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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Should I Still Read His Books (Or Listen To His Music)?

Feb 16, 2019

Huh? That Bill guy sure comes up with some rather bizarre titles. But there is in fact a purpose in a piece like this, and for the Christian it has some practical and pastoral implications. It has to do with this: should we keep reading past books from Christians who go off the rails?

Should we keep listening to Christian music when the artist goes off the rails? Let me make two qualifications before proceeding. By ‘going off the rails’ I mean significant things such as: renounce the faith; fall into clear doctrinal error or heresy; or fall into known and unrepented of sin, such as an immoral lifestyle.

Also, I refer to their past material. If someone moves into heresy or sexual sin for example, most Christians would likely stay clear of any new offerings from these folks. But is the older stuff still of value? With all this in mind, let me offer two examples of this and how we might proceed.

Both cases sadly have to do with well-known and much-loved evangelical Christians who left their wives and kids and took up with male partners. Not just that, but they publicly affirmed and defended their homosexuality. The first involves the English evangelical author Roy Clements.

I have several of his books – Songs of Experience and The Strength of Weakness – and have often quoted from them in my articles and even in my old PhD thesis. I believe someone once objected to me quoting from him because he became a homosexual.

This is unfortunately true as I discovered: in 1999 he left his wife and embraced a homosexual lifestyle, and he now proudly promotes “gay Christianity”. So the question remains, is he still worth quoting – at least in non-sexual areas – or should he be dropped altogether?

In the two books I mentioned above he offered some good insights on the Psalms and 2 Corinthians. But the question is whether I continue to quote him or recommend him in those areas, or give him the flick altogether. Any helpful truth he wrote earlier does not cease to be true, but one does need to wisely consider how far one goes with his past work. Needless to say I will NOT promote any of his new work.

At this point let me interject and note one passage and similar cases: Romans 11:29 speaks about the irrevocable nature of God’s gifts and calling, so how does that tie in with fallen Christian leaders? I speak to that in some detail here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/06/20/on-christian-gifting-and-character/

My second case involves another very well-known and celebrated evangelical: the American contemporary Christian musician Ray Boltz. I had not known much about him over the years, but a few of his songs seemed worth sharing on the social media.

Two in particular are great songs: “Thank You” and “The Anchor Holds”. Great songs with great content, I thought, and I was going to share them a few years ago, but a quick search turned up this tragic fact: after some three decades of marriage he dumped his wife and kids and took up with male lovers instead.

Once I found out about this I decided not to post his songs, and I found other artists who also sang those songs and used them instead. Sadly I cannot promote a Christian who has left his family and basically left his faith and promotes a sinful, immoral lifestyle.

It is one thing if a Christian leader falls, repents and is restored. But those who continue in sin, or doctrinal error, are not worth running with for the most part. Thus whether I still quote from some of Clements’ earlier and orthodox books is a moot point.

But it is a legitimate issue to consider: what do we do with past material of Christian leaders who have turned away from basic biblical Christianity? In one sense this principle holds: “all truth is God’s truth.” Should the statement “2+2=4” be rejected or at least not shared if a neo-Nazi or a convicted drug-smuggler says it? I speak to this further here: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/11/06/on-quoting-others/

In another article on these matters I said this:

Just because I happen to quote someone does not mean I necessarily agree with everything else that person has ever said. I do not mind quoting truth from someone who may have other views which I may not be so crazy about. All truth is God’s truth, and within reason one can even quote from non-believers and those of other religious traditions. If Gandhi for example had a high view of Christ, I can acknowledge and quote that, even though I of course do not buy most of his non-Christian worldview. If an atheist such as the late Christopher Hitchens says some terrific stuff on Islam and violence, I am more than happy to quote him. That of course does not mean I endorse his atheism.
billmuehlenberg.com/2016/01/07/six-theses-on-truth-error-heresy-and-disagreement/

And all this has nothing to do with being some nasty bigot. But it does have to do with how far we can go in either fellowshipping with or sharing stuff from those who have fallen and remain defiant in their fall. Obviously we live in the world and cannot avoid contact with all sin and sinners.

We do stuff with non-Christians all the time – of necessity, eg., buying groceries at a store that might be run by non-Christians or those living quite immoral lifestyles. If there is a choice in my neighbourhood between a bakery owned and run by committed Christians and one owned and run by cultists or very vocal and militant homosexual activists, I will run with the former.

Sometimes we can choose who we do business with, hang around with, read or listen to. Sometimes we can’t. But we need wisdom and discernment here. We cannot hide in a cave, but we do not want to endorse or condone evil – be it false teaching or immoral living.

Part of the reason I raise all this is because of another case of this happening. I had heard just recently that this leader was in trouble, but to be honest I never heard of the guy before. It seems another American mega-church pastor has been forced out of ministry.

