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Christian book industry 'sinks into the mire'

I picked at a cranberry salad as my friend wolfed down a double-decker cheeseburger. He barely paused to wipe his mouth as he ranted about New York Times bestselling author (cue laugh track) Mark Driscoll’s hasty departure from the House that Mark Built, Mars Hill in Seattle. For those of you who have better things to do than keep up with the latest shenanigans within evangelicalism, Driscoll is the hipster loose cannon who recently succumbed to a year’s worth of bad publicity, spurred by his bad behavior.

Reports of spiritual abuse, plagiarism, misuse of ministry donations and other ugly issues forced the sometimes profane and always brazen Driscoll to resign as senior pastor. My calorie-ingesting friend was focused, however, on Driscoll’s “book writing” abilities.

“How many of these big ministry guys actually write their own books?” he asked.

I absentmindedly turned up my glass of water and two ice cubes hit me in the eye. I tried to appear nonplussed and continued pontificating on the state of Christian publishing.

“Well, it’s like this,” I blustered as I dabbed my eye with a napkin, “A few of them put in the work and actually write. But you’d be shocked and disgusted by how many of them don’t. It’s virtually a scam.”

The real scandal though? The absolute refusal of what some call the Evangelical Industrial Complex to acknowledge and discipline the jugheads within their own ranks.

Put researchers on the church payroll to compile your next bestseller? No problem, you are rewarded with conference speaking gigs to help promote the book.

Use the tithes of hard-working congregants to puff your book through a New York publicity firm? Congratulations, son, we’re going to distribute your stuff through the Catalyst network, good-old-boy Christian retail channels, etc.

Months ago, when Driscoll’s shoddy, plagiarism-driven books were outed by a few brave souls like Janet Mefferd, those exposing the wrongdoing were lambasted, while prominent evangelical leaders uttered nary a peep.

Think about it. Is Rick Warren going to reign in his protégé, Driscoll? Of course not. Did Driscoll’s outrageous behavior from the past disqualify him from speaking for Catalyst?

Are you kidding? There’s money to be made!

Rank-and-file Christians have no real idea how the Evangelical Industrial Complex controls the narrative within the American church. They do it through media and force of personality.

I know one – one – publisher still willing to produce hard-hitting books that will challenge evangelical leadership and inform the rank and file. The publisher recently told me that a brand new release (they require their authors to write their own books, btw) had sold 10,000 copies in the first month and was now in a third printing.

Praise God. Seriously.

Now, one can hope that the major publishers, who create, nurture (and, if necessary, prop up) the Mark Driscolls of the world will be more circumspect when signingvup the new breed of evangelical “pastor.”

But that’s probably being too idealistic. No doubt Driscoll, already being rehabilitated by his friends before the ink was dry on his resignation, will emerge in some new ministry venue in 2015. He’ll take off for the holidays.

Days after departing Mars Hill, he was called to the stage to speak by the organizer of the Gateway Leadership & Worship Conference, Robert Morris.

Morris, a Dallas-based pastor, also made a crude comparison between Driscoll’s public “crucifixion” (because, you know, the Lord was crucified, too, by mean-spirited fundamentalists) and Jesus, and no one really blinked. In fact, there was applause.

So this is the state of Christian publishing today, by and large. Yes, you can rightly call me to task for painting with a broad brush; I acknowledge of course that there are fine efforts still going on within the industry.

But they are in the minority. So long as ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) allows books by change agents like Brian McLaren on the summer conference floor, and Warren, Bill Hybels, and Andy Stanley keep enabling spiritual abusers, publishing will continue to sink into the mire.

It’s a sorry state.

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