New Evangelical Idolatory of Celebrity Pastors

There is type of idolatry attributed upon ‘Pastor Marc Driscoll’ by the lay Christians in the Evangelical circles. It is of a very subtle kind that is difficult to see it except in some egregious circumstances. Lo and behold, we just hit on one such circumstance. 

When we think of idolatry of Celebrity Pastors in the Christian circles, we think of Pastors who proclaim prosperity Gospel of the likes of Creflo Dollar. We do not think Marc Driscoll. Marc Driscoll is the complete opposite of the Prosperity Gospel preacher.

Interestingly, there is type of idolatry attributed upon ‘Pastor Marc Driscoll’ by the lay Christians in the Evangelical circles. It is of a very subtle kind that is difficult to see it except in some egregious circumstances. Lo and behold, we just hit on one such circumstance. The Christianity today article deals with this very comprehensively, makes a case for why this is fundamentally a problem of idolatry of Christian Celebrity pastors by lay Christians.

It all started when a radio program host asked Marc Driscoll if he had plagiarized in his book. Digging further it came to be known that Marc Driscoll hadn’t plagiarized himself, but that his ‘ghost writer’ probably did. That raised the question of how much of what Marc Driscoll writes is ‘ghost written’, apparently a lot. Marc Driscoll is not the only celebrity pastor who ghost writes, a friend of my friend ‘ghost wrote’ the book ‘Gospel According to Lost’ which was published by Pastor Chris Seay.

It raises a question of why a ‘Pastor’ a ‘Shepherd of the flock’ has to
‘ghost write’ in the first place, when we are to follow Jesus who did
not write anything at all. Of course, there is value in writing. Paul wrote, but they were his own words. It is today’s politicians who use ‘ghost writers’ to write their speeches, their proposals and their books. Why are Christian pastors taking a line from the book of the one breed of people who few trust, Politicians?

A BIG reason for this is the ‘Evangelical Industrial Complex’ – the big publishing houses that create a demand for books by pastors and then make profit on it. If someone blames the ‘golden goose’ of plagiarism, they have something to lose.The part time assistant producer of the Radio program which questioned Marc Driscoll about plagiarism was forced to resign over this issue.She said the ‘Evangelical Industrial Complex’ is more powerful than anyone realizes. The Radio host Janet Mefferd had to apologize and removed the interview, when a host of Christian writers have said mistake is on Marc Driscoll’s side and he needs to apologize about making a mistake, as honest as it may be instead of criticizing the interviewer.

This idolatry of making super star pastors is not the pastor’s fault. It is the fault of the evangelicals Christians who place such a high expectation on so few Super Star pastors. If we, the evangelical Christians, were to spend more time reading the Bible or spend more time studying the Scriptures using some ‘hard to read books’ written by ‘original thinking’ theologians who are the ‘true teachers’, then we wouldn’t be in this place where we expect ‘Super Star Pastors’ to churn book after book after book instead of performing their real job which is to be Shepherds who tend their flock.

The Conjuring: A Parable that Disturbs…

Evangelical Christians, as is normally the case, have rightly diagnosed the problem of obsessive demonology, but unfortunately the strategy evangelicals appear to be pursuing, of running a million miles in the opposite direction, suffers from the  mistake exchanging simplicity for a complex all encompassing worldview.

I normally do not like scary movies. I like movies that are a ‘parable’ which says something in a way that changes my outlook of life. I think most scary movies don’t fit into this parable model. But ‘The Conjuring’ is, I think, an exception. ‘The Conjuring’ is a movie that helps engage the Church and the culture with the scriptural Truths, as disturbing as it may be to some, about the reality of the supernatural.

Theological Enough for Hollywood
I liked Conjuring for multiple reasons
1. It is based on a true life incident.
2. It is based on the work of paranormal researchers (Ed and Lorraine Warner) who looked for rational explanations for the paranormal but also believed sometimes it is reasonable to believe in the reality of the supernatural.
3. If they sensed the supernatural was involved, then they resorted to the Catholic tradition of exorcism, (which I believe is more or less theologically sound). Of course, there were parts where the movie veered away from Christian principles of exorcism.

I want to expand a bit on point # 3 a bit. Here is one scene in the movie which I felt the movie accurately portrayed the Christian worldview.

