Thursday, April 11, 2019

No Compromise Radio podcast interview with Jed Ostoich on ghostwriting and Mark Driscoll (updated)

Ostoich ended up working with the Docent Group and ... ended up connected to Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill.

If you want to barrel on to the part that directly discusses Driscoll go to about 15:00 to 16:00 in the podcast interview.

Ostoich makes the observation that what the ghostwriter does, when compiling research and background materials on behalf of celebrity pastors, is to in a very real way take over or take from a pastor what should be a pastor's most closely guarded and sustained activity, study of the scriptures and continued learning from them.  I might dare to suggest it's like farming out the various responsibilities of childrearing to domestic workers among more well-heeled writers.  It would probably be a mistake to think of the ghostwriting enterprise as particularly unique to evangelicalism or celebrity pastors.  Some of the rants I've seen at Jim West's blog suggest that within academia there are some professors who are as prolific as they are because there's a type of ghostwriting machine in academics, too.  Compared to those two things, perhaps, the open work-for-hire dynamics of comics might not be so bad ... but I digress.

To be blunt, the reason this podcast is important is Ostoich's account of how he produced content that was taken as was and taught (there was research he said he did on a minor prophet and ... if we're going post-Docent group association minor prophets ...

See, that sounds like Ostoich was brought on to assist Mars Hill some time after Real Marriage was published and before the decline of Mars Hill ... so a minor prophet ... the most likely candidate for that might be the Malachi sermon series?

The copying word for word account is about 24:00 into the podcast interview.  Technically, as Ostoich put it, there's nothing illegal going on there. Mark Driscoll, as Ostoich put it, purchased the right to use the content.  So what in various industries would be known as "work for hire" would seem to describe what happened.  But Ostoich described how " ... it became more and more apparent to me as I was writing that this was going to be the, the norm not the exception to the rule." (about 25:00 into the interview).

There's a grimly funny story Ostoich shares about 26:00 in where he heard from a friend who studied at Moody who ripped into a blog post Mark Driscoll published because of it's bad theological and textual argumentation and Ostoich said he didn't have the heart to tell the friend that Ostoich wrote that himself and that it was a ghostwritten piece.  Ostoich described how during this period he was a third-year seminary student so perhaps he made some errors.

Bear with me, I'm listening to the podcast, like, right now.  Sure enough!  27 minutes into the interview Ostoich describes how one of the last projects he worked on for Driscoll was dealing with the book of Malachi, which Ostoich describes as one of the most misused books of the Old Testament.  So ... my guess above that Malachi was probably involved turned out to be ... moderately accurate.

At 28:00 to 28:30 Ostoich described how he compiled common misapplications and misuses of Malachi and at 28:30 Ostoich described that, "So he basically said `Oh, I LIKE how this is misused here. I'm just going to teach that."

At 32:00 Ostoich describes how one of his later projects was ghostwriting for Driscoll's book on Ephesians (that would be Who Do You Think You Are? if memory serves). About 32:59 he says that the book was assembled from the products of eight different writers.

At 34:25 or so Ostoich says he believes the list of authors who do NOT use ghostwriters and assembly line content or game the bestseller lists is probably shorter than the list of those celebrity Christian authors who do.

Listening to the podcast was a reminder to me of my old days on the Mars Hill Theology Response Team.  Short version, a pastor and a deacon recruited me to serve in a ministry where people fielded questions on behalf of the Mars Hill elders.  Many of those questions were directed to Mark Driscoll but were channeled via the Mars Hill Theology Response Team to deacons or volunteers.  I was one of them.  For a time I got the trickier questions and ... I won't get into those out of consideration for the privacy of people who asked questions.  But after a year or two of volunteering I began to notice that I was getting trickier questions of a sort that weren't just questions about things previously discussed from the pulpit.  The questions were also things that, I began to think, people could research of their own accord.  Why was it important what Driscoll thought about the use of a particular Old Testament text for a particular homiletic point?

To keep things rather general and brief, I began to get a sense that people were asking questions of Driscoll in particular and Mars Hill elders generally that were being handed off by the team leadership to people who were not actually formally trained as pastors or exegetes.  I registered my worries with the team leader of the time and he was okay with my deciding I was no longer comfortable being on the volunteer ministry.  Not everyone was quite as reconciled to that but I managed to extricate myself from Mars Hill generally and from a specific ministry at Mars Hill in a way where I was on pretty good, friendly, mutually respectful terms with the leaders I shared my concerns with.

Which, I guess, as I'm thinking about this, is another way to say that there was a kind of para-ghostwriting culture in that Theology Response Team where individuals wrote for themselves but as designated writers on behalf of, basically, the Mars Hill brand.  That was one of a lot of things I felt uncomfortable with as time went on.  People were beginning to ask questions that were eventually fielded to me that were dealing with aspects of biblical literature no one at Mars Hill that I was aware of had taught on or maybe even studied for all I didn't know.

I know it's been a few years since the Mars Hill meltdown and Driscoll's resignation but I would go so far as to say that if you want to hear a perspective on what the ghostwriting scene in the Mars Hill orbit was like this is the first interview I know of where that topic has been broached.  Perhaps, and only just perhaps, other people who participated in the ghostwriting culture of Mars Hill might feel open to speaking for the record.  For now, as best I'm aware, this interview is it.

UPDATE 4-12-2019

There's another reason an interview with a Docent contributor to the Mars Hill content library is significant.  For those who remember a fateful interview Mark Driscoll had with Janet Mefferd, the blowback from that included her presenting evidence of what she described as plagiarism in the Trial study guide for the 1 & 2 Peter series.  An initial Mars Hill public relations response as reported by Jonathan Merritt put it this way:

The Mars Hill statement was first discovered by Warren Throckmorton at “Patheos.” It is difficult to find, buried in the “Downloads” section of the “Trial” sermon series page. The statement only address charges that plagiarized material appeared in a booklet on I&II Peter published by Mars Hill Church. It admits “citation errors” but blames a research team for the errors, which are located in a chapter naming Driscoll as author:
In 2009, Pastor Mark preached through 1 & 2 Peter in a sermon series called Trial. To help our small groups, a team of people including a research assistant, put together a free study guide that was produced in-house and was never sold. About 5 years later it was brought to our attention that it contained some citation errors. We have discovered that during the editing process, content from other published sources were mistaken for research notes. These sentences were adapted instead of quoted directly. We are grateful this was brought to our attention, and we have removed that document from our website to correct the mistake. Additionally, we are examining all of our similar content as a precautionary measure.
Elsewhere on the Mars Hill web site, Driscoll’s research assistant is named as Justin Holcomb of Docent Research Group. “[Justin] has been humble enough to do a great deal of research for me, which, along with the work of my helpful friend and editing assistant Deacon Crystal Griffin, allows me to produce content at a pace I would never have thought possible…I am now sending out literally thousands of pages of content a year, as well as preaching and teaching hundreds of hours of content a year,” the site states. It is unclear whether Holcomb is the “research assistant” referenced in the statement.
In Merritt's December 9, 2013 article it was mentioned that Mars Hill issued a statement mentioning that the Trial study guide was assembled by a team that included a research assistant.

