Saturday, March 12, 2016

Carl Trueman's "The Last Waltz" on the possible eve of the end for evangelicalism's empire in America, cross-links to Michael Spenser's The Coming Evangelical Collapse


American evangelicalism certainly appears comparatively robust. It has numbers. It has enthusiasm. It has brand recognition. But, despite the scholarship it has at its disposal, its public leadership too often lacks depth and seems to have pitched for populism. The biggest organizations have controlled the conversation by buying up the talent or, where that fails, simply isolating and ignoring dissenting voices, and its foot soldiers seem happy to play along. Every outlet of influence has to be ‘on message.' Patriarchal misogynists are given a platform while egalitarians have, by definition, nothing to contribute. It is why some of us who used to think ourselves at least sympathetic to aspects of the movement can barely be bothered with it today.

Brands have a place—but not at the center of the Christian life. If conservative evangelicalism cannot wean itself off using brands as a primary focus of identity—brands that are tied to particular personalities, that cost a lot of money to maintain, and which often exude a breathtaking sense of importance (all for the sake of Jesus, of course) then the kind of corruption noted above will continue. Moreover, the future is simply unsustainable in anything like its present form. Economically, patterns of parachurch funding are set to change dramatically in the next ten years, even without any change in tax exempt status rules. The future may be hard to predict with precision but it will be different. And now is the time to prepare for that.

Having spent the bulk of a month going through Jacques Ellul's book Propaganda at this blog and discussing how its concepts can explain the history of Mars Hill and the methods of Mark Driscoll, I'm inclined to agree with what Trueman wrote there.  I would say that the trouble with evangelicalism (in its politically left as well as right leaning forms) is that it has been dominated by a type of aristocracy that Ellul described as propagandists half a century ago.  Rather than practicing the Christian faith as the Christian faith American partisans for the right and left alike have formulated red state and blue state civic religions.  Whether it's Sanders or Trump the appeal is methodologically the same regardless of what the platform is.  Ellul's warning was that propaganda had become a social dynamic and use of media that was an end unto itself.  Its power drew upon the viability of social science and its application and that social science bore responsibility for the refinement of propagandistic techniques in the way that applied physics bore responsibility for the invention of the atomic bomb.  Ellul seems to have been right to say that the social scientists are responsible for creating the tools of psychological manipulation as physicists were for the atomic bomb.

Alastair Roberts' piece from years ago comes to mind, "The Ad Man's Gospel", where he proposed that if the sixteenth century theologian resembled a lawyer today's theologian resembles a marketing representative. 

Trueman is, in a way, late to observing the end of the party.  Michael Spenser called the end of evangelicalism as we know it years ago.

I believe that we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. I believe this evangelical collapse will happen with astonishing statistical speed; that within two generations of where we are now evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its current occupants, leaving in its wake nothing that can revitalize evangelicals to their former “glory.”
A vast number of parachurch ministries are going to become far less influential, and many will vanish. The same will likely be true from everything from Christian media to publishing.

Ah, like what Trueman recently wrote, eh? In a remarkable irony, back in 2013 Mark Driscoll predicted there would be a coming crisis in Christian publishing.  To go by the headlines of the last few years if there even "was" a scandal or a crisis in Christian publishing it was, ironically, the plagiarism controversy that swirled around Mark Driscoll's own books.

Will the coming evangelical collapse get evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about its loss of substance and power? I tend to believe that even with large declines in numbers and an evidence “earthquake” of evangelical loyalty, the purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in full form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church’s problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time. (I rejoice in those megachurches that fulfill their role as places of influence and resource for other ministries without insisting on imitation.)

Conflating a practice of the Christian faith with the left or right of the United States is to sell Christianity off to Babylon, to make the Christian faith subordinate to an empire.  It doesn't matter whether it's to the left or the right.  To the extent that American Christians fine-tuned Christian confession into a platform for either the Democratic or Republican national conventions is the extent to which they have corrupted the Christian confession for the politics of American empire.  It may be more obvious that the evangelical right has embraced the use of propaganda but it may just be because it's easier to recognize the Social Gospel of the right over the last forty years than to remember the Social Gospel of the left from a previous century.

What both movements did was reverse-engineer for us a Christ who is not so much king of kings and lord of lords but the endorser of a particular utopian vision on a political spectrum.  What we have had from the left and right are transformations of Christian confession into propaganda for either progressive/socialist policies or reactionary/capitalist policies.  What if both are abominations that have as their ultimate goal not the proclamation of Christ crucified but a particular vision of an ascendant American empire? Yes, that's obviously a rhetorical question. :)

The coming evangelical collapse, however it comes, might simply underline a warning Ellul had for the church half a century ago about what it would lose if it embraced the power of using mass media and the methods of propaganda.

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

page 230
... 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.

