Saturday, December 20, 2014

Vanderbloemen misses what Mark might have called the big E on the eye chart, the smaller controversies still had a center, the use of power and money to promote a brand rather than serve the church

Driscoll‘s recent resignation from the church he founded was followed by another shocking announcement: Mars Hill is dissolving by year’s end, with its 11 congregations becoming independent houses of worship.

And Vanderbloemen said that the stunning situation carries with it a plethora of lessons to be learned.

“Mark stepped down at his own choice, but it wasn’t without a lot of pressure,” he said. “Mark’s departure didn’t contain any of the normal elements of a scandal.”

There wasn’t an extramarital affair nor any other explosive singular event that contributed to his downfall, he argued, calling Driscoll a “brilliant communicator.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” Vanderbloemen said, noting that Driscoll ended up leaving over a wide variety of smaller infractions and debates that were perpetuated on the Internet. “We have seen a lot of guys have to leave, but never from the death of a thousand cuts that happened online.”

He continued, “There was a weird sort of perfect storm of critics and disorganization.”

The problem with this lessons learned variation is that there kind of "was" one thing that could be identified as the start of the end, Real Marriage. The thing is complex enough a numbered list seems necessary to show just how far short of Mars Hill history Vanderbloemen has fallen in diagnosing the decline of Driscoll.  It's true that a lot of little things showed up but there's this unnerving pattern of where all these smaller things have clustered, Real Marriage.

This was the book for which a side company was created in 2011 years after Mark said he didn't have a side company.  And yet here in a 2009 sermon we heard Driscoll say he hoped one of his books would "pop" so that he could just live off his royalties and not even draw any salary from Mars Hill.  Did that ever happen?  The side company was incorporated in Colorado for reasons that have never yet been explained.

So there's just the side company, for starters, but there were other problems.

This was the book in which it was awkwardly obvious Grace Driscoll made use of phrases and concepts developed by Dan Allender, an author whom she publicly listed as one of her favorites circa 2000, without giving him so much as a single footnote's credit.   While subsequent editions fixed the problem of mentioning Allender at all and including a footnote, there's been no explanation why this couldn't have been done for the first edition.  Wenatchee The Hatchet understands that the Driscolls might feel less than eager to give thanks to Wenatchee The Hatchet for pointing out the failure to properly credit Allender's work the first time around. 

And why does it matter that there weren't footnotes?  Because Driscoll told Janet Mefferd "maybe I made a mistake" a few years after he'd boasted about his impressive long-term memory.

The problem wasn't just that there were questions of citation in the book (many), because while some of these look like they got fixed the problem is that they were ever there to begin with.  Mark Driscoll and his editors had to have seriously dropped the ball for so many errors to just slip by, assuming for the sake of discussion that it wasn't planned.  Even if we assume for sake of conversation Driscoll was somehow not a plagiarist the evidence spoke otherwise and the evidence was what editors and publishers let hit the market.  Even if we assume Mark Driscoll never intentionally plagiarized the doubt this all could cast on the integrity and ethics of Thomas Nelson is a bit troubling.

This was the book that was rigged a place on the NYT bestseller list.

So not only was this a book in which there were citation errors it turns out a company was basically hired to help facilitate the appropriate number of geographically diversified sales to ensure that this Driscoll book would land a #1 spot on the NYT bestseller list. Even though some remarkably restrained words were published in a memo asking whether this campaign to promote the book might raise questions about ethics at Mars Hill and potentially give outside critics a basis for criticism ... the campaign was undertaken anyway.

The implications of the Result Source side of things would be hard for an outsider to fully appreciate.  There are questions to be dealt with as to how the individual and bulk orders could have been fulfilled.  Throckmorton has touched on a website that could have taken care of the individual orders.

But the bulk orders, most likely given what little information has been available, could have been handled by the Mars Hill Military Mission, whose mission was simply distributing Mark Driscoll books.  The mission was based in the Olympia campus and then moved and assimilated into Mars Hill Global some time in 2012.  For a screencap variation go here. Seth Winterhalter should get some probing questions about what, if anything, MH Olympia and associated military mission may have known or done with respect to the Real Marriage promotion campaign. 

In other words, for folks who don't have the full background here, the reason Result Source was a bit of a scandal was that in addition to rigging a bestseller list it looks more and more as though the resources and money of the church and its volunteer ministries may have been put to use to promote the book. 

