Good Preachers and Bad Press

June 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

PreacherWhen I posted an online invitation to my church’s presentation Matt Chandler’s ‘The Explicit Gospel’ series, a friend advised me to “run far from Matt Chandler.” She referred to a very recent incident at Chandler’s church where a woman was rebuked for annulling her marriage to a former missionary who had been fired from the church for viewing child pornography. Chandler and his church took the man’s sins seriously, but seemed to overemphasize the woman’s hasty decision to divorce. The church later apologized and admitted its misplaced focus and lack of grace toward the woman and her situation.

Was this good reason to “run far” from Matt Chandler’s books or videos? I didn’t think so, for a few reasons:

1) Chandler’s error was a sin of omission (James 4:17, Luke 10:30-37), not a sin of commission. It was the result of what he and other leaders neglected to do rather than an intentional course to hurt someone. Sin is sin and we are responsible for our inaction as well as our action. But a sin of omission usually reflects ignorance, immaturity, or forgetfulness—where the specific problem is unlikely to persist—versus an ongoing, habitual sin pattern as what may be referred to in 1 John 5:16,17“sin that leads to death.”

2) Chandler and the leadership of Village Church repented. The assumption is that his lack of grace toward this woman and whatever led to it, perhaps confused priorities, was a course he and those involved are actively correcting. And time will tell if his apology is sincere, but scripture calls Christians to forgive a brother (Luke 17:3).

3) What Chandler may do in the present should not negate what he’s done in the past. ‘The Explicit Gospel’ was produced in 2012, and the incident at his church occurred in 2015. If an author or teacher’s previous work is sound and above reproach, those great resources don’t suddenly become invalid if he later sins, even if the sin and the previous teaching are categorically related (which they were not).

I don’t mean to pick on Matt Chandler or his ministries. There are no perfect people, and this certainly includes pastors, preachers and theologians. We are all prone to wander, and if we reject a Christian book, Bible study, blog or podcast whenever the author falls short of perfection, we would have to reject them all. On this side of eternity, the best we can hope for in human preachers is a minimal amount of heresy.

Are there valid reasons to reject the message of an author or teacher? Obviously, outright purposeful heresy is a great reason. Some preachers of the Gospel start out on the right track and go astray, changing the Gospel to something else. “Run far” from these folks.

In 2002 or so, we presented Rob Bell’s Nooma video series to our high school youth group. Even then, Rob was fairly soft on theology and a bit too heavy on experiential Christianity, so you could see his fall coming. But at the time, his message was not outright heretical. I DO mean to pick on Rob Bell here, mainly to affirm what Scripture warns about false teachers like this. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Gal. 1:6,7).

A dozen years later, can you imagine presenting anything by Rob Bell to anyone you cared about? This leads to one reason we might reject a good preacher’s material: When controversy surrounding a preacher becomes a distraction from whatever he’s taught in the past. Bad press still doesn’t alter one’s past teaching, but it can make it unpalateable. I don’t think Matt Chandler is anywhere near that position, but Rob Bell’s apparent Universalism certainly is, even if he repents and turns from it (which he hasn’t). Tony Campolo’s recent embrace of homosexuality will surely put him out of touch with most evangelicals (and many saw this coming too). Beth Moore has been accused of claiming a special revelation, but the confusion over what she means by “hearing from God” doesn’t seem to have overshadowed the benefit people get from her studies. Mark Driscoll’s resignation over self-confessed anger in his leadership and dishonesty in marketing his book will probably leave his materials still useful for some, but not for others. Driscoll apologized and is seeking reconciliation. But to some a recent controversy like Driscoll’s makes it hard to focus on the truth that he stood for before the mess. And this is unfortunate.

Again, much depends on the nature of the crime, and our tolerances. A lack of grace in leadership style or secondary theological issues are much more redeemable than an abandonment of essential and historical doctrine. In my opinion, time and repentance mends that type of damage far more readily than a huge moral collapse or a wholesale abandonment of the Gospel. And I think there’s a case to be made that you just can’t get people past bad PR. After all, “a good name is more desirable than great riches…” (Prov. 22:1). The Bible that tells us this remains our standard for both what Christians preach and how we select our preachers, and the grace we measure out for the saint-sinners to whom God has entrusted it.

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