Have the courage to apologize

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

So yesterday news broke about yet more unethical behavior from a celebrity pastor, this time buying his way onto The New York Times bestseller list.

There is so much wrong with this kind of behavior that I don’t even know where to begin. Frankly, I’m not sure I could say it any better than has been said here. But since reading about this latest in a series of life lessons on the dangers of unchecked hubris, there’s been one thing I’ve felt I’ve needed to say:

If you’ve done this, have the courage to apologize. 

Look, I know none of us are perfect. Anyone who says they’re without sin is a liar and a fool, and I am chief among them. But you know what I do expect? I expect that if we’re people who claim the name of Christ, we’re people who apologize and mean it.

What do I mean when I say we “mean it”? Simple: we’re genuinely repentant.

So a true apology is not immediately pleading Jesus, saying how thankful you are that He’s forgiven all your sins, past present and future. That’s spiritual and emotional manipulation, not asking for forgiveness. And it’s not a political non-apology, something akin to “mistakes were made.” That’s acknowledgement, not contrition.

What I mean when I say apologize is simple:

  • specifically name your action or attitude
  • own your personal error
  • explain how you are making restitution
  • ask for forgiveness

But all of this, of course, hinges on a critical truth: you have to actually think what you’ve done is wrong.

My fear for many who engage in shenanigans of this sort is they really don’t care. As much as they want to say they’re trying to boost the name of Jesus, they’re really out for themselves. They’ve traded integrity for influence. So the ends justify the means (even when the means are wrong). Their consciences may be so seared that that they’ve become blind to their own folly. They are like those leaders who sat in Moses’ seat, whom Jesus commanded the Jews to listen to but not imitate, for they do not practice what they preach.

They talk a good game, but it’s all talk.

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26)

Your integrity is worth more than your celebrity.

Your ministry is more important than your influence.

Your reward with Christ is better than the riches of this world.

If you are truly in Christ, you know this to be true. Now act like it. Have the courage to apologize.

What makes a person divisive?

It doesn’t take an in-depth understanding of the New Testament to see an important truth:

God really isn’t pleased with divisive people.

A totally unexpected and mind-blowing truth, I know. In Paul’s day, there were many who were stirring up division and dissension; the super-apostles in Corinth, the Judaizers in Galatia, former ministry colleagues throughout the land who’d abandoned the gospel…

These are some of the examples of overtly divisive people—but you don’t have to be someone who’s openly defying the Lord and proclaiming a false gospel while seeking to destroy God’s people to be divisive.

Being divisive is a lot easier than you think. In fact, you might be a divisive person and not even realize it.

All it takes is a little bit of pride.

My wife and I both love to be right. And it’s usually over the most trivial matters. In our efforts to help ourselves recognize our behavior, we’ve given it a title: being the rightest person in the room. It’s a silly term, but it helps snap us back to reality when we’re getting ridiculous.

Imagine, though, if we didn’t do this. Our meaningless debates would escalate into a serious conflict eventually. We’d dig our heels in, refuse to give ground and, sooner or later, say something we’d regret.

That’s why we need safety measures in our lives. We need silly names to defuse our own goofiness. We need people who can call us on our guff and tell us to chill out.

This is what I’ve seen people desperately needing in the recent Driscoll ballyhoo, on both sides. The folks who are looking to lynch him need to look at themselves for a second. It’s not that the idolatry of celebrity isn’t a crucial issue (it is), but what does the response of many say about the state of their own hearts?

Remember the behavior Paul charged Titus to teach: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). Does the delight some seem to take in thrashing this particular person online reflect this kind of attitude? Worse, do they think it’s really going to help him be responsive to legitimate concern and attempts at correction?

When you look at a guy like Driscoll, it’s not hard to make a case that he’s a divisive figure—but are the rest of us any better? There’s a certain extent to which we’re all that guy. The difference is, we just don’t get as much airtime, and it’s but by the grace of God that we are not also being torn apart by people who, arguably, care little to nothing for us as people. Who don’t necessarily want us to get better, but just don’t want us to have a voice anymore.

