A Tale of Two Mars Hills (well, their pastors)

I’ve been listening to the incendiary podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and shaking my head along with thousands of listeners around the world. But it’s worth remembering there were two churches named Mars Hill, one of which is still in existence. Both their founding pastors courted controversy, but one of them was treated very differently to the other by the evangelical church establishment.


In 2011, the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, wrote a book entitled, Love Wins.

The pastor’s name was Rob Bell.

The marketing description of Bell’s book read, “Love Wins is about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.” For many people, it simply became known as Bell’s hell book.

In it, he outlines a number of historical views of hell, from “eternal conscious torment” to “universal reconciliation” and (as best I could discern) doesn’t identify any one view as his own. He does write that the universalist view is appealing without saying he holds to it. But he is more explicit in his criticism of hell as a place of fiery torment: “It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.” 

Love Wins is a frustratingly imprecise book, but it’s pretty clear that Rob Bell was rejecting eternal conscious torment and suggesting that hell is what we create for ourselves when we reject God’s love. One reviewer said Love Wins presents [Bell’s] “case for living with mystery rather than demanding certitude.”

Unfortunately, large swathes of the evangelical church leadership prefer certainty and they were certain that Bell had gone too far. Leaders such as Albert Mohler, Kevin De Young and David Platt rejected the book outright, and did exactly as Bell predicted — equated a rejection of this particular doctrine of hell with a complete rejection of Jesus.

John Piper infamously tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell.”

Rob Bell was shunned.


In 2014, the pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, Mark Driscoll resigned in response to allegations made by multiple staff over many years that he was responsible for a deeply dysfunctional culture of leadership in the church. The board of overseers stated that Driscoll had “been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.”

Over recent months, Christianity Today has been releasing episodes of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast which has aired testimony of the trail of broken lives and dashed hopes Driscoll left in his wake at Mars Hill. It has also detailed the damage caused by his mistruths, his plagiarism, and his teaching about gender and demon possession. It cannot be overstated how traumatized many of Driscoll’s former colleagues have been by their time in the church.

You would think the conservative church that was so quick to shun Rob Bell over Love Wins would be just as scathing in their response to a man charged with bullying, anger, deceit, and plagiarism, a man who had caused serious harm to many in his church.

Not so, I’m afraid.

This week I was listening to the final episode of the podcast, Aftermath, which explores the fallout from Driscoll’s spectacular demise. It begins by replaying a series of sound grabs by conservative pastors speaking about Driscoll, the first of which is Pastor Robert Morris introducing Driscoll at a pastors’ conference in Texas just five days after his resignation:

“He did make some mistakes. Here’s what I figure: we’ve got two choices. One is we could crucify him. But since someone’s already been crucified for him… The other choice is we could restore him with a spirit of gentleness considering ourselves lest we are also tempted. And it’s very sad that in the church we are the only army that shoots at our wounded. And I want you to stop it… I’d like for you to show your love for him. I’d like for you to welcome him here. Mark, would you stand up? This is Mark Driscoll.”

The hundreds of pastors present that day greeted their fallen brother with thunderous applause.

Morris’ generous introduction is then followed by quotes from unnamed pastors, all speaking publicly about Driscoll around the time of his fall:

“And Pastor Mark had to go through a very difficult, almost a public trial with the media on his front lawn, helicopters overhead…”, says one man.

“And I believe Mark Driscoll has been completely mistreated by former staff people and by our media and I want to support Mark and his family…”, says another.

“And Pastor Jimmy got up and delivered a powerful prophetic word to Pastor Mark. And the prophetic word was this: you’ve been a brother to many, the next season you’re going to move into is you’re going to transition from a brother to a father,” says yet another.

Far from being “the only army that shoots at our wounded,” as Robert Morris had said, the church was absolving Driscoll of responsibility and celebrating him as a victim of the media and his “former staff people.” Two years after his ignominious departure from Mars Hill, Driscoll founded another church in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he remains the pastor to this day.

In other words, Mark Driscoll was not shunned.


Why shun one Mars Hill pastor for writing about his questions regarding the doctrine of hell, but commiserate with another Mars Hill pastor when he’s outed as an arrogant bully?

You could say the evangelical church takes doctrine more seriously than behavior. Bell was shunned for his theological beliefs, but Driscoll wasn’t charged with heresy or wrong teaching.

