As I have mentioned many times here before, I came out of an independent Baptist background, was involved in one of the first modern megachurches, spent some time in a Calvary Chapel, and since then in a Presbyterian (PCA) church. Most of the churches I’ve seen have been, either de jure or de facto, run, owned, or ruled by one pastor, and there has been a relatively weak board of deacons or elders, as well as in some cases more than one paid pastor. I realize my experience is not exactly typical, especially when compared with that of people who attend churches with strong denominations.
The churches I attended growing up formed as splits off Southern Baptist churches, and were at least partly reacting to a theological liberal drift in Southern Baptist seminaries. They tended to associate with one another formally only to sponsor missionaries, in imitation of their SBC forebears. They were in almost all other regards independent, although there were a couple that always recruited pastors that went to the same school.
The megachurch was built around a single personality (Jerry Falwell) and is still sort of finding its way since his death. They’ve joined the SBC; I really have no feel for how that new relationship is going.
I loved my Calvary Chapel, but it more or less crumpled under the weight of pastoral misbehavior. Calvary pretty much has a “Moses model” of leadership and any accountability between churches was during my time there limited to a single sanction: “Big Calvary” could disaffiliate a local church, but that was about it. There were representations of other affiliations, but in a crisis they turned out to be over-represented.
Each of these churches had a way of explaining how their take on church governance lined up with the New Testament passages describing pastors, apostles, elders, and deacons. There was also in each case a kind of “folk theology” that was assumed but not stated that the pastor filled some sort of apostle/elder role, and our deacons or elders filled some sort of elder/deacon role.
We always understood that apostles were more than missionaries; their “apo-” prefix meant they were sent by someone, and we took that to mean God, rather than just sent by a church or group of churches. We knew at one level that all the real Apostles were dead, but we tended to give our local pastor a break when he sat in Paul’s seat, so to speak. This made me uncomfortable, and still does.
We also understood from the Scriptures that the original elders were appointed by the Apostles or their delegates (Timothy; Titus) but we sort of glossed over this because the Apostles weren’t available, and being Baptists we had soft spot for voting. We voted on our deacons and they served as elders. Because our churches were relatively small this worked reasonably well. We occasionally ran into problems because deacons had limited terms and pastors were in principle serving for life.
Every model is imperfect, and every model is liable to some kind of excess. I think lately we’ve seen more trouble from megachurches with superstar pastors who are not accountable, and it’s this situation that is causing some churches to move to elder-led structures. I have lately been listening to a 22-part podcast from an Albuquerque church that has elder leadership as described by Alexander Strauch [PDF, link].
This church has a formal group of elders, some paid, some not, and follows Strauch’s interpretation of various New Testament passages. This is the first time I’ve found a church (apart from the Brethren fellowship I mentioned in another post) that attempts to constitute their leadership according to all the various verses that talk about elders.
I’m about halfway through the series, and I’m putting off any analysis until I get through it. So far I’d call it fascinating. I was surprised to discover that they constitute themselves as an independent church and take a dim view of both head pastors and seminaries, but they have a single paid elder who does the bulk of the pulpit preaching. Twenty-three hours of anything is a lot to digest. More later.
Here’s a great article [link] from the Kansas City Star, written by Judy Thomas and Laura Bauer, about the foreclosure on First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas. It’s medium-long and full of facts, and it supports the thesis that even in hard times churches don’t fail financially unless there’s been some sort of pastoral malfeasance. Here’s an example:
Neither Johnston nor the church board has ever revealed his compensation. But a February court filing by Regions Bank related to the foreclosure put Johnston’s annual salary as of August 2010 at $400,000; his son, Jeremy, at $210,000; and son-in-law Christian Newsome at $180,000. Johnston’s wife, Christie, made $60,000, the document said, and his daughters, Danielle Newsome and Jenilee Johnston, earned $40,000 and $25,000. That totals $915,000.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if a pastor puts family members on the payroll it’s a good indication something fishy’s going on.
