Friday, October 26, 2012

and the last bat-installment just went up

The final installment in Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire just went up and, as befits a series written for Mockingbird an essay dealing with synergistic soteriology gets followed up with one on monergistic soteriological narrative.  And, as seemed appropriate in earlier installments of Cross Thresholds, things open with a quote from Solzhenitsyn.

Also linked at Mockingbird this week is the guest piece for Internet Monk I wrote for Christian Music Month.  It pops up in Another Week Ends

Congratulations to DZ for a new baby. :) 

I think we'll have to take a break from superheroes for a little while.  Sometimes we do have to get around to blogging about music here. 

There may also be need of a hiatus or lower rate of blogging activity for the sake of mundane and obvious reasons.  Humanity does not generally live on blogging alone, after all.  Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mars Hill Downtown in 2007: "It has appraised at over $1M more than our purchase price. So instantly we have $1M in equity ... "
December 2007
responses submitted by Pastor Jamie Munson
p 74
We have been looking for a space in downtown Seattle for well over six months. The process of finding, negotiating and ultimately leasing or purchasing a piece of property takes some time to do so. The church has known for sometime we were looking for a space and when we found a specific property we informed the members on the members site to this fact.  In addition we announced this on Sunday from the pulpit prior to closing on the propety.  We were careful to not publish the information too broadly or too prematurely knowing it would garner a lot of attention because of its past. We have obtained a loan for 80% of the 3.95M purchase price and have raised the funds for the 20% down payment, primarily from the core group that will be attending the downtown campus. All of these announcements have been on the members site to view.  The building we have purchased is at 2333 Western Ave in the heart of Belltown. It has appraised at over $1M more than our purchase price. So instantly we have $1M in equity and a good building that will take minior modifications to be used as a church. In addition the zoning of the property permits building up to 85 feet on the property so it is an attractive piece for future redevelopment if Jesus should lead us in that direction. In addition, immediately after our offer was accepted the seller of the property had 3 back up offers so there is significant interest in this property that Jesus has blessed us with. When looking to purchase property we use several qualified consultants which include our bank, developers, real estate brokers, attorneys, architects and good business men and women to speak into the decisions. 

It's been a mystery how Munson concluded that the 2333 Western Ave real estate was appraised at $4.95 million and that this meant $1M in instant equity.  "It has" didn't tell a whole lot about when the appraisal was made, who made it, and on what grounds the appraisal was made.  Available information suggests that the appraised value of 2333 Western Avenue was not at $4,950,000 in 2007.
According to this link in 2007 the land was assessed at a value of $2,304,000.00.  The building was listed at $1,000.
Sale date: 10/25/2007
 Price: $3,950,000
 Sale instrument: Statutory Warranty Deed

Read more:
At least according to the value of the in 2007 was $2,304,000 and the value of the building was $1,000.  Then the value of the land land plunged down to $1,370,900 and the building was still listed at $1,000 in 2008.  If the value of the land, according to was $2,304,000 and the building was worth $1,000.00 then how did buying 2333 Western Ave constitute one million dollars in instant equity?   Now it's possible that the information at could be inaccurate and it's not entirely clear who might have provided Mars Hill with an evaluation that said 2333 Western Avenue was worth $4.95 million (thus leading to Pastor Jamie Munson concluding that by buying the real estate at $3.95 million Mars Hill somehow got $1M instant equity). 

Currently 2333 Western Avenue is available for sale at a price of $4,500,000.00 with the following group

If you go to their front page ...

Mars Hill Church Bellevue Bellevue                LEASED          27,461SF    Long Term
Mars Hill Church                Belltown                SOLD              14,400 SF   $3,950,000
Mars Hill Church                Ballard                   SOLD              84,150 SF   $7,300,000
Anchor Baptist Church       Lake City               SOLD              18,000 SF   $2,000,000

Keep in mind that Anchor Baptist Church was the real estate that was, at one point, Mars Hill Lake City. Church Advisors has played a role in connection to at least four pieces of real estate that have had something to do with Mars Hill.  Who exactly conveyed information to Jamie Munson that 2333 Western Avenue was valued at $4.95 is still not clear but someone gave Munson the idea that the real estate that became Mars Hill Downtown from 2007 to 2012 was worth $4,950,000.

But let's suppose could have gotten some things wrong.  Maybe the real estate didn't lose at least a million in value between 2007 and 2008.  Perhaps there's a way to establish how someone could have been convinced that what became Mars Hill Downtown was worth a cumulative $4.95 million as would be the case if Munson's report in 2007 said it was.  What can we find that's available from King County listings?

Parcel Number 065400-0315
Site Address 2333 WESTERN AVE 98121

Valued Year Tax Year Appraised Land Value Appraised Imps Value Appraised Total Taxable Land Value Taxable Imps Value Taxable Total
2012 2013 $2,736,000 $741,300 $3,477,300 $1,247,600 $0 $1,247,600
2011 2012 $2,736,000 $779,400 $3,515,400 $1,247,600 $0 $1,247,600
2010 2011 $2,736,000 $733,500 $3,469,500 $1,247,700 $0 $1,247,700
2009 2010 $2,736,000 $800,700 $3,536,700 $1,247,700 $0 $1,247,700
2008 2009 $2,736,000 $794,200 $3,530,200 $1,247,700 $0 $1,247,700
2007 2008 $2,520,000 $1,000 $2,521,000 $1,149,100 $0 $1,149,100
2006 2007 $2,304,000 $1,000 $2,305,000 $2,304,000 $1,000 $2,305,000
2005 2006 $2,016,000 $1,000 $2,017,000 $2,016,000 $1,000 $2,017,000

Maybe someone can spell out where this indicates that 2333 Western Avenue in Seattle was appraised at $4,950,000 in 2007 when Mars Hill bought it. 

