The American evangelical community, at the leadership level, is a fascinating piece of work. It’s also extremely disturbing, on many levels.
More than 30 years ago, when business management guru Peter Drucker (inexplicably?) decided to befriend and mentor up-and-coming pastors, a transformational shift was beginning to take place in the church. One can rightly wonder, mightily, why guys like Drucker would be interested at all in that segment of society. Why put your arm around a young seminary graduate like Rick Warren and mentor him to “grow the church”?
What did that mean, anyway?
For some us who research such things, it didn’t mean anything good.
It should seem obvious that when secular (or better, secular humanist) sources buddy up to church leaders, something is amiss. Scripture warns about liking the applause of the world, and all that.
Yet, emerging leaders like Warren, Bill Hybels and others not only welcomed the attention, they embraced it. Thus was born the non-biblical “church growth” model for doing church. A key component of the model is consensus building. In other words, everyone from leadership to laity gets onboard with the leader’s “vision” of how things should be. Over time, those dissenters who call into question the methods are quietly but rudely shown the door.
Today, the church-growth model is a juggernaut, and in effect, Warren & Co. very much control the narrative within evangelicalism. Don’t believe me? Consider the ubiquitous nature of curriculum, books, conferences and the like from such leaders. They have a stranglehold on Christian media, ranging from chain bookstores to denominational infrastructure.
A disturbing trend that has mushroomed in the last few years is the nasty response to “critics” of such leaders. From social media to conference hallways, it’s whispered, written and shouted that “discernment ministries” and various other fundies (who aren’t fun!) only want to criticize for the sake of criticism. Perhaps they are jealous of others’ success. Maybe they have deep emotional issues that manifest themselves in attacks on shining knights like Warren.
Through it all, the effort is made to deceive the masses/laity, many of whom don’t have time to discern whether the message from the pulpit/plexiglass table thingy is biblically sound. Often, these messages are anything but biblical, but rely on plenty of pop psychology and management techniques designed to build and maintain Dear Leader’s brand.
Those who call into question such methods (and in reality, there are only a handful, since discernment ministries operate on less than a shoestring, while the objects of their reports command gigantic and virtually unlimited budgets) are vilified, mocked, ignored and defamed at every opportunity. Mostly, the Big Leaders smartly ignore critics, but sometimes they just can’t help themselves and one can speculate that when they do answer, it’s because they are feeling some heat from constituents in the pews.
What is this we’re hearing from James Duncan at Pajama Pages?
Rick, Ken Silva at Apprising Ministries said this about you. Is it true?
This is when the demonization of critics goes into overdrive.
One popular technique is to label such critics as “Pharisees,” “legalists” or some such pejorative label. Witness this frequent technique employed by key evangelical leader Ed Stetzer. The president of LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) comes across as a winsome, dedicated, knowledgeable evangelical leader. He even reminds us often that he is a leader (www.edstetzer.com).
But when it comes to answering the critics of his closest ministry friends, Stetzer displays a subtly nasty streak that I believe is a hallmark of the crowd he runs with.
Notice this recent gem on Twitter: “It’s not there yet, but this cold front has the potential to get as cold as a legalist’s heart. #brrrrr”
Notice the winsome hashtag that Stetzer uses. He’s kind of winking at the reader, as if to say, tsk, tsk, these pesky critics are just legalists at heart.
No, they’re not, for the most part, but this is a highly effective technique to neutralize the usually important work being done by folks like Duncan, the late Silva and Pirate Christian Radio’s Chris Rosebrough.
I could cite many more examples from daily social media, but hopefully you get the idea. Stetzer is part of a group of influential evangelicals that seek to muzzle legitimate examinations of the more outrageous traits of evangelical leaders.
You can’t criticize Warren for speaking at Muslim conventions; his son tragically committed suicide.
You can’t red-flag Perry Noble’s bizarre re-definition of the Ten Commandments; you just don’t want to see folks saved!
You can’t appeal to bigwigs at LifeWay to stop the sewage of doctrinally bad books sold in bookstores; you’re a nattering nabob of negativity.
In fact, a couple years ago, Warren (almost comically) tweeted one day that one must show charity when dealing with critics, then turned right around and implored his followers to “unfollow negative twits.”
Wow. Who is the cold-hearted legalist here?
Not that Stetzer & Friends would admit to any of this. The goal is to sidle away from the spotlight on theological malpractice, spiritual abuse and unhealthy control. Nothing to see here. Let’s move on so we can accomplish the vision of changing the world (never a biblical concept, by the way, but try convincing, say, Bill Hybels’ congregation of that).
No, Ed chugs along being winsome, practicing Extreme Missiology (don’t ask), consulting for denominations and churches and presiding over a spiritual stew of bad books made available through LifeWay.
And that’s all before 9 a.m.
Just for kicks, sometime begin to pay attention to how the Evangelical Bigs talk to the rest of us (well, not me; most have blocked me on social media), especially where it concerns criticisms of their methodologies.
Notice that at all costs, the focus must be shifted away from the subject, and instead the spotlight is turned on the messenger, personally.
I think you’ll then begin to find who really has the cold, cold hearts within evangelicalism. Follow the social media, and follow the media.
If you do, you’ll then be getting warm.