Thursday, April 14, 2016

revisiting Michael Spencer (aka Internet Monk) on the subject of Mark Driscoll, ten years after Confessions and his debate with Frank Turk on Driscoll

Because it's interesting to look back on Confessions of a Reformission Rev, ten years later, and see how readily he formulated taxonomies of the value that people did or did not have based on their utility to his mission.  This was the kind of thing that troubled me a bit even as I read the book a decade ago.  It was curious, but it was kind of creepy that he'd describe people and their respective roles within local church life as they were zoo animals.  It was only in hindsight that the full implications of "shoot your dogs" could be observed, but even ten years ago it was easy to see that the Mark Driscoll who wrote about the advice he got from Jon Phelps to "shoot your dogs" was someone who never imagined it was even possible he might one day qualify as a dog himself.

That''s not stuff that featured in Michael Spencer's review of the book back in 2006. Spencer read the book and had the impression, overall, that Driscoll was a diamond in the rough, someone with potential who did have some issues.  There's a lengthy excerpt but I'll be turning to a longer excerpt from another Michael Spencer post later:
... I can’t think of a better book for any young minister, because Driscoll is bluntly honest about what a mess he’s been, and how his problems- small and large, common and unique- are part of the story of what God is doing. It’s the polar opposite of the polished pastor tale. It’s Animal House for church planters, with Belushi as the eventual good guy.

Driscoll could have made good money as a stand up comic. (In fact, he says the best homiletics lessons he ever received were going to see Chris Rock.) He writes with sass, sarcasm, wit, innuendo, crass humor, street language and little concern for the sensitivities of taste. If Lifeway wouldn’t sell a delirious record for saying “she’s as pretty as hell,” I can’t image what they will do with Driscoll’s descriptions of masturbatory behavior and various kinds of sex.

Some will say this is being cute, even immature, and they may be right. Mark Driscoll is unrepentant about his contempt for feminized evangelical men (some of these rants are priceless) and his determination to produce real guys with guy sensibilities. This is a pastor far more at home on “The Man Show” than the set of TBN.

Well, as far as the comparison to comedians go it may have turned out within the last decade that Mark Driscoll was the Carlos Mencia of megachurch pastors (Mencia, for those who won't watch South Park's suitably gruesome put-down of him, has been accused of ripping off the jokes of other comedians). 

And now what?  Michael died years ago and by 2009 he seemed to be having reservations about where Driscoll was going.  Some of those reservations he shared publicly, others were shared in correspondence. Longtime readers of Internet Monk probably remember my occasional visits.  With a success rate I can't pretend to vouch for, I tried to make a case for the viability of Mars Hill as a Christian community without bothering to make a defense of Mark Driscoll the person, who was often able to say stuff I thought was patently idiotic.  Still, I WAS there for quite a few years.  Having said that, let's get to another post Michael Spencer wrote.  We'll come back to Wenatchee The Hatchet later only as may be necessary.

There's something Michael Spencer mentioned in a rebuttal to Frank Turk about a point Turk made and I'm going to quote it at length for reasons I'll explain later:

Frank’s conception of a “global pulpit” or “addressing the global church” is a slippery, ultimately subjective concept that primarily seems to be meaningful in the minds of a small group of theo-bloggers. I think that a room full of non-internet using Christians, even conservative ones, would need considerable help working with Frank’s idea that the orthodoxy of the “global church” is presided over by an unelected jury of successful pastors such as John Macarthur and C.J. Mahaney.
In fact, as meaningful as the ministry of Piper, Macarthur et al are to me and many of us, I’d step to the microphone and have to stand in a long line to say that none of those men exercise any authority over me other than as brothers in Christ from whom I may receive a rebuke.

As many of you may know, in April of 2006, I was fisked for three days by James White at Alpha and Omega Ministries. [emphasis added] (I am a big fan of Dr. White and benefit greatly from his ministry. I am not in any way disrespecting him with this illustration. For apologetics, he is the best.)

I was never contacted by Mr. White. I was never informed by his elder board or his ministry board that I was out of line with my influence on the “global church.” I had never mentioned Mr. White or contacted him. Yet Mr. White held me up before his audience for several days, working through a post I had written on the differences I had with some versions of being a “reformed Baptist.” It was a thoroughly public scouring.

