September 23, 2020

The Passion of the Haggard Part II

637_E01.jpgUPDATE: Read Gordon Macdonald’s comments at Out of Ur. Compelling.

“The hardness of God is softer than the kindness of men, because His compulsion is our liberation.” -Henri Nouwen

Some thoughts from the archives, and then a few thoughts from the last 24 hours.

For starters, say a prayer for Ted Haggard, his wife, children, family and church. This must be hell for them, and only God can bring lasting good out of this experience.

I’ve written two IM essays that speak to the current Ted Haggard episode. From “The Tactics of Failure: Why the Culture War Makes Sense to Spiritually Empty Evangelicals.” August of this year:

I am suggesting, therefore, that the increasing interest in the culture war among evangelicals is not an example of a reinvigorated evangelicalism remaking its culture. Instead, I believe the intense focus by evangelicals on political and cultural issues is evidence of a spiritually empty and unformed evangelicalism being led by short-sighted leaders toward a mistaken version of the Kingdom of God on earth.

More directly to the point, here’s a part of 2004’s popular IM essay, “When I Am Weak”:

Evangelicals love a testimony of how screwed up I USED to be. They aren’t interested in how screwed up I am NOW. But the fact is, that we are screwed up. Then. Now. All the time in between and, it’s a safe bet to assume, the rest of the time we’re alive. But we will pay $400 to go hear a “Bible teacher” tell us how we are only a few verses, prayers and cds away from being a lot better. And we will set quietly, or applaud loudly, when the story is retold. I’m really better now. I’m a good Christian. I’m not a mess anymore. I’m different from other people.

What a crock. Please. Call this off. It’s making me sick. I mean that. It’s affecting me. I’m seeing, in my life and the lives of others, a commitment to lying about our condition that is absolutely pathological. Evangelicals call Bill Clinton a big-time liar about sex? Come on. How many nodding “good Christians” have so much garbage sitting in the middle of their lives that the odor makes it impossible to breathe without gagging. How many of us are addicted to food, porn and shopping? How many of us are depressed, angry, unforgiving and just plain mean? How many of us are a walking, talking course on basic hypocrisy, because we just can’t look at ourselves in the mirror and admit what we a collection of brokenness we’ve become WHILE we called ourselves “good Christians” who want to “witness” to others. Gack. I’m choking just writing this.

Read both for my perspective on events such as this one.

A few thoughts after the surreal experience of reading some of the strange conversation in the reformed blogosphere.

1. It’s remarkable that among some of the so-called defenders of reformed orthodoxy this is being reported as a failure of doctrine. Yes sports fans, that’s right. Among the Knights of Reformed Orthodoxy there are now multiple posts saying this happens, partially, because Haggard is an Arminian and a Charismatic, and implying it wouldn’t be as likely to happen if he were a good Calvinist. At the very moment the discussion should be that Christ died for our sins (thanks, Frank), or that we are totally depraved- the most obvious truths of the Gospel- we find ourselves on some irrelevant side road.

I know that Ted Haggard represents everything that makes me a post-evangelical, but this is not an example of doctrinal mushiness or caving in on the Sodomy law issue (that’s actually being blogged). It’s an example of human sinfulness. Who is saying that Christian leaders are less likely to be screwed up if they BELIEVE x, y or z? Good grief. How many times does the Bible have to show us sinning believers? Do we ever get it? David sinned with Bathsheba because the laws in Israel against adultery weren’t strong enough? The mind reels…

2. It’s further evident, both within this episode and with the loudest critics, that evangelicals want and need their perfect, impervious, always straight, godly, victorious ministers. You can almost hear the fingerpointing that “our guys” would never fall for something like this because they are really, really, really godly. Can we really be this foolish? Do we really need to place so much trust in our icons? Isn’t the godliness of ministers, as useful and important as it is, a third level issue at best, especially when compared to the greater truths that ministers are examples of the sinners Christ saves and calls to serve him? The higher up the pedestal, the more certain it is that we are wrong.

