Top Ten Blog Posts of 2017

In 2017, the following ten posts received the most page views:
10. K-LOVE’s Pledge Drive: Money Behind the Music (2017)
9. Former Newsping Pastor Perry Noble Incorporates Second Change Church (2017)
8. American College of Pediatricians v. American Academy of Pediatrics: Who Leads and Who Follows? (2011)
7. After the Demise of Mars Hill Church Mark Driscoll Landed on His Feet with Over One Million in Donations (2017)
6. IRS and Postal Service Agents on Scene at Benny Hinn’s Office (2017)
5. Mark Driscoll Spins the End of Mars Hill Church (2017)
4. A Major Study of Child Abuse and Homosexuality Revisited (2009)
3. Former CFO at Turning Point Claims David Jeremiah Used Questionable Methods to Secure a Spot on Best Seller Lists (2015)
2. What’s Going on at Harvest Bible Fellowship? James MacDonald Resigns as President of HBF (2017)
and the #1 post is:

  1. Open Letter to Gateway Pastor Robert Morris from a Former Member of Mars Hill Church (2014)

 
Some past posts have aged well. The 2009 post regarding child abuse and non-heterosexuality has been in the top ten nearly every year since 2009.counseling image 2 Readers continue to be interested in Mars Hill Church and various players surrounding the demise of that church.
Although the page views don’t show it, the story that continues to be covered here and almost nowhere else is the Gospel for Asia saga. The target of federal scrutiny and two RICO lawsuits in the U.S., GFA has also initiated and been involved in various legal actions in India. Although the scope of the GFA empire dwarfs other organizations I have examined, it continues to fly along under the radar.
For a profile of my work and the role blogging has played in it, see this lengthy article by Jon Ward in Yahoo News earlier this month.

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Top Ten Posts in 2015

The ten top posts during 2015 are as follows with the most popular first:
1. Open Letter to Gateway Church Pastor Robert Morris from a Former Member of Mars Hill Church – This was posted on November 2, 2014 but remained popular throughout 2015. Driscoll recently joined Jimmy Evans as a director to form The Trinity Church in Phoenix.
2. Former Chief Financial Officer at Turning Point Claims David Jeremiah Used Questionable Methods to Secure a Spot on Best Seller Lists – This story about David Jeremiah’s questionable tactics from a former insider was a scoop but not one which stuck to Jeremiah like  a similar scandal did to Mark Driscoll.
3. Hillsong’s Brian Houston Interviewed Mark and Grace Driscoll After All (VIDEO) (AUDIO) – First, he said he would interview Driscoll, then he said he wouldn’t, then Brian Houston aired an interview with Mark and Grace Driscoll. It was great theatre but didn’t draw good reviews from former Mars Hill leavers.
4. A major study of child abuse and homosexuality revisited – This post from 2009 is one of the most popular articles in the history of the blog. In it, I demonstrate a key mistake in a journal article often used to link homosexuality and child abuse.
5. Southern Baptists Say Enough to Perry Noble and NewSpring Church – I am surprised that this post got so much attention.
6. Gospel for Asia Faces Allegations of Misconduct; GFA Board Investigation Found No Wrongdoing – The GFA story received the most attention from me this year.
7. Pastor of Willow Creek Presbyterian Says Church Reaction to Hiring Tullian Tchividjian is “Overwhelmingly Positive” – I briefly covered Tullian Tchividjian’s comeback as a development minister at a PCA church in FL.
8. A Few Thoughts on The Village Church Controversy – Village Church’s leadership apologized for their response to a young woman who sought a divorce from her husband who had admitted having child porn.
9. Hillsong Founder Brian Houston Issues Statement On Mark Driscoll at the Hillsong 2015 Conference – Mark Driscoll’s return to the spotlight garnered much reader attention.
10. Gospel for Asia’s K.P. Yohannan and the Ring Kissing Ritual – While the financial scandals were of interest to readers, this article ranked higher than the money problems.
To fully capture activity on the blog, one should consider the Gospel for Asia scandals (Patheos considered my coverage as a part of one of their top ten Evangelical stories of 2015).
It has been a good year and I thank my readers and those who support the blog with their comments and regular visits.

