Thursday, August 25, 2016



Authentic: Developing the Disciplines of a Sincere Faith by James MacDonald introduces believers to spiritual disciplines that will help them develop a closer walk with God. What does it mean to live as an authentic follower of Jesus? Learn to follow His example by practicing the spiritual disciplines He used to maintain a close relationship with His Father. Discover how much you can grow in Christlikeness as you pursue the practices of Bible study, prayer, fasting, fellowship, service, and worship.

James MacDonald sermon: 

The Discipline of Personal Bible Study



SEE: below in full unedited for informational, educational, and research purposes:

In Elephant Room Curator James MacDonald And The Elephant’s Debt and Latest As James MacDonald Addresses Detractors At Harvest Bible Church here at Apprising Ministries I’ve been covering what seems to be a ongoing story concerning Elephant Room curator James MacDonald.
This still developing mission field of online apologetics and discernment work is not an easy field because those of us who engage in it often are hit by friendly fire. Unfortunately, with the rise of social media and the descent of evangelical leadership OADM labors in the Lord have become necessary.
Sadly, the neo-liberal cult operating within the Emerging Church—with its core doctrine of Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism—would widely corrupt the younger sectors of mainstream Christendom. This Foster-Willardism has become a cult of its own and vehemently attacks practitioners’ view of Scripture.
How this applies to evangelical leaders e.g. like Mark Driscoll and his fellow ER cohost James MacDonald is evidence of their apparent drift into a syncretism with Church Growth guru Rick Warren and Seeker Driven generals like Craig Groeschel. Take for example the lineup for Acts 29’s recent R 12 conference:
Now that I have given you a better vantage point from which you can survey the evangelical battlefield, we return to that aforementioned continuing saga of MacDonald and a website called The Elephant’s Debt: From Exodus To Jubilee (TED), which was put up a two former members of his Harvest Bible Chapel.
For more information I refer you to the AM articles above, but briefly, Scott Bryant was involved in a couple of church plants for Harvest Bible Fellowship and Ryan Mahoney, an attorney, has also been personally involved with HBC. Bryant and Mahoney have also spoken with several former members of HBF and HBC leadership.
Let me tell you that what I’m going to point you to now at TED is something that numerous sources in and around the organizations of James MacDonald have also shared with me about alleged very high stakes Texas Hold’em poker games in which MacDonald is supposed to be involved on a regular basis in Las Vegas.
However, not being directly involved with HBF and HBC myself, I had no real way to investigate these allegations further and decided to wait. As I sought the Lord about them, it seemed to me that if there really is some truth to the charges then they would surface. It now seems as if perhaps they have.
Several weeks ago, when The Elephant’s Debt was originally released, readers were allowed to publicly share their stories through the website.  But as the concerns and comments began to roll in, we quickly realized that the personal experiences of many people had the potential to overwhelm the central argument that we had advanced.
And so, after much deliberation, we decided to restrict that section of the site to people who had close ties with both MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel.While we do not regret our decision to act in the way that we did, we are aware that just as we were preparing to make our decision, a rather serious conversation was beginning to take place.
More specifically, a number of people seemed genuinely concerned by the accounts of gambling and trips to Vegas that had emerged through the input of other readers. (source)
This type of thing is why I mentioned before that the God is raising up OADM in the Lord. As Jesus sends more 1 Peter 4:17 judgments and spiritual blindness upon apostatizing evangelicalism, it’s becoming apparent there’s a real need to make sure that information such as this be presented with journalistic integrity.
Frankly, this is simply not always the case with more and more individuals electing themselves as “discernment ministries.” Unfortunately, such as these all too often actually do fall into using faulty logic and resorting to guilt-by-assoiciation, which has reflected badly upon those of us presenting factual information.
Leaving that aside, for now, this is certainly not the case Bryant and Mahoney, which is why I have no problem bringing TED to your attention. They now continue by informing us that:
This update seeks to bring closure to that discussion by offering a sampling of the comments that were made as well as two photos that were emailed to The Elephant’s Debt in response to a reader’s request.  We are not prepared to offer any editorial on these remarks or photos; and you are free to draw your own conclusions from the pictures.
Having said that, we leave you with these two questions.  First, can anyone identify the two oddly-bearded and yet similarly-bearded men that MacDonald is standing with in these photos that were originally posted on Twitter?  Secondly, can anyone identify when and where these photos were taken? (source)
I’ve also placed the photos in question at the top of this piece as well. Although the picture itself that James MacDonald originally tweeted out is now missing, this past June 26th we find:
Jesse aka @pocketdeuces, the man in the first picture above, would appear to be Jesse Rockowitz:
ESPN Poker informs us that a couple of years ago that:
Jesse Rockowitz, a 24-year-old professional poker player from Petaluma, CA, won the 3,097-player field and an amazing payday of $721,373. (source)
It’s also interesting to note that Bluff Magazine lists a James MacDonald in their player profiles:
Although at this time we don’t know if it’s James MacDonald of HBC, actually a Google search forjames macdonald poker shows that a James MacDonald is listed at a number of Poker venues. One other that catches our attention is from Card Player:
While it could be an odd coincidence, but pastor James MacDonald’s country of origin also happens to be Canada.1 In any event, you can read the TED post in its entirety right here.