I was able to establish from an old blog post by Jared C. Wilson who the Docent designated research assistant was Mark Driscoll was sent circa 2012.

Now the reason this seems significant is for those who saw the initial Mars Hill public relations reaction to the evidence provided by Mefferd that there was plagiarism in the Trial study guide,  it looked as though the PR move was to invoke a diffusion of responsibility.  Maybe citation errors happened but the blame was diffused to the entire team (which was not a particularly big team, actually).

The implication that the research assistant was somehow guilt was strong enough Docent publicly issued a rebuttal saying it was not possible that the research assistant was responsible for the errors.

Over at Pajama Pages , a case was made that based on document comparison what happened was not just plagiarism but fabrication.

... The three paragraphs documented by Janet Mefferd are clearly plagiarism. The footnotes in Driscoll’s work also make it fabrication. At my school, we define fabrication as follows (emphasis added):
Fabrication is the intentional use of invented information or the falsification of research or other findings with the intent to deceive. Examples:
1. Citation of information not taken from the source indicated.
2. Listing sources in a bibliography not used in the academic exercise, unless directed by the instructor to list references consulted even if not cited.
3. Inventing data or source information for research or other academic exercise.


Not only did Driscoll copy the words, he manipulated the citations in the source material to make it appear as though he had done the research himself. By so doing, it shows that he understands the value of citations and research, but decided to deceive the reader into believing that he had done that work himself. Think about the effort it took to reformat those in-text citations and add them to his book as footnotes. Why not also footnote the original book? He did know how to use them.


In soccer, a player can get a yellow card from a referee to warn for rough play or a bad tackle. Two yellows and the player is ejected from the game. A particularly egregious foul can be awarded a straight red. No warning. No doubts. Expelled.

With the manipulation of the footnotes, Driscoll has compounded his deception, and worked even harder to mask it. No yellow here. No warning. This is an easy call: Straight Red.

So for those who weren't keeping up with the plagiarism controversy at the time, the reason a writer from Docent group talking to someone on the record about his time at Mars Hill is significant is because a story that Mars Hill leadership (and by extension Mark Driscoll) took Docent writer provided materials and presented it as original material is significant is because, back in 2013 in the heat of the plagiarism controversy, one of the public relations gambits taken by Mars Hill looked to be saying that mistakes were made but that, well, it must have been the help.  Docent refuted this at the time.

Now it's worth revisiting that Intervarsity Press publicly stated that the material in the study guide was not properly cited and that if it had been this would have been acceptable under Fair Use.

In light of Warren Throckmorton moving from Patheos to another site it's worth including links from the November through December 2013 period relevant to the Trial study guide and what Mars Hill public relations responses involved.

So it seems important that a story that has been shared this year about the way in which Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll presented the material compiled and written by a Docent Group writer as if Driscoll wrote it.  It helps to establish some additional background for what was going on in Mars Hill during the 2013 period.  If Driscoll was, in fact, willing to pass off the work of Docent Group authors as his own research and writing then the initial Mars Hill PR response of implicitly diffusing responsibility for the documented plagiarism onto the research team comes off as even more cowardly, specious, and craven.  Had the authors been credited properly to begin with, rather than having their work treated in some kind of anonymous work-for-hire way, and had the citation documentation that at least one writer quoted above noted was in the original, unredacted research document, the plagiarism issue might have been avoided ... in exactly one case of a book with Mark Driscoll's name on it.

What made it a plagiarism controversy overall, however, was that it began to turn out Mark Driscoll had a lot more than just a few simple citation errors in just one of his books.

Back in late 2013 the Mars Hill public relations response to the plagiarism scandal seemed shifty and evasive to me, speaking just as a matter of personal opinion and conviction.  It appeared as though at first blush blaming research assistance for a plagiarism controversy that was about what was published under Mark Driscoll's name was, well, cowardly and dishonest.  I had already made a point of departing from Mars Hill by the time the plagiarism scandal emerged but by the time it had emerged I had already made known my concerns about the lack of credit given by Mark and Grace Driscoll to Dan Allender's work on July 4, 2013.

I had also made a point of an ISBN to ISBN comparison of books a month or so before Mefferd's fateful interview with Driscoll.

All of this is simply review for anyone who was regularly reading Wenatchee The Hatchet in December 2013 or so but since the blog has shifted to other topics far less connected to the former Mars Hill a word of clarification seems in order.

A practical question that doesn't come up so much in the interview is whether there was a non-disclosure aspect that may have been involved.  Mars Hill was, for a short while, a bit known for having non-disclosure contracts of some kind.  Whether or not Ostoich has been or was or is bound by some kind of non-disclosure agreement  would seem moot in the case of Mars Hill since it dissolved as a corporation years ago, but whether or not there were any Docent restrictions is impossible for me to assess.

Since Mark Driscoll's approach has been to prefer to go along as if Mars Hill either didn't exist at all or need never be mentioned by name it's tough to imagine that even this recent podcast interview might prompt him to have much to say in any direct fashion.

POSTCRIPT 4-14-2019

Just to be clear, as with so many things related to a post Mars Hill Mark Driscoll, there's not so much of a news peg element to things.

September 8, 2017
May 31, 2018

So it's old news but it's old news of interest because, as outlined above from the 2013 coverage, one of the Mars Hill public relations moves in the wake of Janet Mefferd publishing evidence of plagiarism in Mark Driscoll's work in the form of the Trial study guide was to bring up a team, including a research assistant. It looked like what was going on was that Driscoll and company were using research help that was being passed off under Mark Driscoll's name until a plagiarism controversy erupted and then, all of a sudden, it was time to mention the research team, as if by implication of some sort maybe it was them and not Mark Driscoll whose name(s) were stuck in the thick of a plagiarism controversy.

