"Moody board chairman and top author Jerry B. Jenkins is among Christians who have taken up tournament poker."

WORLD: No bluffing

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Wayne Wilson's picture

It is interesting to me that Jenkins and his poker buddy James MacDonald have become extremely rich and something of celebrities in the Christian world. Is it possible that worldliness leads to...worldliness?  I worry that those who are most responsible for changing standards (some would say lowering standards) are in many ways elitists...and worst of all, tend to act like elitists.  It feels very wrong.  It seems so contrary to being "the servant of all" to blow big money in Vegas.  Success, rather than godliness, seems to be the way people get on important boards of key institutions.  I don't want to be hard-nosed, but it all feels so very wrong.  

christian cerna's picture

This is why I am weary of Christian celebrities. Anyone who continually seeks the spotlight and makes money from Christianity is suspect in my book. As Wayne said, churches and religious institutions are filled with board members and leaders who have gotten to where they are, not by living a Godly life, but by the same ways politicians rise to power- saying all things people want to hear, and rubbing elbows with other powerful people.

Jeffrey Dean's picture

It's his money (sounds like the tithe and offerings are paid up for those who are worried).  It's his choice.  It is between him and the Lord.  If he has the liberty to play a little poker, it is none of my business (or yours).  Poker is not roulette.  It is math and psychology. I love the fact that a Christian is interacting with real people inside a casino. Sounds almost Christ-like.


Jonathan Charles's picture

Is gambling a matter of Christian liberty?  Is poker not gambling because the game requires skill?  Is the thing that makes poker not gambling for a person the matter of whether or not he can afford the losses he might suffer?  Can poker be gambling for one person without the requisite skill and ability to afford the losses but not gambling for another?  These are some questions I have.  Not that James MacDonald or Jerry Jenkins care.  Once Christianity elevates guys like that, they move into a place where they don't really have to answer anyone's questions.


Todd Bowditch's picture

Jonathan Charles wrote:

Is gambling a matter of Christian liberty?  Is poker not gambling because the game requires skill?  Is the thing that makes poker not gambling for a person the matter of whether or not he can afford the losses he might suffer?  Can poker be gambling for one person without the requisite skill and ability to afford the losses but not gambling for another?  These are some questions I have.  Not that James MacDonald or Jerry Jenkins care.  Once Christianity elevates guys like that, they move into a place where they don't really have to answer anyone's questions.


Jonathan... your comments convict MacDonald and Jenkins because they don't care because they would not answer you even though you have never asked....

I'm not saying that they would answer you, but it is illogical to string all of those ideas together. If you asked them, then they may or may not answer your questions. Furthermore, answers to those questions may or may not reveal that they don't care.

I just think that you have taken a strangely uncharitable position towards these guys...especially when the article actually answers most of your question, mostly by direct sourcing from Jenkins....

May Christ Be Magnified - Philippians 1:20 Todd Bowditch

Todd Bowditch's picture

Where does the Bible address gambling?

Please avoid "appearance of evil" because that really dodges the question.

Also avoid "stumbling block" because Jenkins and others appear to be trying to do that:

Jenkins began playing poker less than 10 years ago, and said that within the past year he had decided to play in Hammond no longer: “It’s too close to Chicago. I serve on the board of Moody, so I wouldn’t want to cause any embarrassment to anybody if they had a problem with that. … I live in Colorado, so if I play it’s outside the Midwest.”

Also MacDonald:

When the Harvest elder board informed him some people in the church were offended by his practice, MacDonald said he wrestled over the subject for a period of time before deciding to give up poker both in public and in private.

“Up until June 2012, Pastor James played Texas Hold ’em poker with friends and on the rarest of occasions in a casino, but stopped at the request of our current elder board chairman,” said Harvest spokeswoman Sharon Kostal in a statement to WORLD. “He considers recreational games for very small amounts of money to be a matter of Christian liberty. However, he has publicly committed to having given up his personal liberty in this matter, in view of the increasingly public nature of his pastoral ministry.”

May Christ Be Magnified - Philippians 1:20 Todd Bowditch

Wayne Wilson's picture

Is it a problem when a pastor preaches that gambling is a form of "dishonest gain" and then is caught in photographs at a casino where it turns out he was playing high stakes poker? 

