Carl Trueman on cults of personality in the church


“Cults of personality are very bad things; the role of the preacher is to point to Christ and, in that context, to be as invisible as possible. The preacher who brings attention to himself would seem to be, by Paul’s standards, a failure; more than that, a congregation that focuses on the preacher has failed to understand the power and logic of the cross and has capitulated to a secular mind-set. Yet the conservative church in America is, arguably, driven to a large extent by such cults of personality.”

“There are a number of pieces of evidence that point towards this. First, there are the parachurch ministries that have sprung that are focused on the big personality, and frequently named after that personality. Then there is the proliferation of big conferences with big-name speakers. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with such things; but it is clear from even a glance at the Internet or commonplace conversations after church that these things have fostered an equivalent of stardom where it is not the gospel or even the church that provides the focal point, but Speaker X or Speaker Y.”

“It is very clear that the Lord has blessed the church of today with some remarkably talented individuals who have been used to do remarkable things. One thinks of Tim Keller in New York, John Piper in Minneapolis, Mark Driscoll in Seattle. The danger is that, in focusing on such men, we create unrealistic expectations. The evidence that the church models developed by these men can be transplanted with success elsewhere is highly equivocal; more likely, their success is rooted in God’s using their own remarkable gifts and contexts – the right men in the right place at the right time for something great, if you like. The life of Don Carson’s father, outlined so movingly in his Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, is more likely to be closer to the norm for most churches and pastors than is that of Redeemer in New York.”

“More importantly, we must recognize the preoccupation with such personalities for what it is: a distraction from the very thing for which these men have themselves worked so hard – a single-minded focus on Jesus Christ.  So from whence does the problem come? It comes from imbibing the obsessions of the wider culture with big personalities. The world has Access Hollywood; the church has – well, you insert the name. But the name has to be of someone who is able to build a big church, gain a big name, and offer a sanctified equivalent of the movie-star magic. This is the secularization of the church just as surely as The Patriot’s Bible or the social gospel of Walter Rausenbusch.”

– Carl Trueman, Republocrat, p. 38-39


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