Friday, February 18, 2011

The Reformed Tendency to Create Superstars

What is it about Reformed folks and the tendency to create superstars?

I write from "inside the camp" of the Reformed, if by that we are talking strictly about God being sovereign over salvation (I reject the Reformed view of the church; no surprise there).

I've compiled a short list of some of today's Reformed superstars: John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, Sinclair Ferguson, Alistair Begg, C.J. Mahaney, Timothy Keller, Thabiti Anyabwile, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, and Josh Harris.  There are several more.

I've either read or heard most of the above men.  They genuinely seem like humble people.  I don't get the sense that any of them wants to be considered a superstar.

The real problem, from my perspective, is those who give these men superstar status.  Young seminarians, for example, often act just plain silly when they get to hear Piper, Mohler, Sproul, etc.  By the young peoples' reactions, you would almost think that Jesus had returned and they had the opportunity to hear Him.  For example, when I attended the 2010 T4G Conference, a good number of folks actually RAN to the front to get the seats closest to their appointed superstars.  When John Piper spoke you might have thought you were at a mini rock concert.

Why this tendency to elevate men to positions that only Jesus Himself should hold?  In particular, why do Reformed folks, who give much lip service to the glory of God, instead unintentionally give glory to pastors, theologians, seminary presidents, etc.?

Some of this problem stems directly from the shape and organization of the church in this country.  Most churches hire one man to do most of the teaching/preaching.  This necessarily elevates him to a position of status. This, then, creates a practice of looking up to certain special people who seem closer to God.  The practice of elevating men is then amplified when a small number of gifted people write books, preach dynamically, and/or lead mega-churches and seminaries.

When I look in the bible, I read about a jealous God who has no intention of sharing His glory with another.  That includes superstar men of today. We do God a great disservice when we do this.  Might I even dare say that we sin?  We must be careful to reserve our adulation, honor, glory, and worship for our great triune God Himself.

Should we respect gifted leaders within the church?  Yes, we certainly should.  We must remember, however, that they are just sinful and redeemed men like other followers of Jesus Christ.  

Jesus is the only true superstar.  Let's keep our focus on Him.


Arthur Sido said...

I think the "why" has to do with the emphasis on learning and theology in the Reformed camp. We tend to view the Gospel through a systematic theology lens and so we look to those men who are the most learned and most capable teachers instead of the men who are simple laborers right where we live. Part of that may also be the tendency of Refomed theology to attract those who love doctrine.

Tim A said...

Excellent post. All of evangelicalism is enamored with super stars. How do you know a teacher is a super star? They have a Bible with their name on the cover.

How do you know a teacher is truely gifted? Luke 6:40 They are "fully training" their students to "be like them", so the student can do what the teacher has done, not be perpetually dependent upon them. A super star is one who has more dependents than other lesser stars.

The reason we don't see super star teachers fully training others to be like them - more super stars - is because God has no interest in developing super stars and replicating them. An institutionalized pastor cannot reproduce himself in a fellowship because God has no interest in reproducing institutionalized pastoring. It is something He has not asked for. It takes a special school - outside a local fellowship to produce more institutionalized pastors. So many of these superstars set up schools outside a fellowship of lay folk to prepare more attempting super stars. It's very sad. God in His marvelous grace is able to use this for some of His purposes but far short of the hundred fold He desires.

Aussie John said...


I share your concern. Whilst agreeing with Arthur, I think that another problem I have come across is the propensity of pastors, and others who teach, who quote the men you have mentioned,and others, as the final authority on what Scripture says. Congregations soon learn that Scripture becomes subservient to the mind of mere men!

A Reformed pastor was deeply offended when, in a very diverse conversation, I mentioned the need for all preaching/teaching to be Christocentric.

Eric said...


You're probably on target. The Reformed often confuse amount of head knowledge with following the living Christ. Although related, they are clearly not the same. What a dangerous confusion this is.

Eric said...


I agree that God has little use for those who are elevated according to man-made criteria. While these men are lifted up, the church in America flounders. I wonder why so few people see the connection.

Eric said...


I've heard my fair share say something like, "John Piper said..." The funny thing is that these people usually say they adhere to sola scriptura. What a strange situation this is.

Steve Scott said...

My next bumper sticker will read, "John Piper said it, I believe it, that settles it." :)

Eric said...


The funny (and sad) thing is that although Piper doesn't believe that, legions of his followers seem to.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty simple: Knowledge puffs up. Not only does knowledge puff us up but it puffs up others in our minds in how we think of them. Still, we are called to love God with all our mind and that includes learning and growing in knowledge for the purpose of evangelism and discipleship, and ultimately for God's glory. The key is that we need to remain humble, with gentleness, respect, and love. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. We should always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks for the hope that is in us, but do so with gentleness and respect. We also need to keep a humble view of those church leaders/authors that tend to have more exposure in the public square. I am thankful for many of these men because of things they have written or spoken which have been greatly helpful to me. In some cases God has used some of these men to convict me and exhort me in certain ways. Kevin Deyoung would be a perfect example of this. I am very grateful to God and to him for a certain book that he wrote, which has greatly impacted my life. However, if we puff up these men in our own hearts, then it is just that; an issue in our own heart, which I believe cannot prevail very long if we are walking with the Lord, who will no doubt convict us of our sin and bring us to repent of glorifying men, rather than God. I have heard it said that too often, we glory in the gift, rather than the giver of the gift, and why He has given it. Let us give glory to the One who has given the gift and used these men to accomplish His purposes.

Eric said...


I agree that it is an issue of the heart. I still wonder why so many young men in particular seem to elevate gifted teachers to unhealthy levels. I'm sure men like Piper, Mohler, etc. are uncomfortable with this. For all of us, we need to examine our own hearts. Christ must be preeminent.

Lloyd said...

Great post. You hit the nail on the head. So many folks make idols out of mere men who have the ability to speak the Word of God. God gave these men (superstars) their gifts, but not the pride that sometimes accompanies it. God bless, Lloyd

Eric said...


Thanks for commenting.

This whole phenomenon is such an odd thing. So many of the same people who cry out about the glory of God turn around and give glory to men. I'm not sure what the attraction is.

As you said, many of these men are gifted teachers. Why they get placed on a pedestal is not something I can understand.