The Positive Impact of Mark Driscoll
There’s no question that Mark Driscoll is a lightning rod for controversy. Currently he is out of formal ministry work, other than running his own website with periodic updates and teaching content. The church he founded, formerly known as Mars Hill Church, has been dissolved for almost one year now. The ministries he led have either shut down (The Resurgence) or been passed on to other leadership (Acts 29 Church Planting Network). If his rise into the Evangelical limelight was considered to be astonishingly fast, then it is quite the feat that his fall was even faster.
I’m not here to stir up fresh debate about Mark Driscoll. Everyone knows that he had many flaws in his ministry and character (something he admits himself), and that Mars Hill was a church whose numerical growth outpaced it’s growth in maturity. You’ll get no rebuttal from me on either account.
Yet what I have seen by many, particularly those who were Driscoll opponents, is a collective sigh of relief that he no longer can spread his influence (harm?) on others. His church is shut down, his books removed from the shelves, and he himself knocked off his ridiculously high and influential platform. A cheer came from many within the Church at these events. Especially for those who hold different theological views than Driscoll, there was a sense of victory over his collapse. The attitude struck me as something like, “Thank goodness that man is out of view. Now we don’t have to worry about his influence anymore.”
If that’s the case, you’d be sorely mistaken.
Anyone who thinks that Mark Driscoll’s influence is over does not understand the impact this man has had on North American Christianity. It’s too late to stop it. He almost single-handedly pioneered the use of the internet as a tool for spreading the gospel, and for many years he was the most listened-to pastor online, perhaps on the planet. Those who were impacted by Driscoll’s teaching and leadership number in the millions. If anyone is trying to stop the ball he got rolling, it’s way too late for that.
I know this for sure, because I’m one of the many who have been positively influenced by Mark Driscoll.
I know that in saying that, I’m perhaps inviting all kinds of criticism on myself. I would simply say, hear me out. I do not condone everything Mark has ever said or done. Quite far from it. As I mentioned earlier, and as he has already admitted, he made plenty of mistakes over the course of his roughly 15 years in ministry. Many of those mistakes were not small. They were very significant, very sad, and very dangerous. Driscoll at times was like a loose cannon. He could blow holes in the Enemy’s ship, but he would often wound his own along the way. I get it, I don’t minimize it, and I don’t condone it.
Yet, at the same time, Mark Driscoll has had a profound and irreversible effect for good on my spiritual journey.
Back when I was first starting to question my Christianity, searching for answers to questions like Is the Bible reliable? and Did Jesus really rise from the dead?, one of the first helpers I found in my journey was the website of Mars Hill Church. This was back around 2004 when church websites mostly looked like they were built by 14-year olds using templates with blue fonts, yet Mars Hill had one of the best websites I had ever seen, Christian or not. That’s probably a really shallow reason for me to show interest at first, but as I started to listen to Mars Hill sermons online, I was stunned by what I heard.
Here was a man who taught the Bible like I had never heard before. His sermons were anything but fluffy. He pointedly addressed many of the issues I was wondering about and answered them impressively. He balanced a strong intellect with emotional zeal. He talked about topics that were relevant to my own life. He clearly did not care much for the praise of man. And he was willing to speak to controversial issues that others would dodge like their life depended on it.
Not only this, but Mark Driscoll showed me more clearly than anyone ever has that I was a person trapped in religion, and that I did not really understand the gospel at all. Even as someone who grew up in a Christian home, going to church my whole life, and having received Jesus into my heart about 1,000 times, never did my faith come to life like it did under the teaching at Mars Hill. I believe that either I was saved through the preaching of Driscoll, or my very dead faith was brought back to life. Either way, he was a crucial factor in restoring my walk with Jesus and bringing me to where I am now.
Additionally, I give Mark Driscoll huge credit for establishing in me a belief in the authority of God’s Word. Unlike so many tv preachers I had seen or celebrity pastors I heard, he seemed to take the Bible very seriously. He built his theology on the Scripture, even though initially I opposed many of his theological leanings. At a time when so many (like the Emergent Church) were undermining and questioning the Bible, he was standing on it firmly. I will forever appreciate that.
Mark Driscoll also argued more clearly than anyone I had heard of (up to that point at least) for the importance of gender distinctions and what it means to be a man according to the Bible. I give credit to my dad as the most influential person in shaping me into a man, but Driscoll helped as well by using the Scriptures to further illuminate those truths I had picked up from my dad along the way.
Additionally, Driscoll and the ministry of Mars Hill also got me connected to other fantastic ministries, such as The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God. I hate to say it, but I learned more from my time reading and listening to guys like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Don Carson, Timothy Keller, Voddie Baucham, Kevin DeYoung, Matt Chandler, Ed Stetzer, and the likes, than I did in my entire time in Bible College. It is almost impossible to overstate the influence these men have had on my development as a Christian and leader, and I became exposed to them initially through Driscoll.
As you might expect, I had to un-learn some things from these men as well. But thankfully, as I’ve been able to grow in my discernment (I hope at least!), I’ve been able to take the good and leave the bad. But the imprint is there and will remain, I suspect, for the rest of my life.
And, I think, there are thousands more like me.
Thousands of young believers who have been impacted in a positive way by Mark Driscoll. Thousands of young men and women who have been brought into the Scriptures in a powerful way. Thousands who came to faith in Christ. Thousands who have forsaken man-made religion. Thousands who have responded to the call to leadership. Thousands who have established the authority of the Bible in their lives. Thousands who have formed a high view of doctrine and a high view of holiness. Thousands who are scattered all over this world, spreading that impact farther and farther. Thousands…or perhaps, more like hundreds of thousands.
That train is moving, and there’s simply no stopping it. I hope that those who have vehemently opposed Mark Driscoll will come to appreciate the good he has done in the lives of so many. That they will rejoice in the raising up of young, Bible-saturated, Jesus-loving Christians who take God’s mission seriously. That they can be grateful for the young men who are pursuing godly manhood, and young women pursuing godly womanhood. And for the rise in church planting. And world missions. And the valuing of good preaching. And so on and so on.
As with many things, Mark Driscoll’s impact is a big, tangled knot of good and bad. There’s no easy way to characterize it. But I know that, for me, and for many others, he was a key player in the development of my faith, and that in a positive way. What happened at Mars Hill is the closest thing I’ve seen to genuine revival in my lifetime. I tend to believe that it was God’s plan all along to raise up this movement and then suddenly have it implode. Perhaps it would have stagnated and died if it kept going as it was, and dispersing those involved was a more effective way to extend his Kingdom. Who knows for sure. But even if Mark Driscoll never resurfaces in the Evangelical world, never writes another book, never preaches another sermon (all things I doubt, but you never know), it does not mean that he’s gone for good. The positive things he has done for the Kingdom will live on through those who have been impacted for the better. And, though it stinks that it had to be so messy and painful, I think that is a good thing.