Bags of Bran

You’re Correct Because You’re Famous
March 20, 2014, 8:20 pm
Filed under: Biography, Destined to get me in trouble | Tags: ,

For many in my generation, I’ve discovered, Christian leadership is something that primarily occurs on a stage. In their view, the ideal of Christian leadership is key participation in non-ecclesiastical entities such as coalitions, conferences, and togetherhoods. Leaders are men with vision beyond the pale of the local church. Leaders are also (perceived as) men of breadth, which is evidenced foremostly in their participation in the many coalitions and alliances and togetherhoods. And although they may say that pastors are holders of the highest office, there is a growing trend among the pastors of my generation to set their rudder by the guys in the conference circuit.

If the conference guys are the first tier of Christian leadership, there is a second tier that aspires to such leadership. These are the lesser lights, whose books perhaps aren’t as good, their personalities aren’t as generic, their vision is either more modest or more maniacal, or perhaps they are just parrots of the first-tier conference guys. And though they pay their dues in the coalitions, alliances, and togetherhoods, they don’t often get asked to participate at the VIP level. Their dream is to write the book that is larded with accolades by real movers in the community, or to bring the house down during a “talk” or during a panel discussion with a first-tier guy. It can get very competitive.

Then there are those poor people in the system, the people who actually fund celebrity evangelicalism. They attend the conferences at full price, buy the books at whatever Amazon sells them for, and listen to the “talks” with either pen and paper or gadget, looking for something to salt their preaching on Sunday. These folks look at that stage and think “apostles, if not archangels.” They read books that will, in a year’s time, collect dust in the bargain bin, and they think “this could be the twenty-ninth chapter of Acts.” They read the blogs to know what they should think about things. Their imaginations are captive to the whims of an industry.

My worry is not for the various tiers of the evangelical celebrity movement, but for those who honestly look to them for leadership. When that scaffolding collapses, I hope to be far clear of the wreckage, but others, drawn toward large structures for large structures’ sake, will not escape damage so easily. I am in seminary, and I converse with guys who believe unquestioningly that real Christianity is that which happens on the internet and at conferences. Is this a function of weak, unprophetic men in their pulpits? Is this a function of their pastors’ remora-like relationship with the dilute, derivative authority of the evangelical warlords and their publications? I can’t be sure, but I overheard a hallway conversation recently that gave rise to a cloud of worries about my brow. The conversants were talking favorably about certain celebrity pastors publicly humbling themselves at conferences over such and such peccadilloes, and the summary of their brief exchange was that all is well on that particular stage. Publicly humbling themselves, I thought to myself. On stages. At conferences. Hmm.

As of this writing, one can go to the familiar haunts and ghettoes of evangelical celebritism and watch evangelical celebrities try to figure out repentance. Put yourself in the shoes of an evangelical celebrity and try to feel the agony in your guts with respect to these harrowing questions:

  • How much public opinion has to mount against me before I need to repent?
  • What are the best conferences at which to repent?
  • What should I wear when I repent?
  • Who should be seated onstage with me when I publicly humble myself?
  • What should my PR people say in their official releases about my repentance?
  • On what grounds are we, the gatekeepers, going to accept someone’s repentance?

There are more questions to be asked as well. And someone might ask them. Hands are being wrung over these matters: they could use your prayer, or better yet, your patronage at their conferences and bookstores.

For a long time, the unspoken premise (or enthymeme) in the argument for celebrity evangelicalism has been “You’re not famous because you’re correct; you’re correct because you’re famous.” I sense a change of position with all the recent talk of who/where/what/why/when/how to repent, but what will change? Accountable leadership? Accountable to whom? Other evangelical celebrities? Will they try cases of conference discipline at the next evangelical reindeer games?

How different from the Biblical idea of church.


1 Comment so far
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Looks like TGC pulled the plug on Ray Ortlund’s “What Just Happened?” article from 3/17/2014. You can find its substance dealt with here:


Comment by the divine passive

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