That Time When Mars Hill Church Considered Moving to California

Lately, I have gotten several inquiries from readers who have heard that Mars Hill Church leaders considered moving Mark Driscoll and church headquarters to California and that in preparation for such a move, the church made possible a rental property for the Driscolls in Orange County.

Talking with several former leaders and in light of this memo, it appears there is some truth to the story.
IrvinePropAccording to those familiar with the arrangements, Mars Hill Church provided Driscoll with substantial extra salary in order to afford a rental home in an upscale, gated Irvine, CA neighborhood (currently $6500/month, scroll down for the rental price history). The church asked church members to donate furniture but paid for furnishings not donated. The arrangement lasted from late 2011 until late summer, 2012. Some former leaders said Driscoll preferred the climate in Southern California. If so, that would not be a shock.

I asked Mars Hill Church spokesman Justin Dean about the story, and whether or not Mars Hill still has property in CA. He replied:

Warren, thanks for your inquiry. We do not discuss salary and compensation details of any member of our staff. However I have also verified that we do not maintain any property or living quarters in the CA area for any staff, including Pastor Mark Driscoll.

Due to the lack of transparency at Mars Hill Church, current and former members have many questions about how money is spent. Clearly, members have been in the dark about how their tithes and offerings have been used. Even Dean’s response is indicative of an area of discussion that is off limits to those people who provide the resources via tithes and offerings to pay the bills for the decisions made by the executive elders.

Edited (8/17/21) to add the memo detailing the plans to move the Driscolls to Southern CA.

Whatever Happened to the Mars Hill Church Jesus Festival? And the $3 Million?

Wenatchee the Hatchet asked the question on August 1, but I don’t see an official answer anywhere. Asking around, a former member who was in training to become a Community Group leader told me the Jesus Festival (slated for August 22) was canceled in the Spring after the news broke about Mark Driscoll’s New York Times scandal.  I can find no official announcement but there has been no publicity about the event since Spring. The Jesus Festival was one of the reasons why Mars Hill needed to raise $2 million “over and above” tithes at the end of 2013. According to Mars Hill website:

During these 40 days of prayer and 5 days of fasting, we are praying for $2 million over and above our donors’ tithes to fund these endeavors in 2014. We believe Jesus has given the vision, so we trust that he will graciously provide the means to do it through his people. If the Holy Spirit leads you to give during these focused days of prayer, please visit marshill.com/give.

What were the endeavors?

1) MARS HILL GLOBAL

Pastor Mark first met church planter Pastor Arjuna Chiguluri in 1998, and Mars Hill Church has been working with and supporting Pastor Arjuna and Vision Nationals in India since 1999. In the last couple of years, we have expanded our Global efforts and are privileged to support church planters and evangelists in Ethiopia who have shared the gospel with over 11,000 people, of which 890 people have been saved. Over the next decades, we want to see Mars Hill Church grow into a worldwide movement and see 1,000 churches planted throughout India and Ethiopia. This is an ambitious goal, but as Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). For more information, go to Marshill.com/global.

The page linked here is the Mars Hill Global page. In this description of Mars Hill Global, there is no mention of church plants in the United States, just India and Ethiopia. In fact, mention of Mars Hill expansion comes later in the appeal. If the money was always supposed to go to Mars Hill expansion in the U.S., then why not mention it here?

2) JESUS FESTIVAL

In the summer of 2014, Mars Hill will be hosting an evangelistic, outdoor outreach, aptly titled The Jesus Festival, at Marymoor Park in Seattle. This will be a family friendly event with activities for the kids, music, and amazing gospel preachers. This will be a great opportunity for outreach in the community and to build unity among the Bible-teaching churches in the Seattle area.

Apparently, the money came in (closer to $3 million), but the festival is off, called off months ago. Shouldn’t the people have been consulted? They gave toward a festival but didn’t get one. As late as February, Mark Driscoll was still promoting the festival as a free event. In a February 5 email to the church, Driscoll wrote:

From Pastor Mark Driscoll: Heaven is going to be a party and we need to practice for that party. Over the next few months, you’ll be hearing a lot more about our first-ever Jesus Festival, August 22 at Marymoor Park near Seattle. Everyone at Mars Hill churches far and near is invited for this unique opportunity to grow together and evangelize within the surrounding community. We’ve never done anything quite like this event, but picture a huge outdoor celebration with live bands, food trucks, fun stuff for the kids, open-air gospel preaching, baptisms, and a summer night filled with the worship of thousands of brothers and sisters praising Jesus together. Pastor Dustin Kensrue will be leading us in worship, and as the date gets closer we’ll announce some special guests who will be joining us as well. Thanks to your generosity as a church, the whole thing will be free, which will make it very easy to invite non-Christian family and friends.