This all makes it seem that much harder to take a man like Mark Driscoll seriously if he shows up at a conference called something like Act Like Men.

POSTSCRIPT 4-15-2019
It may help to provide even more context to the Docent writer's inadvertent ghostwriting for Mark Driscoll experience by setting it against the late 2011 trademark and logo cease-and-desist situation.

Published 10/24/2011

... The issue of the Cease and Desist Letter seemed to strike a raw nerve in the broader body of Christ. I will say more about that in a moment. But first, I want to confirm that three staff members from Mars Hill Seattle called and asked forgiveness for any stress and confusion that was caused by the letter we received from the Stokes & Lawrence law firm [perhaps referring to this Stokes & Lawrence firm]. That meant a great deal to me and the other pastors involved (Jason Yarbrough of Mars Hill Church in Fairfield and James Seiler of Mars Hill Church in Galt).

Both Chris Pledger and Dave Bruskas were clear and sincere that the proper step should have been to call us first. We accepted their apology and would like the Mars Hill Seattle congregation to know that your leaders took this step (We are assuming on behalf of pastor Mark Driscoll). They assured us they would not seek any type of legal action, even though they did apply for and were awarded a federal trademark in August of this year for both the name and the logo design. Mars Hill Seattle also posted on their blog late Saturday night a message of clarity and grace. It was greatly appreciated.


I was speaking Friday, Oct. 21, in Boston when I finally received a very congenial voicemail from Chris Pledger. By now the social media networks were buzzing with some knowledge about this cease and desist letter. There was zero antagonism in his voice or the message he left. That afternoon we had a conference call between myself, Chris Pledger and Justin Holcomb. Both of them were great and shared they were very sorry for sending a legal letter first.

They communicated that their intent now was simply to remove confusion and to ask if we could alter the logo that they had been using since 1996. I shared our story, including how our design by Scott Taylor in 2005 was totally innocent, and that when our church was planted in 2005 we had no knowledge that a Mars Hill Church in Seattle existed.

I agreed to start the process of a logo redesign since they now owned the trademark. They assured me that even though the letter from Stokes & Lawrence called for a name change, that was off the table. On Saturday, I received a voicemail from Dave Bruskas reiterating the same information and again reaffirming that the letter should not have been sent as a means of first contact. ...

And for people who forgot about it there's also this.


Sadly, in addition to giving things away, we’ve also had things taken. We’ve had churches cut and paste our logo, take our website code and copy it completely, had ministry leaders cut and paste documents of ours, put their name on them to then post online as if it were their content, and even seen other pastors fired for preaching our sermons verbatim. We're not the only church called Mars Hill, and occasionally there arises confusion between us and other churches that share the "Mars Hill" name, particularly as we now have our churches in four states. This was the case recently when one of our members called us to find out if we had planted Mars Hill churches in the Sacramento, California area. We had not, but when we went to these churches’ websites, it was obvious to us how people could be confused. Each of these three connected churches in the Sacramento region—planted in 2006, 2007, and 2010—bore the "Mars Hill" name and their logo was substantially similar to the logo we've used since 1996. When cases like this arise in the business world, it's customary for a law office to send a notice asking the other organization to adjust their branding to differentiate it. This is commonly referred to as a cease and desist letter. On September 27, 2011, our legal counsel sent such a letter to these three Mars Hill churches requesting that they change their logo and name. In hindsight, we realize now that the way we went about raising our concerns, while acceptable in the business world, is not the way we should deal with fellow Christians. On Friday we spoke with the pastor of Mars Hill in Sacramento to apologize for the way we went about this. We had a very productive conversation and look forward to continuing that conversation in the days and weeks ahead. We made a mistake in not calling these churches prior to sending the letter. We should have picked up the phone before sending any other communication. Unfortunately, rather than hearing from the church in Sacramento, we began hearing that the matter was instead being speculated on by a blogger who did not verify any facts with us and, as a result, provided an inaccurate version of what transpired. This blog post from us is intended to alleviate any confusion. As a clarification, we have not sued any churches and have no plans to sue any churches. We have not sent any similar letters to any other "Mars Hill" churches, and we are not planning on asking any church with "Mars Hill" in their name to change their name.  

It seems pretty ironic, then, that Mars Hill itself had a culture in which writers working on behalf of an organization like Docent could submit research writing that was passed off, according to at least one account, as the work of Mark Driscoll.  If this has been, indeed, the case, then there was a galactic sized double standard at play for Mark Driscoll if he had work passed off as his that he didn't write while Mars Hill had publicly expressed regret that their stuff was being copied without credit.  That sort of hypocrisy seems ... pretty bad. 

Roger Scruton on George Rochberg's legacy raises a question, was Rochberg's innovation turning "back" to tonality or moving forward into systematizing code-switching across tonal and atonal idioms? I lean the latter, Scruton the former
Our model for the future should therefore not be the sterile works of Stockhausen and Boulez but the patient attempts to adapt the old to the new, and to find notes that touch the hearts of listeners because they express the heart of their composer. George Rochberg's music points us in this direction. But it raises the question that surely troubles all serious music-lovers now, which is whether we can find our way to a musical syntax which is as expressive as the tonal language of Rochberg, but which is not shut off from the surrounding world of popular culture. This is the theme to which I shall address myself in the next post.

There was clearly a nostalgic impulse in Rochberg's work when he repudiated purity of methodology when he abandoned serialism.  His son died of cancer. He had the bluntest and simplest reason to cast aside serialism as a musical language that was not up to expressing the grief he felt over the death of his child.  Even so ... I've read enough of Rochberg's work (i.e. The Aesthetics of Survival) that I am not so sure Scruton has ever done that much to represent what Rochberg said he was attempting to express. 

The Aesthetics of Survival: A Composer’s View of Twentieth-Century Music
George Rochberg
Copyright © 1984 by the University of Michigan
ISBN 0-472-10037-8

Page 240
… the twentieth century has pointed—however reluctant we may be to accept it in all areas of life, social as well as political, cultural as well as intellectual—toward a difficult-to-define pluralism, a world of new mixtures and combinations of everything we have inherited from the past and whatever we individually or collectively value in the inventions of our own present, replete with juxtapositions of opposites (or seeming opposites) and contraries. …

Page 241 (from “On the Third String Quartet”) [which you can hear here]

Granting pluralism, how is a composer to deal with it? From the inside out, i.e., from the internal psychic imagery which becomes the musical gesture to its artistic manifestation. Gesture, singly or in combination, successive or simultaneous, is the determining factor—not style, language, system or method.

