Fisking Christian Today’s defense of Perry Noble 17

Fisking: a point-by-point criticism that highlights perceived errors, or disputes the analysis in a statement, article, or essay.


The day after covering the Ten Commandments controversy, a Christian Today reporter stuck the boot into Noble's critics.

The day after covering the Ten Commandments controversy, a Christian Today reporter stuck the boot into Noble’s critics.

Two days ago, the Christian Today website published an opinion piece from its reporter, Mark Woods, who, the day before, had published a news story to its website about the Ten Commandments sermon and the SC Baptist Convention’s response to the controversy. [The first version of this story incorrectly identified the publication as Christianity Today, which is not affiliated with the site.]

I’m with Perry Noble.

Did he realize this before or after he wrote the apparently objective article about the controversy? As a matter of journalistic ethics, why does Christian Today have its reporters contributing such one-sided opinions while still covering a live and controversial story?

Perry Noble has drawn criticism for his sermon on the 10 Commandments.

There, I’ve said it. Conservative critics have been lining up to put the boot into the South Carolina megachurch pastor after a Christmas Eve sermon in which he appeared to re-interpret the 10 Commandments out of existence, even going so far as to say that they weren’t actually commandments anyway.

Now, I have no dog in this fight. I’m not an apologist for Perry Noble or his ministry,

Yes, he is. This is a defense of, an apology for, Perry Noble. This type of article is exactly what apologists do.

and I have no particular beef with conservative Christians who’ve criticised him.

Yes, he does, and he especially lines up to put the boot into Noble’s critics at the conclusion of his piece.

But what bothers me about the condemnation he’s faced is this: the assumption that biblical truth looks like one thing and one thing only, and the sense of betrayal evidenced when someone breaks from the party line.

Noble’s observation that the 10 Commandments weren’t actually labelled as such is warped into Noble saying that you don’t have to keep them: it’s OK to lie, steal and commit adultery. Is that what he believes? No, though you’d never think it judging by the outbreak of moral panic.

It’s not a warp. Noble actually said that you don’t have to keep them, and it’s documented here, though that may explain why Woods didn’t link to this blog.

Could that observation lead someone to lie, steal or commit adultery when they wouldn’t have done so previously? The chances are vanishingly small, wouldn’t you think?

If Woods lived in Anderson, or in any South Carolina city with a NewSpring campus, he might be surprised at how easy it would be for him to find a NewSpringer who is comfortable living in some form of sinful lifestyle. Noble’s “meh” attitude towards sexual sin almost certainly does lead to much more sin than if he emphasized the law and sanctification. Noble’s constant criticism of other churches as legalistic is based on his accusation that they do not  tolerate sexual sins the same why that NewSpring does. (To be clear, I’m not saying this tolerance for sin is manifested in all or even most NewSpringers, just enough that it’s noticed by many South Carolinians with NewSpring friends.)

– and anyway, I thought we didn’t do the right thing just because we’re told to, but because we love God.

The Commandments apply to everybody, even if they hate God. We obey because we love the lawgiver who told us to do so.

Then look at what he’s actually said. “You shall have no other gods before me” becomes “You do not have to live in constant disappointment any more.” That’s frankly a bit of an exegetical stretch, but you can see where he’s going.

It’s exegetical vandalism, not just stretching.

We don’t need to see where Noble is going, because he told us before he started: Nonbelievers do not need to obey the commandments. That’s his launching point and his destination.

“You shall not make a graven image” becomes “You can be free from rituals and religion and trust in a relationship.” A bit more defensible, that one. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” becomes “You can rest.” That one is entirely reasonable.

And so on. The point is that all of these commandments invite questions and require interpretation in the light of today. If they don’t get that, they become dead letters.

Nobody on our side of the debate thinks they are dead letters at all. Only someone who thinks they’re dead assumes for himself the privilege of updating them.