You could also say that Driscoll didn’t get an entirely free pass from the evangelical church. Acts 29, the conservative church planting network Driscoll founded, had removed him from leadership even prior to his resignation from Mars Hill.

But overall, Driscoll remains in the fold, while Bell was ejected.

What was the difference? I’ve been thinking maybe this is a case of identity theology.

You’ve heard of identity politics. It’s a pretty vague phrase, usually used as a pejorative, but initially it referred to politicking around issues pertaining to one’s, well, identity. But it has been broadened over time to describe the way people’s identities become expressed through their politics. And when people come to feel as though their preferred political party is a projection of their identity, they become less discerning or critical of that party’s policies, and less able to see value in the policies of another party.

Identity theology is the same. It’s like when your sense of who you are is conveyed by the religious group or network to which you belong. Mark Driscoll and the New Calvinists, also known as the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement not only articulated a theological system of thought that appealed to their adherents, they fostered a tribe. They created a community and championed a group of elders that epitomized everything that community desired to become — men like John Piper, Matt Chandler, Al Mohler, Mark Dever and CJ Mahaney.

I’ve met many young men in ministry who very quickly identify themselves to me as part of this tribe. But when we enter into discussions about theology, they often can’t defend the Calvinist doctrine they say they hold. Sometimes, some of them have even inadvertently voiced views opposed to Calvinism. Their self-identification as Calvinists is often more a way of them describing who they are, not necessarily what they believe.

The concept of a theological identity can best be understood as an inner narrative of one’s theological self. Identity is the story that we tell ourselves and others about who we are, who we were, and who we foresee ourselves to be. For some people, Acts 29 or The Gospel Coalition do that work for them. They define the tribe they want to belong to and the person they want to be. Similarly, non-Calvinist networks like Missio Alliance, Forge, and the Parish Collective help their adherents to define their identities as visionaries, social justice activists, community workers and peace-makers.


When trying to understand why one Mars Hill pastor was shunned while the other was welcomed back, look to the power of the tribe. While certainly an evangelical, Rob Bell was never a Calvinist. He didn’t appear to be interested in complying with the rules of his tribe. In fact, he was willing to question everything, pushing on the limits of evangelical belief. Hence, Love Wins.

Driscoll, on the other hand, was the epitome of his tribe. Confident, uncompromising and outspoken to the point of rudeness, he personified a kind of male Christian who loved theology, hated pointless emotionalism, demanded discipline and hard work, and embraced a commitment to traditional family values. He was a card-carrying member of the young, restless and reformed crowd. Even after he came undone as a leader at Mars Hill, his tribe could not reject him because to do so would seem like rejecting their very identity. Mark Driscoll was one of them.

Evangelicalism is too big and too broadly defined to operate as a tribe, so its adherents fracture into smaller, more meaningful groupings whose members say they are driven by biblical or theological agendas, but in reality they are defined by personality traits and a sense of identity as much as anything.

Sometimes, saying you are a Calvinist or a progressive, or that you’re missional or an Anabaptist, or that you’re conservative or woke, means something more like saying you’re a Gemini or a No 6 on the Enneagram. We all just want to belong somewhere and be known.

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55 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Mars Hills (well, their pastors)

  1. Hi Mike. Interesting observations. This made me think about how Richard Rohr versus Rob Bell are treated as well. Since publishing “Love Wins” Bell’s works have much more clearly put him in the universalist camp. Rohr, though coming from a Roman Catholic theology, also has penned universalist books (“The Universal Christ”). Yet I see others in my “tribe” (theologically based in anabaptism, pietism, and holiness), rejecting Bell but embracing Rohr. With Rohr supporting more mysticism-oriented approach than Bell but expressing the same underlying theology (my view anyway).
    What do you think?

    1. That is a really interesting observation. I’ve noticed that too and hadn’t considered it. To be fair, the evangelical gatekeepers like John Piper, Albert Mohler, Kevin De Young and David Platt are no fans of Rohr, but I think you’re right that many other conservatives happily quote Rohr when they would never quote Bell. I also wonder whether there’s a strong distaste for pastors who were in the evangelical fold and move beyond it (as Bell did). That seems to be more unforgivable than those who hold the same views but were never evangelicals (Bono, Mother Theresa, Bonhoeffer, Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Connor, etc). So, it all comes back to tribalism, doesn’t it?