At the beginning of the movie, Ed and Lorrine Warner interview a family that has experiences some weird stuff with their doll. They contend to Ed and Lorrine that the doll is demon possessed. Ed hears their story and then says something like, “the possession of the doll is only an illusion. What is really going on is the devil, if it is possessing something, it is you. Devils like to possess other living beings.” I believe this way of thinking ties well with the Biblical principles of demon possessions (there are some devils that have dominion over places Dan 10:13 etc… but that is a different topic). We see in the Bible that the Devil’s job is not just to tempt people to sin. We do see the Devil possessing people. We see Jesus exorcising them. We see Paul doing likewise too. I would suggest that some of us may be called to imitate Jesus and Paul on that (Matt 10:1,8, Mark 6:13, Luke 9:1, Luke 10:17).

The movie ends with a quote from Ed Warren which went something like this, “The world is filled with unseen forces… forces of good and evil… forces of light and darkness… the destiny of man depends on which force you elect to align with”. When I read that, I was in the movie theater praising God! You couldn’t get more theological than that… for a Hollywood movie, if you know what I mean.

A Vehicle Carrying Disturbing Truth that can Save
Here is what surprised me… when the quote was put up on the screen, I could distinctly hear people hissing, sighing aloud… Their hissing gave credence to the view that such Truths disturb people. I read umpteen movie reviews about how this movie is scary – don’t see it alone, will scare the underpants off, an uncommonly frightening experience. The fact of the matter is the movie in and of itself isn’t really scary at all. What scares people is the Truth depicted in and through the movie.

I know at least one person who told me he became a Christian after he saw the original movie classic ‘The Exorcist’. I have heard of others having similar experiences in coming to Christ. The basic thrust of such movies is not so much scare people into the arms of Christ as much as helps them realize the bigger Truths and bigger Realities (of the principalities and power of evil Ephesians 6:12) that they have been oblivious to. Such exposure to the Truth helps some people reorient themselves to the bigger realities of life that revolves around God and His goodness in overcoming evil. Movies can be vehicles of such disturbing Truth that can save people.

Truth is a powerful weapon. I am not alone on this view. Dave Mustine the Christian Heavy Metal legend, the founding-member of the heavy metal band ‘Metallica’ and later the founder of the heavier metal band ‘Megadeath’, who was originally into witchcraft and such, before he became Christian, talks about how he would cast spells on people when he was into into witchcraft. Towards the end of the video interview, Dave replies (presumably to a question from the interviewer if he was a dangerous guy when he was into witchcraft), “I am actually more dangerous now (after becoming a Christian)… because, I am armed with the Truth now”. Boom!!! You can see the video.

The Evangelical Christian Response: Fear, Suspicion and/or Indifference
What I was surprised by even more than the hissing of the (presumed) pagans in the movies, is the response to the movie on the evangelical Christian side. A Christian posted on Facebook that it was the most ‘uneasy disturbing’ 2 hours of his recent life. Other Christians commented empathizing with him. I almost commented saying, “Don’t we all worship Someone whose miracle workings involved exorcisms?”, but then I didn’t. I decided to write this post instead. As Christians, we shouldn’t fear these evil spirits or their manifestations. After all we worship the God who has bequeathed to us ‘His dominion and authority in the world’.

Then I was speaking with another friend over lunch and told him about my thoughts on the movie and that Jesus did not shy away from exorcisms, he encouraged his Disciples to exercise dominion over demons (Matt 10:1,8, Mark 6:13, Luke 9:1, Luke 10:17). Paul didn’t shy away from exorcisms either (Acts 16:16-18, Acts 19:13-16). My good friend said he belonged in the John MacArthur school of theological thinking where things such as exorcisms are view upon with suspicion. MacArthur’s position, as my friend stated, is that we are called to preach and teach the Gospel, not to exorcise. I believe this position is ‘very narrow’ reading of he Scriptures. Jesus commissioned us to sent people free which may or may not involve exorcisms. My friend replied, “I don’t disagree. But we need to be careful that exorcism shouldn’t become an obsession either”.

My friend had a valid point. Yes, it is true that we shouldn’t develop an obsession for exorcism. It is true that may be 0.00001% Christians are obsessed with exorcisms. But this does not mean that rest of the 99.99999% of Christians have to run a million miles in the opposite direction and not even talk or discuss or teach about demonology and exorcism. Unfortunately much of evangelical christendom chooses to forget that Christ taught his disciples about exorcism (Matt 17:18-20, Mark 9:28-29) out of fear that talking about it would cause people to misuse it or talking about it wouldn’t help the cause of evangelism, on the contrary, may even hurt it. Christ wasn’t reticent about exorcisms. Neither should we be. He did not sweep it under the rug. Neither should we. Christendom treating the topic of demonology with sheer indifference pays heavily for it. As C.S.Lewis says in ‘Screwtape Letters’, the key strategy of the devil is to make us believe he and his ‘minions’ do not exist. Anyways, isn’t is a pity when 99.99999% Christians become the foil for his strategy by being indifferent to it. (Of course, I love the ‘Despicable Me’ ‘minions’ as the next guy, just saying).

