Posted on Friday, December 06, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The death of Paul Crouch last week brought back memories of my first extended stay -- indeed, my first visit -- to the USA.  It was in 1996 and I was a visiting research fellow at Calvin College in Michigan, working on my first book on John Owen.  

Channel hopping one night, my wife and I came across the Trinity Broadcasting Network,index.jpg Crouch's media empire, and found ourselves watching the show he hosted with his wife, Jan.  We were immediately hooked, but for all the wrong reasons.  Crouch, in his slick suit, looked like the epitome of the traveling snake oil salesman.  His wife -- how can I put this delicately?  Well, I guess I can't -- looked like a certain kind of lady that one might have found in a hostelry in Dodge City in the 1870s.  Then there were the guests: the cast of characters seemed made up of women with what is termed 'big hair' and the men, who all seemed to be country and western singers, sported mullets which, while no doubt protected under the First Amendment, did rather raise the question of when good taste might be well advised to trump liberty.  Should the government not intervene on the hair front, we asked ourselves?

The show was a far cry from the British evangelicalism with which we were both familiar, imperfect as that world was -- a world shaped by Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, J I Packer and others, with its gentleman amateur ethos, its ill-fitting suits, and its concern for content very much over style.  We concluded that there were good reasons why secular Americans despised Christianity: its public face was frankly often despicable.

What is so striking about Crouch and his empire is how successful it was, and indeed is.   To a British eye, it made a six pound note look plausible.  But it worked. It really worked.   Crouch had consummated a brilliant commercial marriage of a certain aesthetic and a certain theology.  When you do that, when accountability is absolutely top down, and when there is huge money involved, it is very easy to become both very successful and to stray very far from the path of truth and integrity.  He sold his message very well to a certain constituency and he built a business structure which insulated him from standard ecclesiastical accountability.

When I read Crouch's obituaries, I reflected once again on the fact that neither aesthetics nor (crucially) theology are so necessarily connected to integrity, transparency and proper accountability that any of us can afford to ignore or neglect the latter -- which, historically, are intimately connected to each other.   One can change the aesthetic to a more tasteful one, and one can change the theology to a more biblical one; but if you lack accountability and integrity, your message becomes just one more product being hawked on the market. 

The lessons of Crouch's life are still remarkably pertinent.  Of course, Paul (the ancientMolesworth crystal ball.jpg apostle, that is) rejoiced that the truth was preached whether by good or by bad.  So I hope do all Christians.  But the career of Paul Crouch is still interesting for the lessons it teaches.

Posted on Thursday, December 05, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

It is clear that we have moved from an evangelical culture marked by celebrity, with its untouchables.jpgirritating egos, vaudeville antics and all-round buffoonery that are, to be honest, so much fun to mock.   Now, we have entered an era where there is something much more sinister afoot, where the stakes are a whole lot higher and the playbook a whole lot more L. Ron Hubbard.   In this context, one can only hope that The Untouchables will continue the fight.   And Dave Moore kicks off with a good piece in this regard.

Legal disclaimer: no children, small animals or sensitive egos were harmed in the making of this blog post. 

Posted on Thursday, December 05, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

In last week's Spectator, Rod Liddle (we are not worthy! we are not worthy!) had a quite superb article on the increasing restrictions on freedom of speech in Britain.  Well worth reading.  Really quite relevant.   Yes, definitely.  Enough said.

Posted on Thursday, December 05, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Of course, I accept Paul's apology.  He should not have spoken the truth to PR but he has learned his lesson.

And I apologise for reporting him to the Old Bill (new term for you, Tim) for stealing my television some years ago.  I nowMolesworth in Corner.jpg realise that he only took it to watch privately with his friends and family and thus did not actually steal the television at all.  It would be nice to have it back sometime, though.....

Posted on Wednesday, December 04, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

You better believe it.

Some reflections on press freedom over at First Thoughts, where I have brought next week's post forward a few days because of recent events.

Is there anybody left so naive as to believe that the Ubermenschen don't run the evangelical show?

Posted on Wednesday, December 04, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Good morning, good morning!  What a week it has been: all the Elvises have apparently left the building,good morning.jpg all the respectable evangelical players are falling over themselves to affirm rap music, and it seems that the gospel-centred consensus is that Christian journalism is a legitimate calling, but only for adulatory fan boys.  If my powers of prophecy keep proving this accurate, I may have to reconsider my cessationist convictions.   In fact, I hope my student Tim Brindle (hey, I may be OPC but I have rap cred too) will do a hip hop song about these recent events  at some point -- at least once I have finished teaching him classic English slang.  When you hear the words 'bloke,' 'geezer,' and 'gobsmacked' in some American urban reformed gospel hit, you will know which UK ex-pat is responsible.