Oh and: as a Liberty University graduate I’m disappointed to see Jerry Falwell’s name mentioned repeatedly in this article, including
For example, Johnston referred to himself as “Dr. Jerry” for years until questions were raised, and the title was prominently displayed on a large sign at First Family Church’s entrance. It was an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree he received from Falwell’s Liberty University in 1998 when he was the speaker for a baccalaureate service.
Over the weekend I got a chance to finish watching Alexandra Pelosi’s 2007 travelogue/documentary Friends of God. In the second half she spends a fair amount of time at Liberty University and at Thomas Road Baptist Church, and she visits a BattleCry rally. She also has a parting shot on Ted Haggard, whose sex-and-drugs scandal broke after Pelosi finished filming but before she finished production.
There’s some other stuff, too, but it’s mostly filler: a drive-through church, one of those guys who puts up crosses everywhere, etc. Pelosi’s take on most of these is pretty much live-and-let-live. I guess they’re supposed to soften the blow of the rest of the film.
Pelosi visited Lynchburg during the 2006 Congressional election cycle; Jerry Falwell had months to live, and the church was still at its Thomas Road location, before it moved to Candlers/Liberty Mountain. I’d forgotten how unwell Jerry looked the last few years of his life. It doesn’t help that he sits down to talk to Pelosi wearing casual not to say unflattering clothes, and of course she shoots him with the funny lens that distorts the shape of his head and makes him look even less well.
There’s also a brief introduction to Mel While, and footage of White crying while attending Thomas Road. Oddly enough White doesn’t get the eggplant-head treatment; I’m not sure why. It was a bit jarring for me to see White portrayed as the prophetic moral voice in his segment, engaged in some sort of peaceful protest by attending church at Thomas Road. And the footage of him sitting in church, apparently alone, crying, had a too-perfect feel. For some reason it reminded me of the orange juice scene in The Decline of Western Civilization II [link]. I wouldn’t say it was fake; it just looked and felt staged.
Her coverage of the BattleCry rally was essentially incoherent. All I really took away from the segment was that BattleCry rallies have slick marketing, a clear message of some sort, and are loud. I don’t understand why BattleCry and Rock For Life get as much attention as they do, and I definitely got the impression that Pelosi was appealing to a reference point she and I don’t share. I think the message was supposed to be something like “back in the Sixties rock concerts changed the world; now they’re in danger of changing it back again,” or some such. I’m not sure.
I think the definitive voice in the film was one of the short segments in the first half, where Pelosi visits Jeff and Susan Chapman: pastor, wife, and ten children with an eleventh on the way. Susan Chapman says directly to the camera that she though when she was in college she wanted to become a lawyer and eventually be the first woman President, but instead she got married and had ten children. To Chapman this is a clear sign of God’s work in her life; but I’m guessing Pelosi included her because she comes across like a character from Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale [link], and Pelosi uses her deftly to suggest that the rise of the Religious Right and the appointment of justices like Samuel Alito [link] will bring oppression and the end of feminism. Or some such. I could be wrong.
Careful viewers may also recall that Alito was the embodiment of all liberal fears in the movie Jesus Camp, too. Why Alito gets singled out this way I can’t imagine; he’s not an evangelical, and if he’s part of the theocratic avant garde I can’t figure how. But that’s another topic for another day.
I would recommend seeing Friends of God if you get a chance; it’s not a good movie, but I found it interesting to see what Pelosi considers strange if not horrible about contemporary Evangelicalism in America. Hint: some of it really is strange, and some of it is horrible. I’m just not sure she and I would agree on what, exactly, and how.
This little clip from just prior to Independence Day surfaced on YouTube a couple of days ago. In it, Jonathan Falwell, pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church, describes a list of gadgets the church will be giving away at its Celebrate America rally.
To his credit Falwell thinks on his feet, comes up with a joke at his own expense, etc.
