The Monster We Created: Councils, Brand Names, and Celebrities

In Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, conjures up a way to give life to the nonliving. His ambition leads him to an unorthodox science experiment that breeds a grotesque creature for whom he will claim no responsibility. In the course of time his monster becomes all his grief and ruin. With his lofty ambitions shattered by despondency, Victor determines that his only destiny is to “pursue and destroy the being to whom I gave existence.” But it’s too late. The monster couldn’t be contained.

I’m not a literary critic and, to be honest, I’m only superficially familiar with Frankenstein. But among its several themes the story line stands as a warning against overreach and creating what was not meant to be created. While Shelley’s novel is the Romantic movement’s pushback against the Industrial Revolution, perhaps there’s a small prophetic voice to remind the church how quickly ambitions can spiral out of control and result in misshapen monsters that actually prove to be destructive to the noble aspirations with which we began. I say that because, as it appears to me, this is exactly the kind of monster the broader evangelical movement has created. In the laboratories of experimentation something has been created that can only be described as a type of monster–a culture of councils, brand names, and celebrity-ism–and it’s becoming increasingly hard to contain. Something has been created that was not meant to be created.

On a personal note, I’m not very enamored with this culture. Within it I have no friends but I also have no enemies. Among it I have no future but I also have no past. From it I have gained nothing but I have lost nothing as well. I am just an obscure pastor serving in an obscure place in an obscure denomination. Maybe that gives me a bit of a bias or uneven perspective of this cultural monster. Or, perhaps, it’s precisely my enigmatic position that grants me a certain liberty to communicate the concerns I have with what has been created. After all, it will cost me very little.

Now at this point it would likely be very easy to begin naming names. The culture I’m speaking of has many faces from the popular councils and networks, to the brand names, platforms, blogging empires, promoters, and celebrity pastors all of whom give life to the monster. I should note that I’m not opposed to specifics. Those who shamelessly self-promote themselves to the public eye should expect public opinion and they shouldn’t get to ignore, bully, or silence those who offer less than enthusiastic support. But rather than descend into those particulars I simply want to reflect on what I perceive to be a few noteworthy concerns about this culture of councils, brand names, and celebrities.

This monster of councils, coalitions and networks, flourishes in an environment that exists independently of the spiritual authority and accountability structures intended by Jesus. That wouldn’t be a problem except that many of these organizations seem to have assumed to themselves the work of the church–e.g. connecting the grace of God to the world, or calling to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness, or renewing faith in the gospel, or standing together for the gospel, etc. Jesus intended the church to be entrusted with the ministry of gathering and perfecting the saints, and he intended that to be accomplished under the authority and accountability that he also established. When you extract the work of the church from the structure of the church you begin to create an environment ripe for dangerous problems. Problems like false teachers, public scandal, doctrinal imprecision and error, abuse of influence, and the promotion of them all, where those involved are answerable and held in check by the will and whim of a board of directors devoid of biblical spiritual oversight. That’s the monster we’ve created.

This monster of brand names and platforms, flourishes in an environment that encourages consumerism. What is often being promoted seems, at least to me, to be a small step above a marketing scheme, showbiz, or a strange form of entertainment. After all, to get headlines you only need the right key-note speaker; or pick the right target audience; or include the right adjectives–scandalous, inexhaustible, radical, extravagant; or affix the right logo; or define the right narrative and wrap it all up in terms of the gospel and you’ve got a recipe for success that’s too big to fail. The result is that the ordinary means-Word, sacrament, and prayer-are replaced by an extra-ordinary method of advertising. That begins to look a lot like the self-ambition that, though it may have the right goal, is borne out of what should be an intolerable greed. Jesus is not a means to the end of promoting a brand name or platform, he is the end itself. That’s the monster we’ve created.

This monster of celebri-fying pastors flourishes in an environment that cultivates spiritual dangers for these men. We have watched and read with sadness the moral failures and downfall of those we have happily heaped demands, pressures, publicity, exposure, expectations, and contracts upon. Their failures have been many, and their failures–failures like adultery, cult-like leadership styles, domineering personalities, scandalous coverups, egoism, unentreatability, lack of self-control, manipulation, spiritual abuse, abandonment of community, family strife, doctrinal error, etc–have all been seen by the public eye to the shame of the church and the dishonor of Jesus. While they bear the responsibility for their sin it must be asked if the culture that has been created fosters conceit, yields double-standards, feeds pride, and sets mere men on high places and slippery slopes from which they are prone to fall for lack of footing. That’s the monster we’ve created.

Yes, we have created it. Through participation, sponsorship, donations, investment of time and energy, we have created something we never should have created. A monster culture of councils, brand names, and celebrity-ism. Will we do what Victor couldn’t and take responsibility before this monster can’t be contained?

36 Comments

  1. Joel Hart September 12, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

    Kyle,

    Thanks for the article. I do have a question about the diagnosis of the problem of celebrity in relation to gospel proclamation. How do we understand the fame attributed to gospel preachers in the New Testament? Consider, as an example, 2 Corinthians 9:18: “With [Titus] we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel.” Now, obviously this brother didn’t have a ‘brand’ or a trendy website (and his name isn’t even mentioned!), but Paul does find it worth noting his fame for gospel proclamation. Perhaps my question then becomes: Are you arguing that fame/celebrity is inherently counter to Scripture, or is it simply certain manifestations of this fame and celebrity that you are indicating is the problem?

