Wednesday, September 02, 2009

on Frank Turk and Michael Spenser on Driscoll, a ramble

Meh, I thought about seriously engaging that discussion but have wondered if it is even worth the immense amount of time it would take. What I write here will be an utter ramble of the things I have considered in the wake of the point and counterpoint series. Unfortunately Frank Turk's points about Driscoll are basically worthless because he conflates style with substance and doesn't bother to address Driscoll at an exegetical level. If all he's going to do is complain about the style of delivery and not the substance of Driscoll as an exegete Frank's just another blowhard blogger. It's not as though Driscoll is the first pastor to have a brusque way from teh pulpit. Conversely, while I sympathize with Michael Spenser's belief that a blogger like Frank Turk simply isn't in a position to offer a meaningful rebuke to someone like Driscoll I believe that where Driscoll is weak there are no signs he's going to get better any time soon.

At the same time, Driscoll's real weaknesses are weaknesses so many other pastors have I'm hard pressed to say he's somehow not fit to pastor. God has a history of allowing spectacularly flawed leaders retain their position of leadership, after all. Most people who are conservative in their theology obsess about the style rather than the substance, and liberal theologians obsess about the substance (which they disagree with mightily) and find the style makes it that much more offensive to them.

What neither man has time to discuss is that despite the crude delivery Driscoll's biggest problem isn't necessarily that he's vulgar (i.e. common or coarse, and while we're on that Steve Hays indicated that Mordecai Ham proves that there have always been vulgar or coarse spiritual leaders from time to time) but that he's got flaws as an exegete. What liberal Christians and unbelievers observe in Driscoll is what they consider his legalistic holier-than-thou streak and I submit that while I don't agree with the alternative they propose I believe they are actually right in terms of the core of their criticism. Marx was right to diagnose the problem but wrong about his solution.

By what I said earlier about Driscoll I don't mean he doesn't handle scripture properly, he's great at explaining NT literature. He's a sorry excuse for an exegete on Old Testament literature overall, excepting precisely two aspects of the literature, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Both of these play more readily to his propositional/expository approach. In other words there's no NARRATIVE and not a great need for a poetic sensitivity, which is good because Driscoll has the world's biggest tin ear for poetry or narrative flow since he's studied the stand-up comics and obviously not storytellers. If you claim that respect for the inspiration and authority of scripture is an all or nothing deal then you're falling for a trap, a false dichotomy believers have. As I've blogged earlier if you say that all scripture is divinely inspired and then despite a decade-long career don't bother to preach from some of it then that stuff in the scriptures that's not important enough to teach from reveals that it's not enough of a priority for you to share with the flock. Ergo Driscoll has a high view of the epistles and OT books that back him up on his pet topics and has a high view of the minor prophets but isn't up to tackling major prophets, psalms, or narrative. I would also propose that Driscoll is a surprisingly staunch teacher of Law rather than Gospel. This is something you don't figure out until you have listened to about a decade of his teaching.

Thing is Driscoll's biggest weaknesses are weaknesses common to many other pastors which blinds both his critics and supporters. Now it's true that he sucks as an exegete of Old Testament literature and he tends to just read his own pet social and sexual agendas on to biblical texts. He did it with Ruth not once but twice (how to get married took precedence over a meaningful discussion of God's love through providence half the time and his best teaching came from focusing on God's providence itself and the subject of bitterness). He did it with Ecclesiastes where he cast himself as Nehemiah, Mars Hill as ISrael returning from exile (really, which) and the renovation of the church as a city within the city as rebuilding the broken down walls. This was just a long sorry excuse for Driscoll to eisegete for about half a year. People who object to how Driscoll handled Song of Songs need to realize that he's had that exegetical approach since practically the dawn of of his pastoral career.

Thing is Driscoll wouldn't be the first pastor I've heard just read himself and his own cause onto an Old Testament narrative book. What is fascinating is that while a pastor like Driscoll would rip on The Prayer of Jabez being used as a way to rationalize God's favor for a given project that is nevertheless exactly what Driscoll did with the whole book of Nehemiah. Just because one author proposed universalizing the application of Jabez beyond warrant doesn't mean Driscoll didn't essentially do the same thing by casting himself as Nehemiah. The principle is the same, you read yourself onto a biblical figure and thereby justify yourself as having the same divine warrant to basically do whatever you already want to do. Driscoll doesn't have the place to criticize Joel Osteen's health and wealth approach to the good news if he has, in turn, rationalized himself to be Nehemiah as though Mars Hill were Israel returning after decades in exile.

All this is to say that if a blogger like Frank Turk wants to make a serious case that Driscoll needs to repent of sin the case should not be that he has a crude approach to joking about sexuality but should make the case that Driscoll takes a dangerously low view of scripture when he's not handling apostolic writings (e.g. NT literature). Based on Turk's critique of Driscoll I doubt he's competent enough as a biblical scholar or as someone who has paid sufficient attention to Driscoll's teaching to have anything useful to say.