Scruton hears in the neo-tonal music of Rochberg someone who repudiated atonality.  That isn't exactly what happened.  Rochberg repudiated the necessity of internal consistency in a musical language.  Depending on how you presented the break, the American composer introduced pastiche.  
Take the Caprice variations, where Rochberg explicitly builds on a Paganini caprice and  varies it along the styles of, for instance, Beethoven and Schubert. 

What Rochberg introduced was not just a rejection of total or integral serialism but a rejection of the idea that a musical work had to retain a single cohesive style.  An Andrew Clements could regard Rochberg's variations on a Paganini caprice as a "pointless exercise" but that has to be assumed on the basis of an assumption that there could not be any point to Rochberg composing dozens of variations on a well-known caprice in the styles of composers spanning centuries of Western traditions.  

I recently finished Richard Cohn's book Audacious Euphony and he pointed out an idea from linguistics that's known as "code-switching". If you want to read something that discusses what code-switching is in linguistics and how its relevant to some current events, John McWhorter has something at The Atlantic of potential interest.

The idea is that people can habitually shift across languages within a conversation or switch dialects of a single language in a conversation and that people can keep up with this.  Given the common core of equal temperament in the string quartet idiom what Rochberg did in his Third String Quartet can be thought of as making a point of "code switching" between atonal and tonal idioms.  He wasn't even the only composer who was exploring this range of possibilities in the early 1970s.  Schnittke was playing with this sort of eclecticism, as was Berio, and to a lesser-known degree Rodion Shchedrin.  The main point I'm trying to make here is to point out that what Rochberg did was not exactly revolutionary in terms of the sheer principle of what he did in developing a poly-stylistic framework for a chamber music work, but that he chose to do so after having refined the total serialist style.  

What I sometimes think guys like Roger Scruton and John Borstlap have done is present Rochberg's turn from serialism primarily as a turn "back" to tonality away from total serialism.  But to go by what Rochberg wrote himself, his turn was not "complete". You certainly aren't hearing lyric Beethoven style quartet writing in the first movement of Rochberg's Third String Quartet.  If we go by what Rochberg said himself, he was considering that pluralism in society and music was the great challenge of his day (and, by extension, ours).  He regarded gesture as the foundational basis for dealing with the social and artistic reality of pluralism.  System, language, methodology were not adequate to the task of dealing with pluralism in Rochberg's assessment, quoted above.  

That does not read as if it were a "return" to tonality of the sort that someone like Scruton would say happened in Rochberg's career.  

Rochberg's rejection of atonality in its serialized form tends to be what men like Scruton or Borstlap zero in on,  but since they don't bother to quote Rochberg himself very much they miss what that refusal entailed. Rochberg explicitly said was the challenge of the recent modern age, finding a way to come to terms with pluralism in art and society. 

Let anyone get the impression I'm suggesting that a polystylistic or code-switching paradigm of shifting across forms of musical language was only happening in classical music in the 1970s that's hardly the case I intend to make.  I've written about the genius of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" and how in that song he starts off with a I, IV, V style chordal vamp that moves forward from an oscillating set of chord changes that include minor third ornamental chordal patterns.  It means that he has the circle of fifths style harmonic language for the verses and choruses but for the bridge or post-chorus "tag", easily the most legendary part of the song, he shifts into a chain of minor third relationships floating above a descending octatonic bass line.  

In other words, one of Stevie Wonder's greatest songs in a great career features code-switching in its tonal organization, from a circle of fifths to a chain of minor thirds, from a broadly diatonic tonal with blues elements to a more octatonic system.  

That musicians who have mastered these sorts of code switching approaches at a gestural level have been African American musicians like Stevie Wonder or Jewish composers like George Rochberg might be some kind of anthropological study for someone who is actually an academic.  Since I'm not I can only just toss the idea out into the realm of the internet as something of possible interest.  It's a bit faddish, perhaps, to talk about code-switching at a linguistic level but the concept seems like an important one to bring into musicology and has probably already been bountifully chronicled in a lot of writings I just haven't had the time or resources to go read yet.  

Code-switching may not have to happen within or across skin color patterns.  Some of my lineage involves Calvinist Native Americans and white Arminians, for instance, so there can be theological as well as ethnic divides to navigate.  The basic idea of code-switching as it has been discussed in scholarly and journalistic contexts is that a good number of us can jump from language to language and dialect to dialect and a lot of people will understand us.  There will be those who don't, and there can be those who regard the shift in dialects or languages as a fault.  For advocates of serialism what Rochberg did was a betrayal. For advocates of traditional tonality (whatever that is, since it seems to vary a bit depending on what a polemicists for tonality wants it to be), Rochberg may not have gone far enough back to the post-Romantic tonal language.  

I guess I don't mind that Scruton makes a point of citing Rochberg as an example of a composer who mastered serialism and twelve-tone techniques and then dropped them, but the more I read Scruton's take on Rochberg compared to what Rochberg wrote as a composer and what he wrote expressing his ideas in prose about composing the less clear it is to me that Scruton's version of Rochberg is more than an anti-atonalist.  I think there's more value to Rochberg's ideas and music than just that.  I'll grant that Rochberg is going to be marginal because in a sense he was never "important" enough for advocates of high modernists to keep in mind when he broke from high modernism, and yet his lyricism and nostalgic element in his music aren't nearly lyrical or nostalgic enough for the sorts of music fans who want their nostalgia and lyricism 200 proof.  

One person I compared notes with on Rochberg said that he couldn't help but admire the "balls of steel" it took to formally repudiate total serialism when he did, but that a lot of Rochberg's music just doesn't stick with him.  In Rochberg's way of putting it, his music rendered itself forgettable, though perhaps not necessarily because it demands so much of listeners the cognitive overload dooms the music to oblivion.  It might be simpler to say that Rochbergs work is impeccably crafted but sometimes wants for compelling, memorable tunes.  But then Roger Scruton has made a point of saying hardly anybody seems able to write tunes in classical music these days and he doesn't want to grant that tunes really exist in contemporary popular song, either.  

I would say perhaps the problem is that Scruton needs to listen to a whole lot more Stevie Wonder.  

