But when the man is using illustrations put forth as historical facts in the middle of his sermon, that are not true, it just becomes too much to bear. Mac's shtick in preaching is that he is a well-read man and even perhaps a "historian". Yet when one does a cursory check of his two primary historical illustrations on Sunday 7/6, at best his illustrations are a far stretch from the truth and at worst are pure fabrications.
A "Jewish Banker" and a "French Officer"
Let's take his first one: a story of a "Jewish banker" named Moses Rothschild, and a "French Officer" in the French Revolution. Mac tells the story as though recounting the details of history, that a "French Officer" had to flee persecution during the French Revolution and he gave his fortune to a "Jewish banker" for safe keeping and didn't get a "receipt". The "Jewish banker" took the money for him, invested it, and then returned it to the "French Officer" after the Revolution and explained why he returned it: "To my profession my name is attached". Mac then said the "French Officer" went around telling people he had found an honest banker, and because this "Jewish banker", named Moses Rothschild had honesty and integrity, he went on to start the largest bank in Europe. [You can listen to this illustration by clicking here; it is a 3 megabyte file, so you might have to wait; or you can go to Mac's website at http://www.inlight.org to listen to it.]
Well, several problems with Mac's "historical" illustration. Firstly, it was not Moses Rothschild, it was Mayer Rothschild (Moses was Mayer's father). Secondly, the "French Officer" was not some person Rothschild didn't know, he was a man representing Prince William of Hanau, who Rothschild had cultivated a relationship with and had already benefited financially from prior to the French revolution. Some historians say that Prince William's fortune was ill-gotten, but we won't go there. But about returning the fortune back to Prince William, which is the moral of Mac's story: even the Jewish Encyclopedia acknowledges that it was "legend" that the money was returned by Rothschild. Well-known economic historian Niall Ferguson calls the entire story that Mac used a "myth" that never happened. I challenge Mac Brunson to give a credible historical reference that says he gave the money back to Prince William. Also, if Rothschild did, to say that this is what catapulted the Rothschild's to be the largest bank in Europe is ludicrous. Its just not in the history books that way - some even say Rothschild embezzled the money from Prince William. I challenge people to do their own historical research on this, and you'll see that Mac took extreme liberty (to be kind) with this historical event to make an illustration.
"Fred the Christian Mechanic"
The second illustration by Mac is his story of the Toronto car mechanic, "Fred", who several years ago was honest enough to not cheat a news reporter doing an undercover story on auto mechanics. According to Mac, the reporter went to "Fred's" shop with a spark plug wire disconnected making the car run very rough, and "Fred" looked at it, put the plug back on, closed the hood, and didn't charge the reporter. When asked why he was so honest, Mac quotes Fred as saying: "I believe God created everything there is...and Jesus Christ his Son came and died on a cross for me to forgive my sins, and rose again to give me eternal life. I'm not a preacher, I'm not a missionary, I'm just a mechanic. But everything I do as a witness and worship unto God." Mac says the newspaper had a headline the next day: "Fred the Mechanic: All to God's Glory". [Click here to listen to the illustration.]
Well, this account that Mac gave us is not about "Fred", but Cecil "Red" Brenton, and it occurred in Toronto in 1972. But according to the Toronto Star, there is no record of the speech that Mac said "Fred" gave the reporter. Instead, the Toronto Star says: "Brenton fixed the minor problem, charged nothing and said simply 'I'm a Christian.'" That's what the newspaper reported: that Red Brenton said "I'm a Christian". In a subsequent Toronto Star article, Red Brenton said, "I'm not used to all this publicity. I am a Christian man, a Catholic, but I didn't mean I'm a fanatic or anything." While it is nice to think a "Fred" who is a mechanic gave a gospel presentation to the reporter when asked why he didn't rip him off, it just didn't happen that way.
Now I leave open the possibility that I'm wrong, and Mac Brunson has access to historical documents and news articles that I don't. But I doubt it. So one has to wonder, where does he get these illustrations? Was it careless sermon prep, and he plucked these illustrations out of an illustration book or off a sermon prep website? Or did he know the historical facts and decided to fudge the facts to suit his purposes. Hillary Clinton tried this on several occasions this past year - and she found out people don't like it when leaders fib about historical events. We don't tolerate it in political candidates, why should we have to tolerate it with a preacher of the gospel? Isn't this a simple matter of integrity? Those of you who are pastors that read this blog, is this what they teach in seminary in sermon prep classes? Is it OK to fib on historical facts if the fib contains the gospel message or some important biblical truth?
Well, we know Jerry Vines, arguably one of the premier experts on expository sermon preparation in the SBC, doesn't advocate using these kinds of illustrations. On pages 132-134 of his book "A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation", which Mac undoubtedly has in his personal library, Vines says the following regarding illustrations in sermons: "Your illustration will be a good one if it is believable...If you are making up an illustration, say so...The preacher should be mindful of certain cautions in his use of illustrations. First, be sure your illustrations are true. If you are making up an illustration, let it be known at the appropriate time."
This all points to one inescapable truth that we hope Mac will learn: its best to just expositorially preach the Bible, get most of your main illustrations FROM THE BIBLE itself, and never use half-truths and fabrications of historical events in your sermons. Mac has now lost credibility with his listeners in any historical references he makes - we won't know if he's telling us historical facts, or using his reputation as a historian to make us believe some half-baked illustration is historically correct when its not. Excuse me while I go check the facts in his Abraham Lincoln sermon last week.