I’m including the clip here because it gives a sense of what an immersive experience a TRBC service is, with the full band, the video screens, the bright colors, the host in constant motion, etc. I couldn’t tell you what it reminds me of. A host segment from a Jerry Lewis Telethon? A game show? FOX News? I can’t quite put my finger on it.
There’s also a clue as to the content of a typical service at TRBC; the “55 years” doesn’t refer to Falwell himself, of course; he’s in his mid-forties. He’s reminding the audience of the continuity between himself and his late father, who passed away just over four years ago.
We here at Half a Bridge sincerely hope for Jonathan’s sake all the radiation he’s absorbing from those video screens is the non-ionizing kind.
If I had to offer two helpful hints for someone who wants to be in the world and of the world in the day of the soundbite-driven twenty-four-hour news cycle, I might offer the following:
- In a crisis always blame your enemies.
- Always stay on message.
I’d offer this as an explanation for e.g. Jerry Falwell’s comments on the 700 Club after 9/11 [link], and of course the flap surrounding it.
And it’s about all I can offer as an explanation for Emir Caner’s recent comment on Twitter (I can’t quite bring myself to type “Emir Caner’s tweet” as if it means anything):
The military discovered a large stash of pornography in bin Laden’s compound. I was unaware that Islam had its own Acts 29 Network. [link]
See also [link], which adds some helpful analysis.
What can I say about this? I’m embarrassed for Dr Caner. I have to wonder if this is yet another example of Send Button Syndrome, or whether he tried this material out in front of some Truett-McConnell College buddies first.
A year or so ago I posted for a while about what it was like being at Liberty University in the mid-Eighties; recent events (some involving Liberty, some not) have me thinking about this again. The upshot is this: I entered Liberty as a kind of “early Modern” person, and left as a kind of modern person with postmodern tendencies.
I think it’s fair to say that despite the occasional claim that Jerry Falwell and Liberty University herald the end of the Enlightenment, etc. Liberty is a very modern place full of people who see the world in a very modern way. And by this I don’t just mean that the vast majority of graduates enter fields that are industrial or postindustrial; I mean, there are lots of Business and Psychology graduates. But there’s more to it than that.
If we think of the history of Christianity as stretching from Antiquity through the Middle Ages and the Modern Era to whatever we are today, we have to acknowledge that the New Testament was written during the latter part of Ancient history, and the Reformation occurring on the cusp of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era, but we are/were thoroughly modern. We tended to think in terms of “absolute truths,” “propositional logic,” and finally “propositional truth,” it didn’t occur to us to ask whether e.g. Paul’s readers would have read his letters the same way we read them, or whether they would have thought the same thing we did when they read them. We read our understanding of Paul’s words back into the text, mostly because we didn’t know of another way to read Paul.
One consequence of thinking this way was that I tended to see the world as existing in a kind of fixed matrix of truth, anchored by fixed points of divine revelation. Or as we often put it “all truth is God’s truth.” And since God is omniscient, everything true can be known.
It was at Liberty, and in class no less, that I stumbled onto two problems: one from Kurt Gödel and the other from Thomas Kuhn. Gödel dealt with issues of decidability; he proved that if a logical system is of sufficient complexity then it is either inconsistent or incomplete. Kuhn was more of a historian or a philosopher of science, and he argued pretty convincingly that while most of the time science consists of problem solving, and so is fairly stable and logical, there are occasional crises where science as it is practiced jumps more for social reasons than for logical reasons. What’s worse is his claim that scientists before and after the crisis are not mutually intelligible to each other. Or as he puts it “they talk past each other.”
Gödel led me to question that everything that is true could ever be known; I still haven’t worked my way out of that one. I’m not entirely sure it has theological implications per se, but I think I’d have to say that before reading Gödel I believed the correspondence between revelation and “ordinary truth” was close; afterward not so much.
