The invincible ignorance of Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald

Numerous scholarly refutations have been made of Newsweek and Kurt Eichenwald’s Christmas polemic against the Bible and historic Christianity. Dr. Michael Brown, whose own detailed rebuttal of Eichenwald’s article was published by Newsweek, subsequently invited Eichenwald on to his Line of Fire radio show.

The resulting two-hour programme is exceedingly frustrating to hear for anyone with even a basic knowledge of Christian history and the transmission of the Bible. Nevertheless, Eichenwald’s refusal to concede his fundamental errors of fact is enlightening. Throughout the show, Eichenwald demonstrates his invincible ignorance by evading every opportunity to engage meaningfully with the arguments and evidence against his position.

Dr. James R. White, director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, has responded to a portion of the Brown-Eichenwald interview in his usual inimitable and sometimes acerbic manner. The relevant segment starts at 47:35 into the audio/video of the 27 January 2015 episode of Dr. White’s Dividing Line programme. It is worth hearing for anyone interested in understanding Eichenwald’s errors.

A debate between White and Eichenwald is clearly warranted, but it seems unlikely that Eichenwald would be willing to expose his arguments to direct examination by Dr. White, notwithstanding White’s exceedingly long track record of engaging honourably in well-mannered formal debate.

Eichenwald is, at least, right about one thing: many self-professed Christians are woefully ignorant about both the Bible’s history and the teaching it contains. Ironically, it is this very lack of knowledge that is exploited by those like Eichenwald who espouse tired liberal unorthodoxy. His article thus demonstrates why Christians need to be informed and educated about their faith, always ‘ready to give a defence to everyone who asks’ (1 Peter 3:15).

A point-by-point response to Christian Today’s defence of Perry Nobel

James Duncan, long-time observer of Perry Noble and NewSpring, has written a detailed rebuttal to a missing-the-point opinion piece by Mark Woods published on the Christian Today website.

The greatest danger facing the church?

James Hamilton, Professor of Biblical Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writing on The Greatest Danger Facing the Church:

The greatest danger facing the church is probably not what most of us expect. We expect some sort of direct challenge from without, but it probably comes from within. In our day, it may well come from well-meaning pastors.

How could well-meaning pastors pose the greatest threat to evangelical churches today? Do they deny the truth?

No, the pastors who pose the greatest threat to the church today will confess belief in the right things. They will confess the authority and inerrancy of the Bible, that Jesus saves, and that he is the only way of salvation.

So how can these guys who mean well and make the good confession pose such a threat to the church?

They are a threat because, in spite of their confession, their words and actions treat Christianity as nothing more than the best form of therapy. They treat it as self-help. They treat it as the path to better marriages, better parent-child relationships, better attitudes and performance at work, and on and on.

Tyndale’s justification for not withdrawing Boy-Back-From-Heaven book: if we don’t publish, someone else will

National UK newspaper The Guardian has a 3,000 word article on the Boy-Back-From-Heaven scandal that has been covering. This section is particularly noteworthy:

Jan Long Harris, a publisher with Tyndale House, was Beth Malarkey’s primary correspondent. She offered to correct inaccuracies in consultation with Kevin, “since our contract is with him”. According to the emails newly obtained by the Guardian, Harris acknowledged that Beth had presented larger issued [sic] with the book, writing: “I realize that your concern about what you feel are inaccuracies is not the only issue you have with the book, but it is the issue that could be most easily addressed.”

Beth replied: “Revisions are not what will restore what has been stolen from my son, who continues to suffer.” She asked if Tyndale House could break its contract with Kevin Malarkey.

Harris, evidently exasperated, replied:

Even if we could make a case for breaking our contract, the book could (and probably would) be back in print with another publisher within a few weeks. So I don’t think that would achieve your goal.

‘If we don’t then someone else will’ does not seem to be a worthy reason for a supposedly Christian organization to publish a book containing known ‘inaccuracies’.

Harris continued to explain Tyndale’s position:

Also, I’m sure you can understand that we can’t break a contract with an author just because someone else – even if the someone else is the author’s spouse – makes accusations about him. We have to give the author, in this case Kevin, a chance to respond.