Ben Bagdikian dead at 96, journalist and longtime critic of consolidation of ownership of media

Unless you were a journalist or a journalism student odds are high you've never heard of Ben Bagdikian, who died today.  He was a journalist who played a role in getting the Pentagon Papers before the public.  He also wrote warnings against the consolidation of the ownership of mass media into fewer and fewer hands.  From the NYT. 

By 2004, when he published “The New Media Monopoly,” the last of seven sequel editions, the number of corporate giants controlling much of the flow of information and entertainment had dwindled to five. “This gives each of the five corporations and their leaders more communications power than was exercised by any despot or dictatorship in history,” Mr. Bagdikian wrote.
“The worst thing that can happen to a journalist is to become a celebrity,” he told The Progressive in 1997. “The honest job of the journalist is to observe, to listen, to learn. The job of the celebrity is to be observed, to make sure others learn about him or her, to be the object of attention rather than an observer.”

So you could choose celebrity or choose to stay an actual journalist. That might be a warning worth heeding for people who studied journalism and are now brands unto themselves more than actual journalists. 

Remember how earlier this week I blogged about empires of patronage reflecting on the death of George Martin?  Well, the idea's hardly a new or original one and it's a thought indebted to writers like Bagdikian--that the leaders of the five corporations who dominate American media have more communications power than that exercised by any despots or totalitarian states int he history of the planet isn't that hard to believe, or even controversial.  That these empires celebrate themselves first and foremost, and sacralize what they do might be something to keep in mind during Oscar season.  It might be something to keep in mind when film critics like A. O. Scott have books out about the greatness of film criticism or academics talk about the greatness of the academy.  Yeah, cool, but these are all empires with their respective prestige rackets. 

What's seemed to be the case to me, from this meager blog, has been that when the empires of the press decide they don't want to cover something, or when they decide they already know the score, they decide what they want to run with.  At the level of Puget Sound the history of writing about Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll has all too often been the history of the echo chambers and confirmation biases of people whose primary loyalties have been to read all that has been said and done through the lenses of the left or right.  Discovering what the flesh and blood people who called Mars Hill home aspired to, what they believed, who they actually were, that was all of secondary or even tertiary significance to those who could transform it all into a lesson to be preached to a partisan choir, or a marketing opportunity to consecrate a brand.  In a word, prejudice on the part of the press left and right meant the press was less interested in what was going on at Mars Hill than in what hay could be made of it.

The history of Mars Hill and what has and hasn't been written about it in the press has been a history of the complete and abject failure of the secular mainstream press on the one hand and the shameful failure to investigate until it was essentially too late on the part of the Christian press on the other. It was also a failure on the part of all of us who once called the church home to have been alert enough to our own capacity for self-deceit. 

A whole lot of people have seen in the history of Mars Hill an opportunity to build a legacy for whatever their pet project may be.  That's understandable, even inevitable, but whether much of any of it fit what Bagdikian described as the first obligation of a journalist, to serve the public interest and good, may be impossible to answer in the affirmative.  But Bagdikian's critique of mass media empires may be a helpful reminder of why so few with so much power to discuss the subjects chose for so long to regard Mars Hill first and foremost as an opportunity to discuss talking points as usual rather than to observe and listen to see what might have been there.  Mars Hill came so prejudged by the left and right that it took a while for people on the left and right (whether in religious or political terms) to get a clearer sense what might be going on. 

In arts classes you may hear the warning that you need to learn how to draw what you actually see, not what you think you see, because your brain has developed and learned a panoply of shortcuts and symbolic equivalencies that can lead you to draw THAT instead of what you're actually looking at.  And in the midst of all this, writing as a sometime watchblogger, the most important caveat is that when you write and investigate what happened and who did and said what you have to remember that at the end of it all you and what you value will not necessarily be vindicated in the process. 

Driscoll to launch The Trinity Church at Glass and Garden Drive-In Church in Scottsdale--was praying for 1000+ seat venue, though last month DeMoss assured us " ... he realizes that he might launch a church speaking to 100 people."
The newly launched Driscoll congregation has signed a rental contract for the 50-year-old church, which opened on Easter Sunday in 1966.  The official launch of the church has not yet been announced.

Driscoll's next enterprise launches at its location at 5pm on Easter Sunday.  It's been announced already.  A few observations are about to get presented here shortly but first let's look at what's been said about the kind of building Driscoll was said to be specifically praying for.
Pastor Mark and his family moved to the Phoenix valley last year. After spending months praying specifically for a church building with 1,000+ seats along the 101 Freeway, Pastor Mark believes that God has supernaturally provided. [emphasis added] Like most older church buildings, this one needs some service projects and financial investment to make it a good home, but we are excited about its potential.

We know that God has gone before us, preparing an opportunity to minister. This building provides a wonderful opportunity for our mission: Why? So that lives and legacies are transformed!

