Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll, and My First Marriage

“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”

-I Timothy 5:8, KJV

“And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

– I Timothy 5:8, NRSV

A little background:

Mars Hill Church is now a defunct megachurch that used to exist in the Seattle, WA area. Pastor Mark Driscoll was a co-founder of this megachurch who resigned under a storm of controversy refusing to undergo a correction plan addressing his bullying behavior in particular.

I am familiar with this church because my in-laws were members and small group leaders in it. In fact, my connection with the church dates back to 2004/2005 or so when I was dating my (now) ex-wife. The theology of this church strongly influenced my (now) former in-laws as well as my (now) ex-wife who also did some training at Mars Hill Church prior to our divorce. It is fair to say that the teaching at this now defunct church negatively impacted my now defunct marriage.

The Youtube Clip:

If you listen closely to the clip, you will get Mark Driscoll’s prescription for how every marriage ought to work regarding gender roles. These roles are very rigid, and Driscoll claims anyone who attempts to buck those roles is going against God–i.e. they are not being Biblical.

In particular, both Mark and Grace Driscoll breaks out 1 Timothy 5:8–a favorite prooftext of his–that he weaponizes to attack any Christian husband who dare not be the primary “bread winner” of the family. This is all part of him mocking and shaming anyone who does not fit the mold that he labels “Biblical.”

Driscoll’s Eisegesis (i.e. agenda interjection):

Before I go into how this teaching spells disaster for Christian marriages, I will tackle the Biblical interpretation flaws inherit in using I Timothy 5:8 as a prooftext for the position of insisting Christian husbands must be “the breadwinner.”

  1. Mark Driscoll interjects the word “man” into this verse when quoting it. Nowhere in the original Greek is the word for “man” placed in this verse. Nowhere. This is significant because Driscoll’s interpretation hinges on this verse primarily being about men providing for their families per his own gender role agenda.
  2. The original Greek of this verse does not have any male pronouns. Now, a humble and good student of the Bible may have caught this simply by reading other English translations. One does not have to know New Testament Greek to realize this verse may not be the best verse to use as supporting one’s gender role agenda. For example, the NRSV does not translate the verse with any male pronouns. It does so as a faithful and more literal translation of the text than some. Regardless, this respected translation makes it clear that good Bible scholars minimally disagree over whether or not to use male pronouns in interpreting this verse. In other words, it is not an obvious matter that the author of I Timothy 5:8 is speaking solely about husbands when he wrote this as Mark and Grace Driscoll incorrectly lead their viewers to believe.
  3. This verse’s context–surrounded with verses about widows–suggest it is not solely (or if at all) about men. Reading around the immediate context of this verse, one finds instructions about how to instruct and care for widows. In other words, the context is not about marital advice since the husbands are deadThis is another reason to interpret the verse more broadly to include both male and female relatives as responsible for supporting the family.
  4. Driscoll commits the classic exegetical error known as eisegesis. In pursuit of supporting his views of gender roles, Driscoll reads his agenda into the text as opposed to accepting the text at what it says with humility. The text teaches us that we are responsible–male and female–for caring for our families. Paul is reinforcing that natural allegiance and exhorting the Church to honor it. This is not marriage advice. It is not a gender role teaching moment. If God intended us to teach such a hard-line interpretation, the original Greek would have had male pronouns to emphasize this as a man’s role. It does not, though. Therefore, Mark and Grace Driscoll are shamefully mishandling this verse by insisting it proves that a man must be a (monetary) provider for the family or is worse than an infidel.
  5. Driscoll makes an incidental property–male wealth–an essential property bestowing or revoking manhood status. A man who is rich by birth may never need to work a day in his life and fulfill Driscoll’s provision teaching. That incidental situation does not make him more of a man than a husband who cannot provide for his family on his meager salary alone. At least, that is how I see it. Furthermore, Scripture has some harsh words for those who would condemn the poor as well–i.e. the poor husband in this scenario (e.g. Psalm 109:31). So, this is another very problematic aspect of Driscoll’s gender role theology.

The Marriage Impact:

While Driscoll no longer pastors a church, I am concerned about this sort of teaching as it still lives in the evangelical culture. Mark Driscoll was very popular and still wields a strong influence within the evangelical world. Teachings like this awful one live on beyond his fall from grace at Mars Hill Church.

In particular, I am concerned that such teachings model contempt as opposed to mutual respect and conversation within marriages. It does not encourage understanding when circumstances disappoint. Rather, this sort of teaching encourages wives to condemn and shame men while they are already down–e.g. when the get fired or rejected from a potential job. This teaching says that a man is only a man if he makes money.

I have a serious problem with that as it elevates money over God who alone confers manhood to humans and not Driscoll or his twisted wealth teaching.

Grace and Mark Driscoll invite people to mock and deride fathers who care primarily for their children at home. In fact, they give (false) cover for this shameful bigotry calling it unquestionably “Biblical” when it is not. They are taking their own conviction–which they are free to hold–and forcing it on others abusing their spiritual leadership position, in my opinion.

This hurts my heart. It hurts my heart as this does not strike me as becoming of a people who are exhorted to love one another as a community (e.g. Col. 3:14). Such a teaching is not loving and does not encourage loving behavior in the Church.

Further, Mark insinuates in this clip that divorce may result if one does not follow the”biblical” gender role model they present in this clip. Also, he would put a husband under church discipline at Mars Hill Church if they did not conform to his gender role interpretation. This is a very significant statement.