Further reading


  1., accessed 11/7/12
SEE: below in full unedited for informational, educational, and research purposes:

Apprising Ministries received the below email today, which certainly seems to shed a whole lot more light upon James MacDonald Resigns From Gospel Coalition:
—– Original Message —–
From: Kent C. Shaw
Sent: Mon, 23 Jan 2012 Subject: Important communication from Kent.
From The Desk Of Kent Shaw January, 23rd 2012
Dear Men,
We continue to praise God for the rich time we had together last week in Orlando. It was great to be able to connect again as a Fellowship and to be refreshed together. Plans are shaping up for next years Sr. Pastors and Wives Retreat in Orlando again! More information will follow soon.
As partners together we want to keep you informed of key events surrounding the Elephant Room. Please find below an e-mail sent to the Harvest Bible Chapel senior leaders and elders: Last week James was put under a lot of pressure from leaders of The Gospel Coalition, a reformed group of about 50 pastors he has fellowshipped with for the past few years. They were asking that he pull the plug on Bishop Jakes coming to the Elephant Room (ER) conference. Their reasons are rooted in weak evidence of Jakes current doctrine and infighting among the black members of the Gospel Coalition who have deep seeded resentments. Crawford Loritts is the black pastor who spoke at James 50th birthday and is also a council member of the Gospel Coalition. Crawford is participating in this ER conference because he believes in what James is doing and has stepped forward to help. All that to say, not even Gospel Coalition members are unanimous in the opposition, but certain influential men have rallied to pressure James to cancel Bishop Jakes. After prayer and counsel with other Christian Leaders and some of our Elders, James believes it is best to simply resign from the Gospel Coalition and continue to pursue his vision of gracious conversation, face to face, as a model for how to handle disagreement in the church. Find below the announcement James will post on his blog prior to the Elephant Room. We support him in stepping back from this voluntary association. Our doctrinal position at Harvest has only strengthened this past year and will not change in any way. Some, who like to stir up controversy, may approach you for further discussion and we ask that you stand with us by stating only the following: ?Pastor James stepped off the Gospel Coalition with our support. You should be proud of the battle he is fighting for grace and truth and seek to emulate his courage. He has our full support and the doctrine of Harvest Bible Chapel remains and will remain unchanged.?
Why I Resigned From the Gospel Coalition
It seems like almost a decade ago that D.A. Carson came to our church offices in Rolling Meadows, IL, and shared his vision for The Gospel Coalition, then unnamed. It was clear and compelling to me, and I joined in to do all I could to help him and others rally gospel men around the preservation and extension of sound biblical theology.
Though never entirely comfortable with the title reformed, and unable to score higher than 3.8 on the C test, I believe in these important biblical distinctions as protections against a man-centered gospel. I also believe strongly that local pastors benefit from an association that holds a high standard for churches in preserving even contending for sound theology. Our church’s Doctrinal Statement has only strengthened during this helpful association and will remain unchanged, as will the doctrinal statement of Harvest Bible Fellowship and our church plants. We are resolutely committed to biblical fidelity and gospel proclamation. We are deeply committed to the exposition of Scripture as the centerpiece of our church planting work around the world.
As our church’s support for the Coalition grew, I was invited to serve on the board and got to witness the wonderful organizational integrity which supports the Coalition work. I have grown to appreciate men who share our passion for the Word of God but have very different views on baptism, ecclesiology, and how best to advance the mission Christ has given us. What we hold in common has been of greater value than any ministry method that separates us. Most of the friendships I have with Council members preceded my joining, and I am assured they will continue long into the future.
I have always believed in the institutional maxim; the whole is more important than the part. I am actually a very small, small part of the work God is doing through the Coalition, and I believe their work will be assisted by my absence, given my methodological convictions. I have very different views on how to relate to the broader church and how the gospel must impact every relationship. I don?t want my minor role on the council to hinder their work as a whole, or to give the impression they agree with all God has called me to do. Ben Peays, the primary leader of the Coalition, accepted my resignation with regret and understanding, and Don thanked me for my efforts these last years. I wish the Coalition well in the pursuit of their goals, and I feel greatly blessed by the impact this association has had and will continue to have upon my ministry.
Guys, I trust you will find this information helpful as you hear James? heart and as you interact with other. Again, thanks for being a part of our Retreat, I thought our best yet. What a joy to be a part of the Fellowship, where we see God at work in such significant and fruitful ways. Please pray for James this week, for the significant role and responsibility he carries in the Elephant Room, that the Lord would give him wisdom and clarity of thought.
If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call.  In the glorious battle,
Kent C. Shaw
Executive Director
Harvest Bible Fellowship
See also:

The Descent: James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel and the Blurry Road to a Prosperity Gospel

SEE: below in full unedited for informational, educational, and research purposes:
There is a heated controversy brewing in the evangelical world – one that has the power to fundamentally alter the shape of one of the most influential churches in the Chicagoland area.  The roots of the controversy stretch back to 2011 and the birth of an idea calledThe Elephant Room.  Put simply, the premise behind this event was to gather various leaders both from within the church and from outside of it to discuss “the most Christ honoring ways of building a church.”[1]  The event was recorded, simulcast and eventually sold in the interest of reaching and influencing the widest possible array of Christian leaders around the globe.
In a session entitled “Can’t We All Just Get Along vs. My Way or the Highway,” Pastors James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel and Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church engaged in a discussion about the boundaries of Christian associations.  The dialog was kick-started with a vigorous debate over a recent blog post by Furtick, in which he had named T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen as pastors that he greatly admired. At the time, Pastor Furtick attempted to defend his admiration of these leaders by arguing that he was a “big boy” who knew how to eat the fish while leaving the bones.  But Pastor MacDonald would have none of it.  Looking right at Furtick, he said,
“I want you to grow up[2] …  I’m concerned that your influence might extend people in to error that you may not support.”[3] 
The implication here, of course, was that while Furtick might be able to separate that which was edifying from that which was not, his congregation might not be so selective in their ability to discern.  What is critical to understand from this exchange is that Pastor MacDonald doubted a congregation’s ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, and thus rebuked Furtick for his decision to openly endorse Jakes, Meyers and Osteen.
Now, fast forward to the early days of January 2012.  As Harvest Bible Chapel worked to finalize the preparations for The Elephant Room 2, various online discernment ministries began to take MacDonald to task.  For less than 12 months after rebuking Pastor Furtick for his endorsements of T.D. Jakes, Pastor MacDonald was preparing to host Bishop Jakes at this year’s conference.  As the pressure began to mount, certain members of The Gospel Coalition, a voluntary association of reformed pastors and leaders, began to confront MacDonald over his decision to bring Jakes into the discussion.  At stake were two critical theological issues upon which Jakes deviates from orthodox Christianity.
First, Bishop Jakes was ordained in a Oneness Pentecostal movement, a movement that denies the historical formulations of Trinitarian doctrine that date all the way back to the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.  Put simply, Oneness theology suggests that God is not One in three Persons, but One that simply “manifests” Himself in different ways at different times.   Thus, if you read Scripture from a Modalist perspective, you are forced to allegorize and deny the historicity of certain key events in the Gospels, such as Christ praying to the Father and the appearance of the Trinity at the Christ’s baptism.
Secondly, and almost equally troubling, is the fact that Bishop Jakes has been alleged to preach a “Prosperity Gospel.  Broadly speaking, the “Prosperity Gospel” is an errant preaching, which claims that the Bible promises financial blessings to all that follow Jesus the Christ.  It teaches that positive thinking, positive speech, faith and donations to Christian ministries will almost certainly lead to the increase of one’s material wealth in this world.  Conversely, it also implicitly suggests that Christians who are not experiencing material wealth may lack faith or have serious patterns of sin in their lives.
Now, what needs to be said at this moment, in the most straight forward way possible, is that Pastor MacDonald was not necessarily wrong for inviting Bishop Jakes to The Elephant Room 2 conference.  For the very mission statement of the conference states:
“Our goal is unity, however a true unity cannot be fashioned in pretense or denial of truth nor can it be won among those who prefer sectarianism to the unity Jesus prayed for.  To advance Christ’s call to unity we must do what men have always done, we must push and prod and challenge and sharpen each other’s beliefs and methods.”
In other words, if Pastor MacDonald wanted to invite Bishop Jakes to the conference for the purpose of hashing out differences over Trinitarian theology and the preaching of a “Prosperity Gospel,” he could have provided a genuine service to the global Christian community.  But unfortunately, that is not what happened.
