Sunday, July 25, 2021

some thoughts on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill episode 4, masculinity and markulinity; a church in a death spiral before the press noticed the spiral; the Christian celebrity and redeemed vices; and American gospels that have no eunuchs

Cosper did not quote the rants of William Wallace II and that is understandable, given the podcast is produced by Christianity Today.  It is unfortunate, however, in that for some of us who were attending Mars Hill at the time there were discussions about who this William Wallace II person was and what it said about him that he ranted as he did online.  I remember two people who told me "If you knew who it was he was writing as William Wallace II you'd understand more what he's trying to do."  There was a sense that this was a hyperbolic character trying to make a point.  My response at the time was roughly like this, "It doesn't matter who it is in real life, they're an asshole and they're acting like an asshole. Whatever point they're trying to make isn't justified by how they react to people."  When I heard it was Driscoll I was not especially surprised.  My mistake was convincing myself that Mike Gunn and Lief Moi would rein in Driscoll's lesser tendencies, not stopping to think about how they let William Wallace II happen without any apparent objection to begin with.

Having listened through the first four episodes something jumps out for me.  Tim Smith was interviewed and the story about his daughter being baptized was touching but as a sometime chronicler of Mars Hill something else is inescapable.  Tim Smith's name was conspicuously absent on the roster of names of men who were elders at Mars Hill during 2007 that signed an open letter of confession to Paul Petry and Bent Meyer at Repentant Pastor.  People have reasons for doing and not doing things.  For instance, I have my reasons for refusing to ever monetize this blog. But it is hard not to notice that Tim Smith, Jamie Munson, and Bubba Jennings, among the men who were elders/pastors at Mars Hill Church during the kangaroo court proceedings against Petry and Meyer, did not sign the letter of confession that was published November 2, 2014.

Tim Smith mentioned that Mark at one point told him God showed him (Mark) that Tim would be serving.  That declaration came years, apparently, after Smith had been brought on to handle music.  Whatever Mark Driscoll and company told Brad Currah after dismissing him from directing worship and music is far more vague and has been documented, such as has been possible, elsewhere at this blog.  If at some point Brad Currah goes on record with a fuller account that would be something I hope the CT podcast can get to.  

The men who felt they benefited from being locked in a room and getting yelled at by Driscoll for a few hours are entitled to their convictions.  I didn't bother to go to that session.  I heard reports that at one mens' retreat Driscoll claimed that if a man wasn't making at least $70,000 a year he had no business trying to find a wife.  Driscoll's ideas about what the baseline was supposed to be before a guy was considered "ready" seemed to be in tension with his willingness to give a guy money to buy an engagement ring so as to propose to his girlfriend.  Cosper's podcast mentions moments of generosity from Driscoll.  I don't question Mark Driscoll's capacity to be generous but Driscoll was also willing to tell Karen Schaeffer to her face she was getting fired and a heretic.  What people may need to consider is that Driscollian patronage could come with tacit strings attached.  One of my friends from Mars Hill told me something that stuck with me, that the profoundly simple observation he'd made about Mark was that Mark Driscoll was a guy who would dish it out but could not take it when it came to any kind of criticism.  I take that, and took it, to mean that Mark's measure of manliness is hard but very brittle.

I learned over the years to make a hard distinction between masculinity and markulinity.  The evolution of Mark Driscoll's concept of masculinity cast in his own image would take some time to read about and I've written about that only a little.  That Driscoll cast the life and time of Jesus as that of a hard-working working class guy whose dad Joe swung a hammer for a living was conspicuously casting the life and times of Jesus in terms that ensured an overlap with the life and times of Mark Driscoll.  Driscoll could share from the pulpit in a sermon series how in his younger years he started a brawl within his own baseball team, for instance.  


Samuel D James wrote that "Mars Hill Church May Be a Question We Don't Want Answered".  I kind of agree but a lot depends on what questions is being asked.  Samuel James proposed that institutions are not what we think they are and that successful institutions can hold back growth as easily as they catalyze it.  That is, I think, not the salient question about the history of Mars Hill Church.  James clearly never set foot in Mars Hill.  On paper Mars Hill had governance and bylaws that were expected to keep Mark Driscoll accountable.  Yet 2007 happened anyway.  The institutional question is not the most salient question about Mars Hill.  The most salient question is why Mark Driscoll, Mike Gunn and Lief Moi were seen as pastors and having pastoral qualifications.  Not everyone who once attended Mars Hill has come through the other side of its implosion convinced any of those men were competent to be pastors to begin with.  

I'm not saying no one who became a pastor at Mars Hill lacks pastoral qualification, I'm saying that asking the question of how Christians make celebrities of Christian speakers, teachers and leaders whose gifts have not been matched yet by their character may sugarcoat a more necessary but disturbing question, why are people willing to regard outright vices as defensible if the vices are tethered to strengths that are seen as strategic necessities on the one hand or having the appropriate sort of gospel definition on the other?

