“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” — Matthew 12:33-35
Before you read this, you should read Matt’s earlier post for some excellent commentary on this sad story.

As Dallas Willard points out in his introduction to Renovation of the Heart, our Christian leaders today often fall. The Haggard case is not unique, sadly. Willard observes that the tragedy, however, is not a lapse of judgment, but a lack of character. Yes, judging by his actions, Ted Haggard did not have a good character formed in Christ. He was running on his own strength; his life did not bear good fruit. As Jesus states with all forthrightness, bad men bring bad things out of a bad heart; the opposite is true of the good man.

Haggard’s problem was not the power and influence he acquired, but his lack of positive spiritual formation in Christ. Accountability is a good and necessary thing, but that will happen naturally to the man who delights (in his inmost being) in the law of the Lord. The problem is deep and hard: laws will not fix it.

As I saw at Godblogcon, Christians do have leaders who are spiritually formed and will bring forth good out of a good heart. It is to these men and women I look to for the future of the kingdom. Also, may the day soon come when the “first will be made last, and the last first” according to the wisdom of our King Jesus Christ:

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death

Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

6 Comments

  1. “Accountability is a good and necessary thing, but that will happen naturally to the man who delights (in his inmost being) in the law of the Lord.”

    I don’t know that this follows – I think you are underestimating the crucial importance of Christian community. Good men are not formed in a vacuum, and they don’t just spawn community naturally. Of course, we might say that Haggard was in a unique place to foster the sort of community he himself needed. Perhaps this was an even greater failing – seeing such a troublesome sin and temptation in his own life and not doing anything to foster help for members of his flock fighting and losing the same battle.

    What I’m saying is that internet pornography is what sows the seeds that lead to this. And I would venture a guess that at least half of Evangelical Christian men struggle with this. And I don’t think it follows that someone who does therefore doesn’t “delight in the law of the Lord.” This is a temptation that is always present in even the godliest of men, and the internet makes it instantly available at all his weakest moments by means of the tool with which he often earns his living.

    Our society as a whole is foisting temptations and filth upon us at every turn. The fight against it can’t be relegated to a mere individual battle. As Lauren Winner has noted, chastity needs to be something we do as a community. So to simply be “shocked! shocked!” at this, and write it off as – “well, this is what happens when you don’t have any godly character” – frankly, it reminds me of Christ’s opponents who put immovable burdens on the backs of others, themselves not willing to lift a finger. This is perhaps the primary sin afflicting the lives of our men, and we as a community do virtually nothing about it.

    I think this should be a wake up call, and a call to arms for the Evangelical world. We can’t afford to be silent about this or pretend its just “this other guy’s problem” any longer.

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  2. “Accountability is a good and necessary thing, but that will happen naturally to the man who delights (in his inmost being) in the law of the Lord.”

    I don’t think this automatically follows. Good men are not formed in a vacuum, nor does the community that fosters them simply spawn about good men like flowers. Let not the hand say to the foot, I have no need of thee.

    I would bet anything that the seed that bloomed into this hideous situation was internet pornography. Do you suggest this is only the sort of sin that weak Christian men fall into? That those delighting in the law of the Lord experience constant victory over their sexual temptations?

    I suggest that internet porn is a problem for at least half of Evangelical Christian young men today. Here, vivid sexual images are available for any man feeling an urge at the click of a button. But the difficulty is that the same computer that often earns their livelihood makes this temptation available 24/7. Imagine even the Apostle Paul, or St. Francis of Assisi, with a copy of playboy strapped at their side at all times. These godly men, assuredly, would resist the temptation to look at it – almost all the time. But I doubt these men were strong enough not to have weak moments.

    The solution to this problem isn’t only insisting that we need men of godly character. I mean, seriously, you have no idea of the secret sins of those you met at GodBlogCon. The solution will involve us as the church living out true Christian community. The vast mountain of internet porn (and sex saturated media) wasn’t created by the individual weaknesses of us evangelical men. But here it is before us, nonetheless. Why should we expect mere individual effort to overcome it? We need the Church!

