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Preachers N Sneakers: Hypocrisy’s Newest Scandal

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Farewell, Hip Mega-Church Pastors. Most excommunications happen over theology. Now it’s happening over shoes.

The newly minted Instagram account @preachersnsneakers has absolutely exploded over the last 3 weeks: from 0 to 45k followers (as of this moment). Fashionista has already written an article about it in their online mag.

The concept is simple. Take publicly available photos of celebrity pastors and look up the price tag of their shoes. Bam! Lightning in a bottle. The contagious and viral part of the equation is how freaking expensive some of these clothes are. If Rich Wilkerson’s $357 Adidas Yeezys sound expensive, what about Chad Veach’s $2,500 Jordan’s?

Indulgent luxury goods with church funds?! Farewell, Judah Smith, Chad Veach, Erwin McManus, Steven Furtick, and others!

I get it. When I first saw the prices in this Instagram account I threw up in my mouth a little bit. I seriously had no idea that shoes could even be that expensive! I looked at every single post, jaw dropped. But in an effort to fight for a little human dignity, let’s press pause and try for a moment to examine our own perspective. Let’s loosen the grip on our pitchforks just a smidge.

7 quick thoughts:

1) WE create celebrity pastors.

The only reason we know the names of these pastors to be outraged over their kicks is because we have been downloading their sermons and books and thereby making them famous. We make these people celebrities, then scorn them for acting like celebrities.

“The reason we even know who these pastors are so we can be outraged over the price of their shoes is because we have made them celebrities, then we scorn them for acting like it.”

2) They are not all the same.

Everyone on this Insta account may be wearing expensive shoes, but that doesn’t mean we should lump them all together. To be fair, there is a big difference between a $300 pair of shoes and a $2,500 pair of shoes. Some of these guys may be vain, money-loving charlatans, others may not be. But loving our neighbors as ourselves requires us to resist the pull to reduce someone else to a single caricature. We’re free to assume the worst, of course, but that’s not the path of human dignity. It’s the path of jackassery. (I know because I often go down that road.) Like the woman at the well who was ostracized by society and yet humanized by Jesus (John 4), all of these pastors have stories. Jesus would learn them. Will you?

3) We don’t always know where things come from.

Chad Veach replied to the Instagram call out by stating that these things were gifts. You don’t have to believe him, but as a pastor myself, I have been gifted many many things. It is a way that people say thank you. Two years ago a friend of mine shut down his high end men’s clothing store and gave me three bags full of clothes. I didn’t even know most of the brands. I still have no idea what they retail for. If someone snapped a picture of my jeans and told me they were $500, I would be shocked. Now, I’m not saying these guys don’t know what they are wearing, I’m just saying that it is true that sometimes people give their pastors things for free. I live in a beautiful house that I wouldn’t be able to afford, if it weren’t for the generosity of a brother in Christ who owns 50% of it. You could Zillow my house, get outraged over the value, and never know that I have a modest mortgage. No book deals, no scandalous transactions, no celebrity, simple generosity from someone who loves Jesus. We just don’t know.

5) The heart matters.

Wealth is not hypocritical. Success is not to be disdained. Men like Rick Warren, John Piper, and Francis Chan are examples of celebrity pastors who channel their wealth in ways that help others, guard against the perception of luxury, and protect themselves from the deceit of riches. I see a lot of wisdom in that. But in the end, the pastors featured on @sneakersnpreachers answer to God—not for the price tag on their shoes but for their hearts, faith, and service. Only God knows the heart. Great men of God have had money beyond measure and luxury to boot. Think of David or Solomon. Luxury alone does not signal hypocrisy. The heart does. It isn’t fair to judge these people for a single image, or even for a single vice.

6) “Expensive” is relative, and we all get spendy on something.

How much did that big vacation cost you? Do you really need the phone you’re holding in your hand? Does your car really need those upgrades? Couldn’t your house be smaller? Shouldn’t you be eating at home more often? Everyone spends money in ways others think are an absurd waste. I’ve seen broke-ass college students driving Mercedes-Benzes with leases that rival their rent. Just because nobody is scrutinizing your finances doesn’t mean you wouldn’t or don’t fall into the similar indulgences. So lighten up.

7) Everyone wants their pastor to be taken care of, but nobody wants their pastor to make more money than they do.

“I don’t know how much you think a pastor should make, but I’m pretty sure the real standard is ‘My pastor should not make more than me.'”