I refer to James MacDonald. As mentioned, I was not aware of this guy until the past week. A quick net search reveals that he “is a Canadian-American evangelical pastor, Bible teacher, and author, originally from Ontario, Canada. He was the founding and senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, and is the Bible teacher for his broadcast ministry.”

It seems he was involved in some sort of scandal and was fired. You can read more about this here: www.dailyherald.com/entlife/20190213/harvest-bible-chapel-moves-quickly-to-fire-founder-macdonald-after-recordings-air

But my concern has to do with his past teaching materials and what believers should do with them. A new Christianity Today article says that one major publisher will no longer print his books. They then asked seven Christian leaders to “weigh in on whether we should continue to study works by fallen pastors.”

Their responses for the most part reflect the sorts of things I said above. Let me share just a few bits from their answers. Danny Akin said in part:

This is a wisdom decision and a judgment call. In my own life there are some books that now remain on my shelf and not at my study table. For me, sometimes the nature of the sin is such that I simply cannot read the author the same way or receive the help I once received. This, however, does not cause me to stop praying for them and wanting God’s best for them.

Ken Sande said this:

For me it would depend on the type of work and the timing and reason for being forced from ministry—or to put it another way, on how great the contradiction between the author’s books and life. Thus, if I had relied for years on a systematic theology book written by a pastor who stumbled late in his career, long after he wrote the book, I’d probably keep using it, although with some sadness. But if I bought a new book on marriage by a pastor who was discovered to have been unfaithful to his wife for many years, I’d probably throw it in the garbage.

Glenn Packiam made these comments:

We have to think carefully about the content to discern in what way it is connected to its context and to its “carrier.” For example, if the books or sermons distill truth that is confirmed through many voices of wisdom and has been stewarded by the church through many centuries, then we may think of the flaw as being in the “sower” and not in the “seed.” Keep reading or listening. But if the books or sermons emerge from the same theological ecosystem that produced or nourished or enabled their sin, then it is more bad fruit from the same bad root. In that case, it is worth not only setting aside those books and sermons but challenging that particular theological worldview by putting it in dialogue with other theological perspectives. We would need to rethink presuppositions and premises, not just principles.

Finally, Scott Sauls offered some wise words:

My personal belief is yes, if a “fallen pastor’s” work is congruent with the grace and truth of Christ, and if it is of value to the body of Christ, then grace allows and might even insist that the work can still be esteemed and benefitted from. Otherwise, we would have to omit Peter’s letters and sermons from the New Testament because he fell twice—denying Jesus three times and then becoming xenophobic with the Gentiles, as told in Galatians 2. And what about all of those psalms written by David before he fell with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah, abusing his power in multiple ways? We should continue to use those, for sure. Or Moses who struck the rock in anger and Solomon who became a womanizer? Indeed, we should still read the books of Moses and Solomon’s Proverbs.…
www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/february-web-only/keep-studying-fired-pastors-james-macdonald-lifeway.html?fbclid=IwAR0vktsvlpF7G-DNDX9c44mDqVd5fjuqdvqegzA3jehF5T8GDwXPPetcg50

We all need wisdom here in dealing with this matter. And we all need grace and humility here lest we become another sad statistic concerning fallen believers. No one is immune from falling. Heaven forbid that one day I should stumble in a major way.

If I did however you will need to prayerfully and carefully consider what to do with the millions of words I have written here. But pray for me, and for all our brothers and sisters, that we all stand strong and resolute and bring glory to our Lord.

[1775 words]

16 Responses to Should I Still Read His Books (Or Listen To His Music)?

  • Great article Bill,
    Sadly I expect many other Christians will walk away from biblical based Christianity in the next 10 years. Undoubtedly we are in the last days. When Satan unleashes on us especially when 666 systems requiring personal RFID tags become prevalent, many will give up and accept the mark.
    Let’s commit to remaining strong even if we will be murdered by the satanic Government in place at the time
    God bless
    Phil

  • In Philippians, Paul addresses a related issue where some people have been preaching Christ out of ‘envy and rivalry’, insincere and motivated by selfish ambition, with a view to stirring up trouble for Paul while he is in prison. So here we don’t have fallen Christians as such, but we have people who are presenting themselves as Christians where there is possibly good reason to doubt that they are. But Paul is not bothered by this – he says, ‘The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
    Personally, I would continue to use material produced prior to a fall from grace, if I already have it on my shelves. I doubt that I would go and buy any of their material anymore – old, sound material or newer suspect material, and I would be hesitant to quote any of it – old or new. But I would probably not recommend the purchase of their material in future to anyone – especially new believers.

