Driscoll’s polarizing personality was evident particularly in the early days, says Gerry Breshears, a professor at Western Seminary in Portland who mentored Driscoll from about 2000 to 2010 and co-wrote four books with him, including Vintage Church, Vintage Jesus and Doctrine: What Every Christian Should Believe.
“That was back in the days when he got joy from saying he got hate mail from Rick Warren and Mother Jones loved him,” Breshears recalls. “The arrogance was palpable. He was, at that point, the shock jock of preachers.” [emphasis added]
Well, here we are twenty years after the publication of the one article I can recall from Mother Jones that mentioned Mark Driscoll and ... let's look through some of it to see where, if ever, there's any indication that the author "loved" Mark Driscoll.
Lori LeibovichJuly/August 1998 Issue
The young audience consists of men in baseball caps and jeans and women in tiny T-shirts, chunky-heeled shoes, and deep, dramatic lipstick. Some sing and sway to the music. A few close their eyes in concentration. The singer, his eyes closed, gently cups the microphone as the band’s instruments clash and shudder. Without any mention of God, the song rouses the crowd.
This is the beginning of the first of two services held every Sunday night at Mars Hill Fellowship, a nondenominational, fundamentalist, self-described “postmodern ministry” founded in 1996 by 27-year-old Mark Driscoll. It is one of approximately 150 such ministries that have sprouted up around the country since 1992 designed to do nothing less than rescue a generation from an un-Christian fate.
How do the movement’s young leaders intend to stem what they see as an increase in secularism? By preaching that God is relevant and church is cool. Postmodern leaders walk effortlessly between the secular and religious worlds, talking about the new Radiohead album in one breath, Jesus in the next. They are dynamic and approachable. And don’t tell this new breed of preachers that they’re marketing religion. They say market research is the domain of baby boomer megachurches, and point out that their churches don’t advertise—the extraordinary growth has come strictly from word-of-mouth.
And yet subtly, brilliantly, it’s all part of the sell. Postmoderns repeat the word “authentic” like a mantra. They seize on the tenets of Generation X—ennui, skepticism, cynicism—and use them as a way to attract members. [emphasis added] Song lyrics portray a generation unanchored; politics go unmentioned; dysfunctional families are mourned. And almost all the churches are located near colleges, with a ready-made population that craves acceptance. Shanna Lewis, 19, a sophomore at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, says she faced a hard choice when deciding between becoming active in the nearby postmodern University Baptist Church and joining a sorority (“I prayed about it and God said, ‘I have something that will fulfill you more,'” says Lewis, who chose University Baptist).
Will this new, goateed face of fundamentalism lead to a younger, broader, and more powerful base for the religious right? [emphasis added] Postmoderns say no; they remain resolutely uninterested in politics. And yet, exactly what message are these churches sending?
If you don't detect any sarcasm in the highlighted sections you're very likely an inexperienced reader of a magazine like Mother Jones. So far there's not only nothing in the article that would suggest any love for a Mark Driscoll but a preliminary skepticism that the postmoderns were ultimately identifiably different from the traditional Religious Right except by way of the kind of preferred branding and marketing techniques. "And yet subtly, brilliantly, it's all part of the sell." isn't saying anything that could be construed as a "love" for the message and method of a guy like Mark Driscoll. It's a description of the savvy involved in a guy like Driscoll presenting a message in a way that was tailored to Generation X from within Generation X, more or less, while still strongly suggesting through the substance of teaching that this new boss form of locavore church was still the same as the old boss on the fundamentalist thing.
If anything the old turn-or-burn fundamentalist at least gave you the credit of telling you the message directly. The "newer" and more "postmodern" variant shipped the ideas in through the backdoor of post-Cold War Generation X ennui and alienation. It was even possible, as we'll see later in the article, for an author to point out that what made guys in Mars Hill unique was an ability to leverage resentment against the Baby Boomer generation on the part of Generation X as a way to package the ideas.
It’s the Sunday before Easter and, after the rock band finishes a few songs, Driscoll begins preaching about the importance of quiet and reflection during the week before the holiest of Christian holidays. He’s a man of craggy good looks; his face is lined with stubble and his short hair is gelled. Wearing black jeans and a white shirt, he paces before the altar, microphone in hand, tossing out questions like a talk-show host.
