Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why I'm NOT a Fan of Mark Driscoll, Real Marriage, Mars Hill, Acts 29

Note in October 2014: You might like to read this news article with an update: Mark Driscoll has resigned from Mars Hill Church.  Since I wrote this blog post this in 2012, I've had well over 11,000 page views. This is astounding for such a small time blog. It is the single most visited post here, largely due to Google searches.  Many thanks, also, to Relevant Magazine for putting an embedded link in their article What Mark Driscoll Teaches Us About Grace and Accountability. So much has happened with Driscoll since I wrote the original post, and I can't even begin to keep up with it all. In March, World Magazine reported that Mars Hill paid the ResultSource firm over $200,000 of church money to manipulate sales statistics so that his Real Marriage would appear on the Best Sellers list. This is considered to be very unethical behavior. See here: Unreal Sales for Driscoll's Real Marriage.  During the summer, the Acts 29 church group removed Mars Hill from its membership and called on Driscoll to step down. Pastors at his own church filed ecclesiastical (in church) charges against him, and after a six weeks of stepping away from the pulpit, he resigned. That's the barest scoop. Fortunately, the ladies at Wartburg Watch keep their eye on him and link to other blogs that do the same. You can read their series of posts here: Mark Driscoll at Wartburg Watch.

While you're here, please take a peek at a related post, Wisdom Through the Church?  Feel free to look at my other blogs linked in the side bar, too.  One other article that seems to be quite relevant is one I wrote in November 2013, Vision Forum and Friends: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.

I'd love to know your thoughts, so please leave a comment!

Now on to the original post!

Dear friends,

If you have read much of this site, you know I have had some experience with what I would consider to be an unhealthy church organization. Unfortunately, that organization is not alone in its troubles. Mark Driscoll is lead pastor of Mars Hill Church and president of the Acts 29 church planting network. [Update: Since I first posted this 10 days ago, he stepped down from leading Acts 29 and is handing over the reins to Matt Chandler.  See  A Note on Some Transitions. He is also resigning from leadership in The Gospel Coalition. See Driscoll Steps Down from TGC Council.] Driscoll has been in the news (including major secular media outlets) with the recent release of Real Marriage, the book he wrote with this wife Grace, which I do not intend to read. Unfortunately, he has also been facing serious allegations of spiritual abuse for many years.

I first heard of Mark Driscoll either because I saw his books in our former church's bookstore, or because a friend who knew I was researching problems in the Emerging Church movement, sent me a link to an insightful audio that Mr. Driscoll had produced on that subject. My first impressions of Driscoll were favorable, based on that limited exposure. Because of this, when I heard that he had released a free e-book for dads, I downloaded it to pass along to my husband. Browsing through it, I was extremely disheartened (actually rather disgusted) by his attitude toward women. Here is one of the offensive excerpts from Driscoll:

"Proverbs 19:13 further stresses the correlation between the type of mother you choose for your children and the kind of children you will have, saying, “A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.” These two miseries simply go together. If a wife is a nag who disrespects her husband by chirping at him all the time, then the children in that home will follow her example and become fools who ruin their lives by similarly disobeying and dishonoring their dad. Wicked women not only fail to restrain their tongues in front of their children, but often intentionally attack their husbands in an effort to get their children’s allegiance, undermine the authority of their father, and bring anarchy to the home. Proverbs rightly calls this rottenness in the bones.... Whose responsibility is it? Ultimately, it is men who are responsible because they chose their wives, they let them continue in sin, and they let them destroy their children."
Dude!  So let me get this straight... If a wife is expressing her discontent to her husband in ways that are unpleasant to him, then the real problem is that she is a wicked woman and he has not corrected her firmly enough? Excuse me? Try again? How about this: if the wife is upset with her husband, he might have a really good reason to ask her what he has done wrong? Maybe he has been crass, demanding, unreasonable, obnoxious, and/or verbally & physically abusive? Or maybe there has been some sort of misunderstanding? Or maybe she has been cooped up with a bunch of noisy, messy kids all day, and she's losing her cool? (And then maybe he came home, took one look around, and asked what she had been doing all day?) But oh no! She's a wicked fool and needs her Knight in Shining Armor (whom she obviously does not deserve) to set her straight. I guess hubby better get some tips from Driscoll on taming his shrew. Oy. Unfortunately this is not just an isolated sound bit pulled out of context. It gets worse, much worse, the more I read on-line about other things he has said.   (Later note: You might like to read my related articles If You Expect Real Respect and Follow the Way of Love.)