      1. What a dysfunctional bunch we are. Well written and thought provoking Mike! Thank you.

        1. You are being generous!

          I am reminded of Jesus’ words –
          There will many in that day…

          May I humbly say that evangelicalism in general simply uses Jesus as a prop for their own fleshly egos…

          Concerning which I daily monitor in myself

      2. Hmm, you wrote…
        “But overall, Driscoll remains in the fold, while Bell was ejected.“ But my recollection is, but I could be wrong, that he wrote ‘Love Wins’ pretty close to the time of leaving the real Mars Hill Church, as if he was already on his way out. If not, I repent. But. He was already disillusioned with the materialism and egotism of his fellow mega-church pastors and wanted nothing to do with them. I don’t think he was expelled, I think he escaped. ‘Love Wins’ was merely the catalyst for the exodus.

    2. I am surprised that the Anabaptist, pietism and holiness movements accept Richard Rohr.

      I think a lot of it comes down to bad publicity for Rob Bell. When he wrote ‘Love Wins’ there was such an outcry from the evangelicals. With Rohr they have done not this so his writing are under the radar so to speak

  2. Great article Mike.. thanks. I agree! people need to define themselves in community…. whether that be loving or hating on someone… either position can be idolatry and a comfortable self righteouss distraction from following Jesus and his actual mission.

    1. I’ve been part of a chirch that shittered a padtor who msy well have beyter spoken out – while their “inner politics” took control in a “Trump-style” of narcissism. The church family stumbled under such “leadership.” Would love – and Do Love – being in spiritual community with a leader in line with Rob Bell & Richard Rohr types!

      1. Please excuse the typos – small keys … I’ve been part of a church that shuttered a pastor who may well have better spoken out – while their “inner politics” took control in a “Trump-style” of narcissism. The church family stumbled under such “leadership.” Would love – and Do Love – being in spiritual community with a leader in line with Rob Bell & Richard Rohr types!

        1. I prefer shittered. It should be a word. Far more descriptive!

          1. ditto. ha ha ha ha

          2. I am going to start using it!

          3. I’m going to use it.

          4. Hilarious!

    2. As a young Christian I struggled with the doctrine of hell. Reading ‘The Great Divorce’ helped me to have a new perspective on this issue. But I know pastors who have been rebuffed for questioning the ugly and (I believe) unbiblical preaching of eternal torment. One was told ‘you must not talk about this because you will upset evangelicals in other countries and cultures’.
      Thankfully I am far too old now for anyone to be too bothered about my credentials. But I thank God that Rob Bell had the courage to risk his career and reputation by openly repudiating something about which many lesser men prefer to keep silent.

      1. Your comment reminds me of a truly excellent series titled The Great C. S. Lewis Re-Read, over at Tor.com (a secular publishing website!) The posts examine The Great Divorce were particularly touching, but all of it is good.
        Related to this post, it made me re-consider my ideas of he’ll in contrast to an all loving God who died for us.
        Also, I highly recommend ‘Walking on Water’ & ‘And It Was Good: Reflectionson Beginnings’ by Madeleine L’Engle.

        1. Your comment reminds me of a truly excellent series titled The Great C. S. Lewis Re-Read, over at Tor.com (a secular publishing website!) The posts examine The Great Divorce were particularly touching, but all of it is good.
          Related to this post, it made me re-consider my ideas of hell in contrast to an all loving God who died for us.
          Also, I highly recommend ‘Walking on Water’ & ‘And It Was Good: Reflectionson Beginnings’ by Madeleine L’Engle.

  3. The Evangelical Church in my opinion is King of Cancel Culture. If you ask the wrong questions or make the wrong statement you are quickly kicked to the curb or declared a heretic. But if you have a dynamic personality and check all the right theological statements you are in. A sad reality in church world. Good observations Michael.

    1. The evangelical church has been canceling culture forever! When I was a kid one of our Sunday School leaders hosted a record and tape burning party where we could cast our Rock n’ Roll music into the fire where it belonged!

      1. We had a Sunday School teacher like this for about 5 minutes at my childhood (extremely moderate SBC) church. I went home and asked my mom how “Walk Like An Egyptian” by the Bangles was “Satanic”.

        She went to the Children’s Minister and that situation was handled.