Were Mark Driscoll, Mike Gunn or Lief Moi were ever actually fit to be church planters?  Were they?  Let me put this more starkly in terms of Mark Driscoll.  I remember that Jeff Bettger once said in a setting that Mark Driscoll was an asshole but he was "our" asshole, at the risk of giving a specific moment I remember across the years.  Mark Driscoll can keep on saying God told him to marry Grace, teach the Bible, train young men, and plant churches.  Literally none of those things required that he took the path of what became Mars Hill.  He could have just been a normal married guy who trained young men by way of simply being a parent.  He could teach the Bible without being a pastor.  He could have bothered to spend years studying biblical languages. He didn't do those things. He apprenticed a while and sold a vision to co-founders Gunn and Moi and together they co-founded what became Mars Hill.  

Whether it's a Mark Driscoll or a Nadia Bolz-Weber or a Douglas Wilson or pick any provocateur celebrity preacher of your choice, I don't think the question should be how or why preachers are thought to have gifts that aren't matched by their character. I'm going to pose a harsher question, what is it about the cult of celebrity in popular level Christian media that leads people to view the observable vices of celebrities as having some redemptive utility?  People who have defended Mark Driscoll as saying harsh things but with the right message are making a case that Mark Driscoll's vices were beyond dispute but in his capacity as a preacher those vices were put to a redemptive purpose.  If someone can admit to being a narcissist in a work published as devotional literature the narcissist is praised for being raw or authentic or compelling, not as someone whose vices would give us pause as to their fitness for a leadership role.  


That William Wallace II and Mark Driscoll were basically the same was telegraphed in "Using Your Penis", which I published here years ago on July 29, 2014.  For a time coverage and editorials seemed to suggest the big shock was that people discovered that Mark Driscoll was found to have written misogynistic and homophobic rants.  Owing to exigencies of the news and editorial cycle that illusion persisted for a time.  A fair number of us knew who William Wallace II was because Driscoll admitted to using the pen name in 2006 in Confessions of a Reformission Rev.   I published "Pussified Nation" on July 27, 2014 and provided some social and historical context for the rant. Driscoll famously argued that if you get the young men you get "everything" (including women, children, real estate, culture, etc) but if you don't get the young men you get "nothing"Driscoll has not hesitated to share a story of how a man aggressively sought a confrontation with him in the middle of the night without putting much emphasis on how it was his own hijinks as William Wallace II that spurred the young man to seek out a confrontation.  

As I have discussed in detail in the series "Mark Driscoll and the Power of the Sob Story" there are things Driscoll mentioned in the last few years that had strategic omissions.  Perhaps no example is more vivid than the way Driscoll mentioned in "The Hardest Part of Ministry" that he had incidents in which convicted sex offenders came to his home wanting to visit him.  It's something he mentioned in 2013 but he didn't mention how in 2001 he shared how a convicted sex offender came seeking pastoral counsel and how, in Driscoll's account, his daughter Ashley prayed for the manThat Mark Driscoll has an observable history of moving and changing personal narratives is something I've discussed in the pastThe account in Real Marriage of a vomit inducing nightmare Mark Driscoll claimed he had before Ashley was born in Real Marriage so closely resembled a nightmare incident he claimed happened years after she was born in Confessions of a Reformission Rev was hard to ignore.
Driscoll at various points in 2012-2014 spoke as though Mars Hill became bigger than he ever imagined and he never imagined it would have gotten so big.  The problem is that he repeatedly shared how he envisioned the Mars Hill community starting a Bible college, a record label, a church-planting network, and a book publishing future from the beginning.

Nearly twenty years after the fact it is all the  more striking how Mark Driscoll described the 2002-2003 era of Mars Hill in Confessions of a Reformission Rev.

Confessions of a Reformission Rev
Mark Driscoll, Zondervan 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-27016-4
350-1,000 people

pages 135-136

A very wise friend who is a successful business entrepreneur, Jon Phelps, [WtH, for more on Phelps]shared an insight with me around this time that was very clarifying. He said that in any growing organization, there are three kinds of people, and only two of them have any long-term future with a growing organization. First, there are people on the rise who demonstrate the uncanny ability to grow with the organization and become vital leaders. Second, there are people who attach themselves to the people on the rise as valuable assistants who rise by being attached to someone else on the rise. Third, there are people who neither rise nor attach to anyone who is rising, and they cannot keep up with the growing demands of the organization. These people fall behind, and the organization can either allow their inability to slow down the whole team or release them and move forward with out them. This is difficult to do because they are often good people  who have been partly responsible for the success of the organization. But the needs of the organizational mission, not the individual in the organization, must continually remain the priority if there is to be continued success.

Up until this point, nearly everyone in the church had been connected to me, and I could no longer pull them all up with me. Simply, leaders needed to rise on their own or attach themselves to other people on the rise, or they would have to be let go.

So we made all these difficult decisions, and the church stabilized. Finally, we had facilities, money, men rising up to lead, intentional community housing, a successful concert venue, and a church that seemed organized to us. We had grown a church of one thousand people in a tough urban culture despite massive hardship. With things going so well, I feared we'd get too comfortable, and so I decided it was time to blow it all up, create some strategic chaos, and start over again. [emphasis added]


1,000 to 4,000 people
from pages 140-141

It was a warm spring day and I sat in my office at the church, gazing out the window at large white clouds blowing through a clear blue sky, enjoying our success. I had lost about forty pounds by shifting from the Fatkins to the Atkins diet, had paid off all the personal debts I had accrued as a broke pastor, had fitted up the old home for my family, was getting closer to my lovely wife, was enjoying my three children while looking forward to a fourth, finally owned a vehicle with less than 200,000 miles on it, and was the pastor of one of the largest churches in our city at the age of thirty-one. My eye no longer twitched, I wasn't throwing up from acid reflux, and my vertigo had cleared up.

