I don’t hate Jon Acuff per se…

Today celebrity Christian blogger Jon Acuff posted a note to his “haters,” which I guess would include me. I don’t hate Jon Acuff per se; I’m sure that in person he’s a great guy who’s funny and thoughtful and compassionate. But I do hate what Jon Acuff represents: a Christianity that is divided between groupies and celebrities in which the celebrities become celebrities by writing books for the groupies about how easy it is to be a celebrity if you just have faith in God. I don’t think I would feel the need to respond to Acuff’s post if he hadn’t written these three lines: “You see, I’m starting to believe I can do this. I’m starting to believe that writing a New York Times Bestseller isn’t so crazy. I’m starting to believe I wasn’t created for average.” Here’s why those three lines put wrath into my heart.

You don’t get to say “I’m starting to believe I can do this” after you’re already famous. Because many of us who would give anything to be in your position are not only fighting like hell to get there, but we’re fighting against the sinful pride that makes us think that “writing a New York Times bestseller” is the only way our lives will be worth anything. My life is not comprised by a battle against doubt in my abilities. I know the reason nobody reads my blog posts and everybody reads Jon Acuff is because I’m too smart for most people. My life is a battle against my infatuation with my self-perceived genius.

I don’t need haters, because my narcissistic soul is under the occupation of Lucifer even though I ask God to kill him every time I pray. But every time it seems clear that my blog is nothing more than slavery to my ambition and I’m ready to repent, delete everything, and stop writing forever, somebody has to come up and tell me I wrote something that spoke to them. Fans are much worse than haters, especially when they trickle through slowly enough that you think you’re getting nowhere but just often enough to keep you from quitting.

One of the reasons why I feel my blogging is a legitimate prophetic duty is because of Christians like Jon Acuff and Dave Ramsey, who seem like the modern-day versions of Russell Conwell, the early 20th century Baptist minister and motivational speaker who said nobody in this country had any excuse not to be a millionaire. As Herman Cain put it, “If you’re not rich, blame yourself.” I don’t know how to explain why megachurch pastors who pound their congregations with total depravity sermons will then pay big bucks for a Jon Acuff to come in and tell their flock that God wants them to be awesome and not just average. I am deeply bothered by that and it seems like it’s because God makes me bothered.

I realize that my cynical theories are just speculations, but I really wonder if a lot of Christians hide their true beliefs that God exists so they can feel awesome behind a pageantry of sobering doctrine about God’s holy wrath and things of that nature. I’m starting to think more and more that the “tough” doctrine is a smokescreen. How else do you explain the juxtaposition of total depravity and self-reliance in the evangelical megachurch, two diametrically opposite views of human nature? I just can’t fathom how someone who honestly fears God can write a sentence like “I’m starting to believe I wasn’t created for average” and why the John MacArthurs and Gospel Coalitions out there don’t jump all over him like they would a Rob Bell or a Rachel Held Evans.

The more that I grow in my love of God, the more that I hate the slightest betrayal that I make in representing Him. I say a lot of things that I second-guess after the fact, no matter how long I stew before I speak. I’m never sure of myself and I hope that I never reach the point where I am, because then I’ll really be worried. I just can’t understand how someone who is being “constantly handed over to death so that the life of Christ might be revealed” (2 Cor 4:11) can promote the idea that faith consists in the shedding of gravitas. I will never get over my fear and trembling, and it’s not because I don’t realize how much God loves me. It’s because of God’s love for me that I breathe fire whenever I think His name has been dishonored, especially by people who say they’re just trying to “make Jesus famous” or some other cliche that famous people say about the Jesus whose coattails they climbed.

It’s possible that everything I’ve written here is just jealousy masquerading as piety. Maybe I just need to read Acuff’s book to realize that when he goes into detail, everything he says is perfectly orthodox, etc, etc. Just don’t dis the “average” people who will never get where you are. What you call “average” may be what God calls awesome. I’m trying to learn how to be faithful and obedient in accepting what the world calls an “average” life with dignity if that is in fact what God has called me to. If I do submit to God in this, it will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And if I do ever overcome my need to be awesome, then I guess I’ll write an open letter to my demons celebrating the victory.

