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Mars Hill Albuquerque

In dealing with the Greeks in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 Dave Bruskas took a tack I hadn’t heard before, saying that the Greeks in Paul’s audience understood that God was detached because divine beings were incapable of caring about humans. They would have thought that the idea of a God who cared about people was “stupid.” He says the corresponding temptation for us today (paralleling his earlier point about being “tempted to be Jewish”) is to think that God is impersonal, and our best response is to focus on self-actualization.

Dave by contrast quotes Romans 7:18 “nothing good dwells in me,” as proof that we cannot self-actualize, but rather that we need to understand that are good only in that we are forgiven. Along the way he says he’s “not against therapy, just against therapy focused inward” and relates a third too-perfect story, in which his daughter says it is unproductive to try to wrap our minds around God.

As I said earlier, this was a tack on this passage I hadn’t heard before: I’m more accustomed to the straight reading of the text that Greeks desire knowledge or insight, but instead God offers us something offensive to reason. I won’t suggest here that one reading is better than the other: Paul seems to assume that his audience knows enough about Jews and Greeks to make sense of what he’s saying without elaboration; modern readers need something to fill in the gaps here. I don’t know that it’s possible to say definitely what Paul meant beyond the plain meaning of what’s in the text.

But it’s on the latter point that I think this sermon goes off the rails. If I understand him correctly, Dave Bruskas is setting two things against one another that aren’t naturally in opposition. He seems to be saying that because God has reached out to us and asked us to believe, and we “get no more” as an explanation of salvation, that somehow this is also sufficient for all of our problems. He goes on to several other passages (Romans 5:6, John 6:44, Romans 5:9, Romans 8:1), attempting to hammer home the point that because our sins are forgiven everything else (by which I think he means all the other things that are wrong with us) are “small by comparison.” And along the way he tells stories about the death of his two-month-old son, and about an anonymous Christian struggling with a recurring sin.

His underlying claim (that because we are free from the consequences of sin, we are free to do good works) is much-neglected in Reformed circles so far as I can tell, but it sits awkwardly on Romans 8:1 (there’s no mention of good works there), and while he’s grappling with an important question: something like “if I’m a new creature, why am I still a mess?” he doesn’t actually answer it; he just attacks it. If someone is struggling with a problem that is damaging to themselves or to others, knowing that they will be ultimately forgiven for their sins isn’t answering the right question.

If someone were to say to me “I’m addicted to drugs,” or “I’m considering killing myself” telling them their sins are forgiven is an answer to a question they’re not asking.They’re actually looking for a way to stop doing drugs, or a way to avoid killing themselves; they’re taking about changes in behavior, not theological consequences. And while Dave is right — compared to spending eternity in Hell, a lifelong drug problem is relatively small — it doesn’t deal with the reality of the drug problem.

I would of course encourage readers to listen to Dave’s sermon themselves and see if I’m missing the point here. But this is one of the mistakes I think we make as theological conservatives by mistaking the most important thing for the only important thing. It’s not that salvation itself isn’t satisfactory, or that a solid soteriology isn’t important, but rather that it doesn’t answer every question. At least not correctly.

And that pretty much was the end of the sermon. There was a closing prayer, and we were reminded that Communion was going to be observed at a later date. Regarding Communion and regarding Baptism I was surprised to hear Mars Hill Albuquerque’s position, namely that Baptism is an act of obedience and Communion is a symbol. These are the positions I’m accustomed to seeing in evangelical circles, but I’m still surprised when Reformed folks don’t call them something else. It is after all my understanding that most of the Christians who ever lived saw baptism as being part of salvation somehow, and saw Communion as participation in a group identity, or a means of grace, or something more than just a symbol.

Which I guess brings me full circle on Mars Hill Albuquerque: after one visit I still get the impression that they’re a complicated evangelical/Reformed hybrid, with some megachurch tendencies and some hidebound Reformed tendencies, and I’ll be interested to see what becomes of them over time.

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  1. james t kirk
    February 9, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Mike DeLong,
    I appreciated reading all of these; I’m in no way associated with MHA.

    Who are you and why did you decide to do a long series on MHA?

    Really curious.

    • February 9, 2011 at 9:26 am

      That’s a good question; it wasn’t all that long when I started, but as I got into it it just got longer and longer. When I first heard about City On A Hill becoming a Mars Hill campus church I was curious what was going on there. I got a chance to visit MHA and took it. I expected to see a bunch of people watching something on a projection screen, but saw something else. By the time I was done explaining all that it was what you see: 3000-4000 words over a bunch of posts.

      I’m not sure how to answer your other question; I cover some of this on the About page. Apart from that I guess I’d say I’m a blogger with a day job and an interest in modern evangelicalism. I hope this comes close to answering your question.

  2. February 10, 2011 at 1:34 am

    It’s been a fun read. As a Calvary Chapel pastor, I never get the opportunity to visit other churches… Not that I need to, I feel almost like I’ve been at MHA. Thanks!

  3. Vince
    February 22, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Although I do not attend Mars Hill Albuquerque, I have vistited on a handful of occassions. I cannot provide the in-depth analysis regarding the bulletin and how much people tithe, but I will simply say that it is a mission-driven church well set on reaching the city of Albuquerque.

    Some may say that every church in Albuquerque is trying to do the same thing. However, as an individual that has been in several New Mexico churches over the last several years, I can say that Mars Hill Albuquerque is actually succeeding in reaching the lost people of Albuquerque, and they are doing with the bold Gospel of Jesus Christ – nothing less, nothing more.

