03 October 2011

The Evangelical Freakshow

by Phil Johnson

arl Trueman has for ages been writing eloquent critiques about American evangelicalism, pointing out the folly of our big-conference market-driven culture, and the cults of celebrity we have spawned and now revel in. The past two weeks have furnished plenty of proof that his concerns are not utterly far-fetched, and it's no surprise that Dr. Trueman himself has noticed this.

If you haven't read "Fixing the Indemnity," go read it. Trueman is one of those rare, candid voices of relentless sanity in the madhouse of the religious blogosphere. Here's a sample:
"To be blunt: why so much noise about Jakes when Furtick and Noble have already apparently been established in this Elephant Room circle for some time? Frankly, they hardly seem any closer to Paul's description of what an elder or overseer should be than the Bishop. Why all the hoohah and handwringing now about TD?"


Trueman goes on to describe how the prevailing style among our youngest American evangelical celebrities is a cheap knockoff of Comedy-Club culture. Who can disagree with that? By their own admission Chris Rock rather than Lloyd-Jones embodies the style they have sought to imitate. Trueman stops short of calling these jesters clowns. (He's nicer than me.)

There's only one key point in Trueman's piece I disagree with. He says, "These stand up comedian preachers would not work in the church in other parts of the world because aesthetics of plausibility differ from culture to culture. . ."

The problem is that American Evangelical celebrity cults and their tawdry style of "worship" do get exported with surprising speed to other cultures. I once watched an evangelical rock band in Pune, India play a Smashing Pumpkins song (profanity and all) as the opening number for an evangelistic youth meeting. New Zealand evangelicals quickly gobble up every fad and every anomaly that American evangelicalism gives birth to, from the most outlandish charismatic lunacy to the heresies of Emergent religion. Mark Driscoll's most infamous sex-lectures were delivered to two (apparently appreciative) audiences in Scotland.

It is precisely the celebrity of American evangelical rock stars that the rest of the world seems so attracted to. And the more outlandish the personality, the more other cultures seem interested. These things spread around the world, not only because American evangelicals are wantonly imperialistic but because morbid curiosity, worldly interests, and carnal lusts are a problem in every culture, and the mortification of those passions fell out of fashion among church people ages ago.

But for their part, American evangelicals are clearly keen to export their most outlandish personalities and methodologies to as many other cultures as possible. Witness the flood of pragmatism and religious zaniness American evangelicals dumped into Eastern Europe right after the Iron Curtain fell.

And Dr. Trueman is right to point out that it is a uniquely American evangelical phenomenon to foster these cults of celebrity and to encourage each wave of superstars to push the limits of sobriety and propriety further than the last superstar did. American evangelicalism has become a large jingoistic freak show.

Sadly, some of today's evangelicals seem to think that's something to gloat about.

Phil's signature


Anonymous said...

Christian celebrity...isn't that an oxymoron?

Mark Lamprecht said...

Yep! As I've asked in the past - Should “Celebrity” Pastors Offer Disclaimers?

Thanks, Phil.

Anonymous said...

True that, Mark. Celebrities without fans soon fade from view.

Nash Equilibrium said...

As freaky as the current freakshow is, I'm not sure it's terribly freakier than the pompadoured preacher culture of the 1960s-80s was. Or, than the extreme fundy sects one occasionally finds in my neck of the woods (Ohio).

My comment should not be confused with a defense of the current celebrity culture, I'm only saying that this necrotisis has been developing for quite a while now.

Anonymous said...


And now we seem to have reached a critical mass, where the whole things becomes unstoppable at any level and it's sucking previously solid pastors and lay-folk into it's gravity.

An evangelical tractor-beam of sorts.

Solameanie said...


James Scott Bell said...

These shock jock pastors so obviously make themselves the center of a "show." They do not make Jesus the center of worship. It's sad, it's disgusting, it's a slap in the Savior's face.

