I Am Pastor Joseph - pic02Allow me to introduce myself. I am “Pastor Joseph.” At least that’s what a certain man that I’ll call Drake Matteo calls me in his recent blog. Funny, because everybody in my church just calls me Derek. You can call me Derek if you want. I’m a nobody for Jesus grinding away at a new church plant in a small town called Avon, NY. For years, I guess I gained some small esteem as a traveling worship leader and speaker (I still travel some), but had a collision with the grace of God in the early 2000’s when I walked through a dark wilderness of spiritual burnout, anxiety disorder, and depression. All that matters to me now is preaching the gospel of grace. The gospel of Christ’s apostles. The gospel they wrestled over and agreed on in Galatians 1:11-2:10. The gospel Drake Matteo apparently believes that they got wrong. Way wrong. If only he was there to help them.

I’m a busy man and careful to pick my battles these days. There’s certainly plenty of fodder on the internet warranting “speaking the truth in love” though I generally stay out of things now. I’m not sure how fruitful it is to try to solve theological mysteries in a Facebook thread. However, since Drake put me directly in his crosshairs with his recent blog “A Heretic’s Communion,” I thought I’d respond.

Grace has cost me severely. Some folks don’t like its implications. To believe in grace, one has to believe certain things. Dark, dangerous things like sin, death, and hell. Scandalous things like helplessness, the emptiness of human righteousness, and whores getting in while good, and even religious, people are left out. But to reference the Christian National Anthem—“Amazing Grace”—the grace ain’t amazing if the wretch ain’t a wretch.

I started getting texts from friends a few days ago telling me that I was the subject of another one of Drake’s indulgent blogs. If Drake was attempting to conceal who he was talking about, he didn’t do a very good job, especially since my middle name (and artist name for a season) is “Joseph.”

When I read the blog, my first response was, “Why in the name of General Zod is he talking about my nipples?” (Does anyone else think that’s super weird?)

My second response was, “Why is he drawing a picture of my nipples?”

My third response was, “I’m pretty sure this is about me but I don’t know that guy he’s talking about.” Burning Drake at the stake? Abused child? Militant father? He painted me and our interaction about his blog in such horrible colors, I almost didn’t even recognize myself. Of course, he’s the hero. I’m the villain. As a follower of Jesus, it’s not the first time I’ve been cast in that role, mind you. ;)

angry_preacher1You’d think based on his blog that I’m a suit-wearing fundamentalist with constantly furrowed brows and a 10-pound Bible under my arm. I suppose his pastel-picture depicting my toned chest in a V-neck shirt with protruding nipples clarified that. But one might think I live in a church steeple eating communion wafers and only come out to hunt heretics, armed with a bony pointing finger. Truth is, I spend 60% of my time these days with the unchurched. I get them. I know their struggles, their pain, and their questions. I’ve seen the gospel affect them, minister to them, eliminate their confusion about life.

Drake and I got together at a Tim Horton’s 8 months ago after he posted a blog titled “Why I Am Not a Christian.” In it, he explained how Jesus never meant to be followed, worshiped, or start a movement, and how the apostles screwed everything up after he left. In short, Jesus isn’t who he said he is, and the writings of the apostles are not inerrant, God-inspired Scripture. They are not to be trusted. Here’s some excerpts from his blog:

“Why I Am Not a Christian”
“But I don’t believe in Christianity. In any of its varied forms. And I don’t think Jesus would either. Christianity focuses on the person of Jesus, which I don’t believe he ever intended, and on the Bible, which I don’t believe he’d appreciate, and on the organized church, which I think would royally piss him off.”

“But Jesus never built a wall or wrote a creed or demanded that people call upon his name for the remission of sin. He simply came to change the rules. He was trying to make God accessible to all, and he pointed to God and God alone. He never pointed to himself. (Christian doctrine would lead you to believe just the opposite.) But his followers pointed to Jesus.”

“They [the apostles] never totally got it and neither will we. So the systems they set up, the organization and the definitions of sin and holiness… all of it is simultaneously wonderful (because again, they were buddies with Jesus) and hopelessly flawed.”

Drake claims that sometimes it’s good to be a heretic and that church history is full of heretics we now admire. I agree that among those who have been called heretics, there’s the good (Martin Luther), the bad (Pelagius), and the ugly (Gnostics). The difference is, are they leading us to or away from the truth of Scripture? Martin Luther was called a heretic, but evangelicals now adore him because he was leading people to the gospel of grace. Drake seems to be leading his hearers away from Scripture. He is no Martin Luther.