The question of breaking a contract should not have arisen, as Tyndale should never have agreed to publish the book.

Tyndale House says that it is ‘substantially owned’ by a foundation whose mission is ‘to spread the Good News of Christ around the world’. One wonders how publishing fabrications and false doctrine assists in spreading the Good News of the One who is Truth (John 14:6).

Photo credit: Liane Metzler.

LifeWay issues second misleading statement, is ‘committed to becoming even more proactive’ in evaluating resources

continues to cover the unfolding Boy-Back-From-Heaven scandal that has so far implicated both publisher Tyndale House and SBC bookseller LifeWay.

On 16 January 2015, LifeWay provided radio show host Janet Mefferd with a statement regarding The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven book, which she has shared in a Twitter message. The statement repeats almost verbatim that issued to Dr. Warren Throckmorton on the previous day, but goes further in asserting that LifeWay will be ‘even more proactive’ over the coming months in evaluating the resources it carries.

Here is the statement provided to Mefferd in full:

LifeWay Christian Resources Statement regarding “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven”
January 16, 2014 [sic]

LifeWay was informed this week that Alex Malarkey has retracted his testimony about visiting heaven as told in the book “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven.” Therefore, we have returned to the publisher the few copies we had in our Stores.

LifeWay is committed to becoming even more proactive the next few months [sic] in evaluating the resources we carry.

Marty King, Director of Corporate Communications and Spokesman
LifeWay Christian Resources

This latest statement from LifeWay is, like that given to Dr. Throckmorton, particularly worded. It implies that LifeWay only found out about the book’s falsehood last week, but careful parsing reveals it merely to assert that LifeWay was informed last week, which it was. The statement neither confirms nor denies that LifeWay was also informed previously.

The impression given by the statement, if not its precise wording, is incongruent with the evidence showing that LifeWay’s Dr. Thom Rainer and Dr. Ed Stetzer both knew that the book was false back in May 2014, but chose to keep selling it anyway. It also does not explain why LifeWay ever decided to carry a book that contains supposed extra-biblical revelation and false doctrine.

continues to await a response from LifeWay to our own enquiries. We suspect they may be rather busy at the moment.

Photo credit: Liane Metzler.

The Evangelical Industrial Complex – here’s why ‘Christian’ publishers and retailers promote celebrity false teachers

Writing early in 2012, Skye Jethani sought to account for the rise of celebrity pastors and described what he termed the Evangelical Industrial Complex. His thesis rings true, and explains why the billion-dollar financial imperative faced by ‘Christian’ publishers leads to a self-perpetuating cycle where they promote – and then become dependent upon – megachurch pastors and other celebrities whose doctrine is often less than entirely sound. This behaviour is readily understandable from a business perspective, but is utterly tragic and reprehensible when one considers that souls are at stake.

Jethani’s full article is well worth reading, but here is its central argument:

So, what does Eisenhower and the military have to do with celebrity pastors? Well, just as America’s militarism for the last half century is partially the result of systemic economic forces, so is the rise of the present clergy celebrity-class. There is an evangelical industrial complex that helps create, and then relies upon, the existence of celebrity leaders. Have you ever wondered why you don’t see pastors from small or medium sized churches on the main stage at big conferences? Or why most of the best-selling Christian authors are megachurch leaders?

Here’s one possibility (the one people like to believe): The most godly, intelligent, and gifted leaders naturally attract large followings, so they naturally are going to have large churches, and their ideas are so great and their writing so sharp that publishers pick their book proposals, and the books strike a nerve with so many people that they naturally become best-sellers, and these leaders are therefore the obvious choice to speak at the biggest conferences. As a result they find themselves quite naturally becoming popular, even rising to celebrity status.

Is this possible? Yes. Does it happen? Sometimes. Is it the norm? I don’t think so.