Kuhn in a sense was and is more of a problem; his recasting of “scientists do science” as “science is what scientists do” plagues me still. I tend to see a lot of theological discussions as being centered in the theologians discussing rather than in an observable external theological phenomenon being discussed. Strictly speaking it’s a misapplication of what Kuhn argued, but unfortunately it’s a perspective that’s hard to shake.
So there you go; I’m still very modern in a lot of ways. I still believe that an author’s intent matters when reading a text, for example, but I lost a lot of the fundamentalist (or if you which presuppositionalist) certainty I took with me to Liberty. And I’m not entirely sure I would have gone through the same transition if I’d gone to school elsewhere. There was something jarring about hearing respectable authority figures claim both
“All truth is God’s truth”
“These [people] believe that there’s only one moral absolute, and that’s there are no moral absolutes.”
While at the same time reading Kuhn and realizing that not only do thinkers organize themselves socially as much as logically, but also that how these thinkers think varies from one period of history to another, with grave implications for whether they are mutually intelligible. I suppose it’s entirely possible that if I’d been someplace less linear (for lack of a better term) I might never have reached my own crisis.
When most people talk about “the Religious Right” or “the Christian Right,” they’re talking generally about theologically and politically conservative Christians who can be relied upon to vote a particular way (most of the time) and otherwise participate in politics (through donations or working on campaigns) in a particular way (most of the time). When they state specifics they often resort to breakdowns by denomination; the “Christian Right” consists of conservative Protestants, conservative Catholics, evangelicals, and Mormons. Never mind for the moment that this misses conservative non-denominational types (Calvary Chapel, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, etc.) and considers Mormons Christians; the former is complicated and the latter makes sense because Mormons in one part of the country (the Mormon Corridor, AKA the Jello Belt) can be identified as consistent, significant voter blocks.
Anyway, the history of the Christian Right over several election cycles has experienced a sea change: initially the issues and leaders came from Protestants and evangelicals and the coalition-makers tried to sell them to Catholics; now it appears that process has mostly reversed. See e.g. the Manhattan Declaration. I think this is because initially the analysis focused on the big numbers (there are more Protestants than Catholics) but now it focuses on smaller numbers (there are more Catholics than Southern Baptists or conservative Lutheran or what-have-you). Never mind that Protestants seem to be short on idea leaders and charismatic leaders, while Catholics do at least have a scholastic tradition that can occasionally manage more than a soundbite.
Dinesh D’Souza’s book (the whole title is Falwell: Before the Millennium: A Critical Biography [link]) is from 1984, and while it is mostly a straightforward biography of Falwell through about 1983, and is reasonably well-written, it’s important to understand that at least part of what D’Souza is doing here is attempting to make Falwell palatable to his Roman Catholic brethren. Here’s a quick rundown:
- About 70 pages putting Falwell in context in American history (the Scopes trial, etc.) and another telling of his conversion story. There are several good versions of Falwell’s conversion story, each with differing anecdotes but for the most part consistent with one another. This is a pretty good one.
- 40 pages or so explaining Falwell’s fundamentalist credentials, his entrance into national politics, and how those two things were at variance.
- 40 pages or so describing Falwell’s involvement in Moral Majority, national politics, etc. through about 1983.
- 50-60 pages of miscellaneous topics, including a visit to Lynchburg, a description of the various ministries circa 1983, etc.
- A rundown of the 1970 FCC decision that changed the way religious television was regulated, making it possible for some TV preachers to become popular without various media outlets being required to provide equal time to their less popular counterparts/brethren. Dinesh D’Souza says Falwell was especially grateful to FCC Director (and Reagan appointee) Mark Fowler. I’d never heard that one before.
- The claim on the part of D’Souza that Falwell believed that the Watergate break-in should never have been exposed. I don’t know that I ever heard Falwell say anything like this, and it struck me as a Republican article of faith that sounded weird in 1984 and still sounds weird today.
- A theme regarding Falwell’s disagreements with various people affiliated with the World Council of Churches/National Council of Churches. It’s easy to forget that WCC people were the voice of Establishment Christianity in the United States circa 1975 or so.
