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May 2005

May 26, 2005

Since publishing this article new information has come to light. I’d encourage you to read this article also published on this site instead of this one as it contains more information and better information.

The Purpose Driven Life is a runaway bestseller. In truth, it is in a category all its own. It is closing in on 25 million copies sold and will eclipse this number soon enough. Incredibly enough, it is selling better now than when it first released. Where most titles sell quickly at first and then the sales slow, this book gained sales momentum for over a year following its release. There are those who are sufficiently naive to believe that this success owes to the value of the book. But truth be told, it is not nearly as good a book as the sales would indicate. Warren says little that has not been said before, and has been said better. I’m sure it has changed some lives and has brought encouragement to many people. But this doesn’t make a book sell 25 million copies and become the bestselling book of all-time in its genre.

So how does a book, especially a book written by a professed Christian and dealing with Christian topics become such a wild bestseller? Allow me to introduce you to Pyromarketing.

Pyromarketing is a term developed by Greg Stielstra who was part of Zondervan’s marketing team for The Purpose Driven Life, and was responsible for marketing various aspects of the book. It is a type of so-called “viral marketing” as it is based on passing information from one person to the next. This is in opposition to marketing that relies on mass media advertising such as television commercials. Think about it, and you’ll realize that in all likelihood you never saw a television commercial for The Purpose Driven Life. In fact, it is entirely possible that you never saw any media marketing for it whatsoever. The book did not receive any significant coverage in the press until very recently, long after it had established itself as a major success.

Greg Stielstra

Greg Stielstra is the head of the marketing team working within Zondervan, which published the book. He is obviously very good at what he does. He’s quoted as saying that if he promoted a book about quilting “to one-tenth of one percent of left-handed quilters,” he could land the title on the non-fiction bestseller list and prime it for even bigger success. I assume this quote is true because he posted a comment on that blog and did not deny it.

Here are some excerpts from his biography:

“I’ve been fortunate to have worked with the biggest names in publishing Philip Yancey, Lee Strobel, Jim Cymbala, Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Joni Eareckson Tada, Billy Graham, Dan Qualye, Oliver North, Dave Dravecky, Rick Warren, Kurt Warner, Mike Singletary, Dr. C. Everett Koop, Rosa Parks, Dr. Ben Carson, and others. My work for these authors has won many accolades for marketing excellence, and my track record includes 88 best sellers, 20 #1 bestsellers, and eight books that have sold more than a million copies. Five of these books made The New York Times bestsellers list, including a title that reached #1 and remained on the list for over two years.”

Stielstra, then, is a man who works within a Christian industry, marketing Christian books to Christians. I found the following endorsement interesting:

“When I first heard Greg Stielstra describe the PyroMarketing model, I knew instinctively that he had found a powerful metaphor that could help marketing leaders in any business transform their results. Greg’s secrets have worked in one of the most crowded markets - book publishing - and they can work for you. PyroMarketing will help your marketers focus on consumer understanding and insight, not the size of their budget. Properly applied, you’ll get the best marketing - the kind that builds margins!” (Denis Beausejour, former global vice-president of marketing, The Procter & Gamble Company)

Denis Beausejour, who worked for Proctor & Gamble cuts to the heart of the matter. This type of marketing builds profit margins. It is an interesting observation to make about a program developed to market Christian materials. Whether this approach can thrive outside of the church is, as yet, unknown.

Marketing As Fire

The key to successful Pyromarketing is to understand marketing as fire. Founded on the assumption (which is clearly and obviously true) that we are bombarded with advertising, Pyromarketing attempts a whole new approach. Interestingly, Stielstra compares the success of The Purpose Driven Life with another surprise hit, The Passion of the Christ. “The success of The Purpose-Driven Life or The Passion of the Christ, remains puzzling to many, but not to those who know their secret. What do these remarkable success stories have in common? They each used PyroMarketing.” The technique is well-described in a little song you may have sung while sitting beside a campfire:

It only takes a spark to get fire going
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
You spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.

Pyromarketing is built around this metaphor of fire. Stielstra says, “Every fire needs fuel, oxygen, heat and the heat from the comustion reaction itself. Heat excites the fuel, breaking its molecular bonds at the ignition point freeing the fuel’s electrons to abandon the fuel and join with oxygen in the surrounding air. Ignition temperatures vary significantly from one fuel to the next. The reaction gives off additional heat which excites neighboring fuel and causes the fire to spread.”

