Last week, Salon blogger Alex Pareene rocked the media world with The Hack 30, a definitive list of the biggest hacks in political media. Pareene went, above all, after shamelessness: people who consistently write banal, outrageous or flat-out wrong things and somehow retain their seats at the elite media table. They may be smart, but they routinely phone it in; more often than not, they peddle conventional wisdom as insight and, in the most extreme cases, put their intellects to work for despicable agendas.

The fun and catharsis of reading the list immediately sparked a Patrol email loop and a growing list of the most hacky Christian pundits. They may overlap with the political media, but they present their unenlightening pontification from a decidedly religious perspective. We gathered names from every corner of Christian commentary we could think of, then narrowed it down to ten.

The following are the top 10 Christian commentators you’re most likely to waste your time reading. Chances are high, perusing any random piece of their work, that you’ll find worn-out political banalities, repetitive tropes, or a general absence of anything that might enrich a reader’s mind. In a couple of cases, they’re egoists and opportunists. You’ll immediately notice that many of them are conservatives and most of us at Patrol are not, but we made a serious effort not to go after ideology. It’s not so much that we disagree with these guys as that they’re dull and unchallenging, having either never had a talent for writing or having let religion and ideological groupthink dull their intellect.

Click here to read part two of the list.

10. Michael Gerson, The Washington Post

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson spent his years as George W. Bush’s celebrated scribe using the media to build himself a reputation. Now, post-Bush, he’s ridden that reputation into a job a the Washington Post, surrounded on its op-ed page by warmongers, torture enthusiasts, and reams of Beltway conventional wisdom. Gerson leans toward the latter, and the fact that his nice-guy-conservatism feels like shtick only adds to the overblown emptiness of his prose. In general, he’s not wrong so much as a waste of time. Because no self-respecting reader needs another soul-sucking column about political optics, wrapped in the feathery rhetoric usually reserved for the presidential speeches no one watches. And though he takes pains to smother his views in pragmatism, Gerson’s evangelicalism does sometimes shine through, such as in this piece about Obama’s “abortion extremism” and this muddled rumination on modern sexual relationships.

Repeat offenses: Beltway myopia; obsession with meaningless political analysis; lack of coherent point of view.

Representative quote:

“For some, this is merely a confirmation of their preexisting view of politics—that idealism is a fraud, that rhetorical inspiration is a con. It is true that many politicians do not improve upon closer acquaintance—that no man is a hero to his valet. But a nation of valets would lose its capacity for great purposes. So it should be a source of sadness that Obama, for many, has become a source of cynicism.”

9. Jim Wallis, Sojourners

Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis

Wallis’ heart may be in the right place, and his politics more on the right track than others on this list. But aside from the dull, stock progressivism of his political commentary, he’s just as bad about politicizing Christianity as the Christianists. We’re sorry, but sticking Bible verses onto Democratic talking points doesn’t make them holy. And stop lying about being funded by George Soros and pretending to be a non-partisan centrist. Everyone knows you’re a Democratic Party adviser, and besides, there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re a liberal. Wear it proudly and keep calling out Wall Street, but stop writing boring blog posts about how every political issue is moral and why every problem the planet faces can be solved by Democratic policy proposals.

Repeat offenses: Predictable commentary; phony objectivity; political Scripture-twisting.

Representative quote:

“There has been a lot of talk about deficits lately. This is for good reasons. Our personal and national relationship to debt is indeed a moral issue. Leaving our children to pay the bills for excessive spending cannot be justified. But, if a budget really is a moral document, how we reduce the deficit is also a moral issue. Our budget should not be balanced on the backs of the poor.”

8. Chuck Colson

Chuck Colson

Chuck Colson

You may recall that Patrol once defended Colson in an editorial about his admission that the religious right has been a political failure. We stand by that, but we can’t defend Colson’s boilerplate commentary on politics that, while rarely offering any insight, frequently fails to criticize Republican politics or apply Colson’s conservative Christian ideas across the political spectrum. He’s nicer than most theocons, but his politics tack cozily along with the GOP on most of the issues of the past decade, including on the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and advocating an Israel-centric Middle East policy. He continued the trend of Christians insistently refusing to even listen, much less participate, in the dialogue on Sharia’s relationship with Western society, and on the occasion of the Prop 8 ruling in California this summer, repeated the line that the judge had thrown out the will of the people. And he’s always got plenty to say on the classic Christian Right themes of God’s banishment from the public square and the assault on America’s founding values. But the worst problem of all is that he’s boring and hopelessly predictable—perhaps because so many columns he’s barely even touched go out under his name.