Is there anything uglier than the team sport atmosphere of sneeringly implying that “our guys” would never do this? In our state, just this month, two conservative megachurch pastors were in the news for very different moral failures. Both were applauded for years- decades- as examples of the best conservative pastoral leadership. Not all that long ago, one of the key figures in the SBC’s conservative resurgence in Kentucky had to resign one of our largest churches over moral failure. Among my mentors in ministry, two have failed morally. I know dozens and dozens more. They weren’t charismatic or liberal. (None were Calvinists. Hmmmm) They were men with broken marriages, heading into mid-life, carrying enormous burdens….and sinning themselves out of the ministry.

This is how it is. Churches with the “pastor who would never do this” have no place to grin and snicker. Pray for your pastor and the spiritual attack he is under all the time. And remember that Romans 7 is in his Bible, too.

3. That is not to say there is no doctrinal aspect to these episodes. Let me mention two.

a. Modern spiritual warfarism- of which Haggard was a big advocate- takes the devil seriously. But it also has a tendency to forget one of Jesus’ most important teachings on the activity of Satan:

24 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, `I will return to the person I came from.’25 So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order.26 Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.”

It is not only the power to pray demons out, but the work of the Holy Spirit to fill us with the fullness of Christ, that ought to be emphasized in spiritual warfare. It’s in that regard that John Piper’s practical suggestions for ministers avoiding sexual sin has application. Spiritual warfare praying is Biblical, but naive views of the nature of spiritual warfare are not.

Churches need to remember that leaders making lots of noise about deliverance and the power to expel often are covering up the realities of defeat and continuing sin. I am sorry to say it, but Shakespeare had it right: Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.

b. The business of the church is spiritual formation. Eugene Peterson’s work on the nature of the pastorate is awesome at this point. The scriptural call for godliness in leaders has to do with a focus on spiritual formation that is at the core of discipleship. Accountability relationships, mutual oversight, Wesley-style questions for the soul, realistic and practical practices of prayer and soul nurture: this IS the ministry. This is what the church does. We don’t run sports programs or feed the world. Christians may do those things as secondary level engagements. What the church does is have a communal life around the Gospel and make individual lives around the Gospel possible.

Many of today’s pastors are entrepreneurs, not spiritual men at all. The are running organizations, living in front of an audience, talking about style and technology. They are shallow, ambitious and over-worked. Their families are on the stage. They are supposed to fill a dozen major roles. They are celebrities and motivational speakers. Peterson rightly points out that God is merciful to show us this is not what a pastor is to be or what a church is to do. Lord, deliver us from what we want, and show us true shepherds and sheep of Christ.

There’s a reason for all the ministerial moral failure: they are burned out middle aged men who don’t know what is happening to them. I’ve been one, and I know this ground well. Your worst enemy is your work helping others and your disorientation of what is happening to you. You desperately need to be tended to, to nurture your soul, to be with other men and talk, to be “discipled” in more than just doctrine. You need to get the human journey onto the table and soak it in the Bible’s view of a mid-life man. The tragedy here is that Haggard was running around hurting, looking for something to relieve the pain of the mid-life male soul, and he’s pursuing it in the dark corners that so many men find themselves in. We should know this happens, we should prepare for this, and we should act like our pastor is a person, not a robot.

Commendations here to Piper, again, for his churches excellent practice of giving him time away from the church. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.


  1. Patrick Kyle says

    What a sad situation. As one who latched on to a serious addiction in my younger days, (yes, while I was a Christian) I can really identify with Mr. Haggard, although my failures weren’t in the public spotlight. I will say that doctrine does have a part to play in these things. Whenever a church,or by extension, a system of doctrine makes the penalties for confessing our sins one to another the same as getting caught in open scandal, there is actually a deterrent to confession(even to yourself)and repentance.If the outcome is the same, why not limp along and hope no one finds out until you can engineer a remedy for yourself? The sins remain secret for awhile and grow in power and depth until until something eventually breaks.
    I know the desperation of being trapped in a sin and the fear of telling a pastor or someone in the church because of the inevitable ostracism and rejection. These things ought not be. There would be much wisdom in reviving the practice of Confession in the church. But first we would have to embrace a faith that actually believed in the power of grace and forgiveness.