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18 thoughts on “I don’t hate Jon Acuff per se…

  1. I start with this – I think your heart is in the right place – I really do. However, you can’t post this and judge someone’s motives while admitting you haven’t read his books.

    I agree that perhaps you should take an in-depth look at his books before you parade your martyrdom around.

    We don’t all receive messages the same way – we’re all different, with different stories, and different ways of understanding.

    I hate the idea of Christian celebrity just as much as you do, but to judge someone’s motives is not the role either you or I should be playing. Let’s look at if things are making people turn to God.

    The idealistic state that you are talking about, though noble, will not exist here on earth. It is a great thought and it’s what we should strive for, but if we were to reach it then it would also remove our dependence on the very grace which Christ came to bring.

    You honestly probably are too smart for me – and I have probably posted too many fumbled-over thoughts to drive you crazy. But what I hate more than the idea of Christian celebrity is Christian division. I think we’re all on the same team. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” Let’s focus on that before we focus on what other people are doing wrong. Let’s build bridges – not burn them.

    • That’s a fair assessment. Of course i did have specific content that I was responding to. But if you take your logic all the way, then none of us should be Protestant. There is a point at which silencing criticism becomes endorsing a bad witness.

  2. Morgan, thank you for this post and many others have I read but not commented on. As someone who struggles with many of the same things you do, I feel your pain and appreciate your raw honesty. I don’t feel that being open about your struggles in any way undermines your ability to lead. In fact, I feel like one of the greatest mistakes “Christian” leaders ever made was putting up this great facade and implying some “Christ-light” level of sanctification. It’s no wonder that every moral failure leads to a piling on from all directions, especially from those outside the church.

    As a 27 year old, feeling called to serve the UMC only recently, I struggle with the idea of “relevancy”, and maybe as you would say, “the desire to be a Christian celebrity”. My desire is in not for fame or fortune for their own sake, but for the influence that it would bring the loving, accepting theology of the UMC. I feel like a caged animal full of love that is surrounded on all sounds in this box called “Christianity” by people who speak for me whom I do not wish to. I do not want Jon Acuff, David Platt, John Piper, Mike Huckabee, Billy Graham, Rob Bell, Rick Warren, or anyone else to speak for me. There are many in the UMC that I don’t want to speak for me. Do I ascribe to the notion that my theology is perfect, absolutely not. I’m so far from where I want or need to be, it’s not even funny. So how do I alleviate this feeling of failure in “cultural” irrelevance with that fact that simply sharing the gospel, teaching it faithfully, and following Christ’s teaching is enough? I don’t yet know the answer.

    I desire unity among all Christians, but I feel that I am already at the center. I know I’ve rambled a bit and covered lots of ground, but these are the things that were brought to the forefront of my thoughts while reading your article. I should probably be paying you by the hour if you attempt to tackle these. Much love, my Brother.

    • “One of the greatest mistakes “Christian” leaders ever made was putting up this great facade and implying some ‘Christ-light’ level of sanctification.” YES! I’m with you brother. Keep me posted on what you’re doing.

  3. Yeah, I think I’ve heard that guy’s name, but I don’t know who he is. That line, “I wasn’t created for average” is such a load of garbage. Nobody is, but who’s defining “average”? The Gospel or the culture? That’s just such idiocy.

    • I think what sets me off is that I want to be a Christian celebrity and I want the part of me that wants that to be crucified so I can simply enjoy all the blessings that I have in front of me and be faithful to what God gives me to share without having all that ego crap tangled up in it. It’s my own version of Romans 7. Maybe it’s unfair to put that on Jon Acuff. I just wish that the phenomenon of celebrity wasn’t part of the Christian world because it’s such a stumbling block for me.

  4. Thank you for the post. I agree with your prophetic voice. So much of it resonated in my heart. Don’t worry i will not become a fan of yours, but would love to call you brother.

    • “Don’t worry i will not become a fan of yours, but would love to call you brother.” Yes! That is what we should all be to one another. Thank you.

