October 29, 2020

Retire the Chimps! Help the Media Find the “Real” Evangelicals!

doblk.jpgDear Media types. Main Stream. Television. Christian. Internet. Whatever. This post is for you.

It has come to my attention that, in the past decade, you have paid increasing amounts of attention to conservative Christianity in America. In particular, recently, since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and the 2004 “Values Voter” presidential election, you seem almost obsessed with evangelical conservative Christians. You can’t get enough of us.

But we’ve had enough of your coverage. Trust me on that one. We aren’t impressed.

It seems plain from your reporting that you believe several things as absolute truth:

1) Every one of us saw and liked Gibson’s movie, and find anti-semitism and extended torture to be essential parts of Christian spirituality.
2) We’ve all either read, worshipped or burned Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code and we can’t get enough of weird scholars speculating on Jesus’ sex life.
3) We will buy anything with Jesus on the cover, even if it announces that Jesus is driving in a NASCAR race.
4) We will watch anything remotely related to Jesus or the Bible, including end of the world mini-series written by middle schoolers and filmed the night before the television broadcast.
5) We have all read, had our lives changed by, and given as gifts to criminals the books of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen.
6) We all attend megachurches that look like Wal-Marts and sound like bad oldies concerts.
7) We are all passionate Dominionist, theocrat Republicans swearing allegience to James Dobson as our protestant pope.
8) The few of us that aren’t in that camp are aging Hippy-type Kerry Democrats who attend Jesse Jackson’s church in the morning and Al Sharpton’s at night.
9) Our Bibles are written by the Republican National Committee, and Karl Rove is our favorite theologian.
10) Our churches are all anti-gay marriage, all the time.
11) If you keep asking us enough questions, we will eventually tell you about our evil plot to take over the world. Then all your suspicions of what is really going on in the Bush White House will be confirmed.
12) The new pope is cool because he’s really gonna be mean. Just wait. Bulldog!! Grrrr!! Inquisition!! *Screams!!*

OK. Ok. I exaggerate. But this is what it often looks and feels like from our side of the fence. You’re paying more attention, and occasionally, you get something right. But most of the time, what we hear and see is full of such appalling ignorance, prejudice and stereotyping that it’s easy to understand why evangelicals are starting to be perceived in the culture like pro wrestlers signing up for the next culture war crusade pay-per-view.

But I know how to fix you, and the good people who frequent the Internet Monk Web site are going to help us cure your whacked view of our little religious village.

You are obviously looking at the wrong things and listening to the wrong people. You dwell in the extremes of evangelicalism: Political power brokers. Mega-church church-hoppers. People who live for photo-ops and mentions on CNN. Strange celebrities. Scholars with ideas none of us recognize as ours. You’re on the shock-jock level of dealing with evangelicalism, and it makes you look silly.

So we are going to fix you. The IM audience is going to answer (in the comment thread) the following question:

If the mainstream media could do a one hour special on any church, ministry or Christian to get a better, truer picture of what healthy, real-world, evangelical Christianity is all about, where should they go and/or who should they interview?

(Commenters: I am happy for you to list well-known ministries- I will- but how about some people, churches and ministries that are local and less visible?)

So how about it, MSM? How about letting us point you to some places that will show you a different face to evangelicalism than the latest Dobson press release or Jesse Jackson tirade? Here’s your chance to discover that normal people are doing some good things that have nothing to do with hate and politics. Care to know? I hope so. The truth will set you free….from looking like the religion desk is manned by chimps.

My List:

Mars Hill Church in Seattle. You’ve heard about the “emergent Church.” This is what it can look like when it’s theologically driven and determined to be a blessing in the culture. Mark Driscoll is an evangelical who will make Larry King have a heart attack on the air…..because he’s so funny.

Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago. Multi-ethnic. Multi-congregational. Innovative. Socially involved. Two summers with this church changed my life and opened my eyes. Maybe they could do the same for you. Here’s what “missional” means. Not taking over the country, but changing lives in the ‘hood.

Koinonia Partners was founded as Koinonia Farms in 1942 by Clarence Jordan, a man with a vision for true Christian community in the segregated south. Jordan is a man whose legacy has meant sanity and real world discipleship to thousands of his fellow Southern Baptists. The ministry has changed, but the message and vision are the same. Check it out.

