Archive for the ‘Marketers’ Category

(revised 11/29/13)

As a lover of books – particularly Christian books – I am always fascinated by the goings-on in the world of Christian publishers. Unfortunately, in recent years it seems many Christian publishers have become anything but truly born again Christian.

Below I have reposted a 2009 article by Jim Fletcher, exposing many Emerging/Emergent heresies of “Christian” publishers. Click here for the original source of this article. (I realize this article is outdated – I am looking for more recent articles on “Christian” publishers.)

Tales from the Christian dark side

Posted: 19 Sep, 2009 By: Jim Fletcher

Last week I opined that the Christian book industry should overlay its business model with the Spirit of God – an unusual topic for a column on publishing, but it is my conviction. The industry’s failure to do so is a prime reason it’s floundering.

When the Christian book world allows authors and publishers into the mix, even when they espouse heretical concepts, it is sowing the seeds for the Christian publishing industry’s collapse. In other words, if theological integrity is not maintained, failure is sure to follow.

For many years, the Christian Booksellers’ Association has allowed vendors who do not have a Christian worldview to display at conventions. Many dozens of books with heretical themes have now flooded into the stores around the country. Few in power seem to care, because if “The Shack” is being sold down the street at a big-box retailer, then, well, we have to sell it, too.

The resulting change at CBA events is astonishing.

For example, two weeks ago at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver, Zondervan had its usual, large presence. The Grand Rapids-based publisher produces a large number of mainstream titles each year and is perhaps best known for its Bibles. What many “average” Christians do not know is that for 20 years, Zondervan has been owned by the gigantic New York house, Harper Collins.

When a Christian publisher is bought out by a large secular company, it is not possible for the formerly Christian-owned entity to decide for itself just how Christian it will be. Profit and loss become the all-consuming drivers.

At Zondervan, for every Anne Graham Lotz, there are 10 others who practice a center-left Christianity. Gary Burge, the Wheaton professor who routinely criticizes Israel and champions the allegedly downtrodden Palestinians, has little in common with conservative readers.

The same issue is at stake with other Zondervan authors like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, both of whom seek to redefine Christianity away from its biblically orthodox foundation.

At ICRS, I happened by the large Zondervan booth and noticed that HarperOne, an imprint of Harper Collins, was connected to the Zondervan space. HarperOne publishes a wide range of books on spirituality. They are as comfortable publishing the Dalai Lama as they are Billy Graham.

HarperOne has a richly pluralistic stable of authors, including the mystic Thomas Merton, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong and Omid Safi (“Memories of Muhammad”).

Let me show you an example of a connection between unorthodox Christians and the evangelical world:

Several years ago, Zondervan published the “NIV Men’s Study Bible.” In that book, editors had inserted some remarks of Merton’s as a “devotional.”

Merton, the Catholic-Buddhist who died in 1968, stated: “Sin is the refusal of spiritual life.”

No, it isn’t.

If sin is the refusal of spiritual life, then there have been billions of sinless people throughout history, an idea completely at odds with Christianity.

Another example of the business model directing Christian publishers is the runaway success of Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life.” When a book hits those kinds of numbers (what is it now, 30 million sold?), there is no possibility that author will never write another book. What actually happens is that editorial boards sit around and come up with new themes, new gimmicks. That’s why you see “journals” and “workbooks” that spin off hot sellers like “Your Best Life Now.”

The new ancillary products aren’t released necessarily because they are useful to consumers. They are merely product, something to be sold. The publishers latch onto a hot theme and then milk more profits from consumers.

Profit and revenue become the agenda. But do we worship God or mammon?

This syncretic approach is diluting biblical truth in America.

Unfortunately, another element in the pipeline, the bookstores, are just as guilty.

It fascinates me that Christian book stores are struggling mightily to stay open, yet they almost contemptuously sideline large markets. For example, a few days ago, I visited with the head of a large ministry focused on apologetics.

This person told me, “Our constituency doesn’t want books on marriage relationships, or how to raise kids – those things that fill the shelves of stores today. Instead, they want what we are offering.”

This ministry has 150,000 names on its database.