Not surprisingly, my new impressions of Driscoll's ministry were quickly confirmed as I started to see a plethora of commentary about this very thing on-line, along with the accusations of spiritual abuse at Mars Hill. Much of it echoes the very same things that have happened in our former church organization, including dysfunctional church polity (government), authoritarian leadership, lack of accountability for top leadership, church discipline gone amuck, an overly intense focus on sin, misogynistic views of women, and much more. Oh, and the way Driscoll entirely dismisses preachers in Great Britain with: 

"Let’s just say this ... right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that's known across Great Britain. You don’t have one – that is a problem. There's a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth. You don't have one. You don't have one young guy who can preach the Bible that anybody's listening to on the whole earth."  

Then, too, with the release of his new book, there is a renewed concern about his graphic teachings on sex, and on his rough language in the pulpit.   (Later note: I wrote a post of My Thoughts on the Sexualization of the Church and Other Problems).

Needless to say, when it came time to look for a new church two years ago, I made a point to stay away from the Acts 29 churches in our area. I am seriously not amused.

Rather than me laying it all out from my limited perspective or even hunting up all of the Mark Driscoll quotes that make me shudder, I thought I would provide you with about two dozen web links that I have discovered in the past few years. I hope that this will be helpful to you, even if you don't read his books or participate in his ministry. It is a cautionary tale for Christendom. It's not just SGM or the IFB or Mars Hill, folks. Watch where you go and whom you allow to influence you!

Please note that I am giving you these links to use with your own God-given discretion. 

I do not agree with everything you will find at these sites.

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill

Real Marriage Reviews and Media Appearances 
(Some favorable, some not, some mixed...)

  • Mark Driscoll’s Sex Manual ‘Real Marriage’ Scandalizes Evangelicals
  • Q & A: Mark and Grace Driscoll on Sex for the 21st-Century Christian at Christianity Today
  • Mark Driscoll on Piers Morgan – Interview Transcript
  • Review at Parchment and Pen (Credo House) mixed reaction
  • Review by Andy and Wendy Alsup at Practical Theology for Women  This review has positive and negative things to say about the book, and contains a lot of background info on the Mars Hill situation, as well as a call for Driscoll to repent.  One quote: "In Real Marriage, Mark acknowledges a past problem with pride, but he remains blind to his self-centered view of the church, the extent of his disqualifying anger problem, the true root causes of both in his life, and the long term effects that both have on those around him. When you can flippantly write off 1000 members in your church, including elders, deacons, and community group leaders, because (as he explains it) you're burnt out based on long standing bitterness and sexual frustration with your wife stemming from a sexual encounter when she was a teenager 19 years before—well, wow, I'm at a loss for exactly how to address that."
  • Review by Tim Challies  Excerpt: "Noticeably absent in this section is a firm and robust gospel grounding for marriage. Ephesians 5 is referenced only in passing; the marriage relationship as a mystery, a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church, is never clearly offered as the big picture or ultimate purpose of marriage. That gospel foundation is utterly, absolutely critical to an understanding of marriage and it is missing from Real Marriage. This is a tragic oversight. And I say “tragic” because the biblical understanding of marriage influences everything else—everything they discuss from chapter one to chapter eleven..... Mark’s abuse of The Song of Solomon has been widely noted and discussed, but he continues to treat it as a graphic sex manual. To treat it this way is to utterly miss the point."
  • Purity balls, Christian princess syndrome, and “mom” haircuts: evangelicalism’s mixed messages for women by Karen Campbell at www.thatmom.com.  An excerpt: "Recently reading excerpts from Mark Driscoll’s latest book along with seeing some of his teaching videos has left me feeling the need to retreat into a safe place and take a bubble bath for my very soul."
  • Mark Driscoll's 'Real Marriage' Draws Controversy for 'Invasive' Sex Talk  Excerpt of review: "This chapter has the potential to wreak havoc in such marriages where one spouse will feel a whole range of taboos to be 'permissible' if he can convince his spouse to participate," said Burk. "This to me seems like a recipe for marital disaster, and I do not think the Driscolls' requirement of 'helpfulness' mitigates the difficulty."
So there you go. Google for more.

