Saturday, September 03, 2016

Dale E. Soden's Outsiders in a Promised Land collapsed 20 years of Mars Hill history into the chapter "The Christian Right Strikes Back", if academic treatments of the history of Mars Hill stay at this level academic discourse the future is going to be restricted to the celebrity rather than the community

The first thing that should probably be said is that this book seems to have gotten finished to the manuscript or galley proof level by the time Mars Hill was rocked by a variety of controversies but before Mark Driscoll resigned.

So as a book that discusses Mars Hill in a chapter goes, it had the historically unfair disadvantage of coming out before the final chapter of Mars Hill in institutional terms was written.  But at a scholarly/historical level the mentions of Mars Hill are handicapped by condensing everything that could be said about twenty years of a church's history into just one of three co-founding pastors and, by extension, defining all discussion of Mars Hill in strictly political activist terms.   There are several problems with taking this approach but they'll need to get enumerated separately.

First, it's not the most encouraging thing in the world to see that whoever proofed the book didn't catch that the first mention of Driscoll spelled his name "Marc" rather than "Mark".  This is the kind of copyediting mistake that's significant enough to quote for the record.

Outsiders in a Promised Land: Religious Activists in Pacific Northwest History
Dale E. Soden
copyright (c) 2015 by Dale E. Soden

Oregon State University Press
isbn 978-0-87071-778-9 (paperback)
isbn 978-0-87071-779-6 (EBOOK)


In Seattle, Marc [sic] Driscoll established the Mars Hill Church in 1996, which over the course of the next decade emerged as the most successful in terms of followers and the most controversial in the Pacific Northwest. By 2006, Mars Hill had grown into a multicampus church and continued to grow at a significant rate over the next five years. However, in 2014, with Mars Hill at the height of its influence, with as many as thirteen thousand people attending services at its fifteen locations, Driscoll became embroiled in several controversies and resigned as pastor. More will be said about his ministry later in this chapter. 

Mark Driscoll was the mouth and the visionary but without Mike Gunn's theological training by way of Talbot Seminary and his background with Athletes in Action on the one hand, and without Lief Moi's history of being involved in Christian radio in the form of "Street Talk" and having community involvement in terms of construction companies and the financial capital at hand to invest in the nascent all-ages venue The Paradox, it would be hard to say that Mark Driscoll in and of himself accounts for the emergence of Mars Hill.  In an era where theoretically we're above the "great man" narrative approach to historiography and scholarship it's a shame to see that, no, of course we're not above that, we just tell ourselves we are.  Soden's book, as a survey of political activism on the part of Christians left and right since the dawn of United States settlements in the Pacific Northwest, couldn't be too exhaustive in discussing Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll.

That said, there's something foundationally amiss in attempting to discuss Mars Hill or Mark Driscoll in a history of political activism taken up by religious leaders in the Pacific Northwest, there's simply no evidence Mark Driscoll was ever politically activist in his twenty years in the PNW during his time at Mars Hill.  It's tough to make a compelling case that Mars Hill should get a mention in a chapter called "The Religious Right Strikes Back" if on the one hand, Driscoll never really addressed political issues in a systematic or memorable way and if, on the other, a case can be made that Driscoll's most notorious utterances were not actually explicitly against feminism but against Promise Keepers and James Dobson and even in one case against Hutcherson. 

Now, sure, a case could be made that to the extent that Mark Driscoll could be identified as anti-feminist or anti-egalitarian we could say that that has political implications; and we could even propose that Mark Driscoll formed alliances or patronage relationships with people who could be considered conservatives.  But that would still boil down the history of Mars Hill to Driscoll and in doing this we would ignore altogether whether or not co-founding pastors Mike Gunn and Lief Moi could have ever been identified as "right" in their politics.