I was sitting at my new desk, which was the first piece of furniture I had ever owned that was not a donated hand-me down. ... We owned our church building outright and had money in the bank. I had a large staff for a church our size and was sleeping like a Calvinist at nights because things were under control.

On that day I had only a few appointments, with lengthy breaks in between. I decided to walk down to the deli a few blocks away and get a Reuben sandwich on sourdough bread and some fresh air. On the way back, I walked barefoot and remember thinking these simple pleasures had made the day one of the most relaxing and satisfying days I ever had. But by the time I walked back to the church, I realized I was already getting bored. There was no dragon to slay, no hill to charge, no battle to fight, and no foe to conquer. [emphasis added]

It was the winter of 2002, and our church had fought through hell and gone from homeless to one thousand people--a big deal in Seattle. I had nearly killed myself and had gotten the church to the comfort zone.

As I sat at my desk eating my sandwich, I ruminated on a simple talk that Richard DeVos, the founder of Amway, gave at our national Acts 29 conference, in which he explained four simple phases of organizational decline.  ...

Phase 1--creative, the dream stage
Phase 2--Management, the reality stage
Phase 3--Defensive justification, the failure stage
Phase 4--blaming, the death stage
What for some, or even many, people at Mars Hill was a halcyon period in which Mike Gunn preached at Harambee; Lief Moi preached at The Paradox; and Mark Driscoll preached at the Ballard site at the Leary building, was roughly the point at which Driscoll wrote that he realized he was bored already , so after the winter of 2002 he decided to blow it all up and create strategic chaos.  Why?  Apparently because he found Mars Hill was in Phase 2, "the reality stage" and wanted to keep taking himself back to Phase 1.  Driscoll might be like the hormonal teenager who loves the first flush of teen love and then once that phase has passed wants to go back to that, only the real reference point may be the "romance" of what stage of church planting he is in. Merely being in charge of a church that has "arrived" can never, perhaps, be good enough for him because the feeling of simply presiding over a stable church that has found its place in the regional community isn't what he is seeking after. 

That reminds me of something a friend of mine once said about men and women who date and break up and seek out others.  She once said that some people seem to be hooked on staying in a specific emotional/relational phase of a relationship and that when they get out of that phase in a romance they break up with the person they're seeing and go out to find someone else with whom they can feel that particular phase of romance, rather than doing the more emotionally mature thing and discover where the relationship can go now that the mutual butterflies have subsided.  Mark Driscoll may be that kind of person, a person who is hooked on his church, whichever it is and where ever he's planted it, always being in the "creative, the dream stage".  As soon as the reality stage of management kicks in he tries to get back to Phase 1.  This seems to have been, by his own account, what he did at Mars Hill Church circa 2002-2003.  Phase 3 was most certainly somewhere between 2007 to 2012 and Phase for was pretty certainly 2012 through 2015!  


I do differ with Mike Cosper.  Mars Hill Church did not implode overnight.  The seeds of its death began to sprout at least as far back as 2012.  If you kept tabs on the annual reports and noticed the member numbers you could spot that Mars Hill had already been losing hundreds of members to have had merely nominal growth numbers in the 2012-2013 period.  There was enough growth to cover over indications of the start of a mass exodus but the exodus was beginning.  I'm afraid even I don't have the wherewithal to go back and cross reference to years of posts on this issue.  For those who watched God's Work, Our Witness as a history of Mars Hill or of the Driscoll clan they could have missed the obvious part at the end where the hat was tipped and the fundraising goal of the film was revealed.

But I can go back to an observation I made comparing the FY2013 to the FY2012 reports:
Compared to FY2012's listing the percentage of people who gave $0 went from 23.9% to 35.1%.  Interesting.  [WtH at 11:53pm---comparing this percentage of 0 donors to previous annual reports it also looks like possibly the highest ratio of non-givers at MHC in the last five fiscal years]

The number of people who gave between $1-$499 went from 42.9% to 29.5%.  It looks like they're losing the bottom of the pyramid in terms of lowest-level donors but that Mars Hill Church is gaining in the mid-tier and major donor categories.  But no organization can rely entirely on the top-tier for long.  You have to mobilize your base-level, low-end donors.  It's not safe to assume that some kind of Pareto principle means you can effectively ignore your base.  Let's not forgot if the numbers presented in the MHC FY2013 report hold up a whopping 64.6 percent of donors to Mars Hill in FY2013 either gave nothing at all or gave no more than $1-$499 for the fiscal year. Since the report doesn't quite clarify if this is a reference to cumulative giving (which it has been in reports past) or averages there's possible wiggle room for additional information.  Anyway, enough commentary on the aggregates.  Some campus shifts in giving are worth looking at.
When the FY2013 revealed that two thirds of potential donors (i.e. members) gave absolutely nothing at all or gave no more than $499 for an entire fiscal year that doesn't suggest that the implosion of Mars Hill was "almost overnight".  It only looked that way to people who were on the outside and didn't have access to annual reports or, perhaps more likely, didn't read those reports even if they could have looked them up.  Within The City Mark Driscoll shared how Mars Hill managed to avoid going over its own fiscal cliff in early 2013.  Back in early 2013 Driscoll admitted:
Previously, our budget was based on annual giving. The problem was, a lot of our giving came in during December, which means we were operating at a loss during most of the year. Under the leadership of Executive Pastor Sutton Turner and Deacon Kerry Dodd (our CFO), we made a hard course correction and moved the church to a budget that does not depend on big giving spikes. We now live within our means year round, and as it turns out we made the shift just in time.