What we need to remember is that David stayed on the throne for a good long time even after doing things that warranted capital punishment. He was not killed for abusing his royal power to take a man's wife and then kill that man. He was not killed for anything. He was allowed to retain royal power for much of his life and while there was an insurrection foretold by the Lord through Nathan this did not mean David was considered completely unfit to lead God's people. This means that even if Driscoll never repents of something Frank Turk thinks he should repent of it doesn't mean Driscoll is not fit to be a pastor. Conversely, given Turk's series on church-leaving he would be obliged for the sake of consistency of self to say no one should leave Mars Hill even if Driscoll is constantly sinning because Frank Turk has a Catholic view of ecclesiology and the sacraments--e.g. as long as the sacraments (whichever they are) are administered the character flaws of the people who mediate the sacraments are not important. So gay bishops would suit Frank just fine, I guess, but it's not my interest to reconcile the logical and scriptural loopholes in Frank Turk's ecclesiology or sacramentology.

On the other hand, I would say that Spenser may not live long enough to hold his breath for Driscoll to change his tune and substance about gender roles and sex. Driscoll was seeing holy blow jobs and wifely stripteases in Song of Songs as far back as 1999 and no one corrected his tone or content or exegesis back then. I would propose that no one has adequately addressed the incoherence in Driscoll's view of the scriptures that flows as a natural consequence of how he does and doesn't exegete Song of Songs. Christ said that all the scriptures point to Him and that the scriptures said what had to happen to the Son of Man. This means that in Driscoll's view all scripture properly interpreted points to Christ and that would of necessity point to the Song of Songs having to point to Christ. Yet despite the fact that Driscoll affirms the metaphor of Christ as groom and Church as bride in Revelation, Ephesians, and all the prophetic literature he explicitly rejects that metaphor and typology in Song of Songs so that Jesus isn't gay. What no one as yet has pointed out is that this reveals an incoherent view of a recurring view of metaphor across scripture. Driscoll rejects in only one book a metaphor/typology that he accepts everywhere else it appears in Scripture. If the groom/Christ metaphor was good enough for Jonathan Edwards and Richard Sibbes and Driscoll loves the Puritans why reject what they affirm? I wrote elsewhere that the only solution Driscoll has out of this trap he's set up for himself is to say that Song of Songs wasn't scripture at the time Jesus spoke, an option he's not likely to take. That means that despite the clear statements by gospel authors that the scriptures point to Christ and that all the scriptures do so Driscoll has to make an exception for the Song of Songs that demonstrates that he has to either explain how Jesus wasn't referred to in Song of Songs or explain how Song of Songs is not really scripture like the other scriptures.

The real question behind this question is whether Driscoll has a consistently high view of scriptures throughout in terms of their pointing to Christ or whether he sets aside some scriptures as not really pointing to Christ. People have partly addressed Driscoll's failure to discuss God's love for His people (Piper, Mahaney) but people have not addressed Driscoll's failure to deal with biblical poetry as a whole or his cavalier approach to biblical narrative or his omission of dealing with major prophets. Driscoll as yet may simply lack the training and knowledge to field this, in which case it's right to wait for him to develop the competence as a biblical scholar to get to those things. In this respect Spenser is right and Turk is irrelevant.

As I wrote earlier, Driscoll is not demonstrably a very responsible or thoughtful exegete of Old Testament literature once you get out of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. Genesis was another exception that proved the rule.

So while I get why Spenser hopes Driscoll will improve on subjects like sex and gender roles we shouldn't expect that. With mentors like Piper Driscoll's brand of complementarianism won't change precisely because his mentors hold sufficiently similar views that Driscoll will feel pretty safe saying stay-at-home dads deserve church discipline. He probably still feels guilty for letting his wife work to financially support them in the earlier days of the ministry and lets that cloud his judgment about 1 Timothy 5.

The problem with Turk is he can't be bothered to engage Driscoll's exegesis and the problem with Spenser is he's hoping that what hasn't changed in Driscoll after 13 years will change. He's right that Driscoll has things he needs to repent of but misses the boat entirely as to what the most pressing problems are, problems that have been more saliently addressed by John Piper (Driscoll sucks at talking about the love of Christ for His people) or Mahaney (Driscoll isn't humble). Some things, like Driscoll's bitterness toward people he considers foes, Driscoll has simply alluded to and only recently, possibly without anyone even mentioning this to him, certainly not Frank Turk or Michael Spenser.

Both men have valuable ideas about what is and isn't so cool about Driscoll but in the end I don't think they are the people who can offer a meaningful constructive criticism of Driscoll either way. I agree with Spenser that Turk's case of Driscoll's sin is essentially pointless. I also believe that while Turk is right that Driscoll needs to repent of sins Turk fixates on the lowest and dumbest aspects of what he considers Driscoll's sins to be and doesn't demonstrate a serious enough of a mind to engage Driscoll's real pastoral and exegetical weakness. Spenser may be right that Driscoll's attitudes about gender roles and family may be tilting toward legalistic nonsense but with mentors like John Piper this obviously won't change.

