Most of the time we review books and movies here on Schaeffer’s Ghost, but every once in a while there’s a bit of entertainment culture that’s worth highlighting apart from what’s on the big screen or coming off the presses. Whether something like this should be entertainment culture is a different question, no doubt. But if you’re not listening to Christianity Today‘s new podcast “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” you are missing out on a gem. So yes, this is going to be a review of a podcast published by a magazine on a website that usually covers books and movies.
Mark Driscoll, for those who remember the name from the early 2000s, was a celebrity pastor who rocketed to (Evangelical) fame through his ministry at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Through his sermons (heavily downloaded as well as broadcast across multiple Mars Hill sights), books, and public talks, Driscoll quickly because well known as a pull-no-punches preacher who dabbled in crassness, would talk about issues other celebrity pastors hesitated to delve into, and yet remained faithful to Biblical orthodoxy.
So with all that going for him, why did Mars Hill Church collapse with his resignation in 2014? That is the question Christianity Today‘s new podcast seeks to answer. As of this writing, three episodes have been released (the fourth will have dropped by the time this post goes live) and the pretty-heavily-hinted-at implication is that the reason Mars Hill failed has to do with an unaccountable exercise of power combined with arrogance. Or something, I don’t know which way they’ll go, they’re only three episodes in.
But! If I’m allowed to predict what will happen, I think we can see hints of it in this now-classic video about multi-site churches with James MacDonald (whose ministry also didn’t end well) and Mark Dever (an opponent of multi-site churches):
Again, I don’t know which way the podcast will go, but I do know that a church which revolves around the influence and personality of one person is automatically both out of line with Scripture’s model for a church and creating a danger for both the church and the pastor. The church is at risk, because if anything happens to the person at the center the whole church is damaged. The pastor is at risk because he is being elevated to a position of power and influence. When there is no accountability, that situation becomes that much more dangerous for everyone.
This is something we should all be aware of and thinking about, especially as the culture becomes increasingly hostile and the shallowness of 20th century American Christianity is less and less appealing or useful to believers. We’re going to need stronger, healthier, more Biblically-based churches. The cult of personality, the lack of accountability, the pursuit of size and power rather than faithful holiness, these are all things we should be prepared to set aside in favor of the gift that God has given us of the local body of believers faithfully submitting to elders in a congregational church structure.
I suspect they’ll also talk more about pseudo-masculinity and how it’s not what we need. If the show goes in that direction as well, I can’t say that I disagree with the point. I’m just not sure it’s the best takeaway from the Driscoll debacle. But we’ll have to wait and see what they have to say on the topic.
“The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” is an important voice in our rethinking church for the 21st century, and I strongly recommend you give it a listen.