Gotta love Dan Phillips…

One of my favorite bloggers, Dan Phillips, posted this article on one of my favorite blogsites, Pyromaniacs.  You might not agree with everything he says but the brother pulls no punches and makes you think…Biblically…read with caution fragile Charismaniacs…Paul S.

PyroManiacs: Setting the World on fire. `Is not My word like a fire?` says the LORD (Jeremiah 23:29).

26 October 2010

The Robert Schuller saga, and questions it provokes

by Dan Phillips

I’m sure you’ve all heard this: Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral declared bankruptcy last week. The church is seeking protection regarding $7.5 MILLION that it owes creditors who, according to Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman (!), have filed lawsuits. In all, the Cathedral is apparently $55 MILLION in debt. The Wall Street Journal speaks of “a trail of hundreds of [i.e. 550] unpaid creditors from California to Washington, D.C.” (Here is a partial list of top creditors.)

The CC had apologized to creditors, but you can’t live on apologies.

In a notable paragraph from the WSJ article, we read:

The church’s style may seem extravagant, but it brought worship to life, said Brett Judson, a member who is listed as a creditor for pipe-organ performances. Pageantry, he said, “is something the congregation wants. All the musical and dramatic outlets are a way to open people up to a positive Christian message.” (Emphases added.)

Right; because it takes expensive music and entertainment to bring worship to life (pace Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:1-4), and that’s what non-Christians really need (pace Romans 10:17).

There will now be abundant material for tracing the CC’s financial downfall — but that isn’t my main focus. My interest turns to Schuller himself, in two particulars, from the second of which I’ll launch a bit more broadly.

First — huh? Schuller’s daughter is pastor of the church? How did that happen? Her only degree that I know of is a doctorate in business administration… and there’s that whole she’s a woman thing.

Happily, we need not speculate, because the senior Schuller explains to us exactly how this happened: God told him to have his daughter replace him. Oh, don’t take my word for it. Here we go:

The Rev. Schuller shared in yesterday’s ministry announcement that, after he told God he was too old to lead, God told him, “Give me two more years – 24 more months. . . . Don’t worry. I have called your daughter Sheila, too. She is equipped and she will be your legs.”

So there you go. It’s all Charismaticky. Schuller had a word from “God,” which he quotes verbatim, in which “God” says a doctorate in BA is jake with Him, and that whole ban on female pastors thingie can be waived. (“God” didn’t explain when He’d changed His mind on 1 Timothy 2:8-15 [I speak as a leaky-Canoneer].)

If Scripture isn’t enough, something else will take its place. No large surprise that the “something” came from within Schuller’s mind.

Second, Schuller has himself now spoken publicly about the bankruptcy.

And what did Schuller say? Dare we hope? Did he express broken repentance for years of preaching false doctrine, lifting up man, twisting or altogether ignoring Scripture, effectively denying the Gospel? Did he lament such opulent waste, such fleecing of sheep, such wasted years? Did he beg his listeners to forgive him, warn them of the wrath to come, and plead with them to flee to Christ alone for salvation by His blood?

Well, Schuller did plead, all right — but what he pled for was more money and more support. Because, by yiminy, he’s earned it! Again, don’t take my word for it, hear Schuller himself:

“I need more help from you,” Schuller said, according to the Orange County Register. “If you are a tither, become a double-tither. If you are not a tither, become a tither. This ministry has earned your trust. This ministry has earned your help.”

Yes, well… my, my — “broken” and “repentant” aren’t the words that leap to one’s mind, are they?
Which brings me to my launching-off point. Surely someone has asked, but I can’t find any article (except Al Mohler’s post, to a degree) posing what is to me the biggest and most obvious, pressing question that should come from this.
The question is: how could this happen?

I don’t mean, “What bad business-decisions and financial practices led to this?” I mean, if what Schuller has preached for decades is true, how could this happen?

For decades and decades Schuller has urged vast audiences of complete strangers, about whom he knew absolutely nothing and for whom he takes absolutely no responsibility, to become “possibility thinkers.” He has unconditionally and unqualifiedly exhorted each and every last one of them to adore themselves, believe in themselves, embrace themselves, dream really really big, and launch — assuring them that God will foot the bill.
Now, I don’t recall Schuller ever saying, “Dream big, launch — and if you don’t get there just go beg for money from working people.” Maybe he did. I don’t think so.
Here’s what I wonder, though. How many poor folks took Schuller at his word, adored themselves, embraced their drives, “trusted” God (to rubber-stamp their plans), launched — and ruined themselves, their families, their reputations, their health, their lives?
I imagine that I’m pretty safe so far, with this readership. And if I throw in Joel Osteen’s name, again I’ll get nothing but nods.

But what if I then toss in Rick Warren? What if I specifically refer to his talk at the 2010 Desiring God conference, at John Piper’s invitation, followed by Piper’s admiration for what a wonderful communicator Warren was?

What are the total strangers who heard Warren’s plea for “imagineers” — an ironic borrowing of the term from Disney — going to do with his exhortation, delivered as it was under the auspices of Piper and all? What reporter is going to trace out downloads of that message, and see what the fruits are in the hearers? No doubt, some will filter the charge through a Biblical grid, and accomplish great things. But who will find the family, for instance, where the frantic wife wonders how she’ll feed and clothe the children while her husband is off “imagineering” himself (and themselves) into financial and social ruin?

I know one isn’t supposed to ask these questions, but my mind just runs that way. I asked questions like these when Francis Chan released his (to my mind) bizarre and troubling letter about walking away from his ministry. Some cheered, some movingly bore confirming witness, others roared in outrage, others ignored. But I can’t help wondering, and marvel when others don’t. It isn’t rocket science.

Every time I hear a story of someone who faced the odds, held on in the face of ruin and pulled it off, I wonder how many will be emboldened by that story to follow that example — and will themselves fall into shameful, miserable ruin, instead of the bright happy ending they (ahem) imagined?

You’re bright folks, you don’t need me to go on and on about this.

Contrast all this with being a minister of the Gospel. I remember some really terrific counsel I received from one of my first pastors, back in the seventies. He said something like this: if you can’t preach the same Gospel in the mansions of Beverly Hills or the trenches of Vietnam, you aren’t preaching the real Gospel. The Gospel is trans-cultural, trans-temporal, and trans-situational.

So what should we do? Oh, golly (he said innocently), I don’t know. Just off the top of my head?
  1. Believe, study and live God’s Word, the Bible.
  2. Preach the Gospel; in fact
  3. Preach the whole Word as absolutely vital, essential, sufficient.
  4. Use the brains God gave us (as His word orders us to do) to fill in the gaps, taking responsiblity for the decisions you make.
Do that in trusting, prayerful, Christ-centered faith, and you’re far likelier to reach the end of your life with God glorified, rather than needing to apologize and beg.
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