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Inside the Mark Driscoll Cult
We have not update this entry in a while. Until now (November 23, 2021). Note this podcast.
Investigative reporter Julie Roys writes,
Our podcasts this year on Mark Driscoll have been our most popular podcasts to date, receiving more than 40,000 listens! Because of their popularity and the importance of this ongoing story, we’ve decided to re-release the podcasts on YouTube!
Part One, telling how the “cultic” activities of the former Mars Hill pastor have reached new heights, is available now.
The podcast features Chad Freese, Driscoll’s former head of security, and Ben Eneas, who served on the security detail with Chad. Both men reveal the ongoing drama surrounding Driscoll, including his sense of entitlement, bullying, and paranoia.
They reveal how a couple, who reported concerns about a staff member violating child safety protocols, were abruptly kicked out of Driscoll’s church the same day. They also tell how Mark abuses his staff behind closed doors — and how his “yes men” continue to take it.
Despite these disqualifying actions, Driscoll remains senior pastor at The Trinity Church in Scottsdale, Arizona, and continues to teach and train other pastors! And that’s why we must continue to shine light and share important interviews like these.
The audio podcast and transcript of this episode of The Roys Report was first released on July 6, 2021.
Additional podcasts and articles by Julie Roys regarding Mark Driscoll
Mark Driscoll (born October 11, 1970) was the preaching pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.
The church, which he co-founded in 1996, grew into a megachurch with, in 2014, 14,000 members in five states and fifteen locations.
In the mid-1990s Driscoll was briefly associated with the Emerging Church, but claims he distanced himself from the movement
“because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God’s sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake.”
He preaches a variety of Calvinism known as Modified Calvinism.
In 2011, Preaching magazine named Driscoll one of the 25 most influential [English-speaking] pastors of the past 25 years:
Reformed, emerging and controversial, Driscoll is a model for thousands of young pastors who read his books and listen faithfully to his podcast sermons. Driscoll may well be an example of how preachers will influence other preachers in the 21st century.
But there are many people who hope his influence will wane rather than grow.
Update: October 14, 2014: Mark Driscoll resigns
In a statement, Mars Hills’ board of overseers said Driscoll hadn’t committed any acts of “immorality, illegality or heresy” — sins that have felled many a powerful pastor.
Instead, the board said, Driscoll is guilty of “arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.”
Driscoll was not asked to leave, the board added, saying they were “surprised” to receive his resignation letter.
– Source: Mark Driscoll, top megachurch pastor, resigns, CNN, Oct. 14, 2014
Update: August 24, 2014: Mark Driscoll to take “extended focus break” from Mars Hill Church
Senior pastor Mark Driscoll is taking an “extended focus break” of six weeks’ duration from his Seattle-based mega-church while charges against him are investigated by a process prescribed by church bylaws, Driscoll told the 8:30 a.m. Sunday service at Mars Hill Bellevue.
The controversial evangelical said he is meeting with “a professional team of sincere Christians” in evaluating his conduct. But Driscoll said he will not take to public media to answer “the criticism of me” and keep his expressions directed at the Mars Hill flock.
See also: Why Christians shouldn’t celebrate Mark Driscoll’s demise
Update, August 22, 2014: A Brash Style That Filled Pews, Until Followers Had Their Fill.: “Mark Driscoll Is Being Urged to Leave Mars Hill Church”, New York Times.
… Mr. Driscoll’s empire appears to be imploding. He has been accused of creating a culture of fear at the church, of plagiarizing, of inappropriately using church funds and of consolidating power to such a degree that it has become difficult for anyone to challenge or even question him. […] Mr. Driscoll is rapidly becoming a pariah in the world that once cheered him.
Update, August 21, 2014: Twenty-One Former Mars Hill Church Pastors Bring Formal Charges Against Mark Driscoll.
All 21 pastors have left or been let go from the church. The 11-page complaint filed with the executive elders at Mars Hill alleges Driscoll’s abusive and intimidating behavior toward church leaders, staff and members.