This last part gets to a thing I noticed at Mars Hill, namely that fanboyism kicks in and the harshness of the leader inspires the followers to take a similarly dismissive path. It's not Driscoll's fault that Mars Hill men could be proud, dismissive jerks as though it were his fault but he knows (now) that he set the example for them to follow. What he doesn't seem aware of is that they will not just follow his example in terms of pride and dismissiveness towards insufficiently "masculine" conceptions of church or doctrine but will also tend to co-opt his sloppiness as a scholar on Old Testament literature.

Driscoll is, I believe, called to be a pastor, but as I have said a few times the tension between Driscoll the person and Driscoll the persona is still a potentially huge long-term threat and nowhere will this be more apparent than in how scholarly he is or isn't in his pet subjects of marriage, sex, and family. He is in sporadic places getting some serious and constructive cricitism about his weaknesses and, obviously, I don't see any of that constructive criticism coming from Frank Turk, who isn't capable of it. Conversely, Michael Spenser also doesn't look like he'll be a source of heavy constructive criticism and he's smart enough to know that no one will care what he thinks at Mars Hill anyway so why bother?

Too many of the handful of folks offering criticism of Driscoll's flaws on-line have tended to be of the ex-member variety who are so burned by him or his leadership team they are incapable of seeing the good because they themselves were part of so much of the bad but respect for privacy means I won't belabor that point beyond a general observation. It's tougher to rake Driscoll over the coals for brutality in church discipline if you exemplified it yourself or saw fit to make yourself a self-appointed thought-constable on patrol. I used to be part of a team like that and rather than attempt to out-do people within that game I have been struggling to just not play that game.

Someone on the blogsophere mentioned that Driscoll employed special pleading to make a dishonest point. Special pleading is arguably one of the biggest long-term problems that not only Driscoll has but lots of people currently, formerly, and presently at Mars Hill. For instance Driscoll has long since his calling eliminated the incoherency of pleading his divine calling from God while joking that OTHER people who claim divine visions or dreams must have just had bad pizza.

The long-term problem is that Driscoll's precedent of special pleading isn't being addressed as an overall pattern. He can denounce the culture of pornography in this culture while talking about oral sex from the pulpit. He can simultaneously claim all scripture points to Christ except for Song of Songs. He can't rip on Joel Osteen for selling a false gospel and he can't rip on a Prayer of Jabez book with consistency if he's guilty of the same essential methodological error of reading himself and his own agendas on to Old Testament scripture. He doesn't submit to the scriptures in the Old Testament so much as he forces them to say what he wants them to say and this is a very, very serious problem, a problem that, nevertheless, is fairly typical of pastors. We can't be great at everything and we shouldn't pretend we're great at everything in expounding on scripture. Neither Spenser or Turk could stand any chance of observing this pattern and the only reason I've noticed it is because I've heard a decade of Driscoll preaching and have begun to notice the pattern, and I have also noticed my own weakness in appreciating the Psalms and some other parts of scripture. I don't offer this criticism of Driscoll as someone who doesn't suck but as someone newly discovering his own failures in appreciating and understanding some of the scriptures that Driscoll, frankly, shouldn't be preaching or teaching from until he gains more competence in exegeting Hebrew texts (Targum Neofiti really doesn't count).

I both believe that Spenser is too optimistic and Turk is too pessimistic and that Christ is able to display this. I can share Spenser's optimism that Driscoll is eventually going to get better not because there is evidence for it but because Jesus is risen. I can trust that Driscoll will figure out he needs to repent of this or that sin but not the sins Turk is obsessed with but the ones the Lord will lead him to repent of. The Lord loves to use liars and braggers and murderers and adulterers and people with delusions of grandeur who brag about their dreams and cowards and cranky hermits. The people who blog on the sidelines are not the people (for the most part) who have been in the fray, in flesh and blood, at and around Mars Hill.

Finally I'm stating the obvious, two guys practically on the other side of the country blogging pro and con about Driscoll is just two guys blogging about people they've never met. One of them understands how pointless that finally is and the other doesn't. I'm willing to return the favor by doing for them what they've done for Driscoll. Ultimately God probably has better ways to either approve or disapprove of Driscoll's life and teaching than through bloggers and Driscoll knows this better than anyone. It doesn't mean people can't or shouldn't blog and that there is no possibility for speaking the truth through blogging, I just have my doubts about how effectively speaking the truth with love is going to happen that way.

WHy write my blog entry? Well, I hope that's obvious. As much as Spenser and Turk have gone back and forth on Driscoll I figure someone who has had some actual connection to Mars Hill can contribute something. I don't think insiders alone have insight but I also think too many outsiders have acted as though they know the score. None of us really do, only God knows all things. I'm adding my perspective in case, for some reason, God might choose to use it but I also can't say that makes it valuable.

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