Anyway, amidst all the painfully earnest evangelical correctness and predictably pious silences, we good morning 2.jpgare pleased to present to you a new Bully Pulpit, where the whole gang is here and is willing to comment at this time on the importance of citing sources, on not 'nicking' passages from other people's books (as Tim Brindle would no doubt say), on having freedom of the Christian press, and on other matters of the moment.  But that is Ref21 all over: speaking truth to PR since 2005 (except, of course, when the Puppetmaster or some other vested interest says otherwise).  But, hey, we just think of ourselves as two blokes and a bird having a cheeky pop or two at the dodgy gaffers of American reformed evangelicalism. 

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Over at First Thoughts, Collin Garbarino offers some very perceptive comments on the Driscoll plagiarism affair.  He makes the point that such activity receives a failing grade at his university.  I would only add that at Westminster it also involves automatic suspension from the degree program followed by discussion with the powers that be about whether Christian ministry is really an option for the perpetrator.

One sentence in particular stands out: 'Ghostwriting is lying, and plagiarism is stealing, and there seems to be a lot of it going around.'   No further comment is necessary, for that says it all.

For some time now I have been harping on and on about the corrupting effects of celebrityNietzsche.jpg culture on conservative evangelicalism.  I think I was wrong: we are not dealing these days with mere celebrities; the ethical transgressions we are witnessing would indicate that we are actually dealing with a form of evangelical Nietzscheanism whereby the leaders of the movement are, to borrow a phrase, beyond good and evil.   This should have been clear when Driscoll embraced T D Jakes as a brother.    If you can do that and still have the leaders of a flagship evangelical group wish you well in your future ministry as you depart from them, then the ethical precedent is set and the fix, as they say in America, is in.  You are an evangelical Superman, transcending normal ethical categories --- though I suspect not so much because of a will to power as a will to PR.

My guess is that one of two scenarios will play out in the coming weeks.  First, it is possible that the reformed evangelical world will take this opportunity to put its house in order in an open and public manner: those who were swift to criticise Ms. Mefferd will offer apologies as public as their original pejorative statements; publishers will pull books they know to be ghost-written and they will dismiss the brand names on the covers of the same from their list of approved authors; churches will suspend pastors who plagiarise or who employ ghost writers and place them under discipline; and other Christian organisations and conferences will withdraw their goodwill and invitations to speak from the same.  This will cost money; it will not be popular in many quarters; but what price integrity?  And what a powerful signal to the watching world.

Second, it is possible that we will see a re-run of the Elephant Room debacle.  The whistleblowers will be maligned, marginalised and then safely ignored. Maybe, if we are lucky, there will be a public statement talking about 'errors of judgment' and 'mistakes that have been made' along with a humble commitment to 'do better in the future.' The movers and shakers will either keep silent or reassure everybody that it is all under control and being dealt with appropriately behind the scenes.  A decent period of quiet will then ensue. And shortly thereafter it will be back to business as usual.   That too, one might add, will be a powerful signal to the watching world.

As I have said before, I am not remotely postmillennial, so you can probably guess what I think will happen.  As Karl Marx commented with reference to Louis Napoleon, history repeats itself -- the first time as tragedy, then as farce.

Posted on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I commented at the weekend that Janet Mefferd's allegations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll should be fairly easy to establish on the grounds that we have empirical evidence in the form of texts to compare.  She has posted a link to photographic plates here.  Regardless of whether one is instinctively inclined to like Ms. Mefferd or Mr. Driscoll, text is text and you can judge for yourselves who is in the right.  The second set, from comments on the Petrine epistles, is particularly noteworthy.

Elsewhere, Frank Turk has highlighted a few weird aspects of the whole affair.  Again, I make noMolesworth crystal ball.jpg comment on his statements as he provides evidence by which one can judge for oneself the plausibility of his interpretation.

This could well prove an interesting test case for the ethical stature of conservative evangelicalism.  Is there an evangelical industrial complex out there or is there a morality which transcends and ultimately regulates the evangelical marketplace?