Just as fire depends on fuel, so does marketing. Just as ignition temperatures vary from one fuel to the next, so do the “ignition points” of consumers. And just as fire spreads, so excitement about products spreads. “In PyroMarketing consumers are the fuel and their ignition points also differ widely. There is money stored in their wallets, but there is a very strong bond between consumers and their money.” This approach attempts to create “consumer evangelists” who will do the most important and effective marketing on a product’s behalf. The four steps of this marketing approach mimic the steps of building a fire:

  1. Gather the driest tinder. In this first step, Zondervan sought out the people who were most likely to respond to their marketing campaign. They found 1200 pastors whose congregations totaled some 400,000 people. Rick Warren, using his existing credibility gained through his prior book The Purpose Driven Church and Purpose Driven seminars, convinced 1200 pastors to begin a “40 Days of Purpose” campaign in their churches. These people were gathered with the promise (or at least suggestion) of success - that by following this campaign they would have bigger, stronger, more successful churches. The tinder was ready to be struck by a match.
  2. Touch it with the match. This step includes reaching the market, which in this case is the church. Having found 1200 pastors who would lead their churches in this campaign, Zondervan produced commercial spots and had them played on Christian radio stations in target areas. This generated some excitement about the program and even provided a small amount of brand recognition. They did not actively promote the book, but the campaigns that were beginning in local churches. For six weeks, following a video introduction by Rick Warren, those churches taught messages prepared by him and studied his book in small groups. Zondervan discounted the book to just $7 (from the usual $20) to promote it to the 400,000 people attending these 1200 churches. The flame was now burning, if only in a small way.
  3. Fan the flames. Zondervan fanned the flames by promoting the book and the associated programs as evangelism. They told how this book had changed lives and grown churches within those 1200 congregations that formed the initial campaign. A company called Outreach marketing produced posters and door hangers and other items to assist churches as they spread the word. Zondervan provided retailers with marketing tools like postcards and emails along with a list of participating churches so they could sell them any additional copies they needed. The pastors and laypeople who had already completed the program, largely unknowingly, became consumer evangelists. The flames spread.
  4. Gather the coals. Zondervan gathered information on every church that had done the program, and wherever possible, on the individuals who had participated. They gathered email addresses through their web sites. As more Purpose Driven products become available, Zondervan can market them to a group that has already expressed interest in this type of product. According to Stielstra, saving the coals “is how your marketing budgets build equity and the only way to expand your business with marketing budgets that stubbornly refuse to grow. There is a great deal of scientific evidence for PyroMarketing from psychology, physiology, and sociology.” The coals are now gathered, prepared to heat up a fire that is dying down, or to begin a whole new one.

This four-part approach, which is cyclical in nature, reveals the secret behind the success of The Purpose Driven Life. It all comes down to a particularly brilliant marketing solution. It is brilliant, because while Stielstra does not say so, there are clearly three factors that he takes advantage of within the church:

  1. Naivety. This approach dupes Christians into becoming marketers, not for a book, but for a marketing approach, and ultimately for a profit-driven corporation. This marketing approach is supposed to work as easily with any product as with what is a supposedly-biblical book. There is nothing inherently Christian about the approach and it has no biblical basis.
  2. Ignorance. This approach also benefited from the ignorance of evangelical Christians, that they were not able to see beyond the marketing and see a book that was, in many places, clearly unbiblical and which said little that had not already been said before, either by Christian or secular writers. Were Christians properly-educated in the Scriptures, this approach would fall flat.
  3. Pragmatism. This approach is, at its heart, pragmatic. This is the charge that has long been levelled at the Church Growth Movement, that success becomes the ultimate arbiter of truth rather than the Word of God. In a sense all marketing is pragmatic, especially when it is designed to sell a product.

Pyromarketing, which was so successful with Warren’s book, was clearly at the heart of the success of The Passion of the Christ, where once more a movie was pushed onto the church by a secular organization which managed to convince well-meaning Christians that this movie was much more than the reality. And having done that, it turned these people into product evangelists, so that they did the marketing on behalf of the corporation. Mel Gibson earned hundreds of millions of dollars, as did the theatres and countless other companies. And they owe it all to the church which has received little or no benefit from it. The church did the marketing, while the corporation benefitted.

