James McDonald, Another “New Calvinist” Bully, Leaves

I never really liked James McDonald from the get-go. It wasn’t that his preaching was “bad”–the few times I heard him preach, he was decent–it was that so many others were so high on him that they thought I was out of touch for not being on their bandwagon.

But at the 2013 Act Like Men conference in Indianapolis, something about his demeanor just wasn’t right. There was something about his presentation that screamed of heavyhandedness. He wasn’t “loud”; he just seemed like someone trying to be all tough, as though that somehow made him worthy of being up there.

(Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll also preached at that conference. Chandler was excellent; Driscoll was good–say what you want about his leadership style–but McDonald did not strike me as a credible pastor. Like I said, it wasn’t that he was teaching anything erroneous; he simply did not come off with pastoral gravitas.)

TWW has this piece on his “resignation”. And, for all my issues with Deb and Dee, I can’t say I disagree with their assessment of McDonald.

It really seems to me that some of these high-profile conservative preachers–Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, McDonald, Mahaney–are falling for the same dynamic that defined the televangelist disasters: a combination of (a) heavyhanded leadership with no accountability, (b) a love of money, and (c) along the lines of (a) and (b), a sense of entitlement.

I’ve long-observed the ministry in America as a corporate ladder. You go to college or Bible School, then on to seminary to get the MDiv (and perhaps even a doctoral degree). In ministry, you may start out as a children’s minister, a music minister, a youth minister, or even work interim pastoral roles (also called “pulpit supply”). Of course you get married, because singles generally have very limited opportunities in the ministry.

When you get out of school, you start out at a small or medium-sized church. If you have good speaking and social skills, and manage not to piss off the wrong people, then you go places.

Even better, if you are innovative, then you can start your own church. You might have the charisma to attract a small following, and then–through word of mouth–others start coming to your church. People are attracted to charisma: a pastor who can operate like a CEO projects “E.F. Hutton”-level gravitas, and we all know what happens when E.F. Hutton talks…

But here’s the problem: charisma is not character!

I’m going to say it again: charisma is not character!

Guys like Driscoll, Tchividjian, McDonald, Mahaney, and even Chantry, have strong charisma. They have the qualities that you expect in Alpha Males, at least with respect to the Church: no matter which church they are in, they are going to be sought out as leaders.

But were any of these guys ever vetted for character? And if so, to what extent? Many denominations will place great emphasis on sound doctrine, and rightly so.

But what about character? What about leadership style? What about financial expectations? And yes, what about sexual baggage?

(Yes, the latter is fair game. If you’re a would-be overseer, it is fair to expect that you are not perverted: you are not into porn, or sexually-attracted to the same sex or to children. It is also fair to expect that you are not the type of person who supports leaders who are, and that, if accusations surfaced, you are predisposed to transparency and reporting to the proper authorities.)

If no one in McDonald’s–or Driscoll’s–inner circle had the presence of mind to notice a problem, then shame on them. And if they did, and refused to confront them–then they were derelict in their duties.

Ultimately, your sin will find you out. As I often put it, you will never outrun your character: that will always catch up with you.

And if you are a bully, you will find that, once a church wakes up, you might be in for a rude awakening.


Southern Baptist Convention Continues Decline

I generally do not cheer at reports like this one. After all, there are a lot of good people in the Southern Baptist Convention–particularly missionaries both here and abroad–who will suffer as a result of the decline of the SBC.

At the same time, given the institutional coverup of sexual abuse scandals in their churches, I cannot say that I have any desire to see the SBC prosper.

And don’t start the, “SBC churches are autonomous, so the convention is limited in what they can do” line. Puhleeeze.

The same convention that has booted churches for endorsing homosexuality cannot take action against churches who cover for predatory ministers?

(If you try to shovel the “Baptist Churches are autonomous” argument over here, I will cyber-waterboard you without mercy.)

The current SBC President, Steve Gaines, would know of such coverups: he was directly involved in one at Bellvue Baptist Church where he was pastor. One of his ministers was known to have abused his son; Gaines sat on that knowledge. As far as I am concerned, he is no different from Ted Haggard. That the SBC has made him their President is a global disgrace.