Now the people who would be in a position to know, in theory, how Munson came to the number of $4.95M were the executive elders who were in place when the bid was made on the property.  For sake of review here's the criteria for eligiblity for executive eldership at Mars Hill prior to the end of October 2007.

Section C
The executive elder team shall consist of men who meet the following criteria in addition to the qualifications and duties of an elder outlined in Article I:
* The elder must be a full-time employee of Mars Hill Church
* The elder must have served as an elder for at least one year [emphasis added]
* The elder must nominate himself for consideration to be a member of the executive elder team
* The elder must receive a two-thirds vote of approval by all elders
* If more than seven men meet these criteria, then those seven men receiving the highest number of votes will be accepted
* If there is a tie among two or more men for the seventh seat on the lead elder team, a new vote will be taken by all elders (on only the seventh position) with the man receiving the highest vote total being appointed to the lead elder team.

And here's an overview of the powers and duties reserved for the executive elders from the same set of bylaws.

By-Laws of Mars Hill Fellowship
A Nonprofit Corporation Without Members

Article VI
The Executive Elder Team

Section E

Except for those powers and duties reserved for the full Council of Elders under Article VII, Section A and RCW 24.03.112 or similar statute, the following issues are reserved for determination by the executive elder team and may not be decided by a Departmental, Site, or Ad Hoc Elder Team:

  • Establishing the overall vision for the entire church
  • Purchase, sale, or rental of real estate
  • Approving new services and venues
  • Comprehensive operational budget line items
  • Capital expenditures budget
  • Hiring and firing of elders who are also employees (the employment status of an employee who is also an elder may be determined by the executive elder team, but such person's status as an elder is reserved to the full Council of Elders)
  • Issues delegated or reserved to the executive elder team by resolution of the full Council of Elders

Section F
For an issue to meet the approval of the executive elder team it must receive a unanimous vote (abstention permitted).

Now after a bit of slogging through old documents it can be established who the executive elders were as of June 2007:

Appendix B (p 113 of 145)
Mars Hill Re-organization document
previously sent to members on June 23, 2007
(pages 3-4)

Changing our Executive Team
A pivotal shift was streamlining our Executive Team. On June 11 at the All-Elders' meeting, Pastors Tim (Smith), Steve (Tompkins), Mike (Wilkerson), James (Harleman) and Lief (Moi) stepped down as Executive Elders. Subsequently, Scott Thomas and Bubba Jennings nominated themselves as Executive Elders and were voted in, establishing the Executive roles corresponding to the new team structure and transitioning the other pastors to their new roles in the revised organizational structure. Additionally, Tim Beltz, who is an elder candidate, is serving on a consulting basis to the Executive Elders and helping provide a wealth of nonprofit management experience to our decision making.

So during June 2007 Smith, Tompkins, Wilkerson, Harleman and Moi all stepped down as executive elders.  Mark Driscoll and Jamie Munson remained executive elders and Scott Thomas and Bubba Jennings nominated themselves.   

In a "where are they now?" overview, here's what can be learned about the people who could have been in a position to know why Munson claimed that 2333 Western Avenue was valued at $4,950,000. 

Jamie Munson is currently co-president of Storyville Coffee Company and is not a paid elder at Mars Hill.  He's co-president with a 5% ownership in the company, another 5% is owned by Kris Rosentrater, and 90% is owned by Jon Phelps.  See notes from minutes below at a neighborhood preservation shindig:

Scott Thomas is Pastor of Ministry Development at Darrin Patrick's church The Journey.

Although if you go to the Ministry Development segment for leadership at The Journey you may not necessarily find Thomas.  He may have finally resigned his membership at Mars Hill or perhaps he hasn't.  See if you can find Scott Thomas listed in leadership at The Journey on The Journey's website.  He must be there and, at any rate, he preached a few sermons. Acts 29 seems too  complementarian to have their one listed person in Ministry Development be someone named Katie unless Patrick is more egalitarian than the average Acts 29 pastor.

Bubba Jennings is poised to plant Mars Hill Tacoma and is currently listed as lead pastor at Mars Hill Federal Way.

Then, in very late October 2007 there was Tim Beltz.  That Tim Beltz was a consultant in earlier 2007 has been established.  "Consultant" would not mean actual pastor at Mars Hill would it?  Even if it could have been said that Beltz was an employee by way of being a consultant he couldn't have been a full-time consultant while he was COO at CRISTA Ministries.  He was also listed as an elder candidate in June 2007 which would have made it impossible for him to be eligible in October 2007 to be an executive elder right away.  But he wasn't installed until October 29, 2007 after the firings of Meyer and Petry got wrapped up and the newer by-laws were passed.  By that time the purchase of 2333 Western Avenue, the old club Tabella, had also been wrapped up.  So there were four executive elders in place at the time the bid was made and it would appear there was unanimity of some kind about the purchase and the purchase price.  After all, that's what the by-laws would have called for.