Mr. White’s well known chat room crew apparently passed on my post as treading destructively on the subject of reformed orthodoxy, and someone must have said I was a rising liberal, emerging voice disguised as a Calvinist, who needed his wings clipped. Mr. White performed surgery on me, in public on his blog, for three days. I didn’t like it BUT IT WAS HIS PERFECT RIGHT TO DO SO. [emphasis added]

In considering this incident of public rebuke from a brother- and that is what it was and that is what I evaluate it as- Mr. White was not dealing with me as a church member under his care. He has no covenanted authority over me to which I have ever agreed to submit. His place as an elder in a church and his position of respect and popularity still create NO FORMAL RELATIONSHIP to which I must respond.

What I must do is ask “Is God speaking to me through this rebuke?” If I judge that God is speaking to me, then- and this is important- I am not to go to Mr. White for further instructions on how to repent and what repentance is adequate. I am to go to those leaders to whom I am accountable.

Or- and this also is crucial- we might ask why Mr. White didn’t seek out my elders- I have three levels of authority over me- and inform them that I was disagreeing with the reformed faith. Of course, those to whom I am accountable would likely have heard all those rebukes with puzzlement because their theological commitments are different than Mr. White’s.

Now—I agree that my blogging put me on a larger stage, and I agree that once on that stage, others on that stage may rebuke, react or correct. [emphasis added]

I agree that I must consider this as the possible work of the Spirit.

But there exists NO WORKABLE AUTHORITY STRUCTURE that involves Frank Turk or any other internet critic that can place these Driscoll issues out of the realm of rebuke and into the realm of specific accountable repentance [emphasis added], i.e. we know when he’s repented, how and if it was sufficient. The only way we will know that Driscoll has repented is, apparently, when Frank says so, and as much as I trust and affirm Frank, I’m simply not ready to sign on to giving individuals- pastors, bloggers, etc- that kind of jury duty. [emphasis added. again]

Frank has a standard of repentance in his mind that he derives from scripture and experience. I’m sure it’s wonderful. But I have not agreed to it, and unless Frank has contacted the Mars Hill elders, I don’t think anyone else has agreed to it.

Who has the last word on Driscoll? The blogger in the UK who says Driscoll is a Jesus rejecting apostate who teaches Jesus was a pervert? The people on the floor of the SBC who haven’t listened to or read a word of Driscoll? The mob with torches in Missouri who clearly loath Driscoll as a danger to the church? The major pastor who indicted Driscoll in 4 posts on his blog? Some assortment of bloggers and pastors?

If it’s the global church here, do we need to call a church council, or will the theo-blogosphere just have to do? Will we all get an email, telling us when Driscoll is all right?

I will say this again: Anyone can critique, rebuke or protest. When angry feminists protested at his church, he invited them in and listened. Blog away, Frank and Co. It’s MD’s responsibility to listen to you. But when it comes to what does adequate repentance look like, your opinions are going to be just that- Opinions. Only his elders can hold him formally accountable.

By 2014 we found out just how accountable Mark Driscoll's formal elders could and would hold him.

Which is to say they didn't, couldn't and possibly even wouldn't. 

What Michael affirmed was that bloggers had every right to blog about their concerns, while also affirming a negative, that there was now way to "prove" that bloggers had any meaningful authority or relationship basis, simply by dint of blogging, from which to expect anything except MAYBE that their concerns would be considered. In a paradoxical way, Spencer presented Frank Turk as making a case for ... watchblogging.

Now there might be an irony at work in looking back on a years' old debate between Michael Spencer and Frank Turk in which a point was brought up that ministers who vaunt themselves into the public sphere ought to be held accountable by people with blogs.  It seems as though people only want famous Christians to be held accountable to their respective teams and there's no interest in the shoe being on the other foot. 

What Michael Spencer pointed out then was that regardless of what Frank Turk might have wanted, there was no formal relational context within which Mark Driscoll had any reason to bow to the demands of a Frank Turk, a C. J. Mahaney, or anyone else with whom he wasn't in some kind of formal relationship.  Of course what we've since learned is that Mark Driscoll managed to wriggle out of being in any such relationship. Mark Driscoll seemed to manage to find a way to be accountable to no one but himself. 

If that's the case Spencer's point about the inability of a Frank Turk to hold Driscoll accountable in any meaningful way just by dint of blogging has not lost its validity.

You can blog, and you probably even should (maybe) but the question that is left for others to answer is "Why should we trust you?" Believe it or not the variations of Mark Driscoll's old "I've got a verse!" don't cut it.  Just because you "can" quote the Bible doesn't mean you've given us a reason to trust you.  Satan can quote the Bible just fine, for instance. 