    For us to act as if this is just “that other guy’s problem” that would simply be overcome if he were a better guy, is to lay an immovable burden on another without ourselves lifting a finger. This is THE issue – THE sin – afflicting a huge number of our men. And the evangelical church, is, more or less, silent about it. Lauren Winner rightly observes that chastity is a communal virtue as much as an individual one. This requires a concentrated campaign with all our resources to fight. Maybe this will be a wake up call to our leaders.

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  3. sorry about the double post – there was no feedback. You can delete my first comment.

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  4. Hi Wonders, thanks for your comment.

    The problem with the post I wrote is that it didn’t have sufficient qualifications. I think you hit on one of the most glaring omissions. I, too, agree that Christian community is hugely important in spiritual formation. You simply don’t see any saints – save a few of the (good) desert fathers (St. Antony comes to mind) – who lived apart from deep and intimate community. I’ve been reading John Wesley lately, and his band of Methodist brothers changed the world for Jesus in dramatic fashion. It isn’t difficult to trace much of their own good character to the work they did in one another’s lives. Wesley’s “Aldersgate Experience,” which details his conversion, highlights the central role of community in J.W.’s own journey to faith. Augustine’s “Confessions” is more of the same. Certainly Christian community with accountability is desperately needed as a core component of spiritual formation; Willard argues as much in “Renovation…”, which I’m always quoting!

    A few qualifications to this statement, then:
    1) The work of the Trinity in a believer necessarily is personal. God is three persons, therefore He relates to us personally. He gives us the power to overcome sin through His relationship with us – a relationship that almost always blossoms out of relationships with other believers – which must be utterly personal and individual. “Christ died for me” seems necessary for all strong Christians. Good Christian community flows out of these men and women who have found Jesus and are growing in love for Him. The city is not prior to the individuals that make it up. (I should also say, “Individuals must have a city,” to do justice to your critique.)

    2) Accountability, as currently practiced, is legalistic and unorganic in my experience of evangelicalism. When we develop friendships, accountability naturally flows out of those friendships, especially as they become stronger. What you mean by accountability is probably a version of this strong Christian friendship I describe, but when I hear the word I imagine a group of guys looking guiltily and awkwardly at each other waiting for someone to go first in confession of sin x or y – or making something up that fits in with the sins of the rest so as to be sufficiently humble. Forgive me if I let my experience of the phenomenon unduly taint my understanding of the word!

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  5. Sorry to hit ya so strong there. And sorry for the delayed response. Let me see if I can explain myself better.

    On the individual vs. community thing, the way I look at it is that our main calling by God as individuals is to become joined to the people of God. What I mean is that I’m not individually married to Jesus as a Christian – that’s not the right way to think of it. Rather, I am united with the Church, which is his bride and body. Christian community isn’t something that is a tool for developing spiritually formed individuals – its not a means to an end. Rather, God wants a people united in love and worship as the capstone of his creation.

    I don’t think this negates any of the individual experience of our faith, but I do think it is essential that we see our individual story as part of the bigger story of the people of God.

    As far as accountability goes, I hear you – I really do. I’ve experienced what you describe, and its basically like sending a group of guys for a half hour a week with no training against the German onslaught in World War II. What we need is a concerted effort that takes the threat seriously, that binds men in particular together as brothers in arms fighting for our lives and families and all we love against the Evil one who would destroy what we hold dear. We need our intellectual giants analyzing these problems and our shrewd strategists posing creative solutions. We need to tend to our wounded brothers with care and mercy, while also giving our brothers whose own laziness and cowardice endanger the campaign a good kick in the rear. We need to see this as a threat, for which we beg the outpouring of the Spirit on us and our fight against it.

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  6. Theodore A. Jones February 16, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    The foundation for the good tree is the good seed. The Haggard case is physical evidence that the seed that produced the tree is the cause. Therefore it does not matter which church, Roman Catholic or one of the Protestant denominations, they are all branches of the same bad tree. Paul points out in Rom. 1&2, that exchanging the truth of God about Jesus’ crucifixion for the lie results in God giving its hierarchy over to homosexuality as the proof that the religious beliefs are not the truth about Jesus’ crucifixion. Since homosexuality is physically evident in both Protestantism and Catholicism hierarchies every branch of the religious tree physically represented is bad.
    The question then is why is the contemporary message of salvation the lie?

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