Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mark Driscoll's friends vs gospel partners

In a recent sermon Driscoll gave (Phillipians 1:1b-11) he described a shortcoming in friendship as it is often understood. What we call friendship is often based on proximity and affinity. We are in the same place at the same time and have the same bonds, whatever they may be. When these change over time and, say, we find that the people we considered friends don't have the same issue of proximity or affinity anymore we lament the loss of a relationship that perhaps is not as deep as we thought it was. The friendship was not the sort of friendship we told ourselves it was. Driscoll said that at that point perhaps we have overstated the relationship and that it really wasn't much of a friendship. By contrast, he provided an explanation of what he called gospel partnership as an alternative to a less deep form of bond.

Now this becomes pertinent in terms of public statements because Driscoll has said that Lief Moi and Wendy Alsup are both people he has considered "a dear friend". Neither is listed as a pastor or deacon or employee of the church now, which perhaps is relevant simply because Driscoll has said, per Jared Wilson and others' testimony, that it is not wise to be in ministry with friends but to have friends and have people in ministry but not have so much overlap. So is the sign of Driscoll's friendship that these people AREN'T in ministry with him any longer and that is how they are good friends?

The term "gospel partnership" is interesting, but it seems redundant. Jesus did not really say "I no longer call you my servants because a servant does not know what his master is doing. I now call you gospel partners ... ." Obviously Jesus didn't say that. Driscoll may have felt it was necessary to establish a contrast between a worldly idea of friendship and a biblical understanding of friendship. It's one thing to say that gospel partnership is much deeper than friendship 23 minutes into a sermon, but it's another thing to, say, actually pay attention to the words of Christ on friendship. Driscoll has, unfortunately, set up a dichotomy between "gospel partnership" and "friendship" that is redundant and finally silly. We are offered friendship with God through Christ and if that is a measure of friendship Driscoll doesn't feel can be clarified in a sermon that's too bad.

And, at a practical level, it would seem that Driscoll has set an unfortunate precedent for misunderstanding in the public sphere, since it would appear that calling Lief Moi or Wendy Alsup a dear friend doesn't really mean anything. He should have said "gospel partner", which evokes, potentially, the attitude that this man or that woman is a good partner in a business enterprise. This is just a matter of considering anywhere Driscoll has used the phrase "a dear friend" in connection to his point about gospel partnership in his sermon from October 14, 2007.

Does this mean Driscoll doesn't have dear friends? No, of course not, but it means that in this case he has felt obliged to make a distinction that blurs rather than clarifies a scriptural definition of friendship. I agree that most people do not have an adequately deep or biblical understanding of friendship. The reason that I rarely say that someone is a friend but rather an acquaintence in my own life, even of people I have known for years, is because I consider the term friend sufficiently defined by Scripture to be so weighty that I would rather not say that many of that people I'm acquainted with are even friends. I might know 200 people and I would consider about ten of them friends.

Now regarding the distinction between friends and gospel partners is one thing, but where Driscoll's behavior in the public sphere is concerned there is another, there are those he considers theological enemies. Where the public is concerned it's almost better to be one of those people than a friend or a gospel partner because if at some point Driscoll decides that people who had previously been "on mission" with you became, say, problematic hyper-Calvinists who were getting to be dead weight (Reformission p 131) then being a friend or a gospel partner stops happening.

So given the contrast Driscoll has provided between friends and gospel partners in the public sphere does anyone want to be Driscoll's gospel partner? Friend might not be that meaningful in the end. But Driscoll seems to be good for his word, since two dear friends are no longer working with him in Mars Hill. The reasons don't need to be given and frankly don't particularly interest me at this point.

What interests me at this point, obviously, is to consider and bring attention to things in the public sphere that have not gotten a lot of follow-up. This is, I pray, a way to help Driscoll by pointing out things for public consideration that he and others have already put in the public record. Of note for this post, obviously, is that Driscoll seems to feel that mere friendship is not good enough for a long-term meaningful relationship per his sermon, and yet he has since that time been willing to refer to people as dear friends without consideration for his own negative comparison of "friend" to "gospel partner". Even if we grant the point in advance that he made this distinction for rhetorical purposes there's something to be said for sticking to your own distinctions. In some ways it would be better to be considered Driscoll's enemy than a friend or a gospel partner because based on public record Driscoll would be more likely to apologize for putting his foot in his mouth and saying something harsh.

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