It is interesting to me, then, that many stores do not cater to these people. The question is, why? Why would stores marginalize a large affinity group out there? The answer must be that there is a general dislike of truly conservative biblical views among the mainstream in the Christian book industry.

For many stores, if a publisher makes an effort to promote conservative books and comes up with initiatives to really help the store push that product, the reply is more often than not a polite “drop dead.” Instead, the goal is to put another floor display of Rick Warren books in the store.

And speaking again of Warren, he is a prime example of where mainstream Christianity is heading: pluralism. Warren, who chatted cheerily with the Syrian killer Bashar Assad a few years ago and recently spoke at an Islamic conference, is part of the new breed of Christian leaders who freely fellowship with unbelievers.

Several years ago at a convention, I was talking with a salesman for a CBA publisher. He told me that a few weeks before, he had presented product to buyers at two separate Christian store chains.

One buyer told him she thought the Bible was nothing more than myth; the other openly challenged the idea that Adam and Eve were real people.

Needless to say, people are free to believe what they want to believe. But Christian buyers, one would think, should reflect traditional Christian views.

These are some of the reasons that Christian retail stands on the brink of real heartbreak, as stores close and publishers downsize.

Because CBA has no mechanism to research the motives of authors and publishers – and not only has no desire to do so, but is colluding with syncretic elements – it is losing its power.

As I’ve said before, as these outlets try to pay the light bill and prepare to shiver in the dark void, there are alternate book sources ready and eager to supply the millions of American Christians who revere the Word of God. WND and Lighthouse Trails, for example, are growing by leaps and bounds, as God-fearing Americans prepare to face profound changes in our culture.


Joel, We Support Christian Publishing Houses but Whom do They Support? (10/02/09)

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(revised 01/18/14)

Check out the following spoof of a seeker sensitive church’s bulletin board. (The original image can be found here.)

One of the dangers of seeker sensitive churches is that they tend to become seeker centered churches. The need for repentance is seldom preached. The gospel becomes a watered down message that attracts people (mostly young people) rather than turning them off. Rarely if ever do attenders/seekers hear the total Truth, the salvation message of The Blood and The Cross, complete with an invitation/altar call.

Click here for a blog which quotes from a sermon by David Wilkerson critiquing  seeker sensitive churches.  His sermon is excellent!

Here is the key to my criticisms of seeker sensitive churches. My definition of a seeker sensitive activity is any activity which is as equally attractive to a nonchristian as it is to a Christian. There is nothing in the activity to cause a stumbling block, to offend. Specifically, there is nothing in the activity that truly convicts the participant of sin, presenting the need for repentance, the gospel message of salvation, of The Blood and The Cross.

Here’s what God’s Word says about the gospel of salvation being a stumbling block:

23) But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness (I Cor. 1:23, KJV)

Regarding the above verse: if a church teaching or activity is not a stumbling block and not offensive to sinners who are attending, watch out! This church most likely has a “watered down” gospel message.

Now for a few examples. I know of a church that was way ahead of its time regarding the seeker sensitive movement. Years ago this church (which shall remain nameless for the moment) acquired a young vibrant pastor and his wife. The high school and college students loved this couple, and the church grew by leaps and bounds during their time pastoring there.

But looking back, I noticed something very odd going on at the church – something that as a Boomer I would never go along with now. Namely, the church for awhile provided various secular adult electives. One of the adult electives was, of all things, a study of “death and dying” – and they used Elizabeth Kubler Ross‘ book On Death and Dying. Not much Christian about this author!

There were a number of other adult electives provided. Another adult elective  was a study of the book I’m OK You’re OK –  a study of Transactional Analysis. Again, hardly a Christian book.

These adult electives were provided in the church itself, not at people’s houses.  Whoever chose the books for these adult electives seemed to be following a “seeker sensitive” church model way before its time. Namely, they set up classes in subjects that church attenders (including many high school and college students) found interesting and appealing – and in various cases the books were secular rather than “Christian.”

What is shocking to me, looking back, is, these adult electives were offered in what was a fairly fundamentalist evangelical church. Unfortunately, as a result of these adult electives and many other factors, this church has become more “progressive evangelical” over the years.