They may be saved, but their heavenly mansions could turn out to be little lean-tos. (h/t J. Vernon McGee)

Solameanie said...

Good post. And three observations — two humorous and one serious.

First, I am glad to see a clown picture here. Frank might well incorporate it or variations of it in future. I've only been clowned once, and that as an afterthought.

Second, I find the opening picture of the three guys dressed in 70s kitsch very frighting. Especially the fellow in yellow who doesn't look very mellow. (Apologies to Donovan Leitch).

Third, after reading the post etc, I have to go back again to something Phil's said before about nearing the point where it's hard to want to be called "evangelical." I'd love to come up with a new term to define those of us who are desirous of holding to biblical doctrine, Gospel and orthodox theology. But in this particular age, any new term will be redefined by someone within six months of its original usage and the resulting fad will render my new term meaningless or distorted to those who hear it.

Now that I'm sufficiently in a blue funk, I'll trundle off to a dark room and glower at a Christianity Today logo for a while.

Bill O'Neill said...

A good test of an evangelical's jingoistic freak show quotient would be applying a Star Trek Convention test to their conferences and other events. Simple enough to evaluate. Without the pointy ears, of course.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Daryl - I agree. It is kind of like a black hole where even light can't penetrate.

Of course, that's because (as Frank Turk said the other day), these pastors are winning people to themselves and not Jesus. I've also met some who are interested in winning people to being good little politically-correct liberals (see today's Dose of Spurgeon) and not to Jesus.

Tim said...

I was reading Trueman's piece earlier today and was struck by two phrases: stage antics and Confidence men. And then there is this bit: They seem to reek of the phony and the contrived. Why do people fall for them?

"Exactly", I thought. In his "Hater" video Furtick looks like a huckster! And then I saw that I was not so original in applying that label as I thought, as I read in the final paragraph the phrase evangelical hucksters.

Nicely put, and obviously I couldn't have said it better myself.


Forrest Long said...

Good post and I agree. So-called evangelicalism has created a side-show mentality with its superstars, whcih is a far cry from the evangelical church of the past. This celebrity status Christianity feeds the masses and attracts people, but it impoverishes the church. Sad to say, today "evangelical' has come to mean just about anything you want it to mean.

Tom said...

So, I guess instead of bemoaning "The Evangelical Freakshow" and the celebrity culture, perhaps one should stop moaning and actually do something about it. Don't feed the animals.

The more conferences you go to that feature these celebrities and clowns and the more books you buy written by these celebrities and clowns, the more you affirm the freakshow.

But, honestly, what has been the single biggest promoter of this celebrity culture in conservative evangelicalism? The answer is staring right at you.

If you want to end the celebrity culture and the evangelical freakshow, read Mark 9:43-47.

If you're content just to bemoan it all, type away...

Rich Barcellos said...

What? Phil disagrees with Carl R. Trueman? I agree with Phil.

Jerry Wragg said...

You'd think evangelicalism would study church history to discover how these age-old deviations are secretly introduced in the church. Evangelicalism continuously elevates untrained and doctrinally timid, yet highly popular, orators, assuming there will be no fallout. But there's always a cost! Ephesians 4:12-16 teaches us that trained, gifted men are given to the church to fully equip the saints. What is the clearly stated goal? That believers would be doctrinally trained, mature, discerning, and protected from the clever, deceptive, subtle, and deadly schemes Satan is ALWAYS trying to inject into the church.
Perhaps it's time to actually throw the baby out with the bath water. Better to have fresh, clean water than to allow liberal offspring to frolic in our tub.

T Boots said...

Tom; If it only were that easy... These hucksters have helped people? (sarc). I don't know what to add but that it is a shame to Jesus who saved me from Gods wrath because he loves totally depraved me... I weep... His IS our King, lets not spit on him

Tom Chantry said...

