This posting will be about a rather disturbing trend within Christendom. It always hurts to be told we need to clean house. But the fact is, we’re hardly in a position to call down others for their dirty house when we’re tripping over our own mess like those poor people featured on the medical channels as hoarders.
The problem is, we’re far too inclined to give credence to “men of faith” – no matter what subject they’re writing on. And I don’t mean here, necessarily, people like Joel Osteen whose teachings are theologically suspect, though that is part of the problem too. I mean mainstream preachers and pastors whose works are called upon by millions of everyday Christians.
Case in point #1: John MacArthur and The Two Babylons
For those who may have missed the 19th century, The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop is one of the flagship works of the “Catholic Church is eeeevil” movement. I’m not Catholic, and I don’t agree with all their doctrines and practices. Nevertheless, that’s not an excuse to be irresponsible with our disagreements, and Hislop went far overboard in terms of inaccuracy and (to put it mildly) uncharitable paranoia.
The problem is that John MacArthur recommends The Two Babylons. Below is the text of an interview with MacArthur for his Grace to You program, where a caller (also named John) dialed in.
JOHN: Hi, my name is John. I have this book on Babylon Mystery Religion by Ralph Woodrow and I just wanted to ask you what you thought of it and is Christmas derived from paganism and is the cross derived from paganism?
JOHN MACARTHUR: Well, I’m not sure, who published, what’s the publisher of that book, John?
JOHN: He published it himself.
JOHN MACARTHUR: Okay. Basic principle: Be careful of books that are published by the guy who wrote them (laughter).
JOHN MACARTHUR: You just have to be discerning. Usually, when a man publishes his own material, it is either because no one else will publish it or because it is…it is too volatile or argumentative or there’s no audience for it or it’s not right or something. Now, basically speaking, I believe that he’s right on many of those issues. Much of modern Christendom is a result of paganism. There’s no question about that.
After giving a list of supposed examples, MacArthur closes:
But, yes, there’s no question about the fact that the systems of Babylon have been superimposed upon Christianity. There’s no question about that so, insofar as he brings that issue. There’s another book that’s very helpful called The Two Babylons by Hyslop, H-Y-S-L-O-P. Also, a very, very helpful book.
This interview result is amusing for a few reasons, not the least of which is that MacArthur doesn’t even spell Hislop’s name right. A second amusement is the irony in the caller’s original question about Woodrow. Woodrow did indeed write such a book, which was essentially a précis using Hislop as a major source. But he later wrote a contrary book in which he disavowed his findings in Babylon Mystery Religion, having found that Hislop’s book was historically unreliable. Woodrow also wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal on the same subject.
The third joke is the irony of MacArthur saying we have to be “discerning” when he ends up recommending The Two Babylons.
I’d like to say that MacArthur isn’t doing this anymore; this interview did apparently take place back in the 70s or so. But indications are he hasn’t learned. As late as 2001, in his book The God Who Loves, there is a footnote recommending The Two Babylons, saying it offers “abundant historical evidence that the Babylonian religion founded by Nimrod is the basis for virtually all subsequent false religious systems.” One can readily see him asking, as he did of Calvin and Spurgeon, “Who can improve on Hislop?”
That leads to case in point #2: Erwin Lutzer, senior pastor at Moody Bible Church in Chicago.
Some years ago, Lutzer authored a book titled The Twisted Cross, which was a study on Nazism and associated religious ideas. It was recently reissued in a new edition.
I have to be blunt here: Lutzer has absolutely no business writing such a book. He is not knowledgeable in that subject area. Nor is he competent to research the subject, and his bibliography shows this: Not even the newest edition makes any reference to one of the most critical and comprehensive volumes on the subject of Nazism and Christianity (The Holy Reich, by Richard Steigmann-Gall). The few respectable books used by Lutzer are badly out of date (e.g., Shirer’s 1960 history), and Lutzer also makes use of questionable sources on Hitler and the occult, which are not written by credentialed, reputable historians and are indeed rejected by scholars as sensationalizing nonsense. (For the record: Hitler was not an occultist; nor was he an atheist, or a Christian. He was a heretic. More on that later in a project I’m working on now.)
To make matters worse, Lutzer’s book won an ECPA Gold Medallion Award for excellence (!) and Ravi Zacharias wrote a foreword. This, in spite of the fact that it was clearly amateurishly done, as reflects Lutzer’s non-expertise on the subject.
In light of this, I have to ask: Why do we not hold popular pastors like MacArthur and Lutzer to a higher standard – and why do we let them write books like Twisted Cross, and recommend works like The Two Babylons?
Clearly, Luzter was authoring his book not because he was any kind of studied expert in Nazism, but because a book by Erwin Lutzer, star pastor, sells well. By the same token, MacArthur recommended Hislop not because MacArthur (or Hislop) knew his subject, but because he didn’t.
The problem is deeper than that, though. The sad fact is that many Christians do come to their pastors for advice on all sorts of things a typical pastor knows nothing about. In turn, some pastors either think they know the answer, but don’t, and continue to spread false or incomplete information. That in turn spirals downward to a time when those who first queried of them find out their pastor was talking out of his hat, and then we have the standard crisis of confidence in authority figures…and on it goes.
My point for this post: It’s high time so-called “men of faith” were held to account for this sort of incompetence. We’ve put them on pedestals, and now, we treat them as virtually infallible no matter what they put their hand to – which is especially ironic with MacArthur, since he has been given this sort of reputation as a vocal critic of the Catholic Church’s ideas, such as the infallibility of the Pope. If Lutzer and MacArthur were doctors and performed this kind of incompetence, they’d be stripped of their credentials, be forced to apologize and pay monetary damages, and be required to take remedial courses in medicine before ever practicing again. In contrast, there is virtually no accountability at all for pastors like Lutzer and MacArthur who publish erroneous information – and they even get awards for doing so.
And the question is — why?