Is It the Economy or Social Media?

I (all about me) like it when discussions of spiritual matters include material causes. Calvinism isn’t just an idea (or five of them), but it is a form of western Christian that emerged at a specific time and place and its social location is part of Reformed Protestantism’s DNA (ever heard someone complain that Calvinism is too white, male, and suburban?). George Whitefield was not merely an evangelist but a person who had theatrical training and could really punch “Mesopotamia” so that the women fainted (which made the children cry).

So when Carl Trueman complained about the economic factors that contribute to the creation of an elite group of pastors and theologians who have an outsized influence in Protestant circles thanks to finances, I liked the point. If you can show that someone’s authority has at least something to do with their material standing rather than divine unction, then you have reason to follow your gut and take them with less seriousness.

But here’s the thing: if you look at the finances, the influence is disproportionate. Here are some sample numbers (gleaned primarily from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and Guidestar):

2015 Mission to the World (PCA): $65 million+ revenues; $54 million+ expenses

2014 Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: $287k+ revenues; $187k+ expenses

2015 Gospel Coalition: $2.6 million+ revenues; $2.2 million+ expenses

2015 Good News Publishing (Crossway, parent company [?] of Gospel Coalition): $17 million+ revenues; $15 million+ expenses

2014 Committee on Foreign Missions (OPC) budget: $1.6 million+

Judging by the wealth, CBMW’s influence is breathtaking (if you follow that sort of thing).

Also, judging by the numbers, the PCA’s foreign missionaries should be the topic of every other blog post by the folks who spin mortification.

I agree with Carl when he says:

My earlier questions — ‘How did these men get to such positions of far-reaching influence? Who appointed them to speak for me? How do we get rid of them if they go astray?’ – are the pertinent ones.

But since social media is cheap and the way these days to create a brand and gain a following, perhaps the better question is why Mission to the World and the OPC’s Committee on Foreign Missions aren’t creating a blog with regular contributions from their personnel.

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37 thoughts on “Is It the Economy or Social Media?

  1. Hmm. TKNY’s glorious new campaign, released last week in a hail of tasteful graphics and sans serif typography, requires $80M — $42M for Redeemer buildings, $20M to train leaders, and $15M to plant (if their track record is any guide) all manner of mostly non-PCA churches. Anyone else notice that this church planting effort (to increase the number of evangelicals in “center city” New York from ~5% to ~~15%, an increase we are assured will bring NYC to culture-transforming tipping point) is weighted rather heavily in favor of Redeemer real estate/legacy building? These buildings, we are told, are not just churchy — they will also host ” artist events… bar mitzvahs, city council meetings.” The vibe is cool, but the bricks and mortar are positively bourgeois.

    http://rise.redeemer.com/new-buildings/

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  2. cw, so if you add all the church planting and world-tipping inspiration to what is basically a capital campaign (its actually $45million for buildings), will they give?

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  3. Classic Presbyterian question: who’s going to eventually own all that property? Redeemer, Redeemer CTC, or the local particular congregations?

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  4. Fascinating statistics here. The parent company of Crossway Books which is essentially the publishing wing of the Gospel Coalition pulls in a cool $17 million bucks, which is rougly £12 million pounds. Even relatively small para church organisations such as the grandly named Council of Biblical Manhood and Womenhood pull in piles of money, set ups in which (surprise, surprise!) the usual big names GC such as Kevin de Young crop up.

    Carl Trueman is bang on target that the network of big names moving outside of direct ecclesiastical accountability has a massive and very pervasive influence in neo calvinism, if I am summarising his arguement correctly. Folks need to pull back and recognise the juggernaut they are financing isn’t Protestant Reformed in a Presbyterian sense either – please note the interesting absence of creeds, confesions and men called to be elders who only can exercise church teaching and church authority in the web oages, documents and writings of these influential GC/NY Redeemer men.

    The idea of Redeemer wanting to buy real estate for chutch buildings sounds very plausible. However, like so much of what is earnestly contended for by TKNY/GC, other motives or rather beliefs could be equally or more at play. All these essentially Alpha males involved in GC etc. often remind me oddly of Britain’s most double sided Prime Minister Tony Blair. Much of what he said could be taken in very different ways, but the legacy of his so callled leadership and formidable spin machine have had profound and irreversible changes in Britain. The leadership in all but name of GC/TKNY has likewise had a massive influence in both the USA and the easily inlfuenced Brits as the money figures show, and church ecclesiology continues to slide downwards towards campus style stuff and much else.

