26 July 2005

Shall we sell our birthright for a mess of faddage?

As I started to say last week...

Virtually all the people on Time magazine's list of "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals" share at least one glaringly significant trait:

For the most part, these are the fadmakers. They are the cheerleaders for whatever is fashionable. They are the designers of the programs that are peddled by the out-of-control Christian publishing industry and purchased and implemented with little critical thought or concern by hundreds of thousands of people in the movement that calls itself "evangelical."

  • Rick Warren, who heads the list, is the chief architect of the currently-dominant fad, "Forty Days of Purpose" and all the other Purpose-Driven® spinoffs.
  • Tim Lahaye is the "theological" mind behind the best-selling fad of all time—the "Left Behind" series.
  • J. I. Packer and Richard John Neuhaus have been the prime movers in the ecumenical fad—probably the last bandwagon we would have expected evangelicals to jump aboard 20 years ago.
  • Bill Hybels masterminded the "seeker-sensitive" fad.
  • Brian McLaren basically took Hybels' strategy ("contextualizing" the message for the extant culture) to the next level. McLaren is the leading figure in the "emergent church" fad.
  • James Dobson is the most powerful figure in the "culture war" fad.

Too bad for Bruce Wilkinson that Time didn't do this piece two years ago when the "Jabez" fad was still hot, or he would have almost certainly been near the top of this list. The fact that he didn't even get mentioned is a testimony to how fleeting the fads can be.

Fifteen minutes of fame

Someone will almost certainly challenge whether it's right to label all those trends and programs "fads." But that is exactly what they are. They are popular for the moment, but they have nothing to do with historic evangelicalism or the biblical principles that made evangelicalism an important idea.

Not one of those movements or programs even existed 35 years ago. Most of them would not have been dreamed of by evangelicals merely a generation ago. And, frankly, most of them will not last another generation. Some will last a few short months (like the Jabez phenomenon did); others may seem to dominate for several years but then die lingering deaths (like Bill Gothard's movement is doing). But they will all eventually fade and fall from significance. And some poor wholesale distributor will be left with warehouses full of Jabez junk, Weigh-Down Workshop paraphernalia, "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, Purpose-Driven® merchandise, and stacks and stacks of "emerging church" resources.

Yes, if the lessons of church history mean anything, even the "emerging church" phenomenon is a passing phase. In a short time (probably short enough to be measured in months rather than decades) the hype will be focused on something else entirely. Most of the stuff you are currently being told you must read and implement will soon seem as hopelessly out of date as it currently seems well-suited to the fashions of the day.

As a matter of fact, the "emerging church" is a classic example of a fad that has to pass from the scene. It is, after all, self-consciously a product of contemporary culture. Those who love it have a clear preference for that which is timely over that which is timeless. Like everything that is dated, it will soon be outdated. (And even if emergent leaders try their best to remain fluid and keep pace with cultural changes, they will fade into irrelevance. No "contemporary" movement in history has ever managed to remain contemporary for much more than a generation.)

Christians, of all people—and evangelicals most of all—ought to understand these things and build their movements around timeless truth rather than passing fashions. See Colossians 3:2.

How post-evangelicalism gave birth to the Fad-Driven® Church

So why has the recent culture of American evangelicalism—a movement supposedly based on a commitment to timeless truths—been so susceptible to fads? Why are evangelical churches so keen to jump on every bandwagon? Why do our people so eagerly rush to buy the latest book, CD, or cheap bit of knockoff merchandise concocted by the marketing geniuses who have taken over the Christian publishing industry?

To borrow and paraphrase something the enigmatic Dissidens recently blogged (see "Remonstrans"), evangelicals and fundamentalists alike "have a genuine affection for the ugly and the superficial, whether in their art, their preaching, or their devotion." A few years ago, marketing experts learned how to tap into evangelicals' infatuation with the cheap and tawdry and turn it into cash.

Some of the beginner-level fads have seemed harmless enough—evangelical kitsch like Kinkade paintings, Precious Moments® collectibles, singing songbooks, moralizing vegetables, bumper stickers, Naugahyde® Bible covers, and whatnot. Such fads themselves, taken individually, may not seem worth complaining about at all. But collectively, they have created an appetite for "the ugly and the superficial." They have spawned more and more fads. Somewhere along the line, evangelicals got the notion that all the fads were good, because the relentless parade of bandwagons gave the illusion that evangelicals were gaining significant influence and visibility. No bandwagon was too weird to get in the parade. And the bigger, the better.

As a result, several of the more recent fads have been downright destructive to the core distinctives of evangelical doctrine, because most of them (Promise Keepers, Willow Creek, and the various political and ecumenical movements) have taken a deliberately minimalistic approach to doctrine, discarding key evangelical distinctives or labeling them nonessential. All of them adhered to a deliberate strategy that was designed to broaden the movement and make each successive bandwagon bigger and easier to climb onto.

"Bandwagons"? Somewhere along the line, the bandwagons morphed into Trojan horses.

Some of the very latest fads (represented by groups like Emergent, Oasis, and the "open theists") are utterly hostile to virtually every evangelical doctrinal distinctive. They have already launched major frontal attacks on essential doctrines like substitutionary atonement, original sin, and justification by faith.

