September 23, 2020

Weekend File 11:03:06: Site News, Derb’s Loss of Faith and The Passion of the Haggard

belushi1941.jpgTime for the IM Weekend File.

First, some IM/BHT site news. I’ve been greatly blessed to have outstanding technical assistance down through the years from Jim Nicholson, Kurt Nordstrom and Phillip Winn. Recently, I’ve been blessed with the friendship and good work of the queen of tech elves, Sonia Albright. As a result of her good efforts, Both and will soon be receiving major facelifts. I also want to thank my friend Bill Kinnon for the new BHT banner that will be rolled out later this month. It’s drop dead gorgeous and conveys a new image for our beloved theological tavern.

As always, these technical improvements and adjustments will require some patience from readers of both blogs. So before you send me that e-mail, wait a day and see if things straighten out.

Also, in the less-immediate future will be the roll-out of Clay Spencer’s website, EthosHQ, and hopefully, the debut of Post-Evangelical.Com, a site where those who identify with the idea of moving past evangelicalism in any way can contribute posts and resources.

Next, I’d recommend that all Internet Monk readers take time to read John Derbyshire’s apologia for his loss of Christian faith. Derbyshire is a regular commentator at NRO, and his podcast is a weekly treat. Several bloggers are already commenting on Derb’s reasoning for abandoning his admittedly shaky Christianity.

What will be pointed out, I’m sure, is that while Derbyshire credits the study of biology with finishing him off, many of those same discoveries have led others into the fold of the intelligent design movement.

What becomes more and more obvious is that controlling presuppositions have much more influence that any data that emerges through science or education. Derb is overwhelmed with what biology is saying about human beings, and for him, it erases the claim that human beings bear the image of God. For others, Biology gives continuous testimony that such beings could not have emerged from chaos and nothingness, but they must come from a personal being of extraordinary complexity and personality. Science raises issues of Biblical interpretation for some, but creates windows for more awe-inspired worship for others.

Derbyshire says that intelligent believers are used to defending God in terms of proving the unlikely and the ridiculously absurd, so he is not surprised that increasing evidence for the unlike possibility of God’s existence will always be answered from within religious communities. Ironically, it seems to many of us that the articulate defense of God’s existence based upon recent scientific discoveries has made the assertion of God’s existence far less “absurd” than it was at the confident beginning of the modern era.

Believers would say, however, that the power of science to eliminate or establish faith is highly overrated. Most Christians do not appeal to creationism as a major plank in a believing worldview. A faith journey is a very personal, existential and, dare I say it, postmodern journey for most believers. Once faith is established, it becomes the grid by which information is processed. Derb’s faith was of a kind that a good argument could vaporize it.

For many Christians, however, “proof,” as a matter of evidence and explanation, serves, at best, as a secondary or tertiary matter. Apologists such as Ravi Zacharias present the case for faith- and for our being made in the image of God- not on the testimony of science, but on the implications of Christ for our understanding of what it means to understand the question of being fully human.

Oddly, it is that most biological of human activities, war and aggression, and the evil that lies exposed with them, that has pointed out to many the relevance- even the necessity- of the Christian belief that we cannot understand ourselves as merely animals, either in our capacity for good or in our capacity for evil. If Derbyshire’s experience with biology convinces him that there is no God, many of us would say that our experience with a godless world convinces us that there is a God from whom we are estranged.

Wesley Smith at First Things commented:

This is not to say, of course, that we aren’t part of nature. We are indeed physical beings, specifically mammals, with a unique and, apparently, evolving genome. We eat, eliminate, copulate, fight, feel pain, and die, just like every other mammal on the planet. Indeed, if we want to go all the way in pursuing Derbyshire-style human reductionism, we could even say that we aren’t special when compared to carrots and rutabagas, since we are all merely collections of atoms made up of carbon molecules.

