PART SEVEN: YOU HAVE ALL THESE RULES AND YOU THINK THEY CAN SAVE YOU
For most young evangelicals, the flash points where our libertarianism comes out are traditional sources of conflict with parents: tattoos, alcohol, music, movies, language and sexuality. In each area, younger evangelicals have rejected the perceived prudishness symbolized by our parents (yes, ironically, the children of the sixties and seventies) in favor of engaging the culture around us. Often this reflects a new internalization—one might characterize it as a gnosticization—of the Gospel. Social rules, such as those which once governed alcohol consumption among evangelicals, language, and sexual behavior, are now a sign of a Puritanical legalism that has forgotten that Jesus really cares about the heart and our intentions, not our behaviors and, as such, are to be discarded.
After spending quite a bit of time letting this series on Anderson's article go fallow I have returned. There are enough ebbs in the social life to let me return to writing on a few things and as anyone, the few who bother to read this blog, could surmise, I was not done writing on Anderson's article. This above paragraph in particular sticks with me for its sweeping generalizations.
It is not so much that Anderson is apt to sweeping generalizations that catches my attention here, it's that living in Seattle I have attended a church that displays the traits of the newer evangelicalism and is arguably more pioneering in the direction or scandal of new evangelicalism on the various flash points Anderson writes about. It seems to me Anderson works on a set of unstated assumptions he doesn't bother to, pardon the pun, flesh out. If he had, let alone if he had taken Mars Hill church in Seattle as an example he might find that the so-called "new internalization" he imagines is neither a gnosticizationof the Gospel nor has it led to a lack of puritanical legalism as such because the heart matters rather than behaviors. To make a counter generalization as sweeping as Anderson's, the man is obviously too lazy to found his assertions in examples. To wit, this entire paragraph is a stereotype without an actual evangelical exemplar.
Since about a third of my life (short as it might be considered to be) has been spent at Mars Hill I can comment broadly from both experience and observation that Mars Hill probably embodies the "new" evangelicalism and the internalization of ethics is not what has happened. An adjustment of priorities about what outward signs of behavior constitute evangelicalism may have happened but every generation excuses itself on one thing and condemns itself for another thing. One generation sanctioned racism and forbade abortion, another generation detests racism and permits abortion. Jesus rebuked the generation of religious leaders that said "We would never do that" as, having said those words of self exculpation, that they proved they were guilty of those things their ancestors did, murdering the prophets of the Lord.
Now indulge me as I consider Mars Hill's history of stances on any number of issues verses on inlight of the implied ethical shift Anderson seems to see.
Tattoos are considered fine at Mars Hill. This brand of evangelicalism has no problem with it. Older arguments and assertions about how the Mosaic law says to not scar yourself or cut yourself on account of the dead are not considered to hold up. In Exodus 13 keeping the Passover is considered as it were a mark on the right hand or a mark above the eyes. Christ is depicted in Revelation, as Driscoll so fondly puts it, as a prize fighter with a tattoo on his body. Ergo, Christians have no need to think that in putting tattoos on themselves that they infringe on any divine command or prohibition. If Anderson were to assert that evangelicals are historically against tattoos he might need to consider how cultural that position is. As unbelievers are so fond of noting, plenty of Christians were persuaded that a correct interpretation of the Bible sanctioned racism and slavery.
Now here Anderson could appeal to the historic involvement of evangelicals in favor of Prohibition and the outlawing of alcohol. Mark Noll and others have noted that evangelicals supported the outlawing of alcohol because of the social ills related to it. Older evangelical traditions were in favor of the consumption of alcohol. One of the founders of what would be considered a branch of the evangelical faith, Martin Luther, had spoken of him the epithat that he was only railing on as he was because he was drunk and that as soon as he sobered up he would come to his senses. Mars Hill has been very supportive of the consumption of alcohol even though Driscoll admits he didn't consume any alcohol until he was around 27. Anderson, if he thinks evangelicals by and large should not drink alcohol, may simply betray his lack of knowledge of the history of evangelicalism. If anything on this matter if younger evangelicals are enjoying alcohol they are moving back toward the roots of the evangelical ethic rather than moving away from it and Anderson is postulating a loss of evangelical distinctives that is really a recovery.