  2. mort_chien says

    I know what I am about to write may come perilously close to “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men …” but it is not what I am trying to say. I am like other men, all too much. I am convinced that doctrinal matters may contribute to public scandals such as this, but in a negative manner – the absense of doctrine or maybe the substitution of one doctrine for another. This is not always true, but try this little thought experiment. Readers encouraged to participate. Is your experience anything like this?
    I have walked with Christ for 33 years now. Somewhere around 8 years ago I began to realize that the Holy Spirit was supposed to have something to do with holiness and sanctification. I wondered how I missed this. For a quarter of a century I had heard almost nothing about what I now know as progressive sanctification. Now my Christian experience was not unusual. We had periods in: house church sorta Plymouth Brethren groups, yes, a pentacostal time, a community church, an evangelical Mennonite church, a struggling derivative of the Church of Christ, a Baptist church that was nominally reformed in doctrine by very much into entertainment on Sunday AM, and currently the PCA. In only the last two did the subject even come up. Why is that? Has anyone else had similar experiences?
    All I ever remember hearing about the Holy Spirit was: that He convicted sinners; and, in my Pentacostal period, He gave flashy gifts to believers, healed them of sickness, and was supposed to make them prosperous. (That last period was mercifully short.) Nothing, zero, nada about how I might become more like Christ, more humble, less arrogant, how I might replace lust and anger with love and kindness. Oh, Romans 6, 7, and 8 were taught, but if it was ever explained just how it “worked”, I must have been asleep.
    What about it Michael (and others)? Have we somehow substituted true doctrine about the Holy Spirit with something else. Showy pentacostalism? God’s gonna make you rich and healthy? Moralism? Or am I really off and just in the wrong churches until recently?

    Mort Chien

  3. Ted Haggard played the game by the rules he was given –
    smile for the camera, vote the party line, be successful and we won’t ask any questions. He has to accept culpability for his sins, but he’s also the product of a system.

    OK, maybe there are more rules than those, but my point is that evangelicals are all about the externals. As my friend Dwight Ozard used to say, “Pragmatism is the new orthodoxy because what works determines what is true.”

    I’ve talked to dozens of pulpit committees over the years. I’ve been asked for my resume, I’ve been asked about my seminary training, I’ve been asked about Sunday School attendance, worship attendance, budgets, baptisms, church growth, counseling experience, what my Myers-Briggs type is, yada, yada, yada.

    I’ve been asked what I believe about the Bible but I’ve never been asked what I’ve done with the Bible.
    I’ve never been asked about my prayer life.
    I’ve never been asked if I practice any spiritual disciplines.
    When I was obese I was never asked why I was fat.
    I’ve never been asked if I’ve been faithful to my wife.

    Evangelicalism is a broken system because it doesn’t know how to ask the right questions.

  4. I just read the responses, and my heart is breaking for them, and for those in the same position.

    We all need to learn how to hold on, when life is a stormy ship, and Jesus seems to be sleeping or on the shore. We need to know how to pray when our prayers seem to be bouncing off the ceiling.

    I don’t have any answers, nor would I be so bold as to suggest that I do. Each man’s journey is their own. But I can say, I hurt too. I am your sister, your fellow pilgrim.

  5. robertltjr says

    If Phil Ryken is right over REF 21, stating, “I visited New Life Church when it was in its popular ascendancy about a decade ago. The strongest impression I had on that particular Sunday was a palpable absence of the gospel — lots of feel-good worship and moralistic exhortation to lead a good life, but little in the way of a biblical message of repentance for sin and grace in Christ.”

    …. Then, I can’t help but think there’s a combined failure here. I mean, if Haggard lost sight of the gospel in his ministry, how in the world could we expect him to take your advice in the essay (all of which I agree with)? Rarely is something going great then the bottom fall out. I suspect that doctrinal error had more to do with this than I initially thought.

