The Problem of Donald Miller…at Willow Creek

The Storyline Conference of 2014 was held at Willow Creek Community Church. I attended the conference for one reason only: to see how Donald Miller relates to an audience of his tribe compared to a critical audience. I was disappointed, and surprised, to observe Don reflect arrogance toward and among his own tribal fans.

I had heard Don speak before, read some of his articles, and knew enough about him to know what a problem he is for the church and for the countless Millennials who follow him as their model for success from a story of rags to riches and fame.

I am deeply disappointed that he returns to Willow this week (November 5-7, 2015) for a second Storyline Conference and also that Millennials continue to flock to him all the while the problem of Donald Miller continues to grow.

The Voice – Arrogance, Scripture Distortion, Subordinationism & Idolatry

Arrogance is not only the behavior of someone acting or believing he is smarter than he really is, or believing he is better than others. Christians have been desensitized to these reduced definitions of arrogance and easily brush them aside, as when they ignored the arrogance of Mark Driscoll. John Ortberg said it best, “When did arrogance cease to be immoral?”

The source of arrogance is very serious, it is found in idolatry. And that source is visible in Don’s theology. Below I present the details.

Most of us are familiar with the words in Matthew 28:18-20. These are the words of Jesus where he tells us of his authority and from that authority he proceeds to give the Great Commission to his followers.

18 … “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)

Donald Miller is a contributor of the New Testament translation The Voice. Notice the difference in this translation.

18…”I am here speaking with all the authority of God, who has commanded Me to give you this commission19 Go out and make disciples in all the nations. Ceremonially wash them through baptism in the name of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 20 Then disciple them. Form them in the practices and postures that I have taught you, and show them how to follow the commands I have laid down for you. And I will be with you, day after day, to the end of the age.” (The Voice)

The Voice‘s Preface page defines the italic type as:

“words not directly tied to the dynamic translation of the original language. These words bring out the nuance of the original, assist in completing ideas, and often provide readers with information that would have been obvious to the original audience. These additions are meant to help the modern reader better understand the text without having to stop and read footnotes or a study guide.”

The Voice manipulates scripture and injects interpretation into its translation, which is a strict prohibition in the practice of faithful bible translation. Faithful bible translators avoid interjecting interpretation into the translation in order to provide the readers the opportunity to make the interpretations themselves. The excuse provided by The Voice for such biblical distortion is for the reader to “better understand the text.”

In addition to Donald Miller, other contributors to the voice include, Tremper Longman, Brian McLaren, Chuck Smith, Jr., Phyllis Tickle, among others. McLaren and Tickle are part of the Emergent movement. Smith is the son of Church Smith, Sr. who founded Calvary Chapel, which is a patriarchal denomination. Tremper Longman is professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. Longman at times partners with Dan Allender on writing and teaching projects, including co-teach the Intimate Mystery seminar, which is a patriarchal and gender-essentialist marriage seminar. When Allender taught this seminar at Willow Creek in January of 2012, one of many patriarchalists statement that Allender made was that “a man reveals more of the strength and righteousness of the heart of God than a woman.” Allender’s marriage resources are promoted at Willow Creek.

What is the biblical and theological distortion The Voice makes?

The Voice completely changes who Jesus is. In The Voice, Jesus is no longer one who has authority and who commands his disciples. Instead, God is the one who commandeers Jesus, and Jesus only teaches and shows his disciples. This distortion reflects the heresy of Subordinationism, which makes Jesus subordinate to the Father in eternity. The Voice also presents Jesus as one who holds no authority at all and is only a non-authoritative messenger from God.

To summarize, The Voice purposely makes a distorted translation and deviates from the original text in order to debase Jesus from his position of having all authority and turn him into someone who has no authority and is commandeered by the Father.

One need not be a biblical scholar to recognize the mistranslation that The Voice makes. Below is the text from Green’s The Interlinear Bible (2nd edition, 1986). The Greek text is omitted, only the English words are written for the pertinent section:

18…”was given me all authority in Heaven and upon earth…”

The original Greek and the NIV translation reflect Jesus having all authority in Heaven and on earth. An area of debate and misinterpretation from Subordinationists is in regards to the word “given”. I won’t address that subject in this article. The focus in this article is to show how The Voice demotes Jesus and strips him of all authority in Heaven and on earth by how it distorts the original scriptural text.