At least as Soden proceeds Mark Driscoll's name started to get spelled correctly:

page 197
A backlash against the women's movement and specifically feminism erupted amongother influential conservative religious voices in the Northwest. Among the most vocal and controversial critics of feminist impulses before his downfall in 2014 was Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. By any standard, his story is remarkable. Born in 1970, Driscoll, by his own description, grew up in a rough neighborhood in South Seattle with its own sense of dislocation, poverty, and dysfunction. "Without a local police force, it resembled the Wild West," noted Driscoll. "There were multiple strip clubs, seedy massage parlors, and hourly rate motels down the street from my home. The prostitutes walked the streets openly and were brazen enough to even walk up and knock on my car window." Driscoll, although raised Catholic, describes himself as uninterested in church by the time he attended high school. It was during high school, however, that he met Grace [Martin], his future wife. After dating in high school, they initially attended different universities. While at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, Driscoll found fraternity life wanting, and he reports turning to the Bible that Grace had given him years earlier. Driscoll reported that God told him to "marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men, and plant churches." He did in fact marry Grace, graduate from WSU, and begin work as a college outreach pastor for Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland on the east side of Lake Washington. He later earned a master's degree in theology from Western Theological Seminary in Portland, where he gravitated toward Calvinist theology, although according to Driscoll, one of his major influences has been Charles Spurgeon, the late-nineteenth century Reformed Baptist preacher who challenged the liberal theological tendencies of his day.

The thing that might be worth mentioning here is that to the extent that Driscoll and Mars Hill elders advocated women as deacons this made the more liberal than other conservative Christians who do not grant that women can even serve as deacons.  The Mars Hill understanding was that it held the moderately conservative position rather than the hard-line conservative position.  Egalitarians will certainly feel free to consider these distinctions without differences but to get some sense of both the rhetorical savvy of Mars Hill leadership (the cynical approach) and a sense of their serious self-understanding as a group trying to find some middle path between what they considered an unbiblical feminism and a hyper-conservative traditional patriarchalist approach, defining Mars Hill as anti-feminist is a bit reductionist.  It would also, perhaps most unfortunately, frame a discussion of Mars Hill in terms that preclude the possibility of understanding why anyone would have joined in the first place.  Had Mars Hill leadership openly and directly espoused the kinds of views that are attributed to them now back in the 1996-2000 period the church wouldn't have grown large enough to have been worth discussing today.

There's an element of catching that early Mars Hill had kind of an arts commune vibe to it when Soden gets to page 198:

page 198
By 1996, Driscoll felt called to start a church in his Seattle home in the Wallingford neighborhood. From the beginning he wanted a church that attracted young, creative urban people who had not only given up on the church but had generally opted out of the conventional middle-class dream of living in the suburbs. Immersed in popular culture and in particular in the grunge culture of Seattle, Driscoll found himself thinking more about how to engage the body-pierced punk rock generation--those young men who literally thought of themselves as outsiders to the mainstream culture. He later remembered that at the time, "I envisioned a large church that hosted concerts for non-Christian bands ... embraced the arts, trained young men to be godly husbands and fathers, planted other churches, and led people to work with Jesus Christ as missionaries to our city." For the most part, Driscoll stayed true to his vision. He presented himself as an out-of-the-box thinker and an iconoclast--an outsider to the prevailing culture of the Pacific Northwest. Famous for his blue jeans and untucked shirt, Driscoll was more comfortable with the style of stand-up comedy. He attracted attention on more than one occasion for his frankness about sexual behavior in and out of marriage.
By 2003, Mars Hill Church moved to a renovated NAPA Auto Parts store in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle.  Additional campuses were established in West Seattle, Downtown Seattle, Bellevue, Olympia, the U-District, Federal Way, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. By 2012, Mars Hill was ranked by Kent Shaffer and his national organization, Church Relevance, as the third most innovative church and the seventh most important church in the United States based on a combination of factors.

Driscoll's notorious fixation on gender roles and masculinity was not, in fact, what was documentably the early focus of Mars Hill.  If we go all the way back to Mother Jones coverage we'll see that if there was a thread that explicated the sense of purpose in the early Mars Hill leadership it was not exactly gender roles but generational antagonism.
Lori Leibovich July/August 1998 Issue

"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.
"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.


