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.

Saving Power of Imagination!

My introduction to Woody Allen movies was through his later film ‘Midnight in Paris‘. I liked Woody Allen’s use of imagination in the movie. ‘Midnight in Paris’ is a story about a couple, Gil and Inez, engaged to be married that go to Paris for vacation to celebrate their engagement. The lady’s personality is that of a ‘philistine’ in that she lives in the ‘material’ world cares pretty much for nothing else other than good food, dressing well and exciting sex. The man on the other hand has a finer tastes for life. Gil is thrilled that he is in Paris the city of dreams for the quintessential artist.

The man and the woman see and experience very different worlds in Paris. Inez goes about the city uninterested, disenchanted and ends up having an affair with the guide. Gil on the other hand, finds his imagination getting fired up. He can’t get enough of the city and goes about exploring it. Inez sees no point in enjoying the night walk in Paris. Gil goes it alone. It is in one such midnight walk that a carriage pulls by and he is asked to hop over into it. He gets transported into the Paris of the 1920s when it was thriving richly with a host of young Bohemian artists. He meets everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Gertrude Stein and spends the night in their August company. This happens every night. Gil lives a dream life in his imagination. He is a happy man.

The question here is… What do you make of Gil’s imaginary world? Does it really matter that the guy has such a powerful capacity for imagination? Or may be he needs to see a Psychiatrist? Why make such a big deal of this imaginary world? Should we just dismiss this cinematic depiction of the power of living in an imaginary world as a crazy old Woody Allen’s attempt at making mediocre movies towards the tail end of his career.

I think the answer to this question is implied at the end of the movie in how Paris changes the lives of the couple. Gil is not looking for anything specific in Paris to satisfy him. He surrenders to allow himself to be surprised by his imagination. The more Gil is drawn into this beautiful imaginary world, the happier he is in the real world. That he does not get any sexual satisfaction from his bride to be is immaterial to him when compared with the beautiful imaginary world he is a part of. The woman on the other hand presumably gets ALL she the exciting sex she thinks will make her happy, but ultimately ends up dissatisfied.

When Inez finally confesses that she has been has been having an affair with a mutual friend of theirs and wants to break-up, Gil isn’t the slightest bit perturbed which infuriates her all the more. Gil was living in such a beautiful world of imagination that the pleasures offered in the real world seemed mediocre. His imagination was powerful enough to make life satisfying for him. He did not need a ‘hot wife’ after all. He has his eyes set on a world where ones satisfaction isn’t determined by ones needs but by ones ability to be eternally surprised by imagination.

I think there is a Christian principle here. Just like Gil is satisfied by the hope, joy and love offered by the imaginary world do that he does not care much for the mediocre pleasures of the real world, the Christian is to be satisfied by the hope, joy and love of the Heavenly world so that sometimes when we have to give up some of the pleasures of this world it wouldn’t be that big a deal.

The Bible uses our imagination to enthuse us about the great goodness of the Heavenly world. The Bible talks abstractly about the next world in terms of the length, breadth and height of the treasures God has prepared for those that love Him. Then the Bible also talks concretely about streets of gold, sea of glass, great mansions. This abstract and concrete figures of speech is meant to fire-up our imagination so that in the imagination empowered Hope of the things to come, we would endure the hardships of this world.

If we do not use our imagination to envision, explore and be enthralled by the Hope we have in Christ we, like Inez will see a very ‘reductionistic’ world and will ultimately begin seeking after silly pleasures to satisfy us. Christians like Gil have to be people with fired-up imaginations so that we see that there is more to this world than meets the eye. We should go about exploring the world through the Word of God. The imagination empowered vision of the World painted by the Bible will help us set our priorities right and live a happier and FULLER life in this world and the next. Unless Christians use their imagination to see the BIG world that God created and called us to be in, we would become a bunch of petty people seeking after silly stuff in a reductionistic world. Imagination saves us from this narrow focus by helping us SEE the great things God has in store for those that love Him.

