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

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 called The 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’ve given 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:

How Steep the Decline: James MacDonald, Bryan Loritts, and Sycophantic Uncle Toms

James MacDonald, the Elephant Room and the “Spinning” of the Truth

[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.

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

  1. Doug Hutchcraft says:

    Wow Scott – I’ve got nothing to say that would add a thing to this brave, eloquent, important post. You are such a skilled writer and spiritually intelligent thinker. Thank you for the truth here, and for faithfully sharing such important thoughts!

  2. Mary DeVries Yager says:

    Wow. Wow. This is painful to read.

  3. paultzak says:

    I have heard bits and pieces of The Elephant Room controversy but never understood the full context. Thank you for laying out the complete picture in such detail and with care. Very sad to see the shift that is occurring at HBC.

  4. Bill Radford says:

    Brilliant! By far your best post. And not just because it confirms much of what I have thought on the subject. Well done – now duck!

  5. Nathan says:

    This is a well written post. Thanks Scott. It’s really sad actually, but I’m afraid it is all true.

  6. Andrea Kendrick says:

    I am stunned. sickened and stunned. How sad…

  7. Mark Notestine says:

    I had received a lot of very good instruction from James’ sermons over the years I attended Rolling Meadows (1993-2000), those sermons were also used by God in the process of bringing my mom and sister to salvation.

    I certainly agree with James’ correction of Furtick at ER1 (as weird at it sounds I am more bothered by Furtick than Jakes). I agreed with his points from the Four False Gospel series that you linked.

    I heard part of the Trinity/Modalism discussion, some parts I liked and some parts disappointed me; I will have to read/see/hear the whole conversation before I can fully comment on it. I hope to see the video of it so I can pick up on the non-verbal conversational aspects.

    It is very disappointing that the prosperity gospel was not an agenda item. Especially since more of the masses know Jakes for his prosperity preaching and less for the Modalism issues. I am worried that many people could now go and read/listen to Jakes teaching and be influenced by the prosperity preaching. Ironically, all of the controversy in the evangelical community about Jakes himself and the lack of prosperity gospel discussion at ER2 is actually bringing that issue to the forefront, so many people will now be indirectly warned of Jakes prosperity issues (sort of a community-wide self-correction).

    In general, seeing any ministry leader in a large house or driving luxury cars gives me pause. I can’t speak to James’s situation specifically because I really don’t know him personally except for a couple of brief conversations over the last 18 years.

    In general, if a ministry leader has acquired nice things through capitalistic side businesses, investments, etc. then I have no issue. For book sales it gets more muddy. If someone writes a book on their own time then they certainly can keep the profits. If someone converts sermons they created into a book, then most or all of the profits for the book should belong to the ministry since the person was paid a salary to write those sermons in the first place. In the engineering world, any intellectual property that I create on the job belongs to the company and not me, I think the same standard should apply to ministries too.

    I am concerned when large salaries are drawn from the ministry. For para church organizations I regularly check Charity Navigator, if the executive salaries are too high then I don’t give. For better or worse, many of the better rated large ministries still pay their executives between 100K and 200K; certainly upper middle class but not rich. The high end of this range makes me a bit uncomfortable and any more than the 200K limit is definitely excessive to me. I am concerned that many large churches don’t publish that information, even if just giving general ranges. Many publicly traded companies regularly provide their executive salaries to the shareholders. If a lead pastor of a megachurch is paid in that same 100K – 200K region, that is definitely sufficient to comfortably support a family and is in line with the para church ministries. More than that strikes me as bad budget stewardship. The lack of transparency of many churches makes me wonder if the salaries are way more. Also, when a lead pastor is paid a lot, are the entry level pastors still paid a sufficient living wage?

    As a hard core capitalist I say that if someone really wants to be wealthy, then enter the business world not the ministry world. Many of the ministry executives have the intelligence, work ethic and charisma that they could excel in that world (e.g. sales, books, public speaking).

    My BIGGEST CONCERN is actually the role of the elder board as a check and balance on the pastoral leaders.

    I share many, if not all, of James concerns about congregational government, but the other end where you have quasi-monarchical rule is also dangerous, for different reasons. It becomes possible for the leader to make bad decisions without adequate checks and balances from a counsel of many mature believers.

    The elder board of a church should have strong, mature, godly people who can strongly question and discuss any decision that comes up and not be afraid of conflict. If an elder is little more than a “yes man” then that elder is useless to the church. If you have good elders and they are not listened to, that is also bad.

    I briefly went to a Baptist church years ago that had a long established head pastor and a deacon board that regularly rotated its members. The church was essentially a veiled monarchy of the pastor along the lines of Caesar Augustus.