That’s just plain true. Everyone judges according to what they think is reasonable. Nothing that Americans spend money on is reasonable to the poor in a 3rd world country. Nothing that celebrities spend money on makes sense to the blue collar working class in Nebraska. It’s different worlds, different scales. I don’t know how much you think a pastor should make, but I’m pretty sure the real standard is “Just as long as my pastor doesn’t make more than me.” I’m not sure that’s fair.

My only pair of sneakers were a gift for my birthday 5 years ago: $120. I thought they were outrageously expensive. So I guess if shoe price is the measure of faithfulness, I’m doing pretty good, but don’t ask how much I spent on wood to build a treehouse for my kids.

Here’s the thing.

I freaking love @preachersnsneakers. It’s entertaining and mind-blowing to know that tennis shoes can be absurdly expensive. And I think accountability for those who say they follow Jesus is super important thing. Follow them, read along, have fun. But don’t let it turn you into a cynical jackass. Remember, the Bible’s message isn’t, “follow me and I will make you perfect.” It’s “follow me, and I will make you fishers men.” Even Peter denied Jesus after all, and also led thousands to Christ.

If you love preachernsneakers, hate mega church pastors, or are disillusioned with the church, then I leave you with one remaining thought: This is precisely why humans need Jesus. Sin abounds in the church and out of it!

Oh look…now there 66.3K followers on the instagram account. Religious hypocrisy sells!

If want to spread some human dignity. Please share this article!

If You’re Not For Me, You’re Against Me (or is it the opposite?)

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The Gospel is exclusive. Jesus once said, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30). You’re in or you’re out. If you’re not fully on board with the Truth, then take a hike. Everyone who teaches something different must be boldly and publicly opposed, and everyone needs to be warned against their venom.

I’ve nodded along as these things were being taught. I’ve even taught this myself because I saw it in Scripture. But the problem is, Jesus didn’t mean what we think he did.

Jesus said “whoever is not with me is against me.” But did you know he also said, “the one who is not against us is for us”? Which of these two statements we emphasize says a lot about us. Choose the right phrase and you easily fit Jesus into your theological system. So which is right? The thing is, Jesus wasn’t contradicting himself. He said both for a purpose. Take a look below. But I promise you, Jesus didn’t say these things to give us a free pass on denouncing everyone who disagrees with us.

If You’re Not Against Me You’re For Me

“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.'” – Mark 9:38–41

This first statement is huge. Notice the context. The disciples had found someone—not one of their small group—who was casting out demons. He was doing the same work Jesus and the disciples were doing. And they didn’t like it. It probably made it worse for them that this guy was doing it in Jesus’ name. What the heck? We’re the one’s who are with Jesus! What does this joker think he’s doing by going around liberating people from oppression without our involvement?

Can you see the territorialism? The watch dogging?

“When Jesus said, ‘whoever is not against me is for me,’ he actually meant it. Whatever it is that makes us so eager to oppose and exclude is not from Jesus.”

I’ve honestly been surprised by Jesus’ response. I would have expected him to say: “Thanks guys. You’re absolutely right. If these guys were of God, they’d be running in our circles. Let’s let everyone know that there’s an imposter out there.” But that’s exactly what Jesus didn’t say. “Do not stop him…For the one who is not against us is for us.” The guy was doing the work of the Lord; what the hell did the disciples think they were accomplishing by shutting that down?

When Jesus said, “whoever is not against me is for me,” he actually meant it. Whatever it is that makes us so eager to oppose and exclude is not from Jesus.

Jesus was way more embracing than we think. What’s fascinating is that this interaction is bookended by some of Jesus’ teaching on childlike faith. Just prior to these statements, the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus responded by picking up a child and saying, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…” Just after the interaction, Jesus warns against causing a child to sin. I’m prone to think of the ideal Christian as an educated, discerning, truth-speaker. But Jesus says it’s better to be like a child.

If You’re Not With Me You’re Against Me

When Jesus says “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30), he’s speaking in a much different context. He’s not policing people’s doctrine or ministries. He’s actually defending himself.

The Pharisees were accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. So Jesus points out how absurd this accusation is. Here’s my paraphrase of his argument here: Are you insane? Why would Satan be doing the work of God? My work is all about plundering the kingdom of Satan. If anyone is building Satan’s kingdom, he’s clearly against me and with Satan. If anyone is attacking Satan’s kingdom, he’s not working for Satan, he’s doing my work!

“Citing ‘whoever is not with me is against me’ while denouncing a Jesus-loving servant of God is absurd because it proves YOU are the one working against Jesus.”

