I was a founding member of the Gospel Coalition and to this day enjoy deep friendships and theological unity with the men. But I’m no longer going to be a council member, as I seek to focus my energies on a handful of things. If I’m honest, with the continued growth of all the ministries in which I’m involved, it’s not sustainable for me to keep up with all of them. So, this is a season of pruning for me.
For the record, no one has asked me to leave the Council, and I have no relational conflict with anyone and no disagreement theologically. The men remain friends who are welcome to speak into my life, and I’m transitioning for no other reason than I find myself at the end of my tether with time and energy.
I’m deeply thankful for the Council and have been deeply honored to be a part of it. Thankfully, Acts 29 fellow Board members Matt Chandler and Darrin Patrick are already on the Council to represent Acts 29, along with one of our network captains, Ray Ortlund.
Driscoll assures us all is well here. All was not well at Acts29 when Scott Thomas, by Driscoll's account, asked Driscoll to reclaim presidency of Acts29 earlier this year. Driscoll assured us he sensed all was not well this week. Driscoll also got pushback from Don Carson over his cavalier handling of the entire Christian scene in England earlier this year. Driscoll assures us there's no relational conflict. Well, this depends greatly on what is even meant by relationship. Carson made a point of gently correcting Driscoll for being a pontificating ignorant tool about the Christian community in Great Britain earlier this year.
(3) As for young men with both courage and national reach: I suppose I'd start with Richard Cunningham, currently director of UCCF. He has preached fearlessly in most of the universities and colleges in the UK, and is training others to do so; he has been lampooned in the press, faced court cases over the UCCF stance on homosexuality, and attracted newspaper headlines. Then there's Vaughan Roberts, rector of St Ebbe's, Oxford, in constant demand for his Bible teaching around the country. I could name many more. In Scotland one thinks of men like Willie Philip (and he's not the only one). Similar names could be mentioned in Wales and Northern Ireland.
(5) But there is a bigger issue. We must not equate courage with success, or even youth with success. We must avoid ever leaving the impression that these equations are valid. I have spent too much time in places like Japan, or in parts of the Muslim world, where courage is not measured on the world stage, where a single convert is reckoned a mighty trophy of grace. I am grateful beyond words for the multiplication of churches in Acts 29, but I am no less grateful for Baptist ministers like my Dad, men who labored very hard and saw very little fruit for decades in French Canada, many of whom went to prison (their sentences totaled eight years between 1950 and 1952). I find no ground for concluding that the missionaries in Japan in the 20th century were less godly, less courageous, less faithful, than the missionaries in (what became) South Korea, with its congregations of tens of thousands. At the final Great Assize, God will take into account not only all that was and is, but also what might have been under different circumstances (Matt 11:20ff). Just as the widow who gave her mite may be reckoned to have given more than many multi-millionaires, so, I suspect, some ministers in Japan, or Yorkshire, will receive greater praise on that last day than those who served faithfully in a corner of the world where there was more fruit. Moreover, the measure of faithful service is sometimes explicitly tied in Scripture not to the quantity of fruit, measured in numbers, but to such virtues as self-control, measured by the use of one's tongue (James 3:1-6)
Driscoll also caused some trouble with people at the Gospel Coalition for his softball approach to T. D. Jakes. There's a good chance nobody in Driscoll's self-described "tribes" has a church big enough to be seen as a competent authority on how to manage things. Ed Young Jr. Perry Noble, and T. D. Jakes do have churches that big. Inside ten years if this trajectory of growth keeps up Driscoll is going to tell us that after meeting Joel Osteen he's going to realize that Osteen is a brother in the Lord with much wisdom and a man from whom Christian leaders should humbly learn leadership principles. It could happen. After all, we've seen Driscoll share his lovely reflections on the Elephant Room 2 this year.
Having taken a few days to reflect, think, and pray, I believe I learned more about leadership during my 24 hours in Chicago for the Elephant Room than any other experience of my life. So, rather than speaking about the participants in public I will instead speak to them in private. But, I will share publicly my personal thoughts and reflections.
1. I appreciate godly friends who don’t want to defeat me publicly but rather help me privately.
Some years ago when I was leading our megachurch with no formal theological training and having never been a formal member of any church let alone a pastor in any church, I was in a scrum with the emergent church and was completely full of myself. Dr. Gerry Breshears, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, put an arm around me, built a degree program for me, loved me, served me, and helped me grow theologically.
He remains to this day a dear friend loved by my family and me. I also appreciate that when many were taking shots, Dr. John Piper came and stood next to me put an arm around me and said he had hope for me and loved me.