So where the purchase of 2333 Western Avenue by Mars Hill was concerned , to go by the June 2007 statement,  the executive elders who would have overseen that process were Mark Driscoll, Jamie Munson, Scott Thomas, and Bubba Jennings.  Church Advisors also seemed to play a role in significant real estate acquisitions undertaken by Mars Hill from roughly 2005-2007 and has announced that the old Tabella (i.e. 2333 Western Ave) is available for sale at a price of $4,500,000. 

What is also clear is that Munson was willing to say the real estate had been appraised at $4,950,000 and that Mars Hill having bought the real estate meant one million dollars in instant equity.  How he got this number and why he and other executive elders thought it was a reliable number remains a mystery.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An interesting comment from Nick Bulbeck about how spiritual abuse poisons means of reconciliation

Over in a comment at The Wartburg Watch Nick Bulbeck has written an interesting observation about spiritual leadership that is abusive.  While a good deal could be added beyond what Bulbeck proposes what he's written in the excerpt below speaks eloquently enough for itself. It suffices to add emphasis in one spot for the sake of, well, emphasis.

There’s something uniquely damaging about spiritual abuse. Permit me to quote two scriptures, from Psalm 55 and Proverbs 25. I don’t claim that they prove something on their own, but I do believe they help describe the aftermath of abusive spiritual leadership.
Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets. If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshippers.
The believer can expect to have troubles in “the world”. But if the place where we seek God together is toxic and destructive, where is one supposed to go?

And the one from Proverbs:
Like a city that is broken into and without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit.
The person who has submitted to abusive and ungodly leadership has invariably been tricked into surrendering the control of his spirit to a leadership hierarchy that does not truly love or respect him. This leaves the heart unguarded and extremely vulnerable to attack. Whoever’s fault that was, the damage is done, and repairing it is often too great a burden to carry without the right kind of help. (Building up others according to their needs, if I may presume to re-use Ephesians 4:29.)

Now, of course, the abused believer needs to forgive in order for this repairing of damage to happen. Thing is… most people who’ve been significantly hurt by leadership have indeed tried very hard to discuss and resolve the issue with the leaders. And the leaders have invariably said, you’re the problem; you sort it out, and if you’re upset about that, well, you’re rebellious and bitter, and you need to sort that out too. In other words, they have demanded forgiveness, such that the victim cannot easily forgive them without feeling that he is, still, being controlled. I claimed above that spiritual abuse is uniquely damaging: here’s why. The ungodly shepherd not only inflicts damage, but poisons the very means God has given to repair that damage. [emphasis added]

To “forgive”, in both English and NT Greek, means to send out or release, and is an act of judgement. Judgement requires authority – the very thing that is stripped from the believer by abusive leadership. Regaining that authority, and seeing the leaders as peers (“a man like myself”, in the verse from Psalm 55 above) whom one actually has the power to forgive, can be a messy process involving a lot of anger on the way. And yes, sometimes bitterness; that’s ungodly, true, but that’s all the more reason not to hide it. And it needs someone to stand alongside those who once were powerless and oppressed, and openly defend them. ...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Esther as godless woman then Christ type: Mark Driscoll's interpretive mojo part 5

And now for the conclusion, which can be called: 
Esther Could Have Said No Cuz Driscolls Say So, and She's Also a Christ-Type

Number four: she could have said no. Now, some people want to say, “Well, she could have gotten punished.” Sometimes people in the Bible say no to rulers and they’re punished. Sometimes people in history say no to rulers and they’re punished. We call them bold. But the truth is, there’s no indication that she would have gotten punished.

This is the best one of the bunch, probably, and by “best” that means “most stupid”. Esther could have said “no” because there was no indication that Xerxes made any lethal gesture to punish Vashti for not doing what he commanded of her. This is where the more Driscoll tries to pump out how powerful and bad Xerxes was the more insipid Number four becomes.  What does Driscoll present as an actual argument that Esther could have said no?  Well, one is that Vashti was put away for the rest of her life rather than killed or sent away.  That’s not the most persuasive reason in itself but it has some modicum of plausibility if only for being derived from Xerxes actions and words observed within the book of Esther.

Now Driscoll can't have it both ways about Xerxes here.  A guy who castrates men and subjugates women should have been told "no", so Driscoll says, but in an exilic context in a setting where women were not exactly prized as having their own agency and autonomy claiming that Esther should have done something like saying "no" presupposes a great deal that has yet to be proven. Somehow being banished from the presence of the king for years is not considered punishment by Driscoll.  Did Driscoll forget those laws in the Torah related to selling daughters into slavery?  Did Driscoll forget the part where the prohibition against coveting lumps in wives with other property Israelites were not supposed to covet?  If even within a Jewish context women could be considered property and women captured in war could be taken as wives as long as there wasn't a command of total destruction then what does Driscoll think the options for Jewish girls in an exilic context actually were? 

Well, Driscoll also introduced this idea related to Number four, “She could have said no”.  This one you have to see or hear to believe. 

... I was talking to Ashley about this.  I was like, "Argh!" Because this freaks--as a dad, freaks me out. Some nasty pervert takes my daughter for a year at the spa to compete against four hundred women with one night in bed.  Okay. I asked Ashley, my sweet daughter.  I said, "What would you do?" She said, "I would say no. I would run away. I would move to another country. I would throw a fit. I would be so disobedient, basically, in the palace, they would send me home."  "Yes, okay. What do you think I would do?" "You would fight" "Yes I would" ...

