If you’re on any sort of social media, then it’s possible that this last week you saw 1 (or 20) posts, comments, links, and/or articles relating to Michael and Lisa Gungor, their band, and how they’ve denied the faith or something. This is a funny subject because it’s not strictly about worship. Most of Gungor’s songs don’t translate to the average church (you try doing Beautiful Things and see how that works out for ‘ya 😉 ). But I think it’s worth talking about for a few reasons.
First and foremost, I’ve been annoyed about the whole thing and it’ll be cathartic to get this off my chest. Secondly, because there’s just been a lot of silliness written about it in the last few weeks and I’d like to write something that gets past the rhetoric. Lastly, as worship leaders, we should know where our songs come from, who writes them, and how we should interact with churches who don’t line up with the style and shape of our own.
NOTE: Michael Gungor (MG) really is representative of his family, band and church. So there may be parts of this post where I’m not just talking about him specifically, but you’ll just have to let the context tell you when that is.
LETS ACKNOWLEDGE SOME THINGS
First off. I like some of MG’s music. Not all of it, but the I Am Mountain record is pretty darn good. I’ve also heard him interviewed and I think he’s probably a pretty good guy who loves his wife and child and does his best to be a good husband, father and human being. He’s also comes off as smart and well read. So to be clear, I don’t hate him, and would probably enjoy a conversation with him.
Second. Let’s differentiate between the noise and the voices. I have yet to read a single blog post, critical of MG’s positions on the issues that have questioned his salvation. I’m sure they are out there, and for sure there have been posters to the comments section and trolls on social media that have made those assertions, but no credible or responsible blogger, and no blog I’ve seen posted to Facebook or retweeted on Twitter has made claims to MG’s eternal destiny. They have claimed or suggested that he’s outside the range of orthodoxy or that he’s gone off the reservation on certain moral or biblical issues. But not that he’s damned to hell. The voice of criticism or critique is different than the noise of the mob.
Third. The Evangelical community should be as quick to jump on fundamentalists who act wrongly towards their brother in Christ (MG) as they are to criticize MG over his theological positions. We should also be very uncomfortable with the articles that started all of this. For example, the one in World Magazine. It was a hit piece, designed to throw red meat to fundamentalist christians and up the Magazine’s readership and website hits. Nothing mentioned in those articles was new. They went and dug up old stuff to make a controversy. That kind of tabloid journalism shouldn’t exist in the body of Christ.
Fourth. I think the Evangelical community is well within their rights to call out MG and others if (IF) their views are unbiblical or outside the limits of traditional orthodoxy.
So with that out of the way, let’s talk about all things Michael Gungor.
YOU SHOULDN’T BE SURPRISED… AND NEITHER SHOULD THEY
Anyone who has read blog posts, interviews, etc from Michael Gungor will know that he is not shy about expressing himself. So no one who’s been paying attention should be surprised that Gungor said what he said or believes what he does. It was a “how did you not see that coming?” moment. Michael Gungor, his wife Lisa, their band, and the church they planted in Denver are not evangelical fundamentalists. They never claimed to be fundamentalists (or at least have not for a long time). They may not even be evangelical. They either flow in the stream of straight progressive (
liberal) christianity or possibly progressive evangelicals, but its really not worth arguing over it.
What matters is that nothing he’s written or said recently about the book of Genesis is out of line or off from the trajectory he’s been on for a very long time. This is who he’s always been and what he’s always said. In the blog I linked to up above, MG talks about a Baptist church that canceled an upcoming show. My thought is: HEY BAPTIST CHURCH! You didn’t know what you were getting? You didn’t research? Really? That’s on you man and not MG, and I hope they don’t totally stiff him on the money they promised, cause the band’s gotta eat and pay bills.
BUT. While no one should be surprised about the beliefs held by Michael Gungor, neither should MG be surprised by the reaction of evangelical christians. When he’s written about the conservative wing of the church (which would include fundamentalists, evangelicals, and conservatives both political and theological) he’s been at times antagonistic and (ironically) painted with a broad brush. He was looking to make his point without pulling any punches. I can admire that. I actually think I’d enjoy having a meal with him. But he shouldn’t be surprised when he bites the hand that feeds and the hand bites back. MG has frequently been disparaging of the fundamentalist church, but had no problem taking their money or building his career in their churches.
GUNGOR HASN’T DEPARTED THE FAITH
Going on MG’s own words:
“Do I believe God exists? Yes.
Do I believe Jesus is the Son of God? Yes.
Do I believe that Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness? Yes.”
Based on MG’s own words I would call him my brother. In the basic core of our faith we seem to have agreement. But there are troubling signs.
In addition to leading worship and writing a blog about it, I’m also a Pastor. I’ve been doing this pastor/ministry thing long enough to have seen just about everything. The path MG seems to be going down is sadly familiar. Judgmental doubt has repeatedly lead professing christians into unbelief, or into a belief structure that is so far removed from the Word of God as to be unrecognizable.
I don’t believe that MG has left the faith because he doesn’t believe in a literal 6 day creation. Personally, I would confess my own struggles and doubts about the book of Genesis. I firmly believe in a literal Adam and Eve (so did Jesus… see Matthew 19) and I have no trouble believing that Jesus created the world in 6 days. But the story of Noah is one that has been troubling to me for a while. It’s a story that has repeatedly caused me to bring my doubts and questions before the Lord. So as a Young Earth Creationist, I have great sympathy for where MG is at.