Certainly at this point Mark Driscoll could appreciate having his legacy transformed. There's not a lot of explanation of how this piece of real estate has been granted to Driscoll as the site for his planned resurgence.  If Driscoll's account of how his old house was destroyed and how all his wealth and equity were in that wrecked house it's not Driscoll's money that could be brought to bear in securing this new site. Driscoll got an LLC registered in Arizona and some of that corporate presence has shifted from Washington down there

Lasting Legacy LLC is pending

Now in spite of Driscoll's history of telling tales of woe about the dangers his family has faced it seems he just ... can't ... resist constantly assimilating his children into his public persona and promotion of his brand.  Anyone recall when Ashley Driscoll was contributing content at Pastor Mark TV?  Anyone not notice Mark Driscoll's long history of bombarding social media with photos of the Fab Five?  The intermittent invocation of tales about how this or that kid was afraid of a media helicopter withstanding, the overall trend of Mark Driscoll's use of social media seems more like collapsing the identities of his children into the Mark Driscoll persona and brand than shielding them from it.  He might not let them have direct access to social media themselves but he's more than happy to put them on it. 

The announcement is just a recent example: 
Pastor Mark couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity for evangelism that God has provided The Trinity Church, and is praying every day for the people who will meet Jesus Christ in this building. He also looks forward to ongoing partnership with other pastors as part of Jesus’ one big Church in the valley. He says, “God is planting The Trinity Church and we are following his leadership. God has a plan that has been fifty years in the making. My youngest son and I first walked around the building after baseball practice late one night. Still in his uniform, under the moonlight of a warm and clear desert evening, my little buddy folded his hands and prayed that Jesus would provide us the building to worship Him in. God answered his prayer! God has provided a home for The Trinity Church”.

The kid may not remember in a moment of sympathy for a parent that you can fold your hands and pray to God anywhere you like.  God the Father, Son and Spirit don't need a particular piece of real estate in which to be worshipped.  It seems a shame that a guy like Mark Driscoll, who has made hay of the stress his children have faced because of social media and their dad, keeps dragging them into the social media and mass media spotlight.

But there's something others may not have mentioned in the midst of all this headlining.  Let's look at a particular statement, "After spending months praying specifically for a church building with 1,000+ seats along the 101 Freeway, Pastor Mark believes that God has supernaturally provided."  Okay, so Driscoll spent months praying specifically for a church building with more than one thousand seats along the 101 Freeway.

Say, wait a minute, didn't someone at The Daily Beast quote Mark DeMoss about how realistic Driscoll's expectations were that this next church launch might not be very big?
02.20.16 9:01 PM ET
Driscoll’s new website lists more than two dozen church leaders who are “praying for The Trinity Church.” Among them is Mark DeMoss, owner of a Christian public relations firm who worked for Mars Hill in 2014 during the church’s many crises. DeMoss is not working for The Trinity Church, but said he’s just trying to “be a friend,” and offered insight into what he says are Driscoll’s plans.

“I think he’s very realistic and he realizes that he might launch a church speaking to 100 people. I don’t think he’s under any big idea that he’s going to open the doors and have a megachurch immediately. But, I think he has the potential to do that again.” [emphasis added]

Although DeMoss wouldn’t name anyone in particular, he says Driscoll “spent a considerable amount of time reaching out to people that he knew or thought he had offended or hurt in some way and did whatever he could do to right those relationships. He’s had some success with that, but there have been some people who were not receptive to a restored relationship.”
So why spend months praying specifically for a 1000+ seat venue along the 101 Freeway if, as Mark DeMoss assured a reporter last month, Mark Driscoll was realistic and realized he might launch a church speaking to just 100 people? 

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

another milestone, 25 years ago Ren & Stimpy emerged, another little rumination on a revolution in animation in the post-Cold War era

I've written more than a little bit over the last six years about how the end of the Cold War brought with it a revolutionary era of American animation.  The Simpsons showed us that animation did not have to see its primary audience as primarily children.  Batman: the animated series could introduce morally ambivalent characters into the superhero genre, where we'd see that Bruce Wayne was capable but emotionally stunted while the villains had psychologically relatable reasons for doing things that were still wrong.

And then, of course, there was also Ren and Stimpy, which was anarchic and surrealist and more or less at the opposite pole of Fat Albert.  Whether you were careful or not you wouldn't have "learned something" before an episode of Ren & Stimpy was done. 

At a lot of levels live action television and cinema was more conventional and routine than what began to go on in animation in the 1990s, at least for me when I try to remember what stuff I watched back then.  I wanted to be an animator when I was a kid.  It wasn't long before I discovered that was probably not going to be practical for me but I never lost an interest in animation or comics as media.  Ren & Stimpy wasn't exactly my FAVORITE cartoon but I liked the episodes I saw (whereas I found Aeon Flux tedious and overbaked, for mainly intuitive reasons I can't quite explain). 

Anyway, for those who are into cartoons, it's worth noting that 25 years ago there was some official chorusing on happy happy joy joy.