    2. Boy how true is this!!! Well said

    3. “The Evangelical Church in my opinion is King of Cancel Culture.”
      I would argue against this, if only because generalizations are dangerous & often skewed by our own prejudices & experiences, rather than actual fact.
      I’d also argue secular culture is equally guilty of cancel culture & tribalism.
      It’s simply because Christian culture claims to set itself apart, it’s outing of members is easier to catch, because the secular culture will point their fingers & go, “Look how unfair & judgmental the supposedly loving Christians are.”
      And all the examples of Christians destroying secular culture, such as burning books or CDs, or limiting dress codes, or trying to ban books (like Harry Potter) are harmful & are usually acknowledged as such.
      Burning books & limiting ideas is always bad!
      But those are different than outing someone for their theology
      The former are misguided attempts to keep Christians separate & pure from the world & focus on God & all that is good(and everyone appears to agree they are misguided.)
      The latter are personal attacks focusing on theology & behavior & the consensus is less clear.
      They’re similar, but there are differences.
      But again, a little research & you’ll turn up similar outrages against Christians & their culture in the secular arena. And groups of secular people outing their own for speaking out against injustice.
      It’s harder to spot, but it’s there.

  4. Get interviewed by a church board and pretty quickly you find they ask questions which pigeon hole you theologically. There is often more concern about theology than character. We like our boxes and feel very uncomfortable with even questioning the boxes afraid someone might step outside the box. This is reflected in our discipleship which is often more concerned with correct thinking, or even correct living, than in finding the heart of God amongst the struggles of life.

    1. “There is often more concern about theology than character.”
      I do agree this is an issue.
      And It will always be an issue- just look at history.
      We are waking up, for the up-tenth time, that we have wolves in our midst, and the gates are broken, & the shepards asleep.

  5. “You could say the evangelical church takes doctrine more seriously than behavior. ”

    I think that’s true, except maybe for same sex behaviour. And I feel that contrasts with Jesus, who did call people to believe in him (doctrine) but also called for people to follow him (behaviour). The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) doesn’t tell us to make converts or believers only, but “disciples” who “obey everything I have commanded you”. I can’t help feeling the evangelical church sees salvation by grace through faith as a get out of gaol free card that allows them to avoid doing good works of justice and mercy and valuing those who live humbly and sacrificially.

  6. The “Rise and Fall” series does an excellent job pointing out how leeway is given to badly behaving personalities who can deliver the goods beloved by the Evangelical industrial complex. Same at a local level. “But people are being baptised!” That is why Driscoll got away with bullying so long. He left with a platform which he used to spin his version of events (e.g. at Hillsong interview) which garnered the kind of sympathy Mike quotes.
    With the release of this series, I expect much less support from his former tribe, which he has dissed himself in any case. i.e. there is another chapter to come with Driscoll. His new tribe is not the Restless and Reformed, it is people who love a good speaker and “strong leader” and won’t ask questions. Whiskey and cigars optional.
    Rob Bell’s publications are more extensive than his “hell book” and he was already on the nose for theological purists before it came out. So it’s a very selective comparison using just the stated evidence.

  7. It seems, from this single piece of media, as if you’re just hearing of Mark Driscoll and have sampled precious little of the podcast you mentioned. Mark Driscoll has been shunned, publicly castigated, sued, rebuked, rejected (to the point of denouncing Calvinism and his former running partners), and much more. The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill goes after him in a particularly vicious way that I’m not sure any other public pastor has ever experienced. It is up to the listener to decide whether or not this is warranted, but the claim that he is still “in” with evangelicalism at large is utterly ridiculous.

    1. You know, mate, you could have made that same point respectfully and reasonably, but instead you decided to alert me to your views on the podcast and your disagreements with my conclusions by telling me what I’ve written is “utterly ridiculous.” Interesting strategy for engaging in a conversation, one I suspect you wouldn’t use if we were talking face-to-face.

      1. … and especially interesting, considering the subject matter if your piece refers to Driscoll as a bully.

        1. Let’s not dirty this conversation by falling into accusations & name calling.
          Arguing it’s wrong to call Driscoll a bully is fine, but accusing someone of being ridiculous for doing so is not.
          Based on what he has researched about Driscoll, Mark stated that Driscoll was outed due to accusations of bullying (and later excused for those accusations.
          Based on the evidence he (Mark) has, Driscoll was named a bully.
          But he, Mark, doesn’t actively accuse Driscoll of being a bully.
          Regardless, his point that the church was being unfairly forgiving of him while rejecting Rob Bell still stands. Because both should have been forgiven & re-accepted, but they weren’t.

