Wednesday, January 18, 2012

text and context

http://townhall.com/columnists/thortolo/2008/03/06/the_gospel_according_to_mark_driscoll/page/full/

... 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.

When asked why a few of his pastoral peers got worked up over his recent series of sermons on the joy of sex within marriage, Driscoll popped back “because they’re looking at porn.”

No laughter. No chuckle. Not even a smirk. Just a stunned radio host and a few thousand listeners who probably couldn’t believe what they’d just heard from this very misunderstood father of five.

The above article was published in March of 2008 before The Peasant Princess began and after the Scotland sermon on Song of Songs from November 2007. 

Let's consider "because they're looking at porn" for a bit.  No doubt some of them are and some of them were.  But what about John MacArthur?  What about John Piper?  If these men took issue at any point with certain aspects of how Mark Driscoll interpreted Song of Songs in either style or substance would Mark Driscoll legitimately have a basis to say that pastoral peers taking issue with his handling and interpretation of Song of Songs could only be doing so because they were (or are) looking at porn?  This is the kind of response that is nothing more than a personal attack.  If anything that Mark eventually decided the 2007 Scotland sermon should get taken down because it offended some fellow believers might be construed by some of those pastoral peers as a concession that maybe, sometimes, kinda some of those pastoral peers with some criticisms might have kinda, sorta had a point and that dismissing them as porn junkies wasn't the only possible way of interpreting their concerns about Driscoll's teaching.  Or not. 

The Real Marriage sermon series and book tour is gearing up and so there's plenty of time for other people to find out if things have changed. If Mark has had a change of heart about sex as a god, though, it's impossible to glean this from his decade-long insistence that Song of Songs 2:3 refers to oral sex.  One would think that if one had made a god of sex and idealized marriage that repenting of this might completely re-educate and re-inform a pastoral exegesis of a text but that isn't what happened, at least not in the case of the most controversial interpretations of Song of Songs that Mark Drisscoll continually stands by.  There may be little liberty as to what constitutes masculinity in a "biblical" domain for Mark Driscoll but there is a great deal of liberty in the bedroom for those willing to use it.  It would seem that what the Bible does not explicitly condemn in sexual conduct in marriage is free for us to enjoy just so long as a man isn't a stay at home dad or the woman earns more money than he does even though neither of those things is explicitly condemned or forbidden in the scriptures that I can recall.

Mark has a history of doing this sort of thing, this "they're looking at porn" kind of defense, a history long enough that as regrettable as a great deal of the personal attacks on Mark Driscoll's character have been if Mark were observing this sort of ruckus in connection to some other preacher he might connect some dots and suggest that there is a point where you reap what you sow.  For that matter it's not just Driscoll critics who have, at times, said the man has some character flaws.  Observe what Mark's own wife has said about him in the Thor Tolo piece linked above.

If Grace regrets saying her husband is a short-fused drama queen, and if she regrets telling Mark he's Elimelech (listen to the first Ruth sermon from 2007 if you're curious about that and I've written about this elsewhere on this blog) then I'll understand she regrets saying things that ended up in the public where she made fun of her husband's short-temper, drama queen ways, and propensity to assume he's got such a great plan he doesn't have to pray or consider whether God is really behind it.  That's not me taking Mark Driscoll out of context, that's referring back to a sermon Mark preached in which he described an unpleasant truth about himself his wife told him straight.

Have certain folks and particularly ex-Mars Hill members sometimes had a field day ripping on Driscoll in public?  Yes.  Is it unfortunate that sweeping generalizations, reductio ad absurdums, and ad hominems are getting thrown about by Driscoll critics with abandon?  Yeah ... but name me the one good, young evangelical Bible teacher from Britian that is known the world over.  You can't, and that's a problem.  And the problem, the real problem is, that after fifteen years of sowing this kind of seed how exactly do Mark Driscoll and his fans manage to be this surprised by the harvest? What makes the adversarial reactions of anti-Driscoll bloggers so frustrating for me is that when they attack him at a personal level and assume the worst about him we can see what they're doing, they are responding to Driscoll's worst rhetorical flourishes and personal attacks with Driscoll's worst rhetorical flourishes and personal attacks.  Folks, this is not the way to make a case that a person has gone off the rails. 