How tabloid-journalist moguls took control of what you are offered to read

I have been involved in publishing for most of my adult life, and I love the historic influence Christian literature has made on the church. But the Christian publishing industry has changed dramatically in recent years. Companies once run by godly Christians have been bought out by powerful secular media czars and made part of massive business empires. Marketing, not ministry, is the driving force behind most of the industry these days.

Christian publishers have eagerly and deliberately fomented evangelicalism's bizarre craving for more and more fads and programs. Trust me: no one loves the Fad-Driven® Church more than the Profit-Driven® publishing industry.

There are some blessed exceptions, of course. There are still a few good and godly men who still have influence in Christian publishing. But they are relatively rare. They are drowning entities in an industry that is out of control. If you don't believe me, visit the annual convention of the Christian Booksellers' Association, spend an afternoon on the display floor, and take inventory of the dross that dominates the evangelical marketplace. It seems almost everything currently in style—and everything that hopes to become the next great evangelical fad—is tacky, trashy, and trivial. And the unscrupulous cheapjacks who manufacture and peddle this stuff hype their rubbish with marketing machines that rival anything in the secular world.

When it comes to books, have you noticed how few truly timeless and significant volumes are being published? That's because nowadays, decisions about what to publish are driven by marketeers who have little concern for the spiritual or editorial content of a book. I have sat in meetings with publishers while their marketing experts vetted concepts for new books. "That one's too biblical." (Those are the exact words one of these Christian kitsch-peddlers actually once said in my presence to a roomful of nodding experts from the Christian publishing industry. He was talking about a book proposal from a well-known Christian author. The book was later published anyway and went on to become a best-seller despite the professional marketers' almost unanimously tepid feelings about it.) Christian publishers have even been known to remove biblical content from books by Christian authors (especially books on leadership, parenting, and similar topics perceived to have "broad secular appeal"). The marketing specialists think de-Christianized books will appeal to a bigger audience.

That is precisely how all these fads are crafted. Content is deliberately dumbed down—purposely made soft, generic, and non-threatening. The message mustn't threaten anyone's comfort zone. It also doesn't rebuke anyone's sin; it won't embarrass anyone's worldliness; it and it isn't going to challenge anyone's shallowness. That's the way both the publishers and the people want it.

That is the culture the evangelical movement deliberately created when it accepted the notion that religion is something to be peddled and sold to consumers like a commodity. That was a major philosophical shift that created an environment where unspiritual and unscrupulous men could easily make merchandise of the gospel. It created a whole generation of pseudo-evangelicals, who are like "children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men" (Ephesians 4:14).

That's a perfect biblical description of the faddism that has overtaken the evangelical movement in recent years.

Phil's signature


Scott McClare said...

Don't forget:

* The Passion of the Christ, the biggest opportunity for evangelism ever in the whole of 2004!

* Experiencing God and all the Bible studies that grew up around it.

* And, of course, we can't forget the whole cult of personality that's grown up around N. T. Wright (as I like to call it, the "First Church of Tom").

Carla Rolfe said...

Well... that ought to go over well with postmoderns, culturally relevants, and the like.

Well said - and good food for thought.

SDG - Carla

Joe said...

There is another factor: pastors desperately want numbers. They will say, "numbers aren't important," but everything they do is geared to numbers for numbers' sake. They believe each new fad hold the magical answer to their quest.
"The Prayer of Jabez" was going to be the answer to the power needed to reach people.
"The Purpose Driven Church" was going to revive the training of disciples and reach millions.

Scott Nichols said...

I've always taken the Gamaliel approach to these things: "...if this plan or undertaking is of man it will fail, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them." (Acts 5:38,39)

Will most of these fads pass away? Sure, but can we learn from them? I think so and not only by negative example.

Spurgeon was seen as vulgar and faddish in his day too...

William Dicks said...

I think that if Jesus is to walk into these faddish churches and bookstores, He might do something similar to what He did in these verses.

Mat 21:12-13 ESV And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. (13) He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you make it a den of robbers."

Milton Stanley said...

Excellent post, Phil. It made me give in to the Christian blogging fad of loving PyroManiac and to post about it on my blog. Peace.

Mark Fuss said...

Thanks for your diligence and faithfulness to help the church to be aware of those fads and trends that are so very harmful and destructive. Having become familiar with you through GTY and the Shepherds' Conference, I know that what you speak has been thoroughly researched and comes from a heart for Christ's church.

We have posted a link to PyroManiac on our site:


May God bless you and continue to use you in His service and for His glory.

Mark Fuss
Grace Fellowship Church
Englewood, FL

Bill said...

There are some things from these fads that can be useful, but too many people jump on a bandwagon or worse, try to ride on a few of them at the same time.

I did not know about this "Lost Message of Jesus" at the Oasis site. I guess it works if you ignore lots and lots and lots of scriptures. Or maybe God was only kidding about this "being mad about sin" stuff.

Dave said...

Excellent thoughts, Phil! Provocative, as usual.

