There are plenty of people willing to sound off on Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church but too many of them simply do not have the capacity or, perhaps, the interest to take the ultra-long, full-history-of-the-ministry view to appreciate certain questions that can emerge in the wake of the 2012 book Real Marriage. When I got to chapter 7 I was disturbed by the realization that Grace Driscoll (if she wrote this entirely on her own) was making use of concepts and phrases Dan Allender had written in a book from 1990.
But chapter 1 was particularly depressing to read because in it the entire narrative of the happily married Driscolls seemed as though it turned out to be a sham. Now I had stopped attending the church for a few years by the time the book was published but I still remembered statements from the pulpit.
Part 6:1 Timothy 3:1-7
Preached February 08, 2004
... I love my wife. I've been totally faithful to her. I'm a one-woman man. I met her at 17. I married her at 21. I've been chasing her ever since. I'm quicker than she is, so I'm happily married. You know, things are good. I just am. I love my wife. I adore my wife. I enjoy my wife, you know? ...
There were potential hints that not everything was ideal.
[roughly one hour in]
...Elimelech is the guy--everything falls apart. It looks dark, it looks bad. He takes a poll he makes a plan. He decides Moab has a lower cost of living. Moab has more vocational opportunity. Moab has food on the table. I will make a plan, I will be the sovereign. I will take care of everything. Trust me. I know what I'm doing. He leads well. He plans well. He tries to be the sovereign (they're all going to die anyways). I am Elimelech.
I asked my wife, "Which one am I?" ... She didn't even breath, didn't even take a breath, "Oh, you're Elimelech." And his name means what? MY GOD IS KING! That was me. If you asked me, Jesus, sovereign, lord, king, God! And if I ever need Him I'll call him but I don't think I do because I've got all this taken care of.
But it wasn't until the publication of Real Marriage in 2012 and the sermon series associated kicked off that things like this came along.
Real Marriage: the truth about sex, friendship and life together
Mark and Grace Driscoll
copyright (c) 2012 by On Mission, LLC
Before long I was bitter agaisnt God and Grace. It seemed to me as if they had conspired to trap me. I had always been the "good guy" who turned down women for sex. In my twisted logic, since I had only slept with a couple of women I was in relationships with, I had been holy enough, and God owed me. I felt God had conned me by telling me to marry Grace, and allowed Grace to rule over me since she was controlling our sex life.
Although I loved our people and my wife, this only added to my bitterness. I had a church filled with single women who were asking me how they could stop being sexually ravenous and wait for a Christian husband; then I'd go home to a wife whom I was not sexually enjoying.
... We still disagree on how often we had sex (I [Mark Driscoll] was bitter, and she [Grace Driscoll] was in denial, which skews the perspective), but we both agree it wasn't a healthy amount to support a loving marriage.
Okay, so people get bitter over stuff, right? That in itself is actually no big surprise. No, the surprise came in hearing and reading that Mark Driscoll was talking at considerable length about how bitter he was toward his wife over how little sex he felt he was having? Now why would this be? Well, the answer, in a way, may be in what Mark Driscoll taught in February 2008 in his spiritual warfare lecture series.
February 5, 2005
Part 2, The Devil
The way bitterness works, as well, is bitter people are prone to blame their bitterness on the person that they perceive offended them. Amy Carmichael. she's a missionary, her little book If, she gives this great analogy she says:
If I have a glass filled with sweet water and I bump it, what comes out? Sweet water. She says if I have a glass of bitter water and I bump it, what comes out? Bitter water.
All that sin against us, perceived sin against us, or bitter envy and selfish ambition by us reveal is what's already in our heart. The bitterness is IN there, and someone or some thing spilled it. And bitter people will say, "Look what you made me do. You made me sin, you made me gossip, you made me angry, you made me bitter, you made me fight, you made me run into conflict, you made me sin in my anger. Look what you made me do." And the answer is, "I didn't make you do anything. That was what was in your heart." I just bumped you.
What he says is, if you're a Christian and God, through Jesus Christ, is not bitter with you but forgives you then you must use the Gospel in your relationships to forgive other people. You have no reason to be bitter with them. In being bitter with them what you are saying is, "I refuse to use the Gospel for my relationships. I refuse to allow Jesus to do anything." And when you say that you ARE saying, "I am inviting Satan instead."
