In 1 Corinthians 1:18-19, the Apostle Paul said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning, I will thwart.'”
This is part 2 of my critique of J.D. Greear’s sermon delivered a few weeks ago at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN (read part 1 here). Greear likened his opponents to the Pharisees that Jesus confronted in Matthew 23. But as we examined last week, Greear never even read from the text he said he was teaching from. We’ll hear more twisting of the word here in part 2.
The sermon was filled with hypocrisy. In part 1, we heard Greear say, “We need robust, careful, Bibles open on our knees discussions” about race and justice, while at the same time he and his camp used their platforms to shut down discussion and make fun of anyone attempting to have a biblical discussion. He said, “It is clear that as a convention, we need to clarify and strengthen our position” on Critical Race Theory. Yet he and his camp would not allow any resolutions clarifying and strengthening a Southern Baptist position on Critical Race Theory.
This all comes back to the Southern Baptist Convention’s long-running affair with pragmatism, which we’ll talk about and consider further in this second half. Now, as a disclaimer, the transcript of this episode is being published to my blog on July 8, but the audio is being published to the podcast dated July 2. That’s the spot I had reserved for part 2 of this review, but I was not able to finish it until the 8th.
As with last time, Greear’s comments are in italics, and I will break in with a response. We pick up where we left off at twelve minutes, twenty-two seconds, according to the timestamp on the video at LifeWay Digital Pass (also here on YouTube). Here is Dr. James David Greear, continuing to explain how his critics are like the Pharisees in Matthew 23.
12:22 GREEAR: “Third, Jesus said the Pharisees ignored God’s focus on the outsider. You know, like many of you, I grew up with flannelgraph Jesus. Remember him? Cut-outs of Jesus in various poses that you could insert into different stories. There was Jesus with a compassionate look in His eye; there was Jesus preaching; Jesus healing. You could insert these various Jesuses into many different stories. My favorite flannelgraph Jesus however was always Jesus with a bullwhip. But there was only one story that you could insert Him into. The one where he drove out the money changers. Whenever I heard that story taught, the teacher usually emphasized Jesus’ anger at what the Pharisees were doing. They were buying and selling in the temple courtyard with the application that the pastors should not be selling his books or the student ministry shouldn’t be selling their t-shirts in the church lobby. And that’s probably fair. But perhaps the emphasis in that story ought not to be on Jesus’ anger at what they were doing, but His anger at what they were concealing.”
That’s kind of funny, honestly—to hear Greear say that the Pharisees were guilty of concealing. There’s a lot of concealing going on right now in the SBC, right? Yes, there is. I’m thinking specifically of the plagiarism scandal going on. Current SBC president Ed Litton and at least one other preacher at his church have been caught plagiarizing numerous sermons from J.D. Greear. When I did part 1 of my critique, the scandal was still in its infancy. I’m going to talk more about it, but we’ll wait until the end here.
13:26 GREEAR: “They had set up these tables in the court of the Gentiles. The court of the Gentiles was the one place where Gentiles were supposed to be able to come and observe worship and learn about the gospel. ‘My house,’ Jesus said, ‘My house,’ as He turned over those tables, ‘My house is to be a house of prayer for all the nations. The ones who don’t know me.'”
No, Jesus was not saying my house was to be a house of prayer for “the ones who don’t know me.” The temple was not the one place where Gentiles could learn about the gospel. Yes, they came to the temple to worship and pray and offer sacrifices, but the word of God was preached in every synagogue throughout the Roman empire. Acts 15:21 says, “From ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
Now, I have listened to many young pastors do sermons for means of critique, so take this as if I were a teacher lecturing a student. This is such a poor re-telling of Jesus cleansing the temple, that if I were Greear’s teacher, I would tell him he needs to go open his Bible again and read all of the accounts of Jesus cleansing the temple before he writes his sermon. (He’s reading from a manuscript, mind you—this is not Greear freestyling—so he has no excuse to get this wrong.)