Repeat offenses: Stock cultural sentimentalism; over-reliance on lackluster ghostwriters.

Representative quote:

“But over the last few decades, legions of skeptics have mounted a massive assault on these ‘self-evident truths.’ In prestigious law schools, in the halls of government, and especially in the Supreme Court, God is often banished from public conversation. If a public school teacher were to introduce Jefferson’s ideas and language into the classroom today, she would likely be called on the carpet.”

7. Michael Novak, American Enterprise Institute

Michael Novak

Michael Novak

Michael Novak is an institution of his own, with a library of books on things like Catholic ethics and the morality of capitalism. A regular detractor from National Review and First Things, he’s unfortunately devoted a lot of energy to pernicious intellectual causes: His 2004 book, The Universal Hunger for Liberty, argued that the Muslim world really longs for American-style democracy. His latest, On Two Wings, is another attempt to Christianize the American founding. These don’t seem overtly hackish until Novak’s more pedestrian punditry shows us where he’s coming from. Like in this deeply silly paean to the Tea Party, where he wrote that President Obama is not only “thoroughly discredited,” but the only president to be so discredited in only two years. Obama “wants to make the U.S. like European welfare states,” Novak writes, and then launches into the familiar blather about whether God will keep America as his Chosen Nation now that we are godless heathens. His books may take up heady topics, but underneath is the same warmongering theoconservatism one might expect in a Sarah Palin tweet. Even if he’s right in some tangential way about the decline of America, the Tea Party is reason to hope?

Repeat offenses: Christianism; Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Representative quote:

“In recent years, I have wondered how much longer God would continue to bless America, that country so favored by Providence for so long. The mass-media culture of America, its movies, its glitzy magazines, and its public speech (even in churches) are becoming more and more decadent, less and less under the sway of personal moral responsibility, more relativist, less under the self-control of reason. That ‘superculture’ of the media hangs over the nation like a miasma of moral smog. Below it, thank God, there are still tens of millions willing to resist it.”

6. Albert Mohler, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Al Mohler

Albert Mohler

The constantly blogging, tweeting president of the SBTS tries his best to make Baptists cool, and he does a decent job of it. He seems like a nice enough guy. It’s sort of backwardly admirable the way he defends really odious views while managing to barely sound like a fundamentalist. He’s even taken some nuanced stances on his signature issues, like writing that gay marriage isn’t nearly as big a threat to Christian marriage as divorce. But ultimately, Mohler’s use of his formidable brain power defending fundamentalist Christianity is too egregious to let slide. He was almost singlehandedly responsible for turning the Southern Baptist Convention into a reactionary conservative institution. And what is wrong with a world where the man Time calls “the leading intellectual of the evangelical movement” is defending young-earth creationism, calling gay marriage “a direct threat [to the] central institution of human civilization,” warning Christian parents against university education, opposing yoga on spiritual grounds, and defending complementarian gender roles? Mohler will fight for his Biblical inerrancy if it kills him, and he holds to it consistently in every issue it touches. But consistently doesn’t absolve him—a seminary president, a man capable of quality scholarly work—of devoting his intellect to the service of the anti-intellectual.

Repeat offenses: Anti-intellectualism; fundamentalism; Christianism.

Representative quote:

“For too long, those who hold to traditional understandings of manhood and womanhood, deeply rooted in both Scripture and tradition, have allowed themselves to be pushed into a defensive posture. Given the prevailing spirit of the age and the enormous cultural pressure toward conformity, traditionalists are now accused of being woefully out of step and hopelessly out of date. Now is a good time to reconsider the issues basic to this debate and to reassert the arguments for biblical manhood and womanhood.”

Click here to continue reading the list.

About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

  • Jess S.