Keep on picturing.

3) LEADERSHIP TRAINING The two key missional distinctives of Mars Hill Church are planting churches and making disciples. In order to reach the world with the good news of Jesus, we need biblically literate, gifted leaders. In order to train these leaders, we need a school. In the fall of 2014, we are hoping to offer a 1-year Bible certificate program. Eventually, it will be a fully accredited Bible seminary to help train future leaders and to grow existing leaders in knowledge of the Bible and sound theology

This apparently is going to get underway this Fall. Nonetheless, this is a puzzle. Why does the church need money for this since the schools are supplying the professors and Mars Hill has the space. Presumably they are getting rent. If anything, this should be a money maker for Mars Hill Church.

4) 5 MARS HILL CHURCH PLANTS/REPLANTS

In the new year, our Mars Hill family will be replanting churches in Olympia, Tacoma, Everett, and Huntington Beach to move them into bigger and better buildings, and we are planting a brand new location in Phoenix. Our hope is that thousands will come to meet Jesus at these churches and become disciples.

According to the Mars Hill website, Mars Hill Global Fund helped pay for these campus expansions. Everett and Tacoma have sent “thank you notes” to the Global Fund, and the Fund FAQs also mention funding for Phoenix, Bellevue, and Spokane. So the $2 million went to these churches too?

5) OUR MOST EVANGELISTIC CAMPAIGN

As the Western World becomes more secularized, the Church is becoming more ostracized. Simply put, Christianity is a threat to many of the sacred cows in American culture. Pastor Mark is currently working on a sermon series and book that will tackle many of these issues, including gay marriage, the exclusivity of Jesus, the authority of scripture, etc. This series springboards from an extensive sociological study on thousands of Americans’ opinions on Christianity that was conducted by a top research firm, and will focus on the objections that real people really have.

This must be a reference to the now-postponed book, The Problem with Christianity. The book was slated to be released in the Spring, then it was pushed back to the Fall and now there is no date for release while Tyndale is waiting for “the best season.” The research for this book was done in Spring 2013 and already paid for by the time of this appeal so it is unclear to me how this campaign would require additional donor funding. If anything, according to the messaging about Mark Driscoll and his books, the sales of the books should provide additional income to the church. Unless they don’t.  In any case, this isn’t happening this year either. All in all, I suspect the main beneficiary of these donations (as with the Global Fund) was U.S. expansion of video franchises.

The Signed Contract That Helped Get Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage on the New York Times Best Seller List

Yesterday, World Magazine published an article by Warren Cole Smith which described a contract between Mars Hill Church (MHC) and ResultSource, Inc. (RSI) for the purpose of elevating Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage to various best seller lists.  The arrangement was successful, leading to a week atop the New York Time’s best seller list for advice books. Mars Hill Church does not deny this but spun the arrangement as a means to spread the gospel.

I have a copy of the contract signed by Mars Hill executive pastor Sutton Turner and Mat Miller at RSI. In 2013, Jeffrey Tractenberg investigated RSI for the Wall Street Journal and interviewed various people who had worked with RSI. In that article,  author Melissa Wilson described the RSI strategy as “the secret sauce.” With World’s reporting and now this contract, the sauce isn’t so secret anymore.

Initially, the contract spells out the numbers of copies needed for individual and bulk sales.

Note that RSI uses “over a thousand different payment types” to evade detection. Somehow RSI knows that the NYT bestseller list “requires a minimum of 90 geographically disperse (sic) addresses.”

Apparently, the publisher must be on board with this arrangement as well since the contract requires the publisher to supply the proper number of books. I have asked Harper Collins Christian for comment but they have not replied as yet.

The names and addresses are apparently very important in making sure that these purchases escape detection by those who compile the best seller lists.

This method seems consistent with my speculation from yesterday. MHC got a donation and address from people who wanted a “free” copy of the book. I suspect that some of the people at those addresses then got books from Amazon or some other book seller.  Via the pre-release solicitation or by some other manner, those names and addresses were given to RSI to use with their payment methods to purchase books via online or other sellers.

Others may have been gathered together and brought to the church or in addition to the mail orders, the church bought books in bulk. I spoke to a former Mars Hill pastor last night who told me that some MHC locations had hundreds of books just gathering dust. Some of those bulk orders might still be sitting in MHC storage rooms.

At least one former ally of Driscoll has denounced the practice of buying one’s way on to a best seller list. Justin Taylor at Crossway Books and the Gospel Coalition tweeted a link to an article by Jared Wilson on the Gospel Coalition website titled:

With some private information excluded here is the entire contract.
For all posts on this topic, go here.

