Mars Hill study sparks debate

On Sunday, the evening service at Mars Hill Fellowship was packed with college students, young married couples, new parents, and a few gray hairs here and there.

All eyes are on Pastor Mark Driscoll as he preaches with a varying tone in his voice, and expressive hand movements. Ninety minutes into the sermon and not one person is nodding off, fidgeting or whispering, but rather responding to the message by laughing, clapping or speaking.

On this particular night Driscoll is talking about courtship and the special relationship between fathers and daughters.

"The father is vitally important to the protection of the daughter," Driscoll said.

In his message, Driscoll stressed the how important a father was in making sure that when his daughter chose her husband, she would choose someone who loved, respected and treated her just as her father did.

In his sermon, Driscoll spoke about his relationship with his 4-year-old daughter, Ashley. He said that several times a year he buys her a new dress and takes her out for a ‘daddy date night’.

Derek Cummings, a regular attendee of Mars Hill is attracted to both the content and style of Driscoll’s teachings. "I learn when I go to his sermons," Cummings said. "He speaks for an hour and a half and I don’t go to sleep."

According to Driscoll a few hundred SPU students are members of his congregation. They are part of a church that over the past five years has grown from just a hand full of people meeting in a living room to about 1000 people now attending services in Ballard on a weekly basis. Mars Hill has also planted churches in the U-District, Kirkland, Mt. Vernon, and Portland as well as churches in Mexico, Haiti, Brazil and Canada.

Mars Hill is now the focus of a big debate on campus that has to do with Driscoll’s allowance to teach a bible study on campus. The catalyst for the debate was a recent decision that SPU made to reword the off-campus speaker policy, which caused the bible study lead by Driscoll to stop meeting on campus.

Some believe the reason the Bible study is no longer meeting on campus is because it was not a recognized campus group and did not adhere to university policy. Others believe that portions of Driscoll’s teachings generated too much controversy

Prior to spring quarter, Driscoll lead a weekly bible study for students on campus, which is no longer able to meet because the stipulations of the off-campus speaker policy were not being met.

Driscoll said he thought it would be a good idea to show up on campus and spend time with students because his pastor did the same thing when he became a Christian as a freshman in college at Washington State University.

Once the bible study grew substantially he thought it would be better to book a room for the study instead of disrupting the lunch hour in the SUB. Driscoll said he talked to Tim Dearborn, dean of the chapel, who encouraged him to reserve a room for the study and once that was done they began meeting in Demaray 360. A while later, Driscoll said he was told the group needed a faculty sponsor in order to meet. At that point Driscoll said he put the situation in the hands of the students.

"The students invited me and I [was] there because the students asked me to be there, so I wanted them to sort this out, I didn’t want it to seem like I was pushing my way on campus," Driscoll said.

After the students who attended the bible study found a faculty sponsor, they were later told that the sponsor needed to be at every bible study session. According to Driscoll, the sponsor could not commit the time to attend every session and so with almost no warning from the university, the group was told they could no longer meet on campus.

Director of Student Programs Scott Strawn confirmed that the bible study led by Driscoll, "brought about a situation where [the University] needed to make the policy as clear as possible."

Consequently, the off-campus speaker policy has been reworded to clarify it’s intended meaning, according to Dean of Students, Kathleen Braden.

Braden said the previous policy was not clear that a faculty member needed to attend the meetings of an unrecognized campus group; the new policy now makes this clear.

According to Braden, the need for the clarification of policy arose when Mars Hill was meeting on campus without a faculty sponsor. Braden confirmed that there was some concern expressed by members of the SPU community about Driscoll and his interpretation of the Bible.

"People in the [SPU] community had reservations that were serious enough that needed to be looked into," Braden said.

Dearborn said the reason Driscoll is no longer speaking or having a bible study on campus is because the University has a policy that if an event is not being held by a recognized University organization, club, student association or class; there needs to be a faculty sponsor at the event. Dearborn said in the case of Driscoll, this policy was not being upheld.

"It’s not a reflection on Mark or his bible study, it’s just a policy the university has," Dearborn said. "There is no scandal, no persecution, no banning of a pastor attached to this at all."

According to Dearborn, the reason that Driscoll was on campus previously without a faculty sponsor was because being new to his position, he was not aware of the off-campus speaker policy and the person doing the room reservations at the time was new and not aware of the policy.

"At this point I feel weird because it gives students the impression that I did something terrible," Driscoll said.

Driscoll said he has no idea what happened with the bible study, but he is in no way trying to force his way on campus, his goal was just to build relationships with students.

Senior Joel Fry said the bible study challenged his Christianity and it was something that he was experiencing spiritual growth from because he was learning how to study the bible by himself.

"I liked it because Pastor Mark doesn’t pull any punches," Fry said, "He gets up front, reads the bible and says what it means."

Fry believes some of the controversy surrounding Driscoll may have to do with his conservative views of men and women, which may upset many women on campus.

Senior Cienna Thomas, a regular attendee of Mars Hill said that she has heard some speculation that Driscoll does not hold women in high regard, however after attending the church for a year she can vouch that "he (Driscoll) has an extremely high esteem of women."

Mars Hill holds the belief that every area of ministry in church is open to women, except for the office of elder (pastor), which is held for men. Driscoll said they have women who are involved in full time ministry at Mars Hill and women who teach, hold bible studies and go to seminary.

"All spiritual gifts are given without any regard to gender," Driscoll said.

This is not the only topic that has stirred up some controversy. Junior Aaron Potratz first heard Driscoll speak at the men’s forum held in Hill Hall that caused heated debate among students. According to Potratz, in his message, Driscoll made comments that "all priests are freaks, weird and queers because they took the vow of celibacy, and they ideal Godly man has a 40 ounce beer in one hand, a slab of meat in the other, and a naked women (his wife) in front of him."

