Unchurched: Evangelical Endorsements Reveal a Pattern

Unchurched: Evangelical Endorsements Reveal a Pattern June 14, 2020

Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been examining Lee Strobel’s 1993 book, Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary. In it, Strobel sold evangelicals a bill of goods about those heathens outside their bubble. And they loved him for pandering to their very worst qualities. Their endorsements and praise reveal a solid pattern, and today, I’ll show you what that pattern looks like.

endorsements be like
(Wikipedia.) Charles Le Brun painting of Pierre Séguier, Chancellor of France in the 1630s.

(Previous Lee Strobel listicle posts: Martyrbation Ahoy (13-15); Seeker-Sensitive Churches Ahoy (9-12)The Many Lies Lee Strobel Tells About Unchurched Harry and MaryA Portrait of the Captain as a Young Hell-Bound Pagan (1-4)Indoctrinating Evangelicals More (5-8)The Original Listicle and Comments. An “unchurched person” is simply someone who is not part of evangelical church culture. It can mean someone who actively rejected that culture, or someone who never became part of it.)

The Sleazy World of Christian Book Endorsements.

For a long time now, I’ve had my doubts about just how impartial and unbiased Christian book endorsements are.

Years ago, I noticed the steep plunge in the relative status of endorsers on Mark Driscoll’s pre- and post-disgrace books. Before his disgrace, Driscoll received tons of big-name Christian leaders’ endorsements for his books. Afterward? The status of his endorsers plummeted.

As an example, I present part of the endorsement list of Who Do You Think You Areoriginally published in 2013 (a year before his fall):

  • Tullian Tchividjian, big-name pastor and author, who faced his own disgrace in 2016
  • Perry Noble, another big-name pastor and longtime Driscoll associate
  • Daniel Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
  • Gerry Breshears, Professor of Theology at Western Seminary
  • Ed Stetzer, then-President of LifeWay Research, blogger, author, and a still-rising Made Man in the SBC
  • Adrian Warnock, big-name blogger and author
  • Dan Wolgemuth, President/CEO of Youth for Christ/USA

Those are some big names and powerful Christian groups! Some smaller names were sprinkled around, but these sprang out at me.

However, things would change dramatically for Mark Driscoll after 2014.

A Shift in the Mark Driscoll Support Network.

Now here’s the endorsement list of one of Mark Driscoll’s first books after losing his Mars Hill megachurch position, 2018’s Spirit-Filled Jesus: Live By His Power.

  • Jimmy Evans, Lead Apostolic Senior Pastor of Gateway Church (this coveted back-cover blurb position went to the leader of a nondenominational megachurch in Texas; they proudly host Driscoll from time to time)
  • James MacDonald, then-pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, already mired in controversy by 2018
  • Eric Metaxas, tryhard radio fundie, contributor to VeggieTales, hardcore Bonhoeffer groupie whose 2016 book on his idol got destroyed by real history experts
  • Claude Thomas, President, C3 Global Network (a worldwide church network accused of being a cult, as well as facing child-rape accusations)
  • Darryl DelHousaye, President, Phoenix Seminary (a tiny little local school)
  • John Lindell, Lead Pastor, James River Church (Missouri megachurch that supported Driscoll from almost the beginning of his disgrace)
  • Mark Buckley, Living Streams Church (no rank given; he works as the Executive Director of Adult Ministries at this local Phoenix church; its actual pastor, David Stockton, remains conspicuously absent)
  • Brandon Thomas, Senior Pastor, Keystone Church (a Texas church that supported Driscoll from early on; Thomas is an apparent long-time buddy of Driscoll’s)
  • Mark Moore, Teaching Pastor, Christ’s Church of the Valley, author, professor at Ozark Christian and Hope International University (LOL! This is another local Phoenix church; however, the “university” apparently exists only in this particular blurb)

Just wow. I knew Driscoll fell far, y’all, but not this far. Notably, in that 2018 book, what Driscoll couldn’t manage with quality he went for broke on with quantity.

A Venerable Form of Christian Hypocrisy.

Recently, LeekSoup, who used to work for a big Christian charity, blew the lid off endorsements:

Having seen from the inside how Christians endorsing Christians and their products actually works, I can confirm it’s skeevy. [. . .] The founder of the charity I used to work for was very excited to tell me about a brilliant (in his opinion) endorsement he had come up with for one of his books. When the book was published, there was the quote, apparently said by someone who worked for the charity… except it just listed her as the author of a couple of books (which were heavily promoted by the charity) and didn’t mention her being a senior employee of the same organisation.

