Clayton King’s gospel of violence, or Why this will happen again 5

One of the reasons that I have resumed blogging even after our case against NewSpring was settled is that the underlying issues that caused the problems are still there. NewSpring shows no evidence of having learned anything from the events of 2009, and, remarkably, continued to preach a violent response to critics well after they found out about Josh Maxwell, and even well after our lawsuit was underway.

Our argument was that Josh Maxwell acted in accordance with a culture of anger and violence that Perry Noble and other NewSpring leaders had carefully created and embraced. We expected that after anticipating that we were going to make that argument to a jury one day that they would try to dial back the rhetoric so they could claim that Maxwell’s actions against us were unfortunate, unforeseeable and unusual.

Not even close. NewSpring took money from other churches and pastors to train them to be as angry and agressive as they were. They also paid their teaching pastor, Clayton King, to pinch hit for Perry and teach the same thing to all of NewSpring’s members (a service King also performs for Steven Furtick). Had we gone to a jury, Clayton King’s violent teachings would have been one of our most valuable collections of evidence.

For a little bit of context, Clayton King is NewSpring’s contracted “teaching pastor,” which means that he is an official NS pastor and regularly fills in when Noble is on vacation. He also teaches for NewSpring at their annual Unleash conference. Perry calls him his best friend and accountability partner. King is the campus pastor at Liberty Univeristy, and preaches relatively frequently for Steven Furtick in Charlotte. He manages his own ministry as an itinerant preacher. He also regularly preaches at Anderson University, where I work and where he was awarded an honorary doctorate just last month.

He is in demand and respected by many people. Nevertheless, he is dangerously wrong and biblically backwards on one of his apparent specialties–how to protect your pastor.

Let me show you why.

2007: Be bodyguards

In October 2007 King delivered a sermon entitled Protecting your pastor where he said that pastors are attacked by rumors, criticism and jealousy. Even though he complained about the criticism, he did acknowledge that “you can’t say some of the things that Perry says and not expect to be criticized” (24:12, audio version). On this one point I agree with him, but King goes on to describe what steps NewSpringers should take to stop the criticism by “waging war on the Devil” on Perry’s behalf. He preaches from the example Beniah, one of David’s bodyguards, to explain that everybody should take on the role of pastoral bodyguard. (He may have forgotten his proof text a little later in the sermon when he mocks as crazy a rumor that Perry has armed bodyguards. Perhaps not, but when you have preachers advocating bodyguards for preachers, such rumors aren’t baseless.)

He says that pastors need people he trusts who will have his back and defend him. He’s willing to join the bodyguard ranks himself.

I will not let people talk about my friends. I will defend them.

So, even though King acknowledges that Perry says things that ought to be valid targets of criticism, people must not be allowed to talk about him. The people who do are working for the devil and ought to be confronted with military might.

2010: Be pitbulls

At this point, NewSpring leaders know about the actions of their security guard and of his church-security friends (just a meaningless coincidence, surely). They know that they are being sued for their role in creating a culture that encouraged the aggressive behavior of their staff and volunteers. Clayton King also surely knows the details of my case, serving as he does as Perry’s closest confident outside of his own family.

On March 4, 2010, NewSpring hosted its annual Unleash conference, where a couple of thousand pastors and church leaders pay NewSpring to teach them how to do church the Perry Noble way. One of the breakout sessions was given to Clayton King who reprised his teaching on Protecting your pastor, which was subtitled The sermon your pastor wants to preach but can’t.

Now we know why King is hired to come and do these sermons for Noble and Furtick. They endorse what he says, but they don’t want to say it themselves. Which raises a little question: why not? Paul calls pastors to preach the Word. Nothing more, nothing less. If protecting your pastor is a lesson solidly based on God’s Word, a senior pastor who doesn’t preach it is failing in his most basic duty. If it’s not based on God’s Word, senior pastors are being faithless to their congregations by recruiting hirelings to preach something to advance a personal agenda.