Dreamweaver: The Visions of Mark Driscoll

Although cooling off some, the controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll’s publications is not over. Over the last 10 days, two more publishers disclosed that reviews of Driscoll’s books are in progress. I’ll have more to say about another Driscoll book soon.

Late last week, Driscoll was briefly in the news for another reason. The New York Times ran a story identifying him as one of a new breed of megachurch leaders who embrace the teachings of John Calvin.  While I understand that Driscoll’s teachings on redemption appear to be consistent with Calvinist doctrine, I was surprised to see him in the list of exemplars for two reasons. One, the Gospel Coalition seemed to declare him to be outside their camp via Jared Wilson’s December call to repentance. And two, Driscoll’s teaching on demons and spiritual gifts seems outside the Calvinism mainstream (and as I will show below, his stories don’t always match up).  I think he could be called a Calvismatic.

I should mention that I don’t consider myself a student of religious movements and don’t know that much about who is on what Christian team. I am not making a scholarly statement here. Rather, as an evangelical for just over 40 years, I speak from my experience with those who proudly wear the label Calvinist. I can’t think of anyone, other than Driscoll, that embraces both Calvinism and what appear to me to be apostolic spiritual warfare teachings at the same time. There may be many, but in my narrow experience, I can’t think of others. I feel sure my readers will educate me if I am incorrect.

With that said, I will introduce a video that really bothered me when I first saw it last week. Still bothers me. This is Driscoll teaching on spiritual warfare (you can review the transcript at this link):

This video was posted to You Tube by Phillip Johnson in August, 2011. The teaching was originally recorded at Mars Hill in early 2008 as a part of a series on spiritual warfare and as far as I can tell first discussed critically at Here I Blog on August 4, 2011.

In the video, Driscoll says he tells people that they have been abused. The people may have no memory of any such event but Driscoll says he can see it happening. Furthermore, he says that, at times, he sees the sins, specifically sins involving sex and aggression, of his congregation and others who cross his path. In this clip and elsewhere, Driscoll doesn’t claim to always be correct but is clear about his belief that his visions are from God and therefore true.  He said he sees the actual acts of others as if on a screen in front of him that others can’t see.

On many levels, I find this problematic and more troubling than the plagiarism controversy. The potential for error, trauma and false reports of assault is great. He even tells his audience that some of them can do the same things he can do. As a psychology prof, I cringe at this video as well as the other similar material I have found on the Mars Hill website.

In my experience, intuitive people do seem to have insight into feelings of others. However, when making interpretations, they respond to non-verbal cues and make inferences from little bits of material presented by clients. It is a natural process, even if not well understood. When pressed, intuitive therapists can tell you what they saw and heard which led to amazing guesses about the actions and feelings of another person. Such experiences happen with Christians and non-Christians alike; one does not need to invoke angels or demons as explanation.

The skeptic in me really wants to meet some of the people Driscoll describes.  In his sermons, there are several other illustrations of what Driscoll sometimes calls the gift of discernment, sometimes the gift of prophetic dreams. In November 2013, the blogger Wenatchee the Hatchet described two of Driscoll’s prophetic dreams,  both involving worship leaders at Mars Hill. The post raises questions about how both dreams could be true.

Sometimes the accounts differ significantly. For instance, in 2005, Driscoll said that in the early days of Mars Hill, an Asian family drove all night to visit Mars Hill Church because God told them to ask Driscoll what they should do about their current church. Here is the account from the 2005 sermon:

I had one occasion where I actually did interpret a guy’s dream. It was the strangest dream. It was at the old building. We had six services, and I was between services. And this guy drove – he came into the church. And he was an Asian guy from Canada. He had his wife and a few kids. They all looked very, very tired. He came up to me. He said, “I really need to meet with you right now.” I said, “Man, I just preached three. I gotta get a bite to eat. I gotta preach three more. I really can’t leave right now.” He said, “No, we just drove all the way from northern Canada. We haven’t slept all night.” Apparently God’s not in Canada. God has to come down.

So, I tell this guy. I’m like, “All right, cool. We’ll do that. Now tell me your story.” So, he tells me his dream. And his wife’s literally falling asleep. His kids are exhausted. They’ve been up all night driving. It was the weirdest thing cause I don’t know how or why. I just told him. “Well, here’s what it means, and here’s what God’s gonna do. And you need to quit working at this church. God’s gonna have you hired at this church. And these people are hard hearted. And God doesn’t want you to serve them anymore because he’s gonna judge them, but he wants to take care of you and your family. So he wants to move you on before he judges.”