    The departure from Harvest of many respected and long standing elders causes me concern. I am not sure the reasons, they could be good or bad reasons, but it does look very bad from the outside.
    Lessening the elder board’s oversight of day to day activities may not be bad if good deacons are there to provide oversight. The key is whether ALL of the elder board is intimately involved with the major decisions of the church.

    As far a James pulling out of the Gospel Coalition, I can’t speak to that specifically. I do have an opinion on the letter that Kent Shaw sent to the leaders about it and what it implies about the church government. I am not sure how Harvest can OFFICIALLY say “We support him in stepping back “when the decision was made in counsel with “other Christian Leaders and some of our Elders.” Note that it did NOT say with ALL of the Elders. Is there a hierarchy of Elders? I thought Elder decisions needed to be unanimous? Otherwise what is the point of Elders?

    • Mark,

      You are likely going to see this in a future post, but for now, I’ll simply say that the reason you didn’t hear anything about the Prosperity Gospel is that MacDonald tends to think it runs closer to Scripture than the “monasticism” of the neo-reformed movement.

    • B. Chang says:

      It appears that HBC is moving more and more to a “dictatorial authority structure” where people who do not fit what the church considers its “norm” are “catapulted” out of the church. Leaders have been deemed to be faultless and if a congregant has a question of concern then they are questioning the authority of God. If this is true then it is very sad and somewhat frightening because of the implications of this type of behavior which is against what Scripture says about correction..

  8. Ryan M. Mahoney says:

    In 2008 he made roughly $130,000 from just Walk in the Word, so that does not include his salary, housing allowance or expense accounts/reimbursements from the church. This number comes from a form all non-profits are required to file. After 2008 Walk in the Word became a ministry of HBC, not a separate entity. Churches are exempt from filing the 990 form. Hmmm.

    • Ryan M. Mahoney says:

      Actually, I have found the 2009 990, and it reports an even $150,000 to James from just Walk in the Word. Remember, churches do not have to disclose this information, which is interesting given the FL GOP debate about Romney’s lack of transparency.

      • Mark Notestine says:

        According to charity Navigator the leader compensations for Walk in the Word (2-star rating) are:
        $12,011 James Macdonald
        $162,986 Janine Nelson (Secretary)
        $114,840 James Alm (Asst. Treasurer)

        Not sure if there was a huge paycut then, or a error, or accounting acrobatics.

        For comparision here are some other national para church ministries
        (but I wonder if there are any accounting acrobatics here):

        Grace To You (3-star rating):
        $180,784 Phillip Johnson (Executive Director)
        $161,515 John F. MacArthur Jr. (President)

        Ligonier (3-star rating):
        $173,618 Robert C. Sproul (President, Founder)
        $38,400 Vesta Sproul (Director)

        Turning Point (3-star rating):
        $107,350 David P. Jeremiah (President)
        $142,040 David M. Jeremiah (Chief Operating Officer)
        $174,971 George Hale (Chief Financial Officer)
        $169,297 Paul Joiner (Director of Creative Services)

        Christian Research Institute (1-star rating):
        $56,287 Hank Hanegraaff (President) (used to be ~230K)
        $125,312 Kathy Hanegraaff (Director of Planning)

        Insight for Living (3-star rating):
        $171,343 Cynthia Swindoll (President, CEO)
        $59,560 Charles R. Swindoll (Chairman of the Board)

        The Urban Alternative (2-star rating):
        $40,000 Anthony T. Evans (President)
        $83,546 Lois I. Evans (Senior Vice President)
        $63,350 Williams E. Collins (Vice President)

        Overall Walk in the Word seems roughly in line with these similar ministries.
        But in most of these cases these pastors also have a salary from a church (and perhaps other organizations?) and we have no idea if that church salary is huge or frugal. So the issue is still out there for a lot of leaders.

        Your transparency concern is still in the forefront for many churches.

      • Mark Notestine says:


        Trinity Broadcasting Network (1-star rating):
        $402,256 Paul F. Crouch Sr. (President, Director)

        Actually, lower than I thought but still obscene. He probably has other sources of income too.

  9. Mark Notestine says:

    Another ramification of this whole controversy is a potential false impression that Harvest Bible Chapel does not clearly proclaim the gospel. On the Wretched site on Facebook someone made the following comment about the Voddie Baucham controversy:

    “Should he have declined, or should he go and proclaim the Gospel in that place like Matt Chandler did at Code Orange? One could argue that by not going, Vodie will deprive a bunch of men the clearest presentation of the Gospel they may have ever heard. Is one way better than the other?”

