An Illuminating Podcast From Christianity Today On The Rise And Fall Of Mars Hill

Christianity Today has released a new NPR-style podcast series hosted by Mike Cosper, “Who Killed Mars Hill?.” It is well done and deserves your attention. So far they have released a couple of trailers and two complete episodes. Cosper is sympathetically critical of Driscoll and does a good job in the first two episodes of putting the Mars Hill/Driscoll phenomenon in perspective. He connects Driscoll to Bob Schuller, Chuck Smith, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren. Driscoll was ostensibly the anti-Rick Warren but, under the tough-talking façade (it was just schtick) he was always just another American religious entrepreneur. This brings me to one point of criticism (so far): Cosper appeals repeatedly to the “success” of Mars Hill and to the number of lives “transformed” by its ministry. He does not qualify success with the adjective numerical, although, in context it is clear that is what he intends. His appeal to the subjective benefits of Driscoll’s ministry at Mars Hill stands in contrast to the objective marks of the true church confessed by the Reformed churches in Belgic Confession, art. 29:

  1. The pure preaching of the gospel;
  2. The pure administration of the sacraments;
  3. The use of church discipline

Evaluated in light of the Reformed understanding of the church, Mars Hill looks rather different.

Those who are not Reformed and those who are (or who are on the way to Geneva) should listen to this series. Cosper illustrates very effectively the difference between the predestinarian, revivalist, Narcissist (“I am the brand”), Finney-ite approach to worship and ministry employed by Driscoll and the theology, piety, and practice of the Reformed churches. Some of his critics have focused on his occasional (according to Cosper) potty-mouth in the pulpit but Driscoll’s raging from the pulpit was frequently abusive and his treatment of members and staff was prima facie grounds for removal from the ministry.

Of course, ever the American religious entrepreneur, Driscoll has re-branded himself as a Pentecostal and taken his show to Scottsdale, AZ where he makes no pretense of accountability. Just as the Mars Hill leadership was beginning to hold him accountable he announced that he had received a direct revelation from the Lord that a trap was being set for him and he fled. Even as Mars Hill was collapsing at his feet he was already working on his new act and staking out a new market.

We might quibble too with Cosper’s account of Schuller and the evangelical boom in Orange County in the 1970s and 80s but he tells the story well. In that regard please see Kim Riddlebarger’s history of Orange County as the New Burned-Over District. Remember, Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim is still there and, for all its glitz and glamor, the Crystal Cathedral is now a Roman Catholic meeting place. Check out my interview with Kim in the resources below. The vision of Mark Driscoll on stage with Bob Schuller is priceless and telling.

As I wrote in 2010, this is Sister Aimee’s America and the Reformed are pilgrims here (see the resources below).

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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