      2. I don’t want to continue any combativeness but it seems like you may have only pulled the quotes that support his acceptance. I believe you could have used just as many, if not more quotes to make the opposing argument and then weighed them thoughtfully. I was surprised by your conclusion. Even some of the quotes you used from the podcast were talked about in the context of a rejection of those things communicated. Just my 2 cents.

    2. Driscoll is still embraced by much of the conservative evangelical church – maybe not as publicly as before, but certainly low-key, under the radar. He did much damage in the evangelical world and the unfortunate reality is that some of the same damage is being done, but by different players.

  8. Great article, incredibly well written, a fair summary and insightful. Thanks, Pastor Mike

  9. As Christian pastors, how effective are these men in leading their congregation in worship of and service to the Lord?

  10. Thanks for this article, and for continuing to ask hard, but needed questions.

  11. Great article Mike. The podcast frustratingly avoids addressing the theology that underpinned Driscoll’s behavior and strangely validated it (a male, hierarchical God, redemptive violence, etc). I don’t see how this isn’t repeated in evangelicalism unless this is identified. In one sense, the behaviour was overlooked because it could be justified from a hyper-Calvinist perspective. Unlike Driscoll, Bell was not interested in the tribe’s approval so while I’m sure it hurt to be rejected, it also helped him exit what had become suffocating for him.

    1. On point, Richard, the underpinning theology shouldn’t be ignored.

    2. “The podcast frustratingly avoids addressing the theology that underpinned Driscoll’s behavior and strangely validated it (a male, hierarchical God, redemptive violence, etc). “

      Yes!!! Somebody finally said what I’ve been thinking the entire podcast!!

    3. Good point about underlying theology, Richard. Though I have read many who believe that Cosper was too theological and was purposefully attacking Hierarchical Complementarianism. It seems to me Driscoll’s tribe is not so much defending him any longer but rejecting the podcast without recognition of Driscoll’s sins. For them, it seems, to see Driscoll as someone who used Hierarchical Complementarianism to control, abuse, etc. is an indictment of the view.

  12. Greetings Mike,
    You’ve made some good observations and it’s always worth asking how consistent we as disciples are in following through with conviction regarding doctrine and behaviour. Something that I’m not sure about, however, is whether Driscoll was truly still accepted by his tribe, as you put it. Obviously that Texas conference represented a significant portion of support for him, but leaders of the YRR movement – guys like Piper or Keller – have not continued to encourage him in his pastoral role. This may be splitting hairs, but it seems to me that when it became clear that he could not have his own way it was Driscoll who left his tribe (or perhaps sub-tribe) for one that would allow his the freedom he desired. Moreso Driscoll stopped identifying with the great reformers and had quite a few less than gracious words about them and those who are drawn to their work. His tribe is still Evangelical, but a distinctly different ‘flavour’.
    Is it possible the issue is as much about the church’s attitude to celebrity? Driscoll was internationally a big deal: well known, influential and force that attracted people. Like any televangelist caught in immoral behaviour who’s own congregation refuse to accept their failure because they’ve invested so much, was Driscoll just too valuable a resource to dismiss easily for that branch of the church?

    1. Rob Bell was on Oprah and was making a TV show with one of the producers of Lost. I don’t think it’s a different level of celebrity—if anything, Bell was a bigger overall celebrity. And in churches too; Nooma videos were EVERYWHERE in the 2000s. The theological identity Mike mentions was the big difference between the two. But I also agree with the observation that both were shunned by the neo-Calvinist branch of evangelicalism. Each went to what they believed were greener pastures: Bell to the secular entertainment world and Driscoll to the charismatic Evangelical world, a far cry from the folks who said “Farewell” to Rob Bell.