The story of Jesus cleansing the temple with a whip of cords is not in Matthew—it’s only in John. And there, Jesus does not say, “My house shall be a house of prayer.” He says in John 2:16, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
As Greear said, this trade was conducted in the court of the Gentiles. They were selling animals for sacrifices on site so that Jews traveling long distances would not have to bring their animals with them. Their business favored the Jews and disrupted the worship of non-Jews. But the non-Jews knew God. That’s the whole reason they were there—to worship God. No one came to the temple to worship the God they did not know.
Matthew 21 is about another temple cleansing, which doesn’t mention a whip, and Jesus’ rebuke is different than in the cleansing mentioned in John. In verse 13, He said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:17 adds, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”
In both temple cleansings—whether the first in John, or the second chonologically, as told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke—Jesus drove out the merchants and the money changers to purify worship in God’s temple. God is holy, and so worship unto God is to be holy. As said in John 2:17, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (from Psalm 69:9). This was in fulfillment of what was prophesied in the Old Testament. We read in Zechariah 14:21, “Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts… And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.”
Greear’s understanding of the text is obscured by his pragmatism, influencing so many Southern Baptist churches for years, and it was on full display at SBC21. I’ll explain what I mean here in a moment. Listen to what Greear says next:
13:45 GREEAR: “The Pharisees had obscured the portal for the outsider with conveniences for the insider. They had forgotten that they were to live out their worship in a way that made the gospel accessible and attractive to outsiders.”
So what made the Pharisees wrong was that they were not living out “their worship in a way that made the gospel accessible and attractive to outsiders.” Is that what the Bible says? Where in Scripture are we instructed to do that?
Rather, what we read in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 is this: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” That sounds quite the opposite of making the gospel “accessible and attractive to outsiders,” doesn’t it?
There are books written about how to attract people to your church. The hallmark is The Purpose-Driven Church by Rick Warren. One of the models Warren presents is the “Attractive Church Model,” encouraging churches to have a style that attracts people from the community. This is why modern praise music is largely performance-based and sounds more like a concert than congregational worship. The songs are in keys the average person can’t sing, but that lead singer sure sounds good. The lights are bright on stage but low over the audience.
Also the pastor is dressed like we’re going to go see a movie together and he doesn’t stand behind a pulpit, declaring the Scriptures and exhorting “with all authority” (Titus 2:15). Recently, Nathaniel Jolly, a pastor friend of mine in Alaska, was rejected by NAMB (the North American Missions Board). One of the critiques NAMB gave him was that he wears a suit and tie when he preaches, which according to NAMB displays that Nathaniel is out of touch with the people around him.
“It seems some of Nathaniel’s theological convictions may be hindering his contextual engagement,” they said. “Even down to what he wears does not seem to fit the people that are around him.”
According to Nathanial, no one from NAMB who did his assessment lives in Alaska. How do they know what “fits” the people around him? Their gurus have a certain pragmatic model they follow, and Nathaniel did not “fit” their model.
Pragmatism means that if the method works, it’s good. If we do something to attract people into the church, and the people come, that’s an effective attractional strategy. By that same extension, if it’s something that turns people off or drives people away, then it’s not good. But if it means more memberships, more baptisms, more decisions for Christ, then the ends justify the means.
What might be the dangers to this approach? Well, if there are any hard truths or difficult subjects or disagreeable doctrines, we’ll tend to avoid those things so not to offend anyone and push them away. Worse than this, a church may be tempted to compromise the gospel and make it into something more socially appealing. Remember the example I gave last time from Dhati Lewis, who, influenced by the pragmatism of the social justice movement, said that the gospel “falls short” of offering “emotional, economic, and social restoration.”
Paul told Timothy to avoid those who have the appearance of godliness but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). Pragmatism is antithetical to evangelism, for pragmatism denies the power of the gospel to convert sinners, and instead relies on “appeal.” As I’ve heard Paul Washer say, if you use carnal means to win people, it will require carnal means to keep them there.
