Tuesday, June 07, 2005

"Purpose Driven" Enough Already

Our church just finished a modified version of Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life" curriculum. Aside from being a marketing juggernaut (which explains in part the success of the program from an economic standpoint), Rick Warren has the unique ability of boiling down the long-held doctrines of the Christian Church to five essential components. Aside from a few misguided people who oppose Rick Warren and "The Purpose Driven" emphasis for quirky theological reasons, this is a good and helpful approach to talking about Spiritual formation. I'm glad we did it.

Today, I received in the mail the latest evolution of the "Purpose Driven Life" marketing machine advertising an upcoming "Purpose Driven Worship Conference". I suppose it won't be long until there is "Purpose Driven" marriage retreats, youth events, and perhaps even a line of Rick Warren "Purpose Driven" casual wear. With the success that Warren has experienced through the "Purpose Driven" phenomena, I've even been tempted to start wearing floral pattern shirts to church.

Lest you think this is all an exercise in sour grapes, it's not. I've already stated that the "Purpose Driven Life" material was generally helpful for those who participated in my church. My frustration is why is it necessary to take something that is good and helpful and promote every successive event using the name. I know it's a principle of marketing to build on the success of name recognition. I just wonder why the Evangelical Church must alway bow to the mavens of Madison Avenue and over paid marketing executives of large Christian publishing companies somewhere in the upper mid-west?

I would love to hear Tim LaHaye, Bruce Wilkinson, and Rick Warren come out and say unequivically, "This is it. There will be no more ________________ (you fill in the blank)." Perhaps in an age of Star Wars-- Part 6, this is too much to ask. If Nakedreligion ever gets that big, I hope I will be the first to say, "no, we won't be selling any nakedreligion T-shirts anytime soon." What am I saying? That's not a bad idea!


At 8:09 PM, Blogger Scot McKnight said...

Good observations, Brad.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Scot McKnight said...

Now a fuller comment.

I've been connected to Christian publishers since about 1988, and there has been a dramatic change in purpose and philosophy.

When I first began writing, publishers farmed manuscripts out to academics to judge merit, and only with academic support did the publisher go forward with publication. Many, if not most, books were the result of this sort of "submission" and "vetting" process.

Over time the whole process has changed. Now, increasingly, publishers don't have manuscripts vetted by academics; they have editors who judge merit, many of whom know markets but are not academically trained. Most of them are sharp and have a good idea of wha is going on, but not always.

Even more, many publishers decide what they need to publish and then solicit the authors they want for those books, whether the person has proven himself or herself already or not. By targeting such persons they already have sales and marketing in mind, with an almost security that the book will sell.

Which is to say: it is a business.

I know of a publisher who once told an author that what she had submitted was a great idea, with a great title, and that they liked the writing style. But, and here's the kicker today, the scholar wasn't "famous" enough and didn't have a "platform" big enough to sell enough copies of the book. The book still sits on her desk.

Platform is the name of the game: who you are, where you are, and how many books you have already sold often determines whether or not your book can be published.

When I was in college, most popular books were written by seminary and Bible college professors. Pastors wrote very little. Evangelical scholars went the way of writing academic books for the academic world and became increasingly distant from the Church. Pastors stepped in; they had a ready audience; they knew how to speak to that audience; bingo! Success. Now academics have a hard time getting popular books published. This is sad but it is the academic's fault for spending so much time and energy persuading other scholars of their theories.

Which is to say: Christian book publishing is a business. Many times these publishers give out handsome advance royalties to persuade specific authors to write for them.

Should I give names of books that lack content but which sell meganumbers?

Let me emphasize something brother: I accept this as the way things are. I have no regrets with what has happened to me. The reason Zondervan is doing this is because it sells.

There are still publishers that have lines of books (say Baker's Academic line or Eerdmans and many others, including University presses) where sales has little to do with it. They judge content and academic merit, and sometimes have the thing vetted.

At 6:56 AM, Anonymous tomb said...

Now you've done it! In response to your blog, A.W. Tozer has revved up his marketing machine. The Pursuit of God is now available on the internet. http://www.theboc.com/freestuff/awtozer/books/the_pursuit_of_god/index.html

At 10:39 AM, Blogger BJBergfalk said...

Tozer I don't mind. He probably has more to say than most. Is he selling t-shirts? That was my idea.


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