The fact is, this approach takes advantages of Christians, foisting on them products, books and services that we do not need! Yet the marketing gurus convince us that we do, and they are only too happy to reap the bountiful rewards. We can expect to see far more of this approach in the future. The naive, under-educated, pragmatic Christian world is only too happy to continually attain to the next big thing. Publishers like Zondervan are only too-willing to tell us what it is.

Resources

Business Week Article which first alerted me to Pyromarketing.

Stielstra has written a book detailing Pyromarketing (entitled, not suprisingly, Pyromarketing). This book is published by HarperBusiness and is due for release on June 15 of this year. Interestingly, HarperBusiness is also the home of Peter Drucker who shaped much of Warren’s thinking about church planting and growth. I am sure this book will be a fascinating look into the heart of the marketing approach that made The Purpose Driven Life such a great success.

Greg Stielstra’s site

PowerPoint Presentation and Associated Text from which I drew the majority of this information. What struck me more than anything else was the completely secular nature of this marketing. Purpose Driven Life was nothing but a product, and millions of Christians were nothing but consumers who didn’t know what they needed until Zondervan told them.

Since publishing this article new information has come to light. I’d encourage you to read this article also published on this site.

May 26, 2005

It took me seven years to pick A Journey in Grace from my shelf and finally read it. I so enjoyed it that I immediately turned to the sequel, A Journey in Purity which had been sitting beside it all this time. Where the first title in this series of theological novels addresses the doctrines of grace (ie the 5 Points of Calvinism), the second title examines the purity of the church.

The story of young pastor Ira Pointer picks up precisely where it left off in the final pages of A Journey in Grace. Ira is faced with a church with a huge membership, but with low attendance. The book describes his struggle in attempting to purify the church by making membership meaningful. He leads the deacons of his congregation through the long process of discovering what the Scriptures teach about church membership, responsibilities and discipline and then leads them through a difficult time of change as the leadership attempts to purify the church. There is plenty of intruige and some fun plot twists that keep the book a novel rather than solely theology.

May 25, 2005

This is the fourth installment in a series of articles discussing the Christian tendency to put God in a box. In the first article we saw that we tend to feel insecure about God unless we have contained Him within a box in our minds and then saw that God has revealed Himself to us in a way that is incomplete, but which we can understand. God’s revelation of Himself provides a framework within which we can understand Him. While incomplete, this framework is accurate and trustworthy. In the second article we examined how we can allow our doctrine to put God in a box through our ignorance, through our imaginations and by making theology and end in itself. In the third article we looked at ways we put God in a box through our attempts to live a life of Christian piety.

As I explained in previous articles, the Christian faith in general, and the Reformed faith in particular, can be divided into three main thrusts. These overlap, and thus are somewhat false distinctions, but serve to differentiate between diverse areas of the Christian life. They are the doctrinal, the pietist and the transformationalist. Today we will look at the Christian’s duty to the world to be a transformationalist and how it can lead us to put God in a box.

Defining Transformationalist

The transformationalist emphasis refers to the way Christians relate to the world and to the culture around us. It seeks to avoid isolationism, but to impact the culture in ways consistent with Christian doctrine and piety. It seeks to fulfill the Great Commission to take the Gospel to the whole world, and to respond to the exhortation of James that “faith without works is dead.” For some believers it includes the “cultural mandate” which is the job description God gave to man at the beginning of time: to rule the world with Him. Yet in doing these things we can unknowingly place God in a box of our own making.

When we emphasize God’s Sovereignty over Human Responsibility

There is always a tension in the Christian’s life between the sovereignty of God and our responsibility to act. We can never come to a full understanding of how God interacts with this world and with its inhabitants. This is a mystery too great for us to conquer. Thankfully God does not expect us to conquer it. Instead, He commands us to go forth in His power, to do His work. We should not concern ourselves with the “why” as much as the “how” and then just do it!

When we over-emphasize God’s sovereignty, we place Him in a box whereby we deny that He can or will act to save people. Many know this as hyper-Calvinism, and it is a dangerous belief to slip into. We must understand that God uses us to accomplish His work in the world, not out of necessity, but because it fits His plan.

When we emphasize Human Responsibility over God’s Sovereignty

Just as we can overemphasize God’s sovereignty, in the same way we can place too great an emphasis on human responsibility. When we do this, we deny that God is the one who is sovereign in the salvation of souls. When we lose sight of God’s right to act as He sees fit, and to act in accordance with His plans, we can place God in a box whereby we believe that He is helpless without us. We may then examine our words or actions in light of their results instead of in the light of God’s Truth. We may elevate results to the status of ultimate arbiter of right or wrong.