Virginia Knowles

For those of you who missed them, here are the links to my own related articles that I mentioned in this post.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts here. The one question I have though, is if you are now in a PCA church why you are finding that you don't have the same sorts of disagreements? The PCA is confessionally reformed with regards to total depravity (sin focus) and their view on women in church office is pretty much the same as Mars Hill's, is it not? Is it a difference in substance, or focus/style/approach?

    1. It is certainly a matter of focus, and I am sure that can vary church to church. Ours is very mellow and supportive. There is just an entirely different atmosphere. The policy of males as elders is fine with me. The polity also grants much more power to the congregation, male and female. The PCA is also not led by celebrities.

    2. Now that I'm on a real computer, I can reply a little more fully.

      I am pretty traditional, and don't see male church leadership as misogyny. What concerns me most is the more general day-to-day denigration of women that I see in various religious organizations, whether it is talking about the role of wives and mothers in family dynamics, or complaining that the church is becoming too chickified, or marginalizing women who don't fit the stay-at-home (and usually home schooling) paradigm. I guess that same could be said for some segments of the ultra-conservative home schooling movement as well. (I now have children in both home school and public school, but home schooled exclusively for about 18 years.)

      As far as the sin focus, I have to laugh, because in our PCA church, which is semi-liturgical but still very casual and contemporary, we have a responsive prayer of confession every week. But there is an entirely different feel to this and to the discussion of sin. It might help to read something I wrote as we were initially contemplating a change in churches: http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2011/08/on-walking-by-grace-instead-of-focus-on.html

      The atmosphere is also entirely different as relates to spiritual authority. There is more of a coming alongside as a friend rather than pulling rank. There is also a genuine encouragement of giftings. It means a lot to me to know that my pastors read my blog sometimes, like what they see, and take the time to tell me that. (Thanks, Mike and Soon!)

      Now I realize this may not be true of all PCA churches. But as a whole, we aren't seeing the same kinds of accusations of systemic malaise being lobbed at the Presbyterians. I find it rather telling that I didn't know who the stated clerk (head dude) of the PCA was until I looked him up in the Internet several months after joining. I then promptly forgot the name. I have never ever heard him mentioned.

      I think for me, the blessing is that I am in a church where I feel safe, empowered, valued, and equipped. That means all the world to me.

    3. Virginia, as a egalitarian with lots of complementarian friends, I don't necessarily see male church leadership as misogyny - sometimes it is, but mostly it is just a lack of willingness to let go of the relative safety of a traditional environment. I do, however, see male only headship (church or home) as idolatry. Any model that puts a person (in this case males/husbands) in the place that Christ should rightly inhabit is idolatrous. Complementarianism does this - sometimes unwittingly - but it does it all the same. The path to God through Christ is there for all of us, male or female, with the only forms of 'headship' that are appropriate being those chosen by the people based on gifting and for a limited time (eg, the term of office a pastor holds at a church).

  2. Thank you for your courageous and heartfelt analysis/warning regarding Driscoll. Many of us here in Seattle have been following him for 7 years. He is dangerous and should not be allowed to continue triangling thousands of young people into his sexual addictions. You might like to check out www.ismarkdriscollabully.com and my new book www.resignationofeve.com.

  3. I have seen countless friends of the complimentarian persuasion become brainwashed by Driscoll. Some of the young men in this patriarchal crowd have taken to only focus their relationship conquests on Asian women who have been raised with culturally sexist stances. Despite Asian traditions being void of Christianity, they seen Asian women as superior mates to White women such as myself. Mark Driscoll needs to be exposed as a false prophet and FAST! Impressionable young men under 30 in my circle are being manipulated and eventually I fear that I will no longer be friends with them. This has to end. It's ripping apart my circle of friends.

    1. Sorry i hear a lot of you being spoken about. and maybe the reason they're going after the Asian women is because white women as you say are so independent now that they don't think they need a husband, and that men are obsolete now days. and maybe the reason you don't have a husband yet " at least you dont sound like you have one only some guy friends" is because you're too independent.
      and I'm sorry is that racism coming from a Christian. And what is your definition of a false prophet and the in acordance to what the Bible says is a false a profet. not your opinion.