If I had to articulate my frustration with Scruton's approach it's to say this, he's had fifty years in which to contemplate "... whether we can find our way to a musical syntax which is as expressive as the tonal language of Rochberg, but which is not shut off from the surrounding world of popular culture. ... "  As I was saying, Stevie Wonder would get the job done within the realm of popular music.  If by "musical syntax" Scruton means a musical syntax that exists within the realm of what Richard Taruskin has called the literate musical traditions of the West the level of syntax we're looking for would probably not be a chord by chord or melodic line by melodic line language.  And to put my point more starkly, Scruton is a philosopher who deals in aesthetics and has had half a century to make some progress toward the stated potential goal.  What progress has he made?  That he can recognize the nature of the musical problem as he perceives it is noteworthy but he hasn't given me a reason to think he's going to develop a solution.  That solution will, of course, have to be developed by those musicians and composers who think there's a solution of some kind that's worth chasing down. 

For guitarist composers, whether it's Leo Brouwer or Dusan Bogdanovic or ... myself ... the straightforward answer  seems to be some kind of fusion of classical and popular idioms.  This has, as Brouwer has pointed out, been going on for generations, but it's not the kind of music-making academics like to spend time on. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

an analysis of Matiegka's Op. 20, No. 24 march, a miniature sonata form

Having written about Matiegka's guitar sonata in the past I would be remiss to not write about what I regard as another one of his sonata forms, disguised in plain sight in his Op. 20 set of 24 progressive pieces.  There's a video with audio from Giulio Tampalini's new recording of the complete solo guitar music of Wenzeslaus Thomas Matiegka up on Youtube.

Now I've written in the  past about how Sor had a sonata movement in E flat major tucked away in his cycle of progressive studies.  That essay is over here.

It was intriguing to discover Matiegka wrote a sonata more or less disguised as a march in E flat major, too.  His E flat sonata march is more lightweight than Sor's, I'd say.  The reason is because when I say Matiegka wrote a march in sonata form he did something I've spotted in a couple of sonatas by Molino and, I think, in Molitor.  There's a pattern with some of the lesser known and, how do we put this indelicately, the guitarist composers who are regarded as lighter weight (though I wouldn't personally say this about Matiekga myself because I love his sonatas)--there's what I call a "half and half" approach to exposition and recapitulation.

What I mean by a "half and half" approach is that the recapitulation can be thought of as the "normative" or "complete" form of the theme, which is then modified just enough so that the two segments of the otherwise complete theme are ruptured for structural reasons.  The halves are separated by whatever is needed to ensure they fulfill the structurally necessary separation required for contrasts at a rhetorical or tonal level for a sonata exposition.

Let's take Matiegka's Op. 20, No. 24.  Theme 1 transpires in the first 12 seconds of the performance linked to above.  When the half cadence arrives we would think it would simply be the half cadence for the next part of the theme we've just heard and in a larger-scale work that would be true.  But this is a very small scale work, a single page, and so that half cadence turns out to shift.  We get the leading tone to B flat in a secondary dominant passage that turns out to lead to a continuation of the half cadence passage.  That's an accurate way of putting it but since Charles Rosen and other scholars discussing sonata have said that one of the tells for a sonata movement is that thematic material that is presented in the dominant tonal region in an exposition that is presented in the tonic tonal region in the recapitulation we shall soon see that, by that rule of sonata identification, Matiegka's Op. 20, No. 24 meets the criteria of being a sonata.

What I call Theme 2 shows up at 0:21 and consists of some block chords elaborated by swiftly descending triplet passage work. Isn't that what we just hear earlier?  Well, yes, and that gets to what I think is the "half and half" aspect of the exposition and recapitulation here.

But before we get that far let's note that everything in this opening thematic group repeats.  So at 0:32 we get a repeat of everything presented so far, basically the first three systems.  Once all that material repeats we jump into what I regard as the development section.  The first development presentation starts at 1:05, and that should tip alert readers off to the fact that Matiegka's approach to sonata form can be "old school", featuring not only observed repeats of his expositions but also of his development and recapitulation sections.  As Hepokoski and Darcy and other scholars have observed, in 18th century norms of what we call sonata movements the development and recapitulation spaces were often regarded as part of a "grand binary form".  So it was normal to repeat not just the exposition but also the development and recapitulation.  We see this in Haydn string quartets but we'll see it in Matiegka's Op. 31 sonatas, too.  There are, in fact, some pretty funny stunts Matiegka pulls in some of the Op. 31 sonatas to drive home that the repeat signs in the development and recapitulation parts of his sonata forms are not optional.  You have to actually observe them for his sonatas to convey their full sense (of humor, I would say, but a more detailed discussion of just how much Haydn's influence emerges in Matiegka's sonatas is a topic for another time).

So, the development starts at 1:05 in the video, and at the very end of the third system in the score, which I will provide here at the end of this discussion so you can see it for yourself.

Something Hepokoski and Darcy proposed in Elements of Sonata Theory is the idea that there is a rhetorical function to the sequence of themes and materials presented in an exposition.  They call this rhetorical presentation of themes "rotation".  What it means at a practical level is for however many "rotations" there are in a sonata movement, whether two or three as they describe them, themes will generally be presented in the order in which they appear, give or take the deliberate omission of certain themes.  In a "textbook" sonata if you have Theme 1 in G major, Theme 2 in D major and a closing theme in D major then the themes will appear in that sequential order in the development and in the recapitulation, too.  That won't always be the case, sometimes themes are omitted in a development and in other cases a theme may be extensively developed in an exposition and a development and then dropped altogether from the recapitulation region.  Hepokoski and Darcy call this sort of sonata a "Type 2".  That's not what we have here in Matiegka's Op. 20, No. 24.  We'll see and hear that he pretty studiously observes the sequence of materials in this development section.  You'll hear it and you'll be able to see it, too.  I've charted it out in a score analysis.

What Matiegka does is cycle through a couple of key regions, G major, and bits of C minor, before landing on what "should" seem to be a half cadence dominant pedal point preparation for a move to G major, except that it turns out to be a leading tone pedal point passage that is resolved by the return of the first idea of the piece in E flat, which is what we would expect to happen in a sonata movement.  What I regard as the recapitulation first appears at about 1:59.  From the recapitulation onward we hear all the materials we heard early in the work but with everything transposed to fit into E flat major.  What has taken place is the theme sounds like it would if it were never broken into pieces and made into the basis for a sonata exposition.  Depending on what you feel a sonata form "ought" to do this could feel remarkably lazy on Matiegka's part or it could be kind of cute and charming and a tiny bit funny.  I can see and hear it both ways myself.

