I hadn’t visited Calvary Santa Fe in a while, but a couple of Sundays ago we encountered a problem we sometimes do (our toddler went down for a nap at almost exactly the time we should have been leaving for church) and I decided to visit Calvary again and catch what I could rather than miss church altogether.
First of all, let me say that the sermon I heard is part of a series; the series is available for download [link], and the MP3 for the sermon I heard is here [link]. I don’t really have much to say about it except this: if I understand correctly this is meant to be expository (as opposed to topical) teaching, but this sounds to me like topical (as opposed to expository) teaching. I tend to make the distinction this way: expository teaching proceeds linearly (and we hope deeply) through the text where topical teaching takes an idea, phrase, or word from a text and follows it laterally across Scripture. In this case this sounds like a topical teaching taken from Philippians 2:5-11 on the phrase “the mind of Christ.” But I digress.
It saddens me to say this, but I believe this is a dying church. This year they consolidated their Sunday services, and when I was there the sanctuary was about one-third full. The bulletin mentioned that the church’s October budget was $58,000, but that the previous week’s donations were $3465. If these numbers are accurate and representative, they’re taking in a quarter to a third of what they need to make budget. There was a prayer request in the bulletin that appears to suggest that two staff members are seeking employment. Also, they may have structural problems as well; this is a church with ordained pastors, pastors, and deacons, but the bulk of the pulpit teaching is being done by the non-ordained pastors. But since I don’t know what the distinction means I’m not sure I’d put much emphasis on it.
The speaker was Andrew White, one of the two young non-ordained pastors. He has a clear enthusiasm for and a high regard for Scripture, and I really couldn’t tell you whether he’s going to grow into being a pastor or not. Preaching/pastoring is both difficult and labor-intensive, and a man needs a lot of hours both in study and in the pulpit before he can properly be called a pastor or a preacher, and not everyone who starts out as a young preacher (or even a young seminary graduate) makes the difficult journey. That’s no shame on White; he’s just setting out to do something difficult, and apparently in a difficult environment because of the health of the church.
I would encourage readers to listen to the sermon at the link above, as it strikes me as being typical of the mindset of a lot of Young Restless Reformed types: it includes affirmations of unassailable truths, but it is heavily larded with a kind of confrontation narrative, where we true Christians are contrasted with various aberrant groups that are rarely if ever named, but include
- New Agers
- secular types
- Prosperity Theology folks
And so much time is devoted to casting anonymous aspersions that it’s hard to pick out what constitutes a vital positive Christianity apart from simply not being aberrant. This is one of the things that troubles me about YRR folks and reminds me of my fundamentalist roots. I am given to wonder just how many people at Calvary are tempted by e.g. Prosperity Theology. I understand that a lot of this sort of teaching is rooted in the idea that a “pastor should protect the flock from wolves,” meaning “false teachers,” but if that flock isn’t in danger from a particular false teacher I’m not sure how much protecting is really being done if there’s no practical threat.
I wish I had an optimistic or encouraging payoff here, but I don’t. While I don’t wish this church any ill I have a hard time imagining what its recovery would look like. Fortunately for them that’s not strictly speaking necessary. I’ll look forward to checking in with them in a few months; I hope for their sake they’re in the midst of a turnaround by then.
I was waiting for a conference call to start when I visited Michael Newnham’s blog Phoenix Preacher and found his article noting [link] that C. J. Mahaney is on hiatus and offering that it’s because the Brent Detwiler paper trail is now available for download at Scribd [link].
Peter Smith offers a perspective piece in the Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal [link]. This is a good-not-great piece; Smith appears to be focusing on Al Mohler’s take on the situation and the Sovereign Grace Ministries position on male church leadership in a way that clutters the narrative, but he manages to identify most of the major players and distill their contribution into a soundbite.
I would recommend downloading the Detwiler archive, despite the fact that Scribd requires signup for download. It’s 600+ pages of PDFs; I may cache a copy here if I get time to read it closely and offer more opinion. At first glance it’s pretty sloggy stuff: I have a hard time imagining that grownups in the 21st Century really speak to one another this way. There’s a lot of Christianese, for lack of a better term, and sometimes it’s hard to tell how it would correspond to plain English if it could be translated. If you are (as I am) the sort of person who considers stuff like “you invalidated my feelings” mumbo jumbo you’re in for some rough sledding here.
I am only marginally interested in this particular scandal. There are no SGM churches in New Mexico, and while I believe modern evangelicalism has a sickness unto death I think the new Calvinist movement is at best retrograde, so I can’t imagine ever attending an SGM church if one were to be planted here.
