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.

Responding to the Defense of Mark Driscoll’s Call to Ridicule Effeminate Men

(Update: Driscoll responds to it all. Though there is no apology, he does admit it was “flippant” and thanks his critics for their wisdom.)

(Update 2: I’ve now read over this twice and I am still struck by the lack of apology here. No only that but as someone else pointed out, you should just apologize, not plug a new book you have coming out. When my son hits my other son, we make him actually say, “I’m sorry for hitting you.” We want to instill that habit of acknowledging the wrong and the hurt. This may be the crappiest apology ever.)
(Update 3: A friend pointed me to this list. 4, 6 and 7 are notable.)

(My first post on this issue is here.)

While I am not surprised there are some who would defend Mark Driscoll’s call on facebook to ridicule effeminate men. I am surprised by the way he is defended and the veritable silence from the big-time evangelical neo-calvinist bloggers…those in my tribe. The post, now gone, happened five days ago and neither Challies nor any of The Gospel Coalition blogs have addressed it. (Of course they have also not commented on the now public accusations against C.J. Mahaney and SGM.)

So the defenses keep coming and the more they come, the hollower they sound. The following are some of the defenses of Driscoll and his invitation for you and others, the world over, to ridicule men with feminine qualities.

1. “Mark was just trying to use humor to point out what we already know.” When I was in High School a friend of mine told me how frustrated he would get when people would say something unkind and then follow it up with “just kidding.” I’ve never forgotten it. It’s true, we use the “jk” to make up for the fact that we might have just said something hurtful, painful or cruel. Explain to me why this defense of his behavior works again? If I make fun of overweight people and it’s funny, do I get a pass? Similar to this is the “we need to lighten up” argument. How about this for answer – “No. I will not lighten up.” We, as pastors, should not be ridiculing a group a people. We should not be asking others to do it along with us. And we should be swift to want to fight for them with all the belief in grace we can muster.

2. “His critics already don’t like his theology and were just looking for a reason to pounce.” This may be true. But it is just as likely that the defenders share his theology and therefore will not listen or take seriously his critics because of their theology. This is a ridiculous defense. Shouldn’t we care what those who think differently think about our character? Yes, many of his critics hate our Complementarianism. Shouldn’t we adorn that conviction with kindness instead of what looks like bullying? Yes, you heard me right, I am a complementarian and yet still appalled by Driscoll’s callousness. Does our desire to be missional not spill over into how we treat others…say effeminate men?

3. “Calling him a ‘bully’ is overdone.”  At first I thought so. But I think Rachel Held Evans is right in saying this is bullying. Imagine this was not taking place on facebook but in another social arena…say a lunchroom or the locker room. Or the hallway at school. Who would be the one saying this kind of thing? Would it be the leader of Young Life? Possibly. But doubt it. More likely it’s the bully, insecure and wanting all those weaker than him to be the same. OK, so you think he is not being a bully, fine. What is a bully then? What does a bully do? What is it that makes a bully? What if your son was effeminate?

4. “Nobody’s Perfect.” This is the “mercy for me and mine and judgement for everyone else” defense. No one really thinks this is a good excuse in response to a pastor openly ridiculing and then inviting his fans and followers to do the same. It’s just a lame attempt to silence critics instead of actually engaging what he actually did and naming it. The nobody’s perfect defense silences the critics of leaders and preachers who are often (and rightly so) teaching so as to correct those who need correction. What if those in the pew all started saying, “Nobody is perfect” when being instructed. Actually the nobody is perfect defense should tell us something. When we do not feel the need to apologize after ridiculing others, we actually admit we do not believe this. The fact that nobody is perfect should make it easier to apologize and ask for forgiveness.

5. “Paul seemed to be concerned about it, shouldn’t we be concerned about the fact that men have feminine qualities?” Maybe. It’s debatable. But that is not why so many of us are repulsed. We are repulsed because this is the worst way to discuss any issue. There is no way a reasonable person could look at what he said and assume concern for effeminate men, worship leaders among them or the church at large.

6. “The criticism of Mark Driscoll is slanderous gossip.” So, let me get this straight. A high-profile pastor with over 112,000 followers on facebook invites those followers to ridicule effeminate worship leaders – and calling him to account for it is slander and gossip? Slander has to do with making false allegations in order to harm someone’s reputation. And once something is put on facebook and others are asked to comment, the critical comments are not gossip, even if they are now on blogs or news-sites.

7. The Silence.  Am I the only one who thinks it is weird that nothing is being said on all the huge christian blogs about this. Nothing in support. Nothing of rebuke. Just silence. Nothing on Challies. Nothing on TGC. Nothing from the T4G guys. Nothing from World magazine or Christianity Today. Maybe nothing should be said. Maybe something will be said at a later date. But, the silence is strange.

All of these defenses have the distinct aroma of fear around them. Are we afraid of calling to account those whom we before had put so much stock in? Is it because we will be let down if we admit to ourselves that we invested too much into the cult of personality? Is it because we put far too much faith in the celebrity pastors and not enough in the gospel itself? And if we let go of our ill-placed faith, we have too little left?

Aren’t We the Ones Who Should Be for Fighting for Them?

(Update: Driscoll responds to it all. Though there is no apology, he does admit it was “flippant” and thanks his critics for their wisdom.)

(Update 2: I’ve now read over this twice and I am still struck by the lack of apology here. No only that but as someone else pointed out, you should just apologize, not plug a new book you have coming out. When my son hits my other son, we make him actually say, “I’m sorry for hitting you.” We want to instill that habit of acknowledging the wrong and the hurt. This may be the crappiest apology ever.)

(Update 3: A friend pointed me to this list. 4, 6 and 7 are notable.)

A few days ago, Mark Driscoll posted the following to his facebook page:

Listen. I am politically and theologically more conservative than you. I’ve got more albums by the Clash and Springsteen than you and I’m a decent athlete. I’m married with three kids. And I do not recall ever being called effeminate. This is not “personal”. (Update: The reason I point these things out is so you will understand that this is not personal. Although just like Jared Wilson, I am not handy around the house. Also, my favorite novelist is Jane Austen, my favorite album of the year is Adele’s 21 and I do not own a gun…yet. But in Jr High I was more than a few times called ‘faggot’ with meaning. I’m not overly masculine. It’s a damned if you and damned if you don’t issue. If you say you are effeminate, you are taking it personally. If you say you are not, then you still get criticized for pointing out you are not.)

But when Mark Driscoll asked others on facebook to join in his ridicule of “effeminate anatomically male” men who lead worship in churches I was amazed.

How is this possible? How is it possible a pastor can do such a thing and none of his peers publicly call him to account for his actions but instead defend him?

What group of people would a pastor like Driscoll have to make fun of before we in the conservative theological tribe said, “enough”?

What have we become when this is acceptable to anyone within the church? This kind of behavior should be the most abhorrent of all among pastors. The thematic ethic of how we deal with others throughout the New Testament is love for one another. We are told they will know we are followers of Jesus because we love one another. This is not some conservative/liberal issue. This is simple kindness.

We have now gotten to the point where a pastor has to sleep with someone, steal something or kill someone to be publicly called to account. As long as his doctrine accords with our own we set up the pastoral version of what the police call the “blue wall.” We protect our own.

Is this what the celebrity pastor cult of personality has wrought? An untouchability when it comes to inciting young men the world over to attack effeminate men. 

Aren’t we the ones who should be for fighting for them?