“I was raised in a family that went to church, but I had no understanding of what Easter actually meant,” Driscoll begins. “It was like Lincoln’s birthday or the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.” The audience laughs. [emphasis added] Driscoll comes from a working-class Irish Catholic family. As a kid growing up in Seattle, he says, he was always getting into fights. When it was time to go to college, he chose Washington State University. “The university I attended was pretty isolated so I had two choices: either become a binge drinker or a Christian.”
That's an interesting way to describe a lack of understanding of what Easter actually meant. It could suggest that Driscoll saw the faith of his family in very nominal terms. It's possible, however, that the statement was made for the punchline as much or more as for a presentation of how Mark Driscoll saw himself in relationship to Catholicism. Over the decades he would present different angles on this topic.
Both my father’s and mother’s sides of the family have historically been Catholic. I was born in a Catholic Hospital and baptized in a Catholic Church as a baby. I also attended a Catholic school where I served as an altar boy assisting the priest with mass. My grandmother was a devout woman who joined an order of lay nuns after my grandfather passed away.
My experience with the Catholic Church has always been positive. I was not a Christian devoted to Jesus while attending mass growing up, but that was my own responsibility and not the fault of any person or organization. I simply did not have much interest in learning more about any faith. [emphasis added
So there's that account and yet ... paradoxically ... at a now defunct page at Driscoll's markdriscoll.org blog he mentioned that he was an arty, jock, altar boy. That post has become defunct and you may not be able to find it on the new Patheos blog, it might have first shown up at a Mars Hill site or at Pastor Mark TV. But thanks to the Wayback Machine ...
September 30, 2013
An arty, jock, altar boy
I was raised Catholic and served for a few years as an altar boy while attending Catholic grade school. I've got an artistic bent. I like architecture, interior design, music, visual arts, etc. Growing up I was an odd mix: a jock who played a lot of sports, a fighter who got in more than a few brawls, and an artist who liked to sketch, draw, and experiment in various mediums. I appreciated the artistry of the Catholic Church. Stained glass, paintings, colors, icons, statues, candles--it was all quite beautiful.
Some Catholics are born-again, Jesus-loving Christians. I was not one of them. I was a spiritual religious guy until Jesus saved me at the age of 19. ...
So that's Driscoll saying he served for a few years as an altar boy while attending a Catholic grade school, though back in 1998 he'd joke that Easter was like Lincoln's birthday in his family as he was growing up. He seems, by his various accounts, to have been a "cultural" Roman Catholic more than an observant one. There's still nothing at this point to suggest the author of the Mother Jones article "loved" Mark Driscoll, is there?
Now let's back up a bit and look at the following:
When it was time to go to college, he chose Washington State University. “The university I attended was pretty isolated so I had two choices: either become a binge drinker or a Christian.”
That's an interesting description. Driscoll has in the past indicated that because the financial aid he got stipulated an in-state college of choice he chose an in-state college. Precisely where he said that doesn't spring to mind just now. It's mentioned as possible background to explore for folks with access to Driscoll material.
What we're going to look at is the difference between the implicitly "not that great" description of WSU, where the university was sufficiently isolated enough that Mark Driscoll joked of it that it required that he either choose to become a binge drinker or a Christian, on the one hand, and how Mark Driscoll would describe Wazoo two decades later in the midst of promoting his book Real Marriage and publishing a pre-emptive response to an interview he had with one Justin Brierley.
I have a degree in communications from one of the top programs in the United States. So does my wife, Grace. We are used to reporters with agendas and selective editing of long interviews. Running into reporters with agendas and being selectively edited so that you are presented as someone that is perhaps not entirely accurate is the risk one takes when trying to get their message out through the media.
In 2013 Driscoll wrote the following fielding a "kerfuffle":
An Official Response to The Kerfuffle At Liberty University
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Apr 16, 2012
Lately, I’ve been busy with something you may have heard of called Easter. So, I’ve not been on the Internet much but instead busy with church and family. However, rumor has it there is a bit of mushroom cloud of controversy over my planned trip. So, I asked our community relations manager, who gets to enjoy reading blogs about me while eating breakfast every day (it’s amazing he holds anything down), to give me a summary of this kerfuffle. (Henceforth, we will officially refer to this situation as “The Kerfuffle.”)
