25 January 2012

"We Can Work It Out:" Is Steven Furtick Qualified to Have this Conversation?

There is a semi-public conversation occurring right now. I say "semi-public" because the only individuals privy to this conversation at this time are those who were willing to pay the registration fee to watch it. It's taking place at the Elephant Room 2 (ER2), between Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel, and Steven Furtick of Elevation Church. This conversation is entitled, We Can Work It Out and according to the website for the ER2, these two popular pastors are to discuss the following:
WE CAN WORK IT OUT
What responsibilities do we have to local pastors who exist outside our theological boundaries, but within the body of Christ? How do you confront a brother in error while showing fidelity to truth, and to the truth about biblical relationship? Given the freedom to preach your conscience, is there anywhere you wouldn’t preach? Does a pastor’s association really communicate endorsement, or is that just a carryover from fundamentalism? How can pastors practically encourage/challenge those who are different than they are? How do the benefits of broader community weigh against the dangers of confusing people about your own convictions?
STEVEN FURTICK & JAMES MACDONALD | Moderated by Mark Driscoll (Online Source)
These leading questions offer the appearance of genuine concern for Christian brotherhood, a desire to maintain a Godly focus during difficult confrontations, and a hope that a gentle, Spirit-led demeanor will be maintained throughout such an encounter. In light of recent events, this seems like a conversation worth having and worth hearing. What seems odd, however, are the two individuals who are having it.

Young, popular pastor Steven Furtick has managed to launch himself into the Christian spotlight. There is no denying that Elevation Church is a success by worldly standards. In just six years, Furtick has managed to elevate (no pun intended) attendance far into the thousands. Multiple campuses exist, and Furtick himself is, by all definitions, a "rockstar pastor." He is the guy that every pastor wants to headline at his "Christian" conference, that is, if the desire is to draw a young, eager crowd.

In recent months, it has become remarkably clear that Steven Furtick has grand dreams of positioning himself in the same limelight as famous Word-Faith teachers like T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer. As Ken Silva pointed out in his post, Steven Furtick and Word Faith Heresy, Furtick has already appeared with Meyer at previous speaking engagements, and has marveled over her success while visiting her ministry headquarters. Silva also noted in Steven Furtick Bringin' On Word Faith and the Pastrixes that Furtick has not only expressed great admiration for notable Word Faith teacher Joel Osteen, but that he also holds "Bishop" T.D. Jakes in high regard. This veneration reached its peak this past Friday evening, January 20, when Steven Furtick proudly introduced "the Bishop" to his audience at Code Orange Revival.



There's much that could be said about this introduction, but I'd like to point out just one thing that was mentioned at the end:
An’ I appreciate the fact that you would come and be with us tonight. But, more importantly, I appreciate the fact that you’ve got a bunch of hungry people in here (audience cheers), who are about to lose their minds. Elevation Church, at every location, I want you to stand up on your feet right now, and let’s welcome to the stage, the Greatest Preacher of Our Time—Bishop T.D. Jakes. Come on, let’s show him some embarrassing love. (Online Source, emphasis mine)
So here we have an incredibly popular, incredibly influential pastor who lauds Bishop T.D. Jakes not only as his personal favorite preacher, but as the "Greatest Preacher of Our Time." The reader can imagine why we ought to be concerned about this. It is certainly no secret that Jakes unapologetically teaches heretical Word-Faith doctrine and, amid accusations and inquiries, until today has remained relatively silent on the issue of his presumed modalist beliefs. Today, in the session entitled, "Ticket to Ride," the following conversation took place between Mark Driscoll and T.D. Jakes:
Driscoll: We all would agree that in the nature of God there is mystery. But within that, for you, Bishop Jakes, the issue is one God manifesting Himself successively in three ways? Or one God existing eternally in three persons? What is your understanding now? Which one?
Jakes: I believe the latter one is where I stand today. One God – Three Persons. I am not crazy about the word persons though. You describe “manifestations” as modalist, but I describe it as Pauline. For God was manifest in the flesh. Paul is not a modalist, but he doesn’t think it’s robbery to say manifest in the flesh. Maybe it’s semantics, but Paul says this. (Online Source)
If Jakes does indeed affirm the Trinity (and if he does, then that is good news), then why has he waited until now to declare this? And why didn't Driscoll push him and ask him why he is not "crazy about the word persons?" Simply pointing to a mention by Paul of the incarnation of Christ is not exactly a strong case for use of the term "manifestations," especially considering that the term has long been associated with the Oneness heresy. But, a further and even more important message remains. Even if T.D. Jakes fully affirms Trinitarian doctrine, even if he could stand and affirm the Athanasian Creed in all its truth, one of the biggest elephants in the room was still ignored: T.D. Jakes' ministry is defined by Word-Faith doctrine. So, even if we wanted to widen our embrace, we still could not include Jakes within it until he has outwardly renounced his propagation of these Word-Faith doctrines. Nevertheless, Jakes remains, in Steve Furtick's estimation, the "greatest preacher of our time."

