Beware False Teachers with Good Doctrine and Bad Ethics

Poor leaders proclaim Christ in word but deny him with their lives. Here’s what we can learn from their failures.

For the past several years, we’ve watched over and over as famous pastor-teachers go through very public falls from enormous heights. Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek, resigned in April 2018 after allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of power.

James MacDonald, founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, was fired in February 2019 for creating a culture of fear and intimidation and for enabling financial mismanagement. Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong East Coast, was let go in November 2020 for “moral failures,” including an adulterous affair, and now stands accused of sexual abuse.

As an Anglican priest and theology professor, I have watched these stories emerge with deep sorrow and not a little anger. My frustration is not just for the people and communities harmed by these leaders but also for the way these pastors’ lives contradicted and undermined the gospel they preached. I am compelled to examine my own life too.

Though the details of the stories vary, all were men who had the “right” doctrinal content in their books and sermons. Yet they had been denying Christ and leading people astray with their actions long before their failures were publicly known. These pastor-teachers confessed Christ with their mouths but denied him with their bodies. They were (and are) a different kind of false teacher: heretics of the heart.

The example of Mark Driscoll—whose story is now being revisited in depth through The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast—is illustrative of my point. He denies the full humanity of women in both word and deed, advocates for profane views of gender and sex, rages with unrepentant pride, engages in habitual self-promotion, and manipulates and abuses …

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