The trouble started with a Southern Baptist blogger . . . yes, you should have seen that one coming. Now, to be fair, the blogger quoted an anonymous “source.” And, we all know that almost everything bloggers say is true. But, when they have something as solid as an anonymous “source,” then you can rest assured that when Jesus talked about the truth over and over in John, this is precisely what he was referring to. I have a degree from Washington State’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and worked professionally as a journalist [emphasis added] and I can assure you that The Kerfuffle is a very serious matter to be taken with the utmost sobriety and propriety. In fact, one anonymous “source” I spoke to said that Watergate pales in comparison.
Writing for the WSU paper was professional journalism? Is that what we're to understand about Driscoll's time writing for the Evergreen?
Later in 2013 Mark Driscoll would once again lean on the credential he earned at WSU when he wrote the following post in the wake of a fateful on-air interview with Janet Mefferd discussing his book A Call to Resurgence.
I don’t pretend to be the world’s greatest writer. But I did start writing professionally as a journalist in high school, paid my way through high school and college writing articles and editing my college newspaper, got a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the top-notch Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, and have written blogs and articles for everyone from CNN to the Washington Post to Fox News.
A top-notch university at which he had joked in a 1998 article that quoted from his speaking that he had to choose to either be a binge drinker or a Christian because the university he went to was isolated. It can seem as though depending entirely on who was talking to, and what point he was attempting to make in a specific polemical context, Driscoll could have different understandings about the value of formal education in general and his education in particular. It's fascinating to consider the contrast between how Driscoll described WSU that was recounted in the Mother Jones article twenty years ago and how Driscoll recounted WSU just about half a decade ago at a peak of celebrity.
There's still nothing in the article that suggests Breshears' comment that Mother Jones loved Mark Driscoll matches up with anything written in the article, unless remembering that a reporter having anything whatsoever positive to say about Driscoll counts.
While a student, Driscoll had a vision that he should start a church for his generation. Without a plan—financial or otherwise—he and his wife, Grace, moved back to Seattle, a city he claims is the “most unchurched in America.” Driscoll, who has a bachelor’s degree in communications, started his congregation with a dozen people who came to his house to study the Bible. Today, Mars Hill counts 800 members.
In many ways it is a model church—its numbers continue to grow, its leader is popular and charismatic. How does Driscoll keep attracting members? “We don’t do Evangelicalism, but we are a mission,” Driscoll says. “We don’t do door-knocking, we invite people into the community. They need to join us and experience Him—over meals, in worship.”
“For financial reasons or whatever, the parents of Gen Xers put their lives ahead of their children’s,” says Lief Moi, 35, a leader at Mars Hill and the co-host, with Driscoll, of “Street Talk,” a nationally syndicated Christian radio show. By playing the “dysfunctional family” card, Moi, Driscoll, and others implicitly coax young people to turn to church as a place where they can experience the family and fellowship they missed out on as a kid. The church then becomes appealing to college students for the same reasons that fraternities and sororities are: instant community. [emphasis added]
Here we see a proposal that what the founders of Mars Hill shrewdly did was appeal to Generation X people who grew up with broken families and presented their spiritual community as a surrogate option, the family through Jesus whom you could rely upon when your flesh and blood family let you down. This was 1998 so it was pre William Wallace II rants and the article suggests, no, states that the leadership of Mars Hill was looking at a generational gap between the Boomers and Generation X they consciously appealed to.
It worked, pretty well even, early on. When I had heard about Mars Hill it was described as theologically conservative but culturally liberal, which was what I was interested in looking for at the time living in the Seattle area. I liked the idea of a doctrinally conservative church where if you listened to music by Shostakovich and Messiaen and had a pile of Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon films you wouldn't feel like you didn't have any way to relate to anyone at a church service. Over time the church became more conventionally "mega" and also more conventionally what we might recognize as right-wing in its Social Gospel aims.
The postmoderns’ relationship with the baby boomer megachurch movement, meanwhile, is somewhat like a young adult desperate to be independent from Mom and Dad—but still relying on them for rent.
