Saturday, April 16, 2016

links for the weekend

Someone said "it is enough for students to be like their teacher". Depends on what kind of teacher ... not that it seems like there needed to be a study to verify this, but someone did a piece pointing out that narcissistic business students thrive under narcissistic business professors

Now narcissism may be one of the most over-diagnosed conditions by laity of the entire human race these days but ... . it might be worth asking whether the perceived rise in narcissism in America hasn't been modeled for "them" by "us" for a generation or two.

Over at the Atlantic Asher Elbein argues that the problem with genre cinema is that it's too beholden to its source material "canon".

There's a lot that could be said about the problems in comics canon.  What happens in the lesser comics films is that the films trot out iconic "moments" that are canon in the comics but without any of the narrative or character developmental set-up that gave those moments their iconic/canonic status.  There might be more to say on this topic at some other time, but this is just a "links for the weekend" post.

Alastair Roberts has been making a case here and there for dropping the modern romantic comedy in favor of Austen and how Jane Austen's observations of insular little towns can be instructive for how we use social media.

HT Jim West--precious moments with Jael

if you even got what that meant from the title you'll want to follow the link

Alex Ross at the New Yorker on the recent Zeppelin suit over "Stairway"

The differences between the riffs in the songs, for those who have gone to hear them (not that I really "want" to hear the riff from Stairway for the 28,000th time in and of itself), the differences are more pronounced than the similarities.  Gut reaction, if we had a more coherent and competent music education in our public schools this kind of case couldn't even get to the point where a jury would ask to get involved.  If we had a more robust music education curriculum in the schools we could give kids a chance to learn what public domain means so that if they're going to crib the riffs and chord changes from existing songs they'll be given enough education courtesy of Uncle Sam to reduce the likelihood of copyright infringement cases.  Think of it as a public service to the courts of our nation.  Not that it will necessarily make a difference to the surviving members of Led Zeppelin, I just wonder whether or not copyright suits couldn't be invoked as a reason musicians could say we should have music education as a more robust part of the standard school curriculum. 

Anyway, on to Ross:


if “Stairway to Heaven” is plagiarized, so is a good portion of the classical canon. Bach, the master of them all, routinely helped himself to the music of colleagues and predecessors. To name one of countless examples, the mighty Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor takes off from André Raison’s Trio en Passacaille, in the same key. Of course, the modern concept of intellectual property did not exist during the Baroque; a musician such as Bach was considered not an individual genius but a craftsman working with material in circulation. This raises the question of whether the mammoth achievement of Bach and other canonical composers did not in some way depend on a culture of borrowing. Would Bach have been able to reach so high if he had not stood upon an edifice of extant music? [emphasis added]

The latter-day insistence on unambiguous originality in musical composition—or in literature, for that matter—betrays a small-mindedness about the nature of creativity. T. S. Eliot famously commented, in 1920, that “immature poets imitate; mature poets steal,” and added that the “good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique.” In other words, a borrowed idea can become the kernel of a wholly original thought. This is what Bach does in the Passacaglia and Fugue; it’s what Shakespeare does throughout his plays. These days, though, we seem to want geniuses who play by the rules and give due credit to their colleagues; we want great art executed in the manner of a scholarly paper, with painstaking acknowledgments and footnotes. Small wonder that in the absence of such art, we keep falling back on the past.
As I've written before, one of the dilemmas of our era of the arts, a problem that was pretty directly broached by the old lefty Dwight Macdonald in "Masscult and Midcult" is that the old aristocratic patronage dynamic was better for artists than the corporate system we've been living with over the last half century or so.  Why?  Well, it was implied in Macdonald's argument but it could be directly stated, the aristocrat directly contracted with an artist over labor and articulated expectations.  The Esterhazy estate was paying Haydn for labor and services rendered, not based on mechanical royalties or licensing arrangements.  H. C. Robbins Landon pointed out decades ago that a lot of work Haydn did as a composer became popular via pirated editions. Haydn could literally afford to not care about that because he wasn't being paid piece-rate. 
But he was contracted as part of the military caste.  Come to think of it, Sor was in a military post.  It might be useful to remember how many artists had wealthy aristocratic or high church patrons, and how many had desk jobs in the military or in law (Matiegka, for instance) for how they paid the bills (or didn't!) while they pursued artistic activity.  Scott Timberg's attempts at wit withstanding, the arts have always been a leisure activity, especially for those who have been able to pursue the arts as a paid vocation.  For the rest of us who make art and don't necessarily get paid for it, that's "folk art" ... sort of. But we live in an era where popular culture is most emphatically not folk culture. 
Let's flip around an axiom about taxes.  You may have heard the proverb that it's your moral obligation as a citizen to pay your taxes but it's also in your best interest to pay as little tax as you can legally manage.  Let's apply that jocular axiom to intellectual property.  You shouldn't use musical riffs from people who are 1) alive enough to sue you for plagiarism 2) may be dead but have work that isn't in the public domain, BUT there's no artistically credible reason to not rip off the best riffs you can find from the public domain and do something new and interesting with them.
I've written this sentiment before but what I find troubling about our popular culture is less that all the pop songs so often seem to sound the same (the sameness of music in any given generation of a culture is hard to miss when you consider how many sonatas from the later 1700s bleed together), than that we now live in a culture in which the popular culture has virtually no public domain.  Even half a century ago there was a ton of stuff that was practically public domain that basically ISN'T after about the 1970s.  Had the current regime of copyright and licensing laws been in place there's a major chunk of Charles Ives that couldn't have been published ... well ... Ives could have afforded to pay the licensing fees because he sold insurance ... but ... I hope you get the idea.
We have a lot of people clinging to the idea of unambiguous originality as an artistic ideal in an era where technology has rendered the possibility of unambiguous originality in the arts pretty close to the point of zero.  This does not necessarily mean we live in an era of pastiche. Reappropriation is inherent in the history of music.  If Martin Luther tinkered with Gregorian chants and other songs to translate them into vernacular and adjust them to the vocabulary of his time; if J. S. Bach did that, in turn, for his time; then we live in an era where what some people might be tempted to call "pastiche" is probably not going to be "pastiche" because conscience appropriation of old ideas is any newer now than it was a thousand years ago, it could be because "pastiche" is what we're calling such appropriations in absence of a truly "mainstream" musical style or vocabulary or syntax that could be considered "universal" enough for those appropriations to be assimilated into.
Yet even this notion is a red herring when we remember how many styles and traditions existed in what we now call the Baroque era.  It can be easy, thanks to the taxonomies of critical/scholastic establishments, to do a retcon (let comics readers understand) in which eras of music are treated as more universal than they were. 
An aesthetic/ideological insistence on unambiguous originality (which I'd say most fans of the arts would grant to Alex Ross "is" an ideal we see being celebrated) isn't just small-minded about the nature of creativity, it must insist upon a lie about its nature. But this lie was something that could be danced around in earlier eras for as long as we lacked the technology to preserve and transmit examples of every sort of art from over the last thousand years. If we prize unambiguous originality now we live in an era in which it is more and more impossible to defend the idea that unambiguous originality is even theoretically possible, let alone a practical reality.
The gap between what we sell ourselves and what we do could be summed up in the way I've seen marketing done for cars.  It's a trope that some car manufacturer will have an advertisement with a rock soundtrack and stentorian voice-over where a guy says "We broke all the rules. We re-thought everything.  Introducing ... ."  Then the ad would introduce a car that looks, to this admittedly non-driving guy, like pretty much every other car on the road.  The rules that were broken were probably not the rules of aerodynamics or the functioning of the internal combustion engine.  Perhaps it's inevitable that a culture that prizes the idea that "one voice can change history" is a culture with a roughly century-long history of mass production. There seems to be an exponentially inverse ratio between the celebration of what "one voice" can do in the history of our society in popular culture and the actual likelihood that your one voice will say something that matters in the course of history.  Even if you manage to release a song that becomes the most overplayed song in the history of pop music in the last forty years you, too, could end up a defendant in a suit because it turns out what you played sounds curiously similar to what someone else played.