Frankly, I cannot remember the last time I was tempted to bow down before a graven image and I don’t even know anyone with an ox I could covet.

Frankly, Woods doesn’t understand the Ten Commandments and their role in Scripture. The Commandments function as a form of constitutional law, the unchangeable legal fundamentals upon which every other law is built.

Let’s say that we wanted to have Woods’ article censored. He would appeal to the First Amendment to protect his right to publish, and he’d be right. But I could counter that the First Amendment only grants freedom of the “press,” and because this is on the Internet it doesn’t use the press so it’s not protected. He’d argue that the right of a free press is a fundamental constitutional right that protects all journalistic expression regardless of the method of production, which is correct. The same principle applies to the timeless Commandments.

Another criticism Noble has faced is his use of “coarse and profane language” – possibly referring to an evident use of the n-word in his Christmas eve sermon, though he has form in this respect. Well: I am not relaxed about that. The word offends me, and I think if he did use it (there’s some doubt) he shouldn’t have.

Woods needs to tell us whether he actually thinks Noble used the word, especially because the next part of the argument is defending Noble’s intemperate language use. If he didn’t say it, move on; the issue is dead. If he did, how would he defend it?

However, I am completely relaxed about language which is not of the drawing-room standard  if a) It’s genuinely part of the pastor’s personality and is the kind of language the congregation is comfortable with (I do not move in such circles myself);

So the pastor’s personality has free reign to foul up the proclamation of God’s word? Preachers have a sacred duty to proclaim God’s word as if they were delivering it from God’s very mouth, and, to the best that they’re able, they really ought to make their personality as small and muted as possible when they’re preaching.

or, b) It’s making a serious point. For instance, at a Christian convention the evangelist and social activist Tony Campolo once said: “First while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh*t. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said sh*t than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” Result.

If you can’t make a serious point without cussing, you shouldn’t be in the business of making serious points.

(The other reason I’m relaxed about it is because I’ve read Church history. How would Noble’s delicate critics fare if they were had to listen to Martin Luther, for instance, who famously described the Pope as “a turd squeezed from the Devil’s arse”?)

Delicate? We haven’t made a big deal of the n-word incident, treating it as a secondary issue compared to the Commandments teaching, though I’m not sure if Woods thinks we should have just ignored his use of the n-word?

CT uses a quote from Martin Luther that can only be found at CT.

Christian Today  uses a quote from Martin Luther that can only be found at its site.

Wood’s famous Luther quote has escaped the attention of Google, which finds it only in Woods’ article. (Woods may have created his imagined quote based on a quote attributed to Luther where he himself is the turd.) Nevertheless, if you’re going to appeal to Luther for language, why not also for arguing doctrine? The quote Woods thought he found was of Luther criticizing a church leader for his fundamental flaws in proclaiming law and grace. Can’t we critics appeal to the oft-critical Luther as a model, too?

These criticisms worry me, not because I think they’ll damage Noble – who doesn’t seem to let them bother him – but because of the mindset that might lie behind them. That mindset puts the adherence to a theological purity and doctrinal correctness defined by a particular sub-tribe of evangelical Protestants before anything else.

It isn’t a sub-tribe, it’s all of Christianity, and the perpetual force of the Ten Commandments unites all three major tribes (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox). Noble would have us believe that this is a complicated debate, but it has never been. See this post for an example of how uniform Christian teaching has been on the Commandments.

But here’s the thing: that’s not what I want from a sermon. I want someone with flair and imagination, someone who’ll take risks and go off-piste.

Off-piste means to ski off the marked ski trails. A pathway to quick disaster, in other words.

I want someone who’ll speak without notes and enter into an emotional and dramatic relationship with the congregation. I don’t mind if they aren’t “right” about something.

Fortunately, Woods isn’t the standard. The Bible is the standard, and, as the Bereans demonstrated, right preaching can be carefully evaluated and proved to be right or wrong. Those of us in these parts of the interweb call it discernment.

