Fixing the Indemnity
POSTED BY CARL TRUEMANSHARETHIS
The events of the last ten days or so in the wider world of conservative American evangelicalism can surely have left no one in any doubt of the importance of cults of personality and of celebrity in driving significant agendas in that same world. The extremely negative reactions to my posts earlier this year on the topic of celebrification now look at best naïve, at worst special pleading by vested interests designed to distract from the obvious. The critics of the contemporary scene need no longer argue for the distorting effect of celebrity on the church world; the actors themselves have shown everyone the reality of the case. Only those in a state of willful denial or with a personal investment in maintaining the status quo would argue otherwise. In reality, all that is really left to do with regard to the celebrity culture is to fix the indemnity.
On the specific issue of Jakes, Thabiti Anyabwile has some thoughtful remarks over at his blog. The best line has to be this: "This isn't on the scale of Piper inviting Warren. This is more akin to Augustine inviting Muhammad." That is actually something of an insult to Augustine, but it is legitimate rhetoric in the service of a very important point.
There are many further aspects of the Jakes/Macdonald debacle which are of interest to anyone fascinated by the culture of the current of the parachurch mass movement. Is it a genuine work of God? Is it, like the economy, built on a bubble, to be exposed in the end as a matter of smoke and mirrors? Is it a bit of both? No doubt there will be much comment on this issue both at Ref21 and elsewhere in coming weeks.
One preliminary note, however, relates to the appeal not of Jakes but of the Furticks, Nobles and those who apparently like to be seen with them. To be blunt: why so much noise about Jakes when Furtick and Noble have already apparently been established in this Elephant Room circle for some time? Frankly, they hardly seem any closer to Paul's description of what an elder or overseer should be than the Bishop. Why all the hoohah and handwringing now about TD? Is it just because he is more notorious and thus harder to hide from public view? Are Furtick and Noble less well known and thus easier to ignore? Surely it is the same horse, just a different jockey, as one former colleague of mine used to say? Are people really surprised that someone comfortable with Furtick has no problem with Jakes? If they are, they should give me a call: I could do them a really good deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Further, a number of non-US correspondents have been checking these two individuals out on Youtube and elsewhere and have asked how on earth these people are so popular over here. They look odd and their stage antics are crass. They seem to reek of the phony and the contrived. Why do people fall for them?
The answer was provided by a Canadian correspondent: these performers have adopted the style of the American stand up comic. The swaggering up and down; the conversational banter; the faux outrage; the mocking cynicism about anybody who might value decency and order as traditionally conceived; the studiedly slovenly dress style; the portentous pauses while waiting for a laugh; the ugly profanity; and, in some well-known cases, a preoccupation with talking about sex. All of this is, I am told, standard fare among the professionally controversial comics. And, of course, their audiences/congregations respond in similar kind, coming in on cue with mocking laughter; whistles; whoops and calls. This is not plain preaching as Perkins, Spurgeon or Lloyd-Jones would have understood it.
These stand up comedian preachers would not work in the church in other parts of the world because aesthetics of plausibility differ from culture to culture -- they are not superior or inferior, please note, but merely different (I am not scoring patriotic points here). Confidence men in every culture need to find what idiom works in their locale in order to part the local gullible (or 'marks') from their money and their time. Here in the USA it is stand up; elsewhere it will be something different.
The history of evangelical hucksters provides some evidence of this. In the eighties, the televangelists worked with a crass Country and Western idiom. They still do (cf. Jan and Paul Crouch) but the superannuated nature of the audience on current TBN shows indicates clearly what age group contains the targeted TBN marks. Hank Williams just does not work any more with 18 to 35 year old Americans -- but stand up does. So, predictably, the confidence men have adopted the stand up idiom. If Elmer Gantry were around today he would not look like Burt Lancaster; he would look like a scruffy stand up comic.
Time to fix indemnity?
Ephesians 3:21 auvtw/| h` do,xa evn th/| evkklhsi,a|
Thomas Watson, "[Jesus] alone is the Prince of Preachers. He alone is the best of expositors."