People of the Truth Who Embrace Complexity
Again, I want to stress the point that Evangelical Christians have good reasons to be suspicious of  potential for obsession of Christians about demonology. The culprit here is a character flaw that humans have, which is that humans crave simplicity. We see this craving for simplicity even in philosophy, from Greek Anaximenses who wanted to explain everything in terms of air to post modern Sartre who wanted to explain everything in terms of the absurd. Evangelical Christians rightly fear that if someone gets into exorcism, then they will explain everything in terms of demonology and miss the point of the Gospel. Evangelical Christians, as is normally the case, have rightly diagnosed the problem of obsessive demonology, but unfortunately the strategy evangelicals appear to be pursuing, of running a million miles in the opposite direction, suffers from the  mistake exchanging simplicity for a complex all encompassing worldview. Instead of embracing a complex world which involves a nuanced theology of demonology, creation’s fallen-ness and God’s sovereignty held in balance they want a simpler version where demonology is removed from the equation.

As my friend and Bible teacher Kemper Crabb teach in his class ‘The Revolutions’, as Christians we need to embrace the complexity of theology and hold a nuanced view of life that reflects Biblical worldview. Or as my other friend and Bible teacher Chuck Dotson would say, we should resist the tendency to put theology in small neat boxes with every looking perfect and tidy… nothing overflowing. NO! life is too terrible, complex and beautiful to fit into cute little cubes.

Called to be People of the Truth
We as Christians are called to be ‘people of the Truth’. Truth is never simple. Truth is complex and mysterious as Christ is. As we live this life and get more and more sanctified, by the work of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God and the community of the Saints, we get to a deeper and more complex understanding of the Scriptures, and consequently of life too. As we bring every thought ‘captive to Christ’, the world/culture around us will follow too. We are called to live the Truth in the culture around us, even if 0.00001% people misuse the Truth. There will always be people misusing the Truth. We need not let them dictate the manifestation of Christian Truth in the culture, whether it be the topic of exorcism or exercise of Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Church for that matter.

Back to the Parable
A parable is a simple story told in a way that can disturb us from a sense of complacency and awakes us to that ubiquitous truth we have consciously or subconsciously been oblivious to. Movies can be such ‘parables’ which engage the culture/church with the Truth of the Word of God. If Christ were to have incarnated into the 21st century world, it wouldn’t have been very far off for him to make movies to communicate his ‘parable-Truths’. People who find movies like ‘The Conjuring’ disturbing, may be in a good place after all, for they are being woken up to the Truth which some part of their subconscious mind acknowledges to be true, no matter how much their conscious mind may try to resist it.

Christian Response to the Abortion Debate – Go the Extra Mile!

Let us not only use the Dr. Kermit Gosnell fiasco to ‘just talk’ about pro-life causes or find fault with others, rather. let use this opportunity to look at ourselves introspectively and see how we can ‘go the extra mile’, by an ethic of self-giving, to save kids either by adoption or by providing support to mothers in distress.

The trail of Dr. Kermit Gosnell the provider of questionable abortion services has brought the abortion debate back to the fore. Pro-life activists use this to strengthen their case, and activists on the pro-abortion side do likewise too. When such issues come to the fore, it creates a space for ideas to be discussed and important questions to be asked. One such question is how should Christians respond to the abortion question.
 

Christian Response – Bumper Stickers? Facebook Posts? Vote the opposition out? Overturn Roe V. Wade?

Often times, well meaning Christians feel that if others would realize that a life is being killed, they would stop abortion. So some Christians try to use graphic images and hyperbolic language on everything from Facebook to Bumper stickers to get people to think abortion is murder. But more often than not, judgmental words falls on deaf ears because the problem isn’t so much intellectual as physical and spiritual. Being judgmental is rarely a good approach to a problem. Why? Because even Christ has asked us to not look at the speck in others eyes. We need to start trying to find the log in our own.