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  5. Here’s a question:

    If getting ~15% of the populace to be Christian will have such transformative effects, why is American culture filled with pornography and other problems? Why the at least apparent decline in public morality. Isn’t at least ~15% of America Christian?

    Do they really believe these statistics and where do the come from?

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  6. DavidG, PCA churches own their own property without denominational entanglements (contra the old PCUS or the present PCUSA) and most of the plants are indy/congregational so they probably own their property (some folding chairs and a soundboard) too. The big story is Redeemer going brick-and-mortar institutional.

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  7. Robert: “If getting ~15% of the populace to be Christian will have such transformative effects, why is American culture filled with pornography and other problems? Why the at least apparent decline in public morality. Isn’t at least ~15% of America Christian?”

    Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!

    There are Christians in the Ol’ Timey sense. And then there are the Gospel-Centered Christians. Ol’ Timey Christians were/are hypocritical, blind to racial injustices, uncaring about poverty and climate change, homophobic, nativist, naïve, anti-Evolution, and quite frankly, stupid. Pornography and “public morality” are obsessive bugaboos of Ol’ Timey Christians. They’ve probably never read Anne Lamott and can’t tell the difference between a cantata and a sonata.

    Gospel-Centered Christians however are urbane, culturally sophisticated, sensitive to racial issues, comfortable with artistic nudity, socially conscious, show off their LGBTQ friendships, and deeply care about world poverty, sex trafficking, and climate change. They love indie bands, exotic fair trade coffees, and C.S. Lewis quotes.

    In the cozy little cubbyhole of TGC Evangelicalism differences are made between Ken Ham and Carl Trueman, Tim Keller and Jerry Falwell, James K.A. Smith and James Dobson, Miroslav Volf and David Barton. But from the high towers of The Secular City we’re all tiny little ants on the ground.

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  8. Robert says:If getting ~15% of the populace to be Christian will have such transformative effects

    Anyway, though, you not saying you don’t appreciate or believe the Lord’s principle, right, Robert – that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?

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  9. Another thought – when out-of-balance inertia eventually causes some of these establishments to split and/or disintegrate, what happens to all of their high-dollar real estate? Some other mainliners (think Episcopal, ELCA) have been shunted into court over just such issues when the acceptance of gay marriage, gay clergy, etc. became acceptable.

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  10. Ali,

    Yeah, I believe the principle of leaven, I just question the whole statistics thing. If it were true that it only takes 15% to change a culture, what happened to Western culture. At various points in our history, you could make a credible claim that at least 15% of the populace was a member of a gospel-preaching church. This use of statistics strikes me as naive.

    And as far as TKNY goes, I think using this statistic misses the point of the parable of the leaven. The leaven permeates the dough and does its work in a manner that is (mostly) invisible to us. Such is the mystery of the growth of the kingdom. We take all the mystery out of it when we start saying things like “If we can get 15% of New York attending a gospel-preaching church…”

    Besides, there are any number of cultures worldwide where you have minorities that size and it isn’t really helping them all that much.

    I’m all for planting churches in New York City. But I don’t buy into the idea that capturing New York for the gospel is the make it or break it deal for the church. I’m not saying you do believe that, I’m just questioning this part of the paradigm for TKNY. If the gospel is being preached anywhere, I’m happy. I recently saw him talk about why the focus on New York, and his answer was basically, “That’s where the people are.” He didn’t say anything about influencing the influencers and so forth. That’s the right answer. You don’t plant churches in order to transform the city, though you can hope for positive changes in a neighborhood as an indirect result of people believing the gospel and growing in Christ. You plant churches in order to reach lost people and build up the saints in the faith.

    I wish some of these groups would just preach that. Some of these organizations, while I appreciate their good parts, are incredibly deluded about their importance and how shaping of the culture and even the broad church is. I’m looking at TGC here. They have a lot of good stuff. But they think they are more media-savvy and influential than they really are. It seems to me like a big echo chamber at times.

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  11. Sure, Robert, and their good stuff is highly derivative or lifted from the larder of the Capital “R” Reformed. Their goofy stuff is the baptist/evangelical/cultural stuff or when they run solid P&R stuff through the Passion food processor.