  • Yes quite so Kerry, Philippians 1:15-18 certainly can tie in to this discussion. But it can also be misused and abused by some, and I may do another “Difficult Bible Passages” article on it at some point. One has to walk carefully here: Paul is happy that the gospel is preached, even by his opponents and those with lousy motives. But elsewhere he speaks about how unhappy he is when a false gospel or a distorted gospel is preached. So care is needed in how we run with Paul’s words here.

  • I really liked his song, “I pledge Allegiance to the Lamb.” Yet, I was so disappointed to learn he was an admitted and unabashed homosexual. What a bummer.

  • Thanks Bill,
    A thought provoking article. It’s interesting to me, that over the last few days a Ray Boltz’s CD appeared in a stack of CD’s that no one seemed to own, at our house. Listening to ‘Thank You’ I realised how many times I had heard it, and how good it is. I suppose if you have walked a number of years with Christ, you, like I, would have a number of stories like the ones you have shared. For me, nowhere in life do we separate people from their work, nor should we. How we should relate to past works, would depends on how we, as individuals. process our emotions and memories. From a writers perspective, I would reconsider their works. As you said ‘All truth is God’s truth’ but a persons perceptive is always relative. If someone has taken a major shift away from God’s truth then their earlier perspectives should be checked to confirm they don’t contain minor shifts and dodgy ideology, that may have prepared the ground for such a big shift. For me the performing artist would be a more of a problem of reception not delivery. There is no sin that does not cause pain and leave a trail of destruction. When I listen to ‘Thank You’, I can’t help thinking of the pain caused to Ray’s wife Carol and his four children Karen, Philip, Elizabeth and Sarah…. ‘song spoiled’ and I probably won’t listed to it again. In God’s Kingdom we should realise, as soon you put your hand up to lead, speak up or sing out for Christ, there is a target on your back. Regardless of our calling or talents, our relationship with Christ must remain paramount. It is also important that the brothers and sister around these people uphold them in prayer. … btw we are always around you and stand with you Bill

  • Beautifully written Bill, I know it takes a lifetime of writing skills to express the things you write about. I used to listen to James McDonald every day for years. His sermons always brought conviction but never condemnation mixed with mercy . I loved his sermons.

    I would definitely listen to him preach again if I could get them. If he was my pastor I would probably attend a different church. It’s a tough decision and one I’ve never had to think about before your article.

    Thank you, Louise

  • Bill,
    You have made many wise comments. I’ve been on annual leave/long-service leave since mid Sept 2018, and I was searching on-line to become a counsellor, but I noticed that professional health counsellors have to believe in sexual orientation & gender fluidity for themselves in order to be registered. December 2018, I contacted the Psychotherapy & Counselling Federation of Australia (PCFA) via phone and was informed to make a formal compliant on-line, so I made a formal compliant. This Valentine’s Day, I received an email & letter detailing that the PCFA person who I spoke with on the phone had also a copy of my complaint, and she had made a formal complaint to my Professional Board in order to have me deregistered. The Professional Board informed me that they weren’t going to proceed with any action because they were only my personal views. I have never had one complaint against me in my professional working life, and now there are LGBTIAQ activists that want to remove all healthcare professionals that believe that “male” and “female” are based on a male and female reproductive system, as this can be scientifically measured and tested for humans and animals all over the world and over the centuries. There is a new blood test for heart damage, and the levels are different for men and women (there is no “other”). These new Troponin 1 tests for men and women become irrelevant when the majority of people identify with the 150+ genders.

  • God even had a literal ass speak the truth.

  • I think this is so very interesting and you have addressed this in a very balanced way.
    All truth is God’s truth, as you said (and my father used to say it to me growing up too). I think God lets men fall also, so that we keep our eyes on Him. Paul said in Galatians 1 that if he himself came bringing another gospel, that the church should consider him accursed. It is God’s word, not man’s that is pure like silver, and it pleases Him to use fallen man to proclaim truth. Scripturally we have standards for those whose teaching we can follow, but we have to weigh all things by God’s word. I think in this day and age we have to know His word better than ever. Seems like so many wolves are among the flock sometimes.
    Another aspect of this is when we are in a role of influence or authority. For example: a mega-church pastor says something edifying, but the broader ministry of his church is troublesome; if we have weaker brethren in our care (as parents, pastors or those who do not want to cause ‘little ones’ to stumble), we may choose to find a better quote from elsewhere. Especially in this age of social media, one could accidentally endorse the ‘liking’ of a character who pours false doctrine into someone’s stream.
    This is why we don’t play some modern Christian bands in the house with little children. Sure it isn’t all bad, but I can’t and won’t bother to pause songs to counter bad theology every time we pick up on it, haha.