The politically active Christian conservative response is to keeping voting for the right candidates at the county, city, state national level to somehow overturn Roe v.Wade. It is good to not want to vote for the pro-abortion candidate, but how does voting for pro-life candidate really solve the issue of millions of babies being killed in the womb. Overturning Roe v. Wade is good, but that will not solve the abortion problem. Just like liquor production/consumption went underground during prohibition, If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned abortion will go underground too. Lives will still be lost (may be to a slightly lesser degree but they still will be). Case in point, abortion is illegal in India but it happens every day. I am not suggesting that Christians shouldn’t attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, we should… but we need to realize that Roe v. Wade is just the tip of the iceberg, abortion issues involve huge underlying cultural strongholds that are seldom acknowledged, rarely talked about in popular Christian circles (in my humble opinion).
 

An Iceberg Kind of Problem

Problems of this iceberg kind that are deeply rooted in a society’s cultural values cannot be legislated away, they require a multifaceted, long term, bottom up approach. Problems of the iceberg kind need action oriented solutions that slowly and steadily chip away at the root cause of the problem. To address a problem in a multifaceted approach, we have to first understand the deep rooted multifaceted nature of the cultural causes of abortion.

Causes for abortion:
1. Breakdown in family structure leading to children being seen as a burden to living an affluent, peaceful and carefree life.
2. Inadequate familial/community support during pregnancy leading to wrong headed guidance during the vulnerable phase of pregnancy.
3. Irresponsible use of sexual freedom.
 

The Real Question… the Right Answer

Given the deep rooted cultural causes, the question of Christian response is not so much about how Christians should respond to the problem of abortion as much as it is about how Christians should respond to the cultural causes underlying need for abortions… The best answer, in my opinion, is not in bumper stickers or political power but in the willingness of the Christian(s) to go the extra mile with the lady in distress wherever God has placed us. Most women that go to abortion clinics go there in distress. They opt for abortion because they do not see another way out. We need to love the people in distress as God loves us. Depending on where a Christian is in his/her life, ‘going the extra mile’ may mean different things… To some it may involve considering adoption of the children of mothers at risk. To others it may mean supporting a family that is going through adoption of a child of a mother at risk. Or it could mean helping the mother at risk during pregnancy and after pregnancy so that she can get back on her two feet and move on with life. We need to have a ‘go the extra mile’ with the lady in distress approach instead of the ‘grab the leavers of power’ and change course approach. Going the extra mile as Christ has called us, is not a silver bullet. It is the start of a long process of going extra miles. We will walk and not be weary, we will with God’s help come victorious in the end. Let us now look how going the extra mile works in different scenarios.
 

Consider Adoption – Go the Extra Mile Yourself

Modernized culture sees kids as a burden and not a blessing from God. When we look back at History, back in Rome when Christians were persecuted left right and center, abortions (infanticide) was a huge cultural phenomenon among the pagans. Children were thought to be a burden back then too. Lacking modern abortion procedures, they gave birth to children and left them in some secluded place to die (as per Roman law, until the father ‘owned’ the child, it did was not a person. The father could discard the child as he would his property). The Christians would go look at these places, take the abandoned infants and bring them up as their own (Link here). Surprise, surprise… one more Christian is added to the number. Among other things, Christians kept adopting kids over a few centuries and surprise, surprise… one day the Roman empire became Christian. As modern Christians, would we be willing to consider this patient, painstaking, long term approach to true cultural change?

If Christians truly want to save lives, we need to be willing to adopt kids from the ladies in distress who do not have the support structure, in the form of a good family to be able to raise kids. Unfortunately, many modern Christians view having kids as a burden, so find it difficult to ‘go the extra mile’ of adopting kids from distressed moms. The pro-abortion activists too do not want to ‘go the extra mile’, in the sense that they want the distressed mother of the child to be exempted from having to ‘go the extra mile’ of having the child. The pro-abortion folks would rather kill. Of course, the Christians majority do not want to kill, but often we do not seem to be too eager to want to save the child by adoption either. Apart from voting for the ‘right’ candidate (as though that would solve the problem of dying kids), we Christians are mostly content going to prayer rallies and shouting with all our strength that it is murder. We are not wrong, but we aren’t doing enough either. The question to the ‘transformed’ Christians is, are we willing to show the world that children are a blessing. Going the extra mile means we are willing to do more than what is required of us. The Word of God mandates that we do so (in one form or another). Are we open to the possibility of God calling us to ‘go the extra mile’ of adopting unwanted kids.

