Questions About the Acts 29 Changes

I’ve had a little more time to think about all the changes at Mars Hill. And though I’ve tried to talk myself into believing the moves are good, I remain unconvinced. I just have too many questions…

Does any of this have anything to do with Paul Petry and his accusations? Will his accusations be addressed or will everyone in Mars Hill, A29, TGC, etc. act as if nothing has happened? 

Are the reasons stated publicly the whole story? Or is this the typical A29/Mars Hill political machinery at work? 

Will the A29 churches questioning their association just breathe a sigh of relief and move on as if none o this every happened, just glad they have a more innocent face for the brand? Or will they keep asking the hard questions?

There are only two possible reasons I can think of for everyone (besides we few bloggers) ignoring the Petry allegations. Either they do not believe it is true or they do not think his allegations of abuse of authority are a big deal.

I know there are discussions going on behind the scenes. But why not in public? I know it would be messier to have discuss all of this publicly. But why is that bad? Is there such a desire to protect the brand, they are afraid to say something, anything?

Regardless. It all has the air of damage control and PR and political machinery.

If this was happening with a theological group you did not care for – say, the fundamentalists you all ran from, or the Catholics…or the mainline denominations – you would call all this silence, arrogance. So why are we not worried about it now? Because we fear men and idolize them in the same moment.

Thoughts on Mark Driscoll Stepping Aside as President of Acts 29

Update: Driscoll has left The Gospel Coalition, meaning he is no longer a Council Member.

Last night the guys at Phoenix Preacher posted this story about Driscoll stepping aside and Matt Chandler taking over and the HQ of Acts 29 moving to Dallas. The post was updated very soon afterward with statements from the leadership of A29 sent to pastors, who are part of the network.

I spent about 2 hours last night talking through this with about 20 guys on Twitter, Facebook, email and text. Many were optimistic about this move because of the stories which have gone public regarding Driscoll over the past few months. There are a few, hopeful this is a step in the right direction, but are cautious.
Count me among them. And the following is why:
– Though this comes in the midst of (what I would call) devastating revelations regarding the leadership of Mars Hill, I am told this has been in the works for months and is not directly related to the Petry allegations.  Which is sad because it makes people hopeful in the midst of them.
– The ground zero for what happened with the discipline case of Andrew and the firing of Petry and Meyer is Mars Hill, not Acts 29. So why an announcement regarding the leadership of Acts 29 in the midst of allegations regarding Mars Hill Church? Because the leaders of Acts 29 were part of those allegations by Petry and Acts 29 needs to do something to stop the hemorrhaging of churches from the network. I know for an absolute fact that there are churches questioning their affiliation with Acts 29. I’ve heard from them.
– If I’m wrong about the above and this was simply a coincidence. Then how can we really respect the leadership of Acts 29 even as new leadership comes in? All that has been done is rearrange the deck chairs  (Chandler and Driscoll switch places) and throw one overboard (Thomas). Are we to expect no public statement – no contrition – no refutation at all regarding what happened with Petry and Meyer? 
– I may be seen as very cynical. But I cannot imagine why that is more of a problem than not asking enough questions. If I was an Acts 29 pastor, I would still want to know more about what happened with Petry. If that just disappears in the dust of the changes…
– I like Matt Chandler. But I gotta be honest, this feels like a very similar move I was involved in, in which a pastor, accused of something, removes himself so the dust can settle and then everyone moves on as before…except the ones forced to swallow the dust. 
More details as they become available.

Why the Abuse of Authority at Mars Hill Matters, Part 2: The Influence

For background go here.

When I was a youth pastor in Mississippi, I discovered Mark Driscoll. Funny and straightforward, he was a youth pastor’s dream come true. So after listening to a sermon or two and reading a book about the beginnings of Mars Hill, I decided to expose my students to him. We – about 10 students and myself – went through Vintage Jesus together. They loved it. And even after I left, Mark Driscoll continued to be partaken of.

Next I was at a church in Wichita, Kansas. There, I worked with Middle School students all the way through College and Singles. I introduced those college students and singles to Driscoll and Acts 29. I even took 3 college students with me to an A29 boot-camp up in Seattle. While in “the ICT” I started what became a successful ministry for this age group in downtown Wichita. DCF met in the back of a coffee shop and grew and grew and grew. Before I left to move back home to Birmingham to plant (but then join an A29 plant), I handed DCF over to an Acts 29 planter  – a guy I admire and respect.

