In defense of “celebrity bible teachers” (some of them anyways)

One of the common targets conservative bloggers and pastors like to take aim at are those quote on quote, “celebrity bible teachers”.  I’ve always argued that “celebrity” is probably not the best word to use when describing these giants of the faith (men like Piper, Mohler, MacArthur, Sproul, Carson, etc).  If you’ve ever lived in Los Angeles or New York City you know how “real” celebrities are worshiped and followed.  Have you ever watched a movie premier before?  The last time I checked out the magazine rack at the grocery store the tabloids had zero interest in following around R.C. Sproul or John Piper.  The only time a pastor finds himself in a large magazine is when he does a Ted Haggard or if he makes the masses feel good about themselves like Joel Osteen does.

The conservative Christian community may take a larger interest in what certain well-known and well-respected bible teachers have to say but that is often because they’re uniquely gifted communicators and are top notch students of the Word.  For example, when Al Mohler writes a commentary piece on his blog it normally expresses my own personal convictions on the topic, only he says it in a much more memorable way.  Praise God for the way He’s chosen to gift various persons in His church.  I am grateful God has determined to bless certain men of God with larger platforms that they might preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified to even more people.  If it is ultimately about making mature disciples and advancing the kingdom of God shouldn’t we all rejoice in such developments?

Something tells me during the days of the early church that children raised in Christian homes looked up to their own heroes of the faith (Abraham, Moses, David, Hebrews 11); and I imagine Titus and Timothy viewed the apostle Paul the same way I view my spiritual mentors in the faith.  Any Christian who is worthy of the name “hero of the faith” possesses the same heart attitude as Paul in Philippians 3:17, Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 1 Corinthians 11:1, Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

Obviously some people divide themselves into divisive Christian cliques (“I’m of Paul, I’m of Peter, I’m of Barnabas”) but that is not the fault of those godly men.  Still others stop attending church altogether because they sit at home on Sundays and listen to their own “personal pastor”.  Those persons are immature and are outside of the will of God.   I’ve heard all the celebrity pastors mentioned above say just that.  “We’re not your pastor!  God’s will for your life is that you plug into a local church and that you submit yourself under the leadership of those godly men.  We too are men of clay, sinners saved by grace, worship Christ alone, etc, etc.”

Some people attack celebrity bible teachers because they assume that to be popular by default indicates compromise.  Others believe that to be popular is to be proud and I could go on and on.  The fact that Pastor Steve Lawson is willing to come to a little town in Illinois to minister to my congregation says the exact opposite thing.  The fact that John Piper recently spent time ministering to a group of prisoners in Africa says the exact opposite thing.  Need I provide more examples?  As far as we know these humble servants of the Lord are working out their salvation with fear and trembling.  We love these “jars of clay” because they help us understand the truth better.  We imitate their examples because they themselves are running hard after Christ.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Excellent post. I have to check my pride often when lamenting about ‘Piperites’ or ‘MacArthurites’, etc. I think there are some valid concerns about those who follow these men too closely. But, in my interactions with some of these men I have only sensed a great humility and passion to serve the LORD.

    Thank you for challenging and convicting my pride-leaning heart.

  2. Great post, pointing out the distinctions between “fan” idolatry of celebrities, versus those of us who listen to well-known Bible teachers. I listen to MacArthur, as well as the late S. Lewis Johnson, because these are gifted men, great teachers who really know and teach God’s word, and I learn so much from them.

    I know some weaker Christians who can’t understand that, who don’t appreciate why someone has such desire to frequently listen to sermons from good teachers. They’re content to just get their weekly local teaching — and label my greater interest in sermon-listening as “idolatry” like the situation in 1 Corinthians. But as you point out here, there is a difference, and the teaching available from MacArthur and others does help make more mature disciples.

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