It almost seems like hate-watching Mark Driscoll has become the evangelical church’s version of a national pastime. Even those of us who aren’t actively rooting for his eventual comeuppance can find ourselves rolling our eyes, scrolling our mouse wheels furiously as we read in vast detail the nature of each new apparent screw-up coming out of the church called Mars Hill.

In an era of podcasts, blogs, and entire outlets built on the personality and lifestyle of individual men, we had better hope they are up to the task of leading an entire universal church.The first time I caught wind of Driscoll was on the heels of a controversy surrounding teachings based on the Song of Songs, in which he made a case for “biblical oral sex” in such a way that seemed to border on legalism. From there, I watched in increasing frustration as he declared videogames “stupid” while praising MMA as a sport that lets “men be men,” while other “fat, lazy men sit around and criticize them while watching.” Then there was his defensiveness in response to sincere and concerned criticism of his book Real Marriage. And then there was the plagiarism, the Strange Fire incident, the misguided and theologically questionable publicity stunt used to hype an upcoming book, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And now we’re made aware of a  disturbing, hateful online invective Driscoll doled out when he was a young pastor, which was not actually much of a surprise, and for which Driscoll has now apologized.

You can mark me down on your list of people who have, in some way, gawked and marveled with morbid interest at the inward and outward controversies surrounding that infamous Seattle pastor and his church. For those invested in the broader evangelical landscape–and any parachurch organization or outlet must be, these events are inescapable. Driscoll’s missteps inevitably reflect not just on his own church, but on the evangelical church as a whole.

But really, that goes for any pastor. Any time any pastor of a church is caught in controversy or scandal, those happenings are reported breathlessly by local news outlets, and then–if they’re just scandalous enough–by national news outlets. And it’s not like we can blame them. After all, the moment “Christian Pastor Acts UnChristianly” ceases to be news-worthy, we’ve got bigger problems to deal with than a bad reputation.

The real question is whether we, as Christians, ought to be exacerbating the repercussions of a local pastor’s missteps. After all, as Protestants, we’ve grown accustomed to a splintered landscape of various types of churches and denominations, each with its own tone, ministerial focus, and pet doctrine. If the vast expanse of evangelical churches share any one tenet, it’s the simple request that we be left alone to do church however we please, thank you very much.

Remember that blessed gap in time before the mainstream use of the internet, when pastors and churches could commit all sorts of sins and make all sorts of bad decisions and we outsiders would be none the wiser? I remember growing up in youth group hearing second-hand stories of youth pastors caught in unsavory situations with their youth, and pastors stealing from their churches, processing them like urban legends. These were cautionary tales that had no real effect on my life. What really mattered was what happened at my local church.

Now, I talk to guys at my local church who “love Driscoll.” I find myself forced to engage not just with the arguments that Driscoll makes, but with those subtle cultural echoes that can so often reverberate from the words and deeds of any popular pastor. In an era of podcasts, blogs, and entire outlets built on the personality and lifestyle of individual men, we had better hope those chosen few men are up to the task of leading an entire varied and diverse universal church.

Even those who balk at the idea of the celebrity pastor–myself included–will find themselves directly influenced by a culture of celebrity. It’s not really an option anymore; it’s our reality. These few pastors are framing the conversation; we’re just conversing in it. God has declared that it is so.

In many ways, the universal church has benefitted from the likes of present-day giants like Piper, Mohler, Moore, Keller, Warren, and so on. But as the opportunities for pastoral influence increase, so do the stakes. The more popular a pastor becomes, the more influential he is in his own church. He’s become a clear “success” in his church’s eyes, and most of them are there because of him anyway.

There is simply no pastor, and no local church body for that matter, that is exempt from the need for accountability and exhortation from the outside. This was the case in the early church, and it is even more so in an age when an unassuming Sunday morning sermon can set the world on fire. Evangelicals have determined that unlike the Catholic church, a single unified head of the universal church is unbiblical and unwise. As a result the responsibility is now all of ours.

Christ and Pop Culture has always been about acknowledging the reality that we are always engaging culture, no matter how conscious of that fact we may be. This principle applies to church culture as much as it does anything else. Whether we reject the notion of Christian celebrity or buy into the purpose and vision of our favorite personality, our actions or lack thereof have real consequences.

No single person is obligated to call out every single misstep that is brought to light in the life of a pastor. Even we at Christ and Pop Culture were forced to take a break from our constant stream of nuanced but staunch rejoinders to Mark Driscoll’s various pastoral transgressions. Even while Driscoll remained a huge influence on the evangelical church, writing about him became too tiring and tiresome a task.