Relevance = using that which is timely to present that which is timeless. Not a perfect definition, nor a prefect concept. But helpful. I am less concerned about "fads" for the sake of "fads." I realize that most of them (really all by very definition) will fade away. I am more concerned about the poor theology that drives these fads. If one uses some contemporary "method" as a tool to teach that which is truly timeless, i.e. sound doctrine, I don't get too worked up. I am more concerned with the theology, or lack therof of PDL, Passion, Jabez, etc... I seek to address the poor theology and sometimes blatantly false teaching in these fads. I once preached a sermon entitles "Why I Don't Pray the Prayer of Jabez." I lead a small group Bible Study on "What Was Christ's Real Passion - the Glory of God Alone" Fads can certainly be dangerous, but the greater concern must the false teaching behind the fads.

Thanks for your thoughtful insights, Phil. Grace to You!

Ronnie said...

Our best thought is what got the church in the shape she's in and many, I think, are saddened by what we've become. I'm optimistic that many are going to see just how shallow things have become and we'll see a return to a more purely biblical approach to ministry. We can hope.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Phil, I noticed that you (as well as some of your responders) used the word “timeless” three times in your post (twice in reference to truth and once in reference to certain books). The definition of “truth” is of course a major pomo question. Would you care to define “truth” and particularly “timeless truth”? Is truth static and timeless, or is it a dynamic concept vis-à-vis culture with Scripture as the “norming norm”? I think that it is good to think about these things because these are questions that we must be able to intelligently dialogue about with culture at large.

Keyser Soze said...

I wondered how long it would take a Pilate to appear and ask "What is Truth".....


Would the fad driven church be able to survive if people were students of God's word? We live in a time where biblical illiteracy is probably at an all time high. That is one of the reasons why the fad driven church has been so succesful. Keep them comfortable, dumb and happy and you too could have a big churh.

Paul Lamey said...

Eightiesdude said...

"I wondered how long it would take a Pilate to appear and ask "What is Truth"....."

If you're implying that Moorhead is a Pilate...you're smoking something illegal.

Good question Jonathan, I cast my vote with timeless/static. Psalm 119:2 links the character of God with His Word which is Truth (cf. John 17:17)and since God is timeless, it follows that His inseparable Word is also.

Keyser Soze said...

After reading my comment - I worded it improperly. I was just wondering how long it would take someone to ask what "truth" was. Apologies if any offense taken.

Jeri said...

"Mess of faddage." Can anybody say that 10 times fast?

Steve said...

As one who works in the Christian publishing industry, could I add further definition to your comments about fad-driven books? There are two forces at work, as demonstrated by The Purpose-Driven Life and The Prayer of Jabez. When Multnomah published Jabez, they genuinely did not expect the book to sell much past 20,000 copies. There were no grandiose marketing plans in place when the book was released. It was the fad-driven Christian public that fueled the book's meteoric rise onto the bestseller lists. Here, at last, was a so-called "biblical" formula prayer to arm-wrestle God into "enlargening your borders." As the bandwagon gained momentum, the publisher was only to happy to add more fuel to keep it going.

By contrast, well before The Purpose-Driven Life was released, Zondervan had an elaborate and expensive marketing campaign in place. Full-page ads were placed in industry periodicals, boasting of an extensive campaign backed by a large amount of dollars. The bandwagon was fully assembled and an assortment of "test-drive churches" were already offering to help drive it before the first book hit the stores.

So...the problem isn't entirely a matter of some Christian publishers endeavoring to hoodwink a gullible public. You've also got marauding hordes of spiritually undiscerning and malnourished Christian readers who are all too willing to feast upon junk food with a veneer of spiritual icing upon it.

One more thing, Phil: After you've finished charring into oblivion the fad-driven church landscape, I dearly hope you plan to offer some constructive comments that take us beyond merely lamenting the problems and equip us to become part of the solution. You've articulated well the sentiments on the hearts of many of us who are saddened by the state of evangelicalism today. So how then should we respond? For example, you mentioned how few books today contain timeless truth. How about a recommended reading list of these books? Better yet, how about a word of exhortation along the lines of 2 Timothy 4:2 and 4:5?

Jus Divinum said...

This is a great essay, Phil, as usual. I think I agree with 90% of what you say in this entire essay. I just don't think it applies to everything you talk about.

You say: "As a result, several of the more recent fads have been downright destructive to the core distinctives of evangelical doctrine, because most of them (Promise Keepers, Willow Creek, and the various political and ecumenical movements) have taken a deliberately minimalistic approach to doctrine, discarding key evangelical distinctives or labeling them nonessential. All of them adhered to a deliberate strategy that was designed to broaden the movement and make each successive bandwagon bigger and easier to climb onto."

What does it take for something to be "downright destructive to the core distinctives of evangelical doctrine"? How does one 'destroy' doctrine in the first place?

How, for instance, do "the various political... movements" manage to destroy "the core distinctives of evangelical doctrine"? I admit that would be a phenomenally powerful movement, if it could do really do a thing like that. But how would something like that really take place? If I decide to team up with someone on a legislative initiative, how does it follow that _my core evangelical distinctives_ are in danger of being destroyed? What, do unbelievers spew out doctrine-diminishing gamma rays when I talk to them, so that I have to grab my tinfoil hat in alarm? :-)

I also think you've gotten carried away a bit with your generalizations. Apparently you intend to include Christian political activism in the following:

"That is precisely how all these fads are crafted. Content is deliberately dumbed down—purposely made soft, generic, and non-threatening. The message mustn't threaten anyone's comfort zone. It also doesn't rebuke anyone's sin; it won't embarrass anyone's worldliness; it and it isn't going to challenge anyone's shallowness. That's the way both the publishers and the people want it."