Pastors of the church I attend now – a PCA church, mind you – often post articles from The Resurgence website.

Five congregations over a five year period, all under the influence of the major players in this story.

So my personal story is riddled with anecdotes illustrating in stark relief the influence of Mars Hill and Acts 29. But let’s face it, many of you have felt and seen the influence far more than I have. I have hardly listened to any of Driscoll’s sermons. And though I’ve read and recommended his books, I remember so little of them and have read nothing since the first few chapters of that one with all the graphic sexual images in it…no, no, not the new sex book.

In my life he was more of a resource, for many more, he was a distant mentor.

Last week, when I posted the story of Paul Petry on my blog, I was asked a really good question –

Would we care about this so much if it happened in a small church hardly anyone knew or cared about?

It’s a really good question. But I’m not sure we can answer it with a “yes” or “no.”

There is a reason we know the story of Paul Petry. It’s not merely because we so-called watchbloggers like to drudge up dirt on the big dogs. Mark Driscoll and the leaders of Mars Hill chose the easy path of notoriety at every turn. They have never balked at the opportunity to publicize their achievements and offerings. They are known because they wanted to be known.

They are celebrities because they wanted it.

And the celebrity status puts them in the position of being known more than the small out of the way churches. Therefore, we care more simply about what is happening at Mars Hill because they are on our radar and the small backwoods church is not. Now it’s true, that small backwoods may experience instances of abuse of authority causing a stir having cataclysmic effects on our culture in the near future. But we can only deal with what we know. And the known is where we can be sure of influence over the evangelical culture.

Let me also answer the question another way- no, I would not care as much about the small out of the way church as much as I do the Mars Hill abuse. Why? Because I have personally seen what the abuse coming out of Mars Hill looks like. (You know what’s funny? Over the past week I’ve been accused of taking this too personally and caring too much about the goings on of a church thousands of miles away. People are funny.)

The influence is daunting – one of the most popular podcasts, 14 campuses in 4 states where Driscoll is either preaching live or being shown on a large video screen, the very popular Resurgence website designed to serve and influence leaders, Re:Lit is a publishing group with a volue on the NYT bestselling list, and Acts 29 is a network of 400 churches and growing worldwide.

Shouldn’t our concern about the abuse of authority be in proportion to the influence such men have?

Rob Bell put out a video about a book that had yet to be published and the New Calvinists went all MMA on him. Why would they go after him before anyone had read the book? They worried if they did not say anything, his book might be a negative influence on their flock/readers/greater evangelical world.

I mean, don’t you think what’s good for the (once) pastor of Mars Hill in Michigan is also good for the pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle?

Why the Abuse of Authority at Mars Hill Matters, Part 1: The Planters

My first thought when asking myself the question, “Why does the Mars Hill problem matter?” may not be the most important thing I could have thought of. And it is probably not the most obvious answer to most people. But for those who have been a part of Acts 29, it might be.

My first thought was with all who have invested so much in Acts 29 and Mars Hill.

I thought of the guys who looked to Seattle for guidance and inspiration and motivation. I thought of the men, who when confronted with doubters looked to the men at the helm, saw their confidence and sailed ahead. Many have had to debate the merits of the church planting movement, of which A29 was at the center. More debated the merits of Calvinism and Complementarianism. Against family, friends, colleagues and the wider evangelical world. They had to respond to the accusations of inherent danger in a masculine Christianity.

And there was a certain pride of being associated with Acts 29 and the Driscoll/Mars Hill brand. And I don’t necessarily fault them for any of this. I was among them.

I know what it’s like to defend and defend and defend and then be faced with the fact the Emperor has no clothes. It’s humbling in the worst since.

Being on the A29 website map was a thing to hang your hat on and count on. (It also makes it easy for people to find your congregation.) Now it feels like bruise.

When questioned by older and wiser men and women about the ways and means of Driscoll and Acts 29, we questioned their commitment to mission. We questioned why they could not direct their passion towards “the mission” instead of criticizing us. We questioned their character. We questioned their theology. We assumed they were dumb. We caricatured them. We laughed at them.