But we ought to remember that, as Paul says, all of God’s people “were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). This is what God rescues us from. Why sink back into that kind of divisiveness?

The gateway drug of ghostwriting

keyboard

There’s a lot of talk these days of ghostwriting, brought to the surface by the allegations of plagiarism facing Mark Driscoll. Ghostwriting is a serious issue—one that seems to be pretty clear cut, and yet many don’t see it that way.

Ghostwriting is the practice of writing books or other material where another author—usually someone who’s public notoriety can sell books, even if they’re incapable of actually writing them themselves—receives full credit. This is a pretty standard practice in publishing, one many don’t think too much of. In fact, if you’ve read an autobiography of an actor or politician, chances are you’ve read something that’s been ghostwritten.

And if you’ve read a book by a pastor, sadly, there’s a decent chance a ghostwriter’s been involved, too. A number of notable Christian pastors and leaders—among them Driscoll and John Maxwell—have employed ghostwriters over the years.

Writing a sermon and writing a book are entirely different animals. The only thing they have in common is they’re a form of communication. They require words. But how you write a sermon is not remotely like how you write a book. I remember being involved in a conversation with a big-name Christian pastor who admitted he has a really hard time sitting down to write—not do sermon prep, but actually write. It takes courage to admit that. And when he finally did release a book, he credited the person who helped shape the book, taking his sermons and making them actually make sense, as his co-author.

It takes integrity to do that.

Unfortunately, many don’t do this. They fall on the “accepted practice” clause, but fail to think through their actions biblically. The Bible doesn’t say, “thou shalt not employ a ghostwriter,” but it sure does say, “do not lie.” And using a ghostwriter and failing to credit them is lying. This is the same point Kevin DeYoung made just yesterday when he wrote:

Whether in sermons or in print, it’s not okay for pastors to take credit for something that is not theirs. Granted, the lines can be blurry. But that doesn’t mean the line doesn’t exist. And just because it feels like the sin of sloth more than the sin of theft doesn’t make it less of an error.

Randy Alcorn is even more forceful in his rebuke of what he calls the scandal of evangelical dishonesty. He reminds us that lying only begets more lying—ghostwriting is the gateway drug to larger integrity issues:

If we teach them it’s okay to lie by taking credit for a book they didn’t write, why should we be shocked if we discover they lied when they claim to have graduated from a college they didn’t, or to have fought in a war they didn’t, or to have done a job they didn’t? Isn’t it ironic that Christian publishers would consider it an ethical breach if they discovered an “author” gave them a resume containing false information, when the same publisher has knowingly led the public to believe this person wrote a book he or she really didn’t write? Which is the bigger lie?

Alcorn is quite clear: ghostwriting is lying. Period. In writing this, I realize I’m dangerously close to violating Paul’s admonition that the younger man should not rebuke the older. My goal here is not to do that. Instead, I want to ask the older men, particularly those who’ve employed ghostwriters: Why is this okay—and what does it teach those of us who are coming behind you?

To the younger, particularly those of you who are writers, I don’t have a rebuke, but I do have a plea: If someone asks you to be a ghostwriter, say no. If you have been ghostwriting, please stop. I know it pays pretty decently, but is the money worth the cost of your—and others’—integrity?

She’s done the impossible

Pastor_Mark_Driscoll

This weekend, Mark Driscoll broke the Internet in half. Again.

It wasn’t because he put his foot in his mouth (this time)—but because of a rather heated interview on The Janet Mefferd Show where the host spent the better part of 15 minutes accusing him of plagiarism due to insufficiently crediting Dr. Peter Jones for his considerable influence on portions of A Call to Resurgence (reviewed here).

And then things got a bit crazy online. Some Driscoll defenders declared Mefferd a liar. Some of his critics seemed ready to form a lynch mob. (Incidentally, probably the most balanced piece of coverage has come from Jonathan Merritt.) I found myself in a weird place listening to the interview. Here’s what I mean:

1. I was glad to hear someone willing to ask a high-profile Christian author challenging questions. Too many interviews I’ve read (and even conducted) have been full of softball questions. They don’t really get to the heart of a concern, but come across as the sanitized questions of someone hoping to start a bromance. Or maybe the questions you’d ask on a first date.