You see, if Mark Driscoll's teaching that bitterness is an "ordinary demonic" thing, and that choosing bitterness when you're a Christian you're saying you refuse to use the Gospel for your relationships and are inviting Satan instead then ... what exactly can a person do with this? What is a person to make of this instruction about bitterness as giving a demonic foothold? About a root of bitterness growing up and defiling many? If Mark Driscoll was bitter against his wife and God for about a decade on the issue of how much sex he was having and by Mark Driscoll's own teaching to staff and elders in 2008 he was saying that bitter people are inviting Satan to define relationships instead of the gospel of Jesus, then, well ... how exactly doesn't Mark Driscoll become someone who in his bitterness about a lack of sex invited Satan rather than Jesus to define the nature of the sexual relationship with his wife? Let's bear in mind that during the period in which Mark Driscoll seems to have been bitter against his wife, another Mars Hill pastor circa 2006 to 2008, Bill Clem, was figuring out how to love his wife in a way that didn't involve sexual intercourse because she was dying of cancer and going through chemotherapy.
When people sometimes wonder why I am cautious about what Driscoll says or is said to have said it's not because I think there's no possibility for improvement, it's more that I was at the church long enough to have heard enough of Driscoll's teaching that I can wonder whether Mark Driscoll has thought through the implications of his teaching that bitter people have bitterness inside that circumstance merely brings out; that bitterness is something they may blame others for but which is ultimately a reflection of their own bitterness; that bitterness is wrong because people don't have a right to be bitter and that bitterness is an ordinary demonic foothold or attack; and after all that simply ask, "So how does this connect to Mark Driscoll's statement that he was bitter for years against Grace about how little sex he thought he was having?" Did Driscoll at some point consider the enormity of the demonic foothold he was giving to the devil, here? The degree to which a root of bitterness over something such as a lack of married sex might defile many, i.e. potentially all the people at Mars Hill Church over the years, in ways that might be impossible to detect?
Now if Driscoll has repented of all that stuff, as no doubt advocates have been thinking of typing if they've read any sentences in this post, that's great. This post does not propose to provide answers so much as to pose a question. As a former attender and member of Mars Hill Church the Driscoll narrative went from idyllic marriage circa 2004 to the 2012 "We were miserable, really". Mark Driscoll's emphatic statements about how bitter he was against his wife about a lack of sex is impossible to hear WITHOUT the context of the 2008 spiritual warfare instruction because I heard the 2008 stuff back in the year it was taught. It was one of many reasons I decided I could not in good conscious renew membership. It was starting to sound like Driscoll was embracing all the fad spiritual warfare stuff from the 1980s and 1990s that were reasons I stopped being Pentecostal (though I still appreciate the work of Gordon fee). Not that you care about those last details.
So when people have asked in some contexts what the deal is and why Wenatchee The Hatchet seems so skeptical that the recently divulged open letter may not be a sign of real change. It's both complex and simple. The complex thing might not be explicable but the simple thing might come down to this, when you hear enough of what someone has taught over the years to realize there are some things that should naturally be connected that nobody connects it just makes sense to ask about these things. If Driscoll taught that bitterness is a reflection of your own refusal to apply the Gospel in your relationships and that bitterness is an ordinary demonic foothold back in 2008, and then in 2012 explained how bitter he was about a lack of sex, then someone should be able and willing to ask what the most natural application of Mark Driscoll's own teaching to others about bitterness and the demonic would be toward his own confession about his own bitterness.
Or is there an executive elder exemption so that Mark Driscoll taught on bitterness as demonic in a way that doesn't automatically make him party to something demonic? This isn't about "Well, Mark repented". This is about, when Mark wasn't repenting, was his bitterness demonic or not based on his own teaching on the subject? If it wasn't then this casts into doubt the entirety of his teaching on bitterness (which people are more than welcome to raise doubts about, really). If it was, then, well, Mark Driscoll has left unexplained the implication that his own teaching about bitterness as demonic coupled with his 2012 confession of how he was bitter for years at his wife and at God would require that all those years he embraced bitterness in that area became some kind of root of bitterness that defiled many.
This is not what Wenatchee The Hatchet thinks is necessarily what happened, and Wenatchee The Hatchet doesn't necessarily care what actually happened since husbands and wives have things just between them if they're not writing books that end up on the NYT listings with help from Result Source. This is about thinking through what the implications of the complete narrative and the complete propositional teaching would make necessary. If Mark Driscoll's going to be consistent in applying his teaching on bitterness from 2008 as demonic to himself the way he's applied it to others then his having invited Satan to define his relationships with at least some people in the history of Mars Hill Church has to be taken as a given. This isn't about somehow misquoting him or taking him out of context, it's about taking the cumulative narrative and propositional teaching at face value and recognizing that this will entail some disturbing gaps between how Mark Driscoll has historically talked about the bitterness of others and about his own bitterness, a gap in which his bitterness rarely ever gets framed in terms of giving Satan a foothold.
But if he's reportedly turning over a new leaf there's time for a change.