Monday, April 23, 2012

Mike Wilkerson and James Noriega on Redemption Groups

One of the things I have discussed in the last half year is the absence of James Noriega from any leadership capacity. He was formerly co-leader of Redemption Groups. I would like to set aside some time to refer to statements he has made and some by Mike Wilkerson about the history and nature of the Redemption Groups. Taken together comments from Wilkerson and Noriega may prove very informative about the impetus behind the development of the content.

Here is a short excerpt from an interview between Mark Driscoll and Mike Wilkerson from January 2011 in which Wilkerson mentions Noriega and Clem (the two men who were pastors at Doxa Driscoll referred to in his 2007 sermon "The Rebel's Guide to Joy in Humility":

MW: My fellow pastors James Noriega and Bill Clem were there from the beginning, influencing the initial concepts about the ministry and curriculum that would eventually give rise to the book

Furthermore, Wilkerson credits Noriega with coming up with the prototype group on which Redemption Groups were based in his book.

Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We CarryCopyright 2011 by Mike Wilkerson

On pages 16-18 in the book Wilkerson explained that a lot of groups existed at Mars Hill and that there were concerns about them prior to developing Redemption Groups. Different groups might have "gospel-based" practices while others would be considered to have too much mixing of secular worldviews, psychological procedures and methods with Christian "principles". Wilkerson explained that many ideas across the different recovery groups were imcompatible with each other and that in some cases the ideas in some of the recovery groups were imcompatible with what was taught from the pulpit. The idea was to curb those kinds of influences and, ultimately, to ensure that all recovery groups were grounded on the same gospel message that was being preached from the pulpit week after week.

This set of statements by Wilkerson early in his book is fascinating. So ... that means one of the primary goals of revamping all the recovery groups was to make sure the message in the recovery groups didn't, at any point, conflict with what Driscoll was preaching week in and week out. In the foreward to the book none other than Mark Driscoll himself explained that Wilkerson wrote the book because Driscoll asked him to. So if Wilkerson lets people know early in the book that Redemption Groups came about to ensure that all recovery and addiction groups were intended to express a theology that fit consistently with preaching from the pulpit, and we all know Mark Driscoll does the lion's share of preaching, then Wilkerson has spelled out for us that the RG program was developed to ensure all groups within MH got the same "gospel" in groups that fit what Mark was preaching every Sunday. Mark Driscoll even did us all the favor of explaining that Wilkerson wrote Redemption because Driscoll asked him to. Mark has been surprisingly plainspoken both in his own words that he wanted Wilkerson to write Redemption and Wilkerson seems very candid about saying that a key goal in streamlining and even eliminating earlier recovery groups was to ensure that there were no recovery or Christian counseling groups that had "secular" ideas and, still less, had some theological ideas or definitions of "gospel" that did not fit what was taught from the pulpit.

Wilkerson, in Redemption, described Noriega's innovation as including mixed-group redemption groups. This meant that someone with eating disorders would be given the same gospel message to deal with their situation that a porn addict or an alcoholic would be getting.

Wilkerson has mentioned an indebtedness to CCEF ideas and concepts and it would be no feat of baseless inference to suggest Noriega, too, has read a book or two by Ed Welch. As I documented earlier this year, what was once available of Noriega's thoughts on psychology and insight into the human condition displayed a pronounced fondness for Jonathan Edwards as superior to psychology.

Having established a bit of Wilkerson's take on the origin and goals about Redemption Groups I return to things I have blogged about earlier. Now I'll discuss James Noriega's goals and interests during the period in which Redemption Groups were being developed and provide some short quotes from him.

As I've already blogged, the link I referred to on 2/27/2012 turned up dead just a week after my initial blog observation about the abrupt rise and disappearance of Noriega from Mars Hill eldership. So I'll have to summarize what I read and simply note that the link is toast. Noriega described Jonathan Edwards as a man who understood the human heart when there was no psychology. He leans on the Puritans a bit such as Edwards and Owen. I don't know if he read Richard Sibbes. Ed Welch's Blame it On the Brain gets a nod and Welch is described as doing a good job of distinguishing between chemical imbalance and sin. For those who never tried reading Blame it on the Brain the title of the book could broadly be described as a rhetorical question insisting on a negative answer. I will touch on the obvious point that not all Christians think nouthetic counseling is all that later. Let's get to some of Noriega's own words.