Humans have been in the practice of trying to demote Jesus from his position of having all authority since the days of Jesus. The chief priests and religious leaders of his day denied Jesus and his authority. Today, Subordinationists continue those efforts to demote Jesus. Additionally, there is a movement among the young-er generation (Millennials, Postmodern-ists, emerging, Emergent, etc. In an effort to not offend any particular group I will use the term “young-er”. No offence intended to the young-er generation, either.) to demote Jesus from all his authority. Don and The Voice are part of this young-er generation that deny the authority of Jesus.

The Voice is influenced by patriarchalists and gender-essentialists, which provides an explanation to the biblical distortion and injection of Subordinationism in its translation, they have manipulated scripture before. Subordinationism is birthed out of patriarchalism, but not all patriarchalists are subordinationists. I have written before about the [possible] infiltration of Subordinationism into Willow Creek. In that article I list the originators, promoters, and adherents of the heresy of Subordinationism including John Piper, Wayne Grudem, The Gospel Coalition, Southern Baptists and others. Many are affiliated with New Calvinism. New Calvinists do not embrace Donald Miller and his tribe (emerging/Emergent/Postmodern-ist/etc.) However, Subordinationism has managed to infiltrate into this tribe. The link is patriarchy. Patriarchy and Subordinationism exist in both tribes.

What do they do with this authority that they have stripped off from Jesus?

Don and his tribal members don’t necessarily give it to God, they take it for themselves. (New Calvinist do the same but we’re back to addressing Don and his tribe.) That’s what the chief priests and religious leaders did to Jesus. They wanted to keep authority to themselves and not have to submit to Jesus, that is why they denied him and set out to kill him. Similarly today with Subordinationists and some groups from the young-er generation.

Don gave a talk at The Justice Conference 2014. During the talk he said that “God” has given him “agency”, “the authority to do incredible things.” (time 17:40). Don, as a contributor to The Voice, denies Jesus having all authority—actually, having no authority, at all—and at the same time sees himself as the recipient of God’s authority. A few words and ideas come to mind: Chief priests, heresy, blasphemy, arrogance, denial of Jesus, Lucifer falling from grace…idolatry.

The context in which Don made the statement was that in knowing that he has God’s authority Don saw value in himself. So, he strips Jesus of his authority so he may feel better about himself. Also, so that men may feel better about themselves, since patriarchalists deny authority to women. Centralizing power on the men now has a psychotherapy excuse: to make men feel better about themselves. This is consistent with the patriarchalist viewpoints that men lead and women are the supportive assistants, that women step down so that men may step up, that women incessantly praise their men, privately and publicly…so the men may feel better about themselves.

The type of Subordinationism that Don ascribes to, based on the details presented above, is structured different than Papal authority. Roman Catholics are not Subordinationists, they recognize the full, “all”, authority of Jesus. Their error is to take the full authority of Jesus, which belongs to Jesus and only to Jesus, and place it upon the Pope and then have that authority trickle down the pyramid of patriarchal [male] leadership structure in the Roman Catholic Church. In contrast, Don and his Subordinationist comrades deny Jesus having full authority and at the same time they take on for themselves that authority.

Don has had ties to patriarchalists and Subordinationists, such as Focus on the Family, John Eldredge, and Dan Allender…to name a few aside from his colleagues from The Voice. Don met John Eldredge while they both worked for Focus on the Family. Don grew up without a father and made John his mentor and father-figure. John is the author of the book Wild at Heart, a patriarchal and gender-essentialist portrayal of the sexes that is degrading to women and girls. The patriarchal and Subordinationist elements in Don’s articles and speeches reflect his influencers, more on that further below.

Don has stated he is not an auditory learner, that he is not the type to sit down and listed to a sermon, that he is the type who learns by doing. That was his excuse for not attending a [traditional] church service.

Additionally, Don shows disdain toward academia and [biblical] scholars. In the article, Who Should Lead the Church? , published by Relevant Magazine, Don reduces scholars as the culprits for divisions in the church.