I discovered recently that the individual who was pastoring at that time has now been “an experienced Spiritual Director for many years. ” What an abomination. (A Spiritual Director is an “expert” in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation – including occultish contemplative prayer/contemplative spirituality.)

Today, after having gone through various pastoral transitions, this church is larger than ever. Thankfully, it no longer has adult electives using secular titles such as Death and Dying and I’m OK, You’re OK.  But it has a similar approach, namely, providing non-church related activities that attract new church attenders.

Granted, most of the activities are conducted outside the physical church setting. And I must admit, along with the non-church related small groups, the church does provide many small groups that  are true Bible study groups.

Yet, to have any church sponsored groups covering secular subjects and activities is very offensive to “old fashioned” fundamentalist evangelicals like myself. To have secular activities in a church setting, or even hosted by a church, strikes me as unbiblical. These groups consist merely of individuals with similar interests.  Many of these groups have little to do with the goals of Christendom, namely, to evangelize, to disciple, and to grow more like Christ in holiness. A Bible may or may not be cracked open during the activities, and a prayer may or may not be said. In my mind,  these secular-oriented groups are seeker-sensitive/seeker-centered rather than Christ-centered. [I don’t like the term “centered” due to its New Age-ish origins, but the term fits here.]

Amazingly (or maybe not so amazingly anymore), these seeker sensitive groups are being hosted by an evangelical church.

Following are a few of this church’s groups meeting in recent months, which I find seeker sensitive:

Bluegrass Music
Classical Music
Fiddle Fun (violin)

HEALTH AND RECREATION (presented in various quarters of the year)
Eat to Live (dieting)
Organic Food Co-Op
Walking/running group
Women’s Fitness

Sports Ministries (softball, volleyball, etc.)

Amateur Radio
Financial Peace University [Dave Ramsey is a Christian – yet the subject matter  itself is technically seeker sensitive – it appeals to both Christians and nonchristians. As helpful as this seminar is, I have seen it also presented in liberal/mainline denominations like the UMC.]
Old Classic Car Club

Another example: a recent Vacation Bible School at this church. What was the theme of the VBS? Favorite Bible stories? Nope. The life and ministry of Jesus? No again. The theme was cars. I have the church newsletter page publicizing the VBS – cars were the “hook”, the theme being used to attract children to attend. Rather odd I think – and unbiblical.

The above activities remind me of a community center such as the YMCA, rather than a church. Yet more and more churches are using secular activities such as these to attract new members. Is this what Christ intended? I don’t think so.

Having said all this, I should ease up a second and say something positive. I am very thankful that this church has not gone as far as some evangelical churches. Believe it or not, there are churches that still call themselves “evangelical”, yet openly provide New Age-ish activities such as labyrinth prayer, yoga, etc. for the community. Scary! [More on this in another blog.]

Update: here are several more examples of seeker sensitive activities. I heard of another church, which can barely garner enough attendees for a Sunday night service. Yet this same church had many men sit in the sanctuary watching the Super Bowl on a big screen TV.  Granted, the TV was turned off during the halftime, for a video showing Christian testimonies. But does that make such a secular activity acceptable in a church sanctuary? No!

Another example: I’ve heard of church youth groups having a “videogame night.” Students were allowed to bring their favorite videogames to play – including occult-based games such as “Diablo” – right in the physical church building. What an abomination!

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(revised 07/30/14)

I have felt a burden for many, many evangelical acquaintances who have fallen into seeker sensitive churches, purpose driven churches, Third Wave Pentecostal churches, IHOP/soaking prayer, Spiritual Formation,  the Emerging Church movement, the Emergent Church movement, even the Emergence Christianity movement.

The Evangelical Friends denomination I grew up in, other churches I have attended, the college I attended, the seminary I attended, even friends and relatives – all have been influenced to some degree by these heretical movements. And I am angry!! The question is, why were these evangelicals so gullible as to fall away from orthodox evangelicalism so easily?