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."
It wouldn't really be until the later 2000 through 2002 period that concerns about gender conduct would kick into high gear.  While Driscoll has since become notorious for William Wallace II level antics these were purged from active internet accessibility soon after the Dead Men phase of Mars Hill was formally initiated.  We'll have to get to some of the actual statements made by Driscoll as William Wallace II against Promise Keepers, Dobson and the like later.  For now we'll get to a discussion of Driscoll as theologian that Soden gets to as the writing on Mars Hill goes along:

[still from page 198]
...Driscoll described himself as an adherent to many of the ideas associated with sixteenth-century Protestant reformer John Calvin. Like Calvin, Driscoll's emphasis was on God's sovereignty in the world, and the Seattle pastor stated that the purpose of the church was to be missional in the sense that the church's "primary task is sending Christians out of the church and into the culture to serve as missionaries through relationships, rather than bringing lost people into the church to be served by programming." For Driscoll, that meant engaging and even embracing Seattle's youth culture.  Writing in the New York Times, reporter Molly Worthen noted that "new members can keep their taste in music, their retro T-shirts and their intimidating [page 199] facial hair, but they had better abandon their feminism, premarital sex and any 'modern' interpretation of the Bible."

Except that Driscoll was not a Calvinist early on.  For anyone who kept track of intra-Reformed debates about Driscoll over the last decade there's a case to be made that Mark Driscoll appropriated the label of "Reformed" for himself while advocating some views that some Reformed regarded as aberrant to traditional Reformed soteriology.  For instance, Mark Driscoll's "Limited Unlimited Atonement", which can be described as Amyraldian in more traditional terms, proposed that the atonement was functionally universal in potential effect in the sense that the whole of humanity was purchased from bondage to sin and death at, we could try to say this was a symbolic level, but that at the level of practical salvific import only the elect received any significant eternal benefit that would accrue to them in the form of salvation. 

Anyone who has read this blog over the last decade will probably already know that the most sustained and trenchant criticisms of Mark Driscoll arguably came not from feminists or secularists (in terms of critique that ended up seeing Mark Driscoll's reputation actually effected) but from Reformed camp Christians who took issue with the reliability of his scholarship, the long-term impact of his leadership style and character, and the degree to which he seemed to finesse his formally stated doctrinal views to be in keeping with lines of financial patronage whether or not these could be  construed as his bedrock doctrinal positions.  In other words, some people felt that Mark Driscoll was probably only ever as Calvinist as he felt he needed to be to secure financial support from a Presbyterian minister like David Nicholas.  This isn't to say that Mark Driscoll might not still be some kind of Calvinist, but it might be more technically accurate to say that Driscoll would still espouse monergistic soteriology without necessarily continuing to explicitly think of himself in Calvinistic theological terms.

Soden name-checks a Molly Worthen piece and some direct statements but on the whole mention of Mars Hill from a Driscoll-only perspective presents an unfortunately truncated history of Mars Hill.  Soden's chapter on the religious right striking back name-checks Dobson and Promise Keepers as significant players before getting to Driscoll, so it will be worth noting this before we get to direct statements by Mark Driscoll about his issues with both of those parties and with Hutcherson soon.  The remainder of Soden's discussion of Driscoll circles around the gender thing:

[page 199]
Apart from Driscoll's unconventional approach, it was his attitude toward gender roles that attracted the most comment and was among his most controversial opinions. Early on in his ministry, Driscoll became convinced that the vast majority of evangelical preachers and churches were portrarying an image of Jesus that was far too effiminate. As one writer observed, "Driscoll is adamantly not the `weepy worship dude' he associates with liberal and mainstream evangelical churches, singing prom songs to Jesus, who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair." Driscoll presented Christ in much more manly terms and frequently objected to what he believed was the predominant image of Christ--an effeminate man who embraces children and cuddles lambs.  Driscoll has written that the mainstream church has made Jesus into a "Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ," a "neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that ... would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell."

