Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: The Great Awakening and the Birth of American Celebrity Culture

The Greatest Day in New England History

Think the fiery Puritan who preached America’s most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God,” would threaten to dangle celebrities over the pit of hell?  Think again.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me Papa, paparazzi

—Lyrics from “Paparazzi” as performed by Lady Gaga

The 2004 Red Sox victory parade attracted 68% of the total population of greater Boston.
The streets of Boston course with life as a crowd greater than the city’s total population joins in celebration.

Commerce grinds to a standstill.

Women faint.

Grown men weep.

The governor joins the standing-room-only multitude on Boston Common and declares the festivities, “the greatest day in New England history.”

If that sounds to you like a good description of the victory parade for the 2004 Boston Red Sox who vanquished a 68 year-old ‘Curse of the Bambino” with a World Series championship, you’re not far from the truth.  The Red Sox parade attracted an incredible sixty-eight percent of greater Boston’s population.[1]

However, these words actually describe something even more historic:  the 1740 farewell sermon of British evangelist George Whitefield–an event that drew 135 percent of colonial Boston.  No wonder Harry Stout has calls Whitefield “Anglo-America’s first modern celebrity.”[3]

And Whitefield’s celebrity is no accident. It is the result of a carefully orchestrated public relations tour de force. Whitefield and his publicist, William Seward, worked tirelessly to promote the evangelist’s exploits, writing as many as a hundred personal letters, articles, and journal entries a day to a vast network of leaders and publishers throughout the New World. Incredibly, Whitefield personally wrote or inspired thirty-percent of every work published in America in 1740. By the time he reaches Boston, all of New England is in a fever pitch. Six weeks and 175 sermons later, “virtually every New England inhabitant” has heard Whitefield preach face-to-face.[3]  

Sinners is the Hands of an Angry God

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards’ “Faithful Narrative” helped pave the way for Whitefield’s preaching tour.

One hundred miles to the west, fiery preacher Jonathan Edwards waits not with condemnation, but delight.[4] Rather than dangling the “paparazzi” of his day over the pit of hell, Edwards follows media coverage of Whitefield’s every move with growing delight. He even invites the innovative young preacher to fill his famous pulpit in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Edwards helped start this media sensation in the first place. His autobiographical Faithful Narrative [5] was an international best seller for nearly three years before Whitefield’s preaching tour, making Edwards a towering public figure in his own right. He has helped stoke a deep hunger for spiritual awakening throughout the colonies; a hunger now filled by Whitefield’s flamboyant preaching and growing celebrity.[6]

While many Christians today decry our shallow media-driven celebrity culture, leaders of the Great Awakening recognized that capture society’s imagination with spiritual realities required media-driven celebrity. And capture it they did. By year’s end, perhaps as much as fifteen-percent of the population of the American colonies professes conversion to Christ in one of the most transformative social movements in American history.

Edwards and Whitefield helped birth not only one of the most transformative cultural movements in America history—the First Great Awakening—they also helped launch America’s celebrity culture. Twenty-first-century culture-makers seeking to birth society-wide transformation on the level of the Great Awakening would be wise to pay careful attention to the lessons Edwards and Whitefield learned in using celebrity for the glory of God.

Celebrity

Celebrity is perhaps the most coveted and least understood concept in contemporary culture. While the billion-dollar celebrity industry seems to grind out a new subject for fifteen-minutes of fame nearly every fifteen minutes, the scholarly community (and the church) has scrambled just to stay current. Recent scholarship has produced many claims to the title of “America’s first celebrity,” ranging from John James Audubon (c. 1826) to Walt Whitman (c. 1850), Buffalo Bill Cody (c. 1885), Douglas Fairbanks (c. 1920), and Ernest Hemingway (c. 1925).[7] Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield certainly precede each of these contenders, but were they true celebrities? The answer is, perhaps, yes and no.

Celebrity as Star

If one takes the perspective that celebrity is a purely modern invention, then obviously Edwards and Whitefield can’t be celebrities. Many scholars find a strong enough connection between celebrity and modern media to assert that “there is no such thing as celebrity prior to the beginning of the twentieth century.”[8] This school of thought is strongly rooted in film studies and the rise of the Hollywood star-making business. Before 1910, the motion picture industry sold story. However, studio executives soon realized that what they were actually selling was stars—men and women who moviegoers liked and personally identified with beyond the quality of their performance.[9]

Splash
Little known TV star Tom Hanks won the lead for Splash (1983) over hundreds of famous actors because he was the more ‘likable.’

For instance, producer Brian Grazer chose the little known TV star Tom Hanks over hundreds of famous actors vying for the lead in Splash (1983), not because Hanks was the most talented, but because audience testing proved he was the most likable.[10] Soon Hanks joined the pantheon of Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Harrison Ford, et cetera—actors America loved not for how they played their role, but simply for who they were.[11]

Hollywood intuited what academic research later demonstrated: people personally identify not merely with the hero of the story, but also with the actor playing the hero in the story.  Media-generated personal identification evoked a public hunger for access to the private lives of stars. In small-town America, everyone wanted to know the gossip, slander, triumphs, tragedies of the  in crowd. But in the emerging global village, the most popular kids are found on the big screen.

Aided by the media-driven celebrity industry, stars quickly became what Richard Schickel calls “intimate strangers.” People wanted to know these stars and be connected to them personally. Graeme Turner asserts that we can actually “map the precise moment a public figure becomes a celebrity”: when their “private lives attract greater public interest than their professional lives.”[12]

It wasn’t long before stars began to realize that they had become a commodity to be marketed and traded, not only by studio heads, but also by their own publicity people. Within a few short years, the public relations and celebrity gossip industries were born.[13] Soon Paparazzi was a household word. 

Since Edwards and Whitefield were dead for over a hundred years before the first Hollywood stars were born, it is hard to see how they are celebrities in this limited sense of the word.

Celebrity as Hero

However, other scholars adopt a broader understanding of celebrity, one that seems to better fit Edwards and Whitefield. These scholars root their understanding of celebrity in the Latin words for “fame” (celebritas) and “being famous” (celebrer) and in Western society’s desire to “celebrate” greatness. [14] Human beings need heroes to emulate.

Both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions developed strong “hero-making” story cultures. We tell the stories of heroes such as Hercules, Achilles, Odysseus, Perseus, Jason, Atalanta, David, Elijah, Esther, Mary, Paul, and Peter because they embody the virtues valued in our culture.

Yet for cultural heroes to serve as public role models, they need to be both virtuous and known. A virtuous man or woman whose story goes untold simply can’t be emulated. Therefore, the desire to be great and the desire to be famous are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As Paul boldly declares, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).[15]

Perhaps it is more helpful to follow Daniel Boorstin’s distinction between a genuine celebrity and what he calls a “pseudo-celebrity.”[16] Pseudo celebrities, as the Hollywood school of thought asserts, are differentiated mainly by the “trivia of personality,” whereas true celebrities are heroes who are distinguished by their achievements, virtues, and character.[17] Edwards and Whitefield appear to fit this second type. Although there is no universal consensus, celebrity studies seem to point to four distinct stages in the creation of a genuine celebrity: (1) A defining incident or accomplishment makes someone a “hero”; (2) some kind of identification with the hero’s character sparks admiration and a desire to connect with the hero; (3) intentionality by the hero (or someone acting on behalf of the hero) meets public desire for a greater connection by providing access to their “story” and their life; and, (4) the public’s identification with the hero exerts influence in other people’s lives that shapes their behavior.[18]

Heroic Celebrity

Edwards’s celebrity clearly fits this pattern.

(1) Edwards’s public story begins with a clear defining incident—a powerful revival among the youth in his church results in the conversion of 300 people, a quarter of the town’s population, transforming youth culture in Northampton.[19] Soon there is “scarcely any in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world [. . . .] The work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing man¬ner [. . .] and the number of true saints multiplied [. . . until] the town seemed to be full of the presence of God.”[20]

(2) These events spark a profound identification, not only in America, but across the English-speaking world. Edwards’s church became “the talk of New England” and famous British cleric Isaac Watts declared, “We have not heard of anything like it since the Reformation, nor since the first days of the apostles.”[21] What minister (or Christian) would not want this to happen in their church? People wanted to know more.

(3) Edwards responds to this interest with acute intentionality. He publishes A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising work of God in the Conversion of many Souls in Northampton, and Neighbouring Towns and Villages of the County of Hampshire, in the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay in New England. It becomes an international best seller reprinted at least ten times in three languages before Edwards’s death and over fifty times since.[22]

(4) Faithful Narrative provides Edwards with the influence and “international audience for which he longed.”[23] More than any other published statement, Faithful Narrative would “define the standard expectations for evangelical conversion”[24] and firmly establish Edwards as the “revival expert” with broad readership for his future publications on the Awakening. For over a century, it serves as a nearly canonical corpus for New England revivalism. More dramatically, it opens the door for interest in Edwards’s more scholarly works so that Edwards eventually comes to be known as “America’s greatest theologian.”[25]

Notice the key role that intentionality plays in Edwards’s celebrity. Without his providing the story, there is no story, and therefore, no celebrity. Without Edwards’s providing a personal account of the revival—an incident he did not “cause,” but which spread to his church from the surrounding villages[26]—this “towering intellectual figure” could very well have remained unknown and unread.[27]

Whitefield as Heroic Celebrity

George Whitefield’s 1740 farewell sermon drew 135% of the total population of greater Boston.

Whitefield’s celebrity also appears to fit this four-stage cycle as well.

