the leadership in evangelicalism is these days.  This quote encapsulates the gist of Niewhopf’s article:

When your church is mediocre, it should be no surprise unchurched people aren’t lining up to join you and that you’re not attracting and keeping the amazing leaders who might attend your church but don’t want to get involved because things are so sub-par.

…So, how do you know your church is mediocre? Here are 7 signs to look for.

1. You have non-singers singing and bad players playing
2. Bad Production
3. School Play Quality Live Streams
4. A Lame Website
5. Your Info Isn’t Current
6. You’re Resigned to This
7. You’re Afraid to Change

As Niewhopf develops each of these subpoints, it is clear that he is not calling for churches to go all big-budget and try desperately to live the sprawling suburban megachurch dream.  Instead he is basically asking churches to just take a look at things through the eyes of outsiders and make some simple changes if necessary.  For instance, he isn’t asking churches to go out and hire professional-grade musical talent, he is asking them to choose musicians who can actually carry a tune.

I get that.  There are lots of churches out there that genuinely struggle with the issues Niewhopf enumerates.  Many are powerless to do a thing about it without a lengthy business meeting featuring more violent deaths than a Game of Thrones episode.  Many of you have probably been in such churches at some point.  If I had been in such a church, I would be more sympathetic to Niewhopf’s point of view.

BUT…

We live in an age in which 81 percent of American evangelicals are enthusiastically and unashamedly enamoured of a president whose message is the exact opposite of anything even remotely connected to Jesus Christ.  The black evangelical universe is reeling from scandals involving T. D. Jakes, Eddie Long, and other prominent leaders in that world.  The Catholic Church has a grease fire on its hands right now because of a basic failure to protect its youngest and most vulnerable members.  Willow Creek, one of the largest and most influential churches in all of American evangelicalism, also has a grease fire on its hands because its leadership has taken a deny-everything-blame-the-victims-they’re-all-liars approach to handling allegations of sexual misconduct against its pastor Bill Hybels.  The SBC just escorted Paige Patterson, one of its longest-tenured and most influential leaders, out of the building because a pattern of wrongheaded counsel to women in troubled marriages and failure to report domestic abuse made him too toxic to keep around.  And over here we have John MacArthur waxing hypocritically about how social justice is the greatest threat to the Gospel while leaders from his Master’s University basically re-rape a rape victim and then respond with obfuscations and outright denials when she goes public with her story.  And let’s not forget the completely and utterly contemptible act of caging immigrant children separate from their parents, with which 81 percent of American evangelicals seem perfectly okey-dokey.

And Carey Niewhopf says the real problem facing American churches is…wait for it…mediocrity.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry people.  I just had to get that out of my system.

Haters Gonna Hate: John MacArthur on Social “Injustice”

Everybody’s favorite charismatic–and all-purpose–hater is at it again.  This time, it is the so-called social justice movement in evangelicalism that has found itself in John MacArthur’s crosshairs.

ICYMI:  John MacArthur dropped this little diatribe last week.  After a lengthy intro about his involvement in ministry during the civil rights era (who knew?), he comes to his point:

Evangelicalism’s newfound obsession with the notion of “social justice” is a significant shift—and I’m convinced it’s a shift that is moving many people (including some key evangelical leaders) off message, and onto a trajectory that many other movements and denominations have taken before, always with spiritually disastrous results.

Over the years, I’ve fought a number of polemical battles against ideas that threaten the gospel. This recent (and surprisingly sudden) detour in quest of “social justice” is, I believe, the most subtle and dangerous threat so far.

In MacArthur’s way of looking at things, social justice is the exclusive province of the godless liberal mainlines who are now withering on the vine.  Evangelicals are now inexplicably looking on with envy and adopting a fascination with this notion of social justice–as he puts it, the idea that one ethnic group must make reparation for the sins of its ancestors against some other ethnic group.  This smacks of law and must be resisted by all who are true to the Gospel, unless we as evangelicals wish to suffer the same awful end as the godless liberal mainlines who are all about social justice.

Reality check:  Evangelicalism has always been about social justice.  The Gospel has clear and inescapable implications for how you treat other people; thus evangelicalism has been at the forefront of the abolitionist movement, women’s rights movements, and other such movements in history both here in America and abroad.  To say that social justice is a “newfound obsession” requires a profound level of historical ignorance.

