Dr. Joseph Zichterman is a graduate of Bob Jones University, taught at Northland Baptist Bible College, and is now a member at Willow Creek.
He is an expert on the Church Growth Movement, once as an antagonist, now as a friend.
I do not know Joseph Zichterman
personally, but he
and I share mutual friends.
Last night I received an email from him that had been sent to thousands of his
It included a link to his
new website and a short notice that he
wife were taking a "new direction.
I immediately scanned through the website, saw the audio file "Why I Joined Willow Creek
" and read Joseph's bold affirmation of his
involvement in the Emergent conversation.
And, though I don't know Joseph
, I think I know what would drive him to get as far away as possible from what he
calls (I would find out later) a "high control" group.
I feel that if I knew Dr. Zichterman
personally, I would probably like him.
We could possibly be friends.
I know nothing of his
personal experiences within the circles of fundamentalism that he
knew (the same that I know), but I know enough to know that his
critical analysis of these circles as "high-control" cultures is pretty much right on the money.
insight into the way leadership functions in these circles sparkles, I think, with the intrigue of personal experience.
I should be very clear here: he
never names his
former circles specifically.
is careful to use as illustrations Mormon polygamists and the like.
But even a dullard can connect the dots.
1. Zichterman's was a Church Growth Movement expert as an antagonist in fundamentalist circles prior to his "Damascus road experience" where he switched sides.
first dissertation was on the Church Growth Movement.
abandoned fundamentalism for the Church Growth Movement in part because of the spiritual abuse he
experienced within fundamentalism.
is well-read on the subject, emotionally-charged, and lays out a very articulate case for the Church Growth Movement which, though I believe it falls short of giving an adequate defense, at least masterfully exposes the fatal flaws of fundamentalism.
4. This lecture has all the vigor, zeal, pathos, and conviction of a new convert who is unmistakably calling out to his
fundamentalist brethren to break the shackles of their high control group and repudiate the John MacArthur-esque suspicion of the Church Growth Movement.
For these reasons alone, it is worth listening to.
If Fundamentalist leaders try to ignore it or discourage their followers from hearing it, particularly the ones who may be sympathetic to Joseph
, they will only prove Zichterman's point.
briefly outlines the theological and philosophical foundations for the thinking of such men as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.
Among the basic tenets of the CGM that Zichterman
offered are the
gave three non-negotiables that the CGM agree on:
a. The inspiration of the Bible
b. The Person of Christ.
is God and Man.
c. Salvation is in Christ alone.
At this point, Zichterman
opened the can of worms he
would dive into again a few minutes later: the issue of women in the church.
While I sympathized with him on many points, one of his
arguments struck me as a bit histrionic:
What an absolute tragedy it would be if a woman in your community refused to get saved because she
was given the unscriptural impression that she
would have to step down socially [from her
status] in modern-day egalitarian America."
Frankly, it is hard for me to imagine an unconverted woman even contemplating whether she could be a preacher/teacher in the church when she is first confronted with the Gospel.
And, if that is in the back of her
mind, I hardly think that she
really understood the Gospel in the first place.
We all step down.
And we can't even bring ourselves to look up.
Oh, well. . .
Here also, Joseph
began to repeat a phrase about the danger of being too conservative and he
championed the virtues of discernment.
Anyone serious about God, he
said, knows that "being an inch too conservative on any issue is not God's best."
The latter part of the lecture is where Zichterman
hits the nail on the head, I think.
grief with high control groups (read fundamentalism) come to the forefront in this section.
I hold to a strong complementarian position (Joseph obviously leans to egalitarianism), but I have been distressed to the point of anguish by the abuse women have undergone in right-wing, fundamentalistic churches.
I have counseled enough women who have undergone spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual abuse in mute subjugation because they are supposed to honor and obey their husbands.
It is horrible.
There's no doubt about it.
But one gets the impression that Zichterman
has an axe to grind and while he
best to insinuate age-old egalitarian arguments as if they are fresh into the minds of his
really says nothing new or fresh himself.
Except for one thing.
In this section here, Joseph
touches the nerve of the fundamentalist error as far as I am concerned.
commends the CGM for restoring a true understanding of the one-ness of God's people.
While I doubt that the CGM has restored a true understanding, I would certainly concur with Zichterman
that most high-control groups (read fundamentalism) have so de-emphasized unity that they have practically purged it out of the Bible.
I found Zichterman's
solution for spiritually abused people who are just coming out of high-control groups to be appalling.
If this doesn't describe the fundamentalism that Zichterman and I both know, I don't know what does.
goes on for some time about the lack of accountability in several areas, including the phony degrees that people can get online and elsewhere.
also talks long and hard about non-accredited schools and, once again, one feels like he
has an axe to grind.
Fifthly, money is another reason why high-control groups keep control.
If they lose control, they simply can't compete with mainstream evangelicalism.
Group leaders always live better than staffers, he
says, and many staffers have to go on welfare to survive.
Fine. I'm not sure that I would have made that one of my five characteristics of spiritual abuse, but again, Zichterman
wants this message to be heard.
It's not hard to imagine who his
Finally, Joseph Zichterman
suggests three insightful reasons why people won't leave the high-control groups.
1. They have improperly educated consciences.
I totally agree with Joseph
here, and he
makes a tremendous point when he
says that one of the best ways to re-educate the conscience of a defector is to teach him church history.
There are a number of people in this city who would love to come to a church like ours but they hear that Calvinism comes from the pit of hell and Spurgeon would agree with that!
Fortunately, some of them are googling "spurgeon" and finding their ranting pastors to be mis-leading.
2. The loss of relationships.
This is perhaps the most insightful analysis because one gets the impression that Joseph
speaks from experience.
As one who has been trashed by fundamentalist leadership in the most unethical and unchristian ways, I concur with Joseph
that "there will be a witch hunt" the second you defect.
is right to say that the only ones that will understand it completely are the ones who have been at the brunt end of this treatment.
In the main, I found myself sympathizing and empathizing with Zichterman
The fundamentalism I hate is the fundamentalism that gives no answers.
Just imbibe groupthink and God forbid that you should ever fall out of grace with the powers that be.
Recently I talked with a mutual friend of ours.
Our conversation was about Zichterman
I knew nothing of the man and, therefore, took at face value all the high things that our friend had to say about him.
I have sung some songs by Zichterman
and have appreciated the work that God has done in my heart through his
However, I told our mutual friend that I was sorely disappointed that Joe (as he called him) had joined Willow Creek.
I asked him what Joe was going to do with the Emergent philosophy that was there.
Our friend, wounded himself, said that he
had no idea what Emergent was, but that "Joe
" would certainly not embrace the errors of the Emergent as I portrayed them to him.
I hope not.
is in the "conversation," as he
Our friend said that since we had to hear fundamentalists blither and blather errors on one side and we survived that, why not hear evangelicals blither and blather on the other side.
Certainly, we'd survive those errors as well.
Basically, pick your poison, he
Sooooooo... your knee-jerk rea