Here’s the other possibility (one I’ve seen from the inside): Through any number of methods–powerful gifting, shrewd marketing, dumb luck–a pastor leads a congregation to megachurch status. Publishers eager for a guaranteed sales [will] offer the megachurch pastor a book deal knowing that if only a third of the pastor’s own congregation buys a copy, it’s still a profitable deal. The book is published on the basis of the leader’s market platform, not necessarily the strength of his ideas or the book’s quality. Sometimes the pastor will actually write the book, and other times a ghost writer hired by the publisher will do the hard work of transforming his sermon notes into 180 pages with something resembling a coherent idea.

Wanting to maximize the return on their investment, the publisher will then promote the pastor at the publisher-sponsored ministry conference or other events. As a result of the pastor’s own megachurch customer base and the publisher’s conference platform, the book becomes a best-seller. Or if that doesn’t work, sometimes sugar daddies purchase thousands of copies of the book to literally buy the pastor onto the best-seller’s list where the perception of popularity results in more sales. (Yes, it happens. Not a lot, but it does happen.)

This market-driven cycle of megachurches, conferences, and publishers results in an echo chamber where the same voices, espousing the same values, create an atmosphere where ministry success becomes equated with audience aggregation.

Photo credit: LifeWay Building, Dennis.

Phil Johnson confirms that Alex and Beth Malarkey tried to have ‘Boy Who Came Back From Heaven’ withdrawn over two years ago, but publisher Tyndale House would not listen

In Setting the Record Straight, Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You, gives his perspective on the unfolding Boy-Back-From-Heaven scandal. Particularly noteworthy is Johnson’s testimony that, even as far back as two years ago, Alex Malarkey – subject of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven – had along with his mother been trying to have the book withdrawn:

Shortly after “The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine” was posted on our blog two years ago, Alex’s mom, Beth Malarkey, contacted me to acknowledge that John MacArthur’s analysis is correct: “These modern testimonies … are simply untrue.” She and Alex had already been doing everything they could to get the word out that The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven told a largely imaginary story, and that most of the details had been greatly embellished and exaggerated in the writing. Publicity about the book had incited a cult of afterlife enthusiasts and hangers-on who wanted to canonize Alex and idolize him as a mystical seer with an open connection to heaven. Alex was uncomfortable with the feeling of moral and spiritual responsibility his sudden fame had thrust on him. Still a child, he nevertheless understood that the truth was more important than his own reputation.

Johnson relates that publisher Tyndale House would not withdraw the book:

The publisher refused to pull or alter the book. Alex’s father, thrilled with the book’s best-seller status, stood with the publisher. Even a pastor from whom Alex sought counsel said he thought the book was “blessing” people. He advised Alex to be quiet and let it ride.

With reference to Alex’s recent repudiation of the book’s claims, Johnson describes how people obstinately refused to hear the truth:

When Alex has tried to make similar statements on Facebook or in other online forums, he has been routinely shouted down, his comments deleted, and his fragile voice silenced. We want to give his testimony maximum exposure, because Alex is right: The truth is more important than how anyone feels about it.

Johnson is in no doubt both as to the danger of books such as these and to the reason why they continue to be culpably sold:

One of the top online reviews of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven says: “I can tend to be a little skeptical of otherworldly experiences, but when I hear it from the words of a child, I am much more open to the idea. A child is not going to be capable of making up these kinds of images and keeping his story straight for month after month after month.”

That, sadly, is what lots of readers think. What they don’t realize is that there is a massive industry behind books like these, heavily populated with decision makers who care more for filthy lucre than for truth. Employed in that industry are some mercenaries who have no scruples whatsoever about making up tales like these, polishing and embellishing them, and buttressing them with details designed to enhance the illusion of believability. It’s the very worst kind of pragmatism gone to seed. What’s “good” is defined by what sells. Scripture calls it “the teaching of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14).

The knowing production and sale of books containing false doctrine and based upon fabricated stories is a stain upon the Church and an impediment to the proclamation of the Gospel. It is long past time for Christians everywhere to hold those responsible to account. Likewise, Christians who purchase such materials ought to repent of their lack of discernment, for publishers and retailers will not sell materials for which there are no buyers. Nevertheless, Christ died even for sins as serious as these, and forgiveness may be found in Him.

Update: Phil Johnson has also published a June 2014 letter he wrote to Tyndale House.

