EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: What Evangelicals Can Learn From the Boy Who Cried Wolf 


When you squander your credibility, even when you tell the truth no one believes you

Warren Cole Smith April 20, 2024

Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will offer his opinion on stories in the week’s news or, sometimes, offer a behind-the-scenes look at how and why we do what we do.

You probably know the Aesop’s Fable about the boy who cried wolf. The story is more than 2,500 years old, but its moral is timeless and simple: If you become known for telling lies, then no one will believe you when you tell the truth.

Celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll learned the reality of that lesson recently. He spoke at a men’s conference in Springfield, Missouri. The conference hosts were James River Assembly of God and its pastor John Lindell.

The conference entertainment included what some have called a male stripper, Alex Magala, who ripped his shirt off onstage as part of his sword-swallowing act. (In fairness to Magala, he has had legitimate secular success, competing in Britain’s Got Talent and performing for the Olympics, but the particular act he performed should have been a “hard no” for a Christian event.) Also on the agenda: bull-riding, motocross racing. Last year’s conference featured cars getting crushed by a tank. It was a ridiculous tableau that perpetuated the worst stereotypes of both evangelical Christianity and masculinity.

When Driscoll came onstage, he called out the conference organizers, and for that I give him some credit. He said a “spirit of Jezebel” had kicked off the weekend. He became so critical that Pastor Lindell came onstage to end his presentation. Though the presentation was not livestreamed or filmed by organizers, you can find it online. It’s quite a spectacle.

Access to MinistryWatch content is free.  However, we hope you will support our work with your prayers and financial gifts.  To make a donation, click here.

But what is even more interesting to me is what has happened since the event. The pole-dancing sword-swallower has come forward to talk about how his act is motivated by his Christian faith. John Lindell, after initially calling Driscoll a “prophetic voice of our generation,” is now saying Driscoll did what he did as a media stunt in order to generate book sales and speaking engagements. He also accused Driscoll of spreading rumors about his sons.

“What Mark had done at this point was so egregious: Attempting to tear down the leader of the church, attempting to create friction between brothers, attempting to create discord between father and a son,” John Lindell said. “It seems demonic to me and honestly makes me very, very concerned about Mark.”

So who’s telling the truth here? Honestly, I have no idea. But more to the point of our conversation: I’m finding it increasingly difficult to care what either man has to say.

And that takes us back to the “boy who cried wolf.”

Both Driscoll and Lindell have squandered their credibility over many years. Driscoll’s problems have been widely documented by MinistryWatch and many others. So even though I agree with Driscoll in his assessment of the Stronger Men Conference, it’s hard to come to his defense. I agree with Rob Smith, a former member and early leader of Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, who has since become an outspoken Driscoll critic. Smith said, “I largely agree with Driscoll’s position that got him ‘thrown out.’ But he is a media master, and all of us reacting and posting is exactly what he hoped for.”

John Lindell, on the other hand, has managed to stay out of MinistryWatch, until this week. But he has been a lightning rod for controversy for years. To cite one example: a year ago, Lindell claimed that a woman’s amputated toes had suddenly grown back. He has so far failed to offer any evidence of that claim, and skeptics have even put up a website called ShowMeTheToes.com to expose the claims of Lindell and other faith healers.

Because of the character of these men, their long history of “crying wolf” in ways cause me not to believe them even when they do tell the truth, a big part of me doesn’t want anything to do with this story. A big part of me wants to follow Rob Smith’s advice: Ignore them.

But another part of me knows millions of Americans are not ignoring them. There’s an old saying: “If you see a dead fish, you ask what’s wrong with the fish. If you see a hundred dead fish, you ask what’s wrong with the lake.” Millions of Americans are silently watching the Driscoll-Lindell spectacle unfold. Whether we want to admit it or not, they’re trying to decide if what they are seeing represents something wrong with just these two fishy men, or something wrong with the lake they are swimming in, evangelical Christianity.

Our response will answer that question. What a watching world wants to know is: Are we going to tolerate it? Are we going to call it out? Are we going to tell the truth? And if we do tell the truth, will it be – like it was for Driscoll and the boy who cried wolf – too late?

If it has, we might discover that those looking in at the Driscoll-Lindell fiasco might come to the conclusion that Driscoll and Lindell are not outliers.

They are, rather, who we have become.