I am still digesting the final episode of Mike Cosper’s Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. But am pretty sure my conclusion will not change too much after further pondering. The finale was, in my opinion, something of a hot mess. It zinged from a strange story of Driscoll’s new church, into stirring look at the roses that grew from the ashes, to a final swing at complementarianism, over to a typical teary eyed look at “Trauma” (Beelzebub what a useful word, as Screwtape would say) into a trite summation of how bad Driscoll is.
The Sages and Storytellers of Today
Again it bears keeping in mind, that along with having a barely concealed agenda Cosper is telling a story. And every story needs a cracking villain. You’re hero’s are only as good as your villain and unfortunately for Cosper the hero’s don’t really do much. Typically in a movie you just have your villain chew tons of scenery to compensate. And Cosper has Driscoll up to Kenneth Branagh levels of gnawing the set dressing. The problem is that it is misleading. The best analysis of the fall of Mars Hill was John Piper years ago, it was a colossal Satanic victory. The true villain of the piece was not Mark, it was Satan, but that sounds a little too supernatural for Christianity Today. Pull one thread on the what is Satanic and half their writers would have to be fired, and they would have to acquiesce to become reformed complementarians, so Driscoll it was then! It takes two to tango and Driscoll was not dancing alone. One of the earliest known problems at Mars Hill was young men on staff who wanted control. And to listen to this final episode it does appear that they were not in short supply and they are still licking their wounds. I’ll come back to this later but it does seem like most of the interviews were from people who had an ax to grind. It was rare to hear from someone who had been hurt, but was full of grace. Most still seemed intent on exacting their their pound of flesh.
Not Reformed Enough
Ironically for all of Cosper’s hard work in trying to tie Driscoll to the evils of Reformed theology and complementarianism. The last episode bore out that for all of Driscoll’s brain he was quite shallow on both counts. Rather than less Calvinism, Driscoll needed more. A lot of the silliness of Mars Hill and indeed Driscoll was that they were working hard to reinvent the wheel; and that led them to become what they had set out not to be, a showy, shallow, seeker sensitive church. Had Driscoll actually been deeply Reformed things like his failure to have any authority over him would have been addressed, the charismatic tendencies would have been rightly ordered, and the drive for greater numbers would have been eliminated. And that is just a cursory overview. Driscoll was perfectly positioned to leverage Reformed theology to help evangelicalism to think wisely about that moment in time. Consider that while the macho thing was made much of in Driscoll’s presentation there was an enormous artistic population in his church. Good ecclesiology would have been an excellent tool he could have used to incorporate artistic contributions to the church. But instead we are left with artists swimming the Tiber or Rubicon after they spend years whining about how they aren’t allowed to express themselves in the service. Or we get men in tights mincing around Tim Kellers church during the offertory. Say what you will about Mark Dever but that kind of thing will never happen at Capitol Hill Baptist. And it would not have happened at Mars Hill, but I tend to think that a Mars Hill steeped in ecclesiology would have had something other than those two extremes.
The problem with Driscoll was always too little, not too much. The tragedy was that in the chess game of Mars Hill, Satan got a solid checkmate.
The Butt Hurt
And now we must consider the overwhelming minority of the Butt Hurt as my friend Layne would put it. Somewhere near the end Cosper takes a swipe at people who point to the good that came out of the fall of Mars Hill. He reminds us of all the trauma (there is that word again) and how it was not a safe space (You will note the excellent work of Hell’s philological department). But at some point I think it should be taken into account who you are hearing from that is so upset over all of this. To a woman they were all the kind of grasping and grabbing, types that Paul would have not let speak. And the men… oh the men. Either they were foul, liberal and often both. There is some value in the criticisms of an apostate, but less than they are given credence for. Previously I have observed the obvious slant of this podcast in who it relies on as expert. The orthodox are far and few between, and even they they seem to be edited (see the next section). At some point though I just began to have a hard time hearing from men who were getting panic attacks just thinking about Driscoll. I have had some truly horrific church experiences in my time. And part of me does wonder at which point has a man thrown in self control and become emotionally indulgent or lazy. Maybe Driscoll really was a tyrant on the level of Stalin. However, had these men no agency? If Driscoll was guilty of dominant control, are they on some level not guilty of failing to be discerning. Guilt runs 100% and 100% not 70%, 30%. Yes the serpent lied, but Adam and Eve still ate, and God pronounced consequences on all three.
