I have written a guest series about Mark Driscoll's handling of Song of Songs for the Mara Reid at her blog From Bitter Waters to Sweet. This year when I saw Driscoll saying in a video interview that some pastors are using sex too much I just hit my limit. Three months of Driscoll talking about sex at his own church and then his Scotland discourse is enough, especially since he's displayed the moxy to claim that Ed Young Jr. overdid sex from the pulpit in his interview with Rhoades earlier this year.
I believe there are four related issues in Driscoll's handling of Song of Songs in the last eleven years that speak to weaknesses he has as a biblical scholar, theologian, and as a pastor. I don't say that lightly. After nine years at Mars Hill and having once served on the Theology Response Team I am one of the last people who could say that lightly. I once fielded theological questions on behalf of Driscoll and the other pastors because I was recruited to serve in that ministry.
I do think there are areas where Driscoll does a good job in discussing Scripture. He's done some strong preaching in 1 Corinthians which is ironically where he has been most self-critical. His series (there were a couple of them) on Ecclesiastes were pretty decent. Though I think he failed to make an entirely persuasive case against what he calls the "seed of Chucky" reading of Genesis 6 there were quite a few things in his Genesis series that were good. When his fans don't pick the most scabrous soundbites on his behalf he's done some teaching from Luke that has been very good. So in case you think I'm just ranting about Driscoll without knowing what I'm talking about I've got a decade of the man's sermons jostling in my head. You probably don't. I write what I write in an attempt to provide constructive, informed criticism of weaknesses. My pen name may be Wenatchee the Hatchet but a hatchet job is not the goal.
Now permit me (since it's my blog) to explain some things in advance, in case it is necessary. I am not defending an "allegory only" approach to Song of Songs. I believe that even an allegorical reading of Song of Songs must be predicated on the straightforward romantic/erotic/conjugal theme of the text. At the same time I can't help but note that Driscoll reveals that he's trying to have things both ways about the Puritans. He loves to share the same old story about Puritans who excommunicated a man who wasn't having sex with his wife as much as she wanted. But he skips over how the Puritans actually tended to handle Song of Songs, like, Matthew Henry for example. For a preacher like Driscoll who can hold up a Bible and say "It's all about Jesus" his approach to Song of Songs reveals the exception--Song of Songs can't be about Jesus or Jesus is taking Mark Driscoll from behind and he doesn't want to imagine that. Dude, a metaphor is a metaphor. You know Jesus says that in the resurrection no one will be married, not even Jesus. The wedding supper of the lamb is a metaphor, buddy. It's not literally going to occur.
Yet if everywhere else in the Bible the conjugal metaphor is used to describe God and His people why reject it only in Song of Songs, even if things get racy? Driscoll's okay with pinning his approach on the fanciful notion that Abishag and Solomon were carving their initials on a tree somewhere and going for the plainest reading of Song of Songs as a celebration of sex. Any innuendo he can find he goes for in Song of Songs.
Having listened to about a decade of Driscoll sermons I believe is is important to stress a potential pastoral implication in Driscoll's rejection of even a typological association of husband and bride with God and His people in Song of Songs. Driscoll, historically, has only really seemed to know how to get revved up in telling God's people their sin put Jesus on the Cross. Yeah, there's all that "Death By Love" stuff but that book was a rehash of material he preached in 2005. In other words it's recycled material from some time ago. "Christus exemplar" was, to be sure, the finest sermon I think I've ever heard Driscoll preach and it's because he got out of his comfort zone.
If the Church is the Bride of Christ the sermon Driscoll knows how to preach best to her is "You're a stupid spoiled whore and your sins put Jesus on the cross so you better repent." Yeah, there's that stuff in the Bible, but Driscoll has famously stunk at the other side, which is that Christ loves you enough to gladly bear the cross and your sins to reconcile you to Himself. If Piper and Mahaney, by Driscoll's account, have said he stinks at expressing the love of God for His people then Driscoll has conceded this point.