It’s telling that Jesus’ next words are about a tree and its fruit. He’s not telling us to analyze each person’s doctrine and see how closely it aligns with Tim Keller or Jen Hatmaker or John MacArhur or Judah Smith. He’s telling us to look at the outcome of their life and ministry—that will tell us which team they’re working on.

I’ve seen so many people “farewelled” from the Evangelical community because of some teaching that’s considered suspect or even heretical. But if you look at the ministries of some of these people, they are producing healing and love for Jesus and transformed lives. Meanwhile, you look at the ministries of some of the watchdogs and they’re producing discord and slander and pride and exclusivity. Citing “whoever is not with me is against me” while denouncing a Jesus-loving servant of God is absurd because it proves YOU are the one working against Jesus.

You’ll know the tree by its fruits. If you’re producing the opposite of the fruit of Jesus and his kingdom, then you’re playing on the wrong team. If you’re not with him you’re against him. But if you’re working to promote the fruit of Jesus and his kingdom, then you shouldn’t be opposed by the people of Jesus. If you’re not against him you’re for him.

You Can’t Write about Jackassery without Being a Jackass

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I’d like to bring you into my struggle with this blog a bit. A few weeks ago, I wrote about some very demeaning statements John MacArthur and Phil Johnson made about Beth Moore. I said their comments were cruel and seemed designed to wound. I still stand by those statements. But here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure I myself was a jackass in my response.

When a person decides to start a blog about being a jackass, one quickly discovers that it’s impossible to point out jackassery without frequently dipping into the very evil one is trying to eradicate. Turns out, that’s Jackass Theology Blogging 101.

If you’ve been around for a minute, you know that Ryan and I have tried to be very confessional throughout. We can clearly see the jackass tendencies in ourselves and in each other, so we try to write about that rather than always pointing out the jackassery we see in the world around us.

But I know we don’t always get it right.

I have re-read my post about John MacArthur many times, and I keep praying through whether or not the things I said were appropriate. Am I calling attention to an example of the ways our pursuit of orthodoxy can become a manifestation of the “works of the flesh” rather than the “fruit of the Spirit”? I think so. Most of you thought so as well. But then some of you saw my post playing into “outrage culture” or “cancel culture.” Were my words any better than the demeaning words I was hoping to call us away from? I honestly don’t know for sure (again, I keep re-reading and am not myself convinced), but I am confident that I didn’t get it all right. I tried to affirm my appreciation for MacArthur’s ministry and tried to use it as a means of calling us on to something better than what he did that one day. I’m sure I botched it. He loves Jesus, and I don’t want to have torn him down. I’m sincerely sorry for the ways my post tore down anything that’s good and belongs to the kingdom of God.

Here’s something I know for sure: I am not God. Jesus would get this blog exactly right at every turn. I know I’m not going to be able to do that. However, I don’t believe that making mistakes is reason enough for burning the whole thing to the ground. Instead, I think it’s a great reminder that I am not God, and that I need to continue to confess and seek him. I absolutely believe that examples of our own jackassery are more powerful than examples of the jackassery in Christian celebrities. My own examples get far fewer clicks, but they’re more meaningful. And prevalent.

I still think it’s worth fighting jackassery. But I know we’ll constantly need to acknowledge the ways it creeps out of our own mouths and actions. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn helpfully said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart.” If that’s not true, I don’t know what is. And truly, the line separating jackasses from Spirit-filled people does not pass through theological camps or denominations, but right through every human heart. Including my own. Especially my own.

“The line separating jackasses from Spirit-filled people does not pass through theological camps or denominations, but right through every human heart. Including my own. Especially my own.”

We’re still trying to learn how to expose jackassery and say “that’s not okay” and “that’s not from God” while keeping ourselves unstained from jackassery. I’d love to say that we’ll find the balance at some point, but I know that’s not true. We’re not Jesus, and he’s the only one who completely avoids jackassery. But he’s also the one who heals jackassery, so there’s a lot of hope there.

The reason we’re fighting this battle is because we believe we all need to let go of our petty doctrinal certitude and our need to be right and instead cling to Jesus. And that’s a battle worth fighting. We should expect that along the way we ourselves will need to acknowledge times we’ve co-opted the moral high ground and begun to speak with the voice of the jackass. After all, we need Jesus as much as anyone. He’s the point of it all anyway, and I’m glad for a chance to acknowledge my dependence on him.

