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Will the real Mars Hill please stand up?

The Ridley students’ association organises occasional debates for the college community, and on 27 May 2010, we asked, Will the real Mars Hill please stand up?

Many Australian Christians are interested in what American churches are doing. Mark Driscoll leads Mars Hill Church (Seattle) and Rob Bell leads Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids). Both churches are named after Paul’s visit to Mars Hill in Acts 17, a pioneering moment in mission and cultural engagement. Yet the two churches, not to mention their pastors, have quite different approaches. Which one might best represent “the Mars Hill moment?”

The debate’s aim was to open up issues for the Ridley community rather than passing judgement on which church is more successful or theologically robust.

Dave Hughes’s slides comparing the two churches are here.

Read the write-up at the Ridley site here.

Categories: Tanzanian culture Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

9 replies

  1. Fabulous! I look forward to following this. I’m really interested in understanding both sides to this discussion having heard both Mars Hill leaders speak. Great topic :)

  2. How interesting! I wonder if they didn’t have relatively the same name would this even be an issue? I’ve been greatly encouraged by the community of Mars Hill (Grand Rapids). I have a good friend who lives in the Seattle area who says the same about Mars Hill (Seattle). Maybe a debate like this could rise above the tension between the two groups. It would be novel if folks came away having a better and more positive understanding of both and I hope this rises above issues specifically with Bell and Driscoll and focuses on their communities. Admittedly it would do me good to see Driscoll more positively if the Kingdom truly is spreading because of his community!

  3. An interesting topic; I have been a part of Mars Hill, GR since it began. I do not have any desire to enter into or win some sort of contest but following this grabs my curiosity.

    My understand of Acts 17 is that Paul spoke to the Areopagus of “The unknown God”. To the people of Athens in that day, this unknown God was loaded with meaning. Unknown could not have meant insignificant or there would not have been an alter built to this god. Paul used this as an anthropological key to touch their hearts in a culturally relevant way. He then went on to quote Greek philosophers; again something that they would have understood very well and related to. Paul did not merely speak their language but he also spoke their culture.

    Therefore it seems to me the question that must be considered is, are we as a church successful at doing this very same thing? And at the end of the day, isn’t that the question we must all ask, is that what we are about? Are we successfully bringing God’s message of truth to a needy world in a culturally relevant manner or are we merely something else, something less? And we had better be doing this with more than mere words or we are just kidding ourselves, we are not doing it at all!

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  5. Thanks for posting that, it was entertaining to watch, as well as provoking some thought. I’ve had some discussions that the different styles of the two do appeal to different types of people, wanting to be told or wanting to explore and work it out for themselves. It would be interesting to know more about if Bell’s style really does mainly draw in disaffected church people, as opposed to new converts. Either way, I think it is a good thing to have different styles of preaching, they have their place.

    I wonder if sometimes we can overstate the extent to which the Athens message of Acts 17 is culturally contextualised? Yes, Paul uses the altar to the unknown god as a key to get his audience’s attention, but the rest of the speech is quite doctrine filled, with just the two lines that are quotes from Greek sources. The doctrines stated don’t affirm the audiences beliefs, but challenge them. The quotes may nothing more than as today we might quote from a TV show, which yes is a cultural connexion, but not as much as it might be made to be. I think the message is contextualised much more in terms of the stage of belief of the audience, so doctrinally Paul had to start at the start, do the big picture stuff, before he could get to preaching repentance and judgment.

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