The problem I keep having with The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast is Mike Cosper’s constant sleights of hand to villainize Driscoll. This is frustrating because of the blatant dishonesty, if Driscoll is that bad then it will be obvious, there is no need to pad out his dark persona with exaggeration or omission of truth. Yet Cosper repeatedly goes out of his way to make sure the listener knows that the villain is Mark Driscoll. And I think I finally figured it out. I think I know why. Cosper has repeatedly referred to this as a story, and that he is the storyteller. He is not wrong. As I have been listening, in my mind I have begun to cast a Mark Driscoll biopic I would love to make.* It is a compelling story, it is why the download numbers are so high,** it’s why even I keep tuning in. But stories are subject to rules, one of which is, your hero’s are only as good as your villain.
I think the reason this took so long to come together is that The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is the Battleship Potemkin of podcasts. In that there is no one, singular hero, the people are the hero. As well the story is messier out of necessity because it is not a polished script, so someone like Sutton Turner is a mixed bag narratively. But to tie all of this together a storyteller needs a villain, and for better or worse that roll must be filled by Driscoll.
“Confronted by his own Shadow”
The latest episode “The Tempest” was, something. I feel like I keep saying that, but it is the most accurate summary I can offer. Clocking in at over two hours and thirty minutes it was a beast to get through (twice). And as these later episodes have contained, there was plenty of damning evidence against Driscoll. Unfortunately there was also plenty of regurgitating tired half truths, this time courtesy of Warren Throckmorten and Janet Mefferd.
The truly interesting part was how Driscoll had managed to hoist his own petard through the firing of Bent Meyer and Paul Petry. Or as Cosper elegantly put it, Driscoll was, “confronted by his own shadow.” This was good stuff, it was well set up and explained, I think Cosper did well in that issue. And if Cosper had limited himself to just the issues of the other pastors and elders who were a revolving door of humanity through the church leadership that would have been plenty damning. Also throw in Sutton Turner, who was, and is, an absolute snake. And you have some dynamite stuff. Also the Real Marriage gaming section had some new information which was upsetting. But as usual Cosper insisted on discrediting himself by bringing in the voices of the crazies and acting as if they are worth listening to.
Plagiarism… (insert an audible eye roll)
This one really needs to die. And it should simply from the listening to this episode. In which Janet Mefferd accuses Driscoll of plagiarism, on a live radio broadcast, then digs in her heals. Even when Peter Jones the author in question said it wasn’t plagiarism. At worst he wasn’t MLA cited for his ideas being used by Driscoll at length in A Call to Resurgence. However, as someone who has read all of Driscoll’s books I can guarantee, few footnoted like this man. Driscoll used to boast about being a nerd who loved footnotes, and it shows in his books. Sometimes up to a third of a page will be taken up with citations. I think in Driscoll’s mind Jones was given full credit for an idea that Driscoll then ran with in his own imitable style. This is also not unknown in the public intellectual world, even C.S. Lewis admits in the preface to The Problem of Pain, if a quotes attribution was not easily accessible he would not bother to cite it. Driscoll gave credit where credit was due, just not in a strict academic sense. But this also brings up a problem with publishing houses.
In our fascinating modern age modern publishers have software through which new books are run looking for plagiarism. And it is not as if this software is hard to come by. If a small operation like Cannon Press can afford this, then one would assume a publishing behemoth like Tyndale House would be able to find plagiarism before publication. If somehow this slipped through the cracks the fault lies with them as the publisher, not Driscoll, who has an extensive track record of giving credit to other authors.
The next best evidence for plagiarism that Cosper (and everyone else) is the Trial sermon series study guide. Which is endlessly cited in the document and has a seven page MLA formatted list of further citations. This was published by IVP and I simply find myself wondering if this is really the work of a malicious plagiarizer who just can’t share a literary spotlight. Also Cosper failed to mention that Mars Hill did not sell the study guide it was given away. There was no book deal for huge profits involved in it. It was a free tool for the church and community group leaders.
There is still one episode to go. I hope that Cosper brings in the hope that he has teased in the opening of every episode. Perhaps something like Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s piece on The Gospel Coalition, Seattle Reboot: Life After Mars Hill. If so then good for him. As of right now I think the podcast could have been cut time wise by nearly half. To many rabbit trails were chased in the attempt to frame Driscoll as the kind of villain worthy of Captain Picard. When really Driscoll seems to be a sinful man, who grabbed a tiger by the tail, and had some success for a while before it went to his head and he was devoured. Or as John Piper put it:
“The debacle in Seattle is a tragedy, from untold angles… It was a defeat for the gospel, it was a defeat for Mark, it was a defeat for evangelicalism, for Reformed Theology, for complementarianism. It was a colossal Satanic victory.” – John Piper
The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is a story that should be looked it, if for no other reason than to learn from history and not repeat it. It just seems that like so many narratives being told today the parts that are inconvenient to the thorough vilifying of what the narrator requires are conveniently left out or papered over.
*Staring Jack Black as Driscoll and Larry David as Piper…
**And why CT is looking to do the same kind of hit job on Douglas Wilson.