This is mostly a brisk read and an interesting period piece. Sometimes it gets bogged down with inside-the-Beltway (or is that inside-the GOP?) minutiae, but that’s to be expected given D’Souza’s perspective at the time. I do kind of wish he’d delved a bit deeper into Falwell’s racial past (e.g. his supposed relationship with Lester Maddox) or his relationship to the right-wing fringe in Republican circles (e.g. his supposed relationship to the John Birch Society), and while a book like this would have been a safe place to do so D’Souza has other fish to fry.
I’d recommend it to people who are interested in the history of the Christian Right and its entanglements with the Republican Party.
This post is a pale follow-up to the prior article about the article of the same name at The Chronicle Review [link].
The comments are, as they are almost anywhere, a mixed bag, but a couple of them caught my eye: one because it suggests an appropriation of the redemptive theory of history; the other because it suggests that the Reformed Resurgence (or whatever you want to call it) has been overlooked by the mainstream press. Here’s part of the first (#16), talking about Francis Schaeffer:
But, it’s foundational to the Evangelical worldview, which itself rests on a quasi-mythological structure that everything must begin with an initial paradise, followed by a fall, then an increasing degradation, then a final redemption. This is how Schaeffer sees the world, though he thinks the world begins with the Renaissance, presumably because that’s the period where his favorite paintings come from. This is also how Evangelicals see the world (note their fundamentalist understanding of America and its constitution: the US begins as a paradise (the “Founders”), there’s a fall (FDR?), followed by degredation (the 60s), then comes the redemption (the Christian Right).
I think as fundamentalists we would have to plead guilty to seeing history on the pattern of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: one age gradually giving way to the next, each grand in its own way but lesser somehow, until some sort of cataclysm of external origin destroys history itself. I’m not sure this view of history is necessarily redemptive; Dispensationalism is linear, not cyclical. The rest I’m not so sure about; I think Schaeffer had a better argument for the relevance of the Renaissance than just his preference for one kind of art over another. And finally, I don’t know many evangelicals see the Christian Right as any redemption of or restoration of the actual Founding Fathers; they just consider the Constitution a contract, and the definition of who we are as Americans. Because as much as it pains me to say it, I think we tend to like the Founders as symbols but we tend to ignore them as people, etc.
The second comment (#25) starts off well and gets strange right away:
I read Michelle Goldberg’s _Kingdom Coming_ and she missed the entire Calvinist/Reformed/neo-Calvinist movement that is threatening to tear the Southern Baptist Convention apart.
I would have to agree that there is some sort of ongoing Reformed Resurgence somewhere. If it is “threatening to tear the SBC apart” I haven’t heard anything about it. The stories I’ve seen (see e.g. [link]) suggest that the SBC is suffering more strain from tension between its megachurches and the rest of the SBC than anything else.
Much of this neo-Calvinist movement is disseminated by home schooling networks and materials, now including lots of blogs. Several prominent Southern Baptist seminaries are headed by adherents of this neo-Calvinist movement and the Baptists are just trying to keep it from taking Baylor and Liberty (as far as I know.) Falwell, supposedly, before he died, said “Liberty will never go Calvinist.” Or something like that. Patrick Henry College, too, had some kind of blowup over St. Augustine who is one of the darlings of the neo-Calvinists. Liberty just got rid of the main guy standing against Liberty going to this movement, Ergun Caner. Forgive me if I get some of this wrong–I would LOVE to read ALL about it accurately, but even the Michelle Goldbergs and Jeff Sharlets miss this whole movement. I am convinced this is why Kenneth Starr, a non-Baptist at the time, was made head of Baylor. The Baptists didn’t want Baylor to go the way of Southwestern and Southern Baptist Theological Seminaries (I THINK.)