    Pastor Jim: It looks like you are in Washington, and if so, I would highly encourage you to visit one of the Mars Hill campuses in Seattle if you have not already done so. Most of my Christian life was spent in Calvary Chapel and I believe the Calvary movement can learn a lot from what Mars Hill is doing.

    Again, I do not attend Mars Hill regularly and actually serve at a church in Santa Fe. However, Mars Hill is doing some great things in our area and we have learned tremendously from their mission.

    • February 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm

      Vince —

      I can say that Mars Hill Albuquerque is actually succeeding in reaching the lost people of Albuquerque, and they are doing with the bold Gospel of Jesus Christ

      Can you give me a sense of how many new converts MHA has made over the last year? Is this something you can quantify? The Mars Hill 2010 annual report [PDF] claims “dozens of baptisms” in Albuquerque on pages 8-9, but I didn’t see anything more precise. When I was there I didn’t see any evidence of a “new believer’s class” or anything like that as I would expect from a church making lots of converts. Perhaps that’s something they do seasonally or on an as-needed basis.

      Most of my Christian life was spent in Calvary Chapel and I believe the Calvary movement can learn a lot from what Mars Hill is doing.

      Let me encourage you to hold off on those comparisons a little while for exactly that reason. Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa was founded in 1965; Mars Hill in 1996. Let me suggest that it will be a while before they can be fairly compared. And I’m reasonably certain MH/A29 will face its fair share of crises before you’ve spent twenty years there.

      (Oops: page 33 says “99.”)

  4. Vince
    February 28, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Mike:

    I would say that the annual report does, in part, quantify the number of converts based upon the number of baptisms. However, as you know, many new believers do not immediately get baptized – especially in our area, where many were previously baptized in the Catholic church. Therefore, I would contend that the baptism number is a conservative to modest estimation of new converts.

    With regard to a “new believer’s class,” Mars Hill offers several learning opportunities, including Community Groups, Redemption Groups, and the Doctrine Class, which covers the core elements of the Christian Faith.

    As far as comparisons, I disagree that we need to wait 20 years before drawing constructive criticisms from one another. As you point out, Calvary is a well-established movement and, as a result, there are many positive things to be taken from what they have done. On the other hand, I was faithfully attending three Calvary Chapels that suffered scandals resulting from what I perceive to be a flawed leadership model. Therefore, when I say that Calvary can learn from MH, I am specifically referencing the plurality of elders model.

    Lastly, I believe that any church presenting the Gospel of Christ is entitled to comparison. We must constantly ask: What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? And, how can we do things better? In answering these questions, there is much to be learned from an established movement like CC, and much to be learned from an emerging movement like MH/A29. That is my only point.

    In the end, I still have many good friends that are part of CC and look forward to impacting our area together with them.

    • March 9, 2011 at 10:55 am

      Vince —

      Thanks for stopping by. Let me respond to one of your points above.

      My understanding of what you said earlier was that Mars Hill is experiencing growth because of their fidelity to the Gospel, and I read your comments about Calvary Chapel having something to learn from them in that context. I think I would attribute the early growth of the Calvary movement to presentation of the Gospel and expository teaching. I haven’t been in a Calvary in years, but I understand that not all Calvarys follow a verse-by-verse expository teaching pattern, etc. so I’m not sure what’s normative for a Calvary right now.

      On the other hand, I was faithfully attending three Calvary Chapels that suffered scandals resulting from what I perceive to be a flawed leadership model. Therefore, when I say that Calvary can learn from MH, I am specifically referencing the plurality of elders model.

      I think I would distinguish between two things here: you and I attended the same Calvary for a while, so I am passingly familiar with one of the three you refer to here. I would argue that while the model was a mess, the real problem was the leader, not the leadership model. The model, after all, is only as strong or weak as its instance.

      I would agree with you that the Calvary Moses Model is a mess, and the one instance we saw, where the pastor was accountable to neither the elders nor to another Calvary, all but guaranteed that when he decided to mistreat his church there was not much to check his behavior. I have a fair number of questions about that situation that were never answered to my satisfaction. That’s another topic for another day.

      I am not sure that the Mars Hill model is any better; I’ll know more when I see e.g. Mars Hill Albuquerque (or heaven forbid Mars Hill itself) go through some sort of leadership crisis. And I would humbly suggest that the question isn’t if Mars Hill faces a leadership crisis, but when. I’m not looking forward to that day, of course, but when it happens I’ll be interested to see how they deal with it.

      I think we all agree that Calvary Chapel is in for a real crisis when Chuck Smith dies. I would suggest that Mars Hill would be in for a shock if something awful happened to Mark Driscoll, for example. In the meantime I guess I’d be cautious about suggesting who can learn what from whom. Each movement is still less than a full generation old.

  5. December 7, 2011 at 7:26 am

    I know I’m entirely late to the conversation here but having at one time been a Mars Hill member I might be able to shed some light on the Isaiah 9 shift into 1 Corinthians.

    The apparently abrupt shift from Isaiah to Corinthians that uses “Jesus was a military strategist” may have been rooted in a theme that some other pastors discussed at Mars Hill around the time that sermon was preached, which is that “counselor” as referred to in Isaiah was to a military counselor during wartime. I haven’t heard any of the sermons but I have family and friends who are at Mars Hill and oen of them told me about a sermon another Mars Hill pastor preached from.

    Here’s a reference point, if it helps:
    http://marshill.com/search/results?q=isaiah+9

    Some pastors may have simply shoe-horned in a reference to previously preached material during a series, which can often happen at Mars Hill services (as I trust happens frequently elewhere).

  1. February 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm
  2. February 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm

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