Friday, February 18, 2011

Reformed Celebrities and Their Formulas for Success

Reformed rock stars.  No, I don't mean Alice Cooper.  I'm talking about the pastors, theologians and other experts that we in the Reformed world lift up to celebrity status.  And when people have celebrity status, the things they say become more important, more worthy of a listening ear, and, well, more correct.

Now, as is sometimes the case, I've been wanting to write this for quite some time, and somebody else posts something similar.  This triggers all the necessary tools into operation to create a blog post.  Much thanks to Eric Carpenter at A Pilgrim's Progress for posting The Reformed Tendency to Create Superstars.

Eric lists some names, and I'll list many of the same, plus more.  The Reformed celebrities to which I refer are John MacArthur, John Piper, RC Sproul, Michael Horton, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever.  These are general, overall celebrities.  There are other celebrities that have been given special status as experts in a specific field.  Jay Adams and Wayne Mack in the area of counseling.  Tedd Tripp is the child rearing expert.  Martha Peace on what you need to be an excellent wife.  Joshua Harris is the dating and courtship guru.  DA Carson on theology.  And all these celebrities have their groupies.  Now, I'm not necessarily blaming the celebrities here, as Jesus had plenty of groupies too.  You know, all those who followed him for the magic tricks and being fed the bread he pulled out of his hat?  He rebuked them for their idolatry.

One by-product of the celebrity hype is that their material on a subject can become a formula for godly living.  Or even the formula.  Many people, for example, hold Tedd Tripp's Shepherding A Child's Heart book to be the biblical model for child rearing.  I know this first hand.  When you've got a kid who doesn't fit the box people have made of Tripp's book, then you're the one who is failing as a parent.  Nevermind that your other kids are fine.  Nevermind the special circumstances your family has that prevents you from following his formula, his formula is the only way to achieve godly kids.  Unable to follow his formula?  Well, then just follow his formula!  You have no choice.  It doesn't matter how well you explain how your family can't fit the formula, the formula works, because it's biblical after all.  And you're not.  And you're told so every time your kid has a problem, because you didn't follow the formula.

One humorous story that should shed some light on this formula bit comes from a men's discipleship class I took at my church in the late 90's.  One of our books to read was on marriage, written by one of the Reformed celebrities.  The problem was that this book was written 25 years earlier, in the early 70's, and true to conservative tendencies, the author had a cultural view of things from several decades earlier.  So, in this book, gender roles from the 50's golden age of TV were being advocated as biblical.  Of course, the book made it home with the men, and their wives and wives-to-be read the book, too.  And there were some ticked off women.  Some of the advice to women on how to be a biblical wife were like making sure you have his pipe and slippers ready when he comes home from work to read the evening paper.  Practice putting your makeup on, because even though you're married you've got to do your best to keep your man.  And the best was advice to the young single woman.  College is a great place to meet your man, so enroll, ladies, and get your Mrs. degree!  All this gave us some big laughs, as even by conservative standards in the 90's we viewed some of the stuff in the book as patronizing or demeaning to women.

I had only been a Christian for several years, and it taught a good lesson in discernment.  Don't swallow things whole.  Chew them up first.  Pick and choose between what is actually from Scripture and what is a cultural norm, especially if it's somebody else's cultural norm.  A formula for success is usually a recipe for disaster for people who don't fit.  It's a good thing to question the ideas of the celebrities, even if it makes you less popular.


  1. Wow, Steve. What can I say? Great words, brave words.

    I'm not reformed, but I have so appreciated your balanced reformed views. As much as I would like to villify certain reformed leaders, your humility and honesty make me less capable of it! You don't fit the mold so I can't categorically dismiss the reformed group! Very inconvenient of you!

    Perhaps some day I will share my story, a story of total church meltdown because a humble, Spirit-inspired leadership was labeled "simple-minded and not calvinistic enough" for a sub-group...until the sub-group left to start their own church down the street, with John MacArthur's blessing. It's still raw, so I can't share it in good conscience yet. But I appreciate your honesty and your words, they keep me from seeing things (and folks) under strict categories.

    Many blessings to you, from one Christ-follower to another,

  2. Steve,

    Good word brother.

    This obsession among the Reformed for celebrities is a significant problem that just seems to be getting worse. I don't think I can attend another theological conference because of the speaker worship. I wish these celebrity types would begin to speak sternly against what is happening.

    God cannot be pleased by this sycophantic behavior directed at pastors and seminary presidents.

  3. Reformies want to claim MacArthur and Piper, but when I look at those guys actully say on the subject, they may be Calvinistic, but are far from "Reformed"...

  4. Bill,

    Good point. I'm aware of the controversy over not only whether MacArthur and Piper are "Reformed," but the greater controversy of what "Reformed" actually is. I was thinking about including such a disclaimer, but if you take the Baptists out of my equation, the equation still exists in the Reformed world.


    I doubt that speaking out against it would do much good. Remember recently when the pope did the same thing to throngs of admirers?


    I've done lots of thinking about the vilification of leaders. What I think happens is that there many different reasons why things go wrong at the hands of leaders. Some are outright wolves in sheep's clothing, out to devour the flock. Others have good intentions, but hold to doctrines and practices that "sound good" but when put into practice actually hurt other people. Many of these people come to the point of seeing their unintentional consequences and repent from their teachings. Others see their ideas as absolutely correct because they've told themselves that those ideas come from the bible. The unintended consequences, therefore, must be the fault of the victims, and the teachings are all the more emphasized.

    There are many leaders out there that hold to essential truths, hold to a true gospel, but are messed up in so many secondary ideas that their ministries can't be beneficial to everybody. This all said, there are leaders who take criticizing of a doctrine or belief as a personal attack against them or their favorite celebrity theologian. They therefore attack those who question doctrines and practices.

    I wish wisdom for you in dealing with bad experiences. Simply discussing them gets a wide reaction from listeners. Peace.

  5. Steve,

    I so appreciate your comment...our church family has grown in faith and humility throughout the last year. Perhaps the hard part is that I still love these brothers and sisters. Wouldn't it be so much easier to just write them off completely, but when love enters the picture, it woos me towards them (as much as it is possible).

    On a more practical level, the inner debate that I have with myself is WHEN is dissension acceptable in the local church? When is it okay for a pastor to break his contract and start his own church? What issues are justified to do so? So many sides to this story, but it might be an interesting topic. In the end, I have found Paul's words most comforting - that whether Christ is preached out of malice or out of goodwill, I rejoice that Christ is being preached!

    Many thanks to you for your listening ear, and your genuine words.

    Resting in Him,