And I just talked for about 10, 15 minutes. And he’s like, “How do you know that?” I was like, “I have no idea.” I never met this guy. I don’t know this guy. I don’t know anything about him. And he says, “Well, then that’s the interpretation.” His wife gave me a big hug. She’s crying. She says, “You know, that’s what we needed to hear.” They get in the car and leave. They go back to Canada. I never heard from them again.

In a 2006 sermon, Driscoll tells the story again, but this time he knows how things turned out.

I had another one, when we were over at the old building. The church was just starting to grow. We had a couple services and I remember I did one of the morning services and I was getting ready to do the other one and this Asian family walks in and they all look exhausted and they’re all tired and the kids are kinda falling asleep on mom and she looks tired and dad’s there and he says, “I – we need to meet with you right now.” I said, “I can’t meet right now, dude. I just got done with one service. I’m doing another service. I don’t do meetings right now. I just got, like, a little bit of time between the services.” He says, “God told us to come to you. We need the word from a prophet.” I was like, “Well, if you find one, you know, tell him I said ‘Hi!’ and send him over. I got stuff I wanna ask him, too. I don’t got anything for you, man. I’m not the prophet.” He says, “No, God said you’re the prophet and you have the word for us.” I said, “Well, where are you from?” He said, “We drove all night from Canada.” Apparently there are no prophets in Canada, so they had to come down. I said, “Okay.” I said, “You drove all night?” He said, “We drove all night,” from somewhere up in central Canada. I said, “Okay, so that explains why you all look so tired. You’ve been in the car all night.” So I didn’t know anything about this guy. I said, “Well, I’ll meet with you for a few minutes, pray for you. I mean, least I could do, you drove all night with your family.

Sat them on the couch. Prayed. Looked at them. Then went off on this whole rant. I said, “Look, the church you’re in is a Godless church. They have a hard heart. Some of the leaders have hidden, unconfessed, unrepentant sin. They are just not participating with God. God needs to judge those leaders, remove them, cleanse and purify the church, then if they are repentant, he will grow it. If not, he will shut it down. You’re in the same situation as Revelation 2 and 3. You, however, keep holding on to the church, trying to salvage it and save it and make it work because you’re being proud and you think that it’s a reflection of you. It’s not a reflection of you, it’s a reflection of Jesus. You need to get out of the way. Quit your job. Jesus has another job for you at this other church. You take that job. He’ll bless you there. Get out of the way. Let him deal with this church. That’s what his word is to you. You’re a pastor, right?” I mean, I didn’t know. I gave him this whole thing and I’m like, “Are you a pastor?” He’s like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Then that’s what it is.” So – and he gives me a big hug. He says, “Okay. That’s what we’ve been wrestling with. We didn’t – I want to leave but I didn’t know if it was me or the Lord that was moving me on and I needed confirmation.” His wife’s crying. Gives me a big hug. She says, “In my heart, I knew that’s what God had for us, but I didn’t wanna tell my husband because I wanted him to hear from God. Thank you so much.” I pray for them.

They go home and I see them a few years later at a conference. He said, “Everything happened just like you said. I’m at the other church. We’re happy. It’s growing. God’s blessing it. Massive sin came out in the leadership of the other church. They now are in the process of either repenting or not and the church is gonna live or die. It’s teetering on the edge, just like you said.” I’m like, “Okey dokie. Okay.” You know, I don’t understand this all the time.

In the first account, the man has a dream which Driscoll interprets. In second, Driscoll doesn’t mention the dream but instead provides a prophetic word. More significantly, in the first account, Driscoll says he never heard from them again. In the second, he says he saw them “a few years later” and got confirmation that his prophecy was correct. Which account is true?

Perhaps there is an innocent explanation for the differences. Perhaps, Driscoll’s memory failed him in 2005 but he remembered more of the details when he retold the story the second time. It seems unlikely that one would forget such a thing but I can’t take any position on motive or accuracy. However, I can point out that memory is subject to bias and misinformation and Driscoll’s differing stories provides a caution about relying on the dreams and visions of others. How does one know when he is getting it right or not?

During the controversy over repressed memories during the 1990s, many therapists told clients that the depression, anxiety or other symptoms were probably related to and could be explained by experiences of child abuse. Even though clients had no memory of such events, therapists pressed on confidently with the narrative. Some clients “remembered” horrible abuse and some had great confidence in their “memories.” Some, like the woman in the video below, lost families over faulty narratives derived from a therapist’s efforts to read their minds.

