So October 21, I am sitting at work and is wont to happen Clint Johnson texted me. I picked it up and saw a rather (I thought at the time) innocuous question: “What do you know about John MacArthur?” I responded, “From what I remember he is kind of a church leadership guru and I think an elder at Church of the Highlands” (***note, this is NOT true, I was thinking of some other Christian leader/writer, who I still think to be a cool guy whoever he may be). Clint responded, “He has a new book out slamming Charismatics and Pentecostals,” to which I responded, “Definitely has nothing to do with COTH then.”
After the texts I looked it up, and sure enough MacArthur was slinging out some very volatile language that hurt quite a few people. Now, I think this is the first point of why I got upset…I started off saying that this guy was pretty solid, and turns out, I was (in my own opinion) wrong. And being wrong, especially in matters of judging someone’s character has a bit of sting to it. That was probably why my mind got fixated on this whole situation instead of dismissing JM’s comments as just another guy opposed to the Charismatic/Pentecostal Church, which let’s be honest, there are plenty of people aboard that train.
But I think what frustrated me the most was the audacity of some of JM’s claims combined with his lifestyle. Because of JM’s standing his tax records are a matter of public record (which I don’t like, but since they are available for public scrutiny, I cite here). One of JM’s claims about the Charismatic/Pentecostal Church was that we all teach the prosperity Gospel. First, not true. Some do, of course, most of us don’t. That claim would not seem audacious if JM didn’t make $400,000 for a 20 hour a week job at his non-profit. That doesn’t include his church job, his job at Master's College (over $100,000 a year), speaking engagements or sales of his books or teaching materials. (***note, if you think I am just making this up, I will be glad to send you a link to the filed tax return which I refer to.)
It doesn’t upset me that JM makes $500k+ a year. Good for him. He found a way to do the church thing and make a lot of money. It does bother me that he slams Charismatics and Pentecostals, who, as a general rule are a lot poorer than most of their Mainline, Evangelical and Catholic brothers and sisters, yet rakes in over half-a-mill. The part that bothers me isn’t the hypocrisy, we’re all hypocrites; it is the perpetuation of Church leaders as scummy profiteers to those who already wave their fingers at us for being terrible people. If I didn’t whole-heartedly succumb to the teaching of Jesus to love His Church, I would run to their side and wave a finger right alongside them.
And I think that is what gets me folks. A buddy (who will at least for now remain nameless) emailed me to say it isn’t worth my while to get upset about JM. He had a run-in with him at one point and got to see firsthand the dirty underbelly. I have no reason not to trust my friend. Is his story colored by the interaction? Sure. But, that doesn’t discount the facts of his situation, which make a lot of sense. So, even with my friend’s advice, I still find myself upset. It’s partly because he came after my tribe, my people. It’s partly because we’re easy targets. But here is the final thing, and where all these little ramblings were headed from the beginning.
My biggest problem is that JM represents the bad side of Modern Christianity. I mean that in the sense of Modernity/Postmodernity as opposed to current. JM represents the introduction of the overpowering arm of reason over faith. To put it scripturally Christians are to, “Love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Modernity embraced loving the Lord with all of your mind and strength, and to an extent your soul. But a strange thing…modernity vilified the heart. There is some good reasoning there. We can misunderstand our emotions in situations as our true heart. We can be wishy-washy. But the heart, well, Glen Hansard says it well:
We were speaking earlier of the head and the heart. Actually, the heart got a bad rap in my last spill. Because, actually your heart is the thing that’s (whistles), Nature. Your heart is your nature the head is your culture. The head is responsible for all sorts of madness. The heart (blows his lips)“There’s a cliff coming.”
“@#$% the cliff.”
“But we’ll be killed.”
“I don’t care.”
You know what I mean?
This elevation of the mind over the heart, the exaltation of the rational being over the emotional, responsive one, created a problem that isn’t new, but I would say was more pronounced: Man considered himself equal with God. Now, hold on there, JM would never say he is equal with God. Sure, but would you really admit some of your weirder thoughts? No…you say it in a different way to convince yourself that it isn’t so bad. No Christian worth their salt says they are equal to God, but when we determine that we alone, and those who believe like us, have figured “it” out, we say that we alone truly understand the heart of God. And that my friends, seems more akin to heresy than some little old lady speaking in tongues. Sure, we Charismatics believe some crazy stuff. I personally believe some stuff that defies my own reason and understanding…things that my mind is like, “You’re an idiot,” but my heart says, “This is real. And this is where reason isn’t enough any more…and you realize that God truly is higher that you, and his ways above yours. These are things you believe because you believe them, not because they can be proved by any rational sense of the being." It's probably one of the few times the Apostle Paul and I can be buddies.
And that’s it friends. That is what bothers me. Sure, the pursuit of our hearts should be sanctification of our souls and the likening of our lifestyles, beliefs and thoughts toward that of Jesus Christ. I agree. And I say, yes. But what I, 35 year old James Love, currently of Tuscaloosa Alabama, attending a Vineyard Church, having some oddly strong Catholic leanings, find so difficult about JM’s comments is that he can so firmly say, “The way of God is for those who listen to songs on the organ (which was invented way after the NT was written), who meet at 11am on Sundays and work in upper-middle class suburbia. That is the Gospel.” When the truth is the trash dump villages of Egypt and Brazil, the swamps of Louisiana and the prostitute-lined streets of Bangkok are more akin to the Gospel picture I see in Scripture.
And don’t think I’m making myself out to be above JM. I avoid these places like the plague. I need to do better. It’s just the true power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is mind-blowingly terrifying because we cannot contain it. It tells us our petty grabs for power are for naught, our righteous living potentially in vain (because it is pharisaical) and yet our attempts of grasping faith entirely worth it…when lived in the context of community, striving to love one another, those “lesser” than we, and in loving servitude to God. Faith is then an act of the heart (in concurrance with the mind, soul and strength).