Friday, April 15, 2016

WORLD: as plagiarism scandals emerged in the last few years, Christian publishers having to address problems of prevention

The two fairly predictable highlights cases are Mark Driscoll in general and Doug Wilson and Randy Booth's A Justice Primer in particular.  The irony was that just when I was thinking of maybe actually ordering that last book to see what it had to say about justice in the era of the blog (per some glowing review verbiage at The Gospel Coalition) ... turns out the book was retracted over plagiarism.

Longtime readers might recall that we compared chapter 7 of Real Marriage to a chapter from Dan Allender's The Wounded Heart back in 2013.  Actually, as Janet Mefferd noted that year, the comparison was up here before she had her fateful interview with Driscoll on the air.  So she wasn't even the first person to publicly raise some concerns about the possibility of uncited appropriation of material in Driscoll's output. 

It was interesting to read that somebody seems to think that using anti-plagiarism software could ... somehow constitute piracy.  That's really weird to read someone say after a few years of Christians saying that intellectual property isn't really Christian here and there on the internet.  It's one thing to suggest that contemporary copyright and licensing laws need reform and another to assert that copyright itself is somehow immoral in itself.  I haven't seen an intellectually compelling or coherent argument against copyright in categorical terms, but I've seen some compelling arguments that copyright law and licensing law have been hijacked by vested interests.  How could plagiarism checking constitute piracy if not all Christians seem to even think piracy itself is all that big a deal? 

Again, the irony of A Justice Primer being retracted over plagiarism that was uncovered by a blogger would be hard to overstate. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

revisiting Michael Spencer (aka Internet Monk) on the subject of Mark Driscoll, ten years after Confessions and his debate with Frank Turk on Driscoll

Because it's interesting to look back on Confessions of a Reformission Rev, ten years later, and see how readily he formulated taxonomies of the value that people did or did not have based on their utility to his mission.  This was the kind of thing that troubled me a bit even as I read the book a decade ago.  It was curious, but it was kind of creepy that he'd describe people and their respective roles within local church life as they were zoo animals.  It was only in hindsight that the full implications of "shoot your dogs" could be observed, but even ten years ago it was easy to see that the Mark Driscoll who wrote about the advice he got from Jon Phelps to "shoot your dogs" was someone who never imagined it was even possible he might one day qualify as a dog himself.

That''s not stuff that featured in Michael Spencer's review of the book back in 2006. Spencer read the book and had the impression, overall, that Driscoll was a diamond in the rough, someone with potential who did have some issues.  There's a lengthy excerpt but I'll be turning to a longer excerpt from another Michael Spencer post later:
... I can’t think of a better book for any young minister, because Driscoll is bluntly honest about what a mess he’s been, and how his problems- small and large, common and unique- are part of the story of what God is doing. It’s the polar opposite of the polished pastor tale. It’s Animal House for church planters, with Belushi as the eventual good guy.