That being said, I am inclined to say this sort of crisis, for lack of a better word, was probably inevitable. The Young Restless Reformed cultural movement, for lack of a more euphonious term, isn’t a return to the roots of Protestantism; it’s a new movement, and as such it needs to learn things the hard way in the same way all new movements do. It’s no surprise that this would be their crisis, either: Reformed types take most of their theology from Paul the Apostle, and tend to be a bit authoritarian. That SGM is a “church network” rather than a denomination solves some problems and creates others; in particular, because it has a lean (not to say opaque) authority structure invites bad behavior on the part of leaders. Those are the choices they made; these are the consequences of those choices.
I have to admit I don’t have high hopes for the trouble here being resolved correctly. I’m not a fan of Josh Harris, and I don’t think he’s up to the task of leading SGM through this crisis. Everything I’ve read by or about him has led me to believe that he’s shallow and immature, and he’s the sort of person who would say all the right things from the pulpit while permitting all the wrong things to be done offstage, not least because he’s the leader and the most important thing to him is continuity of operations. I hope I’m wrong: that he has a depth I haven’t seen, that he’s teachable, and that he’ll learn and do the right things during this episode.
My opinion regarding Mark Driscoll had mostly been formed by his surprisingly frequent appearances in my reading and by his continual hovering online presence; I don’t know how to measure his impact online versus other contemporary Reformed lights like John Piper or John MacArthur, but he certainly seems to be taken pretty seriously by a segment that might or might not correspond to the Young Restless Reformed set. I really don’t know.
Anyway, Driscoll had surfaced in my reading in three different books, unusual for someone I don’t actually seek out:
- Back when he was still associated with various Emerging Church figures through Leadership Network he appeared as the pastor of Donald Miller’s church in Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to Miller since the follow-up Searching for God Knows What sort of left me dry, but in Blue Like Jazz Miller portrays Mars Hill Church as a healthy spiritual community and Driscoll as its conservative center. Of course Driscoll has since parted ways with the Emerging Church folks; I have no idea what the relationship between Driscoll and Miller is today.
- Andrew Beaujon spends a chapter or two of his Christian-rock travelogue Body Piercing Saved My Life [link] at Mars Hill and is somewhat amazed that people who sport tattoos and listen to indie rock attend a church where the preaching is culturally so conservative; Beaujon is the first author I read to pick through everything he heard and focus primarily on Complementarianism, the theological view that men and women are equal in some sense but fundamentally different and complementary; like most secular writers he sees this as retrograde as compared to the view that men and women are equal in every sense, or something like that. Like most people who take on Complementarianism from a liberal point of view he doesn’t explicitly state his own view. Beaujon’s book is available used for Amazon for a penny plus shipping ($4 total); I recommend it at that price.
- Lauren Sandler delves a bit deeper into the Complementarian narrative in the chapter she devotes to Mars Hill in Righteous [link]. She finds a couple of good narrators, including a woman who has a background in academic second-wave feminism (or at least whose bookcase functions as a kind of educated feminist bona fide) but who has married and moved into the Mars Hill orbit and can’t find her way out. She also finds someone who utters the deathless phrase “when I see someone covered in tattoos I assume they’re a born-again Christian.” I don’t know what Sandler meant by including this second person; I took it to mean that Mars Hill is a sufficiently complete subculture that the person in question no longer deals with anyone outside it. Sandler’s book is a tougher read; I am tempted to think she went looking for things in evangelicalism that appalled her so she found them, and she tends to overstate their significance. But more about that later.
But it’s the Molly Worthen piece from the New York Times [link] that really fills in a lot of the color on Driscoll, not least because it’s primarily about Driscoll, rather than trying to fit him into some other broader narrative. Worthen manages to place Driscoll in the evangelical part of the megachurch landscape with her Stetzer-Hybels-Osteen references and she focuses on the “muscular Christianity” aspect of the Driscoll media persona (she refers to his “hypermasculinity” and attempts to connect the worst of John Calvin’s Geneva to Driscoll’s Seattle) and portrays him as essentially authoritarian.
And as far as I can recall that’s the sum total of how Driscoll has been portrayed in my reading. I haven’t read any of his books and don’t plan to; from what I’ve seen of them they remind me of Skip Heitzig’s books: cleaned-up versions of sermon notes, in slim volumes, with well-chosen titles and cover art, probably best understood as an extension of the Sunday morning experience.
In the next post I want to get back to Albuquerque; remember Albuquerque? This is a series about a church in Albuquerque.