Thinning the Ranks

Or weeding the garden, or doing annual reviews, or something.  Something has to give, because the ‘who’s who’ of acceptable personnel on the roster is getting too confusing.  One blog advertises messages from a Reformed conference; another blog asks a tough question: why was so-and-so invited?  And while one wants to appreciate the appreciation and recommendations of Todd Pruitt, one has to agree that Ken Silva’s scrutinizing query is a good one.

The dissonance (or contrast, or whatever) reminded me of some FB back-and-forth I saw when the Driscoll plagiarism scandal first broke a couple of months ago.  Some Free Church Scots were glad Driscoll was finally drawing some public criticism after the rumors of Mars Hill’s questionable leadership practices, and his over-the-top (no rumors needed–it was all online) approach to certain materials in certain messages, and odd claims of Holy Spirit-given visions.  But one FB commentater in the thread rebuked these critics of Driscoll for turning on someone who ‘is on our side’.  Meaning, we shouldn’t attack Driscoll (perhaps he meant publicly, or perhaps he meant ‘at all’) because he’s Reformed.  I would submit that it would be better to say, in any case, that he claims he’s Reformed.  Certainly the way the church is run, and the lack of respect he seems to have for his own office would indicate that his theology, ecclesiology, and personal spirituality are all a bit dodgy, let alone that he’s Reformed in more areas than simply that he believes in election (or any other tenant of Calvinism).

The problem seems to me to be twofold.  First, if a high-flying mega-church pastor with a lot of influence claims he’s Reformed, but is repeatedly the subject of controversy over basic doctrinal issues (like ER 2’s pushing of TD Jakes as orthodox), I say, we don’t take the dude’s word for it.  Let a person demonstrate he’s serious about the rules of the club before we tout him as an ambassador of the club–there’s a lot at stake when pastors are of such a high profile as someone like Mark Driscoll.

Second, even if a person’s demonstrated that he or she should not only be a member of the club, but a well-known representative of the club to the wider evangelical world, and even to the saecular world,  and seems to be earning the club good press, that doesn’t mean we ought to hang a medal on him that says, ‘Defend at all costs’.  That’s ridiculous; beyond which boundary do we begin to ask questions, do we begin to turn a critical eye on one of our own?  And the defending can include not only speaking out against critics and accusers, but allowing things involving the criticized or accused to go on as normal–acting as if nothing has happened.   Ought someone who’s been leading a ministry now under heavy fire and public scrutiny after many allegations of sexual abuse to be invited to speak at a conference with the club’s heavy-hitters as if nobody knows that this scandal has enveloped him?  Should not the case be settled, should he and the ministry not be cleared, before there’s a return to normalcy? And, after he has declined to speak in order to avoid bringing shame upon the gospel or trouble to his friends, should he still be invited, and should he accept an invitation, to sit in the front row with the big wigs?  This to me looks sketchy, and I can be called a ‘fan’ of some of these people.

What worries me is that folk seem to be more concerned about being able to do work and play with their friends, than they are about keeping a watchful eye for the sake of the gospel.  They ought to be willing to let the Reformed camp take a hit for the sake of the integrity of the church and reputation of the faith.  What good is it to pal around with celebrity church leaders who can draw big crowds and run big ministries, and ‘Oh goody!  He says he’s a Calvinist!’, when in the end they don’t even maintain a good Christian witness?  I know when things are personal, when you know people, and when we in the church public know less than the players, it’s complicated.  But there’s nothing complicated about having more loyalty to Christ than to a denominational or doctrinal brand.  If a guy’s private life, teaching or association with people who promote dodgy teaching (John Piper’s choice of conference companions [Rick Warren, Christine Caine, and folks from the exceedingly creepy IHOP]), or church/ministry leadership practices (CJ Mahaney, James MacDonald, Mark Driscoll) are sketchy, we shouldn’t say ‘He’s on our side.’  We ought to say, ‘This is a problem, let’s take a look, and maybe we’ll even do something about it.’ And until everything’s been cleared up, with all transparency and honesty, don’t invite him to conferences.  It may be time to clean house.  Let the Reformed camp be introspective, self-critical, frank.  And perhaps let the Hall of Fame be a bit shorter.  Heck, if a bunch of these guys aren’t good Christian pastors, or are falling off the bandwagon, what good are they as spokeskids for the doctrines of grace and the Reformed tradition?  I’d rather have a humble, accountable, gospel-preaching Arminian than than a cussing, overbearing, self-aggrandizing ‘Calvinist’ any Sunday.

PS.  What is going on with RC Sproul, Jr?  He’s definitely one of the black sheep in the Reformed tent.



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