Tullian Tchividjian and Celebrity Christian Culture

22 Jun

Another fall.

This time its Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, admitting to an extramarital affair and resigning his position as pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.

Recently there have been other scandals. Mark Driscoll, former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, stepped down after a constellation of offenses were brought forth in social media, highlighting his short fuse and power-hungry ways. Sovereign Grace Ministries, headed by CJ Mahaney, has been embroiled in a controversy over child sexual abuse cases that has greatly affected this family of churches. There have been minor scandals from other pastors about money and houses in recent days as well.

These are not scandals among those from whom we have come to expect scandal. We are probably not surprised by Benny Hinn’s marital problems or Creflo Dollar asking his donors for a 65 million dollar private jet because most of us don’t think these guys are legit in the first place. But when gifted preachers whose messages have resonated with many fall, it is disturbing.

The blame starts when things like this happen. Some might say,”Well, if he didn’t have such strict standards, he wouldn’t have fallen.” But no, we see adultery in every part of society and sexual immorality among all types of people.

Christian morality as it relates to sexuality is high and lofty. One man, one woman, for life. Shun lustful thoughts and actions. These boundaries are the place for greatest human flourishing but they are a challenge in a world like ours. While the Lena Dunham’s of the world can parade their sexual amorality and get paid handsomely, the Christian minister can not step outside the boundaries without serious consequences. This is as it should be. Let the world be the world, the Church must have a high and biblically-faithful standard of morality, even as we acknowledge our daily failure to walk in complete faithfulness to that standard.

Others may be tempted to give up on church when things like this happen. They might say, “Well, if we can’t even trust our best-known leaders, why bother?” For those looking for an excuse to drop out, sins like Tchividjian’s will certainly give them what they are looking for.

Still others may point to the celebrity Christian culture and its damaging effects. Here I think there is some case to be made.  Constant demands (and the feelings of importance that come with those demands), many admirers, good money, a platform for influence and a tendency to focus on public image rather than private integrity are all factors which can coalesce to push a Christian celebrity away from Jesus. Most Christian celebrities would confess Jesus still, for sure, and it appears that Tchividjian is trying to cling to Him in this trial. But for many Christian celebrities, it seems that Jesus becomes peripheral. What matters is the brand, the book, the song, people in the seats. Self has come to replace Jesus at the center. While this self-fixation for most people results in death by a thousand wounds, some drive the knife all the way in with one bold action. And when the guys who impale themselves are public figures, then we get what we got with Tchividjian. When we make ourselves or others make us into a brand, we’re bound for trouble. And this is not only the problem of ministers but of members. Evangelicals have created a celebrity Christian sub-culture, where we consume Christian personalities and their offerings (books, podcasts, conferences). We need to be careful being in churches that are too closely identified with one man. Places like that can become cults for sure but more often they just become places where the focus shifts from Jesus to that one man. This is where the wisdom of true team ministry comes into play. Where there is a true team of pastors serving (and not just yes men to the one everyone knows is the real boss) there is a greater possibility of Jesus becoming greater and us becoming less.

In the information age, the tendency toward brand-building is at an all-time high. We must resist the tendency to follow these brands and the temptation to build brands of our own. In the end, we will make less of a splash but more of an impact if we take the approach that says, “who cares if people know me, just let me know Jesus and make Him known.” I hope Tullian Tchividjian will find forgiveness, restoration and healing, so much so that he doesn’t emerge in the Christian culture again. I hope he serves Jesus in some unknown place more faithfully than ever and re-discovers the truth that Jesus + Nothing= Everything.

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