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Buying a bestseller

Is David Jeremiah another gifted pastor who has used what some say is an ethically dubious method to promote books?

Buying a bestseller

David Jeremiah (Wally Nell/Genesis)

Three books by David Jeremiah published by Faith Works. In <em>God Loves You</em>, Jeremiah acknowledges Result Source’s Kevin Small as “the genius” behind his book marketing plan.

No single event brought down Seattle’s Mars Hill Church and its celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll. However, the revelation that Driscoll and the church used nearly $250,000 in church funds to buy one of Driscoll’s books onto The New York Times bestseller list was a key factor.

Gaming The New York Times bestseller list is not illegal, but Justin Taylor at Crossway Books called the practice “dishonoring to the Lord.” Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) , calls it “unethical,” and ECFA adopted a rule against members in good standing engaging in it. Rick Christian, a literary agent who founded Alive Communications in 1989, calls such practices “outright fraud” and says, “Let’s quit sugar-coating bad practices, quit looking the other way, quit justifying complicit involvement because others are doing it.” He calls for rules of conduct “every agent, publisher, agency, church, and ministry should sign off on.”

Pastor and author David Jeremiah seems to disagree. According to former employee George Hale, Jeremiah’s ministry, Turning Point, purchased copies of at least three of Jeremiah’s books to push them onto The New York Times bestseller list. WORLD asked Jeremiah about his book marketing practices in an interview last year. He was vague on the specifics but did say: “You can’t just write a book and say I’m not going to have anything to do with marketing. If you don’t care enough about it to try and figure out how to get it in the hands of other people, nobody else is going to either.” In the acknowledgments section of his 2012 book God Loves You, Jeremiah even credits the man who got Driscoll in so much trouble—the president of Result Source, Kevin Small—as the “genius behind the plan.”

Marketing has certainly been successful for Jeremiah and Turning Point. The ministry has doubled in size since 2007, at a time when—because of the Great Recession—many Christian ministries have struggled to maintain their donor bases and break even. In 2012, the ministry took in about $40 million.

Hale, who was chief financial officer of Turning Point Ministries from July 2007 to January 2010, says the growth was the result of many changes in the ministry, but he says it coincided with the beginning of the book-buying plan. Hale said each time Jeremiah released a book, Turning Point radio and television programs promoted it, promising a free copy for a donation. This is standard fare for Christian radio. But, according to Hale, Jeremiah and Turning Point bought at least some of the books not at wholesale prices directly from the publisher, but at full retail prices from bookstores.

Hale says he became aware of the book-buying scheme “shortly after I got to Turning Point in July of 2007. David and his son [David Michael Jeremiah, now Turning Point’s chief operating officer and a member of the board] told me we needed to buy a bunch of books. They asked me to use my personal American Express card. When I asked them how much, they said about a quarter of a million dollars’ worth.” Hale says he told them he would not put that much on his card without prepayment.

On Oct. 4, 2007, Turning Point made two payments of $99,999.99 each to George Hale’s credit card, both via wire transfer. (Hale has provided WORLD with copies of his American Express statement showing the payments.) Hale says after he was sure the money had cleared and American Express had credited his account, he OK’d the ministry’s two online purchases using his American Express card at BarnesAndNoble.com: one for $113,038.40 and another for $141,298.00. (Hale’s American Express statement also shows these purchases.)

On Oct. 29, 2007, Turning Point made another payment to Hale’s American Express account of $50,000. Hale said that even though he cooperated with these transactions, he was uncomfortable with them; but he does say one of the effects was to “cause secular stores to stock and sell the books.”

WORLD placed dozens of calls to David Jeremiah and other members of the Turning Point staff to confirm Hale’s version of events and to give Jeremiah the opportunity to explain his version of events. None of these calls was returned.

Tyndale House Publishers lists David Jeremiah as one of its authors. Todd Starowitz, the director of public relations at Tyndale, refused to answer specific questions, but he did issue this statement: “Tyndale House Publishers does not contract with anyone or any agency who attempts to manipulate best seller lists.”

Jeremiah’s Turning Point Ministries “voluntarily resigned” its membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability on Jan. 31, 2010. ECFA’s Busby said the organization has a policy of not giving reasons for an organization’s resignation, but Hale said the book-buying scheme was the key reason for the resignation from ECFA membership.

Hale added, “I very much admire David Jeremiah and believe him to be one of the best Bible teachers in the world today. … I believe that David is blessed and chosen by God for this purpose.” But he believes Turning Point’s book-buying practice is “deceptive and unethical.”