  4. Jim and Gina, thanks for your encouraging comments!

    Jim, I clicked on your name and found your blog. Given that theme of women in the church, have you read Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James? I had the opportunity to hear her at the Synergy conference last year, as I wrote about here (cross-posted from one of my other blogs): http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2011/03/weekend-gratitude-for-synergy-and.html

  5. I personally like Driscoll but have no problem if you don't. My question to you is this. Why would you say "Needless to say, when it came time to look for a new church two years ago, I made a point to stay away from the Acts 29 churches in our area," AT the same time claim there are differences in PCA churches? The fact is there are many denominations (including AoG) that are affiliated with ACTS 29 so they are obviously run differently in each case. To simply disregard all affiliated churches is quite a leap.

  6. The difference between the PCA and Acts 29 is that Driscoll has a heavy influence from the top down, and that Acts 29 churches tend to attract folks who like Driscoll to begin with. I have talked to one of the local Acts 29 pastors (Winter Park) and I liked the guy, but I can't see affiliating with one of the churches after leaving SGM. Maybe I'm just being allergic to the abuse of authority issues, but with so many other great churches out there, it made much more sense to steer clear from something that I knew would make me really nervous. The PCA church we go to was the third church we visited, and I knew the first time that it was where I wanted to be. We did visit one other PCA church after that, but I wasn't as happy with that one. So I think we ended up where we need to be, and I'm glad.

  7. In fairness, I should also say that some of my friends from the SGM church are now very happy in Acts 29 churches, and I'm glad for them, too. I just couldn't do it.

  8. Anonymus is right. Can't label all Acts 29 the same way we did with SGM and the Supreme Leader. Driscoll dropping out of two leadership roles, with letters from Acts 29 seeking more info where people felt bullied is a huge step - something SGM didn't think about until after 5 years of Refuge and Survivors blogs. As far as the lame comment from Tim Challies "Mark’s abuse of The Song of Solomon has been widely noted and discussed, but he continues to treat it as a graphic sex manual. To treat it this way is to utterly miss the point." Spurgeon also felt that Song of Songs was about Jesus and his bride. Love Spurgeon, he was wrong. Why is it that physical intimacy between a husband and wife (something God calls "good") always seen as filthy and should be down in the dark, under hemp blankets to add discomfort? The other sad thing is that the book is being panned for ONE section on sex, when there is so much other great stuff about friendship that we have seen lacking in many Christian Marriage books. Virginia, read the book, and watch the sermon series before rendering a verdict. We are loving them both.
    Paul (not anonymous, but I can't figure out how to add my name.

  9. So let me get this straight I hear a lot of you saying that you chose to change churches and affiliations with anything to do with Mark Driscoll. Can I ask where your husband was in all this decision making or was it just your choice. and if i had a chance to sit down and ask your husband what his opinion would be of you. what might that be. Which woman are you from proverbs 12:4
    And another question is how many churches have you gone to that "you" have been dissatisfied with?
    I'm not trying to argue with you for the sake of arguing. but I do see these things factoring into the way you presented yourself.
    and I do have to ask do you live in downtown Seattle because if you don't then I don't think you really understand his context. Because the way your coming across you sound more like a suburbs home school mom.
    I do agree that there are sometimes he can go a little far with his explanation is on things. but considering the city of Seattle and what goes on in public at least he's attempting to point them to Jesus. especially were so many other churches and pastors have failed miserably

  10. Out of all of this discussion I see very little Scripture or Bible coming out. if you guys were willing to argue about this biblically there might be an actual discussion here but so far it's your guys opinions. both sides

  11. Anonymous, my husband wasn't particularly impressed with Mark Driscoll either, and he had no interest in going to a church where I would be in any emotional distress. We both agreed on the church we joined, and it has been a good choice.

    It should be obvious if you poke around my blogs that I am a suburban home school mom, with no apologies needed for that. There is plenty of Scripture on my blogs (small example here: http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/p/shepherd.html), and I don't feel the need to tack on a verse to something that is already obvious. Mark Driscoll's context is not just Seattle. He wants people around the world to listen to him and read his books, and he banks on that, literally. His location does not at all excuse his behavior.

    I asked my husband what he thought of me, and he grinned and said he'd save that topic for our date night. I look forward to that. :-)

    Beyond that, I'm in no mood for a confrontational debate. My husband just offered me some grapefruit, and then I have a house to clean and kids to teach today -- suburban home school mom that I am...

