Not so long ago Wenatchee The Hatchet was given audio from a January 23, 2013 presentation Mark Driscoll gave about content. The core ideas were content aggregation, content creation, content multiplication, content distribution, and defending content.
In case you're wondering, you didn't misread any of that. This was not a sermon of biblical texts or on a traditional Christian doctrine. The presentation was entirely about marketing content. Actually ... the core of the message could be described as a seminar on propaganda, at least if we assess it's content in Ellulian terms.
Let's take a relatively early part of the presentation, and perhaps those who attended the event can confirm the reliability of the transcript if they have the audio handy. For sake of clarity the blue text indicates a quote from the Driscoll address and red text will indicate quotes from Ellul.
Pastor Mark Driscoll Address
January 23, 2013
... the hard thing is how to have enough fresh content to keep interest. It becomes very difficult. Like, for me, I've got a weekly podcast/vodcast thing to fill; I've got my own website with a daily blog to fill; I've got Resurgence blogs to fill, I've got Mars Hill blogs to fill; I've got books to fill. I mean I've got Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and I don't even know where other stuff is because I never go on to those places but it's just a constant flow of content. So if you're going to open a communication channel then you have to fill that communication channel and it can get very laborious.
And what did somebody have to say about how once you turn on the faucet you have to leave it on?
PROPAGANDA: THE FORMATION OF MEN'S ATTITUDES
Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
.. Once again, we note that propaganda should be continuous, should never relax, and must vary its themes with the tide of events.
Driscoll's observation was that once you engage a platform you have to keep generating content for that platform.
Perhaps one of the most ironic commentaries from Driscoll in early 2013 was the following:
I don't know if you know this but the majority of Christian publishing is owned by non-Christians. Rupert Murdoch bought Zondervan and now he's bought Thomas Nelson (I just finished up my deal with Thomas Nelson). And there's good, godly people working at both of those organizations but they were bought by Rupert Murdoch, who doesn't love Jesus and what's happened then is they've been taken over by Harper Collins which means a lot of the Christian staff, marketing and editorial is getting laid off and then it's moving to non-Christians who are in New York.
and so we're going to have a real problem and crisis that's forthcoming very quickly in Christian publishing. A very serious problem.
Has a crisis in Christian publishing materialized? Did such a crisis have anything to do with Christian publishers being owned by non-Christians? Or was the closest thing we had to a crisis in Christian publishing the plagiarism and Result Source controversies that swirled up about Mark Driscoll?
We'll move to some remarks Driscoll made about how in the wake of making a deal with Tyndale the stage was set for a new opportunity for content creators within Mars Hill.
So we've built this (and I've brought myself into that same negotiation. We're all in it together) to provide us a way of getting our content out in as expedient a manner as possible through as many channels as is possible. And this is what Paul, I think, is alluding to in 1 Corinthians 9 when he says "I became all things to all men so that by ALL means, ALL means, I might save as many as possible." And in "all means" what he's saying is, "if there's a way to get the good news of Jesus out, I'm gonna look for that opportunity and I'm gonna take that opportunity." And so these are various opportunities but I would encourage you, you're now part of a system where if you are a content creator, and you build a tribe, and you provide good content there really is no limit (all the way to the New York Times best seller list) for an opportunity for you. I can't guarantee you anything but we can provide you an opportunity. ...
There wasn't any mention that getting to the New York Times best-seller list was obtained with some help from Result Source. The invitation was that within Mars Hill there was an opportunity, though no promise, that if a content creator made good content and built a tribe there was theoretically no limit for an opportunity for that content creator.
In Driscoll's handling a statement from Paul became a defense of using all forms of media to get a message out. Driscoll would go on to describe how uniformity of messaging across every kind of media was something to shoot for.
Since this blog isn't ideally situated for audio clips we'll have to settle for transcription again.
The key is have one primary content creator, other supportive content creators, and (to as much as possible) have some sort of unified theming through as many platforms as possible to multiply and embed the message. You need fresh content but you don't need fresh message. That make sense? You need fresh content but you don't need, it's not like one huge earth-shattering idea every single day. People can't handle that much, right? ...
What's the big idea I'm sending out right now? Identity. One big idea and it's a hook and then all the other ideas hang off that big hook. So for the whole 16-week sermon series there's one big hook called identity. All the social media, all the blogs, all the community groups everything's hanging on the hook. And then it's even consistent. So you walk in and you see "I am a saint" and, all of a sudden, the theming is consistent in the building. And so it's just, every medium, how do we communicate this message? And so for 16 weeks it will a concentrated content message on identity in Christ. But then once we're done with the series, let's say somebody gets saved in two years and walks in all of that content's available. [emphasis added]
Having recently reviewed Jacques Ellul's practical definition of propaganda let's revisit it again.
