Last week Bob Hyatt wrote about the temptations created by the celebrity pastor culture we live in and the harm it causes to our souls. He's not the only one talking about the issue. Both Relevant Magazine and the Together for the Gospel conference are talking about it. The issue I'm referring to is celebrity pastors. Rachel Held Evans' recent article in Relevant, "When Jesus Meets TMZ," seeks to explain the rise of celebrity pastors within evangelicalism. (A panel at the T4G conference will address the same topic in April.) Evans' article does a good job of outlining our corrupt human tendency to make our leaders into idols–a temptation evident from Christianity's earliest days (see 1 Corinthians 3:21), and which has marked every era of the Church. Before Osteen, Warren, and Driscoll, there were Moody, Spurgeon, and Whitefield. Celebrity pastors are not new.
But what is new is the number of celebrity pastors and the speed with which they are being created/coronated. This is what Evans' article doesn't address. Every generation has had a handful of well known pastors, but why are there now so many? What explains the creation of an entire celebrity-class within the evangelical world?
Yes, our human proclivity for leader-worship is as potent as ever, but there is more than a spiritual or psychological reason behind the rise of today's pastoral pantheon. There is a systemic economic force at work as well; what I call the Evangelical Industrial Complex.
First a little background. In 1961, in President Eisenhower's farewell address to the nation, he warned about the unintended effects of what he dubbed the "military industrial complex." Following WWII, for the first time in American history, a permanent arms industry was created to manufacture weapons, tanks, warplanes, etc. This industry employed millions of Americans, and Eisenhower feared its influence over the government, and its need for armed conflict in order to grow, would prove damaging to the country.
He recognized the potential for a self-sustaining cycle of (1) a growing arms industry, (2) supplying an expanding military, (3) resulting in more armed conflicts and fewer resources for domestic needs like eduction and infrastructure. It's worth remembering that this warning was coming from a Republican, an army general, and a war hero, not a Democrat or anti-war activist. Many now consider Eisenhower's warning prophetic given the exponential growth in military spending and wars over the last 50 years. You can watch a segment of his speech below.
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