Warren Cole Smith

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is vice president of mission advancement for The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

Comments

  • red_leader
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    At least they could have bought the books from a Christian bookseller.  Those guys are having a tough time competing against all the inroads from secular stores selling Christian books.  Help a brother out, eh Dave?  This story does make me appreciate the role of the ECFA though -

  • servantofgood
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    I find many of these comments disappointing. There is an automatic assumption that the purchase of books is "gaming", that this is sin, and (from Interested) that a ministry which has an income of $40 million in a year to be a big problem.I am no success gospel person. But I have to ask the question: What were all those books that were bought used for? Were they burned? Trashed? Resold? Given away? No mention is made of this. If we don't know, why are we assuming the worst?And that's my biggest problem with this article. I think it was poorly researched. It was based primarily on the "tell all" tales of a former employee whose single perspective is given full schrift, over a ministry and a man who has been laboring for the gospel for several decades now. I have attended his church a few times in the distant past. I've watched his ministry grow. He has never been a person to preach in a manipulative and money grubbing way. And that's another problem I have with World's portrayal. I doubt they've ever run a story on Jeremiah or even know much about him. But they have no problem coming up with a negative article; maybe that sells more copies of your magazine? That's pretty much what you're accusing Jeremiah of! There is no mention of what Jeremiah and Turning Point have accomplished.Be careful, World Magazine. What are your revenues, World Magazine? How do you market it? Do you give away free copies for promotional purposes?

  • Interested
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    After reading this and the blog by Warren Throckmorton http://www.patheos.com / blogs / warrenthrockmorton / 2015 / 01 / 14 / former-chief-financial-o /  I find there are some things that Warren Cole Smith failed to include:Driscoll did this once using $200k of ministry money, Jeremiah apparently did it for eight years using perhaps over $20 million of ministry money.  The Jeremiah "team" may have taught the Driscoll team how to do it.  Driscoll apologized, Jeremiah has not.Driscoll paid the money back, Jeremiah has not.Driscoll took the designation "best-seller" off of his book, Jeremiah has not.Driscoll's books were removed from LifeWay stores, Jeremiah's books are promoted by LifeWay as "best-sellers".Driscoll lost his church, Jeremiah continues to use his church to produce his TV shows.People no longer contribute to Driscoll, Turning Point takes in about $40 million per year.David Jeremiah is no Mark Driscoll."Driscoll said he would no longer refer to himself as a best-selling author, or to the book as a bestseller. "I now see [ResultSource's strategy] as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong," Driscoll wrote in a letter to the church."  quote from Christianity Today.

  • Patti Greene's picture
    Patti Greene
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    As a self-published Christian author, I understand the need for marketing/advertising. If you feel the Lord has called you to write a book, no one knows about the book unless you do some marketing, i.e. book signings, magazine ads, speaking ministry. However, in deciding how to market, I believe we must look at 5 main principles. 1) What is your motive in advertising? Is it for a ministry or personal monetary gain or is it to get the words the Lord has given you into the hands of those who need it? 2) Are you being a good steward of the money being used in your marketing whether it is your own money or others? 3) Has the way you (or your team) decided to market been prayed over, approved, and confirmed by the Lord? 4) Obviously as a Christian author, your book should be Biblically based, but is your book ethical? For example, if you are advertising yourself as the author, did YOU actually write the book? 5) Are there contractual agreements between you and your publishing company that you need to abide by? With large ministries the marketing/advertising aspect is a lot more complex than a single unknown author trying to market their book. I am sure there are other points to consider, but I do believe these 5 principles can be used for the majority of marketing/advertising decisions. [Sorry to all out there who really distinguish between marketing and advertising.]

  • Loren
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    Clay Nuttall - Having followed the ministries of both Driscoll and Jeremiah for several years (in preaching, speaking, and writing), I must be honest and say that there absolutely is NOT "a world of differrence" between these two cases. Much of Driscoll's writing has been dead-on biblical, as has much of Jeremiah's; and BOTH men have published writings with aspects and assertions that were weak, wrong-headed, and less than biblical. The same can be said of both men's preaching ministries: most of it was rock solid, but over the last few years more error, arrogance, and worldly lip-service has shown up. Saying that Jeremiah's current sin is "so much worse" because he is a "biblical theologian" than was Driscoll's shows that your claim is founded on a personal preference in their two styles, not on their definable and demonstrated education in and use of the scriptures. In actuality, all these things being essentially equal when viewed with an unbiased eye, Driscoll's would have to be the worse of the two as it has been shown that there were monies improperly used from other areas of his ministry to commit this same publishing fraud. As both men's sins defame the face of Christ before not only Christians, but the ever-watching secular world, I would say the amount of damage done is equal in sin and sadness.I will pray for Jeremiah as I do for Driscoll, that both men have a full-on facedown confrontation with Christ that sees them honestly repent, and be rebuilt again to serve Him and His glory only. Both have been excellent and important voices for Jesus, and can be again as I believe nothing they've yet done permanently disqualifies them from being preaching pastors (and I sincerely hope that nothing else comes out about either man to force me to change my stance on that).If we should learn anything from all of this, it is that none of us is immune to temptations, none of our sinful selves so thoroughly buried that we cannot be pulled away from the clear path - and let's face facts, every single one of us has real and serious issues with arrogance to wrestle with in our walks, our pride has always been the biggest issue, always will be.