When Pastor MacDonald began to receive pushback from The Gospel Coalition, he made the choice to publicly resign on his blog.  The most troubling aspect of this resignation is the wording he used to defend his decision to disassociate himself from the group.  In arguing that he was separating from the Coalition because of “all that God has called [him] to do,” MacDonald very unwisely rooted his argument in God’s “calling.”  Stop and think about it.  When someone roots their actions in the language of a “calling,” they are explicitly stating that God Himself has spoken in such as way as to direct their actions.  To challenge that is to challenge God Himself, and to do that is to act in a sinful manner.  So when Pastor MacDonald says that he is “called” to lead in a certain fashion, he implicitly suggests that anyone who disagrees with his leading is acting in a sinful manner.
Following Pastor MacDonald’s resignation, plans for The Elephant Room 2 went forward as intended.  Unfortunately, as the surrounding drama continued to unfold, matters only got worse.  According to multiple online sources, when two Christian bloggers, who have been openly critical of Jakes’ participation, arrived at the Rolling Meadows campus to attend the conference, they were allegedly pulled aside and told that they would have to leave the premises.  The irony here, of course, is that the conference is supposed to be a venue for modeling how Christians ought to engage in open dialog over differing theological opinions.  These two bloggers had paid to attend the conference, but according to their own testimony and the testimony of another individual who overheard the exchange, they were threatened with arrest if they did not leave the property immediately.[5]
But all of that is nothing more than the sideshow.  The real question is: what happened at the main event?
As you can see from this nearly word-for-word transcription of the event, Pastor MacDonald, Pastor Driscoll and Bishop Jakes engaged in a free-flowing discussion related to Trinitarian doctrine.  Now the point here is not to debate whether Jakes’ current understanding of the nature of God falls within orthodox boundaries.  In fact, for the sake of this argument, I am going to concede that perhaps he is moving in the right direction and I am going to set it aside.  The point of this discussion is to call your attention to the fact that not a single thing was said about Jakes’ association with the “Prosperity Gospel” movement.  Indeed, Bryan Crawford Loritts, a fellow pastor and open supporter of Pastor MacDonald’s decision to invite Jakes, said that such an omission was “disappointing.”[6]
Disappointing?  Is that it?  That’s all that he has to say after Pastor MacDonald openly chastised Furtick just 12 months ago for his lack of wisdom in publicly endorsing Jakes’ ministry.  With all due respect, that represents a serious lack of discernment on the part of Pastor Loritts, a man whom I typically hold in high regard.  When the issue is a categorical failure to challenge a man on allegations that he preaches the “Prosperity Gospel,” a one-word dismissive assessment is simply unacceptable.  And MacDonald, himself, would have likely agreed with me at one point in time.  Consider his own words when he preached on this very subject of “four false Gospels” several years ago:
Did you hear what he said beginning at the 2:35 mark in the video above?
“…  And pastors with these massive, massive homes. And preaching a “Prosperity Gospel” where Jesus wants you wealthy.  It’s sickening!  That is a distortion of the Gospel that was unheard of through the entire history of the church, but in the last 50 years, it is front and center stage in the Western World.  You go try to preach that in the Third World.  Those little people will laugh you right off the stage.  What are you talking about?  Only here, where we have no tolerance for truth and embrace the messages that bless our hearts  …  We’re gonna get to this passage in a few moments.  It says right at the end of Second Timothy:  ‘Preach the word in season and out of season.  The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled they will accumulate teachers for themselves and will turn their ears away from the truth and will be turned aside to myths.’[7]   We’re in that time, people.”
So in the not-so-distant past, we have Pastor James MacDonald on public record suggesting that the “Prosperity Gospel” is a “false gospel” that is “unheard of through the entire history of the church.”  He is openly mocking pastors with expensive watches, cars and homes and declares that it’s “sickening!”
But fast-forward just a few years, and the times have really changed.  MacDonald now owns a massive home and is known to drive luxury automobiles.[8]  And whereas he was once ready to denounce the “Prosperity Gospel” as a “false gospel,” he now sits at a table next to one of the most influential men to allegedly preach a “Prosperity Gospel” in the United States and says absolutely nothing.