It became too easy for our hearts to harden toward the man, and that just seemed wrong. The last thing we wanted to be was a website known for its take-no-prisoners hit-pieces, determined to take down what’s wrong with the evangelical world. Our goal has always been to edify the church, not to lob bombs at it.

Jonathan Merritt is right to remind us that it is right and good to accept Driscoll’s apologies, numerous and tepid as they may be. But that forgiveness is only the first step to healing. What must follow is accountability and general tough love, because Mark Driscoll isn’t the only human being in the picture here. His ministry affects the lives of several hundreds directly and millions only slightly less directly. Most importantly: as a pastor of our Lord Jesus Christ, he is held to a higher standard, a standard which he has managed to systematically lower over time.

Now I find myself reading headlines that declare, “Christian Pastor Acts UnChristianly” and rolling my eyes with boredom, far from surprised at the antics of a popular Seattle pastor, asking myself, “How is this news?”

Now removed from those cursed doldrums, I realize that the evangelical church has much bigger problems than a bad reputation.

image via timsamoff


  1. Some really good stuff here, Richard. One of the key problems with celebrity of any stripe is that it someone, in public perception, puts the person on a sort of high ground that doesn’t have to face the criticism from those below. Kind of like gods on Mount Olympus. The Christian community ought to welcome and engage with voices from outside their local constructs because the Spirit speaks from Outside and From Below in as much as it does from Within.

    The only pushback I’d give here is that I think speaking of what is going on with MH as a “scandal” or a series of missteps doesn’t quite capture what we are all witnessing right now. What is going on is the unraveling of a culture that has had many of its roots (though not all, I think) grounded in coercion, intimidation, fear and abuse for nearly two decades. All the “missteps” were symptoms of a much deeper and, yes, evil, condition that those who were at the center of Mars Hill culture lived in. This is a serious event for my friends in the “evangelical church” that needs to be thoroughly examined in a more clinical, as opposed to “hate watching”, fashion in order to pass on to future evangelical leaders the valuable lessons of community and leadership that can be taken away from this tragedy.

  2. True repentance has got to include the willingness to submit to consequences.
    If your child is caught cheating or being a bully at school, we would encourage them to both repent and bear the burden of the consequences of their actions.
    Why do we get so cowardly when it is a leader?
    They are people too, yes. Grace is for them too, yes. They need to submit to the discipline of the Lord just like the rest of us.
    Giving them a pass is not loving to them.

  3. I think the only way to deal with Driscoll is realize why he’s so attractive. There’s a tremendous lack of masculine vitality in the church, and even though Driscoll is flawed, he provides it enough to attract people. Unless this is realized, following the emergents and dogpiling on him will only backfire because it’s seen as yet another attempt to stifle masculine energy in the church.

  4. Thank you for including (and even just acknowledging) Driscoll’s victims, which are more and more plentiful by the day. So much of this conversation seems to be how Driscoll needs to “apologize,” but so few are calling for him to actually *change his actions.* Regrettably, human lives are hardly what Driscoll, Piper, Mohler, Warren, and their ilk concern themselves with. It’s so much easier to grandstand and decide who gets to be in your club.

    1. Andy – Not sure why you include Piper and Mohler in your list – I have heard nothing against them to anywhere near the same degree as Driscoll.

    2. Andy,

      I also don’t understand why you include Piper, Mohler, or Warren with Driscoll. Not one of them are associated with similar controversies as Driscoll.

      Also, Piper, Mohler, Warren, and Driscoll are all ministers who concern themselves with thousands of human lives within their spheres of influence/ministry. Maybe, they are not concerned the way you are or are missing some important aspect of caring for human lives in your opinion. But “they are not concerned with human lives” is a nonsensical statement to anyone familiar with these men.

      Just my two cents,

    3. Yeah, it’s worth noting that there’s a reason I wrote this piece primarily about Driscoll. I brought up those other men only to point out the vast responsibility that comes with being a popular pastor. Most if not all of those others I’ve listed have done a decent job of acknowledging that responsibility. I’m not sure I could say the same about Driscoll.

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  6. I think the strong Pastor model with elders who do not do much is allowing the egos of these men to run rampant. We say we have elders but really it ends up being a board of yes men who are afraid the pastor (who they have helped set up as the reason everyone is at that church) might leave. Every church I have ever been in the attendance drops when the pastor isn’t there. What does that tell us? Some people are not there to worship God, they are there to worship the pastor and our church model perpetuates it. This can be tempered somewhat if the pastor has a lot of humility (like the case of Moses) I think we need to examine closely if the one paid super star model is really biblical.