New York Times Stands by Claims on Ted Cruz's; Says Book Could Make the List Next Week

The New York Times told me this morning that Ted Cruz’s book could make the best seller list next reporting period if sales warrant. The paper also stands behind the claim that “the overwhelming preponderance of evidence was that sales were limited to strategic bulk purchases.”
Times spokeswoman Denise Rhoades Ha said this morning that “The book could appear on a future list. Every week is a new sales reporting period and could have a different outcome.” Thus, if strong sales have resulted from this dust up with the Times, Cruz might find himself on the list next week.
The Times won’t release or discuss their evidence because those details might lead to further manipulation of the list.  Ms. Rhodes Ha added that the Times stands by their comment on the matter released earlier:

We have uniform standards that we apply to our best seller list, which includes an analysis of book sales that goes beyond simply the number of books sold.
This book didn’t meet that standard this week.
Our goal is that the list reflect authentic best sellers so we look at and analyze not just numbers, but patterns of sales for every book.
In the case of this book, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence was that sales were limited to strategic bulk purchases.

I also contacted HarperCollins earlier today and asked if the company planned to release evidence which would support Cruz’s denial. HC has not replied as yet. Publishers are aware of where bulk orders go and could provide relevance evidence on bulk sales or lack thereof. Last Friday, a HarperCollins’ spokeswoman said the company found no evidence of bulk orders.
See my post from yesterday for more background.
 

Ted Cruz Accused of Gaming the New York Times Best Seller List

HarperCollins has been around this block before.
According to Politico, the New York Times informed HarperCollins that Ted Cruz’s new book won’t be on the best seller list because the reported sales didn’t meet the Times “standards.”
Clarifying, the Times rep Eileen Murphy told Politico that bulk sales kept Cruz’s book off the list.
I asked Times spokeswoman Denise Rhoades Ha if the Times might go back and remove some best sellers now that we know that the authors used strategic sales to elevated their position and she declined to comment.  I have reported on several such books and authors including Mark Driscoll, Les and Leslie Parrott, and David Jeremiah.
Although they won’t say, I speculate that the attention given to the scams perpetrated by Christian authors in the wake of Mark Driscoll’s discovery may have made the Times tighten up their review of sales.
UPDATE: Coming late to this story, I didn’t realize Cruz and the publisher have denied the allegations.  Cruz wants to see the evidence.
H/t to this tweet and this one.

Sutton Turner: Big Churches Like Mars Hill Church Need Big Decision Makers

Former Mars Hill Church executive elder Sutton Turner has posted part two of his reflections (he posted part one yesterday) on the decision to commit church funds to buy Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on to the New York Times best-seller list.
In this post, Turner takes credit for changing Mars Hill by-laws to include the Board of Advisors and Accountability. The BoAA consisted of three executive elders (Driscoll, Bruskas, and Turner) and four outsiders (various members at different times, but including James MacDonald, Larry Osborne, Jon Phelps, Matt Rogers, Michael VanSkaik, and famously Paul Tripp). Turner asserts that big decisions (like the New York Times scheme) require leaders of big organizations to weigh in. In today’s post, Turner writes:

The board in place at Mars Hill in the summer of 2011 consisted of local elders who had been at Mars Hill for many years. They were inside the organization. I’m not sure what they discussed regarding ResultSource, but they needed outsiders who were experienced in big decision-making and who were outside of their context to help them.