    Seems like Gerson’s hair should be added to the list of reasons to ignore him…

  • Steve in Toronto

    A very strange list. I quibble a bit on your definition of hack (historically the word was used to describe low level scribes who would write anything if the price was right). Most of (if not all of) are not by that definition hacks. What I think you mean is that these men are “true believers” who to varying degrees let their ideologies get in the way of their intellectual integrity if that’s what you mean I think you maybe more on target but I still think your painting with too broad a brush. Two are in my opinion very poor Christian witness (Albert Mohler because of the very Machiavellian way he took over southern and dispatched his moderate foes and Wallis for his dishonesty) in short they are both men who think the ends justify the means a profoundly anti Christian philosophy, they may also be hacks (if we use the second definition) but that is the least of there sins). Novak is a serious intellectual who probably writes too much about to many subjects and as a result says some very foolish things with some regularity but is certainly an important public intellectual. It is certainly time for Colson to retire but every thing he says is founded in a sincerely held and fairly consistent world view that may not line up with the editorial board of patrol magazine but has on balance been a force for good and on balance he has been an excellent witness (Prison fellowship outweighs a thousand shallow right wing platitudes). Your wrap on Gerson is the most puzzling however part of your criticism of him is bizarre (who in there right mind would not write for the Washington Post if they got the chance even if it meant having to rub shoulders with Charles Krauthammer and EJ Dionne?) He is a smart center right Washington insider and a convention evangelical and surprise when he writes like one! You might find his point of view uninteresting but I dearly wish there were more men like him in government.

    Cheers
    Steve in Toronto

    • Anonymous

      what is the wallis dishonesty?

      • Good Will Hinton

        The Wallis dishonesty is his “Neither Republican nor Democrats” meme. This is quite disingenuous as no one can imagine Wallis doing anything other than voting Democrat or supporting Democrat policies. Nothing wrong with that per se but just don’t pretend to be “post-partisan”.

        • Steve in Toronto

          Personally I give Wallis a pass on that one most of us like to think of our self’s as “moderates” independent of a governing ideology. What realy troubles me is that he took money from George Soros (a known felon) in its self a troubling but not damming act then lied about it when challenged and then proceeded to defame the reputation of the reporter (a fellow christen) who broke the story. He only repented when it became painful obvious to even his most loyal fans that he had been caught and even then his apologies contained a gratuitous jab at one of his ideological foes (ironically accusing him of the same sin he had just confessed to). It will be a long time before I will be able to take him seriously again.

          Cheers
          Steve in Toronto
          (Sorry for the double post)

        • Anonymous

          I like the neither political party meme. I also have a grounding in many issues that arise from my biblical-interpretive stance. My interpretive stance is primary, while any votes I cast are secondary.
          For example, I believe that Jesus fulfills and embodies Isaiah the prophet’s vision in Isaiah 2. I believe in weapons of war being converted into instruments of peace. In American politics, I have several options: avoid voting altogether, voting on principle (for losing candidates), voting for less than the ideal so that the ball might be moved forward. I’ve struggled to discern among all three options.

          As you might imagine, I find myself agreeing with the spirit of Wallis’ organization. I do truly support the “neither Republican nor Democrat” label, even though a very high percentage of my votes go in a Democrat direction. So I guess, according to your standards, I am not honest.

          Just the other day, I met with a Republican legislator. He is concerned with sound financial management and not wasting tax payer money. He is concerned with fraud in use of safety net money. He doesn’t like it when money intended to provide for necessities is used instead for alcohol or cigarettes or drugs. Guess what? I agree with him. I believe we do need to be responsible. And… I believe in a government role in providing a safety net for economically stressed families. Talking with my legislator friend, we do have common ground! Yes, we have serious disagreements, too.

          So I care about Darfur and Wall Street corruption and interfaith cooperation and seeking alternatives to war and care for the environment and good education in the context of healthy communities and lots more. I desire businesses to thrive while being responsible to workers and sustainability.

          This is my long winded defense of Jim Wallis. If he is being dishonest and judged, then throw me under the bus, too. Yet I would say that Wallis has fought the fight and gotten his hands dirty far more than I. So I refuse to judge. And… I invite friends across the ideological spectrum to talk with me. What do we hope for? What does God’s kingdom look like? Health? Manna for all? Mercy for all? Refusal to retaliate? Unilateral forgiveness?

