Oddly, within American evangelicalism and media circles, a concept and term have emerged that place conservative Christians on the outside, in effect, becoming “other.”
And we all know what happens when a group is labeled “other” (see Jews, World War II).
Sometime back, the progressive mega church pastor, Steven Furtick (Elevation Church, Charlotte, North Carolina), mentored as he is by evangelical bigwigs like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, felt bold enough to post a YouTube video in which he sneeringly challenged what I’d call traditional Christians to basically get out of the way, because their time is past.
Presumably, to Furtick, it’s the “new generation’s” time now, so step aside with your stodgy hymns and expositional preaching style.
Never mind that Furtick’s goofy/disturbing video/rant looks like a “Saturday Night Live” parody.
His view is somewhat main stream among Christian Millennials. Masked a bit by a pious nod toward humanitarian causes, the leadership of this group is quite nasty, albeit in subtle ways.
Witness Mr. Jonathan Merritt. I consider Merritt – son of former president of the Southern Baptist Convention Dr. James Merritt – to be a leading change agent within evangelicalism, in the broader attempt to move evangelicals to center-left perspectives.
Jonathan Merritt is essentially Southern Baptist “royalty,” having moved from Atlanta to New York City sometime back. He uses his perch as columnist for Religion News Service to advocate for center-left (at best) perspectives.
Take his take on Rob Bell, from a Nov. 24 post, as he describes Bell’s move to the (Oprah) OWN Network: “Riding on the success of a pile of bestselling books and a hit video series, Pastor Rob Bell became one of the most sought after religious speakers in America during the early 2000’s. But after Bell questioned whether hell was real in his New York Times bestselling book ‘Love Wins,’ many conservative Christians tried to oust him from the inner circle of evangelicalism.
“How did Bell respond? By quietly bidding his haters adieu, leaving his church, and attaining even more success,” Merritt concludes.
Okay, this is really interesting. Let’s look at what Merritt is doing here, because in my opinion, in this column, it is Merritt and not Bell who is the real story.
It’s all about propaganda.
Notice that Merritt (a quasi-journalist?) injects plenty of his own feeling into the piece, which reads somewhat as a straight news story. He lets us know that Bell has produced a “pile” of bestselling books, has had a “hit video series” and is a much sought-after speaker.
Is Merritt moonlighting as Bell’s press agent? Such writing resides in the realm of what David Bar-Illan used to call “glow jobs,” in which journalists would fawn over their subjects, because they identified with them – much like Patrick Seale and his sycophantic relationship with Hafez Assad of Syria.
What I really want to focus on with Merritt is his jab at Bell’s critics: “By quietly bidding his haters adieu, leaving his church and attaining even more success.”
Bell’s (justified) critics are “haters.” Once he shed those persimmon-sucking has-beens, Bell has gone on to the kind of success that would make any modern hipster preacher giddy.
Merritt likes it. He likes Bell. He presumably likes Bell’s wacky theology (when Ed Dobson hired Bell way back when for the Wheaton grad’s first ministry gig, he assured the church board that while Bell didn’t know much Bible, the dude sure could communicate!).
He also likes the fact that Bell has moved over to the community run by the High Priestess of American Spirituality Oprah Winfrey.
This is the new face of American Evangelicalism, and anyone who thinks it hasn’t arrived is either clueless or wants to be.
The key thing here is Christian media, 2014-style. Merritt, as a well-positioned writer, injects all sorts of his personal biases into his writing, in an attempt to shape public opinion, mostly among Millennials.
Actually, I think he’s succeeding. Spectacularly.
And that’s the problem.
When “pastors” like Rob Bell are mainstreamed, one knows that the American church is in deep trouble. I’m talking the big, visible, mega-church/church growth model, for there one will find the embracing of any glitzy personality at the expense of truth.
Yet Merritt’s hit-piece on “haters” of Rob Bell (the very term is a straw man, since those of us in conservative circles have never heard anyone say they hate Bell personally) is deeply disturbing. It signals that from our own camp, there are those who wish to marginalize, defame and mock Bible-believing Christians.
Don’t like Bell’s leftist theology? You’re a hater. Can’t stomach Tony Jones jettisoning of original sin as a key doctrine? You’re a hater. Chagrined by Furtick’s punkish persona and loose handling of Scripture? You’re a hater.
Not just a hater, but a petty and jealous one, at that.
Do you see how Jonathan Merritt is doing it? He’s implanting false notions into readers’ minds, that those who uphold the authority of Scripture are in some way weak-minded weirdoes.
A couple predictions: No one in evangelical circles at the leadership level will ever say a word about Merritt’s nasty agenda, and it will get worse.
Just get a load of the pages of Relevant magazine sometime, as publisher Cameron Strang mocks anyone he disagrees with, or even mentor Andy Stanley’s casual handling of biblical concepts.
Or check out the venom coming from the aw-shucks writer, Donald Miller.
For these men are part of a group that I maintain controls the narrative (if you want to call me a conspiracy nut and hater, please do) within American evangelicalism.
Dissenters aren’t welcome. Far more chillingly, they/we are now presented as “other.”