Photo credit: Liane Metzler.

Emails suggest LifeWay’s Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer knew ‘Boy Who Came Back From Heaven’ book was false, chose to keep selling it anyway

Dustin Germain is doing stellar work covering the unfolding scandal of LifeWay peddling notoriously unbiblical materials. In his latest article, Germain provides explosive emails from a May 2014 exchange between respected contender-for-the-faith Justin Peters and LifeWay President and CEO Dr. Thom Rainer. This postscript from one of Peters’ emails appears damning:

(PS – if you are not already aware, the book The Boy Who Cam Back from Heaven detailing the story of Alex Malarkey is fiction. It did not happen. I know this because I have exchanged numerous emails and have had personally spoken with Beth Malarkey, Alex’s Mom. Alex does not support the book. His Mom tells me that his father, Kevin, is exploiting his own son for financial gain but is not financially supporting his son with the profits of the book. She is doing everything she can to get the truth out. You might want to pull this, too, if you haven’t already. I know LifeWay used to sell it. I will be glad to give you Mrs. Malarkey’s phone number and email address if you would like to verify that I am telling you the truth.)

Germain reports that Rainer did not respond to this email. For seven further months, until this month’s overwhelming public outcry, LifeWay continued to sell a book containing unsound doctrine that it apparently knew to be based upon a fabricated story.

Germain’s detailed post is essential reading and demonstrates that neither Dr. Thom Rainer nor Dr. Ed Stetzer wished to heed Peters’ appeals. Germain concludes with this plea:

These questions need to be answered. Why did Rainer not seek to stop the book from being sold once he knew the truth? Do Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer really believe that the experiences conveyed in heavenly tourism books are real and have enough sound biblical character to be passed on and sold to the masses? Why did Lifeway not listen to the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2014, who repudiated these books and passed a resolution accordingly? Do Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer believe these accounts to be true? Could not a lot of shame and embarrassment been spared Lifeway if its executives would have only listened to SBC messengers and honored their wishes? Will Southern Baptists hold Lifeway’s executives to account? Will Christian consumers from across the evangelical spectrum hold book publishers to a higher standard?

Brothers, please. We can do better. We must do better. The love of Christ and the faithfulness to the truth and sufficiency of his word compels us to do better.

continues to await a response from LifeWay to our own enquiries.

Photo credit: Liane Metzler.

LifeWay returns ‘Boy Who Came Back From Heaven’ books to publisher. Why, though, was it ever selling them?

On 13 January 2015, Alex Malarkey, subject of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, definitively repudiated the book’s claims.

In response to a subsequent enquiry by Dr. Warren Throckmorton, Martin King – the Director of Communications at LifeWay – issued a statement saying that LifeWay stores are returning remaining copies of the book to the publisher, Tyndale House:

LifeWay was informed this week that Alex Malarkey has retracted his testimony about visiting heaven as told in the book “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven.” Therefore, we are returning to the publisher the few copies we have in our Stores.

Dr. Throckmorton also notes that Alex’s mother has been campaigning against the book for some time. Writing on her blog in April 2014, Beth Malarkey explained that the Gospel was missing from the book, that it ‘leads people away from the Bible not to it’, and that Alex’s ‘name and identity are being used against his wishes’. She also recounted how Alex had previously attempted to enlist the support of a ‘pastor’ to have the book stopped:

When Alex first tried to tell a “pastor” how wrong the book was and how it needed stopped, Alex was told that the book was blessing people. Ok … first, Alex said that while he was struggling physically and trusting this person as someone who seemed to be concerned, so the person was invalidating Alex’s feeling while justifying the wrong that Alex was trying to make that person aware of. The person told Alex to “trust” him.

The real scandal here is that supposedly ‘Christian’ organizations – including LifeWay, which is operated by the Southern Baptist Convention – ever thought that such material was fit for distribution. As has previously noted, though, LifeWay continues to sell works by notoriously unsound authors such as Beth Moore, T.D. Jakes and Sarah Young.

