A Better Way to Discern
Daniel DarlingDaniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). For five years, Dan served as Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is the author of several books, including Teen People of the Bible, Crash Course, iFaith, Real, and his latest, Activist Faith. He is a weekly contributor to Out of Ur, the blog of Leadership Journal. His work has been featured in evangelical publications such as Relevant Magazine, Homelife, Focus on the Family, Marriage Partnership, In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley. He has guest-posted on leading blogs such as Michael Hyatt, The Gospel Coalition, OnFaith (Washington Post), and others. He is a contributing writer for many publications including Stand Firm, Enrichment Journal and others. Dan’s op-eds have appeared in Washington Posts’ On Faith, CNN.com's Belief Blog, and other newspapers and opinion sites. He is a featured blogger for Crosswalk.com, Churchleaders.com and Believe.com, Covenant Eyes, G92, and others. Publisher's Weekly called his writing style "substantive and punchy." Dan is a sought-after speaker and has been interviewed on TV and radio outlets across the country, including CNN, 100 Huntley Street, Moody Broadcasting Network, Harvest Television, The Sandy Rios Show, American Family Radio, the Salem Radio Network, and a host of other local and national Christian media. He holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College and is pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He and his wife Angela have four children and reside in the Nashville area. Daniel is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Literary Agency
- 2012 Jan 30
I come from a very conservative theological background and I maintain many of those same convictions. But one thing that has changed in my heart over the years is my attitude toward people from different ministry contexts and denominations. I used to think that if their bullet points didn't line up with mine, then I was right and they were wrong.
I no longer think this way. That's not to be confused with doctrinal slippage. I feel very strongly that doctrine is vital for the life of the church and that the attempts to weaken orthodoxy by some will hurt the cause of Christ going forward. But, quite often conservatives have a "guilty until proven innocent" outlook about Christian leaders. Some self-appointed watch-bloggers view any big, successful church movement with sarcastic skepticism, as if every mega-church pastor is out to fill seats, fill coffers, and build buildings. Sure, there are charlatans on the evangelical scene. There are prosperity pastors who have watered down faith in order to find Christian fame. But unless we are God (which we are most definitely not) we are not in the position to judge their hearts. We can discern the output (teaching, books, etc). But it should be done with a humble heart, not the sort of sarcastic one-up-manship that characterizes so many self-appointed watchdogs of truth.
The truth is that there are many evangelical "celebrities" who are famous because God has blessed their teaching ministries. They are solid preachers and teachers, selfless servants. We shouldn't begrudge them their blessing. We shouldn't mask our jealousy and contempt behind a facade of fake discernment. Let's not assume the worst about our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
On the flip side, some measure orthodoxy only by numbers. I've heard a few mega-church pastors who, when garnering criticism for a particular approach, have no other defense except to say something like "It worked, people came." And they push away anyone with a helpful critique as a small-minded, unevangelistic doubter. This too is wrong and prideful. Numbers cannot be the only measure of spiritual purity, otherwise we'd be able to say that a fast-growing religion like Mormonism or Islam is God's chosen instrument of grace in this age. And I don't think orthodox Christians are prepared to do that.
Lastly, I think we have to look at successful mega-pastors as humans. This goes two ways. First, they are humans in that they will make mistakes of methodology and associations and wording and when they do, publicly, let's give them the benefit of the doubt and forgive them and move on. Let's assume their hearts are right, critique their methods, but not castigate them as the the next great heretic. Secondly, let's affirm their humanity by acknowledging that some of what a pastor offers is good and wholesome and some may not be. What I mean by this is that simply because we disagree with a pastor or speaker or leader in one area doesn't mean we should throw out all of his teaching on every area. He's human. I'm human. Some of what I write will be spiritually beneficial. Some may not. Eat the meat, throw away the bones.
Lastly, our discernment could be more balanced and less triumphant and snarky. I personally appreciate the work of guys like Trevin Wax and Kevin DeYoung. They are men who critique with humility, love and a biblical focus. They also rarely take on a subject that they don't know. I never detect mean-spiritedness or a sense of gotcha in their work. I may not always agree with Trevin or Kevin (sounds like a new oldies radio show), but I wish more bloggers would adopt their pastoral tone.
One more thing: We would all do well to speak with grace and clarity online. We will give account one day for every word spoken or written. Even those anonymous snarky comments left on articles with which we disagree.