At the heart of this movement is, as someone else pointed out, a strong desire to undo the 1960′s, especially feminism. Many in this movement teach that women shouldn’t go to college. I thought that would get y’all’s attention. Mark Driscoll, a “four-point Calvinist” who heads a very popular megachurch in Seattle, preaches that women shouldn’t “waste money” going to college. Patriarchs in the neo-patriarchal movement (just a step to the right of the “Complementarian” movement in Baptist and Neo-Calvinist circles) say that no unmarried daughter should live out from under her father’s roof, even to go to college. Google “Visionary Daughters” to see about this movement.
I hate to admit it, but I initially read “neo-Calvinist” as some sort of neologism that’s meant to be scary; it has three of the markers of a scare word:
- It has a prefix (“neo”) suggesting that the concept is related to something the reader might understand and dislike, but is different and worse somehow
- The dread hyphen
- It ends in -ism, -ist, or -ology; this is often a sign that the speaker is going to wrap up a bundle of concepts into a term, show that the described has some of them, and then criticize the described for having the others; see e.g. modern uses of “Gnosticism” to describe people who aren’t Gnostics; also “moralistic therapeutic deism.”
But as the kids say nowadays “Neo-Calvinism is a thing” [link]. It’s a term used to describe people who read and and influenced by Abraham Kuyper [link]. This would of course include Schaeffer and by implication the Evangelicals, so I’m not sure this is what the author means. I think he means something else here, some other kind of new Calvinists: evangelicals who for whatever reason move from an Arminian or third (neither Calvinist nor Arminian) perspective to a Calvinist perspective, with the usual pitfalls.
I really had no idea that Calvinism was prevalent among Christian home-schoolers; if this is true it doesn’t include any of the home-schooling families I know.
The passing mention of Mark Driscoll is not surprising, but the author’s take on Complementarianism strikes me as odd: I’m more accustomed to hearing Driscoll’s views on gender roles described as liberal (e.g. not conservative Pauline) rather than authoritarian. But maybe that’s more a byproduct of the company I keep.
But the author’s suggestion that Ergun Caner was “the main guy standing against [neo-Calvinism]” at Liberty is an interesting take on Caner’s demotion: Caner was demoted, he did tangle with at least one Calvinist, but he was demoted because of his repeated mischaracterizations of his personal story while representing Liberty during speaking engagements, not for failing to be sufficiently Calvinist.
I could be wrong; Caner’s demotion could have been the final act of some Calvinist coup. I guess we’ll have to wait to see whether Liberty starts e.g. observing Reformation Day in say 2011 or 2012. Hint: I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Here’s a quick grab bag of topics, each of which probably merits a post in and of itself, but will probably present itself again in due time.
A couple of weeks ago Brian D. linked [link] to half of David Sessions’s list of “The Ten Worst Christian Media Hacks” [1-5, 6-10], for which I am grateful. These two articles are well-written and for the most part his ten hacks are well-chosen. Here’s the description from the article:
The following are the top 10 Christian commentators you’re most likely to waste your time reading. Chances are high, perusing any random piece of their work, that you’ll find worn-out political banalities, repetitive tropes, or a general absence of anything that might enrich a reader’s mind. In a couple of cases, they’re egoists and opportunists. You’ll immediately notice that many of them are conservatives…
If I were picking a list of top ten baddies in Christian media I’d probably pick a different organizing principle for my list; I’d be more interested in people who seem totally devoted to selling out conservative Christians for political purposes, to confusing political conservatism with Christian orthodoxy, etc. At the risk of trading empty Enlightenment values for ambiguous theological concepts, I’m more concerned about people selling out the gospel than in their failing to enrich readers’ minds. Nevertheless, Sessions makes a good case for his rogues’ gallery:
- Dinesh D’Souza
- Joseph Farah
- Frank Schaeffer
- L. Brent Bozell III
- David Limbaugh
- Albert Mohler
- Michael Novak
- Chuck Colson
- Jim Wallis
- Michael Gerson
I’m not familiar with a couple of these names, but I can’t disagree with the ones I know. I’d probably substitute Richard Land for Albert Mohler (seriously: who is more guilty of selling out the Southern Baptist Convention to the Republican Party and getting nothing in return than Richard Land?) and I’d rank Colson ahead of D’Souza. Perhaps I’ve grown tone-deaf in my dotage, but it sounds to me like everything Colson does has the intent or the effect of either lumping Evangelicals into a Catholic voting bloc, pressing Enlightenment values onto Evangelical thinking, or both.