I assert that ethical sense is more important in such decisions, but Turner attempts to make a case that outsiders help prevent groupthink. I cover groupthink when I teach social psychology and I disagree with his analysis. If anything the structure of the BoAA lent itself to groupthink. The board was small and insulated from the rest of the elders due to the control the BoAA had over the entire church. Their moves and deliberations were secret with no meaningful input allowed from the lesser elders or congregation. Moreover, preventing groupthink is primarily leadership responsibility. Solid leaders who do not need to be in control of all aspects of an organization can prevent the negative effects of group cohesion whether the board members have experience or not.
Turner’s advice to leaders in yesterday’s post is inappropriate if groupthink is a concern. Turner objected to the ResultSource contract but did not buck the system. He wrote:

What You Cannot Do

  1. When the decision is legal, you cannot stay and complain that you did not agree with it. You cannot be divisive while continuing to remain on the team. If you are going to be divisive, you need to leave.

  2. You cannot leave the organization and complain to your friends or through social media when you actually had an opportunity to fix it if you had stayed. I have seen many people leave Mars Hill who had positions of influence. They did not agree with decisions, resigned, and went to social media to try and bring about organizational change from the outside. To me, if you stay, you can be part of the solution, but if you leave, you need to leave and allow leaders who remain to make changes for the organization’s future.

One of the ways to avoid groupthink is to encourage dissent and disagreement. Worrying about being divisive when in fact you have principled disagreement is part of what fuels the cohesion that is at the heart of groupthink. Having a local elder board is a minor concern compared to the problems inherent in self-censorship and mindguarding (see this brief summary relating to groupthink).
Turner then outlines what he claims was the response of the BoAA to the ResultSource decision.

At our board meeting in August of 2013, I provided a detailed analysis and accounting of the ResultSource marketing plan. At this board meeting (six months before the signed ResultSource contract was leaked to the public), the new board agreed that this type of marketing strategy would never be used again. In fact, no other books that were published through Mars Hill used it. We, as board members, would certainly not always get it right. In fact, in the following months, we would even make mistakes around the public revelation of the ResultSource contract. (I desired for our first media response at that time to clearly communicate two things: my level of involvement in the decision and the BOAA’s decision to never repeat the practice. Unfortunately, this did not happen.) But six months before the public spotlight, this new board of outside leaders, who were unassociated with the ResultSource decision, evaluated the proposal afterwards and made the right decision: it was a bad idea and it was wrong.

In 2014, Justin Dean was the first one out with a statement about ResultSource and he claimed it was an opportunity. If the BoAA had made this decision, why wasn’t Justin Dean made aware of this fact? I would like to hear more from Turner about how and why three different opinions of ResultSource were communicated to the public in the space of about a week.

Southern Baptists Say Enough to Perry Noble and NewSpring Church

I don’t know the issues but I post this because it will probably be of interest to readers who follow megachurch news.
Baptists’ Message to NewSpring: You’re not one of us
Noble has admitted to using Resultsource (at least he admitted it) but he did not take profits from the book (different than Mars Hill and according to former Turning Point CFO George C. Hale, David Jeremiah).
Perhaps a NewSpringInsida will show up to enlighten us. Or maybe a NewSpring mattc will provide the church view.

Why Did David Jeremiah's Turning Point Give Up Membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability?

When I first heard former Turning Point CFO George Hale’s account of David Jeremiah’s methods of gaining spots on best-seller lists, I checked the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability membership directory to see if David Jeremiah’s ministry, Turning Point, was a member organization. It is not.
I checked because, in 2014, ECFA president Dan Busby took a public stance against the best-seller list manipulation scheme paid for by Mars Hill Church. At the time, he first told Ruth Graham that the scheme was “unethical and deceptive.”
Later, I asked Busby for an expanded statement which he provided and I published at the time. Busby said concerning best-seller manipulation schemes:

It is unethical and deceptive for ECFA-accredited churches (and other organizations) to:
a.   make efforts to mask the method of procuring products authored or developed by an organization’s leader in order to improve product ratings, and/or
b.   procure products authored or developed by an organization’s leader at a higher price than otherwise available for the sake of improving product ratings, even if there is a valid ministry purpose for paying the higher price.