On the foundation of this more "manly" Jesus and what he believed Scripture says, Driscoll advocated for a patriarchal view of the church and society. He wrote that "as an intense biblical literalist, [I believe] that the man is the head of the home, that the man should provide for his family, that children are a blessing, and that we would not have so many deceived feminists running around if men were better husbands and fathers because the natural reaction of godly women to godly men is trust and respect." In another sermon, Driscoll stated that the divine task of the Mars Hill Church is to become "a man factory, they come in boys, they go out men."  At his height, Driscoll was known for his "boot camps" for young men, where they were challenged to embrace their masculinity and to hear presentations about marriage, sex, money, and fatherhood. Participants heard lectures on how to get a wife, have sex with that wife, get a job, budget money, buy a house, father a child, study the Bible, "stop looking at porn, and brew decent beer."

It would be hard to overstate the importance of the issue of gender for these younger, more conservative evangelical males. For Driscoll and most other conservative evangelicals, the dominant culture of American society and in particular the Pacific Northwest is liberal in its embrace of feminism and egalitarianism. As critics these mostly [page 200] young male pastors understand those values to be directly at odds with what they believe the Bible is saying about the ways in which men and women should function, both in and out of the church. 

The boot camps and the Dead Men type stuff was most intense in the 2000-2002 period.  I've documented that in enough detail in the posts tagged "markulinity" there's no need to get very detailed in this post on those topics. 

Now it's certainly true Driscoll has stayed on message about how he has aimed to appeal to and "get" the young men who he believes will likely become the future establishment figures who are "upstream" and influence and change culture.  The weakness progressive authors have tended to have is to formulate responses to and understandings of Mars Hill within the paradigm of political conflict in, well, let's just call it apocalyptic terms of a battle between the forces of light and darkness.  It's arguable that Mars Hill was trying to implement a kind of right wing Social Gospel that it believed would directly address the pressing social issues of the time as people like Driscoll saw them, and perhaps it would seem daft to propose that when a guy like Driscoll proposed that if you don't get young guys to find ways to assimilate into being productive contributing members of society before they go down a bad path they become asocial and criminal. 

The leadership of Mars Hill can be easily seen as attempting to institute cult-like loyalty for those who have no truck with their theological perspectives but a more detailed survey of Mars Hill teaching could at least open up the idea that to this leadership culture their approach to young men was something they considered a kind of preventative medicine.  There's little doubt that that preventative medicine approach became unusually damaging but part of the task of historical study would seem to be trying to figure out, from primary and secondary sources, what people thought they were doing and said they were doing and what they said they intended to do. But in order to do this a discussion of gendered roles in Mars Hill teaching has to break beyond a fixation on its most notorious celebrity and get to some of the things people actually said. 

Ironically, this gets us to a point where we have to consider that what Driscoll wrote about some specific people and movements shows us that he had some issues with some of the more prominent names/groups Soden mentioned in chapter 9.  If Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll get mention only in "The Christian Right Strikes Back" then a detailed analysis of Driscoll's statements can make it look like he was willing to subject fellow participants in the Christian Right (assuming that's the best way to even understand Mars Hill) to some vitriolic "friendly fire".
We live in a completely pussified nation. We could get every man, real man as opposed to pussified James Dobson knock-off crying Promise Keeping homoerotic worship loving mama's boy sensitive emasculated neutered exact male replica evangellyfish ...

When the opening salvo Mark Driscoll wrote as William Wallace II hurled insults about how pussified the nation was the contrast of a "real man" was opposed not to feminists or gays or secularists or lbierals but to "pussified James Dobson knock-off crying Promise Keeping homoerotic worship loving mama's boy ... " types.  The actual gays may have been insulted indirectly but the real target of the animosity was the James Dobson knock-off Promise Keeper. 