For the first time in a long time, the big December giving spike did not come. In the past, we’ve had some generous donors contribute significant gifts that have really helped us float from year to year. That didn’t happen last year. Our large givers are still with us at Mars Hill, but the national fiscal climate is such that no major year-end gifts came in. We understand and we’re praying for our brothers and sisters in this situation.
That content was leaked from The City to Wenatchee The Hatchet, which was how it was available for anyone to read since February 2013.  Secretly admitting to Mars Hill insiders that they avoided going over a fiscal cliff when the expected December 2012 spike in giving didn't come belies outsider claims that Mars Hill seemed to implode overnight.  The crisis the the donor base voting no confidence through their decreased giving had begun as far back as FY2012. Driscoll made a point of talking about church-wide systemic deficits in May and June of 2012. I knew where to look because I was a former member and because I have enough IRL work experience running reams of financial reports that I had some idea how to interpret what I was looking at.  

So my general observation is that Mars Hill was teetering on the edge of fiscal collapse from probably some time in 2011 into 2012 and stayed that way behind the scenes through to its formal dissolution at the end of 2014 and the 2015 period of selling off its holdings.  Institutional media coverage of Mars Hill kicked into high gear on a crisis by crisis basis between late 2013 and 2014.  The unfortunate but natural side effect of that coverage is Mars Hill seemed to implode overnight because people in the press weren't accessing and assessing annual reports and the information those reports provided about the financials and listed members.  For those of us who were keeping tabs from 2010 through 2014 Mars Hill was bleeding donors and donations for years.  Driscoll would have been attentive to numbers and by the time he resigned in October 2014 a whole new fiscal year was already under way.  


It's interesting and frustrating to read bromides repeated about marriages saved and lives transformed because Driscoll screamed at people.  For those men who decided to marry their girlfriends and take more responsibility, sure, they can remember that fondly.  They took on responsibilities and if they're still married today then good for them.  But not everyone who got married at Mars Hill is still married.  Not everyone who was married when they first came to Mars Hill is still married, and for that matter not everyone who got divorced after leaving Mars Hill divorced the same person they were married to when they first arrived.  

And those who never married, however long they were at Mars Hill, are implicitly not part of the story.  But one of the dubious positions I have is to have observed, if at a bit of a remove, the collapse of marriages that started at Mars Hill or that seemed sturdier before Mars Hill than after.  I have also seen, at less of a distance, the situation of men and women, but more particularly men, who never landed the spouse they were taught it was their God-given design to go get.

One fellow I knew openly lamented that Driscoll kept saying guys should get "real jobs" and get married and "go upstream" and there "influence culture" but that he was never going to be that guy because if he couldn't get whatever a "real job" was and couldn't find any woman willing to marry him he wasn't going to go "upstream" and certainly wasn't going to influence culture.  When Driscoll used to joke from the pulpit he started a fertility cult I was one of the people who wasn't laughing because if that was his honest admission of what he started the Christian faith is not a fertility cult, a fertility cult is more what many Christians in the past would have called a form of paganism.  

The gospel Mark was presenting was a gospel for those who had a positive sexual market value, for those who were already, whether sinfully or not, getting laid, especially if they were men.  When Mark screamed his "How dare you!?" it was in a sermon a friend told me about, and what the friend told me was that in Mark's taxonomy of failed males there are jerks and cowards. The jerks need to repent of being jerks (i.e. sleeping with their girlfriends and doing bad things) but the cowards are worthless.  It's easy for men on the other side of two decades of being married to look back on Dead Men with some bittersweet but mostly positive memories?  Why not?  I've proposed that Dead Men functioned as an initiation rite within the history of Mars Hill because that was clearly what it was.  

Ever since I read Jacques Ellul's Propaganda I have found his work remarkably useful in elucidating Mark Driscoll's speech and actions.  If we think of Driscoll not as a pastor but as a propagandist then the double whammy of "Pussified Nation" and Dead Men becomes far clearer than if you focused only on the initial agitation propaganda of "Pussified Nation" or on the integration propaganda/rite of passage that was Dead Men.  I have discussed that a little in the pastWhat some have regarded as the crisis of masculinity in the West might not be a crisis of masculinity at all so much as the normal problem that Roy Baumeister identified as male disposability.  The prescribed scripts of adulthood handed out by socially conservative Christians may have become less and less attainable or even plausible in the post-Cold War United States and United Kingdom (however long the latter stays united remains to be seen).  Men who don't conform to the scripts of adulthood prescribed by, say, a Douglas Wilson or a Mark Driscoll or insert-conservative-preacher-here become part of the "epidemic of singleness" and the blight of the "kidult" on the modern West. 

