In the past couple of years, Jen Hatmaker has received quite a bit of attention, not only as a New York Times best-selling author and social media sensation, but also as one of the most high-profile Christians to affirm same-sex marriage. This ignited a controversy that lit up the blogosphere with equal parts disagreement and praise. Despite being given the boot by Southern Baptist retailer LifeWay, her following has slowly gained steam, establishing her as a successful podcaster (her podcast, For The Love! is regularly found in the iTunes top 10 list of its category) and a persuasive voice in the progressive Christian movement.
Her shift on same-sex marriage isn’t the only indicator that her beliefs about Christianity have changed. Since its launch in 2017, Hatmaker’s podcast has been a veritable “who’s who” of progressive Christian leaders such as Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, Pete Enns, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Richard Rohr, Jeff Chu, Mike McHargue (“Science Mike”), Barbara Brown Taylor, Austin Channing Brown, Lisa Sharon Harper, Rachel Hollis, and Glennon Doyle. As I’ve written about previously, progressive Christianity affirms a different gospel.
Hatmaker has ushered in 2020 with a new podcast series called For the Love of Faith Icons, in which she will interview “our most beloved faith leaders as we ask our deepest questions and hear where they’ve found peace and strength to endure.” Hatmaker notes that each of these leaders “show us that our faith can expand, evolve, and be inclusive while never losing the heart of the Gospel and our belief in a God who is full of grace and mercy.”
The first leader Hatmaker invited was Evangelical pastor Max Lucado, a best-selling author whose books have sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Beloved by young and old alike, there is almost no conservative or evangelical community that hasn’t been impacted by Lucado’s work.
Lucado began the episode by singing Hatmaker’s praises, indicating that he is a fan of her work and saying, “I think so highly of you. You energize me, to listen to your podcast…you make it so easy and delightful, and yet profound at the same time.”
While Lucado implied that he doesn’t agree with everything Hatmaker teaches, nevertheless he took several opportunities to make the point that unity is paramount. He said, “And so you and I, when it comes to the table, whether literally the Lord’s table, or figuratively the community table, you’re my sister, and I’m your brother.”
He alluded to the idea that it’s important to maintain unity with people who claim the name of Christ as long as they affirm the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. “I think I can find fellowship with Richard Rohr, right?...Even though we come from two entirely different worlds.” This is a troublesome statement because of what Richard Rohr teaches.
The Rohr Factor
Richard Rohr is a Franciscan Friar whom Jen Hatmaker considers to be a spiritual father and faith hero. On a recent episode of her podcast, she praised him as “one of our best teachers, hands down.” She promoted his book, “Universal Christ,” and noted that she has followed him for years and has quoted him in several of her books.
Richard Rohr believes Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected. However, Rohr’s views on Jesus, the Bible, and the cross are unorthodox. He separates Jesus and Christ into two separate entities, with Jesus being a “model and exemplar” of the human and divine united in one human body. And in Rohr’s view, Christ is a cosmic reality that is found “whenever the material and the divine co-exist—which is always and everywhere.”
Rohr also believes that all religions share the same core truth and are all paths to truth (perennialism). He denies original sin, the atonement, the exclusivity of Christianity, an orthodox understanding of heaven and hell, and the literal second coming of Christ. He rejects the idea that the entire Bible is the Word of God and encourages readers to disagree with or omit the things they believe are wrong. (He teaches this is what Jesus did.) Hatmaker has brought Rohr’s false gospel to over 700,000 followers on Facebook, and countless more through her books and podcast.
With the most recent guest of Hatmaker’s new podcast series being Andy Stanley, and based on a recent Facebook post, it seems she is trying to bridge the divide between Evangelicals and progressives. On first blush, this could seem like a good thing, because unity is a consistent theme throughout the New Testament. It’s the very thing Jesus prayed for in John 17:22, and what Paul sought to actualize among the first century believers. But is this type of unity biblical, or does the Bible actually warn against being united with everyone who considers themselves to be Christian?
The Apostle Paul taught the Christians in Ephesus to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3). However, he goes on to say we have “one faith” (4:5). So, this is a unity based on our common faith, not separate from it. It’s not unity for the sake of unity.
