Jimmy Carter has been an enigma for many since he first ran for and won the office of President of the United States in 1976. During the campaign, he announced that he was a born again Baptist Sunday School teacher and sold himself to the public as an “honest man,” a supposedly refreshing change from the tainted Nixon administration of the Watergate era. There was the feeling that someone who for all intents and purposes was untainted by long term connections to governmental bureaucracy and who publicly came across as a fervently religious man was just what we needed. Little did we know then the depths of ineptitude that could be hidden behind a toothy grin and a façade of virtuous religiosity! Under Carter we had double digit interest rates, gas shortages featuring long lines at the pump, a deep recession and an interminable hostage crisis. His vacuous response to the hostage crisis was to tie yellow ribbons around trees until the hostages came home safely. The new Islamic leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, was somehow not impressed nor frightened by Carter’s yellow ribbon initiative and held the hostages captive for 444 days. This crisis gave birth to the ABC television show “Nightline,” which opened every night with the ominous words – “America Held Hostage Day ___” to update the nation on the status of the hostages. No doubt the hostages would still be languishing in Tehran if Carter had been appointed “king for life” instead of being elected (mercifully!) for only one term as President. What all the yellow ribbons and attendant hand wringing were unable to accomplish, the election of Ronald Reagan did. Shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected President the hostages were released. Underneath all that unctuous sanctimony, Jimmy Carter may very well be a “nice man,” but he doesn’t possess anything resembling leadership skills. In other words, he certainly isn’t a person who immediately comes to mind as a candidate to teach at a “leadership conference.” However, he is one of the speakers at the 2007 Willow Creek Leadership Summit Lead Where You Are. Since Jimmy Carter is so obviously “leadership challenged” on so many levels, perhaps Willow Creek is looking to him as someone who is a sound biblically-based Christian celebrity. After all, we find ourselves in, as Dr. Ergun Caner points out, the Transmodern age where celebrity speaks for culture. Sadly, although former President Carter may be a celebrity in certain circles, he is not by any stretch of the imagination “biblically-based” and doesn’t appear to know what a Christian is, and what differentiates a Christian from a non-Christian. He has asserted that Mormons are Christians and that Mormons should be considered part of the Christian community rather than a cult.
Charitably we could opine that perhaps, like many Evangelical Christians, he is just unaware of what Mormonism teaches. After all, everyone can’t know everything and as I have pointed out in previous articles, George Barna has shown that 91% of Evangelicals do not have a biblical worldview. As we look at Carter’s personal beliefs about biblical teaching we discover Carter Challenging Baptists On Conversions, Says Rabbi . Carter argues that “Judaism as a legitimate path to God.”
Even in his 80s, Carter still teaches his Sunday School class but one wonders what in the world he might be teaching. Can he truly be as biblically ignorant as his views indicate? Is he saying that “all paths lead to God” or at the very least that there are many legitimate paths to God? When Jesus said “”I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” was Jesus simply wrong? Did Jesus not realize that there are a number of valid paths to God? Didn’t Jesus understand, as Mormonism teaches, that the attainment of godhood through a gospel of works (as the Father and all other gods before Him did) is a legitimate and acceptable road to God? Does Jimmy Carter view the Scriptures as inspired or just inspiring? More importantly, should evangelical church leaders sit under such a dubious “Christian” teacher at an evangelical leadership conference? Should we therefore eliminate Matthew 7:15-23; Acts 20:28-30; 1 & 2 Timothy from the Scriptures? After all these passages are pretty harsh on what Jesus and Paul considered false teaching and false teachers.
A friend recently sent me links to Willow Creek’s current series Unleashed: The Power of Multiplied Impact . In the opening talk of the same title Unleashed: The Power of Multiplied Impact Bill Hybels points out that many who attend WCCC desire “deeper” biblical teaching than most of what is currently offered at Willow Creek. He also lets those in attendance know that WCCC will be teaching the flock to be “self-feeders.” He didn’t clarify what “deeper” means nor what the “self-feeders” would be feeding on but was clear that this is a change of direction for Willow Creek Community Church.
The message Unleashed to Grow given this week by Gene Appel mentions that they are beginning biblical literacy classes for 150 of Willow’s future small group leaders. This strikes me as being a positive development, but seems out of step with Willow Creek’s own leadership conference. On the one hand, Willow Creek is having Jimmy Carter, who doesn’t seem to have discernable leadership skills or working knowledge of the essentials of biblical teaching, at a conference training pastors. On the other hand, Bill Hybels and Gene Appel are saying that Willow Creek is moving in the direction of training their leaders in biblical literacy. A number of questions arise at this point. If these 150 people become biblically literate, will they not realize that Mormonism isn’t Christian? Will they notice that Judaism isn’t an alternate and acceptable path to God? I am not sure. There was a time that Willow Creek understood and communicated the gospel and the exclusivity of Christ’s claims. Is the leadership of Willow Creek returning to the Scriptures as the basis of belief? I don’t know, but do pray for them. A good place to begin, it seems to me, is to bring speakers in for the leadership summit who believe the Scriptures and can articulate a biblical worldview in an increasingly pagan culture and paganized church. “Defend the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” or so says Jude 3. That of course would mean keeping false teachers out of the pulpit. Is that the direction Willow is heading? Time will tell.