I have a Bible, I can read it myself.

Prove it.

Did he read Paul’s admonitions to Timothy about being a careful and disciplined preacher? Did he read the warnings about preachers who would twist Scripture to create emotional dramatic relationships with listeners with itching ears?

Because I don’t believe that preaching and Bible teaching are the same thing. If Perry Noble wrote a set of study notes saying that his version of the commandments was better than the Bible one, I’d worry. If he says in a sermon, “This is what ‘You shall not steal’ means today, and it’s not what you £**@?* thought,” I’m fine with that – because there’s a preacher who’s not parroting something from a book or retailing second-hand ideas, but telling me what he thinks.

He should be concerned that Noble gets it right in both contexts, but if he’s going to get one wrong, it should be the one that’s written, where a reader has a chance to objectively analyze and think about what has been written. An audience in a live speech or sermon cannot as intently evaluate a message as a reader can. This entire debate proves the point. Thousands of NewSpringers heard Noble’s sermon and didn’t think much, if anything, wrong with it. When Rosebrough and I started putting it in a printed form a week later, people immediately saw the problem.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones famously described preaching as “logic on fire”. Ideally there’d be both: but if I have to choose, give me the fire and I’ll supply the logic for myself.

A fire with logic is a furnace. Without logic, it’s is a wild fire.

What are Noble’s critics so afraid of? That someone, one Sunday, might actually say something new or interesting?

Preachers who preach new truth disqualify themselves. Their primary job is to teach old truth faithfully because that truth is always interesting and always lively.

And if so, what does that say about them?

That we love and defend old lively truth.

17 thoughts on “Fisking Christian Today’s defense of Perry Noble

  1. Jordan Jan 24, 2015 5:10 pm

    Dr. Duncan,

    How do you feel about being described as a “conservative” critic? And, on the flip side of that coin, if you are conservative, does that make Noble and NS “progressive”? I found it a bit surprising that Woods would describe you as conservative. It seems to me like your objections to the NS Xmas Eve sermon are fairly middle of the road.

    • James Duncan Jan 24, 2015 5:42 pm

      Given the option, I’d rather be described as conservative than progressive.

      I don’t know what label Noble would prefer, but he acts like a progressive, railing against the past and boasting of a new way of interpreting Scripture and organizing the church.

  2. Brian Jan 24, 2015 6:11 pm

    I guess this reporter has no beef with Osteen either because he is interesting while masking very poor theology. This is another mark of the day that we live in. We want entertainment over truth. I hope CT reins this guy in.

  3. Lane Jan 25, 2015 12:33 am

    It’s very telling that Dr. Duncan would be miffed that he didn’t get the credit for creating the controversy discussed in Wood’s article. What neither the news article nor the opinion piece includes is a link to the origin of the controversy (you could pick either Rosebrough or me, I don’t care).

    I believe that statement hints at the real motive behind his ongoing criticism of NewSpring.

    • James Duncan Jan 25, 2015 8:31 am

      Thank you, Lane.

      I have deleted that particular criticism of Woods, having discovered that he did link to PP in his reference to there being doubt over if Noble actually used the n-word.

  4. JT Jan 25, 2015 2:16 am

    Duncan, you wrote: “Noble’s “meh” attitude towards sexual sin almost certainly does lead to much more sin than if he emphasized the law and sanctification.”

    There is nothing “meh” in his preaching about sexual sin. You have either not listened to much of Noble’s teaching on sexuality, or you are deliberately misconstruing his consistent and oft-preached orthodoxy on this topic.

    I think you are mistaking love for the lost as acceptance of their sin.

    Worse, you then write, “Noble’s constant criticism of other churches as legalistic is based on his accusation that they do not tolerate sexual sins the same why that NewSpring does.”