To be blunt: why so much noise about Jakes when Furtick and Noble have already apparently been established in this Elephant Room circle for some time? Frankly, they hardly seem any closer to Paul's description of what an elder or overseer should be than the Bishop. Why all the hoohah and handwringing now about TD?

Am I the only one who didn't believe that Furtick was a real guy? I mean, I watched that "Haters" video, and I could swear I thought I was seeing a well-done satire. I mean, there was no way - no way! this could be real, right?

Rich Barcellos said...

It's a SNL clip.

Tom said...

Tom; If it only were that easy....

Well, at least let's be consistent. If we say we despise the christian celebrity culture, we shouldn't be hosting or attending conferences like T4G and TGC. Those are two of the biggest conferences around, and they get bigger every year. Why? Look in the mirror.

The fact is, our hearts are drawn to idols. Pastors are no exception. If you want "the evangelical freakshow" to end, stop feeding the animals.

Simple, but Scriptural.


... said...

Does anyone see a connection to the "celebrity preacher" and their model of church government (or lack thereof)?

It seems that most of these men are truly unaccountable to peers (elders and deacons), or to their congregations. They are usually independent “owners” of their own movements/churches.

I know that MacDonald’s church is elder led, but I also remember a recent blog post from him stating the “Congregationalism is from the Devil”.

I find it ironic that James thinks congregational rule is satanic and yet it is the congregation at large (outside of his church) who is holding him accountable for his beliefs, actions, and decisions regarding Jakes.

Anonymous said...


So I understand what you are saying, we are equating the TGC and T4G men with Noble, Furtick and TD Jakes?

I do not think they are the same at all. Actually, I do not see the comparison.


Tom said...

So I understand what you are saying, we are equating the TGC and T4G men with Noble, Furtick and TD Jakes?

I am not saying the guys at TGC and T4G are the same as Noble, Furtick, and TD Jakes. I'm saying T4G and TGC promote and perpetuate the celebrity culture. Obviously, in this case, a couple of the TGC guys are also promoting "The Evangelical Freakshow."

So, if you're tired of Christian celebrities and "the evangelical freakshow," you should avoid T4G and TGC conferences (as well as some others), instead of just bemoaning it all on a blog.

Again: stop feeding the animals.

Anonymous said...

Tom: An alternative perspective to "bemoaning about it on a blog" or "feeding the animals" is that blogs like this serve as a way to warn us of the dangers inherent in becoming too attached to certain Christan leaders that have now become "celebrities". In an Internet-saturated world such as ours where most folks go to get their Christian celebrity fix, it is nice to have an antidote present as well to keep things balanced.

Just a thought...

Chris Roberts said...


The problem is not prominent conferences and events which provide opportunities for worship and edification; the problem is leaders who like the limelight. The answer is not to abolish conferences but to evict hucksters.

Anonymous said...

Who's bemoaning anything?

Tom said...

Chris writes The problem is not prominent conferences and events which provide opportunities for worship and edification; the problem is leaders who like the limelight. The answer is not to abolish conferences but to evict hucksters.

That doesn't take of the Christian celebrity culture though. If you want opportunities for worship and edification, go to church. You know, the place where imperfect, flawed pastors minister to imperfect, flawed people, who in return minister to their imperfect flawed pastors.

Coram Deo said...

Salient points by Trueman, as usual.

Not to derail the thread, but it's sort of an elephant in the room (allusion to prior posts intended); what about unfolding the Mahaney / SGM debacle?

Isn't this some what exemplary of church polity run amok under the headship of an "untouchable" celeb-shepherd?

Aren't the YRR pastors at risk of falling into this same trap?

Isn't this model typical of the Pentasmatic circles that Furtick and "Bishop" Jakes run in?

Everything I've read about the Mahaney/SGM topic reeks of ugly.

What says Team Pyro?

In Christ,

Stefan Ewing said...

While Trueman's latest post is about the specific issues surrounding some of the speakers at the Elephant Room, we in the Reformed camp are very much part of the celebrity culture that Trueman bemoaned in his two earlier articles (linked to by Phil).