So even though Driscoll has mentioned his degree in exegetical theology in press materials and has blogged mentioning a commentary on Esther he likes ... when it comes time to make a case for why Esther was not that godly in the beginning he comes up with "Esther should have said no".  His reasons for this view amount to 1) she might not have gotten punished and 2) his daughter Ashley said that, put in Esther’s position, she would say no.  If that’s the best Driscoll can do then he has no basis complaining about other pastors or scholars providing speculation about anything in any biblical text anywhere. 

Driscoll takes a step even further.  Having attempted to demolish the idea that Esther started out as a godly woman Driscoll nevertheless makes the following statement:

Well, ultimately, Esther is a type of Christ. She’s a portrait, a picture, a sign, a symbol pointing to Jesus Christ. The whole Bible is about Jesus. Now, it’s for us, but it’s about him. It’s not primarily about us, it’s primarily about him, and so at this point, they’re waiting for a greater King, and another kingdom, and a Savior, and a deliverer, and everybody and everything is yearning, and longing, and leaning toward the coming of Jesus. And so Esther is a type of Christ. She’s a little picture and a portrait.

Well, Mark Driscoll has said that Jack Bauer was a lot like Jesus. As typological comparisons go couldn't Esther, in a Jewish setting, seem more like a type of Moses who, though brought up in a pagan imperial setting, advocated on behalf of her people?  Or at a more mundane and plausible level in the order of books in the Tanakh Esther and Daniel could be described as Jews living in an exilic setting. It's not that Esther can't typologically be interpreted in some way, it's that Driscoll's Esther/Christ typology seems ad hoc. 

If Driscoll wants us to take Option #3 seriously how does Esther’s initial godlessness and nominal Jewishness fit into a Christ typology?  Considering all the labor Driscoll went through over ten years to make sure Jesus couldn't possibly be read into the Song of Songs by cracking gay panic jokes Jesus standing over him with a hard-on how, exactly, does Mark Driscoll rationalize making Esther a Christ-type? 

But if Driscoll were going to sustain a Christ typology for Esther why would his Option #3 make that work better than either Option #1, Option #2 or a combination of 1 and 2?  Who's to say that Options #1 and #2 don't overlap once we define them beyond straw man terms?  We're basically told that because Esther didn't say "no" and because the book of Esther doesn't tell us she was sexually assaulted she wasn't sexually assaulted. But then she somehow ends up ultimately being a Christ type in the same sermon where Driscoll says “She could have said no” because apparently it’s smarter to rely on the sentiments of a 15-year old girl in Seattle who is his daughter than to demonstrate that he actually earned a degree in exegetical theology.  Mark Driscoll seems to have made a point of including his children in public settings to address something considered controversial, in some settings, before, but he hasn't made things one of his children said quite so central to a sermon purporting to explain a biblical text and proposing that a biblical figure was of less than estimable character. 

So what good does it do for Driscoll to refer to Karen Jobes' commentary as the best one he'd read on the book of Esther if he's going to ignore what Jobes wrote and come up with his own take on things?  Since Rachel Held Evans already referred to Jobes' commentary and quoted from her work let's link to that.  Go see for yourself that what Evans quotes contradicts even the possibility of Driscoll’s “She could have said no” claim.  For Driscoll to tout Jobes' commentary and then say what he's said about Esther from the pulpit he has to practically pretend that Jobes didn't say anything about whether or not Hadassah had any say in the matter; he can then say the girl should have said "no" even though Jobes' commentary, as quoted by Rachel Held Evans, shows this was not a compelling interpretive option.  Driscoll's use of Jobes' commentary comes off as nothing more than using the halo effect of a specific biblical scholar, who happens to be a woman, as a way to set up Mark Driscoll saying just about anything he wishes to say. 

When Driscoll has the chance to make his big point about Esther's imperfect early character, and her “could have said no” option, who does he appeal to?  Himself and his daughter Ashley Driscoll, a fifteen year old girl who, as yet, has not completed a degree in exegetical theology.  Mark Driscoll made a case that a teenage girl should have said "no" to an internationally famous and powerful leader who was seeking his own glory and renown for his name and achievements, and who claimed divine authority and sanction for his decisions  ... by using his teenage daughter and his own personal story as the basis for saying Esther and Mordecai made bad decisions?  Driscoll has not only done this from his pulpit, it's been made available for the whole English-speaking world to listen to or download.  

The irony of all that seems too meta for mere words. 

Then after all that, after attempting to spell out why Esther was godless at the start of the book, Driscoll tells us she is ultimately a Christ-type.  

Esther as godless woman then Christ type: Mark Driscoll's interpretive mojo part 4

NUMBERS 2 & 3: Driscoll on God’s presence, sans a serious consideration of prophets and narrative literature

Believe it or not we’re not done discussing flaws in Driscoll’s defense of his Option #3.  His first reason was weak enough but Driscoll’s going to give us more reasons he thinks his version of Esther makes sense.

Number two: she’s living far away from God. The command was given, again through Isaiah: go to Jerusalem. That’s where the presence of God is. She’s not there. She’s living far away from the presence of God.

Number three: she’s disobeying the commands of God through Isaiah and she’s living in rebellion, just like we do.

Driscoll's got a problem with reasons 2 and 3 for why Esther didn't start off as a godly woman.  The problem with reason 2 is the point about being far away from God because she wasn't in Jerusalem.  That problem looks curiously like Ezekiel 1:

Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.   On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity,   the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.

