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Ep. 356 Response to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, Episode 4

Ep. 356 Response to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, Episode 4

Shows Main Idea – This review is of episode four in the Christianity Today (CT) series, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. CT warns the listeners that you may want to prescreen this episode due to the sexual nature and language. I concur. It is a gross episode—the first half—that may leave you feeling dirty after hearing it. The key idea of the episode is, why was the message so popular when the messenger was so flawed?

Show Notes

You may want to read:

Episode Four: “I Am Jack’s Raging Bile Duct”

This episode title is a quote that comes from The Fight Club movie. Mike Cosper talks about the interplay between that movie and Mars Hill. It’s ironic and off-putting that the last two episode titles (three and four) are about crass, crude, sexual, and violent movies, and CT is critiquing a crass and crude person. It is as though the pot is calling the kettle black.

My aim in working through these episodes is to help folks think through the church they attend, the leadership culture of their church, and, potentially, identify things that might not be apparent. I will not provide a “Monday morning play-by-play” critique. I hope you will gain personal insight through this review as well as applications to your teachers and the church you attend.

1 – Let Me Lie to You

The episode opens with Mike Cosper talking about William Wallace, a pseudonym Mark Driscoll used on a message board to say harsh, unkind, sexist, and hyperbolic things to some attendees/members of Mars Hill Church.

Translation: Mark Driscoll lied about who he was to communicate things that were harsh, crass, crude, insensitive, and degrading. He perpetuated this deception for several years, which speaks to his hubris and desensitized conscience. Nobody knew that Mark was posing as someone else on a Mars Hill message board.

  • What does it say about a person’s conscience who lives a lie for years?
  • There is a little bit of hypocrisy in all of us. In what ways do you pretend?

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2 – A Gross Man

Mark Driscoll is a gross person. I’m not sure if he has changed, but the collection of sound bites that CT puts together make an objective case: he’s a gross man. There is no other way to say it. You feel dirty after listening to this episode.

  • How close to the edge do you have to be to the provocative to care for people?
  • If a gross and crass person resonates with you, what does that say about your heart?

3 – Cultural Adaptation

Mark was also seeker-sensitive in the sense that he adapted to become what he needed to become to connect with his hearers, i.e., young, urban-dwellers, who loved tattoos, piercings, and black clothes. Because of his “William Wallace deception” and gross heart (Luke 6:45), you have to wonder if he sincerely cared about these people or if he was adapting himself to satisfy his cravings. (After resurfacing in Arizona, he reinvented and rebranded himself again to reach another kind of audience, even disowning complementarianism and Reformed Theology.)

4 – Reacting to Experience

Wendy Alsup said if you could get through his communication style, he preached the Bible. “He pokes you in the eye with the sermon title, but the actual content was very life-giving.” You do sense throughout this series that there is a twofold appeal to Mark Driscoll:

  • “It’s different from all my past church experiences.”
  • “It’s working.” (Pragmatism, which affirms the methods)

I have talked about pragmatism in previous reviews, but there is this other feature that many of the interviewees mentioned; the appeal was how different it was from how they had experienced church. Some Christians are so disillusioned by the state of the church that when someone like Driscoll shows up, there can be appeal without discernment. When you switch off discernment, you will be susceptible to anything.

Overreacting: Any person who comes out of a disappointing season (i,e., church, marriage, school, or employment) may succumb to the temptation to overreact or react impulsively—and make a poor decision.

The best way to make a decision comprises four essential elements: Canon, Comforter, Conscience, and Community. This webinar walks you through sound teaching on decision-making.

5 – A Resonating Man

Mark was speaking to their hearts. Mike Cosper described many of the men as lonely, fearful, ill-equipped, and fruitless. Mark challenged them, albeit in a crass way. When someone can put a new spin on something that resonates with you, there will be a temptation to drink all the KoolAid.

Mark has a quick mind and insight into the human condition. He packaged the solution in dark and crass ways. In the beginning, they focused on the features (it resonates and has edgy appeal) and overlooked the flaws.

6 – Drilling Deeper into the Niche

Mark’s church planting niche was masculinity-centered. It sounded like, “If I can get the husband, I can get the wife and the children.” Rather than the exaltation of Christ, it became niche-driven to men. Many churches make the “niche mistake.” They focus on something other than Christ and the authority of God’s Word.

Thus, Mark presented himself as a “man’s man,” and he pressed that message into the DNA of the men in the church. He was answering the “lonely, fearful, ill-equipped, and fruitless” problems. They loved it. Many of the attendees/members spoke so positively about their Mars Hill experience because their lives were changing.

It was as though there was a divide between the leaders and the followers. The followers were changing, growing, and maturing. They were building relationally with each other. It’s similar to the employer and the employee. The employees have lives that are not necessarily connected to or interested in the employers. Mark was bearable—tolerable, and the messages were changing the followers. They loved what was happening to their families while turning a blind eye to what was happening with Mark.

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7 – The Conflation Mistake

CT talked about Mark’s complementarian worldview in this episode. I do not know how Mark taught it or even if he believed it, but a lot of his preaching was biblical. If you’re listening to this series, you mustn’t conflate a bad pastor with biblical teaching, or you will dismiss the preached and his teaching. As Wendy Alsup said,

He pokes you in the eye with the sermon title, but the actual content was very life-giving.

Call to Action

After listening to this episode, the question that came to mind is, how much am I willing to tolerate to experience a life change? Or would it be better to find a calmer environment with a pastor of solid character to learn and grow? Sometimes, in our desperation, we can make choices that are not the best for ourselves and those we love the most.

  1. Making decisions after coming through something horrific is (probably) the worst time for decision-making. It’s wise to put off major decisions until your mind calms down and the soul noise subsides. It’s also vital to make these significant decisions in a community of close friends who know you, won’t rubber-stamp you, and will give you solid biblical advice. Why do you think is wise to postpone major decisions—if you can?
  2. Have you ever made a regrettable decision on the heels of a sad, challenging time in your life?
  3. Why does the character of the messenger and the theological soundness of the message matter?
  4. How do you determine or assess the character of a person?

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