I am of Paul. I am of Apollos. I am of John Piper or Jim Wallis or Jen Hatmaker or Nancy Leigh DeMoss.
It was a first century problem, and it is a twenty-first century problem. It is perhaps most pronounced in the Protestant world. Our very spiritual DNA contains a desire to divide. As we lack a single hierarchical authority structure on which we can all agree, we are tempted to form our own tribes.
Today, our Bible teachers and Christian communicators are brands™, driven as much by personality and marketability as they are by doctrine. We are far less inclined these days to be discipled by denomination, and more inclined to be fed and formed by the offerings endorsed by a Christian leader who has a platform on the conference circuit.
It wasn’t all that long ago that many young male seminarians in my acquaintance were quoting and emulating Mark Driscoll’s particular style of testosterone-fueled neo-Calvinism. Women of my generation (Boomers, older X-ers) filled arenas for the Women of Faith events; the books and study materials published under their banner offered audiences a positive ‘n encouraging conservative suburban Evangelical approach.
Buying into a communicator’s brand can serve as a filter for the dizzying array of theological choices facing a well-meaning believer who is seeking to grow in his or her faith. Aligning with a particular leader offers adherents more than theology. It can also define the spiritual aspirations of those in the tribe. John MacArthur’s conferences tend to attract a more crew than Andy Stanley’s events do, for example. They’re not just buying books and conference CD’s at these events, but are carrying home with them a picture of how their lives, families, and communities can be based on the image they get at these events of both teacher and fellow adherents. I’ve known women who aspire to be the next Beth Moore or a Christine Caine clone, and try to copy their particular look, content, and style of ministry in their own context. [Read more]