(1) Whitefield’s first trip to America (mostly in Georgia from 1737–1738), followed by his tremendously successful campaign in London, creates an international incident that introduces him into popular imagination. Whitefield’s adoption of John Wesley’s practice of “field preaching” (versus preaching inside churches) coupled with his profound dramatic gifts and unusual anointing create a sensation. His sermons are some of the most compelling theater of his generation, recasting “biblical history in a theatrical key.”[28]

(2) Whitefield’s preaching generates tremendous public identification. Theater is all but unknown in America, and Whitefield’s dramatic performances (in comparison to the logical treatises offered by most New England pastors) connect in an unprecedented way. People love Whitefield. They flock to hear him preach. They relish his willingness to take on the (ancestral hierarchical) establishment. They can’t get enough of him. Newspapers normally committed to business and political news are filled with accounts of his success.

(3) In preparation for his second American preaching tour (1740-1741), Whitefield demonstrates unusual intentionality in managing his celebrity. He fashions a clearly defined and “audacious” plan to build on his momentum and transform his revival movement into “an international event with himself at the center.”[29] He and his publicists unleash a barrage of publicity employing careful use of social networking and mass media. People are able to “personally” connect with him through him publishing his personal journals and maintaining a grueling schedule of personal appearances.[30]

(4) Whitefield’s growing celebrity soon grants him unparalleled influence. He is able to network with the rich and powerful, target key social causes (especially orphans and African American education), and take controversial anti-institutional stands on the issues of his day (unconverted ministers). Whitefield becomes “the first in a long line of public figures whose claims to influence would rest on celebrity [. . .] rather than birth, breeding, or institutional fiat.”[31]

Like with Edwards, it is difficult to miss the critical role intentionality plays in Whitefield’s celebrity. His use of William Seward’s immense talent as a public relations officer is critical to his success. He certainly would have connected with people without it, but he could never have attracted such remarkable crowds without the tireless efforts of Seward and his network of advance men. As Stout asserts:

“Where other influential preachers. . . wrote learned treatises and preached in meetinghouses. . . to audiences totaling in the thousands. . . Whitefield wrote best-selling journals and drew audiences that must be totaled in the millions. . .  For comparison one must look to an electronic age and. . . movie stars.”[32]

Heroic Leadership

Both Edwards and Whitefield appear to fit the criteria of heroic celebrities. Without the celebrity account provided by Edwards’s Faithful Narrative, it is entirely possible that America would not have been primed for Whitefield’s publicity and preaching. From a human perspective, it is not unreasonable to claim that Edwards and Whitefield’s efforts helped initiate America’s first celebrity culture, and that celebrity culture in turn helped birth the First Great Awakening.[33] Mark A. Noll, arguably the most influential historian in our contemporary understanding of the First Great Awakening, notes that although revival can be viewed as the result of a movement of the Holy Spirit, it can also be interpreted as an effect of human agency and leadership:

“By taking note of the agents who, whether perceived as servants of God or merely adept shapers of culture, historical explanation adds the sphere of human responsibility to realms of theological principle.”[34]

The leaders of the First Great Awakening were young men of great natural gifts who preached, wrote, promoted, and built institutions with unusual force. Their actions mattered, regardless of their motivations or by what power they were energized. This in no way minimizes the Holy Spirit’s role in the First Great Awakening. Something truly remarkable occurred in this movement that no amount of human effort has ever been able to recreate (although not for lack of trying). However, it does emphasize that the Holy Spirit worked though human leaders who made wise use of the means at their proposal, including their celebrity.

Edwards himself came to embrace the importance of human leadership in the Awakening. One of his central contributions to religious self-understanding was his refusal to accept an either/or dichotomy between divine and human impulses. His first work in the midst of the Great Awakening, Some thoughts concerning the present revival of religion (1741), was an urgent appeal for human leaders to promote the work of God by wise and strenuous efforts.[35]

His first major publication in the aftermath of the Great Awakening, A treatise regarding religious affections (1746), was in many ways his “second thoughts about the first great awakening.”[36] Edwards claimed that Satan won a great victory in the Awakening because human leaders failed to embrace their God-appointed role in directing such a powerful “pouring out of the Spirit of God.”[37]

Edwards and Whitefield were not leaders who shirked their human responsibility. Their model points toward a possible future for leaders seeking to become “adept shapers of culture” in the twenty-first century. However, before we can directly apply the principles they employed in the eighteenth century to our contemporary setting, we must first account for a factor with which Edwards and Whitefield never had to contend: contemporary pseudo celebrity culture.

The Rise of Pseudo Celebrity

Paris Hilton provides ample proof that celebrity sells

The problem with the celebrity cycle is that it is essentially value neutral. The process that makes someone a heroic celebrity is essentially the same as the process that makes someone a pseudo celebrity. As the Hollywood school of thought contends, something went seriously awry with celebrity in the early twentieth century. It is as if somewhere we decided that if you can’t be a true hero without also achieving fame, why bother with virtue at all? Contemporary media makes it all too easy to skip heroism and jump straight to the stardom of a pseudo celebrity who is “well-known only for being well-known.”[38]

In pseudo celebrity, the inciting incident moves from important to trivial (and/or contrived); intentionality moves from important to critical; and identification moves from character to personality. The pseudo celebrity “develops their capacity for fame, not by achieving great things, but by differentiating their own personality from those of their competitors in the public arena.”[39]

Dry Erase Girl

A good example of this phenomena is found in the “dry erase girl” resignation hoax. This meme serves as a great example of how the four-stage cycle can be applied to the creation of pseudo celebrities.

(1) On the morning of August 10, The Chive, a relatively unknown Web site, creates an incident by posting a series of pictures under the banner: “Girl quits her job on dry erase board, emails entire office.” The hilarious photos, received from “a person who works with [. . .] Jenny,” chronicle a young worker’s struggle with her boss’s sexual harassment, her subsequent resignation, and the outing of her boss’s odd Internet viewing habits.

(2) By the afternoon of August 10, the public’s identification with Jenny’s plight makes the story is an instant Internet sensation. The photos “soared to the top of Google and Twitter trends, and a group of Facebook pages popped up to honor” the brave underling.[40] Who wouldn’t root for this perky persecuted worker and her “heroic” actions? People were dying to connect with Jenny and know more of her life and future.

One day wonder ‘Dry Erase Jenny’ (aka, Elyse Porterfield)

(3) The role of intentionality becomes obvious on August 11, when the Web site TechCrunch reveals that it was all a publicity stunt. “Jenny-the-Dry-Erase-Girl” is really Elyse Porterfield, a struggling young actress hired by The Chive to perpetrate the hoax.[41]

(4) By the evening of August 11, Porterfield and The Chive editor have garnished sufficient influence to be interviewed by CBS News Entertainment to discuss their successful creation of the hoax. Thirty-six hours after the first posting, The Chive and Porterfield are hot properties. Could an acting role be far behind? (And of course, I’m pulling for Porterfield. She is so darn likable.)[42]

In less than two twenty-four-hour news cycles a hoax is: (1) perpetrated, (2) debunked, and (3) milked for enough publicity to become national news and achieve celebrity status. Porterfield is the paramount pseudo celebrity created via what Boorstin calls a “pseudo-event fabricated by the media and evaluated in terms of the scale and effectiveness of their media visibility.”[43]

Pseudo Celebrity and Cultural Currency

Notice, however, how the final stage of influence is still very much intact. In fact, the defining characteristic of the contemporary pseudo celebrity culture is the shallow but powerful nature of the identification it engenders. Pseudo celebrity endorsements are both effective and pervasive, because these superstars are integral parts of our lives and intimately tied to our greatest hopes and fears.

In a culture devoid of meaning and relationship, the pseudo celebrity system offers powerful images to direct our lives. Media outlets create an “illusion of accessibility and relationship.”[44] In a society hungering for close personal relationships, the pseudo celebrity system delivers pseudo-relationships with people we feel connected to but have never met.[45] When Lady Gaga sings, “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me,” she is eerily describing the zeitgeist of paparazzi culture. Through pseudo celebrity culture, we perpetrate a new American mythology: not the maxim that strong character, hard work, and perseverance will eventually lead to success and happiness, but rather be in the right place at the right time, with the right YouTube video and you too can be famous. The underlying story behind pseudo celebrity becomes: it could happen to me.

Not everyone can be a hero, but anyone can be famous. Accomplishments might put someone in a position to be noticed by the media, but only the intentional courting of the public eye can produce an ongoing celebrity. This is the underlying secret of our pseudo celebrity culture: it’s all about the Benjamins. Celebrities are needed to drive the economy, sell the products, and fill the airtime so as to generate advertising dollars to sell even more products. Pseudo celebrities are the ultimate wedding of consumer culture and democratic aspirations.[46] In a society cynical about truth, and without a clear sense of common good informing our ethical decisions, the pseudo celebrity system guarantees that even if I don’t know how to live a meaningful life, at least I’ll know how to dress.

On Being a Twenty-first Century Heroic Celebrity (and Not a Pseudo Celebrity)

Moses was “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” yet he wrote books that celebrated his own heroism

Does this trivialization of celebrity mean that twenty-first-century culture-makers should eschew all celebrity and start dangling our own paparazzi over the pit of hell? Perhaps. But if the realm of celebrity is stripped of every true hero, all that remains will be pseudo celebrities. And a world without public heroism is a profoundly unbiblical idea. Without contemporary additions to the Hebrews 11 hall of fame, how can we expect a new generation to “Remember your leaders [. . . .] Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith”? (Heb. 13:7). If we don’t have heroic celebrities who are broadly famous in our culture, then haven’t we lost our culture already? To put a twist on Edmund Burke’s oft-quoted aphorism: “All that is necessary for pseudo celebrity to triumph is for heroic celebrities to do nothing.”[47]

Still, some might argue: yes, we need heroes, but shouldn’t we leave hero-making to God? You would certainly think so if you read evangelical devotional literature. Even thoughtful historians often help perpetrate the myth that the Holy Spirit alone drew the giant crowds that followed the saintly Whitefield, as if he wanted only to be left alone with his Bible. Consider Stephen Mansfield’s hagiographic account:

“What could explain the crowds, always the crowds? It must be simply the grace of God and his decision to use a slight, squint-eyed boy to change lives.”[48]

My point is not that the supernatural impact of Whitefield’s ministry is difficult to account for except by the grace of God (more on this later), only that Whitefield carefully cultivated and judiciously utilized his celebrity for the glory of God. Why should twenty-first-century leaders be any different? Moses was “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” yet he wrote books that celebrated his own heroism (Numbers 12:3). Nehemiah certainly wasn’t shy in trumpeting his own accomplishments. And David commissioned the telling of the heroic story of Ruth in order to clear up a public relations problem in his (Gentile) heritage. Yet Moses, David, Ruth, Nehemiah, Whitefield, and Edwards possessed at least three further traits that define their heroic celebrity and which might help mitigate against contemporary pseudo celebrity.