Don has set himself up to create a Christian faith as he goes. His main influencers are patriarchalists and Subordinationists. And, he has a list of excuses—which keeps getting longer—as to why he can’t listen or learn from others, including preachers and biblical scholars.

Patriarchy, Gender-Essentialism & The Defenders

In August of 2011, Don wrote two articles, one for the “girls” and one for the “guys” in typical Wild at Heart philosophy he learned from his mentor and father-figure, John Eldredge. The gender-essentialism degrading to women brought heat to Don, even from his friend Rachel Held Evans (RHE). Don offered a non-apology, which included excuses, and he took down the posts from his blog. Below are the links to the articles located on a different website:

How to live a Great Love Story, Vol 1 (For the Girls)

How to Live a Great Love Story Vol. II (For the Guys)

The Defenders

One of Don’s defenses was that he doesn’t believe that women should not lead. Yet, that is exactly what his posts reflect, that women [should] not lead. That teaching is consistent with the gender-essentialist philosophy of his patriarchal and Subordinationist influencers: that men lead and women respond (Eldredge). Patriarchalists believe women may lead other women and children, but not other men. When Don states that he doesn’t believe that women should not lead, that doesn’t mean that he believes that a woman may lead men—that is staunchly prohibited among patriarchalists, specifically in the spiritual sense, however they define spiritual sense, which varies among patriarchalists. From other sources, the way Don relates to his female and male colleagues and to his wife, based on the stories he tells, reflect the philosophy that men lead and women respond to the leadership of men, never the other way around. Unfortunately, his defenders prefer to believe his defenses and excuses above what Don is actually saying and reflecting.

RHE got Don off the hook too easily. Earlier this year, Tony Jones, another member of their tribe, made the news for spousal abuse and adultery. RHE remained silent about the matter and supported Tony. She received criticism as a hypocrite for not addressing patriarchy in Tony Jones’ case. RHE has removed her post supporting Tony but the post is still available on the internet. Twice already RHE has shown that she is lenient or prefers to look the other way when it comes to holding someone accountable in her own tribe.

Don has many defenders. When Don defended himself with excuses for not attending church, he stated, “most of the influential Christian leaders I know (who are not pastors) do not attend church.” A defender came to Don’s rescue via Scot McKnight with a blog on how difficult it is for famous people to attend church. Scot McKnight has in the past defended or remained silent in critiquing members of this tribe (Millennials, Postmodern-ists, emerging, Emergent, etc. …young-er generation). According to this defender via Scott, the difficulty of Don attending church is due to his celebrity status. Like I stated earlier, the list of excuses is getting longer and Don’s friends are helping add excuses to the list.

Bob Goff is another defender.

Don received heat for his uneven labeling between “girls” and “guys.” The term “girl” is a degrading term used against women and young adult females, sometimes it is used deceptively as a term of endearment. The men and young adult males are never referred to as “boys”. That would be too degrading, so they are referred to as “guys”. This uneven and degrading way to refer to women as “girls” was being practiced at Willow from the stage. Steve Carter, Willow’s Teaching Pastor, gave a highly disrespectful and degrading teaching on Miriam, portraying her as a dancing cheerleader and referred to her [dancing worship] accomplishments with, “and she was just a girl!”

Scripture refers to Miriam as “the prophet” and as one of the three leaders of Israel along with her brothers Aaron, “the priest”, and Moses. The name Miriam means “prophetess”, and if memory serves me, she is the first person in Israelite history and in the Old Testament to be referred to as “prophet”. Miriam is the predecessor for the tradition of prophets in the same way that Aaron is the predecessor for the tradition of priests in the newly formed nation of Israel (Old Testament history). Yet, Steve presented Miriam as a dancing cheerleader. Steve’s degradation and patronizing of Miriam’s leadership could not be more obvious. Eventually, Steve gave a corrective teaching on Miriam.

From that and other “girl” uses at Willow, a complaint was raised for the use of “girl” by the senior leaders at Willow. Subsequently, the term was prohibited from all of Willow’s public platforms. The patriarchal men at Willow responded to the prohibition of the use of the word “girl” for adult women by publicly referring to their wives as “girl”—within a term of endearment—on their social media pages. As if a gender degrading label is acceptable if used within a term of endearment.