    Joel Hart

    • Kyle Borg September 12, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

      Joel,

      Thanks for the comment. I’d add one quick edit–it’s 2 Corinthians 8:18. Look for 9:18 and you’ll never find it!

      Personally, I’m not opposed to holding someone in high regard for their preaching (I do! Though all mine are dead…except for Sinclair Ferguson). So no, being praised, known, or even famous for preaching is not inherently counter to Scripture. However, what Paul is doing and saying in 2 Corinthians 8 with regard to this brother appointed by the churches to go with Titus and the other unnamed brother to make sure the generous gift is accepted, seems very different than the glitz, glamour, and star power attached to the contemporary “celebrity pastor.” The culture that promotes it looks, at least to me, more like 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. I’d be happy for anyone to show me otherwise.

      Blessings,
      Kyle

      • Joel Hart September 13, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

        Thanks, Kyle, for the reply and correction to my reference. So it seems the differentiation falls at the manifestation of fame, not its existence. I guess the question then becomes how we differentiate ungodly glitz and glamour vs. the so-called “glitz and glamour” that naturally proceeds from ministering in a technological context 2000 years removed from Paul. Much for me to still ponder on. Thanks.

        • Shy1 September 13, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

          The thought that comes to me on this, Paul may have been well known and well respected (in the church) but he also made tents to support himself. He lived frugally, endured great physical hardships and assaults, was imprisoned, and martyred. I don’t see any comparison with the healthy, wealthy, comfortable, powerful “leaders” of today.

          • seneca griggs September 23, 2016 at 7:48 pm #

            Paul wasn’t married – dryly

    • Nathaniel Esigbone September 14, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

      Dear Joe Hart, your observation and comment is very much appreciated. But remember the scriptures gives us the understanding that we i.e. Christian are in the world but not of this world. If we love the world and the things of the world, then we do not love God. Fame as you have pointed out in scriptures is not coated with pride and other worldly attributes or monsters that could emanate from it. We are to handle fame biblically. The Bible recorded how Jesus’s fame grew and we can see how He handled it. That is what should be emulated. Even Titus that was mentioned, he lived an exemplary Christian life. What we see today is truly a monster which the writer has exposed and I believe it has indeed been created by the broader Evangelical movement and there are other monsters being created. What do we do about this monster? Let us keep exposing these monsters with the hope that Christians will take heed

      • Joel Hart September 14, 2016 at 3:54 pm #

        Thanks for the note. I agree with your thrust. I think we’d be aligned that as a rule, it’s not fame that is in itself the monster, but when it is not accompanied by the wisdom from above, but from below (James 3:13ff).

      • Mike Wiggins September 21, 2016 at 11:38 pm #

        I agree that many para church organizations bully, but so do many small churches with small, obscure pastors. It’s a problem endemic to the culture of exalting the pastor over the other believers, of creating a single CEO position (which simply cannot be derived from any fair meaning of the word translated “pastor” and does not exist in the New Testament) called “pastor” backed by a group of elders something like a Board of Directors. That is something that is made up, and the notion that one person, the professional, should climb a stage and pontificate from a pulpit each week under the spotlight to address the entire body–again, not to be derived from the NT (fits closer to the Mosaical model, which has been defunct for millenia–has been enormously destructive. But when you step away from anything approaching God’s plan for a Body where all parts are equal, with the so-called lesser ones even getting special attention, where there’s no one leader (except for Jesus), where no one has a corner on speaking of “my calling” as if it were special, where leaders lead by compulsion rather than Godly example EXCLUSIVELY, guess what you get? Hell on earth.

    • Mike Wiggins September 21, 2016 at 11:30 pm #

      There is NO COMPARISON between Paul, for example, who for his fame, as it was, lost everything, including: family, friends, freedom, society, health and ultimately, his head, via Roman sword, and the fame-hungry monsters who persecute the true Church, gouging money, glorifying self, warping scriptures, while simultaneously enhancing their personal brands. Absolutely NONE. The type of fame we see in the scriptures bears no relationship to the word “fame” as we use it for celeb Christians; that use of the word is deleterious to the last degree.

  2. Jack Owens September 12, 2016 at 6:17 pm #

    I notice the indictment of bullying from para-church organizations becoming more frequent but no one names names. Do we unfairly assume it’s all leaders? I’m sorry to say, I know suspect everyone.

    • Jerry September 18, 2016 at 10:22 am #

      I also would like to understand why these bullies aren’t identified? Based on Todd Pruitt’s blog (http://bit.ly/2czAUIR) if these men hold positions of influence and leadership, their bullying needs to be fully exposed and they need to be publicly rebuked, for their own good and for the good of the church.

      • Harris September 21, 2016 at 11:05 am #

        I’d like to add some final thoughts… my final analysis, if you may. I say this with an attitude of edification and not accusation. I’m sure Kyle’s motives are pure and don’t doubt that this article was written because of his genuine concern for the church. I just would like to give the perspective of someone who sits in the pews, and encourage the pastors who blog to give a little more consideration to those of us sitting in the pews when discussing these matters.

        Harris
        ————————————-
        I agree with Jack, Jerry, and some of the other commenters. This discussion is meaningless without specifics. It just becomes an abstract argument and does very little to edify the church at large. I’m new to GR and see that two of the primary goals of the blog are to be more pastoral than pejorative, and consider the people in the pews rather than professors and pastors. I believe that this article does not do justice to these high standards.