Warren Throckmorton reports
Accompanied by a cover letter, briefs on workplace bullying and a summary of the powers of Mars Hill elders, the charges are being leveled by well-respected former pastors and are in the possession of the Mars Hill leadership. These documents greatly expand on charges brought by former pastor Dave Kraft. Those charges were dismissed by the Board of Advisors and Accountability. […]
…I want to point out that the pastors are concentrating on disqualifying actions since 2010.
Update, August 8, 2014: Mark Driscoll removed from the Acts 29 church planting network he helped found
Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has been removed from a church-planting network of more than 500 churches he helped found after a pattern of “ungodly and disqualifying behavior.”
– Source: Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service, published in the Washington Post, Aug. 8, 2014
He’s Baaa-ack (2015)
“Ex-Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll is back on evangelical lecture circuit,” announces Joel Connelly in his May 1, 2015 blog post at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Driscoll resigned as the senior pastor at Mars Hill on Oct. 15, 2014, as the church investigated charges by ex-elders and pastors that he had engaged in intimidating, threatening and profane behavior.
The charges of misconduct were later sustained, but the church never released a report of its findings on Driscoll.
Mars Hill announced two weeks later that it was dissolving. Individual congregations — which once totaled 15 in five states — were left to carry on as independent churches, combine with others, or dissolve.
Driscoll never really went away. He made a brief stage appearance at the 2014 Gateway Church Conference in Texas — which he had once been scheduled to keynote — complaining that he had been subject to repeated persecution.
As Mars Hill was dissolving last December, the ex-pastor has set up a website advertising his past sermons and lessons.
Driscoll is slated to appear this summer at another mega church gathering, the Hillsong Conference, in London and Sydney, Australia. He will be interviewed at both conferences by church founder Brian Houston.
Driscoll, who in 18 years built Mars Hill into a mega church is being advertised by Hillsong as “one of the most popular preachers in the world today.” But a petition drive has been mounted against his appearance.
Driscoll was not subjected to persecution. He got called out — finally — on his abusive behavior.
He’s Baaa-ack (2016)
Mark Driscoll has started a new church in Phoenix, Arizona. Before doing so he has appeared as a speaker at a number of prominent events.
On February 1, 2016, Driscoll formally announced the launch of The Trinity Church.
The website is TheTrinityChurch.com. The church is named after Grace Driscoll’s home church in the Seattle area. So far, the church is a P.O. Box (see some pics here).
In what appears to be comparable to Mars Hill Church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability, Driscoll lists four pastors as providing “wise counsel”: Larry Osbourne, Randal Taylor, Jimmy Evans, and Robert Morris. These pastors have “apostolic gifting.”
The next day Throckmorton noted
The absence of Mars Hill Church from the bios and announcement of Mark Driscoll and his associates made an impression on those covering the news of Mark Driscoll’s planned launch of The Trinity Church.
Two days later, after a CBS News 5 Phoenix report on Driscoll’s Mars Hill past,
The absence of Mars Hill from the bios and new church website only invites more investigation on the part of the media. The failure to tie up loose ends in Seattle may continue to haunt the Phoenix effort for quite awhile. And by loose ends, I mean financial disclosures about where and how much member and tither money was made by selling off assets. How much went to severance packages is a frequent question I hear. Furthermore, why did lawyers tell Sutton Turner not to reveal specific figures about Global Fund giving?
More importantly, there are former elders and members who are waiting to hear from the guy who is “healing up.” Be nice if everybody could heal up.
“Foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen”
Mark Driscoll appears to thrive on controversy, and has what the New York Times describes as the “foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen.”2
Critics say that ‘cult of personality’ that surrounds Driscoll, and some wonder whether Mars Hill Church itself is — to some extend — a cult.
Many describe what they have experienced at the church, and under Mark Driscoll, as spiritual abuse.
One recent article, published in April 2014 under the title, “Christian right mega-church minister faces mega-mutiny for alleged abusive behavior”, sums up a number of issues, including these ones:
One critic, Jim Henderson,
says the way Driscoll runs Mars Hill is “malicious, it’s spiritual abuse, it’s damaging to people’s lives, it’s jeopardizing the reputations of Christians–it’s already difficult in Seattle for people to take Christians seriously. Now we have to contend with this guy.”