The Compelling Authenticity of a Life Well Lived

Edwards and Whitefield were men of remarkable integrity. Edwards was no pseudo celebrity scholar. He was the real thing. He was devoted to the calling of his craft, often spending thirteen hours a day in his study. Nor was he a public figure who wilted in private. He developed a profound contemplative prayer life, forged a beautiful marriage, and stayed deeply involved in the lives of his eleven children.

Although Whitefield never achieved Edwards’s “depth in his thinking about culture,”[49] he began each day reading his Greek New Testament and returned to finish his master’s degree at Oxford after already achieving much of his fame. He worked tirelessly to improve as an orator (and actor). More importantly, he was a man of profound personal and financial integrity. He raised staggering amounts of money while maintaining a Spartan lifestyle that bordered on asceticism.[50] Both leaders escaped moral scandal despite determined enemies and years in the public eye.[51]

This is not to say that these men were perfect; they both freely admitted their mistakes and misjudgments in their own writings. Whitefield wrote, “Alas! Alas! In how many things have I judged acted wrong. I have been too rash and hasty in [judging the] character, both of places and persons. . . I have used a style too apostolical . . . been too bitter in my zeal . . . and published to soon and too explicitly. . . By these things I have hurt the blessed cause I would defend.”[52]  But rather than repelling followers, such authenticity drew men and women to his celebrity. In short, they were actually men who could be admired; they were heroic celebrities who might be emulated.

Twenty-first-century culture-makers must strive for the same excellence in craft and character. Pseudo celebrity culture has bred cynicism regarding all celebrities. Americans crave authenticity but expect duplicity. We are looking for our heroes to fall, and the celebrity media industry is only too happy to pounce when they do. Those who would aspire to heroic celebrity must be absolutely certain that they are up to the task. Although pseudo celebrities sometimes become heroes over the course of time, heroic celebrities can become pseudo celebrities overnight. Ted Haggard became a national celebrity, not through his accomplishment of building one of the most influential churches in America, nor by his position as President of the National Council of Evangelicals; he became a household name by reason of his infidelity.

The bar is high, but authenticity is achievable even in an age of pseudo celebrity

This calls for a ruthless commitment to the compelling authenticity of a life well lived. Scholars, ministers, businesspeople, musicians, politicians, filmmakers, artists, actors, and publishers had best count the cost before they dare enter the world of heroic celebrity. They need a radical commitment to master both their craft at a world-class level and the spiritual disciplines, marriage, family, and relational habits required to shape their character toward the fruit of the Spirit.

Great artists, scholars, businesspeople, and ministers are not formed in a day. Great marriages, families, and friendships are forged with great intentionality. Heroic character cannot be instantly formed by sheer force of will, but the ongoing practice of key spiritual disciplines put us in a position to receive the transforming grace of God and be “incrementally changed toward inward Christlikeness.”[53]

This also calls for a countercultural commitment on the part of thoughtful media leaders and public relations specialists to work against the forces of pseudo celebrity. In addition to Edwards and Whitefield, leaders of the First Great Awakening included not only one of the pioneers of publicity and public relations (William Seward), but also three of the key forerunners in modern mass communication: John Lewis, Thomas Prince, and William McCulloch.[54] They were determined to use the power of the media to promote spiritual awakening through Edwards and Whitefield’s celebrity. Twenty-first-century media leaders must seek for the true heroes in our society and make certain their stories are told. They must also do everything within their power to insure that those they promote as celebrities are in fact heroes.

The Courageous Ambition of Genuine Humility

Genuine humility sometimes appears arrogant (David and Goliath by Jason Engle)

Edwards and Whitefield were also men of tremendous ambition to glorify God in the world. Early in his life, Edwards determined, “I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory [. . . ]” However, Edwards’s humility didn’t prevent him from developing a ruthless ambition to serve the coming of God’s kingdom throughout the world. He continued: “[. . .] and my own good, profit and pleasure to do whatever I think to be my duty [. . .] for the good and advantage of mankind.”[55]

Edwards saw no conflict in these two aspirations, having also resolved to throw off anything smacking of “gratification of pride, or vanity,”[56] and he lived his life to maximally steward the gifts God had entrusted to him by establishing himself as a renowned intellectual force for good.[57]

Whitefield too was a man possessed of a deep passion for the glory of God with a corresponding repudiation of self-glory. Yet, he also held to a keen sense of the importance of his impact upon the world. Certainly, the hierarchical worldview of Edwards and Whitefield’s day helped them seize those opportunities in ways that our current pseudo celebrity, democratic, level-playing-field worldview does not.[58] They were encouraged to aspire to become “great men” from their youth, and their respective Yale and Oxford educations only reinforced the idea that they were God’s elite. They did not need to be asked to step forward as celebrities. They knew it was a responsibility entrusted to them by God and correspondingly seized the day.

Not so today. The cynicism of pseudo celebrity when combined with tireless assaults upon anyone who dares stick their heads above the democratic crowd has had a devastating impact on moral leadership. True heroes step back from the public limelight while pseudo celebrities push themselves forward. Those who do not possess true character and accomplishment manipulate the media for their own celebrity, whereas those who possess some modicum of humility shrink back. True heroes fear not only their own ego, but also the potential humiliation involved in having a target painted on their back. For instance, it is now a right of passage for nearly all intellectual, cultural, and spiritual leaders to have multiple Web sites devoted to their demise.

Overcoming our contemporary aversion to principled heroism will call for the courageous ambition of genuine humility on the part of twenty-first-century cultural leaders. Like Saul’s army before Goliath, unbelief sometimes looks a lot like humility. Genuine humility, on the other hand, sometimes appears arrogant. While lifelong soldiers cowered in fear, David was willing to push past his brother’s stinging accusation, “I know how conceited you are” in order to seize the heroic challenge (1 Sam. 17:28ff). Twenty-first-century culture-makers who wish to wisely use celebrity for the glory of God will also need to regularly weather the pseudo celebrity culture’s challenge of “Who do you think you are?” in order to stand as heroic celebrities.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin: A morality tale on the danger of losing control of your public perception

This will also require careful partnerships with thoughtful public relations professionals and new media experts.[59] As media expert Phil Cook, exclaims, “If you don’t control your perception” and “the story that surrounds you [. . .] you’ll live the rest of your life at the mercy of those who will.”[60]

One need only look at James Monaco refers to persons who come to the public eye but fail to control their public image as “Quasars.” They are at the mercy of the media’s construction of their image, and that construction is nearly always bad.the “Tina Fey effect” in the last presidential election for a warning against the dangers of losing control of your own image.[61] Unlike the leaders of the Great Awakening, today’s leaders have allowed our culture’s perception of spirituality to drift at the mercy of the mass media’s construction. Oprah and Richard Dawkins have done more to shape mass media’s conception of faith (or lack thereof) than countless pastors and other spiritual leaders. Only by drawing upon the savvy leadership of the best public relations experts, journalists, filmmakers, television creators, and new-media mavens is there any real chance of reversing this trend.

The Unmistakable Stamp of Divine Exaltation

Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s Wife at the midpoint of his descent into greatness (Rembrandt)

In the end, Edwards and Whitefield’s lives bore the unmistakable stamp of divine exaltation. Their personal lives and vocational success simply defied all human explanation. Although self-exaltation may lead to pseudo celebrity, there is a type of exaltation only God can bestow. As the psalmist declares, “It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (Ps. 75:7).

Celebrity did not bring David in from the shepherd field, release Joseph from prison, nor fill Mary’s womb with divine offspring. They were men and women who followed the biblical injunction: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6).

Each hero waited in relative obscurity—growing in character while mastering the disciplines of their craft—waiting for the moment chosen by the God whose eyes “range throughout the earth seeking to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron. 16:9).[62]

For some, like Daniel and Esther, this call came at a relatively young age. For many others, like Moses and Anna, the call came much later. In either case, these biblical figures were ready when their moment arrived.

Whether short or long, God used their time in secret preparation to forge in them the strength of character to support the weight of their calling. Edwards and Whitefield were men of similar character. When the divine moment came—in the 1734-1734 revival in Edwards’s church and the 1739 revival under Whitefield’s itinerant preaching—these two principal leaders of the First Great Awakening knew what to do. Once exalted by God to a place of celebrity, they were ready to bear the responsibilities it demanded and steward their celebrity for the glory of God. In doing so, they helped spark one of the most socially transformative movements in American history. W

ill the twenty-first-century be any different? We may never know how many potentially dynamic cultural leaders will be lured by the siren song of pseudo celebrity, impatiently squandering their youth seeking fame instead of steadily building the craft and character required for their divine moment. Still, we must do everything within our power to help foster spiritual depth as well as professional excellence. In an age hungering for the depth of genuine authenticity to counteract the shallowness of pseudo celebrity, waiting for God’s timing could make all the difference.