        1) By not sharing any specifics, not being willing to admit that any good comes out of these organizations, and painting all parachurch organizations with a broad brush, we are forced to assume that ALL of these organizations are evil monsters. So let’s just look at who’s involved with one of these big monsters, TGC. Some of the well-known celebrity pastors on the council (some also happen to be founders of parachurch organizations that have influence over millions of people) include: Tim Keller, John Piper, Alistair Begg, Mark Dever, Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, David Platt, Phil Ryken… the list goes on. And, what about one of the celebrity pastors within reformed circles, R.C. Sproul? If R.C. and Ligonier are in the mix, then even Sinclair Ferguson is guilty of feeding this monster! Thus, the article comes across as pejorative in giving the impression that all of these men are destroying the church. I’m sure this is not Kyle’s intent, but that’s how it comes across, at least to me.

        2) Being called to be a pastor is a very high and unique calling indeed. I believe that pastors are primarily called to preach the gospel and guide and protect the flock. We need good earthly shepherds to guide us as we struggle through this journey in this barren land longing for the day we enter into the presence of our “Good and Perfect Shepherd”. One critical component of good shepherding is to teach the truth with clarity so that that the “sheeple” are not confused. This article has failed in this regard as well. As one of those who sits in the pews, I’m left wondering if all of these men are truly destructive to the church and whether I should continue supporting any of the ministries they lead, since at the end of the day, they are all feeding the monster. I’m called to be the best steward I can be of all the resources God has provided me. And, if by supporting these ministries I’m feeding a monster that’s destructive to the church, it would be nice to get some clarity from pastors who are blogging about this stuff. Saying that there are bullies and monsters running around and then not divulging specifics is analogous to telling a child that she should beware of the “bad people” out there and not telling her who those bad people are.

        In my view, a better way to handle this situation would have been to do the following:

        1) First approach the monsters and bullies behind closed doors and try to reconcile the differences. After all, isn’t this what we are supposed to do as brothers in Christ? Matthew 18 and John 13: 34-35 come to mind. The world is watching how we are treating one another within the body of Christ. Spurgeon had kind words to say about Wesley even when he vehemently disagreed with Wesley’s theology.

        2) If after extensive efforts, it is clear that these men are destructive to the church, then the specifics should be made public in order to protect the church at large.

        3) Finally, Carl Trueman, Todd Pruitt, Kyle Borg, et al should collaborate on a sermon titled “Monsters in the Hands of an Angry God” and preach it from their respective pulpits calling these men to repentance. Maybe the next Great Awakening could originate either in Winchester, KS or Ambler, PA. After all Enfield, CT was also most likely a rural, small town community in 1741! 🙂

        • Kyle Borg September 21, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

          Harris,

          Thanks for some final thoughts. I appreciate the discussion. Since you feel the post I wrote is pejorative and not for the pew, I’ll respond, but give you the final word if you’d like.

          1. I respect that you want to know who has bullied, ignored, and silenced, but I would direct you to Carl, Aimee, and Todd as they’re the ones who claim such. I have not been and so I didn’t give names because I can’t. When I said it would be “easy to begin naming names” I don’t mean the names of those who bully, ignore, and silence, but, as the next sentence made clear (I thought), I was referring to those organizations and people who help fuel a certain culture. Personally, I don’t think it takes mental gymnastics to know who I’m talking about, do you?

          2. If the lack of specifics makes a conversation meaningless I wonder why Paul didn’t use every opportunity he could to name those who preached Christ out of rivalry (Philippians 1:15), or why he doesn’t name everyone who has swerved from the truth (1 Timothy 1:6), or why he doesn’t articulate who caused James fear (Galatians 2:12), or why Jude doesn’t specifically name those who have “crept in unaware” (Jude 1:4), or why John doesn’t list those who have “gone out from among us” (1 John 2:19), etc, etc. On issues that were probably far more serious than what this post was about the Apostolic authors leave quite a bit anonymous. Does such a lack of specifics make those letters meaningless? Does it make the Apostolic shepherding a failure? Is it akin to warning of bad people without tell them who they were? I guess I just don’t see it.

          3. Perhaps, if I can suggest it, other commentary is being lumped together with my commentary. I’m pretty sure that this post is the only thing I’ve publicly written that has been critical of this evangelical culture. My point is, please don’t make me say things that I haven’t said. For instance, I didn’t paint “all parachurch organizations with a broad brush.” In fact, my original post intentionally did not use “parachurch” for the specific reason that I don’t think parachurches are, of themselves, necessarily wrong. My criticism was contained to those organizations that I perceive are doing the work of the church outside the context of the church. Further, my criticism, as I thought I made clear, are against a culture. Sure, culture is derived in part from individuals who contribute. But the monster isn’t any single organization or person that I think has some ability to “destroy the church,” but a complex conglomeration of many things mixed together which make a rather toxic atmosphere. That’s why “monster” (in the singular) was used and not “monsters” (in the plural). That was a very conscience decision. I would also note that my criticism toward celebrity pastors in the original post wasn’t even directed at them. It was a criticism of a culture that I think, at least in a small part, shares responsibility for their moral failure and is, in a sense, destroying them. Some of the comments went off track as if my point was to criticize celebrity pastors for their celebrity-ism. I don’t think I did, do you?

          4. As to your personal involvement in that culture I leave that to be a matter of your conscience. As hard as I am on this culture I wouldn’t categorize involvement and participation as sinful. Personally, I’m not involved. Partly because of my criticisms and partly because I just don’t think it’s necessary.