I suppose in a way that sticks with today's theme of how art that sticks with us is probably most accurately described as emerging in spite of empires of patronage rather than because of them, eh?

producer George Martin dead at 90--a short thought or two on empires of patronage and the arts

I was never really a Beatles fan over the course of my life.  I preferred Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones and John Lee Hooker and The Who and for a long time the Beatles mainly annoyed me.  But I was especially annoyed by their fans and the weirdly gushing, even religious devotion they had for the band.  I just didn't share it.

I'm a few decades older now and have worked out that I liked the stuff they did from about Rubber Soul forward, particularly Revolver.  I also got the sense that the band was exponentially more than the sum of its parts.  None of the Beatles as individual artists would go on to do anything that stuck with me.  They all needed each other, the four of them, and over time it began to see mthey also needed Martin.

The Beatles, with George Martin, transformed pop music.  I might liken it to a sea change that could be compared to Haydn in the Esterhazy court.  Haydn's willingness to take composers like Mozart or Beethoven under his wing, so to speak, inspired them in a number of ways.  Haydn's own music I like the best of the "big three".  Mozart could get too facile for me and Beethoven too long-winded whereas Haydn seemed to find that region of conceptual space where he could stay as long as he was welcome at the party and politely excuse himself when he sensed it was time to go.

But did that mean the patronage system of the 1700s was "fair"?  No, of course not.  I've read a few progressive writers in the last couple of years complain about how there's this winner-take-all thing going on in the arts and that the people who win, win big and the people who can't make it don't even have a shot at making a living at it.


That's how it worked in the 1600s under aristocratic patronage.  A little music history shows that even the aristocrats might not always come through on paying their artists.  Sometimes they would pay artists in-kind, firewood or meat in exchange for services rendered.  Haydn was contracted as part of a military class so if he ever didn't show up for work one day he could be arrested as if it were a court martial, more or less.  Scott Timberg's failure to mention this kind of historical detail has been part of why Iv'e found it impossible to take his vent about old-school patronage seriously.  Was the old school pimperial form of patronage actually "worse" than record label representatives "paying" blues musicians with cases of whiskey, as legend sometimes had was done?  It seems like a distinction without a difference over the sweep of centuries. 

Somebody somewhere on the internet reviewed Richard Taruskin's sprawling Oxford History of Western Music and pointed out that it's not a music survey set but a history of patronage systems and philosophical rationales for the creation of written music.  What Taruskin doesn't do is suggest that written music is "better" or even "legitimate" in contrast with or in comparison to oral traditions, and what he also doesn't do is suggest that there was ever a "good" empire of patronage, ever, in the history of humanity.  It's possible to describe how in certain empires of patronage some music many of us still love emerged without for even one second pretending that that patronage system was "fair". 

Just as a magical accident of history can lead an Esterhazy clan to bankroll a Haydn, or a George Martin chooses to invest in four guys from Liverpool, there's no reason these historical incidents that played large roles in shaping what we call music history should be construed as a "defense" of the ethics of the patronage empire in question.  If anything it might have been wiser back in the 1700s for people to merely wish their despots were enlightened rather than imagine that one day there would never be despots. 

There's no reason to assume that today's corporate suit is any less an aristocrat who runs society than someone from centuries ago.  The way Jacques Ellul put it in 1965 was that propagandists, those who could centrally control mass media whether as private citizens or state functionaries, were the new aristocratic class.  It wouldn't matter if it was a capitalist or socialist system, either, but that people believe propagandistic slogans that it's otherwise is some thought for another time. 

The fact that aristocrats have tastes that coincide with popular interest means a lot of things, but it doesn't mean that the corporate label system that's been in place for a century is necessarily any more fair than previous empires of patronage.  While there has been an emerging culture of free the culture of free in itself doesn't always suggest that you can reliably monetize what you've made.  It's not even any assurance that the empire of corporate patronage will end any time soon.  Most of the ways you could distribute stuff have limits, limits that can be imposed by the corporations that influence and shape how you can distribute what you've made. 

That the Beatles and George Martin made some fun music wouldn't be taken as a refutation of the blasting of "middlebrow" by an old leftist like, say, Dwight Macdonald.  In his polemic the corporations that were producing popular culture were incapable, by their very nature, of even producing art.  They were corporations with committees and teams.  It wasn't that art couldn't flourish within the system, Macdonald obviously loved jazz but he considered that a vestigial surviving folk culture that was being preserved by the recording industry.  He was far more pessimistic about rock as a popular form.  Of course a whole lot of leftists since have decided Macdonald had to be wrong about pop music ... because ... because a whole lot of people liked Elvis and the Beatles.

But ... what if we threw Macdonald a bone and remembered that he wasn't arguing that there could not be any great artists who were also popular.  He liked Chaplin, for instance, and pointed out that there were artists able to create great art IN SPITE OF the studio system rather than because of it.  Macdonald had given himself the ultimate trump card, he was damning the corporate system rather than anchoring everything to opposition to one form of popular music (that mistake was less the domain of Macdonald, who didn't seem to think much of rock while liking jazz, and more the domain of folks like Adorno). 