What if he say this at church:

Did you know that 90 million Americans go to casinos every year. They spend $300         billion on gambling. That's 1/3 more than we spend on education. That's 4 times the amount         given to religious institutions.
Why, why why all the gambling? Dishonest gain. Trying to make money and looking for an easy way. A shortcut. Now, gambling and lotteries to get rich quick is dishonest. Ephesians 4:28 says, "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands, the thing that is good."
The biblical way to gain income, tell me, is to what? Work! Just go work! Just roll up your sleeves or focus your mind or get out there and make something or sell something or do something. That's honoring to God, and earning your income through hard work . . . it's right. And it's honoring to God. And little sneaky short-cut-things and "we'll buy a few tickets here at the gas station and maybe we'll get lucky." The way to gain wealth is through work, and anything else, biblically speaking, is dishonest gain.

And what if this same pastor who quietly exercises his liberty at high stakes tables out of town has (coincidentally) massively indebted his church and promoted extra giving to get his church out of a "crises"?  Is that above reproach? 

Wayne Wilson's picture

I love the fact that a Christian is interacting with real people inside a casino. Sounds almost Christ-like.

Actually it is hard for me to imagine Jesus "interacting with sinners" in a casino by taking their money in a game of skill/chance.  I do imagine he'd be good at it, though, seeing into people's hearts and all.  Somehow I think he'd eschew such a "game."  Perhaps the guy he's playing has a wife at home wondering where he went with the college fund.  I can imagine Jesus interacting with people in a casino, but not with a big smile on his face as he pulls a big stack of chips toward himself. 

I can imagine Him talking about unproductive labor, and ministering to those who work there for meager wages while the fat cats buy in to $10,000 games.  I can imagine Him telling the girls in tiny outfits passing out free drinks that other kinds of work are more honorable and befitting their womanhood.  Yes, I can see Him being there. 

And yet, I am thinking of all the godly men I know in ministry--- big and small. I can't imagine any of them playing high stakes poker in a casino.  No...not one.

Brenda T's picture

Reading the article and the comments of those appearing to support what Jenkins and MacDonald are doing, I was reminded of a paper I read that was presented by John Makujina at an ETS conference in 2004. Below are some quotes from that paper.

At some point in life the Christian is faced with moral choices that are not specifically addressed in Scripture. So the question is asked “What do I do when the Bible is silent about the moral status of a certain activity?” Or, “How do I apply the Bible to everyday moral decisions?” The common answer seems to be, “What the Bible clearly forbids we must forbid; but where there is no clear command we are free to engage as long as our conscience allows.” . . .

the Bible was not delivered to us as a comprehensive directory of taboos, but often guides behavior through a network of larger principles, worldviews, and theology as a whole . . .
Even the meticulous Old Testament law was never designed to superintend every imaginable incident or infraction. . . .

Regarding Galatians 5:19-21, Makujina wrote,

It is evident that Paul expected his readers to exercise intelligence and discernment in determining additional attitudes, activities, and behaviors that were similar to these

Regarding Hebrews 5:11-14, he wrote,

he illustrates spiritual maturity and immaturity via the metaphor of palatal development. Simply put, those who operate in the elementary instruction of Christianity are like infants who drink milk, because they lack experience and skill in gleaning moral guidance from Scripture. The spiritually mature, on the other hand, are like those who eat solid food (a reference to the teaching about Melchizedek), who by exercising their moral abilities are conditioned to distinguish between good and evil.

He concluded with,

That is, they are skillful in the application of moral principles. Indeed, the mature advance
beyond the basic teachings of the Christian faith—both doctrinal and moral—and are able to use
them to make comparisons, weigh evidences, detect similarities, identify and apply principles,
discern intentions, navigate through the complexities of culture-specific activities, and draw
more sophisticated conclusions on the appropriateness of various behaviors and customs. But the
immature are restricted to the basic teachings of right and wrong available in special revelation.
The normative approach to Christian liberty needs to be informed by forgotten New Testament texts like Gal 5:19-21 and Heb 5:11-14. By incorporating these passages into our doctrine of culture, we supply a needful qualification to the normative principle: Christians are not only responsible to avoid sinful behaviors and activities that are explicitly published in Scripture but also those that violate principles taught in Scripture, inasmuch as Scripture is not an exhaustive menu of sins.