Chick-fil-a – an Apology from God???

As much as Christians love to show their solidarity with the ‘Christian’ President of a Fast Food Chain, it might be a better idea for the Evangelical Christians to show equal care and concern for  the plight of the poor and the oppressed.

I was at the Chick-Fil-A on the 1st of August (Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day) at 10:00 PM and there were about a 150 people in there, most of them presumably Evangelical Christians showing solidarity to the fast food chain over controversy created by a statement made by the ‘Christian’ President of Chick-Fil-A  essentially saying that America would incur the wrath of God because of its laws becoming increasingly Gay-friendly. Presumably, millions of Evangelical Christians went to Chick Fil A Nationwide that day.

A more interesting spectacle was watching the liberal Mayors vociferously oppose Chick-Fil-A plans to build more restaurants in their cities only to back track their statements because to do so would have been illegal – the President was just exercising his first amendment right. Here is a really funny video made by a gay dude asks the Mayors to chill. All of this ‘tempest in the teapot’ not withstanding, what really caught my eye was an article quoting Billy Graham quoting his late wife Ruth saying

Some years ago, my wife, Ruth, was reading the draft of a book I was writing. When she finished a section describing the terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards and the idolatry of worshiping false gods such as technology and sex, she startled me by exclaiming, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

I don’t know about God needing to apologize to anyone, but let us go with this for now as there is a bigger point to be made.

Billy Graham in his letter ‘My Heart Aches for America‘ quotes the statement above and then the passage from Ezekiel  16:49-50 from which this quote is purportedly derived from and then goes on to talk about the sins of abortion and sexual depravity leading to impending judgement from God. Yes, abortion and sexual depravity are sins as per the Bible. Yes, America is like Sodom and Gomorrah, but there is a key point to be noted. America’s similarity with Sodom and Gomorrah is not just in it sexual depravity, but in its indifference to the poor and needy. 

Read Ezekiel 16:49-50 (ESV)
49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.

Yes there was rampant sexual sin in Sodom and Gomorrah, but God’s primary objection against Sodom and Gomorrah (and Israel) is not sexual immorality, it is indifference towards the poor while living in excess. The crime is in not treating a fellow human being as someone with dignity – the dignity that comes in one having been made to reflect the Image of a fiercely loving God.

God equating Israel to Sodom and Gomorrah in Ezekiel has more to do with Israel’s indifference to the poor and needy than its sexual depravity.  In the New Testament, Christ brings similar complaint against the Jews in the Story of Lazarus and the Rich man – the Rich man did not do anything wrong per se, he was just indifferent to the poor man at his doorstep.

This complaint of indifference applies as much to Evangelical Christianity today as it did to Israel back in the day. Ruth Graham is probably right that if God is to use the same yardstick, He will have to judge the America, but not so much for the sexual depravity of the non-Christians as much as for the indifference of Evangelical Christianity towards the poor and needy around them. Unfortunately, Christians today often tend to exaggerate the consequences of sexual sins while trivializing the consequences of sins of indifference towards people that need our love. 

Of course, Evangelical Christians give more to the cause of social upliftment than the non-Christian counter parts, but the question is do we give enough to offset God’s impending judgement, if God were to use the same yardstick that He used against Sodom and Gomorrah. I suspect that answer is no. As much as Evangelical Christians pray and work towards a National revival of the non-Christians, we should also pray and work against Christian indifference incurring the wrath of God that was directed at Israel and Sodom and Gomorrah. 

As much as Christians love to show their solidarity with the ‘Christian’ President of a Fast Food Chain, it might be a better idea for the Evangelical Christians to show equal care and concern for  the plight of the poor and the oppressed. The day when we see a 150 Evangelical Christians at 10 PM at Nationwide ‘show compassion for the poor and needy’ campaigns, Evangelical Christianity would have inched closer towards a more God-pleasing state of existence. Pray that that day would come soon, before it is too late! Least God should have to apologize!! Of course, He needn’t.