I've been thinking about this ever since I saw Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises.  I've seen a few film critics talk about how it's about an aeronautical engineer who designs the plane that became the Mitsubishi Zero, and about how it's about the artist and the artistic process.  Well, if so, what Miyazaki was saying is that there has never been, and can never even be, an art that is not in some way reflective of the aspirations and anxieties of an empire.  What world would you choose, one with or without the pyramids? 

There's no art history that can avoid the reality that the history of art is often the history of nasty, terrible people who bankroll the creation of beautiful things. Sure, there's also generous and salutary people who bankroll the creation of beautiful things, too, but that should just be a reminder to us that the individuals who stand out may frequently be the exceptions that prove the rule.  If corporate backed pop music seems terrible to people now don't imagine that corporate backed pop music wasn't just as terrible half a century ago, or that concert music financed by autocrats in Austria centuries ago didn't have something self-aggrandizing about it, or that the rulers who financed the building of pyramids in Egypt weren't making statements about their bling. 

Ellul wrote that to the extent that the individual doesn't matter in a mass society the greatness and dignity of individualism will be affirmed.  We say our individual lives matter precisely because we know they don't and we can't accept that they don't.  All propaganda, Ellul more or less  proposed, is a narcotic that solves this emotional/psychological problem of recognizing at a rational level our lives don't matter in a mass society while refusing to accept it emotionally. 

Which, in a way, gets at why millions of people all listen to the same songs.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

a postscript to an earlier post on Pussified Nation and Dead Men as agitation and integration propaganda within Ellulian terms

Since we've already looked at how Mark Driscoll's stint as William Wallace II could be interpreted in light of Jacques Ellul's taxonomy of propaganda ad the propaganda of agitation (and how!) while Dead Men could be presented as a propaganda of integration, it seems worth revisiting some very particular posts Mark made as William Wallace II in the notorious Pussified Nation thread.

William Wallace II
posted 12-30-2000 08:20 PM

This string is simply a work in law. [emphasis added] Now that it is beginning to evoke a bit of response we will be moving forward with clarifying further the general roles of men and women as defined principally in Scripture, and practically in our present culture (hence the post for single men on how to get a wife). Our gatherings will deal in greater specificity with accountability and male relationships centered in Scripture, governed by grace, and empowered by the Spirit as one of the multiple means by which we grow up in Christ. This posting site is good for kicking up some interest and laying out some information but simply cannot do the work that a local church was intended to and is therefore limited. [emphasis added] Lastly, in each time and place we must speak in a way that can best penetrate the noise of the present age. While Nathan has been exalted as the example, I would also remind you that most Old Testament prophets, all but one disciple, and the Lord Jesus Christ all died at the hands of religious people. While I would not seek such martyrdom I would suggest that whispering gently in therapeutic tones has been well tried and proven a failure as Promise Keepers and the like have demonstrated. Pelagian theology and psychology are very poor substitutes for law and gospel.later.P.S. irony and sarcasm are our friends. Laugh a little and scale down kids. If you don't get the humor, I promise you it's not because it isn't funny, but because you are way too serious. For therapy you may want to read a couple bits in Ezekiel about cooking a meal and scan the law for how to take a dump in a hole.


I would propose that the biggest mistake pretty much almost everyone has made in reading Pussified Nation and the writings of William Wallace II in general (assuming they even really did that) is to focus "just" on the ways in which Mark Driscoll, using the pen name, described men he considered too womanly and gays.  That was all, as they phrase has it, problematic. 

But it seems necessary to bring this up again in light of observations made by Ellul about propaganda of agitation and integration because it seems as though the ONLY way to make sense of what Mark Driscoll THOUGHT he was doing and SAID he was doing, even in character, was to interpret the entire thing as a mostly calculated fa├žade that may have let slip a whole lot more of reality than was intended on the one hand, but on the other hand that was most likely a calculated propaganda campaign, too.  Why would Driscoll express regret about the "how" he went about addressing the young men while still bragging even ten years later in the 2011 fundraising film God's Work, Our Witness about the great results that nonetheless happened if nothing he was aiming for came to pass and he made himself look like a jer in the process?  Sure, ten years ago Driscoll expressed some mild regret that he cussed and sinned a lot but he ultimately concluded that somehow God drew a straight line with a crooked stick.

With a little help from the writings of Ellul on propaganda and some succinct quotes from Driscoll himself under the guise of William Wallace II it seems relatively safe to propose that "Pussified Nation" was firmly in the realm of "agitation propaganda".  The point was to blow things up in cyberspace in a way that could test the waters to see which guys at a local level were responsive.  Driscoll seems, in retrospect, clumsy but clear that it was all a stunt to get attention and then to recruit men to be on mission at Mars Hill locally.  This could be a potential explanation for why Driscoll felt so embarrassed that it ever managed to stay or return to the public sphere.  It wasn't intended, necessarily, that "Pussified Nation" or "Using Your Penis" would become part of his long-term legacy. 