Amy Smith of Watch Keep was well-connected at Prestonwood Baptist Church, a prominent hub of the conservative theology that has defined the Southern Baptist world for the last 35 years. Her father was a deacon there.

When she blew the lid on a whitewash of a sexual abuse scandal at Prestonwood, she became persona non grata in her own family. You can read about it here.

And sadly, the leadership of the SBC has shown no desire to get to the bottom of this problem. They have passed resolutions, even called for commissions to investigate the problem of sexual abusers in their ranks, but provided zero teeth to them.

I am not surprised that there are sexual abusers in the Church. They flock to the church (that’s where the children are) for the same reason that the robber hits the bank (that’s where the money is).

And as I’ve often said, the sexual predator is not the creepy-looking pervert; in fact, they are affable, charismatic, popular, well-respected, often married and with children of their own. Christians expect evil people to look evil; in fact it’s the other way around: just as Satan appears as an “angel in white”, the most vile people often look good and respectable.

Israel’s first king–Saul–was the best-looking man in the kingdom. He looked like he would make a good king, but–due to his lack of regard for God’s ways–he nearly led Israel to destruction.

Baptists, like the Israelites of old, have a long track record of picking leaders who, like Saul, look good and respectable, but who are evil and vile.

Even worse, when the extent of their depravity becomes known, churches are more prone to resort to CYA than to do the right thing and contact the authorities. As bad as the predators are, the Church compounds this by an order of magnitude by (a) not reporting accusations to authorities, (b) allowing the offender to resign and move, (c) disregarding, or making light of, the impact of the abuses on the victims, or, worse, (d) attacking the victims and/or those who blow the whistle on the coverups.

The SBC has a sordid history of doing exactly that. And it reflects a body whose leaders are fixated on their own self-interests rather than those of the Father.

Until they reverse course, I will root for their demise.

TWW’s Reflections on Driscoll at Mars Hill

I am writing with respect to Dee’s post here.

First, a little of my background.

While I joined an Acts 29 church in 2008, I was never a Driscoll fanboi. At the time, I only knew a little about Driscoll, and had no idea he was behind Acts 29. Where I lived, that was one of the few decent churches, and some of my friends went there. They seemed pretty solid theologically, and were relatively laid-back in their style.

After we got engaged, MrsLarijani watched many Driscoll sermons online. She was trying to get a feel for Acts 29. She liked most of what she saw.

As for me, I’m not high on the celebrity preacher circuit and never have been. I like John Piper and Tim Keller, for example; at the same time I do not fawn on their every word either. I do not listen to their sermons regularly, although I have read a few of their books.

Fast-forward about 10 years.

Driscoll is long gone from Mars Hill. Mars Hill is itself long gone.

Having read a share of Driscoll’s work, I have reached some conclusions about him:

(1) I do not classify Driscoll as a NeoCal, at least not in theological terms. I am not sure that he’s really that “Reformed” in his theological leanings. Mohler? Definitely. Mahaney? You bet. Chandler? Most certainly. Piper? Yes. Keller? Maybe. (He’s PCA Presbyterian, so he’s more of an old-school Calvinist.)

But Driscoll? The only thing “NeoCal” about him is his approach to church discipline, and even in his case that might be a stretch: he wasn’t working according to any particular NeoCal playbook; his case was simply what happens when leaders are accountable to no one. Many of his elders were poorly-trained and had no idea how to apply Scripture properly.

(This was the same dynamic that forced Matt Chandler to apologize to a woman who was wrongly disciplined for seeking to end a marriage to a husband caught downloading child porn.)

(2) While I am not in agreement with some of Driscoll’s interpretation of Esther and The Song of Solomon–I do not think Esther was a slut but was rather in a lose-lose situation–I cannot say that his hermeneutical approach was bad. In the sermons I’ve watched, his preaching was good. One year, I attended an Act Like Men conference in Indianapolis, and Driscoll was one of the speakers. Nothing he said was controversial at all.