    For all of the huge faults of Harvest Bible Chapel, the gospel is still clearly proclaimed there. This whole controverys could be tarnishing Harvest in popular evangelical opinion. Some people now may be beginning to equate Harvest with TD Jakes’ church and Furtick’s church. If this occurs, then the ER2 may do more harm than good for Harvest.

  10. Rich Bennema says:

    Is it sinful or heretical to have a $2 million house? Does the answer change depending on whether or not the occupant is a pastor? Is prosperity condemned by the Bible? Is there a difference between being prosperous and the Prosperity Gospel?

    The line appears to blurred in what you have written. It seems that you are saying that James MacDonald’s prosperity + lack of rebuke of TD Jakes = acceptance of the Prosperity Gospel. And maybe that’s possible. But if personal prosperity has led to tolerance of the Prosperity Gospel, how can we know that the former stance was not motivated out of envy rather than pure theology?

    1 Corinthians 9:9-11 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?

    If the worker is worth his wages, how much wages is the worker worth? Should the material harvest be proportionate to the spiritual seed sown? Is there an upper limit? Who gets to decide? Is any amount truly fair considering how out of balance the American lifestyle is when compared to the rest of the world?

    What you have written is excellent and is an appropriate caution to consider. But I want to make sure it isn’t taken too far. That conclusions are not stretched based on a house, a car, and a conference. I always liked James MacDonald’s naming Walk in the Word based on Isaiah 30:21 as a promotion of balance. And while the Prosperity Gospel is wrong, we need to equally stay away from a Poverty Gospel that says those who have money are living outside the will of God either in how they earned the money or by the fact that they have not given it all away. There needs to be balance.

  11. Rich Bennema says:

    If you haven’t heard it, you should check out Chris Fabry Live! – A Controversial Conversation:

    Even though you’d expect Moody Radio to go easy on one of its own, it gave Pastor MacDonald a chance to respond to issues concerning TD Jakes and Voddie Baucham.

    Here is the portion most relevant to this discussion during the 36th minute:

    “All I can say is Bishop Jakes would not currently accept the designation of Prosperity Preacher or Word of Faith Preacher as an accurate description of what he believes currently. Now his ministry will have to bear that out. I’m not here to defend him or stick up for his various errors. And I don’t want to minimize error that is significant. All I’m saying is that he, as of two weeks ago, would not accept those terms, in private conversation, as accurate descriptors of what he believes.” – James MacDonald

  12. Dave says:

    I think there are a lot of very valid criticisms of Pastor MacDonald. There’s one that doesn’t hold much water for me. That’s his “extravagant lifestyle”, which I’ve see here and in other blogs. Let me lay out my argument very clearly:

    1) We all have a responsibility to God to be good stewards of what we are given financially and otherwise.

    2) It is wise to invest for the future and for the unknown. Even if one plans not to retire, a time will likely come when one is no longer gainfully employed and must live off of some kind of savings.

    3) Good stewardship includes considering the tax and other ramifications of the investments we make with the money entrusted to us.

    4) In the U.S., money spent by the clergy on their primary residence is tax-exempt. This includes money spent on their mortgage, interest and any improvements or furnishings. This is a huge tax savings for those in the clergy.

    5) Real estate, especially homes, have traditionally performed well against the stock market (not recently, I understand, but historically).

    6) Real estate is a fantastic investment vehicle for a pastor. It is probably a better long-term investment than anything you’d get in a 401K or similar investment thanks to the tax implications.

    I strongly believe that Pastor MacDonald bought this home with this in mind. One of his weaknesses, in my opinion, is his independence and lack of strong discernment in his elders and advisers. Someone should have thrown the “yes, maybe it is a great investment, but how is it going to look” flag. But, MacDonald would probably choose the value of good stewardship over the value of good looks (which he would probably label “vanity”). Personally, I’d advocate a careful balance of these competing priorities. I would have advised James to invest in his primary residence, but stop short of buying anything that will get into the paper. That means avoiding homes with any historical significance and probably keeping it under $1.5M. He can put the rest into his retirement accounts and save a lot of face.

    That said, I do think that it is a serious oversight and lapse of judgement to not question Dr. Jakes about the prosperity gospel. In an effort to remain charitable, perhaps everyone was just relieved to get past the modalism question which had stirred up so much controversy. Had I been an elder at Harvest Bible, I’m not sure I would have recommended against Dr. Jakes’ inclusion, but I would have laid some ground rules for sure: you must ask about modalism, you must question him about the prosperity gospel, you must push for clear answers.

    • Good morning Dave,

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. From my perspective, you raise some excellent points regarding the wisdom of stewarding one’s resources, and I can’t say that I entirely disagree with you. I might disagree on the “acceptable value” of a home, but some level, we’d be quibbling over details. I think the larger questions here center on the fact that the home exceeds even your suggested ceiling of 1.5 million and that there are competing interests between wise investments and “looking good.” Certainly Scripture suggests that we are all to take great care in not acting in such a way as to bring ill repute to the Gospel or in such a way as to cause another brother to stumble.

