The secret of big evangelicalism is the secret of great comedy
La Diva's question about evangelicalism and sentimentality is an important one but I would like to expand its reference by pointing to the close connection between sentimentality and aesthetics. We live in an age where matters of taste, defined often by emotional, sentimental reactions, are largely determinative of moral truth. This plays its part even in the culture of conservative Big Evangelicalism. And, in a world of sentiment and aesthetics, an instinctive sense for tastefulness is what makes for a successful marketing strategy.
Take, for example, the 20-20 hindsight regarding Mark Driscoll now being demonstrated by the Gospel Coalition. Such is definitely to be welcomed but what is interesting is that the chronology of the whole YRR-Driscoll saga falls out along taste/aesthetic lines. Those who saw the problem early were quickly dismissed as Pharisees, hypocrites, 'discernment bloggers,' judgmental, and even racists. These are all pretty distasteful categories in the late modern world of tolerance and niceness. Those who decried or ignored the critics were at first characterized as appropriately trusting and supportive, and then later as forgiving and gracious. These are tasteful, polite categories by late modern standards, the kind of things 'nice' people do, the kind of things that are easy to sell.
It is interesting that the crisis finally came only when the aesthetics flipped the other way, when Driscoll and his antics became more distasteful than the words of his critics. It is important to notice that it was not the embrace of a Unitarian prosperity teacher and that decision's obvious doctrinal significance which brought things to a head. Rather, it was the numerous allegations of bullying and loutish behaviour which finished him off -- things that are aesthetically displeasing in the current climate. The whistleblowers, however, are still not regarded as vindicated, despite having spoken the truth. I suspect they can -- pardon the pun -- whistle for an apology from the Top Men or for rehabilitation by the mainstream of YRR evangelicalism. For they can even now still be dismissed as smug (an aesthetic word if ever there was one) or simply forgotten because, whatever the truth they spoke, they were nonetheless engaged in the activity at a point in time when the aesthetics of the marketplace made their criticisms easy to characterize as unloving and thus distasteful.
When it comes to an instinct for staying ahead, the Top Men and their camp followers are masters of the taste-driven dynamics of the evangelical stock exchange: winsome and loving when the market's aesthetics demand such, then wise and discerning when tastes change. Like the secret of great comedy, the secret of being a respected leader in the world of Big Eva is really very, very simple: it's all a question of timing.