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The Mars Hill/Driscoll Refutation Series: #1- Approach, Delivery and the “Insider Effect” September 10, 2008

Posted by Who? in Politics, Random.
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Since I first learned of Driscoll and his church (2+ years ago??), I have been extremely concerned.  Maybe four months ago, I came across a book belonging to my brother, “Vintage Jesus” by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.  As I started cruising through the first chapter, the very first pages of this book confirmed my fears.

Intermittingly, when I have access to the book, I will layout my case against this guy.  Normally I could care less about a religious zealot aggressively spewing their version of “the story”, but this one in particular happens to have caught the attention of my brother and snared him hook, line and sinker.  My hopes with this entry, and any that follow in this series, is to critically evaluate the methods, reasoning and message of Driscoll and Mars Hill.  I want to take my instinctual alarm and translate it in to an articulate and well-supported argument exposing the manipulative methods and flawed message of Mark Driscoll.  Basically, I want to organize my thoughts.

Issue #1: Approach, Delivery and the “Insider Effect”

Driscoll uses a very effective method when delivering and building his brand.  He is aggresive, confident and funny.  I take no issue with the first two.  The problem lies in the latter as it is negative humor that promotes and fuels the Insider Effect.  On a stand alone basis, there is nothing wrong with humor; the world could use more jokes, in good taste or otherwise.  Funny is funny and laughter is a positive thing.  The problem comes from the effect that it has on his listeners and potential followers.  There are two dangerous and negative effects: 1) It promotes and fuels what I’m calling the Insider Effect amongst his existing and potential followers, and 2) by using humor and dropping pop-culture references that his crowd are familiar with, it makes teens and young, 20-somethings like and identify with him first then evaluate his message second- if at all.

The first isn’t anything new.  Religion is founded on the “we’re right and they’re wrong” mantra; it is a cornerstone of religious structure.  Not much to discuss here.  But there is a very powerful psychological aspect at work behind the scenes: the psychological aspect of putting others down with humor that insiders find funny.  He jokes about Jesus being “born in a dumpy, rural,  hick town, not unlike those today where guys change their own oil, think pro wrestling is real, find women who chew tobacco sexy, and eat a lot of Hot Pockets with their uncle-daddy.” (Vintage Jesus, Ch.1, p.11)  But look at the effect of this:

It makes him seem “cool” to impressionable teens and young 20-somethings.  Driscoll positions and styles himself as an urban hipster that the demographic identifies with.  Psychologically, you are going to relax your critical analysis of someone you like, find funny or identify with.  An entertaining package, like those frequently used by Driscoll, relaxes if not eliminates entirely the critical analysis that should be applied when he starts “telling” them who Jesus was and what the Bible says.  The evaluation process gets manipulated when you sprinkle trendy, pop-culture references throughout a communication.  Do you believe everything a used-car salesman or stock broker tells you?  Why shut that off when the product is religion? 

Instead of: [message–evaluation of message–accept/reject conclusion] it goes more like this…[humor–positive evaluation of messenger–message acceptance].  Critical analysis and independent thought are silenced by the positive attraction to the messenger.  Same thing goes for politicians.  Ever wonder why they all look the same?  Psychologically, your brain says “This guy looks like a politician; he must be a good politician.  He’s got my vote”  Add a little PR/spin with a generous portion of populist rhetoric and you’ve got the shortbus that is modern political campaigning.  I digress, but it is in the same vein.

The other effect of opening with his brand of humor is the above mentioned “Insider Effect”.  Putting outsiders down automatically builds insiders up.  It begins laying the dangerous foundation of “people outside this group are idiots”; one of the mainstays barbs of religious recruitment and retention.  People feel good when they feel part of a group and it’s reinforced when the insiders put the outsiders down; It’s human nature.   Once hooked as an insider, no one likes to have their bubble burst when called into question ESPECIALLY by an “outsider”. 

How many people have been lost to (pick a “religion”: LDS, Scientology, extremist christianity…) when  family or loved ones try to reach someone that has mentally become an insider?  Thousands of conversations have gone something like this-

“I’m concerned about this new group you are getting involved with.”

“They told me you would try to do this.  You live in sin and have the audacity to question me!  We are right and you are wrong.”  Translation: I’m inside, you’re outside.  Osama/McCain/Bush/Driscoll told me outsiders are stupid sinners.  I better go get some positive reinforcement from him and the other insiders.