Perhaps this is because he is no longer as concerned about wealthy pastors as he once was.  Consider, if you will, this exchange between Pastor MacDonald and Pastor David Platt at last year’s Elephant Room.  Slated to discuss the issue of “prosperity vs. poverty,” the conversation was kicked off by Platt who was arguing that we, in the West, live in a context of extreme self-indulgence.  This, without question, flies in the face of Christ’s call to radical abandonment.  While Platt conceded the fact that asceticism is wrong, he also challenged people to consider the trap of materialism.  Ultimately, his thesis revolved around the idea that there is an urgency to eternity and that we, in the West, need to invest more in eternity and less in the comforts of the here and now.  To that end, Platt’s church cut 83% of its operational budgets to recommit itself to missions.  What follows are some of the various responses that MacDonald offered:
“Missions is so broken, it’s just flat out broken. Why do we have to keep hearing about 1,000 people groups who haven’t heard the gospel? We’vegiven enough over the years that that should be addressed by now.”
In one sense, this may be true.  It is quite possible that a lack of accountability over the past century has lead to little demonstratable progress in missions.  But does that mean we’ve given enough?  Is the proper response to simply cut it off and focus the resources on our own churches?
“It’s pathetic that you cut Cheez-its from kids. The people in your congregation have enough to provide snacks and missions.”
How is teaching children the virtue of sacrificial giving, for the sake of the Kingdom, pathetic?
“It’s the cheap mentality.”
What’s cheap?  Sacrificial giving?  Bear in mind, the children in Platt’s church are there each Sunday for 2 to 3 hours.  Is the hunger they experience so great after such a short period of time that they need refreshment?
None of Jesus parables were about giving. It was about stewarding.”
If stewarding is defined by the wise management of money so that one can provide for his or her material needs, then this statement is simply indefensible.  Was the woman dropping her last coin into the Temple coffers wisely stewarding her money?  She had nothing left for herself!
“You’re not supposed to divest your money. You’re supposed to multiply it … The idea of immediate divesting of money is not healthy.”
If this is true, than I would love know how MacDonald would teach on the passage of Jesus and His encounter with the Rich Young Ruler.  Because a face-value reading of that text seems to suggest that there was an immediate call for the Ruler to willfully surrender his wealth.  Was Christ calling for him to be “unhealthy?”
Are you starting to see where the problem may lay?  Not only has MacDonald embraced much of the lifestyle that he once openly described as “sickening,” his theology of wealth seems to be fundamentally shifting as well.  Consider this final quotation taken from the “notes” that are posted on The Gospel Coalitions website:
“We’re supposed to multiply and enjoy money … There is a theology of joy that isn’t fully developed yet …  I’ve seen what it looks like for kids to grow up in poverty theology. I really fear the stingy, cheap—the wives have to work because the church doesn’t pay the pastors enough.  You [David Platt] don’t yet understand the toll that ministry takes on your family. I want you to understand that some of the abundance that comes from writing a best-selling book, don’t cut your kids off from the rewards that come from faithful ministry. Don’t feel guilty about giving your family some joy and enjoying the abundance God gives you.”[9]
Earlier this week, Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel sat down with Bishop T.D. Jakes for stated purpose of  hashing out theological differences.  But when it came time speak out – when it came time to stand up address “Prosperity preaching,”something that he once called a “false gospel” – he said nothing.  The question is: why?  Why did he say nothing?  Does he no longer feel that the “Prosperity Gospel” is problematic?  If so, I would imagine that a great many people at Harvest would like an answer as to why not.  On the other hand, if he wants to stand by his previous condemnations of this “false gospel “, than he just did the very thing that he chastised Pastor Furtick for just one year ago.  He put a man with a serious theological problem in front of the camera, said nothing about the issue, and asked his sheep to swallow the fish without the bones.
It is time to ask some serious questions about what is happening at Harvest Bible Chapel under the leadership of Pastor James MacDonald.  Why, in the last few years, have three prominent elders stepped off of the elder board and left the church, one of whom was the chairman for more than 20 years? Might it have something to do with Pastor MacDonald’s post-2008 decision to lessen the board’s oversight of day-to-day activities?  And why have so many significant, high-level staff members departed in the last three years?  I don’t know the answers to all these questions, but from the outside looking in, it would seem that something is seriously amiss in the halls of Harvest – something so wrong that churches in the Fellowship are beginning to leave.[10] and highly-regarded pastors scheduled to speak at Harvest events are mutually deciding that their participation in the event may no longer be wise.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Additional articles on James MacDonald and the Elephant Room 2 can be found at:

[2] All quotes in this post are taken from publicly posted notes taken during the live events.  These live notes are available through The Gospel Coalition website.  These quotes may or may not represent verbatim transcriptions of the live event.  Nevertheless, Harvest Bible Chapel has not publicly disavowed these notes as being fair representations of the content of the dicussions.   This quote can be found at:  An alternative quote, which records: “I wish you would grow up.” can be found at:
[4] If the reader is interested, the vast majority of James MacDonald’s sermons are available through Walk in the Word ministries and through Harvest Bible Chapel.
[5] The reported account of this incident, along with links to other accounts, can be found at:
[7] 2 Timothy 4:2-3.
[9] All of these quotes are taken directly from the following site.  Having said that, this is not a word-for-word transcription of the event.  Therefore, if MacDonald feels that these quotes do not accurately represent the content of the interview, he needs to make either the video or a word-for-word transcription available for review.  In the end, I stand by The Gospel Coalition who felt that this was an accurate rendering of the content fo the interview.

Money and Power: The Elephant in James MacDonald’s Room

SEE: below in full unedited for informational, educational, and research purposes:

NOTE: Thanks to Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant for this look at one of the prominent scandals in evangelicalism in recent days. James MacDonald graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1988, the same year I did. That year he founded Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, IL. He is also known from his radio and writing ministry, Walk in the WordHarvest Bible Fellowship is his church planting ministry. MacDonald is part of the neo-reformed movement, and was a member of The Gospel Coalition, but he resigned in Jan. 2012 over controversy regarding his conference known as “The Elephant Room.”
For further reading, check out Ryan and Scott’s blogs, The Elephant’s Debt, and Blood Stained Ink.
* * *
In October 2012, a new website entitled The Elephant’s Debt (TED) was released to the general public.  This site, which was primarily focused upon issues related to money and power struggles at Harvest Bible Chapel (a megachurch located in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois), is authored by Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, both of whom were former, long-term congregants within the Harvest system.
What you are about to read is a summary provided by these two men, attempting to assess the issues at Harvest within the context of a larger, evangelical crisis that is looming just over the horizon.
In the spring of 2010, we became aware of several character issues pertaining to our Senior Pastor, James MacDonald.  While these issues were not yet significant enough (in our minds) to raise questions pertaining to MacDonald’s suitability to fulfill the role of elder within a local church, they were sufficient enough for us to remove our families from the church.   To be clear, our initial concerns were primarily related to: (1) stories surrounding the way he treated staff members, (2) his shift towards eisegeting himself into the biblical text that he was preaching, and (3) what appeared to be a grab for power amidst a reorganization of the elder board structure.
The next step in our journey towards authoring The Elephant’s Debt arrived when MacDonald infamously mishandled a conversation with T.D. Jakes at the “Elephant Room 2” (ER2) in January 2012.  In the aftermath of that theological debacle, we each wrote a blog post on our respective websites pertaining to the importance of Trinitarianism and the dangers of the Prosperity Gospel.  More specifically, we talked about MacDonald’s mishandling of Jake’s modalistic responses at ER2 and MacDonald’s failure to even address the question of the Prosperity Gospel.
Interestingly enough, the response to these blog posts was enormous.  As the comments continued to pour in, we both began to receive communication from former and current HBC insiders, suggesting that our concerns should run much, much deeper.  And thus began our inquiry into this matter.
