Thursday, March 20, 2014

some more thoughts on what some call watchblogging, being able to see yourself as a symptom of the disease rather than its cure

When I stopped being part of Mars Hill I shared with a friend that I had come to observe things I felt were unhealthy about Mars Hill as a community and a leadership culture.  I've outlined them extensively at this blog, obviously. 

But what I shared with the friend was that I came to realize that the reason I could fit in so easily into such a culture is that we all had sins in common.  The arrogance at imagining that we were actually doing something new could be corrected with some humility that comes with a modicum of church history and theological training ...but the mentality is not so easily cast off. 

This is why repentance of pride and insularity in a setting like Mars Hill Church may not be happening among those who are still questing for whatever they consider to be God's "new thing" or "fresh move".  Bear with me here, I am an EX-Pentecostal for a lot of reasons, even if I still respect the work of Gordon Fee. 

What I'm trying to get at briefly is that if someone is going to critique Mars Hill as someone who once called the place home you simply cannot afford to not see yourself as a symptom of the disease.  If you don't see yourself as complicit in all that has been said and done then you won't be in a position to provide a corrective that is able to offer an actual alternative because you haven't repented of the things you thought and did and said while in that culture yourself.  You imagine that simply because you removed yourself, perhaps, that you have shown you're not like those people.  You didn't drink the Kool-aid. 

But of course you had to have to have ever become a member to begin with, didn't you?  And yet having put it that way, if for a tenth of a second you look down on all people who have come and gone through Mars Hill as kool-aid drinkers you're probably even worse than them.  We all will "drink the Kool-aid" for something or someone.  That's how people are.  In fact a grounded understanding of the nature of human depravity would suggest that we should be as humble as possible when we realize how prone we are to conflate whatever we admire or seek to be part of with the divine will.  And, make no mistake, that's what tens of thousands of people have done with Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll over the last seventeen years and yet there's no chance you are somehow exempt from the same impulse or temptation, whomever you are.

If you cannot see how you are yourself a symptom of the disease you should avoid diagnosing the disease.  This isn't to say, as fans of Mars Hill and Driscoll might, that people are hypocrites and therefore as chief hypocrite so-and-so gets to tell you what's what.  That could be paradoxically using a confession of generic guilt as a pretext to display pride or malice to an even greater degree than whoever it is you think deserves to be taken down a peg. 

So, yeah, even for a lazy and inattentive reader, I used to attend Mars Hill Church.  The process of realizing I couldn't keep going there took longer than it should have.  Finding out that the church spent $1.5 million on a piece of real estate that wasn't even zoned for the uses Driscoll advertised in his 2006 book was more infuriating to me than the controversial 2007 firings.  If this church leadership culture could spend $1.5 million of the congregation's donated monies to buy a piece of real estate that wasn't even zoned for church/campus use in a basically industrial area then what was to stop them from squandering money in other ridiculous ways?  I came to have doubts about the good will and competence of all the counseling pastors at Mars Hill, too.

But the thing was I'd already given plenty of my money to the church.  Rather than say that I was, say, defrauded, I would say I was a sucker because I convinced myself that the flaws that Driscoll seemed to display as far back as 1999 and 2000 were going to get better because he had accountability.  Sure, he was a miscreant and a blowhard online as William Wallace II but he was putting that behind him.  I had to con myself into these ideas when, as just about anybody could see in the formerly available sermon transcripts, that Driscoll stayed pretty much steady in tone and substance about a lot of things for more than a decade.

So it's not possible to speak abstractly about the failings of Mars Hill as a community or a leadership culture without realizing how much I contributed to that, indirect though it often was.  In a sense blogging about the history of the place is part of a process of repentance.  I can't write about all the things that have been said and done without thinking to myself, "I gave of my time, money, and interest to this thing."  An honest "watchblog" from someone who has left a church movement has to be a form of confession and a form of self-examination or it just becomes self-righteous stupidity.  If there's no Romans 2 informing how you write about a church that you used to call home then you're just as bad as anyone who may be presumed to have "drunk the kool-aid". 

And if you presume in that sort of way, if you presume that you've got nothing to confess to then when you think you're shining a light on things you'll come across as self-righteous for the simple reason that, very probably, you are.  If you attempt through a consideration of the scriptures, prayer, and an awareness that even something that seems as acrimonious as "watchblogging" should be motivated by love of neighbor, then you can blog in a way where you write as though you were yourself the one to whom you're trying to make your appeal.  The golden rule should still be the way a Christian writes and handles a watchblog whether or not certain fans of this or that preacher or this or that church want to concede that such an approach is possible. 

If you can't take ownership of yourself as a symptom of the disease you're diagnosing try to refrain from telling everyone else they're symptoms of the disease.  Watchblogging doesn't have to be, "Look at how wrong you are."  It can be, "Look at how wrong we've been.  Let's confess our sins together to the Lord and find a way to speak the truth in love." Or at least that's what I hope the goal is.  You and I are symptoms of the disease, most likely, because if we're Christians we have commonly accepted who the cure for what ails us is, and it's not us.


Mara Reid said...

One of the reasons I can see the issues with Mars Hill is because I've been through it myself in a different situation.

I was a Kool-Aid drinker elsewhere.

That's why it aggravated me that those MH dudes that I was talking to accused me of being either jealous or not relevant or both.

It was and is neither of those things.

It is, "I've BTDT, got several t-shirts and am wiser for the experience and I'd like to save you some of the pain I've been through."

This Kool-Aid drinking really is a human problem, nothing exclusive to MH.

Anonymous said...

good timing for this post. I'm reading Bonhoeffer: Living Together,and this is what he says - "On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. Certainly serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life [Zusammenleben] should be, and they will be anxious to realize it. But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community. By sheer grace God will not permit us to live in a dream world even for a few weeks and to abandon ourselves to those blissful experiences and exalted moods that sweep over us like a wave of rapture. For God is not a God of emotionalism, but the God of truth. Only that community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment with all its unpleasant and evil appearances begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it."

ExeGe said...

Thanks WtH

I've been feeling similarly recently, and I know that Jeff Bettger and other former-staff/pastor friends have been struggling with the same - feelings of guilt/Conviction/Sadness/Regret.
All of the above.

Mark has even said something to this effect before:
"Who ever you deify you will eventually vilify"

I think for MANY of us, exposing what has been done and talking publicly (in some form) about it is repentance. Our silence and falling in line with the culture of fear was sin.

For some, speaking out and criticizing has been their sin, and now they are repenting by being quiet and praying.

I think we tend to criticize the opposite of which side we fall on.

The fruit of Mark's preaching over the years has almost entirely bifurcated: despair (I am not good enough) and pride (I am unassailable and untouchable)

Neither of which are the Gospel.

You cannot convince people of grace if you don't believe it for yourself.

Thank God for the Holy Spirit that works despite what is happening around us and in us.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

As a kind of postscript, posts like this one from Jeff are what I hope to see more of.

Didn't spot this until after I had published this post but now that I've spotted Jeff's recent post I'm linking to it.