Christians need to decide for themselves whether or not Mars Hill’s ‘modified Calvinism’ marks it, theologically, as a cult of Christianity.
While the publishers of Apologetics Index do not consider the church an outright cult, we do believe it is clear that — from a sociological perspective — Mars Hill Church includes some cult-like characteristics that are spiritually- and mentally damaging.4
The person most responsible for making it so is Mark Driscoll.
In a recent video (July, 2014), Driscoll claimed, as Warren Throckmorton reports, “that the leaders of Mars Hill were having some difficulty knowing how to response to the latest crisis because many of those raising concerns about the church were doing so anonymously.”
This led a group of critics to set up a Facebook page titled, “Dear Pastor Mark & Mars Hill: We Are Not Anonymous.”
One of many people who remind Driscoll that he cannot hide behind the lie that his critics are anonymous is his former fellow associate pastor Ron Wheeler, Jr.
Wheeler’s heartbreaking blog post, “I. Am. Not. Anonymous,” clearly relates how damaging Mark Driscoll’s behavior is to people.
- Demonstrators demand change at Mars Hill Warren Colesmith, WORLD, Aug. 4, 2014 — “Current and former church members call for the resignation of Pastor Mark Driscoll.”
Driscoll has been dogged by charges of misconduct since last fall. The first charges to emerge were plagiarism, and those accusations were credible enough to force Driscoll and his publisher Tyndale House to release a statement admitting, “Mistakes were made,” while promising to revise future editions of his book A Call to Resurgence. Then WORLD broke a story documenting Driscoll’s use of nearly $250,000 in Mars Hill funds in an effort to put his book Real Marriage on the New York Times best-seller list. WORLD also obtained a copy of a non-compete agreement Mars Hill required pastors to sign that prevented them from planting new churches in the Seattle area–despite Mars Hill’s claim of supporting church planting. In March the church announced it would destroy all emails more than three months old as part of a new “document retention policy.” The church rescinded implementation after 16 former church members sent a letter to the church in protest.
Despite these very public and well-documented charges, all of which Driscoll subsequently admitted were true, the church posted a video two weeks ago in which Driscoll claimed his critics were “mostly anonymous” and the criticisms leveled against him were vague.
The video produced an immediate reaction on social media. Smith started a Facebook group (Dear Pastor Mark & Mars Hill: We Are Not Anonymous) that quickly grew to more than 500 members and was used to help organize yesterday’s demonstration. Smith said he plans to refute Driscoll’s assertion that the charges against him are vague by listing 50 specific charges against Driscoll and Mars Hill’s other executive elders. Smith said he would publish the list by Friday.
- Christian right mega-church minister faces mega-mutiny for alleged abusive behavior Valerie Tarico, AlterNet, as published in Salon, April 3, 2014. Highlights a number of controversies surround Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church.
- Who Would Jesus Smack Down? Molly Worthen, New York Times, Jan. 6, 2009
Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, “I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.
- Why the Mars Hill Faithful Have Started to Question Mark Brendan Kiley, The Stranger, Aug. 1, 2014
Plagiarism; Bestseller List Manipulation
- Mark Driscoll accused of plagiarism by radio host Jonathan Merritt, Religion News Service, Nov. 22, 2013. Followed by More allegations of plagiarism surface against Mark Driscoll Jonathan Merritt, Nov. 27, 2013
- Unreal sales for Driscoll’s Real Marriage Warren Colesmith, WORLD, Mar. 5, 2014
Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.
- Abusive Churches and Spiritual Abuse Apologetics Index’s collection of resources on the subject
- Dear Mark and Mars Hill: We Are Not Anonymous Facebook group set up in response to Mark Driscoll’s statement, made in a video released at the end of July, “One of the things that’s been complex is the fact that a lot of the people we are dealing with in this season remain anonymous–so we don’t know how to reconcile or how to work things out with people because we’re not entirely sure who they are.” That is an outright lie.