Church is not for unbelievers. You labor to reach unbelievers through evangelism—the church going out into the world and preaching the gospel. The church gathering is for believers. More than this, it’s for God. When we gather for worship in the church, our audience is not the world. Our audience is God. The Bible says, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). If you want to compromise the gospel, strive make it “accessible and attractive to outsiders.”
14:00 GREEAR: “Well what does that look like today? It might look like us not considering how outsiders might perceive our statements and resolutions. Hey, let’s be clear—we don’t ever bend the truth to please anybody. For if we sought to please men, we would not be the servants of Christ. But sometimes in our haste to condemn our society’s answers, we ignore the legitimacy of their questions. I’ve got many lost friends—many lost friends who approach politics and life very differently than me. Who are genuinely concerned about the suffering of the poor. They are burdened by the denigration of immigrants and refugees in our social discourse. They are heartbroken of the damages that years of slavery and discrimination have left in the African-American community. Why would we not want to go out of our way to affirm the validity of those questions even in places where we differ with their answers.”
If you’re confused as to what Greear is getting at, here it is in fewer words: Greear is saying that a person should be able to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris or any other Democrat and not be told by the church that was a godless decision. He won’t say that outright, because he knows he’s speaking to a room in which 85% of those in attendance voted for Trump last November.
Greear is heavily influenced by Tim Keller, who has said that the sanctity of human life and the definition of marriage are primarily Republican issues, whereas caring for the poor and social justice are Democrat issues (listen here, cued to the spot). However, the Republican party is not running on some kind of platform that’s racist or opposed to justice; whereas the Democrat party is running on a platform that enthusiastically and unashamedly advances the slaughter of millions of unborn children and pushes a sexual revolution so perverse Sodom and Gomorrah would blush.
Advocating for the life of an unborn child in the womb is not a political issue. Opposing the LGBTQ agenda which wants to indoctrinate your children and convince boys they can become girls—that is not a political issue. These are moral issues. The Democrat party is not only sold out to the abortion and LGBTQ agendas, and they want to force the church to bow to these agendas. They are godless. This is an affront to a holy God. You cannot consistently be a Christian and vote Democrat.
Now, I believe that J.D. Greear is pro-life and that he has a biblical view of marriage (I also happen to know that he voted for Trump in 2020). But pragmatism overshadows his convictions, causing him to view both political parties with a certain neutrality, as if there’s a fair balance of pluses and minuses between the two. And that’s just not true. The Democrats are far more evil than the Republicans. As I wrote about last year, “The Democrat party hates family, they hate marriage, they hate children, they hate that God has made male and female, and they hate God Himself.”
Tell worldly people that they’ve been made in the image of a holy God, but they’ve desecrated that image with their sin. Show them their sin according to the Bible. And then tell them there is forgiveness for sins by faith in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us as atoning sacrifice, so that all who believe in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life. You don’t do anyone any favors by telling worldly people you can vote Democrat and still honor God.
14:53 GREEAR: “The court of the Gentiles must be kept clear so that the Gentiles have as few obstacles as possible in hearing the gospel. In everything we do, we’re thinking not only about making our position clear, we’re also thinking about building bridges to them. One more here. Fourth, the Pharisees said Jesus loved the places of honor. They love the praise of men.”
Uh oh. That was a mistake. Did you catch that? The Pharisees did not say Jesus loved the places of honor. Jesus said the Pharisees loved the places of honor (Matthew 23:6).
15:18 GREEAR: “Power is something that you should obtain and then hold on to. Listen, I want to say this as clearly as I can. When some say that a call to lay down our rights, privileges, and power for the benefit of others is a drift from the mission, then I think we have very different understandings of the mission.”
J.D. Greear served three years as Southern Baptist Convention president. A presidential term is no more than two years—he got an extra year because the annual meeting was canceled in 2020 due to COVID. That would have been a perfect opportunity for him to step aside and let Vice President Marshal Ausberry, a black man, serve as president. Greear would have shown he not only calls people to lay down their rights, privileges, and power, he models it.