Arguably Anderson might as well throw in the use of tobacco, too. At Mars Hill social markers of men, Driscoll's speaking against smoking here and there withstanding, I noticed that many a man took pride in drinking and smoking. Driscoll himself wrote a chapter called "The sin of light beer". As a joke it falls flat and is, pardon the pun, worth making light of because there are customs that are in the realm of Christian conscience that can be used to define one's status that are not strictly delineated by any scripture or tradition. A person may drink or not drink, smoke or not smoke, all as personal health and conscience and regard for others may be considered. If yesterday's evangelicals were legalistic about the consumption of alcohol out of fear that alcoholism would destroy families and careers today's evangelicals may be legalistic about proposing that they are free to drink in Christ and if you have any concerns you are automatically the legalistic fellow who needs to be defied in order to reveal the freedom Christ gives. Many a fellow at Mars Hill essentially took this path and one or two people I was friends with decided that their parties would be alcohol free because they were persuaded that alcohol was too easily abused at Mars Hill.
The worship wars have been going on off and on for decades. I don't think that the conflicts of what music is used in liturgical settings is unique to evangelicalism. At Mars Hill, certainly, what I would have to call a rock concert vibe prevails. Many songs are well suited to the voices of the singers who wrote or co-wrote the songs but are not in themselves particularly suitable to congregational worship. Anderson may have in mind CCM and rock music assimilating into worship There have been many things written on the subject of worship. Now decades old is the book Why catholics Can't Sing, a sweeping and stinging indictment of contemporary music destroying any possibility of congregational singing as an act of public worship. The rise of the "sweet song" Celtic tradition has led to indisputably beautiful music that is often a test of congregational mettle that said congregations fail at.
Mars Hill exemplifies this trend. Dozens and dozens of songs from the earliest years of the church are no longer sung. One could argue that so many bands have come and gone that it is natural, and that is true, but many of the musicians who have stuck around don't even play most of the material I heard performed at Mars Hill seven years ago. The reason? Well, my own opinion is that most of the songs were musically impractical, incompatible with congregational singing, and not especially effective. The songs that worked have stuck around.
One of the things that has changed a great deal over the years is a greater consideration of copyright. When Mars Hill was a young church all the music was home-grown not just to cater to the flock but also to avoid any hassles of CCLI. In the last year CCLI has shown up in slides. Gone are the days of 2001 when the pastors published on the church website that they believed copyright was a concept whose days were numbered and encouraged songwriters to employ open copyright and promote creativity. I seriously doubt that if you visit any Mars Hill website you'll see any open copyright. Even back in 2001 I considered that preference for open copyright and the argument that traditional copyright was going to lose steam to be stupid and naive. It was precisely what I would expect self-certain 20-somethings who wouldn't admit to how much illegal downloading they were doing to argue for. As the church and its leadership have, as it were, moved "upstream" the attitude toward intellectual property rights has become more respectful.
It is this shift at Mars Hill over the last decade that I consider salutory. The music might still suck half the time but you're more likely to hear traditional and accessible church music and it is more likely to be done in a way honoring the legal rights of those who produced the songs.
As to matters of style, it is simply not my interest to go on about those details. I think Anderson simply fails to realize that each generation differs on style. That is not so scandalous as he thinks that new evangelicals like different music. Bach's children thought his music was old fashioned but more people know the works of J. S. Bach than any of his children.
It used to be when I was growing up that Christians only watched G or PG rated movies. There simply was no PG-13 rating when I was a kid. Quaintly enough the PG-13 rating didn't emerge until I was in my teens. My guess, since Anderson doesn't bother to spell it out, is that he thinks evangelicals have a history of not watching R rated entertainment, let alone X rated entertainment. The new distinction now would be NC-17 and X, I guess. The former demarcates violence and sexual content, while the latter might (if the designation is still commonplace) entirely sexual content. I know from the commentary on Evil Dead 2 that it was originally considered an X-rated film. Now the rating has dropped down, two decades from its release date, to an R rating.
Anderson may have a point that a generation ago no evangelicals would be caught dead admitting they watch and greatly enjoy episodes of South Park. Twenty years ago evangelical pastors were decrying the cultural awareness teens had about Bart Simpson over against any awareness of who Abraham Lincoln was. I know, I heard those pastors who said that.