    Perhaps you are uncomfortable that NewSpring has consistently opened its doors for adulterers and homosexuals to hear the gospel. Perhaps you are bothered by the fact that Noble often points out the hypocrisy of Christian who are addicted to pornography sitting in judgement of homosexuals.

    But please tell us which sexual sins NewSpring tolerates. You are leading your readers to false conclusions, Duncan. You know (or should know) that Noble preaches that adultery and homosexuality are sinful. NewSpring has never wavered on that.

    If you define “tolerance of sexual sin” as embracing sinners as they receive God’s grace and forgiveness, then NewSpring is guilty as charged. But then so is Christ Himself.

  5. Pingback: A point-by-point response to Christian Today’s defence of Perry Nobel | discern.org

  6. BravoBereans Jan 25, 2015 10:59 am

    JT
    Not speaking for JD here, but from my sampling of friends who fit the description, the tolerance seems to be amongst those who are already professing believers.
    Wouldn’t you agree that a church that preaches against a sin then enacts no consequences for members who continue in it is a church that is displaying tolerance?

    • JT Jan 26, 2015 5:15 pm

      BravoBereans- The church you describe is not NewSpring church. When the pastors and staff learn of unrepentant sin amongst members, they address it. I know people who have been told that they could no longer serve at NewSpring because of habitual sexual sin. Staffers have been fired.

      Are they allowed to worship at NewSpring? Yes. But the church does not allow those it knows to be living in sin to serve or lead.

  7. Savedbygrace Jan 25, 2015 2:48 pm

    Christ himself did indeed embrace sinners and forgave them of their sexual sin. However, He also followed it up with, “Now go and sin no more”. I have many friends who attend NS and have also noticed that there is not much difference between their behavior and behavior of the world. As followers of Christ, we are called to at least strive for holiness, not laugh off one night stands with, “we’ll chalk that one up to Jesus”.

  8. IagreewithJT Jan 25, 2015 4:10 pm

    I think a lot of you commenting on the question of NewSpring allowing sexual sin have again never been to a service or listened to a service. Perry always welcomes people to Newspring. The broken, the lost the immoral and has a place welcoming for the Gospel to be heard by all people. He also finishes it up by saying its ok to not be ok, but its not ok to stay that. There are so many things that He gives his church to do to grow closer to the Lord and follow him step by step and to turn away from our sinful natures that we are ALL inclined to. If you are having friends who aren’t walking closely to Jesus, point them there. But let us not forget that we all sin and no sin is worse than the other. Don’t let you judgement of them be any better than the sin they are acting Encourage them and love them. PRAY for them that the Lord will soften their hearts that they will come to hear what the messages is really saying. We have all been the lost person thinking we can live the way we want to, but in the end the Lord’s grace found us. Pray for that with your friends. That it will click and they will get it. The gospel and this church has saved my life and taught me what community and walking with Jesus looks like and that giving in to a sexual relationship isn’t what Jesus wants for my life and will only leave me broken. I cry as I sit here and think of a world where we as Christians can’t be support of each other. I don’t care what church you are going to, if you are listing to Jesus and growing with him…oh what a glorious thing that is. If we can’t support each other then I don’t know why any lost or broken person would want to be in that family.

    • Jordan Jan 26, 2015 4:26 pm

      no sin is worse than the other.

      @IagreewithJT,

      In light of your comment above, how do you interpret 1 John 5:16-17, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.”? (emphasis added)

  9. Jean Jan 26, 2015 7:35 am

    By the way, Christian Today is most definitely NOT the same magazine as Christianity Today, and we should be clear here that “CT” does not indicate Christianity Today, a much more responsible publication, or Mark Galli, its senior managing editor.

