An interesting read on Richard Roberts

Challies dot com posted this read on Richard Roberts, the son of the famed Oral Roberts. It is from Longread, which posts extended articles. This article on Roberts is titled The Prodigal Prince: Richard Roberts and the Decline of the Oral Roberts Dynasty.

It is replete with insights into the goings on in the Roberts’ household and organizations. I am not a muckraker but a saddened Evangelical.  It is all very unhappy but fits into the culture of celebrity Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is by definition entrepreneurial and populist. It does not long endure the constraints of denominationalism and transcendent authority. Its downside is that it often gives what the people want to hear and to believe, no matter how toxic the ingredients. Its upside is that it is rooted in the people. Like Martin Luther found out, the populism of the Evangelical impulse can have some very sad results. But so can the unfettered power of church authority. Choose your poison!

Wise leaders choose to balance both the entrepreneurial instinct with reasonable accountability and honest openness. Still, Evangelicalism seems not to have taken these lessons to heart in a normative way. Witness the recent episode with Mark Driscoll, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and the continued pattern of large ministries avoiding financial transparency – Joyce Meyers, Ken Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and the many others. Witness the exorbitant salaries and compensation packages for mega leaders and the undisclosed finances of our mega stars. Remember and do not forget Jim and Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton, Ted Haggard, and Todd Bentley. Recall the outrageous salary of Franklin Graham, uncovered not by transparent financial discloser but by the Charlotte Observer. The list does go on. 

I am an Evangelical by heritage and choice. I left the Fundamentalism of my youth but was never inclined to move toward theological progressivism or liberalism. I am stuck in the middle! And I have to fight to keep the middle a good place to be, without retreating into the insularity and anti-intellectualism of Fundamentalism or riding the latest waves of faddish Evangelicalism which seems willing to sell our birthright for fame.

Go to Ministry Watch for more information on ministries that fail the transparency test. I have my own list of popular ministries I will not give to until salaries and compensation packages are published. I also have some “heroes” of financial accountability who refuse to be enriched or live a lavish lifestyle. I continue to be amazed by Evangelical Christians who believe that a Christian leader should be paid what his skills would fetch in the marketplace. This to me is insane.


Perhaps this is a fool’s errand and I am a throwback to an era that can no longer be recovered, an era before the possibilities of consumeristic expansiveness became clear to Evangelical entrepreneurs. At age 65 the recovery of Evangelicalism won’t be my life-defining mission, but still a voice can cry out in the Evangelical wilderness.

2014 Religious Architecture Award Winners

Here is the link to photos of some of the most interesting religious architecture this year.

Baptists such as I do not traditionally put great stock in church buildings as religious architecture. IMHO this comes more from our heritage in Platonism in contrast to Aristotelianism more than our view of the Bible. In Platonism (which captured the minds and hearts of the early church Fathers, by and large), the real world is the life of the mind, of the transcendent, of the “out of this world” which we access through rationality. In Aristotelianism the earthly contains the eternal. We can move from the smallest fact and object to the greatest truth. Therefore, the things of this world are able to contain and display the glory of God. Protestants mostly hail back to Plato and Roman Catholics to Aristotle. In the former, a plain sanctuary with seats and a pulpit is sufficient. In fact, elaborate architecture can tempt the senses to overwork and thereby cloud the mind. In the latter, architecture captures and displays the present God and divine realities. It engages all the senses – eye, ear, touch, smell, taste. Walking into a Roman Catholic sanctuary causes the sense to leap. Protestants fear violating the command against idolatry. Roman Catholics fear violating the sacred Presence.

Of course, another reason Baptists tip in the direction of simple architecture is that they use their financial resources in evangelism and missions, the extension of the Gospel. This is one of the reasons Baptists (and Methodists) captured the American frontier. They not only did not expend great sums on buildings but also did not expend great sums on an educated clergy. There was hardly a way to get an Episcopalian on a horse and do some circuit riding. Their clergy tended to stay back East in ornate buildings among the refined tastes of the elite. I tend to fall in the Baptist way, though as I have gotten older I appreciate the importance of sacred spaces that do not double as gyms, a place that says to the senses ‘bow and worship.’

“I wish all this religious warmth and comfort would die”

So said Johann Blumhardt, (b. 1805) a German Lutheran Pastor who was on a journey toward discovering the power of the light of Christ over the darkness and true deliverance from the power of sin. Christian History’s “It Happened Today” highlights Blumhardt’s ministry.

He began to detest powerless religion that he saw in his congregation. Through a series of exorcisms he began to emphasize a revived religion of power in the Christian life. “Having awakened to the struggle between light and darkness, Blumhardt could not return to powerless Christianity.”

I remember many years ago being warned of churches’ tendencies to turn Pastors into Chaplains. I took this to mean the phenomenon of turning Gospel ministry into “make me feel better” potions, delivered on as need basis to troubled parishioners who had no real intent to do warfare for Christ and be faithful carriers of the Gospel. The Pastor was a spiritual version of a chiropractor, a massage here and there for people who ache but with no real medicine for the dying.

Blumhardt was a part of a movement labeled Pietism, whose source was in orthodox and dead Lutheranism. At the root of this movement were people like Philipp Jacob Spener and Johann Arndt, the latter’s chief work being True Christianity, which I have read and enjoyed. The Calvinism of the European continent had devolved into a dead thing. It was strangled by Protestant Scholasticism which dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s but the true conversion of the heart was a mystery and tale told, as it were, about a far off land. Concerned Christians in volunteer societies began to gather together to blow on the dying embers of lifeless Christianity to become “coronary Christians.” John Wesley captured this dynamic in his movement. He owed much to the Pietiests, particularly the Moravians. And in his Pietism he rejected the narrow confines of High Calvinism and insisted on a inclusiveness of the truly converted. “If your heart is as my heart, then take my hand.”

I wonder how much of our “lively” Christianity is simply the presence of an animal spirit that arise from being around “our kind.” Actually I do not wonder. These are assemblies smitten not with the living Christ but smitten with themselves – their unique doctrines that set them apart, their building, their friends, their music, their traditions. Visitors find it hard to belong because the very thing that makes that church what it is, is what it is without the visitor being there – a church for them. It’s a tragedy that Christ’s name would be attached to such an earthly thing.

Let us not insist on comfort and warmth but true battle with darkness and the forces that enslave human spirits. Then we shall find Christ to be all.

Reflections on Newsweek’s “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin”

The obligatory article on Christianity at Christmastime from Newsweek has been posted, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” This is one of those pieces by a journalist that, if you know your subject matter, convinces you how shallow journalism can be. In this case, the research simply has not been done.

James White takes this on. It is a video of his Dividing Line program. This is red meat to White, and, unfortunately, his animal instincts sometimes (actually a good bit of the time) carry him away. When he knows he is on solid ground and is in an area of his expertise, he’s a tree stump grinder, to change the metaphor a bit. He gets a bit snarky and condescending in tone that makes him irritating, not just to his adversaries but also to those on his side. But if you want to know how far off the Newsweek article is, James White is the guy to go to on this one.

If you listen all the way through, you’ll get some idea of all the work that goes into establishing a reliable text of the New Testament. There are a few technical details that will blow past you, but you’ll get enough of the drift to gain real confidence that the Bible we read today is essentially the original books. Where there might be some uncertainty, the one thing for sure is that there is nothing in textual uncertainty that destabilizes any Christian doctrine. What is in the New Testament is what the Apostles taught.

Michael Kruger does an excellent job of responding, too. Kruger’s specialty is matters of canon, establishing the authority of the New Testament text in the early church.