Monday, March 07, 2016

revisiting the Mars Hill BoAA statement about Result Source in light of Mark Driscoll's recent "false and malicious allegations continue to be made against me" statement. ResultSource was attested to by Driscoll himself multiple times
“Unfortunately, false and malicious allegations continue to be made against me,” Driscoll said in an email to RNS Thursday (March 3). “I’m certain that the most recent examples are without any merit.”

What's curious about the statement Driscoll made was that he stated in the most general terms that false and malicious allegations continue to be made against him.  Then he expressed certainty that the most recent examples were without any merit.  One of the notable entries in the recent complaint deals with Real Marriage and its promotion.  That Real Marriage was promoted with help from Result Source was confirmed two years ago.
As if the public availability of the contract Sutton Turner signed weren't enough, the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability made a statement, two years ago. On March 7, 2014 the entire Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability confirmed that Mars Hill Church used ResultSource to secure a #1 spot for Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list.  Keep in mind that at that time Mark Driscoll himself was on the Board of Advisors and Accountability, wasn't he?


Dr. Tripp joins the current Board members: Michael Van Skaik, Dr. James MacDonald, Dr. Larry Osborne, Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas, and Sutton Turner. This Board of Advisors and Accountability was voted upon and installed by an overwhelmingly supportive vote from the entire eldership, with every single elder who voted doing so in approval.

Yup. So when this announcement came along two years ago Driscoll was part of the board that made the announcement.
By Board of Advisors & Accountability
March 7, 2014


Result Source
In 2011, outside counsel advised our marketing team to use Result Source to market the Real Marriage book and attain placement on the New York Times Bestseller list. [emphasis added] While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again. The true cost of this endeavor was much less than what has been reported, and to be clear, all of the books purchased through this campaign have been given away or sold through normal channels. All monies from the sale of Pastor Mark’s books at Mars Hill bookstores have always gone to the church and Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the Result Source marketing campaign. ...

If the books were open that'd be even easier to prove as a claim goes, but even so, couldn't it be said that landing the New York Times bestseller list was, for as long as it lasted, a prestigious benefit to Mark Driscoll even if it was not technically a monetary profit? The question of how far back Mark Driscoll had any awareness of Result Source is a question we'll get to at length but it's necessary to take a brief detour.
It might be worth noting something mentioned within that statement that could be easy to overlook a couple of years on.

Changes to Governance

For many years Mars Hill Church was led by a board of Elders, most of whom were in a vocational relationship with the church and thus not able to provide optimal objectivity. To eliminate conflicts of interest and set the church’s future on the best possible model of governance [emphasis added], a Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) was established to set compensation, conduct performance reviews, approve the annual budget, and hold the newly formed Executive Elders accountable in all areas of local church leadership. This model is consistent with the best practices for governance established in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability standards. Mars Hill Church joined and has been a member in good standing with the ECFA since September of 2012.

Easy though it could be to overlook, what the BoAA as a whole said about earlier governance of Mars Hill was that it was characterized by enough conflicts of interest in the leadership culture that a substantial revision of Mars Hill governance was considered necessary. 

Let's revisit a message Driscoll sent to Mars Hill later in March 2014, as related by Warren Throckmorton:
First, a marketing company called ResultSource was used in conjunction with the book Real Marriage, which was released in January 2012. My understanding of the ResultSource marketing strategy was to maximize book sales, so that we could reach more people with the message and help grow our church. In retrospect, I no longer see it that way. Instead, I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong. I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again. I have also asked my publisher to not use the “#1 New York Times bestseller” status in future publications, and am working to remove this from past publications as well.
So there's that, but when 21 elders made formal charges against Mark Driscoll in 2014 they wrote the following:

By: Former Mars Hill Pastors Dave Kraft, Jeff Bettger, Phil Poirier, Jon Krombein, Jesse Winkler, Mike Wilkerson, Lief Moi, Adam Sinnett, Matt Johnson, Zack Hubert, Andrew Lisi, Kyle Firstenberg, Phil Smidt, Mark Bergin, Will Little, Matt Jensen, James Noriega, Aaron Mead, Tim Gaydos, Zach Bolen, Wesley Oaks
25. May 2014—Mark told elders that he was not aware of the ResultSource agreement but had chosen to admit knowledge of it for the sake of the team in his letter to the church, and that others had made the decision to work with ResultSource. He claimed that another elder and Mark’s publishers made the decision to work with ResultSource without his knowledge. He insinuated that he had learned about the ResultSource agreement only after the story broke on World magazine. In fact, Mark agreed to work with ResultSource on the Best Seller Campaign for Real Marriage as early as July 2011.

On the outside counsel from 2011 looks like it could have been Kevin Small.