And in essense the stuff about movies is the stuff about language and sexuality. The 20th century, I suppose, could be said to be a century in which people tested the limits of what was permissable to say and do and create in the public sphere. The word fuck, for instance, has a lineage that goes far back into the history of the English language. Its earliest appearance is circa the 1300s in dictionaries which mention it just long enough to say it shouldn't be used. Don't believe me? Well, I don't have the patience to type up my old college essay "A Word for All Seasons" but one guy I knew in college loved the essay just for the invocation of Robert Bolt. Yeah, Nathan, I had to do it, just for you, I knew you'd love that joke. :) I'm sure he's not reading this blog but no matter.
At Mars Hill my observation is that people have little trouble watching R-rated films. I met many fellows who said that they had no problem watching violent films but had big reservations about watching films with sexual content. In a city like Seattle you might guess that in the world, or among the worldly, that squeamishness is precisely reversed. Violence is bad but sexual content is considered great. Some shows, like any number of HBO programs I generally don't bother to watch (I have no cable) and have little interest in watching, parade both sex and violence on the screen.
Here I believe Anderson has not really made any point so much as implied that new evangelicals have more libertinistic attitudes about their entertainment. In ther 20s and 30s I would say that is probably true. That The Simpsons have been on the air for two decades and that Fox mainstreamed things on The X-Files that were creepy and boundary-pushing fifteen years ago but that are probably tame now goes without saying. if Mike Judge had not made Beavis and Butthead would we have progressed to South Park? If Matt Groenig had not made The Simpsons would any of the more adult-targeted cartoons in the United States have ever happened? In Japan animation for adult audiences (and by that I don't mean pornographic material) has been commonplace. Anderson doesn't really examine changes in film or cinema so much as throw out the implication that "we" among the younger evangelicals countenance levels of sex and violence that our parents would have frowned upon. He notes that with some irony yet doesn't consider how the proliferation of technology and the reissuing of older works feeds into this.
But let's think something through, the limits of television and film have constantly been tested. There are many revolutions in the arts that never filter through to popular entertainment. Or, if they filter through to the popular level at all there is a niche limitation to it. Consider Hilary Hahn's recording of the violin concerti of Arnold Schoenberg and Sibelius. Hahn's recording is awesome and her Schoenberg is compelling. She also sensibly linked it to the far more accessible Sibelius. But as popular as she is her profile in American culture is still extremely low. Schoenberg, were he alive today, might be proud that someone could sell so many CDs with his concerto on it.
Richard Pryor and George Carlin's work has been around for literally decades and at the risk of pointing out the obvious today's edgy and even profane comedian often becomes the purveyor of watered down kids' entertainment in ten years. Witness the trajectory of Jim carrey. And ten years before him (or more) consider Robin Williams, peddler of feel-good treacle. Bill Cosby's greatest work predates his famous 1980s TV show. Foul-mouthed or vulgar comedians tend to grow up and build families and find they want limits and boundaries on what and how they do things. What may have happened with the last generation's evangelicals relative to my generation is that they may have realized the trajectory they set their children on too late.
The children of the 1960s and 1970s may have turned a corner and returned to the prudishness of their parents in the last thirty to forty years. Not saying this blanket statement by Anderson is entirely wrong but at the risk of venturing upon the obvious, duh, as people get older they can revert to standards they rejected in their fiery youth. Scripture says that if you instruct a child in the way that he should go then when he is old he will not depart from it. The emphasis is that when he is old. This can mean older, this can mean old, it means that the instruction comes early and there is no assurance it will settle in without interruptions or speedbumps. The more popular narrative in our culture at a popular level is the child who abandons and forsakes and denounces everything the parents stood for on general principle. I have never taken seriously the meta-narrative conceit that each generation of teens has to rebel agaisnt the previous generation. Only teenagers in the United States seem to do that. We are placed in a roughly decade-long space in which we are not able to do much as adults because of public education and are physically adult but not mentally or emotionally adult in an age when people are living longer and it becomes easier and easier to define adulthood upward.