This is known as pragmatism. The truth is that God does not need you or me. And God expects us to act in accordance with His wisdom, as revealed in Scripture, instead of human wisdom which is based on human folly. Hudson Taylor, missionary to China in the nineteenth century, said, “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack for supplies.” They key to doing God’s work in a way that pleases Him is to do it in His way, acknowledging that He chooses to use us, despite not needing us.

When We Forget Where We Came From

When we have been justified and are beginning to be sanctified, conforming ever more to the image of Christ, we can become smug, forgetting that it was only the grace of God that saved us and made us new. We can begin to believe that we somehow merited His favor, or that the changes wrought in us have been made through our own power. It is shocking that we can so quickly lose sight of our past and lose sight of God’s grace, but this is common to believers.

We need to continually heed the words of Peter where he warns that we must, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). We need to maintain a humility born of knowledge of who we are. We need to realize that God did not choose us because of anything in us or anything we could offer Him. God chose us only through His sovereign free will.

When we forget the past, when we lose sight of our total and absolute depravity, we place God in a box whereby He chooses those who love Him most or those whom He can use best.

Conclusion

Through the last three articles we have seen that Christians can box God in any and every area of our lives. We are as likely to box Him, denying His power or right to act in our piety as we are in our doctrine. We are as likely to need to break boxes in our attempts to take the Gospel to the world as we are in our understanding of His character.

In our next article we will begin to put this all together and see what boxing God can do to us. We will see the wonders that can be ours when we let God be God.

May 24, 2005

I am trying to recover from a long weekend. While the weekend was relaxing, someone forgot to forward the memo about Victoria Day to all of my American friends and clients. Thus work piled up yesterday and I am at least a day behind. I was hoping to post the next installment of the “Boxing God” series today, but I think it will have to wait until tomorrow.

In the meantime, I wanted to draw your attention to some notable reads elsewhere on the World Wide Web.

Getting More By Giving More. Sally Gleason, wife of Ron, whose article I posted yesterday, is an excellent writer and has begun posting the occasional article at Ron’s site. One I enjoyed in particular is entitled “Spouse or Children—How do we choose between them?” It is a response to an article in the Orange County Register which was written by a woman who proudly admitted that after a decade of marriage, she and her husband “are a couple that deeply loves their children but actually still love one another more.” Sally wrote a letter to the editor (which was not printed) but which is well worth reading. And I should also note that today is Sally’s birthday!

Judging by the number of reviews out there, I do believe I am the only blogger who has not yet seen the new Star Wars. I can’t say it’s on my short-list of things to do, either. To tell you the truth, I can’t even remember the last movie I saw in the theatre. I suppose it was probably Luther.

Dan over at Some Latin-Named Blog gives out his second More Cowbell award. This time it is awarded to Children’s Choirs in Adult Contemporary Christian Music. I can think of many good songs that have been ruined by the addition of a children’s choir. Then again, a couple have been the better for it (Youth of the Nation by POD for example). But generally I like to avoid them. It’s too cliche.

Battle Lines has an interesting article about Mosaic Church (home of Erwin McManus) and some of the Eastern influences in that church. Here is quote from McManus’ book: “In this book we’ll use several different metaphors to describe pastoral leadership, the first of which a pastor as a spiritual environmentalist. He has the unique task of leading the people of God to become who they really are. For a species to survive and propagate in a given ecosystem, a least five basic characteristics need to be present. One, a balanced ecosystem; two environmental adaptation; three spontaneous reproduction; for the nurturing instinct; and five, life-cycle harmony.” I’m not a dumb guy, but I have absolutely no idea what he’s going on about.

I had an invite yesterday to be a guest on a radio program this evening. Fortunately Unfortunately I could not do it, as I will be leading a Bible study this evening while they record the show. And I’m terribly camera and microphone-shy. But I found the show’s hosts a replacement who is far more erudite and qualified than I am, so I think it will all work out for the best.

Diet of Bookworms has been updated with a bunch of new titles and reviews. I try to update it every Tuesday. You can always subscribe to the RSS feed if you’d like weekly updates.

That’s it for me today. I’ll take Amy’s advice and refuse to say that I’ll post later. Apparently that is “Blogging tip #54.”

May 23, 2005

Here’s something new.

How would you like to add a daily Question and Answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism and Heidelberg Catechism to your site? Or how about having them sent to your RSS Reader? This feed will take you through both catechisms twice per year.