  12. Headless Unicorn GuyJanuary 11, 2013 at 12:32 PM

    Dude! So let me get this straight... If a wife is expressing her discontent to her husband in ways that are unpleasant to him, then the real problem is that she is a wicked woman and he has not corrected her firmly enough?

    What does "not firmly enough" mean? Using an open-handed slap instead of a full-power fist? Or 3/4" dowel? Or length of plumbing supply line?

  13. H-U-G, "not firmly enough" is my phrase, not his. And I guess husbands could read into Driscoll's words what they want as far as getting their wives in line... And for her own safety and sanity, I hope the little lady decides not to enable this behavior for even an instant. But I guess that's a topic for my article on domestic violence here: http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2012/10/we-cant-ignore-domestic-violence.html

  14. Also, Driscoll was not advocating domestic violence in the passage I quoted. I believe that he has spoken against that on numerous occasions.

  15. Virginia, "Speaking out" against domestic violence, but then perpetuating sexual stereotypes and espousing demeaning attitudes toward women among impressionable men actually helps foster domestic violence, would you not agree?

    Acts 29 and Driscoll do not endorse church governance along the lines of the PCA. In a PCA church there is accountability and an established appeals process to the larger presbytery which provides for transparency and oversight. No such defined process exists in Acts 29, and certainly not in Driscoll's private organization where there has been well-documented abuse of authority.Driscoll is neither accountable to his congregation, nor to his elders who have no legal authority to hold him accountable. There is no presbytery.

    And let's not kid ourselves. Although Driscoll "stepped down" as "president" of Acts 29, he is a voting member on its very small Board. Although Matt Chandler is now the acting president, he has been and continues to be a Driscoll fan-boy. They endorse each other's books and appear on stage together at each other's conferences (Coming up this year: http://theresurgence.com/conference ). Driscoll's DNA is all over Acts 29.

  16. Anonymous, I agree with you. But in all fairness, I am saying that Mark Driscoll is NOT telling men to physically abuse their wives AND that he would call it a sin. What immature and controlling men do with that (in combination with his misogynous teachings) is quite another thing.

  17. Mark Driscoll's greatest passion is to equip men to love, honor and cherish their wives. Have any of you ever watched Marriage and Men? Have you watched his Real Marriage Series? He constantly is an advocate for women to be cherished, honored and adored.

  18. I totally agree with raising the bar. I just watched Marriage and Men and parts of the Real Marriage Series. All he does is advocate for women. I love his sermon on Porn. It is very life changing.

  19. I guess first, allow me to express that I am neither an attendee of Mars Hill Church or any Acts 29 church. I hope that you take this into concern as you read MY OPINION on the matters that you have addressed. So to your heaviest claim, that Mark Driscoll is presuming that any woman who makes a complaint against their spouse is wicked, I must inquire further. Do you have any distinguishing factors that would make a complaining wife separate from a nagging wife? To your other claim, that Mark Driscoll was involving too much sex into the church, I would ask do you believe in allowing any talk about sex in the church? Also, is there a one-size-fits-all approach to how much you should, or does it vary upon audiences?


  20. Alex, that is not my heaviest claim, unfortunately, and I don't think I even adequately addressed my concerns about abuse of authority in this churches, though the links do provide insight on this.

    Perhaps a simple distinction on a wife complaining vs. nagging would be bringing up legitimate concerns or just venting about being frustrated, rather than continually attacking/ridiculing her husband personally. Even so, that does not erase his very evident gender bias here and elsewhere.

    As to the question about sex talks in church, I covered that topic quite fully here: http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2012/08/my-thoughts-on-sexualization-of-church.html

    Does that help?


  21. You should really attend Mars Hill Church & Acts 29 churches before jumping to such great conclusions. Mark advocates for women often, along with teaching biblical truth in the area of men as the leader of the house hold. Just because he is bold enough to open his mouth and teach passages such as Song of Solomon for example, doesn't mean he's a sex addict. The bible teaches that every part of the Word of God is beneficial, thus he doesn't leave out what most churches leave out for fear of being labeled "weird, extreme, different, etc."

    Pastor Mark teaches biblical truth boldly and in context often, and I know that in today's day and age it may come off as offensive, BUT the Gospel is offensive.

    Again, I encourage you not to jump to conclusions based off other internet articles, but go and spend some time at his church and get to know the people of Mars Hill Church/Acts 29 churches and understand that they're biblical followers of Jesus!