Tuesday, May 17, 2011

a certain irony is not lost on Carl Trueman



As Trueman points out, there's all sorts of things with which one can agree on the subject of conference Christians. What he points out that does not come up for discussion is the tiny little detail of how conference speakers, once they become aware that they are a subject of idolatrous fixation by fanboys, can choose to not speak at conferences. This would have the salutory effect of making it difficult for conference junkie Christians to go get their fix by seeing and hearing their favorite pastor in person.

If the conference pastor wants to, you know, be that real pastor and not just a focal point for conference junkie Christians he has a simple solution, don't go to so many conferences. Trueman goes so far as to suggest that the tendency of megaconference speakers to blame the junkies is comparable to porn producers saying the problem is with people who are hooked on porn rather than the production and distribution and promotional aparatus. If Driscoll can compare conference junkies to porn addicts why not simply back off from conferences for a few years? After all, it was Driscoll who invoked the comparison and not Trueman, Trueman just ran with it.

Now perhaps at some level Driscoll finds this whole conference Christian fanboy troublesome because he was, minus that being single part, prone to this weakness himself. Maybe not. What, in any case, is the line of demarcation between someone who loves citing whatever pastor so-and-so said any given week and someone who is a conference Christian? Isn't it possible there are conference Christians who absorb too much this or that within membership rosters? Theology junkies who never have to live out the theology they absorb every week or every day? People whose theology junkiedom or addiction to spiritual this and that may be concealed in plain sight by the simple fact that they tithe or they are "plugged in"? I've seen some people say that it's impossible to idolize one's own church but having been there and done that I would say that Driscoll still has to continually be careful that he doesn't embody the problematic risk of idolization he warns about.

I trust Mark and his fans won't take it personally. I used to think that a lot of the problem with the cult of personality subsisted in a bunch of fanboys who overdid things, too, but I am what you might call a believer in "all fault divorce" on this kind of subject. This could be construed as simply a side effect of the danger of a persona developing around a person as I wrote a few years ago. Trueman's point about the supply side aspect of this issue could be stated, perhaps, even more strongly--isn't it possible that a megaconference pastor who goes around blogging and speaking and touring and discussing the dangers of conference Christians, yet does not withdraw from the conference circuit as a way to ameliorate this problem from his "supply side, become perilously close to blithely choosing to be the focal point for the idolatry he sees in all those people who pay money to go hear him speak?

It's one thing to blame the consumer but if you're the one selling the product why not take a break? If a person is a junkie for your preaching they will download sermons anyway regardless of whether you go speak at a conference. And, think of it this way, if they don't make it to a conference you speak at that they can go to they will still download whatever you say at some other conference. By participating in the conference you play into this conference addiction. Now of course I wouldn't say don't ever go to any conferences ever but Trueman's proposal that there's no such thing as zero culpability on the part of mega-conference speakers has to count fo rsomething because if it doesn't this would be because the claim that some single guys are sermon junkies in the way that other single guys are porn junkies makes no sense. Now depending on who you talk to it still makes no sense but I'm willing to run with Driscoll's idea for the sake of discussion.

But let me throw in a question of my own about these conference junkies, if it's bad that these guys constantly seek a fix in hearing good preaching and singing praise songs and all that explain to me how this is bad? I can roll with the idea that this is all a form of paradoxically consumeristic Christianity but, again, what if these people tithe at their own church? A person this hooked on spiritual everything might not only not get considered a spirituality junkie but would probably be nominated for a deacon or elder slot or a community group slot for listening to hours of preaching and teaching if he happened to tithe.

Yet if I understand things correctly, Driscoll proposes that some people who are very active in their spiritual life are still basically like porn addicts. I thought this sort of zany super-spiritual excess was supposedly the domain of charismaniac charismatics without a seatbelt? Are we to believe that amongst the neo-Reformed that no idolatry of preachers and no cult of personality should emerge because there's just the solid biblical expository preaching going on? I shouldn't have to throw in a sarcasm warning at the end of this paragraph but seeing how many people have missed some things I said ... .

Here's the thing, Driscoll is not an extraordinarly gifted pastor. He's a competent exegete of New Testament literature and when he's not preaching narrative literature in the OT he can sort of avoid trainwreck eisegesis but he's not very strong at preaching OT literature overall. Whatever may be said about "kingly" gifts he doesn't have that much of them or he wouldn't have left the actual running of the church to Munson and numerous other organizationally more competent men. Let me rephrase what I mean in a less problematic way, there are no extraordinarily gifted pastors in the sense that one man somehow magically keeps the whole thing floating.

There are some extraordinary infrastructures that are a mysterious combination of conventionally gifted men and women with conventionally gifted unity of goals who manage to attain an extraordinary level of competence and efficiency if they set aside their own egos for the sake of a common good. That, paradoxically, lets them feel good about a job well-done at some point. If Mark wants to forestall hero worship and all that from the "conference Christians" he can just cancel conferences for a few years and do his pastor thing. Any megachurch pastor/denominational leader can choose to do that. Question is, "will they?"

To the extent that I agree that lots of people idolize pastors and are junkies for super spiritual stuff (I was once Pentecostal, after all) I can grant that there will come a point when a megachurch conference speaking pastor won't change anything by not even speaking at conferences. What would be pertinent at that point is that the pastor who is the focal point of this sort of hero worship can simply pray that God would destroy the personality cult and hero worship and preach in such a way as to deflate that cult of personality. Of course for real idolators that will just turn into "so and so's preaching is so REAL." There are ways, I trust, of getting around even that by providential provisions. Since I have more mundane things to worry about like a continuing job hunt I'm not going to claim that I think about this enough or competently enough to have any meaningful ideas. It's just something that interests me, probably more than it reasonably should.


Bill Kinnon said...

Great post, bro. Which I hope to add to if I ever return to blogging.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Thanks, I look forward to reading new entries in your blog if you return to blogging. :)