If the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn't good news for the eunuchs is it Good News?  The practical answer at a place like Mars Hill seems to have been, in the long run, "no".
Part 8: 1 Timothy 4:1-8
February 22, 2004

You guys should aspire to get married.  You guys should aspire to get--you gotta get a job first. You gotta get a job, not a job where you wear a uniform and ask people if they wanna supersize something. You gotta get a job.  You gotta get a job so you can get a wife so you can get kids.  And it's a great, glorious thing to be a husband and a father, and only a demon would tell you otherwise.  Only a demon would tell you otherwise. [emphases added]

I think for a moment of two friends I met at Mars Hill who married each other when they were both 19 and the husband told me they made it through their first year of marriage circa 2005 living in Seattle on not more than $21,000 a year.  Their first place they stayed in was kind of a little studio apartment in a building that was probably condemned.  As the wife cheerfully noted, "This is fine for right now while we're literally in the honeymoon stage."  And so it was, but that was a far cry from the Driscollian injunction that a guy needed to making no less than $70,000 a year before he considered taking a wife.

As for the "only a demon would tell you otherwise", this is one of those moments in which you have to ask whether Mark Driscoll has in fact ever truly read his Bible.  When Yahweh gave the following command to the prophet Jeremiah would Mark Driscoll be obliged to say that was the command of a demon? Note well what the reasons given were for the prophet being told to never marry, it was not because he was involved in a life-threatening ministry.  Tradition has it the apostle Peter was married and he was in life-threatening positions.  No, the reasons are different:
Jeremiah 16:1-2 (NIV)

Then the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place.3 For this is what the Lord says about the sons and daughters born in this land and about the women who are their mothers and the men who are their fathers: 4 “They will die of deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like dung lying on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine, and their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.”

5 For this is what the Lord says: “Do not enter a house where there is a funeral meal; do not go to mourn or show sympathy, because I have withdrawn my blessing, my love and my pity from this people,” declares the Lord. 6 “Both high and low will die in this land. They will not be buried or mourned, and no one will cut themselves or shave their head for the dead. 7 No one will offer food to comfort those who mourn for the dead—not even for a father or a mother—nor will anyone give them a drink to console them.

8 “And do not enter a house where there is feasting and sit down to eat and drink. 9 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Before your eyes and in your days I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in this place.

10 “When you tell these people all this and they ask you, ‘Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?’ 11 then say to them, ‘It is because your ancestors forsook me,’ declares the Lord, ‘and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law. 12 But you have behaved more wickedly than your ancestors. See how all of you are following the stubbornness of your evil hearts instead of obeying me. 13 So I will throw you out of this land into a land neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’
So we have no less than Yahweh recorded as commanding a prophet to never marry.  Driscoll can't explain this away as the "life-threatening exception" because anyone who reads the text will see that the threats to the prophet's life were not the issue, further, there are Jewish traditions that held that the prophet eventually married after being taken off into exile when the formal reasons for the prohibition against marriage had passed.  God was warning the prophet not to marry because He was going to bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness of all brides and bridegrooms and the prophet's celibacy and rejection of the rites of marriage and its celebration were part of a sign against his society.

There is, in fact, another voices from within the Bible that said that it's well enough if a man doesn't marry.  Driscoll may have conveniently forgotten the apostle Paul:
1 Corinthians 7:25-36 (NIV)

25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong[b] and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.
But "only a demon would tell you otherwise" was Driscoll's proclamation.  Eunuchs have never factored into Driscoll's preaching and teaching much except as a joke:
Jesus Has a Better Kingdom
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Esther 1:10–22
September 21, 2012
about 8:39 into the sermon.

Number two, men are castrated. Men are castrated. I’ll read it for you. “He commanded—” and these guys got names.  “Mehuman—” That’s kind of a rapper name, I was thinking, like, ancient Persian hip-hop artist, Mehuman. That’s how  it’s spelled. “Biztha.” Sounds like a sidekick. “Harbona, Bigtha.” That’s my personal favorite. If I had to pick a  Persian name, Bigtha. Definitely not Littletha. I would totally go with Bigtha. “Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas.” Okay, a couple things here. The Bible talks about real people, real circumstances, real history. That’s why they’re  facts. It’s not just philosophy. Number two, if you ever have an opportunity to teach the Bible and you hit some of the parts with the old, crazy names, read fast and confident. No one knows how to pronounce them, and they’ll just  assume you do.

Here are these guys. So, you’ve got seven guys, “the seven eunuchs.” What’s a eunuch? A guy who used to have a good  life, and joy, and hope. That’s the technical definition of a eunuch. A eunuch is a man who is castrated.  Proceeding with the story before I have to fire myself. [emphases added]
That joke at the end about "before I have to fire myself" turned out to tell us something important about who, in fact, he thought could even fire him.  Mark Driscoll was not fired from Mars Hill and anyone who tells you that is an inattentive fool.  Driscoll pulled a Richard Nixon and resigned before the Board of Overseers and Board of Elders could reach a conclusion regarding the impasse in which the BoO thought Mark was not found unfit and the BoE found he was unfit to continue in ministry.  As for that trap ... we'll discuss that some other time.

