The Unexamined Premise Behind Mars Hill: Transformationalism

One of the unexamined themes Of the podcast series, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, is the stated purpose of the Mars Hill congregation and movement: to transform the Seattle metro.

What, however, if that premise is false? What if there is no basis in Scripture for the notion that it is the calling of the visible church or the individual Christian to “transform” their city?

That premise may not be assumed but it is widely and perhaps even universally assumed among evangelicals. As Gen-Xers and Millennials left their Mom and Dad’s congregations and migrated to Mars Hill they were attracted by Driscoll’s vision: to transform the city. People interviewed for the series have said repeatedly that they were attracted by the vision of transforming the the Seattle metro. It was a given that this the mission of the church. They were so devoted to it that they put up with abuse by Driscoll for years in order to achieve it.

For something so widely and deeply assumed one would think that it is easily found on the face of scripture (prima facie) but it is not so easily found. At best it is the result of a series of inferences woven together with other assumptions. When, however, those assumptions and inferences are questioned the whole assembly begins to crumble. I know, I shared those assumptions and inferences and watched the whole thing crumble after just a little criticism. I am not advocating passivity or world-flight. A regular reader of the space cannot help but notice a pattern of cultural criticism and engagement. It happens so often that readers sometimes complain. At least I cannot be accused of hiding from the world.

Engagement, however, is not transformation. Arguably, the whole transformationalist model rests on an over-realized eschatology. It fails to distinguish between the world as it shall be until Christ returns and the world after Christ returns, i.e., the eschaton. It is a type of what Lutherans call a theology of glory (theologia gloriae). It fails to distinguish the two cities (Augustine), the two kingdons (Luther et al.), the twofold kingdom (Calvin), and the sacred and the secular. The Seattle metro is not the Kingdom of God, i.e., it is not the sphere of God’s redeeming operation. It is part of God’s sovereign providence of the world and it has its place in God’s general providence. It is a place where Christians can and must fulfill their vocations in this world to love God and their neighbor.

The visible church is institution in which and through which Christ is administering his special, saving grace but Driscoll and Mars Hill turned what should have been a refuge of grace and mercy into a sometimes dangerous back alley in the culture war and in pursuit of their transformationalist vision.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Eschatology affects everything.

    We were in the CRC from the late 70s through very early 90s. (Oh, we were so young then.) This sort of mindset was in the air there, at least from my own particular vantage point. “How’d that work out for you?” I’ve come to quite distrust that impulse.

  2. A systemic and deeply problematic paradigm. Thank God that Calvin addressed it. Why the Reformed church continues to teach this earthbound error defies its own clear tradition, not to mention the clarity of Scripture. Thank you brother for holding the line here, over and over. Maybe it will eventually sink in. “Seek first the kingdom” was rightly preached from a non-Reformed church I attended last Sunday. How have WE missed those simple words, “My kingdom is NOT of this world”?

  3. Dr. Clark:

    It is the duty of every Christian to re-make society into their image — the Gospel Coalition says so.

    Also, why does a church need a “vision” or “mission statement?” Ah yes, because making disciples and teaching people God’s message in all 66 books is too labor intensive.

    • “…Also, why does a church need a “vision” or “mission statement?” Ah yes, because making disciples and teaching people God’s message in all 66 books is too labor intensive…”

      LOL. That one is so accurate it’s painful.

  4. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make disciples and work for the redemption of every aspect of life. The disciples of Kuyper are right when they note Christ’s claim over every area of life. Of course, we need to wait on the Spirit, and work on being disciples ourselves. But, bringing about the repentance of the whole city of Nineveh was ultimately God’s secret purpose in sending out Jonah. Maybe the repentance of our Seattles, Anytowns, and even SF and DC are things for which we should pray and work.

    Another takeaway: we should be praying for those who minister the Word, that they be kept faithful, well-equipped, and aware that the work is not theirs, but God’s. The little I know about the fall of Mars Hill and so many other ministries seems to be the failure of men who seem to have let position, power, money, sex, or whatever obscure that it’s all about Christ, not themselves. The fault is not in the vision, but in ourselves.

    • I think that the point Dr Clark has been trying to get over during the past few years is that Kuyperian Kraziness and Kellerite Kompromise are Kut from the Same Kloth. In other words, once you come to the conclusion that the Church’s mission is not what the Bible and Confessions say it is to be, but rather to remake the present world for the better, then you will baptize the political and cultural views that you otherwise hold (and which Christian Liberty may entitle you to hold subject to the Moral Law) and will retro-fit those views to the Bible so that you can legalistically impose them on others.

Comments are closed.