Here are ten scattered thoughts on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast by Mike Cosper of Christianity Today.
1. It’s really well done. The overall production value is good and story telling is excellent and interesting.
2. One insight was particularly good, which is that some men have have talent and charisma that far exceed their personal maturity. Driscoll should not have become a pastor when he did and the way he did. He was too immature to start a church, yet it sort of happened as people kept flocking to him as a charismatic leader.
3. People who have truly been under the thumb of domineering leadership in churches will likely feel helped and encouraged by the podcast.
4. The background music is its own character in the story. The music subconsciously tells you what to think and, perhaps more importantly, how to feel about what you’re hearing. Sympathetic characters in the story get positive background music which suggests, “trust this person. This person is telling the truth.” When Mark Driscoll is speaking, however, the soundtrack turns dark and ominous. This music suggests to your brain, “can you believe what he’s saying? He’s lying. He’s wicked. Don’t trust him.”
5. I used to run my own home studio, writing songs, playing all the instruments, singing the vocals, and doing all the studio production. I’m pretty familiar with little subtle tricks you can do to give a vocal track a particular mood or feel. On the most recent episode, I noticed some extra mood sauce being added to the recordings being played. Not only did the background powerfully suggest something evil was going on, but there was an effect added to the recording of Driscoll’s voice that distorted it, making him sound unnatural and un-human. Studio tricks like this are wonderfully effective in films and TV, but those are fiction. But Cosper calls this work journalism, which should be more objective. I find the audio mixing and effects manipulative.
6. On every episode, Mike Cosper tells the audience to subscribe to CT “if you want to support this kind of journalism.” Technically, it is journalism, but not in the sense of journalistic objectivity. Initially, I thought Mars Hill and Driscoll were presented even-handedly. But as the series has gone on, it has become apparent that Cosper is driven by a a personal agenda, perhaps even a vendetta.
7. The real villain is of the story is not Mark Driscoll, but a theology Driscoll abused to gain power and influence. The real villain of the story is biblical sexuality. From the podcast, one could easily conclude that pastors and churches who believe the scripture’s teaching about sexuality will be abusive. In almost every episode, biblical sexuality (or complementarianism) lurks in the background as the dark force animating Driscoll’s abusive behavior.
8. The podcast may encourage a “pain is sovereign” mentality in its listeners. For example, when a Christian is living in some sin and his or her church tries to correct him, that will be a painful experience. Heb 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” My concern about this podcast is that when faithful churches and pastors try to correct people in sin, and when those people experience pain in the process, this podcast will encourage them to see themselves as victims of abuse, rather than recipients of pastoral care. Over the past few years, there have been a number of high profile abuse cases that have happened in churches. I thank the Lord that all of these have been exposed, and may the Lord continue to expose them and correct them. But at the same time, when a person claims to have been “hurt by the church,” it is also possible that they were lovingly corrected by their church and they got offended. My concern is that the Mars Hill podcast will lead to witch hunts in local churches that are led by faithful pastors.
9. We should remember that Christianity Today is a business, and at the end of the day, they need to make money on this podcast to stay in business. After all these years, Mark Driscoll is still human click bait and they’ve got a winner on their hands with this podcast. As long as its popularity continues, I suspect they will continue to crank out episodes because it’s good for business. This is not a criticism, by the way. I have no problem with the fact that they are making money with the podcast. I’m drawing attention to it here as a reminder that CT is not an authoritative body over the church, yet CT and Cosper have gone beyond exposing a fascinating, renegade pastor. They have begun to tell the church how it needs to operate, what its theology should be, and what faithful ministry looks like. James 3:1 is applicable here, which says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Also, Jesus said in Matthew 12:36, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” I would warn CT/Cosper to be extra careful not to slander the church, but to honor her as the bride of Christ.
10. In case you’re wondering, I’m not a Driscoll apologist. I agree with CT/Cosper that Driscoll was a domineering leader that hurt many people. Driscoll was out of control and, as far as I can tell, it was good for him to be removed from his church. So this post is not a defense of Driscoll. It’s intended to help people who listen to the podcast be more discerning about what they’re hearing.