Most people who knew me well during my time at Seattle Pacific University knew my intense loathing of Pastor Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church. I cannot pinpoint when I started vocally speaking out against his style of faith, but many conversations throughout college revolved around his messages. Obviously, I know gobs of great people who either go or used to go to Mars Hill. Most of these people I vehemently disagree with on a great deal of topics. Like anyone, we find common ground. It has been a while since I noticed anything or heard anything about Mark and his megachurch. Just recently, I ran into some discussion talking about a comment he made about Jay-Z; my roommate Matt showed me a video of Mark discussing MMA (Mixed Martial Arts or Ultimate Fighting); and I proceeded to read Mark’s blog post (“Why Christians Go Postal Over Facebook, Jay-Z, Yoga, Avatar, and Culture in General”) responding to the intense debate that sprung up around his Jay-Z comments. It really impressed me. The man displays excellent communication skills at all points, but he comes across, to me, as being very inconsistent. The purpose of this post is to 1) occupy my time while I am sitting at home, sick, 2) identify the useful questions Mark is grappling with, and 3) show how he inserts his own worldview into the discussion of faith and proceeds to call it “biblical”.
Mark posted a comment on his Facebook page about the talent of hip-hop artist Jay-Z. What ensued was an intense debate between Driscollites and Driscoll detractors. Some argued Christians should never listen to the likes of Jay-Z due to questionable content in his lyrics; others argued that in order to be culturally relevant Christians behoove themselves to listen to influential musicians in spite of their content. Mark came out with a post responding to both sides of the pond. His response carried his usual articulate nature. The man can communicate extremely well. Nevertheless, there are gaping problems in his arguments, and I wish to expose them utilizing other statements he made prior to this writing.
In the blog post, Driscoll enumerates his ministerial philosophy. He views himself as a “cultural missionary”. His whole purpose is to understand the culture around him and utilize that culture to speak about Jesus. Within this framework, he understands culture to be active. Culture tells us something. In a way, it is like food. We eat food, but food also affects us. It can nourish us, poison us, irritate us, fill us, etc. Likewise, we consume culture, but culture inevitably affects us. Mark stays highly alert to this fact. For me, this is the man’s lone redeeming value. He tells of how he engages with his family concerning the media they consume. He endorses and discourages depending on the content his children might see or hear. I love this, and I am happy he teaches others to do the same. Sadly, after this comment, he derisively says, “The attitude we have for our children is the same we have for our church.” I will get to this comment later, but its very existence informs what we see in the rest of what Mark states.
He continues, on the blog post, to put forward the two extremes in the culture battle. On one side, we have syncretists. Syncretists look like Brian McLaren or Jim Wallis, and they typically derive from Mainline Churches. Their syncretism developed from late 19th and early 20th century theology that could not accept much of what the bible claimed Jesus did (e.g. miracles, virign birth, resurrection). Instead, they liked to see Jesus in line with many other great spiritual leaders, and they made a move toward seeing G-d in the Judeo-Christian sense as one culture’s understanding of an otherwise mysterious divine being. These people, he claims, allow too many sins to go unchecked. They accept homosexuality, sex outside marriage, and worshiping of G-d outside “Christianity”. He makes no mention of their activism, their hospitality, nor their commitment to Jesus in spite of their pluralism.
The other group he condemns are the separatists. Separatists exclude too much. They take the idea of “being in the world but not of the world” too far. They disallow many activities; they place countless restrictions on people. Mark clearly deplores this. His main critique is that these are religious hypocrites who stay away from befriending the very people who need G-d the most. Again, he is dead on here. Many Christians exude separatism as a kind of sociological defense mechanism against the truth which is plainly clear for all who have eyes to see. Mark exposes this defense mechanism for what it is: a facade.
