Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: I don’t have a problem with Beth Moore, so don’t write me and give me grief like I do. Everything I’ve read, everything I’ve heard seems excellent, Christ-centered, full of the Gospel and Biblical. Compared to any other celebrity Bible teacher I might see or hear, Beth Moore is the top of the chart. I wish, hope and pray for the very best for her.
OK. Everyone relaxed?
But I’ve got some questions. Questions about how Christian publishers, and Lifeway in particular, promotes someone like Beth Moore as a teacher and leader for the whole church, and for my church. Questions about why we ought to accept Lifeway’s selection and promotion of Moore and other celebrity Bible teachers. Questions about the real agenda of Lifeway, and whether we’ve taken stock of that agenda- and its effects- in our churches.
If you don’t want to think, or ask questions, just pass on this post. But if you are getting tired of being told by the money changers in the temple who the spiritual leaders of the church ought to be, read on.
If a visit to a Christian bookstore is a dependable guide, Beth Moore is the leading Bible teacher in America these days. Her books- 14 are sold in her web store- are best-sellers. Her curriculum dominates Lifeway’s offerings. Though Moore says her mission is to women, it doesn’t take a keen eye to see that Beth Moore’s books and curriculum are being read and used by everyone.
Lifeway’s promotion of Moore has been impressive. Books by Moore are produced so fast that any year is likely to see three or four titles. Lifeway knows that “when you’re hot, you’re hot,” and they intend to hit the market again and again with Moore’s work until she is the preiminent Bible teacher in America.
Because Moore is a solidly orthodox evangelical (in the Arminian, revivalistic, Southern Baptist tradition), her influence is far more positive than someone like Joyce Meyer. Moore seems to be following in the footsteps of the classy, excellent ministry of Kay Arthur, though Arthur’s books- with few exceptions- were never promoted by a major publisher to anywhere near the extent of Moore’s books.
So, now that I have introduced the main character, I basically have one point to make, but that point is somewhat complex. It goes back to the issue of the local church, the leadership of the church and the role of that ministry in the life of Christian. Follow me please.
The Christian is not a lone ranger. He or she is called to discipleship and community in the local church. In the local church, the ministry is set aside (“ordained” if you will) for the purpose of preaching, teaching and ministering the faith to the local body (and the community.) Preaching the Bible, teaching the Bible, and applying the Bible are the jobs of the ministry of the local church. Pastors, teachers and elders are called and commissioned to do this, and it is important. The Christian is called to be attentive to this teaching, to expect it and to interact with it.
Now, if you know me, you know that I believe the church in the New Testament is basically small enough to be described in family terms. I don’t think the NT speaks much with megachurches in mind, and that is doubly true for the pastoral/teaching ministry. The ministry is a small church project in the New Testament, and preaching, teaching and application are usually described in a small church environment, not in a domed stadium. That ministry happens primarily with people the pastor/teacher knows, loves and personally cares about.
The idea of a celebrity Bible teacher, a teacher who teaches thousands and thousands of people through media, isn’t antithetical to the Bible’s presentation of discipleship, but it certainly isn’t normative. It’s not what the Bible has in mind. And one of the reasons is this: The ministry of the “celebrity” Bible teacher tends to undermine the ministry of the local church pastor.
I can hear the cat calls about that last paragraph all the way up here in the hollers of Kentucky, but it’s true. Not by the intention of Beth Moore or most of the celebrity teachers (though Rick Warren apparently is unapologetic about the fact that he knows what is best for your church). They may give a great speech about supporting the local church, but let me illustrate the results.
Rick Warren or Pastor Bud Boring? Who is God really speaking through? Beth Moore or Pastor Bob Boring? Who is hearing exciting truths from God to transform my life and family? John Piper or Pastor Bill Boring? Who is the one God has gifted to teach me the Gospel week to week?
Who is dull, ordinary and probably a loser? Who is bright, beautiful and spiritual? Who has God really chosen and called and gifted, as evidenced by book sales and crowds? Who can’t get 30 people to show up on Sunday night?
It’s a problem. It’s a problem with any media ministry, and it’s a problem with mass produced ministry materials or media created success. It’s been a problem ever since we had the first Christian books, but it’s not been anywhere near the problem that it is now, with Christian publishers promoting Warren and Moore with all their resources. Now we have an authority issue: a situation where those outside the church are functioning like a college of cardinals providing us with those who hear from God and teach His Word.
Who ordained Beth Moore to teach the folks at my church? When did we set her aside to be a teacher in our congregation?
Who selected her as a Bible teacher we must all hear and believe?
Who decided that Beth Moore was anointed and gifted to teach the Bible to the Christians at our church?
How do I know that all the things Lifeway says about God choosing Beth are true?
What is Lifeway’s bottom line? (Answer: Money.)
What is the right response to the fact that Beth Moore- and not pastor Bob Boring- is the primary Bible teacher to thousands of women and men in SBC churches?
How should Rev. Boring respond when congregation members want him to preach like Warren and teach like Moore? Who is discerning the agenda and direction of the church now?
Who gave Lifeway, or the SBC, the authority to talk to churches about what they should be doing, who they should be listening to, and most importantly, what God is saying to the church?
Can anyone deny that the promotion of celebrity Bible teachers tends to promote lone ranger Christians who would rather stay home and listen to Pastor Piper than go to church and listen to Rev. Boring?
I’m not going to ask why I should believe the glowing celebrity bio on Beth’s web site, or where Beth learned her theology or to whom Beth is accountable. I know there are good answers to these questsions, and it’s not as important as the question of where Lifeway and other publishers got their authority to choose our teachers and promote those teachers as God’s choice for my church?
What I will ask, however, is whether my fellow Christians have the courage to admit that Beth Moore and Rick Warren and the next publishing superstars are, in large part, promoted by Lifeway for profits? Not chosen by God, but chosen by Lifeway and other publishers for potential book sales? Lifeway would say chosen and pormoted for the good of my church. Well, if it’s profitable. If you can’t see that, you’re naive.
Standing on her own, without Lifeway or a major publisher, Beth Moore has a ministry under the oversight of elders in a local church. As a celebrity promoted by Lifeway, she is pushed into evangelicalism with the authority of marketing and the agenda of profit.
She’s convinced me she is the real deal. I’d be happy for her to teach in my church. I’m also convinced that Lifeway isn’t the Vatican, that most churches never gave Lifeway the keys to the building in order to bring in whomever they choose, and that local pastors are seen by Lifeway as promoters of products, not ministers to be supported.
I’m distressed that Christian media’s capitalistic agenda has become the source of an unquestioned spiritual authority in so many churches. Beth Moore is not a problem, but the questions are still real. Rick Warren’s success is a problem, in my opinion, and while I have no idea who will be next in line, I have a feeling that the same people who created Benny Hinn and T.D. Jakes and most of CCM don’t have the best interests of the church and the Gospel at heart.