We have half a dozen big-name preachers who show up at all the same conferences, and whose books, sermons, blogs, study Bibles, etc. are eagerly devoured, with many reformed types hanging on the every word of this or that pastor's spoken and written pronouncements.

Chris Roberts said...


"If you want opportunities for worship and edification, go to church. You know, the place where imperfect, flawed pastors minister to imperfect, flawed people, who in return minister to their imperfect flawed pastors."

Understood, but speaking as one of those imperfect, flawed pastor of an imperfect, flawed church, I enjoy several of the conferences out there (though I've only ever been to one; caught the rest online) and am pleased when I see people attending the good ones. Be in church most Sunday's, but I can spare you for the occasional conference.

Cathy said...

I just don't see how the church growth movement could play out any other way. Once you disregard the ordinary means God has ordained to build and grow His church, and you accept the premise that it is all about growth at any cost- and you must contextualize your message to appeal to the current culture- well, this is what you are gonna get in our current American culture- Rock star pastors with American Idol worship leaders in fast food "churches."

Robert Warren said...

Yes, indeed! As American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Charles Finney.

While ol' Smiley Face might not recognize the specific measures, he would certainly give them an "E" for excitements.

David J. Houston said...

Phantom, you just made a brilliant observation. There is a connection between leaders that lack accountability and church government. How we keep leaders accountable? Answer:


I'll just wait for my congregationalist brother whom I love deeply to bring up all sorts of objections. :P

Chris Roberts said...

"How we keep leaders accountable? Answer: PRESBYTERIANISM, BABY!"

One can accept a Presbyterian polity for church government while rejecting the Presbyterian theological error regarding baptism.

... said...

"Phantom, you just made a brilliant observation."

Can I get this in writing?

My wife will never believe it...

Tom said...

Chris wrote: Understood, but speaking as one of those imperfect, flawed pastor of an imperfect, flawed church, I enjoy several of the conferences out there (though I've only ever been to one; caught the rest online) and am pleased when I see people attending the good ones.

I understand, but you can find smaller, less celebrity-driven conferences where the speakers actually understand & represent the average pastor in the average church (i.e. < 150 church members).

To be transparent, I went to T4G in 2010. While I enjoyed my time there, I was rather dismayed by the celebrity culture I witnessed there. This month, I plan on going to a Simeon Trust workshop hosted by a local church. But there are no celebrities there; only pastors and guys like me who want to learn how to better preach the word. I don't need bright lights and big names to be encouraged and to be edified. What encourages and edifies me most is to get around faithful pastors who desire to be faithful to Scripture and to faithfully shepherd their flocks in the midst of the hurts, joys, frustrations, and successes.

David J. Houston said...

Just tell a guy on the internet thinks your brilliant, Phantom. Why wouldn't she believe you? :P

*dries off a freshly sprinkled baby* Did you say something, Chris? ;)

David J. Houston said...

EDIT: 'Just tell her'* Oy... grammar fail.

Solameanie said...

Cathy: Word!

John Dunn said...

It seems to me that there is a strange and sometimes dangerous admixture of politics and Religion that is unique to the American landscape.

I think maybe what we're witnessing in the proliferation of Rock Star Evangelicalism is the outworking of the Capitalistic mindset within conservative leaning Christians . . . whereby a "successful" business model has been created, packaged, branded, and mass-marketed to specific target audiences. In other words, Christianity has been turned into just another consumer commodity to be sold and traded. And may the highest bidder win.

Coram Deo said...

EDIT: 'Just tell her'* Oy... grammar fail.

Also should have been "you're" instead of "your", David.

Just sayin'...


In Him,

Chip Byrd said...

Hey Tom,

I'll be at the Simeon Trust workshop. Look me up.

Chip Byrd

David J. Houston said...

*hangs head in shame*

jmb said...