Even though bloggers and others have raised these concerns previously, I can’t see where they were ever addressed by Driscoll or Mars Hill Church. The sermon material remains live on the Mars Hill website so it seems fair to believe Driscoll and the church still approves it. It is hard for me to see how this teaching can be considered mainstream.

For all posts on Driscoll and Mars Hill, click here.

More IVP Reference Material Shows Up Without Citation in a Book by Mark Driscoll

Last week, I noted that a study guide on 1 & 2 Peter with Mark Driscoll’s name on it as the author improperly copied material from a publication by InterVarsity Press (see IVP’s statement to Christianity Today). Driscoll (or someone) took the material from a report by the Docent Group. The Docent researcher provided footnotes and references but these were not carried over into the study guide titled Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter. See here and here for more on that matter.

Now, I have found a similar pattern within Driscoll’s recent book, Who Do You Think You Are?: Finding Your True Identity in Christ. Prior to the publication of the Ephesians book, Docent Research Group produced a 290 page research report for Mars Hill Church which contains a “best hits” of materials relating to the New Testament book of Ephesians. Many sources are cited verbatim with footnotes and reference material provided, although as I point out, some of the sections are quite lengthy. I have found several sections in Driscoll’s book which borrow directly from the research report. Although I have not done a complete analysis, I can report that the same problems acknowledged by Mars Hill regarding the 1 & 2 Peter book show up in this book as well. Below are just two examples.

First, note in the left column a section from 1993 InterVarsity Press reference book, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. The material in the red box shows up first in the Docent Research report and then is reproduced without citation in Driscoll’s book (on right) via a sentence in the body of the book and then in a footnote. The flow of ideas is similar and then beginning with “Egyptian colonists,” the material is essentially the same as in the Dictionary. The footnote does not cite the IVP reference book.

Below is another instance from earlier in the Dictionary entry on Ephesus. In this case, the verbatim uses are spread throughout the section of Driscoll’s book (see the image below). As in the 1 & 2 Peter book, a citation used by the original source author (Strabo) is used as a footnote in Driscoll’s book but without mentioning where he found Strabo (the Dictionary). 

Also of concern is the fact that much of the entries for Ephesians and the city of Ephesus from the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters is reproduced verbatim in the research report from the Docent Research Group. For instance, pages 249-250 of the Dictionary are copied verbatim directly into the Docent report.

Given that this was apparently intended to be a private report for Driscoll’s use, one might wonder why the wholesale copying is of concern. One reason is that Mars Hill Church sent this report to churches free of charge if the church signed up to be in a Mars Hill campaign promoting the Ephesians series and the book Who Do You Think You Are? The general guideline for fair use (using copyrighted materials without permission but with citation) is about 500 words. The portion of the entry on the city of Ephesus from IVP’s Dictionary is over 1700 words and that is not all of the Dictionary that was copied (substantial portions of the Dictionary entry on the book of Ephesians was also copied into the research report and then used in Driscoll’s book). While I can understand that Mars Hill would want to share the research, I question the distribution of that much of IVP’s reference book without permission (none was noted).

Although Mars Hill and Driscoll clearly sing the praises of Docent, there is no mention of Docent research in the acknowledgment section of the book.

In a related development, Jared Wilson at the Gospel Coalition issued a public call for Rev. Driscoll to account for issues raised by recent controversies, including the one surrounding allegations of plagiarism.

Stay tuned…

See also:
On The Allegations Of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll (12/2/13)
Zombies, Plagiarism And Mark Driscoll Helped Me Write This Blog Post (12/3/13)
Mark Driscoll And His Church On Plagiarism (12/4/13)
Janet Mefferd Removes Evidence Relating To Charges Of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll; Apologizes To Audience (12/4/13)
Ingrid Schlueter Resigns From Janet Mefferd Show Over Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy (12/5/13)
Who’s Talking About The Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy? (12/7/13)
IVP Says Bible Commentary Improperly Appeared In Book by Mark Driscoll; Mars Hill Church Responds, Blames Researcher Mistakes for Errors (12/9/13)
Mars Hill Church Alters Statement on Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy (UPDATED) (12/10/13)
Mars Hill’s Sermon Series Battle Plan Reveals Background of Mark Driscoll’s Book on Peter (12/10/13)
Mars Hill’s Sermon Series Document Reveals Background of Mark Driscoll’s Book on Peter, Part Two (12/12/13)
Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll and the Case of the Disappearing Links (12/16/13)
Mark Driscoll’s Death By Love And Dan Allender’s The Wounded Heart: Is This Plagiarism? (12/17/13)
See all other posts on this topic here.