(3) Driscoll’s failings were not theological, but rather a failure to apply his stated theology to himself. This is a danger with every leader: when leaders–particularly ones that attract large followings–are not accountable (i.e., the rules don’t apply to them), you have all the ingredients for disaster.

(4) Driscoll’s record on sex is mixed. While he is too libertine by my standards, that’s not my issue with him. He seemed, however, to devote way too much time to the subject. Was this due to an obsession on his part? Was this due to so many folks at Mars Hill being mired in the hypersex culture of online porn, fetishes, and assorted perversions? I don’t know, as I cannot answer for Driscoll. But yes, it did seem that he had a fixation on the matter.

(5) Did he plagiarize? I dunno. He definitely did not do the best job in the world footnoting. That would have, at the very least, earned him the loss of a letter grade in an academic setting. His biggest sin in that area, however, is not the alleged plagiarism but rather the use of deceptive tactics to market his books.

(6) Is Driscoll a misogynist? I dunno. That terms gets thrown around any time someone makes tough statements about women. There was a period in his life during which he had marital problems. During that time, he said some things that were overly harsh about the opposite sex. Is that misogyny or just a season in which his attitude was bad? He should have refrained from preaching about women during that time, or taken a sabbatical. But, from what I’ve read and what I’ve heard from him, I would not categorize him as a misogynist.

Ultimately, Driscoll had to go. It isn’t that his theology wasn’t up to snuff, nor is this about incendiary e-mails he sent under pseudonyms 17 years ago.

In Driscoll’s case, it is about a pattern of conduct that reflects (a) a lack of maturity that is unbecoming of a minister of the Gospel, (b) dubious judgment, evidenced by his crashing a John MacArthur event, (c) heavyhanded leadership tactics–including abusive practices–that are incongruent with the Biblical criteria for would-be church leaders, and (d) potential financial malfeasance.

I would suggest that, unless and until he can show that he has resolved those issues, he has no business in the ministry.

More Trouble for John Smyth (and probably P.J.)

I wish I could say I was surprised at this latest set of allegations about John Smyth. (HT: Brent Detwiler)

To me, the larger issue here is not so much John, who is mostly a non-factor today, but rather his son P.J.

While P.J. cannot be held guilty for the sins of his father, he does owe the larger Body an accounting of what he knew, when he knew it, and what his role–if any–was in these “camps”.

To date, his denial–and clarification–has raised more questions than answers.

The nature of the allegations against his father are damning; if one percent of those are true, then he deserves to be hanged, drawn and quartered. If the allegations are true, then John Smyth is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

But P.J. has some things for which he needs to answer, as they are pertinent not only to John’s victims, but also the operations at Covenant Life Church.

(a) What was P.J.’s role in his father’s camps?

(b) To what extent was he aware of the abuses?

(c) Which abuses did he personally witness?

(d) Did he participate in any abuses?

(e) If so, at what age was he involved?

(f) If he was involved in abuses, did he ever break off his involvement?

(g) If the answer to (f) is yes, when?

(h) How many allegations of abuse came his way?

(i) What did he do with those allegations?

The answers to these questions are important, because the men, women, and children of Covenant Life Church have a right to know what kind of man is leading them. Does he consent to such abuses? What would he do TODAY if an allegation of abuse came his way? What culture does he foster among his fellow elders and deacons and small group leaders regarding such conduct?

As for you, P.J.:

I don’t give a crap about your theology.

I don’t give a crap how many books you have published.

I don’t give a crap how many butts you get in the pews on Sunday.

I don’t give a crap how many conferences at which you get invited to speak.

That you subscribe to a conservative theology makes it all the more incumbent that you provide substantive, honest answers about your past. This is because, in that past, you were an integral part of what was ostensibly a Christian ministry.

Your father’s sins are not your sins; you are, however, responsible for what YOU did.

And you have not been forthcoming about your roles.