RSS

To add a daily catechism question and answer to your RSS reader, simply add the following RSS feed: /catechism.php. It is updated every night.

Add It To Your Site

To add the daily question and answer to your blog or web site (as I have done on the lower left of the main page of my site), you have two options:

  1. The PHP Option. To do this you will need to have the ability to run PHP files on your site AND the page you add it to will need to be PHP. Simply download these files (click) and upload them to your server. Then add a PHP include to your page where you would like the Q&A to appear (include ("catechisminclude.php");). That is all there is to it. A new question will appear each day.
  2. The Javascript Option. If you do not have PHP or can’t be bothered going that route, simply add the following code to your site where you’d like the Q&A to appear:

    cut and paste javascript:


Please let me know if you have any difficulties.

Many thanks to Robert Hamby for doing all the tough work for this!

May 23, 2005

The following article was penned by Pastor, Doctor, Professor and all-around nice guy Ron Gleason and is posted here with his permission. Ron and his wife Sally are very close friends of my parents and Ron was my pastor back when we were both significantly younger and when we lived significantly closer. You can read more about Ron (and even hear an audio introduction by R.C. Sproul) at his aptly named web site, RonGleason.org. He has written three further articles on Brian McLaren here. From here on out you’re reading Ron’s article:

My good friend, Tim Keller, has written/spoken about the “cultures” in the PCA. He mentioned three and in an e-mail to me suggested a fourth. In this short article, I’d like to espouse a fifth, which is fitting for Presbyterians based on the premise that where four Presbyterians are gathered, there’s usually a fifth.

In a very real sense, I do not feel totally qualified-yet-to speak on this movement (it’s a work in progress), but feel compelled to do so for a few reasons that I’ll explain.

First, I live in Southern California and it’s a well known fact that we are “trend setters” out here. Whatever is going to become the wave of the future as often as not can find its roots and origin in the Golden State-especially the southern portion from Los Angeles to San Diego. Admittedly, this “fifth column” has not spread very rapidly as of yet, but I am fully confident that once the PCA catches the vision, the growth will be exponential.

Second, trends are trendy. That is to say, it’s simply not cool not to leave a legacy, set a trend, or be able to describe a “movement,” especially if you can get your name attached to it. In my intense desire to carve out a niche for myself and have my name inscribed in the annals of the PCA I’m more or less inventing this movement-probably more than less. This longing on my part should not be seen as an excursion into self-absorption, but as a psychological feeling-real or perceived-that PCA churches in Southern California don’t get enough ink. We’re far from Mecca-Atlanta-and few in the southeast of the United States are even aware that we exist. We suffer from a number of serious debilitating psychological complexes, far too numerous to mention in this short article. There is no doubt, however, that we are both neglected and lonely. Blue like-well, depression. It’s tough being authentic when you’re a real person.

Third, this fledgling movement defies explanation. Again, please allow me to explain myself. A number of us on my leadershipless team will meet at a purely secular location to network and to a man we’re perplexed and befuddled that there are actually people still attending our services on Sunday. To this point in the existence of the movement’s existence, our strategic planning meetings have not allowed us to plumb the depths of how WRECK is impacting our society and its culture. In fact, some on my leadershipless team don’t even know the difference between society and culture. We would all smoke our pipes and ponder these matters, but no one on the team smokes, so we just drink tofu smoothies instead. Not much oxygen is getting to the brain.

Briefly-I mentioned that this is a fledgling movement-I would like to trace the contours of this new movement and ask you-when you’re not having your periods of doubt that Jesus actually exists-to put down your art brush, collection of Emily Dickinson poems, and your disposition of being a cultured despiser of Southern California and to listen to what I have to say. It’s important.

The Nature and Characteristics of WRECK

Almost everyone has an acrostic. There’s D.A.R.E., M.A.D.D., and F.S.T.(Full Service Team for the uninitiated). The military is full of them, but we won’t go there because we don’t want to have a discussion about Bush, Kerry, and the war and how we’re not for any of them, but really we are, except that we’re not for Bush. You know, like Jim Wallis, Donald Miller, Anne Lamott, or James McClendon. Oh, yeah, there’s Brian McLaren, too. Sorry Brian.