This was the book whose existence and associated sermon became the campaign through which Mars Hill launched half a dozen plants or replants.

2012's book and sermon integrated campaign was also, incontestably, the first time in the history of Mars Hill that a sermon series was designed explicitly and extensively around not a book of the Bible but a book from Mark and Grace Driscoll.  Maybe half a dozen campuses were launching or getting a relaunch and the sermon series uniting them all was Real Marriage. This was the unified campaign.
Even though Sutton Turner was concerned about the fiscal viability of launching half a dozen campuses while also promoting the book as a "world war three" process, it all happened anyway.

This was the book whose narrative overturned nearly a decade's worth of the public narrative about Mark and Grace Driscoll's marriage as the story of Mars Hill.  It also introduced statements by Mark Driscoll that he was bitter against his wife (Grace) over a lack of sex in a 2012 book and, if Mark's 2008 axioms about bitterness as a demonic foothold in 2008 were true, should cast doubt on Mark's spiritual health in the 1996-2007 period, to put it mildly.

The narrative of Real Marriage also jarred in its story of the vomit dream because that story was remarkably similar to a story from Confessions of a Reformission Rev.  Not only did it seem to some longtime attenders of Mars Hill that Mark and Grace Driscoll were revealing their marriage was not so hot, this was being conveyed in a way that seemed to change the dating of a story that had previously been shared for the record.

Now there's the obvious and necessary "so what?"  So what if Mark and Grace Driscoll had a sorta meh marriage?  Well, let's go get a quote from Pastor Tim Smith
I didn't have as much of that community in Portland and I wanted to go be an intern at Microsoft because you could make 60k, and just do

tech support over there at the height of the boom over there.
and you could wear flip-flops to work and--[TS starts speaking]
Yeah, exactly. You could have BEER at work. And it seemed like a good plan at the time but the last thing I thought I would be when I came here was a pastor. I was not, I was not in good shape. My marriage was not in great shape. I had no idea what it meant to be a husband,  biblically. There was a lot of hidden sin in my life. It was just a mess and I thought I knew what it meant to be a pastor because I'd been a church kid all my life. It wasn't anything--I just didn't want anything to do with it.

But really, really seeing Mars Hill; seeing how God had changed peoples lives, changed people that would never darken the door of most churches that I went to was completely transformational to me.

And moving into your house, it was that fateful summer you were trying to  paint your house yourself, and so I was helping you paint and we were talking theology. And I thought I was a theological but I really didn't know jack. And so just starting to read, starting to think, having a ton of conversations with people that love Jesus but didn't necessarily grow up in the church and have the baggage like I had, was just a huge transformation for me.
Tim Smith's story isn't uncommon in the history and press of Mars Hill, a guy shows up with a Christian background of some kind but professes to not know anything about how to be a proper biblical husband to his wife and then comes to Mars Hill and is transformed by seeing all the transformation.

And for that, well, it becomes impossible to not discuss Mark Driscoll's challenge to men to be men without dredging up William Wallace II and "Pussified Nation" because it was during that, um, season, that Driscoll particularly hammered on the issue.

IF it turned out amidst all that life-changing transformational community stuff Tim Smith described in the 2008 Resurgence interview with Driscoll was covering up a lot of bitterness that Mark Driscoll was harboring against his wife over a lack of sex then, well, that disparity between the public narrative and the private reality matters.  It would matter even if we didn't consider the possibility that if Mark Driscoll were judged by the spiritual warfare axioms he's used on others he might have to explain why all that bitterness about a lack of sex didn't make him demonically influenced.

Those are the four basic reasons Real Marriage could be seen as a fulcrum in the history of Mars Hill.  The cumulative concerns can be put this way, as more information about the nature of the book and its promotion came to light it began to seem to people who were part of Mars Hill that the Drisccolls sacrificed scholarly and organizational integrity and used the resources of Mars Hill Church to promote a slipshod product for the sake of Mark Driscoll's celebrity at the literal and figurative expense of the people of the church. 

The aftermath, in which mass layoffs occurred at MH in 2012 during the season in which the Driscolls bought a million-dollar house in Snohomish county

As if that weren't enough, season after season of layoffs built up in which Dave Bruskas could say "we need your help", telling MH leaders to not question layoffs in a message sent days after Mark and Grace Driscoll finalized the purchase of a million-dollar home in Woodway.

