Or is the problem “Christianity” itself?
As I wrote in a previous post, I’ve become hooked on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, a podcast by Christianity Today that is currently on Apple.
I’m nine episodes in, so I’ve had a good chance to hear many of the incidents that happened at Mars Hill and to discern my own feelings.
Church itself is a bit of a trigger for me, seeing as how it destroyed my parents’ marriage.
So I’ve been interested in what went down at Mars Hill between the lead pastor, Mark Driscoll, and his congregants.
I keep thinking as I listen that I’ll hear something Mark said or did and find it abhorrent, considering that seems to be the point.
However, I have to admit, I haven’t heard anything that Mark said or did that has shocked me.
In fact, I’ve visited/attended a total of ten Southern Baptist Churches, two Methodist, two Catholic, one non-denominational and have listened to more than a dozen preachers on the World Wide Web, and I have yet to hear Mark say anything that sits in stark contrast to anything preached by any man I’ve heard in any of these churches.
Most Christian churches, at least mainstream ones, preach along this sort of wavelength:
Bible= perfect and literal (unless it’s verses like not gossiping, giving to the poor, or forsaking all for Christ)
Women= less than man and under their headship (also: stay thin and beautiful, be quiet and submissive, and give your man whatever he wants, whenever he wants)
Jesus= our Savior (EXCEPT for those already damned to hell by God because they weren’t part of the “elect,” and those who do not “repent,” i.e., stop being homosexual, liberal, or feminist)
Church and church leaders= always right, always in control, always to be obeyed (not those lgbtq affirming or universal churches, though- Jesus most certainly didn’t die for all and he most definitely didn’t reach out to all)
I’m exaggerating here (or am I?), but it seems to me that nothing Mark Driscoll said or did was outside the boundaries of what almost every preacher across the country, and maybe even the world, has said or done.
- Mark discussed sex at length, namely that a woman should please her man in the bedroom. Heard that before. Read that before.
- Mark talked about women keeping children and home and making that the first and highest priority of her life. Heard that before. Read that before.
- He said that the members of his church should come under the authority of the elders and obey them no matter what. Heard that before. Read that before.
And, according to the episode I’m listening to now, he even went so far as to say he held power and authority to exorcise demons and saw visions of sins that were hidden among his congregation.
The podcaster acted as if that was the craziest thing he’d ever heard- demons? Visions? Spiritual warfare? What?
Except, I just opened a book I’m reading by well-known Christian speaker and leader. And what would you imagine I found before I even arrived at page 30?
An encounter with a demon possessed woman at one of the author’s speaking engagements.
Here’s the deal, my Christian friends. At some point, we have to grapple with the whole Christianity thing, what we really believe and what we’re ready to toss out. But we don’t get to decide what’s true and not true based on whether or not we like someone.
We don’t get to destroy a person because it’s now the cool thing to think progressively about women, when not a short time ago, most, if not all, Christian leaders were thinking just like the Mark Driscolls of the world.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad that we’re finally deep-diving into what it means to be a Christ-follower in the 21st century.
But let’s parse it out. Let’s not just base our fault-finding on a singular person, like Mark Driscoll, because like it or not, he developed his beliefs from someone somewhere long ago, and there are 100,000 Marks just like him.
Last year I began teaching medieval history and literature.
Our school is a classical Christian school, and unbeknownst to me, this movement towards educating classically was bolstered by a man who I find utterly contemptable based on his personality alone.
His theology is questionable (at least, to me–I am so far from Calvinist it’s not funny), his views on women and slavery are detestable, and to be frankly honest, he isn’t even that smart. His curriculum is loaded with poor sentence structure, typos, and questions meant to guide students towards thinking more like him, as opposed to having them think critically. (And that’s when they can answer them. Most questions have no real answer and thus can’t be answered. Makes for interesting grading!)
But even I am forced to admit that this man’s theology and beliefs line up with many of my denomination, and even the Christian religion as a whole. And many of these beliefs use the Bible as reference.
Instead of quitting my job, however, I’ve come to believe that God placed me in the position he did for just such a time as this.
Had I not been reading medieval history and literature, I wouldn’t have known exactly how we began believing the “truths” about scripture, that they were taught to us by human people interpreting them in human ways that they claimed were divine. (Mark Driscoll, anyone?)
I wouldn’t have known just what a stinking hot mess express the Church has always been, how corrupt and shifty and shady the people shepherding us really were and sometimes still are.
And I wouldn’t have come to see that so much of what we believe isn’t based on a solid understanding of scripture, but on tradition, or, the way it’s always been done.
Finally, having also read so many ancient writings in preparation for my classes, I’ve also learned that nearly every religion and people group have stories almost identical to ours, some written many years before the Bible.
But ironically, instead of causing me to lose my faith, uncovering the history of the Christian church has only made it stronger.
Because it means that it’s not about humanity. It’s about the thing that fixes humanity, the Greater Power and trusting that when He said He came down to touch my hurt, die for it, and never remember it again, He meant it.
It’s knowing that if all those people throughout history were trying to figure this out but couldn’t, then maybe we won’t figure it out, either, and that’s okay.
I believe that my religion has a basis in the truth. I also believe that lots of other religions are trying to find their truth, too.
If we’re going to take the Pauls and the Peters and the St. Augustines of the world as solid, infallible, undeniable truth, then we can’t toss out the Mark Driscolls just because we don’t like him.
At some point, we have to acknowledge that all of it might just be a little wrong, at the very least, our interpretation of it, even if that interpretation is centuries old.
And you know what? I think that’s my most favorite thing about Jesus and his religion, after all.
He came to do a new thing. And his Word is alive today.
Living things evolve. They change and stretch and grow.
Thank goodness for that.
Have you listened to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill? If not, are there any good religious podcasts you would suggest? I’d love to hear from you.