These two elements appear to be true of former CFO Hale’s description of what Turning Point ministry does to elevate David Jeremiah’s books. According to Hale, Turning Point takes donations for the promise of a book in advance of the publication date. In addition to the book, the donor is often promised resources from Turning Point which are provided at the expense of the non-profit organization. The donations are then used to purchase books at retail cost from a variety of locations around the country in order to maximize the “product ratings.” The books have to be purchased at retail price in order to count in the best-seller list calculations. Jeremiah, as author, is able to purchase those books from the publisher at a tremendous volume discount but such purchases don’t “improve product ratings” nor do they generate royalties.
Busby then pointed to an advisory opinion which remains relevant today.

Product Procurement

Overview.  The leaders of many ECFA members author or develop various intellectual properties, including books.  Royalties received by these leaders for intellectual properties owned by the ECFA member should be considered as one of the elements of compensation when the organization’s governing body determines compensation for the leaders.
Additionally, the organization’s governing body should ensure that the organization is not involved in unethical and deceptive practices relating to the procurement of products authored or developed by its leaders.  The appropriate avenues with which to procure products should be reviewed against the backdrop of ECFA’s Standards 1, 4, and 6.
Standard 1 – Biblical truths and practices.  “Every member shall subscribe to a written statement of faith clearly affirming a commitment to the evangelical Christian faith, or shall otherwise demonstrate such commitment and shall operate in accordance with biblical truths and practices.”
In several of his letters, the Apostle Paul stresses the importance of being beyond reproach and behaving in such a way as to avoid even the appearance of wrong-doing. He tells us that we need to be circumspect to those outside the Church. The reason Paul most often gives is that we must not give Satan any opportunity to destroy the reputation of Christ. Arguably, and in an eternal sense, it may be true that the business of ministries and churches is of concern to God and not to others judging from the outside. However, Scripture is also very clear about our need to be open, honest, and above reproach as we wrestle with the issues of life before Christ’s return. As the Apostle Paul said, “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21).
Standard 4 – Use of Resources.  “Every member shall exercise the appropriate management and controls necessary to provide reasonable assurance that all of the member’s operations are carried out and resources are used in a responsible manner and in conformity with applicable laws and regulations, such conformity taking into account biblical mandates.”
The use of resources in a responsible manner includes managing resources in a God-honoring way. An organization that has expended assets in an unwise manner may diminish its own Christian witness.
Standard 6 – Compensation-Setting and Related-party transactions. Every organization shall set compensation of its top leader and address related-party transactions in a manner that demonstrates integrity and propriety in conformity with ECFA’s Policy for Excellence in Compensation-Setting and Related-Party Transactions.”
Analysis. In reviewing these Standards and their related commentaries against certain methods in which products may be procured, the ECFA Board, Standards Committee, and Staff found the following:
A potential conflict of interest arises when an organization’s leader decides the organization will promote or purchase books authored by the leader, with the leader receiving royalties on the books.  This risk of a conflict-of-interest is heightened when, in relation to products authored or developed by leaders of ECFA members, (a) products are purchased at a higher price than is required and/or (2) there is an effort to mask the method of procuring products in order to improve product rating.
ECFA members must avoid an actual conflict-of-interest by utilizing the related-party transaction process outlined in ECFA’s Policy for Excellence in Related-Party Transactions when purchasing products authored by an organization’s leader.
If an organization pays a higher price than required for procuring products authored or developed by leaders of an ECFA member, there must be a valid ministry purpose for paying the higher price.  Otherwise, the excess expenditure of funds is for a non-ministry purpose.
Where an organization attempts to mask the method of procurement from organizations that determine product ratings, ECFA believes such practices are not in accord with biblical truths and practices.
ECFA’s Positions.  It is unethical and deceptive for a member organization to:

  1. make efforts to mask the method of procuring products authored or developed by an organization’s leader in order to improve product ratings, and/or

  2. procure products authored or developed by an organization’s leader at a higher price than otherwise available for the sake of improving product ratings, even if there is a valid ministry purpose for paying the higher price.