In this Unleash session, King had actually amped up his 2007 teaching by deputizing the congregation to be attack dogs, not just bodyguards. According to NewSpring’s own outline notes from his session, he advocated shutting critics out and encouraging the congregation to race to see who could defend the pastor first. Then came this gem:

Defend them!! Be a pitbull.

As he explained this point, one of the attendees heard this quote (and you can understand why the NS transcriptionist might have wanted to leave this out):

“Your pastor needs his sheep to grow fangs.” @Clayton_king #unleash

Let’s consider just how spectacularly wrong this is.

It reviles revelation.

Where do you find anything like this in Scripture? Nowhere. If something isn’t in Scripture, it shouldn’t be preached.

Even if we accept his 2007 interpretation that we should all be Beniahs protecting Davids, aren’t you also saying that pastors are kings? Well, that explains a lot, doesn’t it?

It reverses roles.

The dominant metaphor for the pastor’s role in Scripture is that of a shepherd. We learned a few years ago that it’s not a model that modern super pastors like, so they just unabashedly denounce it. This quote from Andy Stanley is worth another look:

Should we stop talking about pastors as “shepherds”?
Absolutely. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, “Pastor, you’re the shepherd of the flock,” no. I’ve never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it’s not culturally relevant any more.

Once you reject your role as shepherd, you not only don’t have to perform your shepherd’s role (something that we hear from Perry often), but you can shift the shepherding function from the pastor to the congregation.

A faithful shepherd would want to surround himself with sheep and keep the sharp fangs far away.

What kind of leader would seek to surround himself with a pack of sharp-fanged dogs?

It removes restraint.

Once you abandon Scripture and just start making up new rules and roles for pastors and their congregation, the only thing that limits anyone’s behavior is the pastor’s heart and the congregation’s conscience, which is partly shaped by their unrestrained pastor. In fact, when your pastor dreams about critics being killed, where would you draw the line of propriety?

Once you understand what Noble and King were teaching, it’s not a surprise that none of the many NewSpringers who knew what Maxwell was doing tried to stop him. According to King’s teachings, they were simply doing God’s and the pastor’s will.

I have considerable sympathy for Maxwell and his friends who must have been surprised at how quickly their leaders abandoned them once law enforcement uncovered their identities. They had been doing what they’d been asked to by Noble and King, and what they were doing was known to church leadership and apparently condoned. What, from NewSpring’s point of view, did they do wrong?

It retains risk.

By the time that King is offering this paid advice to other church leaders, NewSpring had seen the results of a staff member and other volunteers who had used their fangs against me. We were preparing to make a legal argument that they had acted consistently with NewSpring’s culture, preaching and vision. You’d think that, if they thought what had happened to me was wrong, that they would change what they taught to make sure that this was an isolated incident.

On one hand it was surprising that they didn’t, assuming that they’d want to limit their legal exposure for what they’d done. On the other hand, if they really believe this stuff, it’s not surprising.

2011: Get physical

In October 2011, Perry brought King back in to preach another protect-your-pastor message on his behalf, this one called I got your back. At this point, NewSpring was well aware that one of our complaints was that we had been assaulted by one of their staff members. Nevertheless (though by now we know why it’s not a surprise) King responded by amping up his rhetoric to advocate assault.

No kidding.

At first, he demeans Perry’s critics as cowards.

I’ve got his [Perry’s] back. And if you’re one of those cowards who says something stupid on the Internet about him that you wouldn’t have the courage to say to his face, standing on level ground, looking eyeball to eyeball with him, I want you to know that if I ever meet you face to face, I’m going to cause a scene. [Applause]

By now, you know the story of Perry’s changing rules about meeting critics like me who do have the courage to meet with him face to face. Around this time, I had the surreal experience of listening to King speak to students at the university where I work where he smack talked about online critics who are too cowardly to talk to Perry in person. He’s come to the place where I work to talk about online critics; it’s obvious to everyone who cares about Perry that he’s talking about me. But he’s not telling the truth, and he knows it. He’s also in my physical presence promising to cause a scene and inviting anyone else to do the same thing. I got the message.

