The Mars Hill Controversy: 'The Problem is Deeper than Mark Driscoll'

Mark Driscoll Controversy

Mars Hill Controversy

The mess at the Mars Hill Church and  the “network” led by Mark Driscoll, spurred some thoughts today.

I pray for the day western evangelicalism gets free of celebrityism, but I am not holding my breath. The Mars Hill controversy makes a case for my one line summary of Rene Girard’s mimetic theory of scapegoatism: “We make kings so we can tear them down when they fail.” How many times will this scenario have to play out before we understand that the entire SYSTEM is flawed. The dependency on the pope, priest, or Protestant mini-popes/pastors/ministers/bishops/apostles/prophets/superintendents/general big-dog-chieftain . . . whoever . . . is intrinsically flawed.

The Reformation may have (depending on one’s perspective) brought reform to soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), but it did little for ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church/church order) other than downsizing the sphere of authority: from the pope and the world to the pastor and the church. We still crave the big-man-papa. We just want the right to make the big man, and to depose and dispose of him when he lets us down. Protestants replaced a college of cardinals with . . .  themselves. Driscoll/Mars Hill is just another note in a 500-year-old familiarly painful melody.

It is an unholy alliance: people will sell their soul (falsely calling it submission to leadership) to a person who gives them a false sense of significance, placement, power, status, and success. The unholy deal is: teach things we agree with, make something big and successful that we can belong to, give us a successful identity (we are of Cephas, we are of Apollos, we are of Luther, we are of Calvin, we are of Wesley, we are of Driscoll, we are of Piper, we are of MacArthur, etc.) and we will let you be our king . . . until you let us down, do something wrong or inappropriate, (or, God forbid, morally if not legally criminal) then we will kill you. Hosanna one day. Crucify him the next. 

I have never been a fan of Driscoll. I do not make excuses for some of his wretched doctrines, behavior, and the pain/trauma that he has caused others, and the abuse they have had to endure from him under the guise of submission to leadership. A few months of sabbatical for “reflecting and reassessment” is entirely unsatisfactory. Nothing but excuse-free, rationalization-free, foot-of the Cross, contrite brokenness, confession, restitution to others,  and turning away from his former beliefs and actions will ever suffice for consideration as genuine repentance. The goal in restoration is not “saddle ’em up again as quickly as we can.” That is part of the flawed value system that caused the problem in the first place!  Whether or not he ever has access to a pulpit again should not even be in the equation. It is not about “recovery” of his “ministry.” It is about restoring his humanity and the humanity of those he has damaged. Lusting for ministry and lusting for the pulpit cannot be the goal and end game of a process of recovery!

If people did not support super star leaders with their time, talent, and treasure, we would not have these constant train wrecks.  Whether it is Sovereign Grace/Mahaney, PTL/Bakker, Swaggart, New Life/NAE/Ted Haggard, Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill,  or any number of lesser luminaries, the problem is more than just the individual and his/her personal weaknesses. It is the man and the leadership theology and the system and its values, that are antithetical to Christ’s kingdom. Without the undergirding of the theology, the system, and the values,  none of it would be possible. God has built-in effective preventive measures into the real life of the ekklesia. But if we don’t believe them, or choose not to live in them, we will continue to reap the whirlwind and His Name and testimony will continue to be slandered by us in the eyes of an unbelieving world.

It Takes Three to Tango

My prophets prophesy falsely, my priests oppress for self gain, and my people love to have it so. – Jeremiah 5:31

It is too easy to point the finger solely at Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. Without the unholy trinity of Jeremiah 5:31, none of it would be possible–with ANYONE, in ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. Therefore, those who made him king, especially the leaders who supported him, must take some ownership (not all) for their willingness to dance the dance of unholiness with Mark.  If there wasn’t some ego alive in you that wanted to hook your wagon to a rising super star, that super star would have never had the fuel to rise. The problem with making men king, is we are stuck with the men we have made king. The kingmakers are also culpable for their motives. Before you point the finger at Mark, plant yourselves in front of a mirror for a good long time.

Walt Kelly said it in his comic strip, Pogo, years ago: We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Mark must take ownership for the Mars Hill controversy and deal with the trauma and damage caused to others by his own broken psychological and relational unwellness, twisted doctrines, and ungodly and abusive behaviors. This is not about victimizing victims again. But the problem is much deeper than one man’s issues. Getting rid of the king, just to set up another king, will inevitably victimize victims again!

How many times do we have to see this scenario before we learn? How many more people’s lives have to be ruined before we realize that there are deeper issues at play than the repeated failures of one gifted man’s carnality? How many more families and lives have to be gutted, and faith ruined by our own blind allegiance to celebrity super star preachers? Israel’s “give us a king” is as alive in western evangelicalism today as it ever was. If we don’t get over our king-making addiction to super star preachers, this scenario will continue ad infinitum. The pain will be the same. Only the names and faces will change.

I have written copiously on this blog and in my books of the problem with the western model of church and insulated, isolated, elitist, secret, and authoritarian church leadership and church cultures that abuse. I spent over two decades in groups that makes what went on at Mars Hill look like “abuse amateur hour.” I could match, and exceed, any story of bizarre teachings, doctrines, methods, and pain you would tell me. I know the pain . . . well.

If you are looking for some answers, some solutions to this “change the names and faces, music is the same” series of disasters of super star preachers, I urge you to avail yourself of some of the resources here. If you have been devastated as either a “leader/minister,” or as a member of these churches, groups, and associations, there are resources available for your recovery. Contact: GodLife Consulting. There is over 120 years of combined ministry experience among men and women who have extracted themselves from the grips of the system that abuses and damages people. The folks there can help you understand why you were snared, why you were hurt, how to extract yourself, and how to rebuild a vibrant life in Christ.


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6 comments on “The Mars Hill Controversy: 'The Problem is Deeper than Mark Driscoll'

  1. Well said. This kind of thing happens too much. Jesus alone is Lord. No superstars in the body of Christ. The model of Jesus is servant leadership. From the perspective of how things work in the world, Jesus has given us an upside down kingdom.

  2. Amen Steve! Driscoll is not the problem…only a symptom. As you have so eloquently stated, “Therefore, those who made him king, especially the leaders who supported him, must take some ownership (not all) for their willingness to dance the dance of unholiness with Mark”. It indeed takes two to Tango – even the masochism tango! Self styled leaders NEED those willing to follow …and those unwilling to take personal responsibility for their growth in truth and holiness NEED those willing to take control! It is an unholy alliance and as I have stated before, “It he blind lead the blind BOTH shall fall into the ditch!” Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers are gifts from King Jesus which He gives (to build up not control the body of Christ) and they are given as He wills and when He wills. Such gifted ones (so called five fold ministry) are just that GIFTS; they are NOT Kingdom entitlements or even necessities! Last, let us remember that it is not simply by giftedness or native (soulish) ability that one recognizes a genuine gift from but it is”by their fruits”. Even the Great Apostle Paul’s writings include His apostleship included “Be ye followers (IMITATORS) of me EVEN AS I ALSO AM OF CHRIST”! it is Christ who is the pattern son and not some “anointed” man or woman of God?! We are called to make disciples of Jesus..not of ourselves or any man! As Paul was to write to Timothy: “You know my manner of life…” If you cannot see the manner of life behind the “gift” heed the sign, “BEWARE”.

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