I just finished reading D’Souza’s 1984 or so book on Jerry Falwell; as best I can tell he was attempting to work in the opposite direction and the result is a readable mess. More about that later.
Anyway, I recommend the two Sessions articles; it’s never too late to become a careful consumer of media product, and one may as well start with what one already sort of understands.
Robert Jeffress is in the news again, this time with his “Grinch Alert:” a list of retailers who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” more or less. I’m not sure I could do better than the analysis offered by David Head [link], with a couple of disclaimers. I agree with Head that shows of political or economic force are not the best expressions of Christianity in action; I’d probably encourage fellow Christians to just downsize their Christmas spending instead. To my ears the whole “War on Christmas” refrain has more to do with flexing middle-class buying muscle for the sake of an imagined social or political past than with Christianity per se. Christmas itself is such a vulgar thing I’m ashamed to have it associated with Christianity, so I’m inclined to say good-bye and good riddance to the whole thing, so I don’t understand why it’s something worth fighting a war over.
Perhaps I’m wrong; all I’d need to change my mind would be a reference in the New Testament showing that the early Church celebrated Christmas.
Finally, Chris Hedges has written another book (Death of the Liberal Class [link]) and put in an appearance on Alternative Radio [link] over the weekend (Yes, I’m an occasional NPR listener; about which more later). Sadly, while AR congratulates itself on its spotless Socialist values it doesn’t make its content available for free, so you’re going to have to take my word for what Hedges said unless and until you’re willing to drop $5 for the mp3.
Hedges is an acknowledged theological liberal (he counts among his avowed influences Paul Tillich and William Sloane Coffin) with a Masters of Divinity from Harvard University and writes from a perspective that seems stubbornly pre-Eighties: he really thinks e.g. the Berrigan brothers and the World Council of Churches should have continued to set the tone for Christian engagement on political issues. As a result he tends to mix helpful observations of what’s wrong with the Christian right with unhelpful critique of same tending to scorn and spite.
This time around Hedges points out that there’s no common ground between Christianity and corporatism [def], and there’s a great deal that conservative Christianity has failed to do by taking on the corporation as its model of incarnation, along with its values, etc. Unfortunately Hedges considers Marx to still be the last word on capitalism, so the result makes for occasionally painful and tedious listening.
I have to admit that while I can’t agree with Hedges moment to moment and point to point, I have to agree that something has gone seriously wrong inside the conservative corporate Church. I’m troubled that I have to listen to someone from so far Left to hear this disquiet examined and expressed.
Finally, it’s worth noting that both Hedges and Sessions are affiliated with The Daily Beast. I have no idea what it means that they both work for former New Yorker editor Tina Brown.
I’ve been catching a lot of search hits where people appear to be looking for articles mentioning Chuck Swindoll and ghostwriting, so I went to see if there was some sort of scandal that I had missed. I usually catch enough articles on unfolding scandals with the Google Alert “megachurch,” I guess partly because only scandals involving big churches are sufficiently newsworthy most of the time. That would be sufficient if something went wrong for Swindoll, since his current church draws some 4000 per Sunday [link], so it qualifies as a megachurch.
I did, however, discover a reprint of an old article about ghostwriting by Larry Witham [link] from the defunct magazine Insight on the News [link] with the title “Ghostwriting Haunts Christian Publishing.” It’s from August 2000, so it’s 10 1/2 years old, but a fair amount of the article is still worth reading:
For years, top ghostwriters in the industry have penned works that fill the evangelical best-seller firmament — unknown professional writers have penned books by Pat Robertson, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, megachurch pastor Bill Hybels and marriage guru Gary Smalley. Insiders estimate that 85 percent of the Rev. Billy Graham’s books have been ghostwritten.
