Since my last post, a number of events have transpired in reformed evangelicalism that I would say are connected to the idea of “guruification.” Some of the delay in posting has been due to not wanting to “pile on.” Enough time has passed (and I’m on a blogging spree these days), so hopefully I’ll be posting more often on this subject.
How did we get here?
The Shaping of a Market?
I vividly remember the introduction to the 2008 Together for the Gospel conference: knowing that thousands would turn out for several popular speakers, Mark Dever and others leveraged this “market” to get their message out. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Influence can be wielded appropriately or inappropriately. The kicker is when influence is used (intentionally or not) to create followers for gurus instead of pointing people heavenward.
How did this market come to be? Many potential (and complementary) answers come to mind, but surely one of them must be: the church’s expectations for its celebrities largely came to match the surrounding culture. In short, I believe an evangelical fixation with celebrities has, by and large, overcome the ecclesiastical culture commended by Scripture.
Matthew 23 – Woe to the Gurus
In the midst of the woes that Jesus pronounces over the Pharisees, he indicts our own subculture that is so often obsessed with celebrities:
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Rabbis, fathers, instructors… none shall be so named. The greatest, the one exalted among Christ’s community, will be the servant of all who humbles self above all. This looks little like modern evangelical culture that mimics corporate America, establishes unbiblical hierarchies in local churches that prevent accountability, and is obsessed with church growth gurus, theological gurus, preaching gurus, etc.
The hoarding of power, responsibility, authority in individuals in our churches is a not-so-distant cousin of the Pharisees, and it can make otherwise godly leaders self-obsessed.
How do we think about the structures of our churches, the accountability of our teachers, and the responsibility of the laity in mitigating against such a culture of celebrity? I’ll write about that next time (hopefully soon).