Driscoll could have made good money as a stand up comic. (In fact, he says the best homiletics lessons he ever received were going to see Chris Rock.) He writes with sass, sarcasm, wit, innuendo, crass humor, street language and little concern for the sensitivities of taste. If Lifeway wouldn’t sell a delirious record for saying “she’s as pretty as hell,” I can’t image what they will do with Driscoll’s descriptions of masturbatory behavior and various kinds of sex.

Some will say this is being cute, even immature, and they may be right. Mark Driscoll is unrepentant about his contempt for feminized evangelical men (some of these rants are priceless) and his determination to produce real guys with guy sensibilities. This is a pastor far more at home on “The Man Show” than the set of TBN.

Well, as far as the comparison to comedians go it may have turned out within the last decade that Mark Driscoll was the Carlos Mencia of megachurch pastors (Mencia, for those who won't watch South Park's suitably gruesome put-down of him, has been accused of ripping off the jokes of other comedians). 

And now what?  Michael died years ago and by 2009 he seemed to be having reservations about where Driscoll was going.  Some of those reservations he shared publicly, others were shared in correspondence. Longtime readers of Internet Monk probably remember my occasional visits.  With a success rate I can't pretend to vouch for, I tried to make a case for the viability of Mars Hill as a Christian community without bothering to make a defense of Mark Driscoll the person, who was often able to say stuff I thought was patently idiotic.  Still, I WAS there for quite a few years.  Having said that, let's get to another post Michael Spencer wrote.  We'll come back to Wenatchee The Hatchet later only as may be necessary.

There's something Michael Spencer mentioned in a rebuttal to Frank Turk about a point Turk made and I'm going to quote it at length for reasons I'll explain later:

Frank’s conception of a “global pulpit” or “addressing the global church” is a slippery, ultimately subjective concept that primarily seems to be meaningful in the minds of a small group of theo-bloggers. I think that a room full of non-internet using Christians, even conservative ones, would need considerable help working with Frank’s idea that the orthodoxy of the “global church” is presided over by an unelected jury of successful pastors such as John Macarthur and C.J. Mahaney.
In fact, as meaningful as the ministry of Piper, Macarthur et al are to me and many of us, I’d step to the microphone and have to stand in a long line to say that none of those men exercise any authority over me other than as brothers in Christ from whom I may receive a rebuke.

As many of you may know, in April of 2006, I was fisked for three days by James White at Alpha and Omega Ministries. [emphasis added] (I am a big fan of Dr. White and benefit greatly from his ministry. I am not in any way disrespecting him with this illustration. For apologetics, he is the best.)

I was never contacted by Mr. White. I was never informed by his elder board or his ministry board that I was out of line with my influence on the “global church.” I had never mentioned Mr. White or contacted him. Yet Mr. White held me up before his audience for several days, working through a post I had written on the differences I had with some versions of being a “reformed Baptist.” It was a thoroughly public scouring.

Mr. White’s well known chat room crew apparently passed on my post as treading destructively on the subject of reformed orthodoxy, and someone must have said I was a rising liberal, emerging voice disguised as a Calvinist, who needed his wings clipped. Mr. White performed surgery on me, in public on his blog, for three days. I didn’t like it BUT IT WAS HIS PERFECT RIGHT TO DO SO. [emphasis added]

In considering this incident of public rebuke from a brother- and that is what it was and that is what I evaluate it as- Mr. White was not dealing with me as a church member under his care. He has no covenanted authority over me to which I have ever agreed to submit. His place as an elder in a church and his position of respect and popularity still create NO FORMAL RELATIONSHIP to which I must respond.

What I must do is ask “Is God speaking to me through this rebuke?” If I judge that God is speaking to me, then- and this is important- I am not to go to Mr. White for further instructions on how to repent and what repentance is adequate. I am to go to those leaders to whom I am accountable.

Or- and this also is crucial- we might ask why Mr. White didn’t seek out my elders- I have three levels of authority over me- and inform them that I was disagreeing with the reformed faith. Of course, those to whom I am accountable would likely have heard all those rebukes with puzzlement because their theological commitments are different than Mr. White’s.

Now—I agree that my blogging put me on a larger stage, and I agree that once on that stage, others on that stage may rebuke, react or correct. [emphasis added]

I agree that I must consider this as the possible work of the Spirit.

But there exists NO WORKABLE AUTHORITY STRUCTURE that involves Frank Turk or any other internet critic that can place these Driscoll issues out of the realm of rebuke and into the realm of specific accountable repentance [emphasis added], i.e. we know when he’s repented, how and if it was sufficient. The only way we will know that Driscoll has repented is, apparently, when Frank says so, and as much as I trust and affirm Frank, I’m simply not ready to sign on to giving individuals- pastors, bloggers, etc- that kind of jury duty. [emphasis added. again]

Frank has a standard of repentance in his mind that he derives from scripture and experience. I’m sure it’s wonderful. But I have not agreed to it, and unless Frank has contacted the Mars Hill elders, I don’t think anyone else has agreed to it.

Who has the last word on Driscoll? The blogger in the UK who says Driscoll is a Jesus rejecting apostate who teaches Jesus was a pervert? The people on the floor of the SBC who haven’t listened to or read a word of Driscoll? The mob with torches in Missouri who clearly loath Driscoll as a danger to the church? The major pastor who indicted Driscoll in 4 posts on his blog? Some assortment of bloggers and pastors?