Posted on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

It may not be quite as significant as the moment when Jimmy met Robert met John met John PaulLed Zep.jpg but, if you want to kill a bit of time while waiting for the levee to break, the latest Mortification of Spin is available.  Not exactly Batman and Robin meet Spiderman and Thor but, hey, we're on a budget here and don't want to find ourselves in the Puppetmaster's bad books.  This show is a happy half hour when Todd meets me meets Dan meets Frank to talk cessationism. When the Mortifiers of Spin meet the Pyromaniacs, you can expect all the hallmarks of our respective approaches to evangelical life: subtlety, understatement, charitable ambiguities, plenty of agreements to differ, no jokes, unconditional respect for and deference to the Top Men, and a decisive preference for centres over boundaries.  We can also assure you that, as always, we will refuse to criticize anyone we haven't first taken out for a skimmed pumpkin latte made from organic coffee beans at the fair trade cafe.   Oh, and by the way, don't miss the point when the Vatican spokesman calls in to the program to confirm that the Pope is not Catholic.  How he got our number, goodness knows.

Posted on Sunday, November 24, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The controversy surrounding Janet Mefferd's interview of Mark Driscoll is interesting for a variety of reasons.  There is one aspect of it which has yet to attract comment as far as I can tell.  That is the way it brings out another aspect of the celebrity culture which has so corrupted the young, restless and reformed movement.

My interest here is not who was right and who was wrong.  That will no doubt be fairly easy to establish as the claims which Janet Mefferd made should be empirically verifiable.    I would only comment that, in my own interactions with Janet Mefferd, I have always found her forthright but fair.  I am concerned in this post only with what the reactions to the interview tell us about the culture of celebrity in the subculture that is evangelicalism. 

I have tried a number of times to make the point that being a celebrity is not the same as being a public figure.   Anyone who acts in public is, to a greater or lesser degree, a public figure.  Celebrity brings with it such matters as a culture of false intimacy with complete strangers and a charismatic authority rooted in the person not in an institution.  Thus, influence is often predicated on personality, not on the intrinsic merits of arguments etc.

The Mefferd-Driscoll controversy points to another aspect of celebrity culture: celebrities are routinely allowed to behave in ways which would not be tolerated in ordinary mortals.  For example, being drunk on the job and hurling abuse at an employer would make one unemployable in the real world.  Not for Charlie Sheen. A conviction for rape would be enough to have you characterized as a monster in the real world who had forfeited the right to sympathetic media exposure.   Not for Mike Tyson or Roman Polanski (just ask that champion of women's rights, Whoopi Goldberg).   In short, normal rules do not apply to celebrities in the same way as they do to others. 

The same is true in the celebritydrome of the evangelical subculture.   Driscoll is a classic case in point. For example, he has claimed that God gives him explicit images of the sexual sins of other people.  He has embraced prosperity teacher and denier of the Trinity, T. D. Jakes, as a brother. He has written an explicit book on sex. Most recently, he engaged in a cringe-inducing publicity stunt unworthy of a spoiled teenager. For most of us, any one of these things would have ended in church discipline and (in the Jakes' case) removal from office.  Yet in all of this, the fan base and those with a vested interest in capitalizing on his success grant him free pass after free pass. 

So the fall-out from The Janet Mefferd Show has been interesting even as it has been entirely predictable.  The fan base and those with a vested interest in Driscoll's reputation rally around their hero while excoriating Janet Mefferd.   In so doing, they ironically demonstrate why shows such as Janet Mefferd's can be so very important: if the conservative evangelical world continues to be increasingly dominated by one or two huge media-style organizations, the conversation will be corralled and controlled, the hard questions will not be asked, and the leaders of such organizations and those over whom they choose to extend their patronage will not be held to account.

If, in your quest to promote yourself, you ask to appear on a particular show, you should be tough enough to take whatever that show throws at you with equanimity. The intricate and risky dance between celebrities and media is part of the game you have chosen to play, indeed a large factor in what has made you famous and influential.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.  In such circumstances, you should also accept that Janet Mefferd's job is not to make you look good or to keep her comments within the accepted bounds of evangelical correctness as defined by you or by any other Top Man.  Her job as a radio journalist is to ask the hard questions and hold you, me or whomever she is addressing, to account.  

But you can still sleep easy at night knowing this important truth: blessed are the celebrities, for they will be rigorously held to a much lower standard of behaviour than the rest of us.