I’ve been found out! Retraction issued on “evangelical popes” post

apple_lSnark MeterHIGH.001My blog post of three days ago “When did evangelicals get popes” (http://wp.me/p2Gq9e-kb) has generated more hits in less time than any post I have put up before now. Apparently, however, I don’t exactly have my facts straight…

Someone in North Point’s media team is demanding a retraction for three things: 1) They do not have a holographic Andy. 2) They do not have security for holographic Andy and 3) They actually do develop lots of preachers, as Andy isn’t the only one preaching. I do want to be fair, so let me retract each of these inaccuracies with the care I was accused of not giving:

1)    No hologram: I was told by a seminary professor who sat in the front row at the North Point main campus one Sunday that the video at North Point has Andy in “a holograph so lifelike that they have security to keep people from going on stage to play with it…it took a million dollar investment from a former CNN employee.” This was also described as “holographic” on multiple media outlets (Slate, CNN, MSN). Apparently Andy is actually broadcast on a very high definition giant screen in 2D. According to North Point’s media corporation website, “It …portrays the communicator in life like proportionliterally walking back and forth about 6′ tall.” This was mistaken by my acquaintance, CNN, Slate and MSN as “holographic 3D,” …but is in no way like what they did with Tupac at Coachella, which has been described as “lifelike” and “literally walking back and forth.” Henceforth I shall refer to this technology as “lifelike, super-high def Andy.” It is interesting that this person made no mention of my million-dollar figure.

2)   No security. The person demanding the retraction did confirm the North Point does have “ushers” that protect the front of the stage and prevent people from going on stage with the non-holographic but utterly lifelike, super-high def Andy. But NO security.

3)   North Point actually does develop preaching leaders. Since real Andy is not the only one on the preaching rota, they are not failing in my actual argument – that video-venue is idolatrously man-centric, GMO crop-like dangerous in its lack of diversity, and fails to develop other preaching voices, making it a long-range train wreck for the Church.  According to North Point’s Wikipedia article there are 41 churches and “strategic partners” in the US and abroad. From a survey of 9 of those “partners” websites, part of being a partner is video-Andy. So we have 41 facilities with “site pastors” all watching Andy (or the other select few on the rota) preach. However, I am assured, this IS developing preaching voices just as if each of those 41 churches had 41 preachers preaching their own messages each week.  Yeah, that math makes sense to me.

North Point’s strength has been its ability to poke fun at itself (“Sunday Morning” parody & the ipod band). I was thinking that NP would be the video-venue church that with the ability to be self-reflective. Perhaps my critique hit a bit too close to home. At least North Point is reading stuff other than their own. I have suspicions the others I named don’t read anything not written by themselves. But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps we aren’t just watching Big Brother? Perhaps Big Brother is watching us too?

Whether or not andy is in 3D or 2, I still maintain that the video-venue church is like the really pretty girl with tons of issues. You know you shouldn’t date her, you know it won’t end well, but you can’t help yourself, she is just so darn attractive you can’t say no.

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When did evangelicals get popes?

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The big trend in American evangelicalism: the multi-site video-venue church. It promises to leverage the teaching acumen (not to mention star power) of big name preachers to extend the Kingdom of God.

Has anyone stopped and asked, “What in God’s name are we doing?”

Think about it – we started the Reformation over one man having too much authority in the Church, yet today hundreds of thousands meet in “multi-site” video venues watching preachers like Mark Driscoll or Craig Groeschel or Perry Noble in a box. The new gold standard of this movement is 3D holographic Andy Stanley, complete with security to keep people from going up on stage to play with it…or him.

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Think about it while detaching yourself from your favorite multi-site, mega big-box preacher: Isn’t hitching ourselves so fully to one man’s teaching just a little odd? Doesn’t it smack, just a tad, of man-following? Even idolatry?

And, if “it isn’t about me,” as one multi-site preacher is fond of saying, then why not take your nine sites and train up eight new young preachers? Wouldn’t that be a healthier model? What happens to the church if the guy it “isn’t about” gets hit by a bus?

I am not saying that these preachers are not really, really great communicators. I am not saying that they wouldn’t be great guys to get a beer with and talk football or soteriology. But what does it say about us that we spend a million dollars to make Andy Stanley into the Sunday morning version of Tupac at Coachella?

How is this not worse than what we condemn our Roman Catholic brothers for? I don’t know a single Catholic that would be ok with the Pope being piped in for the sermon every Sunday. They laugh at the idea. I know. I asked.

How is the evangelical world embracing 7-10 brand-name preachers across the country not the ecclesiological version of GMO crops? Let’s just call it like it is: these men are de facto evangelical popes.

Some will say, “Yeah but Mark Driscoll and Perry Noble don’t speak ex cathedra.” Really? Their devotees quote them as if they do. In a nod to mega-pastor Steve Furtick’s statement, that they are “making Jesus famous,” doesn’t it seem as if Jesus isn’t the only one they are “making famous”? Not to mention rich.

To be clear, I am not attacking large churches, or video screens. I am not even attacking the bloated clergy salaries paid by churches whose boards are made up of other mega-church pastors – although someone should. I AM attacking a model of leadership: The multi-site, big personality church that trades the Ephesians 4 model of equipping others and giving leadership away for a model that makes “the man” a black hole of money and Kingdom energy.

Evangelicalism’s strength has always been its willingness to engage the culture to make an impact on lives. The backside of that coin can be an amazing short-sightedness. Does no one wonder what the unintended consequences of our new evangelical popes might be?

So before we cast stones at our Catholic friends for man-following, perhaps we should remove the video screen from our own eye.