On Sunday, September 9, Vice News (think Dateline for millennials on HBO) interviewed Matt Chandler about the changes that are happening in evangelicalism. Nothing of the interview was informative to me, mostly because the intended audience was unchurched millennials. I already know what's going on in the church. They don't.
Another reason this interview wasn't very informative was because Chandler's answers did more to muddy the waters than offer clarity. I've listened to the guy for over ten years, though increasingly less often. His preaching and his views have taken a turn into progressive territory. If you've been with him for a while, and you're reading the same directions he is (I'm referring to the Bible), you're going, "Um, where are you headed, Matt?"
The following is the interview between Chandler and Vice's Gianna Toboni. (By the way, "vice" means "immoral or wicked behavior," a curious title for a liberal news outlet.) The transcript is provided word-for-word in bold. My responses are in regular type.
Gianna Toboni: Evangelical America is changing quickly. At the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination in the country reported that it had lost more than 200,000 members in one year alone. But a new class of evangelical leaders are pushing through these challenges. We spoke to Matt Chandler, who is considered a rising star among young pastors, about how evangelicalism is changing in today's political environment.
So there's our lede. Evangelicalism in America is experiencing rapid change, mostly in terms of people leaving evangelical churches. To try and solve this problem, evangelicals are turning to new leaders who look, talk, and present themselves differently than those often termed the "old guard." Matt Chandler is considered one of the faces of the new class. What does Chandler think about how politics are affecting evangelicalism? Note that this will mostly be about how politics are affecting evangelicalism, not how evangelicalism is affecting politics.
Toboni (to Chandler): Can we agree that President Trump isn't of the utmost moral character?
Chandler: Absolutely. Like are people arguing other than that?
Toboni: So this is what I want to ask you-- To me, evangelicals prioritize morality, being Christlike, and yet they played a huge part in getting him elected. How did that happen? What do they like about him?
Chandler: I think people are frightened. I think they're frightened at the speed at which things are changing culturally. And so I think they began to grasp for something that might help.
That's a safe opinion, but I don't think most people voted for Donald Trump because they're afraid. I think people are more like Donald Trump than we want to admit.
It's true that many voted for Trump because there was no other winnable option. Hillary Clinton would have been worse. Anything but Hillary. So they voted Trump. But the majority of Donald Trump's supporters were not concerned citizens who simply didn't want Hillary. The majority of his voters really, really like Donald Trump. He was always the front-runner in a crowded GOP pool full of a lot of options. I think Toboni is more aware of that than Chandler was in this interview.
I said in September of 2015, over a year before Trump was elected, that I believed Trump was going to be our next president. The reason why I thought so was because he talked like most evangelicals that I encounter: he always goes to church on Easter and Christmas, always on a major occasion, he drinks his juice and eats his little cracker, he tries to be a good person, and the Bible is his favorite book. Meanwhile, he's incredibly self-centered, loves a good conspiracy theory, has a perverted mind, and can't control his mouth. This is like many Americans, even in red states.
Chandler: The Obama presidency, great man -- some of his policies and some of the ways he rolled out his policies, really, really scared evangelicals. And without any kind of real help from pastors and ministers, to help their people understand, the news media just whipped us into a frenzy, and made people feel desperate.
There's a lot of slight going on here. Chandler said Obama was a great man who scared evangelicals, and that's the fault of pastors and the media, oh, and people could be a little less panicky, too. But somehow Obama comes out "great" in that answer. Great as in how?
I'll say this about Barack Obama: All that we've seen of him seems to indicate that he loves his wife and his daughters. Democrats gave us a family man for president, and the conservatives, supposedly the "family values" party, came up with Donald Trump. That's extremely frustrating to me.
But though he might be a faithful husband and father, Obama was an abysmal president. This is the man who said, "God bless Planned Parenthood." His track record on abortion was worse than Bill Clinton's, having defended infanticide when he was a U.S. senator. No leader riding on a slogan of "Hope" yet advocates for the murder of the most vulnerable human beings can be called "great" anything but a great fraud.
In addition to abortion, same-sex marriage became legal in the United States under Obama, whom Newsweek crowned "The First Gay President." The sins of America are worse than Sodom's. For anyone to talk down about Trump and herald Obama as a "great man" is being hypocritical, to say the least.
Toboni (narrating): Chandler invited us back to his church, which is one of the fastest growing in the country.