This is a detail that I'm not sure has been adequately explored in historical terms. Who bankrolled this experiment in Christian community has gotten basically zero investigation over the last twenty years ... unless anyone knows of articles that actually delve into that. Antioch Bible Church sent them out to found Mars Hill but ABC didn't stay in a patronage relationship for long, not by the time William Wallace II reared his head on the Midrash. By then ... well ... we get hints of who was backing this kind of church plant within the article:
Sprawling, mostly nondenominational, and market-driven, megachurches have ushered in the post-traditional age of American religion during the last 20 years. There are more than 1,000 megachurches in the United States, most of which not only function as places of worship but also offer a panoply of services, including support groups that deal with substance abuse and marital strife, along with recreational activities, such as aerobics classes choreographed to Christian rock. For overworked parents, megachurches are seven-day-a-week havens, with childcare and educational programs available for their kids.
Postmoderns receive crucial support—financial and otherwise—from the megachurches. These postmodern ministries are loosely organized by the Leadership Network, a Dallas-based umbrella group for many of the nation’s megachurches. It’s the Leadership Network that keeps Driscoll’s bohemian Mars Hill ministry in touch with the fast-growing, but more traditional, University Baptist Church [emphases added] in Waco by holding conferences and seminars. For the past three years the network has sponsored national conferences that bring together postmodern leaders. The first one attracted nearly 300, the second 500, and the next one, this fall in New Mexico, is expected to draw 1,000.
The network also helps arrange necessary seed money, for example, setting up key contributions from megachurches for the University Baptist ministry in Waco. “We target young, innovative ministries because they are the future of the church,” says Doug Pagitt, 31, of the Leadership Network.
So what’s in it for the megachurches? Reaching a new generation, says Pagitt. Eventually, churches like Mars Hill will continue their growth and splinter, with younger leaders taking over the job of ministering to twentysomethings. Ideally, this pattern will continue over and over again. Says Pagitt: “The great commandment is to make more disciples.”
Here's the thing, even with the spectacular and ignominious demise of Mars Hill in the 2014 to 2015 period, the mission was still accomplished. While folks who have written for The Stranger may imagine there has been no cultural impact on the region seeing as they don't see Mark Driscoll on signage or public transit vehicles to say there has been no continuing impact would be to misunderstand how wide-reaching the influence of Mars Hill managed to be. Yes, there's a lot of reaction to Mars Hill and there are a lot of people who have set out to "move on" and just go on as though it didn't happen but that is paradoxical proof of its influence. The elephant stays in the room even if we don't discuss it. If Leadership Network bankrolled Mars Hill or backed it in some way then the dozen campuses that survived the dissolution of Mars Hill suggest that the mission was accomplished despite the disastrous public relations situation of 2013-2014.
The branding and methods can change, of course because:
By setting themselves up against their elders, postmoderns are ingeniously adding an anti-establishment spirit to their movement. “I really preach; it’s not just three points to a better self-esteem,” Driscoll says. “Megachurches have perfect services with perfect lighting. We’re a friggin’ mess.” Driscoll delivers his sermons largely off-the- cuff, and refuses to follow a point-by-point outline like most pastors at megachurches do. “I’m very confrontational,” he says, “not some pansy-ass therapist.”
now Mark Driscoll is talking about "father wounds" and about wanting to be a father figure to young men who he wants to compel toward growing up. That is, even in 2018, still the substance of William Wallace II talking. It was at that point that the Mark Driscoll who may have genuinely been different from the old Religious Right and its social concerns in "some" way may have just "snapped" and became a newer even more vitriolic variant of the old school red-state Social Gospel that may not recognize itself as such because it's not what historians of religion might conventionally call the Social Gospel. By 2013 Mark Driscoll was promoting a book called A Call to Resurgence. Whatever benefits there were in the demise of Christendom that Mark Driscoll was willing to tout even by 2006 in Confessions of a Reformission Rev had apparently dissolved--in its place was a fairly conventional alarm call that the demise of Christendom meant persecution but that the church had a future because ... well, if you saw the promotional videos it seemed that Mark Driscoll thought his megachurch empire within Puget Sound was a reason to believe that Christianity had a hope and a future.
If so, that's not all about Jesus so much as all about a Jesus that had been systematically reverse-engineered into the image Mark Driscoll felt comfortable worshipping.