Do you really think that working for laws against same-sex marriage and partial-birth abortion is an activity that "doesn't rebuke anyone's sin... won't embarrass anyone's worldliness... and... isn't going to challenge anyone's shallowness"? Don't get me wrong; Like I said, I think I agree with 90% of what you say in this entire essay. But it looks to me like the culture war stuff is the odd man out in your list, since _by definition_ it _does_ threaten people's comfort zone, rebukes people's sin, and so on.

I realize, however, that you probably have a nifty argument up your sleeve on this particular point, so I guess I'll just have to wait :-) I imagine it might be something like, "Yeah, but Christian political activism uses carnal weapons and not spiritual ones to advance the kingdom, so it _is_ like all these other fads in _that_ respect."

I have a few things to say about that, but I don't want to prejudge you :-)

Sled Dog said...

I appreciated the time and energy you put into your analysis. We love fads. They make us feel new. They give us something to talk about. They pull us away from the mundane. But in the long run (hey, even the short run) they pull us away from what we need.

I recently received a catalog from a local Christian bookstore that offered (among many lame titles) a devotional book based upon the movie "Napolean Dynamite." Yes, spiritual lessons can be gained by considering the antics of Napolean, Kip, and Pedro. Faddism at its best!

Justice said...

Excellent commentary and very true. I am so sick of having to wade through every cheesy marketing gimmic from "Testamints" to more rubber bracelets with catchy acronyms.

GVC said...


Have you read Os Guinness' Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevence? At 119 pages, it's a quick yet profound read, echoing much of what you wrote in this post. A few choice quotes:

"By our uncritical pursuit of relevance we have actually courted irrelevance; by our breathless chase after relevance without a matching commitment to faithfulness, we have become not only unfaithful but irrelevant; by our determined efforts to redefine ourselves in ways that are more compelling to the modern world than are faithful to Christ, we have lost not only our identity but our authority and our relevance." (15)

"... a new evangelicalism is arriving in which therapeutic self-concern overshadows knowing God, spirituality displaces theology, end-times escapism crowds out day-to-day discipleship, marketing triumphs over mission, references to opinion polls outweigh reliance on biblical exposition, concerns for power and relevance are more obvious than concern for piety and faithfulness, talk of reinventing the church has replaced prayer for revival, and the characteristic evangelical passion for missionary enterprise is overpowered by the all-consuming drive to sustain the multiple business empires of the booming evangelical subculture." (54)

"The air is abuzz with the future. The “coming church” and the “emerging church” are everything. The talk is all of new ways of “doing church” through reinventing, revising, innovating, borrowing, mixing, and experimenting. Everything now has to be “intentional” and “on-purpose.” Ministers are no longer theological authorities but the “chief story-tellers” and “facilitators of a joint spiritual journey.” “Dysfunctional churches” that are not “attuned to the world” are “reinvented for the present age” in a myriad of “intentional” ways, all with their “value propositions” clearly specified and their “measurable outcomes” clarified in advance. ... Was the church first invented by a previous generation, so that it is our job to do it again, or is the church’s real need for the revival and reformation that can only come from God?" (64-65)

puritanicoal said...

I think many here are in agreement that we are bombarded by pseudo-theology clothed as "Christian Inspiration." How true that we could walk into our own church's bookstore and turn over shelf after shelf of books loaded with subtle, deceptive garbage. There are stacks of "Wild at Heart," and few, if any, Puritan works.

Here's my question, Phil: What should we do? On one hand, if the leadership of our churches support 40-days of Purpose, church growth mumbo jumbo, and have bookstores full of Eldredge, Crabb and Meyer, are we obligated to either follow their leadership, or jump ship? Or, is it biblical to confront? If so, how should one confront?

It would be great if you would devote a day or two blogtificating on what the everyday Christian should do when their Sunday School class decides to go through the latest Fad-Driven Sludge or a friend recommends reading the latest Freudian psychoBABEL they bought in the local Christian bookstore.

GeneMBridges said...

Steve wrote:


So...the problem isn't entirely a matter of some Christian publishers endeavoring to hoodwink a gullible public. You've also got marauding hordes of spiritually undiscerning and malnourished Christian readers who are all too willing to feast upon junk food with a veneer of spiritual icing upon it.

End quote

If I might add a concrete example. The state of SBC Sunday School literature these days is anemic at best. The SBC leadership appears driven to baptize a million persons...but at what cost? In the wake of this latest fad among a great many leaders, the Sunday School literature published by Lifeway itself languishes. Thus, when I read posts like the above, I have to agree...it begins/began in the churches, where the people were left craving for more, and, in the absence of any substance from the very places that should be providing that substance, turned elsewhere. They have become like those who sold themselves into slavery for food.

Brett said...

Amen. May God raise up more publishers that are more concerned with truth than $.

KS said...

Why is Dr. James Dobson work in reforming the government with biblical principles a fad?

Dave said...