Yeah, can’t have someone realizing an endorser has a conflict of interest. Also, there’s a good reason why these endorsements seem so general — and why so many endorsers seem not to have actually read the book they’re endorsing:

They are clever how they phrase the endorsements. “Pastor Bob is well known as a great writer and speaker on apologetics. This book will be of real interest to anyone struggling to make sense of their faith.” – Yeah, you don’t have to read the book to put your name to a quote like that.

What happens is the publisher or author get in touch with their contacts with a prepared quote. ‘Would you be willing to say something like this?’ Contact says yes and woohoo, endorsement.

And yes indeed, getting an endorsement into a big-name leader’s book becomes a stepping-stone in a lower-ranked Christian’s career:

Christian names put their name against endorsements because it keeps them sort of in the public eye and bolsters their credibility a bit. There’s even a competition – whose reputation is big enough to appear next to a quote on the front cover? The back cover is OK. If you just appear in the first couple of pages then you’re a bit of a no-mark really.

Amazing.

Where the heck is the GooberGraper dustup about THIS? 

Evangelical Leaders Are Super-Impressed With This Book.

With that in mind, we tackle the endorsements of Unchurched.

As one might expect, Lee Strobel’s book begins with a number of big endorsements from his fellow evangelical leaders. In 1993, he hadn’t yet published his big opus, The Case for Christ. Indeed, that blockbuster was five years away! Rather, this book represents Strobel’s first foray into Christian publishing. I thought it was interesting to see his first experiments with the various lies-for-Jesus that would later mark his career.

So in his endorsements, I expect to see a lot of men associated with his employer, Bill Hybels. From 1987-2000, Strobel worked for Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) as a “teaching pastor.” Indeed, Hybels and WCCC seemed to use this book as a teaching aid/evangelism guide for a while. I saw it pop up everywhere in that context.

When I checked them out, I didn’t recognize many of the names, but these were folks way higher than Strobel in the evangelical pecking order. In fact, they’re dramatically higher-ranked than Strobel is.

Lee Strobel’s Endorsement List.

As you read this list, remember that these guys are probably giving payback or offering favors to Bill Hybels, not being nice to the absolute nobody who was 1993’s Lee Strobel.

  • Gary Collins, Executive Director, American Association of Christian Counselors (someone really doesn’t like this guy, and I’m not sure how he links Collins to Hybels and Strobel, but he managed it; otherwise, I see Collins praising Hybels in his work and blog, and Hybels has contributed endorsements to him)
  • Robert E. Coleman, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (rank not mentioned, but he seems to have been the director of an evangelism program there; he offers his endorsement for Case for Christ later. Otherwise, he just moves in the same circles as Hybels.)
  • D. Stuart Briscoe, Senior Pastor, Elmbrook Church (a Wisconsin megachurch; they’re literally part of an association run by Willow Creek; they faced their own big sex scandal in 2018)
  • C. Peter Wagner, Professor of Church Growth, Fuller Theological Seminary (Hybels was known as a genius of church growth back then, so their names are tightly linked; I’m not surprised Wagner showed up to boost Hybels’ protege)
  • Joseph M. Stowell, President, Moody Bible Institute (Hybels contributed endorsements to him, and really, they’re all over each others’ books)
  • Elmer L. Towns, Liberty University (rank not mentioned, but he co-founded the dang place with Jerry Falwell in 1971; he’s written a zillion books as well, so this endorsement was likely very welcome indeed. He probably ended up here because Hybels frequently contributed work to him.)
  • Bill Bright, Campus Crusade for Christ (Hybels bought advertising space on Cru’s radio show, way back when; that page links Hybels with Rick Warren and Cru’s later leader Steve Douglass in a weird group called Lead Like Jesus. Rumors there relate that Hybels or Warren had something to do with Cru’s name change. So I’m guessing these two had some tight connections by the 1990s. Bill Bright’s quite the culture-warrior, by the way — way involved in the complementarian movement.)

WOW.

A Who’s Who That Strobel Did Not Deserve.

Years ago, I criticized Shane Hayes for getting his one endorsement from someone who had absolutely no status in the evangelical world. But dang, y’all, at least he didn’t play the evangelical reindeer game with endorsements.

Just wow.