For those who do not understand the implications of such a church discipline scenario within MHC theology, Driscoll is also threatening taking an active role in pushing for divorce in those marriages over this (see the appendix in his infamous and awful book on marriage–i.e. Real Marriage–if you do not believe me).

So, it is a HUGE deal that Driscoll misses the mark on this verse!

Impact on my first marriage:

When I was financially and professionally most vulnerable, it was this teaching that my former in-laws, ex-wife, and her cohorts used to attack my person and our marriage. I was transitioning into my current profession after a few years of part-time gigs that just never seemed to pan out to full-time work. This makes sense as it was during the Great Recovery where full-time jobs were slim, even for Yale Divinity School recent graduates.

Instead of fostering a spirit of generosity and unity in my marriage, this teaching from Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church fostered contempt for me as a husband, Christian, and man. You see, God was providing for us during this period primarily through my (now) ex wife’s job(s). However, the rigid gender roles taught by MHC did not allow her to accept that as God’s provision for us. 

To her and her MHC member parents, my struggles to find full-time employment meant I was “worse than an unbeliever.” As long as my contributions to our household were not monetary, they did not “count” per MHC doctrine. So, money became the reigning god who eventually caused considerable damage to my first marriage that ended in a divorce following my ex-wife’s adultery.

I do not blame the ending of my marriage on Mark Driscoll or MHC. My former spouse’s adultery and abandonment did that.

However, Driscoll’s theology did damage my first marriage without a doubt in my mind.

And that is why I write this post today strongly denouncing his dangerous gender-training teaching.



10 thoughts on “Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll, and My First Marriage”

  1. Agreed. That is absolutely the most awful book on marriage, and I’ve read a lot of bad “Christian” marriage books. On the female side of things…this teaching begets single mother poverty. Women under this sort of teaching can’t work, are discouraged from getting advanced education, and, when they are left by their husband or are forced to leave their husband, they have no work prospects. Ironically, people who hold to this teaching are overwhelmingly politically conservative and view with contempt anyone on public support, which single mothers end up on because they can’t make a living wage to provide for their family. Great post. Again. Thanks. 🙂

    1. Very true. It is bad both ways. The book tries to nuance it saying a mother can get educated AS LONG AS it does not interfere with her mothering duties. In general, the rigid gender roles taught through the book is rife with shaming potential for both genders. Not healthy at all, IMO.

    2. Yes Sara! I was the breadwinner in my case. I have a master’s degree and chose medicine as my field. I was never without a job even during the recession. My ex barely has a high school education and worked for his parents. If we followed their teaching, we would be welfare recipients and free lunches if we relied on his income alone. I would have to continue to look the other way while he cavorted with his “not my girlfriend” because I would have been homeless with two children, seeking government assistance.

      Luckily, because of my education, (and some other sins my ex committed) I was able to come out of my divorce fairly financially sound instead of being on welfare.

      BTW, even though I was the breadwinner and worked more hours, I was the primary childcare and housekeeper, imagine that!

  2. This is just awful, DM! I am so sorry that you were treated so badly. This is classic spiritual abuse from the Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill crowd. Fortunately Mars Hill is no more, but past leaders are still lurking in other churches and Driscoll is starting a new “church” (house of pain, shame and financial extortion) in AZ.
    My wife and I left a church I consider abusive and it had ties to Driscoll. After we left they actually promoted the Driscoll’s marriage book and led married couples through it. Yuck!
    I hate it when people speak badly about another church in their community. Feels like gossip. But when it comes to abusive practices I feel like I have to speak up to protect people from the wolves out there.

    1. Thanks, Loren. I don’t feel so bad talking about MHC as it no longer exists. But it does get worse in my story, my xFIL wrote up a pseudo-correction plan a la MHC for me (all while helping his daughter divorce me as she cheated). I did not even belong to that church and had to deal with its crap via nasty (thankfully, FORMER) in-laws. He even thought it was his place as a professional pilot to lecture his seminary educated son-in-law, i.e. me, about my theology. Arrogance was definitely bred and/or supported in that church community.

  3. Thank you for this, DM. Your openness and willingness to share affects me every day. As you’ve hinted, the overarching arrogance that this guy’s persona tends to encourage is an even bigger problem than any of his specific teachings. I once heard him railing about yoga and I remember thinking, “Really? Is his faith that flimsy, that he wouldn’t be able to do a certain type of workout?” Eye roll. The ability to come down from on high and deliver judgments on every piddly little thing on the planet shows that he clearly knows everything for sure and doesn’t need pesky old God butting in. It must be lonely up there on the mountain.

  4. I agree with you absolutely…I’ve always applied the 1 Timothy 5:8 verse to myself, and I’m a never married, professional woman without children. This verse applies to all believers. I get real joy from being able, by the grace of God, to bless my family relatives when they need help…especially my elderly Christian mother. Loving care comes in many forms, not just financial. It can be: taking time off to help after surgery, household repairs, writing cards and letters, yard work, unloading heavy groceries, moving furniture, cleaning, babysitting, and the list is endless. All of those things are “providing for” someone. Believers should provide for each other in the ways that God has enabled them to do at that time. Ruth provided for the older widow Naomi by gleaning in the fields. It is so wrong for some pastors to insist that only men can provide for women and children!

    By the way, I appreciate your blog and I’ve never been divorced. My parents were divorced many, many years ago due to my father’s severe abuse and adultery, and your messages help me deal with the pain of that legacy.

  5. A man who is a stay at home dad is likely more secure in his manhood than Discoll could ever hope to be.

    All this gender defining “theology” reminds me of an old quote by Margaret Thatcher about power:

    Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

    Margaret Thatcher

    Just replace power with “biblical man.”

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