Propaganda must be total. The propagandist must utilize all of the technical means at his disposal--the press, radio, TV, movies, posters, meetings, door-to-door canvassing. Modern propaganda must utilize all of these media. [emphasis added] There is no propaganda so long as one makes use, in a sporadic fashion and at random, of a newspaper article here, a poster or a radio program there, organizes a few meetings and lectures, writes a few slogans on walls; that is not propaganda.
To begin with, propaganda must be organized in several ways. To give it the above mentioned characteristics (continuity, duration, combination of different media), an organization is required that controls the mass media, is capable of using them correctly, of calculating the effect of one or another slogan or of replacing one campaign with another. There must be an administrative organization [emphasis added], every modern state is expected to have a Ministry of Propaganda, whatever its actual name may be.
Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulation and incorporated in an organization. [italics original]
So when Mark Driscoll extolled the integration of theming in sermons, podcasts, vodcasts, church blogs, and even the interior decorating of campuses of Mars Hill what he was describing was a fully integrated use from the top down of every form of mass and social media to communicate a single unified message that would direct church life. That's a man speaking not as a pastor who studies and interprets the Bible and shepherds a flock, that's a man speaking as a propagandist.
Ellul shared more than a few ideas about propaganda and specifically about propaganda in relationship to the church and to Christianity:
... Propaganda is a total system that one must accept or reject in its entirety.
If the church accepts it, two important consequences follow. First of all, Christianity disseminated by such means is not Christianity. [emphasis added] We have already seen the effect of propaganda on ideology. In fact, what happens as soon as the church avails itself of propaganda is a reduction of Christianity to the level of all other ideologies or secular religions.
This can be seen happening throughout history. Every time a church tried to act through the propaganda devices accepted by an epoch, the truth and authenticity of Christianity were debased. This happened in the fourth, ninth, and seventeenth centuries (of course, this does not mean that no more Christians were left as a result).
In such moments (when acting through propaganda), Christianity ceases to be an overwhelming power and spiritual adventure and becomes institutionalized in all its expressions and compromised in all its actions. It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax. In such times there appear innumerable sweetenings and adaptations, which denature Christianity by adjusting it to the milieu.
Thus reduced to nothing more than an ideology, Christianity will be treated as such by the propagandist. [emphasis added] And in the modern world we can repeat in connection with this particular ideology what we have already said on the subject of ideologies in general. What happens is that the church will be able to move the masses and convert thousands of people to its ideology. But this ideology will no longer be Christianity. It will be just another doctrine, though it will still contain (sometimes, but not always) some of the original principles and the Christian vocabulary. [emphasis added]
The other consequence affects the church itself. When it uses propaganda, the church succeeds, just as all other organizations. It reaches the masses, influences collective opinions, leads sociological movements, and even makes many people accept what seems to be Christianity. But in doing that the church becomes a false church. it acquires power and influence that are of this world, and through them integrates itself into this world.
As we watch the election cycle play out there are potentially two ways to read this warning from 1965.
Whether the form of American civic religion has a red-state or blue-state hue once Christianity is made subservient to American political ideological concerns it has ceased to be Christianity and has become an Americanized civic religion used to mobilize voters is one way you could put it.
But another take-away from this warning is that a church that consciously accepts propaganda as a "reality of modern life" and decides to appropriate it stops being Christianity and stops being the church.
As a former member of Mars Hill the application of Ellul's warning could be this, that by embracing the techniques of mass media in the way that he did Mark Driscoll stopped being a pastor a long time ago (if he ever was one to begin with) and became a propagandist. That he could give a presentation in early 2013 about content management to church staff as has been quoted in this post suggests that Mars Hill church by early 2013 was in key respects what Ellul would call a propaganda machine, and its devotees were potentially really Christians but in organizational and social terms they became loyalists to a brand, and that brand was Mark Driscoll.
If Mars Hill Church died it doesn't seem like too big a stretch on the warnings of Jacque Ellul about churches that it died because it had stopped being a church and had become a propaganda machine; once it became a propaganda machine it was no longer a true church and could not articulate a truly Christian witness even if all the usual vocabulary and buzzwords were there. No matter how many times Driscoll's followers would say "It's all about Jesus" it was a Jesus that was a concept mediated and defined by Mark Driscoll.
The Trinity Church in Phoenix is currently a mailbox in a UPS store. There aren't any attending members and yet there's staff. There's no building as yet but there's Mark Driscoll Ministries with sermons and vodcasts and blog posts and audio as much as you could want. This isn't a church, it's a corporation, a propaganda machine whose brand is not necessarily Jesus but fairly certainly Mark Driscoll. After all, the ministry is named after him.