Beeson Divinity School. With a miraculous endowment from Mr. Beeson, evangelical statesman Dr. Timothy George has built a school that is truly evangelical, catholic and diverse. A rare gem of evangelical scholarship and practice, with a heart for history, missions and the church. Neither sectarian nor parochial, Beeson brings together the best of what evangelicals can show to the academic world. One of my real regrets is I didn’t get a D.Min from Beeson.

Christian Appalachian Project Technically, I’m cheating since their roots are Catholic, but there are plenty of evangelicals involved in this ministry making an amazing difference in the poverty of the mountains. I’ve seen their work and they deserve to be recognized as an example of Christians making a big difference in the world.

Michael Card I am an unabashed fan of a guy who approaches “Christian music” as a craft, and the ministry that goes along with the music as the highest life calling. What an hour of interview and music this guy could provide! Here is the face and voice of a balanced, scholarly evangelicalism that isn’t consumed with celebrity. He sings and teaches about race relations. Hunger. Marriage. Death. Card’s music and life come together in a serious discipleship. Card is as comfortable teaching before a dozen people as he is playing before thousands. Check out his radio program.

Scot Mcknight One of the younger scholars of the emergent church movement bringing a focus to the ministry and teachings of Jesus that has been long needed. His book “The Jesus Creed” is indicative of the sea change in personal spiritual formation that is going to be happening as the emergent church begins to put its “conversation into practice.” Check out a church he is associated with: Solomon’s Porch.

The Cincinnati Vineyard has set the pace for ministries of generousity through local churches. Here is a church that shows what the Gospel can create and make happen: a truly “kingdom” motivated experience of giving to a community. This church is astonishing in its embrace of the practical meaning of the gospel.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church has been on the front of Christianity Today, but this innovative, Gospel centered, ministry oriented, church starting congregation needs to become one of the highest profiled churches in America. What Tim Keller is doing at RPC is the way for evangelicals in the future. I dare ABC, etc to spend a week there and not be deeply affected.


  1. IM…I’m going to play a little devil’s advocate here as I was one who spent a few years in the media.

    We don’t like success stories unless someone crawled back from being unjustly hurt by a rich white guy.

    We don’t like people helping others; blood and sperm get more ratings.

    If we can’t categorize you in one sentence with a catchy buzzword then the audience may tune out after a lengthy description of who you really are and no audience means no money.

    If you cry, it had better be on Oprah or with Katie Couric and it better be because you were just raped, stabbed, robbed, treated with intolerance by someone or you’ve just lost a ton of weight with the new Richard Simmons diet.

    That’s why I went back to flying airplanes for a living. I couldn’t do the above anymore. The human interest stories were “nice” but I was told my stories needed to grab the audiences attention in the first sentence (radio) or I’d lose them. (I was let go then hired back…then I quit.)

    I would offer up some of the unsung heroes who work in the local rescue missions. Ours in Redding has a decent success rate; 60% for men, 70% for women. Those (the unsung workers) are among the people who need to be followed every day to see how Christianity works. The struggles of real life combined with the reliance on Jesus Christ to help them through the real life.


  2. Thanks for the list. I especially appreciate Redeemer being included. I just joined an OPC that’s not very… well, OPC. It’s amazingly welcoming and focused outwardly. It’s also a motley crew of people who are all over the place. Theologically, we’re all on the same page basically, but politically there’s actual variety. Truly amazing, and amazingly refeshing. But I digress, what are your thoughts on the PDI/Sovereign Grace folks? If I lived near one, that’d be where I would be involved. I also love that John Piper has joined the fray of racial reconciliation. It’s nice to see some in orthodoxy “getting” social issues. Oh, to parrot what the previous poster said, quiet faithful success isn’t sexy. The extremes are. We should be more realistic about what the world is going to focus on. But hey, I’m a Calvinist, whatya expect!

