On The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

On The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

Believe it or not, Mark Driscoll still emails me.

Some years ago (to my shame), I offered up my precious contact info in exchange for some free resources on the Mars Hill website. Now, all this time later, I still receive spam correspondence from the subject of the viral Christianity Today podcast.

The serialized exposé chronicles years of narcissistic leadership, abusive practices, and a total failure of accountability in one of America’s fastest growing megachurches.

My students are too young to recall the actual rise of Mars Hill—but I remember it well. In many ways, I never meshed with Driscoll: I’m not a Calvinist. I’m not a Complementarian. And I’ve never had that aching father-wound that causes some young men to seek out a “substitute dad” to yell at them to get their lives together.

Nonetheless, as a young male with no love lost for Ned Flanders Christianity, there was something (way back then… ) that intrigued me about Driscoll’s no-nonsense, witty, and often humorous style of preaching. Hence the offering of my precious contact info.

ICHARUS INC.

There’s much to appreciate about the podcast.

It is impeccably produced, with solid reporting and well-placed interviews that detail the damage done by abusive leaders and their enablers. Unexpectedly, one of my favorite parts has been the music, woven through each episode, featuring artists like Kings Kaleidoscope, Taylor Leonhardt, and Bill Mallonee.

(If you listen to the Mallonee song while reading this post, it might even make me seem winsome and earthy, like a pensive Rich Mullins, staring wistfully into the distance while holding a book by Marshall McLuhan.)

Tales like that of Mars Hill need to be told. And Mike Cosper should be commended for doing so in a way that will (hopefully) make us hesitate before again elevating and tolerating corrupt and charismatic leaders, like Driscoll.

But at the risk of pouring yet another “take” upon our collectives iPhones, there is one facet to the podcast’s viral popularity that gives me pause.

In my view, perhaps the foremost sickness that enabled Driscoll to run amok for so long is what one might call “The evangelical celebrity industrial complex.” Define it this way: We are drawn to media-driven personalities whose entertainment value far exceeds their character. And to be honest, that sickness is as apparent in our breathless consumption of CT podcast as it is in the real rise and fall of Mars Hill.

I am not immune from this phenomenon.

I too felt the charge of excitement upon noticing that Cosper had finally released a new episode. It was like realizing that my favorite Netflix show had just dropped a new season. “Have you listened, yet!?” “Come on!!! I can’t wait another week!”

For at least some of us, there was a kind of voyeuristic deliciousness to the podcast (both sickening and enthralling) that went beyond our need to lament, repent, and ensure accountability. It became a form of intimate and commodified entertainment, all orbiting a celebrity preacher who has proven just as marketable in his ruin as in his rise. It was Icharus Inc. – now brought to you by BetterHelp.com.

CONCLUSION

Perhaps that worry is a bit too harsh.

If I’m going to critique this danger, I should probably propose a workable alternative that allows us to learn the lessons of Mars Hill without turning the whole commercialized spectacle into, well… you know. Sadly, I’m not quite sure how to do that.

As I’ve said, the truth does need to be told in cases like Mars Hill. It should be told winsomely. And I hope Cosper’s reporting does some good. But it’s worth noting that the same celebrity fixation and commodification that propelled Driscoll to power is also in play each time I pop in the earbuds to “binge-out” to his burning effigy. (That’s no defense of Driscoll; rather, it’s a check on every one of us.)

In his book, Celebrity Worship, Pete Ward defines a celebrity as a person who has been mediated by technology, so that when we consume media, we consume people.

“The value of the celebrity inheres in his or her capacity to attract and mobilize attention, which is then typically attached to other products (a television show, a magazine cover, a record album)…”

In this sense, it’s been years since Mark Driscoll has been this valuable.

Maybe that’s why he keeps emailing me, asking for more money.


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Of her, not just in her

Of her, not just in her

On Mary and the womb of Christmas

For some Protestants, Advent may be about the only time we think of Mary—kneeling as she often is beside a plastic manger in our church Nativities.

Yet a chorus of evangelical scholars has argued recently (here and here) that a relative silence on Christ’s mother comes at the expense of Scripture, basic church tradition, and a proper view of women in the story of redemption.

Mary and Eve
Virgin Mary and Eve,
~Sr Grace Remington, OCSO.

After all, in the words of Lucy Peppiatt,

“Jesus is made of her, not just in her.”

MORE THAN MERE RECEPTACLE 

We might be conditioned to think of Mary more as a “receptacle” for carrying and birthing Christ, but not as one who actually supplied his humanity from her own body.

The early theologians who hammered out the doctrine of Christ, however, would have nothing of this viewpoint.

Tertullian (c. 155–c. 240) says it this way:

Pray, tell me, why the Spirit of God descended into a woman’s womb at all, if He did not do so for the purpose of partaking of flesh from the womb. […] He had no reason for enclosing Himself [there] if He was to bear forth nothing from it.

To say that Christ’s humanity did NOT come from Mary might seem like a minor quibble, but to go down this road is to sever Jesus from the line of Israel and of Adam—and thus to cut the saving cord that ties him to us all.

Peppiatt goes on:

Mary is not only a receptacle of the Divine [Christ], she contributes [to the baby] from her own body. It is her blood that forms him, her food that nourishes him, her breasts that feed him.

When God chose to come to earth, he chose the hiddenness of a woman’s womb. When God chose to take on flesh, he chose to unite himself to a woman’s flesh.

When God chose to appear, he chose to come as a baby, entrusting himself to a woman’s body to be born.

In the latest cover story for Christianity Today, Jennifer Powell McNutt and Amy Beverage Peeler speak of Mary as “the first Christian”—a prophet, proclaimer, and prototype of every Jesus-worshiper.

The entire Christian life is, in a way, mirrored by the experience of Mary. Each one of us—both male and female—are called to live in Christ and he in us. We are all expected to carry Christ at the core of our being—like Mary carried Christ in her womb—and to labor with him and for him.

The Gospel writers want us to understand how important Mary was, serving from the Annunciation to Pentecost as both God-bearer in her physical body and as gospel-bearer, a faithful witness and proclaimer to the work that God was accomplishing in our Lord Jesus Christ. Both her identities matter […].

LESS THAN CO-REDEMPTRIX

None of this means Mary should be viewed as a sinless “co-redemptrix” who functions as the heavenly “good cop” to God’s judgmental “bad one.” (This has been claimed.)

Nor does it imply that she was free from original sin and “full of grace” to dispense because of her excess merit. (This view is based on a mistranslation of “favored one” [κεχαριτωμενη] in Luke 1:28.)

CONCLUSION

What the prior argument does mean is that in avoiding potential excesses surrounding Mary, Protestants should be wary of throwing the “baby” (or rather, the baby’s mother!) out with the bathwater.

Christ was made “of her” not just “in her.”

So while Jesus is rightly the focus of the Christmas season, Mary’s brave Yes to God’s call provides a model for all believers.

 

 


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