  • usefull
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    This is disappointing.  I have really enjoyed and benefited from David Jeremiah's work. My Pastor and myself first met him in a hall at Cedarville College (now University) when he spoke at a Pastor's conference probably almost 20 years ago when he was in the midst of his fight with cancer.  I have described his skin tone as "light pea green" at the time.  15 years ago, my son attended and graduated from Cedarville.  Ten years ago, my wife and I went to San Diego and we attended his church a few times on our trip.  I have used his books as material for our adult Sunday School classes.  I pray that he addresses this issue head on and deals with it in transparency and admits his error without equivocating.  His legacy depends on it. 

  • Clay Nuttall's picture
    Clay Nuttall
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    This is not good, but there is something missing from the discussion. There is a world of difference between the content of Driscoll's writing and Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a biblical theologian and that makes this problem so much worse. 

  • williamson
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    I've been a Christian for 45 yrs this writing. Wouldn't know David Jeremiah if he bumped in to me. Know nothing of his ministry. So perhaps I can be more objective, candid in saying that, if the details in this account are accurate, his and Turning Point's (TP) interest in promoting his books are all about the money. The organization resigns ECFA without explanation? TP and Jeremiah won't return calls offering opportunity to explain why circumstances aren't really what they seem? Right. And if pigs had wings. A serious gambler would certainly put his money on the prospect that the reality bears out the appearance. Another commenter, Stephen L, asserts that marketing is perfectly legitimate. Certainly it is. Stacking the deck, building false impressions, essentially running a scam is not legitimate. And, again, if the details of this account are accurate, the evidence suggests strongly this is a scam, absent Turning Point's &/or Jeremiah's willingness to clarify. Perhaps they take their cues from the White House press office. 

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    Seems Christ had things to say about Pharisees looking good in the eyes of men and the world rather than the eyes of God.   Is Jeremiah looking for rewards here on earth from men?

  • Gary Lee
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    Although it would be much easier if we could paint the world in blacks and whites, it's not always that simple. If you believe your product is valuable, you should try to get it into the hands of people. That means some form of marketing. On the other hand, marketing can be used for many reasons, including brand recognition, control, influence, and increasing wealth--whether or not the product is "valuable." LauraG, LauraT, and Stephen L all have valid points. Watch television advertising critically or walk into your local supermarket and look at product labeling, and you quickly realize there's a fine line between marketing and deception. What do "natural," "genuine," and "original," really mean? So do I believe Christians should get God's message into the mainstream marketplace? Absolutely. Do I believe we must do it with integrity? Yes again. May the Lord give all of us abundant helpings of wisdom and insight.

  • Stephen L
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    Not a problem. It is the legal and even ethical way to publicize a book. The moral problem comes from using funds to do that from an improper place. Like allegedly Driscoll using funds designated for missions. But the actual process of marketing is the way it works in the world. Nothing nefarious here.

  • Anonymous (not verified)
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    I feel like this issue could open up questions about a whole host of other issues as far as Christian publishing goes. What role should marketing play? What about when it becomes outright self-promotion? Is it possible for our emphasis on marketing to display a distrust in the Holy Spirit? Or is marketing just one of the ways the Holy Spirit works to get the right message into the right hands? I don't have the answers, but I would love to see these questions explored in more detail.

  • LindaG
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    I have always been a fan of Dr. Jeremiah.  I think he's one of the most gifted pastors and speakers there is.  However, I have been feeling for some time that marketing has become so big a thing in his ministry that it seems to overshadow a desire to provide information that normally would be given in a Christian ministry without having to pay for it.  I've noticed that books are being written so profusely and fast that some of them that I've bought have not been thoroughly proofread for errors, and some are just not up to par in the way they are written or in the carefulness in printing layout.  I've had red flags coming up in my mind for some time, and when I read this information today--especially about their pulling out of the ECFA--it was extremely, extremely disappointing to me.  I believe it will (and already has) tarnished his ministry.  My prayer is that he will face this issue head on and do what needs to be done to rectify it.  I believe that is in his character, and the Lord can do a wonderful work as He often does when people face their shortcomings, own up to them, make changes, and move forward.

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    It's sad when so many ethical and legitimate ministers/ ministries struggle along financially, out of the spotlight, doing wonderful work touching lives for God's kingdom when at the same time there are small numbers of big names basking in the spotlights, raking in the money by the bucket load, and too many times it ends up having been helped along by manipulation, fraud or greed.  It seems like donors tend to run after the big and glorious names.  Maybe that's why some ministries feel so much pressure to make their name and reputation seem big and glorious.

  • Neil Evans's picture
    Neil Evans
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    I never thought I'd see the day.  Well, actually Godly culture has always been at the crossroads. God's people have always been tempted to follow the world's ways.  Our unfaithfulness has always pained God's heart and stirred His wrath.  Isn't it amazing how God can use us in spite of our sin.  There is only One Author and One Book that is absolutely reliable.  A big part of the problem is our human tendency to elevate personalities rather than the office.  And those elevated begin to forget the responsibilities of the office while enjoying its privileges.

  • Buschmom
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    This is terribly disappointing.

  • William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:01 pm

    uh oh.