Steve Carter, an elder, a few worship leaders, other senior leaders, and a few staff members took to social media to refer to their wives as “girl”. Their public and personal display against (a.k.a. rebellion) the “girl” prohibition at Willow r2 ojAigolftantrumeflects their level of immaturity and resistance to Willow’s efforts to rid Willow of patriarchal degradation of women. By the way, Steve Carter’s wife refers to him publicly as “guy”, while he refers to her as “girl”; that speaks volumes about their marital imbalance in stature. Such are many, not all, of our male leaders at Willow…the patriarchal ones.

1 - tantrum finger with roseCredit photo above: youoffendmeyouoffendmyfamily.com

Credit photo side: freerepublic.com

The child’s flipped middle finger has been covered up by a red rose.

When Bob Goff came to Willow (4.19.2015) and to The Justice Conference (June 2015) earlier this year, he took the opportunity to support his patriarchal friends. In solidarity with them, Bob referred to his wife as “girl” (something he does often on social media) and to scold the women in the audience publicly. He didn’t scold the men publicly, that would be disrespectful toward the men. Bob practiced a typical patriarchal double standard of respect: men are to be respected, women…not really. Bob has defended Don specifically in other forums. Bob’s message from 4.19.15 at Willow is no longer available, Willow took it down. Thank you, Willow.

Racism, Donald Trump & Lack of Integrity

Don has been trying to infiltrate Willow for some time; he has fans at Willow. He’s given one or two talks at Willow and the Storyline Conference is taking place at Willow for the second year in a row. A few years ago Don went to Israel to learn about the peacemaking process that Willow is in engaged in. Following that trip in the summer of 2012, Don wrote a piece on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The article redirects the conversation away from a religious conflict to a racial conflict. “I would not say religious differences are the problem as much as many from each side seeing the other as beneath them in human value.” Unfortunately, the lessons he learned about the damages resulting from racism have been forgotten.

Don recently tried to give an objective opinion on Donald Trump’s “clear message” for his campaign for U.S. President. The only unreasonable aspect in Trump’s message that Don pointed out was Trump’s desire to deport millions of undocumented residents. Even though Don mentioned that clarifying a complicated idea should be done with “integrity”, he never once addressed Trump’s reductionist, enemy-creating, goat-scaping of Mexican immigrants when calling them drug dealers and rapists. Don was perplexed as to why Trump showed leniency toward Russia and noted Trump’s harshness toward China. Don is clearly not using the racial lens when analyzing Trump’s positions, if he even has that lens in his critical-thinking tool-box. Maybe he used the racial lens only once when writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the purpose of impressing Willow.

Not calling out crucial information in what seems to be an objective analysis not only lacks integrity but is also deceptive. At the end of the video Don states that he would vote for Trump. That statement clarifies the omission of crucial information and errors in Trump’s ‘clear message’ and confirms that Don’s analysis of Trump’s ‘clear message’ is not objective. I have no choice but to interpret Don’s silence as concurrence with Trump’s racist views toward undocumented residents. Don teaches storytelling with his own version of ‘integrity’ to others, and he does so at Willow Creek. That’s what the Storyline Conference is set up to do this week.

I have mentioned before that I have been impressed by [the founders of Willow Creek] Bill and Lynne Hybels’ position for a compassionate and just resolution regarding undocumented residents. Their position does not include reducing undocumented residents to drug dealers and rapists. Nor does it include pinning the country against a select group by making that select group the enemy of our nation’s success. Hitler did that, and we all know what happened to millions of Jews, disabled, and anybody else Hitler didn’t like. Don has already revealed himself as an enemy-making polarizer within the church, when he reduced scholars as the culprits for the divisions of the church.

Final Thoughts

With the abundance of defenders and excuses to keep Don as a leader in this camp, the young-er generation is communicating to us their desperation over the lack of role-models with integrity. Must we wait for Don to commit plagiarism for us to come to grips with the problem of Donald Miller? (Despite Mark Driscoll’s biblical distortions, character flaws and sexual perversions, plagiarism is what finally gave people the wake-up call for the problem of Mark Driscoll.)

I won’t be attending the Storyline conference this week at Willow. If you attend, feel free to let us know if anything in this article is addressed. Frankly, I’ve had enough of Don’s defenders and excuses.

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