          5. While I appreciate the desire to follow Matthew 18 I’m not convinced it applies here and, to reiterate my first criticism, following the course of action with Matthew 18 presupposes the structure of accountability and authority that exists in the church per v 17.

          Again, thanks for your comments. I do appreciate them and hope all is read here in the spirit with which it is written. If you want, I’ll give you the last word since you noted this last comment was your “final thoughts.”

          All the Best in Jesus,
          Kyle

          PS: I just saw that you left a comment on September 16 that I didn’t respond to. Sorry! We have multiple administrators who approve comments on this blog and I didn’t see that one had been posted.

          • Harris September 23, 2016 at 9:15 am #

            Hi Kyle,
            Thanks again for your response and giving me the opportunity for the final word. Since you didn’t respond to my questions on September 16, I assumed that you were done interacting with me and made some assumptions that I should not have. For that I’m sorry. I was not aware of the multiple administrator issue at GR. During these discussions, I try to heed Spurgeon’s advice and have a “hot heart and a cool head” and hope that I’ve succeeded in doing so. If I came across too strongly, I am sorry for that as well. When one is passionate about an issue, the toughest thing at times is to keep a cool head!

            Anyway, I have few follow up questions/comments and leave it up to you if you want to take this any further. If not, we can call it a day. It has been a good discussion and I thank you for your interaction.

            1) All of your scripture references except for Phil 1:15 refer to false teachers. If Phil 1:15 applies here, then Phil 1:18 applies as well. When I brought up Phil 1:18 during our prior interaction on September 16, you said that this verse is not applicable to this discussion. Are you now saying that it does? Also, since all of the other verses refer to false teachers, are you insinuating that those you are critiquing are also false teachers?

            2) You mention the following regarding parachurch organizations: “I don’t think parachurches are, of themselves, necessarily wrong.”
            “Partly because of my criticisms and partly because I just don’t think it’s necessary. “

            I’d like for you to flesh out the above two statements a bit more. You don’t think they are necessarily wrong, but also don’t think they are necessary. This is why I posed those two questions on September 16. So, let’s revisit those questions in light of your statements above since I don’t want to make any assumptions this time around.

            – Do you believe that “any good” can come out of any of these organizations?
            – Do you think that God in his sovereign plan may use the work of these organizations to draw his children to himself and expand his kingdom?

            3) “But the monster isn’t any single organization or person that I think has some ability to “destroy the church,” but a complex conglomeration of many things mixed together which make a rather toxic atmosphere.”

            This is a good point and reminds me of what brought about the 2008 financial crisis. The synergies of mergers (in that case MBSs) did not pan out the way the great financial experts expected! Putting bad apples with good apples don’t necessarily make the bigger basket good. But, in that case, there had to be bad apples that decayed that later contributed to the entire basket becoming a toxic asset. It looks like you are saying here that the mixture creates toxicity even if the apples are all good. Is that correct? Or, are there some bad apples to begin with?

            4) Yes, I agree that we are discussing culture, but as you point out, EVERY organization consists of individuals and when we extract the individuals out of the organizations, it gets much easier to critique the organizations in an abstract way. This is what you say in your original article:

            “The culture I’m speaking of has many faces from the popular councils and networks, to the brand names, platforms, blogging empires, promoters, and celebrity pastors ALL of whom give life to the monster.”

            Here you have dissected the components that are contributing to the culture and say that they are ALL to blame. By not qualifying this statement, it sounds like anyone and everyone involved in this culture is contributing to the monster. This is why it came across as a broad brush to me, but I appreciate you trying to clarify this. My point is that behind each of these abstract components is a beating heart. I’m not privy to the motives of those hearts, only God knows. It would have been much better if you had qualified this statement in some way to differentiate the “good” vs the “bad” if you may. Some of the comments probably went off track since it is very hard to divorce the underlying cause from the end result – i.e., without celebrity pastors there ain’t no celebrity culture! This is where I would have expected you to be a bit more pastoral and think of those in the pews who may have benefitted from some of these ministries. I’m glad that all of your spiritual needs were met within the structure of the church and you did not in any way benefit from any of these organizations that make up this culture (as you mention in the article). But, there are some who may have benefitted quite a bit and I think it is more pastoral to think of those individuals as well when writing such critiques. Is this too much to ask?

            5) “While I appreciate the desire to follow Matthew 18 I’m not convinced it applies here and, to reiterate my first criticism, following the course of action with Matthew 18 presupposes the structure of accountability and authority that exists in the church per v 17.”

            Ok, granted, this does not come under the structure of the church. However, if we are brothers in Christ, shouldn’t we approach each other with brotherly love before broadcasting to the world that there are bullies amongst us? That’s a question for the MoS team, I know, but if these bullies are brothers in Christ, then I think we should be a bit more charitable (John 13:34-35 and 1 John 2:9,10 come to mind).

            6) I totally agree with you that the church structure was set up by our Lord for our own good and the good of the church. However, in order for this structure to function properly, the leadership of each church has to consist of godly men who meet the qualifications to be elders and pastors as set forth in the Bible. What I’ve experienced over the last 15 years or so is the utter failure of church leadership with elders who seem to be more power hungry with personal agendas, etc. And, they failed to keep each other (especially the pastor) accountable as well. I’ve witnessed this type of behavior in so called “Reformed” churches as well including OPC and PCA churches. All of these individuals claimed to be reformed theologians holding to Westminster standards!