For those who don't remember the members only Midrash from 2005 (most likely because they, not being Mars Hill members, never got to see it):

So while it's understandable why academics would tend to lump Mark Driscoll in particular and Mars Hill more generally into some kind of "Christian Right" bucket, they have to do so in a way that can account for how, behind the proverbial closed doors of a strictly intra-Mars Hill discussion, Mark Driscoll felt so at liberty in April 2004 to lambast Hutcherson as having jacked up the gospel by promoting legalistic codes rather than what Christ has done for us; let alone criticizing Dobson for aligning himself with a Rush Limbaugh whom Driscoll seems to have regarded as some kind of bad joke.

The plank speck of it all may seem less obvious now that Driscoll himself has been embroiled in some controversies. 

To the extent that Mark Driscoll repudiated the kind of right-wing activism that Dobson and Hutcherson became known for how would a scholar of religion attempt to articulate what Mars Hill was attempting to do in a chapter called "The Christian Right Strikes Back" if it can be shown that, behind the scenes, Driscoll was as harsh in his criticisms of mainstream rightwing Christian power brokers as he was in public of mainstream/liberal/feminist clergy?

But at this point it seems improbable that scholars who attempt to discuss Mars Hill either can or will be inclined to dig further into the earlier stages of Mars Hill where the contributions of Gunn and Moi were more critical and also more difficult to document thanks to the extent to which Mars Hill became the Mark Driscoll show.


Cal of Chelcice said...

The problem with 20th century, especially late 20th century, American religious history is that it's far too close to home with far too many political agendas at stake. Thus while officially denouncing big-man theory, affirming social history, etc etc. these modern historians are far too confused. Even Molly Worthen can be block-headed about how these political binaries are affirmed.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

And when it's so close to home our fears can get the better of us all.

One of the things I've been wondering lately is that if Robert Jones is right about the decline of the influence of white Christians in America can we put to rest the paranoid notion that white Christian reconstructionists will ever actually seize institutional power in the United States and grant that this has been one of those paranoid fever dreams of dystopia on the part of the left? Besides, it has seemed to me the Social Gospel that the mainlines had going in the 19th century was fueled by postmillennialist optimism of the sort that conservative Protestants didn't try to systematically engage in the United States until a century later. As an amillenial partial preterist my own (no doubt highly biased take) is that the only reason religious progressives freak out about theonomistic/Christian Reconstructionism that makes sense isn't the anticipation that these people will gain power but that they demonstrate that the postmillennialist social-engineering gospel can have a red state agenda instead of a blue state agenda while still deploying an apocalyptic form of belief that helped drive manifest destiny.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

And here I had a musical analysis post incubating again, but ...

a substantial reason I feel I can't "move on" on the subject of Mars Hill or Driscoll is that as scholars start to fashion their academic brands, for want of a nicer way to put it, the temptation to "read" the history of Mars hill in terms of existing academic fads first and maybe only secondarily getting to other issues seems too strong for academics in the U.S.

To go by this recent book there's a supermyth of Mars Hill as nothing more than a "right wing" thing in the making. I don't know if I have the energy or willpower to try to write a history of Mars Hill at this point but I've accumulated more than enough material over the last ten years just blogging a few times a week.

Cal of Chelcice said...

I don't know about your first point. I do think the "loss" is a particular mental world perception. As per another post, if there are so many evangelicals, why is there a pervasive sense of persecuted minority? Certainly, the WASP is a dead/dying class, one that is alive at all by past glories and money. But of course, there's more to "whiteness" than that. There's cracker culture, hipster-liberals, post-WASPs of the East Coast variety, yuppies/ex-hippies etc etc.