And now? Reading the story of Paul Petry feels like a punch in the gut.

So I assume there are men and women in Acts 29 churches throughout the world, who are questioning their affiliation with the network. They feel let down. These are good people, of which there are many in the Acts 29 network.

I know the inner conflict of having to either admit something is wrong or excuse it away, hang tight, and hope things get better. And there will be good men who will ignore the spiritual abuse at Mars Hill. “They aren’t bad, they’re just wrong” as Rich Mullins once said.

All these men need our prayers. I know, it’s cliche. But I can say that as guy who was in their shoes to some degree about a year and a half ago. And I say that as a man sorely tempted to rail and not pray and wallow in cynicism.

So I guess we should pray for courage and hope and love and faith and compassion and freedom from condemnation. Even we “watchbloggers” need a good dose of that.

Some Thoughts on the Trayvon Martin Case

I gotta be honest, the rhetoric and discussion surrounding the Trayvon Martin case has surprised me. And I’m about as cynical as anyone. It’s hard to surprise my crusty soul these days. While I’m not surprised by what is being said by the Al Sharptons and the Black Panther Party, I am surprised by what Christians are saying about this whole thing.

First, I’m shocked how so many people just assume Zimmerman is guilty of racism. Everything you hear about the guy in interviews says the exact opposite. (Update: Here is a CNN article where his neighbors describe him.)Yet, every discussion makes the assumption this is a hate crime. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But goodness, don’t we need to wait till at least there is Grand Jury testimony?
Second – and here is where my cynicism comes in – whenever something like this happens, it dies down quickly soon thereafter. Usually it’s because the story has more elements and is more complex than the media and protester’s narrative. We prefer things to be simple but they rarely are. Far too often, we assume the guilt or innocence of someone because of what we read in a news story. Then the story dies down because the evidence no longer fits the media narrative. And we forget about the very thing we were so passionate about last week. And then we move onto something else.
Remember how passionate everyone was about Kony just about 2 weeks ago? Now silence.
I applaud the desire for justice I see. But we need to be careful that we are not confusing a moment’s outrage with real care about justice. Our spasms of emotion resulting in sharing an opinion piece on facebook are likely to fade. 
Do we really want justice? A true desire for justice would want the same for Zimmerman – who by the way is half-hispanic. To hope he gets a fair shake and is not pronounced guilty without a fair trial. And then if he is guilty, a just sentencing. 

Next week on the blog

Consider this a post getting you ready for a slew of posts.

A number of you have wanted a little more from me regarding what is going with Mars Hill Church in Seattle. (And I can only assume a few want me to say nothing.) So far I’ve only pointed you to what is happening and been revealed. Important enough, I think. But there is much more to be said. So next week – starting Monday – I’ll try to answer the question, “Why does it matter?”

Why does it matter what a church in Seattle does?

I may say more. And hopefully what I say will point people to the grace we all crave. I’m hoping for hope. As much as I just want rail and throw stones, I’ll try not to do that. You’ll probably hear the echoes of what sounds like it but maybe it’s the sound of the rubble being pulled away.

Over the past few days, I’ve heard from a number of you. Lots off hurt souls out there, still bearing tender scars. A few pastors reeling. Many feel betrayed. Too many for us to be comfortable with.

Oh, and for those who think I’m talking about this too much or shouldn’t be talking about it all, feel free to go over to The Gospel Coalition site, Desiring God, etc. They are doing a fine job of not discussing Mars Hill.

Fired Mars Hill Pastor Goes Public With His Story

Matthew Paul Turner has posted links to Joyful Exiles, the blog of Paul Petry and his wife, Jonna. Over the next few days this story will be pretty much everywhere. I would not be surprised if this story gets picked up by the mainstream media, since Mark and Grace Driscoll have been everywhere hocking their book.

If you read nothing else, read this lengthy piece by Paul’s wife, Jonna.

Make sure you check out the extensive documentation Petry has provided in the right sidebar.

The Mars Hill leadership and their buddies will call them and (me) “watchbloggers” – a derogatory term – because of this. I know they’ll do this because they already have. And most likely, Scott Thomas, Driscoll himself or Jamie Munson will say something like – “I wish the critics would talk about Jesus as much as they attack us.”

Just wait.

