Since the initial publication of The Elephant’s Debt on 7 October 2012, there have been a number of significant developments in the ongoing story of Harvest Bible Chapel. At the time of this writing, HBC has yet to address how it spent $90 million on a build out, leaving the church straddled with a massive debt crisis that almost bankrupted it. Furthermore, it has yet to publicly acknowledge that MacDonald’s compensation package is greater than $500,000 per year, saying only that it is in line with other pastors of large churches.
Instead, two months after the initial publication, what we see is another major church leader openly questioning MacDonald even as Harvest continues to endorse highly questionable theology, while releasing vague and even troubling “updates.”
Tim Challies Questions MacDonald’s Character:
Doubters and critics of this website have occasionally raised the question as to whether we have been fair in our interpretation of the facts presented on this website. Yet it should be noted that, to date, the underlying facts themselves have not been called into question.
Now, just this past week, Tim Challies, the Senior Pastor of Grace Fellowship Church and the auther of the second largest Christian blog on the internet, has raised similar concerns through his review MacDonald’s latest book Vertical Church. His review covered both strengths and weaknesses of the book; and we encourage you to read it in its entirety. Having said that, there are certain elements of the review that are pertinent to the concerns we have raised – elements that suggest that others are seeing what we see:
“And then there are times where he shows shockingly poor judgment in illustrating with his own life. At one point he writes about the role of prayer in saving his church from bankruptcy. He prayed to the Lord and then called a contractor whose work had been woefully substandard. “Sensing the Lord infusing [him] with still greater boldness” he told this man, “If you do not ship the remaining steel for free, we will close the construction project permanently, take the entire church into bankruptcy, and I will spend the rest of my life pursuing a legal remedy for all damages incurred by your company’s failure to perform. You have until tomorrow at five o’clock to give me your answer, but don’t call at 5:05, because there is a big part of me now hoping your answer is no.” This kind of personal intimidation does not at all stand as an example of the fruit of the Spirit or the character of a man called to be an elder!
A few paragraphs later Challies continues his critique.
“I simply can’t understand how MacDonald could pen a book like Vertical Church and ignore the appalling contradictions of T.D. Jakes, a man who holds an unorthodox understanding of the Trinity and who preaches the prosperity gospel in place of the true gospel … It boggles the mind … Vertical Church is a book with both strengths and weaknesses—very helpful strengths and very dangerous weaknesses. If you are looking for a method to follow, I would certainly not recommend it for that purpose.”
While some people at Harvest have openly wondered whether these authors have been unfair or unduly biased, these allegations do not appear to fit a man such as Challies, who has no known history of attending Harvest Bible Chapel. Rather, his review of Vertical Church suggests that others are also openly questioning MacDonald’s character and whether he is living up to the biblical qualifications for eldership.
While some may feel that Challies is raising concerns about an issue of character that James appears to have dealt with in a sermon on November 17-18, subsequent statements made from the pulpit suggest there are reasons to believe that these issues are not resolved, but rather, are now coming out in his public preaching as well.
MacDonald Preaches an Errant Theology of Money:
On December 2nd, 2012, James MacDonald preached a message from John 6:1-16 entitled “Every Day With Jesus.” In this message, MacDonald used John’s recording of the feeding of the 5000 to argue that this particular provision of abundance should be abstracted into a universal and normative expectation for how God will provide in each of our lives. At the heart of this sermon is a theology of money that is barely distinguishable from the prosperity gospel (discussed in detail here). Moreover, his treatment of this passage frighteningly distorts the biblical text to make this argument. As bad as this message is theologically, what is most disturbing are his closing statements. At the 50 minute mark in the sermon, MacDonald begins to explain how Christians in their 20s should expect a life of financial struggle, in which they occasionally have to share a single cheeseburger with a loved one. He proceeds to argue that, under normal circumstances, people in their 30s and 40s should not be living a life of financial struggle:
“If you’re still living like that in your 30s though, I hope that gets over for you soon. And if you’re still living like that in your 40s, somethings wrong. Somethings wrong. You say, ‘Darn right something’s wrong. We had to cash our life savings for our child’s health crisis.’ Okay, alright, well if there’s a major struggle – ‘I got run out the door of a company that I gave 30 years of my life to.’ – Okay, okay, alright. Sometimes a circumstance will make it such that you’re doing that half-a-cheeseburger thing even in your 50s, maybe. But apart from that circumstance it is not normal, it is not God’s heart, that you would still be on the barely-getting-by later in life … If that’s the life you are living, that is not biblical. That is not right. That is not what God has for you. Something is wrong. Something has just got to get fixed there.”
This quote captures a moment where errant theology and a character lacking in gentleness and peacefulness collide in full view of the public. Stop and think about what MacDonald has just said. When the better part of the Christian Church lives south of the equator, in abject poverty, how can MacDonald face his congregation and honestly suggest that there is something wrong with them. Additionally, how can a pastor filled with grace and humility preach to 13,000 members of his congregation – most of whom he has not seen face-to-face – a message that essentially condemns many of them without knowing their name, their circumstance or their heart?
Beyond the sermon’s questionable theology and lack of empathy, there lie questions of logical coherence. If it is true that God has a universal principle of abundance for his faithful followers, why did the early church in Acts have to share all things in common with those that had little to nothing? Why did the Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians have to take up an offering for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem? Where was the God of abundant finances then?
Lastly, if God wants His people to know material abundance as a normative lifestyle, then why would temporal, finite circumstances such as the loss of a job, the decline of child’s health, or merely being in one’s 20s upset this vision? Can the omnipotent Creator of all things not overcome these circumstances?
Harvest Releases and then Deletes an Update:
Lastly, there was an elders update on the HBC website this past weekend; and it was taken down just twelve hours after it initially appeared. In it, the elders reported that James had exercised humility and grace during his attempts to reconcile with former elders and staff members, especially with those individuals that had caused him offense. Upon reading this portion of the statement we immediately wondered what Joe Stowell, Sr., Joe Stowell IV, Ron Allchin, Dave Corning, Sam Jindoyan, or the other reputable men listed on “The Void” could have done to cause MacDonald such distress that his elders felt it appropriate to mention it publicly. The members of HBC should be aware of this public statement and its full contents, and they should inquire of their elders as to the reasons for deleting it from the website.