Several years ago there was supposed to be a protest by People Against Fundamentalism against Mars Hill. This protest was averted by a private meeting between Rose M Swetman and others with Mark Driscoll and Lief Moi. She expressed relief that things were handled in a mature way. She also noted that words in public are not the same as words in private and that everyone agreed they could work toward a healthier way of expressing their disagreement in the wider community.
And then ... two years later
She cites someone else's summary of Driscoll's public behavior to delineate a pattern:
I’ve observed Mark’s tactics often enough to recognize the pattern.
1. Describe the problem in technical theological terms to give intellectual weight to your position. (pride)
2. Declare the opposing view sin in order to scare people from considering its validity. (fear)
3. Label those who follow the other belief heretics. (shame)
4. Thus appointing yourself as the authority and guardian of truth. (control)
Now here's the thing, this is not quite how I would frame the process. It's more that Driscoll will be set that a problem has to be addressed and argue for what he believes the position Christians should take. If people dispute this he really will true to present a case for why he thinks the disputation is wrong. However, if he gets in over his head or loses his temper (both of those things happen), he will get sloppy and resort to one of two (or both) tactics to discredit the other side.
Reductio ad absurdum
The first generally amounts to knocking down a straw man or taking what may be a nuanced argument down by means of an extremist version of the same. The second really needs no explanation. Both of these approaches were manifest abundantly in his career as William Wallace II, not least on the old discussion thread Pussified Nation. Understandably Driscoll doesn't want anyone actually reading what was on Pussifed Nation because he acted like an asshole. Period. At that time he operated under the suppostion that the ends justified the means so he would say whatever he thought needed to be said in order to make his point. Except when someone actually took his rhetoric at face value and wanted to fight him at 3am (Reformission Rev, Zondervan 2006, page 129)
What Driscoll conveniently omits from his account was that he spent so much time making vitriolic statements about anyone who disagreed with him while using a pseudonym that he was setting an example for the young men to follow, the very young men he held in his book were getting out of line. Well, duh. If the lead pastor writes a lengthy screed called Pussified Nation and claims that people who disagree with him must be guys who live in their mama's basements downloading porn from the internet then why be surprised if a bunch of young men who are baby Christians and look up to him as their role model start doing the same?
When, as William Wallace II, Driscoll dismissed an argument from some people as coming from guys who probably lived in their momma's basements and were downloading porn on the internet the recipients of these comments argued as though the comments weren't relevant. William Wallace II then wrote to the effect of "notice that they didn't refute a single thing I said" as though that settled the argument in his favor. Making a personal attack on the character of your opponent and then deciding that settles the argument isn't great debate form even in high school.
So with these things in mind it is more accurate to say that Driscoll will declare a position on something to be "the" biblical position. Anyone who disagrees strongly and cannot be persuaded gets labeled not necessarily always a heretic but as someone who is not "on mission" or, per Reformission Rev "dead weight". This can employ either reducing the counterpoint to a parody or simply impugning the character of whomever disagrees with Driscoll. This approach has been present in the public sphere in various forms since 2001 so it's not like this is news.
But I truly believe that what makes this whole dynamic problematic is that we must make a distinction that Rose seems to have struggled with for reasons that are obvious, just as those who have defended Driscoll seemed to have bungled something crucial and easy to miss. Before I touch upon that I want to take an aside into people saying Driscoll has repented or apologized for this or that regarding speech in public. It's not surprising he's never preached a sermon on taming the tongue and left that to other pastors he thought were better qualified to actually teach with authority on the subject.Now if Driscoll has really repented of the things people think he has repented of perhaps he could republish Pussified Nation and his other exploits as William Wallace II. Perhaps he should go back and READ them to see how he treated brothers and sisters in Christ. That none of that material is available anymore, to borrow a page from Driscoll's playback, speaks volumes about his own vulnerability for making an ass of himself in the public sphere by shooting his mouth off. This is something that, it so happens, pastors and associates have talked with him about that prompted him to issue a public apology for the following:
The apology quoted in part in this link, by the way, is no longer acessible at Resurgence.
On March 27,  Mark Driscoll posted an apology on his blog, Resurgence, for his comments above. An excerpt is below. To read his full remarks please visit his blog.