            So, in my view, one big component that you left out in your analysis of this culture is the role played by the “structured” church itself, and the failure of the leadership in these churches to preach the gospel and shepherd the flock. If I may use an Econ 101 analogy, we’ve created a “supply” and “demand” problem. There’s high “demand” for consumerism stuff (due to the culture at large as well as bad teaching), which is being met via some of these brands, celebrity pastors, etc. But, there’s also very low “supply” of solid churches with biblical leadership, which is pushing the sheep outside the church to go look for other pastures to feed their souls. This has created another kind of “demand” that has also contributed to the continued success of some of these organizations.

            At the end of the day, man’s heart is wicked and leaders will continue to fall into our enemy’s traps if they are not communing with our Triune God on a daily basis. When big celebrity leaders fall from grace, we all hear about it. But, there are also bad leaders in many churches, big and small – even churches associated with denominations that claim to hold to high standards of church structure. Sure, this monster has done a lot of harm to the church at large, but so have many churches who claim to follow the structural mandate of Christ.

            I appreciate the fact that the article captures a real problem we have on our hands. My only pushback is that as we passionately defend the law of God, we should also try to equally elevate His grace. We should try our best to be as gracious as possible towards those people we are criticizing (especially if they are brothers in Christ who are NOT preaching a false gospel). As I said before, Spurgeon had kind words to say about Wesley even when he vehemently disagreed with Wesley’s theology. I’m glad that It’s His invisible hands that are directing our paths and our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15). Thus, I shall try by best to lay my head on the soft pillow of His providence whether there are monsters or not!

            Regards,
            Harris

          • Kyle Borg September 27, 2016 at 11:14 am #

            Harris,

            Again, thanks for your thoughts.

            1. The application I was making to Philippians 1:18 dealt, very narrowly, with the suggestion that not naming names makes a conversation meaningless. I simply don’t see how one can reach the conclusion that an anonymous criticism is meaningless. And no, I’m not suggesting they are all false teachers.

            2. If I build a giant swing-set in my backyard for my kids it isn’t inherently wrong but it’s also not necessary. They’d do just fine without. So parachurch organizations, who are not seeking to do the work of the church outside the context of the church, are not wrong, but I also don’t think they fulfill some necessary role in the advance of Christ’s kingdom. Can they do good? Yes. Do they do good? Sure. Might God bless in spite of them? Yes. But they’re not necessary because Jesus by his Spirit has given his visible church everything necessary for the advance of his kingdom.

            3. That’s a good way of looking at what I’m saying (I may have to steal the illustration). Though I think there were some bad apples to begin with—Tullian Tchividjian comes to mind. On a personal note, I think some of the “good” apples have also soured over time.

            4. I understand some people believe they have benefited. I guess I’d pastorally push back and ask: at what cost? Maybe we’re looking at this from different perspectives, but from where I’m sitting this culture has fostered a spirit of discontent, dissatisfaction, or apathy for local ministries and ministers. a) Ask some (many?) who has influenced them most and you could probably recite the list of names—just look at any conference schedule. Absent from many of these lists are those men who daily pray for their people, sit up at night anxious about their souls, remember birthdays and anniversaries, ask about grandchildren, attend sporting events, rejoice and grieve with the gains and losses of life, and gently shepherd through death’s doorstep. Sorry, but Matt Chandler doesn’t care about your doctor’s report. Al Mohler isn’t going to be one of the first to hold your newborn. David Platt doesn’t want to meet your college roommate. Mark Dever isn’t going to be praying with broken heart for your wayward child. John MacArthur isn’t going to do the hard work of confronting you in your sin. Even Sinclair Ferguson, as much as I love and appreciate him, will not be reading Romans 8 as I’m ushered into glory. But my elders will be. b) I have seen local churches wounded and hurt because the man in the pulpit doesn’t preach like John Piper or teach like RC Sproul, and I’ve watched pastors crash and burn under the pressure of that standard. c) The excitement, thrill, and feast of conferences seems to have replaced an excitement for corporate Lord’s Day worship as the place where God has actually promised to meet with his people and communicate his grace. d) People seem to seek after the guidance and opinions of men like Tim Keller more than those men who are actually their shepherds and familiar with their life circumstances and situations. And in some cases those opinions mean more than the decisions and rulings of Christ’s church (e.g. John Piper’s endorsement of Douglas Wilson). Please note, none of this is true of my pastoral ministry. I have a congregation far removed from the celebrity culture. But I know many for whom it is. Have people benefited? Sure. But at what cost? Is that a fair question?

            5. I wonder how many personal assistants they’d have to go through to get into contact with them…kidding…kind of! 🙂

            6. I think your point here is helpful to a certain extent (I don’t mean that condescendingly). Many of these organizations began with hopes of reforming what they perceived to be bad preaching, teaching, and shepherding in local churches. The seriousness of that concern is extreme. These aren’t peripheral issues but are at the heart of the church’s calling especially for those who believe the marks of the church consist in sound preaching and discipline. Those concerns, therefore, should be addressed cautiously, tenaciously, and with the utmost integrity to biblical methods. And it’s precisely this that I question. Their motives are, for the most part, noble ambitions. But, as noted above, I think their methods are proving to be counter-productive. As I said in the original post, the celebrity culture that has resulted in trying to address those concerns, has shown “how quickly ambitions can spiral out of control and result in misshapen monsters that actually prove to be destructive to the noble aspirations with which we began.” The right method is to use the structures Jesus has instituted; not go outside of them. I’m hopelessly Presbyterian and so I think these things—failure in preaching and shepherding—should be dealt with in the courts of the church. Presbyterianism exists because conflict, different opinions, and minority voices exist in the church. In his wisdom, Jesus ha given a structure of accountability and authority to deal with these things. Yes, it can be a long and tedious process. But Europe wasn’t reformed in a day (or even a century!). The problem is people don’t have a principled ecclesiology or even a practical one (and that includes many in Presbyterian churches!). They either don’t have methods of accountability and authority that can address these concerns thoroughly, or they don’t use the ones that are in place. That’s why I said somewhere here (I don’t remember where) I think a robust and biblical ecclesiology is the answer to many of these problems.