  6. Frankly, as a rank-and-file Christian, this episode just makes me think I’m trying waaaaay too hard. If this guy can be elevated to the pinnacle of the evangelical community while buying drugs and consorting with prostitutes, why should I make such a huge effort to control my “thought life”? Why should I feel so bad about an occasional lustful thought or angry outburst? Why should I painfully confess every little transgression to my accountability group? I’m 40 and I’ve never even MET a prostitute. I wouldn’t know how to buy drugs if you asked me to. But nooooo, that’s not enough. I have to keep coming up with more little failings to worry about.

    I’m sure this guy will be 100% forgiven because he has a big white smile, neat pastor hair, and an outgoing, black-slapping demeanor. In other words, the perfect evangelical man. The church doesn’t value character, it values personality, just like the rest of society. Disgusting.

  7. Ben Witherington blames male menopause, to some degree. I think there’s something to that; but I think most of the problem is that power corrupts, and the pursuit of power corrupts faster. The people on top need to be scrutinized the most, because they are going to be spiritually attacked the most, and if they lack character (and as you pointed out, Michael, churches don’t develop character) they’re going to fall. Haggard’s lack of character is evident: Only a fool buys meth, but a bigger fool buys it when he doesn’t plan to use it.

    This exposure is God’s way of getting Haggard to confront his sin and hypocrisy, repent, and grow closer to Christ. I only pray that the Church doesn’t drive him further away from Christ by leaving him for the press to eviscerate; and then ripping him ourselves when the press isn’t doing it.

  8. I am unclear how an accountabilty group would have helped in this situation. If an accountabilty group found out that the pastor was using drugs or commiting adultery how would they have reacted differently? Would they have let him continue in his present position while he got counseling or would they make him take a leave of absence to address his problems. Either solution seems problematic in my opinion. If they let him continue in his current position without letting church members know what was going on then it would seem like they were hiding something they knew was wrong. If they let the pastor take a leave of absence without telling church members why again it seems like they are engaging in some type of cover up. Either way it seems to me that the pastor’s professional life is ruined.

    I know if I knew that my pastor was using drugs or was cheating on his wife I would want them removed from office and I certainly wouldn’t want him in any position of authority in the church. I have no respect for anyone who cheats on their spouse; I don’t care who they are or what profession they are in or how much good they are supposed to have done. Two historical figures that cheated on their spouses that fall into this category are John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. While some laud them to the skies, I have no respect for them because they were adulterers.

    Again, I am not sure how an accountability group would have helped in this situation. I am interested in other’s opinions who believe that an accountability group would have helped and what they would have done if they knew this type of behavior was occurring.

  9. If the first thing an AG heard was “I’m a gay, adulterous, drug using pastor,” then they would have only one course.

    But Haggard says in his letter that this has been a life-long struggle on a deep level, with many ups and downs. He says that a lack of communication about his struggles was part of his descent. So an AG would be helpful at the early levels of struggle. In the advanced levels, the elders would have to be informed asap.

  10. “I have no respect for anyone who cheats on their spouse; I don’t care who they are or what profession they are in or how much good they are supposed to have done.”
    I don’t want Haggard rushed back into the ministry, but that’s pretty harsh pronouncement, ftcmnc. What about David?

  11. An excerpt Driscoll’s comments on the Ted thing:

    “…Thankfully, I was married to a beautiful woman. I met my lovely wife Grace when we were seventeen, married her at twenty-one, and by God’s grace have been faithful to her in every way since the day we met. I have, however, seen some very overt opportunities for sin.”

    Here we have a man who was totally sanctified two years before his conversion. This statement is boiler-plate, I have heard it in various forms at least a dozen times and now I am beginning to wonder what constitutes being faithful to your wife in Driscoll’s mind.

    BTW, Michael I listened to your pod-cast on Driscoll and agreed with it. I am basically pro Driscoll but not a member of his fan club.

  12. Tanegeel posted, “What about David?” and I would add every single patriarch? Then you have the fact that Abraham basically gave away his wife, more than once. Solomon… the list is endless… the moral failings of a person are not the point of this post the point Michael was making was the need for a culture of Grace where our essential human sinfulness is not ignored with spiritual talk, but with honesty love and grace. ftcmnc I think you are missing the actual point of the post…
    or maybe I am…

    BTW, Michael i started listening to the Driscoll sermon podcasts, because you talk about him. Anyways, I am less than impressed, but I appreciate his desire to make ministry “missional”.