It's kind of fascinating, for me at least, how the whole Social Gospel movement reveals how the whole thing was/is a trap. Now that the movement is mostly dead, or in such a bizarre mutated form that its hard to take seriously (pace Jim Wallis, Sojourners, and Rachel Held Evans). Our current crop is more like the group that shocked Karl Barth into his radical Romans phase. Both the red-state and blue-state varieties are parodies and jokes of themselves. I mean what Fox News anchoress can really talk about modesty and family with her deep cleavage line and bleach-blonde hair?

In our current age, both sides merely disguise the foundational reality of America which is a corporate-military apparatus that straddles the globe to protect American interests, which are vaguely religious and liberalized. The Social-Gospel is, as it was, a front to convert religious zeal into furthering and justifying expansion. It's kind of easy to see the media-coverage ramping up the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as conjugated versions of Wilson's making-the-world-safe-for-democracy, the White Man's Burden for poor Burkha-women, and a kind of Indian Wars mentality of rooting out the backwards people hostile to the future. Hence, Pat Robertson and Christopher Hitchens speak with the same voice in regards to this.

The last point about Mars Hill is a good one to make. Hopefully, by complexifying the story and taking Mark Driscoll off the throne in the story's narration, Mars Hill reveals how the red-blue dichotomy is untrue. As you say it, Mars Hill, and even Mark Driscoll, reveals something more complicated in the late 20th-early 21st century story. It's when we get out of a false binary we might actually recognize more significant patterns.

I'm academically trained in history and I like the work you're doing here. I wish I had money to support your efforts, but I'm poor. I hope you keep writing.


Unknown said...

Write the book. I'll buy it, as will many others. Then, we'll discuss its contents with everyone who is too poor (or too uninformed) to buy a copy for themselves. But take your time and write it in the powerful way it needs to be written. Love is patient; and good things are worth waiting for.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

There could be some substantial obstacles to writing a book about the history of Mars Hill. For instance, any book-length historical overview of Mars Hill and Driscoll will have to contend with the fact that the super-majority of content about Mars Hill is intellectual property that was made the exclusive property of Mark Driscoll as an individual. There are ways to discuss many of the issues of the history of Mars Hill and Driscoll through secondary sources but the move MH tried to take against Throckmorton in the 2013-2014 with a copyright complaint suggests there's a precedent in which leadership of MH had an interest in refusing to grant permission when they believed they had grounds to refuse. One of many reasons there are no ads of any kind on the blog here is that by refusing to monetize the blog in any way a Fair Use defense of the journalistic blogging done here can be maintained.

It's tough to know what publishers, if any, would even want to publish a book about the history of Mars Hill. This seems counterintuitive but when we bear in mind that many of the controversies that surrounded Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill in the 2013-2014 period involved the competency and integrity of Mark Driscoll's intellectual property and the ethics with which Mars Hill and the Christian publishing industry distributes and promotes its wares there's a live question as to whether and why a Christian publisher would have an interest in publishing a book that could end up implicating the ethics and competency of the popular Christian publishing scene--conversely, the mainstream/secular press/publishing industry has few incentives to publish or promote a book about Driscoll and the history of Mars Hill because in the long run it's possible to argue that he was another celebrity with no significant measurable long-term impact who became a legend in his own mind and had local celebrity but ultimately can't be proven to have observably changed much about the nation.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Which isn't to say I wouldn't consider writing a history of MH. I've been thinking about it, it's just that I've tended toward the belief that people who can afford an internet connection should be able to read as much as they wish to here about the history of Mars Hill free of any additional charge. Plus, as noted, the potential issues and obstacles of writing a book about Mars Hill when Driscoll has ensured a super majority of primary source testimony about its history is his sole intellectual property presents ... a logistical citational challenge a publisher of a book has to consider. Mefferd and particularly Throckmorton documented the bases for concern about the integrity and competency of Mark Driscoll's intellectual property but there have been a couple of years in which to fix all those issues, for instance. The publishing industry might have an incentive to proceed as though, literally, none of that controversy surrounding the competency and promotional practices of selling Driscoll's books never happened because, in terms of what books you could go buy online right now, that's all in the past.