Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, wrote in a letter to his congregation that his “angry-young-prophet days are over” and that he plans to take steps to become “a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father.”
Driscoll’s nearly 2,000-word letter, posted Friday on the megachurch’s private online community known as “The City” and published elsewhere since, apologized for recent missteps he and the church have made and outlined plans to keep them from recurring. Among the steps Driscoll planned to take included refraining from posting on social media until “at least the end of the year” and to doing few, if any, media interviews.
The letter also expressed regret for activities he engaged in to put his book Real Marriage on the New York Times best-seller list. Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean had previously defended the use of the marketing firm ResultSource to buy books in quantity in order to get Real Marriage on prominent best-seller lists. But in his letter of apology, Driscoll wrote, “In retrospect, I no longer see it that way. Instead, I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong. I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again. I have also asked my publisher to not use the ‘#1 New York Times bestseller’ status in future publications, and am working to remove this from past publications as well.”
Driscoll also re-affirmed his commitment to Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner as executive elders in the church, adding that the Board of Oversight and Accountability put in place several years ago would remain in place. That board announced its continued support of Driscoll on March 7.
Mars Hill Church and Driscoll have been influential in evangelical circles since the late 1990s. The Acts 29 church planting and networking organization Driscoll co-founded with David Nicholas now has more than 400 congregations associated with it. And while Driscoll’s outsized personality coupled with his drive and energy have led to great accomplishments, they have also led to controversy. For example, he is no longer associated with Acts 29, and Mars Hill has experienced a dramatic turnover in leadership in the past three years. Driscoll alluded to the turnover in his letter. “I am deeply grieved and even depressed by the pain we have caused,” he wrote. “Many have chosen to air their concerns online, and I apologize for any burden this may have brought on you.”
Many Mars Hill observers saw the letter and Driscoll’s open repentance as a step in the right direction, but several Mars Hill watchdog websites immediately posted the text of a sermon Driscoll gave in 2007, when the church was previously rocked by controversy and senior staff turnover. “I apologize and repent publicly to you, the church, for whom I am responsible for much pride in the history of my ministry that some of you have poorly imitated,” he said from the pulpit then. “And for that, I’m deeply sorry.”
Driscoll concluded that sermon by saying, “I am not a humble man. But as result of study, I’m a man who is acknowledging his pride and pursuing humility by God’s grace.”
Several bloggers hold Driscoll’s words from seven years ago against him today, but others are more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“This seems to me like a genuine apology and repentance, for which I am thankful,” theologian and seminary professor Wayne Grudem said of Friday’s letter.
Although Mars Hill said it was not distributing Driscoll’s online letter beyond the Mars Hill community, given the pastor’s high profile that was not a realistic expectation, and the statement quickly gained widespread circulation via Reddit and other websites.