Driscoll does not deny saying this, but he believes his quotes have been misunderstood and taken out of context.

According to Driscoll, he said in the forum that not all priests are holy, and some priests who take the vow of celibacy are "sexually confused." Driscoll said he stated in the forum that, "it is not good for a man to be alone," and "just because men are priests does not mean they do not get sexually tempted."

Driscoll also stated that Potratz misquoted him about the "ideal Godly man." According to Driscoll he said in the forum that the average worldly man wants to eat, drink and have sex. He said he told the men that these things were not wrong if they were done biblically- a man can eat and drink to God’s glory and have sex with his wife. Driscoll said he quoted Ecclesiatstes 9:7-9 which says, "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do… enjoy your life with your wife, whom you love…"

According to Driscoll, his purpose in speaking to the men at Hill Hall was not to instruct them, but to push them on their thinking, even if this meant agitating them. He said he wanted them to think about what was being said, discuss it and then go to their bible and read about it. Driscoll believes he was successful in this.

According to David Skavdahl, a regular attendee at Mars Hill, Driscoll sometimes says things for shock value and people need some humor in listening to Driscoll to distinguish between when he is being serious and when he is not.

"However genuine the intentions, the forum cause an enormous uprising and great controversy on campus," Potratz said. Potratz believes that much of what Driscoll spoke about at the forum was unbiblical, "he used his language carelessly which offended and possibly misled many people [at the forum]."

Potratz believe students need to be careful about who is brought to teach on campus.

"It is important for us as Christians to study the bible and make the truths real to our lives," Potratz said. "On the other hand, it is an unbiblical thing to teach by stepping on toes, offending people, and making outrageous comments simply to get their attention."

Driscoll said his intention is not to just inform people when he preaches but also to agitate them a little so that they get passionate, fired up and start to read the bible, pray and wrestle with issues.

"I don’t mind the tension and controversy, I think it is really good for young Christians and young people… I want them to be thinking," Driscoll said. "My main goal is not to get [people] to agree with me, my main goal is to get [them] to read their bible.

Freshman Tiffany Foreman has attended Mars Hill a few times and first heard Driscoll speak at a forum in Ashton Hall. Foreman said although she does not agree with everything that Driscoll preaches; she is still inclined to listen to him because it forces her to think about her own beliefs.

"It’s a change because I have gone to the same church and had the same pastor for 10 years who said everything I agree with, so it’s interesting to hear another view of things," Foreman said.

Driscoll believes that there are certain subjects that all Christians wrestle with, and a lot of those subjects have to do with gender, sexuality, drugs and alcohol.

"Sometimes Christians will agree on the theological issues and wrestle through the practical applications and that’s where the controversy comes in," Driscoll said. "

In Driscoll’s teaching out of the book of Proverbs over the last few months he has hit many of these subjects, which has caused some differing of opinions on campus.

"The purpose of the pulpit is to hit hard issues, but at the same time I don’t expect everyone, even in my own church to agree with me… but as long as we love each other in Christ, that’s okay," Driscoll said.

Driscoll believes it is necessary to address the practical issues of how to live lives as Christians.

According to Driscoll Mars Hill is no different to most churches in regards to its basic theology. The Mars Hill Official Doctrine as stated on their website states that the scriptures are "the verbally inspired word of God, the final authority for faith and life." They also hold belief in the Trinity, spiritual gifts, the sinful nature of man, and God’s saving grace.

Driscoll believes the difference between most churches is an issue of style.

"I think that churches should look different and should do things differently as they are trying to reach out to the people God has called them to," Driscoll said.

According to Driscoll, their style leads to some confusion for people. "I think in some ways we are a lot more conservative than some churches in theology. We take the bible very seriously and we are solidly conservative theologically, but how we do things it looks like we’re pretty liberal." Driscoll said.

Many of the people who attend Mars Hill have multiple piercings and tattoos. Much of the church is made up of musicians, artists and tech people according to Driscoll.

Without a doubt Driscoll is reaching his target, which is singles and college kids in the city. According to Driscoll, 18-32 year olds is the group that tends to be missing from most churches, and that was the group he wanted to reach.

"I felt like most churches were not reaching people that live in the city… my goal was to go after those people," Driscoll said.

Dearborn said he believes many people are encountering the gospel of Christ through Mars Hill.

"Mark Driscoll is a very dynamic and creative pastor and he has a dynamic ministry," Dearborn said.

Braden said if the revised off-campus speaker policy is followed by the Mars Hill bible study there would be no reason not to allow them to meet on campus again. But a faculty sponsor must be present at the event.

Driscoll believes the bible study will start again in the fall. Driscoll said he would work at getting a faculty member to sponsor and attend the bible study.

"If they tell me what to do, I’ll do that, but they have not told me anything," said Driscoll.

If there is no way for the bible study to be held on campus again, Driscoll said a member of Mars Hill has bought a house next to campus, and if necessary, the bible study will be held there in the fall.

Driscoll is staying true to his goal regardless of what happens.

"My goal is just to teach the bible and preach the gospel and whatever God does with that is okay," Driscoll said. "I plan on being here my whole life, I’m 31 [years old] now and I figure I might have a good 40, 50 years left."

Thomas believes the main issue that needs to be dealt with is the lack of dialogue on campus. She said there are many who are speculating about Driscoll and the motivations of Off Campus Ministries (OCM).

"Many people who are making claims have not been to the bible study, there is a lot of word of mouth and lack of communication," Thomas said.

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Title: Mars Hill study sparks debate | Author: Simone Van Breda | Section: News | Published Date: 2002-04-24 | Internal ID: 2659