Every writer knows that satire is often an effective communication tool. In my continuing look at how the church in America is transitioning into … something … I am always on the lookout for information about how rising leadership communicates, including the books they write, er, produce.
So it was that an April blog by Carl Trueman, posted at Reformation 21 (“the online magazine of the Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals”) emerged – from my perspective – as perhaps the best description of the marketing of ideas among evangelical leadership today.
Trueman started this way: “This month, I thought I would use this column to indulge in a little thought experiment. What, I wonder, if the conservative evangelical church world came to be dominated by a symbiotic network of high profile and charismatic leaders (think more Weber than Wimber), media organizations and big conferences? What if leadership, doctrine and policy were no longer rooted in the primacy of biblical polity and the local church? What if, in other words, all of this became a function of an Evangelical Industrial Complex?”
Okay, I am now a fan of Carl Trueman’s writing. Brilliant.
The punch line is that his “thought experiment” is, of course, reality. That’s the point. The Evangelical Industrial Complex has been in place for some time now, ever since Bob Buford and Peter Drucker decided for some reason that they wanted to mentor rising young evangelical leaders like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels.
Actually, I would contend that today’s supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force for American Evangelicals is probably Andy Stanley.
A superb communicator and possessing a thoroughly credible evangelical pedigree as the son of the legendary Charles Stanley, Andy Stanley founded Northpoint Church in Atlanta and has now eclipsed his father’s ministry in terms of numbers.
And numbers is what it’s all about.
Hear Trueman again: “Another sign of this branding would be that publishers and conferences would recruit writers and speakers not on the basis of competence but of market appeal. Some writers would thus write the same book over and over again (using different titles, of course). Some topics would not be considered sufficiently or definitively addressed until the Complex’s own brand names had had their say. Few, if any, thoughts or sermons of the brand names would pass unpublished.”
One observer of the so-called “multi-campus” churches recently had this to say: “The motivation behind adding sites to your church should not be to spread the ‘brand’ of the church or pastor.”
That’s all well and good – and correct – but the problem is, that’s exactly what’s going on in the celebrity-driven church culture we now have in America. And the fellow who wrote the above helps promote these guys! Not that his words of wisdom are not genuine, but the fact is, American evangelical leadership is very much about building and growing the pastor’s brand.
Take the writing of books, for instance. I’d like to ask a fundamental question: What is the purpose of a pastor’s book?
I know the obvious answer: To disseminate important scriptural truths, right? That is technically the right answer, but what I’m getting at is, do book projects feed the building of a pastor’s brand?
Of course they do.
I maintain that the cash they bring to publishers is the main reason a celebrity pastor produces a book a year.
Last year, it was curious timing that a much-needed sabbatical by Perry Noble of LifeSpring Church coincided with the marketing launch of his new book.
What we have now in Christian publishing (as Carl Trueman so eloquently put it) is an Evangelical Industrial Complex, of which the general public knows very little. The leaders perpetuate their own marketing machines and control the message.
That’s why you will see the Evangelical community in America continue to drift in a leftward direction for some time to come.
A strictly biblical worldview doesn’t play in those circles anymore. Now, it’s about relationship-building, self-help, social action.
Carl Trueman’s thought experiment becomes reality.