- Warren Throckmorton’s blog posts on Mars Hill Church The go-to resource when it comes to researching and following the Mars Hill Chuch/Mark Driscoll saga.
- Mars Hill Church Official site. Not recommended
- Pastor Mark Driscoll Official site. Not recommended.
- RepentantPastor.com Set up in March, 2014. Four former Mars Hill Church pastors and elders post confessions and apologies related to their leadership roles at the church: “We acknowledge the hurts that Mars Hill Church has caused. These are our individual confessions, stories, letters and apologies.”
- Sin, Repentance, Grace, Forgiveness Kyle Firstenberg, one of the four men who started the Repentant Pastor website, was an executive pastor at Mars Hill Church. Having resigned, he writes
Over the last couple of years I was on staff, I started to notice some alarming things. It was often said “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”. That was said in the context of anyone who disagreed with Mark or Mars Hill, to include other churches. It was very much a culture of us against the world. Statements were often made, implying “God isn’t working in other churches, He is only working here. Look at the evidence.” As an employee of Mars Hill, I, along with others, was tasked with making job descriptions and goals for ourselves. We were told, however, that the goals would have to be “God sized goals”, meaning if it looked like we could accomplish them on our own, they weren’t big enough. The problem was, if God didn’t show up to help you meet those goals, you were reprimanded and given a poor review because of it.
Staff meetings were shrouded in conversations of “What will Driscoll be yelling at us for this time?” I tried not to read the negative articles in the news, but the reputation Driscoll got for being the cussing pastor simply because he used harsh language from the pulpit was nothing compared to the swearing and abusive language he used daily with staff. When people asked me how I liked working at Mars Hill, I would simply say, “It is a great church to attend, but I wouldn’t recommend working here”. It was well known with the staff that what was preached on Sunday was not lived out Monday morning with the staff.
© Copyright Apologetics Index. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.
- As quoted at Wikipedia. Original no longer online. ↩
- Molly Worthen, Who Would Jesus Smack Down, New York Times, Jan. 6, 2009 ↩
- Brendan Kiley, Why the Mars Hill Faithful Have Started to Question Mark, The Stranger, Aug. 1, 2014 ↩
- Be aware of the difference between theological and sociological definitions of the term ‘cult.’ ↩
Related topic(s): Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church
First published (or major update) on Tuesday, August 5, 2014.
Last updated on November 23, 2021. Original content is © Copyright Apologetics Index. All Rights Reserved. For usage guidelines see link at the bottom.
Why do they call him the cussing pastor? I’ve been going to MH for almost 3 years and never heard him swear in a sermon.
I have attended a chuch plant by this movement in San Diego. While I do not ascribe to the full 5 points of Calvinism I do believe this is what we need to hear. I think we have to change with the times b while never changing the lines of old that God has sent. My wife and I while attending Kaleo church in San Diego I see now how God grew my wife and myself. I grew even though I did not agree with all that was taught. So I would say “Keep up te great work Mark of stiring the Christians!” we need to wake up and start thinking. I beleve this is what Mark does for people.
He speaks the truth, look at the scripture. pre-destination is not that God chose people for hell, He just knew which people would deny Him and which people would follow Him. God did not create us for Hell and Driscoll has never said that.
It seems to me that the Calvinist way to salvation is kind of emotional and Zen-like. Like the zen question of the Goose in the Bottle, the goose gets out of the bottle and our Calvinist souls get to heaven because we want them to.
Mark Driscol does in fact teach divine election in the vein of Jonathan Edwards et al. Calvinism however is so misrepresented and misunderstood by most of mainstream evangelicalism that it takes a lot of educating to give people a proper understanding of what it’s all about. Mark does this well; not as well as some older more scholarly preachers, but good nonetheless.
People hate Mark because of his big personality. His theology however is ultra conservative and Biblical and although he can be rough with his speech, he certainly doesn’t cuss as some critics would have you believe.
