American Churches, and more specifically, American Pastors have a growing theological problem. No longer the more vocal, and more publicly visible pastors standing on a theology built upon The Rock, but they are sliding further and further toward the beach and beginning to build their theology upon a foundation of sand. A foundation easily shifted by the tides of culture as they wash over the church in waves.
Once again the American Church finds itself reeling from yet another public declaration of support for what scripture clearly calls “sin” and then a quick and public waffling of the declared stance once certain unfortunate things become apparent…like the effects of the words on their book sales.
This time? Eugene Peterson.
For context, read the interview he gave to Religion News Service (RNS) that was posted on July 12th HERE, then check out his “retraction” a day later in Christianity Today HERE.
I don’t know if it’s an attempt to appear more loving to the culture, or simply a reflection of what is really in the hearts of men like Eugene Peterson, but this has become a growing trend over the last decade or so as we have watched time and time again very notable men of faith in the American church make public declarations that clearly steer far away from biblical doctrine, and either they begin to waffle back and forth publicly about that statement (did they really mean what they said), or they actually end up holding firm to a clearly unbiblical stance on specific sins.
In the case of Eugene Peterson, he seems to be trying to communicate in his retraction that what he said in his interview with RNS was not actually what he meant. But as Albert Mohler clearly articulates in his own observations of this ordeal in his article The Agonizing Ordeal of Eugene Peterson–You Might Be Next, that just doesn’t seem to be the case when you examine the evidence found in the Churches Peterson served in, or the very fact that his statement comes only after news of Christian book stores debating on pulling his stuff from their shelves, including his beloved The Message (a popular paraphrase of the Bible). Coincidence? Possibly…but I highly doubt it.
My question to the Church is this, how can we speak with confidence, authority, and credibility to a culture when the most vocal and most visible of our pastors are making a mockery of God’s Holy Word and of what the Church has held to as “Truth” since the beginning of time?
How can the church reclaim its prophetic voice in America when we have done so much damage to ourselves through careless national public utterances of lies framed by false attempts at “loving others”?
And for me, I think it’s going to have to start at the most basic level…our doctrine.
If the American Church continues to reinvent doctrine based on cultural whims, we become as the man who built his house upon the sand. You may be familiar with the story. Jesus gave it to his followers in Matthew 7:24-27. But here it is for your convenience:
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
The rather unfortunate thing is, men like Eugene Peterson have allowed their newly found station (or perhaps long time station) in life to influence their foundation…rather than allowing their foundation to guide, direct, and anchor them in light of their station in society.
For many, it seems, they may have at one time…perhaps…had a foundation of stone, but traded it in for the beach front property the culture was selling because, let’s be honest, the view was a lot more palatable (at least at the time) and perhaps a touch more luxurious (if even for only a moment).
And sadly, the waves came, the hurricanes swooped in, and their castles made of sand quickly washed out to sea like the other pieces of our broken society. They had traded in the one thing anchoring them and preventing them from being carried out. They traded in their foundation…their doctrine…the truth that not only been written on the pages of the Bible, but also the truth that had been inscribed on their heart. They became idol worshipers.
Truth be told…greed became their god.
Public acceptance became their god.
Book sales became their god.
Royalty checks became their god.
Pats on the back from a lost and dying culture became their god.
And so much more…
As Albert Mohler rightly pointed out in his article, a time is coming when (in my own words here) we all will be faced with the proposition of that beach front property which comes with the dock, yacht, cultural notoriety, and all the other materialistic trappings of this life…it only requires that we sell our lighthouse built on the foundation of rock that has stood the test of time and move down onto the foundation of shifting sand that when even the slightest of tides comes in will begin to erode our foundation and carry us out.
Being a bi-vocational pastor, my other job has me highly engaged with Sales people. And honestly, they’re slimy. I don’t hold many of them in high regard because I know what sort of lengths they are willing to go to in order to set the hook in a wouldbe buyer.
And what I have learned about salesman is this: they are good at making even a dunghill look amazing. And the enemy is one of the greatest salesman of all time. And right now, there’s some beachfront property sitting on top of a pile of dung and sand with your name on it that he wants to sell you.
The question you are going to have to ask yourself when the time comes is this: are you going to be willing to trade it all in for some instant gratification…or are you going discern the times and stand firm on what you know to be true…no matter what extras the Salesman may throw into the deal?