In June 2011, Kevin Small wrote to then Mars Hill Church executive elder Jamie Munson to provide details about how ResultSource could get Mark Driscoll on the New York Times best-seller list.
So whoever that other elder was was never specified in the summary in charge 25 from the 21 elders but Sutton Turner's 2015 account may be instructive:
Sutton Turner April 20, 2015

In July 2011, a new marketing proposal was already in the works at Mars Hill: ResultSource. I learned of the project from the manager who was overseeing it. ResultSource was a marketing practice that purchased books through small individual bookstores that would qualify the book for the New York Times Best Seller List. Then, these books would be shipped to Mars Hill and sold in our nine church bookstores. It was proposed that being listed on the New York Times Best Seller List would increase the awareness of the church, support the upcoming sermon series, and increase church size.

I had a couple of meetings with the manager who was working on this project and at the time he stated his concern with the marketing proposal. I was not invited to any meetings to discuss ResultSource in my role as General Manager overseeing finance. However, I wrote several memos to my supervisor sharing my concern and lack of support for this marketing practice. I was relatively new to the staff and obviously not on the Board of Directors, nor was I asked to be a part of this particular decision. But due to my adamant disagreement and desire to best serve the staff and church, I wrote a memo on August 26, 2011 to my supervisor saying the following:
  • The plan was poor stewardship.
  • If the plan were to be revealed, it would look poorly on the stewardship of Mars Hill Church.
  • If the plan were to be revealed, it would look poorly on Pastor Mark Driscoll.
A week later, I was notified that my advice was not taken and the plan to use ResultSource was approved. I don’t know who approved the plan. I don’t know what process was conducted concerning the decision. I do know that it showed that the process of making big decisions was broken and it needed to be fixed.

During this "season", if you will, it would appear Jamie Munson, Mark Driscoll, and possibly also Dave Bruskas were still the executive pastors in charge of things.

For whatever reason, Sutton Turner signed the ResultSource contract anyway in spite of his objections.  If the reasoning was that if he didn't sign it someone else would the question arises, why not let that other person sign it?  After all, we know that ResultSource sent invoices to Mark Driscoll c/o Mars Hill Church.

Whether the invoice was to Mark Driscoll as an individual or as an officer of Mars Hill Church seems like a pertinent question.  Technically the copyright for Real Marriage was to On Mission, LLC, with Driscoll as a party to the company.  So the invoices heading to Driscoll could be taken as a case where it raises a question of why Sutton Turner, as a representative of Mars Hill Church, signed a contract on behalf of Mars Hill Church to promote a book that wasn't even in any corporate/legal sense intellectual property owned by the church.  On Misson, LLC wasn't even initially incorporated in Washington state  

Turner continued to describe his role with ResultSource:

Shortly after the decision to execute the ResultSource marketing plan was made, my supervisor resigned. After him, I was the highest-ranking employee in administration. The decision had been made but the contract hadn’t yet been signed. On October 13, 2011, I signed the ResultSource contract as General Manager a full month before being installed as an Executive Elder. After signing the contract, I emailed an elder, stating my frustration with having to be the one to sign the contract when I had voiced my disagreement with it. But few in the organization (or in the media since then) knew of my disagreement. When you stay in an organization and you do not agree with a decision, you have to own that decision as your own. Unfortunately, I will always be linked to ResultSource since my name was on the contract even though I thought it was a bad idea. If given the same opportunity again, I would not sign the ResultSource contract, but honestly, my missing signature would not have stopped it. Someone else would have signed it anyway since the decision had already been made.

So ... Sutton Turner's supervisor was Jamie Munson?  The only resignation at the executive elder level in Mars Hill in 2011 that was of any note was Jamie Munson's resignation, of whom Mark Driscoll said Munson was always above reproach.  There's never been an explanation as to why Turner "had" to be the one to sign the contract.  We know the invoices were sent to Mars Hill and addressed to Mark Driscoll.  It's not entirely a given, is it, that had Turner refused to sign that someone else would, is it? Who else would have signed it?  Why not let them do it?

Well, the 21 elder charge document mentioned that Driscoll said in May 2014 that it was some other elder's idea.

May 2014—Mark told elders that he was not aware of the ResultSource agreement but had chosen to admit knowledge of it for the sake of the team in his letter to the church, and that others had made the decision to work with ResultSource. He claimed that another elder and Mark’s publishers made the decision to work with ResultSource without his knowledge.

Well, whether or not that was true remains to be seen, if possible.  But what this statement jogs a person's memory for is another thing Sutton Turner said about how Mars Hill leadership reacted to the headlines about ResultSource:
Posted by Sutton Turner on April 24, 2015
When the criticism of Mars Hill Global began in the Spring of 2014, I wanted to communicate about what happened with Global, its history, the financials, and my mistakes. Unfortunately, I was not permitted to discuss these things just as I was not permitted to discuss the ResultSource situation in the detail that I felt it deserved. There was actually a division on the Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) as some men wanted to put all the blame for both Global and ResultSource on me, but I am thankful for men who did not allow that. [emphasis added]