This roundaboutly gets us back to the matter of relationship.  Spencer's argument against Frank Turk's position was not necessarily that Turk's concerns about Driscoll were "wrong" but that even if he was right there was no relational context in which it would matter to Mark Driscoll or any elders of Mars Hill Church that Frank Turk was right.  The only people who could create a situation through speaking up that "might" catalyze a change of heart and behavior from Mark Driscoll would have to come from people sufficiently inside to elicit a reaction.

It is probably relatively safe to say that in the last ten years nobody at Mars Hill particularly cared what Frank Turk thought about Mark Driscoll.  Mars Hill elders did become rather animated on the question of who and how many people were deciding to leak sensitive content to Wenatchee The Hatchet, Warren Throckmorton and others.  Throckmorton's role as a blogger is fairly well-known.  Wenatchee The Hatchet is, thankfully, quite a bit less well-known overall.  That was advantageous for a number of reasons but the foremost reason was that while Mars Hill elders generally always seemed to know who Wenatchee The Hatchet is they couldn't be sure about the network of sources across the Mars Hill campus network.  There were some definite ideas, no doubt.

But to put it another way, to put it in a way that connects to Michael Spencer's point in debate with Turk, people at Mars Hill knew who I was; they also knew that unlike other people who decided to make public statements about Mars Hill generally and Mark Driscoll in particular, I was not someone who nominated himself to eldership or deaconhood.  That didn't interest me.  Furthermore the people who have known who writes at Wenatchee The Hatchet may remember quite well that I was recruited by the pastors and deacons into the majority of ministries I participated in. If you were a leader inside Mars Hill who found something that needed doing and suggested I do it, okay, let's give that a shot.  This kind of background was important for actual and potential sources because one of the most pervasive canards against criticism of the leadership culture of Mars Hill was to invoke envy and sour grapes.  But if Wenatchee The Hatchet turned out to be someone who never wanted the things that the leadership class in Mars Hill wanted the sour grapes argument couldn't hold water

Those who know who writes here would also know I met all the co-founding elders of Mars Hill.  That may not count for anything to outsiders for whom the entire history of Mars Hill must necessarily be collapsed into the persona of Mark driscoll, but I do sincerely believe that it mattered to former insiders.  Those who saw what Mars Hill was before Mark's persona completely overpowered everything else about the community could recall that Wenatchee The Hatchet was around during that period, if it ever existed anyway. 

But perhaps the most under-appreciated thing about how I've approached all of this stuff called watchblogging is that I've never told anyone "you have to leave Mars Hill." What I ivnited people to do was to re-examine its history, and to ask whether what it had become seemed to truly be in keeping with the spirit of what we hoped it would be.  Whereas Mark Driscoll's polemics kept circling back toward the people thrown off the bus being "off mission" I tried to encourage people to look back ast what we were told the mission initially was and whether or not the way the leadership culture pursued the "current" mission gave any indication that the new mission was connected to the old one. 

At the risk of making a guess as to what Michael would have suggested, it's possible he could have proposed that if people were in a position to hold Driscoll accountable that it'd be his elders and if his elders lacked the integrity to do that then the members of Mars Hill Church might have to do.  A potential paradox here is that in a sense Turk's case does look, years later, as if it were advocacy for a watchblog being able to insist on things.  But Turk's proposal would lack teeth, if understood correctly, without the relational context Michael Spencer was completely absent in attempts by bloggers to hold Driscoll accountable.  You needed both the blog's capacity to foment public discourse and bring things to light for the record AND a relational context in which those inside Mars Hill could be confident that any discussion of genuinely awkward content was being done in a spirit of constructive rather than antagonistic criticism.  If that sounds like catching lightning in a bottle that might be because that's how rare that combination of circumstances and relational contexts may be.

And, in a way, that probably sums up why I decided to do what some people call watchblogging.  Spencer and Turk both raised good points and it may have been necessary for someone who could appreciate both perspectives who could do something within the context of an established history at Mars Hill to blog in a way where something could at least potentially happen.

You can invite but you can't impose.  What I've done in watchblogging is invite people to consider the history as accurately as humanly possible, knowing there will always be margin for failure.