The recapitulation ends at 2:31 and immediately at 2:32 we go back via repeat sign to the development section.  There's a seamless flow from the final cadence at the end of the recapitulation to the dominant harmony as follow-up phrase in the renewed development section.  This is a more modular or circular approach to sonata form than we would likely see later in the Romantic era, particularly in the keyboard literature.  The materials are not developed all that intensely in terms of gestural transformation but relative to the size of the exposition and recapitulation spaces the development here is fairly substantial.  When the piece comes to a grand total of four minutes with all possible repeat signs observed we're clearly talking about a small scale form.  It is a march, certainly, but it's a march that Matiegka, if you will, reworked into a sonata movement.

You can see for yourself and hear for yourself.  Certainly there's always room for disagreement about these things and how could classical guitarists not disagree about matters of interpretation and score editions and all of that?  Even so, I think I can make a plausible case that Matiegka's Op. 20, No. 24 should be thought of as a small scale sonata movement.  Rather, I think I have made that case in writing and that what Matiegka put in his score backs up that interpretation.

I wouldn't hesitate to say that Sor's Op. 29 E flat study is a more compelling and rewarding sonata movement but I have pretty much said I like Matiegka's work overall and like his approach to sonata forms.  This isn't Matiegka at his best but any guitarist who can compose any kind of sonata movement in E flat major is someone worth some study, given how many times I've heard and seen guitarists say that somehow our instrument is not amenable to sonata forms.

The score came by way of what was once available on IMSLP and isn't there any more.  I got the PDFs back when they were available a few years ago.  Overall I'm afraid I'd have to say that the majority of Op. 20 left me indifferent.  There are a handful of cool movements in the cycle but Matiegka shines in his sonatas.  His approach with variation technique and form is ... eh ... kind of like a lot of virtuoso variation sets from the early 19th century that, as Elaine Sisman put it, were regarded as a kind of bane on musical life by commentators from that time.  All that griping withstanding, I really did enjoy this last piece in Matiegka's Op. 20 cycle, enough that, of course, I've gone to the trouble of writing about it.

a guest piece at Mere Orthodoxy attempts to riff on Jordan Peterson and neoliberalism and ...

Well ... it happened.

My indifference so far to Jordan Peterson has been noted here.  The "man up" and "clean your room" stuff seems like a more upscale master's degree recipient variation of a shtick some guy named Mark Driscoll did here in Puget Sound over the previous twenty-odd years.  Not to say Peterson is a Driscoll, he seems substantially more competent than that but ...

to the extent that socially conservative Christians find him interesting Peterson nevertheless seems like a cat's paw for them, he's the one who has at least some patina of social respectability among those who have not already christened Peterson a saint of the alt right. 

But the above guest piece attempts to situate Peterson in the context of neoliberalism without treating the term like a bugbear.  Whether the author actually succeeded in defining neoliberalism or situating Peterson in the context of neoliberalism is debatable.  There are those who would say Peterson has been misunderstood. Well, sure, anyone can be misunderstood on the internet.

But as someone who is not presently sold on the fellow, I have the impression from his advocates that as self-help speakers go Peterson may be useful to those who already have hope for improving their market value but I would be curious to find out what sort of thing he's got to say to people who have a sexual market value that's zero.  Let me put it this way, guys like Mark Driscoll and Dan Savage can seem to be on opposite sides of a variety of issues but their bread and butter was catering to or pandering to people who were probably, give or take, getting something in the zone of what they wanted for their sex lives or thought it was attainable enough that asking a complete stranger who happened to be a celebrity what their odds were.  In that sense I don't see that a Jordan Peterson is meaningfully different from a Mark Driscoll or a Dan Savage just because he published a book called Maps of Meaning rather than Real Marriage or .. . whatever Dan Savage published that didn't involve The Stranger. 

It doesn't seem unfair to ask whether Peterson has advice for the incels beyond "try harder".  Back here in Seattle a decade ago a guy like Driscoll would scream "how dare you!?" because he thought the "jerks" were worth screaming at.  If he made them feel guilty enough to shape up and fly right they could be redeemed, but the "cowards", better known as the guys who gave up on the idea of dating and marrying out of fear of failure or fatigue from failure, those guys were worthless.  It was something a friend of mine from the Mars Hill days could not shake about the import of what Driscoll was saying from the pulpit.  The dudes who were going to get things done and show some entrepreneurial style spirit were the ones worth getting, by hook or by crook.  If you got the young men, as Driscoll used to put it, you get everything.  If you don't get the young men you get nothing.

Peterson's deal may not be particularly conservative, actually, but his appeal to men who don't vote for Democrats seems to be thematically related to the sort of appeal that came, decades ago, from a thread called "Pussified Nation".  Maybe Peterson has the more genteel and tweedy variation on the theme, though it would seem his most eager advocates would deny there's any overlap, perhaps not entirely unlike how some people would be eager to avoid any observed similarities between Doug Wilson and Mark Driscoll in some other context.  The market for gurus telling dudes how to be dudes hasn't gone away, the prize sales reps have shuffled a bit and Peterson may be genuinely more competent to address some of those issues than a Wilson or a Driscoll, so there is that, and that's not nothing.

But it's also seeming like beyond the groups of guys who have hope for themselves out there on "the market" that's also not very much. 

As I've already put it, if secondary or tertiary Jungianism by way of Joseph Campbell led to the monomyth and the cosmogonic cycles that inspired Star Wars that contributors to Mere Orthodoxy seem to believe have stunted the embrace of adulthood, why would an even newer derivative of Jungianism provide anything meaningfully different from the choose-your-own-founding-personal-monomyth be different this time?  Because of a Petersonian version of Dear Abby?  That seems ... improbable. 