If it’s the global church here, do we need to call a church council, or will the theo-blogosphere just have to do? Will we all get an email, telling us when Driscoll is all right?

I will say this again: Anyone can critique, rebuke or protest. When angry feminists protested at his church, he invited them in and listened. Blog away, Frank and Co. It’s MD’s responsibility to listen to you. But when it comes to what does adequate repentance look like, your opinions are going to be just that- Opinions. Only his elders can hold him formally accountable.

By 2014 we found out just how accountable Mark Driscoll's formal elders could and would hold him.

Which is to say they didn't, couldn't and possibly even wouldn't. 

What Michael affirmed was that bloggers had every right to blog about their concerns, while also affirming a negative, that there was now way to "prove" that bloggers had any meaningful authority or relationship basis, simply by dint of blogging, from which to expect anything except MAYBE that their concerns would be considered. In a paradoxical way, Spencer presented Frank Turk as making a case for ... watchblogging.

Now there might be an irony at work in looking back on a years' old debate between Michael Spencer and Frank Turk in which a point was brought up that ministers who vaunt themselves into the public sphere ought to be held accountable by people with blogs.  It seems as though people only want famous Christians to be held accountable to their respective teams and there's no interest in the shoe being on the other foot. 

What Michael Spencer pointed out then was that regardless of what Frank Turk might have wanted, there was no formal relational context within which Mark Driscoll had any reason to bow to the demands of a Frank Turk, a C. J. Mahaney, or anyone else with whom he wasn't in some kind of formal relationship.  Of course what we've since learned is that Mark Driscoll managed to wriggle out of being in any such relationship. Mark Driscoll seemed to manage to find a way to be accountable to no one but himself. 

If that's the case Spencer's point about the inability of a Frank Turk to hold Driscoll accountable in any meaningful way just by dint of blogging has not lost its validity.

You can blog, and you probably even should (maybe) but the question that is left for others to answer is "Why should we trust you?" Believe it or not the variations of Mark Driscoll's old "I've got a verse!" don't cut it.  Just because you "can" quote the Bible doesn't mean you've given us a reason to trust you.  Satan can quote the Bible just fine, for instance. 

This roundaboutly gets us back to the matter of relationship.  Spencer's argument against Frank Turk's position was not necessarily that Turk's concerns about Driscoll were "wrong" but that even if he was right there was no relational context in which it would matter to Mark Driscoll or any elders of Mars Hill Church that Frank Turk was right.  The only people who could create a situation through speaking up that "might" catalyze a change of heart and behavior from Mark Driscoll would have to come from people sufficiently inside to elicit a reaction.

It is probably relatively safe to say that in the last ten years nobody at Mars Hill particularly cared what Frank Turk thought about Mark Driscoll.  Mars Hill elders did become rather animated on the question of who and how many people were deciding to leak sensitive content to Wenatchee The Hatchet, Warren Throckmorton and others.  Throckmorton's role as a blogger is fairly well-known.  Wenatchee The Hatchet is, thankfully, quite a bit less well-known overall.  That was advantageous for a number of reasons but the foremost reason was that while Mars Hill elders generally always seemed to know who Wenatchee The Hatchet is they couldn't be sure about the network of sources across the Mars Hill campus network.  There were some definite ideas, no doubt.

But to put it another way, to put it in a way that connects to Michael Spencer's point in debate with Turk, people at Mars Hill knew who I was; they also knew that unlike other people who decided to make public statements about Mars Hill generally and Mark Driscoll in particular, I was not someone who nominated himself to eldership or deaconhood.  That didn't interest me.  Furthermore the people who have known who writes at Wenatchee The Hatchet may remember quite well that I was recruited by the pastors and deacons into the majority of ministries I participated in. If you were a leader inside Mars Hill who found something that needed doing and suggested I do it, okay, let's give that a shot.  This kind of background was important for actual and potential sources because one of the most pervasive canards against criticism of the leadership culture of Mars Hill was to invoke envy and sour grapes.  But if Wenatchee The Hatchet turned out to be someone who never wanted the things that the leadership class in Mars Hill wanted the sour grapes argument couldn't hold water

Those who know who writes here would also know I met all the co-founding elders of Mars Hill.  That may not count for anything to outsiders for whom the entire history of Mars Hill must necessarily be collapsed into the persona of Mark driscoll, but I do sincerely believe that it mattered to former insiders.  Those who saw what Mars Hill was before Mark's persona completely overpowered everything else about the community could recall that Wenatchee The Hatchet was around during that period, if it ever existed anyway. 

But perhaps the most under-appreciated thing about how I've approached all of this stuff called watchblogging is that I've never told anyone "you have to leave Mars Hill." What I ivnited people to do was to re-examine its history, and to ask whether what it had become seemed to truly be in keeping with the spirit of what we hoped it would be.  Whereas Mark Driscoll's polemics kept circling back toward the people thrown off the bus being "off mission" I tried to encourage people to look back ast what we were told the mission initially was and whether or not the way the leadership culture pursued the "current" mission gave any indication that the new mission was connected to the old one. 