  3. There is a lot to like about PDI.I certainly endorse them.
    I am concerned that when CJ stepped down, he named his successor. Guess the congregationalist in me wanted to see something else done rather than go the typical “Father-son” route of so many independent churches.
    CJ is hanging around with the culture warrior folks. I hope he remembers what the cross centered life was all about.

  4. Is this question limited to USA evangelical stories?
    In the real world…

  5. Mission Mississippi is a great organization that seeks to build relationships across racial and denominational lines in MS. Sunday morning may still be the most segregated time in America each week, but Mission Mississippi is diong its part to change that.


  6. Anywhere is fine. Obviously, the American media has its chimp complex (no insult meant to chimps) and the BBC has theirs, etc.

  7. How ’bout Derek Webb for not hugely popular, but with a lot of great stuff to say about the church and culture? I’d love to see an interview done with him.

  8. Greetings from the zoo. I’m one of the chimps — TV news anchor (first time poster). Actually, I hope I’m helping to de-chimp the chimps with whom I work, helping them, hopefully, to “get it” when they gaze upon an actual evangelical in the wild.

    I’m on the air as we speak — commercial breaks can be productive times — but I had to jump in here. Hey, there’s room for hope. Don’t give in too quickly to cynicism about the news biz Eric. You overstate your case. I know many reporters who are willing to learn, to listen, to try to discover what we Bible-lovers are all about. (A few of them have joined me for an in-house Bible study.) Yes, you and Michael are all too correct about the business in general — vast ignorance; and if-it-bleeds-it-leads — but we, and many others, have done stories on people of faith (I know I have) and on ministries that are having an impact. So…pray for us.

    Coverage-wise, I’d love to see stuff on the small, evangelical, Reformed (formerly Mennonite) denomination I’m in, the Bible Fellowship Church — an association of about 60 churches in the northeast. Passion for the Gospel, hard-working folk. Also, I’m a big fan of Piper, Keller, and the PDI/Sov. Grace folk.

  9. Young Life – I see in very few areas of Christianity a more pure form of relational and relevant ministry without sacrificing the truth of the gospel. A lot of people who don’t fully understand the ministry or perhaps had a bad encounter at some time tend to slander young life perhaps more than it deserves. Are you familiar with YL?

  10. Yes…great ministry.

  11. Let me throw out World Relief. They actually do very little “relief” these days. Rather they work through the Church of Jesus Christ in developing countries. American staff are kept to a minimum and are there to assist and train-not run the show. The stories of how they are battling the AIDS epidemic in Africa are absolutely amazing but they get NO press because everything they do is “evangelical”. That is, it is all in the context of local churches reaching out to those around them. This model is not great for headlines as it doesn’t respond to the latest, greatest disaster but it does show that the Word and Love of Jesus shared by His followers can change the world.

  12. Thanks for the essay! In reading it, it has become apparent to me that you sure don’t seem very much like those other Calvinists. In fact, you might want to consider making that the subject of one of your essays one of these days.

  13. Two on my list:

    Blessed Sacrament Church: Ok, a little biased here. But still: the church incorporates traditional liturgical/sacramental theology, but is also evangelical AND charismatic, without being extreme on either of them. It’s the most healthy blend I’ve ever seen.

    Rich Mullins: The only thing anyone ever remembers about him is that he wrote the songs “Awesome God” and “Sometimes By Step.” (just a word: neither of these are his best. His best are songs like Hard to Get, Maker of Noses, and My Deliverer is Coming.) But he was a great musician, someone who admitted problems while remembering joy. He gave himself an allowance of only $24,000 a year, and wouldn’t even let his accountant tell him how much he had. He gave most of it away.

  14. Blessed Sacrament Church where? Addy?

  15. Daphne Boder says

    Precept Ministries produce inductive Bible studies that I believe are about as good as Bible studies can be for lay folks. I have been leading these studies for a number of years and have learned how to study and read the Scriptures as a result of inductive studying.

  16. Yeah Rob…I guess I did overstate my case. I guess my biggest bone of contention with local media (Redding has a pop of about 70k and the radio station hits about another 50k of people), is the consultant’s who drive the stations. From music to news, there is someone telling us what to say based on a poll of what someone somewhere wants to hear…and it usually isn’t anyone around here!

