The Pen

Baptizing Celebrity Culture


Unless you’ve been sitting under the digital equivalent of a rock for the last couple of weeks, then you’ve most likely heard the news that popular megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA, has been accused of allegedly plagiarizing the work of several other authors in his most recent book A Call to Resurgence. The story has been so explosive that no less an outlet than picked up the salacious story.

This is not an article about whether the good Pastor Driscoll did indeed “rip off” a few folks for his own publications. That case has been well discussed in various quarters of the Internet – but the very fact we are discussing this issue and that the contention has been so strong (both for and against) suggests a deeper and more profound problem in our ever-troubled, evangelical circle.

For a good while now, it has been the custom in evangelical circles to baptize all different elements of the culture around us and then to marvel at the after-effects. So we baptized pragmatism, came up with the seeker-sensitive movement and then wondered why churches around the world are spiritually anaemic and worldly. We baptized our culture’s love of the unthinking and uncritical and wondered why people leave evangelical churches in droves for this or that new philosophy. So it is no wonder we’ve now baptized our culture’s love of “celebrity figures” and now we’re left to wonder what in the world has happened when a pastor can “allegedly” rip off other authors and all but shrug it off.

Whether it is Mark Driscoll and his gate-crashing John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and claiming they confiscated a box of his books, James MacDonald and his alleged mishandling of his church’s finances or Ed Young and his nymphomaniac antics, “big figures” are all making the cause of Christ look more and more bad with the day.

At this point, someone will opine, “But haven’t we always had big names in church history – Augustine, Athanasius, Hus, Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Whitefield, Wesley…”. Yes, we have always had luminaries in the church’s history and we are thankful for them. Even in our modern day, men like James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper and Steve Lawson continue to enjoy a degree of popularity among evangelicals. But there is a distinct difference between being known for being faithful to the cause of Christ and being known for being a showman and drawing attention to yourself with your antics.

It doesn’t help that we continue to give these men, who are so clearly in love with their own image, more and more opportunity to do so unquestioned and even pour scorn those who try to question this. In the words of Chris Rosebrough, we are very much in the grasp of an emerging Evangelical Industrial Complex and what makes this so sad is that good and honest men who truly serve the cause of Christ continue to be compared to men who frankly feed themselves and not the flock.

Maybe it’s about time we dismantled the baptistery that has given the cause of Christ such cause for shame and disgrace and work towards remembering the same truth that compelled Paul:

For whenever someone says, “I’m with Paul,” and another, “I’m with Apollos,” are you not unspiritual people? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. Now the one planting and the one watering are one in purpose, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. (1 Corinthians 3:4-8)

Let’s tear the baptistery down, stop baptising the celebrity culture of the world around us in evangelical ‘water’ and get back to remembering that no one is above the cause of Christ and when they sin, their actions affect us all.

[Contributed by Kofi Adu-Boahen]