Q: What are you looking forward to seeing God do in this ministry?
A: Uncovering more of the enemies schemes, that the church actually becomes a real healing ministry, that we do not have to rely on outside sources to help our people, and that the church is seen by the secular world as a place where real change that glorifies God is going on.

Note, particularly, that Noriega said one of the goals was "that we do not have to rely on outside sources to help our people". The positive formulation of this goal is to say they wanted to ensure that all materials used to help people were intra-Martian and consistent with what was taught from the pulpit. They might start with works by CCEF, Dan Allender, Ed Welch, or whomever but the goal as Noriega described it above was at least partly to get to a point where Mars Hill would be beholden to absolutely no outside materials to help people and be seen by the secular world as a place where real changing that glorifies God would be going on.

So if Wilkerson stated the goal in negative terms and said it was important that across the board Mars Hill recovery and addiction groups not espouse a theology that ever contradicted the theology of the pulpit Noriega's statement presents the goal in positive terms, and we're told the goal is that Mars Hill would never need to use outside ideas or concepts in recovery and addiction counseling. And, of course, everyone would agree that things need to be derived not from "secular" psychology or a worldview (D. G. Hart would here spell that as w----v--- as though it were scandalous). The insularity implied in the stated goal speaks for itself to me but you, dear reader, are not necessarily me.

Noriega was eager that Mars Hill would be seen by the secular world as a place where real change that glorifies God is going on ... but Andrewgate has not inspired the secular world to come to that conclusion, has it?

If someone were to sum up the content of the Redemption Groups at Mars Hill in a single catchphrase (and, believe me, this was done!) then the catchphrase is this--you worshipped your way into your mess and you're going to worship your way out. Wilkerson let us know the RG content was developed with an eye for making sure the content did not contradict the pulpit theology and Noriega explained that the content was also to ensure Mars Hill would never have to rely on non-Martian concepts or materials. Maybe Mars Hill pastors thought they paid CCEF too much money for the 2006 How People Change conference. Now if we take Wilkerson's comments and Noriega's comments together it becomes clear that a foundational concern (if not the primary concern) of developing Redemption Group content was that whatever they came up with needed to be intra-Martian and agree with (i.e. not differ from) Mark Driscoll's weekly preaching.  Let's not kid around about whose weekly pulpit preaching Redemption Groups were\expected to mesh with.


Ali said...

I understand the concern about the development of an insular programme. It is a big worry considering what has come out of an insular church culture there already. But are you suggesting 1) that it is dangerous for a church to work toward theological consistency, and 2) that MD's preaching is insular?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Ali, I'm not suggesting either 1 or 2 in general. I'm stating that I think MH's goal reflects insularity at two levels given what the co-leaders of the Redemption Groups articulated:
1) they wanted to not be beholden to any outside content for their ministry which is an insular goal by definition
2) the theological consistency they want is to ensure the group theology matches that of Driscoll which makes it even more insular. MD is just some guy and his abilities as a scholar and exegete are limited to epistles and sometimes gospels when he does his homework. On OT literature he's shown himself to be lazy and imcompetent. On Targums he's shown himself to present patently fraudulent claims. Because he's an entertaining speaker and the halo effect works in his favor people tend to think he knows what he's talking about unless they've done some actual scholarly study of OT literature on their own.

A practical concern that must be raised is if it turns out one of the co-leaders of the Redemption Groups has been fired for a pattern of "overstepping spiritual authority" people who would use Redemption Group content would need to factor in if Mars Hill fired one of the co-leaders of the Redemption Groups, who was credited with developing the prototype for the group dynamic, for being spirituall abusive. The more public statements and background comes to light about Noriega the more salient the question becomes of how and why he got promoted to co-leading Redemption Groups to begin with, especially now that there's no mention of him by any leaders at MH this year.

Anonymous said...

"My fellow pastors James Noriega and Bill Clem were there from the beginning, influencing the initial concepts..."

"From the beginning"?
No mention of Bent Meyer, is there?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Nope, no mention of Bent Meyer, unless Wilkerson was alluding to Meyer in discussing that some of the groups had theology that contradicted things preached from the pulpit.