As interviewers, we need to do better—and a big part of that is asking meaningful questions. Let’s stop with the silly platitudes and actually deal with concerns. The benefit is you may give the interviewee an opportunity to correct himself if he’s said something in error, or you might receive beneficial clarification.

There also appears to be a disturbing lack of accountability for some pastors and authors, which desperately needs to change, something Carl Trueman points out well. Regardless of whether or not there’s an issue in their churches (and in some cases I wouldn’t be surprised if there were), those of us on the outside must be careful not to treat high-profile people as untouchable, if for no other reason than it reveals we may have a nasty case of idolatry on our hands.

2. I was surprised Driscoll lasted as long as he did on the call. Mefferd says he hung up. Driscoll says he was still there. Regardless of who is right, if it were me—and I say this as someone who has appeared on Janet’s show and had a very positive experience—I likely wouldn’t have stayed on the call as long as he did. While I get, and even agree to some degree, with Mefferd’s concern in addressing the citation (I think he could have been far more clear than a single footnote), he did something pretty unexpected: he said he’d look into it and correct the error if one was made. In fact, he said he’d do it four times.

After the first time, you’d think they could’ve moved on. Instead, it went on far longer than it should have—and I don’t believe either side will come out looking better as a result.

3. Sometimes it’s just easier to think the worst of Driscoll. This is the thing that was most troubling to me—there are a lot of people out there who, no matter what he did, no matter how sincere his apology, nothing Driscoll could say on anything would ever be enough. Some people just want to see him as the villain.

Driscoll’s done himself no favors in this area. He’s said and done, and continues to say and do, some pretty bone-headed things, even in this book (I noted some of my more significant concerns in my review). But you know what I found myself struggling with listening to this interview? The temptation to write off his comments as mere platitudes, instead of taking his statements as genuine. And that’s not okay. If Driscoll is a brother in the Lord, shouldn’t we be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt?1

At the same time, it’s clear not everyone has this reaction. In fact, I’ve been surprised to see a number of folks, not exactly rush to his defense, but show sympathy toward him. I think Joe Carter summed it up well in one of the many debates I saw (and the only one I engaged in), when he said Janet Mefferd “has done what many people would have thought was impossible: She makes people feel sorry for Driscoll.”2

In the end, I’m not entirely certain the “did he or didn’t he” question is even the right question to be asking in the whole Driscoll/Mefferd dust-up. Instead, maybe our question should really be: how do we fix the problem of “celebrity-ism” that’s seeped into the church?

A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll

call-to-resurgence

Christendom is dead. Now let’s set aside our differences and get to work telling people about Jesus.

If you wanted to sum up Mark Driscoll’s new book, A Call to Resurgence, in a sentence, that’d be the way to do it. And make no mistake, pronouncing Christendom, the age of cultural Christianity, dead is no overstatement, even if declaring the American church dead is. A quick survey of the cultural landscape in America (and the West in general) shows how much has changed, and it’s definitely not in favor of Christianity. So what are Christians to do? Are we to retreat and wait for Jesus to return? Are we to give up our distinguishing characteristics and blend into the culture?

We do not need more retreat, Driscoll says. We need resurgence:

This is not a time for compromise but rather courage. The fields are ripe. And as Jesus says, “the laborers are few”—in part because the prophets of doom are many.… This is no time to trade in boots for flip-flops. The days are darker, which means our resolve must be stronger and our convictions clearer.

A strong cultural critique

There is much to appreciate about A Call to Resurgence, starting with its intent. Driscoll’s greatest strength has always been his appraisal of the cultural climate in North America, and this is no less true in the case of this book, which is why chapter two shines. Here Driscoll offers a succinct description of many of the contributing factors to the death of Christendom—pornography, the acceptance of homosexuality, bad dads, a lack of generosity, intolerant “tolerance,” and the resurgence of paganism in its many forms.