Believe it or not these are only the controversies that are in some way actually associated with just the book Real Marriage and the events surrounding its publication.  We know from Mark Driscoll's own tweets that two finalists for publishers for the marriage book were considered as far back as December 2010.

In other words, if someone were to wonder whether Mars Hill was sold out to promote the brand of Driscoll this looks more and more like Real Marriage was the book for which the sell out was done.  In light of statements from Dave Bruskas of late, it's also begun to sound as if Munson was inseparably involved in the 2011 process, too.

You can't knock out a book with borrowed ideas and a lack of credits that is then rigged a spot on a bestseller list using church resources that earns royalties funneled into the kind of side company you said years before you didn't have and maybe even turn out to have bought a million-dollar home in secret and have this be a small thing.

Vanderbloemen may sincerely have no idea what was going on but as yet his opinion doesn't seem material beyond his promoting of his services and products.  Folks get to do that, to be sure, but why he'd be quoted as having any familiarity with the Mars Hill situation in particular seems a puzzle.  He's sort of right that what made the Driscoll resignation unusual is that it didn't involve a sex scandal or some "single" explosive event.  But, in a way, it did, a prevailing and possibly seven-year long pattern in which Driscoll treated Mars Hill not as a community to be served but a piggy bank to be cultivated.  After sermons in which he said you should use money and love people the wheeling and dealing to get the 2012 book to "pop" begins to paint a portrait behind the scenes of a man who may have begun to love money and to really, really use people.

If there were a way to try to sum up what happened it's that it looks like Mark Driscoll and his executive leaders made a sacrifices of the resources (and possibly even the legitimacy of the 501(c)3 status) of Mars Hill Church to raise Mark Driscoll's celebrity up to the "next level".

If Vanderbloemen hasn't figured that out then he has, to borrow an old phrase popular with Mark Driscoll, missed the big E on the eye chart.  And it's starting to seem as though in the long run Mark Driscoll missed it, too.


Vanderbloemen on corporate rotation in a church staff suggests, if anything, that Mark Driscoll was following those ideas.  For everyone who remembers the revolving door of employment at Mars Hill, how many people got gutted from staff because the ministry had outgrown the giftings of the men and women who had founded some of those ministries?


C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Not sure there will be any consensus considering the E on the chart. MD was an empire builder. He wasn't satisfied with his little mega church. Wanted much more. Publishing a best seller was the key to the kingdom, not an end in itself. His gate crashing the Strange Fire clam bake was truly strange. Why could he possibly gain by doing that?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

That's probably true. There won't be a consensus on what the big E on the eye chart was. And to play with the analogy a bit, not all eye charts have an E as the biggest letter but Driscoll may not have had enough eye examinations to have noticed this.

So many of the "lessons learned" have been self-commendation for existing causes there's a possibility that nobody truly learned anything so much as used the case study of Mark Driscoll to reaffirm all the things they were already going to say anyway.

Had Driscoll truly been content to just be a local church pastor he reached that goal by 2002, exactly the time period in which he decided to "blow everything up" and introduce strategic chaos. In Confessions of a Reformission Rev he laid out stages 1-4 and it seems as though he was almost addicted to getting back to the "dream" stage of phase 1 so that he never stayed in the "management" stage of "reality" in phase 2. Because if you stay there long it ends up being "dead institution", maybe? And yet Driscoll's dreams from the start were of the Bible college and the music label and the publishing company and the conference hosting. The empire was ALWAYS the plan.

Driscoll has anchored his whole ministry approach to "get the men" and "leave a legacy". He's not only always been pretty up front about it, those ideas sum up the entirety of his ministry. Oh, and "it's all about Jesus".

After so many years ripping on guys like Dobson for being moralistic crusaders it seemed as though A Call to Resurgence was Mark Driscoll starting down the same crusading path. Why show up on Glenn Beck's show talking about men needing to man up if after so many years Driscoll ripped into evangelicals and conservatives who endorsed political battles?

Dan Gouge over at City of God proposed that what seemed to drive Mars Hill was ultimately a Social Gospel, one for conservative Protestants, at least in terms of what the vision for the impact of the local church was presented as being.

We've grown so used to the term "Social Gospel" referring to old left stuff here in the United States, perhaps, we don't necessarily spot it when a Canadian points out that there's a strong Social Gospel component in Driscoll's approach.