  13. I must confess I’ve been in the evangelical wilderness too long to know much about either Bell or Driscoll. However I do opine that Calvinism is at odds with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in that the “whosever” in John 3:16 includes you, me and whosever believes. Believe is to receive and receive is to believe – they are synonomous.
    To state that God created a select group to be with Him forever and billions to be destined to eternity without Him is an affront to Jesus and Calvary.
    The Good news is clearly this: we are all chosen, all called, all loved equally by a Father Who cannot help Himself but love us.
    Charles Wesley put it in words like this : Love moved Him to die, and on this we rely, He has loved He has loved, we cannot tell why”
    Universalism is filled with half truths and my old pastor used to to ask ‘what is worse than a lie? a half truth.
    Yes Jesus died for the whole world (people) and has forgiven us all our sins. Never forget that forgiveness of sins is the heart of the Gospel.
    However this condescending God stretches His arms to us and continually asks ‘Come unto me all you that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” It remains then that those that come enter into His rest and those that don’t remain vexed and alone in their desperate search for peace.
    I appreciate your insights Mike. Thank you for your bravery. The tribe of the twice born is my tribe.

  14. I feel such grief over the way legalism masquerades as Christianity. Finger pointing is the order of the day for so so many church leaders. ‘love the sinner hate the sin’ is such hackneyed code for ‘hate the sinner’ … and the problem is that there is no sin outside the church that isn’t inside the church. What makes that worse is that at least people who don’t profess Christianity don’t pretend a love that isn’t there.

    When I look at the words of Jesus about love, that spoke love, and at the way in which the only people He rebukes are the legalist pharisees, I shudder to think of the ‘depart from me … I never knew you’ will affect so many who are celebrated right now.

  15. Spot on about the tribalism. And one of the key traits of the conservative tribe (of which I’ve always belonged without feeling like I belong) is a desperate need to be certain about everything. Driscoll embodied this certainty in his teaching (sadly leading to a plethora of young male preachers equally certain about everything – especially their obsession with male authority.)

    Meanwhile, Rob Bell was (and is) a questioner. He wanted his sermons (and books) to be the start of a conversation, whereas the conservatives want the sermon to be the final word.

    Anyway… good piece.

    1. So true, Tony. When I read Love Wins I heard Rob saying “permission to question, please” – forbidden, of course, in Reformed Evangelicalism.

  16. Hell? Hell is a marginalized person, isolated showing up on a Sunday, wanting to ask how to repent and start a path of transformation, finding, after 90 minutes or so, he has been exposed to a Sunday Pharisee ritual that is all “Lord, Lord,” and no action. It does not matter how great the sermon was, the spiritually hungry visitor can see and feel the fiercely self-centered hypocrisy of Prosperity Gospel passing by another name, if it is in operation there. Protestants have an Indulgence system, too. — Jesus addressed Sunday Phariseeism in these words: “I never knew you.”

  17. I think your point about tribalism is spot on.

    Let me add what may be a related factor: Grand Rapids is not Seattle.

    Grand Rapids (Rob Bell) is and has for a long time been a theological/cultural hub of all things Reformed Theology, including PSA and Eternal Conscious Torment. Rob Bell’s voice and approach was exceptional in that context. While Grand Rapids doesn’t make Lifeway’s 2017 Top 10 list of most churched cities, it’s at 83 on Barna’s most unchurched because it is 65% churched, high for the upper midwest. The Reformed heritage there is strong, real, and enduring. https://lifewayresearch.com/2017/08/23/churched-unchurched-cities-america/ and https://www.barna.com/research/post-christian-cities-2019/?mc_cid=27d825c292&mc_eid=9bb6f29f25

    Seattle (Mars Hill) was a theological/cultural hub for nothing in particular. Seattle was one of the most unchurched cities in the US, and, frankly, it still is (#8 on Lifeway’s list, #10 on Barna’s 2019 list: https://www.barna.com/research/post-christian-cities-2019/?mc_cid=27d825c292&mc_eid=9bb6f29f25 but with even more unchurched than in 2017 ). So anyone making any theological claims there pretty well gets to/has to build their own culture around them to sustain whatever claims they want to make. And if you’re going to have any voice at all it will have to be one that rises above the general “meh” the surrounding culture otherwise offers to all things religious. What you say doesn’t matter as much in such an environment. That you get a hearing does. Mark Driscoll definitely knew how to get a hearing there.

  18. Great article, thanks Mike. As Richard Fay has commented before me, to keep the criticism and treatment of Driscoll at a behavioural level avoids having to uncover the theology that underpinned the behaviour and allows it to go unquestioned. Bell had the delightful quality of curiosity, wrote about what he had questions for, and incurred the wrath of the “thou shalt not question” crowd. A far cry from the Rabbinical practice of valuing the ability to ask questions to keep a conversation going. The Sin of Certainty (hats off to Pete Enns) was on full display with in both the Bell and Driscoll affairs.