Where this "new" developmentin younger evangelicals does not get any serious discussion by Anderson is sexuality. I don't expect it from him but point out that he is particularly lazy on this topic. If I were Driscoll I might ask if the guy has ever dated a girl in his life or if he looks at porno since, you know, that is how Driscoll tends to reason through things. Since I'm not Driscoll I would suggest that Anderson hasn't accounted for the fad of courtship in more conservative evangelical circles. "How I kissed dating good bye" Mr. Anderson. Welcome back Mr. Anderson ... we missed you.
See, I have noticed over time (and this is just my observation) that every generation has its legalisms and libertinisms. If Mars Hill erred on the side of liberty in alcohol in formal and informal professions it leaned heavily away from dating on the issue of sexuality. The church held a high standard of masculinity and marriage. If a couple is serious and considering marriage but neither the man nor the woman want kids the counsel would be that they should reconsider why they want to get married because kids would tend to be a natural consequence of married life. After all, it was known even in the time of Mary and Joseph that babies came about because of sex. All that begatting didn't happen in a vacuum.
But as recent teaching on the subject of marriage at Mars Hill indicated, a husband and wife where the husband is greatly out-earned by the wife would be a husband who might be told he and his wife should reconsider wanting to become members at Mars Hill if the husband's okay with the income disparity, as was said by Lief Moi in the long-ago pulled Mother's Day sermon circa 2006 or 2007. Mark and Grace Driscoll more or less let it be known that a stay-at-home dad could be subject to church discipline. This is a branch of evangelicalism that doesn't seem particularly libertinistic about sexuality or marriage and is probably most emblematic of the new evangelicalism at both its best and worst.
For years the fad at Mars Hill was courtship. Mark taught special sessions where he explained how the etymology of dating was a euphemism for hiring a prostitute. He went to great lengths to explain how modern dating has the guy spending a lot of money on a woman in exchange for some kind of sexual reward at the end of the date and that at Mars Hill that was not acceptable. Then around the time a very well-known member of the church left who was a big advocate of courtship Driscoll suddenly and quite conveniently saw the light about how impractical courtship often was to implement in real life. Fancy that. I had been saying that for years and no one seemed very interested in that. My sister had been saying that for years, too, and no one seemed too inclined to listen to us. Mars Hill leadership does not have much of a history of saying, "Oh, maybe we overdid that."
If anything Mars Hill demonstrated the opposite of what Anderson ascribes to younger evangelicals. There was a startling propensity toward legalism and condemning things that Scripture does not spend a lot of time speaking to. I attempted for some time to point out that the scriptures were writtenin an age and cultural milleu in which you were probably not even going to have a choice about who you married. Isaac's wife was chosen for him. David married people for political reasons. These were considered precedents to be ignored. What the leaders and members at Mars Hill spent a lot of time doing was cherry-picking their favorite aspects of ancient Mediterranean courtship rituals with their favorite modern amenities from Western dating rituals while holding up the 19th century customs of courtship as the acme of civilization.
So "husbands love your wives" could be magically transformed into "husbands be in love with your wives" in practice. Being an admittedly cranky and contrarian fellow on romanticism I argued that being "in love" was not particularly important to getting a marriage off the ground since literally millions of people got married through arranged marriages and weren't in love off the bat in the twitter-pated lovey-dovey fashion we expect couples to have. Sure, you could tell me that I might end up falling in that sort of love and become a slobbering dodo ready to grant my bride's wishes with zest. It "might" happen but there is not certainty.
Which more or less gets me to how Mars Hill taught on courtship and marriage. The ethical norm prescribed was that men should "man up" and get real jobs and be chivalrous and go get permission from the woman's dad and only if dad gave permission was the guy free to pursue--the woman could then reject him at any time for any reason and if the guy was upset or curious about the reason he was failing in his manhood and should stop crying already. Not that the pastors themselves ever lived this out or modeled it, mind you, but it made for great singles teaching and rhetoric from the pulpit. When Driscoll said he was a hypocrite to advocate something he hadn't lived out in his own life he wasn't wrong. Curiously, this awareness of his hypocrisy didn't stop him from going on about courtship for a few years. In 2008 he came to a more balanced expression that some Christians could actually date and it wouldn't be sinful. It wasn't the same as, say, apologizing to singles for scaring the crap out of them by talking about how sinful dating was and then saying they should lighten up because coffee is just coffee after saying that all relationships should be "intentional".