He proceeds by enumerating in broad terms how he thinks Christians should act. Using nifty little designs and alliteration, he says a Christian’s job when encountering culture is to do one of three things: receive, reject, redeem. Some parts of culture simply come up a-religiously. These types of things include computers, carpet, the internet, radio, sandwiches, and the list could go on forever (this is my list not his). These parts of our lives have no moral bearing on our lives, and therefore, should be used in a “faithful” way. Other parts of culture must be rejected outright. They have no value. His only example is pornography. Finally, he calls for parts of culture to be redeemed. Again, he uses sexuality as his example claiming that sexual pleasure can be used for sin therefore it must be redeemed by being denied until marriage. I cannot begin to imagine what other things he believes can be redeemed.
Now that I feel I have sufficiently described Mark’s point of view in his response to the Jay-Z incident, let me point out the gaping holes in his argument. First, Mark proclaims boldly, “Engaging culture requires discernment by God’s people to filter all of the cultures they encounter, Christian and non-Christian, through a biblical and theological grid in order to cling to that which is good and reject that which is evil.” The obvious problem with this when coupled with the comment I mentioned earlier concerning him treating his church like his children is that it turns him into the biblical and theological filter through which his church must pass. If he is the filter his children must go through in order to understand what they are seeing and he treats his church like his kids, the resulting hierarchy does not create Christians; it creates Driscollians (little Driscolls). Essentially, he becomes the Pope of his own church with all the ensuing rights.
His hegemonic reading of scripture derives from a worldview of privilege. As a white, educated, wealthy male, he represents a very small minority of the world, not to mention a minority conspicuously different from Jesus’ own demographic! He reveals his white-supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchal bias when he names himself a “missionary in culture”. Note that he does not qualify this culture. He simply evangelizes to “culture”. What other types of missionaries are there? The obvious answer, if he is talking about being a “missionary in culture”, is to be a missionary not in culture. These must be missionaries in cultures that are not their own. His wording indicates that evangelists overseas are missionaries to other places whereas he is a missionary in culture. This elite naming of his “culture” as unqualified culture reflects his privileged status and his Eurocentrism. This privileged status informs his interpretation of culture more than his understanding of Jesus.
The place where this is most clear comes out in his discussion of MMA in the documentary Fighting Politics. In it, he claims that men are made to be masculine and therefore made for “warfare”. He claims men intrinsically express themselves with violence. We necessarily need formalized structures for men to embrace their violence. Quite obviously, this looks nothing like Jesus who says repeatedly in the Gospels to not retaliate against violence with violence. Driscoll refuses Jesus’ teaching on this. He elucidates his view of Jesus by saying in his sermon, “How Human Was Jesus?”, that he cannot worship a man he can beat up. What does Mark do when he gets to the part of all the Gospels in which Jesus gets totally obliterated? I cannot pretend to know this. Nevertheless, it exposes Mark’s prejudices toward how people are. These prejudices color his reading of the bible immensely.
I want to utilize his own rubric to show his inconsistency. In a debate with Dr. Rob Wall over 1 Timothy 2, Mark claimed it acceptable for women to be theology professors but not pastors. He tells of how his Hebrew teacher was a woman. Openly, he embraces women as seminarians and teachers. This reflects the dominating culture that after feminist movement created more opportunities for women to be in what were previously male-only roles. Mark, in the world exterior to churches, permits women as leaders. Once you enter a church, a woman loses her capacity for authority. Clearly, Mark does not receive this part of culture without question or exclusion. If he did, he would permit woman pastors. By his own admission, he does not reject women as teachers. This leaves only one place left for women in authority, and that place is redemption. His exclusion of women pastors displays how he believes his church redeems secular, leadership roles by only allowing male pastors. This displays his opaque narcissism. By implication, his church involves itself in the redemption of women’s roles through male employment. This prevents G-d from being the redeemer and puts redemption into Mark’s hands.
Obviously, this whole discourse is disturbing. Mark cannot live up to his own ideals as none of us can. I do not fault him for this, but I do fault him for his lies and his lack of compassion. Instead of preaching a gospel that encourages and welcomes the very lowly, he embraces only the most powerful of our society. He then reaffirms their power, enhances it, and makes it divinely appointed. This is Oppression 101, and it wounds me deeply. I ask that no one allows anyone to become their “biblical and theological grid”. Let your own study and your own following of the Holy Spirit in a community of equals transform your life and guide you as you follow the Way of Jesus. Amen amen.