At the risk of making a guess as to what Michael would have suggested, it's possible he could have proposed that if people were in a position to hold Driscoll accountable that it'd be his elders and if his elders lacked the integrity to do that then the members of Mars Hill Church might have to do.  A potential paradox here is that in a sense Turk's case does look, years later, as if it were advocacy for a watchblog being able to insist on things.  But Turk's proposal would lack teeth, if understood correctly, without the relational context Michael Spencer was completely absent in attempts by bloggers to hold Driscoll accountable.  You needed both the blog's capacity to foment public discourse and bring things to light for the record AND a relational context in which those inside Mars Hill could be confident that any discussion of genuinely awkward content was being done in a spirit of constructive rather than antagonistic criticism.  If that sounds like catching lightning in a bottle that might be because that's how rare that combination of circumstances and relational contexts may be.

And, in a way, that probably sums up why I decided to do what some people call watchblogging.  Spencer and Turk both raised good points and it may have been necessary for someone who could appreciate both perspectives who could do something within the context of an established history at Mars Hill to blog in a way where something could at least potentially happen.

You can invite but you can't impose.  What I've done in watchblogging is invite people to consider the history as accurately as humanly possible, knowing there will always be margin for failure.

I am not sure Turk ever formulated a compelling rebuttal to Spencer's point on the one hand, but time has shown that there were plenty of shortcomings in Mark Driscoll's character that raised questions about his fitness for ministry.  So ... it can seem as though Turk may have been right to have qualms about Driscoll's fitness for ministry on the one hand, but Spencer was absolutely right about the absurdity of a blogger on the net having any inherent authority from which to expect anything of Driscoll.  More was needed.  It's not that bloggers played no role in things becoming difficult for Mark Driscoll and the leadership culture of Mars Hill, it's that the bloggers who did become significant were the ones who may have formulated a case mirroring Turk's concerns but in a way that demonstrated a relationship network and context of the sort Michael Spencer said was not existing in the blogging contexts that were addressing Driscoll in 2006. 

A useful axiomatic observation from American politics might be necessary here--Richard Nixon was not taken out by the dogged activity of the press.  Nixon was taken down by the Nixon administration and the press was there to document what happened.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has taken an approach informed by that historical correction of a myth about the power of the press.  I didn't in any way harm Mars Hill as a leadership culture, what I did intermittently do was provide a venue in which those from within Mars Hill who had doubts about the ethics and propriety of the Mars Hill leadership culture could share things that concerned them.  It's one thing to say "follow the money" like some potboiler axiom and another thing to slog through a decade's worth of real estate acquisitions, associated leadership appointments, and cross-referencing citations and their lack in books. 

The Hollywood vision of "journalism" is generally wildly inaccurate.  What they potentially can't teach you in school if you don't want to learn it is this, that a lot of breakthroughs in investigation only come from learning to observe and appreciate the long-term significance of incontestably boring details. It may be that too much of watchblogging is beset by precisely the same problematic ethos of the megachurches the watchbloggers watch, too many of us want the sexy gotcha moment of epiphany and the explosion of revelation; we don't want to slowly and methodically arrive at an often troubling and even self-incriminating realization that only comes from the Gestalt of a decade of research. In a way what Michael Spencer seemed to be warning Frank Turk years ago was that, even if he was right, it was as mistaken for Frank Turk to think Mark Driscoll should pay attention to him as it was going to be mistaken of Mark Driscoll to possibly imagine Michael Spencer was somehow obliged to pay attention to him without a pause for critique.

There may still be Driscoll partisans who think all Wenatchee The Hatchet did was rip on Mars Hill and Driscoll.  That's not the case but those sorts of people won't read about Eureka Seven, most likely.  And even if it were a point humored for sake of conversation, the years of information hemorrhaging from The City on to Wenatchee The Hatchet had to come from somewhere, right?  Nobody conveys insider information about resignations or compensation in a vacuum to just "some blogger".  To borrow an observation from another blogger, Michael Newnham, our reputations are what we have.  I had to have a reputation for striving for enough historical and journalistic accuracy that, even if I shared some fiery opinions here and there, people inside Mars Hill had to find reason enough to believe that what I wanted was for the culture of Mars Hill to be spiritually healthy and fiscally responsible and to share the history of Mars Hill as accurately and reliably as humanly possible, being open to corrections. 

Had I been convinced the mainstream and Christian press had been doing a great job at covering Mars Hill already I wouldn't have bothered making this an intermittent watchblog whose author would rather be writing about guitar music and cartoons.  But as I blogged what I was hoping would happen would be that the mainstream and Christian press could do their thing.  Watchblogging can keep information in the public sphere long enough for the formal press to start knowing where to dig but it's not the same thing as the institutional press.  It was this third element I added to the arguments of Turk and Spencer that helped me keep some balance.  It was the additional thing I brought to their two important points, and thankfully I had enough training from that journalism B.A. to slog through some dull real estate transaction documents.  I benefited from a journalism professor's admonition that rather than rely on secretive sources, remember that in many cases a surprising amount of information is really hidden in plain sight on the record.

 People who have really been reading this blog since it started a decade ago know that there was a time when the majority of what showed up here was not about Mars Hill.  I'm hoping at some point that will happen again but since trusting that the average journalist will not mess up twenty years of history seems a bit naïve ... there's not going to be some "I'm done" moment about blogging things Mars Hill here.  We'll find out what that "done" moment happens together.

Meanwhile, it's increasingly difficult to believe that had Michael Spencer lived to see what happened in the life and times of Mark Driscoll that he'd be as cautiously upbeat as he was ten years ago about where Driscoll could go in the future.

