10 January 2009

The God Simplex

There is an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine about the Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Despite living not all that far from the main campus of the church (and despite having been in Ballard just last weekend), this was the first time I'd ever heard of Mark Driscoll and his parish. As I understand it, the church espouses a decidedly theologically conservative form of Calvinism, a branch of hard-line Protestantism that is so stringent that it makes the Papacy seem laid back by comparison.

The Calvinist Church is one with which I am fairly familiar. My mother's side of the family--which is almost entirely Dutch-Indonesian with just enough French Huguenot mixed in to make things interesting--is eminently Calvinist, some relatives to the degree that they fit quite snugly into the patchwork of the Christian Conservative bloc (this despite other relatives carrying on quite proudly the tradition of Dutch liberalism, but I digress). I myself was baptized a Calvinist, in fact. As you might have guessed, I never really toed the Calvinist line. I didn't care much for church as a child--for me, it was a boring place to which my mother always tried to drag me on Sunday (and not, I might add, with a great deal of success). It was not until I was able to comprehend the finer points of Calvinist theology that I sought to properly distance myself from Calvinism.

My primary objection to Calvin's theology is one that is cited in the Times Magazine article: the notion of predestination, which essentially argues that God has already determined who will be saved and who won't. This led me to wonder what the importance was of being a good Christian if it had no influence on the fate of one's soul. When I posed this question to my mother, who was (and still is) prone to the sentiments of self-righteousness that seem to be typical among the more tenacious Protestants, she didn't really have an answer. John Calvin no doubt would have had me beheaded for my insubordination.

Such a hard-line approach is no less extant in the Mars Hill Church, where Mark Driscoll tolerates no opposition from his parishioners to his message. Nor is Driscoll's theology any more egalitarian--among the tenets of Driscoll's religion is the doctrine of complementarianism, which bars women from leadership roles within the church and charges women with submission to their husbands in domestic matters. In addition to all this, Driscoll preaches an image of Christ that is decidedly hyper-masculine, peppering his sermons with rhetoric that, vis-a-vis his aversion to a "queer Christ," reeks of homophobia (and I suspect, given the references to a "feminzed Christianity," just the slightest bit of latent misogyny).

The Mars Hill Church may be a relatively new rendition of the Calvinist doctrine, but it still fails to address my standing objection to the doctrine of predestination. Beyond that, the Mars Hill Church has many of the same issues present in other megachurches, primary among these the fact that in its perceived atavism it misses the essential point of the Christian philosophy--companionate love for one's fellow human being; what in Latin would be called caritas. That--not frenzied glossolalia, not impassioned talk of hellfire and certainly not the judgment and condemnation of those who don't conform to a given set of dogmatic niceties--is truly how humans can reach the divine.


  1. http://whoisioz.blogspot.com/2009/01/ahab.html

  2. That about sums it up, it does.