Thursday, December 05, 2013

Skynet won't save us

I'm going to comment on this post:

Throughout its history, evangelicalism has consistently empowered dynamic leaders.  Dating back to its inception in the colonial period, George Whitefield’s itinerant ministry blossomed both as a result of his skill in promoting his ministry and his ability to connect with auditors in a manner that transcended most other preachers of his day.  This popular appeal marked a “new model of leadership” in Christian circles that circumvented both established ecclesiastical patterns and ministerial norms.**

True. That's because Whitefield was forbidden by his ecclesiastical superiors from conducting his evangelistic campaigns. Does Mullin think Whitefield should have allowed them to silence him?

Social media has only exacerbated personality-driven leadership as individuals can friend, follow, and subscribe to a constant stream of thought-forming and ministry-shaping information that comes via Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.  As a result, acolytes consume a steady diet of material from their favorite evangelical leader (or his/her assistants) increasing affection, loyalty, and commitment. 

You mean like this:

You can follow him on Twitter @msmullin

or this:

Welcome New Anxious Bench Blogger Miles Mullin!May 4, 2013 By Thomas Kidd

Moving along:

Because of the personality-driven leadership inherent in contemporary evangelicalism, the tribalism it nurtures, and the reality that most of American evangelicalism subsists in some variation of the free church tradition, the final outcome of this story is clear.  There is no authority that can adjudicate this matter other than the authority upon which both Driscoll and Mefferd have built their ministries: evangelical popular opinion. 
This is the troubling reality of the personality-based leadership that encompasses much of American evangelicalism.  Often, charisma and dynamic communication skills trump character and integrity as popular appeal wins the day.  And for those of us who wish it were otherwise, there is no court of appeal with the authority to hear our case. 
But the degree to which a great speaker has influence multiplied exponentially in the American context where a religious marketplace void of any overarching ecclesial authority emerged. Before the 18th century, there were legitimately powerful checks upon popular embrace of great speakers. Even today, there are checks in hierarchical church structures. In contemporary evangelicalism--especially in the free church tradition--there are virtually none.
i) To begin with, Mullin teaches at a Baptist institution. Isn't that in the free church tradition?
ii) It's funny how some people are so blind to the obvious. It's not as if the "overarching eccesial authority" solution hasn't been tried before. That experiment has been repeatedly tested and repeatedly failed. Just look at liberal mainline denominations which have formal accountability structures. Not only do those "hierarchical church structures" fail to police orthodoxy and orthopraxy, but they become instruments to persecute orthodoxy and orthopraxy while they simultaneously enforce heterodoxy and heteropraxy. 
Or take the recent hiring of Ergun Caner. There's an accountability system in place: the board of trustees. He is answerable to the board. But, wait, it was the board that hired him. Reportedly, a unanimous vote.
You always have naive Christians like Mullin who think there's a Skynet solution to what afflicts evangelicalism. If we just put the right system in place, that will protect us. But, of course, the system is run by sinners. It becomes a shell-game where you simply move sinners around. Where you empower some sinners in relation to other sinners. Unaccountable bishops or unaccountable trustees instead of unaccountable pastors of independent megachurches.


  1. Wouldn't you say there is an authority problem in modern Evangelicalism, however? Looking at the Protestant Reformation, the magisterial reformers, while protesting against the abuse of an absolute sort of authority from Rome, setup their own church government structures. Perhaps a more organized Evangelicalism might be more desirable than the present popularity game that is American Evangelicalism. That doesn't mean there is some kind of magical church government solution to unaccountable church leaders, it just means that Evangelicalism is lacking in this particular department. I think Scripture tends to support that idea as well, even if we shouldn't sacrifice Gospel Truth in the name of greater "unity" or accountability.

    1. I'm not opposed to church office. However, it always comes down to people. To who happens to be in charge. To what the rank-and-file are prepared to support.

      The best system is a free assembly. Let people vote with their feet. That has a natural sorting action. Winnows the wheat from the chaff.

    2. Whether free assembly as you describe is the best system would be up to your ecclesiology, but I do not think advocating for a more organized Evangelical church along presbyterian or episcopalian lines amounts to advocating for a "Skynet" solution. As someone with a firm connectionalist stand, and tending to have a "high" view of the church compared to a typical Evangelical, I do think that presbyterian or episcopal polity are more beneficial than congregationalist or free assembly polities.

      I do agree that more organized church government is presented in Mullin's post as some kind of magical solution to corrupt church leaders, and that tends to lead in the direction of Rome, which is a problem.

    3. It's like left-wing bureaucrats. When gov't fails, their answer is always the same: we need even more gov't! More regulations. More layers of oversight. They never question the original premise.

      It's funny how theological conservatives mimic liberal politicians.