          I’m at peace with being a struggling, bumbling, hypocritical Jesus follower. So I need the help of my siblings!

    • Nic Gibson

      I’d disagree about Mohler. Why is firing people that don’t believe a confessional institutions confession Machiavellian? Mohler acted in keeping with the institutional rules and guidelines of his seminary, and was very direct and open about his intentions. I can understand not liking the result, but I don’t think that makes him an a-moral pragmatist. In many cases when people turn their head on things for years, someone has to eventually have the guts to clean house. The ‘moderates’ at southern were non-evangelicals trying to reform an evangelical seminary. Mohler did what he was sent there to do. One could argue that passive doctrinal dishonesty among ‘moderates’ is as pragmatic and passive aggressively Machiavellian as any action of Molher’s.

  • http://menliketreeswalking.blogspot.com Matthew

    Yeah, I’m with Steve here. I’m also inclined to retitle this list “Top 10 Christian Writers That I’m Not Terribly Fond Of.” If we are on a do-or-die mission to obliterate hackneyed rhetoric in the world of Christianity, culture, and politics, then one might also use the title “My Top 10 Favorite Black Kettles.” I don’t intend for that to be mean, but just to say that if one is going to wade into the world of such commentary, one is bound to step on a few toes and make a few sweeping generalizations along the way. This does not make one a hack.

  • Steve in Toronto

    Personally I give Wallis a pass on that one most of us like to think of our self’s as “moderates” independent of a governing ideology. What realy troubles me is that he took money from George Soros (a known felon) in its self a troubling but not damming act then lied about it when challenged and then proceeded to defame the reputation of the reporter (a fellow christen) who broke the story. He only repented when it became painful obvious to even his most loyal fans that he had been caught and even then his apologies contained a gratuitous jab at one of his ideological foes (ironically accusing him of the same sin he had just confessed to). It will be a long time before I will be able to take him seriously again.

    Cheers
    Steve in Toronto

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  • http://twitter.com/Brandywinebooks Philip Wade

    What you say about Albert Mohler doesn’t fit a hack at all. You just disagree with him.

  • jordan

    It’s not anti-intellectualism to ask why we should believe people who hate God over the Revelation of God, and find the rebels wanting.

  • Tim R.

    I’m with Jordan – I don’t see how believing that the Word of God is Truth and applying one’s intellect to it is hackery. If we follow your thoughts here, every thinking and believing Christian is a “hack!”

  • Blogsology

    OK – a worthwhile list. Now show your constructive side and give some props to the 10 BEST.

    I know that cynicism is way more trendy (like this backhanded comment) but giving the positive counterpoint would show YOUR objectivity.

  • http://porterperkins.blogspot.com Mark P

    Colson’s inclusion is enormously disappointing, and I think it betrays in you, David, a regrettable tendency to think only in political terms–which is, of course, the first and foremost failure of most of the people you list here.

    While many Christians who were eloquent in certain areas ended up becoming obsessed with and utterly ridiculous in politics (I’m thinking of Dobson, whose reputation in family counseling and pop psychology has been completely obscured by his politics and power plays in recent years), Colson has remained since the ’70s first and foremost dedicated to prison reform and ministry–the further thing from Religious Right hackery one can imagine coming from a conservative Christian.

    And that’s the critical part. That as a conservative Christian of a particular generation, he inevitably engages in conservative political punditry on the side does not make him a hack. Your failure to recognize his true legacy–prison reform and prison ministry–reveals, as I say, a regrettable dominance of politics in your thinking. I’m disappointed.

    • http://patrolmag.com/sessions David Sessions

      Mark, as I said about Francis Schaeffer in the second part of the list, inclusion in this collection is specifically in reference to the person’s punditry, not the other ministries, activism, pursuits in which they may be involved. Frank Schaeffer has written what many people consider a beautiful novel, but as a pundit he’s a hack. Many people consider his father a brilliant intellectual, but his late political writing was hackery. And Colson may have done wonderful things in his ministry (which I have publicly acknowledged elsewhere), but as a columnist he’s a hack.

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