But back in 1998:
“There are gays all over our church and I don’t need to yell at them like the religious right,” Driscoll says. “You can be a gay or punk and we’ll treat you like everybody else. Even if you never become a Christian, we’re still friends.”
Mars Hill is all about acceptance. Compared to the religious right’s favorite son Ralph Reed, a vision of fundamentalist zeal in a blue suit, Driscoll seems downright countercultural. He’s unabashed about using the pulpit to discuss sex. “I speak very frankly about the reasons God made our bodies to experience orgasm, the Bible’s approval of oral sex between a husband and wife,” he says. “Once you’re married and as long as you remain monogamous, God tells his children to be unblushingly erotic and passionate.”
He offers classes at church on topics such as “evangelical feminism” (“the Bible is clear that men and women are both created by God in His image and likeness and totally equal in every way,” he says) and disavows any link with conservative politics. “I used to think it was part of Christianity to be conservative,” he says. “I was further right than Falwell and Limbaugh.” Now he says he doesn’t even vote. What changed? “It got boring,” he says with a shrug. “And I realized that politics didn’t change anything, that in the meantime, people were still starving.” [emphases added]
It's at this point that we might ask what, exactly, Mark Driscoll meant by saying he was further right than Jerry Falwell and Rush Limbaugh. Let's recall that in the last few years Driscoll has recounted that when he was in high school he was pro-choice and espoused Malthusian eugenics.
Since he seemed to just barely mention that long enough to shred Malthusian eugenics as racist it's tough to know whether or not to take such a claim seriously. If Charles Mudede can, in writing about this year's Marvel film Infinity War distinguish between "positive eugenics" (giving people as much access to informed birth control options to keep the population down as far as possible) and "negative eugenics" (which, while we're still on the comics thing, R'as al Ghul and plotting genocide to save the enviroment) then you'd think someone with Driscoll's self-described education level could at least explain which of the modes of Malthusian eugenics he was in favor of, if he was ever, indeed, in favor of Malthusian eugenics however that could be defined.
We looked at the flip flop Driscoll had to take from being a Malthusian teenager in favor of abortion and eugenics to a Christian who felt obliged to be against (?) Malthusianism. In fact, we can't be sure he entirely dropped quasi-Malthusian notions of family line if he taught in 2008 that there were whole family lines dedicated to Satan.
Once again, it can seem as though depending on who he is talking to and what point he's trying to make Driscoll could present himself as a formerly arch-conservative sort he lightened up a bit (to Mother Jones) or can say that he used to be a liberal Malthusian pro-abortion guy to people preaching in a post-Mars Hill context. There's still no sign that Driscoll said or did anything to inspire whatever "love" Breshears claimed Mother Jones had for Driscoll but we do get to this:
This is Driscoll at his most charismatic: when he’s speaking about compassion, and deriding politics. He’s so good it’s easy to forget that his fundamentalist beliefs—and the politics attached to those beliefs—are actually the same as Ralph Reed’s. Postmoderns might never march alongside Operation Rescue, but they are vigilantly anti-abortion. Premarital sex is out of the question. And no matter how many homosexuals they welcome into their church, they still consider homosexuality wrong. They might love the sinners and hate the sin, but they talk a lot more about loving the sinners.
Driscoll says one of his best friends is gay. “When I found out, I cried. And then I made a deal with him. I said, ‘I’ll go to a gay bar with you if you come to church with me.’ So there I was in a bar with country-western drag queens! “I just told the guys I met there that I loved them. That yes, they are sinners and they needed to come to God and then their sexuality would take care of itself,” he says. “I think we’re all screwed up, some of us are just better at hiding it.”
Driscoll's at his most winsome ... but even here the author was clearly conveying that if you're actually paying attention Mark Driscoll comes off as Religious Right 2.0, with better branding perhaps, but with a substance that is hardly any different than a Falwell. I would argue that in fact a case can be made that Mark Driscoll eventually positioned himself to be an evangelical mirror of Dan Savage. The MJ article moves along from Driscoll to Driscoll with co-founder of Mars Hill Moi.
From nine to midnight each Saturday night, Driscoll sits with Moi in a studio high above downtown Seattle, where the two host “Street Talk,” which is broadcast to 16 stations around the country. The show is the brainchild of Moi, who has hosted it for six years.