Ezekiel was a book written in an exilic context.  To propose that God was in one place and that you had to go there to be where God was becomes unsustainable post-Ezekiel.  Ezekiel's prophetic ministry brings the revolutionary idea along that even in exile Yahweh is still the God of Israel and that Yahweh is not a territorial god who is limited to speaking to His people within a Temple system. All the tools prescribed within the Torah for relating to or connecting to God in the temple system had been destroyed or carried off by and large, yet Ezekiel encountered God. Driscoll’s “Number two” is just a number two. 

The problem with “Number three”, saying Esther was disobeying God’s command through Isaiah is less obvious if you haven't made a point of reading Ezra/Nehemiah and it connects to Driscoll's insistence that we not read into a text a pious thing that isn't there.  Let’s grant, for just a moment, that Driscoll is right to say that where the Bible is not clear we should avoid making too bold a claim about something. 

Driscoll leans heavily on the idea that Isaiah predicted a return from exile and that Ezra and Nehemiah were the guys heading up the rebuilding of the Temple.  Driscoll, per Number Two, has insisted that Jerusalem is where God’s presence is.  But let’s consider temple dedication in 1 Kings 6-8 and 2 Chronicles 5-7.  A cloud filled the Temple and the glory of the Lord was present in the Temple with His people. Now go look at the temple dedication described in Ezra/Nehemiah.  There is no indication that God comes and makes His presence known in the Temple the way He did for the Temple of Solomon.  That's not the most mundane detail for considering post-exilic narrative literature, is it? 

See if Driscoll wants to insist on the point that we can't assume something is in a biblical text when the biblical text doesn't spell it out then “Number three” is an argument that's stillborn for anyone who takes his methodology seriously and has actually read Ezra/Nehemiah. Maybe Hadassah and Mordecai didn't return to Jerusalem because there was no report of the return of the presence of the Lord to the Temple.  After all, if the presence of God had actually descended on the Temple that Ezra and Nehemiah worked on you would think they’d have made a point of saying so! 

Suffice it to say, if Driscoll wants to say Mordecai and Esther should have been in Jerusalem because that's where God's people were supposed to be by referencing Isaiah he completely fails for two simple reasons:  1) God revealed he was God everyone to Ezekiel before the exile could be considered over and 2) Ezra/Nehemiah had not, in fact, indicated that God had come to dwell among Israel in the new temple they’d built in Jerusalem.  Driscoll scores a double fail with Number Three, unfortunately.

Esther as godless woman then Christ type: Mark Driscoll's interpretive mojo part 3

OPTION 3: Speculations and what-ifs are okay if Driscolls give them

Having looked a bit at how Driscoll deals with what he calls Options 1 and 2 we’re now finally ready to get to Option #3:

...  I believe she started out as not the most godly woman, but by the end, she’s among the most godly of women. And here are my reasons.

Number one: at this point in the story of Esther, no one’s walking with God. I’m not just picking on Esther. Some of you are like, “You’re picking on Esther.” I pick on Xerxes, I pick on Mordecai, I pick on me, I pick on you. Like, everybody gets a fair crack, right? And just because we’re examining one woman doesn’t mean we’re criticizing all women. In the same way, if we criticize Xerxes, it doesn’t mean we criticize all men, though we can, because all men are sinners and all women are sinners. And all of us, if they took the story of our life and told it in painstaking detail, we’d all be a little bummed, right?

Bummed enough to remove wood-chipper anecdotes from sermons, maybe? Ripping on everyone is not the same as demonstrating a plausible interpretation of Esther.  Now if Driscoll’s trying to say no one in Esther can be shown to be godly the burden of proof is on Driscoll.  If Driscoll is (less likely) saying there are no white hats but Jesus, as he has often said in the past, then this calls into question his interpretive approach to narrative literature in earlier sermons.  Back in 2007 Driscoll transformed the book of Nehemiah into an analogy about Mars Hill, implicitly presenting himself as Nehemiah. Nehemiah was obviously wearing a white hat in Driscoll's preaching on Nehemiah when he preached “Fathers and Fighting”, for instance. Earlier in 2007 Driscoll preached through Ruth and Boaz was presented as the great kinsman redeemer by Driscoll during his Ruth series without ever addressing how a Moabite was permitted to marry into Israel when, mere months later, Driscoll would preach "Fathers and Fighting" and also not address the Moabites as among the nations Israelites took wives from or whether there was a legal conundrum of why Boaz was permitted to marry a Moabite even though the Torah was clear Moabites were not to be added to the assembly, and that Ezra and Nehemiah were angry Israelites married Moabite women. 

He also has not yet laid out a significant textual case for why his Number One for Option #3 about Esther is the most sensible reading of the text. Here he’s going to try to come up with a reason.

No one in the story at this point is walking with God. No one. No one’s praying, no one mentions God, no one’s worshiping God, no one’s tithing to God, no one is going to Jerusalem, no one is celebrating the feasts and festivals, no one’s offering a sacrifice for their sin. There’s nothing. Nobody quotes a verse. Nothing. Nothing spiritual. And so it’s not just that Esther’s not godly, no one is.

"Nobody quotes a verse"?  Let's talk about that line of argument as it applies to books of the Bible Driscoll has preached from multiple times. 