Because it will fade away, just like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. Changing peoples political views (if that is even possible) while alienating them from the very one hope they have, namely the Gospel of Christ, will have no lasting effect and will, by virtue of its very nature, fade away.

Sled Dog said...

Kind of a scatter-brained response to paulintexas,

The pursuit of justice is not a fad. Thank God for William Wilburforce's tireless efforts in ending the slave trade in England. To confront unrighteousness in government is not wrong. God's prophets did so often.

I think where it becomes a fad is when we make it THE issue. We hear, "The most important thing we can do as Christians is stop abortion." No, that's not the most important work. It's a good work, and I am not wrong to invest some of my energy into doing something about ending abortion. I get the feel that Dobson is desiring to pull people away from the most important work to become involved in a good work.

When we act us such, we make Christianity out to be about "changing the world." But Christianity is ultimately about changing individual hearts through the Gospel.

Jesus said it best: "What good is it to gain the whole world, but forfeit your soul?"

Unknown said...

I second the proposition that "passion of the Christ" deserves a slot in "faddage" all its own.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Thanks for defending me Paul. I certainly did not think that mentioning Phil’s use of “timeless truth” would get me identified with Pilate. Talk about implications! It seems like some of the bloggers are quite afraid to talk about the nature of truth. I still haven’t seen a simple definition have you? Although I admit that I am playing devil’s advocate to some extent, I still think we need to be informed on the issues that the culture at large is dealing with. For example, how would EightiesDude interpret Exodus 21:28-32 (goring ox owner gets death for the death of a man, but the death of a slave is only worth 30 shekels) or Exodus 21:20-21 (death of servant only gets punishment, but if beaten servant lives for 1-2 days there will be no punishment because he is “property”). Since these are God’s commands, I assume we would say it was true for ancient Israel. But is it timeless truth? Would it be true for Americans today? Again, these are questions I have faced and they deserve a charitable answer. Can you give one EightiesDude?

Keyser Soze said...

Jonathan - see my apology above (keyser soze) - it's self explanitory.

I see where you are going with the "timless truth" definition (the Exodus passage). My definition (I don't claim to speak for many, all , few - or Phil for that matter) would be:

Timeless truth: Christ is God, the means of salvation, Christ was born, crucified and risen etc.

I'm not sure I can define what isn't timeless truth - if something does not stand the test of time, was it ever really true?

Mike said...

Pardon me for suggesting this, but isn't "PyroMania" a fad? Not that you, Phil - the PyroManiac - are nothing but a fad, but with all the blogspotting and gimmicky things that have catapulted your blog to popularity, PyroMania just strikes me as quite faddish. And unnecessary.

I think, when you devote yourself to them, posts like this and others have a profound and important place in the Christian blogging subculture. You have quite a bit to say and articulate it very clearly. But the other stuff is just . . . well, I don't know. It's like a hot babe in an automobile commercial: it doesn't have much to do with the car but it sure attracts a crowd!

You don't need to do that. You have form and substance. The clever marketing is just . . . well, clever marketing.

Of course, I'm not the moderator or gatekeeper of Godblogs - although I would certainly entertain the offer should the position become available. But perhaps more than a few of us have some splinters in our own eyes that need to be removed.

Most churches, movements, and - dare I say it? - Christian blogs seem to be long on form and short on substance. You have plenty of substance and the form (for me, anyway) gets in the way. No need to tell jokes or juggle while delivering a necessary message: just hit us hard. It's what we need.

Or maybe not. I'm just as fallible as the next person. So take this for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Phil; thank you.

Anonymous said...

Mike and I published at the exact time and I'd like to respond to what he said.

Think about what Phil is driving at by what he writes. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ is what is running the industry. It's the cow in the pocket. I don't think that Phil is generating that by making his blog appealing to the eye. There is a huge difference.

MTG said...

Super post. Could not agree more.

Dave Davis said...

To quote the words of your dear sweet kind mushy pastor at Grace Church.

I would love to see the divine Lord take a whip and have at it, in the religion of our time.

how about that!!!!

general said...

I thought that it would be appropriate to mention that it is THE CHURCH that makes a Christian fad...not the writer or originator, generally. Rick Warren, for example, simply wrote a book. Due to its popularity, he also wrote a study guide. When it became a fad, he wrote (or licensed) The Purpose Driven Life for Left-Handed Children of Alcoholics.

He may have gotten carried away in the marketing blitz, but he didn't create the fad. Those among us who were convinced that his book was a panacea did.

Mike said...

Sorry, general, but Rick Warren didn't just write a book. He pyromarketed that puppy and sold it like it was III Timothy.

Most of us are just stupid sheep that don't have the sense not to eat the yellow snow. Unfortunately, a lot of our shepherds failed to be discerning and served it up to us.

I don't know Rick Warren's motives, but to absolve him - or anyone else - of responsibility is . . . well, sheep-like.

SJ Camp said...

Dear Phil:

Couldn't agree more; and you know this issue is near to my heart and life practice daily.

But here's the problem...

1. The biblical orthodox authors that remain today are still publishing their books and Bibles at these same companies that are owned and controlled by nonbelievers; and who are actively promoting “the fad.” Their profits from their books go to the same bottom line. You’re right…marketing, not ministry is driving that train. And what’s behind that? Money—the mean green. Just because some get it right biblically/theologically/doctrinally doesn’t abrogate their duty to bring their methods in line with the truth of Scripture. We can’t pooh-pooh Warren and company for their merchandising of the truth; and then give a pass to “our guys” because they get it right doctrinally. Either it’s right or it’s not…

This is going to painful for some.