And after listening to the concerns of the board members of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network that I lead, and of some of the elders and deacons at Mars Hill Church that I pastor, I have come to see that my comments were sinful and in poor taste. Therefore, I am publicly asking for forgiveness from both Brian and Doug because I was wrong for attacking them personally and I was wrong for the way in which I confronted positions with which I still disagree. I also ask forgiveness from those who were justifiably offended at the way I chose to address the disagreement. I pray that you will accept this posting as a genuine act of repentance for my sin.
Which sin? Attacking people personally and how he confronts positions with which he still disagrees? Seems like repentance is a long path. And it is. If I may make a totally unsolicited suggestion I think that part of what Driscoll needs to do is stop trying to be a stand-up comedian, stop being someone funny and get back to being what made him, at his best, a fine pastor. Actually go through Scripture. When you promise implicitly to go through whole books of the Bible don't be some weenie who backs out of going through all of Revelation because you don't wwant to alienate members who are dispensationalist wingnuts or theonomistic fascists in embryo. :) After years of implicitly promising Mars Hill would go through whole books of the Bible the Revelation series, good as it really was, was a substantial breach of promise.
Not that promises are always explicit, or even able to be kept, but this highlights a distinction between what we'd have to call Driscoll the person and Driscoll the persona. Driscoll the PERSONA gets him in all kinds of well-deserved trouble. Driscoll the person is smart enough to know better than to get himself into this kind of thing, I would hope. But the public retraction to Christianity Today more or less shows that ten years after founding Mars Hill Driscoll still got himself in trouble for shooting his mouth off, pre-emptively defending himself as he works to a silly one-liner conclusion of "In conclusion, this is all just gay." He knows he's not Parker or Stone and that he's not writing episodes of South Park already. If a pastor is to be above reproach and to be well thought of by outsiders Driscoll has done an exceptionally poor job since people within the body of Christ continue to take issue with how he handles conflict in the public sphere. This is not even a venue in which to consider how he may handle conflict in private, nor is it necessary. It's enough to point out what is a matter of public record here.
And even sympathetic believers have expressed concerns about HOW Driscoll makes points in a way that can be potentially damaging to the causes he decides to champion:
What bothers me is not just the use of these phrases, but the utter non-necessity of doing so. They are designed to illicit laughs and perhaps show people how edgy Driscoll is. But they are, in my estimation, completely unnecessary, especially since Driscoll is perfectly capable of being humorous without being dirty. The book would not suffer at all without them. It is easy to gain laughs through such words and phrases, but just because we are able do so, I don’t think we necessarily should. Thankfully such examples are rare (though one could argue that their rarity proves how unnecessary they are). There is so much more to Driscoll than his sense of humor and his edginess. I hope that sooner or later he becomes known for what he does that pleases God rather than what he does that shocks the masses. In some cases I’m convinced they are not the same thing.
It couldn't get any clearer here and the implication is obvious but needs to be spelled out. Driscoll as a person uses a persona that in the long run could harm the cause he hopes to promote. At some point when Driscoll is 44 and he's still talking about how we need to stop having so many chick-a-fied dudes who listen to Mariah Carey it will become apparent that his hour has passed him by. His hour has probably passed him by now. He was culturally relevant in his 20s, for whatever that's worth, because he was not a father and a pastor/missiologist/whatever-he-calls-himself-now with only a wife and not many kids. He had time, in other words.
But at some point contextualizing the Gospel only gets you so far and you have to live it. At some point you have to love your neighbor and figure out how that works, how that gets done. We are not known as Christ's because we are edgy or can contextualize the Gospel, but by our love for one another. At some point Driscoll has to keep being aware that the danger in his persona is that it stops contextualizing the Gospel and starts contextualizing Driscoll.
It is curious to read various accounts of people in the blog-world who speak of how disarmingly humble Driscoll is. He's not, and he said so last year in a sermon about humility he said he wasn't qualified to preach. Fair enough, let's take his word for it. Repentance of pride is not something that is demonstrated in a single sermon but in years of actual humility. Humility entails recognizing that our honor and dignity do not come from us but from Christ.
Frankly, Driscoll has said things from the pulpit and has had things said about him by others in the public sphere that no one puts together and asks about, details that suggest to me that the persona/person distinction may be the single greatest long-term threat to the viability of Driscoll's ministry. Since I don't WANT him to lose the ministry the Lord has given him I'm making a blog entry here in the hopes that even if the odds of him reaeding this are absolutely zero that the Lord can use this however he will.