I believe it’s no overstatement to say this is the book’s standout chapter, especially his breakdown of the “new paganism,” which owes a massive debt to Peter Jones’ excellent book, One or Two. Driscoll explains well its roots as described in Romans 1:18-32, and its various expressions, from atheistic one-ism (the idea of a pure naturalism) to pale imitations of Christianity (notably moralistic therapeutic deism).

A confused message on the essentials

While Driscoll is often insightful in identifying cultural issues, his assessment of biblical ones is too often simplistic. This is especially clear when he describes the various “tribes” within evangelicalism. These, he says, are united by their common agreement on the following black-and-white issues: [Read more...]

Jesus Is Right, Not You

Excellent commentary on the authority of Jesus from Mark Driscoll:

Now, let me ask this of you. The whole point here is about Jesus’ authority. Do you truly, really believe that Jesus has all authority? Do you live as if Jesus has functional authority? See, I’ve seen some people, they love psychology and they turn Jesus into a really good psychologist. Or they love sociology and they turn Jesus into a really good sociologist. Or they’re into politics and they turn Jesus into kind of a moral politician. Or they’re into spirituality and they take out all the God stuff but they leave all the “do good works for the poor” stuff and they turn Jesus just into a spiritual person.

I’ve seen people who don’t believe in miracles because they’re more naturalistic and, for them, their ideology and their philosophy is in authority so if the Bible says that Jesus performed miracles they say, “No, he didn’t.” I’ve seen people who hold religious pluralism up as their highest authority, so when Jesus says “I’m God” they say, “Well, that’s probably not true.”

How about you? I’ve seen people even do this with sin in their life. There’s something in their life that’s sinful, that is displeasing to Jesus. And they say, “Well, that was a long time ago. That was a different culture. We’ve evolved. Things have changed. That was primitive.” What they’re saying is something is now in authority over Jesus. Someone is in authority over Jesus. Might be me, my religious commitment, my political cause, my view of the world, my philosophical presumptions and presuppositions, my financial commitment, my political preference, whatever it is, my sexual orientation, my religious affiliation, whatever it might be—what you’re saying is, “Yeah, there’s Jesus, but he’s not the highest authority.” Someone or something is above him.

It was the debate in that day; it’s the debate in our day. As Mars Hill Church, we believe that Jesus is Lord. That’s a simple way of saying he’s the highest authority. There’s no one equal to Jesus, there’s no one above Jesus. He is in highest authority. When he says something, we believe it. When he commands something, by the grace of God, we seek to obey it.

And if someone or something should disagree with him, they are wrong and they need to repent and agree with him and not just walk away, but change their mind and say, “I’m wrong, I’m sorry.” And friends, it’s not that we’re right, it’s that he’s right. Because the truth is, we’re all wrong. None of us begin submitting to Jesus. We all have sin and folly. We all think we’re right when we’re wrong. And we all have to say, “I’m wrong and I’m sorry. Jesus, you’re right.”

Children Are a Glorious Inconvenience

Good word from Mark Driscoll:

 

Children are a glorious inconvenience. Are children an inconvenience? Absolutely. It’s why many people don’t want to have children. “Oh, they’re such an inconvenience.” Having a child is a big deal, infertility can be a real pressing issue. You finally get pregnant, maybe you have a miscarriage, maybe you don’t, you don’t have the miscarriage, then you have all the water retention and the weight gain and the heartburn and the kicking of the bladder. I mean, I’ve seen it firsthand, it’s exciting. It’s an inconvenience. And then the baby’s born. Having a baby is an inconvenience. I’ve watched it, I know why we give women drugs. It’s necessary. And then the child is born and the children, they sleep during the day, they’re up all night, they cost tons of money, they scream and fluids come from every hole like a sprinkler, right? They’re an inconvenience. And then we get to junior high, oh. And then it’s an—and then they want to go to college, then they want to get married and it costs money and they take time and they’re an inconvenience.

