1. The term “celebrity pastor” is decidedly pejorative. I don’t know anyone who would be happy to own the phrase. That doesn’t mean we can’t use it. But it means we should not attach it to pastors in a knee jerk way. A Christian with some combination of influence, social media followers, books, a large church, and speaking engagements may be a public Christian or a well known individual, but let’s not use “celebrity pastor” unless we mean to say he relishes the spotlight, has schemed his way into the spotlight, and carries himself as being above mere mortals. Does this fit some popular preachers? Probably. Does it fit all of them? By no means.
2. Having said that, let us beware of the many devilish dangers that can beset us in this internet age. Have there always been Christians mired in controversy? Have there always been popular preachers? Have there always been charlatans in the church? Yes, yes, and yes. These things are not new. What is new is the myriad of ways we can channel our pride, feed our pride, and keep numerical count of our pride. I don’t think I’ve read a negative post on celebrity pastors or the evangelical industrial complex that doesn’t touch on legitimate issues and very real dangers. This is not a throwaway point. We need warnings. I need them too.
3. Let us also acknowledge that one can become something of a “celebrity” critiquing celebrity pastors. This doesn’t make the critiques wrong or inappropriate. But it does mean we aren’t out of the Woods of Pride just because we’ve aligned ourselves against the proud. Besides, are pastors the only Christians susceptible to these pitfalls? What about celebrity professors or celebrity pollsters or celebrity social justice advocates?
4. The reach of our repentance should match the reach of our sin. Private sins demand private repentance. Sins that can be seen by many necessitate a repentance that can be seen by many. And while we ought to forgive each other seven times, and seventy times, and even seven times seventy times, looking for the fruit of repentance is not the same as being unforgiving. Ronald Reagan was right: trust, but verify.
5. When we criticize others for their faults (real or perceived) let us broadcast the news just as widely when they repent of their faults and correct them. The same is even more true when it turns out we were wrong in our information or accusations. Of all people, Christians should not put the bad news in bold face and the good news in a footnote.
6. Discernment is hard work. On the one hand, journalists or bloggers have every right to dig into the facts of some brewing controversy. When the smoke leads you to a fire, let’s not be afraid to sound the alarm. Done in the right spirit, public accountability for public figures is good and right. On the other hand, let’s not fall foul of 1 Corinthians 13 by believing nothing, overlooking nothing, bearing nothing, and hoping for nothing except to find more dirt. How sad it is when a love for the truth becomes a love for exposing thy neighbor.
7. Associations are tricky. It does matter with whom you share a platform. Convictions and courage are often compromised by a casual approach to movement building. If you were big buddies with Arius in the fourth century and blurbed all his books, people would be right to ask a few questions. And yet, to throw a movement under the bus for a couple bad bus drivers is not right. The logic which says “John Piper is the father of the New Calvinism, and John Piper did conferences with Mark Driscoll several years ago, and Mark Driscoll is friends with Steven Furtick, therefore the New Calvinism and everyone and everything associated with it is complicit in the worst of evangelical megachurchdom” is reasoning equal parts fallacious and lazy.
8. There are many possible reasons for silence in the midst of controversy. Some of them are cowardly. Some are wise. It’s not always easy to know when to speak and when to shut your mouth, especially when the former can get you accused of acting too churchly and the latter can land you in hot water for enabling the problem. Along these lines, it may be worth pointing out that TGC blogs commented on the Elephant Room here, here, here, and here; on plagiarism, ghost writing, and buying your way on to the best sellers list here, here, here, and here. And this is simply what I found after searching for 15 minutes, and excluding articles linked to on twitter and commentary from other TGC council members (e.g., Piper’s strong denunciations of ghostwriting here and here).
9. Is the New Calvinism dead or dying? In a couple ways yes. In most ways no. “Yes” in so far as we are seeing that some of the networks in the movement probably don’t actually belong in the same movement and some of the popular voices in the movement may not really be singing from the same sheet of music. But a resounding “no” in so far as the commitment to and interest in these twelve features seems to me to be growing rather than receding. Where the New Calvinism is about propping up our puny empires and making pastors rich and famous let it die a thousand deaths and die quickly. Where the New Calvinism leads people to the Bible, points to good books, produces good resources, promotes a winsome evangelical Calvinism, strengthens the local church, exults in Christ, proclaims the gospel, and magnifies the glory of God, let it grow ten thousand fold. And if it grows and in some quarters becomes potent and popular, let us not have a whiff of triumphalism for its success, nor a hint of rooting for its demise.