Given Busby’s stance, it is not surprising that Turning Point is not now accredited; the Turning Point approach as described by former CFO George Hale runs afoul of this advisory opinion. However, I recently learned that David Jeremiah’s ministry was once accredited by ECFA. According to a 2010 ECFA newsletter (page 8), Turning Point voluntarily resigned membership in the ECFA in 2010. Who was involved in that decision from Turning Point? Presumably, the key decision makers were David Jeremiah as CEO and Sealy Yates, Jeremiah’s literary agent, who chairs the Turning Point board.
An anonymous source with knowledge of situation told me that the resignation was allowed by the ECFA after an investigation into Turning Point’s means of elevating Jeremiah’s books to the best-seller lists. Turning Point’s leadership was offered the opportunity to stay in the ECFA if the book promotion schemes ceased. However, according to the source, Jeremiah declined and was allowed to resign without action from the ECFA.
I continue to get silence from Turning Point to all questions regarding the best-seller list promotions. I wrote ECFA to ask for comment about the narrative disclosed by the anonymous source. I received no answer from Dan Busby. If anything in this article is incorrect, I invite Turning Point and/or the EFCA to let me know.
On one hand, I am encouraged that the ECFA would insist on compliance with their standards. However, it is discouraging that the ECFA would not alert donors that Turning Point – an organization that pulls in nearly $40 million/year — is not following these standards. Such a deal does not help donors and raises again the value of the ECFA for donors.
 
See also Christianity Today’s article on using book buying schemes to game the best seller lists.

Perry Noble's New Spring Church Used ResultSource to Market Unleash

New Spring Church, pastored by Perry Noble, also used ResultSource to market Noble’s book Unleash. The church released a statement to Christianity Today explaining their reasoning. Read the whole statement here, below is a segment.

Perry Noble used ResultSource to help market and promote one book that he authored—Unleash. The contract for that book was actually a contract between NewSpring Church and the publisher, not between Perry and the publisher—meaning the church would receive all the proceeds from the book, regardless of sales. Specifically, as of November 1, 2014, NewSpring Church has earned more than $60,000 from the marketing and sales of Unleash, all of which Perry would reasonably have been personally entitled to, had the book contract been between him and the publisher.

Indeed, the church holds the copyright.
In the case of Mark Driscoll, the church entered the contract with ResultSource but the book was copyrighted by his LLC On Mission and royalties paid to that entity.
The statement says the church paid $30k to ResultSource and closes in a confusing manner.

If an author believes in the message of his/her book, he or she will want to see the book achieve its widest possible distribution. In the promotion of any book, there are many options available when considering marketing. With this particular book, we choose to use the marketing option that ResultSource provided. This type of marketing is not one we’ve used since on any additional books Perry has written and would not be one we would choose to use again.

They didn’t do anything wrong and they won’t do it again.
Changing the ownership of the book corrects some of the problem. The rest of the problem not directly addressed by this statement is how many books the church had to buy as a part of the process. If ResultSource just did marketing, then that is of little interest; if New Spring also purchased thousands of books via ResultSource’s fake accounts to make it appear that thousands of people were buying the book, then I think that is a problem.
This statement was linked to by Ted Olsen in a sidebar from the larger piece on ResultSource.
The admission that Noble’s book was helped out by ResultSource is not new. A similar statement was released to James Duncan at Pajama Pages last Spring. Duncan then parses the information. Check out the entire post.
 

Eric Metaxas to Christianity Today: Getting on Best-Seller Lists is Good Stewardship (UPDATED)

UPDATE (1/8/15) – Eric Metaxas commented last night on Twitter about the CT article. I have a post at this link where his Twitter comments are presented. He said buying a spot on the NYT’s list is wrong but then said it was complicated. I think he could go further but this may be it.
…………………………
(Original article begins here)
According to Christianity Today, author and evangelical leader Eric Metaxas said Mars Hill Church did nothing wrong by using ResultSource to get Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on the New York Times best-seller list.
Metaxas told CT:

“Anyone thinking there is something pure about that list does not understand the system and how it works,” he said. “I would even argue that trying to get on that list is a combination of a realistic sense of the market and good stewardship. When you understand … the Times list is a bit of a game … you realize being on that list has less to do with the actual merit of a book than with other, far less important factors.”