You get my drift.  People get defensive when you call into question something that has become part of them, their social group and their ego.  This further isolates the outsiders and the insider’s natural response is to seek positive feedback from other insiders further immersing themselves in the group.  It is a dangerous and extremely powerful downward spiral.  The insider hears this: [challenging message from outsider–b/c they are an outsider,  the message is automatically wrong–evaluation of message is skipped–potency of the negative classification of outsiders increases–enthusiasm and attachment to other insiders and the leader grows].

Here’s my takeaway:

People that get sucked into extremist groups do not critically evaluate the message being promoted.  An emotional response is generated and people buy into the message blindly: this guy is funny/like me/I like him, what he says is true because I like him.  This is human nature and it can be manipulated.  Genocide is probably the most extreme example.  People are unhappy.  An emotionally charged, perhaps charismatic leader emerges.  Now the disenchanted followers have someone to hate and a purpose: eliminate the [Hutu, Jews, Serbs, Native Americans, Muslims, Democrats] because THEY have caused your problems/are evil/have polluted your race/will raise your taxes etc.  Gang mentality runs parallell.  Religion fits this bill as well.  The religious spectrum runs from benign and calm to extreme. 

The Driscoll brand of Christianity is extreme and dangerous.  Not genocidal-warfare dangerous but dangerous nonetheless as it is built on the same foundation; a foundation lacking critical analysis and indepedent thought.  The charismatic and entertaining packaging manipulates those receiving the message.  The Insider Mentality is encouraged and takes hold like a cancer.  When an outsider tries to reach out to the loved one with a call of concern, they are met with some translation of “You are an outsider and I’m not listening.”  Good decisions cannot be made without critical analysis based on independent, well-reasoned thought.  Driscoll and the Mars Hill brand violate this principle. 

As in damn near everything in life, there are both positive and negative aspects and shades of gray.  My brother, as a result of his journey, has grown into a mature, positive, kind-hearted, responsible and moral individual.  He is a strong man and a good person.  In other words, the end result has been, on the whole, positive.  However, good ends should not automatically qualify the means as good.



1. BB - September 12, 2008

hey avid,

just can’t swallow your conclusions. my experience is very different. i have never met this preacher you mention.

i know some christians.

(by this i do not mean people who are merely non-jewish and non-muslim. I mean people who claim to follow jesus christ; people who tell me they had a problem (“sin,” they call it) and that jesus solved it for them.)

i even have a christian in my own family, like you do. also, like you, i have found these followers of jesus to be not “perfect,” but certainly growing – even “mature, positive, kind-hearted, responsible, moral, strong, and good.” I gotta tell you: if I was your brother and you said that about me, I’d be feeling thankful.

my experience has been that the christians i know do NOT swallow the stuff from the pulpit without analysis and evaluation. the christians I know take what they hear and compare it to the bible, word for word, idea for idea. these people examine the bible to determine if what they heard is true. what really impresses me is that they do the same with everything they hear, not just from their preacher or their friends who follow jesus, too.

so, I can’t swallow you conclusions.


2. theavidpenguin - September 12, 2008

Dude- I don’t even know where to start haha You begin by saying you don’t agree with my conclusions but you seem to be confused about what my conclusion is and who it applies to.

That’s great that you seem to think that every Christian you know bases their decisions on independent thought and referencing the Bible. In hopes of provoking thought– do you know who wrote the Bible or how many times it has been altered and edited and translated over time? No offense, but this post is a bit over your head.

This post isn’t condemning Christianity. This post isn’t about the “few Christians that you know”. This series is about Driscoll, specifically. This first post is about his methods, specifically.

I’m not condemning Christians in this post or the one’s that you know. I’m calling attention to Driscoll’s method for delivering his opinions and how that method of delivery can pervert and manipulate critical analysis. There is psychology behind how a message is delivered and how they are received.

You missed the focus of this post quite a bit and got confused, but thanks for the comment.

3. The Mars Hill/Driscoll Refutation Series: “Church Needs Dudes” video « The Avid Penguin - September 15, 2008

[…] across this video today.  It perfectly highlights a couple of the topics discussed in the last post in this series and illuminates another method in Driscoll’s multi-faceted approach– […]

4. Roop Rai - September 18, 2008

Very well documented and well reasoned, Avid. I take away the term ‘Inside Effect’ from this post. I agree with your reason of finding some ‘group’ to hate or dislike to justify our own disgruntlement with life.

I hope you don’t mind if I link this to my blog. Thanks for introducing me to this.

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