While the Annual Meeting did not happen, the Executive Committee did meet, where Mike Stone stepped aside as chairman of the Executive Committee for the Vice Chairman, Roland Slade, who became the first black man to chair the committee. Those who are Woke talk a big game about giving up privilege and power, but do they model it?
Regarding Greear’s statement that we have different understandings of the mission, over the course of these two sermon critiques, it should be clear that we certainly have different understandings of what the Bible says, how to teach it, and how to apply it.
15:39 GREEAR: “Jesus said it is the Gentiles who lord their power over you, not so for you. Whoever wants to become great among you will release his power, will take the position of a servant. Furthermore, because of their love of power, the Pharisees were willing to entertain gossip and slander about those who threaten their places of power, including Jesus. They slandered Him because He threatened them and they clothed all of their slander in the garments of theological rectitude. They used concern over theological rectitude to cloak divisive, self-promoting spirits. Jesus called them white-washed tombs—squeaky clean on the outside but full of dead men’s bones on the inside. Listen, I’m not saying this to only you. I’m saying this to all of us, okay”
Have we heard anything self-deprecating in this sermon so far? He’s only going after one side, and it’s not the side he’s on.
16:23 GREEAR: “The slander, the distortion, the character assassinations, and baseless accusations that many of our leaders have had to undergo is reprehensible. I know. I have personally been accused of some of the most malicious things.”
Me, too! Hey, if you want to go through slander, distortion, character assassinations, and baseless accusations, I can give you my list from just the past week. It’s part of the job, especially if you’re going to have any kind of public platform.
Now, this segment of his sermon is almost verbatim what he said to the Executive Committee back in February. There’s no reason to go over that again. It was covered by everyone from the Baptist Press to the Washington Post to the Religious News Service—who, by the way, reported that Greear likened his critics to “Pharisees.” That’s how they summarized his sermon, that he was going after the people who disagreed with him. Rather than going over this again, let me jump forward a few minutes to a particular line here.
19:10 GREEAR: “And listen, I know this doesn’t describe everybody. It’s not even the majority.”
So there he says that these baseless accusations are not the majority. When this with the Executive Committee, he said, “These kinds of accusations have become the norm for many of our leaders, and the result has been a breakdown of partnerships and whole segments of our convention that feel unwelcomed.” So are these accusations from the fringe or are they the norm? As we go on, the confusion continues.
19:15 GREEAR: “I got asked in an interview what my biggest surprise has been as president. I asked the interviewer, ‘Positive or negative?’ He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Give me both.’ I said, ‘My biggest positive surprise is how unified rank and file baptists are on the primacy of the Great Commission. Them, you, who took the time to come to Nashville—you’re not obsessing over secondary divisions. You want to see us focus on the main thing. You want us to be busy with evangelism and church planting. In my travels across this country as your president, I have been overwhelmed by the unity of rank and file baptists who just want to be part of the convention that is focused on doing whatever it takes to reach a new generation. They’re repulsed by the idea of sexual abuse happening in our churches, and they are even more repulsed by the idea that anybody might cover it up to protect their reputation. I have been amazed at how unified baptists across America in big cities and small towns are on these things.”
This is such a strange observation. Greear is surprised at how rank and file Baptists—your friendly neighborhood Southern Baptists—are unified in wanting to evangelize the lost and repulsed by sexual abuse and those who try to cover it up? He’s surprised by this? Friends, I would be astonished if I went anywhere and found even one Southern Baptist who doesn’t think we should evangelize the lost and is not disgusted by sexual abuse.
20:11 GREEAR: “The negative surprise is how loud those are who would keep us divided on these things—who would have us remain more a cultural affinity group and an institution protector and a political voting block than it would a gospel people. The loudness of their voices on social media have made me truly apprehensive going into some places afraid of what I was going to find there. Only to find out when I got there that both pastors and laypeople there were unified in their desire to be ‘Gospel Above All’ and ‘Great Commission Baptists’ and to ‘Keep the main thing the main thing.'”
