Mark Driscoll is American Evangelicalism’s Bête Noire ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mark Driscoll is American Evangelicalism’s Bête Noire

Don't miss the extended article on
Mark Driscoll, the "cussing pastor" of Seattle's Mars Hill Church in the New York Times. (FYI: Bête Noire is french for dark beast and is used to refer to an object or abstract idea that causes fear or has the potential to cause large harm.)

For those of you who may have missed it, The New York Times this week features a concise profile of one slice of contemporary evangelicalism that resonates with my own published research on both Mosaic and Oasis.

The profile of Mark Driscoll and the Seattle's Mars Hill -- a church with 7,600 attenders -- is compelling and throws more light on how religion is continuing to shift in America.  Longer and well-written, it's a treat to read.

Bottom line: This ain't your grandma's church:
Driscoll represents a movement to revamp the style and substance of evangelicalism. With his taste for vintage baseball caps and omnipresence on Facebook and iTunes, Driscoll, who is 38, is on the cutting edge of American pop culture. Yet his message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time.

Yet a significant number of young people in Seattle — and nationwide — say this is exactly what they want to hear. Calvinism has somehow become cool, and just as startling, this generally bookish creed has fused with a macho ethos. At Mars Hill, members say their favorite movie isn’t “Amazing Grace” or “The Chronicles of Narnia” — it’s “Fight Club.”

In little more than a decade, his ministry has grown from a living-room Bible study to a megachurch that draws about 7,600 visitors to seven campuses around Seattle each Sunday, and his books, blogs and podcasts have made him one of the most admired — and reviled — figures among evangelicals nationwide.

The “modern evangelical machine” is a product of the 1970s and ’80s, when a new generation of business-savvy pastors developed strategies to reach unbelievers turned off by traditional worship and evangelization. Their approach was “seeker sensitive”: upon learning that many people didn’t go in for stained glass and steeples, these pastors made their churches look like shopping malls. Complex theology intimidated the curious, and talk of damnation alienated potential converts — so they played down doctrine in favor of upbeat, practical teachings on the Christian life.

Driscoll disdains the prohibitions of traditional evangelical Christianity. Taboos on alcohol, smoking, swearing and violent movies have done much to shape American Protestant culture — a culture that he has called the domain of “chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists.”

Moreover, the Bible tells him that to seek salvation by self-righteous clean living is to behave like a Pharisee. Unlike fundamentalists who isolate themselves, creating “a separate culture where you live in a Christian cul-de-sac,” as one spiky-haired member named Andrew Pack puts it, Mars Hillians pride themselves on friendships with non-Christians. They tend to be cultural activists who play in rock bands and care about the arts, living out a long Reformed tradition that asserts Christ’s mandate over every corner of creation.

God called Driscoll to preach to men — particularly young men — to save them from an American Protestantism that has emasculated Christ and driven men from church pews with praise music that sounds more like boy-band ballads crooned to Jesus than “Onward Christian Soldiers.” What bothers Driscoll — and the growing number of evangelical pastors who agree with him — is not the trope of Jesus-as-lover. After all, St. Paul tells us that the Church is the bride of Christ. What really grates is the portrayal of Jesus as a wimp, or worse.

(Picture via Jim Bryant / P-I.)

This reaction to the “feminization” of the church is not new. “The Lord save us,” declared the evangelist Billy Sunday in 1916, “from off-handed, flabby-cheeked . . . effeminate, ossified, three-carat Christianity.” In 1990 a group of pastors founded the Promise Keepers ministry dedicated to “igniting and uniting men” who were failing their families and abandoning the church. In recent years, mainstream megachurches — the mammoth pacesetters of American evangelicalism that package Christianity for mass consumption — have been criticized for replacing hard-edged Gospel with feminized pablum.

Mars Hill — with its conservative social teachings embedded in guitar solos and drum riffs, its megachurch presence in the heart of bohemian skepticism — thrives on paradox. Critics on the left and right alike predict that this delicate balance of opposites cannot last. Some are skeptical of a church so bent on staying perpetually “hip”: members have only recently begun to marry and have children, but surely those children will grow up, grow too cool for their cool church and rebel. Others say that Driscoll’s ego and taste for controversy will be Mars Hill’s Achilles’ heel.
Cover of Cover via Amazon
Driscoll is author of the bestelling book:

The Radical Reformission:
Reaching Out without Selling Out

UPDATE: For one response to the NYT's piece, see the Hot Air blog.

Here's also a brief blog post justaposing Driscoll with another "influential" pastor.


Shawn said...


It's quite a culture out here. I've never seen such a radical, and yet conservative community all at once.

When I first got here, I was shocked at the people who had become Christians. It was the people who I never expected to know Jesus. Such a cool place.


Gerardo Marti said...

Thanks Shawn.

What are the reactions to the NYT article out there?

Is there anything more that needs to be added?

Hope you can comment a bit more...

Shawn said...

There are articles done daily about MHC, and yet this article has found wings to go all over the place, probably because it's the Times.

This article was both fair and accurate. Most people out here are oblivious to the impact of Mars Hill on the rest of the world, and are surprised that more churches don't exist like this. Most members didn't grow up in Christian homes or the Bible belt, so this is all they know of church. Much different from your standard Charlotte church-goer immersed in church since age 1.

As to the Calvinism questions, Mark said this Sunday that he was not a Calvinist, but loves John Calvin. He considers himself a person who loves the Bible, and reads all things through Scripture. Of course his position is reformed, and he preaches sufficient support in most all of TULIP, save his caveat of what he calls "limited-unlimited atonement.

Most people see Mark as harsh, arrogant, and brass, but being out here for a year and hearing him frequently, I have seen a much softer and much more graceful side to him. He genuinely cares about this city and its people, and wants more than anything for people to know the Bible, love Jesus, and prove their faith in their communities.

If the Times were to interview more members and attenders of MH, they would not find much difference in the direction of the NYT article and their responses.

Of all the churches I have been a part of, none have combined the church experience with such raw and direct truth in such a stimulating way. MH is a very unique and current connection with the culture of the city.

Gerardo Marti said...

Thanks Shawn. If anything else interesting comes up at the church there, let me know.

stephy said...

I've had a bad experience with this church. I blogged about it yesterday, for whatever it's worth.