Prior to that quote, Metaxas is cited as referring to the Mars Hill Church scheme and indicated that Metaxas found nothing wrong with what Mars Hill did. Since that particular segment of the article was not in quotes, I don’t know if Metaxas’ comments were meant to apply specifically to Mars Hill Church or if Metaxas knows that the church committed church funds to purchase copies of Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage at retail prices via fictitious buying accounts in selected zip codes to bypass the NYTs monitoring system. I contacted Metaxas via email and twitter earlier this morning and will add any response I get.
Most of the industry contacts cited in the CT article take a dim view of manipulating the system. The New York Times told me back in November that they try to prevent such gaming of the system. Justin Taylor at Crossway had strong words about the practice:

From our point of view at Crossway, the bestseller lists are designed to provide an accurate reflection of the market’s response to an author and his or her book. If an author, agent, or publisher intentionally tries to subvert or distort the intended purpose of the bestseller lists, we believe this would constitute an ethical violation, in terms of standard ethical norms, but even more so in terms of Christian ethics. This would be dishonoring to the Lord (to whom we are ultimately accountable), and it would also conflict with our calling to love our neighbors as ourselves (by not creating a distorted or deceptive picture of reality). Christian authors, agents, and publishers are called to a high standard of integrity as we seek to glorify God, not only in the content of what we publish, sell, and market, but also in the way in which we go about this calling.” — Justin Taylor, senior vice president and publisher for books, Crossway 

Current Mars Hill Church president Dave Bruskas told his congregation that the ResultSource scheme was wrong as did Mark Driscoll in hindsight.
Readers can review the ResultSource contract with Mars Hill Church here.
I will be surprised and disappointed if Metaxas maintains the position he took in the article.

Daily Beast: Evangelicals Scam the NYT Bestseller List

This morning, the Daily Beast published my article summarizing recent material I have obtained.
There is still more to develop on this story. For instance, it appears that the web of relationships involving Sealy Yates, Kevin Small, David Jeremiah and the Parrotts is longstanding. I hope to develop that part of the story more this coming week. As I pointed out in the post earlier this afternoon, Driscoll was a late comer to the party and an outsider to the club. Small is on the board of the Parrotts’ non-profit and Yates is on the board of Jeremiah’s Turning Point. Jeremiah credited Small’s publishing genius as far back as 2006.
It is hard to say if these folks will open up and reveal how all of this works.
Whether or not they do may depend on how much more media scrutiny develops. Christianity Today had a small blurb Friday linking to my blog posts. I think other stories are coming.
What I would like to see is a straightforward explanation from the agents, consultants, authors and publishers about the way they work the New York Times system. In the case of Driscoll’s contract, deception was involved. Has that occurred for the other authors? It appears that way but perhaps the agents, consultants, authors and publishers do not believe they are being deceptive. I would like to hear their side of it. Thus far, outside of a promise of a reply that didn’t come from Tyndale House, there have been no replies from those who have engaged in the best-seller campaigns.
When Mark Driscoll used this approach, his critics and the media were all over the story. Where are they now?
Yates and Yates have a significant cadre of authors they represent. Do all of them use ResultSource? I asked two of them but received no answer.
More broadly, I think the NYT Bestseller brand is tarnished by the actions of ResultSource. I asked the NYTs if they planned any kind of correction for those books proven to benefit from gaming the system, and the paper declined to comment.
On WORD-FM (Pittsburgh) last week, I was interviewed by Kathy Emmons. Her suggestion to the NYTs was to permanently ban any author caught cheating.
Clearly, this is a problem larger than evangelical authors but it appears that it would take evangelicals to change course given that some on the inside of this are within the camp.