Coram Deo -

I was wondering whether or not to mention the Mahaney/SGM controversy, when I saw your comment. Thanks for introducing the subject, which I think is relevant to the subject of celebrity pastors and other Christians.

The scandal (I don't think that's too harsh a word) is ongoing, and I can't do more here than mention the basic points - which will still take a little while.

On July 6, C.J. Mahaney, head of Sovereign Grace Ministries, announced on his blog that he was taking a leave of absence. Among other things, he mentioned some sinful behavior on his part.

The next day, over 600 pages of emails and commentary were published online by an unnamed SGM pastor.
(http://www.scribd.com/sgmwikileaks) They had been sent to him and other pastors by Brent Detwiller, a former pastor at SGM's first church, Covenant Life, in Gaithersburg, Md. They detailed approx. the last 8 years of what Detwiller thought was poor leadership from Mahaney. On July 11 and 17, Detwiller posted more material, some of which went back earlier than 8 years.

Soon after the posting, Albert Mohler and Ligon Duncan publicly defended Mahaney's reputation.

On July 13, the Board of Directors of SGM posted that they would examine the material in detail, but already believed that Detwiller was guilty of slandering Mahaney's reputation.

Around July 19, the Board of Directors asked several men outside of SGM to form a preliminary panel to help evaluate Mahaney's fitness for ministry. The panel consisted of Carl Trueman, Ray Ortlund, and Kevin DeYoung, all friends or acquaintances of Mahaney. They reported on July 27, and their findings were posted on Aug. 2. Their summary statement: "We do not believe C.J. Mahaney's confessed sins have disqualified him from Christian Ministry." http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/blogs/sgm/post/Findings-from-our-preliminary-panel.aspx?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=PanelFindings

On, I believe, Aug. 19, Mahaney said on his blog that he would be attending Capitol Hill Bible Church, in Washington, D.C., which is headed by his friend Mark Dever. He has given sermons there as well as at a conference and at least one SGM church during his leave of absence, which continues.

I'm sorry for the length of this comment, but, as I said before, it covers only a fraction of the whole story so far. Concerning the subject at hand, it seems to me that "Celebrity Christians," in addition to their other perks, get almost instant, unquestioning support from other Celebrity Christians. Why did SGM form that "preliminary panel"? Why did Mohler and Duncan chime in so quickly with support for Mahaney? I admire most of these men, but I find their behavior concerning this issue to be disturbing.

James S said...

In regards to throwing the baby (famous pastors who frequent conferences) out with the bathwater (all celebrity conference pastors):

The answer is never to throw it all away.
It is to THINK.

Is this famous pastor promoting himself, or The gospel?
Himself or Lord Jesus Christ?
Himself and his ministry, or Christ and careful study of His Word in the scriptures?

The answer is easy, but we need to ask those questions. One flashing red-light is always those leaders who discourage doctrine or "going Deeper" into the scripture. Or a leader who's 'sermon' is comprised of personal anecdotes, positive thinking or culturally relevant life-stories rather than Christ-centered expository scripture.

These modern cult-leaders could never get so big if their sheep were not so doctrinally ignorant and biblically illiterate in the first place.

Also, the thing that helps build these charlatans up (the internet) is also the thing which could very well lead to their demise, thanks to blogs like this, and the many good people who take the time and effort to speak up. So that goes both ways.

jmb said...

I should have mentioned that Brent Detwiller claimed that 1) C.J. Mahaney's poor leadership was the result of years of a pattern of sinful behavior, and 2) That he had tried for years to confront Mahaney about this and was continually rebuffed.

David J. Houston said...

Hey jmb,

I don't know much about the Mahaney situation so I won't say much. But I will say that there's a notable difference between the way that Mahaney has dealt with the accusation and the way the majority of celebrity pastors have. He actually confessed his sin and repented. That's a good sign, no?

In Russet Shadows said...