Why do Christian retailers and publishers seem to be so persistently and wilfully undiscerning? Certainly, at least in the case of the SBC’s LifeWay, it is not for lack of an illustrious executive leadership team – theirs includes well-known figures Dr. Thom S. Rainer and Dr. Ed Stetzer. These men surely understand the doctrinal issues involved and the deep human cost of false teaching. Sadly, Todd Pruitt, Lead Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, VA, offers what seems to be the likely answer:

And yet Beth Moore’s books and studies are published by Broadman & Hollman (B&H) and sold in Lifeway stores. Both Lifeway and B&H are Southern Baptist entities and Beth Moore a member of a Southern Baptist Church. So why does the Southern Baptist Convention publish, promote, and sell teaching that clearly departs from historic Protestantism and is against its own doctrinal positions? Follow the money my friends. Follow the money.

has reached out to LifeWay to ask whether there may be a more charitable explanation.

Update: The Washington Post reports that publisher Tyndale House has ‘decided to take the book and related ancillary products out of print’.

Photo credit: Liane Metzler.

Circus by the Glades

With their cover of Britney Spears’ Circus, Church Circus by the Glades illustrates the point of the article, The Church Growth Movement: innovating like it’s 1894. They write:

For the grand opening of our new building, we launched into a series called Life is a Circus and I’m Surrounded by Clowns. Here’s the performance of “Circus” that helped us get the series started!

One can’t help but admire the Christ-centred lyrics that so clearly proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Him:

There’s only two types of people in the world
The ones that entertain and the ones that observe
Well baby, I’m a put-on-a-show kind of girl
Don’t like the backseat, gotta be first

I’m a like the ringleader, I call the shots
(Call the shots)
I’m like a firecracker I make it hot
When I put on a show

I feel the adrenaline moving through my veins
Spotlight on me and I’m ready to break
I’m like a performer, the dancefloor is my stage
Better be ready, hope that you feel the same

All eyes on me in the center of the ring just like a circus
When I crack that whip, everybody gon’ trip just like a circus
Don’t stand there watching me, follow me, show me what you can do
Everybody let go, we can make a dancefloor just like a circus ahhhhha


Update: The Museum of Idolatry found additional stills from the show, including these ones from the Church by the Glades Flickr photostream:


Come One Come All!

Video and feature image credit: Circus, Church by the Glades.
Additional photo credit: Church by the Glades.

‘Boy who came back from heaven’ repudiates story, rebukes LifeWay and other buyers/sellers of ‘heaven tourism’

Update: On 15 January 2015, LifeWay announced it was returning copies of Alex’s book. The publisher, Tyndale House, also decided to take the book out of print. For more information, see our continuing coverage.

The plague of books by those who claim to have visited heaven has been undermining confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture for years. ‘Christian’ retailers, such as the Southern Baptist Convention’s 180 LifeWay Christian Stores, have collaborated with this doctrinal downgrade by peddling these sources of supposed extra-biblical revelation. It is therefore notable that the LifeWay Vision, Values, and Mission statement affirms the inerrancy of Scripture, but conspicuously neglects to mention its sufficiency:

We believe the Bible is the eternal, inerrant Word of God, and is the plumb line for all of our resources, and for everything we say and do. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

Ironically, given that LifeWay sells not only heavenly tourism books, but also works by the likes of Beth Moore, T.D. Jakes and Sarah Young, this statement is made under the ‘Core value’ heading of ‘Trustworthy’. (SBC members may wish to hold accountable LifeWay’s executive leadership, which includes well-known figures Dr. Thom S. Rainer and Dr. Ed Stetzer.)

In a welcome development, Alex Malarkey, subject of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heavenstill sold by LifeWay at the time of posting – has courageously written an open letter in which he definitively repudiates the book’s claims, rebukes ‘Lifeway and other sellers, buyers, and marketers of heaven tourism’, and affirms the sufficiency of Scripture. His letter has been published through the Pulpit and Pen website in the article, “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” Recants Story, Rebukes Christian Retailers.

Photo credit: Liane Metzler.