Yet, it seems to be precisely because of his great audacity that Steven Furtick is the recipient of so much criticism within conservative circles. Unfortunately, he tends to react to criticism at times in a rather hostile manner.
(Online Source)
Seems a surprising reaction from a Christian pastor, doesn't it? Furtick made his debut on this blog when it was discovered that he would be taking the pulpit for James MacDonald at Harvest Bible Chapel this past summer. Acceptance and endorsement of Steven Furtick tends to draw criticism from the more conservative crowd because his methods are questionable at best. Furtick clearly measures his success by numbers and crowds, but can we always measure success in the church by the same standards that we measure success in the world?

Criticism toward Steven Furtick isn't simply due to his pragmatic approach to "doing church," however. Many have questioned also his actual handling of the Biblical text. One doesn't have to listen to too many of Furtick's sermons before a pattern begins to emerge. Steven Furtick seems to have one topic that he enjoys preaching about above all else: himself. He may appear to be preaching from the biblical text, but even a "Berean-like" glance will reveal that he is actually reading himself into the biblical text.

Nowhere was this narcissistic form of preaching more evident than at the aforementioned, recently concluded Code Orange Revival (COR). Hosted by Furtick, the eager preacher scheduled this 12 night "revival" and filled nearly every evening with some of the world's most agile Scripture-twisters. Yet the audience, having had their ears tickled and their felt needs met, absolutely devoured each and every teaching. No doubt that we will be hearing the excited announcement of how many baptisms occurred and how many people "made a decision for Jesus" all because of Code Orange Revival. It is, after all, all about the numbers, regardless of whether those numbers are accompanied by any actual evidence of a heart, mind and life change.

As was to be expected, COR saw quite a bit of both criticism and praise. Watching the COR "hashtag" on Twitter each night (#CodeOrangeRevival) proved to be an event in itself. Of course, critics of the gathering leveraged the use of this hashtag in an effort to share their concerns with the deceived. A particularly busy evening was that of Saturday, January 21, when James MacDonald took the stage. The hashtag was quite active, so much so that even Steven Furtick took notice. While multiple critics were using the forum to share information, one unfortunate soul became the target of a rather vicious attack ... by Steven Furtick himself.

This writer has come into the possession of nine direct messages that were sent privately from Steven Furtick to this individual. Permission has been granted to share these messages.

The first arrived at 9:46 pm:
Wow, based on this, one would think that this individual had said something terribly mean and nasty either to or about Steven Furtick! Yet, a review of the Twitter stream reveals nothing of the sort. Yet Furtick continued, with accusations of "slander and malice," thereby analyzing and judging this individual's heart and motives.

While I am not exactly certain what was said to Furtick at this point, he nevertheless continued to respond with vitriol:




Judging from the public tweets that were sent out by this individual, his biggest crime was in expressing his concerns with the way that God's Word was being mishandled at COR. And yet Steven Furtick, a Christian pastor, chose to respond to concerned critique in this appalling manner?

Steven Furtick's best lines of defense were to point to his numbers as evidence of his success and to then insult and malign the character of a man he does not even know. Reader, please remember, Steven Furtick is a Christian pastor. 

Finally, Furtick offered a challenge:

Wow. Strong, searing words from a man who only hours earlier had stood on a stage claiming the name of Jesus Christ. But then, what more can we expect from the man who proudly created this?



There seems to be more than sufficient evidence to suggest that Steven Furtick does not handle criticism well. In fact, at every turn he seems to respond to it with malice and venom on his tongue. He rarely seems to ease into his amplified anger, jumping instead immediately into attack mode. And yet, today here he sits at The Elephant Room 2, discussing how to resolve and "work out" differences in beliefs, how to "confront a brother in error," and how to "practically encourage/challenge those who are different" than oneself. Really? Based upon the evidence that has just been laid out, it seems that Steven Furtick may be more than a little disqualified to have this conversation. In fact, we really must ask, who is the hypocrite now?

SEE ALSO:
"We Can Work It Out:" Is James MacDonald Qualified to Have This Conversation?