It has become rather fashionable in certain circles these days to decry the rise in the church of what we call “the cult of personality”—and rightly so. A broader body consumed with consuming theological and biblical teaching via sundry media outlets is going to face the temptation to elevate certain voices, to take sides, to wave flags, and to give blind allegiance to a carefully crafted brand. We choose our cult leaders perhaps because we like their theological perspective, perhaps because we like their teaching style. It may be that our leader champions our favorite cause. Or it may simply be his charm. Because we are idol factories, we surround ourselves with idols.
This problem, of course, isn’t a new one. The New Testament not only knew its share of self-proclaimed “super- Apostles,” but even had some perfectly humble and godly men whom people put on a pedestal—”I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Peter” (see 1 Cor. 1:12) is not a judgment on Paul, Apollos, or Peter, but on those who made idols of them. I suspect the problem remains with us today because falling into it is actually a not-too-distant cousin of something the Bible actually calls us to: following the examples of those who are our spiritual betters. Paul, after all, calls on us to imitate him even as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).
The real problem is that our standards are off. Though there is nothing at all wrong with having a sound theological perspective or pleasing teaching style, taking up important causes, or even having charm, these are not good, biblical reasons to lift up a man as an example for us. The Bible gives us a list to look for in the men whom we should admire. Those things can be found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy (3:1-7) or in his letter to Titus (1:5-9), where he describes the qualities of an elder. The standards here are not quite so glamorous. An elder is the husband of one wife. He is not given to much wine. He is sober-minded, not quarrelsome. He rules his house well.
Many years ago, Highlands Ministries, like Ligonier before it, used to welcome students to come for extended times of study. These students would often stay at my house. I suspect that many of the young men who signed up thought something like this: “I haven’t been invited to go and study with my hero, R.C. Sproul. But I can go study with someone who has the same hero, who did live and study with him—R.C. Sproul Jr.” Many of these young men, I suspect, saw themselves on the pathway to greatness. So, I would play into that.
When we would meet for the first time, I would ask them: “Do you want to make a difference in the kingdom? Do you want to have a lasting, multigenerational impact? Do you want to do great things to advance the cause of Christ?” By this time, they were sitting on the edge of their seat, believing they were going to hear the secret they came to acquire.
“Alright,” I’d say, “I am going to tell you how to do that. Do you see that woman in there?” I would point into the kitchen, where my beloved wife was hard at work. “Yeah, yeah, I see her,” they would reply. “Here’s what you need to do,” I said. “Go find a godly woman like that, marry her, and then raise up godly children.” They would edge even further up in their seat, awaiting the punch line. I would sit back in my seat, having already delivered it.
It is a truism that what you cheer on you will get more of. When we lavish praise on men for their genius, their academic attainments, and their skillful presentations, then we should expect to get more genius, academic attainment, and skillful presentations. But what might happen if we were to cheer on what Paul cheers on? What if we believed God enough to believe that the power is in the ordinary: in husbands who love their wives as Christ loves the church, in parents who raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Might we not get more of that?
When I am asked, as I frequently am, “What was it like having R.C. Sproul for a father?” my assumption is that people are curious about the impact on me of having a father who is theologically sound, gifted at communication, supportive of biblical causes, and, truth be told, charming. My dad is all those things, and there is not a thing in the world wrong with that. But the world, and eternity, has been changed because he, along with my mother, raised my sister and me in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The world has been changed because my parents sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in ordinary ways, in an ordinary home, as ordinary parents, raising ordinary children.
We do not need special skills or special opportunities to do extraordinary things for the kingdom. We need only to serve our extraordinary Lord in ordinary ways. And He will and does bless that service. We don’t need another hero. We change the world one diaper at a time. For of such is the kingdom of God.