Note – by “orthodox evangelicalism” I am referring to the state of evangelicals before the advent of  “the New Evangelicals” and neo- Evangelicalism. Consider the following excellent excerpts; the entire article is found  here.  Note – below I have emphasized certain points by bolding,  and inserted comments in [brackets]. Now on to the excerpts.

Evangelical: A Brief Definition

Visitor: I am after a brief biblical definition of the “Evangelical Christian” that would not be confusing to the average born again person.

Response: That is a great question and of late has been somewhat controversial. How do we define “Evangelical Christian” — I will assume you are after the meaning of this in a traditional, rather than contemporary sense. Also the terms [sic] meaning in a positive rather than negative light. If so, then it has historically meant someone who believes and heralds the Gospel of Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Scripture and that there is no hope for them in the world save in being united to Him in his life, death and resurrection. In the past this was the unifying factor for persons from a vast array of church traditions, but now the word has, unfortunately, come to mean many things.

The contemporary use of the word “Evangelical” often refers to an amorphous mass of people with different convictions, confessions and beliefs about the Gospel. Sometimes this even includes persons who do not believe in the authority of the Bible and, like liberal theology of old, believe in a theology based on consensus, modern psychology or worldly politics.

I did a bit of research to see what others have written about the state of evangelicals currently. I came across the following review by Greg Long, of a book by David F. Wells entitled The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World. The original review can be found here.

The Courage to Be Protestant – A Review

The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World
By David F. Wells
Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008
267 pp, clothbound
ISBN: 978 0 80284 007 3

David Wells is an evangelical, and he is concerned with the state of evangelicalism. This is nothing new; he has written four previous books addressing issues within evangelicalism and Christianity at large: No Place for Truth: or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (1993), God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (1994), Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (1998), and Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World (2005). Wells writes this current volume to summarize and update those four previous essays. The fact that Wells combines four previous books into one results in one of the book’s weaknesses — it is at times somewhat disjointed and at other times repetitive.

Wells begins by assessing the current state of evangelicalism. He considers the emergence and first few decades of the evangelical movement to have been a ‘success story’ (p. 1), but is greatly concerned that it has now drifted from its moorings.

The primary problem, according to Wells, is that evangelicalism has been influenced by our postmodern culture. Our culture has lost its centre; it has replaced God with self. This, of course, is nothing new; Paul reminds us that from the beginning people have ‘worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator’ (Rom. 1:25). Now, according to Wells, ‘Ours is a centerless universe . . . We are left to fumble about with only our feelings to guide us’ (p. 109). It is not that people today are no longer spiritual; no indeed — ‘spirituality’ is on the rise even as religion is on the decline. But, Wells says, there are two kinds of spirituality:

One begins from above and moves down whereas the other begins below and tries to move up. One starts with God and reaches into sinful life whereas the other starts in human consciousness and tries to reach above to make connections in the divine. One is Christian and the other is pagan (p. 176).

The surprising thing is that this mindset has affected evangelical churches, beginning several decades ago. As the centre shifted from God to self, some churches began to design their ministries to meet people’s self-identified ‘felt needs’. As the focus shifted from Bible to culture, some churches were no longer primarily concerned with asking ‘What saith the Lord?’ and became more concerned with asking ‘What saith the culture?’ Or, to put it another way,

What is the binding authority on the church? What determines how it thinks, what it wants, and how it is going to go about its business? Will it be Scripture alone . . . or will it be culture? Will it be what is current, edgy, and with-it? Or will it be God’s Word, which is always contemporary because its truth endures for all eternity? (p. 4).

Wells calls this group within evangelicalism the ‘Marketers.’

Church marketing was pioneered by Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church in 1975. Wells defines church marketing as ‘the process of communicating the features and benefits of the Church’s product (relationships) in a compelling manner that helps people take their next step in pursuing the Church’s product (relationships)’ (p. 23). The strategy of the Marketers is to communicate an old message in new ways, using strategies and techniques from the world of business and marketing. The message is marketed to make it more palatable. The gospel call becomes a sales pitch.