    Christian Today is owned by the secretive sect of David Jang (Jang Jaehyung), sometimes known as “Young Disciples of Christ,” whose network has tried to acquire other brand names and properties using less than transparent means and have used threats of lawsuits and ad hominem attacks on the few writers who have dared to expose them, such Ken Smith, writing in Christianity Today. (Christianity Today: 16 Aug 2012, Ted Olsen and Ken Smith. “The Second Coming Christ controversy.”
    link to christianitytoday.com)

    This network, which also appears to be behind Christian Post, Olivet University, and scores of other websites and exerts significant influence over the leadership of the World Evangelical Alliance and Ralph Winter, now appears to be attempting to gain acceptability by buying or borrowing previously developed brand names with their reputations, or putting up websites with remarkably similar names (e.g. “Christian Today” not to be confused with the magazine Christianity Today, founded in 1956 by Billy Graham and others.)

    Apparently founder David Jang was married by, and spent many years within Sun-Myung Moon’s Unification Church, which also has tried to establish it’s influence by acquiring news media, for example owning the Washington Times. According to Mother Jones and several other news sites (below) this sect is the money behind the new Newsweek, brought back out of bankruptcy last year, to publish articles such as Kurt Eichenwald’s attack on the reliability of the Bible, published in Christmas Eve (same day as Noble’s sermon, ironically).

    This is not to say I suspect some secret connection between Jang and Noble, but rather than it doesn’t surprise me that one Jang’s publications would defend Noble’s approach to the Scriptures and to church leadership.

    By the way, the Wikipedia entries for Jang and Christian Today are propaganda by his followers, but read these sites for a glimpse of how significant and yet hidden Jang group’s influence is:

    USCAnnenberg Center’s Religion Dispatches: 1 October 2012, Jonathan D. Fitzgerald. “Christian media battle over controversial figure.”
    religiondispatches.org/christian-media-battle-over-controversial-figure/

    Mother Jones: May/June 2014 Issue, Ben Dooley, “Who’s behind Newsweek.”
    link to motherjones.com

    New York Observer: 4 August 2013, Peter Sterne, “Moonies, Messiahs and Media: Who Really Owns Newsweek?” link to observer.com

  10. Sheryl Jan 26, 2015 10:39 am

    “the assumption that biblical truth looks like one thing and one thing only”??? How many ways can you interpret truth? It IS one thing and one thing only…hence “TRUTH.” God means one thing and one thing only. Any other interpretation is twisted and corrupted, resulting in a lie. Perry Noble conceived a lie. And he got Mr. Woods to believe it.

  11. Not confused Jan 26, 2015 4:58 pm

    Narcissists will manipulate the “truth” to achieve their goals. The question is, why do NS members implicitly trust PN? Would the same people see an unlicensed doctor or a lawyer who didn’t attend law school or pass the bar or pay tuition to learn from untrained teachers. If you wouldn’t trust your health to an untrained “doctor” why trust your spirituality to an untrained pastor? Members should reflect on why they are attracted to Newspring and why they are willing to accept someone who was afraid to stay at seminary and learn from experts.

  12. BravoBereans Jan 26, 2015 6:19 pm

    JT
    Does NewSpring practice excommunication? (Not a rhetorical question, really curious )

  13. Dave Jan 27, 2015 4:03 am

    On the subject of Luther and the pope, there are a couple of google hits (from 2007 and 2012) saying that Luther described papal bulls (decrees) as turds rolling out of the pope’s asshole. If this is what Woods was thinking of, it shows that he has no concern for accuracy.

    But this bit from Woods really worried me: “I want someone with flair and imagination, someone who’ll take risks and go off-piste. I want someone who’ll speak without notes and enter into an emotional and dramatic relationship with the congregation. I don’t mind if they aren’t “right” about something. I have a Bible, I can read it myself.”

    Well I don’t. I want a preacher who has studied the Bible at length, has a good understanding of our faith, and who carefully explains it. I’m not looking for a motivational speaker to give me a pep talk (although there is a place for this occasionally). Nor do I want a heretic who is passionate but wrong – that’s the role of a cult leader.

    I don’t know who Mark Woods is, but he’s bought into a lot of the bad ideas that are floating round the church today.

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