The instant you start blaming capitalism instead of individual decisions, you've lost the plot. There are quite a few verses that support the concept of the man of God supporting himself by his ministry. Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain, for instance.

And the celebrity evangelist is not uniquely an American phenomenon, if you look back across the years and across different cultures. American culture gets exported, true, but folks, where did the whole "gold teeth" movement come from? South America, and not the US. So the problem is not exclusively American, either.

jmb said...

David Houston -

Yes, C.J. Mahaney has confessed generally about his sin (he usually uses the singular) and specifically about a blackmail attempt (though he and the "preliminary council" don't use those words) he perpetrated about 10 years ago. (It was recorded.) However, the problems under his watch have reportedly gone on for decades, and he only went public when he knew the emails would be posted online.

For several years, there have been two blogs, SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge that have received detailed accounts of the abuse people have suffered under a reportedly extreme culture of authoritarianism at SGM churches. Another one, The Wartburg Watch, also deals with SGM, but not exclusively. Mahaney, the SGM Board, and SGM pastors have virtually ignored these blogs, and many people have reported the difficulties they have had in trying to deal directly with the pastors who have, essentially, lorded it over them.

Of course, one can't assume that every word on these blogs is true, but they are very detailed and convincing. And it's not a matter of the God-given authority of the shepherds over the flock, but a consistent attitude of "I'm right, you're wrong." Some of the stories are truly sad.

Mahaney's flight from SGM is directly opposed to his policy of people at SGM churches being disciplined by SGM pastors. Many of the problems over the years have allegedly had to do with with him exempting himself from the rules he himself has set down. He has recently complained about the treatment he has received from the pastors of his home church, despite their extreme leniency. He is even receiving full pay while he attends another church and gives sermons there during a leave of absence supposedly for the purpose of contemplation.

It seems to me that his partial confession is a matter of way too little, way too late.

Tom Chantry said...

Not sure how we got to talking about Mahaney on this thread - it seems a tad off topic to me, but let's do be careful. I don't know Mahaney's ministry well; I only know that I don't share his charismaticism or his polity. What I do know is that the primary "sin" he is accused of is unapproachability. Exactly which commandment does this break? My point is, while the accusation may represent a character weakness (Mahaney seems to think so himself) it is a vague, subjective charge (and the details are even more vague and subjective) which could not disqualify anyone from office if we lived in a more Biblical and a less Disnical age. Honestly, this situation sounds like an embarrassment for the church - not that Mahaney is a wretched sinner (any more than each of us), but that he has been driven from his position by the charge of "he wasn't as nice to me as I wanted." Please.

Now admittedly, for his cohorts in parachurch ministry to support him says little about him. Duncan and Dever may be right to stand by their friend, but they cannot clear him. Is it true, though, that Ortlund, DeYoung, and Truman helped to look into the matter? Those men are not overly-connected to Mahaney. It is true that they are well-known, but honesty, Truman? The anti-celebrity-pastor has cleared Mahaney's name? Does that not mean something?

Of this much we can be certain: C.J. Mahaney is a sinner. Welcome to the club, brother! But not every sinful pattern in life disqualifies a man from ministry, regardless of the size of his church or the prominence of his ministry. Let's be very careful how we talk about him.

The genesis of this post is very different. When a man denies the basic nature of the Biblical God and preaches a false gospel, that disqualifies him for Christian fellowship. When Christian pastors nevertheless embrace him as a "brother in Christ" - valuing his numerical success above cardinal doctrines of the faith - then we have a problem worth discussing. It ought to be possible to talk about the gospel failures of some celebrity pastors, and even about the problems posed by the very existence of celebrity pastors, without dragging in the name of every man who has been accused of "sin" by disaffected colleagues.

donsands said...