John MacArthur’s Disgusting Comment: Go Home, Beth Moore

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This is a weird post for me to write. Maybe I should first tell you that I graduated from John MacArthur’s seminary. You should probably know that I chose that seminary above all others because I was drawn to John MacArthur’s fearless preaching of the truth as God revealed it in Scripture. I value the education I received at the Master’s Seminary.

But—oh my gosh—I just heard an audio recording in which John MacArthur demeans and dismisses Beth Moore. I’m shaking. If I conjure up every ounce of optimism and benefit-of-the-doubt-ness I possess, I still can’t find a way to describe it as anything other than disdainful and mean-spirited. If I try to give an honest assessment of how it sounds to me, I think I have to say his words sound hateful and anti-Christ.

Here’s the scenario. John MacArthur is part of a panel discussion, and the moderator asks this: “I will say a word, and then you need to give a pithy response to that one word.” The word that MacArthur is asked to comment on?

Beth Moore.

MacArthur’s response is swift: “Go home.”

This was met by cheers and applause the audience. A roomful of people (attending the Truth Matters Conference which is celebrating 50 years of MacArthur’s ministry) cheered when a PASTOR dismissed a woman made in God’s image with a demeaning phrase. That word “pastor” means “shepherd.” This crowd joined a shepherd in collectively dunking on a woman who loves Jesus and loves Scripture and carefully does her best to promote Jesus wherever she goes.

This is absolutely disgusting. I’m seriously doing the theological equivalent of dry heaving right now. Once more I find myself pleading: Stop treating Beth Moore like garbage!

MacArthur chose to elaborate a bit: “There is no case that can be made for a woman preacher. Period. Paragraph. End of discussion.”

Huge applause.

Except that there is a case that can be made for it, and this case is made by a huge number of scholars and followers of Jesus. MacArthur is allowed to disagree with Beth Moore. Holy smokes. Of course we can disagree about something like this! But he states with absolute confidence and condescension that no one can argue otherwise. And yet I’ll stand here as a graduate of his seminary, as someone who still employs the hermeneutical tools and methods I learned at his seminary, and make a strong argument to the contrary. So many do. It’s misleading, harmful, and disgusting to claim that one’s view on this—regarding which there are between one and a handful passages (depending on which passages one considers relevant) that say anything about this issue.

Phil Johnson, one of MacArthur’s right hand men, also on the panel, chose to answer the same prompt with the word, “Narcissistic.” He said, “When I first saw her I thought, ‘This is what it looks like to preach yourself rather than Christ.'”

I cannot tell you how disgusting it is to hear someone say this. It’s so unfair and cruel. It’s wild to publicly demean a preacher of the gospel who’s not even in the room. Again, this kind of dismissive attitude and contemptuous statement is anti-Christ. All of the many many many calls for love, grace, unity, patience, gracious speech, humility, etc. are thrown out the window. All of the biblical warnings against causing division and controversy are ignored.

MacArthur went on, “Just because you have the skill to sell jewelry on the TV sales channel doesn’t mean you should be preaching. There are people who have certain hocking skills. Natural abilities to sell. They have energy and personality and all that. That doesn’t qualify you to preach.”

You can tell the audience doesn’t know how to respond to that.

And that’s where I died. Those words are so condescending. They seem calculated to wound. To dishonor. To destroy. When I close my eyes and try to picture Jesus saying words like these, I gag. But these words would be right at home in the mouths of Pharisees. I feel qualified to make that last statement because I personally have Pharisaical tendencies. I’m constantly tempted to make myself the measure of orthodoxy and to define my preferred crowd as the “true people of God.” But I know I’m wrong in this. That’s why we started this blog. Jesus is too beautiful and his mission is too important for us to be jackasses in the name of Jesus.

“I believe John MacArthur and Phil Johnson need to repent for saying to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ and to Beth Moore, ‘You’re narcissistic and should either stay at home or sell jewelry on TV.'”

I can’t tell you for sure that my motives are entirely pure in writing this. I’d like to believe so, and I’m honestly praying and checking my heart here. If there’s something I’m missing about this discussion, I’d love to hear it. But I believe John MacArthur and Phil Johnson need to repent for saying to the hand, “I have no need of you,” and to the foot “You’re narcissistic and should either stay at home or sell jewelry on TV.” I doubt they’ll read this, and I don’t expect to be heard favorably if they do, but this breaks my heart, and I’m confident it breaks the heart of Jesus, who gave his very life to serve and unify his church.