I was heavily involved in a third wave neo-pentecostal church for five years where I never really heard the gospel preached. Through God’s providence I began to listen to Mark Driscoll’s podcasts and for the first time heard sound doctrine. There is nothing emotional and Zen-like about Mark’s preaching compared to some of the stuff I’ve listened to in church. Now I’m in a sound biblical church because of solid preachers like Mark Driscoll who aren’t afraid to preach Jesus!
I have no problem with Calvanism (our church preaches predestination, but is very evangelist), but I do have a problem with Mark Driscoll. I went along to his Burn Your Plastic Jesus talk at Brisbane last year and some of his teaching was clearly wrong. He basically said that if you are single, get married, and get a full time job. This was his solution to struggling with porn.
Appreciate the article on Driscol. After 17 years of serving as an Academic Theologian contextualized in 35 years of Pastoral service, I must say I am one of Marks greatest fans. His two books two books on “Reformission” were therapeutic for me personally.
As a mental health counselor and a survivor of spiritual abuse, I perceive many signs of cult like control and spiritual abuse at Mars Hill Church: Controlling Pastor (Driscoll) with “Yes Men” Elders; No Talk Rule; No Dissent; Emphasis on Submission and Obedience; Shunning of “Unrepentant” Former Members; Dis-fellowshipping “Questioners” and Critical Thinkers; By-Laws Removing Accountability of Pastor/Elders; Mind and Thought Control; Membership Covenant and Financial Giving Pledge Required; “Biblical” Counseling Only, if Referred Out, Must Sign Release Form (no confidentiality allowed); Kangaroo Court Firing of Two Elders Who Dared to Question; Extreme Gender Role Enforcement; Members Must Attend Accountability/”Community” Groups… Scary!
I have been surprised at the responses to Mars Hill by Christian critics who ONLY point out that he cusses or wears “offensive” t-shirts, or because he encourages wine/beer drinking. Big deal, really, when considering his cult-like control in an extremely abusive system. I wish I could post my blog spot here, wherein I have written out my former experience with Mars Hill (though it was brief, it was quite informative) and the research I’ve been doing. I have found places on the web where former members have explained what really happened in the bogus firing of two elders, the bi-laws scandal (these give Driscoll all the power, as he is now surrounded by 4 ‘Yes Men’ on the board, and Driscoll has tenure), their suffering serious oppression as females, about other members being ousted for “the sin of questioning” as Driscoll called it, etc…
The new Bi-Laws also list member requirements: they must agree to ALL the church doctrine (obedience and submission to the Elders is emphasized repeatedly, as is absolute wifely submission to husbands, as well as ultra Calvinism); they must not discuss concerns w/ other members (let alone outsiders!) as that is “divisiveness”; they must sign away their rights to legal counsel in regards to the church (that is if they are abused by the church and/or by leadership they cannot retain a lawyer!); they must sign over all rights to confidentiality in counseling should they seek not only Mars Hill “counseling,” but psychological therapy by a professional (and I truly hope ALL therapists would decline such an intrusive, abusive agreement)–and why does Driscoll insist on this stripping of all members of their mental health privacy? “Because we want to be able to find out what’s going on,” that is, they want to CONTROL their members in all aspects of their lives; the members sign an agreement to financial support Mars Hill regularly and sacrificially, and they are sent quarterly reminders (they will be “disciplined” for not keeping up with their “commitment”); they must donate time to serve regularly; they must participate in a small “community group” where they must confess their sins to be “held accountable.”
Frankly I am appalled and deeply concerned by this place and by Driscoll’s controlling/abusive tendencies and by the fact that the Christian community has by and large failed to call him out on it… instead they get all caught up in his t-shirts and a little cussing here and there… This is why I’ve made such a strong stand on my blog spotâ€”to protect the public from this abusive system and to help members get free and to support those who are trying to recover.
Read Dr. Enroth’s book, Churches That Abuse; and VanVonderen’s book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse; do research on the internet, hopefully you will find some good sites that discus spiritual and church abuse, and there is at least one that references my web site about specifics re: Mars Hill Church Abuse.
One former member posted this elsewhere: “This place is a cult and I am saying this from years of experience with Mars Hill as a member who used to love this place; follow them blindly and function as a “serving member” if you are a baby Christian.