a postscript to ‘what happened to the pentecostal evangel?’

Back on October 17, I posted What happened to the Pentecostal Evangel?, a think piece doing the work the publishers, the Assemblies of God, should have done months ago, but only officially announced in the November 30 issue: the Evangel is changing into an online format, PE News, and the publishing work is now going to be found in Vital, “a creative discipleship tool we believe will pave new ground in our fellowship and reach into the daily lives of its readers,” according to the press release published in the Evangel signed by General Superintendent George O. Wood.

Moving from weekly to bimonthly print publications saves a lot of overhead; there’s no doubt about that. Do yourself a favor, though, and search for ‘vital magazine’. In fact, I’ve done it for you.

Granted, a new publication isn’t going to be catapulted to the head of the list. There’s no track record, no traffic, nothing to give it that kind of cache. That said, wouldn’t someone, anyone, think that smart marketing might stay away from a oversaturated term like ‘vital’–which apparently covers demographics from senior adults to IT professionals to the LGBT community and, now, Pentecostals ‘Spirit-empowered people’?

Hey, you can’t mistake the Pentecostal Evangel with anything other than what it is. When you search for Nike, the top of the list isn’t going to include pages devoted to the mythological goddess. Isn’t a considerable part of building a strong brand having a unique identity? Is being identified Pentecostal not unique enough?

The Pentecostal Evangel is morphing to PE News. The new magazine replacing is Vital. Pentecostals are Spirit-empowered people.  Even the Assemblies of God logo has changed from this to this to, now, this. (The latter two have been changes within the past 15 years or so.)

Far be it from me to be someone who would lament the loss of that old-time religion or resistant to development (or, gag, change), but these moves are a deliberate step away from a distinctive sense of identity–and, necessarily, the concomitant doctrinal or theological orientations associated with it–and toward a deliberately ambiguous, middle-of-the-road milquetoast, generically Evangelical sense of self. (The AG has wanted to be accepted by the broader Evangelical community for a long time now. No one needs to change the Fundamental Truths to do it, either: we’ll call it the congressional precedent.) Has the Pentecostal title been trashed so badly that they had to move away from it? Are the statistics such that they feel the need to position themselves in a way that casts a wider net? Perhaps the answer is ‘yes’?

I suppose there’s a reason they refer to themselves as a movement.

And now, let’s quickly turn to Vital itself: giving credit where it’s due, they’ve already improved the beta version, but it’s still a cluttered mess of a layout (and in fairness, many major publications’ websites are an intuitive disaster) and bears a strong resemblance to another ambiguously Christian website. Christians aping one another’s ideas is nothing new, but still: if the goal is to confuse someone into thinking they’re somewhere they’re not, then mission accomplished. Make no mistake, though, this e-zine is, both implicitly and explicitly, designed for the subculture rather than catering to culture at large. Vital isn’t going to prison to reach anyone, even though the connection between A Psalm in my Heart and reaching ‘the lost’ is lost on me. (OK, OK, the Psalm in My Heart reference was a cheap shot. I apologize.) The evangelistic thrust of the Evangel, for better or worse, is gone in favor of an echo chamber in a world already chuck full of echo chambers.

This is the future, and it bodes well for no one.


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