Jesus is a lot of things in the New Testament. but one of the things no one seems to ever talk about is how he was an advocate for the weak and those hurt by those in control…those with all the power. The watchbloggers are not perfect. But they are places of advocacy.

I don’t mind being numbered above them.

Rush Limbaugh, Sandra Fluke and The Weirdness of It All

This is not a defense of what Rush Limbaugh said about Sandra Fluke. But it is my 3rd attempt to write on this event.

What I want is for us to think about this scenario without all the sloganeering and the self-righteous grandstanding, which is so easy. It’s really what we need to do, we just never really take the time to do it. Most of us – liberal and conservative – hear a particular narrative and then ride it till the next event happens. For all the diverse voices the new media has brought us, we still tend to imbibe the conventional wisdom as heartily as ever.

My guess is we feel the need to have an opinion on everything so as to be informed and just like my kids we need to have an opinion on it early. We have to be first.

Hopefully, I’ve waited long enough to at least escape this criticism.

I did cringe when I heard what Rush said. But probably not for the reason you think. My first thought was about how this woman will continue to be a pawn. And now she will be a pawn/martyr as the one insulted by Rush Limbaugh.

If you step back and think about it all, it’s just weird. Really, really weird.

And I don’t think you have to be a fan of Limbaugh to see this.

Let’s go back. Sandra Fluke, a 30 year-old law student at a Georgetown University testified during a House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meeting about the lack of contraception available for female students. The Catholic University does not pay for contraception in it’s insurance plans for students or teachers. So she is testifying about her support for the current Obama administration’s plan to force religious institutions to pay for health insurance and so, contraception. She wants to have consequence-free sex and not pay for it but have the government force the religious institution she voluntarily joined, to pay for it. She has to have sex but can’t afford the contraception which would keep her from getting pregnant.

Rush Limbaugh asked his audience if that make’s her a slut or a prostitute. And he asked the question with the expectation of an answer in the affirmative.

Strategically, it was dumb question and it was unkind. He has since apologized.

OK OK, but I have a question –

Can we criticize her behavior on no other level than the level of governmental policy?

I mean, she voluntarily got on TV to talk about how she wants others to pay for her sex life. The fact that she wants our federal Government to force a religious institution to pay for something which would violate it’s convictions is abhorrent. (And it’s abhorrent for a number of a reasons, not the least of which is a government that has the power to force a religious institution to provide contraception can also force contraception on it’s people.)

But that’s just evil, not weird. What’s weird is we now have no negative words to describe the behavior of a Sandra Fluke. Has anyone stopped to think about how weird it is that everyone is morally outraged about what Rush said in the context of what she is asking us to do for her?

(Now is probably a good time to remind you that I am not defending Limbaugh.)

Please tell me, readers, this is weird to you. We aren’t talking about a Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter here. We are talking about a woman who wanted this fight. She wanted to make her sexuality a public issue. She sought out this confrontation. She is a self-avowed activist.

So Rush insinuated…said she was being a slut. A prostitute. It may not be the kindest thing to say. It may not be kind at all. It may be the very opposite. But is this worse than requesting the federal government to force someone to provide something they think is wrong so you can do something they think is wrong, while you are a student (voluntarily) at their institution?

Isn’t it just a little weird that no one is asking her to apologize for that?

Isn’t it weird that Limbaugh is being excoriated for exercising his First Amendment rights while the subject of his speech is lobbying to take away the First Amendment rights of the religious institution’s in question?

Just a little weird?

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. I honestly cannot imagine having a worse day at work than I had yesterday. Nothing funny about it. Sorry I brought it up.

2. Is it OK to eat Papa Murphy’s pizza before going to hear Wendell Berry speak? I may know, ummm, a person who might have…

3. In the past 10 days we’ve had 3 serious storm predictions for the Birmingham area. And we are 0-3.

4. Finished Steve Brown’s Three Free Sins. Review coming soon. One word review for the time being – needed.

5. Achtung Baby is my favorite Christian album.

6. Baseball is the most Zen of Sports.

7. The worst part of being a Mac user is expecting everything else to work.

8. Bacon is the most Zen of meats.

9. This winter has been the best spring ever.

10. At work I have to sign my name on pieces of paper I cannot understand. I assume this is what it’s like to be a politician.