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  12. Robert syas The leaven permeates the dough and does its work in a manner that is (mostly) invisible to us. Such is the mystery

    ..oh, and maybe, too, why many don’t worry about it -either way -they don’t believe God?

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  13. Chortles

    Sure, Robert, and their good stuff is highly derivative or lifted from the larder of the Capital “R” Reformed. Their goofy stuff is the baptist/evangelical/cultural stuff or when they run solid P&R stuff through the Passion food processor.

    Indeed.

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  14. Ali,

    I don’t follow the point. Don’t worry about what? The leaven permeating? If so, the way we “worry” about it is to plant solid gospel-preaching churches with good ecclesiology. So, for this Presbyterian, that means planting solid Presbyterian churches if you are a Presbyterian. I’m happy as well if good and true Reformed Baptist churches get planted, but Presbyterian pastors shouldn’t be planting them. I’m all for working together where it is possible, but downplaying ecclesiology is always dangerous.

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  15. Why all the parsing of motives? Why not just look at the behavior? Marketed his business(church planting) material and sermons, utilized the institutions, offices, infrastructure and money of an institution he didn’t build, so he co-opted it, strategized to influence MNA and C&C to fill the pulpits with his kind, did it all on the back of selling to a postmodern context utilizing the missional theory of the PCUSA and now he wants to parlay all of that into finally owning some Manhattan real estate all while being magnanimous with the millions of dollars he managed to get earmarked for his particular brand and diverted from less costly but potentially more worthy(of the gospel) church plants. And now he wants to do his version of Christian crowd sourcing to get you to buy that Manhattan real estate and set him up as a consultant/guru to others who are indebted to him………………………………..Sheeeeet. I want this gig too. Little skepticism, please. Need the shrewd as serpents crew to show up.

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  16. How do you know what I act like? If you want to add that the PCA was complicit, naïve, ambitious, fan boyish, fostering a cult of personality and trading on it to gain size and influence and relevance and power, I’ll agree.

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  17. The latest revelations of TKNY’s crazy broad church planting/empire-building escapades have been greeted with a deafening chorus of well-tuned, free-range crickets. The left loves it. The Erdman-Stevenson middle thinks it’s OK or doesn’t know or doesn’t care. The cons (-servatives and -fessionalists) are leaderless and defeatist. Whimpers.

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  18. About half of the PCA con leaders have been co-opted with visibility or seats at the cool kids’ table. The others have been ignored and marginalized almost to the point of extinction.

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  19. Many of these marginalized cons are nicely ensconced in church situations that would bedazzle an OPC pastor. They become de facto independents. This may be good for not rocking one’s own boat but it is bad presbyterianism.

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  20. cw, the confessional elders in the PCA are busy doing all that stuff that their office requires them to do. At least that seems to be the case in my presbytery, and at my church (which would be a much better fit for the OPC than the PCA). The confessional elders don’t have time to play back-room politics, promote their online brand, or gather in covert meetings to plot out how to redirect the future of the denomination because they’re busy being husbands, fathers, seeing to their secular job or profession, while also performing the duties of their office, which – if taken as seriously as the plain language of the BCO and WCF indicate – is no small task.

    If you want to solve that “de facto independents” issue for the confessionals among us who care about such matters, the solution is simple, and Carl Trueman suggested it in his podcast relatively recently. Break up the PCA into regional churches. It’s too large, too unwieldy, and too diverse to work the way presbyterianism was meant to work.

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  21. Wagon, the PCUSA was bigger. Still is. It enforced liberalism fairly effectively. Just ask J. Gresham Machen.

    The PCA is really the SBC. It doesn’t have a sense of connectionalism. Synods won’t fix that — unless — synods also take over responsibility for what denominational agencies already do.

    See the folks in Atlanta object.

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  22. “The PCA is really the SBC.”

    Bingo. Over the last 20 years or so, how much of the PCA’s growth has come by way of sheep stealing from the pews of the SBC church down the street? And how much of that has been enabled by pastors who blur out all the distinctions in doctrine and practice between the Reformed and the SBC?

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  23. Waggy, I would say synods won’t help because the progs are embedded in every region — maybe it’s really small towns vs. Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando, Dallas, LA, and (of course) NYC.

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