Which brings us to the problem of Deconstruction. (you will again notice the fruits of many years hard work by Hell’s Philological Department) This is a popular term among the kids these days who are kicking around heresy as if it were a soccer ball. What it really means replacing Biblical authority with emotional or the cultural zeitgeist. But what they want you to think it means is, they have been “traumatized” and you, as the doctrinaire Christian are a big ole meanie head for insisting they must obey the orthodox faith if they want to claim the name of Christ. How dare you insist that boys are boys, and girls are girls, made distinctly in the image of God according to his design and purpose. It is appalling that you would see that dated book as being inerrant, much less authoritative, because their college professor snidely said the word science. And you should be downright ashamed to try and convert anyone because Jesus was a big ole sweetie pie who said, “Judge not.” And isn’t this all so lovely and fulfilling because they can be who they want to be and God just beams down on the wonderful thing they are.
You get the idea. I am reminded of Lewis in The Problem of Pain writing about how what we want is not a Father in Heaven, but a grandfather in Heaven, “a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’” The problem of this is that they are exchanging the truth for a lie, and then demanding we play along as if nothing is wrong. This was a point that Driscoll was particularly good on
“Hell is hot, and eternity is a long time. I’m just tryin to help!” – Mark Driscoll
The verbal sleight of hand comes from the fact that in Christian history there is a process by in which a Christian wrestles through the faith with fear and trembling. It shows up in John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul. Or in Francis Schaffer in his attic for weeks on end taking his faith down to the foundation and then rebuilding it. And that is the key. Deconstruction is fine so long as it is preparing the way for reconstruction. Cosper has an appalling understanding of Luther.* Luther did deconstruct but, like Driscoll, he did too little. Yes he got down to Scripture, but didn’t get far enough to avoid the absurdity of consubstantiation. And Luther did rebuild, or more accurately, reformed. Cosper speaks in glowing terms of deconstructors, he gave Josh Harris a whole bonus episode, but he seems to have very little time for Christians who were at Mars Hill during the implosion and weathered the storm to the other side still orthodox.
I find myself curious about the complete Paul David Tripp interview where he talks about deconstruction and praises it. Tripp is a very smart guy and I simply can not fathom that he would not have continued with how to help a person rebuild faithfully.
So on the whole was The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill good? I do not think so. Rather than give a clear picture of happened at Mars Hill, Cosper chose to muddy the waters with an agenda. This lead to a missed opportunity. The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill ultimately was a swing and a miss. Things that would have been useful were ignored in favor of an agenda that clearly leaned left. Things like how the Reformed community needs to not just evaluate how Driscoll was so lionized but also in their dropping him like a hot potato and playing dead possum over any mention of him. Or looking at the cultural moment and generation that Driscoll recognized and effectively ministered to. Akin to how Schaffer saw the questions being asked by the postmodernists, and created a movement answering those questions. It also would be interesting to have reflected that like Schaffer hearing the Beatles White Album and realizing that the questions had stoped being asked by that generation and nihilism had settled in. Driscoll too harnessed the optimism of Millennials and the following generation is narcissistic, vindictive, and pessimistic.
There are other areas of exploration that were ignored, but I digress. At the end of the day the question for me is. Do I still love Mark Driscoll? Yes, I am more grieved than I was, I have learned some new pieces of information I did not previously have. I do not think that Driscoll should be pastoring a church. I think for all of his brain power he needs more theological knowledge so he doesn’t conform to his closest influences until he moves on. And he clearly needs to grow in humility and self-control. And yet These are all things that could be said about me. So not only can I not cast the first stone, I won’t chuck any others in the general direction of his head. The response to a fallen brother is not to bury them under a pile of bitterness and condemnation but to pray and hope for their repentance and restoration. I heard none of that from The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. So, yes, I still love Mark. The fall of Mars Hill was a colossal Satanic victory. And we should keep straight who our real enemy is.
*Luther was very much like Driscoll in that he saw the world at large as very useful to his means. A cursory reading of his will reveal his extensive writing and working with the German Princes for example.