The idea that we are just part of nature and nothing to celebrate is gaining traction in these nihilistic times. But beyond the esoteric, there are practical reasons to reject Derbyshire’s perspective. The way we act often depends on how we perceive ourselves. If we are nothing special, Jefferson’s assertion that all men are created equal, by which he means we have equal moral worth, becomes essentially untenable. Indeed, if we are nothing special, we are thrust back into a purely materialistic Darwinian world of tooth and claw, where might makes right. And that opens the door to all the evils that have plagued human history. Indeed, understanding that there is such a thing as evil action proves we are special in the known universe. Thankfully, one need not have faith to understand that.

Finally, the facts are still coming in and the exact nature of the issues are unclear, but the developing Ted Haggard episode provides another sad opportunity to remember that human sinfulness does not give exceptions for the high-profile leaders of evangelicalism. (UPDATE: David Wayne is doing a good job collecting links on this story.) We have a variety of Christianity loose in the megachurch movement that thrives on the illusion of having it “together” in our lives, vocations and families. We persist in saying the folks at our beautiful church are shiny and happy, and their children are good-looking and above average. Then we discover that a leader is struggling with his morality, sexuality or addictions, and all kinds of sermons, programs and public image efforts start to look a bit different.

When are we going to learn that God is looking past the outward man and deep into our inward, personal longings and journeys? God wants people who find the humiliation of servant-leadership to be a natural posture because we have learned that humility must precede leadership, but that it also never leaves a good leader. Last time I looked, foot-washing was not in high demand in evangelical circles.

Of course, many gays have been pointing out for years the possibility that evangelicals kick hard and shout loudly against the sexual issues because they cannot be honest about what is going on inside themselves. They say we are examples of Freudian displacement and cognitive dissonance that produce denial and hypocrisy. That may be a bit of an exaggeration and a tomato thrown from the gallery, but it’s true enough we should pay attention and demonstrate the humility to say, “You’re right.” It wouldn’t be the first time God had to use those outside of his people to bring judgment and the truths that only judgment can bring. If this is the case with Haggard- and it is unclear at this point- can it be a learning moment for us?

I’m a preacher and a sinner. I have intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be the person who is preaching against an issue where I am personally failing. I understand the kinds of thinking, praying, evasive conversation and desperate duplicity that go on in the lives of a sinful human being called to be a minister of the Gospel. I know what it’s like to look in the mirror and say “Who am I?”

The fact is that we must be willing to be humiliated. And that is what is likely happening here, for the good of everyone involved and, in some way, for all of us who are evangelicals. Repentance isn’t just a good idea or a topic for a sermon series. It’s not something we mention on the way to having your best life now. It’s a necessary, life-giving, death-embracing, step on the way to a genuine surrender to a crucified, humiliated Christ.

Trust me. If this kind of moral failure is going on with Ted Haggard (and that is yet unclear)- as it has with two high profile pastors here in Kentucky this same month- then it’s going on everywhere. There are pastors and Christian leaders doing everything you can think of, and then getting up on the platform and playing the familiar role. It’s a house of cards with pornography, adultery, drug use, gambling, homosexuality and pornography on the cards.

Years ago, I was in a seminary psychology course that had an ongoing small group. In that group I learned about the moral failures of men in ministry, and I was shocked.

I’m not shocked anymore.

Evangelicalism wants same-sex issues to be political. They are not. They are issues about who you want to have sex with, and why. In other words, they are deeply human issues, for deeply broken human beings who need a deeply broken Christ. What comes out on the other side is faith and compassion, not political victory or cultural influence.

I pray that struggling pastors find Christ in the midst of humiliation because all of us are willing to be humiliated to be disengaged from our own sins. If we aren’t willing to be humiliated to know Christ, we are quite likely not going to know him at all. And if we are going to run from the hard truths of our own brokenness by creating churches where grace is given only to the strong, rather than to the weak, we will build nice, prosperous organizations that have nothing to offer the world. The Gospel is always for the broken, and never for the strong.


  1. Amen, my brother. I’ve both begun to grieve and to pray for Pastor Haggard and his members.

    We have a small work here in Austin TX, so we’re not among the “famous” in today’s church world. But one thing I do understand…the gospel path is stained with blood.

    I was taught as a young believer that this way of walking with Christ is a “suffering way”. The old saints back then taught me that. That kind of teaching is out of style in today’s church, but I’m seeing more and more the need to bring it back.