I'm an unabashed nerd so here goes, when Captain Kirk is about to say or do something stupid who has a better chance of talking him out of it?  Dr. McCoy or Spock?  Often Spock.  Kirk needs both McCoy and Spock on his team but he needs Spock to point out "Captain, that is illogical." A Dr. McCoy could hear Kirk say "The results and numbers are on my side" and say, "That's not proof that what you've done is the right thing." But it takes a Spock to point out that, in fact, here and there are the cases where the results showed that the premise is false, that the results don't prove the method right, they just prove the other people got lucky and that the Captain should not presume on results from the past as proof that something in the present is justified. 

If a Mark Driscoll says "Look at my results [my numbers]" the measured response is not merely to say "Numbers aren't everything" because in Driscoll's mind that admits defeat.  The response is to say, "Well, since Joel Osteen has better numbers than you he's the better pastor if your argument is actually true." We know Mark Driscoll has pilloried Joel Osteen from the pulpit.  It just remains to be shown that when Mark defends his ministry by looking to sheer numbers as results that any one he has denounced in the last ten years who at some point had bigger numbers and more of a draw than him could legitimately say the exact same thing. How can big numbers be proof that Mark Driscoll's doing the right thing but it can't be taken as proof that Joel Osteen is doing the right thing? In fact Ben Irwin points this out right over here:

http://benirwin.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/shock-jock-pasto-meets-the-full-but-not-so-manly-might-of-the-british-empire/#comments

But even if, for the sake of discussion, we assume that the huge numbers are actually a sign of divine favor this is not the end of the matter.  If a Driscoll wants to tell a British Christian that the results derive from the core difference in approach how do we know this is not, at root, a Corinthian fallacy.  Paul had recurring credibility issues with the Christians in Corinth because he was considered a lesser speaker and thinker than super-apostles, and his authority was sometimes questioned by those who were drawn to form factions.  Paul wrote to warn against the factionalism that was characterizing the Christians in Corinth where some were saying, "I am of Peter" and others were saying "I am of Paul" while still others were saying "I am of Apollos."   There are a lot of people today who are saying "I am of Mark Driscoll" and others who are against that.  This is not how it should be.

And as to the numbers themselves, consider this. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth he mentioned this:

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

What does Mars Hill have that it did not receive?  And it if was received on what basis can Mark Driscoll boast about it to a British journalist as though it were not received as a gift?  How did it become a boasting point in which Mark Driscoll could say that if we look at his numbers and the numbers in British churches that we look at what the obvious variable is for the difference in numbers?  How is this really a nobody telling everybody about Somebody when that nobody is telling another nobody what a somebody he is for the results he's obtained?  The catchphrase can begin to feel as telling and caculated as, well, a catchphrase.  A catchphrase sounds cool when Bruce Willis says it before he kills somebody but it's not necessarily the sign of a shepherd but an action hero, isn't it?

There are people who have begun to put together that Mark Driscoll says odd stuff on record, stuff that cannot be dismissed as merely being taken out of context.  Mark has attempted to do some damage control on making sweeping statements about British pastors that he hopes will alleviate any concerns from his fan base that he might have said something foolish.  Not everyone will let him off the hook, frankly there's no reason he should be let off the hook.  I don't think people need to inveigh about how he shouldn't be in ministry. 

On the other hand, there comes a point where how you treat people and relate to people in public discourse sets a precedent in which they can (and often will) return the favor. If you sow a particular seed of speech over a fifteen year period and the harvest emerges harvest time is not the best time to complain about the kind of fruit you're seeing in your farm.  If the nobody who wants to tell everybody about Somebody finds it aggravating that things he said six years ago are "taken out of context" he should just remember that if there is anything good that has happened through Mars Hill that's all Jesus and if there's anything bad in Mars Hill that's him.  It's what he advised members to consider over the years and it's not bad advice.

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