Few churches have sparked as much commentary and protest as Mars Hill Church, building up to a firestorm in October, when founding pastor Mark Driscoll resigned. But few of the Seattle church’s actions have been so scrutinized as its decision to manipulate The New York Times bestseller list. Yet this is not an uncommon practice even among Christian authors.

On January 22, 2012, Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together (Thomas Nelson) was No. 1 under the “hardcover, advice, and misc.” rankings. But the following week, it hadn’t sold enough copies even to make the top 15. The reason: Mars Hill had paid California-based marketing firm ResultSource Inc. $25,000 to orchestrate sales. Only individual book purchases count in the Times ranking. ResultSource made a bulk order (an order of 11,000 books for about $217,300) look like thousands of purchases from individual buyers across the country.

Former Mars Hill pastors told CT that some staff left the church after it decided to use ResultSource (though most who left did so for other reasons related to Driscoll’s leadership). When the contract was made public in March 2014, some staff defended it as “marketing investments” designed to “tell lots of people about Jesus by every means available.” Days later, Driscoll said he would no longer refer to himself as a best-selling author, or to the book as a bestseller. “I now see [ResultSource’s strategy] as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong,” Driscoll wrote in a letter to the church.

Driscoll’s ResultSource deal became part of the charges brought by former Mars Hill pastors ...

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