Another point to note here is that some Christians defending Driscoll have said that (and will say) there is a distinction to be made between what is truly pornographic and what is erotica. Driscoll is preaching Song of Songs, which is canonized erotica is firmly on the erotica side of things. "Frank without being crass" as Driscoll puts it.
Well, okay, then, so Driscoll is preaching Song of Songs and the biblical book is not about Jesus and is erotica. So there is now a canonically justified basis for Christians writing erotica, then? There must be since a whole book of erotica made it into the Bible. What, exactly, is the line of demarcation between pornography and erotica? Is erotica okay when it is strictly verbal or written? Erotica is definitely okay for public consumption on feast days in religious observance then. Okay so, uh, let me see if I can work this out, there's this whole genre of Christian literature I've never heard of before called Christian erotica and it's right and good for Christians to enjoy it if they're married.
Can someone explain whether or not there are actually examples of this genre of sanctified erotica outside the Bible? Maybe such stuff exists and this single guy does not really need to know authors, titles, publication dates or ISBN numbers (and, seriously, I don't). I just have this sneaking suspicion that this defense of Driscoll as preaching Song of Songs as sanctified erotica could begin to look curiously like special pleading if a Christian were to read erotica that isn't in the Bible. After all, if the Holy Spirit inspired the Song of Songs as sacred erotica and I have the Holy Spirit dwelling within me then I can read or write sacred erotica, too, right? I mean, not me personally, mind you, because I'm a single guy who's never been on a date and wouldn't know how that stuff works, but other people could write Christian erotica. But what, then, of all those pastors speaking against romance novels and Christian romance novels?
There are plenty of positive things I can say about Driscoll. He's a capable speaker, he's entertaining. He finds ways to make the Bible accessible to people. It's just too bad that he can often be irresponsible, sloganeering, and downright inventive in claiming that what he teaches from the text is actually in the biblical text. Song of Songs is a case where he is particularly enamored of his highly personalized take on a book of the Bible. I think that in the long run his apparent capacity to only address the Bride of Christ as though she were a whore needing to change her ways and not as the Bride Christ loves extravagantly will continue to be a problem in his pastoral work. This is not as simple as proposing that Driscoll is speaking the truth when he says God hates you if you don't believe in Jesus. Big deal, so it goes.
Where the rubber meets the road is when Driscoll makes jokes such as that congregational leadership is like asking the inmates to run the asylum. Here he is talking about church members who share the Spirit and who are in Christ. These he has referred to as mentally deficient people in an asylum who should not be allowed to run things. When Driscoll writes about ranked numbering categories for which friends and family are most valuable for fellowship this is where his ... unique view of the Bride can shine. I know some of the people Driscoll used to call "good friend" and they haven't seen him in years. They will probably never see him again. Driscoll has often said you must take stock on the people who are wasting your time and cut them loose.
At a purely pragmatic level, yes, such people exist, but in the scope of eternity could not Christ Himself be accused of wasting His time by permitting the universe to exist and calling us "brothers" and "friends"? We cannot give anything to Christ that is of value to Him, we have nothing He needs. Even if we give ourselves what have we given Him that He does not already rightfully posssess? There is a very real level at which Christian friendship means sharing life together with someone even when there is nothing you can gain from it. Driscoll has seemed to choose or reject friendships based on who will help him build his legacy for Jesus. We know that it's his legacy he's concerned about because in his own way he keeps talking about it.
Part of Driscoll's legacy is how his handling of Song of Songs reveals some problems in his theology and his approach to the scriptures and his approach to the Church. In the long run if you can only think of the Bride of Christ as a spotless bride in the future who is still just a stupid, spoiled whore now (because nowhere else in the Bible is the Bride described as already being loved as though she were flawless) it's not surprising you end up with the kind of pastoral approach Driscoll seems to have. It's too bad, though. I guess the more he sticks to NT literature the less likely he is to traffic in this? Only time will tell.