For instance, Mark Driscoll preached repeatedly that Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon who, according to Driscoll, was working his way to repentance.  Here's the thing,  the book of Ecclesiastes not only does not quote scripture, even its allusions to scripture can be read as casting doubt on whether humanity bears the image of God.  Driscoll simply can't sustain his argument that nobody walks with God in Esther because nobody quotes Scripture because it's not like Qoholeth quoted the Bible in Ecclesiastes, not even when Qoholeth refers to God as a distant and disinterested party who dislikes people making vows they can't keep. 

Then there's Song of Songs ... which is not exactly exploding with references to Numbers of Deuteronomy.  Oh baby, did you remember to not boil that kid in its mother's milk?  Good, now let's meditate together on that passage where it explains that a wife should not grab the testicles of a man who is fighting with her husband. 

If the proof of following God is quoting Bible verses what scripture could Abraham quote? None of it was written yet.  The idea that Esther or Mordecai aren’t walking with God because the author of Esther doesn’t have them quoting Bible is nonsense.  This test was conspicuously absent from Driscoll's teaching on Song of Songs or Ecclesiastes.  Maybe the author of Esther didn't give us a great big litany of Bible verses quoted by Esther or Mordecai because that was not the point of the narrative?  Out of respect for the observation that Purim was never a festival commanded in the Torah authorial piety would have been demonstrated by removing any potential for mistakenly thinking the God of Israel had commanded observance of Purim in some direct way.  Part of how this could have been done would be to avoid mentioning that Esther or Mordecai made use of any texts considered authoritative or canonical.  Just throwing that idea out there for consideration.

Now let's see what else Driscoll says, among other things, in defense of his Option #3:

Do you know what? I find great encouragement and hope in the story of Esther, because you know what? I'm like Esther. I grew up in a marginal Catholic home. My mom did love Jesus.  I didn't worship God. I didn't read the Bible.  I didn't pray except for when I thought I was in real trouble and I'd sort of throw out a fire insurance policy to God.  "God get me out of this please! Thanks." Occasionally, I'd show up for a Christmas or Easter service at the church, bored to death because my mom wanted me to, and it was sort of tradition. ...

And I believe what happens to Esther is, in the story, God gets her heart and she has a conversion experience of sorts, and she starts to grow spiritually as a person. I experienced the same thing in my life at age nineteen. I don't want to condemn Esther. What I want to do is I want to invite everyone whose story is like Esther to meet Esther's God and to change like Esther did.

Driscoll finds great hope and encouragement in his version of Esther.  He says that if we hold that Esther was actually a godly woman then the book is worthless (even though it’s in the Bible).  If someone proposes that Esther persevered amidst a miserable exilic life that included sexual exploitation Driscoll says, “Well, see, the Bible doesn’t say she was raped so she wasn’t an innocent victim of sexual assault.”  But if someone says Esther was a nominal Jew who began to take her faith seriously Driscoll finds hope and encouragement in that because he was a nominal Catholic who eventually became an evangelical Protestant. 

For years Driscoll has said we need to not put ourselves above the Bible but to submit to the Bible.  Notice the rhetorical move Driscoll has made to reject what he calls Option #1.  If Esther was a godly woman and Mordecai was a godly man who held fast amidst persecution and plans of genocide then the book is “worthless”. Let the full significance of Driscoll being will to dismiss the legitimacy of an entire book of the Bible if it is predicated on a narrative and characterization he disputes.

Driscoll's likely to keep asserting his Option #3 to the point where people in Mars Hill are likely to agree that it's true by dint of hearing it preached month after month. After all he's been teaching the Bible for sixteen years.  At this point the longevity of the career may be more important to emphasize than the actual handling of the text.  Benny Hinn has been teaching nearly twice as long as Driscoll has by now and does this mean that makes Benny Hinn nearly twice as authoritative in expository preaching?  That nobody was walking with God at the start of the story needs a clearer case than Driscoll simply saying so.  That's what exegesis is for.  Now if Driscoll can make that case he should make it.  Saying "it's in the Hebrew" is just a punch line for Driscoll, can he tackle the Hebrew for real from the pulpit? 

Esther as godless woman then Christ type: Mark Driscoll's interpretive mojo part 2

OPTION 2: Esther and sexual assault, Driscoll conflates sexual assault with rape

Now for Option #2, that Esther was the innocent victim of sexual assault:

And that is possible, but I'm not certain that it is probable because it doesn't say that. It doesn't say what happened. All it says is she went in, she went out, he picked her. It doesn't say how she felt or whether she was forced. It doesn't say. And let me submit to you that when the Bible speaks, it speaks very plainly and very clearly, so when there are other occasions of sexual assault in Scripture, the Bible tells it.

This is another straw man.  There are plenty of people who consider Esther to have been subject to a sexually exploitive regime.  The only way Driscoll can dismiss the substance of his Option #2 is by defining sexual assault and exploitation into the very narrow category of rape. There are more ways that people can be sexually abused, harassed or exploited than rape. 

Driscoll seems to be rejecting his straw man Option #2 more for rhetorical flair than for doubting the repellent aspects of Xerxes' life and conduct. Despite everything Driscoll himself mentioned about Xerxes having men castrated and using women Driscoll refuses to concede even the possibility that Esther was sexually exploited, and by sexually exploited Driscoll really means only raped.  Driscoll says we are told Dinah was raped and that Tamar was raped and that sexual assault, when it happens, gets clearly mentioned in the Bible.  True, when women are raped in the Bible we’re told that, such as the story of the Levite’s concubine in Judges. 

