After sharing the most recent (excellent) bonus episode of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill: where Mike Cosper finally gets to interview Tim Keller… a fellow minister asked something along the lines of :

What did you learn that you didn’t know without having listened to the podcast? And what are your thoughts on the way Mike Cosper’s bias shaped its content?

It was a good opportunity for me to try to spell out the reasons why I am such a fan of the podcast… and I thought it was worth capturing on this blog, too.

1) Bias of the podcast producer

Yes this is very important. Any article, documentary, journalism, history, theology, sermon needs to be listened to/read with a critical ear/eye. More persuasive/immersive media like this well-produced podcast can be especially bamboozling and require extra care.

I appreciate how Cosper’s closeness to Acts 29, through his work with Sojourn Church, means he can speak sympathetically and positively about the good things. It wasn’t an outsider hit job. So in that sense I think his biases made it better. At the other extreme, the way he engaged with and gave support to some things, like Kristen Kobes Du Mez’ sociological analysis of Mars Hill and 9/11, I disagreed with.

Yes, it needs to be listened to critically. But in general, I think the podcast has a lot of credibility in its reporting.


2) What did you learn that you didn’t know without?

I’m not sure if I accept the premise of the question. Is that the way we should approach church history? Journalism? These things may record for us permutations of things we already know. But they tell us the particular things that actually happened … and why they happened the way they did when they did.

I think that makes church history and journalism (and the Rise and Fall podcast sits at the threshold of these two things) valuable in helping us understand ourselves and where we’ve come from and where we might go next.

I wouldn’t want to apply the standard of ‘what did you learn that you couldn’t have learned otherwise’ in many contexts, actually. There’s so much in your average church sermon I didn’t need that sermon for. And that doesn’t mean I should tune out.

I realise that behind this question is “Since there are things that are in poor taste, lurid, sensationalist about the Rise and Fall podcast… you need an extra good reason to bother”. Hopefully my subsequent comments will explain why I think there are many reasons to bother. I also don’t think the podcast is overly sensationalist… it just so happens that this is a story (like some of the stories surrounding the Reformation or the Evangelical Revival) that ACTUALLY WAS really extraordinarily lurid and sensationalistic!


3) What actual value in this particular podcast?

I have personally read and thought about most of the areas the podcast covers (the rise of the Jesus Movement and the megachurch, gender, abuse in the church, church governance, technology and culture and ministry, parachurches, celebrity etc) so there was a lot there that was treading familiar ground for me.

However it was a masterful summary of many of the key issues in Western evangelical ministry over the last few decades, and their roots over the last 50 years. In that sense the podcast brought together a lot of recent history and reflection across several disciplines, stuff that is hidden in podcasts, blogs, journal articles, theses and books… and put it all in one place. So while I have a lot of criticisms of Kobes Du Mez’s work, for example, it is very important and valuable to be aware of her work and engage with it.

That is all extraordinarily helpful I think. You could build a THL3/4 subject around the material covered in the podcast. These will be some of the big issues covered when IVP issues book 6 in its ‘History of Evangelicalism’ series. Cosper has done a good job of using the podcast as a launching pad to provide an introduction to many of these important issues.


4) What actual value part II

And not just issues, but key people and events (T4G, Passion Conference, TGC, Acts 29, City 2 City etc). Mark Driscoll himself is also a major person in Western evangelical history. We need to be aware of how he fitted into all these other things. The podcast does some work in helping join the dots.


5) What actual value III

Perhaps this is something that makes more sense to younger pastors, those who were shaped and moulded by these people and movements in their formative years… either as kids in youth groups/campus ministry, or those in the early years of their full-time ministry?

  • People who listened to hours and hours of Driscoll (and Piper and Chandler and the rest) and were actually really blessed by it… but also looking back think of the things that weren’t good.
  • People who had big ministry ambitions, who sometimes picked fights with leaders above them and around them, who took substantial risks in church planting or attempts at church growth—inspired by Driscoll and others—and who often found it really really really hard…and sometimes did things they regret now.
  • People who saw others, closer to them, publicly crash and burn in various ways just like Driscoll, Josh Harris, Darren Patrick did.
  • People who afforded immense respect, trust and loyalty to the elder statesmen like Keller, Piper, Carson (and our local equivalents)… and now are trying to make sense of some of the decisions they did or didn’t make, what they did or didn’t say.
  • People who are just in general reflecting at the strengths and weaknesses of the big evangelical machine, even in its Aussie manifestation (Geneva Push, AFES, MTS, Diocesan 10% vision or whatever else)… and beginning to wonder if everything they were envisioned with around, say, how complementarianism works itself out in practice, or how the Christian life should be lived, or how successful ministry will be if you just do xyz method (1:1, 2W2L, exegetical preaching, systematic theology, recruiting apprentices)…  beginning to sift through that for what is good and what can/should/might be critiqued.

There has been a significant spiritual/emotional therapeutic experience among younger Gen X and Gen Y Christians listening to this podcast. Profound ‘processing’ of things that has been painful and valuable. Might be hard to relate to for those outside that particular demographic?

Take my word for it. I and many others have been moved to tears during the process of listening to this podcast in a painful, but I hope ultimately renewing way.