Really, I do want to be able to tell people thirty years from now that Driscoll has grown into the work the Lord has called him to. If I ever marry and have kids I want to be able to say to them that Driscoll really loves the city of Seattle and not simply a church in his own imagination that he's trying to get his real church to become more like (page 40 of Reformission). It's not a bad thing to have a vision for a church, but I hope that Driscoll remembers that his obligation is to love the actual church Christ has given him, not the one he wants in his mind. Loving that second kind of church can simply be idolatry.
When the Lord isn’t talking to this man, kiddingly called a short-fused drama queen by his wife, his critics are blogging about him. Some of the sharper barbs make it difficult for Driscoll to hide the hurt.
Well, Driscoll, stop acting like an asshole and you'll be less likely to get hurt. I say that in Christian love (no, really, I do). If your wife calls you a short-fused drama queen that suggests that it can't all be the doing of blogger critics that you feel hurt. Don't forget the golden rule, brother. Treat others as you would have them treat you. If what you want is to be lampooned by The Wittenburg Door every year for the rest of your life; if what you want is to have the legacy of Pussified Nation and "this is all gay" to follow you where ever you go; if you want to have a huge church of people you don't know whose lives you touch in only the way that a stand-up comedian does, then by all means stay the course.
If your wife can joke that you're a short-fused drama queen or say that you're Elimelech as you put it so eloquently in your sermon on Ruth 1 in January 2007, then it sounds like your wife has some insight into character traits you still need to work on. If you keep your pants on, great, but if you can avoid sinning with your tongue, congratulations, you've hit varsity in spirituality. James 3 more or less covers that. If a man avoids sinning with his tongue he has self control. Driscoll seems to have trouble avoiding sinning with his tongue. With our tongues we bless the Father and curse men. Perhaps in a city that is often considered liberal and godless Driscoll's sins of speech are considered insignificant because he's not boning someone he's not married to or taking drugs or stealing money. But that by itself is not enough to say his record is spotless.
In fact by his own testimony his record can be taken as deeply problematic. On January 7, 2007 about an hour into the sermon (i.e. the last few minutes) Driscoll asked listeners to consider who in the book of Ruth they are most like. He said of himself, "I am Elimelech". He elaborated:
1 hour in 1.07.2007 sermon on Ruth 1
...Elimelech is the guy--everything falls apart. It looks dark, it looks bad. He takes a poll he makes a plan. He decides Moab has a lower cost of living. Moab has more vocational opportunity. Moab has food on the table. I will make a plan, I will be the sovereign. I will take care of everything. Trust me. I know what I'm doing. He leads well. He plans well. He tries to be the sovereign (they're all going to die anyways). I am Elimelech.
I asked my wife, "Which one am I?" ... She didn't even breath, didn't even take a breath, "Oh, you're Elimelech." And his name means what? MY GOD IS KING! That was me. If you asked me, Jesus, sovereign, lord, king, God! And if I ever need Him I'll call him but I don't think I do because I've got all this taken care of.
Well, props for honesty, but this is the kind of confession that, encouraging as it is, is discouraging in others. A pastor of a church that is in the thousands said from the pulpit that his approach is to be Elimelech. Doesn't that cast a worrisome shadow on the whole next year's worth of sermons in, say, Nehemiah or Phillipians? How do we know he wasn't being Elimelech through that entire stage or since? But it is a helpful confession because it helps to shed some light on Driscoll's penchant for making inflammatory public statements he later (sometimes) regrets.
Thing is, whatever Driscoll's persona is there are people who know him as a person and if Driscoll's wife has kidded that he's a short-fused drama queen and said without hesitation he is Elimelech, which in Driscoll's explanation means a man who claims to love God but goes on doing what he thinks ought to be done because he wants to be in control, this is not the greatest public endorsement of a husband as qualified to be a minister of the Lord, is it? This is not a no harm no foul situation. The qualifications for an elder in Titus 1 include:
1. be above reproach
This wouldn't mean that he won't appear in the Wittenburg Door every year, would it?
2. self-willed (i.e. not arrogant or eager to please self)
Elimelech (to whom Driscoll and his wife have compared himself) certainly was self-willed
3. not quick-tempered (irascible)
His wife testifies to this
4. addicted to wine
Not likely a concern but I can't speak to it.
5. not pugnacious (not a brawler or a fighter)
His whole public persona more or less establishes this and that's even if we don't count his behavior as William Wallace II. In conclusion this is all just gay.
