How to Let Go of Our Christian Heroes

walkingThis week, Jen Hatmaker, progressive Christian author and speaker, stated in an interview that she believes that “gay relationships are holy”.

Talk about stepping in it. The moment Jen made her claim, you knew what was coming: a tsunami of rebuke from every corner of the orthodox church (and Internet). And instantly, as you know they would, some of her loyal fans flocked to defend her.

It was a mess, unfocused and emotion-ridden. Her defenders asked unproductive questions of her critics like “Are you so perfect yourself?” They pointed out the self-satisfied, angry, and alarmist tones of the criticism (and they weren’t always wrong). That smug delight is everything Christian millennials already dislike about the evangelical church and the word “doctrine”. Yet the hard place was there with the rock, because orthodoxy was Scripture-bound to respond to Jen’s statement.

But what caught my attention in the fracas, and what got me reflecting, was something I know too well: the hesitation to release an earthly hero.

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:3-8)

I know what Jen’s fans are feeling: a kind of dull panic. They fear any threat to her message, which emphasizes the love of Jesus and grace for the sinner. That tenderness is crucial to them, because her fanbase is heavy with believers who have not experienced it in today’s church. So they experience a huge temptation to dig in their heels and dismiss the church’s response outright – stepping deeper into one theological camp out of disgust towards another.

It’s the same worry we all feel when our favorite pastor or author gets criticized.

It was painful for Mark Driscoll’s followers to watch him finally and unquestionably fall from grace. But some kept trying to shrug it off. They performed mental gymnastics to excuse glaring and grievous sins. And while I couldn’t agree, I understood. Though his victims deserved justice and he had to go, God had worked through him, and people feared losing the unique truths he’d shared.

For many years, it was hard to look into my own heart and see this fear. But as human teachers kept falling like October leaves (C.J. Mahaney, Bill Hybels, James MacDonald), I realized I cannot be tied to human teachers. They will err. They will fall short. And they will never be Jesus himself.

My favorite author, John Eldredge, has framed the gospel and daily discipleship in a fresh, personal way for me. I have no doubt that God has used his message to bring healing to my life. But every once in a while, he gets criticized (like everyone). And every time it happens, in my antsy mind, those criticisms threaten to negate and invalidate not just him, but by extension, the work I believe God has done in my life.

To date, I haven’t come across any really non-disputable cases against John’s teachings. But in those first few moments, I know a worry. We are highly sensitive to critiques of our favorite figures.

And we take it even further: Teacher Comparison Games. Someone said “one Francis Chan is worth twenty Steven Furticks!” Chan doesn’t want that comparison. If he does, he’s not worth your following. Though we all inevitably find teachers who speaks to our hearts, it’s God doing the watering. This is our great comfort when a teacher falls: everything we love about them is a thousand times truer of God.

If Eldredge ever “evolves” some position into an actual heresy, I must stand ready to denounce him. Utterly. Swiftly. Without apology. Why do I fear the sullying of a human leader anyway? The Lord is my shepherd. It is because of Jesus, not any of his followers, that I shall never be in want.

This truth frees us up to hold power players accountable. When people knock Steven Furtick, another preacher I enjoy, for buying a million-dollar house or sharing stages with less savory figures, I can accept it. “Yeah. I wish he’d knock that off.” The objectivity is difficult, but necessary. I’ve sometimes found myself incensed on behalf of Beth Moore (another frequent target), knowing the good she’s done for women. But I remember to stuff my indignation and ask, am I clinging to human heroes? Or do I recognize God as the true mover of everything good? (Ultimately, there isn’t much to attacks on Moore – just discernment bloggers who denounce conversational prayer and distrust any teacher not named John MacArthur.)

Paul has labels for those who play comparison games: worldly. Jealous and quarreling. “Mere human beings”.

Ouch.

Let go of humans. Be willing to acknowledge good and bad; be willing to walk away. The message is greater than the messenger. Too many of us are fighting tooth and nail to preserve an imagined infallibility in our earthly heroes. It’s not there, and the fight runs the risk of hiding the real source. Only Jesus deserves our unswerving loyalty; only Jesus will never fail us.

