This past Saturday, February 19, 2016, Lead Pastor of Preaching and Vision Josh McPherson of Grace City Church of Wenatchee, Washington, called in sick. In case you are unfamiliar with Josh, he is the regional director for the Northwest Region of the Acts 29 network of Churches. This makes Grace City Church flagship church of the Northwest Region.
As such, the church was left with a speaking void to fill for its three Sunday services on February 20. While the church has a fairly deep roster of pastors qualified to speak, they decided to reach out to a friend of GCC, none other than Mark Driscoll himself. Driscoll was described as a close friend of the church and of Pastor McPherson. This is no small statement from an Acts 29 flagship church.
In reality, this is an interesting development which leaves a very big question:
What evidence of repentance has GCC, flagship church of Acts 29’s Northwest Region, seen that would cause them to welcome Mark Driscoll to teach in their main services?
In order to explore this question, I will split this post into two sections. In the first section I will offer a brief history of events leading up to the GCC sermon in order to consider whether there has been any evidence of Mark Driscoll’s repentance since the rise of multiple controversies surrounding him in 2014. The second section will look specifically at his GCC sermon, “Becoming a Godly Man” to see if there is any fruit of repentance to be found there.
Ultimately, while I can offer analysis it falls to the reader to determine if such fruit exists.
For those not familiar with the controversy that has surrounded Driscoll over the last couple of years, let’s suffice it to say that Driscoll’s repeated arrogance, abuse of his own pastoral staff, and financial indiscretions committed as head of the Mars Hill network of churches led to Driscoll resigning his post in October, 2014. He was also removed from his leadership role in Acts 29 – the church planting ministry he started – an event which eventually led to the entire Mars Hill church network being dissolved. In case that last point doesn’t strike you, let me give you some perspective. The leadership of Mark Driscoll was so toxically egocentric that his many indiscretions destroyed an entire church network comprised of 15 campuses spanning 5 states.
However, despite the outcry and removal of Driscoll less than two years ago, GCC – Acts 29 Northwest Region flagship church – has not only invited Driscoll to speak at their church, they referred to him as a close friend and thanked him for his “behind the scenes” support of their church. There was no mention of his repentance, no discussion of him taking steps toward reconciliation with those he had wronged. So the question must be asked:
What fruit of repentance has GCC seen in the last year and half from Mark Driscoll that they would allow him to speak as an authority at their church?
Here are some facts to help the reader would do well to consider.
- Mark Driscoll was removed from Acts 29 in August of 2014, in October he resigned from Mars Hill. In December, Driscoll launched his own website which features all of his content previously featured on Mars Hill’s website.
- In August 2014, Driscoll apologized for his “anger” and for buying his way into the NYT bestsellers list. Strangely, this apology does not address the repeated allegations that church funds were repeatedly misappropriated.
- Within 10 days of his resignation, Driscoll was featured on stage at The Gateway Conference. He has since been a regular guest speaker and conferences and churches all over the world.
- Mark Driscoll is currently in the process of launching a new church, named Trinity Church, in Phoenix, Arizona. Notably missing from the church website and all church materials are any mention of his connections to Mars Hill. Instead, Driscoll’s rather lengthy leadership bio only mentions he faced a “difficult time” and took a year off. I will point out the website does say he has repented and sought professional counseling, though no other details are given.
Before the reader endeavors to form an opinion, here are some questions I believe need to be answered.
Is 10 days enough time to have repented and make the necessary changes given the accusations against Driscoll?
Is the statement on Trinity Church’s site that Mark took a year off of ministry truthful, given he has maintained a strong presence through his regular blogging and speaking appearances? Why do they not reference his connections to Mars Hill?
If Mark Driscoll was found unfit to lead Acts 29 and asked to disassociate himself from the organization, why is he now speaking at an Acts 29 flagship Church? And, why do church leadership refer to him as a constant friend of the church who has been helpful “behind the scenes” over the years?