6. not fond of sordid gain
Probably not a problem but I can't speak to that.
At some point he was based on what he wrote in Reformission but it's hard to verify now.
8. loving what is good
... CAN be
Not with his tongue, per James 3, but in other respects I'm sure he is self-controlled.
13. holding fast the faithful word so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
Now the thing to consider at this point is if Driscoll's spectacular and public failures in some of the above points make him unfit for ministry. Obviously the answer is "no" but the real issue is whether or not Driscoll's continuing struggle with the things in which his own wife jokes are not first level threats to the viability of Driscoll's ministry. In Scripture there was a macho man who had God's hand on him in a mighty way who had a temper and would lash out at people who upset him. Samson eventually had his hair cut, his eyes put out, and was left alone with the Phillistines he had spent so much time antagonizing, and whose women he found so alluring, that while in his last breath he accomplished God's will it was at the expense of his own life and the dignity of God's people. It was also as much a suicide as an act of war.
I don't want Driscoll to risk becoming any kind of Samson among God's people. Driscoll the person is a gifted man who loves the Lord and has many things God may choose to accomplish through him. Driscoll the persona from the pulpit (which is what we tend to hear or read in the public sphere) has displayed and admitted to character flaws so significant that it's surprising there has been relatively little discussion about the startling gap between the Driscoll who people say is humble in person who admits in public he's not humble at all. There's a startling gap between the people who look to Driscoll as a hero in homiletics, the man who admits from the pulpit he is Elimelech and whose own wife described him as Elimelech and as a short-fused drama queen. Suffice it to say that this does not make the man above reproach if his own wife makes statements like this to him and about him in the last year. If the statements aren't true then someone needs to repent. Even if the statements are then TWO people need to keep repenting.
So all this is to say that I am encouraged by things I've heard Driscoll teach and preach over the last eleven years. I hope that the Lord continues to use him to be a positive influence. But in order for that to happen Driscoll can't just say once or twice that he's Elimelech or that he isn't good about controlling his tongue. He needs to get better about it. It won't do his ministry or the cause of the Gospel any good if he keeps his pants on and doesn't cheat on his wife but makes an ass of himself whenever he opens his mouth because he's trying to be the pastoral equivalent of Chris Rock. Dude, you're just not that funny. You're a pastor (no, a missiologist perhaps) and not a stand-up comedian. Set aside yourself and focus more on the Word so that He becomes greater and greater and you become less and less. This isn't about the funny stories or poignant stories you tell about your wife or kids. This isn't about them. This isn't about you. You can say that it's all about Jesus but why don't you get back to it actually being about Jesus.
I say this as a brother in Christ who wants to be able to tell any kids I have that the Lord has continued to do good things through you. Since you don't have a problem shooting your mouth off in the public sphere it's appropriate to respond in the public sphere, not to shame you but to speak what I understand to be the truth in love. It is not because I have any right to say things like this that I say them. If anything I would prefer to have not felt a need to say them at all. But I am concerned that people both for and against Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll utterly fail to grasp the significance of this person/persona distinction I've seen over the last ten years. It worried me years ago and it worries me now.
The greatest threat to the health and viability of your ministry and your church is not outside you, it's in you. And if the persona of William Wallace II is who you really are when you're not in pastor mode, ask yourself if you've been in the right job these last ten years. If the persona that says "in conclusion this is all just gay" is who you really are as a pastor, then you're not above reproach, you're quick-tempered, you're a brawler, and these things cast some reasonable, self-attested doubt on your qualifications to be an elder. I don't say this because I have any qualification to speak of my own character. I don't. I'm the most pathetic sinner there is, but Scripture is what it is and your testimony and that of your wife about your character is now a matter of public record.
Who is this man Elimelech who travels the world and tells other people how to be missionaries and pastors who by the testimony of people who have heard your conferences aren't sure you spend any time with the congregation you ostensibly shepherd? Who is this man who is described as a short-tempered drama queen who is considered one of the most influential pastors in the United States? It is not that I have any basis to speak in myself. I never have and I never will, but the Word of the Lord remains true and if a man testifies against himself in the public sphere that needs to be addressed when the man takes the role of instruction people how to contend for the Gospel.