So when the controversy first erupted, or shortly thereafter, Turner's recollection is that at that point there was a split on the BoAA because some men wanted to scapegoat Turner for both ResultSource and a controversy to do with Mars Hill Global.  There were men who did not allow that to happen.  By May 2014, however, the 21 elder charges document indicates that when the topic of Result Source came up Mark Driscoll was described as passing the buck to some other elder and claiming he didn't know about RSI.  In the previously quoted charge 25. the 21 elders state that Mark Driscoll was aware of the ResultSource project at least as far back as July 2011.
from "Mark and Grace Driscoll Marriage Book Marketing Plan", published at the above link:

... After speaking with Sealy Yates we would like to push pre-sales through the Acts 29, Mars Hill, and Resurgence web sites and networks. We would like to build an incentive for those ministries to push presales in a way that allowed us to channel them through outlets that count for the NY Times bestseller list. ... [emphasis added]

... The campaign will begin at Mars Hill Church with invitations to the more than 400 Acts 29 churches Pastor Mark leads in the US alone plus those churches he leads in 12 other nations through Acts 29 as well as an open invitation for any church/ministry in the world to join us. In short, the goal is to sell books around preaching campaigns in a way that has never been done with multiple levels of resourcing and state of the art media technology.

June 20-23, 2011 we have our annual Acts 29 retreat in Vail Colorado. [emphases added] Each of the 400+ churches there will have me speak to them selling them to join us for the campaigns. When the book goes on presale I will need the following to send to each of the Acts 29 churches: ...

A couple things ...

First, note that this document from the Driscolls was anticipating a June 2011 Acts 29 event  that had apparently not happened yet as of the date the document was prepared.

Bruskas disclosed to friends that he was going to take the #2 position at Mars Hill in July 2011. That was about a month after Mark and Grace Driscoll and their agent Sealy Yates met at Thomas Nelson to discuss the ResultSource approach to scamming the best-seller list.  This June 27, 2011 note from Sealy Yates to Kevin Small was included in a Mars Hill memo on the ResultSource-Real Marriage campaign.

Kevin: The Driscolls and I were at Thomas Nelson all day Friday in meetings with the Nelson team.  Rick Sprull at Nelson has told us that they will cooperate with Mars Hill and Result Source to make the program work. I also wanted to let you knwo that the suggested retail price of the book will be $22.99 and not $25.00. I know that Jamie Munson is working with his elder board to determine if they can and will make the decision to hire Result Source. We will be back to you as soon as that decision is made. Sealy

Second, and more important, why even try to push pre-sales through channels that would count toward the NYT bestseller list unless you explicitly had that as part of your goals in promoting and marketing the book to get it on that list?

Cumulative, documentary evidence available so far suggests that perhaps Mark Driscoll know about Result Source AT LEAST as far back as June 2011.

So there's pretty much no way the essential facts about Result Source contracting with Mars Hill to promote a book with Mark Driscoll's name on it is in dispute. It's by now one of the most meticulously documented facts about the history of Mars Hill.  Now if someone were to say that everything that was done to transform Mars Hill into a marketing apparatus for Real Marriage constituted an abuse of the mission of those organizations that could be construed as bad.  It could look to some as though the leadership of Mars Hill set out to use its resources to promote a book with Mark's name on it that the church itself had no ownership of. 

There's no debate whether Result Source was taken up as a project.  There doesn't even seem to be much room to doubt that Mark Driscoll seemed aware that channeling pre-sales into Acts 29, Mars Hill and Resurgence could have had some benefit by having those pre-sales count toward Real Marriage getting on to the NYT best seller list. Why go to the trouble of favoring channels that can count toward such a list if it isn't a foregone conclusion that is a significant goal in the promotion of the book?

That the 21-elder formal charges mention that by May 2014 Mark Driscoll was claiming the RSI thing was some other elder's idea, working with the publisher, suggests Driscoll thought it was a bad enough of a thing to be discovered that it might be worth it to say that some other elder of Mars Hill and Thomas Nelson agreed to use Result Source.  But which elder?  Munson?  Turner's made it clear he objected to the idea but it's not impossible that Mark Driscoll knew about Result Source as far back as June 2011. 

And whether or not everyone feels like taking Turner's word for it about the BoAA, his account that the BoAA was divided over whether or not to scapegoat him for both Mars Hill Global and Result Source opens up the possibility that in March 2014 Result Source was considered scandalous enough that some of the BoAA thought that scapegoating Sutton Turner might be a way out. That is evidently not what they opted to do.  What they opted to do was to, as a group, admit that Result Source was contracted to promote Real Marriage into the NYT bestseller list. 

There's no room to doubt that Mars Hill leadership used Result Source to promote a book for which it had no corporate investment in terms of copyright.  The church was deployed as part of a marketing campaign to promote a bok it didn't even own. This is beyond dispute even by Mark Driscoll's accounts.  Two years from the BoAA announcement there isn't even a Mars Hill Church anymore.  It ultimately could not survive the controversies that swirled around Driscoll, let alone withstand his abrupt resignation in October 2014.