The Greatest Day in World History?

C.S. Lewis’ Edwardsean commitment to scholarship and popular culture landed him on the cover of Time

Will we see again the equivalent of the crowds that thronged Boston Common for Whitefield’s farewell sermon? Perhaps not. But if we do, that crowd will more likely gather in movie houses worldwide and/or at a massive Web cast than a single venue. A twenty-first-century equivalent of Whitefield is more likely a cutting-edge filmmaker, actor, or television producer than a traditional evangelist.

A twenty-first-century equivalent of Edwards might take the form of a C. S. Lewis, the Oxford scholar who built upon his prestigious position through popular writings and radio broadcasts that gave him a celebrity—the cover of Time magazine for The Screwtape Letters—that made his complex moral and theological arguments beloved reading for a generation of children and adults.  Either manifestation would certainly be a great day for the world as we know it.

In a media-saturated age marked by both an unhealthy appetite for pseudo celebrity and a deep cynicism toward heroism, it would be hard to find a better tonic than the courage and authenticity of Edwards and Whitefield, heroic celebrities unafraid to utilize their fame for the glory of God.

The thought that we can sit on the sidelines and call down judgment upon today’s celebrity culture may be as dangerous as it is naive. We are called to be missionaries in a media-driven culture. Wishing it weren’t so won’t make that fact go away. To impact our image-driven generation for the kingdom of God will require entering the fray prayerfully, thoughtfully, and with great excellence. And if all else fails, we can always dangle a few paparazzi over the fires of hell. Or, better yet, we can follow Whitefield’s example and hire them.  

Article adapted from version in print and online versions of  The Other Journal.  

For Responses to See:

Hollywood Responds to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God Higher Education Responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Icons of Heroic Celebrity: TV Writer Chris Easterly Guest Posts on Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

 

Notes


[1] The 2004 Red Sox victory parade attracted an estimated 3 million out of 4.4 million in greater Boston (68 percent), whereas Whitefield’s farewell sermon drew 23,000 from of the city population of 17,000 (135 percent). Whitefield’s more modest estimate was 20,000 (118 percent). Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2003), 79.

[2] Harry S. Stout, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), x.

[3] Stout, Divine Dramatist, 90; Frank Lambert, Pedlar in Divinity: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals, 1737-1770 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 128; Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-century Revival (Westchester, IL: Cornerstone Books, 1979), 527; and Harry S. Stout, “Whitefield, George,” Dictionary of Christianity in America, ed. Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 1252.

[4] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 202.

[5] Jonathan Edwards and C. C. Goen, A faithful narrative of the surprising work of God in the conversion of many Souls in Northampton, and neighbouring towns and villages of the County of Hampshire, in the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay in New England. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 4: The Great Awakening (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972).

[6] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 137.

[7] Richard Rhodes, John James Audubon: The Making of an American (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. Blake, 2004); David Haven, Walt Whitman and the Culture of American Celebrity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006); Joy S. Kasson, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2000); Richard Schickel, Douglas Fairbanks: The First Celebrity (London, UK: Elm Tree Books, 1976); Leonard J. Leff, Hemingway and His Conspirators: Hollywood, Scribners, and the Making of American Celebrity Culture (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997). Other proposed contenders include: Adah Isaacs Menken (c. 1855), see Renée M. Sentilles, Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Gertrude Stein (c. 1900), see Karen Leick, Gertrude Stein and the Making of an American Celebrity (New York, NY: Routledge, 2009); and Charles Lindbergh (c. 1940), see Randy Roberts and David Welky, Charles A. Lindbergh: The Power and Peril of Celebrity, 1927-1941 (Maplecrest, NY: Brandywine Press, 2003).

[8] Richard Schickel, Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), 21.

[9] Richard DeCordova, Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990).

[10] Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co, 2005), 45.

[11] There are some who believe that Hollywood’s star-making days are over and are now being replaced by the experience-making of stadium theaters, 3-D glasses, concept movies, and CGI. Given the blockbuster opening weekend ($35 million) of the low-tech but star-studded The Expendables (2010), I suspect this argument will grow even more heated.

[12] See Schickel, Intimate Strangers; and Graeme Turner, Understanding Celebrity (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2004), 3, 8.

[13] Turner, Understanding Celebrity, 10.

[14] Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame & its History (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1986).

[15] See also 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9. All references are from the New International Version.

[16] Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image, or, What Happened to the American Dream (London, UK: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1861), 58; and Daniel J. Boorstin, “From Hero to Celebrity: The Human Pseudo-event,” in David Marshall, The Celebrity Culture Reader (New York, NY: Routledge, 2006), 72-90.

[17] Turner, 65.

[18] These “stages” do not always occur chronologically.

[19] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 155, 160.

[20] Edwards, Faithful Narrative, 11-14.

[21] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 161; and cited in Jonathan Edwards and C. C. Goen, The Great Awakening, 36.

[22] C. C. Goen, The Great Awakening, 90-92

[23] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 171.

[24] Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism, 80.

[25] Robert W. Jenson, America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1988), x. See also, Joseph A. Conforti, Jonathan Edwards: Religious Tradition & American Culture (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Douglas A. Sweeney and Allen C. Guelzo, The New England Theology: From Jonathan Edwards to Edwards Amasa Park (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006).

[26] Michael J. Crawford chronicles that between 1712-1732 the Connecticut River Valley alone experienced as many as fifteen revivals before the first of two “outpourings” in Edwards’s Northampton, Massachusetts, church (1734-1736, 1740-1742). See, Seasons of Grace: Colonial New England’s Revival Tradition in Its British Context (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991), 108. To his credit, Edwards’s own account mentioned “nearly every church in Western Massachusetts and twenty in Connecticut.” See Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 162.

[27] Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1986), 228.

[28] Stout, Divine Dramatist, 95

[29] Ibid., 87.

[30] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 200.

[31] Stout, Divine Dramatist, xiv.

[32] Ibid., xiii. Italics mine.

[33] For more insight into the use of media, publicity, et cetera in the First Great Awakening see Frank Lambert, Inventing the “Great Awakening” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); Harry S. Stout, “Religion, Communications, and the Ideological Origins of the American Revolution” The William and Mary Quarterly: A Magazine of Early American History 34 (1977): 519-541; and Michael J. Crawford, Seasons of Grace, 13ff.

[34] Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism, 141.

[35] Jonathan Edwards and C. C. Goen, Some thoughts concerning the present revival of religion in New England and the way in which it ought to be acknowledged and promoted. The works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 4: The Great Awakening (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972).

[36] Gary David Stratton, “Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) Theology of Spiritual Awakening and Spiritual Formation Leadership in Higher Education” (PhD diss., Talbot School of Theology, 2009), 59. See also Gary D. Stratton, “Jonathan Edwards’ Treatise Concerning Religious Affections and Gerald McDermott’s Seeing God,” Christian Education Journal 3 (2006) and Samuel S. Storms, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007).

[37] Jonathan Edwards, John Edwin Smith, and Perry Miller, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, in three parts. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959), 5-7.

[38] Boorstin, The Image, 58.

[39] Turner, Understanding Celebrity, 55.

[40] Helen A.S. Popkin, “Suckers! Why you fell for ‘Dry Erase Board Girl.’” msnbc.com, August 12, 2010, accessed August 14, 2010.

[41] Alexia Tsotsis, “Confirmed: HOPA Dry Erase Girl Is a Hoax, Identity Revealed,” TechCrunch, August 11, 2010, accessed August 11, 2010.

[42] Shira Lazar, “Elyse Porterfield, HOPA Dry Erase Girl Exclusive Interview [Video],” CBS News, August 11, 2010, accessed August 11, 2010. [43] Boorstin, The Image, 57.

[44] Richard Dyer and Paul McDonald, Stars (London, UK: BFI, 2007), 17.

[45] Chris Rojek, Celebrity: Critical Concepts in Sociology (London, UK: Routledge, 2010), 16, 52.

[46] Marshall, Celebrity and Power, 10. See also Leo Lowenthal, Communication in Society. Studies on Authoritarianism 3, False Prophets (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1997).

[47] Burke probably never used the precise phrase, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” but rather, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one [. . .]” Daniel E. Ritchie, Edmund Burke: Appraisals and Applications (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990), xiii.

[48] Stephen Mansfield, Forgotten Founding Father: The Heroic Legacy of George Whitefield (Nashville, TN: Highland Books/Cumberland House, 2001), 64.

[49] Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism, 108.

[50] Stout, Divine Dramatist, 122-123.

[51] This is not to minimize the doctrinal and methodological controversies that only added to their fame. See Stout, Divine Dramatist, 123.

[52] George Whitefield and Robert Backhouse, The Journals of George Whitefield (London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1993), 144. See also Dallimore, Whitefield, 333-354.

[53] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 82

[54] Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism, 143-144.

[55] Jonathan Edwards and George S. Claghorn, Letters and Personal Writings (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 755.

[56] Ibid., 753-4

[57] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 134

[58] Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989).

[59] James Monaco, Celebrity: The Media as Image Makers, And, In Order of Their Celebrity (New York, NY: Dell, 1978).

[60] Phil Cook, Branding Faith, Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), 10, 49.

[61] Edward Rothstein, “The Power of Political Pratfalls,” New York Times, October 12, 2008. See also, David Carr and Brian Stelter, “Campaigns in a Web 2.0 World,” New York Times, November 2, 2008.

[62] See also 1 Samuel 13:14; 16:7.

The Bible and Women in Church Leadership: A Young Actress’s Perspective, Part 3

Part 3: Christianity’s Radically Counter-Cultural View of Gentiles, Slaves, and Women (Read Part 1 here.)

Could the logic of Paul’s argument eventually lead to a day when women with ministry gifts can finally take their Spirit-intended place of leadership in the body of Christ?

