For Alabama megachurch pastor Chris Hodges, July brought an abundance of headlines featuring his name. Church of The Highlands (COTH) is one of the largest megachurches in America, with over 20 locations throughout Alabama. COTH’s pastoral restoration center, called The Lodge, garnered recent scrutiny over whether sexually deviant pastors were being “restored” at the church’s facility, which is located on one of their campuses. This was mainly due to COTH previously having Micahn Carter on staff, who was accused of raping his former assistant, forcing him to resign in 2021. The timing coincided with the construction of the Lodge and questions surrounding allusions Hodges made in a sermon. Aside from the extravagance, this is the main reason the Lodge has attracted renewed scrutiny. The second major headline involved Hodges’s ARC (Association of Related Churches) allegedly orchestrating a takeover of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, FL.
With all these headlines, it becomes appropriate to survey the preaching of Chris Hodges, which is more important and impactful than lawsuits and media driven scandals. Given that Chris Hodges was a March 2020 verdict, periodic follow up is imperative, especially when combined with recent developments or headlines. Of late, he has been preaching a series on Daniel. In surveying a few of his sermons, this anecdote he deployed into his sermon was the most errant, heterodox statement uttered.
Beginning at the 31:50 minute mark of a sermon entitled, “The Marks of a Shifting Culture” Hodges begins his anecdote which undergirds his point that believers ought to be standing for God. He opens with a critique of people focusing too much about what they ask of God before stating the following:
We know that God is for us. But have you ever had the thought that we should be for Him too? Like have you ever thought he needs us to stand and defend His honor and His name?
This hypothetical point goes on, but the basic errancy is that God does not require us to defend His honor. There is an expectation that His children will do so out of faithful obedience, but not a necessity. If anything, it is a privilege that believers get to “defend God’s honor.” Hodges failed to make this distinction in his hypothetical thought exercise. However, this shortcoming only leads into the really theologically errant statement.
This leads into his anecdote in which he stood for Gods honor. The story goes that he was playing golf with his buddy who brings along friends who do not at first know that he is a pastor. One of these men whom he was playing golf with had a proclivity for taking the Lord’s name in vain.
It’s not in my nature, honestly, to be confrontational. And I said, “Well, listen to me. If you’re gonna keep saying that, at least get it right, because God doesn’t damn. The devil does. So use his name, please.”
After a crowd reaction, in which there was applause and some laughter, he elaborates:
He doesn’t damn anything. He’s a blesser. Every good and perfect gift comes from God. You have—you are misrepresenting my heavenly Father, and I just don’t think…if you’re gonna say it, you use the right name.
On one hand, the self-admitted nonconfrontational Chris Hodges should be commended for confronting a man in his sinful invocation of the Lord’s name. Though he misstated the truth to a man who unlikely knew otherwise, it appeared to have a proper reaction from the man. It demonstrates the efficacy a simple rebuke has in correcting these behaviors.
However, Hodges does not acknowledge his misstatement, and in fact doubles down on this incomplete theology of God and an incorrect theology of Satan. God is not just a blesser, but also a righteous judge. Jeremiah 9:24 states, “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (KJV). At the Lord’s righteous judgment, He condemns man as is exhibited throughout Scripture. Hodges is fundamentally omitting a core attribute of God’s character while his words are dressed up with levity that might have congregants overlooking his actual words.
Second, Satan does not damn anyone. In fact, the authority to damn a soul rests solely in the hands of God. Ultimately, it is the Lord who sends souls to hell or redeems them. Satan’s power is extremely limited by comparison. For an accurate theology on Satan, hence the following:
This much, therefore, he has of himself, and his own iniquity, that he eagerly, and of set purpose, opposes God, aiming at those things which he deems most contrary to the will of God. But as God holds him bound and fettered by the curb of his power, he executes those things only for which permission has been given him, and thus, however unwilling, obeys his Creator, being forced, whenever he is required, to do him service.
John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.14.17
Neither should one invoke the Lord’s name in vain nor substitute it for that of Satan. God does condemn people, both in this life and thereafter, with a final judgment to come. It is not Man’s place to invoke the Lord’s name in a flippant, condemnatory manner. Hodges both neglects the attributes of God as the righteous judge while attributing to Satan authority which is not his.
In surveying Hodges sermons, his style of preaching is all too ubiquitous within the American church and to its detriment. His setup might resemble that of Andy Stanley, except there is actually Scripture upon the screen. His style is reliant on crowd feedback and reaction during the sermon, which is at worst manipulative, especially when employed by false teachers seeking yes-train affirmations, reflects that he might be a crowd pleaser rather than a preacher of tough truths. This is denoted when he asks for “amens” from the pews and in his mannerisms, as is exhibited during this illustration.
As a preacher, Hodges comes across as a spiritual wetnurse, which is to say he breastfeeds his congregation when he should be feeding solid foods. Even in a sermon that touched on homosexuality, he does not stray from orthodoxy, but is hardly bold on the subject. Because of this infantile approach, a church congregant might appreciate that he touches cultural issues, but his sermons are extremely absent on application. He mentions the rhetorical situation of a child coming home from school and their classmate identifying but does not provide instructions from the pulpit on how parents should address this scenario. How many countless pastors sound just like Chris Hodges in lacking specific application in their sermons?
Hodges in the sermon before this one has a point that “We cannot antagonize and influence at the same time” but in preaching the Book of Daniel, this neglects the antagonistic actions that were committed throughout the book. Refusal to bend the knee to the golden image was antagonistic. That was a direct affront to the king and a tacit rebuke of those who prostrated themselves to the idol. Standing up for God is often antagonistic in the eyes of the worldly, but it does influence. In 2021, refusal to get vaccinated was antagonistic, and more so advocating against the jabs. Refusing to apply preferred pronouns is considered mean and discourteous. One cannot transform or influence culture without confrontation of that which is aberrant to God’s standard.
Chris Hodges makes the mistake of being nicer than God, and this is reflected in his professed statement that “God is a blesser” and that “God doesn’t damn anything.” This incomplete understanding that is devoid of judgment reflects Hodges own nonconfrontational approach. Politically, Chris Hodges is conservative, but he lacks the testicular fortitude to even defend liking Charlie Kirk’s social media posts over perceived “racism.” His nonconfrontational predisposition undergirded this errant statement, yet Chris Hodges is not the only pastor who has this problem.
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