Good post Phil. Funny, I had the same thought , sort of, yesterday when i watched Driscoll and Doug Wilson chatting.
Driscoll occured to me as more of a celebrity, always trying to impress and say something funny, then he did a pastor.
To be humorous is fine, but Mark seems to way over do it to me. I don't trust the Mark. I guess I could be wrong.

Robert said...

I just wonder how many of these guys handle 1 John 2:15-17. If anything, I see most of them trying to be more open to worldliness instead of showing the attitude that John says we should have towards the world.

bp said...

I don't think anyone can deny that there are celebrity pastors in reformed circles as well. I've seen it first hand. Less devastating to the Church than the likes of Perry and Furtick, we'd probably all agree, but potentially damaging, for sure.

Phil Johnson said...

Yes. What Tom Chantry said.

I'm not prepared to throw CJ Mahaney in the bin with a bunch of punks whose chief "qualification" for the pastoral office is that they are terrific showmen. I have read a hundred or so pages of the 600-page disgruntled SGMers' "exposé," and so far the most impressive thing about it is how trivial the accusations are.

So I'll tell you what: I'll try to read the rest of that 600-page mess in October and if possible, I'll write a post about what's going on at SGM. Until then, let's not mingle the SGM turmoil with the issues arising out of the Elephant Room debacle. I'm not yet convinced these are even in the same ballpark, and the combox here isn't the place where I want to sort it out.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Isn't "number of followers" one of the primary criteria used in determining which people get to speak at just about any conference, whether it be the ones the good guys consider "good" or "bad"?

And if so, why is anyone surprised that celebrity preachers are the ones leading the path forward?

Maybe just stop attending conferences altogether, would be a good practice for those who are bemoaning?

Anonymous said...

Tom Chantry,

As someone who has been in SGM for years, it is nice to read something about Mahaney on the internet that is well thought out and gracious. Thanks

Brad Williams said...


I think you have made some salient points, and I say that as a guy who has signed up for T4G this year. While T4G and TGC aren't exactly the same as what Phil is critiquing; they do promote the celebrity pastor culture.

I went to the first T4G, and it seemed to me that the original intent was to get local pastors 'Together for the Gospel.' They were hoping that pastors would form local friendships together. I'm not sure how that is working out, and I'm afraid that emphasis is getting lost in the limelight.

Unknown said...

One of the things that saddens me is that these posts are thoughtful warnings, but many times preach to the choir. What I mean by this statement is that many of the YRR guys have written off the warnings of this blog and people like MacArthur. I actually had one local pastor tell me that Pyro guys need to go out and do ministry instead of writing on a blog. Another local pastor, in a not very humble comment referring to MacArthur, stated that "these guys have forgotten what it is like to be on the front lines". I fear that many of the people who need to heed the warnings presented, will just ignore the issues. I hope that the fact that Thabiti is in The Gospel Coalition will at least get some of the YRR attention. After all, you all did "touch" the YRR annointed one, Driscoll, and now you are snubbed. :)

Nash Equilibrium said...

Mr. Unknown: Is the idea of "conservative" pastoral celebrities doing ministry instead of speaking engagements, really in conflict with the ideas expressed here about de-emphasizing or dismantling the current culture of celebrity pastors? Seems to me it is entirely consistent. Did I miss something there?

James Scott Bell said...

A wise distinction by Mr. Chantry. Popular pastors have targets on their backs that loom large for disgruntled or "offended" congregants. Regardless, that's a different sort of thing than what is presented in the pulpit in the office of pastor/teacher. The former needs facts gathering; the latter is there for all to see.

Brian said...


Is Trueman's point that in places where persecution is expected that Christians who pick up their cross will see right through America's glam pastors? The disagreement would be that Trueman should have qualified what he meant more. I have thought in similar ways to Trueman when I consider persecuted Christians.

I must say the prosperity gospel has been heavily exported, which goes to your point.

Brian said...

It is embarrassing that these celebrity pastors are not embarrassed.

jmb said...