From February 2012 until October 2012, we conducted numerous interviews and acquired significant documentation  pertaining to the growing problems at Harvest Bible Chapel.  What was clear to us in those early days was that all the stories that we were hearing centered around a troubling and disqualifying lack of character in James MacDonald.
For those that have not read The Elephant’s Debt and are thus unaware of the circumstances surrounding Harvest Bible Chapel, please allow us to summarize in brief.
  • At the time of publication, we informed our readers that HBC was approximately $65 million dollars in debt.
  • Additionally, we reported that James MacDonald was earning in excess of $600,000 in annual compensation from the church and its related ministries.  This figure did not include compensation received from other likely sources of income such as: book royalties, conference fees, etc.
  • Thirdly, we reported that MacDonald had admitted to a group of Harvest Fellowship pastors that he operated in such a way that he retained 50% of the power within the church, leaving the remaining of power to be divided equally among the suddenly swollen elder board, which had grown from approximately eight men to over 30.
  • We then discussed the recent $30 million dollar capital campaign in which MacDonald informed his congregation that he personally knew how much money God wanted them to sacrificially give to the campaign.
  • Finally, to illustrate our point that we were not alone in our concerns pertaining to MacDonald, we listed a group of former elders and pastors, all of whom left the church for their own reasons and concerns regarding Harvest Bible Chapel and its direction.
elephant room
As one might well imagine, following the publication of The Elephant’s Debt, Harvest could no longer ignore our concerns.  Within a few short days, the elders of HBC released a statement in which they attempted to assuage the fears of their congregants.
However, as TED continued to publish updates, more information continued to surface; and new allegations of gambling were brought to the forefront.  Since this issue was relevant to the subject of money, we choose to publish various comments that were left by numerous individuals in the know.  These comments were ultimately verified by a close friend of MacDonald, who publicly acknowledged that MacDonald played poker in the basement of his Inverness mansion and in casinos.  This admission by MacDonald’s friend was confirmed by MacDonald himself in a sermon entitled “My 5G.”
Throughout this season, four churches have seen fit to sever their ties with Harvest Bible Chapel, and a fifth has been thrown out of the Fellowship for their private communications with Harvest leadership pertaining to their concerns related to MacDonald and his handling of The Elephant Room 2 debacle.
It should be noted, at this juncture, that in the four months that have followed the publication of The Elephant’s Debt, the leadership of Harvest Bible Chapel has never challenged the underlying facts asserted by our website.  Sadly, however, we did catch Lyn Donald, wife of the long-term Associate Pastor, and other HBC insiders peddling a lie in which they asserted that Joe Stowell had asked to have his name removed from The Elephant’s Debt, only to be rebuffed by these authors.  One can only assume that they are using the name of the Stowell family and their public silence as a means of purposefully misleading congregants who have been disturbed by the evidence put forth by TED.
What is most disconcerting to us is not only the specifics of this local phenomena, but also how this situation highlights several broader problems within conservative evangelicalism at large.
To begin with, over the past two decades, the church has moved in a direction whereby entire bodies are being defined by the charismatic presence of their senior pastor.  As has been discussed numerous times by Michael Spencer, the original Internet Monk, this model of the “pastorate” is a dangerous model that leaves the body unwittingly oriented around the worship of a rock-star mega-pastor.  Moreover, there is a danger for the senior pastor who operates within this model to be overwhelmed in his character by the dark forces of ego and pride.
But the problems go deeper than the rise of the superstar pastor. In many cases, the churches that have been built around such a figure are often non-denominational in nature, which ultimately means that they answer to no earthly authority other than that which they have appointed to themselves. So in times of crisis and/or moral failure, as we have seen at Harvest, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and elsewhere, the congregation has no recourse to address its concerns if the self-appointed elder board is unwilling or unable to remove the senior pastor from leadership.
