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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sweeping Statements (by a fine man)

Carl Trueman recently wrote here that he is disturbed by the willingness of Christian groups to pay Christian leaders $10,000 and upwards for giving a single lecture. He even quotes another favorably, suggesting that a willingness to pay such a fee gives “Christianity in this country a bad name.” Trueman warns against the preparedness of some Christian organizations to pay such fees, noting that it is “horribly sleazy” when one is influenced by a speaker’s “ability to command serious media attention or simply fill that stadium”. He goes on to suggest that not to voice that a lecture fee of $10,000 is “distasteful or downright inappropriate” is to head into “televangelist and prosperity huckster” territory.

Is it immoral to choose any speaker based upon a degree of popularity even when accompanied by a motive to fill even a large auditorium? If a Christian organization desires to communicate a particular message to as many people possible in one single evening, would it necessarily be wrong to consider the notoriety and communication skills of potential candidates? Moreover, if proceeds for such an event were, say, in the tens of thousands, why would it be impermissible for a speaker to be compensated $10,000 or more?

Indeed, I don’t question that speakers are sometimes sought out by Christian organizations for less than pure motives. However, I am not prepared to paint with such a broad brush as to say that to pay a speaker half the proceeds for addressing an audience of 1250 people at 16 dollars per head is distasteful, let alone horribly sleazy. Imagine, for instance, a professor writing a book on the Trinity that required a lifetime of study and reflection, including a grueling year or two to organize it into manuscript form. Not much money can be made selling useful Christian books, even award winning ones. Accordingly, I would have no problem with a Christian author recouping some of his effort in the form of a 10K financial reward through the medium of a single conference engagement. I wouldn’t even have a problem with a minister who preached thirty five sermons per year in a large congregation in Luanda, Angola making $350,000 per year given that a fast food meal in that city cost over twenty dollars in 2011.

Much more can be said on this matter, like what we think regarding the perceived worth of something relative to supply and demand.

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6 comments:

David said...

What is it with these rock star professors? His counter part out in Escondido too often makes equally unqualified statements.

Reformed Apologist said...

It's an election month. Unguarded statements can be expected?

Joshua Butcher said...

Historians are often prone to making unqualified generalizations.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, Ron.

As you hinted near the end of your post, it comes down to subjective valuation.

Prices are subjective valuations. They reside in the minds of men, not the laws of nature. While it is true that the heavens declare the glory of God, they simply do not reveal what a Christian speaker can command for a lecture nor what a Christian organization can shell out.

Trueman's valuation of speaker fees, though furnished with moral indignation, is still subjective. Why does he have a problem with upper six-figure salaries and not lower six-figure salaries? They're both very high when indexed to the median income of the country he lives in.

From the perspective of the speaker, a price allows them to allocate their time appropriately. If demand for their time is high, a high price will help with the rationing process.

My boss receives invitations to speak all the time. Were he to accept them all, he would never get any of his own work done. He sometimes asks for ridiculous fees (e.g., $5,000 a lecture) as a way to get out of an invitation. If they accept his offer, the money is worth the exchange of his time and expertise and inconvenience to his schedule.

Joel ("Quibbles")

Ed Dingess said...

What is the justification for taking $10,000 for a 90 minute lecture? Would Jesus ever do this? Are we convinced that Paul would be fine with it? What did Paul do? Was he at all concerned with how this sort of practice might be construed? I wonder if Jesus or Paul would charge to come hear them speak? Putting on a formal conference is one thing, but charging fees to teach or preach the gospel is simply beyond justification. We tried to get a big name to simply take some time to talk about classical versus presuppositional apologetics and one man wanted $20k. Does Scripture have nothing to say about such an attitude?

Reformed Apologist said...


"What is the justification for taking $10,000 for a 90 minute lecture? Would Jesus ever do this?"

There are many things men ought to do that Jesus wouldn’t do. Jesus wouldn’t marry. Jesus wouldn’t hold public office or be paid for it. Jesus wouldn’t work for a waste disposal company or be paid for it. Accordingly, to base theology in general and justification for creaturely acts in particular on a “WWJD” theology is poor procedure.

Having said that, there are many good reasons to receive such money, not the least of which could be to pay for the hundreds, even thousands, of study hours that could be the precursor to giving such a lecture. Do you have an ethical problem with scholars retrieving money for years of monetary sacrifice that was necessary in order for them to learn enough to be worth that sort of money? Other reasons that might better satisfy pietistic sorts could be to give the money to the poor, to missionaries, or to poor missionaries. There's many more good reasons as well.

Let’s stick to the moral law, shall we? Certainly God's not a legalistic, is he? The motive of one's heart for taking such money might be quite noble.

Sorry you couldn't afford the conference speaker you wanted. Truly, I wish you could have afforded him if he was a good communicator of truth.