I was tempted not to use an acrostic for the movement, but my second daughter caught me at a weak moment and talked me into it. It just smacked of being so worn out and hackneyed, but they’re pretty much the same, aren’t they? I’m usually pretty determined that male dominance and tyranny is the way to go, but my daughter’s striving to be a “professional” woman-an opera singer on tour with Dolly Parton-so I caved. At least in part, this is her idea. Having come up with something like this will definitely have its down side for her: probably no one in the WRECK congregation will send in her name as a candidate for Deacon. Oh well.

Deciding on the acrostic was only part of the dilemma. My leadershipless team had to join me in the vision of being ecclesial, missional, visional, and acrostical. I can tell you right now, that was no easy task! Finally, after a period of concerted meditation at Laguna Beach along with fasting (which, by the way, isn’t really that much of a problem after a steady diet of tofu and gourmet dinners) the notion of WRECK was born. What does a WRECK congregation in the PCA look like? Allow me, please, to explain the acrostic to you.

W: Wrathful

Preaching peace, love, community, and acceptance is for wussies. Each of our services is filled with heavy doses of sin and God’s wrath. My team and I decided long ago that the human preaching methodology of Law and Gospel got it all wrong, so we settled in on Law and Law-and more Law. We read the Ten Commandments three or four times every service.

Whatever my (wrathful) text is for the morning, I tend to return, near the end of the sermon (for application), to the wreck-meta-narrative of Jesus cleansing the temple with a whip. The thought of Jesus opposing the war in Iraq and cleansing the temple brings great comfort. From time to time, I will also focus on Jesus’ disdain for the (Re)Publicans.

Our service follows a set liturgical pattern. You might say it is low, high church, which helps our society understand us and helps us minister to our culture. Not that it really matters. We tend to be neither relativistic nor “beyond” or “through,” but just doggedly absolutistic, focusing on wrath.

Part of what my leadershipless team came up with-and I really do have to give them the credit for this-is that our service is designed specifically to be seeker hostile. Each hard folding chair (we have a huge freezer we keep them in until just prior to the service) contains several hymnals and Bibles. Children and infants are required to stay in the service screaming and crying adding to the misery.

Visitor recognition rarely, if ever, occurs and when it does it’s only in a derogatory fashion. Extending the right hand of fellowship or having a cup of non-designer coffee with them is not deemed necessary. One of our ushers has a stopwatch and he times the exodus of first time visitors out of the meeting room and off of the premises. Each week’s time is posted in the narthex. We also clearly discourage attendance by those who are “different” from us, which is just about everyone.

I don’t want to give you the impression that we never do anything for our visitors, however. We do have a bucket of Kool-Aid available for those foolish enough to stay. As you can see, we are entirely serious abut this “no nonsense” approach to “doing church.” We are convinced that this will keep the “cultured despisers” at bay. We do not, however, use Schleiermacher’s name, but tend to go with Alanis Morrisette, primarily because we neither like her nor Canadians.

R: Reformed Over the Radar

I first heard the phrase “Reformed under the radar” a few years back. I was a little perplexed, so I asked for a clarification. I was told that churches didn’t need to tell their “tribes” (Sorry. This is not original. I wish I had thought it up. I felt that I had until someone told me that Brian McLaren did it first. Does that still make me incarnational and depressed-yet-hopeful? At least I’m still acrostical!) what they really believed. Keep it quiet until you’ve lulled them into complacency and then hit them over the head with the truth.

So I decided to take Donald Miller’s advice and to pray that God would show me a church filled with people who share my interests and values. This was-and still is-very important to me as a pastor. Can you possibly imagine a “tribe” that would actually want a piece of your precious time while you’re busy networking? I even heard of a church in the area where one of the tribal clan was in the hospital and wanted either the pastor (tribal, mystical/poetic leader) or one of the leadershipless team members to come and visit. During one of our network meetings at Hooters (or was it at Danny K’s Sports Bar while shooting pool? It’s hard to keep all of our important network meetings straight.) we all decided that we didn’t like going to hospitals very much because they made us feel uncomfortable being around all that sickness. How can you possibly be authentic with the smell of antisepsis or oncology on the air?

So I set out to form a tribe of “Reformed over the radar” congregants. It didn’t take long before the right people started showing up. I built a little confessional booth in the foyer and every Sunday (sometimes on Wednesday nights too, when we were sober) we’d confess the sins of the rest of the world. Of course, being of humble mind and disposition, we’d always end by thanking God we were not like all the other sinners. What a relief!