So, what kind of scene ought someone following King’s lead cause? In his NewSpring sermon he tells the story of an airport security guard who was about to arrest King after he had joked about carrying bombs onto the plane. As King has been pushed against the wall and is about to be handcuffed, he says his mother rushed through the security barriers towards him to touch the guard and put a stop to the arrest.

That, my friends, could be construed as assault.

King uses the parable of his mother as the example for NewSpringers to follow. Actually, she was his momma, not his mother in this instance. Here’s his distinction:

There’s a difference between a mother and a momma. A mother will warn you; a momma just starts throwing punches. Big difference.

Sucker-punch theology. This is what you can quickly get to when your preaching is not constrained by Scripture, and why shepherds and their sheep are always so much safer when preachers limit themselves to what’s written and don’t go beyond it.

And just in case anyone had missed the point, King finishes the sermon by spelling out the connection to his assault story.

My momma got my back. That’s what our leaders need. That’s what our staff need. That’s what pastors need. That’s what Perry needs. We need to know that our people [have] got our back. That we [have] got each other. I praise God for this church. You’re doing a great job.

By Noble and King’s standards, they sure are.

(While this post was being written, the prediction that this would happen again came true. You can read the account here.)

Footnote: Clayton King has a regular chapel speaking role at Anderson University, where I work, and was awarded an honorary doctorate and appointed an honorary professor of evangelism there last month, so writing about him in his role at NewSpring is difficult, especially because his recent appointment makes him my honorary faculty colleague. My issue with King is not with him as a person; people I like and respect think very highly of him. Instead, it is with his unfortunate and unbiblical teaching that he has repeatedly propagated at NewSpring. Lest you worry that this post is some sort of ambush against him, I contacted him last month to arrange a meeting or conversation about these issues and told him that I may be posting about this in the future. So far, I have received no response from him.

5 thoughts on “Clayton King’s gospel of violence, or Why this will happen again

  1. Richard Jan 19, 2013 2:58 pm

    Dr. Duncan,

    As I have been following NS,I have also been following Sovereign Grace and their issues as well. I love Sovereign Grace ministries. Mahaney’s Cross Centered life was a blessing to me in a season where I almost walked away from the faith. Their music is a constant source of blessing. However, I never joined their church because I was somewhat suspcious of their leadership structure,and questioned their biblical view of church government and leadership. And now, it seems their structure has lead to some very serious accusations and problems.

    Where I am going with this is that I am sure there are people who have legitimately been blessed in a biblical sense by NS. I think they are the minoritiy though. But when you deviate from the Bible in regards to church leadership and government, you threaten to undermine and destroy all the good things you do.

    I think the Scriptures are pretty clear on this issue (now I am baptist, so bare with me): congregational rule, elder lead, deacon served. Now, I do not have time or space to defend this, but even if you disagree and follow a more Presbyterian structure, it is still closer to the Bible than NS’s structure.

    You have given a very good critique of NS’ structure. It is unbiblical, unhealthy, and dangerous. We are just now beginning to see the fruit. And what is really frightening and disheartening is the lack of brokenness and repentance on what has occurred. I hope you are wrong, but my fear is that you are right; we will see more of this as time goes on.

    I have said for many years: Noble is not biblically qualified to hold the office of elder. He either cannot or refuses to exegete a text faithfully; his character is suspect; this whole issue with Dr. Duncan reveals an infestation of pride and arrogance, and I have never seen the man ever act as a compassionate shepherd like THE compassionate shepherd we see in Mark 6.

    Dr. Duncan, please continue standing for truth on this matter.