  13. Larry - KY says

    Was Haggard a doctrinal failure? Yes and no. What is so amazing about the whole episode is that this moral failure, this awful sin of sexual failure, which by no means is small but is by no means beyond any man in some form or another is the gasping breath of “I can’t believe it…” of the church and the world by in large. I’m not defending Mr. Haggard’s sin like a liberal theologian would, nor am I addressing it as a bloated conservative theologian would either, nor sexual sin of any kind. I neither promote nor will give my life for Jesse Jackson’s nor Jerry Fallwell’s false doctrines. However, the doctrinal failure in subtly denying the Gospel while affirming the word “g” “o” “s” “p” “e” “l” in churches like Ted Haggard’s, Warren’s, and many many many others alike is a far greater a blaspheme and spiritually deadly to both such pastors and their hearers. Above all things that could have removed Haggard from the pulpit this so called high sin is but a peccadillo when compared to the far far far worse sins that are committed in what he generally preached and taught and what is generally preached and taught in the average pulpit every single Sunday.

    No, I don’t mean Arminianism versus Calvinism (Calvin who desired an unmarked grave and saw himself utterly unworthy of memory compared to the Gospel would be aghast and vomit himself blind at the attachment and glorification of his name to those claiming his name and glorifying it, a point often missed by so called modern “Calvinist” today and by the way I don’t believe in free will). However, back on point, the not preaching of the Gospel at churches just like his (Haggard’s) all over this landscape every Sunday is the REAL blaspheme going on. And is EXACTLY why the world in the form of Haggard’s informant sought out to show the hypocrisy. “Why”, one asks? Because the church has done nothing but bear witness to this: Christianity is about morals and virtues rather than what it really is about “not a move from vice to virtue but a move from virtue to grace”. We’d rather “protect our witness from cigarettes, TV, movies and alcohol” than suffer the scandal of the cross!

    Of all the things he could have been removed for – he was removed for this rather than his doctrine. Which to me shows the complete opposition the American church by in large is in next to the Scriptures. While Paul rebuked sexual sins in Corinth and did not underplay them, he quickly had a word of grace to those caught in them that repented, even sharply rebuking the church for being over zealous in their correction. Yet, we find his language strangely, to our modern pietistic churchy yard ears, harsh when the Gospel is involved, that is to say doctrine; calling such other “gospels” as doctrines of demons (don’t eat don’t drink don’t marry), worthy of being ‘cut off completely’, that is castrated, a cursed sermon, anathema and again anathema. You see, when Ted Haggard sinned in this way most reacted with incredulity either openly or in thought, yet when his failure, and those like him such as Warren, et ali…, to proclaim solid Law and Gospel was brought up in the past what reaction did we most likely hear? “Yea, but he’s a swell guy and means well.” No, ANYONE who fails to clearly proclaim Christ constantly and not as an “example” is a pied piper walking many down along the ‘clean side’ of the broad road leading to hell. If you cannot preach and reproach Christ constantly every Sunday from Scripture, you need to get out immediately for your doctrine is evil!

    Allow me to clarify doctrine here, Christ and Him crucified and risen for you and me. You see on one hand the church falls apart over this Ted Haggard situation but hardly noticed the other. Yet contrary to today’s American church, Paul addresses similar sexual issues WITH the Gospel but says you are a teacher of demonic religion (don’t eat, drink, fill in the blank), the devil’s religion and cursed of God when your teaching and preaching has not or obscures the Gospel. I think we have a wrong impression of Pharisees, mostly due to too much television and ‘passion plays’ as being these scowling hand wringing shadowy plotters. I think Pharisees for the most part are smiling cobras that are generally “swell well meaning guys”, delusional in their own piety.

