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Lest I be accused of only drawing attention to myself, I thought it wise to point out that there were some other really thoughtful posts today on the issue of “celebrity pastors.”  I enjoyed them all and commend them to you.

Jonathan Leeman says he really likes the phrase “celebrity pastor.” Who else would we rather evangelical Christians make into celebrities?  His post is more nuanced than that, of course, and he raises a good point.

Also, Kevin DeYoung offered a helpful list of distinctions between heroes and celebrities.  I love Kevin’s ability to say important and sometimes complex things simply.

Finally, Carl Trueman pushes back on what he calls my “semantic qualifications.”  He writes:

Thus, the issue with the celebrity culture surrounding certain pastors and organisations is not ultimately one of linguistic definition or of those who use the term with a certain amount of elasticity or even incompetence.  The issue is that there is a real problem — in fact, many real problems — to which some are trying to draw attention.  There is a problem with the yob aesthetic, the arrogant stage swagger, the stand-up routines, the obsession with talking about sex in sermons which puts some of these conference headlining pastoral role models about as far from Paul’s vision of leadership as possible; there is a problem with pastors who tell their people they will only visit them in hospital once they have been placed in a body bag; there is a problem with pastors who make videos which ape the aesthetics of the mainstream media and focus on the pastor, not the pastor’s God; there is a problem with churches of thousands of people, few of whom ever get to meet an elder, let alone the pastor; there is a problem with church planting strategy that is so wedded to the cult of the one man that he has to be skyped in to the community; there is a problem when a man has to phone the librarian at Westminster Seminary with a pastoral issue because nobody at his home church of thousands has the time to speak to an ordinary church member about his crisis of faith.

Call it what you like.  I call it the culture which grows up around celebrities.  Maybe I am hopelessly wrong in my choice of terms.  You may certainly choose others which fit better.  But like  internet pornography, I would rather spend time exposing the problems for what they are than debating semantic qualifications.

All I can say is: I’ve not denied that there’s a problem.  Surely it’s worth stating the problem well so that we don’t stigmatize and condemn the righteous along with the wicked.  Will we not spare the Sodom and Gomorrah’s of evangelicalism for ten righteous pastors?  Better definition might help us both address the issue and give honor to whom honor is due.


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6 thoughts on “What Others Said Today about “Celebrity Pastors””

  1. Jared O. says:

    Thanks, Thabiti. I wonder if we can bring in some of the recent discussions regarding polemics. Could it be that we are sacrificing specifics for fear of being called ‘unloving’ or ‘uncharitable’ or even ‘haters’, then forcing the discussion of these issues into broad, sweeping categories?

    If I replace “celebrity” with “well-known pastor”, there are differences among well-known pastors: a MacDonald is different from a Keller is different from a Chandler is different from a Furtick is different from a Driscoll. All have certain tendencies, reputations, strengths, weaknesses, intentions, etc. I appreciate the way you and Carl set a model for discussion.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Jared,

      Thanks for the encouragement for me and Carl. And thanks for raising your very good question. In fact, I think you’ve defined quite well what makes me uneasy about the use of these terms: they sweep up a lot of people who don’t deserve to included in such a pejorative label. I’m hoping we’ll come to more specific statements if we think this is such a significant problem. But perhaps I’m naive about all this.

      T-

  2. I hope it’s okay to comment here that I was especially helped by the distinctions Kevin DeYoung made. If it’s alright to say, pastors like yourself and D.A.Carson are my heroes, as defined by Kevin, for the way you lovingly, but firmly, ask hard questions and give Biblical answers, at risk to your own name, for the sake of Jesus’. I’m tempted to make a snarky quip about Carl Trueman all of a sudden backing down when he kind of started this whole thing….but I won’t. :) See, I’m learning already.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Rachael,
      Of course it’s okay to comment here. Thanks for contributing!
      Grace to you today!
      T-

  3. taco says:

    Watchblogdom should take heed to this series. It might give them an ounce of credibility if they would stop with the sensationalism.

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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