            Again, I appreciate the back and forth. Feel free to continue pushing back. If you’d rather do it via email that’s fine! [borgkyle at gmail (dot) com].

            Blessings,
            kb

  3. Tyler September 12, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

    I find this very thought-provoking; thank you!

    I want to ask a few follow-up questions though to settle some doubts that arise in my mind as I read.

    Couldn’t this blog—as I understand it from the tab above, a cooperative venture dedicated to publicly applying the gospel—be implicated under some of the criteria you mention? E.g. as a para-church platform, performing some functions that the church is also meant to perform, like calls for repentance or “standing together for the gospel,” etc. And isn’t it true that although as you say you have nothing to lose, you do have something to gain with your post: for example, a shout-out on another popular blog with its own set of loyal followers? (Todd Pruitt’s over at MOS—that’s how I got here).

    To be clear, I’m not accusing you of sinful intent, nor do I think there’s anything wrong with getting re-posted or writing great blogs; I assume your motives for writing are what you say they are—your concern for the church—and not personal notoriety or anything else. And it seems like this blog is a great idea, and that you should keep doing what you’re doing. I feel the same way about MOS—I’m glad they do what they do, even if I don’t always agree with them, and even though their program exists outside of a formal church structure and (no doubt) results, as a by-product, in some notoriety for them (and some pain as well, as Todd’s recent posts suggest). But following your logic, don’t we have sufficient reason to tar their work (and yours) with the same brush as you apply to the Big Eva Frankenstein?

    I’m not saying we should. I think we shouldn’t. I’m trying to work out, in good faith, a suspicion I have that it’s not the para-church nature of these organizations per se that is to blame for some of the excesses of the contemporary celebrity culture. Is the difference between this site and (say) “Desiring God” simply the degree of success enjoyed by some para-church organizations, as against others, and the fact that the big ones seem predictably more liable to corruption than the little ones? Wouldn’t that suggest that the inherent dangers of success and expanding influence are more to blame than the nature of the organizations themselves?

    These are all questions I wonder about with regard also to MOS and the critiques that issue from that outlet. I respect those writers and I often find the questions they raise worth thinking about. But I also think it’s worth asking whether there isn’t considerable danger in a corresponding overreaction to the evils of the celebrity culture, one which would cost us a few babies along with the bathwater. I have also benefited enormously, for instance, from Desiring God and some of the materials it publishes. Should I suppose that it would have been better if it had never seen the light of day?

    Maybe there are some critical distinctions here that I’m missing…please let me know!

    • Kyle Borg September 12, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

      Tyler,

      Thanks for the comments and questions. I suppose those who publicly self-promote should expect public opinion. Oh the irony of it all!

      But seriously, let me try to throw some undigested thoughts your way–let me know what you think!

      1) Could the same be said of GR? Fair question. a) Obviously, there’s not a moratorium on speaking and/or writing the truth unless you’re doing it in the context of the church. That’s all this blog seeks to do. b) As a contributor to GR can I protest being identified as a parachurch organization? I wouldn’t even use the word “ministry.” c) Though we’re not a parachurch organization, perhaps one of the things that makes us slightly different from other like-minded endeavors is that all the contributors (except one) are pastors in the Reformed Presbyterian Church–be it the RPCNA, RPCI, or RPCS. We all hold to the Westminster Standards and have a shared polity, and the majority of us are responsible to the same ecclesiastical body. d) While I’m opposed to celebrity-ism and brand names, I’m only opposed to parachurch organizations if they supplant or replace the unique calling and role of the church; become a means to promote power, influence, or legacy; or are received in a manner that makes them more than they are–a dispensable entity despite the good they may do. e) While I don’t think GR can be lumped in with the Big Eva, even on this tiny blog I’m aware of the need to keep things in check because I’m not above and beyond anything I’ve written.

      2) Is it the parachurch nature or the inherent danger of success? I’d say false dichotomy–it’s both/and not either/or. Would you agree?

      Blessings!

      • Tyler September 13, 2016 at 10:04 am #

        All good points, it seems to me. I think you’re right that it would be absurd to call you a para-church organization, and that this blog is insulated from some of the dangers of public para-church activity by the factors you mention. Still, though, some of the organizations that fall under your criteria could make a defense of their work along similar lines, and I’m not sure how many of them can really be said to replace the church in any meaningful sense (or even aim to do that). This is not to say they don’t have problems; it just still seems to me that the distinctions here are very blurry. All the same I appreciate your humility and wariness and will try to imitate it.

        As to your point 2), I think you’re right that it’s not a necessary dichotomy—it could logically be both/and. My point was that I see more evidence for the one cause (success) than for the other (nature of the organization) and suspect the latter is proportionally much less significant. But I’m not sure!