2. I'll believe that the biblical/orthodox authors that remain today (and they are becoming fewer as we speak) are genuinely concerned over the state of evangelicalism, the condition of the church, and fad-driven ministry, etc., when they themselves abandon completely their "unequally yoked" contractual relationships, return all of the money they have received from those companies throughout the years, publicly publish a statement asking the church at large and their own congregations for forgiveness for the pragmatic justification (money) of remaining with companies that are not ministry driven—but market/money driven; and then stop selling anymore of their material that is published under those companies until they can buy them back or make them available in a different format apart from those companies. This is where fad and faith collide. (I told you this was going to be painful for some).

3. Lastly, they must begin again with companies that are wholly Christian owned and operated so as to set an example to others of how our methods (the work) much be in line with our mandate (the Word of God). Duty and doctrine; practice and precept; they are different but inseparable.

4. As you know, these were the exact steps I had to take when breaking away from the Christian music industry. It’s the exact same scenario; but this is publishing and mine was music.

5. I believe biblically (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; 2 Cor. 2:17; 1 Tim. 6:1-6; 3 John 5-9) that anything less than that kind of "dramatic action" is just more evangelical spin and politics. They need to “cut off their hand; pluck out their eye” on this issue. We can’t negotiate with sin (which this is)… even if it rears its ugly head in the rags of religious publishing.

Until then,… it's just rhetoric.

Grace and peace to you my brother.
2 Cor. 4:5

PS - I appreciate you Phil greatly and it is a joy to serve the Lord with you. Pyromaniac is a great tool you are using for the kingdom. One that I am enjoying and benefiting from personally.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Nice to see you on the blog Campi! I suppose Phil will have to post a list of theses on Christian publishing like you have done in the Christian music industry?

Family Blogs said...

Hi Phil,
I'm really enjoying your series on the state of evangelicalism. Many of the comments you make resonate with Iain Murray's analysis in Evangelicalism Divided. Would you trace the source of these problems in the same way as Murray?

As I was reading your article I felt that you were giving voice to the sense of malaise I have been feeling during my recent visits to Christian bookshops here in Ireland. One area you don't mention is the phenomena of Bible publication. If it is bad that Christian authors gain prominence through cheap marketing ploys, it seems unforgivable that the majority of Bible editions published today seem to feel that God's timeless truth (there goes that phrase again) needs to be dressed up in a steel lunch box, or made to look like Cosmo! This is combined with the fact that people are READING their Bibles less and less.

Man, I'm getting depressed! Give us some of your thinking on the way out of this morass. I think that Campi is on to something big. One of the best examples of publishing purity that I can think of is Banner of Truth - whose books are backed up by solid theological principle, and a resistance of the temptation to dress their books up in nylon, titanium, vellum, aluminium or to release Martyn Lloyd-Jones fridge magnets/Murray (McCheyne) Mints etc etc ad nauseum...
Thanks for your honesty and fidelity. Great stuff.

Mike said...


Sorry it's taken me awhile to get around to this, but things like work keep intruding on more important things - like commenting on blogs!

Money is just how we keep score. It's about market share and popularity: the more hits, the bigger the voice - or, as Groothuis might say, the more stentorian the voice.

I have no problem with a blog being "eye candy"; in fact, I appreciate it. I do get distracted by posts and gimmicks that are simply meant to tickle our ears and keep us coming back.

I have no doubt that Phil could have been just as popular - maybe more - had he simply "done it the old-fashioned way," i.e., by earning it with solid, meaty posts and not frivolous posts that are not much more than catchy jingles meant to entice us.

The juxtaposition of court-jester posts with prophet-on-fire is incongruous, at least for me. I know he takes this stuff seriously, but the clown suit is distracting.

Tom Pilarski said...


Just this morning a young friend of mine and I were talking about the state of the church in the more modern western countries and the question we debated was;

Does it seem to be that in all of our comfort and desire to have that which makes us numb to sin that is in us, do we run whole-heartedly to these fad-driven churches?

We came to the conclusion that if you have an eternal focus and a single-mindedness towards that which is scriptural, than we will see that these survey driven pastors are more like the anti-christs referred to in 1 John 2:18 and the followers are those that Paul tells Timothy about in 2 Tim. 4:3.

Thank you Phil for this excellent article. Please keep calling us to a single-mindedness of faith.

Steven H said...

Yes, the publishers are pumping out the wrong books with advertisement gimmicks akin to the world. Yes, those within the church are purchasing them. These books, however, would not have been bought or published if ‘our pastors’ had not written them.

The Grace Gem (www.gracegems.org) sent out last night (from John Angell James, "An Earnest Ministry" 1847) says it quite well:

“Incompetent ministers are the burden of the church. Worldly ministers have been the dishonor of the church, and the hindrance of the progress of the gospel in the world. The worldly spirit which has infiltrated the church, threatens to eat out the very core of vital piety! Our obstacles are …the debilitating influences of ease and prosperity; the insidious snares of wealth, extravagance and fashion; the engrossing power of business and secular ambition.”