The take-away for those who have heard a majority of his teaching over two decades is that Mark Driscoll's Jesus of whom he keeps saying "it's all about Jesus" seems to be a Jesus who never said:
For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Early on when I joined Mars Hill my sense was that the whole "truth, beauty, meaning and community" might be a way to explore Christian life and community without the defaults of the Western Christendom that often seems to be ultimately at the core of culture wars.  I am, perhaps unsurprisingly, something of a Jacques Ellul buff by now and while I've got some issues with him his core contention that Christians should think about and engage the world on terms that do not presuppose Western Christendom exists or even should be brought about in light of the sins perpetrated in its name was something I had in mind, however dimly, when I jointed what was once Mars Hill.  Driscoll as long since shifted from celebrating the demise of Western Christendom as ending nominalism to attacking critical theory as demonic because he alleges it seeks to deconstruct Christianity.  

Traditional theory is the study of how to build something. Anyone who has ever tried to build something of quality knows how hard this task is. Traditional theory builds things like Christian theology, heterosexual marriage, male and female sex and gender roles, families, and Christianity.

Critical theory is the study of how to break something like gender, sexuality, marriage, justice, or Christianity. Anyone who has ever tried to break something knows how easy this is. Why? Because criticizing the imperfect work of another fallen sinner is a lot easier than actually doing the hard work of building something better. In the same way, the out-of-shape guy in the bleachers yelling at world-class athletes about their every error could himself never take the field and do a better job.

Who knows? Maybe he skimmed through Cynical Theories over a weekend and decided he knew enough about French poststructuralists to riff on it from the pulpit. But the idea that "traditional theory builds things like Christian theology, heterosexual marriage, male and female sex and gender roles ,families, and Christianity" seems to give the game away.  When it was just Adam and Eve in the Garen of Eden what role did "traditional theory" play there?  Has Driscoll bailed on the vast swath of natural law traditions or are they part of "traditional theory" now?  

Driscoll can say here in 2021 that it's easier to criticize the imperfect work of another fallen sinner than to actually do the hard work of building something better.  Let's consider what Mark Driscoll published in 2006 about a church he started in 1996 and why he did so:
Confessions of a Reformission Rev
Mark Driscoll, Zondervan 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-27016-4

page 39

So I decided to start a church for three reasons. First, I hated going to church and wanted one I liked, so I thought I would just start my own. Second, God had spoken to me in one of those weird charismatic moments and told me to start a church. Third, I am scared of God and try to do what he says.  
Is Driscoll really in the best position to rip on critical theory as demonic considering what he said about how and why he started a church? Or does Driscoll think that an "I am scared of God and try to do what he says" might reflect too much of a "father wound" or an "Absalom spirit" these days?

The Debrief Show Jun 4, 2019
Part 2

Reformed theology is "I have a dad who is powerful. He is in charge. He's non-relational. He lives far away and don't make him made because he can get angry really fast and hurt you. And then feminism comes along and says "Let's just be raised by a single parent called God as Mother."


Almost EVERY theological group within Christianity is somehow a PROjection or REjection of their earthly father and the problem is they're starting with their earthly father and looking up, they're not starting with their heavenly father and looking down, and judging their earthly fathers. I think, I've gone so far as to say, I think the whole Young, Restless Reformed movement that Time magazine said I was one of the thought leaders to create that--I'm not, I don't even hold to the five points of Calvinism. I think it's garbage ...


That whole Young, Restless Reformed--God is father but he's distant, he's mean , he's cruel, he's non-relational, he's far away. That's their view of their earthly father.  So then they pick dead mentors.  Spurgeon, Calvin, Luther. These are little boys with father wounds who are looking for spiritual fathers so they pick dead guys who are not actually going to get to know them or correct them.  And then they join networks run by other young men so that they can all be brothers. There's no fathers. And they love, love, love Jesus because they love the story where the son is the hero because they're the sons with father wounds.
You might think Mark Driscoll planted Mars Hill Church out of some kind of father wound with a helping of Absalom spirit on the side if you take his claims seriously. What changed?  How many kids did Mark and Grace Driscoll have in 1996 compared to 2016?  That's one variable to consider?  How many books, bestseller or not, had Mark Driscoll published by 2020?  The early Mars Hill openly looked askance on the idea of intellectual property circa 2001 but by 2011 there was a logo and trademark snafu.  In 2013 through early 2014 there was a plagiarism controversy.  The long-term case that Mark Driscoll is a Pharisee who teaches others to abide by standards of masculinity and Christian ethics that he has exempted himself from becomes hard to ignore if you have read his work or heard his preaching across a twenty year period.  The Mark who started a church of his own because he hated going to anyone else's churches has turned into the Mark who laments the rise of "critical theory" and mentalities critical of the status quo that were the kind of thing that made him famous twenty years ago.  It's as though the Mark Driscoll of 1998 who was not some pansy-ass therapist became one ... possibly around the time he picked up a house with two home theaters and three Tivos with his wife and five kids.  