Greg Long's picture

Yeah, I agree with Wayne. It's easier for me to picture Jesus overturning the tables at the casino than sitting at them gambling.

Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Huw's picture

Playing cards come to us from Tarot cards. The symbols on the cards have been used in foretelling of future events. On the matter of skill/gambling in stating that poker is a game of skill the person shows a lack of knowledge in matters of Divine Sovereignty.

Gambling is an addiction for many people and the word addict has it's root, one of two branches to this root, in ajudged or judgment. The person addicted is under judgment for sin and gambling has serious consequences for the person and their families. As a young man I put my entire wage packet on the line on more that one occasion and I remember the temptation as if it were yesterday. If anything I feel sorrow for this guy, because he is under wrath and judgment. When he wins he almost bursts with pride and when he loses he feels ashamed and bitter. 

Mike Harding's picture

At least they can now drink and smoke while they are gambling.  Christian liberty! All this and heaven too!

Pastor Mike Harding

DLCreed's picture

...but this is an honest question with which I've struggled.  Perhaps someone can help me reach some resolution.

I'm anti-gambling.  Apart from sticking a nickel in a slot machine a couple of times some time ago, I've never been a part of it for reasons spiritually based and because I'm really quite the tightwad.

But how is playing poker and other games that utilize mathematical chances different than many stock market practices -- but particularly, day trading?

If one takes an anti-gambling position in regard to casinos, poker, etc..., should there be a similar position in regard to speculative trading in general and day trading in particular.

Todd Bowditch's picture

Greg Long wrote:

For the biblical case against gambling, see http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2009/11/is-gambling-ok-dont-bet-on-it.html

Thanks for sharing, Greg. I don't necessarily agree with his conclusion, but I think this is probably the best case that can be made from Biblical principle.

Controlled gambling (i.e. limited buy-in games as mentioned in the WORLD article) can avoid the excesses wild wastefulness. In essence, its no different from expending money on skydiving or watching movies. There is a certain amount of enjoyment that comes from an activity.

Gambling can be a form of stealing...I view the lottery system as a "tax on poor people who can't do math." But the lottery is different than poker in every way. Poker is like two kids playing rock/paper/scissors in the lunchroom to see who eats the Lunchables and who gets stuck with the PB & J.

May Christ Be Magnified - Philippians 1:20 Todd Bowditch

Darrell Post's picture

Years ago I knew a non-Christian who owned a Sporting Goods store. His main items for sale were bikes and skis. The store also sold skateboards. But after a while, he dumped the skateboards and would not sell them or their replacement parts. His reason? He didn't want in his store the "culture" that came with shoppers of skateboards. There was nothing wrong with skateboards themselves, but they had an undesirable set of traits that came with them. The same thing applies here. It isn't "just" the poker game, its the entire casino context. When the apostle John admonishes us to love not the world, neither the things that are in the world (1 John 2:15), the temptation for believers is to think like the certain lawyer in Luke 10 who was wanting to justify himself and asked Jesus "and who is my neighbor?" Applied to 1 John 2:15 we like to react to John's instruction by asking "and what is the world?" seeking to justify our actions and desires. From what little I know about casinos as advertised in our culture and as I have heard from those who have been to them, I cannot understand how the casino scene would not fall safely within the bounds of "love not the world." On the contrary, the casino scene is more what I would picture that led to God telling Noah to start building an ark.

Marsilius's picture

Ten years ago Bill Bennett was scalded by the liberal media, because he wrote so many books about "Virtues" and spoke so often on the subject, but was a gambler himself. They mocked him mercilessly for his hypocrisy. He quit gambling.

See, for instance http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/readme/2003/05/bill_benn....

Funny, even though the secular media sees hypocrisy in preaching virtue while gambling at casinos, Christians find gaming at casinos belongs in the area of Christian Liberty, because the Bible says nothing about it.