I feel like I learned from Michael's example in his blog whether or not I always agreed with him.  If I were to sum up what I learned from how he blogged it's this--you can invite people to change their minds on someone or something by revisiting the shared history of the thing but you'll never manage to get them to change their minds by TELLING them they have to change their minds and that they're stupid, evil people if they don't.  When I think of it that way then the watchblogging about the life and times of Mars Hill could be construed as one very, very long invitation.

pastoral activity in an era of sinecure, a riff on megachurch pastors who are now anything but pastors.

I've been going through Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music this year and he spends a lot of time discussing the history of what I'd call empires of patronage for the arts and the aesthetic and ideological rationales for what was funded in each of these empires.  Along the way, tossed off in a blink-and-you-missed it observation was how the majority of musicians and composers are forgotten because they literally couldn't afford to get their work out in a way so as to be noticed--even vocational musicians needed the kind of low intensity work that left them enough energy after the official work day was done to make art.  The term he used is a great old-school Latin thing, a sinecure. 

The sinecure was a position that was any basically not-demanding work in a capacity that let you leave work at work.  For instance, earlier in his career Fernando Sor had a military position that left him time to compose.  He ended up marrying a ballerina who was added to a Russian ballet company and while in Russia Sor was able to compose.  What's easy to miss in the history of music as music is the history of music within the dynamics of patronage systems.  Many artists in the history of the arts have never "made it" doing what they do.  There are the literally legendary historical figures who were vocationally in the arts thanks to time and chance and meeting the right people with crazy amounts of money, and then there are the rest of the often forgotten masses of people who have made art from a love of beauty. Then there are people kind of in the middle, who have day jobs that don't necessarily involve the arts and yet who may now only be known for the art they made.  Nobody's celebrating the legacy of Fernando Sor for his military career that I know of.

Scott Timberg's specious invocation of how rough aristocratic patronage for Haydn was a while back was specious because it glossed over Haydn getting free room and board; free health care; a good chunk of free food; and the goodwill of a patron who pretty much let Haydn write whatever he wanted.  The strings attached came about because Haydn wasn't being compensated for any given musical work, he was compensated for his labor, which was agreed upon by way of a contract that stipulated he was part of the military class.  You could think of it this way, a few famous musicians here and there had desk jockey jobs in the military forces of their time and place.  It's one of the reasons I think it's foolish for people in the liberal arts to look down on people who have made careers in the military--no honest and thorough survey of the history of arts patronage or even the careers of some higher profile

But there's an older meaning to sinecure and students of religion may well know it had a reference to church activity ... or lack thereof.  Sinecure referred to "without care", a desk jockey role but within the formal church of the time.  Think the church secretary or any role in a church organization that didn't involve visiting people or performing sacramental functions. 

Megachurch pastors who don't visit the sick or pray for them, who don't even know th names of all the people in their church, maybe guys like Justin Dean would call those people pastors ... but in terms of practical weekly activity the megachurch preacher can live in a workplace that is functionally a sinecure.  All the celebrity preacher has to do is assemble the right materials (or contract a research assistant out to assemble said materials) and then deliver the content one day a week.  When Driscoll used to brag about how it took about as long to put a sermon together as it did to preach it this sort of boasting seemed to take place chiefly after someone was supplied to him from the Docent Group to help him do research.  When Mark Driscoll talked about how much he loved his "job" and kept putting the word 'job' in scare quotes ... it turned out there were reasons for that.


Functionally Driscoll had managed to become what he called a pastor to pastors but he had lost connection to rank and file members along the way.  He had transformed into pretty much everything he used to preach against from the pulpit. Maybe he can start over and maybe this tie around he can remain connected to people who aren't just leadership material in his taxonomy of worthiness. 

In the megachurch pastor, in the pastor of a church who is technologically savvy and engaged in the mass media through podcasts, vodcasts, book deals and the like we're seeing people who are what Ellul would describe as propagandists.  That much has been a topic for discussion plenty here but there's another element at play, which is that the nature of this activity, activity that Mark Driscoll used to jokingly refer to as his so-called job, is sinecure.  That is to say these men and women who take the title pastor but are not visiting the poor and sick and are not performing spiritual offices have resurrected sinecure in spite of having formal titles that would suggest the opposite.  These are not shepherds, they have delegated the work of shepherding to hired hands if they aren't hired hands themselves.  But for the press releases for a book publication or a conference ... all of a sudden these men and women who have functional sinecure can't wait to present themselves as pastors.

Right now Mark Driscoll's recycling his old hits.  As news outlets (if we MUST call them that) recount Mark Driscoll on the topic of whether Christians can have tattoos (a topic fielded at least a decade ago in the MH context) Driscoll has the luxury of bringing back a "long tail", bringing back content that's been away for long enough an ignorant new audience can be presented it as if it were actually new material.  Driscoll used to warn us here in Seattle about guys who do their thing for a few years, pull up stakes and quit, and then go somewhere else recycling their old stuff.  Driscoll's study of 1 John is self-consciously revisiting and recycling only now it seems the branding is re:birth and a re:turn to roots. 

Sinecure is an archaic and esoteric term but I think ife we recapture an understanding of what it was and what it is we can see that Christian celebrities ranging from Mark Driscoll to Rachel Held Evans are self-appointed voices who in reality may have a self-obtained sinecure.  They have no formal responsibilities they grant to anyone to bind them by.  But they're more than happy to present their own voices as if they say things we should bother paying attention to. 