Forget the book of Genesis for a moment and think about Martin Luther. There is NOBODY who has any credibility that claims Luther was anything less than a christian, yet he would have preferred the book of James wasn’t in the Bible. It didn’t fit his world view so he ignored them or trivialized it. Yet he hasn’t been accused of leaving the faith. I think both Luther and MG were dead wrong, but not outside the fold.
THERE IS ROOM FOR DOUBT, BUT THAT’S NOT MICHAEL’S PROBLEM
There’s a great song by a band called The Lost Dogs called “No Room For Us“. It’s a haunting and beautiful song and paints the picture of balance between our doubts and our faith. Between the reality of what we don’t know and the reality of WHO we do know. It’s long been a personal favorite of mine.
“If there’s no room for doubt now, there’s no room for us” the song says. I agree. If there is no room for doubt in our lives then there is no room for any of us in the church. We all have doubts. We all have struggles. All of us have things about God that are easier for us to accept, and things that are harder to grab a hold of. But doubt is not MG’s problem… it’s belief.
Michael Gungor isn’t just another guy. He’s a church planter. He’s a pastor/elder. Does that mean he can’t have doubts? Not at all. But as a pastor/elder and a celebrated musician he has a platform. When I work through my doubts, I do so without shame and with honesty, but I’m also aware that I don’t need to dump my issues on everyone else. Imagine that I had mud on my boots and I was using a hose to wash them off. I’d be kind of a jerk if I wasn’t careful about how I sprayed the water and I got other people around me wet and dirty while I was trying to deal with my own issues. But as I said, it’s not doubt that MG is spraying, it’s belief.
HE BELIEVES THE FUNDAMENTALIST EVANGELICALS ARE UNTHINKING…
…and he promotes or teaches this belief on his blog. Now, to be sure, far too many fundamentalist christians are unthinking. It annoys me greatly that this is the case. But far too many fundamentalist progressive (
liberal) christians are unthinking. When you get to the extremes of either side they start to look a lot a like. But when you read MG’s writings on Genesis, he’s the smart one (science) and we’re the people stuck in the past (anti-science), when he has to know perfectly well that there are many, many pro-science, intellectual, non-fundamentalist evangelicals that also believe in a literal Genesis.
Now to be fair, if he were to somehow read my blog, I’m sure he’d agree with me and conceded the point, but he chooses not to concede the point in blog posts and interviews.
HE BELIEVES IN FALSE DICHOTOMIES
After examining multiple interviews, blog posts and podcasts, I’ve come to the conclusion that MG and the tribe of progressive Christians he runs with believe in a false Dichotomy. The basic idea of it summed up like this: Christianity is all about Jesus but for American evangelicals it’s all about the Bible. The implication is that if you have a high regard for the Bible as the word of God you love Jesus less, and if you love Jesus more, the stuff in the Bible that seems unloving needs to be put aside.
While there are surely many Christians who have been guilty of reading the Bible and missing Jesus, to broad brush this group as all of the Evangelical American church is a bit much. Additionally, it’s my love for Jesus, who is the word made flesh, that points me towards the scripture. There are plenty of things in the Bible I wish weren’t there, but because Jesus died I seek to have my thoughts changed and not the Bible’s words to fit me.
HE BELIEVES IN A SELECTIVE GOSPEL
Michael Gungor went on record this last spring in criticizing and condemning World Vision for their reversal in policy; not allowing practicing Homosexuals to work in their ministry. He is openly pro-gay marriage. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of our sins by his death on the cross. Like the woman caught in adultery, we don’t condemn, we simply point to Jesus and say “go and sin no more.” But what the progressive church is doing in their compromise on moral issues is to say “that’s not sin, so follow Jesus and keep on doing what you’re doing.”
Again, Michael Gungor isn’t a guy struggling with doubts. He’s a leader in a tribe who believes some very specific things that have very specific implications. He’s a believer who preaches using “doubts” as a catalyst for proclaiming his beliefs.
YOU SHOULD KNOW WHERE WE ARE GOING
The reality is that more and more the Christian Music scene is made up of artists and bands who are at odds with their church fan base. Recently, in an interview from his jail cell, the singer for “christian” metal band As I Lay Dying said he figured 1 out of 10 christian bands they toured with were actually believers. More and more I believe the disconnect will grow. Some of it’s just human nature. The fundamentalist church will stifle creativity, and artists will flock to the progressive church for outlet. The non-fundamentalist evangelical church will probably split the difference. Additionally, I have some friends who have chosen the secular route over the Christian Scene, and in increasing numbers you’ll see a type of “Christian” artist who is willing to play the game.
I’m really encouraged to see how many churches are recording and releasing their own music. I tend to think the more grass roots and connected to the local church that our music is, the better. Am I going to delete Gungor off my iPad? Probably not, unless it somehow becomes an issue. If your church sings one of his songs should you stop? Again, probably not, unless it becomes an issue.
2 Timothy 4 comes to mind as a fitting way to end this post: