It is the 16th of August 2021 Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It’s time to go to the mailbag- today we have a question that came via Twitter- Kevin in Norman, Ok.
[Norman is the home of the Flaming Lips! And Sam Bradford and Blake Griffin!]
“I wonder if you have been listening to the new podcast about Mars Hill [the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill from CT]. It seems that this isn’t new in church history. What are your thoughts on the podcast and where has this happened in the church before?”
Ok- I am a few episodes in, let me give you a few thoughts:
Mark Driscoll was the pastor of Mars Hill which was a kind of Gen X emergent-ish church that was all fundamentalist adjacent in some respects. The massively popular church opened up satellites around the country. Driscoll’s domineering, aggressive leadership style and brash personality from the pulpit and keyboard led to his resignation/removal.
I won’t comment too much on that particular situation except to point out a few things:
This is all part of the story of West Coast Christianity in the late 20th and early 21st century. If you are in your 30s and live out here and have been connected to the church you know that there were and are a thousand Mars Hill clones- or rather, Mars Hill was another clone church of the movement that gave us Calvary Chapel, the Vineyard, the Mega Church and other divergent branches with a shared root.
Here are the parallels I see to other church historical movements:
- An anti-authoritarian movement gravitates towards a new authority (in the Evangelical world this is often a charismatic speaker with some “new” word or understanding of the Bible).
- This Character often becomes an authority himself (or herself… might I remind you of Aimee Semple MacPherson?). The people who blow raspberries at the Pope end up with their own Pope… just usually in jeans and sneakers.
- The charismatic leader and the surrounding organization insulates their leader from criticism. The shortcomings of the leader can be canonized as somehow part of what makes that leader so important or special.
- The movement becomes the person, the person falls and the movement fizzles (and then, like Whack-a-mole we see its remains show up in a new form).
There is a whiff of Gnosticism in this. By that, I mean that this charismatic leader has a “new word”…. “You’ve heard it say…but what I’ve discovered is..”
It is usually couched in the language of societal decline. “In these perilous days, we need blah blah”.
And listening to the podcast my mind kept going back to the Muscular Christianity movement at the end of the 19th century.
- This is the group that founded the YMCA
- This group perceived the “feminization” of the Victorian church and stressed manly virtues.
- While the movement began as an attempt to build disciples as well as muscles, it ended up focusing on muscles. Today you’ll hear the “Y” referred to as the Young Men’s Christian Association about as often as KFC gets called “Kentucky Fried Chicken” or Cru gets called “Campus Crusade”.
C.S Lewis who lived during the time of the propagation of “muscular Christianity” made an oblique reference to it the movement in his Screwtape Letters. In it the elder demon writes that with regards to those who see their faith and physical bodies as especially intertwined that they should “feed him the grand lie which we have made the English humans believe, that physical exercise in excess and consequent fatigue are especially favorable to virtue.”
3 final thoughts:
Charismatic leaders whose lives reflect more of a tragic Greek hero rather than the Suffering Servant are legion.
Claims of “hyper feminization” are as ubiquitous as those complaints about “hypermasculinity”.
And then lastly, those who would bemoan the “branding” of a leader might want to notice that we’ve been doing that since a few dudes got the moniker “church fathers”.
I guess it’s all complicated. I suppose the advice of this history professor is from 1 John: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols”.
The last word for today comes from the Epistle of James:
13 Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. 14 However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. 16 Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. 17 What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 18 Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 16th of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who smells of leather, roasted coffee, and sawdust. and Christopher Gillespie .
The show is written and read by a man who can’t change a tire and has never swung an axe, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.