Biblical Porn: Book Review

Johnson, Jessica. 2018. Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Evangelical Empire. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Reviewed by: Brendan Jamal Thornton (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Depending on what you are looking for, the title of Jessica Johnson’s 2018 volume from Duke University Press may be a bit misleading: you need not be home alone or draw the curtains closed in order to crack the spine of this thoughtful text which is based on a decade of comprehensive ethnographic research on Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and its shock jock pastor Mark Driscoll. From 1996 to 2014, Driscoll built an evangelical empire whose quick ascent to national prominence was matched only by its precipitous fall from grace following a series of scandals that would topple the church and sully its reputation. Distinguishing himself as a provocateur through controversial teachings on marriage and relationships, Driscoll’s relatively novel brand of mondo evangelical theology won him both celebrity and notoriety among white middle-class Americans who found his signature sermonizing on sex to be as compelling as it was titillating. According to Johnson, Driscoll’s appeal lay in his rhetorical talents and “gift” for hyperbole, skills that for over a decade routinely seduced audiences who were at once stirred and troubled by his unorthodox preaching on “biblical oral sex,” and other salacious topics. Continue reading

Thornton, “Negotiating Respect”

Thornton, Brendan Jamal. 2016. Negotiating respect: pentecostalism, masculinity, and the politics of spiritual authority in the Dominican Republic. [Place of publication not identified]: University of Florida Press.

Publisher’s Description: Negotiating Respect is an ethnographically rich investigation of Pentecostal Christianity–the Caribbean’s fastest growing religious movement–in the Dominican Republic. Based on fieldwork in a barrio of Villa Altagracia, Brendan Jamal Thornton examines the everyday practices of Pentecostal community members and the complex ways in which they negotiate legitimacy, recognition, and spiritual authority within the context of religious pluralism and Catholic cultural supremacy. Probing gender, faith, and identity from an anthropological perspective, he considers in detail the lives of young male churchgoers and their struggles with conversion and life in the streets. Thornton shows that conversion offers both spiritual and practical social value because it provides a strategic avenue for prestige and an acceptable way to transcend personal history. Through an exploration of the church and its relationship to barrio institutions like youth gangs and Dominican vodú, he further draws out the meaningful nuances of lived religion providing new insights into the social organization of belief and the significance of Pentecostal growth and popularity globally. The result is a fresh perspective on religious pluralism and contemporary religious and cultural change.