None of these people would even have known who Lee Strobel was. They wouldn’t have cared if they had. He was nobody to them. But Bill Hybels, his then-boss, was close to almost all of them. It looks like Hybels did every single thing he could to ensure that Strobel’s first book became successful. Without a doubt, he curried endorsements for his employee and even wrote a foreword for the book that hilariously praised his employee to the skies as “a dangerous communicator.”

OMG Y’ALL, JUST SO DANGEROUS

Indeed, Bill Hybels pulled every single string he possibly could for his employee who was writing a book that would hopefully massively popularize Willow Creek’s quirky approach to ministry.

The Praise for Strobel’s First Book.

Oh, and these high-ranking guys offered great praise indeed for Unchurched — and for its author.

Of course, their praise reveals in the most painful ways possible that they largely have no idea who Lee Strobel is. Almost none of them even sound like they opened the book, much less read it.

Here’s a very short sampling of each endorsement:

  • Gary Collins: “Intensely practical, fun to read, non-threatening, relevant, informative, down-to-earth, humorous.” (This endorsement is the literal only one on the list that comes close to insinuating that its donor might actually have read the book he’s praising.)
  • Robert E. Coleman: “Lee Strobel knows whereof he speaks.”
  • D. Stuart Briscoe: “He’s taking aim at people who, like himself, until relatively recently, are unchurched pagans.” (BTW, Strobel himself claims to be friends with “unchurched pagans.” What an oddly specific turn of phrase to see out of two very different people.)
  • C. Peter Wagner: “Amazingly insightful.”
  • Joseph M. Stowell: “This book will help all of us learn from one who has made it a point to keep the Gospel uncompromised and the methods culturally relevant.” (LOL OK JAN)
  • Elmer L. Towns: “Anyone who has become comfortable in the church should read this manuscript.”
  • Bill Bright: “Great perception [. . .] outstanding insights.”

You’d never know that Bill Hybels has strongly condemned sins of omission!

However, the ignorant lead the ignorant in the Bizarro-World of evangelicalism.

The Takeaway.

Obviously, nobody ever feels surprised to learn that Christian leaders often act way more like businessmen than shepherds. Nobody should. In general, way too many Christian leaders regard their flocks as actual sheep (or less colloquially, as fools with open wallets) rather than as valued pets.

I think this about covers everything. (Credit for original image: Spixey, CC license.)

Just the sheer depths of Christian hypocrisy sometimes takes me by surprise, and when that happens I feel inspired to go write a post about this aspect of it that I’d never really covered before.

In this aspect of hypocrisy, Christian publishing is filled top to bottom with cronies dealing with social obligations. The authors in this inbred industry do each other favors all the time, with endorsements being one major form those favors take.

When we see endorsements, naturally we should be asking:

Who writes them, for whom, when, and for what?

The answers to these questions amount to a vote of confidence each leader casts for each other. Power protects its ownalways, in broken systems like evangelicalism.

And the network formed by this self-interest benefits them way more than it benefits the purchasers of these lackluster books. 

Boots on the Other Feet in the Good Ol’ Boys Club.

In this particular case, Lee Strobel had the very good luck to get hired by Bill Hybels when he first entered ministry (and he even credits Hybels with “saving” him from Jesus’ bloodlust). He told his boss exactly what he wanted and needed to hear.

In turn, Hybels set Strobel up as well as he possibly could — and it worked. It’s no exaggeration to say that without Bill Hybels, Lee Strobel wouldn’t have gotten nearly so far.

I wonder now how Hybels feels about Strobel now, though.

See, Strobel’s statement right after the Hybels sex scandal broke looked painfully inadequate, but it would represent the worst kind of breaking-ranks to someone as power-obsessed as evangelical leaders are (and as Hybels’ critics accused him of being).

In a major way, then, Strobel might have been telling his onetime boss that he didn’t need him anymore. And looking at the endorsements on his 2018 book The Case for Miracles, it’s obvious that he doesn’t. He’s in a class of his own now. Now, he commands favors from very big names rather than begging for them.

It’ll be interesting to see what his next book endorsements look like, after breaking ranks with his former boss. If Hybels is as radioactive now as I think he is, little will change. Heck, Strobel might even add a few coveted big names to his endorsements list!

Either way, though, Lee Strobel’s writing still sucks, he’s still a liar-for-Jesus, and he’s still completely wrong about everything he asserts about the “unchurched pagans” of America.

NEXT UP: Dehumanizing the enemy, Lee Strobel style.


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.

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