Our day may be described as, “And it shall be like people, like priest.” Hosea 4:9 ESV. We need pastors who are resilient enough to go against the Church’s accustomed diet in order to give them what they need and not what they want (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Anonymous said...

Yes Mike money does help us keep score. But I think that in the worldly markets, money buys more market share, which buys more popularity. It becomes that viscous cycle. Remember the drug commercial; work harder, to make more money, to buy more cocaine, to work harder, to make more money... and so on. I am not saying money is bad; however, it has become the drug. I mean look at what is being talked about, these companies are dumping dollars into the troughs to get people in the bandwagons so they go to the next salon. To dump more money in the trough to get more people in the bandwagon.

That's my take on things.

FX Turk said...

It's not Naugahyde: it's Italian DuoTone.


SoccerReformer said...

I just can't wait for my first chance to call someone an unscrupulous cheapjack. That will be MARVY!!!!

To those asking what our response to current conditions should be - I quote the following from David Wells' forward to "Whatever Happened to the Reformation"

"It is a moment that cries out for a countercultural declaration that there is truth, that God has secured that truth in his Word, that it is this Word that he has given to the church for its instruction, nourishment and encouragement, and that he still intends to use this biblical truth in regeneration and sanctifcation."

From the same article - in pre-affirmation to what Phil has been writing - "the fraying at the edges of the evangelical world has now turned into an unraveling at its center. First came the new definitions about who evangelicals were. Then the boundaries were shifted. Then they were crossed. And now the reality of God is redefined and made altogether more accomodating to our postmodern culture. It is for these reasons I believe evangelicalism is now in free fall."

That was written in 2001, and is even more true today - but the first quote is just as true now as it has ever been. God's Word is the answer.

GeneMBridges said...

Centurion wrote:

It's not Naugahyde: it's Italian DuoTone.


That's true, it's hard to find genuine naugahyde made from 100 percent nauga. I hear it's on the endangered species list. Perhaps we should check with Greenpeace? ;)

Jeff Blogworthy said...

You make some good points, but is the "culture war" really a fad?

I am not quite an evangelical of your stature, but I think it is a gross error to cast James Dobson as a simple leader in the culture war "fad." If the so-called "culture war" is a "fad" it is one that has been going on for a very long time. What is the culture war but the struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, just and unjust?

Dobson's role in the culture war fad will fade away alright; upon his death - just as Bonhoeffer's, Schaeffer's and John The Baptist's before him.

As Burke said - "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

AuthenticTruth said...

Phil, excellent post. I also agree that these fads eventually fade away. However, I think that each successive fad is leaving its damaging mark on the church. Each fad does more and more damage to the church. I have posted on this issue as well.

Jeremy Weaver said...

Blogworthy (cool name),
I think Dobson's tactical maneuvering in the 'culture-war' is what is at issue. He is becomong more and more ecumenical in his battles, whereas John the Baptist wasn't very popular with the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, or the government of his day.
As for Bonhoeffer and Schaeffer, I don't know.

GeneMBridges said...

The issue with Dobson and company is, in part, ecumenism, and, when you examine men like Schaeffer and John the Baptist, the content of their message was highly doctrinal and theological, not simply ethical. Dobson has made a number of comments lately that smack of being too cozy with Rome. Try asking Focus on the Family for an exegetical rationale for their ministry. You can't get an answer. Likewise radio segments labeled Family News in Focus that run at least on my local radio stations are filled with information about the latest in abortion, gay rights, and other current issues...and I have not heard a segment about the family in quite some time, especially not one that discusses biblical principles for child rearing or the need of man...a regenerate heart....to ground the ethical culture war Dobson is waging. I know he believes the gospel, but it doesn't seem to permeate his work these days.

Earlier, Wilberforce was used as an example. Here, that is very apt. Even though Wilberforce was a tireless foe of European slavery in his day, he did not fail to highlight the actual problem in Britain.

"The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines insensibly gained strength. Thus the popular doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nourishment (A Practical View of Christianity).

Dobson has made statements that do not distance himself from Rome, and, ironically, Wilberforce also highlighted his belief that the doctrine of justification as the focus of his pleas for moral reform in Britain...and for this reason, I do not place Dobson in the category of Wilberforce:

"result from the mistaken conception entertained of the fundamental principles of Christianity" (This is his emphasis) "They consider not that Christianity is a scheme 'for justifying the ungodly' (Romans 4:5), by Christ dying for them 'when yet sinners' (Romans 5:6-8), a scheme 'for reconciling us to God-when enemies' (Romans 5:10); and for making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled. (Ibid).

Notice what Wilberforce considered to be the necessary element for effective ethical reform. Compare this with Dobson, etc. Dobson will trivialize Al Mohler's objections to Roman Catholicism as one of those silly things that the president of a Southern Baptist seminary would be expected to say, but he will not distance himself from Rome's gospel in the open. Some of us actually believe that one of the things consistent Protestants must do is not comport with Rome. Notice Wilberforce focused specifically on the doctrine of justification itself. I have not heard Dobson say anything about the doctrine of justification by faith. Instead, we are told the single most important thing that a Christian can do is oppose abortion.

