Friday, October 23, 2009

A Few Good Men? Reforming the cult of the celebrity preacher (2)

In the previous post we took up the issue of appropriate and inappropriate assessments of leaders, and asked if are really willing to exercise godliness in this area. This involves confessing and practicing three important doctrines.

The doctrines in question concern the ascription of all glory to God, of all saving power to God, and of the final judgement of sinners and saints being exclusively in the hands of God.

The great irony of course is that these truths have been believed in, preserved, and defended by evangelicals. In their most theological forms it is Calvinistic evangelicals who have led the way in these matters.

But we sometimes speak better than we know, and at times what we perceive to be our strengths, upon closer examination, turn out to be areas where we are surprisingly weak. We are simply not as God-centred as we think we are.

By way of excessive adulation toward our favourite preachers, we may fix our attention upon the instrument in the hand of God and not upon the Lord himself. In the process of doing this we stress the most peripheral, inconsequential matters, about them.

Even our misdirected praise can be misdirected. We treat them no differently than we do pop stars, and fawn over their mannerisms and other minor details.

In order to recover ourselves from this we need to listen to Paul's session from his "Church leadership 101" course at Corinth entitled "Only God makes things grow" (1 Corinthians 3:4-9):
For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers.
The Puritan Richard Baxter, responding to the praise given to him for his voluminous writings, said that he was only a pen in the hand of God, and asked "what praise is due to a pen?"

Thanking God for his servants who have been the means in his hand of our conversion or growth in grace is not inappropriate. What is inappropriate is to confuse what the servant can do and what God alone can do.

When we confuse these matters and treat preachers as celebrities we are showing that we are not as God-centred in our hearts as we are in our words. Ask yourself about your expectations at a conference when an unknown "name" comes up to speak at one of the sessions and see if you are not already guilty of confusing the powers possessed by a servant with those reserved for his Master.


Reformation said...


I like the Marine photo. A Marine never smiles in official photos--all business and committment to the mission, whether organizing a desk or a combat-mission. The best of the best too.

Not sure re: the culture and celebrity preachers.

But, it does exist upon a quick second thought.

Our Reformation theology should guard us here.

Once you've been betrayed a number of times by leaders, you soon refuse to "put your trust in princes."

The recent discussions of JIP at Heidelbog and ECT gives the sense of it.

Zac Wyse said...

Hi Martin,
Thanks for your posts on this topic. Feel free to leave my question alone if you'll answer it in a future post.
My mind immediately goes to Calvin after the whole Calvin500 stuff this year. If I'm opening up Calvin's Institutes, I do so with greater expectation than I do when I open up a book written by someone with an unknown "name". The Church's embrace of Calvin's teaching causes me to do so. The same holds true for the WCF and 3 Forms, i.e., the Reformed Church recognizes that they express the Bible's teaching, which increases my respect for them. That said, if a speaker/theologian is held in high esteem by the Church, shouldn't that affect my view of him? If so, how should we approach the person without heading into sin? It seems that the text concerning Paul and Apollos does not take doctrine into account, because both are assumed to have been orthodox.
Thanks for your thoughts!

Martin Downes said...

Hi Zac,

Good to hear from you. I trust that you are encouraged in and by the student work.

One of Paul's emphases in 1 Cor 4 is that "all things are yours." So we should guard against party spirit, of becoming devotees of a teacher over and above what is taught. We must watch against doing this in such a way that we foster ungodly attitudes to a man "I am of...Calvin" etc.

Corrie Ten Boom used to say that when Christians thanked her for her testimony it was like receiving roses. When this happened, at the end of the day, she handed the bouquet to God.

But we should receive Calvin's writings with discerning gratitude and say three cheers every morning for the Westminster Standards and the 3FU!