    Even the local talkshows get in on act at times. Angry white men get more phone calls than the director of the local mission or the leader of the upcoming youth rally.

    But I will say this about our community…it will rally around people regardless of their religion of choice. They will rally around any even that helps others whether it be feeding the masses at the yearly can food drive or the yearly walk against cancer. Both are co-sponsored by local churches and parachurch orgs.

    I still say the mainstream media has to have a pigeonhole to put people in regardless of what that pigeonhole connotates. It’s easier that way…not necessarily right but simply easier when all you have is 20-45 seconds to get your story across…

    Eric 😉

  17. Jonathan Carpenter says

    For those of you who do not know, the Pastor is the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. In the current issue of “Harpers” magazine, Pastor Haggard attacks Catholics saying they, quote, “constantly look back” unquote. He says Catholics quote “don’t tend to create our greatest entrepreneurs, inventors, research and development” unquote. Haggard says he says quote, “a little clash of civilizations” unquote between Catholics and Protestant evangelicals. I understand people disagreeing with beliefs, but when people like him say things like this, it shows who your real friends are. It also shows that the Historian Richard Hofstader was right when he said Anti-Catholicism is the Pornography of the Puritans. Please email me your thoughts or post them to my blog.


    Jonathan Carpenter USN, (ret.)

  18. I’ll second the inclusion of Derek Webb. great music, nothing like standard CCM it all. He sings/talks about what he thinks is important, not “normal” CCM stuff, he is definitely the type for this list.

  19. Two on my list:

    Trinity Forum. Os Guinness, besides having one of the coolest names ever providentiall dispensed, is intimately connected with this awesome ministry. Their goal is to engage the culture instead of retreating into a Christian ghetto, performing drive-by shootings when those holding “worldly” philosophies wander their way. http://www.ttf.org

    Faith Community Church. My church, where people love Christ and love one another like nothing I have ever seen. One paid elder, no staff, very few “ministries,” just lots of ministry. Not to mention a phenomenal preacher. Go to the sermons page on our website and listen to the first 2 minutes of a sermon and try not to get hooked. (Michael, we just started Mark, I thought you would appreciate it.) http://www.fccoxnard.org


  20. as a student in the field of wanna-be chimps first off i have to say that the reason why i am going into journalism is to change the perspective of the media and actually write about things that matter. such as ministries/ppl/churches that are accomplishing little known big things. (Derek Webb is definitely a good one to list.)

    As for ministries that I would say define Christianity more than televangelists, I think that some youth pastors who work at small churches and really pour their lives into the kids really make a huge difference. The youth pastors who spend like 90% of their time pouring out their lives in prayer, conversations, teaching, and planning & executing activities really go unnoticed. They have a huge impact on the kids in the youth groups and they also deal with all the issues that kids go through in high school.
    a second is more specific. a ministry that YWAM in New Haven CT works with, called the Space, does much good in the community, even if they are not specifically evangelistic. It is a coffeehouse where ppl can go and feel really at home and listen to good music, much of which is performed by Christians. They also hold a Sunday evening church service there which is an outreach to the community.
    little ministries that are not too overtly evangelistic like that define Christianity in America today because they redeem the image that most ppl hold of Christians.

  21. Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio – http://www.marshillaudio.org

  22. Donald Johnson says

    I used to visit Redeemer fairly often–I had mixed feelings about it. More positive than negative. The negative feelings concern one or two doctrinal issues and also the fact that the place is (or was a few years ago) sort of a social scene. But that’s probably inevitable if you’re trying to attract Manhattanites.

    The mainstream press does a pretty bad job on most issues, I think–people on the fringes of the culture are going to be stereotyped. But I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of the media if evangelicals are stereotyped–Imonk is about as harsh a critic of American evangelical culture as anyone you’ll find (except on one or two political issues where I’d be happy to fill the gap, but won’t.)

  23. Donald-Just curious, but what were the one or two doctrinal issues?

  24. Here are mine:

    The International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org). These people are seeking Biblical justice in the name of a loving Savior. Most of their work is to get kidnapped little girls out of forced prostitution. Their work involves some sensational stories, so they’ve gotten some cover on Dateline (see IJM’s website for downloads).

