Notes On Episode 3 Of “Who Killed Mars Hill?”

Last week I noted the new Christianity Today podcast on the rise and fall of Mars Hill church in Seattle. In episode 3 host Mike Cosper tells the story of the early days of Mars Hill. It is a familiar story of a hard-driving church planter who fills a niche, attracts a committed core group, and then takes a turn which alienates some of the core group. This is one of the unintended consequences of the church growth movement and Mars Hill was, from the beginning, what adapting the church-growth model to hipster, Gen-Xers in Seattle looked like. In this case, the turn (for those familiar with professional wrestling might think of the “heel turn”) was Mark Driscoll’s apparently sudden turn, post-9/11, to the so-called “New Calvinism” or to the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement. Unfortunately, Cosper un-ironically, and without qualification, describes Driscoll in this period as “Reformed.” He goes on to note that Driscoll now eschews that label but the former members of the core group blame his turn to “Reformed” theology for the beginning of the alienation in Mars Hill.

Once more, as I said implicitly in Recovering the Reformed Confession and as I said to Molly Worthen in 2009: by any objective measure, Mark Driscoll was never Reformed. He was predestinarian but he was never Reformed. I am sorry that Cosper makes the assumption that all predestinarians are Reformed. That has never been true. With Augustine, Gottschalk, Aquinas, and all the magisterial Protestant Reformers (e.g., Zwingli, Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Calvin) the Reformed churches confess the mystery of predestination but obviously Luther and Melanchthon were not Reformed. In the Modern period people have assumed either that we invented the doctrine or that we alone hold it and thus we have become uniquely identified with it perhaps because we defended it, among other doctrines, at the Synod of Dort against the Remonstrants (1618–19).  Thomas Aquinas (c.1224–74) taught the doctrines of unconditional election and reprobation as stoutly and as clearly as any Reformed theologian but for obvious historical and theological reason Thomas was not Reformed. In fact, the magisterial Protestants were, like Gottschalk, merely following Augustine against the Pelagians—it is interesting to note that he interviews Tony Jones without noting that Jones openly embraced Pelagianism years ago.

In fact Mark Driscoll was not only never Reformed, he could not have become a minister in any confessional Presbyterian or Reformed denomination. He would not have even been allowed to receive communion in a some Reformed denominations. He was a Baptist, quasi-Pentecostal/Charismatic, Amyraldian (he openly denied the Canons of Dort on the atonement). Driscoll may be a brilliant organizer and self-promoter and he may have a photographic memory (as Cosper claims) but was never well informed about Reformed theology, piety, and practice. The only people who ever considered Driscoll Reformed were fellow members of the always-problematic, so-called Young, Restless, and Reformed movement and that movement always assumed and entailed a radical re-definition of the adjective Reformed.

In short: the Reformed are not responsible for Mark Driscoll’s views and abuses of the sheep at Mars Hill. In one compelling but difficult to hear audio clip, which Cosper plays in order to illustrate Driscoll’s alleged turn to Calvinism, Driscoll lashed out at a self-described universalist. Rejecting universalism does not qualify Driscoll as anything more than, on that point, a fairly traditional Christian. He alone is responsible for his ill manners.

For all that, Cosper’s series is compelling and worth hearing.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
    Author Image

    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!