    The reason it was so hard for Ted Haggard to come forward right away is that the church, similar to what he himself has promoted, has become the LAST place you would come to confess any REAL sin or dare admit that, “Yes again today I sinned the same awful sin I sinned 1000 days before and I don’t see ANY victory in site”. We only accept sins like “I’m struggling with television or coveting my neighbors bass boat” or some similar trifling. Or bad sins that we are gaining some micro-victories over. We like the pietistic “victory testimonies”, “I was this or that but the Lord took that away from me” (tantamount to confessing I’m not a sinner now) or at least the testimonies that are pointing in the direction of “victory” if not today then shortly. But heaven forbid Jesus should have died for any real sinners or that they should appear within the church doors. That’s why he (Ted) kept it secret for so long, that’s why a drunk or some other unpleasant outward sinner hardly will darken the doors of the church. Oh they will come as victory is attained by them for a while and we will have a church full of dry drunks, but no wet ones, thank you very much, for such is much to messy for our witness which we are protecting for the watching world.

    But what is the churches “witness”, stellar morality? Or the Gospel of Christ? Luther rightly observes that the visibly standing and falling church is singularly upon justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and NOTHING ELSE, without which the Christian church, though so by name, is by essence, practice and works nothing different from the Turk, Jew or Pagan. And indeed we have heard this from both Pagans seeking to show our hypocrisy and Islam calling Christianity a failure, if morality is your goal, then it is. Which brings us back to why the world attempted to expose the hypocrisy in the first place of Ted Haggard through this fellow he knew. They did so because the church, by in large, presents its witness as the “moral majority” or virtuous upright. When you do that and then you slip, like Haggard did, well then the REAL sinners will leap all over your hypocrisy because that is EXACTLY what it is. IF the church makes its visibility the Gospel, the true Gospel not just the word attached to some other philosophy called the gospel (e.g. WWJD), then the world is immediately disarmed. How can the world proclaim hypocrisy if the stumbling stone of the cross, its foolishness, God crucified as a sinner, even a homosexual sinner, is placarded clearly by it? If you proclaim, “we are against theft”, and then you steal then you get what you deserve, the label of hypocrite. But if you proclaim Christ became as the greatest thief FOR YOU, and then you fall into theft yourself, you still have what you claim without hypocrisy.

    This is the real and true scandal of the Cross.


  14. Sorry to be the only one bothered by this, but:

    “The hardness of God is softer than the kindness of men, because His compulsion is our liberation.”

    is not Henri Nouwen. It’s C.S. Lewis. This is prefaced by Lewis’s comments on the gospel admonition to “compel them to come in.”

  15. Monk your words here are truly poetic.
    (“Evangelicals love a testimony of how screwed up I USED to be. They aren’t interested in how screwed up I am NOW. But the fact is, that we are screwed up. Then. Now. All the time in between and, it’s a safe bet to assume, the rest of the time we’re alive. But we will pay $400 to go hear a “Bible teacher” tell us how we are only a few verses, prayers and cds away from being a lot better. And we will set quietly, or applaud loudly, when the story is retold. I’m really better now. I’m a good Christian. I’m not a mess anymore. I’m different from other people.What a crock.”)

    Theres a great line in the Clint Eastwood movie UNFORGIVEN where Clint plays an ex gun slinger who after his wife died and he repents from his wicked ways has to raise their 2 children alone and is financially compelled after many years of repentance to go on a bounty hunt for some bad boys who sliced up a hookers face.
    Well theres this young KID who Clint runs into who is after the bounty also,who is a (wannabe) gunslinger and convinces Clint that they should do it together and split the bounty.
    Well they find the bad boys and the young KID kills the guy who sliced up the hooker and suddenly realizes what he’s done and confesses to Clint that he’d never killed anyone before and then says “but he (the bad boy) had it coming” and then Clint says “we all got it coming KID”.
    I can’t recommend this movie enough there are so many subtle spiritual overtones in this film.

  16. The real tragedy is that sexual failure is so avoidable and yet so prevalent. Christian leaders of all stripes fail to take the words of Jesus seriously. I have been there and blame the lack of clear teaching for the rampant failure in the church. See my article at