      Again, many thanks for the thoughtful reply. It was genuinely appreciated.

  13. KristenTheChristian says:

    Our family chose to stop attending HBC services last Summer (2011) and disassociate with all things Harvest for several of the reasons you have mentioned in your extremely well written, spot on article. I had been listening to Walk in the Word and occasionally attending services since 2003. (Before that I was a member of another evangelical church since birth which has now split) We left immediately after completing all the membership steps. The information we learned was a huge wake up call.

    There was a notable and startling change in the focus of MacDonald’s sermons over the Spring and Summer of 2011. A few of our “last straws” were: Seeing how the congregation worshiped MacDonald, the man can do no wrong in their eyes, and how egotistical, dismissive, and completely disgraceful he behaved. For example, and this was the last service we ever attended, during one of his live sermons at the Elgin campus he stopped his sermon to publicly humiliate two young teen/ tween boys slouching in their seats next to their parents. He was shouting and pointing his fingers at them, saying “How dare you treat this house of God so disrespectfully!! This is a house of God… How dare you act as if I’m wasting your precious time!!” He went on and on. The whole congregation was silent, in total shock. It was like watching your dad slap your mom at the breakfast table. Does anyone remember this, or is there a video of this somewhere?? It says so much about his character, or really, his lack of.

    Another last straw was exactly what is discussed in your article. From my experience he is a hypocrite and it’s trickled down through the authority. He does not walk his talk by any means. This is often excused with “No one’s perfect” or “No church is perfect.” Which is obviously true, but MacDonald is not held accountable there either. Learned that from the membership courses. The focus is primarily church “planting.” MacDonald went so far as to imply that being content with what you have been given is a sin. He used the church and it’s growth as his example. My husband and I were sitting next to each other and I looked at him with big, wide eyes at that point. I jotted down on my notes “Is being content a sin?” and my husband replied “I guess, yeah. That’s what he’s saying.” I was blown away by that.

    The focus was/is regularly on how many new churches they were/are planting and that God must really favor Harvest and MacDonald. Again we see the message of quantity and accumulation equals success, all while the quality suffers. For example, Summer 2011 I was diagnosed with brain cancer and needed a craniotomy to remove a tumor. I emailed MacDonald twice asking him to anoint me, he never responded. His minions did, though. Without my permission they passed my phone number around to several people, both ministers and other church members. I never met the people I spoke with. Still haven’t, and no, I don’t want to. These were some of the most awkward, impersonal conversations I’ve ever had. It was very violating to be discussing such a painful, personal issue with complete strangers, of which I did not consent. I trusted HBC with my personal information and, not surprisingly, they abused that trust. I was able to meet MacDonald face to face at one point and told him I emailed him about getting anointed. He said he “probably read them but forgot.” He then cut me off and asked me to speak with some lady standing behind him. She took my phone number and that was the end of our conversation.

    Something that I still think about are the photos on their Facebook page of MacDonald with the president (G.W. Bush). All politics aside, why is he posing for smiley pictures with the president? It would be just as alarming if the photo were with Regan, Clinton, Obama, etc… Hidden agenda anyone? If you’re looking for a church, be the church. The Bible says nothing about commercial churches. Church is a verb. It’s that simple. 🙂

    • Carol says:

      Praying for you, that the Lord will grant you healing from the brain cancer and tumor, and bring you back to good health. God bless you.

      Your post was very well written and accurate.
      I too was a regular attender (and tither) at Harvest Bible Chapel Rolling Meadows for almost seven years. I concur with all you have observed. I believe your account, that James MacDonald harshly and publicly attacked two boys during a service, as I’ve observed him harshly treating others in separate instances during Rolling Meadows services.

      I stopped attending abruptly after the ER1. Over the last 2 years of attendance I was getting more uncomfortable with periodic preaching errors, bad attitudes from the pulpit and troublesome associations (Mark Driscoll, Greg Laurie etc). In all those seven years I never had the heart to go through the formal “membership” process, because there was always something in back of my mind that everything wasn’t exactly right. Now I wish I had done that like you. It may have saved me some wasted time at HBC.

      Lack of accountability in leadership is a huge red flag. I hope you find a good new church.

  14. I agree with you theologically about the Prosperity Gospel. Would you go inside your heart and re-write this whole blog “being loving” . You have written it “being right” 100 %. Please re – write “being loving” 100 %. AND THEY’L KNOW THAT WE’RE CHRISTIANS BY OUR LOVE, BY OUR LOVE.

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