What stayed steady across those years was that Mark's ideal of adult masculinity was modeled after himself, so everything about the credibility of that paradigm of masculinity hinged on Mark Driscoll the person being exactly the same as Mark Driscoll the persona because he staked his credibility on being the kind of man he said he was.  Whether we are looking at the plagiarism controversy, the Result Source contract, or the revelations of his rants as William Wallace II as a contrast between his public persona and how he was willing to talk about people behind the scrim of a pseudonym, the common thread across the controversies was that there was a gap between the persona and the person.  The Mark Driscoll who talked so often between 2004 and 2007 about how happily married he was became the 2012 author of Real Marriage who went on about how for a decade of his marriage things were rough and a bummer.  

I discovered firsthand that the most powerful way to make Mark Driscoll look bad was to just quote him accurately and in context.  If he wanted to boast from the pulpit of how he threatened, like, twenty guys with assault if they looked at his girlfriend then it wasn't my fault of Mars Hill purged Peasant Princess from their media library a week later.  That, by the way, was one of the more troubling case studies of how what Mark Driscoll openly presented as a chivalrous way to behave in connection to his wife came across to a lot of people as violently paranoid and controlling.
It would start about 33:03
... and this is an ENORMOUS part of my relationship with Grace.  I mean I still remember when I first started seeing her she, uh, she went off to college, I was still in high school and they ran out of housing so they put her in a guys' dorm. And I was like, "What!?" so I got in the car and I drove to the university and I knocked on all the doors of all the guys on her floor. "Hi. My name is Mark. I love this woman. Anyone talks to her, touches her,  thinks about talking about touching her I will beat them. Literally I threatened twenty guys. Just knocked on every door. No way she's gonna get messed with. No way.

Later on when she transferred to another university, WSU, she's five hours away. And she moved out there and her phone wasn't hooked up yet and we didn't have cell phones. And I told her, "When you get there, go to a pay phone. Call me. Let me know you got there safe."  Well she ... didn't call so I got in the car and I drove there. Five hours.  The day I had to work. And I knocked on the door. She answered it and I said, "Whu, you didn't call." She said, "I forgot." I said, "Are you okay?" She said, "I'm okay." So, okay, good, I got in the car and I drove home. Just checking. Six hundred miles.  Who cares? It's Grace.

... even emotionally, people send her nasty emails, text messages, talk trash about me, leave the church and want to take parting shots at her. She has nothing to do with any of it. So I even put a white/black list on her email and some people so some people can email her and the rest come to me. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. So that she doesn't have to feel bad because people are taking shots at her. That's my girl. No shots. That's the rule.
This was the Mark Driscoll who among the leadership culture of his church said that having womens' ministry was "like juggling knives" and who regarded many of the women who wanted to befriend his wife as satanic.  The trouble was that the Mark Driscoll of the pulpit and the Mark Driscoll in flesh and blood turned out to be too different from each other for many people to stick around.  The Mark Driscoll who might offer money so a man could buy a ring to put on his girlfriend's finger was still the same Driscoll who had no problem declaring the theonomist/postmillenialist guys were waste of time deadweight losers who couldn't get anything done and needed to be shown the backdoor, while Driscoll was openly talking about getting the young men (the ones he thought mattered) who would get the women and make the babies and get the real estate and go "upstream" and "influence culture".  

Along the way Mark could have said "Imitate me as I imitate Christ" but his message was more "Jesus commands you to do so".   The most literal example of how this played out can be found here:

Mark Driscoll | Sex: A Study of the Good Bits of Song of Solomon

Edinburgh, Scotland on November 18,2007
I'll tell you a story if you don't tell anyone else of a man who started attending our church because of oral sex. Right? So many women go to church. In your country it's sixty or seventy percent. "My husband won't come to church. He doesn't have any interest in the things of God. He doesn't understand why church would apply to him." We had a woman like that in our church. She became a Christian. Her husband was not a Christian. He hated the church, wanted nothing to do with the church. She kept browbeating him about Jesus. "You need to get saved. You're gonna burn in hell." He had no interest in that. 

And so, finally, I was teaching a class on sex and she said, "Oh, so oral sex on a husband is what a wife is supposed to do?" I said, "Yes." She said, "My husband's always wanted that but I've refused him." I went to 1 Peter 3. I said, "The Bible says that if your husband is not a Christian that you are to win him over with deeds of kindness." I said, "So go home and tell your husband that you were in a Bible study today and that God has convicted you of sin.  And repent and go perform oral sex on your husband and tell him that Jesus, Jesus Christ commands you to do so." [emphasis added] The next week the man showed up at church. He came up to me, he said, "You know, this is a really good church." That handing out tracts on the street thing, there's a better way to see revival, I assure you of that.
It's a joke, but the very idea of a revival coming because wives perform oral sex on their husbands might tell us something about what Driscoll wanted a revival of.  If anyone were to interpret Song of Songs in a typological way about God's love for His people Driscoll rolled out the gay panic jokes as fast as he could, but for a woman in his church, Mark could claim that Jesus commands, through an apostolic writing, that she perform oral sex on her non-Christian husband.  