By Esther Junia [1]

One of the “signs” of the radical transformation of the age of the Spirit is the inclusion of women in anointed leadership. (‘Pentecost,’ Jean Restout)

Just because there are weaknesses in the case against women in ministry doesn’t automatically imply that every church in the world should suddenly promote women into teaching and leadership roles. However, it does point to at least the possibility of an alternative biblical perspective. Here is my rather feeble attempt to articulate one.

Rather than starting with Paul’s rules for two specific (and problematic) settings, perhaps it is more helpful to start with some of the more universal principles expressed throughout Scripture, including Paul’s own writings.

First, despite the male dominated leadership structures in the ancient world, the Old Testament prophets foretold the dawning of a day marked by a radically counter-cultural view of women in ministry. In Joel 2:298-29, the prophet predicts that the new age of the Holy Spirit would be bring anointing to all God’s people (not just a few prophets, kings, and judges). One of the “signs” of the radical transformation of the age of the Spirit is that anointed leadership will extend not only to men, but to women as well. In fact, Joel mentions women twice!

Second, Peter chooses this particular prophecy as the text for the first sermon ever preached in the newborn church (Acts 2:16-17).  His primary reasoning for choosing this particular Old Testament reference is certainly that Joel’s prophecy explains the coming of the Holy Spirit. Yet he could have chosen a number of other verses to make that point. What he needed was a verse that explained an element of Pentecost that was truly remarkable from a cultural perspective: women were part of the post-resurrection community upon whom the Holy Spirit had been poured out (Acts 1:14).

Third, this radically countercultural view of women was inaugurated by Jesus himself.  Our savior brought a dignity to every woman he encountered that was virtually unheard of in the ancient world. Whether or not all Pharisees regularly prayed, ““I thank Thee, God, that I am a Jew, not a Gentile; a man, not a woman; and a freeman, and not a slave” is a matter of scholarly debate, but it certainly fits Jewish men’s general attitude toward women in the first-century. And Roman men were much worse. With the exception of (rich) noble women, wives were little more than property: valued only for their ability to bear children. Unmarried women were worse off than slaves and valued primarily for sex. The suicide rate of Roman women was astronomical.[2]

Jesus brought an unprecedented dignity to every woman he met.  (‘Christ appears to Mary Magdalen,’ Giulio Romano.)

Jesus and the writers of the gospels turn this cruelty inside out. Matthew opens the New Testament with an account of the lineage of the Messiah that includes two gentile women and a female adulterer (Matthew 1:1-16). Luke celebrates Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna as the first hero’s of faith. The Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:25-30), the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), the woman with an issue of blood (Matthew 9:20-22), the Samaritan woman (John 4), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-10) each receive honor and comfort unknown in the ancient world. Susanna, Joanna, and a number of other women are invited to be Jesus’ traveling companions and become his primary benefactors (Luke 8:3).  Women who follow Jesus are commended for their faith more often than his twelve ‘disciples’. Mary (sister of Lazarus), and Mary Magdalene enjoy personal relationships with Jesus that surpass any of the twelve disciples, except perhaps Peter and John.

Fourth, Paul himself takes this radically counter-cultural view of women, and connects it to the other universally accepted “equalities” of redeemed humanity. In Galatians Paul declares: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28).  In Colossians Paul connects this universal “leveling” principle to God’s plan to restore redeemed humanity into the full image of God in Christ.  This is “a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:9-10).  This seems to be a universal principle intended for all times and cultures and not a “rule” designed to solve a particular problem in a local congregation.

A Tentative Conclusion

I have come to believe that it is against this dynamically counter-cultural view of women that all true Christian understandings of ministry leadership must be judged.  If the cross obliterated all cultural (and even OT) divisions between Jews and Greeks, the racial divisions of Barbarians and Scythians, as well as the cultural distinctions and practice of slavery, then why do women with ministry gifts still have to sit at the back of the bus? While the realities of the profoundly male-dominated and hierarchical ancient cultures prevented full-scale implementation of an early church where women could fully express their ministry gifts, that does not mean that scripture does not point us in this direction.

Christianity exalted Gentiles to their rightful place of equality in value, status, and, yes, leadership in the body of Christ within the church’s first century. In same way, Christianity’s fairness and even kindness towards slaves eventually led to the church leading the charge for the abolition of slavery, despite tremendous cultural forces preventing it (including interpretations of New Testament passages that seem to condone it.) Isn’t it just as likely that the logic of Paul’s argument coupled with the incredible value Christianity places on women will eventually lead to a day when women with ministry gifts can finally take their Spirit-intended place of leadership in the body of Christ?  

In fact, I believe that unshackling the full potential of over half of the members of the body of Christ worldwide might overcome one of the last great obstacles to the gospel being preached in every nation and the church becoming the unified bride of Christ that causes the world to know that Jesus is our savior (John 17). [There I go being dramatic again.]

A Costly Journey

For such a time as this. (‘Esther Goes before Xerxes Unbidden,’ Paolo Veronese.)

No one is saying this journey will be easy. Exalting Gentiles to equal standing with Jews in the first century came at the cost of tremendous cultural conflict and demanded remarkable  courage and conviction from Jewish Christian leaders (Acts 15) . The abolition of slavery in the 19th-century required no less cost against no less cultural pressure. While I harbor no animosity toward men, women and churches who feel constrained by their interpretation of Paul’s two problematic statements, my conscience is captive to what I believe to be the word of God.

Is that being too dramatic? I don’t think so.  I want to stand on the side of history I believe Jesus (and Paul) inaugurated and join a church that fully supports the gifted women of my generation in their quest to fulfill the call of God upon their lives. I want to emulate Esther’s courage by asking the men in charge of the kingdom to protect our sisters from the Haman’s who would seek to prevent them from fulfilling their God-given callings. I believe my generation was born for such a time as this and is willing to pay the price to help our gifted sisters in Christ bless the church with all that He has entrusted to them.

And if we perish, we perish.

 


[1] Due to the complexities of a Hollywood career, “Esther” decided to write under an alias.

[2] S. Ruden, Paul Among the People, 11-20, 72-96.

 

The Bible and Women in Church Leadership: A Young Actress’s Perspective, Part 2

Part 2: The Case Against Women in Church Leadership-Exclusion Based Upon Created Order  (Read Part 1 here.)

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that–whether by Creation or the Fall–women are more gullible than men and therefore unworthy of teaching or leading the church.

By Esther Junia [1]

It is hard to argue with the authority of Paul. (‘Saint Paul in Athens,’ Januarius Zick.)

Some of my friends argue that women have no place in church leadership (and, no, it is not just the men.) They want to be true to word of God and it is hard to argue with the authority of Saint Paul. They just can’t get around the force of the apostle’s specific instructions to two congregations in particular. First, Paul tells the Corinthians that it is “disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:35). Second, he tells the Ephesians (through Timothy), “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). What’s worse, Paul appears to say that the basis for his admonition is that women are secondary to men, because women were made after men as well as the first to be deceived (2 Timothy 2:13-14).

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Paul is claiming that all women are created more gullible than all men and are therefore unworthy of teaching or leading the church. Taken in isolation these passages make it appear as if the last word in Biblical authority is that no woman should ever serve in church leadership and/or teaching. That’s the position I learned growing up, and since I wanted to be a good Bible believing Christian (and still do), I never questioned it. At least not until I began to see holes in what appears to be such an iron clad argument.

Problems with the Case Against Women in Leadership

First, it is actually rather hard to argue that Paul’s statement “it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church” actually refers to ministry leadership.  If it does, then it directly contradicts what he just said several chapters earlier where he actually encourages women to speak in church by prophesying and praying (1 Corinthians 11:5). Having learned more of how the early church functioned—men sitting on one side of the church and men on the other—it seems more likely that Paul is simply prohibiting women from talking among themselves and yelling across the aisle to their husbands. And it certainly fits Paul’s general concern in his letter to the Corinthians to maintain order in worship (1 Corinthians 14:4).

If Paul is trying to establish a universal principle he seems oddly out of step with the general pattern of Scripture. (Antoine Coypel, ‘The Swooning of Esther.’)
If Paul is trying to establish a universal principle he seems oddly out of step with the general pattern of Scripture. (‘The Swooning of Esther,’ Antoine Coypel.)

Second, if Paul is trying to make a universal principle in his statement, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent,” then he seems oddly out of step with the general pattern of Scripture.  Not only would he be contradicting Paul’s own instructions for women prophesying in church, he would be completely setting aside the examples of women leaders throughout the Bible.

In the Old Testament Huldah the prophetess instructs king Josiah (2Kings 22:14ff), and Deborah leads all of Israel (Judges 4-5).  In the New Testament Priscilla (with her husband) instructs Apollos (Acts 18:24ff), the seven daughters of Phillip are renowned for their ability to prophesy (Acts 21:8), and Paul himself calls Junia, “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).

Perhaps these women are simply “exceptions” to the general rule of woman remaining silent and subservient. But isn’t it more likely that they are pointing toward a different interpretation of these seemingly harsh statements of Paul?  Thankfully, such an interpretation exists.  Oddly enough, it is found in what seem to be the harshest element of Paul’s harshest statement—his claim that his instruction was based upon man being created before woman.

If Paul was really trying to say that he does not permit any woman to teach or assume authority over any man then it would make much more sense for him to say, “for man (ἀνδρός) was formed first, then woman (γυναικὶ),” rather than, “Adam (Ἀδὰμ) was formed first, then Eve (Εὕα).”  If he has intentionally kept his OT allusion within the context of marriage (and there is significant scholarly debate on this), his example better supports an argument for how a husband and wife are to relate to one another in church rather than how men and women are to relate. This would make it an extension of Paul’s argument that the segregated women shouldn’t shout across the aisle to their husbands; only in this case it is not their questions that they are shouting, but their answers. And that is where it gets really interesting.