It also indicates that MacArthur’s understanding of the Gospel is way too small.  Of course it is legitimate to criticize culture war Christianity, and I will continue to do so vociferously.  That is because culture warriors, especially those on the right, adopt means that are contrary to anything even remotely connected to Jesus in order to accomplish ends that are supposedly connected to Jesus.  But that is not MacArthur’s beef.  MacArthur’s beef is with the very concept of social justice itself, which indicates that his understanding of the Gospel is blind to its implications on how we are to treat other people.  Jesus came to change the world, not just to assuage the guilt of individual consciences.

Wayne Grudem Says “BUILD THE WALL!!!!!!!!!”

Today I give you the latest offering from everyone’s favorite systematic-theology-professor-turned-Donald-Trump-hack, Wayne Grudem.

Evangelicals have long been in the habit of diligently researching/analyzing chapter and verse when the answer is staring you right in the face, and this article is an example of that par excellence.  Grudem argues that Donald Trump’s plan to build the wall is not only good and sensible but also biblical and therefore morally justifiable because the Bible speaks positively about cities with walls.

This is what passes for biblical thought/analysis in evangelicalism:  Identify the issue at hand.  In this case, a border wall.  Get out your Strong’s Concordance and look up every instance of the word “wall”.  Do a word study on the word “wall” in Hebrew and Greek.  Collate and analyze all the relevant verses and come up with a definitive statement of what the Bible has to say about walls.  Apply said statement to the issue at hand:  namely, should we build the wall?

I am something of a realist on immigration, and I actually think that much of what Grudem says makes sense.  I believe that lax immigration policies typically favored by those on the left are a luxury we simply cannot afford.  In our present economic state, we need a more skilled immigrant pool and many of those who come via the southern border are not a fit for that.  Improvements to the border fencing have long been discussed, and have actually been made in certain areas of San Diego and El Paso.  These improvements have improved the safety and security of those areas.  I will not argue with Grudem on that.

But sometimes it is possible to be completely right and yet completely in the wrong.  This is one of those times.

In this cultural moment, building the wall is the wrong thing to do.  The wall has been and is being used symbolically by our current president as a means to energize the worst elements of his base.  He is using this to pick a fight over something that had been a non-issue until he made it an issue.

Grudem’s biblical analysis fails to take into account that in our age, walls are a symbol of repression.  Walls have been built by repressive regimes to keep people out or to keep people in.  The memory of the Berlin Wall and all that it represented is still very much alive and well in our collective consciousness, even though it has (thankfully) been gone for almost three decades.

There may be good reasons for making improvements to the fencing along the southern border.  But in this cultural moment–when the wall has been seized upon as a symbol of hatred and repression and flung in the faces of certain people groups–people for whom Christ died, I feel compelled to note–by people who call themselves Christian yet believe the exact opposite as far as these people groups are concerned–building the wall is the wrong thing to do.  You don’t need chapter and verse for that.

When Saying Hi to a Homeless Person Becomes an Act of Political Defiance

Face it, people:  We now live in an age in which saying hello to a homeless person on the street is an act of political defiance.

What people who lived under repressive regimes, like Hitler’s Germany and what Donald Trump’s America is in the process of becoming, remember most is how their neighbors treated them.  When neighbors looked them in the eye and said hello and/or made small talk while passing them in the street, they felt safe and included, as if they belonged.  But when those same neighbors would avoid eye contact or cross over to the other side of the street to avoid passing them, they felt fearful, isolated, and vulnerable.  And with good reason.

So if you wish to protest the current regime, then say hi the next time you pass someone on the street who is different from yourself.  Someone whom the current administration, the madman in the White House and his jacked-up Neo-Nazi thug supporters, consider undesirable.  Show them that you do not consider them undesirable.  That is the surest way to push back against those who would turn us into a repressive regime.

Evangelicals: Just Shut Up About Sex Trafficking

My fellow evangelicals:  You have just forfeited every last shred of moral authority that you ever had to speak on the issue of sexual slavery/trafficking, which remains one of the greatest and most profound evils of our generation.

You just nominated Dennis Hof as the Republican candidate for a seat in the Nevada state legislature.  Hof owns a strip club and five brothels, and is the bestselling author of “The Art of the Pimp”.  What’s more, several women, including a former sex worker of his, have accused him of sexually abusing them.

Yet you supported him without even so much as batting an eyelash.  An influential pastor in Hof’s community closed his eyes and prayed, giving thanks to God when his victory was announced.  “We have politicians, they might speak good words, not sleep with prostitutes, be a good neighbor. But by their decisions, they have evil in their heart. Dennis Hof is not like that”, he said.

So just shut about sex trafficking.  You have nothing to say to anyone, anywhere, about this grave injustice.