I have come across any number of evanglical screeds about how today's youth aren't growing up and aren't taking responsibility. The example of this? They are delaying marriage. A culture of credit and home-ownership may be a better example of living beyond your means and investing in property as a sign of having arrived. There's nothing wrong with living in a rented house forever and ever til God calls you home.
Now it is popular among evangelicals with a conservative social bent to say people are refusing to grow up but I don't think this is all there is to be said about the matter because it is half of the situation. Let's remember that prior to the Great Depression child labor laws were not being enforced and that they got enforced to ensure that older men could still have jobs and stay in the work force. Sounds kind of discrminatory against the youth, eh? If you have generation after generation like this that are not given a place that feels meaningful within the work force and are told they need to plan for the future when there are only so many futures you can build toward when you don't have a high school diploma and many places want formal education what is there left to do except conform or rebel? Does either path have much in the way of rewards in the end?
At the risk of indulging in stereotypes the error of liberalism is to suppose that the failure of the individual is due to society while the conservative wants to blame the failure of the society on some useful scapegoat. Neither is necessarily consistent or reliable. Evangelicals of my generation who saw their parents divorce may be spectacularly apprehensive about marriage because of that. If your own mom and dad can't get marriage to work and though both professing Christians end up divorcing each other and slandering each other marriage could look like a really stupid deal. If after generations of living on credit and buying houses for the status and stability it confers a new generation arrives who finds that it is more and more financially difficult to build the American dream of the single family home does that mean it is their fault? Evangelical conservatives can blather all they want about how two income families are more financially troubled than single income homes (i.e. where dad is the breadwinner) but at that point I have to ask what the real motive is, is it compassion or a sense of entitlement. There have been times where Driscoll would tell young men in the church to get real jobs. Is his being a pastor/entertainer who could up until a few years ago vote on hisown salary count as a real job? If he spends most of his time working from home isn't he basically a stay-at-home dad who happens to be the bread winner? I don't think I need to make it more obvious that Driscoll can have some plank/speck issues on that subject. Should he have been fired from ministry by Mike Gunn and Lief Moi because he let Grace financially support the family? Wasn't he guilty of a sin that warranted church discipline? Wasn't it convenient to repent of that sin in time to get a salary from Mars Hill?
To be fair, there are and have been any number of people at Mars Hill who have argued that the finances of a man are not foremost and that character is a bigger issue. It's too bad that Driscoll hasn't necessarily been that person over the years but he's a workaholic who seems at risk of idolizing his job as a way to define him. If you don't sacrifice your health to your job the way he has numerous times because you see that it's just your job then Driscoll can have genuine trouble relating to that. He can't help it, I think just as he couldn't help but really believe his own hype about courtship being better than dating.
So having been in the middle of a young evangelical church setting Anderson needs to put the crack pipe down and not just deal with the sort of sweeping generalizations that make for good blogging. I admit it, the stuff makes for good blogging. The article is still a good, basically articulate article. My concern, obviously, is that I believe my experience at Mars Hill that has taken up about a third of my life refutes a great deal of what Anderson has been saying and that Anderson doesn't realize how little history on evangelicalism he's drawing on in some of his critiques. I'll get to that particularly on the subject of eschatology, where Anderson reveals that he's basically out to lunch.