Okay, so it sounds like he’s spending too much time on social media, or maybe he’s spending too much time listening to the media. If he’s surprised to find Baptists unified in evangelism and opposed to sexual abuse, and he’s apprehensive of going into places because he was afraid of what he was going to find there, then he’s reading too much Twitter, or too many articles from the Washington Post, Houston Chronicle, and Religious News Service.
In January, Joe Biden was inaugurated as President of the United States. His Vice President is Kamala Harris, one of the most godless persons ever to hold higher office, pushing a very pro-abortion and LGBTQ agenda. Even CBS said she was the most liberal U.S. Senator according to her voting record. Yet many Christians celebrated her inauguration because she’s “a woman of color.”
It was in response to this outpouring of admiration that our pastor Tom Buck tweeted the following on January 22: “I can’t imagine any truly God-fearing Israelite who would’ve wanted their daughters to view Jezebel as an inspirational role model because she was a woman in power.”
A reporter from the Washington Post said that Tom had called Kamala a “Jezebel,” which was a racist slur. The Religious News Service ran with that, too. Then J.D. Greear got on Twitter and made a comment about it being racist, calling it a personal “attack on a newly elected official,” and labeling it “sin.” Greear never called Tom to find if what was being reported was true.
This further exacerbated the antagonism that we received at our church for weeks—the nasty phone calls and e-mails and even post cards we got in the mail. For a time, we took our contact info off of our website until the nonsense died down.
The online media mob Greear is calling out—he’s part of! Greear has contributed to this problem, but I don’t hear any personal remorse in his words. He’s saying it’s all those guys over there who “have made me truly apprehensive.” This is like a fourth grader getting in trouble for bullying other kids on the playground and telling the teacher, “Well, they made me do it.” Or maybe it’s more like Adam saying to God, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12).
Do you remember the Covington High School debacle that happened in Washington D.C. back in January of 2019? A video went viral of a Native American man named Nathan Phillips beating a drum and coming face to face with a high school kid in a red hat that said “Make America Great Again.” That kid’s name was Nick Sandmann, who had a smile on his face in the midst of an awkward and tense scenario.
Of course, the mainstream media narrative had been framing Donald Trump as a racist as well as the white evangelical base who would vote for him. So Sandmann in a MAGA hat was portrayed in the media as a smug bigot, and even many Christians ate it up—including J.D. Greear, who retweeted a statement saying, “This is hate,” and affirming it by saying, “Truly!”
Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that Nick Sandmann made her “sick to [her] stomach.” Thabiti Anyabwile, a Southern Baptist pastor in D.C., said that Sandmann displayed “racist incivility.” Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, and Ray Ortlund either contributed to the vitriol or encouraged those who did. Beth Moore made the most scathing comment of all, when she said, “To glee in dehumanizing any person is so utterly antichrist, it reeks of the vomit of hell.” She eventually deleted her tweet, but never apologized.
This was all because Nicholas Sandmann was a white kid in a MAGA hat. He was not a bigot, but everyone who reacted to Sandmann this way—who made a publicly condemning judgment against a smiling teenager in a red hat—were the true bigots. If you know the story, then you know that Sandmann filed suit against CNN for $275 million in damages.
Now here’s Greear, standing at the Southern Baptist Convention 2021 in Nashville, admonishing an online media mob that he’s contributed to. Yes, at the start of this sermon, he said, “I see some of these qualities present in me also.” If he truly understands that, then he needs to own it. He needs to put himself forward as an example and say, “Here is where I have gone wrong, too. I was weak in my flesh, I bought into the narrative, and I sinned. And by the grace of God, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention didn’t get sued for $275 million.”