I’ve said it before: what you saw and did as a child–or even as a teen–is one thing: I do not hold children and teens to the same level of responsibility that I would hold an adult.

But what you have seen and done in adulthood, that is something for which you owe the Body an answer.

Dr. Iain Campbell, Reformed Leader Caught in Scandal, Kills Self

In all honesty, I had never heard of Dr. Iain Campbell until his suicide was reported by TWW.

Initially, his colleagues provided a sympathetic assessment of his suicide.

FWIW: I generally am very skeptical of such assessments. Suicide is a big honkin’ deal. I can understand a younger person–acting stupidly in a dark moment–doing it, but when a grown adult does it, what you have is either (a) a profound case of trauma (e.g. PTSD) or (b) a serious mental illness or (c) an attempt to evade or atone for one’s sins.

Apparently, Campbell got caught–proverbially with his pants down–in at least seven extramarital affairs, allegedly with at least one of those affairs producing a child. Other accounts suggest that he confessed his infidelities to his wife, then killed himself, then she found the details.

At any rate, Campbell, a revered leader among hard-core Reformers, was living a double life.

On one hand, he was a highly-respected Church historian and communicator for the Reformed perspective.

On the other hand, he had more in common with Donald Trump in the morality department, than he had with the Apostles.

Like the folks at TWW, I find it galling that others would blame his wife, even remotely, for his demise. If he had a bad home life, then he had no business being in any leadership capacity in the Church, as his house was clearly not in order. (That is a Biblical requirement for any would-be overseer.)

I don’t care if his wife was Jezebel incarnate; he is responsible for his own life before God.

There is no pretty way to spin this. Campbell, from what we know to be true about his life, was almost certainly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Did he teach unsound doctrine? I don’t know. I do not classify Reform theology as unsound doctrine. But false doctrine is not the only marker of a wolf. Wolves can teach otherwise sound doctrine while sowing discord through immorality and other practices. You can preach a 5-star sermon on Sunday while carousing in private.

But here’s the thing: you will never outrun your character. It will ALWAYS catch up with you. Your comeuppance may be private, but, in the case of sexual sin (particularly adultery) it is almost always public.

The Bible says it plainly: “your sin will find you out.”

The best thing you can do is address those matters BEFORE you enter the ranks of leadership. 1 Timothy and Titus present a set of requirements that, on balance, call for spiritual mileage.

Spiritual mileage is not about having “zero defects” in your life. What it entails: a track record of being a student and practitioner of Scripture, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, giving sound counsel, living it out in your own life, falling down often, getting up more often. It means working for a living, working through crises, dealing with personal failure, dealing with being wrong and being wronged, being honest and transparent.

If you’re married, it means having the kind of marriage that reflects Christ’s love for the Church. If you have children, it means that they comport themselves in a way that testifies to your faithfulness in both grace and discipline.

And, if you don’t remember anything else, I am going to hit you with two fundamental truths:


I don’t care if you have an MDiv from SBTS. I don’t care if you have a PhD, a DMin, or ThD. I’ve known excellent pastors who had no college education; I’ve known some very damnable ones with high marks from the most respected seminaries.

As for charisma? Puhleeeeze. That’s actually a hallmark of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. The better one’s charisma, the more you ought to be on the lookout for BS. Fact is, the most evil people in your church–the child molesters, the serial adulterers, the fraudsters–don’t “look” evil. In fact, they are often the most likeable people in your church.

Sadly, as we are learning, Dr. Iain Campbell was a phony.

The purpose of his life, in retrospect, is a warning to YOU.

Class dismissed.

TWW, TGC, Joe Carter, and Broken Wolves

Fair disclosure:

(1) I have both praised and excoriated Joe Carter from these pages.
(2) Ditto for Deb and Dee of TWW.

I don’t view either one of them as all good or all evil. I am skeptical of much of the NeoCal world–I don’t fawn over the celebrity preachers, and have serious reservations of Calvinism as a dogmatic model (while supporting Calvinism as a hermeneutical model). TWW, in turn, assaults their credibility by attempting to spin every abuse into their War on Patriarchy when in fact the real issue is a culture where leaders are, like the pigs in Animal Farm, “more equal than others”.