Campbell was, no doubt, trying to do some kind of philosophical literary battle against what he regarded as the forces of egoism.  The trouble is that if we go by the influence of the monomyth on popular culture the paradigm he sought to establish was more or less inverted and popular cinema and genre work derived from the monomyth has probably reinforced and entrenched egotism on the one hand, and entrenched it further into explicitly gendered tropes on the other which, given the extent to which Campbell hammered away at the hermaphroditic nature of the divine ground of being in the cosmogonic cycle, was probably "also" not something he necessarily was aiming at, unless he got more emphatic about that stuff in his later books.  I don't just happen to think the monomyth is an absurdity but I also want to take seriously that there are people for whom it's genuinely useful and ... in light of the weird loyalty some cultural conservatives have to the monomyth, I think it would also be fair to Campbell's work to point out that when those sorts of folks attempt to wield the monomyth they seem to not get where Campbell was going with it. 

at the Atlantic there is, unsurprisingly, a feature on the kinds of arthropods that can crawl into your eye, in light of the sweat bees meme


it if none of these crawlers have crawled into your eye sockets

Roger Scruton dropped from advisory role over his comments about Soros, and ... Rod Dreher seems more surprised by this than he might be if he were keeping track of this stuff, maybe?

Rod Dreher has sounded off on the recent sacking of Sir Roger Scruton but ... weren't there complaints about him, like, a year ago?

Was Dreher just not paying attention to Scruton or Scruton's reputation?  This doesn't seem that out of the blue for anyone who even modestly keeps tabs on coverage in The Guardian. 

Now it's not that there hasn't been a long tradition of leftist anti-semitism, although perhaps there are those who would just no true scotsman that legacy away.  Those sorts of things have been done.  Conspiracy theories about Soros could abound on either the left or the right side of things.  I confess to not having the time or interest to keep track of all that sort of stuff. 

Having been pretty underwhelmed by a certain Scruton book in the last year I am less and less certain how and why Scruton is regarded as an intellectual heavyweight on behalf of conservative thought, which is not necessarily saying I think there's any more astonishing a brain trust on the Anglo-American left or liberal side.  But Scruton's theorizing on music in particular has pretty much failed to sell me that his ideas are going to be much use for musicians and artists interested in continuing the development and life of the arts.  Master narratives of how leftists ruined everything is something the left does pretty well when the Marxists accuse each other of being insufficiently dialectical. 

George Eaton's instagram celebration sure was short-lived though.

on the whole it doesn't seem there are any sides to root for here, as seems to be usual. 

Sunday, April 07, 2019

revisiting iMonk's Coming Evangelical Collapse after the fall of MH, a Willow Creek scandal, and the firing of James Macdonald from HBC

iMonk published The Coming Evangelical Collapse a decade ago and here we are in 2019 with no more Mars Hill,  a Willow Creek crisis, and a Harvest Bible Chapel that has been bleeding members and with a fired James Macdonald.  He was working, I think, with a functional and practical definition of evangelical that placed it within the 20th century as a mediation of fundamentalist/separatist impulses with traditional religious doctrinal positions.  That position was going to have some kind of shelf life.  

On the whole I have had a sense that evangelicalism attempt to take the role in society that had previously been played by the mainlines and by now liberal denominations with comparable postmillenialist/cultural formation goals in mind.  So while I get, on one hand, why religious progressives and secularists can regard the evangelical movement as a kind of creepy religious right with dominionist and theocratic tendencies they seem to find it too easy to forget that, to put it in a harsh way, if these evangelicals trying to find a middle way between fundamentalist separatism and mainline/liberal civic religion then they were never inventive enough or historically rooted enough to invent their potential theocratic/dominionist streak whole cloth or even really necessarily get it from the biblical texts since, after all, the fundamentalist approach as often as not led to separatist movements.  The religious right was in some sense parasitically dependent upon the mainline and liberal denominations for the capacity to formulate a triumphalist "cultural mandate", it was going to be in key respects parasitically dependent on the mainline American legacy of postmillenialism for its idea of being able to positively shape American culture.  It meant that there was an effort to reverse-engineer a red state rather than a blue state Jesus to put it in more contemporary cultural war terms, but the impulse to reinvent Jesus in explicitly Americanist terms is not really confined to liberal or conservative impulses.

My Prediction
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.”

The party is almost over for evangelicals; a party that’s been going strong since the beginning of the “Protestant” 20th century. We are soon going to be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century in a culture that will be between 25-30% non-religious
1) Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This was a mistake that will have brutal consequences. They are not only going to suffer in losing causes, they will be blamed as the primary movers of those causes. Evangelicals will become synonymous with those who oppose the direction of the culture in the next several decades. That opposition will be increasingly viewed as a threat, and there will be increasing pressure to consider evangelicals bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society.

The investment of evangelicals in the culture war will prove out to be one of the most costly mistakes in our history. The coming evangelical collapse will come about, largely, because our investment in moral, social and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. We’re going to find out that being against gay marriage and rhetorically pro-life (yes, that’s what I said) will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence and are believing in a cause more than a faith.

Here in 2019 it's not clear that an evangelical collapse is just about a red-state version.  Willow Creek's scandals should be a warning that formal egalitarianism isn't an insurance policy against misconduct.  The trouble that seems to be afoot is that cultural war mentalities across the theologically and politically liberal and conservative spectra inoculate people against a capacity to see that the common denominators here seem to be the power and prestige of the American star or celebrity systems and that this has nothing inherently to do with how liberal or conservative the stars in question are.  

Although on paper they will have differences a Mark Driscoll and a Nadia Bolz-Weber have both devolved into shilling self-help books about sex and marriage as if either of them had any real or compelling reason to be selling that sort of self-help book.  The bunker mentality in the camps of those who would swear by the good intentions of wither a Driscoll or a Bolz-Weber may ensure that their respective fans will not and cannot see that the two celebrities have the same core gimmick in selling sex-and-marriage books in a contemporary American setting.  For that matter, the collapse of Mars Hill helped to elucidate that the contrast between a Mark Driscoll and a Rachel Held Evans might be best thought of as playing out the level of public relations and branding.  Evans played essentially no role at all in the demise of Mark Driscoll's Seattle-based credibility.  It's not as though writers with progressive interests and sympathies trawl through the work of Puritans or neo-Calvinists to the extent necessary to establish the basis for what became a plagiarism controversy.

2) Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people the evangelical Christian faith in an orthodox form that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. In what must be the most ironic of all possible factors, an evangelical culture that has spent billions of youth ministers, Christian music, Christian publishing and Christian media has produced an entire burgeoning culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures that they will endure.

Do not be deceived by conferences or movements that are theological in nature. These are a tiny minority of evangelicalism. A strong core of evangelical beliefs is not present in most of our young people, and will be less present in the future. This loss of “the core” has been at work for some time, and the fruit of this vacancy is about to become obvious.