He may deny my interpretation of some of this, but what I’ve described above is his position as I understand it today. The truth is, those of us who hold to the Scriptures and the plain teachings of the apostles believe that Drake has abandoned the Christian faith and has deserted those of us who have dedicated our lives to following the biblical Jesus, to preaching the old-fashioned Christian gospel, and are willing to suffer whatever persecution may accompany those who believe such foolish things. As a matter of fact, Drake and many of his friends have joined the persecutors. I’m sure Drake would say he has faith, mind you, but it is most certainly not Christian faith. As much as I can discern from his writings and our conversations, he follows a different Jesus. I don’t mind somebody doubting (who hasn’t doubted?), but I don’t see a doubter. I see a persecutor and an evangelist of liberalism and universalism.

“For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” 2 Corinthians 11:4

I Am Pastor Joseph - pic01Before I continue, let me just say that, in spite of our disagreement, I like Drake. Always have. He’s a real nice guy. I really feel bad about what’s going on. As an aside, strange he noticed my chest, because I noticed his eyebrows. I assumed they were either buzzed or plucked. Well done, old friend.

Now this may be hard for him to believe, but my motivation in meeting with him was love. First, love for him: How unloving would I be if I considered him a friend and brother that might be losing his way in dangerous waters, and did nothing to reach out to rescue him? He may disagree with my theology, but I pray he doesn’t disagree with my motive. I’m hesitant to throw words like “heretic” or “false gospel” around, especially if it’s a friend. Love waits, asks questions, and offers grace by giving time to repent. I never warned him that I’d oppose him from my pulpit. I don’t use the pulpit like that. No offense intended, but he’s not that big a deal (and neither am I). Jesus is the only big deal in our pulpit. What I meant was that, when asked by mutual friends what I thought, I wanted to know what I ought to answer. I sought clarification. Did he still embrace orthodoxy? Was he just being controversial and creative but still holding to an evangelical confession? I told him that I would be public (meaning, wherever the question or conversation arose in public) about opposing him. I ended the meeting telling him I needed more time. I would withhold my personal conclusions until he answered a few questions I had. He never did answer all my questions, which is typical of non-committal emergent-types who find safety in vagueness. His first response was this blog almost 8 months later. Strange for a guy who claims to be so interested in relationship and conversation.

Second, my request to meet was motivated by love for those he’s influencing: Drake gained some influence through the ministry he once co-founded and led. He still has many eyes watching. He wants them to watch. He seems intoxicated by their attention. He’s trying to reach them, evidenced by the fact that he tagged over 50 of them in his blog about my nipples. I think Drake believes he’s helping them. I don’t doubt his sincerity. But sincerity still doesn’t equal truth. As the old adage goes, you can be sincerely wrong. And false gospels hurt people. That’s why I speak up. Lies kill. I know some of these people. I know the ministry he was connected to. They are dear people—dear to my heart and dear to Jesus.

When Drake sat across the table from me being evasive and confirming that he did not believe the Bible, I was frustrated. I was frustrated to see he’d chosen such a dark path. I was frustrated that he was leading others down that path, and that with a smile.

Here’s the real tragedy of what Drake believes. According to his last blog “A Heretic’s Communion,” after hanging out with some joint-smoking friends who believe radically different things about God, he “became open to the idea that God might exist beyond all boxes.” Based on his blogs and our conversation, what he must mean is that God might exist outside of the gospel of the apostles.

Let me remind you that the word “gospel” means “good news.” To reject the gospel is to reject good news. And there’s the tragedy. Drake now seems to believe that many roads lead to God. Whether he realizes it or not, what he really believes is that being good is enough. He’s made the cross of Jesus meaningless and irrelevant. Any path will do as long as you’re good. He sees nothing special at all about the Christian gospel. I think he likes part of it, but in the end, his religion is moralistic deism.

The real gospel is news. Something happened. Drake’s message amounts to advice. Something you need to do. Be good. Be nice. Be honest. Be sincere. Be a thinker. Be a revolutionary. Don’t be judgmental. Don’t be absolute.

This is not grace. This is not the gospel. This is works. I’ve seen Drake throw the word grace around like a bachelor puts on cheap perfume, hoping it will win the girl, but folks, this is not real grace. This is law. It’s legalism painted in new, cool, hipster colors. But it still disappoints, lets down, and kills.

handnailedtocross-JesusJesus came to do something we in our sincerity and human goodness could not do. He came to rescue us from the awful penalty of sin. We live in a fractured universe. We are separated from God—the biblical God. Jehovah, the God of Israel. The One that spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai and gave him the Law. We stand at the Grand Canyon, staring into hopeless space between us and what we all really want and need. Salvation. Relationship. Acceptance by our Creator.