Toboni (walking up to the church): This is not what I expected The Village Church to look like. We are in a shopping center. It kind of looks more like a Costco or a Target, sandwiched between Starbucks and Chick-fil-A. But there are more than 10,000 congregants that come to The Village Church. This is what churches in many American suburbs look like today.
If that's what many churches in American suburbs look like, why is Toboni surprised when she sees it? She said, "This is not what I expected The Village Church to look like." She unintentionally exposed how out-of-touch she is with evangelicalism, and probably middle America in general. What if I said Gianna Toboni is not what I expect a news reporter to look like? Would that not sound like I'm out of touch with the culture and I'm secluded in my evangelical bubble?
Toboni (taking to Chandler): What are the challenges today in keeping young people engaged here?
Chandler: My experience with the "de-churched," that's what I would call them, those who grew up in church and have left, is that it's a sense of hypocrisy that they picked up on. A kind of cowardice among the church to address things that are serious and significant pains of our day. So whether that be domestic violence, which the church has just been painfully quiet on. Or even things like racial reconciliation, which, man, you step into those spaces, you're going to draw a lot of flack from the evangelical world.
That's incredibly ungracious. Chandler makes it sound like the church ignores domestic violence and is largely racist, so much that if you address those topics they're going to attack you. That is "painfully" not true. First of all, not all that's called the church is the church (Toboni especially doesn't understand that). Secondly, there's a whole context to what Chandler has termed "racial reconciliation" that is not being explained.
But let's set that aside to stay on the topic. Millennials have been leaving the church in droves according to the introduction, and Chandler says the reason for that is the fault of the people who are still in the church for not addressing topics "that are serious and significant pains of our day." He even goes as far as suggesting that any church not addressing such topics is hypocritical, and de-churched millennials sniffed out this hypocrisy.
Four years ago, I wrote a blog about a liberal false teacher named John Pavlovitz who was gaining a lot of attention on social media. One of his popular articles was Dear Church, Here's Why People Are Leaving You. In the piece, he said an emphasis on teaching sound biblical doctrine drives people away, and the church doesn't address issues relevant to a broader group of people. That's the argument of a theological liberal, and Chandler is borrowing it.
The most recent edition of The State of Theology survey from Ligonier shows that the majority of evangelicals believe Jesus is the first being created by God (more than 80%), that even the smallest sins don't make a person worthy of hell (about 70%), and that God accepts the worship of all religions (more than 50%). So according to the results of this survey, most American evangelicals believe heresy. And Chandler thinks the problem with evangelicals leaving the church is we don't address enough culturally relevant topics?*
We read in 1 John 2:19, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us."
That's why people leave the church -- because they were never Christians to begin with. The church needs the gospel of Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness. Pastors need to be faithful in preaching the Scriptures. They should not be feeding an unhealthy craving for controversy (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
Chandler: But I think especially around topics like homosexuality, we're quick to say it's a sin and you may not understand, which I'm not going to disagree that I would think from the Scriptures that that's not what ultimately God intends. But to pretend like that we're not talking about human beings with souls, who sometimes are deeply conflicted, it's just a great error. And to be right the wrong way, is to be wrong.
Homosexual behavior is sin, and unless it's repented of and a person follows Jesus Christ, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Instead, they will suffer His wrath and will be cast into eternal fire on the day of judgment. I preach this knowing that this is about human beings with souls! That's exactly why I call attention to the seriousness of sin and point a sinner to the gospel -- because I love them, and I want them to be saved.
Chandler's answer was another one of his slights. Am I to understand that anyone who teaches "Homosexuality is sin" doesn't care about human souls? Maybe Chandler agrees men who practice homosexuality are living in sin (or "not what ultimately God intends" as he worded it), but if I actually say homosexuality is a sin, according to Chandler I'm right in the wrong way, therefore I'm wrong. Right?
Toboni: How do you think Democrats and media have isolated evangelicals, and where could they do better to be more inclusive?
Chandler: I think some of the blind spots on the Left is that the Left, specifically city Left, feels like the country is more progressive than it actually is. And the more it presses, the more it makes conservatives dig in their heels.
I agree, but with a caveat. Yes, the country is not as progressive as the Left believes it is. However, what's deemed conservative is often conservative by comparison. The Right is also progressive, just not as rapidly progressive as the Left. Chandler is progressive. The fact that he labels homosexuality as "not what ultimately God intends" shows a softening in his otherwise Christian worldview (though I would say his worldview is regressing, not progressing).