    A few years ago, my spouse had a moral failure but God restored him and kept our marriage together. The embarrassment and humility of it all served to give us a special compassion for others AND a reminder that save for the grace of God, it would be OVER for us. My husband wrote a book about OUR fall, and lessons learned from it.

    I thank God constantly for that ordeal, as ugly and public and shameful as it was. But we are the better for it.

  2. I (and probably every pagan I know) am always skeptical of people who appear to have their act together, because I know that I certainly don’t have my act together. Neither does my pastor (whom I know very well); neither does anyone. We’re all plagued with sin.

    So are all the megachurch pastors, the national Christian leaders, and everyone else. Only the people that are truly honest with their failures can keep from falling — because they already admit to everyone they’re fallen. For everyone else, it’s only a matter of time before we all discover their hypocrisy. As Jesus once put it, everything that’s hidden will become exposed. For this reason I’m never surprised when someone’s secret sins are exposed. It was gonna happen anyway.

  3. Firstly, I feel it necessary to point out, as you have that the allegations might be untrue. I hate the media rumor mill, and let’s give things time before we assume someone has done something.

    The allegations are shameful, yes, but doesn’t much of the shame come from the pretenses involved?
    -myths of purity (That a Christian, much less a leader, may not struggle with certain problems. That there are magical sins.)
    -a desire for a leader or even father figure (A church with 10,000 people! Such concentrated power and focus on one person.)
    -the politicization of sex (And how could this not come home to roost? We are h-u-m-a-n).

    I think the world will learn a great deal from the broader Evangelical community’s and specifically Haggard’s church’s reaction to the issue. Will it be with honesty? harsh overreaction? defensiveness and downplay? a change of the subject? (In other words, what one would expect our political and bunsiness leaders to do?) I am a Christian (Anglican) but not an Evangelical, and I hope that the reaction is healthy, honest, just, and proportionate.

    All I know about Haggard is what I’ve seen on TV (political family values stuff, rather saddening rallies), and, interestingly, something on YouTube, in which Haggard looks like a world class buffoon (not all of which can be attributed to editing; it’s painful). He is apparently a Young Earth creationist (why are so many Evanglicals commited to this?!) and is trying to speak with Richard Dawkins (truly a world class cad, but still brilliant in his way) about science, etc. It’s wholly dismaying to watch, as the man is an extremely important leader who will influence politics, and even science funding and research. Enough to confirm all prejudices one might have of the Bible Belt (even though they they might be incorrect).

    God bless


  4. Oh, the YouTube business is here:
    (not an endorsement! but it’s a take that many non-Christians are going to have on Haggard, and on Evangelicals for that matter); and to add there is a grand article by literary critic and theorist, Terry Eggleton – definitely not “pro-Evangelical” – places Dawkins in context and rather rakes him over the coals for his biases. The article is quite good.

  5. As a former Evangelical (and not POST-evangelical!!) I am entirely commited to pray for Ted Haggard.

    But, honestly, I would be easier for me to do so if he was not a perfect representative of a spirituality based on consumerism where aggresiveness is seen as a mark of godliness and “holier that thou” attitudes are too often the norm…

    Go on his official web-site and loook at his recommanded reading-list…

    Talking about books, see you at your local Lifeway Christian store in two years to buy Ted’s book “The-story-of-my-restoration-thanks-to-my-buddy-Jesus-and-my-wonderful-wife”

  6. Regarding the “Dawkins vs Haggard” YouTube video: I agree, it’s painful to watch. Haggard does come across as somewhat of an ignoramus– and he’s definitely ungracious towards Dawkins. I’ve long appreciated the ministry of Ravi Zacharias; watching Ted Haggard “debate” Richard Dawkins has only strengthened my respect for Ravi’s work.

  7. “Evangelicalism wants same-sex issues to be political. They are not. They are issues about who you want to have sex with, and why. In other words, they are deeply human issues, for deeply broken human beings who need a deeply broken Christ. What comes out on the other side is faith and compassion, not political victory or cultural influence.”