Becoming Godly Men
While the above considerations are important for considering if Mark Driscoll has shown any fruit of repentance in his public ministry since Fall 2014, we also need to consider the sermon he delivered on February 20 at GCC and consider:
Is there in any evidence of repentance in this sermon?
While many things could be noted from this sermon, for the sake of brevity I will highlight three themes which I believe will enable to reader to form an opinion. I ask that the reader listen to the sermon to ensure I accurately portray Driscoll’s words.
- Objectification of Women
Driscoll has a long history of treating women as objects designed to gratify men. He has called them “penis homes” and blamed Ted ‘s infidelity on his wife “letting herself go.” But perhaps the most egregious example, Driscoll used the Song of Solomon to put a rather disturbing twist on “flirt to convert” ideology. In this 2007 sermon, Driscoll told wives that they have a responsibility to perform oral sex on their husbands. For those whose husbands aren’t Christian, Driscoll tells them they can use blowjobs to convert their unbelieving husbands. He even considers this their wifely duty.
In “Becoming Godly Men”, Driscoll states wives are the responsibility of their husbands. He then calls this responsibility a burden to be feared. This burden is a struggle and a difficulty for men, but it is also a blessing from God because the burden helps keep the men on God’s path.
In order to drive this home, Driscoll repeatedly emphasizes that, while God is the head of the marriage, the relationship none-the-less also needs a human head. And, since the man is this head, the woman is the man’s responsibility and a burden he must bear so he can fulfill his call to be a humble, loving, godly man.
According to Driscoll, teaching men to be “covenantal heads” is the “point of Scripture” because God wants men to be the sole executor of their families well-being. Thus, it is the “man’s responsibility” to determine where his family lives, what they eat, and most shockingly it is the man’s job to determine whether a divorce will take place or the marriage holds together.
As “covenantal head” men are held “firstly responsible” (sic) for the failings of their wives. Driscoll even claims this has been “God’s design” from the beginning as evidenced in Genesis 3. As he sees it, Adam is held “firstly responsible” because Eve was his responsibility. Since part of a man’s duty is to decide where his family will go to church and what they need to learn, and since this is both the point and clear teaching of Scripture, then man becomes intermediary between the woman and God.
Driscoll grossly twists Genesis 3 here. He establishes a hierarchy entirely foreign to the text while ignoring the chiastic structure which seems to contradict his insistence on the importance of the order in which persons are addressed. In fact, in order to arrive at this assumption, Driscoll has to first decentralize God as the central character around which the narrative pivots.
Given Driscoll’s rhetoric, I ask:
How is the woman anything more than a utility?
In what ways can Driscoll insist they are “equals” if his entire rhetoric treats wives as objects?
These questions lead me to ask a further set of questions.
Can Driscoll be qualified as a pastor, should he be allowed to speak or assume any position of authority, if he openly objectifies women?
How would these beliefs function in an abusive marriage when the wife has no control over divorce and must submit to the decisions of her husband in a seemingly absolute fashion?
- Twisting of Scripture
When presenting the above rhetoric, Driscoll claims he is just stating the clear teaching of Scripture. Yet, Driscoll has a history of twisting Scripture to perpetuate his own agenda.
Again, I point the reader to the 2007 sermon above. In this sermon Driscoll not only argued that the text of Song of Solomon depicts acts of anal and oral sex, he insisted that these acts are prescribed for all marriages. That is, Mark Driscoll argued that a wife must agree to perform these acts as her god-appointed wifely duty – even if she finds them insulting or undesirable. Again, it must be pointed out, Driscoll goes so far as to refer to the act of oral sex as a means of evangelizing an unbelieving husband!
Likewise, throughout “Becoming Godly Men” Driscoll openly distorts Scripture. First, he argues that what he is teaching is a central theme represented throughout the entire biblical witness. He argues that Scripture points to God’s will that every man be a head over his sphere of influence.
While it is beyond the purview of this post to cover ever problematic Scripture application Driscoll uses, a representative sampling will suffice. 