A Cultural Clue?

Gnostic mythology of Paul’s day that glorified Eve. (‘The Expulsion of Adam and Eve,’ Masaccio.)

Bolstering this viewpoint is our current understanding of the Gnostic mythology of Paul’s day that glorified Eve!  In most Gnostic accounts the creation of Eve preceded Adam so that she represents the higher more spiritual aspect of humankind. When Eve listened to the serpent, she gained “knowledge” (γνῶσις) and then enlightened her husband with it (often with highly sexual overtones). Paul appears to be specifically refuting this idea by pointing out that Adam was actually formed first and the serpent did not ‘enlighten’ Eve; he deceived her. This seems to better square with Paul’s odd statement that “she shall be saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15), which seems to be aimed at refuting the Gnostic idea that women save their husbands through sex. [2]

So… maybe, just maybe, the case against woman in ministry isn’t as iron clad as it first appears.  But then, is there a good case for an alternative viewpoint?

NEXT:  The Case For Women in Ministry Leadership

 


[1] Due to the complexities of a Hollywood career, “Esther Junia” writes under an alias.

[2] C.C. Kroeger, I Suffer Not A Woman, 117-125, 171-177.

The Bible and Women in Church Leadership: A Young Actress’s Perspective, Part 1

Part 1: Confronting the Bewildering Extremes

Is it a matter of biblical integrity to exclude women from Sunday morning teaching and senior level leadership, or is it a matter of biblical integrity to resist their exclusion? You can’t have it both ways.

By Esther Junia [1]

Paul seems to be saying that a woman’s posture when she comes to church should be, “Sit down. Cover your head. And shut up!” (‘The Apostle Paul,’ Rembrandt)

The role of women in church leadership is a big deal for Christ followers in my generation.  It causes division among my Christian friends, untold heartache among my girl friends with ministry gifts, and a huge black eye in my generation’s view of the church.

It is also extremely confusing. A quick reading of the New Testament shows the apostle Paul commanding Timothy to make sure that women never teach men, yet Luke (Paul’s traveling companion) records that Priscilla’s instruction of Apollos revolutionizes the ministry of one of the greatest preachers in the New Testament.

Paul tells the Corinthians that it is “disgraceful” for a woman to speak in church, right after he has given them instructions for how women should dress when they do speak, prophesy, and pray in church.

Paul leaves women completely out of the equation when he instructs Titus in how find overseers/elders in his church, yet he calls at least one Roman woman “outstanding among the apostles,” a much more significant role.

Peter declares that the meaning of Pentecost is the fulfillment of an age-old prophecy that anointing of the Holy Spirit to minister will come upon women every bit as much as men, yet the New Testament mentions only a handful of female leaders.

.Confronting the Bewildering Extremes

Priscilla’s instruction of Apollos helps to revolutionize the ministry of one of the greatest preachers in the New Testament.

If you begin with one set of scriptures you could easily presume that a woman’s posture when she comes to church should be, “Sit down. Cover your head. And shut up!”  Yet, if you begin with a different set you might conclude that God is preparing women of faith to one day overthrow male-dominated hierarchies and take their rightful place in the Body of Christ and rule the world!

How on earth is a young (and completely disempowered) woman in a 21st Century American church (in Hollywood of all places) ever going to determine which of these perspectives is “biblical” when the Scriptural contradictions on both sides of this issue are so bewildering?  As someone who strives to live my life in the light of Scripture, I have wrestled long and hard over this one, especially since the Bible seems to support the views of people on both sides of the issue.

.Ducking the Question?

In truth, it would be easier to simply duck the question, but this really isn’t a halfway proposition.  To join a church that says one thing, but practices another isn’t an option for me.  (And Hollywood churches on both sides of this issue are strangely inconsistent with their stated viewpoints.) I have to decide if want to join a church that fully embraces women in ministry, or one that doesn’t. It is either a matter of biblical integrity to exclude women from Sunday morning teaching and senior level leadership, or it is a matter of biblical integrity to resist their exclusion.

Allowing women to teach and lead men is either a ploy from the devil to destroy the God-ordained male leadership structures of the church, or the God-ordained plan to release the full potential of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the lives of over half the members of the body of Christ. (Okay, I’m being a little dramatic there. I am an actress after all.)

Through a painstaking intellectual journey I have come to a conclusion my conscience can live with.  I could be wrong, but here’s my current thinking…

.NEXT:  The Case Against Women in Ministry Leadership


[1] An aspiring young actress came to Sue and I in deep distress over the apparent lack of support for women in ministry both in her faith community and in Scripture. We pointed her toward some scholarly resources and spent hours talking her through a new way of approaching this critical issue.  She ended up writing a paper for her faith community on the subject. We thought was too good not to share. I helped her edit and strengthen it and post it here with her permission. Due to the complexities of a Hollywood career, “Esther” decided to write under an alias.

[2] C.C. Kroeger, I Suffer Not A Woman, 117-125, 171-177.

Religion in China – Cracks in the Atheist Edifice, The Economist

After simmering in the countryside for decades, Chinese churches are exploding among young urban college educated professionals. Chinese Christians now outnumber Communist party members. What’s an atheist state to do? 

“Christianity is hard to control in China and getting harder all the time. It is spreading rapidly, and infiltrating the party’s own ranks. The line is blurring between house churches and official ones, and Christians are starting to emerge from hiding to play a more active part in society. The Communist Party has to find a new way to deal with all this.”  -The Economist

It was too expensive to obtain permission to reprint this important article in the November 1, 2014 issue of the Economist, so we’re providing the link here: “Religion in China: Cracks in the Atheist Edifice.”

Hot faith: Beijing Pastor Jin Tianming was arrested in 2009 after preaching to hundreds of young urban Christians at an outdoor worship service (during a snowstorm), but such policies may now be changing.

See other post in ongoing series: 

Partnership not Persecution: A Modest Proposal for the Future of China and her Christian Intellectuals, by Gary David Stratton

Vibrant Faith Among Future Chinese Culture Makers: Christians Now Outnumber Communists, especially on Campuses, by Rodney Stark

A Critique of ALL Religions: Chinese Intellectuals and the Church, by David Jeffrey

 

Five Trends Among the Unchurched, by David Kinnaman

More than one-third of America’s adults are secular in belief and practice

While barely half of the unchurched surveyed could name a single favorable impact of the Christian community in America, nearly three-fifths could identify a negative one.

by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group

Unchurched facing awaySince 1990, the percentage of unchurched adults in America has risen from 30% to 43% of the population. Even as this segment has grown, has their profile changed?

With the aid of more than two decades of tracking research—a sort of cultural time-lapse photography—Barna Group has discovered real and significant shifts in unchurched attitudes, assumptions, allegiances and behaviors. We’ve identified five trends in our research that are contributing to this increase in the churchless of America.

This new study of the unchurched population comes in conjunction with the release of Churchless, a new book from our veteran researchers George Barna. Churchless draws on more than two decades of tracking research and more than 20 nationwide studies of the unchurched.

1. Secularization Is on the Rise

Nearly two-fifths of the nation’s adult population (38%) now qualifies as post-Christian (measured by 15 different variables related to people’s identity, beliefs and behaviors. Read more about our post-Christian metric here.). That includes 10% of Americans who qualify as highly post-Christian. Another one-quarter is moderately post-Christian (28%). Examined over time, our research shows that the proportion of highly secularized individuals is growing slowly but steadily.
Barna-Unchurched Trends

In other words, in spite of our “Christian” self-descriptions, more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice. If nothing else, this helps explain why America has experienced a surge in unchurched people—and presages a continuing rise in this population.

Among the churchless, the proportions skew even more heavily: Overall, more than three-quarters of unchurched adults fall in the heavy-to-moderate range on the secularization scale. That compares to about one out of eight among the churched.

As you might expect, the data show some striking generational differences when it comes to secularization. The pattern is indisputable: The younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is. Nearly half of Millennials (48%) qualify as post-Christian compared to two-fifths of Gen X-ers (40%), one-third of Boomers (35%) and one-quarter of Elders (28%).

2. People Are Less Open to the Idea of Church

people-graphicsBarna research shows that the unchurched are becoming less responsive to churches’ efforts to connect with them. For example, conventional wisdom says the best way to get people to visit a church is to have friends invite them—and the conventional wisdom is right. The churchless we interviewed were most open to “a friend of yours inviting you to attend a local church,” with one-fifth expressing strong interest and nearly half willing to consider a church based on this factor. An invitation from a friend is the top-rated way churches can establish connections with the unchurched…

However, while the conventional wisdom remains true today, the road ahead shows challenging signs…

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Download full color infographics.

Is the Internet Killing Christianity? by Christian Piatt

Do we deserve the obsolescence toward which we are so steadily headed?

Although the Internet did not single-handedly put Western Christianity in the state we find ourselves today, it is an important catalyst that galvanized the elements already in place in the culture 

by Christian Piatt • Author of postChristian

PC_cybereden_prNo one reasonably disputes that attendance in Christian churches is in sharp decline. The real lingering question is “why?” which is one of the most important questions I take on in my new book, “postChristian: What’s left? Can we fix it? Do we care?”

Though it’s not solely responsible, the internet – along with the way it changes the way we interrelate, communicate, seek and consume information – is certainly doing its part to contribute to the decline. And it’s not just Church that is feeling the pinch; any hierarchic system in which the institution traditionally has played the role of guard, gatekeeper or mediator is finding their authority challenged.

As for why now, the answer is more complex than any single factor. On the one hand, changing domestic, social and economic systems have caused us to spread out and move around far more than before. The churches, as a result, are no longer social hubs of neighborhoods any more. And along with being social hubs, churches also served as economic engines, as businesspeople networked after worship or over a potluck meal. Now we just use LinkedIn.