Wells’ devastating critique of the church marketing movement is one of the most helpful sections of this book. The Marketers are failing to produce disciples of Jesus Christ who have been taught to observe everything he has commanded (Matt. 28:20). Surveys reveal that knowledge of the Bible and theology in evangelical churches is woefully inadequate, and Wells believes that the Marketers have exacerbated this problem. He says,

Everywhere in the marketing approach theology and Bible knowledge are down­played, and then we are dumbfounded when commitment evaporates and ignorance reigns . . . Bible knowledge has declined drastically in the churches as Sunday school programs are eliminated, expository preaching becomes unfashionable, and the practices of daily prayer and Bible reading vanish with a prior generation (pp. 45—46).

However, the Marketers’ worst fear has been realized — what was once avant-garde has now become passé. Although many churches are still using the marketing approach, it is no longer the latest and greatest iteration of evangelicalism. The latest group within modern evangelicalism are the Emergents. Emergents are reacting against fundamentalism on the one hand and the marketing movement on the other. They chafe against the idea that one can be certain about knowing truth; they find such certainty arrogant and pretentious. They also rebel against the ’emptiness, loss of personal connections . . . and capitulation to consumerist modernity’ of the ‘Willow Creeky’ churches (p. 16). Emergents are ‘doctrinal minimalists’ who are ‘resistant to doctrinal structure that would contain and restrict them’ (p. 17). Wells considers the Emergents, as a whole, to have strayed so far away from the evangelical camp that they can no longer truly be considered to be a part of it.

What is Wells’ solution to the problems he has identified within evangelicalism? The solution is to return God to the centre of our lives and of our churches. How can this be done? By being reminded of God’s ‘otherness’ — his transcendence and holiness.

God is outside us . . . He is objective to us . . . he summons us to a knowledge of himself that is not something we have or find in ourselves, and . . . he summons us to be like him in his holiness’ (pp. 126—127).

As we refocus on God’s otherness, we are reminded that there is a moral law, that there is sin, and that Christ came from above to reveal the Father and to give his life as the vicarious substitute for sin. Here is Wells’ point:

Without the holiness of God, then, there is no cross. Without the cross there is no gospel. Without the gospel there is no Christianity. Without Christianity there is no church. And without echoes of the holiness of God in those who are Christ’s, there is no recognizable church. What is it about this chain of connections that the evangelical church today is not understanding that is leading it to soft-pedal, overlook, or ignore the holiness of God? . . . If we could see more clearly God in the full blaze of his burning purity, we would not be on easy terms with all the sins that now infect our souls and breed easy compromises with the spirit of the postmodern age. This is what leads to the casual ways in which we live our lives with their blatantly wrong priorities (pp. 129, 133).

What, then? ‘What is of first importance to the church is not that it learn to mimic the culture but that it learn to think God’s thoughts after him’ and to ‘think about the church in a way that replicates his thoughts about it’ (pp. 98, 223). ‘An authentic church is one that is God-centered in its thought and God-honoring in its proclamation and life’ (p. 242). Churches must be sola Scriptura, seeing the Word of God as authoritative and sufficient, not sola cultura. Churches must hold fast to doctrine and preaching. Churches must rightly administer the sacraments while clearly proclaiming salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Churches must exercise biblical church discipline in order to protect the purity of Christ’s church and reflect the holiness of God. Churches must not seek to replicate the culture but rather stand as an alter­native to it: ‘If the church is to be truly successful, it must be unlike anything else we find in life (p. 224).

The primary strength of this book is its powerful analysis of postmodern culture and evangelical church life. Wells is more adept at diagnosing the problem than prescribing the solution, but his call for the church , to return to God rather than self and to the Bible rather than culture is well needed. The value of this book is that it offers a powerful internal critique of the state of many churches within evangelicalism, particularly the Marketers and the Emergents. It is also a reminder that there are many within evangelicalism who are trying to hold fast to the essential truths of Scripture — truths that were rediscovered during the Protestant Reformation – and who are calling others within evangelicalism to do the same.

From The Journal of Modern Ministry Volume 5, Issue 3, Fall 2008. With permission.

By Greg Long

FOR FURTHER READING – additional items David F. Wells has written about Evangelicalism, the Emergent Church movement, etc.:

Wikipedia article about David F. Wells (may not be accurate)

The Word in the World“, a great article by David F. Wells

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