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Ep. 360 Response to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, Episode 8

Ep. 360 Response to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, Episode 8 (1)

Shows Main Idea – This episode of the Christianity Today (CT) podcast series, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, is an interview with Josh Harris, the former “Christian” who wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It’s an odd digression from the straight line Christianity Today had been running about what went wrong with Mars Hill.

Show Notes

You may want to read:

Episode Eight: I Kissed Christianity Goodbye

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.

Explaining the Digression

CT justified interviewing Josh Harris—their way of explaining why they inserted this discussion into a series on Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll. Nevertheless, there is something about it that feels off-topic. It’s like writing a biography about Douglass MacArthur and inserting a chapter on George Patton, his contemporary.

Mike Cosper moved from the rise and fall of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll to the rise and fall of Josh Harris and Sovereign Grace Ministries. Mike says he wants to talk about celebrity preachers, i.e., Driscoll and Harris.

Disclosure: Lucia and I first heard of Sovereign Grace Ministries in 2002. Eventually, we were part of a church plant in Greenville, SC, in August 2003. I came on board as an associate pastor and finally left at the end of 2008. I have written a few articles about my experience with SGM (now SGChurces) here and here.

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Proud Humility

Mike Cosper said that Sovereign Grace Ministries, which Josh was part of, branded itself as friendly and humble, which sounds like premeditated intent. It is more accurate to say that we were “ignorantly arrogant” about our “unique iteration” of the gospel. It reminds me of my fundamental Baptist days: I was sincere but unaware of how my arrogant legalism wreaked to high-heaven.

Josh talked about being proud of our humility. He is correct. SGM fell into the trap of arrogant superiority that compared themselves with everyone else in an unspoken way. We talked about ourselves a lot, which was the rebuke Don Miller gave to Josh Harris, which he shared in this episode.

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).

Digging Deeper

Immaturity and ambition are two of the main ingredients that lead to arrogance. Josh admitted that he has always been ambitious. He noted that a lot of his life journey was selfish-ambition. He wanted “the acclaim, the best selling book, the security of being in the right camp.”

Josh, like me, had no insight into or governor over his heart. His ambition and immaturity formed the basis for I Kissed Dating Goodbye. His early promotion and immaturity were the basis of his first pastoral stint. He was in acceleration ministry mode. But he is not done though he is out of Christian ministry. Most recently in his new career, he hurt Jessica Van Der Wyngaard and a lot of financial contributors who trusted Josh.

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Ongoing Hurt

Jessica learned of Josh and discussed a documentary project about the “deconstruction of the purity culture.” Josh was on board. Then in July 2018, after making the film, Josh walked away from his marriage and Christianity. The film company pulled out, which left Jessica and the financial donors with no film.

Cosper said that Jessica hung her hat on a celebrity and then felt disappointed when the star failed. Often in this series, Mike Cosper is like a preacher with an idea in search of a text. Rather than judging Jessica with a wrong motive, it would be better to focus on Josh’s ongoing pattern of immaturity and ambition that leaves brokenness in his wake.

Like so many other celebrity pastors, Josh should get a production job in a plant somewhere rather than continuing to hurt people in his quest for greatness. (Ironically, Mike critiqued Jessica’s temptation to hang her hat on a celebrity; at the same time, he took a significant digression in this series to talk to a celebrity. Is Mike hanging his hat (clicks, likes, downloads, listens, and subscriptions) on a celebrity, too.)

Missing the Mark

Rather than seeing the ruling motives of his heart, Josh kept pointing to his problems resulting from the church culture that shaped him. It would be better to say the SGM way of doing church drew Josh’s craving heart from the west coast to the east coast, into C. J. Mahaney’s basement, and later the pulpit at Covenant Life Church.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:14-15).

Mike Cosper astutely drew out Josh’s motives by saying his new journey in the business world is not the solution because the problem has been sitting in Josh’s heart for decades. I’m glad he made this point, though it feels buried under a load of misfires and misdirections. Josh seemed not to hear what Mike was saying as he kept his focus on the church’s failures. Perhaps Josh did hear it as they continued to talk away from the microphones.

Call to Action

  1. How have you responded to your disappointments in your life? Have you placed more focus on the external heat in your life or your reaction to those difficult challenges?
  2. Why is it more vital to focus on your reactions to problems rather than keeping your gaze on the perpetrators of the problems?

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