    Francis and Edith Shaeffer
    These people are heros in my book. Francis is quoted as saying “You haven’t loved someone until you’ve let them throw up in your bed.” I love it.

  25. UGADawg47 says

    Christian Research Institute-I think this is a valuable ministry to evangelicals. Hank Hanegraaff has just recently written a fictional book call The Last Disciple which challenges the theology of Left Behind. It seems the media believes that all evangelicals hold to dispensational eschatology. CRI does a lot of other great work as well.

    Veronica’s Voice-This ministry is located in Kansas City. It is an outreach ministry primarily to prostitutes but also to other women of the streets (drug addicts, alcoholics, etc.). Their success rate isn’t very high, but they don’t quit. They are a great example to the more affluent church.

  26. J to the Rig says

    I’m going to second Mars Hill in Seattle. Driscoll and Co. are truly amazing examples of gospel/culture/church medley done right.

    I’d also include a lot of the other Acts 29 churches that I’ve heard about. I’m thinking particularly of Imago Dei in Portland with Rick McKinley (whose new book “Jesus in the Margins” is a kind swift kick in the pants to those of us who at one time that there were two types of places in the world: the bar (i.e. seventh circle of hell) and everywhere else. Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) also attends Imago Dei.

    I also like the folks at Sovereign Grace (Mahaney and Josh Harris) and at Bethlehem Baptist (The Piper).

    Finally a big shout out to the folks at the Village in Dallas. Matt Chandler took an old seeker Southern Baptist church of the more moderate variety and God introduced a dab of Reformed theology and a heaping tablespoon of biblical thinking and of course, the all important big dose of frappin’ Spirit of Jesus power and Bam baby!! You’ve got a thriving, reproducing church that (gasp!) actually cares abou the community.

  27. Imonk: Sorry for getting back to the comments so late!

    Blessed Sacrament is in Placentia, California. Their website is http://www.bsacramentchurch.org, but it doesn’t tell a whole lot about the church.

  28. I would like to see Marty Goetz get more exposure. He is a Messianic Jew from Tennessee. He’s a beautiful singe, great musician and sets scripture to music. He has a fantastic testimony. He’s at martygoetz.com…at least I think that’s it.

  29. Used to hear Marty sing at Harvest in Riverside (Greg Laurie’s church). Man…what a set of pipes. He would be singing along then break into what I called his “cantor-style”; singing out, in Hebrew, some of the things he sang as a cantor. Just beautiful!

    Eric 😉

  30. Don’t sweat the media coverage. The attention span of the media is about as long as that of the collective memory of the American people. They’ll move on to the next fad soon enough. The wisest thing is to ignore them and to carry on with the mission. The more you try to correct what they’re saying the more things get twisted and the more energy you waste on justifying yourself. Rule for maintaining longterm vital ministry: Whenever possible fly under the radar.

  31. English Nathan says

    Not got much time just now so can’t give this wonderful organization the write-up it deserves, but:

    BETEL (www.betel.org, if you interested)

    A number of Christian drugs rehab centres based originally in Spain and quite simply bringing healing to thousands of broken humans – with some shocking substance-abuse problems – through helping them into a relationship with Jesus Christ, and then through discipline, compassion, community and hard work.

    I don’t know if it quite qualifies for this thread cos, as far as I know, they’re only active hear in Europe, but they’re darn fine and I thought they deserved a shout-out.

  32. English Nathan says

    O, FOR SHAME, FOR SHAME!! I meant, of course, “*here* in Europe”.

    As a representative of the motherland of our great language, I simply cannot apologise enough =o)

  33. Donald Johnson says

    I was floored to see Tim Keller reads this stuff.

    Anyway, I replied a day or two ago, but something must have gone wrong. My doctrinal disagreements come from the fact that I’m relatively liberal theologically–for instance, I think women can be preachers. So I’d be uncomfortable supporting Redeemer, though it is a great church in many ways.

  34. Wow, Michael, you definitely were “reading my mail” when you posted your list of the media’s stereotypical “evangelical Christian.” Hit the nail pretty near the head, I’d say.