There’s also been a substantial shift in cultural perception, such that not going to church no longer holds the same stigma that it used to. Even atheists are coming out of the proverbial closet in greater numbers. And as I suggest in postChristian, lower church attendance doesn’t necessarily correlate to fewer people believing in God. Plenty of skeptics have filled church pews out of a sense of familial or other social obligation.

But beyond these factors, there’s the dramatic shift in how we access and consume ideas and information…

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Christian Piatt is the author of “postChristian: What’s Left? Can we fix it? Do we care?” and a blogger on the Patheos Progressive Christian channel. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitteror Facebook.

See Also:

Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church, by Christian Piatt

Four More (BIG) Reasons Young Adults Quit Church, by Christian Piatt

Four Reasons I Came Back to Church, by Christian Piatt

Gaming vs. God: Could XBox Make You an Atheist? by Tom Bartlett

5 Ways Churches Can Better Connect with Millennials, by David Kinnaman

Moving beyond the walls of the church to be the church with the next generation

College students and ‘twentysomethings’ who stay connected to a local church are twice as likely to have had a close personal friendship with an adult Christian who helped them connect faith to life

by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group

Startup BusinessMillennial ministry is so important our team decided to revisit some of our most popular research on young adults.

We want to help you learn more about the next generation in order to maximize your efforts to spiritually engage them. Over years of research, one thing remains clear: the relationship between Millennials and the church is shifting.

Although this list isn’t exhaustive, here are five major themes we’ve identified from our research.

1. Make Room for Meaningful Relationships
The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships. When comparing twentysomethings who have remained active in their faith after high school and twentysomethings who have dropped out of church, our research uncovered a significant difference between the two.

Those who stay are twice as likely to have had a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church (59% of those who stayed report such a friendship versus 31% among those who are no longer active).

The same pattern is evident among more intentional relationships such as mentoring—nearly three in ten active Millennials (28% ) had an adult mentor at the church other than their pastor, compared to the just one in ten dropouts (11%) who would say the same.

2. Create Reverse Mentoring Opportunities
The term “reverse mentoring” has come to describe the kind of give and take between young and experienced leaders. Effective ministry to Millennials means helping these young believers discover their own mission in the world, not merely asking them to wait their turn.

Millennials who remain active in church are twice as likely as dropouts to say they served the poor through their church (33% versus 14%). They are also more likely to say they went on a trip that helped expand their thinking (29% versus 16%) and more likely to indicate they had found a cause or issue at church that motivates them (24% versus 10%).

3. Teach Connection Between Vocation & Discipleship
Churches can deepen their connection with Millennials by teaching a more potent theology of vocation, or calling. Many churches seem to leave this kind of vocation-based outcome largely at the door—unless these students show interest in traditional church-based ministry. But what Millennials are seeking goes beyond this. Vocational discipleship is a way to help Millennials connect to the rich history of Christianity with their own unique work God has called them to—whether it’s within the walls of the church or not…

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The Great Scythe Hanging Over the Head of the Church, by Ashley Ariel

Part of ongoing series: How Millennials Who Gave up  on Church are Re-engaging Community and Redefining Faith

These doubts and desperate graspings have snowballed into a certain terrible urgency ready to sweep away an entire generation into nihilistic despair. Utterly convinced that this world, this church and this God simply cannot be moved to care.

by 

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

-Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulysses

I have wandering feet. I was born in Orange County, California, but have lived in New England, New York and Minnesota and have traveled through at least forty of the fifty states. Washed up in France once and got air sick all over Bolivia on my sixteenth birthday. Mexico and Canada have been in the mix and to my eyes, the world in its gloriously, mysterious vastness is up next.

I think part of my inclination toward continual movement is because before I turned ten I lived in seven different houses. My track record continued into high school where I attended four different schools and then, finally didn’t graduate from any of them. (The GED is a beautiful thing.)

You might say that wanderlust has been imprinted into my bones, but these movements and bittersweet goodbyes are only a part of my restlessness. The vast majority of my discontent is that ephemeral longing for things yet unseen.

This disconnect grumbles and growls around me, simmering in my soul as I strive to hold in tension the beauty and the pain of this world. A great deal of which was brought about by none other than ding-ding-ding: you guessed it! The church.

But I am being unkind. (I often am). I think it’s an easy excuse to dismiss God on the merit of his people. Which is perhaps untrue and most certainly unfair and yet my history of stepping into the ring with the eternal has not shown me a good God reflected in his people. In fact, I think it is this rumbling, grumblingly tenacious fact that leaves me wrestling with God and holding his church at arm’s length.

I have seen both beautiful and horrible things done in the name of God.  And so much evil precipitated by those claiming to be his people that my natural inclination is to go running in the opposite direction. If God is shown through his people then we are doing a right horrible job of it. Myself included.

I know anger at the church and anger at God is nothing groundbreaking, but it is such a theme in our culture that in my mind it is the continual, piercing shriek of a kettle left too long on the stove and it feels liable to explode at any moment in my thoughts, in my actions and in the swelling dissatisfaction echoing around this great big place called Earth. This is the issue of our generation. This is our sticking point. How the church deals with this anger combined with that creeping, restless, wandering disconnect of so many in our culture is the great scythe hanging over the head of the church.

These issues are hardly new. But in our high-tech, “always on,” manically streaming world that has the capacity to create such joy and such shattering loneliness these niggling worries and doubts and desperate graspings have snowballed into a certain terrible urgency ready to sweep away an entire generation into nihilistic despair. Utterly convinced that this world, this church and this God simply cannot be moved to care.

Where is God in all of this? What is God? Is He the song that bursts into your mind at an opportune moment? Is He the words that spring from your lips in a moment of clarity? Is He the joy set free to dance, skimming along the page when you set pen to paper (or fingers to keys) to pursue creativity? Or is He the hand that helps you up after you’ve fallen down a flight of stairs in the miserable, drizzling rain of a Southern California afternoon after you have undone three surgeries worth of knee injuries? Is He the nonsensical word that you receive from prophets when you go to receive prayer? Or is He in the blank faces inquiring if, “It’s ten percent better,” when you go to get healing? Where is God in all of this? That is the ultimate question, is it not?

Somehow I keep getting pushed back into faith, into churches and steeples and good Christian peoples. I find myself back in Christian institutions that move me into questions and tensions and beauties and heartaches and mouthed niceties and breathed obscenities that make up my bizarre relationship with the human. And yet, it is from these very institutions that claim to represent the risen Lord that I have been dealt the swiftest blows of greatest unkindness. Where is God in all that? I’m afraid I’m not sure what questions I’m even asking anymore or if there are any answers out there to find. Life is a deliriously beautiful struggle and most days it is only the most unflinching, bulldog tenacity that pulls my faith and me over the broken shards of these doubts, clutching with desperate fingers at the razor-tipped edges of my faith…

Continue reading: The Church as the Image of the Invisible 

Author’s Bio: Not quite young and not quite bold. Such unkempt glory roils my soul. I wrestle with art and I wrestle with life. I walk with a theological glint in my eye. These stories are my journey.  Me, alone, throwing darts into the abyss. Here I go, shadow-dancing with the eternal, please join me if you dare.  I am the the Wild/Restless.

LOST Lessons of Leadership 3: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing – Authoritarian Leadership Learns to Serve

Part 3 of series, LOST Lessons of Leadership: What ABC’s Hit Series Taught Me About Heroic Character.

Ben carefully manipulates of his followers by giving them just enough of what they want to be able to keep them under his control

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

Dr. Benjamin Linus, a wolf in sheep’s clothing

The second season of LOST introduces yet a third approach to leadership in the person of Dr. Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson). Ben is the leader of “The Others”—a second group of island inhabitants who predate the plane crash and have no intention of sharing the island with the survivors of Oceanic 815. [1]

Ben is neither a servant leader, nor an overtly authoritarian one. He is something else altogether. He is not above using the “gun” of authoritarian power to force people to do his will, but his particular talent is mastery in the art of picking up a “basin and towel” in order to manipulate followers to do his bidding.

As evidenced in the clip below, Ben is the most dangerous type of leader in the postmodern world—a pseudo servant leader. Injured, captured, and imprisoned by the crash survivors (who have no idea who he really is), the unassuming Ben seems to be in no position to lead. Yet, watch how quickly he gets under John Locke’s skin by exploiting Locke’s “need” to be seen on equal or greater footing than Jack. (Go ahead. I’ll wait while you watch it.)


LOST Season 2: Ben manipulating Locke. Follow my videos on vodpod

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The Paradox of Power

Leadership is essentially a transaction. Followers give their leaders power in exchange for service. The “paradox of power” in democratic societies is that men and women simply will not follow leaders they don’t perceive are meeting their needs.

The American political system bears testimony to this paradox. We call our elected officials “Public Servants.”  If they serve us well, we re-elect them.  If they serve us poorly, we elect others in their place.

Business practice bears this out well. Companies who serve their customers well are highly rewarded with return business and referrals.  Companies that do not meet the needs of their clients soon find themselves filing for bankruptcy.

Hollywood is painfully aware of this principle. The “best” film ever made won’t last a week in theaters if it fails to touch a chord in the hearts, minds, (or funny bones) of a significant audience.

Faith communities are subject to this paradox as well. People join churches and follow various teachers and rabbis because they sense their needs are being met.  They “vote” for their favorite spiritual leader with their attendance, their giving and, in the burgeoning religious marketplace, their buying.  Churches that truly meet the needs of their congregations grow large and prosperous.  Their pastors become famous.  Their methods and teaching become models for others.