  2. SallyVee Jan 19, 2013 3:05 pm

    Good grief, talk about a rat’s nest of deceit, controversy and political intrigue. I add political intrigue because of the mention of Liberty University, an institution with a very good reputation so far as I know, and one that is deeply intertwined with conservative politics. Mitt Romney was its commencement speaker last year and his speech, plus the very fact that he was invited, carried huge weight in the campaign. That King is a “campus pastor” at Liberty has opened my eyes even wider and will cause me to rethink everything I’ve ever read or been told about Liberty. I was also compelled to look up a few of King’s YouTube offerings and can characterize his appearance & moronic babblings with one word: painful. Again I am struck speechless that such a clown is able to hold anyone’s attention for longer than two minutes. Even in my teens and twenties I am sure I would have been bored to death and wondering what the heck he was talking about.

    Next astonishing factoid: the doctorate issued by Anderson U. Hey, can I get one of those too, because I promise you I can evangelize King-style all day long – since it requires so little knowledge, competence or sincerity. In other words, my cat could handle God’s Word as well as Clayton King (and she has the requisite sharp fangs).

    Mr. Duncan, your saga is getting more and more riveting by the hour. I cannot thank you enough for putting so much on the line to document the truth and expose the loathsome characters who seem to hold so many otherwise sentient beings under their sway. I imagine the main reason such shallow, preening, gas bags are able to gather so large a following is because the flock has never heard God’s Word preached or rightly taught. Is that possible? Unfortunately in America, in the year 2013, it is not only possible but probable.

  3. Concernedparent Jan 19, 2013 4:01 pm

    Why protect Perry so violently and vehemently at the cost of creating divisiveness and hate in our community? At the cost of losing long time friends? Do they think Perry is the savior? Are they protecting his (and his buddies’ ) right to make millions of NS followers? Every story I hear about how NS is negatively impacting friendships, especially for our kids, breaks my heart.

  4. Soli Deo Gloria Jan 22, 2013 5:02 pm

    Just some random thoughts for what it’s worth to anyone.

    1 – I’ve been wondering at which point Peter and those others in authority with him in the Jerusalem church got up in arms to defend him at all costs and grow fangs, etc… when some guy named Paul called him out on some things that were seen as errors in his teaching and hypocritical actions? Peter’s church in Jerusalem was growing, probably at a faster rate than NS even. Who was this other guy to question what Peter was doing? Oh yes, I’m sorry, Peter accepted the correction and changed his ways as far as we can tell from the Biblical narrative. (I know the analogy breaks down in many places, but Peter was being a Jew to the Jews. He was doing what he could to reach people, right? There are many parallels in the analogy – though one parallel that isn’t there is any type of contrition or apology on Perry or NS’s part).

    2 – Do a word search on reprove and look at the results from Proverbs. I pray that members and staff of NS (as well as all of us) will fall in the camp of the “wise” who can accept reproof and not be like this:

    Proverbs 29:1 (ESV) He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

  5. SallyVee Jan 25, 2013 12:55 pm

    Yikes, yesterday Chris Rosebrough played and commented on King’s entire “sermon” from 2007 – titled Protecting Your Pastor. I listened to the entire wretched thing and experienced the full force of King’s insane heresy. The frightening thing is, there are thousands of people who call him “pastor.”

    On a slightly comic note, I was also stunned by the amount of pedestrian whining in this “sermon,” cloaked as sainted sacrifice on the part of himself and poor pastor Perry. And one hilarious thing – apparently King can’t sleep and he attributes this to the massive adrenaline shots he gets from sermonizing and audience contact. He then repeatedly mentions the gallons and gallons of coffee he drinks at every opportunity, to the point of dizziness and hallucination… yet he apparently hasn’t connected caffeine to insomnia. I suppose it’s more dramatic and heroic to equate himself with a soldier in combat. (And in a way, as an audience member, I did feel I was under assault by King’s very aggressive and combative, megalomaniacal ranting.)

    HERE IS THE BROADCAST (review of King’s sermon is in the second half):

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