  • I thank God for you and the plumbline, Bill. This is a complex question I’ve asked for years because I’m involved in a minor way with gospel music and radio. I suppose the problem is tied to the kind of influence the person has on others’ lives. Like Lauren Hughes says above, the Truth is God’s truth, God uses fallen man to tell His Story and we must weigh everything against God’s Word. Some of the most faithful singing of country gospel hymns I’ve heard has been by Willie Nelson. Seems like It’s easier too to be relaxed about a performer’s lifestyle after they’ve passed on e.g. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Blind Willie Johnson…the list is long. To stretch a point: what do we know/care about the lifestyles of Handel and Rembrandt and Handel? We’re not likely to abandon the inspiring works they created from Scripture, As always, keep up the good work.

  • While I understand you are dealing specifically to the issue in regard to work from those who were in the past considered themselves Christians (possibly even still do), at the same time, when unbelievers say some truth we are quick to post it in support of what we are saying, not because their lifestyle or even “faith” is the same as ours but because it is the truth.

    Ultimately truth is truth.

    But of course, there is a higher expectation with those who profess to be Christian. And the issue goes to the heart of what their motivation is in life.

    Undoubtedly, for must of us it absolutely tarnishes what used to be special to us. I find that I no longer listen to musicians or read authors who wrote and sang about being called according to his purpose and glory, and yet divorced and remarried, or actively are engaged in or promote unbiblical positions. At the core, we all are motivated by something, and it is our motivation that shows out in our lives when the rubber hits the road, so for me it casts a shadow on everything else.

  • What do we do with Solomon’s proverbs?

  • Mr Weeks, Mr Browne,

    “God even had a literal ass speak the truth”.

    Yes, Mr Weeks, but an Ass has a higher IQ than your average liberal leftie.

    Mr Browne, I think you are too pessimistic sir those that walk away from the church in the main never went to church but were taken.

    One of the mums in church this morning asked me and my friend if we would talk with her daughter since she was having trouble getting her daughter to church. I told the mother, of course, I would. I had the conversation with her daughter since its less threating having a one to one conversation. I told Christal what she said to me was between me and her. The outcome of the conversation resulted in me going back to her mother and telling her Christal didn’t want to be brought to church any longer, she wants to come herself, so next week Christal will be escorted to church with the rest of us girls by the nice boys.

    I did have to pray concerning this situation and the prayer went like this-
    Heavily father, it’s me, Sarah, again. I come before you a miserable sinner in need of your grace and help. I spoke with one of your princesses this morning, as you know, thanks for the words of wisdom btw. Please heavenly father, when Christal joins us next week on the narrow road to your earthly home, could you ensure she doesn’t steal the heart of, you know who since if she does I will regret taking your advice this morning. Your loving princess servant,

    Sarah xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.
    Oh, if you decide to help, via my prayer that I have said for the last 18 months i.e. getting my dad to let me wear a little makeup that will be fine, I can take it from there since you have many more of my prayers in your intray.
    Say hi to my mum and tell her I love and miss her for me please, love Sarah. xx

    The church is more family than church since people walk away from the church, but not so much from a loving family. Christal and I, in fact, all the youth in the church what the benefits of the family as much as we want good teaching. within that church family are mums, dads, (even if you lost your own) brothers, sisters, grandmas, granddads, boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancees, husbands, wives, best of friends, teachers, little newborn babies (I like them the best), tears, laughter, smiles, frowns and in the mists of all that, Jesus with his outstretched arms. You know what Mr Browne if people want to walk away from the family, church, then, bye we don’t need them. if they walk away from a failing church, they don’t need the church. The church at its best beats the world at its best.

  • Hi Bill,
    Yes, this can be a difficult area and much discernment is needed.
    That said, don’t these types of outcomes fall into the Matthew 18 category? When a member sins they are called out, then with more strength, and finally, if restoration is not possible due to the absence of repentance, then the Bible teaches to cast them out of the church and to treat them as unbelievers.
    From that moment on they are the objects of prayer and gospel teaching with a view to calling them back into the faith.
    With the exception of demonstrating the grave responsibility of a ‘public face’ that pretends to stand for Christ, I would avoid quoting or referring to anything of that person’s prior (and assumed) Christian writings and songs.
    This is why in general I much prefer to read and quote dead people – we can know with confidence how holiness and godliness and obedience shaped their lives.

  • Tremendous article Bill, as usual. Yes, the Lord does give us grace abounding and undeservingly, but most imporant, discernment and wisdom. I do have grave concerns where pastors and Christians around the globe condone acts that the Lord says are an abomination. Please Lord help!

  • Bill, I commend you for tackling this most difficult of topics. I appreciate that you are not some major-league heresy hunter who automatically writes off writings or songs of those who have gone of the rails, as it were. This is a topic no one wants to confront, but you have done your best to tackle it. Thank you for doing so.

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