  19. Mike, you wrote N excellent piece here on the underlying culture that each one of these leaders is trying to build. Rob is seeking to embrace the mystery and Mark is seeking to embrace the narcissistic. The roots of what Driscoll believes and teaches is misogynistic, rigid and toxic (for more on this read Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Du Mez). When Driscoll did a video interview with Mark Dever and Dever said “ekklesia was the Greek word for assembly” Driscoll’s response was “according to who”. This just shows the depth of pride and arrogance he lives in.

    While I wish that sometimes Rob would take a more clear position on where he lands, in books like Love Wins and other stuff he has written and said, I do appreciate his ability to hold the mystery for others and himself.

    Christian Nationalism, the unwillingness to ask questions and wrestle with doubt and the celebrity pastor culture are the cultural Trinity in America right now. Until we can strip away all of that and see an unvarnished Jesus, we are in trouble. We have lost the narrative of the First Century. Thank you for trying to help us reclaim it with your work and writing Mike!

  20. Hey Mike, I think your comparison of these Pastor’s who’ve both experienced public removals over their actions is interesting, and thought provoking!

    I take issue though with your direct comparison of these leaders and the aftermath of what ensued in christian communities. Let me try to sum up why, and again thank you for writing this article because who we are as a Church (nationally/globally) matters, and we should be able to talk about this stuff and find some common ground. Look, I loved Nooma, and never read love Wins, just excerpts. Also I’ve never been deeply involved in Mark Driscoll’s church or delved extensively into his teachings unless listening to “The Fall of Mars Hill” counts. I feel like open dialogue about this stuff matters, and is healthy, because you need to lance a boil, and the only way to make sure the wound is clean is to see it for what it is. That said, here’s my beef.

    Heresy is different than moral failure. Heresy is more dangerous than moral failure. When you’re dealing with globally famous church’s and the moral failure is of the key leader than it may become more murky to delineate, but it’s still a bigger issue and demands a more clear response. Think of it like this. There’s a law that speeding in a school zone is illegal, it exists to protect others. What’s worse? Speeding through that school zone and hurting some kids, or telling thousands of people that speeding in a school zone is fine, and having some of those thousands of people go out and hurt kids by speeding in a school zone believing they’re in the right. Both situation are horrific, but one is more horrific and grotesque. One attacks the nature of what hold us together, while other simply violates it. Heresy violates the nature of the Church, where as moral failings simply violate its’ imperative.

    Bell didn’t just “identify” poorly, he was careless at best with a tenet of faith in a position of incredible influence that could shape the nature of the Church in this world. Driscoll seems unrepentant in a pattern of sin, as best I can tell. If either of these guys were to come out and clear the air (Bell, clarifying the nature and point of his book, and Driscoll owning and apologizing for his actions) then they are both entitled to God’s grace and restoration in the church. Bell wasn’t rejected as much as he was rejecting (or at least carelessly communicating in a way that could be perceived as rejecting) a reality God puts forward in the Bible. Driscoll’s embrace (far from universal) I feel comes more from our willingness to overlook behavior if someone is a big enough celebrity and success. I feel like simply boiling down the difference between the fallout of these two leaders to “Theological Identity” is to undermine the danger of heresy.

    Maybe I’m missing something, or am misinformed, I am by no means perfect or all-knowing. I just feel like you missed this key differencing in these leaders falls. Thank you for writing this article I hope to hear back from you!

  21. Brilliant exposition with one exception: identifying the Driscol tribe with the label “Reformed” while noting that Bell did not embrace that label (or any other one in the end, being his own person). This appears to suggest that the problem is with Reformed theology without recognizing what is apparent to those of us who are deeply embedded in that tradition – what Driscoll et all represent has very little to do with Reformed identity, particularly its transformative element so well elucidated in Nicolas Wolterstorff’s classic: Until Justice and Peace Embrace (https://www.amazon.com/Until-Justice-Peace-Embrace-University/dp/080281980X/ref=sr_1_6?crid=1PKBI4NTDA32O&keywords=nicholas+wolterstorff+justice&qid=1639066273&sprefix=nicolas+wolters%2Caps%2C170&sr=8-6).

