Does the Fire’s Source Matter?

Marcus Rogers has over 230,000 YouTube followers. On Facebook, that number is more than 785,000. That’s a lot of people hanging on the words of a guy who describes himself like this:

I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about somebody who can save anybody! His name is Jesus.

Watch a video like the one here and you’ll see why he draws a following.

The most recent item in his Facebook posts is similarly engaging to my way of thinking. It’s convicting and convincing.

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Yeah–preach it!

But as I revel in the way that Rogers illustrates how we should be on fire for God, as I agree with his take on gossip within the church, I find out that this guy is, from my way of thinking, theologically damaged goods. He’s into Oneness Theology, which means that he denies the Trinity. Also, he was ousted from the U.S. Army after an “unauthorized baptism” in a Fort Campbell creek was associated with the drowning of the man being baptized. (It’s not clear if Rogers was at all responsible for the drowning.) Add to that the fact that this man has recently been divorced, and, Q.E.D., he must be someone we should utterly ignore.

I’ve been amazed at the amount of information on Marcus Rogers that one can find, and a great amount of it seems to be driven by knee-jerk hatred to anyone who (a.) believes something we don’t believe or (b.) experiences significant success. “Why can’t I have 785,000 followers on Facebook?”

Should the noticeable defects in this man’s façade make him someone we should utterly ignore? Let’s take that question up on two levels: theological and moral.

On the theological side, I think Rogers is completely wrong in his Oneness orientation. However, in my dealings with Oneness people, I’ve found that at a very real level our disagreement was more in vocabulary and point of view than in how we ultimately viewed God. The best Oneness people I’ve known have a devotion to Jesus that makes most Christians seem rather anemic. Since all of Rogers’ materials that I’ve seen are free of Oneness-specific teaching, I’ll give him a pass on that.

On the moral side, I won’t say that his separation from the army or from his wife are utterly irrelevant things. I won’t be bringing this guy to the attention of my church when we have a ministerial opening, but does that mean that I should ignore him or repudiate him? I read Psalms by a guy who committed adultery and murdered to cover it up. I read a Torah written by a guy who killed a man in his youth. A former pastor of mine left his position in disgrace after a moral failing. Does that make what that man taught invalid? I don’t think it does at all.

Finally, we could question the motivations of Marcus Rogers. Is he self-serving? Perhaps, but his message is clear and solid. I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians:

To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice. –Philippians 1:15-18

I’m not suggesting that we not test what people say and approach teachers with caution, but when Rogers praises Jesus and calls people to repentance, who am I to criticize that?

 

 

Theological Gymnastics–Mark 1:10-11

Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son,whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” –Mark 1:10-11

When the gymnasts in the Olympics perform their routines, they make their bodies do things that one would think human bodies should not be able to do without the aid of movie special effects. What amazes me, however, is that after I’ve been watching the gymnasts for a few minutes, I forget that the human body should not be able to twist and flip in such a manner. Instead, I recognize their moves as the most natural thing in the world.

Theologians, it seems, require some mental gymnastics to explain the concept of the Trinity. The hymn is clear–“God in three persons, blessed Trinity”–but how that works remains awfully hazy. How does the idea of the Trinity–never stated overtly in scripture but certainly present–coexist with Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”?

On the other hand, how can my friends among the Oneness Pentecostals ignore passages like today’s. What sort of gymnastics must they undertake to have Jesus playing ventriloquist, declaring his love for himself, and then doing some kind of astral projection to have himself as the Holy Spirit flying around overhead.

The problem with these sorts of gymnastics is that after we watch them for a while, they seem perfectly correct, perhaps even self-evident. When we hang out with people inclined to believe these sorts of things, their truth seems to be even more confirmed.

When Christians argue over these things, when we allow them to divide us or occupy the bulk of our attention and time, we take our eyes off of matters of greatest importance. I have no doubt that some of my theological understandings will be corrected when I get to Heaven, but there’s one understanding that I’m quite certain will not have to amended: Jesus is God’s Son, in whom God is well pleased.

What a shame it would be to miss the forest of Christ for the trees of theological interpretation. As a child, I remember having the moment represented in these verses presented as particularly important since all three members of the Trinity were clearly present. Okay, but how about valuing it for its proclamation of Jesus’  importance?

There’s a place for theological gymnastics. It’s enjoyable and even edifying to debate these matters, but only when we debate with those who have already entered into the sheepfold of Jesus Christ.