But I offer good news that Drake, with his vague liberalism-legalism-new age-humanism-universalism concoction, cannot offer.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:1-4

Grace is not for those who can, could, will, or would. Grace is for those who can’t, couldn’t, won’t, and wouldn’t.

Drake, if he’s consistent in his beliefs, must believe we don’t need grace. We don’t need Jesus to rescue us. Being good is enough. Just believe whatever. What’s really important is how you feel about things. Be honest. Just be a good guy. Throw a dart at the wall and draw a bullseye around it. It’s liberalism. It’s legalism. It’s human religion. It’s death.

If it’s really about being good, it plunges bad guys like me into despair. He writes of me, “His life is well put together and, as far as I know, he’s never been as vulnerable to self-sabotage as I am.” This is the most offensive and misguided sentence in his entire blog about me. How dare he suggest that I’ve got it together and might not need as much grace as him or others! My heart is desperately wicked without Jesus. I’m enslaved by sin without grace. I have zero hope of salvation without the cross.

What he might not realize is that by rejecting the Scriptures, or rejecting what theologians would call inerrancy, he’s ultimately just re-assigning inerrancy. He’s taking it away from Christ’s apostles and giving it to himself. This is human arrogance, as old as the Garden of Eden.

Is Drake a false teacher? Probably. He won’t answer questions clearly or in some cases, at all.

Is Drake going to hell? I hope not. Thankfully, I’m not the Judge. But I can tell you what the Righteous Judge told all of us. We all need rescue. We’ve all committed high treason against heaven and are all condemned to eternal separation from God without grace. Real grace. Biblical grace. Grace that flows from the wounds of Christ. If you seek self-salvation in your good works, or in anyone or anything else, you make the cross meaningless. You are telling a suffering Prince that his death was unnecessary. Maybe Drake is ok with that? Maybe you’re ok with that? Tragic.

Hell is God simply giving people what they want—an eternal universe without the God of the Bible. I think that’s exactly what a lot of people want. They want my God to go away. They want the Bible to go away. They want Christians to go away. God says, “You can have that universe if you want it.”

I’m a believer. I believe stuff. Weird stuff. Bizarre stuff. Stuff like a virgin giving birth to a Son that made her first. A God-man. Stuff like a sinless Man who performed absurd miracles like feeding 5000 people with 5 loaves & 2 fish or opening blind eyes. Stuff like a suffering Savior dying my death and experiencing the consequences of my sins on a hill 2000 years ago. Stuff like a dead man rising and ascending into heaven. Stuff like God’s Spirit indwelling those who believe in Jesus, and empowering imperfect men to write perfect Scripture. Weird, right? Those who don’t believe stuff are not called believers. They’re called unbelievers.

I admit that in the world’s eyes, this is foolish, and am gladly a card-carrying member of The Fellowship of Fools. My hope here, since my character, parenting, and mental health was publicly assaulted by Drake Matteo’s blog, was to offer a defense, give some of my perspective to our dialogue, and give an answer for the hope I have within me.

As far as Dr. Drake attempting to be my psychologist, bringing up my apparently “abusive home” or his giving me parental advice, I find those comments absurd, uninformed, and offensive. As a professional writer college-trained in journalism & research and a career in writing (journalism and books), this damages his credibility as a writer. Exaggeration, twisting facts, bad information, and borderline libel are generally frowned upon in the writing community. Drake and I haven’t been around each other for almost five years. Even when I did know him, we were friends, but didn’t spend much private time together save a few coffees. Apparently, he doesn’t know me as well as he thinks he does and his blog is laden with assumption. Admittedly, I grew up in a dysfunctional home, but with loving parents that are dear to me. It was not abusive. My children love Jesus, are creatively and radically different in Christ, and the gospel has been an amazing source of life, not death, for them. My older children found Drake’s aim at them and his comments about our home being militant very offensive. In short, he doesn’t know squat about my family, immediate or extended. But I’m not surprised he’d claim to be an expert on something so small as my family when he claims such authority on large matters like God, truth, and the entire soul of Christianity. (I don’t claim this authority either, mind you. I’ll defer to Jesus and his apostles as revealed in Scripture.)

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