But notice that in casting doubt on Option #2 that Driscoll hangs a lot on an argument from both restricted definition and also from silence.  The Bible doesn't spell out explicitly that Esther was sexually assaulted, so Driscoll says we can't affirm what the Bible doesn't make clear.  Well, what was going on when Absalom went into ten of David’s concubines to make himself odious to his father?  That wasn’t rape but it would sure seem to be sexually exploitive.  What about David’s actions toward Bathsheba and her husband Uriah the Hittite?  If Driscoll’s argument that where the Bible is silent we ought not presume sexual assault actually meant anything then we should suppose that Bathsheba was wrong to have not resisted the advances of David.  Yet Nathan’s rebuke is all about David’s sin and not Bathsheba. 

Yet for Driscoll’s ostensibly high-minded claim that we should not speculate too much that Esther was sexually assaulted, Driscoll has been perfectly happy to speculate that Solomon's first love was Abishag (as long he gets to bet your mortgage and not his).  1 Kings mentions Solomon's first wife being Egyptian but it would seem that what the Bible says is immaterial to Driscoll if he can spin a sweet high school sweetheart yarn with Abishag and Solomon sitting in a tree.  It would appear that Driscoll wants to have it both ways, to claim that options other than his are speculative while avoiding the possibility that his own view is just as speculative.  

It would be difficult to overstate, given how much Driscoll and Mars Hill insist they want to protect women and children from predators, how remarkably stupid and offensive the straw man in Driscoll's Option #2 is.  The problems are numerous.  For instance "innocent" combined with "sexual assault" wasn't intended to invite the reading that Driscoll thinks there are not-innocent victims of sexual assault, does it?  Wouldn't "innocent", within the terms of discussion of sexual assault seem redundant? 

By defining Option #2 very clearly only in terms of rape Driscoll has defined the criteria of victim-hood for Esther up to the most blunt and obvious form of predatory action on the part of Xerxes.  
Esther either has to have been raped or she wasn't a victim of and in a sexually exploitive culture or regime and this despite his lengthy preaching about how Xerxes used women and emasculated men.  Driscoll has managed to set up Option #1 and Option #2 purely in terms of straw man definitions and then employs an absurd argument against Option #1 and a pathetic argument from silence to dismiss straw man Option #2.  But Driscoll isn't even close to done.  There's still Option #3. 

Esther as godless woman then Christ type: Mark Driscoll's interpretive mojo part 1

About a month ago Driscoll preached "Jesus is a better savior" as part of his Esther series.  He reintroduced a few figures from the narrative and finally got to introducing Esther.  In doing so he simply expanded upon but recycled his earlier blog post in which he proposed that there were three options for views of Esther that he considered possible and just one that he considered probable.  The first was that Esther was a godly woman; the second was that she was an innocent victim of sexual assault; and the third that she was an initially not-very godly woman who became godly by the end of the narrative. 

As has been blogged earlier at Wenatchee The Hatchet the first and second views, as Driscoll presents them, are straw men. Driscoll's previous thanking of critics for bringing to light things for his consideration sure comes across as a publicity stunt.  After all, for all the gratitude Driscoll seemed to have toward critics he’s as fixated on his claim that Esther started off kind of godless and became godly later on.  What is worth noting, at some length, is that how Driscoll arrives at and justifies his conclusion is (still) not adequately explained from the biblical text. 

More startling than this failure on Driscoll’s part to provide a compelling defense of his view are the set of arguments he uses to dismiss the views that Esther was, in fact, a godly woman, and that she was probably in some way sexually exploited.  Each dismissal Driscoll brings to bear for Option 1 and Option 2 is founded upon a respective straw man and reduction ad absurdum while Driscoll’s own view is founded on what appears to be nothing more than an anecdotal fallacy.

Still more startling are the implications of Driscoll’s arguments regarding views of Esther in the context of Driscoll’s own public preaching over the last sixteen years. But in order to establish even the possibility of discussing that we must turn to the three Options.  Again, Option #1 is that Esther was a godly woman and Mordecai feared the Lord.  Option #2 is that Esther was the innocent victim of sexual assault and Option #3 is that Esther began rather godless but ended up godly. We’ll consider these options and how Driscoll presents them.

OPTION #1: Esther was a godly woman, but if she was the book is worthless?

Driscoll defines Option #1 as Mordecai was a good guy and Esther was a good girl and God favored them against the bad guys.  Driscoll declares that if this is what the book is about it is worthless.  Notice what Driscoll's attitude here is, that if a book of the Bible means something he doesn't think it should mean he considers it "worthless".  Now to be sure his Option #1 is a straw man from start to finish but would he say Esther, as a book, is "worthless" if Option #1 indicated that Mordecai and Esther, though imperfect, were nonetheless God-fearing and godly people?  If Old Testament scholars could establish a plausible basis for some form of Option #1 would Mark Driscoll still consider the book of Esther worthless?

Driscoll’s dismissal of what he calls Option #1 is a dismissal of a view that is already a straw man.  Driscoll has mentioned we should not read Esther from a "religious" perspective that proposes Mordecai and Esther were white hats set against the black hats of Haman or Xerxes.  Driscoll presents the following idea as a defense of what he calls the third perspective which sheds light on a possible argument against the idea that Esther was always godly in some sense in the narrative:

... It is my opinion that the third perspective is probable, and that is that Esther is not a static or flat character who’s consistent through the whole book. You’ll meet them. Haman is a consistent, flat character, because he never repents. He’s just evil. Xerxes is a flat, static character. He never changes because he never repents.