        Perhaps one of the difficulties with this question is the vagueness of our critique. I’m a latecomer to this conversation, and so I don’t always really know which organizations or people you and/or the MOS team have in mind when you talk about “Big Eva”. Some of them I can guess at; but like another commenter below I find it frustrating when people allude to private bullying by “big men” and the details never come to light. I understand there may be good reasons for this, but it leaves me wondering “how helpful can these critiques really be to me if I do not know from which direction the danger is approaching, or whose ministry is a front for these insidious powerplays?” One of the recurrent themes of these critiques is that most people would be surprised if they were privy to the back-room bullying, since they wouldn’t expect it from such people. But if no one ever names names, all this does is teach me to fear a vague conspiracy which may or may not infect some of the organizations I like and trust. That’s confusing and water-muddying!

        • Harris September 15, 2016 at 8:19 am #

          Kyle,
          Thanks for the thought provoking article. I have a few questions and observations.

          The bigger question is, what created this culture in the evangelical movement that has produced this so called monstrosity? Could it be that one of the root causes for the success of these organizations is the utter failure of church leadership (within the evangelical movement), especially when it comes to preaching the gospel and shepherding the flock? What about the role played by seminaries that are producing pastors who are more interested in programs than people? I posit that we’re witnessing the fruits of decades of man-centered gospel preaching. Yes, the hoi polloi in the evangelical movement have by and large become consumers who are enamored by celebrity pastors. But, sadly, the vast majority of leaders in the evangelical movement have also forgotten to preach the gospel without falling into the traps of legalism or antinomianism. And, the man-centered theology has contributed to us focusing on temporal rewards rather than eternal ones.

          Secondly, are these parachurch organizations supplanting the unique roll of the church or are they also filling a void – the desperate need of the unfed, unshepherded flock? As mentioned by some of the other commenters, painting the entire parachurch landscape with a broad brush without naming names makes is too simplistic. Just like churches, there are good ones and bad ones, and God in His sovereign plan is continuing to use some of these organizations to draw people to Him. For example, the parachurch organization that we support continues to supply us with solid resources (including books by Sinclair Ferguson – the only live preacher you admire!). I’m glad that I’m able to obtain such solid resources to feed my soul when all I hear from the pulpit is watered down theology (sadly, even in many so called reformed churches).

          • Kyle Borg September 15, 2016 at 9:12 am #

            Harris,
            Thanks for your insightful comments!

            I think the “how we got here” question is one that is extremely complex. There’s more at work than bad preaching. Iain Murray’s “Evangelicalism Divided” was a helpful book to critique the evangelical movement–though in some ways I think it fell flat.

            *If* these organizations are supplanting the role of the church or filling a void that the church should fill, they are wrong (despite their sincere desires). And, I think, it betrays a bad ecclesiology. As I noted in the post, there’s a reason why the “work of the ministry” was intended by Jesus to truly flourish in the structures of accountability and authority he established for his church. Jesus didn’t want the preaching of his gospel to be a free-for-all, but to be done in the proper way, by the proper people, with the proper protections. Those structures, wise as they are, will not eliminate sin altogether. Only Jesus will do that on the day of his return. But they are the right and biblical ways to protect and promote the truth, guard against false and dangerous teachers, accomplish unity, and win souls to the cause of Christ. Circumventing that may be a cheap-fix, but ultimately it has to be disastrous because it’s stepping outside of the design of King Jesus.

            Blessings in Jesus,
            kb

          • Harris September 15, 2016 at 10:40 pm #

            Hi Kyle,
            Thanks for your response. Couple of quick follow up questions for you. From a practical standpoint, if we are in a church with bad leadership pushing a watered down theology with no shepherding, etc., and are unable to find another church, is it wrong to seek resources from a parachurch organization to help us grow in our faith during this time? Are you saying that absolutely no good can come out of parachurch organizations that preach the gospel? Is this the same as “ends justifies the means” (1 Samuel 15:22) or is it a more complex situation?

            Also how do we apply Philippians 1:18 in these situations? Is it not applicable here? Here’s a portion from Matthew Henry’s commentary:

            “The preaching of Christ is the joy of all who wish well to his kingdom among men. Since it may tend to the good of many, we ought to rejoice in it, though it be done in pretence, and not in reality. It is God’s prerogative to judge of the principles men act upon; this is out of our line. Paul was so far from envying those who had liberty to preach the gospel while he was under confinement that he rejoiced in the preaching of it even by those who do it in pretence, and not in truth.”

            If some of these parachurch organizations are preaching the true gospel, shouldn’t we rejoice the way Paul did? Or am I missing something here?

            Regards,
            Harris

          • Kyle Borg September 16, 2016 at 8:17 am #

            Hi Harris,

            Thanks again for the questions! They’re probably ones that deserve better answers than I can provide in this limited format. But I’ll throw these things your way:

            1. I don’t want to sound insensitive here because I know there are complexities that make principles difficult to practice. I also know that situations like the one you describe are common and it’s a very real spiritual crisis for many people. But here’s the thing. If you’re in a church with bad leadership pushing watered down theology with no shepherding the *best* a parachurch can give you is, perhaps, resources with “good theology.” What you still won’t get is good leadership, shepherding, sacraments, community, nor the liberty and freedom to fulfill your obligations and live out the one-anothers of the Bible. The parachurch can’t deliver. So the answer isn’t to seek out a parachurch organization which cannot replace or supplant the church, the answer is: a) humbly speak to the leadership about the ministry of the church, b) labor to begin a church plant in your area that will fulfill its biblical role, or c) move to a place where there is a church that is faithful.