  7. I believe this is the first article from your website I have read. I really enjoyed it. I particularly appreciate your intention to not be one of those websites who’s sole purpose seems to be calling out a particular person for everything they do wrong.

  8. The real issue is not Driscoll but the fact that there is so little discernment that results in so many guys that “love Driscoll”?

    1. I’m a Driscoll fan because having grown up in the church, I’m so used to hearing “Christianese” that I don’t really HEAR it. For example, I grew up in the Church, went to a private Christian school, and have a father that runs a non-profit ministry, and I didn’t know what “grace” meant until Driscoll defined it. I’d heard about “grace and mercy” literally my whole life, but until he said something like, “mercy is when God doesn’t give us the punishment we do deserve, and grace is when He gives us the good things we don’t deserve,” I never understood it and never appreciated it. Long story short, Driscoll’s admittedly unorthodox and unsanctimonious preaching opened my eyes to the Glory of God and I think that’s what pastors are supposed to do.

  9. @Mark H @Chris: Andy apparently comes from a different perspective in his criticisms of Driscoll, probably one that’s more of a “progressive Christian”, “ex-evangelical”, or even an anti-Christian viewpoint, which would naturally put him against Mohler, Piper, and the like. A number of these people particularly don’t like Driscoll because of his statements against homosexuality, among other things. He might even be a former “Mars Hill” attendee who’s experience has turned him against anyone connected with Mark or conservative theology. Of course, Andy can either confirm or deny my guesses if he’d like.

  10. I think you can ignore Mark Driscoll. Step 1 would be to stop writing about him. Step 2 don’t listen to him. It was easy enough for me. KInd of odd how ‘writing about him became too tiresome’, yet here we are again.

    1. Agreed. Widespread attention can create a monster by feeding something that is already puffed up. Deflate it by refusing to pay attention to it.
      It’s an interesting ecclesiology that calls on laypeople to berate other peoples’ pastors, and to watch while others berate him, and to set up websites talking about him, no matter how poorly behaved they may be. Deal with the teaching in your own congregation, encourage your friends and brethren in the truth, and follow Paul’s instructions to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2 regarding how the Lord’s bondservant ought to behave toward those teaching really terrible false things and upsetting the faith of some; interestingly, he calls for Timothy to exemplify the fruit of the Spirit in dealings with them, that they may escape the devil’s hold and come to repentance.

    2. Well, this whole piece was an explanation of how I came to slowly realize that ignoring him was a bad idea. Obviously I could if I wanted to. Did you get that?

  11. I was punished (in a very small degree) by one of the Mars Hill’s pastors when this person was a pastor of another church. Having emails written to you where you are called insulting names and told others agree with their assessment can be extremely painful so I do really feel and pray for the victims of Mars Hill.

  12. The point made in this article about the way the internet has impacted this kind of issue is very key here… after all, Martin Luther was quite the loose cannon in his day, and not just because of his reforming tendencies. What would we think of him if he lived now instead of then, and his every comment was broadcast for the masses to criticize? He might get the same treatment Driscoll’s getting, or worse.

    And were that the case, what would happen to the powerful impact of the GOOD God would be doing through him? Would we miss his significant contributions to the church and the world because we’re too busy gawking and gossipping about his latest unfeeling or sensationalistic comment?

    There’s not enough Christ-like humility surrounding these types of happenings… yes, for sure in the approach of those making the statements we’re all fascinated with, but more importantly in the hearts of those making the observations and criticisms. Not to say we shouldn’t be holding brothers accountable or calling sin, sin… (which should be done privately), but there should be an underlying sensitivity to the FACT that God uses broken vessels that are STILL in the process of being redeemed.

    Christians, let’s exercise some humble self-restraint… both in commenting and in our gawking. Aren’t there a LOT more kingdom-building things we could be doing with our time?

  13. Thanks for injecting a much needed word of balance (and we need more of them). I am not enamored with MD, or any of the other figures in today’s cult of celebrity. BUT can we all finally agree that “trial by blogger” is not a New Testament form of church discipline? It’s now out of control, and no one seems to register that a lot of these voices make a living this way; pro blogging. And the more sensational the post, the more clicks and the better the advertising revenue. Meanwhile the name of Christ is dishonored again and again before an already cynical world. We need to hear again the spirit of Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 6:6.

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