Beth Moore rebukes articulate, discerning young woman; here’s the fascinating email exchange that followed

In her blog post, It’s Hunting Season for Heretics, Beth Moore condescendingly rebuked a young woman, Jessica Lam, for daring to label her a false teacher. Moore then reached out to Jessica, and an email exchange ensued. In making the transcript of the conversation public, Jessica writes:

Here is my brief conversation with Beth Moore, with my husband’s commentary. It breaks my heart that she transforms so quickly from someone who is “here to serve me in every way,” to refusing to answer my last question. Pray for her, pray for her followers, and pray for me and my husband as the spotlight is on us during all of this.

Dustin Germaim has additional commentary over at the Pulpit and Pen blog.

Todd Pruitt weighs-in on Beth Moore’s ‘direct revelation, sloppy exegesis, and squishy ecumenism’, wonders why SBC sells her books

Todd Pruitt, LeadPastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, VA, is right on the, uh, money.

False teacher Beth Moore objects to being called a false teacher

File this one under, ‘Well she would, wouldn’t she?’

Erin Benz of Do Not Be Surprised… gets to the heart of the problem with Moore in her post, Why Beth Moore and Not Me? The Danger of Claiming to Receive Direct Revelation. Do Not Be Surprised… has extensive additional coverage of Beth Moore, as does Pastor Chris Rosebrough’s Fighting for the Faith programme.

Perry Noble issues an apology

Perry Noble of NewSpring has apologised for saying that there is no Hebrew word for ‘commandment’, and also for a Tweet he made.

Noble has notably not apologised for his false claim that God expressly told him to preach the Christmas Eve sermon, nor for the general content of that sermon (which he seems still to be defending). He also gives the appearance of attempting to evade the full measure of his culpability by saying that he unwittingly entered a ‘debate in which godly people are on both sides of the issue’. As has been amply demonstrated, the facts are abundantly clear.

Nevertheless, Noble’s apology is to be welcomed. Also to be welcomed is his acknowledgement that he fully understands and feels ‘the weight of James 3:1 that clearly says that people who teach God’s Word will be judged more strictly’.

Since this apology represents a significant change in tone from his attempt to redirect attention away from the main issue just the day before, James Duncan’s brief pause to see how matters develop would seem to be a good example to follow. Let us continue to pray for Noble’s full repentance.

The Church Growth Movement: innovating like it’s 1894

I was struck by three things while watching the opening minutes of NewSpring’s now infamous Christmas Eve service: first, by the vast effort that had been put into the production; second, by what must have been the incredible expense of the whole enterprise; and third, by the utter irrelevance of the entertainment experience to the faithful proclamation of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. As a taste, here is the opening set:

For those who cannot (or do not wish to) watch the video, here are the lyrics to the song:

Hang all the misletoe
I’m going to get to know you better
This Christmas
And as we trim the tree
How much fun it’s going to be together
This Christmas

Fireside is blazing bright
And we’re caroling through the night
And this Christmas will be
A very special Christmas for me

Presents and cards are here
My world is filled with cheer and you
This Christmas
And as I look around
Your eyes outshine the town, they do
This Christmas


Try to reconcile this performance with Luke’s account of Christ’s commission to the church:

 Then He [Jesus] said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.

Luke 24:44–48

Christ has tasked His church with preaching repentance and remission of sins in His name to all nations. Nothing less, and nothing more.

It is perhaps a little unfair to single out NewSpring. They would no doubt say that they are being ‘innovative, using modern methods to communicate a timeless message’. In this, NewSpring is merely representative of the Innovation Cult that has subjugated so much of the visible church.

Still, even if one were to grant the premise that ‘innovative’ and ‘modern methods’ may be used, what exactly does a performance of Chris Brown’s This Christmas have to do with the ‘timeless message’ of (one presumes) repentance and the forgiveness of sins? Anyone? It is abundantly clear that NewSpring – and the other churches of the Innovation Cult – are rebelliously off-mission.

Have you noticed how the most self-professedly innovative churches all look just the same? (An unsympathetic observer may be tempted to think that they exhibit rather less innovation than they do slavish imitation.) This uniformity is an inevitable consequence of the seeker-driven method, for in their desire to make themselves attractive to the cultural zeitgeist, these churches conform themselves to the image of the world. The great irony is that they thereby denude themselves of the one thing that the world does not have.

