There were a couple things that I couldn’t avoid, even with my self-imposed internet sabbatical. One was the ice-bucket challenge. The other was the ongoing saga of Mark Driscoll.
I’ve written about Mark plenty here, and I’ve detailed his early involvement with the emergent movement in one of my books. Mark and I never knew each other all that well. I got the impression that he looked down on me because in our “Group of 20,” I was the lone youth pastor. Just about everyone else had planted a church of their own.
Those were heady days. Cover articles on Christianity Today and Christian Century within a year of each other — that’s rare. Television coverage on ABC and PBS. Articles in the New York Times. Speaking gigs, book contracts, conferences. That shit can go to your head.
Let’s be honest. It did.
But we began to garner a reputation of being the “young assholes of evangelicalism.” We took no prisoners, and we refused to follow the rules of civility that had been established by the seeker-sensitive Baby Boomer pastors who preceded us. That approach garnered us early attention, but it wore thin rather quickly. And we knew it.
So, we ratcheted things back. We collectively decided to play nicer. And, as I wrote in the book, that’s about when we parted ways with Mark — or he parted ways with us. That story depends on whether you believe his book or mine.
Probably what was most disconcerting to those Baby Boomer pastors was that many of my peers, Mark included, were the heirs apparent to their megachurch kingdoms. But most of them have spurned that. Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay, Danielle Shroyer, Brad Cecil — each of them pastored or pastors a small or mid-sized church. Of the original emergent group, only Mark went on to megachurch superstardom.
And now he has news helicopters flying over his “million dollar” house and TV reporters buzzing on his intercom.
My point is this: It could have happened to any of us.
Sure, Mark had personality traits that all of us saw even in 1998 that would lead him eventually to a very reified and right wing theology. He was also brilliant, hilarious, and an egomaniac. He loved the spotlight and hogged the mic. But he wasn’t evil. He was passionate. We all were.
But somewhere it spun out of control.
I’ve reached out to Mark recently, as I have many times over the past decade. I rarely hear back from him. I want the best for him, and I surely do not think he is beyond redemption. As I said, he is extremely smart, and I’m hoping that he can see his way out of this. I hope that he can see that the version of theology he embraced is toxic. Others have turned from that theology. I hope he will.
And I hope that all those from his church and the Act 29 Network who are breaking with him now will see that it’s not Mark they should abandon. It’s his theology.