Recently, Joe Carter posted an insightful piece on “Broken Wolves”. I personally don’t care to read the comments section, but the post–at face value–is spot-on.

I did not have any problem understanding what he wrote, nor do I see him singling anyone out.

In fact, I have seen exactly the “Broken Wolves” he describes. Many theological liberals come from those ranks. They include feminists of all stripes, but they also include at least as many men.

Some of them have had real abuse experience, and oftentimes from within the conservative ranks. Some of them grew up in churches within the Deep South, whose members included Klansmen, and whose leaders tacitly ignored immoralities, racism, and even murder. Some of them were raped and/or molested by said “leaders”. Some were drowned in hardcore legalism at both home and church. Some of them grew up in households where parents were “highly-respected” in the church, but who were complete jackwagons–sometimes abusers–who lacked any semblance of compassion behind closed doors.

The abuses they suffered do not make them “wolves”. That is not their sin.

When they use their abuses and dysfunctional upbringings as a pretext to ditch sound doctrine and undermine God’s Word, that is what makes them wolves. That Carter calls them “broken wolves” is simply descriptive. In Scripture, there were many types of wolves: some of them were Gnostic, some of them were Judaizers, some of them were libertine.

The same is true today. Carter is merely describing a particular type of wolf, one that appeals to a large swath of the Christian world.

So to make a long story short, I do think Deb and Dee doth protest too much. I did not see Carter aiming at them, nor did I remotely have them in mind when I read his piece. The element he is describing is something completely different, at least from my vantage point.

OTOH, I do think that Deb and Dee undermine their credibility every time they toss proverbial Molotov cocktails every time Piper, Mohler, Keller, or others in the NeoCal world speak on an issue.

The Tom Chantry Case: It’s Not Simply About a Pastor

Fair Disclosure: Tom Chantry has not been found guilty in a court of law; he is entitled to Due Process, which includes (a) the right to counsel on his behalf, (b) the right to contest evidence against him, (c) the right to cross-examine witnesses who testify against him, (d) the right to introduce evidence on his behalf, (e) the right to compel witnesses to testify on his behalf, (f) the right not to testify against himself, and (g) to have that case examined and decided by a jury of his peers, with a unanimous verdict required for a conviction.

The case of Tom Chantry, a Reformed Baptist leader who has been indicted on multiple criminal charges, including child molestation and aggravated assault, is not simply about Tom Chantry.

If the evidence supports the charges against Chantry–which are damning–then Chantry is far from the only culpable party here.

That is because, if Chantry is guilty, then his abuses were enabled by a culture that, in spite of ostensible proclamation of Scripture regarding sexual matters, knowingly coddled leaders who were sexually licentious and who abused children.

And if that is true, then every one of those leaders would be better off taking a long swim with a millstone around his neck.

Covenant Life Church Has More Trouble

This time it appears to be tangential.

Currently, across the pond, John Smyth, a prominent lawyer who ran Christian summer camps in England, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, is accused of horrific abuses. At least one death occurred on his watch.

While some might argue, “Nothing has been proven,” the accusations are of sufficient credibility that the Archbishop of Canterbury has apologized.

Why does this involve Covenant Life Church? Their pastor is none other than P.J. Smyth, the son of John Smyth.

As Todd Wilhelm of Thou Art The Man put it, the issue is what did P.J. Smyth know, and when did he know it?

And I am not impressed with his answers.

My $0.02 on Barnabas Piper

Our friends at The Wartburg Watch are having quite the row over Barnabas Piper, the son of John Piper. His defenders will point out that the divorce was due to his wife having an affair, whereas his detractors (among whom are the TWW crowd) will point out the hard line that John Piper–Barnabas’ father–has taken on divorce over the years.

For the record, I’m going to state it right off the bat: Barnabas Piper is not qualified to hold the office of deacon, pastor, bishop, overseer, elder, or any other title that we would ascribe to the positions specified in 1 Timothy and Titus.