We may live in an era where those who have secured sinecure and Christian celebrity are eager to tell us all what to do and think while those who are doing the more anonymous and thankless tasks of caring for the souls of those who seek Christ are treated as if they aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing because according to some self-appointed gurus the primary purpose of the shepherds isn't feeding the sheep and tending to the sick but refining the branding.

Throckmorton: Driscoll provides update on launch time for Trinity church, mentions help coming from outside of Arizona, revisiting Mark DeMoss' statement to Daily Beast about Driscoll's realistic goals

After the first meeting of The Trinity Church, Mark Driscoll is moving full steam ahead toward the launch of the church in the late summer of this year.  According to Driscoll’s most recent video update, The Trinity Church will launch in late summer with two services.

Until then, Driscoll invited interested people to participate in the work parties at the church and give money. He disclosed that a donor made a matching grant of $50k. Driscoll also said that people are driving in from California and as far away as Georgia to help get the church ready for the launch. Children’s ministry involves bouncy houses in the auditorium.
Who would drive from as far away as California and Georgia to help Driscoll get his corporation going in Arizona is simultaneously mysterious and not mysterious.  Justin Dean, for instance, seems to have landed in the Georgia area in the wake of the dissolution of Mars Hill.  So there's certainly plenty of room in the world for a diaspora of people who still believe that Mark Driscoll is somehow still fit for ministry. 

But why they should feel any sense of obligation to travel across state lines is mysterious, 

As for the two services straight out the gate from the initial launch, it's worth revisiting an old article from earlier this year in The Daily Beast:
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 according to DeMoss, Driscoll was being realistic and realized he might launch a church speaking to 100 people and wasn't under any big idea he would open doors and have a megachurch immediately.

Right, so ... .
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!

At the moment the legacy that seems to be felt most in need of transformation would be Mark Driscoll's.

Okay, so technically the Hartford Institute for Religion Research describes a megachurch as having a regular attendance of 2,000+ a week. So DeMoss could technically say Driscoll was not expecting to just open the doors and have a megachurch right away simply because 2,000+ weekly attendance straight out the gate would be unlikely.

That said, why shoot for a building capable of having 1,000+ seating and open with two services out the gate if megachurchiness isn't even a goal? Not that anybody said megachurchiness isn't even a goal for the guy who used to talk about his church being a gigachurch ... .

It could come across as if Mark Driscoll doesn't feel it's even worth trying to do this church plant thing again if he isn't shooting for the resources to be a megachurch pastor within a calendar year of formal launch. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

well if there was "A Call to Resurgence" from Mark Driscoll in 2013 it seems Toho's Godzilla has responded to the call. Godzilla: Resurgence coming our way

As in Toho's got Godzilla: Resurgence coming along.

The film's co-directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi and looks like it's featuring the old rubber suit style king of monsters with the old roar. 

Mark Driscoll probably had some other resurgence in mind back in 2013 ... but, hey, another Toho Godzilla movie ... sure, why not?

a lot in a phrase "a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms"

Darrin Patrick, vice president of the Acts 29 church planting network and founding pastor of The Journey megachurch in St. Louis, has been fired for violating his duties as a pastor.
The Journey cited a range of ongoing sinful behaviors over the past few years including manipulation, domineering, lack of biblical community, and “a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms.”

The wording sort of makes it sound like building your identity through ministry and media platforms is a bad thing. Is it necessarily a bad thing?  We hardly begrudge the late David Bowie having forged a variety of personas through media platforms.  But then Bowie seemed to be acutely aware he was creating personas. Pastors who are media savvy seem to create personas that are to be taken for the people who have fashioned them.

The word "platforms" may be the thing to ponder.  Permit me a digression to Alastair Roberts' old piece:
If the theologian of the 16th century was a lawyer, the theologian of the 21st century is an ad man.
For this is what Rob Bell is. If we are to understand Bell, it is imperative that we recognize the sort of movement in Christian discourse that he exemplifies.

The ad man doesn’t persuade his customer by making a carefully reasoned and developed argument, but by subtly deflecting objections, evoking feelings and impressions, and directing those feelings and harnessing those impressions in a way that serves his interests. Where the lawyer argues, the ad man massages.

Rob Bell’s theology seldom approaches you head on. It typically comes at you couched in a question, insinuated in an anecdote, embedded in a quotation from one of his friends, or smuggled in a metaphor. Its non-confrontational and conversational tone invites ready agreement. Even if you don’t agree, Bell hasn’t pinned himself down. He’s only asked a question, quoted an acquaintance, or related an anecdote, and could easily distance himself from any of them.

Roberts was discussing Rob Bell but the observations Roberts made could apply to Mark Driscoll or many megachurch pastors. 

Now building your identity through Christian service and love of neighbor hardly seems like it would automatically be a bad thing.  But "platform" introduces a new component.  The phrase "ministry and media platforms" could evoke more about the "platforms" than the other terms.  When writers here and there talk about how the gloss of the megachurches isn't appealing to this or that subset of humanity the punches seem pulled, even if we grant the point has merit.  It might be more blunt to say that the problem with contemporary megachurch culture is that the marketing is too easy to recognize, and that marketing can be taken for another term, propaganda.  Whether left or right in theology or politics Christian celebrities are propagandists first and pastors possibly never. 

A persona that can be steadily cultivated through a variety of platforms can last however long it lasts but the persona is not the person.

