The Atlanta Catalyst Conference, according to it’s organizers, is a “movement of world changers who love Jesus, see things differently, and feel a burden for our generation.” They go on to explain that their supreme passion is “the pursuit of God.” Scores have joined this pursuit. Evidence: even at $300 a ticket, they are having no problems filling stadiums of over 13,000 seats. The conference aims to minister to Christian leaders under 40 years of age.
The movement is the brainchild of Andy Stanley, pastor of the second biggest congregation in the United States - North Point Community Church. The list of speakers for the three day event reads like a virtual Who’s Who of the country’s brightest and most influential thinkers. As a result, people from all over the globe are flocking to hear this eclectic ensemble of best selling authors, television producers, mega-church pastors, and progressive politicians, expound to them the principals of success which they have so obviously mastered.
For example, Mark Burnett will be explaining to church leaders how to put forth a more viable product for their constituency. The super-producer who is the juggernaut behind blockbuster’s like the “MTV Movie Awards” and “The Celebrity Apprentice” obviously knows a thing or two about marketing. He is indeed in elite company, being one of the only producers to have a renewed series on each of the four major networks.
Sam Adams, mayor of the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon will be addressing attendees on the subject of leadership. Sam is one of a handful of openly homosexual mayors in the country and the Catalyst webpage bio on him informs us that his partner, Peter Zuckerman, is an author.
A lighting-rod for controversy of late, Catalyst founder Pastor Andy Stanley sent considerable shock-waves throughout the evangelical world when he not-so-clandestinely celebrated the new possibilities available to homosexuals who want to have families of their own. Stanley cited a gay couple from his own fellowship as an example. Al Mohler did a good job explaining the obvious dilemma this places evangelicals in when one of it’s most visible personalities sanctions and seemingly celebrates same-sex relationships.
Thickening the plot, three great pillars of the younger evangelical world - Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, and David Platt will be headlining the conference. The latter two are household names since their respective best-selling books Crazy Love and Radical have defined afresh what trenchant obedience to Jesus looks like.
As these men have so persuasively reminded us, one of the more conspicuous features of fidelity to Christ has always been a healthy separation with this world system and the unbelievers who propagate its views (2 Cor. 6:14). Evangelicals hold this value of separation as part of their creed and authors like Chan and Platt have sold scores of books exhorting the church to examine their profession in light of this New Testament doctrine. Faithful have they been in challenging us to follow the Lord wherever He leads.
This places before us a rather obvious question: Would the Lord lead one of His faithful servants to participate in a conference like Catalyst? Perhaps. He has often put His prophets in tight spots.
Elijah, for example, was once at a worship service with 400 of Baal's choicest spokesmen and even Jesus walked in the midst of the money changers on a couple of occasions. The fact that both of these encounters ended badly, however, does not bode well for Chandler, Chan, nor Platt.
A couple of things could happen at this event. If they do the obvious and ‘call-out’ what appears to be the boldest attempt yet to yoke the evangelical church with the world, then they may find themselves running for their lives on the backside of a desert like Elijah - or even worse - being ‘escorted’ to the brow of a hill as Jesus was by His townsfolk.
Or... they could say nothing and simply ‘spread the light.’ This, in our opinion, would place them in an even a tighter spot, for then they would have validated a movement that is clearly awry by lending their august names to it’s billboard. This would confuse a lot of sheep to say the least.
In what must be considered a striking providence, Catalyst is not the only Christian conference in Atlanta on this weekend. A few miles away a much smaller gathering entitled “The Coming Persecution” will commence. Unlike Catalyst, a stadium will not be necessary. The organizers report that a comparatively tiny number have registered - even though the event is completely free.
The speakers at this conference are perhaps a bit radical (to borrow Mr. Platt's word). They receive no payment for their services, they are convinced that a global persecution is imminent, and they stubbornly preach the most unpalatable of all messages - that judgment will soon begin in the house of the Lord.
The convergence of these two conferences in the same city on the same days is a prophetic sign and in this way: The "Catalyst" gathering will undoubtedly be a major catalyst in the coming persecution that the "Coming Persecution" folks assure us is at the door (pun, by divine decree, unintended).
Here's one possible scenario: If Chan, Platt, and Chandler do not distinguish themselves from this movement by speaking out against it’s unlawful marriage with the world then a new mould could be cast for tens of thousands of younger evangelicals - and for years to come.
The great doctrine of separation will be shelved, the social gospel will again replace the promises, and the pragmatic model, which we thought was in the very throws of death, will rise again to horrific resurrection power.
When the prophets eventually arise in protest they will find themselves out numbered ten-thousand to one, and unless a fiery chariot whirlwinds down to the rescue, their heads may indeed end up on a platter. Especially if they go preaching in Portland.
We shall see. We shall indeed see.