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Social media, Mark Driscoll and my own vanity

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As social media has become a foundational pillar of human interaction, one truth has become clear: social media can be incredibly dangerous to the spiritual formation of both the creator and the consumer.

Several months ago, I finally got around to listening to Christianity Today’s “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, specifically in the Puget Sound where Mark Driscoll planted and pastored Mars Hill Church, I had seen firsthand the radioactive fallout of Mars Hill’s ministry.  However, I had never taken the time to listen to the podcast in full.  As I prepare to embark on (what I hope to be) a lifetime of vocational ministry, I want to learn from Driscoll’s failures. 

One of the details that stuck with me for months was that Driscoll was seemingly very earnest at the beginning of his ministry.  That’s not to say he was perfect, but he was doing his best to follow Scripture and be a shepherd to his congregation. Things seemed to change when Mars Hill went digital and the viewership exploded. Suddenly, many of the executive decisions — budgets and the lion’s share of time and effort — were focused on the media aspect of Mars Hill.  People loved what Mark Driscoll was saying. This new social media engagement seemed to unlock something dangerous in him.  

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I reflected on my first op-ed I wrote for The Christian Post, which garnered 123 comments.  I have preached to my local congregation several times but I've never had so many people commenting and interacting with something I said.  I experienced a small taste of the very same thing Mark Driscoll experienced two decades ago. 

And it also happened to an X (formerly Twitter) poster that amassed some 50,000 followers after claiming that women’s small groups and Bible studies are the “root of countless issues in the Church”.  The poster shared a story of a woman who got divorced, and then 4-6 women from that group also left their husbands.  This poster has accumulated a following that agrees with him on this topic, and it is to this audience he speaks and receives his influence.  These followers have chosen to follow him because they like what he says and makes him feel good when they affirm his posts.

Can we agree that women studying the Bible is not a bad thing?

Perhaps you know this phenomenon by the name “echo chamber.” There’s a danger here. It’s the same danger that Driscoll experienced and it’s the same danger that I tasted with my op-ed. It is the allure of being celebrated for things besides being like Jesus.  Galatians 1:10 speaks to the danger of seeking man’s praise:  “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

But it’s not the only dangerous position to be in. Another person in danger is you, the reader. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 20th-century writer says: “I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” Just as every book Emerson read made him, every op-ed, news article, and tweet we read makes us. I have been formed by books such as Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley. I’ve been formed by a peer of mine, Kasen, who through his interactions on social media, has influenced me to do my best to steelman (presenting the best version of an opponent’s argument to critique, the opposite of a strawman) any argument. As you read these words, you are being shaped. You are agreeing with my conclusion or you are forming a counter-perspective (or perhaps somewhere in between). Nonetheless, you are being shaped, however slightly.  In his book, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, G.K. Beale says it like this:

“People will always reflect something, whether it be God's character or some feature of the world. If people are committed to God, they will become like him; if they are committed to something other than God, they will become like that thing, always spiritually inanimate and empty like the lifeless and vain aspect of creation to which they have committed themselves.”

The people creating the content — Mark Driscoll, The Christian Post, myself, and that Twitter guy I mentioned — all have an interest. The question you must ask is: “Are they truly interested in making me more like Jesus?” When we appropriately determine the answer, we can interact with social media in a healthy way that disarms those who want to tickle ears and empower those who have a gift for teaching us the things of Jesus.

Kyle Perry is a youth pastor and teacher residing in Washington State. In Fall 2024, Kyle will begin pursuing a Master of Divinity at Baylor's Truett Seminary. Among Kyle's primary interests is engaging in interfaith dialogue with Latter-day Saints (Mormons) from a traditional Evangelical perspective.

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