Tonight’s topic is “The American Dream and Postmodernity: Is There Hope for the Future?” and for the first 15 minutes Moi and Driscoll toss out questions and debate them: Can one be a Christian and be an upwardly mobile capitalist? How can young people reconcile Christian tenets such as service, charity, and community with American ideals such as individualism?
“Some of us haven’t given ourselves over to the American Dream yet,” Driscoll says into the microphone. “How do we make sure we don’t become victims of what harmed us— parents who weren’t around because they were too busy making money so we could go on vacations and look like a family?” The phones are dead.
During a commercial break, Driscoll throws up his hands in mock surrender. Moi says, “When we do a show that is philosophical, either they sit back and listen, or it goes over their head. But when we do a controversial or reactionary topic—like paganism or Satanism—we hear from everyone.”
The silence is starting to grate on the hosts. They decide they must talk in specifics if the troops are going to be rallied. Moi comes up with an idea: “Call me up and tell me what the top three priorities in a Christian life should be.”
No one answers these questions directly, but the calls finally trickle in. Most callers are simply looking for solace. “My parents were together until I was 14 and we were the model family; the American Dream was there,” says Stan from Philadelphia. “But my parents pushed me to go to college and, well, that’s nice and all, but you have to do what the Lord wants you to do. Personally, I like to work with my hands, but that was out of the question.”
Next is Anthony, a young man who says that Jesus Christ told him to call the show. He says he’s sad and lonely and has no friends. “We will help you find a church in your area,” Moi reassures him. “We will help place you in a community where you will be held accountable and where you can find friends.” Moi says he gets calls like this all the time.
But does the postmoderns’ user-friendly fundamentalism sugarcoat the group’s core beliefs? Or do the people who attend these churches even get past the hip facade?
If praising Mars Hill's co-founding elders for leveraging Generation X resentment against the perceived (or actual) failures of the Baby Boomers as parents constitutes a "love" of Mark Driscoll that seems a bit much. There's nothing about the article that suggested that the author or publication loved Mars Hill.
But it was interesting that when I first heard about Mars Hill and mentioned it some family one of them asked for a doctrinal statement from Mars Hill. What Mars Hill provided was not a doctrinal statement but ... a photocopy of the Mother Jones article. In retrospect, the ease and enthusiasm with which Mars Hill leadership used generally hostile media coverage as a way to promote itself while ironically claiming to not do conventional promotional methods should have been a red flag.
But then it may be the nature of the Seattle scene in the 1990s that we were suckers for stuff that seemed slightly different. Nirvana could retool the chords of Boston's "More than a feeling" into "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and even if I thought the Nirvana song was stupid and repetitive a lot of people ate it up. But then I ended up being part of Mars Hill for about a decade so ... we all have weak spots for something.
A whole lot of what happened at Mars Hill was reinventing wheels that, as I considered things over the years, seemed to be wheels that didn't need to be reinvented. So I attend a Presbyterian church these days and along the last twenty years realized that what Mark Driscoll tried to present as unlimited limited atonement was just Amyraldianism ... which ... if Driscoll had really gotten the education he claimed to have gotten he might have read about at some point. And, of course, Driscoll's no longer calling himself Reformed and is more in the Charisma crowd.
Over the last twenty years it looks as though the Mark Driscoll who said he wasn't some pansy ass therapist turned into most of the things he warned us against in the pulpit, those of us who at one point called Mars Hill our church. He started that side company to manage book royalties he said would be characteristic of a selfish greed for gain. He said that God told him he was released from ministry at Mars Hill after having preached to people that you shouldn't just assume that because some guy says "God told me X" that such happened. He also managed to start telling stories about the early years of Mars Hill that couldn't be reconciled with his own early accounts of Mars Hill. Then when presented with an opportunity to lead by example in submitting to the spiritual authority and discipline he'd admonished people to live by during his years at Mars Hill all of a sudden God released him from ministry and he was free to go, now a charismatic and no longer Reformed, despite the possibility that in so doing he revealed that the rules for him were different in practice than they were for the people he lectured to.
And in that respect a Generation X megachurch preacher may have revealed just how much like the old Baby Boomers he once inveighed against he finally became.