What’s more, when so much of the “Sunday Experience” and church culture is centered around this charismatic figurehead, constitutional church structures are no longer capable of limiting the power of the individual in question because the individual has effectually become “the church” for the majority of the congregants.  This is why we see so many megachurch pastor salaries rising to unprecedented heights.  When the pastor is the central draw for the church, and the church fears losing the congregation that comes almost exclusively for his or her teaching, they feel pressured to pay “competitive rates” so that other churches can’t come along and steal “the talent.”
One historic strength of evangelicalism has been its willingness to engage the culture for the sake of the Gospel. Indeed, its success in Gospel mission has come about through adopting cultural forms that make the Gospel palatable to the contemporary culture. Historically speaking, we see one significant example of this during the Second Great Awakening when Finney shed the doctrine of election in favor of preaching a message that appealed to experientialism and post-Enlightenment individualism. It wasn’t important whether or not you were elected by God. It was all about your choice to pursue a fire-insurance policy that gave you the afterlife you desired to secure for yourself.
Of course, the weakness in adopting this course of action is the ease with which contemporary cultural values become the values of the church.  In the case of contemporary American evangelicalism, values stemming from capitalism have come to dominate evangelical thinking.  For example, we think of church planters as entrepreneurs, senior pastors as free agent talent, church plants as franchises, sermons as intellectual property, and pastors as brands that can be marketed and exploited.
As Roger Olson has recently pointed out on his blog, evangelicalism as a movement, which began after WWII and continued through the 1970s, is deeply fractured, and perhaps even dead. There is a post-evangelical (left-leaning) wing, a conservative evangelical wing, and a moderate wing.  The conservative wing has unwittingly wed itself to the cultural forms of Modernity and Americanism, and these forms within conservative evangelicalism have calcified as absolutes while the contemporary culture has moved on.  This dynamic has left conservative evangelicalism with a decreased voice and influence in the contemporary culture, losing the very strength it once had, and it is suffering at the hands of the worst elements of the outmoded American cultural forms.
If there is not an awakening and reform within conservative evangelicalism, the last men standing will be the post-evangelical and moderate evangelical camps.  The time is ripe for someone to write,“The Uneasy Conscience of a Conservative Evangelical".



"Harvest Bible Chapel is an organization (and it is an organization, I can no longer call it a church) that is rapidly becoming more and more influential. It truly has taken over the Chicagoland area, as it is nearly impossible to find a church that has not modeled itself after either Harvest or Willow Creek. James MacDonald is growing more and more popular and if he does not return to Scripture soon, then he, too, will become a dangerous influence on so many pastors. I grieve for the thousands of people who have heard or who will hear this weekend’s message at Harvest. God was not glorified, Steven Furtick was. God’s Word was not taught, and while not everything Furtick said was necessarily a lie, it nevertheless was a danger and an insult to the Gospel because God’s Word was not faithfully preached and proclaimed. Thousands of people heard a message of do good and you will get good things. Believe harder, have audacious faith. No conviction of sin, no indication that maybe, just maybe, our lives will be worse in earthly terms if we are living for Christ. Yet the message scratched those itchy ears, and so it was received with glowing praise. As for Furtick’s command to tweet James MacDonald our absolute allegiance to him? I’ll let the screenshot speak for itself:"