Since we are confessional, ecclesial, missional, and acrostical, just to mention a few, we engaged in taking our confessional statements a couple of steps further than they were intended to go. Who was going to stop us? The authors were all dead guys. What possibly could they do? In that sense, then, we were-and remain-Reformed over the radar or Reformed Off the Charts. Remarkably, a few have stayed, but I’m convinced that our Scottish revival will continue until our “Reformed over the radar” tribe consists only of me, which is precisely the church that will share my interests and values. Last week my wife joined the Eastern Orthodox Church.

E: Eccentric

Being “eccentrical” allows you to keep others off balance. For our college and university outreach, for example, we travel to conservative Christian institutions and throw wild parties. This seems only fair, since we have concluded that the Lord cannot possibly be at places where people hold conservative views of God and the Bible. They have been placed in a theological straightjacket by their parents, former church tribe, or whatever else. Some have even been brainwashed through catechism. We feel their pain. This cannot be either helpful or healthy. They need our help and illumination. They need to loosen up a little.

We accost those who possess a “proof-texting” mentality and tell them-emphatically-that they might be wrong, but we’re not totally certain because we have not quite yet gotten beyond or through the absolutistic/relativistic divergence/convergence. As wrathful as we are, we can still sympathize when they wrinkle their foreheads at us. We explain to them that they’ll understand later, but for the time being they need to realize that we are post-everything. Whatever the latest and greatest movement is, we’re beyond and through it-almost. This is truly a great place to be and be in because you’re excused from explaining yourself in an understandable fashion.

You’d be surprised how many professionals-especially women who are not as smart or as strong as men-and college/university students like this approach. In fact, we’ve found at WRECK that the more eccentric and vague you are, the more people like it. That’s at least part of the reason we’re rapidly becoming Anabaptist Calvinists, who embrace professional unordained ordained women Deacons. This, in turn, helps educated, cultured people (actresses, professors; you know, important people who shape our societal decadence) not to hate us but to comprehend that we are actually liberal/conservative post-everythings. Clear?

C: Covertal

Normally, people would begin with either an apology or explanation about a word not found in a dictionary. (This isn’t entirely true because the word “bloviate” is not in my home dictionaries, but within the concept of dictionaries as “living documents” we accept the validity of the word.) WRECK people are not like that. Part of our eccentrical/normalal mindset is a reticence to explain ourselves to those less “thoughtful” than we.

How do people like the WRECKs get into ministry? It’s simple. We by-pass the normal, modern ways such as studying English, becoming a youth pastor that smokes pot, gets drunk, and has sex with his tribe, or even through parachutal church planting, being sent out by no one, but just appearing one day and announcing that we’re there. WRECKs don’t like parachutists.

No, WRECKs are put off by English professors, artists, musicians, and the like. WRECKs rarely, if ever, listen to classical music or read novels by Pat Conroy, who tends to whine more than write (get over your knob year at The Citadel, maggot!), or frequent museums (or is it musea?). WRECKs enter the ecclesial fray through the unlikely means of actually attending seminary.

This tends to make WRECKs dull, drab, and otherwise non-authentic, which is precisely what I want to talk to you about now. WRECKs are fed up with everything-in a post-everything sense-especially with the notion of being “authentic” whatever that means. They are much more concerned with maintaining the status quo and being part of the Religious Right than being real, transparent, vulnerable, and authentic people. Venerable yes. (That’s why they’re Baptistal/Anglical post-everythings.) Vulnerable no.

Seminary has a deadening affect upon its tribe. Unlike institutions where you can get drunk and run around naked, thereby augmenting your authenticity, seminary requires you to take subjects that take the life’s blood right out of you. Time is wasted learning declensions of Hebrew and Greek verbs, which has little or nothing to do with authenticity by any stretch of the imagination. But, of course, that’s precisely the point. What possible benefit for networking can the conjugation of a verb have?

Authentic people are “out there” on the cutting edge of society, while WRECKs are cloistered away becoming right-wing Republicans and practicing the “missionary” position. Authentic people are not dinosaurs; WRECKs are. Authentic people attend Reed, Harvard, Smith, or the Julliard School of Music. They appreciate the fact that God loves everyone and believe that those who do not agree with them will someday hold their manhood (or personhood) cheap. Why can’t we just dialogue with Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists and learn from each other?