When Jacques Ellul wrote about half a century ago he was discussing propaganda in formal politics. It's a bit depressing to note here in the 21st century that what he had to say could be applied fairly easily to megachurch pastors and other Christian celebrities:

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 24... Thus the propagandist is never asked to be involved in what he is saying, for, if it becomes necessary he may be asked to say the exact opposite with similar conviction. He must, of course, believe in the cause he serves, but not in his particular argument. On the other hand, the propagandee hears the word spoken to him here and now and the argument presented to him in which he is asked to believe. He must take them to be human words, spontaneous and carried by conviction. Obviously, if the propagandist were left to himself, if it were only a matter of psychological action, he would end up by being taken in by his own trick, by believing it. He would then be the prisoner of his own formulas and would lose all effectiveness as a propagandist. What protects him from this is precisely the organization to which he belongs, which rigidly maintains a line. The propagandist thus becomes more and more the technician who treats his patients in various ways but keeps himself cold and aloof, selecting his words and actions for purely technical reasons. The patient is an object to be saved or sacrificed according to the necessities of the cause.

... In the very act of pretending to speak as a man to man, the propagandist is reaching the summit of his mendacity and falsifications, even when he is not conscious of it. [emphases added]

Mastery of the elements of a media persona are not the same as mastery of the biblical texts, the languages of the biblical texts, the doctrines of the Christian faith, or of those other tools of learning and socialization that could help a pastor discern whether something calls for pastoral care or licensed psychological assistance. 

The path to failure for a propagandist, according to Ellul, was essentially what we'd now call the mistake of believing your own hype or forgetting that the character that you are before the public is not who you ultimately really are. A pastor who does not necessarily attempt to "connect" to an audience but explains the biblical text thoroughly may seem less exciting but that can be for a good cause--we may become increasingly wary of "gifted communicators" because the skills of persuasive and emotionally charged rhetoric can be picked up independently of other virtues.

It's a strange irony that Darrin Patrick was part of the Acts 29 board that posted the long-since retracted public request that Driscoll step away from ministry and get help.  Now it's Darrin Patrick's name that has gone scrubbed from the Acts 29 web presence.  But then high profile members of the network have been ret-conned off the web presence going as far back as founder David Nicholas, whose move away from and out of Acts 29 after Mark Driscoll's star began to rise has never been explained in much detail.

Driscoll quit in 2014 and then spent the year of 2015 on the road explaining how he totally agreed with the Mars Hill board's decision and restoration plan.  It's just that if he really agreed with it and to it there might still be a Mars Hill.  To the extent that Patrick hasn't cut and run and told people on the conference circuit "God said I could quit", there may be more basis for optimism than for Driscoll.
I've been beating this drum for a good part of this year, obviously, but I think it's important for Christians left, right and center to come to terms with the possibility that our Christian celebrities are probably most accurately described as propagandists. 

And perhaps the greatest danger to them all for their spiritual and emotional health, in addition to the potential social harm they can bring to some of the rest of us, is that they actually believe their own hype. If it's difficult to watch your life and doctrine closely without being a Christian superstar, as a celebrity who is a propagandist it may actually be impossible.

Throckmorton: Darrin Patrick relieved of pastoral duties at The Journey, no longer listed as on Acts 29 board of directors

peruse the link at your leisure. 

One of the conundrums of contemporary life is that while some commenters predictably say this is a great opportunity for people to spew forth bile and hate the dilemma is hard to avoid when you have church cultures and parachurch networks that are so steeped in social media any high profile change in the leadership makes it impossible to hide what has happened. 

As I wrote years ago in the posts themed "Mars Hill and the idol of social media" the power of social media saturation for a brand comes with the inevitable sacrifice of the thing celebrity Christians most want to retain in a scandal that they gave up more than they knew until the controversy erupted, privacy.


Darrin Patrick, vice president of the Acts 29 church planting network and founding pastor of The Journey megachurch in St. Louis, has been fired for violating his duties as a pastor.
The Journey cited a range of ongoing sinful behaviors over the past few years including manipulation, domineering, lack of biblical community, and “a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms.”
In a letter announcing its lead pastor’s removal after 14 years of leadership, the church clarified that adultery was not a factor, though elders looked into inappropriate interactions with two women.
“In short, I am a completely devastated man, utterly broken by my sin and in need of deep healing,” said Patrick in an apology to his 3,000-person congregation. “The way that the Journey elders have demonstrated their desire to see me restored to Jesus, as well as their love for me, Amie, and our family is nothing short of miraculous and beyond gracious.”
Patrick, the author of The Dude’s Guide to Manhood and Church Planter, will no longer hold any internal or external leadership positions. He has accepted financial support from the church for an undisclosed period of time, and he and his wife will undergo counseling. The 45-year-old pastor also served as a council member for The Gospel Coalition, St. Louis Cardinals chaplain, and Acts 29 podcast host. Patrick’s bio has been removed from the Acts 29 site.

There are those over at Throckmorton's blog who have expressed support for Patrick.  Empathy and sympathy for someone who has stumbled can be extended without going so far as to say someone is a great man, as one commenter has explicitly said.  Being the sort who is somewhat sympathetic to some ideas by Burke and Acton ...
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.

A decade ago within the culture of Mars Hill the idea that the office sanctifies the holder of it was formulated as "salute the uniform".  It was a way Driscoll said you could/should respect parents even if you considered them personally contemptible.  Since this was a bit of advice shared within the confines of Midrash 2.0 rather than from the pulpit it might not be available to people who weren't insiders. 

If great men are still almost always bad men then it is better to not be thought of as great, let alone called great.