Where are your friends who helped you start the church that is Mars Hill? Where are they now? Why have dear friends vanished from the employ of your church while you explain to young pastors that it's best not to get into ministry with friends? If these men and women made themselves unfit for ministry it was you who decided they were fit for ministry to begin with. To be honest it seems as though it fares better for people who you consider enemies of the Gospel or your mission than for those who you consider friends or even gospel partners. You're more likely to issue a public apology to people for shooting your mouth off if the public record is anything to go by. We'll never know who those hyper-Calvinists were who you considered dead weight anyways.
Of course most people will never know just how much the persona of William Wallace II encouraged young baby Christian dudes to imitate your unfortunate example. Since I read a fair amount of what Wlliam Wallace II put on the internet it's not as though I'm speaking speculative. You're better, but not enough better that you have reason to speak as though you were the mature guy helping the other 20-something dudes get their act together. Your act was part of what inspired them to be the jerks they were. They were following your example. Remember the posts of "Wallace! Wallace!" by any chance? It's easier to be a jerk for Jesus when you have cheerleaders, isn't it?
Thing is, a lot of this stuff doesn't even have to be on purpose for it to be a problem. Sometimes the problem happens when a person shoots his mouth off in anger or to be funny. Yet other times the problem arises when people presume the Lord's grace will work things out without applying real wisdom, foresight, and seeking counsel in a situation. The least that could be done in those situations is to avoid making public service announcements about things that never come to pass or get reversed. James warns Christians against counting chickens before they have hatched, to use a familiar phrase. Some people, however, tried counting anyway and publishing it in a book. It's an understandable mistake ... but one that needs to be asked about in the public sphere now.
And nothing speaks of confidently foretelling something that doesn't seem to have come to pass quite like the would-be second Ballard campus mentioned in Reformission Rev. What happened to that 43,000 square foot building you mentioned on page 176 of Confessions of a Reformission Rev (Zondervan 2006). Are there services in that building now? Did that project get completed? What did you and the other pastors who all voted on that project do with the money God providentially gave you through the trust of the people at the church at the time? This is a matter of public record, too. How much did that building cost? Is it being used for what you said it was going to be used for in 2006 when your book got published? Have you and the leaders accomplished what you promised you would do with that building project? If so why does everything on the public websites about Mars Hill indicate the project seems to have gone nowhere. There is no second Ballard campus that hold services. And if the "dumpy wearhouse Jamie [Munson] found one block away from our building" and the pastors voted to buy isn't being used for what you said it would be used for in 2006 in your book have you and the other leaders endeavored to build a tower without counting the cost?
Is it possible at this point that you and the other pastors have voted to purchase a building that turns out to have been a case of exceptionally bad stewardship. It sure seems as though by publishing what you did about the building on page 176 of Reformission you broke the spirit of James 4:13-16. Didn't you speak in advance of things that had not yet come to pass? Where are the live worship teams in that building a block away from the Ballard campus? Can you explain how you and the other pastors were good stewards in making the purchase of that 43,000 square foot building that isn't even listed as a campus where services happen even today? This was a building you and other pastors bought with God's money. How will you account for it on the day that our Lord asks of you what you did? Meanwhile, if you're going to announce a capital campaign from the pulpit and the end result is this pathetic dumpy wearhouse not being used for church services don't you think that constitutes a complete failure of the capital campaign. If you have wondered whether or not people don't trust you because they don't know you well enough, that's not the reason. We don't need to know more about your wife or kids. People need to know more about how the money gets spent that you and other pastors urge people to give for the sake of the Gospel. So a public follow-up on what you declared would happen on page 176 in Reformission Rev seems reasonable to ask for.
Don't misunderstand me, I am fond of the church and have been connected to it in a variety of ways for years. That is precisely why as much as I care I feel I can no longer simply be quiet just as I do not wish to make baseless and false accusations as some have in the last year, or to dishonor God by despising the wisdom of airing dirty laundry in public that could be discussed privately. On the other hand, I see no obligation to be silent when a variety of concerns about the conduct of Mars Hill leadership have been thrust into the public record not by a breach of trust within the community but by the very testimony of leaders and the family of leaders in the last two years. Public boasting, public speech, public announcements, and the elimination of foundational people to the history of Mars Hill from the public presentation of the church all constitute things about which public enquiry is valid.
So those concerns which arise from statements in the public record are concerns that can and should be asked about in the public record ... even if in the form of blog entries too boring to be read by almost everyone on earth.