  5. Morgan, years ago I saw a cartoon, I forget its name, that featured a grandmother walking past a youth loitering on a corner. He was dressed in black leather with a Mohawk haircut, tattoos and piercings, and dangling a cigarette. The grandmother went up to him, snatched the cigarette from his mouth, and uttered four words: “Get over yourself, honey.”

    As a newly minted spiritual director, I feel an urge to tell you the same thing as a result of today’s post. It’s a hard word to hear, but the truth is that God doesn’t need your defense from people such as Jon Acuff. As a minister, your job isn’t to refute anyone else’s theology, but to present the full Gospel of God’s love and justice to your best ability. Whining about yourself and wallowing in your egoism won’t do that, and it seriously damages your credibility as an authentic biblical interpreter.

    So get over yourself, honey.

    • “So get over yourself, honey.” I’m blessed by your raw prophetic word. I’m not sure I’m ready to own your assessment completely. I think there is a legitimate place for pushing back against unhealthy tendencies in Christian culture. But it’s helpful to know that what I perceive as “vulnerable” can come across as “whining.” I do think that learning how to love what I think of as being average is my challenge.

  6. Well, in my tiny little universe, you are more famous than Mr. Acuff. I’d never heard of him before reading this post.

    • Thanks for being in my tiny little universe, John, especially when you write things that rub me the wrong way because God usually uses that as an opportunity to teach me even when I blurt out something snarky before I’ve thought about it long enough. I imagine that there’s a lot of other younger pastors like me who are blessed by your faithfulness to thinking Wesleyan. I just need to unlearn the world’s definition of what counts as awesome and embrace the communities and conversations that God has given me to be a part of.

  7. I absolutely love this. Your blogs give voice to the thoughts I have but can’t seem to put in words. Don’t worry about your genius complex when u see things that dont appear Christ centered you’ve shown complexity to your personality where you’re far from shallow imo. I think its our duty as brothers and sisters of Christ to encourage each other. To tell the Morgan Guytons to “preach on”, “keep writing”, etc.

    What u described above is the leading style of the Gospel that’s pervasive in the Black Church. We’ve always dreamed of a promise land and crossing Jordan, but that type of theology was always tied to community. It was a blessed hope that we would boast about. Now I don’t see a difference between the Gospel we preach and an career advice offered by Oprah or Tony Robbins. The “dream” wasn’t measured by the actualization of our career aspirations or our relevance the “dream” was the recognition of God’s hand in human history.

    • “The “dream” wasn’t measured by the actualization of our career aspirations or our relevance the “dream” was the recognition of God’s hand in human history.” Yes!

  8. Morgan, are you familiar with “Glory to God for All Things” blog by Father Stephen? I was reading his most recent WP submission (“Contridiction and Paradox”) moments before reading your comments. What played over and over in my head was the phrase, “Above all, are you prepared to accept all things as from God?”. Further down it asks, “Are you prepared,whatever happens, to believe that somewhere, somehow, it must make sense?”. Dont over think it, just ponder.
    You —me—don’t get to judge Acuff (and others) for their brand of Christianity or intentions on Jesus’ coattails, or be jealous of their success because of a perception that their message is given and received differently than yours (or is /maybe/ perhaps disingenuous, at the very least?). Are we prepared to accept that God is allowing us (encouraging us, perhaps, through our successes) to preach/promote “differently”… for a reason?
    I continue to read and enjoy your blogs—please dont hate me—because you are, indeed, a genius at making me feel uncomfortable (lazy) by my lack of credible Biblical interpretation, by which true and honest discernment is possible. I continue to learn from you, even though I may not always agree with you. Over time, I am beginning to understand (most times) where you are coming from. God demands greatness from those who He has given much. His definition of “much”, not ours. In some circles, greatness might even be called “awesome”.
    However, for whatever reason Acuff was a rock in your shoe today, please know that you are —more often than not — a pebble in mine, and I sincerely thank you for it!

    • Yeah I’ve got Father Stephen in my blog roll. I need to check out more of his stuff. That’s the real battle: “to accept all things as from God” and rebuke what the world tells me I’m supposed to care about. It really feels like digging out a deep splinter. I just want to come to a place where I can accept my vocation with joy untainted by the narcissism that I hate so much about myself. He keeps chiseling and I thank Him for it.

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