Many of us clearly read the same book of Esther and came to the conclusion that her character looks remarkably consistent from the start to finish of the book. Religiously motivated repentance is not the basis of a person being a consistent, flat character in a biblical text.  King Saul doesn't repent and he's one of the most dynamic characters in the books of Samuel. 

Driscoll seems to be incapable of grasping that a character in a narrative can be complex without being dynamic and that a two-dimensional character is still capable of being dynamic. It depends on what the narrative is doing.  Mr. Bingley, for instance, is essentially a flat character but he certainly changes in as much as he marries Jane.  Mr. Collins gets married, too, but he also remains a flat character.  Driscoll’s mere insistence withstanding, none of the characters in Esther are necessarily three-dimensional simply because they change nor dynamic.  In fact change itself is what makes Xerxes a two-dimensional character because he's so fickle and egotistical.  He’s a punch line in the narrative, an egotistical drunkard who is steadily issuing irreversible commands that he forgets he’s made and failing to remember to thank people who have saved his life.

To say Xerxes doesn't repent because he doesn't change would be framing the narrative in religious terms but Driscoll has said we should not read Esther in a "religious" way where Esther is concerned.  All this really means is that Driscoll wants our indulgence to speak of what he considers the moral failings of the protagonists while still insisting that we view the antagonists as bad.  

Driscoll continues:

Those who repent are no longer static, they’re dynamic. They don’t stay the same, they change. We call it progressive sanctification. It means that when you meet the God of the Bible, you change, and the longer you’re walking with him, the more you change. And she worships Jesus. Let’s just be clear on that. She’s waiting for the coming of a promised Savior. So are we. She got a little bored waiting for him. So do we.

Driscoll simply has to assert that Esther is waiting for Jesus.  It is Esther who ends up being the appointed savior in this story and Driscoll seems to realize this element of the narrative is too obvious to avoid for long.  Nevertheless, it's anachronistic to say Esther worships Jesus in a narrative in which we're being set up for why Jews observe Purim.  If Driscoll wants to argue that we shouldn't read Esther as a good girl vs. a bad guy narrative because that would make the book "worthless" then why would Driscoll read Jesus into Esther's motives? Isn't this is just another "religious" way of reading Esther and Driscoll said we shouldn't do that.  Driscoll simply asserts that Esther worships Jesus preaching from a book whose literary point is explaining the origin of the Jewish festival of Purim.  Driscoll just asserts this and, apparently, he gets to. 

The trouble with Driscoll’s statement that those who repent are no longer static is Xerxes.  In the narrative it is the fickle, feckless nature of Xerxes that remains steady.  He’s drinking much of the time, egotistically looking back on his own exploits and having minions humor him.  In contrast to the laws of Moses that were given without any reference to a king and were above the king, Xerxes represents the arbitrary and mercurial king as incomprehensible, autocratic fiat. As religious/political polemics go Xerxes may have been venerated as a god but he was a god who was constantly changing his mind and was swayed by minions.

Now, of course there’s still another problem with Driscoll’s claim that those who repent are not static but dynamic.  Jesus must be the most static and least dynamic character in the Gospels and in the Bible.  After all, Jesus has nothing to repent of.  If repenting of sin is what makes for a dynamic rather than static character then Jesus is the least dynamic person in the Bible. Driscoll seems neither to grasp basic elements of story-telling nor basic implications in the set of arguments he arranges for his unique views on Esther. If it’s all about Jesus then Mark Driscoll has trotted out arguments that make Jesus seem static and two-dimensional.

On the other hand, while Driscoll claims he doesn’t want to read too much into things he comes up with this about Hadassah having the name Esther.

So she had a dual identity, kind of in the world, kind of in God’s kingdom; kind of sinning, kind of obeying; kind of spiritual, kind of not spiritual. She’s conflicted. She’s got a dual identity. The Bible would say, in the New Testament, she’s worldly. ...  

She's conflicted?  About what?  Hadn't Driscoll said that initially Esther does whatever men in her life tell her to do?  Wasn't that earlier a basis from which Driscoll said Esther sinfully did whatever the men in her life told her to do? What has she ever displayed any conflict about in the first few chapters of Esther? 

Let’s remember Driscoll has said the authors of the New Testament don’t mention or quote from Esther.  This means that Driscoll cannot, in fact, say “The Bible would say, in the New Testament, she’s worldly.” That’s just Driscoll’s imagination.  If the best Driscoll can muster to say Esther had dual identities is to mention one person having multiple names what about the apostle Peter?  Did Peter have a triple identity because he was sometimes known as Simon, sometimes as Peter, and sometimes as Cephas? There's no indication that Daniel and his friends had dual identities because they had more than one name.  Pagans giving Jews non-Jewish names has happened for centuries.  Go look up the history of Franz Kafka’s family background.

As if that weren’t trouble enough with Driscoll’s dual-identity claim, consider the king of Persia in the book of Esther. Driscoll has mentioned the two names of the pagan king but has just said Xerxes is a static character.  There’s nothing split about Xerxes.  When Driscoll claims he doesn’t want to read too much into things it’s obviously far too late to take him seriously even on the terms of his own stated principles and claims.