Mars Hill had a singles ministry for a while, kind of like it has a children's ministry. Circa 2001-2002 Driscoll and other pastors said they would avoid having segregated worship services because that would divide God's people and they wouldn't abide that. Driscoll also said that the church would split up into multiple sites and services when services got bigger than 120 people because they had read that when services get larger than 120 people things get too impersonal. Yes, that was some time before "videology" and explaining how Driscoll's face ona jumbotron screen was like Paul's epistles to Corinth. Awesome backtracking there. :)
The grand social engineering experiment of ripping on dating and praising courtship even though no one actually seemed to get it to work came and went. I defy anyone at Mars Hill to pick an example of two people who got together and married because the guy first went to the woman's father, got permission, and then courted her. Exclude all cases in which the man and woman responded to a mutual attraction to each other before the father was involved and the number of case studies dwindles to quite possibly nothing. It wasn't impossible for a woman to employ her dad in a "courtship" scenario to derail unwanted suitors before telling dad to shove off when the real Mr. Right came along. What might have been promoted entirely in good faith often got employed in self-serving ways. Far from being libertinistic about sexuality Mars Hill embraced with gusto a kind of weird prosperity gospel in which if Jesus was really working in your life you were getting a real job, getting married, and making babies. Pastors would argue that even though Scripture never actually supported the Mars Hill method that since all the pastors agreed on how things ought to be done that was how things ought to be done. Since I'm NOT Catholic and I didn't see any clear biblical support for that line of reason I kept questioning that line of reasoning. I'm not anti-marriage at all, just skeptical when pastors say we need to jump through hoops I know they didn't jump through.
One pastor told me that he wondered if Mars Hill set the bar so high for men on masculinity and responsibility that they weren't being a huge discouragement. I said that, yeah, that would fit me. It essentially was a case of law rather than gospel, though I doubt anyone at Mars Hill has ever seen things that way. Well, the singles ministry got canned eventually. It was doomed given Driscoll's launch teaching about Ruth as a manual on how to get married. That sort of moralism doesn't really have room in it for the grace of God. Going on for a few hours about how dating is basically sinful or looks sinful and you should get permission from the woman's daddy or daddy figure so as to avoid breaking her heart ... there's a lot of methods there rather than principles. If the bloggers who fret about Driscoll's wrongs since 2007 wanted to really focus on the arc of poor teaching and control freka issues wanted to be serious they should go back and examine how Driscoll's teaching on courtship and marriage revealed a propensity to want himself (as dad) to have control over the future dating lives of his not yet pubescent daughters. That might involve cooking the geese that laid golden eggs for some former members, though. These are all people I care about so it's not like I'm going out my way to be a butthead but it has been on this very subject that I have seen mars Hill past and present at its worst. Anderson doesn't know what he's talking about.
Mars Hill pastors and people came up with a bunch of rules. As the Joker put it in The Dark Knight, "You have all these rules and you think they will save you." Mars Hill did just that on dating and marriage. A friend of mine shared with me the observation I had come to years ago, the singles ministry at Mars Hill failed because its central goal was to get people married, not teach them how to follow Christ. Even at a church as big as Mars Hill and as popular with younger evangelicals as it is, we are capable of abject legalistic Pharisaic failure. I sensed from the launch event that what Driscoll and other Mars Hill leaders involved in the Covenant singles ministry failed to grasp is that all they were doing was teaching people how to avoid sin, not how to seek Christ.
The significance of this observation is impossible to overstate. Even at a church as popular as Mars Hill the capacity for legalism is always there. People could say that Driscoll doesn't take himself seriously but that wouldn't prove anything. I still was an eyewitness of a ministry that was doomed from its outset because it was a landslide of teaching on how to avoid sin rather than seek Christ. The hope was that if you got all your ducks in a row and a daddy figure gave permission that you could be married and thus fulfill the mission of Mars Hill to see guys love Jesus, get jobs, get married, and make babies. I believe most criticism of Mars Hill over the last ten years really has been paranoid, shrill, and in many respects stupid ... BUT I believe that there have always been kernels of powerfully uncomfortable truths in even the harshest and most unfair criticisms. sanctification is a long and painful process.
What Anderson does not seem to grasp is that younger evangelicalism may have seen through a lot of the rules older evangelicals set up, and have come to see that those rules will not save them. If anything the younger evangelicals are more true to the core of evangelicalism than the generation Anderson thinks we younger evangelicals have differed from on "flash points". Overall I would say that considering the history of Mars Hill as an example of younger evangelicalism I would say Anderson needs to put down the crack pipe and consider that this aspect of the "new" scandal is more a case of evangelicals going back to their roots rather than to a Prohibition era dispensationalist movement. That doesn't mean there won't be a bunch of legalistic stupidity in this generation or the next, just that the basis for legalism in evangelicallism has probably shifted. Just ask any stay-at-home dads who stopped attending Mars Hill because a pastor who mostly works from home said that would be grounds for church discipline.