    Driscoll was a pretender, using the label without fully understanding what it is about. Too many doing that today, including those within the Reformed tradition who rarely grasp its transformative foundation.

  22. Michael, you probably need to know that through things like the Rise and Fall podcast, and your interest in blogging about him, Mark is being pushed to the edge. He needs our help…


  23. Hmm… There are some inconsistencies that I humbly submit to you, Dan

    1.) Heresy is a sin, literally a choice that is deemed outside the greater community’s choice. It stand among other sins, some of which are just as harmful for the Christian church. (See clergy abuse in the Catholic Church.)
    2.) Rob Bell did not preach heresy or make a choice regarding it in his book, nor from the pulpit. He questioned whether a universal reconciliation based view of hell was in fact heresy.
    3.) That question about the Christian view of hell has a long lineage in the history of the church. Many church scholars and historians don’t believe universal reconciliation was ever deemed heretical by the Church fathers (pre-schisms). For an excellent article in this regard, see https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/apocatastasis-the-heresy-that-never-was/
    4.) Mark Driscoll was or seemed to be a Calvinist (he never seemed to be explicit about it). John Calvin was deemed a heretic by the Church (i.e., Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Church of the East). Preaching Calvinist doctrine is anathema for many of the above faithful. http://www.crivoice.org/creeddositheus.html
    5.) Arrogance, Bullying, Pride are sins that it is clear Driscoll engaged in regularly and was unrepentant about.
    6.) Accusing someone of heresy is itself a moral choice. Wrongly accusing someone of heresy is therefore a sin. I am not saying you are doing this. But it seems to me there was a quick rush to condemn Rob Bell for merely questioning Evangelical teaching, namely that a non-Evangelical view of hell shared by many Church fathers was indeed heresy at all.
    7.) Where I agree with you is that the Evangelical view of hell is the card that holds the Evangelical worldview up. By questioning it, Bell threatened the house of cards’ collapse. But is that heresy?
    8.) There are more than one “house” *(denominational approach) to consider, and some houses don’t have hell as the foundational card and have been standing for centuries and even millennia.
    9.) Lastly, a couple points about pastoral leadership. Bell was in pastoral discernment when he was writing the book and when it came out. He left a month after it came out, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall that merely questioning doctrine made you condemned. As mentioned, he never explicitly preached universal reconciliation from the pulpit. Certainly, he was questioning things while in the pastoring role. But questioning things doesn’t rule out being a good pastor, thank God. In fact, it may enhance your pastoral presence. Certitude is not a prerequisite for good pastoral care. Faith is.
    10.) What does rule out good pastoral care is arrogance, bullying, and meanness of spirit… That is the heresy here, IMO.

  24. Thanks for posting this article, Michael. You are holding a mirror to our tribal echo chambers of power, politics, theology, culture, and character in a very descriptive way. I hope curiosity stays alive and we don’t succumb to the cul-de-sac of arrested moral cognitive development. James Fowler’s adaptation of Piaget’s developmental stages is a good filter to process your article. It seems to me that Rob Bell has moved far beyond the mythic/literal/synthetic/conventional stage to where he enjoys reflective/conjunctive questioning in a trinitarian dance of mystery. Unfortunately, most congregations are stuck at the mythic/literal, 7-12-year-old stage of moral development. It seems to me, that Mark has not grown past this stage either, exemplified in his pre-middle school playground bullying. At this stage, certainty is the name of the game. Brian McClaren describes these stages as a movement from simplicity to complexity to perplexity and eventually landing at a place of harmony. Rob probably finds himself between perplexity and harmony, while Mark presents himself as someone somewhere between simplicity and complexity. In the great love chapter 1 Cor 13:11, Paul encourages us to put the ways of childhood behind us, and become men in the faith. I wonder if Paul was also struggling with arrested development in the Corinthian church as we see in the present fundamentalist American Evangelical church. Yet, in spite of the sad condition of the American church, I am glad to know deep down that God loves all of us, warts and all. May he grant us patience as we encounter people at different stages of moral development. Michael, thanks for making the conversation possible on this subject matter. Peace

  25. Mark Driscoll hurt a lot of people. Somehow the pastors expressed sympathy for him, perhaps because he was a member of the “leadership class”, rather than his victims. This is just plain wrong.

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