If the leaders of the Church Growth Movement had any sense of church history prior to their own, they would realize that their supposed ‘innovation’ is nothing other than failed 19th century revivalism of the kind repudiated by C.H. Spurgeon in his 1894 sermon, The Lord Leading; David Following:

Oh, what would some preachers do to get the people to hear them at all? Ah, what are they not doing, dear friends? As things now go, I should not wonder at all if we were to have, in some of our places of worship, a part of Mr. Barnum’s show, in order to attract a congregation! We have all kinds of fiddling, and tinkering, and I know not what, going on to get people to come and hear what is called the gospel. “Oh,” said one, “but he brought so many to the place!” Yes, if they had had a clown out of the theatre, he would, no doubt, have brought still more. If that is all that you want – simply to gather a crowd together – it is not so very difficult if you are not squeamish about the means you employ.

But, oh! when God sends the people to hear the gospel and nothing else, and they come and listen to what a man has to say to them about heaven and hell, life and death, the cross of Christ and the way of salvation, that is the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.

C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (vol. 40; London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1894), 79–80.

Spurgeon preached repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ. He has his (eternal) legacy. Those whom he was critiquing held their circuses and attracted great crowds, yet now are completely forgotten.

Spurgeon’s insight is that it is no great feat to gather a crowd, if one is willing to use any means. He spoke hyperbolically of P.T. Barnum’s ‘Greatest Show On Earth’, but the Church Growth Movement seems to have missed the joke. It employs pastors of the ‘creative arts’ who transform worship services into entertainment experiences with song-and-dance routines, worthless stunts and assorted other madness. Even children are enticed with sacrilegious novelties such as fire engine baptistries, replete with sirens and confetti cannons.

The Church Growth Movement’s huge numbers are therefore no impressive feat, readily achievable as they are through mere human effort. And, having attracted such crowds through means that appeal to the unregenerate nature, the megachurch leader dares not tell them plainly that their sin condemns them before a just and holy God. He cannot proclaim repentance and remission of sins. He is unable to give the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus. He is utterly constrained in what he may say, for a crowd so easily gathered will just as readily scatter at the foolishness of preaching the cross of Christ.

This is why the doctrine and preaching of the seeker-driven megachurch is necessarily so powerless and pitiful. This is why those churches are full of false converts and starving sheep. The seeker-driven method militates against the message of the Gospel. The two cannot long coexist.

The seeker-driven megachurch – failing to preach Christ to 10,000 people at a time

The entire Church Growth Movement is thus seen to be founded upon a false premise, for the ‘timeless message’ of Christ crucified and raised from the dead may only be communicated through the means that Christ Himself has ordained. And that means is the foolishness of preaching that message.

You cannot entice people to be saved, for they are dead in their sins and – apart from the working of the Holy Spirit – incapable of any move toward God. And the Holy Spirit does not, will not work repentance and faith through an entertainment experience. No, Paul says, ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Rom. 10:17, ESV). Jesus, then, comes to us only through His Word, Baptism, and Supper.

May God therefore cause us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out faithful labourers into His harvest – workers who will rightly divide the word of truth, preaching the Law in all its ferocity to frighten comfortable sinners, and the Gospel in all its sweetness to comfort frightened sinners. May the Holy Spirit grant seeker-driven leaders – and we ourselves – to repent and truly believe the words He breathed through Paul:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Cor. 1:18–25

Photo credit: The Greatest Show on Earth!, peddhapati.
Video credit: NewSpring. Reproduced for the Fair Use purposes of criticism and comment.

Is efficiency a virtue in the church?

The monarchial government of many seeker-driven churches is certainly efficient. When a leader is supported by a board of subordinates whom he has appointed, and can just as easily remove, he is well placed to Get Things Done. Nevertheless, is efficiency a virtue in the church?

