How to Let Go of Our Christian Heroes

walkingThis week, Jen Hatmaker stepped in it.

The popular progressive Christian author and speaker, in an interview with the Religion News Service, stated she believed that “gay relationships are holy”.

Before I offer my stance on this*, I want to talk about something else: our reaction.

For as soon as I read Jen’s words, a swell of something hit my chest, and I wasn’t sure whether it was a response to Jen’s doctrine, or pity for her.

The moment Jen made her claim, you knew what was coming. She’s been hit with a tsunami of harsh rebuke from every corner of the earthly church. Smug responses, in some cases, like this from the Christian satire site Babylon Bee. Piling on. Without the nuance of face and voice, I can tell you that this wave of response has already struck some people as self-satisfied, angry, and alarmist – everything Christian millennials (like Hatmakers’ fans) already dislike about the evangelical church. It’s a downside to the internet. It’s also one reason my generation struggles so much to respect doctrine.

If you’re ice-cold objective about all this, you probably acknowledge that the harshness of the church has no bearing on whether a piece of doctrine is actually true.

But something is revealed here, I think, by fans of both Hatmaker and of those criticizing her: a hesitation to let go of our earthly heroes.

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 right now: a kind of dulled panic. They fear Jen’s loss of reputation, because they fear the loss of the message she’s been carrying: the love of Jesus and grace for the sinner. That tenderness is crucial in their eyes, because it’s too often left out of the Gospel by a politicized and divisive 21st century church, and they hate the vitriol the church is capable of. (I, for example, shake my head every time Matt Walsh of The Blaze gets into a Twitter battle with someone. What could possibly be gained?)

So, in disgust with the church, 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.

I understand them, actually. I have felt their worry myself. It’s the same worry we all feel when our favorite pastor or author gets criticized.

My favorite author, John Eldredge, has framed the gospel and the daily walk with Christ in a fresh, personal way for me over the years. I have no doubt that God has used his message to heal my own life. But every once in a while, he gets criticized. (Everyone does.) And in my antsy mind, those criticisms threaten to negate, not just him, but the work God has done in my life.

To date, I haven’t come across any truly irrefutable cases against John’s teachings; my research usually validates him, or dismisses the accusations as disputable matters. But in those first few moments, before the research, I know a worry. The temptation to just knee-jerk-dismiss his critics is very real.

I saw the same thing with Mark Driscoll years ago. It was painful for his followers, watching him finally and unquestionably fall from grace. But some continued to shrug off his mistakes. They performed mental gymnastics to excuse glaring and grievous sins. And while I couldn’t agree with them, I understood. God had worked through him, and they 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 I got older and better at honestly dissecting my motives, and as human teachers continue to fall from grace like maple leaves in October, I realized this: I cannot be tied to human teachers. They will err. They will fall short. And they will never be Jesus himself.

If John Eldredge ever “evolves” some position into a truly un-Scriptural heresy, I stand ready to denounce him. I must. Utterly. Swiftly. Without apology. There are loyalties higher than to a human author, like the truth of Scripture. Why do I fear the sullying of a human leader anyway? The Lord, not John Eldredge, is my shepherd. It is because of Jesus, not any of his followers, that I shall never be in want. Everything that’s been accomplished in my life really came from God. None of his apparatuses deserve adoration; only he does.

But that’s hard. We get really wrapped up in our heroes. Even those of us who prioritize good theology in our teachers are still prone to this. I must constantly crucify that part of my heart, every day.

When people knock Steven Furtick, another preacher I enjoy, for buying a million-dollar house or sharing a stage with less savory figures, I can, by the grace of God, accept it. “Yeah. I wish he’d knock that off.” Beth Moore is another favorite target of criticism. I found myself incensed on her behalf, knowing the good she has done for believing women. Once again I had to stuff my indignation and ask, am I clinging to human heroes? Or do I recognize God as the true mover of everything good in my soul? (In the end, there wasn’t much to the attack on Moore – just your typical discernment blogger who denounces conversational prayer and doesn’t trust any teacher not named John MacArthur.)

Paul has a choice word for those of us who play the “teacher comparison” games: worldly. Jealousy and quarreling. “Mere human beings”.

Ouch.

The Apollos-Paul stuff sounds a lot like what we do today. 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 will all inevitably find a teacher who speaks to our hearts, it’s God doing the watering. The power rests there, and there alone.

Let go of your teachers. Be willing to hold them accountable; be willing to acknowledge good and bad; be willing to walk away if they lose credibility. Don’t fear this. The true Gospel is not at risk; the message is greater than the messenger. Too many of us are fighting hard to maintain an imagined infallibility in our earthly heroes. It’s not necessary, and it runs the risk of hiding the real Jesus.

Only Jesus deserves our unswerving loyalty; only Jesus will never fail us.

 

 

* I can’t tell you what to do with Jen Hatmaker. But I believe the true Jesus, the Jesus displayed in the Word of God as a being of both tenderness and justice, offers the true tenderness of sanctification. Matthew 18 and the writings of Paul interpret the pain Hatmaker describes, the pain of homosexual practitioners being rejected by the church, as the pain of conviction – a holy and merciful fire, designed to cleanse us into a truthful walk with God. Leaving us to our sins is never kind.

If we are to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are walking with the real Jesus and not our own made-up cardboard cutout, we must be prepared to put these truths ahead of feelings. That will be a difficult challenge in the decades to come.

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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