Chandler: When the bathroom bill had passed, and I'm telling you, people were terrified by that bathroom bill. More than anything else, the thought that their children were going to be in a bathroom with the opposite sex, right? And I know all the arguments around that, but I'm using the language that I think would make sense to most conservatives. That made them go, whoever the opposition is to that, I'm voting for. And then they lost their soul in it, many of them did.
They lost their soul in it? Is Chandler suggesting that anyone who had serious (and legitimate) concerns over the bathroom bill sacrificed their faith? Perhaps he's just using a figure of speech, but even if that's all it is, it's still ungracious. Concerns about the bathroom bill were not about who we're going to the bathroom with "more than anything else," as Chandler said. The bathroom bill quantified a depraved direction this entire country is headed over common sense issues like who's a man and who's a woman. Chandler was wildly out-of-touch on this response.
Toboni: How do you think the evangelical community will be different in 10 years versus 10 years ago?
Chandler: Golly. Well firstly, just that whole concept of what evangelicalism is is difficult right now. It is such a junk drawer. For some people evangelicalism now is like a political party, divorced from its theological roots.
The irony in that statement is, I believe, Chandler is fostering that. Chandler has fully embraced the social justice narrative which categorizes people into different constituencies or voting blocks. The social justice narrative is by its very nature prejudiced and political. It is neither social nor justice.
Chandler: I think you're going to see what we've already seen probably three or four times in Christian history. There are going to be those that try to reach the world by becoming like the world. And then there are going to be those that try to, by the grace of God, hold fast to orthodox Christian faith in a way that's compassionate and kind, and they're going to have to weather the backlash of all the wrong that's been done in the name of Jesus the last 50 years.
Again, that's ironic. Chandler shows symptoms of becoming like the world in that he's softening on how he refers to homosexuality, saying that conservatives "lost their soul" in the bathroom bill, and believing that the church needs to be more proactive on pop-culture outrage. I don't think Chandler is holding fast to orthodoxy. I believe he's loosened his grip.
Exactly what is "the wrong that's been done in the name of Jesus the last 50 years"? Is it Obama saying, "God bless Planned Parenthood"? Is it authors who claim sodomy is holy? Is it churches that tell people it's okay to be gay? Is it pastors who in the face of cultural pressure lie on national news? Is it teachers who say the church needs to unhitch from the Old Testament?
Since the interview with Chandler ends there and I have no idea what he said after the video concludes, I won't attempt to draw a conclusion to my question, even within the context of his other statements. Like I said, his answers did more to muddy the waters than clarify the issues.
Instead, let's go back again to our lede: Toboni said this was "about how evangelicalism is changing in today's political environment." Toboni's objective was to present how the church is responding to political issues that concern liberal-minded millennials. Chandler didn't respond, "With the gospel." At least, not in the edit we saw. Instead, Chandler gave answers that were more appeasing to left-leaning millennials.
What an opportunity to be able to say, "Here's what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. We're sinners who deserve God's wrath. We're full of evil thoughts, murder, idolatry, sexual immorality, theft, and slander. This whole world is fallen because of our sin. But God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross and shed His perfect blood to save sinners like you and me. All who believe in Him will not perish but will be delivered on the day of judgment, when He removes all evil and ushers in His perfect kingdom. That's the gospel. Here's how that message answers these questions you're asking."
But that's not what we got. Progressives would have watched that interview believing the church is moving to their side. Meanwhile, I came away more concerned that left-leaning politics are changing Matt Chandler, not that Chandler is continuing to preach the gospel in the face of progressive leftism.
Why did I choose not to post this article when I'd first written it? Because when a discussion came up online over some of the more concerning statements Chandler had made, Chandler spoke up on Twitter and said the following:
"I actually called homosexuality a sin no fewer than 15 times in that interview but Vice didn't let me edit the show. Never done much of anything "sheepishly" when it comes to the Word."
That's a perfectly reasonable explanation. So I hesitated posting the article expecting that eventually we would hear from Chandler, either decrying the Vice interview as it was published, or maybe he would clarify or apologize for some of the answers he gave. But unless I missed something, we have yet to hear from him.
I've grown increasingly concerned about Chandler, a brother in the Lord. I'm also concerned about anyone listening to him. Chandler preached the gospel to me when I was in a dark place in my life, but he's gradually moved into some dark territory himself. Perhaps an article like this will reach him and pull him out of the shadows. I pray he is not losing his grip on the truth.
*The paragraph marked with a star was added on October 18 to what I had first written on September 12. Also, the concluding section of the article was added.