It would of course be helpful to know who the insiders are here, and whether the Graham quote refers to total books or total pages.
Yet pangs of conscience have struck Christian publishing since the early 1980s, when the evangelical monthly Christianity Today decried the practice. Masking true authorship, the magazine held in an editorial, “is a canny but this-worldly approach to life, a playing of all the angles, a cunning attempt to skirt the edge of moral forthrightness.”
This latter quote I think brings the issue into focus: Christians are supposed to be different from the world around them, and that goes for Christian leaders, too, no matter how pressed they are for time.
The issue was highlighted again in a 1993 World magazine expose by Edward E. Plowman, a veteran news writer for Christian publications. Nearly every form of Christian writing is “grist for ghosts, grinding away for people long on reputation but short on time, self-discipline, or writing ability,” he wrote. But Christian publishers will continue to use celebrities as “marketing gadgets” until readers kick the celebrity habit, he predicted correctly. “There are gifted but lesser known writers out there with something important to say” he added. The article raised some dust in publishing circles, Plowman recalls, and did change things slightly. “More publishers are willing to use `and’ or `with’ on book covers to credit the ghost-writer,” he says.
Christian publishers often view ghostwritten projects as “team writing” — helping the well-known minister package books, his “original thoughts” so readers may benefit. Yet the day may come when a Christian work “is a celebrity preacher’s ghostwritten book of ghostwritten sermons bearing a ghostwritten foreword by another celebrity and ghostwritten endorsement blurbs on the dust jacket by still more celebrities, none of whom has read the book” complains Plowman.
This latter quote from Plowman is standard-issue scare story passed off as example, but it opens up the question of ghostwriting to include sermons and blurbs.
I honestly don’t know how widespread the practice of high-profile preachers delivering ghostwritten sermons is; there was a persistent rumor at Liberty that Harold Willmington wrote Jerry Falwell’s sermons, but I have no way of knowing if that was actually true. Jerry did use Mel White as a ghostwriter for his book If I Die Before I Wake, and I suspect lived to regret it, but for other reasons.
A few best-selling Christian authors write their own books, including Philip Yancey, a Colorado-based essayist and stylist. “He writes every word” says Cryderman. “To us, that’s the ideal.” The Rev. Charles Swindoll, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, has crafted best-selling books from his sermons and has felt the need to defend their authenticity. “I have no writing staff or team of researchers who provide me with historical and illustrative material or serve as my `ghostwriters,’” he asserted in his 1992 book, The Grace Awakening. “Every word comes from my own pen through the age-old process most authors still use: blood, sweat, tears, sleepless nights, lengthy stares at blank sheets of paper, unproductive days when everything gets dumped into the trash, and periodic moments when inspiration and insight flow.”
Clashes over who truly shed sweat and tears — and got paid accordingly — sometimes erupt after a best-seller climbs the CBA charts. In the early 1990s, Colorado radio minister Bob Larson, whose name is on a novel trilogy that began with Dead Air, sued a woman who broke confidence by claiming she was the real author. The top-selling Christianity in Crisis by radio host and “Bible Answer Man” Hank Hanegraaff ended in a lawsuit by a ministry staffer who claimed to have done much of the work.
Articles like this aren’t complete without lists of good guys and bad guys, and this one has them: Yancey and Swindoll good, Larson and Hanegraaff bad.
I don’t know what to say about ghostwriting of books generally; I spent enough time in academic circles to know that authoring of some books is as much an administrative effort as a creative effort, and it often pays to beware “instant books” and read acknowledgments very closely. I tend to think that if a Christian is such a celebrity that you can’t go see them and get a sense of what sort of person they are, etc. you’re better off holding their books at arms’ length no matter how well-recommended they are.