Driscoll argues that Ephesians 5 says the man is the absolute head of his wife. The problem is, his basic assumption about headship is entirely foreign to the passage. Without rehashing at length arguments made elsewhere, it will suffice to say the context of the passage he references in Ephesians 5 (which actually extends into chapter 6 as well) is entirely about mutual submission.
Consider, in Ephesians 5:21 the audience is instructed to;
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
This is the contextual setting for everything that comes after. It roots every relationship described in submission. Further the full passage focuses strongly on critiquing the societal privileges of men. In doing so, it takes the tradition patriarchal household code of Roman society and flips it. Rather than upholding the traditional Roman notion of the patriarch who has absolute power, even over life and death of those in his household, the husband is taught to live in mutuality with everyone society tells him to be in authority over.
Thus, the wife is subject to the husband IN THE SAME WAY the husband is subject to the wife -after the model of Christ crucified. The child is subject to their father YET the father is not to be domineering or controlling. Likewise, the slave may be subject to his master BUT the master must also consider the slave as a person and not simply as property.
As such, this passage fundamentally undermines the patriarchal order by rooting human relationships in Christ. Sadly, it seems Driscoll does not make a connection between the idea of being subject to one another in Ephesians 5 and the Christological hymn of Philippians 2:1-12.
In Philippians, the audience is instructed to consider others before themselves and to have the same mind as Christ. The mind of Christ is then depicted through kenosis, the self-limiting of one in power (the divine Logos incarnate) in order to pursue and benefit the weaker other. Thus, Jesus became human that humanity might come to God. But he did this by lowering himself.
In Mathew 20, this image also occurs as Jesus speaks of himself as the servant of all who will give himself to ransom many. Likewise, in John 13 the Eucharist tradition is supplanted by the image of Christ dressed as a slave and submitting himself to washing the disciples’ feet as a metaphor of the cross.
In these passages, we see that the cross was not only Jesus submitting to the will of the Father, but also God himself submitting to the will of humanity. Jesus could have called a legion of angels and walked away from it all (Matt 26:53), but he chose to submit to human authority, to become the one abandoned by God, beaten, humiliated, and rejected as rebel and blasphemer (Luke 22-23). The mighty Lion of Judah was made manifest in a slain lamb (Rev 5).
Contrary to Driscoll’s definition of headship, Jesus did not decide everything for humanity, he sacrificed himself to give them a choice. He didn’t live as a king, he behaved as a servant. He didn’t exercise his divine authority as a ruler, but as the suffering and humiliated servant of Isaiah 52-53.
So, when Driscoll argues that his teaching on headship is the unique teaching of Scripture foreign to all other human societies, he could not be more wrong. In fact, it seems odd that Driscoll assumes the bent of Ephesians is to create a sanctified, “christian” vision of benevolent patriarchy since 1 Corinthians 1 tells us that the cross humbles the powerful and exalts the weak.
This leads me to wonder:
If ancient Ancient Near Eastern Patriarchy and Roman Patronage are the assumed setting of the Bible, a setting in which men are the powerful and privileged, how would the Bible be unique in preserving the privilege and power of men?
How can the cross exalt the weak if it preserves the status quo of societal power structures?
The problems with Driscoll’s reading are not merely ideological, however; there are also very dangerous real world implications.
For instance, the advice Driscoll gives the 18 and under boys is quite disturbing. This is because Driscoll argues that the example of Jesus obeying his parents in Luke 2 gives an absolute example for young boys under 18 for how to grow into good “heads” in adulthood.
He argues that because Jesus was perfect and “submitted to imperfect parents,” so also they can obtain Christ-likeness by submission to their parents until they reach an age where they can exercise headship. The problem is, the only qualification for submitting to the headship of their father and the authority their father gives their mother, is that their parents conform to a rather nebulous definition of godliness.