Now, regarding the "Top 25 List" I know one of them personally, Stuart Epperson, and his son, Stu Jr,...and both understand this vital connection and publicly say so. I have no problem with that. If you wish to engage in political activism, etc., go ahead, but ground it in the right place when you do. For example, Stu Jr. has a radio talk show (Truth Talk Live, which, I understand is broadcast in several markets) in which he discusses theological issues not just cultural issues; where he will say that nothing we try to do in the cultural war is of any effect without the gospel itself. I count them as an exception in this trend, not the rule. His emphasis is on the connection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Dobson's and certain others' seems to be, well, elsewhere.

Regarding Bonhoeffer...he is not in the same category as Dobson either, and he's not in the same category as the other two. He would say the church has become "user friendly," "consumer oriented," and as a result evangelical churches are being inundated with "cheap grace." He often discussed commitment, discipleship, and repentance. However, he was himself neo-orthodox, thus all those terms would come with serious theological baggage from a conservative evangelical point of view. The neo-orthodox regularly redefine the terms, so what is "definitional" to you and me may have an entirely different definition to them.

JohnTheReformedBaptist said...

I go to a Church that did the Warren spew ... not so much as a peep since. Right on Pyro !!!!

John Schroeder said...

This is where Pyromaniacs cultural examinations are so important. The faddishness that he has been pointing out and piercing these last couple of weeks is precisely what results when these things happen. When you start permitting extra-biblical materials in your hermeneutics then all kinds of things come into play in the church that were previously unconsidered -- marketing being a prime example. Read the rest of my comments here

Mike Scudder said...

While I haven't read J.I. Packer's most recent works, I am surprized to find him in your list. He has impressed me as a man with a thorough biblical grounding and a love for timeless truths. I remember him describing his calling as something like one who points people back to the ancient ways of truth.

I though that church unity, without compromising the truth, was a biblical and doctrinal requirement. Ecuminism can certainly be 'pursued' by watering doctrine down. But there must be another way, a way pointed to in Jesus' prayers for the unity of His church.

jane said...

I would like it if you would elaborate on the Bill Gothard "lingering death" statement. I have a hunch he's alive and well but that most people just don't recognize the "fads" he's behind...I'm looking into his role in the emergence of "Quiver Full" theology, which is often connected with homeschooling (not a bad thing in itself, but the idea that there's actually a subculture of evangelicalism which is promoting "kingdom building" in isolation from the world).

general said...

The issue, Mike, isn't Rick Warren. As I suggested in my earlier message, he got almost as bad as the "Chicken Soup for the Claustrophobic Soul" series.

The issue is whether an author or speaker makes a fad, and I suggest that such a thing isn't possible. The church must be complicit in the creation of fads, by nature.

It's interesting that you say he "pyromarketed" his book. I couldn't agree more...isn't that what Phillip is doing with his endlessly-edited blogroll posts? Marketing his ideas? I daresay that the idea of bashing Christian fads, while worthwhile, is well on its way to becoming a fad itself.

Wouldn't you agree?

Habitans in Sicco said...


You have hit it spot on. What Phil Johnson is subtly doing here is EXACTLY what Rick Warren and the Marketing geniuses at Zondervan did with the Purpose-Driven® Fad.

Only instead of infusing human strategies into church growth, totally redefining and completely overhauling "the church," "worship," "ministry," "evangelism," and "mission" the way Warren did, Phil has focused his destructive energies on the blogosphere.

And he's left it one great burnt-over district, if you ask me. I think we should all combine our energies and hound this devilish menace off line.

Adrian Warnock: here's your next challenge. I hope you will get the word out there.

Glenn said...

To me it is not that something is a fad in itself that makes it bad.

I agree with Reformer when he said that the fads of concern are the ones based on bad theology.

Some fads have been programs that have genuinely enriched the body of Christ and reached genuine new believers. Those that are able to do this without relying on bad theology can be a good thing (when used in conjunction with study of the bible itself) even if their relevance only lasts a short time.

Bad or watered-down theology rather than bad staying power is what equates to selling our birthright.

BTW, what is faddage?

Abercrombie @ Christ said...

Don't forget the re-emerging Calvinist Fad & its ever growing popularity.

David Regier said...

Here's my nutshell: Parachurch will never be the church. Christian "industry" will never be the church. The gates of hell just may prevail over both the parachurch and Christian industry. But not the church.

God may in fact use both parachurch and Christian industry for His own purposes (in fact, of course He will), but they can never take the place of the body of Christ in submission to its Head.

Jackie said...

James Dobson is not a pastor nor does he claim to be a theologian. He is simply a psychologist who is looking out for the best interests of the American family. Whatever the current sin that activist judges and politicians are trying to normalize, he happens to be working on the other side. I do not classify Dr. Dobson as a fad. Hasn't he been doing what he's been doing for over 30 years?

With that said, I have two other remarks. Prayer of Jabez and its sequels have been available at Dollar Tree stores for awhile. Proof of faddage-ness.

Also, we went to a marriage conference with Les and Leslie Parrot - never again. Said they weren't going to push their books, then spent the next 5 hours doing so. They were nice enough and funny enough, but we spent $75 to get just a tease of information to try to get us to want to spend more money. So disappointing!