Last week, I cited Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church as an example of toxicity.

When I first started reading about him a few years ago, I wondered what his background was. The only Driscolls I ever knew were Roman Catholics.

Driscoll, for those who are unaware, founded the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, as well as the Acts 29 network of churches. His is an Evangelical Calvinist theology.

He has an odd way of combining the religious with the carnal. However, as Janet I Tu wrote for the Seattle Times, perhaps it’s no wonder:

The oldest of five siblings, he grew up in a house behind a strip club in SeaTac [Seattle-Tacoma area]. He saw drive-by shootings there, drug dealing. Being close to all that, “it’s not enticing. I think that’s what kept me out of trouble.” He also had a strong father who “made it really clear that ‘my kids don’t do certain things, and that’s the way it’s going to be.’ “

He’s a tough, streetwise kinda guy:

He says he didn’t have a drink until he was 30, never tried drugs. But he always had a temper. “If you [annoyed me], I beat you up.”

So, it’s better to be teetotal than to beat your opponents up. However, as long as there have been pietist and holiness Protestants, Catholics have not been untouched by this type of thinking. One might suspect that there might have been a drink problem among a Driscoll antecedent which would have brought on a family prohibition.  Who can say?

Here is how Mark describes his early Christian upbringing (emphases mine):

His parents were devout Irish Catholics and until age 13, he went to church weekly. But the meaning of Mass eluded him. “It was like an aerobics class: stand up, sit down, kneel . . . It never intersected with food, sex, friends, going to college, getting your first job — the things kids think about.”

He stopped going to church and got involved in sports and student government. At Highline High School, he captained the baseball team, edited the school paper, served as student-body president.

So, he never had a drink until he was 30 and yet thought that Mass was ‘like an aerobics class’? Also, if his parents were ‘devout Irish Catholics’, why wasn’t he better catechised and taught about the Order of the Mass? I, too, am an ex-Catholic and would never think of referring to it as ‘an aerobics class’.

Incidentally, this is what Christ said about ingesting:

18 “… Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, ”What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” (Mark 7:18-20)

St Paul said (1 Timothy 5:23):

Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.

Although he intended that for St Timothy, the young evangelist, it could also pertain to an adult who was experiencing occasional digestive upsets.

And what about Proverbs 31:6?

Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish.

However, it seems as if alcohol was a distant runner compared with ‘food, sex, friends’. This would show up later in his ministry.  And it seems that even in secondary school, he was already developing a gift for the gab.

Meanwhile, it was his girlfriend and future wife Grace who got Mark started on the Bible:

Driscoll went to Washington State University on a Fulbright scholarship. He considered going into politics or journalism — something where he could influence. He certainly wasn’t interested in being a minister. He remembers reading the New Testament in college in two weeks — mainly because he was smitten with Grace, who had given him a Bible. He immediately disagreed with most of what he’d read.

Of course, he didn’t think he was a sinner. One wonders if this is the sin of pride he seemingly acknowledges yet projects on his congregation — that they, too, somehow do not think they are sinners.

It wasn’t until he read St Augustine that he

realized pride was the worst sin. That was like a kick to the groin.

St Augustine was a libertine until he began reading Roman classics and from there delved into Holy Scripture.

That, too, must have been a revelation to Driscoll. Perhaps he recognised himself in Augustine’s writings.

He testified to Ms Tu, the Seattle Times reporter:

God told him to marry Grace, preach the Bible, plant churches, train men. He married Grace, graduated, worked as college outreach pastor at Kirkland’s Antioch Bible Church.

It’s funny that John MacArthur has never said that God told him to go to Grace Community Church. Yes, he had always hoped to have his own church, start a seminary and train men to serve God, but it does not appear that he received a divine message in this regard.

I also doubt whether MacArthur viewed the ministry the way Driscoll did:

I’d never preached, run a business, gone through seminary.” But “it’s like you’re at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving and someone says: ‘Someday you’ll get to the big table.’ [Forget that]. I’ll just form my own table.

Is that a good and humble way to view service to Christ’s people? (Driscoll did attend Western Seminary.)

And the way he describes Judgment Day?

the party to end all parties, the good time to end all good times

Most of us consider it seriously and solemnly, hoping that we will be able to see Christ face-to-face and be in God’s kingdom for eternity. We never thought it was going to be a party.