    A little-known site I’d vote for is the Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, IA. In pastor Mike Housholder I’ve found a man who is a visionary, and whose church is creating the kingdom in amazing and powerful ways. Yes, they walk the edge of megachurch-hood – but they also preach and live a version of Lutheran faith that I think Luther would recognize and approve, but most of the “frozen chosen” in the ELCA would be startled to see.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and also mention the Alpha groups in I’ve participated. The building of Christian community that went on in those groups – primarily with people who were on the outside (or at leat the fringes) of Christianity – was a powerful thing to watch. Is it perfect? No. Is it changing the face of the church, where it’s active? You bet.

  35. A friend pointed me in your direction, so thanks for what you are about. I grew up evangelical fundamentalist, though I fled to and through atheism and agnosticism into the Roman communion. Today that is beginning to manifest some of the things that made me give up on the others. Praise the Spirit for working wherever God wills! And bless the people who allow themselves to be moved!

    I haven’t had a chance to check everything out or read all the comments. I am looking forward to it.

  36. Shannon Richey says

    I personally like Christian Recovery International…www.christianrecovery.com. They have a lot of different resources for Christians who are dealing with different life issues. My personal favorite (well, the main one I have had to use) is the Spiritual Abuse Recovery section. It has forums for different people who have had experiences in the church that have adversely affected their faith and walk with God, and gives people a forum to meet others who have been through the same thing. This helps many people hold onto their faith when they would otherwise be tempted to leave Christianity altogether. My experiences made me consider this, and if not for other people who have been through similar things, I would still think I was all alone and that what I dealt with was ‘normal’ in evangelicalism. This forum has helped me see what is true and what is human error (or, in some cases, intention).

  37. Keith Casner says

    I would second those who have mentioned IJM and Redeemer NYC. Gary Haugen’s speaking tours and books and the circulation of Tim Keller’s sermon tapes and planting of churches by Redeemer have had a huge influence on thoughtful Christians in many major metro areas that tend to be hardened against sterotypical Bible Belt evangelicalism… without watering down the Gospel or its life-changing imperatives.

    But I’m sort of amazed that so far nobody has mentioned any US ministries serving the persecuted church around the world. In directly upholding our suffering brothers and sisters through prayer and provision, promoting the spread of the gospel in unreached areas and crying out to awaken the deaf and slumbering churchgoers of America to their responsibilities to the global body of Christ, Open Doors USA, led by Carl Moeller, is a great example of a ministry that represents what American evangelicalism should really be about.

    I’d love to see these three men getting airtime from the mainstream media. Not that I ever watch TV myself, but I’d like to know that they were being heard by those who do.

    (anti-spam: remove the “zz”‘s to get my real email address)

  38. Gabriel says

    Let me be a voice crying out in the wilderness of Protestant America:

    I nominate the hundreds of Orthodox Christian parishes around the US. I grew up Protestant, and thought I knew what Christianity was all about. Not until I converted to Orthodoxy did the scales fall from my eyes.

  39. Rusty Shackleford says

    Desire Street Ministries in New Orleans. http://www.desirestreet.org

    In 1990, the Desire neighborhood was the worst housing project in America. (I believe the statistic I heard was one murder per day.) Now, they have started a school, are working on building housing, have planted a church and are working on developing indigenous leaders. Check out the website for more on their commitment to “spiritual and community development”.

  40. I recall being told to run to Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY and that Pastor Ted Christman was the probably the best pastor in the United States. Do you recall that conversation?

  41. Certainly do. Now where is their web site? 🙂

  42. I heartily second Desire Street Ministries. The people who have given themselves to that neighborhood (Mo and the other non-indigenous staff) don’t care a whit about fame, so they deserve it most. An excellent operation with a view to unleash the Gospel to change the entire neighborhood, in all aspects of life.

    Hear, hear.

  43. Xenos Christian Fellowship in Columbus, OH…www.xenos.org. Real people in real community making a real difference in Columbus and the world.

  44. Jim White. (not to be confused with James White)

    One of the most amazing men of God I’ve ever been around.


  45. flyovernation says

    Check out the “other” Mars Hill…in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


    Authentic, all substance (not just emergent “style”), and on a mission to serve the community.