I don’t think Greear understands how condescending he comes across, but that’s what we experienced at SBC21. My friend Adam Page observed, “Pragmatism leads to 1) Thinking everyone is stupid, and 2) Inability at sincerity and authenticity.” When you take a pragmatic approach to doing church, you don’t listen to real people as much as you listen to what the numbers and the experts and the media say about those people.
As I said last week, if I acted in front of my church like Greear and James Merritt and some of these other elites acted in front of the convention, I’d either get fired, or the people in my congregation would stop giving their money or they’d leave. And we might find out how true that is.
20:45 GREEAR: “I’ll tell you this, and I would challenge anybody who would say this is inaccurate—Great Commission Baptists are in large part ready to walk into the future. But we are spending way too much time ripping each other apart or listening to those who are. Brothers and sisters, let’s just call it what it is: these things are demonic.”
Would J.D. Greear be willing to confess that he participated in this demonism and apologize for it? Thus far, he’s shown no willingness to do so. It would be like someone singing “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like you, but I’m not that bad. You’re demonic. Not me. I’m not demonic.”
21:09 GREEAR: “That’s not my word. James, the half brother of Jesus said this, James 3:14, ‘If you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do no be boastful and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above,’ even if it’s doctrinally correct. No, that wisdom is ‘earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.'”
We’re nearly 22 minutes into this message, and this is the first and only chapter and verse reference that Greear makes in the entire sermon. It is the only place he actually reads and shares a biblical text. And he’s twisting it to say, “This is for thee, but not for me.”
By the way, we don’t actually know that Greear wrote this sermon. I said I would come back to addressing the current plagiarism scandal. Greear has been caught giving his sermons to Ed Litton who has preached them verbatim, even making Greear’s personal experience stories his own. And this has been going on for years. A television station in Mobile, where Litton is pastor, interviewed Litton and asked him about the plagiarism scandal. Listen to this:
REPORTER: “And where do those charges come from? Do you know?”
LITTON: “No, they’re unnamed, and that’s part of the problem. So unnamed sources are presenting these things, which should take everybody take a pause.”
Uh, no. They’re not unnamed sources. Folks, I was one of the first to point out the plagiarism. I said a listener named Jacob sent me a video showing Litton plagiarizing J.D. Greear, and I posted the video. I put my name on it. Dozens of videos have since surfaced, and plenty of others have put their names on it. That is just an outright lie. He is shifting the blame to the people who are pointing out the emperor has no clothes. Ed Litton is lying. He is lying through his teeth, as he has been lying to his church for years.
Greear admitted he has contributed to this. There’s reason to believe that much of what Greear has preached came from a company called Docent Research Group, of whom Greear is a client, but he has not yet responded to the accusation or clarified just how much of his sermons were written by researchers at Docent. (Greear’s endorsement of Docent has since been removed from their website as the concealing continues.)
No one really needs to know their congregation anymore—and honestly, in a megachurch, they probably don’t know their congregations. That’s why they don’t think it’s bad to plagiarize or have someone else write your sermons. Just follow the trends—follow the stats. If it works, it’s good! As was shared in a recent article by Tobby Smith, “Sermon plagiarism is always wrong and never right,” and those who do it “are being deceptive, lazy, or both.”
“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways,” said the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:2-3. “We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” That just doesn’t fit a pragmatic approach.
Who will hold these men accountable for this pattern of lies, theft, and deception? Consider what Greear says next:
21:53 GREEAR: “I want you to notice that the difference in wisdom from above and the wisdom from below is not its content—it is its posture, its disposition. When you see selfish ambition, jealousy, deceit, slander, you know that you are encountering the wisdom from below, regardless of the theological garb that it is cloaked in. Satan is a liar, and when he cannot destroy the church from without, he capitalizes on the sin within. It was Pharisees in their theological rectitude, not the liberals, who led in the crucifixion of our Lord. So yes, the danger of liberalism is real, but the danger of Phariseeism is also. Friends, we cannot, we cannot, we must not go that direction!”
No further comment.