So, how would Driscoll’s preaching play out in church? One woman — the author of Freedom For Captives — who attended Mars Hill occasionally with her husband wrote:

In his Spiritual Warfare series Mark states that when he counsels couples “Invariably one feels their sex life is fine and the other is not satisfied.” He says this is a wedge between them and “it is Satanic,” that is, demonically influenced. He goes on to say, “It is like Satan is sleeping in bed between the two of you.” He implies the wife should not hold out on her husband, that if both parties are not getting all the sex they want and if it is not “fun and exciting” there is “Satanic” involvement. Nothing is said about the woman’s possible if not probable prior sexual abuse.

After three years of grad study to earn my masters to be a psychotherapist and 2 years of doing therapy with deeply traumatized women, those statements and implications of Mark’s are absolutely abhorrent to me. Many studies report that 1/3 to 1/4 of women have been sexually abused (e.g., childhood incest, rape, etc). This kind of trauma often causes severe, complex PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which includes terrifying, panic stimulating flash backs, dissociation, avoidance, and hypervigilance. This has very little if anything to do with one’s cognitions (thoughts) and very much to do with one’s emotional brain (the amygdala) taking over due to various cues in ones environment or unwanted, unelicited flashbacks. Therefore, it is not under one’s conscious control or one’s will power or one’s spiritual beliefs and memorization of Scripture.

Mark is not a therapist, to my knowledge, and certainly not a Traumatologist, and he is therefore treading on waters he knows absolutely nothing about… he seems to think a few short Scriptures and some counseling where he convinces this poor woman that she needs to, according to him, “repent of believing lies” will cure her and the sex “problems” in her marriage.

You would no doubt be forgiven if you thought of the aforementioned strip club after reading this passage. I did. Given abused women’s circumstances — of which there are bound to be more in our age of sexual freedom, now encompassing nearly two generations — perhaps the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is guiding them, not Satan. An abused woman does not need more pain in her life, especially of a sexual nature. If anything, it seems that Driscoll’s preoccupation with sex and scatology in his sermons reveals a possible  carnal nature.

On a post about the closure of the women’s blog at Mars Hill in 2008, near the end, one of the women (Anonymous, April 30, 2008, 12:24 PM) says:

Driscoll envisions himself as the head, or “father”, of a movement. He has often joked that his goal is “world domination.” Is that sinful?

So, what are we to think? That Mark Driscoll is a young Dominionist in postmodern clothes? Or, alternatively, the next Rick Warren? Who is he exactly and what is he really after?

It all seems very confused. And if it is confused for the onlooker, imagine what it must be like to be listening to him week after week. As to his Calvinism, well, that’s another matter entirely.

The author of Freedom For Captives is right in making this assessment. She wisely has no answers here but says:

When Peter became overly concerned with John’s walk with Jesus and whether or not he would remain alive until the Lord’s return, Jesus told Peter to never mind about John, “you follow me.” Why is it that certain anxious men must so vehemently demand that women submit to them? Why don’t they leave that “command,” if it is such, up to the women to fulfill or not, just as we are all called to choose whether or not to obey the Lord on many various issues. This is harmful enough when male laity behave in such a manner, but it is exceptionally abusive when men use their church positions (and usually false authority) to coerce women into obedience to their desire to rule and reign (all in the guise of obeying Scripture, of course).

I find it awfully suspicious that some “Christian” men are so extremely invested in ensuring that women “obey” a few cherry picked Scriptures! This is very cult like. This is what cults do. That is why MH’s stance on women and the testimonies of those harmed by this caught my attention, along with other aspects which match up with VanVonderen’s and Dr. Enroth’s descriptions of church abuse. Cults use various Scriptures out of context also in order to control the cult members. Driscoll, and others like him, use Scripture passages which are difficult to translate, to understand and to apply correctly partly due to one glaring reason: they seem to contradict the gender equality Jesus teaches, Paul teaches and Gen 1-3 teaches and which many other Bible passages exemplify. Conversely, you do not find women in an uproar about husbands not loving their wives properly and not giving their lives up for them, now do you? …

Freedom4Captives is about analyzing and highlighting what appears to be CHURCH ABUSE at Mars Hill. The more I read of mind control, aberrational “Christian” churches and of cults, the more I see similarities in Driscoll’s style of “leadership” (control) and the Mars Hill system.

Personally, I do not know. Nor do I have an answer. However, Mark Driscoll is said to have an increasing following in the UK. Furthermore, many Protestants have not appreciated Driscoll’s somewhat flippant — others might say lightearted — approach to Christ and to relationships. We didn’t grow up with this approach, nor did we grow up with ‘federal headship’, another idea now almost into its second generation. Again, I would urge caution on church membership and subjective feelings of security and protection, particularly on the part of women.

Tomorrow: Mark Driscoll and the Song of Solomon