WRECKs have spent too much time conjugating whatever so that they are now decidedly, intentionally covertal. Definitely out of the mainstream. All that seminary training has built a wall of defense. It’s a house with no doors and no windows. Those who are outside never get in and those inside never get out. It’s a wonder that WRECKs can be anything, let alone post-everything. By the way, all that seminary training has dulled the senses to the point that WRECKs actually believe that the gospel can reach anyone, and, in fact, does. Nevertheless, WRECKs have learned through the torture of seminary that they are truly the disenfranchised; those out on the periphery of life. In all likelihood, a large part of their disdain and zest for life was due to the drudgery of seminary, which is akin to a dysfunctional family. It’s far better not to know any theology and sneak into the tribe by teaching at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, by attending Reed in Oregon, or to be a flower child who never quite made it out of the 1960s. What goes around comes around-sooner or later.

To the WRECKed mind, authentic people are wimps. The new wave of the future is to be covertal-at all costs. Getting involved with people’s lives can be both messy and time consuming. You might even have to deal with their problems. I like to call this the Lamisil problem. A nasty case of spiritual athlete’s feet might take 4-6 weeks to cure. Who does that anymore? Churches that aspire to be real families, bearing each other’s burdens, and acting like covenant communities had better sit down and count the cost. Covertal is far safer.

K: Katasrophic

Do you remember those halcyon days of the 1960s when a segment of our country actually went off its rocker? We no longer spoke of “America,” but “Amerika.” I’m not certain any more-I was too busy serving as a tank commander-but I think the “k” either stood for Nazism or the KKK-probably both.

In like manner, the “k” in WRECK connotes the truly radical nature of the movement. When you stop and think about it that really has to be the case when you’re advocating a parsimonious, stingy orthodoxy over the radar. WRECKs are non-extremal/extremists. Let me explain. There are some WRECK churches who advocate no music for the tribe during a service. For WRECKs this does not go far enough. WRECKs want to go beyond and through no instrumentation to a katastrophic point of non-music. We don’t yet know what that is, but we invite you to join us on our creative journey of discovery of fresh constructions, which are mystical, existential, and neo-Barthian, and, at the same time, none of the above (see Eccentric above). People who do not understand what I just wrote need to imbibe of our Kook-Aid-Kool, cool-Aid.

Maybe it’s just me, but this all seems so patently clear and so terribly needed in the PCA today. If there were ever a time for the emergal/regressal WRECK movement it is now! We are facing a pending crisis and I fear if something is not done soon, PCA women will begin to believe that they are human (keep them away from Dorothy Sayer’s articles!) and want to vote. It may already be too late. Church kitchens could conceivably become a thing of the past. Biblical submission (female doormatal) and headship (male dominal/tyrannal) hang in the balance!

I’ve thought about the WRECK Model for a long time but was hesitant to push myself forward fearing the loss of my covertal identity. Drastic times calls for drastic measures I’ve heard. It’s possible that this might be such a time. What if it’s not? you ask. Don’t worry about the consequences. Just leave it up to the next generation to clean up our mess. That mess might be of gigantic proportions, but we can find solace in the fact that we withstood the liminal period of postmodernism without words. Most people think this means silence, but they, obviously, are unaware of the fresh constructions in theology or they just didn’t get the memo. In the meantime, just be a WRECK.

Pastor Ron Gleason, Ph.D.
Yorba Linda, CA

May 22, 2005

A few weeks ago Jason Boyett wrote me to ask if he could send along a copy of his latest book, A Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse. I rarely turn down a book, so told him I would be glad to read and review this one. He encouraged me to review it honestly and to pan it if I felt that was necessary. He must believe in the old adage that “no press is bad press.”

The Pocket Guide, which is written in a style reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ famous five-part trilogy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a “comprehensive guide to the last days, a must-have for apocalypse watchers, readers of Revelation and all-around Armageddon obsessives” (from the back cover). To translate, it is a book that pokes fun at those who think they have the end-times all figured out and who like to claim they know when the end is coming. It also seeks to bring just a little bit of clarity to the concepts and terminology surrounding the end-times.

May 22, 2005

A Journey in Grace, by Richard Belcher, is billed as being “A Theological Novel.” So intrigued was I at the prospect of reading a theological novel that I left this book sitting on my shelf for seven years before I ever thought to read it. And now I can’t help but wish I had read it sooner.

I believe the order of the words in “theological novel” is important. This book is definitely better theology than fiction. In fact, as fiction goes, it is quite poor. But as theology it is exceptional. I chose to read and examine it as theology rather than fiction, since that is clearly its primary purpose.