I don't go to conferences and I don't even particularly enjoy going to mens retreats. What conferences all too often seem to do is reinforce the insularity of the sorts of people who actually go to conferences.  They have their uses, of course, but I figure iMonk was pointing out that conferences were having echo chamber effects that could be likened to people gushing about how big their Twitter followings were without recognizing the ways in which that Twitter following was not really an indicator of real world influence. 

3) Evangelical churches have now passed into a three part chapter: 1) mega-churches that are consumer driven, 2) churches that are dying and 3) new churches that whose future is dependent on a large number of factors. I believe most of these new churches will fail, and the ones that do survive will not be able to continue evangelicalism at anything resembling its current influence. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

Our numbers, our churches and our influence are going to dramatically decrease in the next 10-15 years. And they will be replaced by an evangelical landscape that will be chaotic and largely irrelevant.
2. What will be left after the evangelical collapse?

a. An evangelicalism far from its historical and doctrinal core. Expect evangelicalism as a whole to look more and more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. The determination to follow in the methodological steps of numerically successful churches will be greater than ever. The result will be, in the main, a departure from doctrine to more and more emphasis on relevance, motivation and personal success [emphases added]….with the result being churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.

Perhaps one of the more striking possible examples of this from the collapse of the former Mars Hill could be seen in a juxtaposition of titles.  Mark Driscoll's pre-plagiarism controversy book in 2013 was A Call to Resurgence.  Will Christianity have a future or a funeral?  Then last year Spirit-Filled Jesus came out and it was ... basically another self-help book.  It might seem as though there was a shift from a neo-Calvinist cultural mandate mission to ... therapeutic motivational and personal success stuff.  Driscoll may still attempt to anchor that in some form of traditional doctrine but a shift to self-help could be a temporary shift in light of the scandals that damaged his credibility and reputation or it could signal a long-term shift in which he has become like more or less any other pastor-as-motivational-speaker.  It's not just a Mark Driscoll, of course, it can happen with a Nadia Bolz-Weber, too and that may be the real sharp edge of iMonk's point about a shift to a pragmatic therapeutic approach.  Don't let the putatively red state and blue state branding fool you, celebrity Christian authors are capable of shilling self-help Americanist identity-formation stuff regardless of those distinctives in branding.  

d. I believe the emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision. I expect to continue hearing emerging leaders, seeing emerging conferences and receiving emerging books. I don’t believe this movement, however, is going to have much influence at all within future evangelicalism. What we’ve seen this year with Tony Jones seems to me to be indicative of the direction of the emerging church. [emphases added]

This is something I wrote earlier but it seems pertinent now.

When I first read it I wasn't sure who Tony Jones or why on earth he should matter.  As writing on the decline of white Christian America lately points out, evangelicalism's decline can be likened to the decline of the mainline/liberal Protestant tradition.  Given the history of how white Americans have interpreted the Bible the decline of white Christian American influence might be just what the doctor ordered because whether it was the Social Gospel or Manifest Destiny in the 19th century or cultural warrior campaigns in the 20th it's not clear that American white Christianity is finally separable from cultural imperialism in its blue state as well as red state forms.  

Whether it's a Politico piece saying the religious right emerged in opposition to racial integration in schools or pieces by conservatives claiming that the eugenics pioneers were racists what contemporary progressive and conservative journalists and academics seem committed to is some kind of proposal that the legacy of racism is mainly the fault of whoever they regard in the present moment as an ideological or political enemy.  The reality that a president who could be progressive on the question of how to treat blacks might regard American Indians as basically worthless (TR) is not up for consideration in this contemporary ideological battle about who is the most culpable scapegoat representing the sum of America's racist past.  

It is too easy for some who would advance liberal or progressive causes to consider 45's use of racial or ethnic slurs as ghastly but do so in a way that forgets that the Wilsonian legacy on race was really terrible in addition to getting us into World War I.  For that matter, if anyone would refer to the former Mars Hill as a "shithole" they are in no position at all to be morally outraged if a president were to refer to "shithole" countries.  The kind of person who would refer to the sum of people who made Mars Hill their church home as a "shithole" is not really different from someone who refers to "shithole" countries.  There will be requisite red and blue state differences but the dehumanizing vitriolic impulse is, probably, more or less the same.  

Now I venture that what hasn't been addressed about the mainline and religious right legacies is the ways in which postmillenialism or some form of theonomy or dominionism undergirds these cumulative legacies.  Some self-aggrandizing hack like Doug Wilson can talk big about liberal denominations but a postmillenialist conservative is not so different in ideological means and ends than a Marxist revolutionary who wants to replace an existing society with something better. 

Wilson clearly thinks A Justice Primer is substantial enough to reissue it in a second edition in spite o of the plagiarism and incompetence that necessitated it being pulled a few years ago. I'm not saying authors shouldn't write books or publish.  I write plenty here, but I do it for free on my own time as a public service.  The idea of getting paid for it is kind of secondary or tertiary.  In the vein of "answers to questions you didn't ask" there's no plans to ever monetize this blog.  

Now I think that the prosperity Gospel is broader and deeper in American thought than, perhaps, Michael thought it was.  So here's a final quote ... :

Will the coming evangelical collapse shake loose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? We can all pray and hope that this will be so, but evidence from other similar periods is not encouraging. Coming to terms with the economic implications of the Gospel has proven particularly difficult for evangelicals. That’s not to say that American Christians aren’t generous….they are. It is to say that American Christians seldom seem to be able to separate their theology from an overall idea of personal affluence and success American style. [emphases added] Perhaps the time is coming that this entanglement will be challenged, especially in the lives of younger Christians.

I would venture to suggest that the American Gospel is a prosperity Gospel.  The arguments are about who deserves whatever that prosperity is and how it should be obtained but look past the formal divides of liberal and conservative, red and blue, egalitarian and complementarian and these are all pissing contests about who should get the all-American-prosperity that is more or less taken as a given, a divine birthright.  Justice is not construed in terms of being able to live your life quietly working with your hands and loving your neighbor in the pantheon of polemicists and culture warriors, it's construed in terms of who gains admittance into some kind of pantheon of a priesthood of entertainers and artists and statecraft and so on.  Another way to put this idea is to say that Americans would rather keep making movies about stopping the end of the world than change their lives in ways that might actually forestall the end of the world, let alone imagine a world that will continue to exist without Americans around to save it.