His comments on unity were actually followed by specific instructions for Christians to reject their old way of life and to pursue holiness and Christlike compassion. Paul warns the readers to avoid even a hint of sexual immorality or greed. He advises them not to partner with anyone who is openly disobedient to Christ but instead to live as children of the light. So, according to Paul, Christian unity can only exist within the framework of God’s holiness.*
Unity with False Teachers?
The Jesus who prayed for unity among believers in John 17 is the same Jesus who writes a letter to the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-28. He reprimands them for tolerating a self-professed prophetess who led God’s people into the practice of sexual immorality. He didn’t command them to remain in unity with her (even though she identified herself as a Christian), but actually rebuked them for tolerating her.
In his epistle, Jude had no interest in keeping unity with false teachers, but instead encouraged the church to identify and remove them. He warned of ungodly people who had crept into the church unnoticed and had turned God’s grace into a license for immorality. He pronounced “woe” on them, and he warned believers to persevere in their faith.
In Titus 1:9, Christian leaders especially are tasked with guarding the church. “[An elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” This is followed by an astonishingly pointed remark: “They must be silenced.”
Nowhere in the Bible is it acceptable for a church leader to turn a blind eye to a false teacher or embrace that false teacher in unity. In fact, Paul took it a step further and named names. He specifically mentioned Alexander, Hymenaeus, and Philetus, who had left the faith of other Christians “overthrown” and “shipwrecked.” (2 Timothy 2:17-18; 1 Timothy 1:19-20)
We live in a culture of tolerance where words like “inclusion” and “affirmation” have become non-negotiable tenets. Thus, it can be tempting to view any display of disunity as divisive.
But we would do good to remember that the Bible places the blame for divisions on the ones bringing in the false doctrine, not on those who call it out. Paul writes in Romans 16:17: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” Notice that it was the false teachers who Paul criticizes for being divisive, not the believers.
But we are not encountering anything new. Every generation of Christians has been tasked with the command to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
In a recent briefing, Al Mohler noted that when we look at the history of the mainline denominations being lost to liberal theology, it wasn’t because the liberals outnumbered everyone else. Rather, “In almost every case it’s the muddy middle that ends up ensuring the liberal future of the church, because those moderates are unwilling to draw clear doctrinal and moral boundaries and to make them stick. They are far more concerned with holding the denomination, the institution, or the congregation together than they are with keeping a very clear commitment to the historic Christian faith and to its central doctrines and moral teachings.”
It's our Turn
Much like the liberals who began working their way through the mainline denominations in the early 20th century, progressive Christianity is infiltrating and swallowing up the Evangelical church. If we’ve learned anything from church history, now is the time to address it. It’s not time to appear on their podcasts with the vague hope of establishing unity.
Jesus compared false prophets to wolves in Matthew 7:15. Can you imagine a shepherd trying to “build a bridge” or “sit at the same table” with a wolf? When a wolf comes after the sheep, the shepherd has one job. Protect the sheep. Not the wolf.
We don’t get a pass because our current cultural climate would label us as disruptive or unloving. It’s because of our love for Jesus and out of protection for his bride that we must find the courage to do what is right.
It’s possible that Max Lucado is unaware of how unorthodox the teachings of Jen Hatmaker and Richard Rohr are. I pray that is the case. But Christian leaders cannot afford to brush aside the danger of these unbiblical alliances under the guise of promoting unity. The Bible simply doesn’t give them that option.
The gospel is worth fighting for. The church is worth protecting. It’s this generation’s turn to do the hard things, and I pray God will give our Christian leaders the courage and unflinching loyalty to the sufficiency and authority of the Scriptures not only to discern the deceptions, but also to speak God’s truth clearly to those who are being misled.
After all, “What fellowship has light with darkness?”
* God’s holiness means he cannot be in unity with sin. This is bad news for us because we are all sinners. But the heart of the gospel is that Christ died in our place, taking the punishment for our sin upon himself. He defeated the power of sin and death so that we could be brought into unity with God. This doesn’t mean we never sin anymore, but that we pursue holiness because God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Thus, as we acknowledge and repent of our own sin, we are continually transformed by the renewing of our minds which makes us able to discern God’s will (Romans 12:2)