Rudy Carrasco asked the question on UrbanOnramps a few weeks ago, of whether Mars Hill Church is emergent or not? He wrote: “Mars Hill Church is going to make us define what we mean by “emerging.” Does it mean somewhere between fundamentalist and liberal theologies? Is it a worship style? Is it a way to engage youth culture and/or emerging culture?” He also linked to an interesting article by The Seattle Times, entitled Pastor Mark Packs ’em In.
Well, I have an answer to Rudy’s question.
Okay, I’ve only attended Mars Hill once, so I don’t really have an answer to his question, but I wanted to post some of my observations.
Obviously, Mars Hill is doing something for the area they are located in. I heard someone say they have about 1600 people in two different services on Sundays. The majority of those who attend Mars Hill are the younger, hip, Seattleite crowd. There were some more generations present, but for the most part, it was the 20-30 crowd. Their worship music was pretty sweet, definitely a bit of the rockabilly influence.
Mark Driscoll is definitely a captivating speaker. He preaches for close to an hour [and for those of us who are Presbyterians and are used to a 15-20 min sermon, that’s pretty intense], but he’s able to keep people’s attention with his intensity, humor and the way he relates to people. Definitely good stuff.
Yet, while I am aware of the good things that Mars Hill is doing, I have some issues with other things I observed. The church excludes women from leadership. This seems to be a good indicator/litmus test for where they are at “theologically.” The issue of women in ministry should be a non-issue for emergent churches. Mars Hill’s 7 pastors are all male [they also serve as the Elders of the church] – 2 of the 9 Staff Deacons are women and 5 of the 9 Volunteer Deacons are women.
The Sunday I was there, they dedicated many newborn babies in the congregation. There were about 8 couples that came forward. The women didn’t speak at all. The men introduced the baby and their wives, the men read the Scriptures for their child. A family of 5 came forward to read the Advent Scripture and light the Advent Candles. The father and son read Scripture [the mother did light the candle]. The women and men are also educated theologically separately [they have Practical Theology for Women and Mars Hill Men].
Mark also comes across very much as a black/white, I have the answers kind of guy. It seems that emerging church pastors should emphasize humility, simply walking alongside people, and the idea that we can learn much from each other, and that I (as pastor) certainly do not have all the answers. I just get the feeling that Mark feels like Scripture is clear, black/white on many issues and he is sharing those answers with people.
One last observation. As I browsed the book table at Mars Hill, I saw some Christian Classics (Bonhoeffer, Augustine, Willard, etc.), some emergent-type books (Chris Seay’s books, etc.) but was troubled by some books I saw. Though I’ve never read any John Piper (Desiring God, Future Grace, Don’t Waste Your Life), he was a favorite with my very conservative/fundamentalist(?) friends at Whitworth. Mars Hill had a lot of John Piper available.
But more specifically, they had many books by Douglas Wilson, who is Pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, ID [Christ Church is Charter Member of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals]. This church puts out a publication, the Credenda Agenda, has a Publishing company, Canon Press, is involved with Logos School, and started New St. Andrews College. They have also had to deal with several controversies surrounding some of their beliefs.
At any rate, all of this is just to say that I’ve had some experience getting to know Christ Church and people that come out of that church, and I wouldn’t think that any “emergent/postmodern/whatever” church would want to be espousing beliefs, literature, etc. that come from that church. It was quite a shock to see Douglas Wilson’s books there at the book table.
I think part of the idea about emergent churches is that there isn’t/shouldn’t be one model for future churches. So, I am fully aware that all emergent churches will not look alike. Mars Hill is doing some sweet music, the aesthetics of the worship facility itself is very non-traditional, but theologically, they resemble any other conservative, evangelical church [with the possibility of a bit of a fundamentalist streak there]. I’m not sure how that makes Mars Hill an “emergent church.”
Below are a few quotes from the Seattle Times article.
[on his ranking of the various translations of the Bible] :: Far to the right, and way down on the bottom – “toward hell,” he says – comes the New Revised Standard Version. The widely used New Revised, which distinguishes between references to all humans and references to men and women separately, is “the politically correct Bible,” he says. “It’s like the Bible got neutered.”
[on the theology of Mars Hill] :: Mars Hill is also growing…And it’s doing so by reaching young, urban, creative people…and preaching a theology that is as orthodox and conservative as it gets. Think Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God.
[on Mark’s messages] :: But make no mistake. He is a biblical strict constructionist, preaching a core message that could be delivered by, say, Pat Robertson ‚Äî if only he were young and not so uptight.
[on…what?] :: And in January, he will speak on church leadership at televangelist Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral.
[on the theology of Mars Hill & Mark] :: At Seattle Pacific University, a school with conservative Methodist roots where Driscoll held a Bible-study group for three years, some students accused his teachings of being sexist.
The Rev. Karen Ward, pastor of the postmodern Church of the Apostles in Seattle, says Mars Hill is “espousing a certain tradition, a very conservative, fundamental, Promise Keepers ethos.” Emerging-church pastors, she says, are generally more open to saying they don’t have all the answers.
So I guess the question is what really does make a church an emergent church? Is it the music? Is it the method which the “unchanging” message is preached? Should we be evaluating it on a more theological basis?