Tom Chantry and Phil -

I agree that the alleged sins of C.J. Mahaney are, with one exception, more subtle than those of the celebrity pastors under discussion. However, I believe that C.J. Mahaney's main sin is, ironically, the teaching and preaching of the gospel in such a way that sin is greatly over-emphasized and grace is greatly under-emphasized. Brent Detwiller seems to be one of many pastors at SGM churches who have bought into this teaching. He he has turned it against the teacher, because the latter has apparently consistently avoided the specific rules and consequences that he himself set down as a result of his distortion of the gospel. So, yes, many of the accusations Detwiller makes against Mahaney are trivial because the practice of "sin-sniffing" had become so established.

Where it gets serious is its effect on the flock. Along with the gospel distortion was the elevation of the authority of the pastor to the extent where it verged on the cultic.
In Mahaney's sermon, "The Happiest Place On Earth," we can hear some of his unbiblical views on this subject. The combination of this elevation of sin and of the pastor's authority has resulted in such things as pastors telling the parents of an abused child to focus on their own sins and not those of the abuser; to not phone the authorities; to not tell anyone in the church about it. (These were cases where the perpetrator and the parents attended an SGM church.) The parents had become so convinced of the pastors' authority that they obeyed them, and the magnification of their pain was enormous. Some of these pastors are only now admitting that they "might" have been wrong.

Phil - I hate to add to your already enormous reading on the subject, but I hope you will take a look also at the blogs I mentioned, particularly SGM Survivors. I realize that it's easy for some of us to think that we'd never be taken in the way these people have, but none of us knows for sure until we have experienced what they have. For decades, people (pastors also) have been thrown out of SGM churches because they didn't follow man-made rules, or they left because they couldn't take any more.
I have heard these stories first-hand as well as reading them. There's just too much smoke not to be a fire.

Anonymous said...

Ravi Zacharias agrees with you on many points. No, I doubt he read your post. But read his book, "Deliver Us from Evil" and you will see.

American 'christians' are a mess!

Reformation said...


You've got a "whole lot of homework to do on Mahaney and SGM." I most strongly recommend you make that recommendation to John (MacArthur). This thread on SGM is not entirely unrelated to the post.

On the "7th read" of the Detwiler docs. Many things got much clearer while taking notes on the "6th read." (I'm retired and can take the time.) As you noted, you've read (skimming?) 100 pages with a dismissive note that you'll read and finish the rest of the 500 pages in Oct...um, er, well...well, it'sn shallow? Ah, yes, that's an excellent word, "shallow."

This scribe has accumulated 1200 pages on SGM-Mahaney.

I understand being time-challenged. Since this is your case or situation, further comment should be heavily nuanced, to wit: "I'm still learning and don't know much." This situation is complex, historic and big-time problematic.

Al (Mohler) and Ligon (Duncan) made a strategic mistake by preliminary comments. Piper has hung low. I'll be writing my RC Sproul today, a 36-year friend. Poor Carl Trueman, while frequently good, wrote an endorsement of CJ yet with a qualification that neutered the endorsement--academese to limit liability to zero.

A great word of caution to you. Be very, very careful. Not only is there smoke here...there's been an historic fire.

There's a 32-year history chockful of things that need exposition and clarification.

I hope you allow this post to stand.

Donald Philip Veitch

Reformation said...

No. Mr. Thomas Chantry.

1. You say you don't know much about Mahaney and SGM. Fine.

2. That alone should have caused you to stop talking at that point.

3. Mahaney is and has been in the celebrity circuit. He's featured by Collin Hansen's "Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the Young Calvinists." (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008). Print. If you think this is a few "disgruntled employees" of the past, try again. Do the homework. Think, man, think. Theres have been 100s affected. Further, there are serious legal issues in terms of sexual abuse cases and serious pastoral incompetence. I could say more. But will leave you with the prudent counsel in #4.

4. Sir, read and think a whole lot more before engaging.

Donald Philip Veitch