And you know what? They’re a glorious inconvenience. They’re a glorious inconvenience.

And here’s the big idea: we tend to not see ourselves as children. We tend to see ourselves like the disciples, “Well, we’re very responsible adults with very important things to do.” And God says, “You know what I see? Ponytails, boogers, and Fudgesicles, that’s what I see.” You’re not totally able to take care of yourself. You need your dad. You were an inconvenience. I don’t know about you, Father, I apologize for being such an enormous inconvenience. But you know what? The fact that the Father loves me and he endures with me and he protects me and he provides for me and he instructs me and he corrects me, it reveals that he’s glorious. He’s amazing. And we, by the grace of God, get to be the children of God. We get to be that inconvenience through which he is revealed to be glorious. That’s what Christianity’s all about.

So if you’re here and you’re not a Christian, I would invite you through Jesus Christ to enjoy God as your Father and we as your family. Isn’t this good news?

And I want you just for a moment to consider with me, that if we had the heart of Jesus for children and we raise children who we love and instructed in the Lord and they grew up to love and serve Jesus. . . . We’re leaving a legacy of gospel faith that goes on maybe until Jesus comes back.

There’s a story at the end of Genesis where a little family of sixty-some people goes into Egypt, and they’re the children of God. They have children who have children who have children. Four hundred and forty years later, they emerge as the nation of Israel, a few million people. They went from a few dozen to a few million.

We may be in the midst of that. And it starts with the heart of Jesus. We need to approach our Father and his kingdom like kids and we need to raise our kids to love their heavenly Father.

HT: Z

Are Multisite Preachers Losing the Value of Being a Shepherd?

Interesting commentary from Perry Noble and Matt Chandler:

(RSS Readers: Can’t see the video? Click through to the site.)

Chandler’s point is particularly interesting: Because preachers can become disconnected regardless of the size of the church where they serve, the question is not so much a multisite one as a pastoral-shepherding one. If so, it leads to a couple of questions to consider (and ones I’d love to get some feedback on from a few of the pastors reading):

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the assessment that it’s not so much an issue of the multisite model as it is the temptation for pastors to disconnect from one-to-one shepherding?
  2. Is the question, even if viewed as a pastoral-shepherding one, even the right question? Does it create a division between shepherding and preaching that doesn’t necessarily need to exist?
  3. How do you structure your time to “balance” one-to-one and congregation-wide shepherding?

Your Cause Can’t Be More Important than Christ

Really appreciated this clip from a recent sermon in Mark Driscoll’s ongoing series on the gospel of Luke:

Transcript follows:

Now let me say this: the way you become religious is when you’re about your small-k kingdom instead of God’s capital-K Kingdom. That’s why Jesus brings it back to a theology of the kingdom. He looks and says, “Here’s how you get in trouble and become religious. Your kingdom, not mine. Your name, not mine. Your fame, not mine. Your glory, not mine.” It’s not about us, it’s all about Jesus. And what happens for those who are into their own kingdom, they replace Christ with cause. Okay, for the religious people here, they were into their kingdom, not Jesus’ kingdom. They were into their cause, not Christ. That’s the problem.

What’s your cause? What’s your thing? Some of you are single-issue voters. You really only care deeply about one thing. Some of you have causes that are more “Christian” in orientation. Children, midwives, homeschooling, Christian schooling, public schooling, school choice, conservative politics, pro-life. Certain kind of student ministry, youth ministry, family ministry. Certain kind of musical style. Certain theological system. Certain author. What’s your cause…? [Read more...]

