Recently, an evangelical pastor named Alistair Begg was cut from American Family Radio due to advice he gave a grandma on one of his programs. The gifted Scottish preacher with the Highland Twang hosts the program Truth for Life. Begg is known for his practical wisdom and his keen exegetical skills. He is highly respected within evangelicalism and has a significant following of listeners. Begg is a conservative evangelical through and through, which means he also holds to a “traditional” sexual ethic.
Last summer a grandmother called into Begg’s program for advice on whether or not she should attend the wedding of her transgender granddaughter. The grandmother stated that her granddaughter knew where she stood with the transgender issue but invited her to the wedding anyway. The grandmother wanted to attend but did not want her attendance to be perceived as endorsing what she believed to be a sin. However, she also loved her granddaughter and wanted to be at the wedding on her important day.
Being a grandfather himself, Begg understood her dilemma and replied that under those circumstances, he did not think it should be an issue and if she wanted to go, she should. In fact, he even added that she should get her a gift as well. His advice was simple,
“We should demonstrate love to everyone, even those with whom we disagree. Your love for them may catch them off guard, but your absence will simply reinforce the fact that they said, ‘These people are what I always thought: judgmental, critical, unprepared to countenance anything,’”
He went on to say that “Christians have to begin taking risks to show love to those around them”.
Wow! I could not agree more. And, good for Begg!
As Begg puts it, his advice caused a “storm in a teacup”. That is no exaggeration either. It took several months for evangelical leaders to hear about this advice but when they did, they erupted in furor.
Not only did American Family Radio cancel his program but he has also been cut from John MacArthur’s annual Shepherd’s Conference – a major conference in Reformed circles for pastors. His advice also led other major evangelical leaders to come out and pen (or type) responses to the controversy denouncing his act.
Isn’t that just the way it goes in conservative evangelicalism, always giving their opinion even when it is not requested?
Out of all of the drama associated with the situation, it was what Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association said in his special broadcast about why Begg was canceled that really made me mad. He stated that he had a call with Begg with “the goal of reconciliation but reconciliation with truth” (in other words Begg needed to capitulate and side with the broadcasting company). Ultimately, Begg refused to back away from his statement and as a result, Wildmon compared Begg’s advice to being like “a father who offers to drive their alcoholic child to a bar”.
Being Unbiblical and other “Truths”
Many have called Begg’s comments “unchristian” and “unbiblical”. In light of all of this Begg recently addressed the issue with his congregation where he stated some of the following truths:
“Be weary of pastors who are eager to loudly condemn sinners.”
Begg stated that he was glad that his message went viral because:
“If I’ve got to go down on the side of one or the other, I’ll go down on this side. I’ll go down on the side of compassion.”
“This inclination toward pharisaism is alive and well within all our hearts. It is something we always must guard against—especially as we press on toward purity and holiness in the midst of an aimless and confused generation.”
I am so tired of hearing conservative evangelicals using the word “biblical” as a way to trump someone else’s opinion. The word is supposed to be a reference to theology that is directly extracted from the Bible (AKA biblical theology) as opposed to philosophical theology. For example, the issue of salvation would be a part of biblical theology whereas the issue of the Trinity would be philosophical theology.
However, conservative evangelicals use it as an idiom for meaning: “My opinion is absolute truth because I found it in the bible somewhere” or “This is what God believes”.
So, I thought let’s get “biblical” then on some of Beggs pastoral detractors.
The Bible says that pastors are to be:
- Humble (Titus 1:7).
- Gentle (1 Timothy 3:3)
- Peaceful (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7)
- A Lover of what is good (Titus 1:8)
- Self-controlled (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8)
- Holy (Titus 2:8)
- Spiritually Mature (1 Timothy 3:6)
- Respectable (1 Timothy 3:7)
- Non-domineering (1 Peter 5:1-5)
Perhaps these leaders forgot 1 Timothy 5:8 in the context of this grandmother:
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Or, Colossians 3:12:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
I oftentimes fail to see how conservative evangelical pastors are fulfilling these qualifications, especially in situations like Begg found himself in. Perhaps they simply interpret verses like these as contextual, and therefore, not applicable for today. (Eye Roll)
Demonstrating this fact is a recent Gallup Poll that states people are more likely to believe in the moral standards of nurses, police, and chiropractors (yes, chiropractors) than pastors. Maybe those verses are not contextual after all.
WWJD: Be Unbiblical
Much of what we read about Jesus in the New Testament focuses on encounters he had with people – both “sinners” and religious leaders. Of those religious leaders, the Pharisees were the ones most concerned with Jesus and his lack of biblical strictness. The Pharisees believed in the strict literal interpretation of the law. They really hated that Jesus added, what I would argue was depth, to something they thought should be understood superficially (sounding familiar). As a result, they were always provoking arguments with him and ultimately bestowed upon him the Blasphemer of the Year award. (Shout outs to all my heretic friends out there!)
Here are just a few of the countless examples that could be given:
Matthew 12:1-8 tells the story of the disciples picking grain on the sabbath. The religious leaders argued that this was a violation of sabbatical law. Jesus used his trump card by calling himself lord of the Sabbath. But he also demonstrated that their interpretation of the law was incorrect and used the example of David doing the same thing as his proof.
John 8:1-11 tells us the story of the woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders are about to stone the woman as per the law of Moses and yet Jesus violates that law by arguing for her release and ultimately forgiving her sins.
Perhaps the most famous message ever preached was the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, we hear Jesus repeat over and over the phrase: “You’ve heard it said…But I say…” Jesus begins with a traditional command from the law (you’ve heard it said…) and then reinterprets it in the second part (but I say…).
Jesus was adamant that the literalists and propositionalists of his day were misunderstanding God’s Word and making a perversion of his truth. His frustration boiled over regarding this and is recorded in Matthew 24 titled The Seven Woes (a must-read by the way).
In the end, it was the fact that Jesus refused to be what the religious leaders deemed as “biblical” and as a result was considered a blasphemer. And it was this crime that ultimately convicted him.
Some Final Thoughts
I rarely get an opportunity to express admiration for a conservative evangelical and I don’t mind doing so when I see it. This is one of those times that even though I wholeheartedly disagree with practically everything else Begg believes. Given the context and circumstances, the advice he gave was spot on. I equally admire the fact that he was willing to stand behind what he said and did not cave in to the ignorance of his peers. This conviction and courage is something all of us can learn from.
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