In a reflective, thought-provoking piece entitled Is Efficiency A Virtue In The Church?, Dr. R. Scott Clark suggests that a desire for efficiency can militate against the very means of grace through which the Holy Spirit works in Christ’s church. Here is an extract:

It’s not obvious from Scripture that our Lord is much interested in efficiency. He established an institution (the visible church) to which he gave the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16) and slow, even cumbersome system of church discipline (Matt 18) that, in execution, may take a long time to work out. My argument is that was intentional because the church is populated by sinners who, in an “efficient” system would be more apt to use the church not to love and serve one another but to hurt them. There are benefits to efficiency in business. A product that is produced more efficiently is probably going to be less expensive and more affordable for a greater number of people and government is rarely efficient and that wastes tax dollars and sometimes even human lives. Nevertheless, one of the calling cards of twentieth-century totalitarianism is that it was efficient, that it made the trains run on time. That experiment did not end well.

Loving people, caring for them takes time. People are sinful and sin results in brokenness and restoring (e.g., in church discipline) them takes time. The preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments takes time. In the ordinary providence people might have to hear essentially the same message 10 times before it sinks in. The Spirit works when he and where he pleases. Ministry is much more like farming than it is like factory work. Perhaps that’s why Scripture tends toward agrarian metaphors of planting and harvesting.

I also think I understand the attraction of efficiency and church-growth thinking. It’s a subtle form of rationalism. Ministry, after all, is a mystery. Why does that one, who seemed to show so much enthusiasm and so much fruit suddenly apostatize and how is that the other one, who never seemed to “get it,” who was late for church, who was never going to be a leader in the church, turn out, on his death bed to have been a fundamentally faithful, grace-filled believer? That’s a mystery. There’s no way to fix or speed up the work of the Spirit through the Word and sacraments. So, when so someone comes along with a slick plan that seems to make ministry that much more “rational” (that was a buzzword in government and business in the first half of the 20th century) it’s hard to resist. It’s something that elders, who might also be businessmen can understand and support. It seems to build bridges but it also, subtly perhaps, puts us just a little bit more in control of church and ministry and tends to marginalize the Word, sacraments, and Spirit (were that possible).

Photo credit: Ryan McGuire.

Perry Noble of NewSpring doubles-down on Ten Commandments error

James Duncan continues his excellent coverage of Noble’s rookie error on the Ten Commandments.

Here’s some good advice for Noble: when you make a mistake in the pulpit, repent and put it right. The shed blood of Christ is sufficient to atone even for such sins. When you instead spin, obfuscate and attack your critics, you demonstrate that you do not love the Truth.

The seeker-driven megachurch leadership model

The church growth movement’s leadership model is not that of the Chief Executive Officer, but the absolute monarch. CEOs report to a board of directors who, in the case of a public company, are themselves accountable to shareholders. Self-appointed, vision-casting megachurch leaders refuse to hear godly criticism and are truly accountable to no one. Forsaking the faith and practice of the historic, orthodox Christian Church, they impose the vain imaginings of their own hearts upon flocks starving for the Bread of Life.

And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy out of their own heart, ‘Hear the word of the LORD!’”

Thus says the Lord GOD: “Woe to the foolish prophets, who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! O Israel, your prophets are like foxes in the deserts. You have not gone up into the gaps to build a wall for the house of Israel to stand in battle on the day of the LORD. They have envisioned futility and false divination, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD!’ But the LORD has not sent them; yet they hope that the word may be confirmed. Have you not seen a futile vision, and have you not spoken false divination? You say, ‘The LORD says,’ but I have not spoken.”

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Because you have spoken nonsense and envisioned lies, therefore I am indeed against you,” says the Lord GOD. “My hand will be against the prophets who envision futility and who divine lies; they shall not be in the assembly of My people, nor be written in the record of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.

Ezekiel 13:1–9

The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

1 Peter 5:1–4

But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:42–45

Photo credit: Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1543.

On the reading of old books (and creeds and confessions)

Speaking of C.S. Lewis, although his theology was in places deeply problematic, he was nevertheless quite brilliant. His essay, On the Reading of Old Books, would, if taken to heart by western believers, do much to counter the church growth Innovation Cult that blights so much of today’s visible church.

Originally written as an introduction to an English translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, Lewis’ short essay has been much reproduced. It is worth your time, and you can read it here.