Ministry Idolatry

A great excerpt from Mark Driscoll’s message from the Advance09 conference:

The full length video is available below & is well worth spending an hour or so watching. In it, Driscoll asks 11 questions about ministry idolatry:

  1. Attendance idolatry: Does your joy change when your attendance does?
  2. Gift idolatry: Do you feel that God needs you and uses you because you are so skilled?
  3. Truth idolatry: Do you consider yourself more righteous than more simple Christians?
  4. Fruit idolatry: Do you point to your success as evidence of God’s approval of you?
  5. Method idolatry: Do you worship your method as your mediator?
  6. Tradition idolatry: What traditions are you upholding that are thwarting the forward progress of the gospel?
  7. Office idolatry: Are you motivated primarily by God’s glory or your title?
  8. Success idolatry: Is winning what motivates you at the deepest level?
  9. Ministry idolatry: Do you use the pressure of ministry to make you walk with God?
  10. Innovative idolatry: Does it matter to you that your ministry be considered unique?
  11. Leader idolatry: Who, other than Christ, are you imaging?

Fear of Man vs. Fear of God

I really appreciated this reminder from Driscoll in his recent sermon, Jesus vs. Fear.

The transcript follows:

See, if we believe that God loves us, then we believe that even if what’s happening to us isn’t good and holy and just, it’ll be used by a good, holy, and just God to teach us more about Jesus and to make us more like him. So we overcome fear of man with the love of God. God loves me. One way or another, he’s going to get me through.

And then Jesus closes with sort of the culminating big idea, that you overcome fear of man with the fear of God.

Luke 12:8–12, “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man,” that’s a title of himself from Daniel. He uses it about eighty times. It means God become a man. “Also will acknowledge before the angels of God,” who will serve as the witnesses, “but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities,” the bullies are going to get you, you’re going to suffer at some point.

“Do not be anxious,” fear, fear, fear, fear, fear.

“Do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

Here’s the big idea: fear of man or fear of God. Those are your options. There is no alternative.

Someone is the most important person. Someone is the biggest dominant personality in your life. Okay, if it’s someone other than Jesus, you have fear of man. You’re worshiping them. They’re your functional lord even if Jesus is your theological Lord.

Proverbs 29:25 again, “The fear of man is a trap or a snare.” It won’t work for them, it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work at all. The alternative is the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Before you can get anything straight in your life, you have to get straight who the Lord is. Jesus is Lord. The shortest confession of Christian belief is, has always been, Jesus is Lord.

Becoming Balanced

A few weeks ago, Dustin Neeley sat down with Mark Driscoll to talk about what encourages and concerns him about young Christian leaders. Here’s the video:

(HT: The Resurgence)

In the video, Driscoll points out a couple of things he finds encouraging:

  1. A renewed desire for gospel-centered, Jesus-based, Bible saturated teaching
  2. A renewed heart for having a good gospel witness in urban centers
  3. A renewed interest in church planting

He also notes the following concerns, specifically in regard to what’s been called the Young, Restless & Reformed/New Calvinism:

  1. Good Reformed, complementarian theology unaccompanied by a strong sense of Spirit-filled mission will lead to fundamentalism
  2. New Calvinists being defined less by what they are for than what they’re against
  3. A lack of certainty about the role of the person of the Holy Spirit

Neeley asks viewers to consider the following questions in light of these encouragements and concerns:

“Where do I fall on the spectrum he describes?” and “What changes do I need to make to become more balanced?”

I don’t know about you, but here’s where I fall:

I absolutely love Jesus, the Church and the Bible and want to consistently be a better witness to Christ in my city (although I fail constantly). However, when I look at those concerns listed above, there are a number of things that caught my attention—not necessarily because I’m guilty of them (constantly), but the propensity is there.

It’s easy to develop convictions about what you’re against, for example, in the name of discernment. It’s a lot harder to develop strongly held convictions about what you’re for.

And it’s even harder to strongly hold to your convictions with humility.

This is where I’m learning that an increasing dependence on the Holy Spirit to work in and through me—both to make me more like Christ and (where necessary) speak words of correction—is so essential.

When I’m not actively depending on the Holy Spirit to guide my words, thoughts and actions, it usually goes bad. I’ll say the right thing the wrong way or I’ll say the wrong thing altogether.

Becoming balanced means being immersed in the Word.

Becoming balanced means cultivating a consistent prayer life.

Becoming balanced means becoming dependent on the Holy Spirit.

God, help me.