I had reservations about Mark's whole approach by early 2008, especially his ideas on spiritual warfare (which seem to be more entrenched and paranoid in 2021), but by the time the Jonah series was done circa 2008 I did not want to stick around for Mark bloviating for ten whole hour-plus-long sermons on wifely stripteases and sacred blow jobs.  Driscoll has downplayed, if anything, the extent to which growing up near a Deja Vu influenced his ways of thinking about sex and marriage


It's easy to imagine after the fact that Mark Driscoll was always as bad as his detractors say he is, but there is a case to be made that Mark Driscoll's views changed significantly not so much in his ideas about sex and gender as his views on Christendom and whether its demise was something to celebrate or reverse.  The more entrenched in the Christian Industrial Complex he became, the more ardently Mark Driscoll seemed to shift from his 20th century view that the demise of Christendom was a net benefit to the world to his 21st century A Call to Resurgence.

Whether it's a Mark Driscoll or a Nadia Bolz-Weber these sorts of teachers are literally selling you a Jesus who wants you to get laid. Perhaps the starkest way to put this is to say that a Driscoll or a Bolz-Weber is not selling a gospel to or for incels.  Mark Driscoll's scripts of adulthood were predicated on men getting "real jobs", getting married, "going upstream" and "influencing culture".  Driscoll now talks about how life should be "kingdom down" and not "culture up" but that seems a smokescreen.  He still went to a rapidly growing county in Arizona and has started a church using mass media.  If he has no interest in the move upstream and influence culture reverse-engineering-your-life for a church community he could have gone and started a church in Bottineau County in North Dakota. Instead he went to Maricopa County, which boasts being the fourth most populous county in the United States. King County in Washington State is the 12th most populous county in the nation.  If Driscoll were really repudiating the "go upstream" and "influence culture" scripts he worked with at Mars Hill he'd go "downstream", wouldn't he?

There's something that burbled up in the podcasts Mike Cosper has written and narrated, and that's a comment about how behind the scenes Driscoll reportedly claimed that inside of a generation or two at most Mars Hill would basically own the city if they kept up their countercultural project.  An idea worth discussing (later) would be that Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill years could be scene as a kind of urban Seattle-based variation on Christian Redoubt, conspicuously and vehemently minus any trace of postmillenialism or theonomy.  That is worth a separate post but I mention it because long ago when Mother Jones covered Mars Hill the author sussed out what Mars Hill was doing as the same old culture war agenda by means of postmodern branding.  What that roughly means is that Driscoll envisioned a community that could keep waging culture war but as a Generation X indictment of Boomers while retaining much of the emphasis on nuclear family as an endpoint.

When I joined Mars Hill around 1999 my sense was that it was a Christian community that was on a path to explore what Christian community could look like without any commitments to the preservation of Western Christendom.  Driscoll used to say the collapse of Christendom was great because it meant a demise of the nominalism that permeated the mainlines and evangelicalism.  It is perilously easy for people to retroactively see everything Mark Driscoll said and did in light of 2012-2014.  I think a case can be made that he changed, profoundly, and particularly as he got involved in the Christian industrial complex, writing books, promoting his mass media work and the rest.  The more plugged into mainstream Christian popular publishing he became the more he seemed to pivot from celebrating the demise of Christendom in his earlier books to having a mantra of "a time for anger" and A Call to Resurgence.  A resurgence of what?  

The answers to that question seem to cluster around Driscoll shifting to views he claimed in 1998 he had cast aside, that he joked were somewhere to the right of Pat Buchanan.  

So those are some thoughts about the first four episodes of the podcast so far. 


chris e said...

"Men who don't conform to the scripts of adulthood prescribed by, say, a Douglas Wilson or a Mark Driscoll or insert-conservative-preacher-here become part of the "epidemic of singleness" and the blight of the "kidult" on the modern West."

The problem is that at some point even some of those those who 'conform to the scripts of adulthood' are likely to end up not finding partners, and then what then?

Both Wilson and Driscoll will balk at the comparison with Westboro Baptist Church but on some levels it holds up, what they've tried to do -- via the creation of a family run conglomerate -- is to up the transaction costs for any member of the family leaving the fold. Though I suspect that this only takes you so far -- it just postpones the inevitable denouement.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

yes, exactly.

And given the sheer size and scope of what Mars Hill was among 14,000 attenders at its peak men and women who conformed to the scripts of adulthood who didn't end up paired off happened. One of my longtime friends that I met at Mars Hill was referred to as "trapped in the friend zone" while he was at Mars Hill and didn't get married until after he and the woman he eventually married both left Mars Hill in disgust over how far off the rails the church had gone.

I've also seen a few of those Mars Hill era marriages blow up. I haven't even gotten around to same-sex attracted folks, though it would be best, obviously, if those folks spoke for themselves when they choose to. There wasn't a shortage of people of all sorts who didn't fit the scripts of adulthood. In sum Mark Driscoll himself turned out to not even really conform to the scripts of adulthood he was selling. Why tell people in 2001-2002 to not take shortcuts to manly achievement if you end up using ResultSource and getting embroiled in a plagiarism scandal, both of which are ultimately scandals of taking shortcuts to building a legacy?

Wilson and Driscoll might balk at being compared to each other at this point, let alone Westboro! It's been striking how little Doug Wilson talks about Mark Driscoll now. Crawford Gribben's recent book on survivalists and theonomists in the PNW is a worthwhile read but I did finish it thinking that a lot of what Mark was trying to do was a kind of Wilsonian project which, of course, probably needs to be its own separate post because I'm on a Crawford Gribben binge lately with his monographs on millenialism.