I lived in the culture of ‘The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,’ and there’s one part of the story that’s wrong
This article originally appeared on August 24, 2021 at Baptist News Global.
The more people talked about Christianity Today’s new podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, the more I knew I eventually would need to listen to it. In 2004, my wife and I left our families and friends behind to move across the country and help start a church in Denver, and the Mars Hill saga rang all too familiar to us.
The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill tells the story of how pastor Mark Driscoll planted and grew Mars Hill Church in Seattle to more than 15,000 members by weaving together Reformed theology, toxic masculinity, celebrity culture and power until it collapsed virtually overnight after Driscoll resigned amidst allegations of abuse.
But Driscoll’s story went far beyond simply his own local church. He also helped found the Acts 29 church planting network, which was heavily involved with planting more than 500 Reformed, complementarian churches and shaping an entire generation of new conservative evangelical churches before Driscoll was removed in 2014.
Like the story of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill, our story in Denver ended with scandal and abuse by a pastor obsessed with hierarchy and power. And like many whose stories have been told in this podcast, we felt we had to bear our wounds in silence for years.
Because our story involved leaders who were shaped by the Acts 29 and Mars Hill philosophies, I knew that listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill would be triggering. And sure enough, despite some theological differences I have with certain moments of the podcast, I found myself seeing our story in every episode. For the first seven episodes, I felt seen, and I experienced some deepening levels of awareness and healing.
But then they released an interview titled I Kissed Christianity Goodbye with Joshua Harris, the author who helped shape the 1990s purity culture under the direction of CJ Mahaney and eventually became a megachurch pastor before deconstructing his views of dating and eventually leaving Christianity.
“I have a unique glimpse into what’s really going on in all three of these worlds. And I am deeply concerned about what I heard in this episode.”
As somebody who spent more than a decade either in or around Driscoll’s Acts 29 churches and as a member of one of Josh Harris’ Sovereign Grace churches, and as someone who now identifies as an ex-evangelical, I have a unique glimpse into what’s really going on in all three of these worlds. And I am deeply concerned about what I heard in this episode.
Thought-provoking article. I find myself more and more like Harris, drifting away from anything that can be construed as Christianity other than a belief in the life and death of Christ.
I don’t know that I’m at a point of full agreement with you. However, I think you are on the right path with the question of whether or not the Theology is the Ethics.
I’ve enjoyed the podcast series so far, but I found this episode extremely frustrating. I don’t think CT can successfully dig into Mars Hill (and churches like it, and abuses in general) and come up with decent answers if they don’t actually listen exvangelicals. I’ve seen that a lot of ex-evangelicals were upset by this episode in particular, as am I because it feels like conversations that I had about deconstruction where I felt I wasn’t being listened to, and that people were giving me trite answers instead of actually engaging with what I was saying.
Cj mahanney? …. Self deluded crackpot along with Larry tomzak in the 70’s. They started a A kind of charismatic “apostle” cult thingie. I think it was called new wine or some garbage fantasy thing that total crap and became wierd.just like the purity crap.
Personally I now attend an episcopalian church with a 75 year old female priest nothing wierd to it at all she is brilliant and keeps it sane. Mehanney he is dangerously self deluded.
Rick, I really appreciate this post. I think you are correct, that not only the podcast, but much of Evangelicalism, fails to recognize the extent to which their theology leads straight to this sort of toxicity … as Thomas Paine said, “… the belief of a cruel God makes a cruel man.” If I may, I offer this (somewhat old) article of my own which I think may resonate with some of your thoughts on this topic: https://nailtothedoor.com/jesus-christians-and-fear/