I don’t care who was at fault for his divorce.

I don’t care if his (now ex) wife was sleeping with the entire New England Patriots football team.

The pastoral epistles are very clear on this matter: one who aspires to such an office must be above reproach.

If you’ve been divorced, it may be no fault of your own but the fact remains: you’re still disqualified.

Church leadership is not an Equal Opportunity institution. This isn’t about your “rights”. The qualifications are what they are for a reason: some of them are matters of character whereas others are matters of vulnerability and–still–others are matters of credibility. The latter two are not always within your control, but they still apply.

Even if you were divorced for a perfectly-valid reason, the problem is you’ll always have room for outsiders to say, “hey, I can get divorced…look at [X]!” It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t justified in his case. If you are a church leader, it will embolden others in bad marriages to seek divorces, appealing to your authority, even if their reasons for divorce might not be valid.

You can be a man of great character and still not be qualified to be a pastor. By accepting that, you are showing the Church an example of humility. And this is not without Biblical precedent.

In the Old Testament, you will be hard-pressed to find a better man in the post-Samuel period than Jonathan.

By all indications in Scripture, he was qualified to be King. He was the son of the sitting King; he was a war hero; he was loyal; he was Godly. He’s one of the few people in the Bible about whom we know of nothing of negative value. He would almost certainly have made an excellent King.

Except for one thing: because of his father’s sins–which were no fault of Jonathan’s–God had picked David, not Jonathan, to be King.

And Jonathan was cool with that! He didn’t mount an insurrection against David; he didn’t collude with his father, who was trying to kill David. In fact, Jonathan stuck out his own neck to protect David from his father.

A lot of folks long to be like David, and it’s not simply because he was a man after God’s own heart. They like David because he got to be KING. If it was a character matter, you’d see lots of studies on Jonathan.

But God has probably called more of us to be like Jonathan. The great philosopher, “Dirty Harry” Callahan observed, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” Sometimes, God imposes those limitations, and those limitations are not always issues of character. You do, however, owe it to God and the general Body to accept those limits.

HAVING SAID THAT, Barnabas Piper is not in a leadership position in the Church; he simply happens to be the son of one of the more prominent pastors in that realm.

As for who was really at fault in the divorce, it’s anyone’s guess. He claims it was due to an affair; by his account, her turning away from him was due to his chronic dishonesty.

The problem is, his running his mouth does him no favors; in fact, his best course of action is to just shut up already. By running his mouth, he’s acting more like Tullian Tchividjian and less like a man of character. If he feels that he needs to speak in order to vindicate his family name, then he needs to know that he is only doing more damage by talking.

Now given that TWW seems to want to take a shot at the elder Piper at every turn, I have this to say: this isn’t about John Piper. Barnabas is a grown adult; he was married; his decisions (for better and worse) in that marriage were his own responsibility; his wife’s actions were her responsibility. The divorce was their–not John’s–responsibility.

Every family has a set of “family jewels”; I don’t care if you’re me, Ame, Cubbie, or even John Piper. John Piper may be all that and a pound of bourbon-cured honey bacon, but everyone has dark edges. And even if you do everything right–and who on earth does?–that is not a guarantee that your children will walk in those steps.

Even worse: in a marriage, you can’t make your spouse love you. Ladies: you can wear him out in the bedroom and he can still be a cheater. Men: You can be the President of Alpha Males for Jesus and your wife can still be an adulteress like Gomer.

You will never outrun your character, and neither will your spouse. At various times in your life, you will come face-to-face with your character; that is when, as the Bible says, “your sin finds you out.” It may be a public comeuppance. It may be a private comeuppance. But what you do when that happens can–and usually does–impact the very course of your life.

I cannot answer for Barnabas’ ex-wife. She must account for herself. To my knowledge, she isn’t the one running her mouth.

As for Barnabas, he needs to do himself, his family, and the Church a great favor and shut up about that whole matter. God will sort out the guilty and innocent.