Teachers/pastors like Driscoll, Piper, Mahaney, Harris, Dever, et cetera, and movements like Sovereign Grace and Calvary Chapel are often halfway houses for people coming out of cultic Christianity like Gothardism or Vision Forum.
Do you follow what I'm saying? If not, here's an explanation...
Anything looks grace-based and mainstream after you've been in ATI/IBLP or Vision Forum. Anything...including these men and groups - but they're far from mainstream, they nourish religious addictions, and they're religious abusers themselves. Any "elder-led" church (such as those pastored by the men mentioned above) is fertile soil for religious abuse and corruption, from the homeschooling/courtship/Shepherding mentality of Sovereign Grace to the "Moses Model" of Calvary Chapel. ALL of these men and groups marginalize, and basically render irrelevant, the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. Some of it due to their connections within the Christian homeschooling movement world, some of it due to the lingering traces of Shepherding movement influence. In an "elder-led" environment, the congregation has no voice. Any attempt to develop a voice usually leads to "church discipline" of some sort.
Sometimes I'd like to tell people who've left the Gothard or Vision Forum world and ended up under these men and movements, "You ain't quite out yet." But, I generally believe they figure it out on their own sooner or later - or at least I hope they do. Also, this isn't to say there aren't some wonderful people involved in these movements, or that all of the elders and leaders are corrupt (they aren't). It's just that the same can be said for the laypeople (and some of the leaders) in the Gothard/VF world, however seriously misguided they may be.
I think part of it is the personal journey out of religious addiction. No one who leaves Gothard or VF while still professing the Christian faith is without religious addiction. It's next to impossible. So many overt rules and regulations, unspoken rules and regulations, so much emphasis on the outward mechanisms of Christianity. That kind of baggage doesn't get dropped overnight. It's a process. When you're still clinging to a "God's word" mentality, and you've been in an abusive group, your natural inclination is most likely to find a "softer" version of the same legalistic message (we tend to stick with some form of what we know), and like I said, after Gothard or VF, anything looks mainstream.
I know, from my own experience, how hard it is to deal with religious addiction while holding on to my faith - and I don't come from an abusive church or group. It can be grueling and overwhelming. I can see where people would find a certain amount of comfort and safety within dysfunction when dysfunction is the "normal" of your past. Moving out into the unknown can be brutal - especially when coming out of an abusive church or group.
You don't think these men or groups are messed up in their own way, and seriously so? Let's look at Mark Driscoll for a bit as an example...
In December, Justin Brierly of the British radio program "Unbelievable", committed what was apparently the "sin" of questioning Mark Driscoll during an interview conducted by Brierly for an upcoming edition of Christianity magazine. For some context and background, Driscoll believes that church members (and maybe people in general - I don't know) who question his "leadership" are committing sin, is a hard-core complementarian, and Brierly is the husband of a female pastor in England. Quite a tense dynamic, no?
If you have an hour, the full interview is HERE, and there's a good breakdown of the interview at Cognitive Discopants. I heartily recommend that you take the time to listen to the interview. When you're done, read Mark's response to it, and when you're done with that, read Justin's response to Mark's response at the Christianity website. After listening to the interview, ask yourself if Driscoll's assessment of the interview is honest or accurate...
"With the release of our book, Real Marriage, we have now done literally dozens of interviews with Christians and non-Christians. But the one that culminated in the forthcoming article was, in my opinion, the most disrespectful, adversarial, and subjective."
Long story short, I've listened to the interview (in which Driscoll was an ass), read his blog, read Brierly's response - and I come away seeing Driscoll as an even bigger ass.
I fully believe Brierly's version of the way the interview was presented to Driscoll. No doubt in my mind. I think Driscoll leaped at the chance to
At the end of the interview, we see the real Mark Driscoll. When challenged, he falls into the "compare what you've accomplished to what I've accomplished!" routine at the drop of a hat, something that only insanely insecure people do. With him it amounts to "I'm a better, more courageous, more better, more better courageous Christian than you! Look at all I've done! Just look at it!" I'm pretty sure I could clean the guy out at poker. Too many tells. His Christianity is all about him. His position as pastor is all about his power - an effort to make up for some significant failings somewhere in his psyche, because without that power, he's nothing - and he knows it. His insecurity leads to the dishonesty you see in his blog post which responds to the interview.
Then, there's THIS. Yowza. "Courageous" anyone? You know, the movie that mainstream Christianity has so warmly received - and its merchandise line is being marketed by Vision Forum? Yes, that "Courageous". Looks like Mark might be taking some cues from the fine folk down in San An with these "vows". I agree with the blogger that the last vow is the most perplexing, and given the issues that I deal with here on this blog, the most alarming...
"And my grandchildren will worship the same God as me, because my children will worship the same God as me."
Yikes. I find that spiritually perverse, actually. Thanks, Mark, for making rather significant life decisions on behalf of your children and grandchildren - decisions which, to be valid, must be personal, but don't let me go raining all over your Vision Forum-esque multi-generational faithfulness parade.
The difference between men (such as Driscoll) and movements like those I mentioned above and Gothard/VF are really pretty minimal. Largely the same crap in a slightly more aesthetically appealing wrapper. For those individuals or families looking to get out of abusive groups while still holding on to your faith, the best advice I can offer is to thoroughly examine to make sure, in your effort to leave or your process of leaving, you aren't still using your faith as a drug, a numbing agent (as abusive groups indoctrinate you to do). If it is, it's gonna be unhealthy no matter where you land.
[For further examination and discussion of the abuses of Mars Hill church, read here.]