Admit it. We all have idols. We may not call them that. We may not even treat them as such all the time. But most of us have those people we put up on such a pedestal that the reach from here to there is great.
Maybe we don’t call them idols, and maybe they aren’t “technically worshiped” in the sense of true idolatry. But most believers have a list of the “great men of faith,” “heroes of the faith,” etc. that we have come to rely on. When in doubt, ask ______________ and we know we’ll get a reliable answer.
Over the years, for me it has been men like John MacArthur, John Piper, Paul Washer, J.I. Packer, and others. Then the guys further back; guys like John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and of course C. H. Spurgeon.
And then comes “the day.” They suddenly say something, or we read something, that blows us out of the water. I break with MacArthur on some points of eschatology. I cringed when Packer signed the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document. And John Piper invited WHO to speak at his conference????
I’ll never forget the day I was reading Spurgeon’s comments regarding a certain verse in the book of Revelation, and I almost fell over dead. He said something I disagreed with! Spurgeon! How could he?!?! (I’ll refrain from revealing the specific verse so as not to start that discussion!)
Anyway, I was mulling this over as I listened to an interview Tim Keller did several years ago, in 2008 in fact, with Martin Bashir at Columbia University. (Read this excellent take on it over at the Cripplegate). Amazing how something several years old can just now be making headlines, especially in this day and age; but there it is. It’s gone “viral.” And with good reason.
Because in the course of the conversation, the question was asked regarding those “millions of Muslims, Sikhs and Jews who have heard about Jesus” but have not responded to the gospel. “Where does your thesis leave them?” he was asked.
Keller responded by saying: “Where they are right now, it means that if there’s never any change, they don’t get Jesus. If they die and they’ve never… if they die and they don’t have Jesus Christ, I don’t know.”
Now, to his credit, Keller did try to be a little more direct. He did say, “If he is who he says he is, then, long term, they don’t have God. If on the other hand…all I can always say about this is God gives me, even as a minister with the Scripture, a lot of information on a need-to-know basis. And a need-to-know basis means, Here’s all I can tell you: unless you get Jesus Christ who created you to start with, unless you are reunited with him sometime, there is no eternal future of thriving. It just makes sense.”
I’m not sure what “eternal thriving” has to do with it, in comparison to Jesus’ direct words about heaven and hell, but that’s beside the point. What concerned me was the hedging of bets. The “well, I don’t know.” We do know. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me.” Pretty plain.
Now, I know it’s tough. Keller may have been “in a spot” as the Cripplegate article linked above mentions. Furthermore, while I have a great deal of respect for Keller and have benefited greatly from his writings, I wouldn’t put him way up there in my class of “superhero” types to begin with. Still, this whole thing is a bit disappointing.
And here’s my point. I don’t want to just pass judgment on Tim Keller. Who knows how I would have done in the same spot; as if I would ever be deemed worthy to be interviewed in this kind of forum anywhere in the first place. I simply want us to all think a little about the idea of our “idols” falling, failing to live up to our standards, etc.
It’s a simple, but excellent reminder that men are just that; men. We are all weak and broken vessels. None of us is perfect. I’m not saying that to excuse poor choices; I’m saying that to caution each of us about holding those folks up too high on that pedestal to begin with. They will all fall, eventually. Truly, no one is perfect. Mistakes will be made. Poor choices will be revealed. Doctrinal deficiencies will be unveiled. Even if it’s just that one verse in Revelation!
We live in a “celebrity” age, even in the church. The “paper preachers” and the “media ministers” often carry a lot of weight. And some are incredible men of God. But we must be careful about holding men too high on those pedestals. They are just men. They don’t deserve our ultimate loyalty. Only Christ does. (Read here for my thoughts on Jesus as our true hero).
I’ll still read MacArthur and Piper and Packer and even Keller. In spite of some disagreements here or there, they have much to offer. I’ll even keep my Spurgeon collection (including my Spurgeon bobblehead) even though he’s so clearly wrong about that verse! I just need to remember, as I encourage you to, that only Jesus is perfect. Only His Word is infallible. Only He should receive my loyalty and worship. He is the only One who will never fall; never fail.
NOTE: In fairness to Mr. Keller, I have since learned that he has recanted those earlier words (you can read about it here). The lesson is still a good one. Jesus will never recant anything!