I am not sure Turk ever formulated a compelling rebuttal to Spencer's point on the one hand, but time has shown that there were plenty of shortcomings in Mark Driscoll's character that raised questions about his fitness for ministry.  So ... it can seem as though Turk may have been right to have qualms about Driscoll's fitness for ministry on the one hand, but Spencer was absolutely right about the absurdity of a blogger on the net having any inherent authority from which to expect anything of Driscoll.  More was needed.  It's not that bloggers played no role in things becoming difficult for Mark Driscoll and the leadership culture of Mars Hill, it's that the bloggers who did become significant were the ones who may have formulated a case mirroring Turk's concerns but in a way that demonstrated a relationship network and context of the sort Michael Spencer said was not existing in the blogging contexts that were addressing Driscoll in 2006. 

A useful axiomatic observation from American politics might be necessary here--Richard Nixon was not taken out by the dogged activity of the press.  Nixon was taken down by the Nixon administration and the press was there to document what happened.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has taken an approach informed by that historical correction of a myth about the power of the press.  I didn't in any way harm Mars Hill as a leadership culture, what I did intermittently do was provide a venue in which those from within Mars Hill who had doubts about the ethics and propriety of the Mars Hill leadership culture could share things that concerned them.  It's one thing to say "follow the money" like some potboiler axiom and another thing to slog through a decade's worth of real estate acquisitions, associated leadership appointments, and cross-referencing citations and their lack in books. 

The Hollywood vision of "journalism" is generally wildly inaccurate.  What they potentially can't teach you in school if you don't want to learn it is this, that a lot of breakthroughs in investigation only come from learning to observe and appreciate the long-term significance of incontestably boring details. It may be that too much of watchblogging is beset by precisely the same problematic ethos of the megachurches the watchbloggers watch, too many of us want the sexy gotcha moment of epiphany and the explosion of revelation; we don't want to slowly and methodically arrive at an often troubling and even self-incriminating realization that only comes from the Gestalt of a decade of research. In a way what Michael Spencer seemed to be warning Frank Turk years ago was that, even if he was right, it was as mistaken for Frank Turk to think Mark Driscoll should pay attention to him as it was going to be mistaken of Mark Driscoll to possibly imagine Michael Spencer was somehow obliged to pay attention to him without a pause for critique.

There may still be Driscoll partisans who think all Wenatchee The Hatchet did was rip on Mars Hill and Driscoll.  That's not the case but those sorts of people won't read about Eureka Seven, most likely.  And even if it were a point humored for sake of conversation, the years of information hemorrhaging from The City on to Wenatchee The Hatchet had to come from somewhere, right?  Nobody conveys insider information about resignations or compensation in a vacuum to just "some blogger".  To borrow an observation from another blogger, Michael Newnham, our reputations are what we have.  I had to have a reputation for striving for enough historical and journalistic accuracy that, even if I shared some fiery opinions here and there, people inside Mars Hill had to find reason enough to believe that what I wanted was for the culture of Mars Hill to be spiritually healthy and fiscally responsible and to share the history of Mars Hill as accurately and reliably as humanly possible, being open to corrections. 

Had I been convinced the mainstream and Christian press had been doing a great job at covering Mars Hill already I wouldn't have bothered making this an intermittent watchblog whose author would rather be writing about guitar music and cartoons.  But as I blogged what I was hoping would happen would be that the mainstream and Christian press could do their thing.  Watchblogging can keep information in the public sphere long enough for the formal press to start knowing where to dig but it's not the same thing as the institutional press.  It was this third element I added to the arguments of Turk and Spencer that helped me keep some balance.  It was the additional thing I brought to their two important points, and thankfully I had enough training from that journalism B.A. to slog through some dull real estate transaction documents.  I benefited from a journalism professor's admonition that rather than rely on secretive sources, remember that in many cases a surprising amount of information is really hidden in plain sight on the record.

 People who have really been reading this blog since it started a decade ago know that there was a time when the majority of what showed up here was not about Mars Hill.  I'm hoping at some point that will happen again but since trusting that the average journalist will not mess up twenty years of history seems a bit na├»ve ... there's not going to be some "I'm done" moment about blogging things Mars Hill here.  We'll find out what that "done" moment happens together.

Meanwhile, it's increasingly difficult to believe that had Michael Spencer lived to see what happened in the life and times of Mark Driscoll that he'd be as cautiously upbeat as he was ten years ago about where Driscoll could go in the future.

I feel like I learned from Michael's example in his blog whether or not I always agreed with him.  If I were to sum up what I learned from how he blogged it's this--you can invite people to change their minds on someone or something by revisiting the shared history of the thing but you'll never manage to get them to change their minds by TELLING them they have to change their minds and that they're stupid, evil people if they don't.  When I think of it that way then the watchblogging about the life and times of Mars Hill could be construed as one very, very long invitation.

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