16 thoughts on “How to Let Go of Our Christian Heroes

  1. So well said and so necessary… I’ve been feeling stuck on this topic for the past couple of weeks, it’s maddening to watch people just blindly follow false teaching. As more and more ‘Christians’ take non-biblical stands on issues more and more are jumping on their bandwagon because they sound good and are articulate. Anyone who dares to disagree with her is scolded as judgmental. It’s a dangerous thing that has been set up when these people are put up on pedestals and their words/opinions take the place of Gods word.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Brandon J. Adams and commented:

    This week’s news that Senator Ted Cruz (or, supposedly, whatever staffer runs his Twitter account) liked an X-rated tweet reminded me of this post. I’ve got nothing against Cruz. He’s a fantastic Congressman who probably did no wrong. But it’s striking how many conservative voices are refusing to consider even the possibility that a hero of theirs might slip up.

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  3. Great point made here sir. Leaders tread on eggshells, even more when they drop a bomb like this. I don’t find agreement with this gal, but she has more brass than most of us Christians who are afraid to step outside the bounds men set for us. We tremble at the thought of being caught doing something unapproved, not because of fear of God, but fear of our denominational distinctives, or the loss of respect from a legalist pier. I’d like to add though, it is one thing to believe we are without sin & can cast the first stone, it’s quite another when we put a bullseye on our chest. Choose your battles wisely, there’s plenty to get into. Some things should be left unsaid

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  4. We should never put our trust in man, only in God. Also, I don’t understand why we can’t disagree on doctrine without getting angry. Every person has a right to believe what they want to believe. We don’t need to tear anyone apart. But religious persecution has always been this way. We are not allowed to believe differently than the mainstream.

    I was a Seventh-Day-Adventist. Other churches call us a cult, they think we are legalistic because we believe the Sabbath day of rest is still Saturday, as it was at creation and the Ten Commandments. They think we should believe in an everlasting hell where God tortures people with no end. Christians have gotten very angry at me for saying there is no hell like that. Why? Do they love that doctrine?

    It is my personal belief that if a person is gay, married to another gay person and they are monogamous, then I think God accepts their union. If they do not believe they are sinning, then they are not. I think God holds us accountable for what we know to be sin.

    The reason I think God accepts gay unions is because gay people are born attracted to the same sex. It isn’t their fault in any way.

    Another reason is the fact God allowed multiple wives in the Old Testament and did not rebuke those who did it. It was the custom of the times and I guess those old guys didn’t think it was a sin.

    My sister is gay and does not believe it is a sin. She is in a monogamous relationship and is a Christian. I don’t know why other so-called Christians can’t leave gay people alone.

    Heterosexual marriages are mostly a joke with many, many Christians cheating on each other or abusing one another. Our divorce rate is the same as the world’s. Christians should be known by their love. But that isn’t the way it is today.

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    • I don’t think many people enjoy the doctrine of hell, Belle, but we defend it for the same reason the National Hurricane Center puts out its warnings to the public about hurricane dangers: it would be wrong not to warn people about what they believe is coming, whether they want to hear it or not.

      As far as knowing sin…my mind can be misled. There are many things I don’t know, but are still true. That is the difficulty with allowing our fallible hearts and minds to decide what’s truth for us. We must find an outside source to illuminate truth, and I choose the Bible for that.

      Thanks for coming by and having the courage to speak.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know there is a judgement when wicked people will suffer. However, I do not believe their suffering has no end. That is over-kill. That is not just. We wouldn’t do that to a dog, never mind a human. I believe the Bible has been misinterpreted. They do not take every verse in the Bible and put them all together.

        I choose the Bible too. But we interpret it differently.

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  5. I agree with vagabond316. A Christian, if they choose to call themselves that, must be cautious in what they say because ears perk up when they make a statement. The world is ready to jump in a critical manner when they hear the voice of this person. What we claim to be and what comes out of our mouths must line up. Otherwise we are considered to be phonies according to the views of the secular world.

    Liked by 1 person

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