But is this all there is to servant leadership? If so, then anyone can do it.  Just give people what they want and you’re a leader.  But are you?  Really?  Is the ability to attract a following by promising and (sometimes) delivering what people want all there is to transformational leadership? If it is, then we are in real trouble.

Authoritarian Leadership Learns to Serve

Unfortunately, the paradox of power cuts both ways. People give power for service.  A leader who fails to understand this and, therefore, fails to seek to meet the needs of his followers will soon lead only himself. However, the leader who does understand this principle can turn it to his advantage.  By selectively meeting only those needs of his followers which meet his agenda, an authoritarian can actually “lord it over” his followers by careful manipulation.

Ben maintains a dictatorial iron fist upon the “others,” by claiming to be their servant leader

This is where authoritarian leadership can most closely resemble servant leadership. Because of the paradox of power even an authoritarian leader must be wise in how she attains to her goal of gaining a position over their followers.  Machiavelli, the epitome of authoritarian leadership, put it this way:  “Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.”

Mao Tse-Tung, the father of Chinese communism, used this principle to subdue an entire nation under his iron-fisted grip. His interest in the welfare of the peasants of China was based upon managerial expediency not philosophical principle.  He boldly declared:

“To link oneself with the masses one must act in accordance with their needs and wishes… We should pay close attention to the well being of the masses, from the problems of land and labor to those of fuel and rice… We should help them to proceed from these things to an understanding of the higher tasks which we have put forward… such is the basic method of leadership.”[2]

Power Brokers

A quick study of history will reveal that nearly every dictator from Napoleon to Hitler to Hitler rose to power by mastering this principle. They doled out servant leadership in exchange for power.  Burns describes the difference this way: They learned to exploit the paradox of power to their personal advantage.  In the words of James MacGregor Burns, they are not true servant leaders, but power-brokers.

“Power-brokers …respond to their subjects’ needs and motivations only to the extent that they have to in order to fulfill their own power objectives, which remain their primary concern.  True leaders, on the other hand, emerge from, and always return to, the wants and needs of their followers.  They see their task as the recognition and mobilization of their followers’ needs.”[3]

This kind of power-brokering appears to be the true motivation behind much of the “servant leadership” in contemporary society. Tom Peters and Robert Waterman helped birth a revolution in the business book publishing industry by studying the actual practices of top corporations. One of his key findings is summed up as follows: “Almost everyone agrees, ‘people are our most important asset,’ yet almost none really live it.  The excellent companies live their commitment to people . . . They insisted on top quality.  They fawned on their customers.” [4]

Yet Peters and Waterman were unwittingly candid as to why such an approach is so effective: “We desperately need meaning in our lives and will sacrifice a great deal to institutions that will provide meaning for us.”[5] Really? So is the goal to provide meaning or to get our customers to sacrifice to buy our product?

Barber and Strauss in their book Leadership: The Dynamics of Success, are equally candid:

“Servanthood is the highest form of leadership.  It is the ideal.  It exists when the leader creates a caring environment in which those under him feel wanted and appreciated.  In this environment they can respond to his direction and reach their highest level of productivity.”[6]

Hmmm? So what motivates the supervisor’s interest in her employees needs: service or manipulation? It is difficult to discern?  What happens when meeting the real needs of employees will (at least temporarily) hurt their productivity?  Are they really interested in meeting the needs of their employees or are they merely searching for a method to get them to follow their leadership?

And what about the pastor who diligently attempts to meet the needs of his flock?Which motivates him more; building his people into a super-congregation, or building himself into a superstar?

All too often “servant leadership” boils down to little more than skillful manipulation. We invest in the needs of others only if it yields for us a return on our investment:  a return of profit, promotion and power.  Our true motive is not to serve others, but to serve ourself.  It is authoritarian leadership in servant clothing—all form but no substance.

The LOST Power of Ben

Ben carefully manipulates Juliet by giving her what she wants (but only in order to get what he really wants.)

This appears to be the secret to Ben’s unassuming power: He is wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is a master dictator skilled in the careful manipulation of his followers through giving them enough of what they want to be able to keep them under control.

Nowhere is this more evident than his recruitment of Dr. Juliet Burke (Elizabeth Mitchell). Ben lures Juliet to the island by “serving” her in the death of her estranged husband, the healing of her cancer-ridden sister, and appealing to her longing to help barren women conceive. And to what purpose? To make her his own. (To view the creepy scene, see clip link below.)

Like Dr. Benjamin Linus, the secret to so much power in Western society today is not so much genuine servant leadership seeking to meet the needs of others, but rather the careful manipulation of others through the sleight of hand of power-brokering. 

So what is the difference between power-brokering and genuine servant leadership?

 

Next post in the seriesLOST Lessons of Leadership 4: Charlie and Juliet’s Sacrifice – The Heart of Servant Leadership 

 

Previous Posts In Series:

Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion

Hollywood Responds to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Higher Education Responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Icons of Heroic Celebrity: TV Writer Chris Easterly on Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

The Paradox of Power: A Cure for the Cancer of Pseudo Celebrity?

LOST Lessons of Leadership 1: What ABC’s Hit Series Taught Me About Heroic Character.

LOST Lessons of Leadership 2: Jack’s Position of Power – A Study in Servant Leadership


Notes

[1] Remarkably, the role of Dr. Benjamin Linus (aka, Henry Gale) was originally intended to be short-lived and minor. However, Michael Emerson created such a creepy and compelling character (one that earned him two Emmy nominations) show writers ended up “promoting” him to be leader of the “others.”

[2] Quoted in James MacGregor Burns. Leadership. p. 10

[3] James MacGregor Burns, Leadership. p. 48

[4] Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence. (New York:  Harper & Rowe)  p. 13,16

[5] In Search of Excellence, p. 56

[6] Cyril T. Barber and Gary H.  Strauss.  Leadership: The Dynamics of Success.  (Greenwood, SC:  Attic Press), pp. 107-108

Why ‘Noah’ Is the Biblical Epic that Christians Deserve, by Justin Chang

He who has ears to hear, let him buy a ticket to Darren Aronofsky’s extraordinary movie

Detractors of the film are in peril of ignoring one of the great recurring themes of Scripture: that God can and does use the most unlikely characters to glorify His name and advance His purposes.

by Justin Chang • Variety

Arronofsky is known for his exploration of heroes who know they are destined for greatness, but for whom greatness proves a terrible burden, like Noah. (Paramount)
Aronofsky is known for his exploration of characters destined for greatness, but for whom greatness proves a terrible burden.  (Photo: Paramount)

Thank God (seriously) for Darren Aronofsky.

In his flawed, fascinating and altogether extraordinary “Noah,” this ever-audacious filmmaker has given us a bold and singular vision of Old Testament times — a picture that dares to handle a sacred text not with the clunky messages and stiff pieties we’ve come to expect from so much so-called “Christian cinema,” but rather with a thrilling sense of personal investment and artistic risk. Crucially, Aronofsky approaches Scripture not with a purist’s reverence but with a provocateur’s respect, teasing out the hard, soul-searching questions that the Word of God, if you take it as such (and I do), was always meant to inspire. He has made a gravely powerful, fully committed, sometimes blisteringly angry film that will fit few Christians’ preconceptions of what a biblical epic should look, sound or feel like, and believe me when I say that this is cause not for condemnation, but for honest rejoicing.

Certainly it’s safe to say that at least a few Paramount executives are popping champagne corks — or, at the very least, heaving sighs of relief — in light of the news that “Noah,” after weathering months of iffy pre-release chatter, opened this weekend to an impressive $77.6 million worldwide ($44 million Stateside), some of which was surely driven not just by widespread curiosity, but also by largely favorable reviews. It should be noted that several of those recommendations were written by critics for Christian publications — many of whom, while eloquent and enthusiastic in their praise, understandably took pains to assure their readers that they could buy a ticket to “Noah” with a clear conscience, without fearing that they were somehow sullying their God-fearing minds in the process.

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Surfing Secularism: Why Fighting the Rest of the World is a Losing Strategy for Churches, by Dave Schmelzer

 A pastor in Boston calls on his fellow church leaders to ride the wave of the times.

Christians have been negotiating the relationship between churches and the wider, secular culture ever since there was a discernible “secular culture.” What’s new now is who is doing the negotiating and how.

by David Schmelzer • OnFaith

Dave Schmelzer, Author of Not the Religious Type
Dave Schmelzer, Pastor and author of ‘Not the Religious Type’

The interview took a hostile turn.

The radio host of this How to Argue for Christianity show called me an “appeaser.” I wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that, but it didn’t sound positive. He was interviewing me because I’d written a book that recounted people experiencing faith in a very secular city — Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard and MIT and a reputed 2 percent churchgoing rate. But when he found out that whatever encouraging things had happened there had not involved anyone “courageously confronting secular culture,” the knives came out.

Christians have been negotiating the relationship between churches and the wider, secular culture ever since there was a discernible “secular culture” — in America at least since the late 19th century. What’s new now is who is doing the negotiating. Back then, Harry Emerson Fosdick and what we know as the liberal, mainline church emphasized Jesus-the-good-citizen and downplayed Jesus-the-miracle-working-savior-of-individual-souls. But, today, many young evangelical church leaders are learning to surf, rather than draw lines against, secular culture.

Evangelicals are left with three choices…

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See also:

Podcast: Conversation with Dave Schmelzer re Faith, Culture, Hollywood and Ivy League

J. J. Abrams, Stephen Spielberg, Woody Allen, Elvis, and God’s Unique Work in Us when We’re 14, by Dave Schmelzer

Blue Ocean Summit 2011: Hearing from God in Prayer and Society, by Dave Schmelzer

Toward a Deep Blue Ocean: Forging a Robust Spiritual Development Stage-Theory, by Gary David Stratton

Connecting to God in Hollywood, the Ivy League, and Beyond, by Gary David Stratton