From what I know Houston has some good pastors who are setting great role models by adopting kids in addition to having kids of their own. Read Pastor Voddie Baucham here 6 of his 8 kids are adopted is one example (Note: in some parts of his video, Pastor Baucham comes off as being more critical of the culture and consequently less critical of the Church. My tone in this post has been to be more critical of the Church’s response than the culture outside the church.)
 

Support Ladies in Distress – Go the Extra Mile

Of course, some of us may not be in a position, either financially or socially, to be able to adopt the child of a lady in distress. So what can these Christians do? I am one of these Christians. Given where I am, I cannot adopt a kid. I don’t think I’ll be anywhere close to adopting a kid any time in the near future either. How can Christians that cannot adopt ‘go the extra mile’ to save the kid? One answer… by providing as much outside support to the mother of the kid as we can to help her through pregnancy and adoption process, if she decides to give the baby for adoption. Or help her grow the child if she decides to keep the child. Help the mother get back on her feet after delivery. Provide continued community support to the mother. It is good to sponsor Compassion kids in Africa, Asia and South America, but sometimes we also need to look after the Lazarus at our doorstep. All of this involves Christians following an ethic of self-giving Christ-likeness. Are we willing to be conformed to the self-giving image of Christ?

Often times when a woman without the good familial/community support realizes that she is pregnant, she hits a point of crisis. She is vulnerable to opinions expressed by people she is with. At such times, a woman’s needs are specific and predictable which opens up avenues for Christians to help. A woman in distress will visit a pregnancy testing clinic. If such a woman in crisis steps into the Planned Parenthood center to get a pregnancy test she is likely to end up choosing to abort the kid. Christians need to have pregnancy centers which become a place where women in crisis can come and get counseled. The good news is, Christians run such pregnancy centers (here is an example http://www.houstonpregnancyhelpcenter.org/) but they tend to be understaffed and are in constant need for volunteersour time may be well spent helping at such centers rather than plotting overturn of Roe v. Wads, so to speak. Such pregnancy centers need help from Christian men too.

If a woman in crisis decides to not abort the child, then she needs a home, a support structure which she is cared for until delivery and the child is given for adoption. She also needs support after delivery to go back to school or work. Christian families need to open up their homes for this cause. There are some families that do this, but again we need more. Even Christian singles who may not be able to provide such help can complement the help provided by Christian families. Christian singles, instead of congregating among themselves doing dance nights, game nights and movie nights, can provide community support for such distressed ladies living with the Christian family that supports them.
 

Need a Reality Check?

Irresponsible use of sexual freedoms is another root cause that increases the probability of rampant abortion.  The liberals advocate providing greater access to contraceptives. This is a tricky topic among Christian conservatives. Christians mostly oppose this. Christians are right in opposing illicit sex outside of marriage. But the reality is, restricting access to contraceptives is not going to impact the sex culture in high schools, colleges and other places. Given this reality, wouldn’t it make sense that we should at least allow people to provide themselves the possibility of preventing an abortion using contraceptives. My thoughts on this topic are still evolving, they are not final yet. There are a good number of Christians who are opposed to broader access to contraceptives, they have good reasons. But I for one do not find their reasons are very persuasive given the reality of the sexual culture we live in.
 

The BIG Need: A Christian, Go the Extra Mile Culture

As Christians, we have been judgmental of others long enough. We’ve looked for the ‘speck’ long enough. We blame politics, we blame the Supreme Court Justices, we blame liberal advocates of abortion… It is perhaps time for us to look for the log in our own eyes so to speak… There is no easy silver bullet to solving the abortion problem. The abortion problem is deeply rooted in cultural breakdown which needs to be changed bottom up. Back in the first century Christian world too there was no silver bullet to changing the Roman culture. But then there was the Gospel, Christians responded to the Gospel by loving people around them. As the gospel worked itself in the culture from the bottom up, the culture changed, people changed. Christians of the first few centuries who were saved by the Gospel’s power were empowered by the Holy Spirit and went the extra mile to save others by adoption and other means. If modern Christians obeying God’s command ‘go the extra mile’ along with those in distress, we too will see similar results as the first century Christians.

Let us not only use the Dr. Kermit Gosnell fiasco to ‘just talk’ about pro-life causes or find fault with others, rather. let use this opportunity to look at ourselves introspectively and see how we can ‘go the extra mile’, by an ethic of self-giving, to save kids either by adoption or by providing support to mothers in distress. If enough modern Christians, with the help of the Lord the Holy Spirit, will create and foster a patient, painstaking, persistent ‘go the extra mile’ culture, that will become an avenue to bring about bottom up cultural change.