            2. Personally, I would not apply Philippians 1:8 to a situation like this. In the Bible preaching has a context–preaching is the commissioned declaration of the Word of Christ (see Romans 10:14-17). The men Paul is addressing weren’t pretending to be something they weren’t. They were preachers. He faults them for wrong motives. My point on parachurches–when they begin to function like the church–is not that they have wrong motives. Quite the opposite! Some of them begin with the best of intentions. But the problem is they’re seeking to be something and do something and to offer something they were never supposed to. Does that make sense?

            Blessings to you!
            kb

          • Harris September 16, 2016 at 8:26 pm #

            Hi Kyle,
            Thanks again for answering my questions. I have much more to say, but would first like to get some clarification from you before proceeding.

            1) I’m in no way suggesting that one should look for a parachurch to replace the church. I guess I didn’t make that clear. What I want to know is if it is wrong to use good resources from a parachurch organization WHILE we are actively praying and trying to find a local church body to be a part of. In other words, when we are wandering sheep looking to find the next shepherd, should we avoid getting any kind of spiritual support (such as good theology to supplement our Bible reading, etc.) from a parachurch organization? Am I sinning in looking for any other resource besides the Bible during these times? Again, is there “any good” in what parachurch organizations have to offer in this regard?

            2) I’m a bit confused on this one. Are you saying that gospel preaching is effective ONLY when done within the structure of the church? Are you saying that God will never use a parachurch organization to expand his kingdom?

            I know that you don’t want to mention names, but do you approve of any parachurch organization?

            Regards,
            Harris

  4. Barbara Roberts September 12, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    Thanks Kyle, I agree with you. The Frankenstein analogy is a good one!

    I would add a few more items to your list of their failures. You mentioned “adultery, cult-like leadership styles, domineering personalities, scandalous coverups, egoism, unentreatability, lack of self-control, manipulation, spiritual abuse, abandonment of community, family strife, doctrinal error, etc–have all been seen by the public eye to the shame of the church and the dishonor of Jesus.”
    — I would add: bullying of victims of pedophiles and domestic abusers, and helping the perpetrators avoid accountability.

    And I would like you to re-consider your term ‘family strife’. It’s a vanilla term that tends to depict domestic abuse as a mutual problem in which both spouses are contributing to the strife. In domestic abuse, the abuser is the one who chooses to abuse, and the victim resists being abused. We need to use language that makes that crystal clear.

  5. Carl Trueman September 12, 2016 at 10:53 pm #

    Thanks, Rev. Borg. The MoS team appreciate it very much.

    • Kyle Borg September 15, 2016 at 9:15 am #

      Endurance to you Dr. Trueman!

  6. Missy M September 12, 2016 at 11:01 pm #

    Sorry but in some domestic abuse cases and not a franctional number both parties are contributors. Family strife is a good term which covers all contexts and each case by case situation attributed the specifics.

  7. Reg Schofield September 13, 2016 at 7:30 am #

    While I do agree that there seems to be a out of control , weeds in the garden going on , the fact is to some degree this will always exist . Many of the organizations I’m sure started with good intentions and have done much good , but like anything that becomes bloated , excesses can occur and have . But isn’t it also true that everything has a brand or following and by even blogging or doing a podcast or twitter with a cool name is very much the same thing .

    Lastly , if bullying or intimidation has occurred and I fear it has , instead of making a sweeping general statement , name those who have conducted themselves in a very un Christ like manner . I read the exchange between Pastor Burk and Todd , and Denny was fair and very respectable , and that is the way it should be in matters of disagreement . After so much that has gone on over the last year , to be honest I have pretty much stopped reading or listening to most podcast and blogs from everyone and instead have focused more on what my local Pastor and personal friends discuss . I’ll read books by many from these organizations but I also read from a wide variety not just those . It has left a real bad taste for much and like a friend of mine has done who just blocked all feeds and refuses to follow anyone period , I’m moving towards the same sadly.

    • Kyle Borg September 15, 2016 at 9:14 am #

      Reg,

      Good thoughts! I would leave it to those who were personally “bullied” to list names if they want to.

      “I have pretty much stopped reading or listening to most podcast and blogs from everyone and instead have focused more on what my local Pastor and personal friends discuss.” AMEN!

      Blessings,
      kb

  8. senecagriggs September 13, 2016 at 8:19 am #

    I vote with King Solomon; “There is nothing new under the sun.”

  9. Daniel September 14, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  10. Max September 21, 2016 at 10:06 pm #

    “Yes, we have created it. Through participation, sponsorship, donations, investment of time and energy, we have created something we never should have created.”

    Amen! The monster would not have a stage if he didn’t have an audience. There would be no councils, coalitions and networks ran by celebrities to promote celebrities – no brand names, nor platforms for them to strut their stuff – if there weren’t consumers calling for it to be so. Thus, we live with what we’ve created, preferring monsters over the presence of God.

  11. Mike Wiggins September 21, 2016 at 11:14 pm #

    Am reaching the stage where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to convince myself that all began with the best of intentions or even remotely good intentions. The heart being as desperately wicked as it is, I doubt that even those who at the front of their minds thought they just wanted to spread the Good News by setting this all in motion even come close to understanding their intentions. At bottom, I think most of them created exactly what they wanted to: a platform to make themselves bigger and richer and more fabulous than the commoners and a hammer to beat those commoners who question the throne down.

    How can we read at least one recent academic study which indicates perhaps nearly half of all pastors under 40 have full blown but clandestine NPD (i.e., outwardly caring, but inwardly conscienceless, ruthless, lacking empathy, evil) and think otherwise?

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