Thus, I am forced to wonder how this dynamic would function in an abusive family. Driscoll qualifies that headship must be godly, but it is quite common for abused children to suffer under parents held in high regard in their church. When abused children are constantly told how “godly” their abusive parent is, and then are told by persons like Driscoll that they must submit to an imperfect parent no matter what (Even When They Are Wrong!) they are left with no recourse for finding deliverance from their abuser. Yet we are told in the Luke 4 that the Year of the Lord, inaugurated in Jesus ministry, will see the captives of this world set free.
Given the glaring issues in Driscoll’s use of Scripture,
If the Gospel is for the captives, as we are told in Luke 4, then in what way is Driscoll’s attempt to empower the husband as God’s proxy for his family setting these captives free?
Further, is Driscoll qualified as repentant if he continues to warp the Gospel in order to preserve the privilege and power of those from whom the Bible commands humility and servanthood?
- Refusal of Personal Responsibility
It was noted above that Driscoll has a laundry list of sins, and I barely scratched the surface. In his formal apology, he stated that God was calling him out of his “angry young prophet” stage. However, the difficulty with this statement is that a prophet is called by God to a specific mission. Thus, when Driscoll refers to himself as a prophet, while apologizing for his anger, what it seems he is saying is “I was just doing God’s will, sorry people were hurt by that.”
Further when he addressed the dishonest book sales orchestrated with Mars Hill money, he only apologized for fixing the NYT bestseller’s list. He never addresses that he had used church funds. In fact, despite the repeated accusations of church funds being misappropriated Driscoll has never once addressed or apologized for his financial indiscretions.
This is interesting, because in “Becoming Godly Men” Driscoll references having a rough time the past two years, but “doesn’t want to get into details.” Instead, he paints himself as victim. He portrays himself as “unemployed” even though he has been making regularly speaking appearances and running an online ministry.
Further, Driscoll states his family, until recently, was in a time of hardship because their home in Washington had been destroyed by a storm while the family was already living in Phoenix. According to Driscoll’s own words, all his “equity and wealth” was tied up in that house.
Here is my problem with this. In 2012, Mark Driscoll received a $400,000 dollar book advance for his book Real Marriage. Further, his reported 2013 salary as head of Mars Hill was $500,000. By these two revenue streams alone, not figuring any other year’s salary or any additional revenue from sources like speaking engagements or book sales, Mark Driscoll should have been well on his way to being a millionaire by the time he left Mars Hill. Why then, less than 2 years after leaving Mars Hill, did he lose all his equity and wealth by his house being destroyed by a storm?
I am not wanting to discount the very real stress that event must have caused him. But what occurred between 2012 and 2016 that Mark Driscoll no longer has any of his $900,000 dollars left and is worried about providing for his family?
Even after he lost his ministry, wise stewardship of his personal finances should have left him with more than enough reserves to live off of in the stretch between October 2014 and now. The question must be asked:
Why is Driscoll making himself out to be the destitute, unemployed victim? Has he really lost all of his rather considerable wealth? If so, how? Or is he using this story as a distraction from the Mars Hill debacle?
Given that, in “Becoming Godly Men, Driscoll states that the difference between a boy and a man is (in part) taking personal responsibility, in what way is Driscoll demonstrating that quality in himself?
I cannot speak definitively to Mark Driscoll’s repentance. I do not know the status of his heart and do not doubt his strong desire to advance what he believes to the gospel. However, I do know that Jesus warns us in Matthew 7 to judge “prophets” by their fruit – the quality of the fruit is indicative of the quality of the tree.
As such, I end with a question:
Where’s the fruit?
Today I was notified by a commenter that Josh McPherson and Grace City Church have left Acts 29. Here is the comment (also available in comment section of this post):
I decided to research this and discovered that the Acts 29 website no longer lists McPherson or Grace City Churches either among leadership of the now US West region not of Grace City Church among their member churches.
Grace City Church’s still lists McPherson as the director of the Northwest Region (now named US West) and itself as a member of Acts 29. However the link to the NW region website is dead. Likewise, the link to McPherson’s Acts 29 bio arrives only at the main page of the Acts 29 site.