People like this are a gift. I want to grow in becoming a person like that, and though I’ve got a long way to go, I want to not get more angry, narrow, hardened and tribal as I get older but rather grow in grace. I don’t want to be a lonely old man shooting everyone who does not fit on my island. I have close friendships, most of them private, with Christian leaders across the theological spectrum. We share a love for Jesus and a love for each other. Some consider me their theology buddy whom they can call on issues, and I deeply enjoy those friendships and want to serve in any way I can.
Is one of those friendships with Lief Moi? Is one of those friendships with Mike Gunn?
2. I don’t want to just make a point—I want to make a difference by God’s grace.
At an event hosted by Perry Noble, Andy Stanley gave one of the most helpful and practical leadership talks I’ve ever heard. He said as a leader we have to decide if we mainly want to make a point or to make a difference.
If we want to make a point, we don’t need to pursue, know, or love someone. We can simply sit back, create a caricature of them, and shoot them. If we want to make a difference, we have to pursue them, get to know them, understand them, love them, and serve them.
Making a point is easy. Making a point will get you a rabid online fan base who love it when there’s someone else’s blood in the water. Making a difference is hard. Making a difference will get you attacked by a rabid online fan base who love it when your blood is in the water.
Or making a point at the expense of someone else and an entire nation will get you attacked online and corrected politely by D. A. Carson for being a tool willing to speak about things you don't fully understand. Making a point thinking that's making a difference is normal operating procedure for Driscoll too much of the time.
5. I want to be helpful.
I don’t want to be controlled, and I don’t want to control people. I prefer to be influential by giving things away for people to wrestle with on their own. I especially like to help leaders with research, Bible software, etc. I think one of my spiritual gifts is to give, and I really enjoy serving other leaders, which in part explains why we give so much away, why we created Resurgence and Acts 29 for church planting, why I do free Leadership Coaching videos, and more.
I guess Andrew would feel really assured by that nice statement, wouldn't he? Pushing through bylaws in 2007 that preclude any appeals process for members under discipline and making sure members under discipline can't resign their membership doesn't smack of any desire to control people at all, does it? Giving yourself a lifelong membership in the executive elder board doesn't indicate any desire for control either.
6. Fear of man is deadly.
Proverbs 29:25 says that fear of man is a trap or a snare, depending upon your translation. Fear of man causes us to live for the approval of our tribe and to fear criticism or ostracism from our tribe. Fear of man is a form of idolatry—living to please someone other than Jesus Christ. One day I will die and give an account and it won't be to a mirror or a blogger.
We will all die and give an account, but it won’t be to a blogger or a mirror. Right now I’m working on my next book based on Ephesians, with the big idea of what it means to have our identity rooted “in Christ.” In God’s providence, this season of criticism has been met with a rich and rewarding extended time in God’s Word helping me to do what wise counsel and I believe is right in light of the gospel, regardless of the outcome. I’m more a prophet than a politician.
I'm afraid this stuff about not fearing men comes off as a phony lesson because in ten years Driscoll has never publicly let on that he's ever been truly afraid of anyone. Angry enough to want to go Old Testament on some people but not afraid of them.
So we're not supposed to fear man or the approval of our tribe? In other words Driscoll has called himself Reformed but he doesn't care what anyone in the Reformed world thinks as he pursues further growth. If T. D. Jakes has a church the size that Driscoll wants then it doesn't matter what anyone at The Gospel Coalition or Acts29 think about cozying up with Jakes. Driscoll's not afraid of them and he can benefit from learning from Jakes or Noble. Inside ten years Driscoll may yet have a wonderful epiphany that Joel Osteen is a godly man who has done a lot to reach people with news about Jesus and has been misrepresented and misunderstood. After all, Driscoll had a smaller-scale variation of such an epiphany with Robert Schuller years ago. Why couldn't he have that with Osteen in the next ten years? If T. D. Jakes is all good then Paula White, one of his apprentices, should be a reasonable addition to the ever expanding tribes Driscoll considers on the same team.
By way of an aside about prophets who allegedly aren't politicians, when was the last time Driscoll read Deuteronomy? When is the last time Driscoll read any narrative literature in the Bible, let alone the work of a major or minor prophet? Prophets made social and political and legal commentary all the time. That was, per Deuteronomy 16-18, their job. Most prophets made comments on political and social issues of their time, and were the ones who were consulted after the scriptures had been consulted and no one was sure how to handle a judicial or military policy situation (see Deuteronomy 16-18 and, subsequently, the entire Old Testament). Driscoll has simply not demonstrated any competence on basic concepts in biblical texts related to prophets or prophetic activity and it's apparent that no one near him has had an opportunity to correct his weakness on that subject.
Gospel Coalition participant Thabiti Anyabwile wrote this on February 6, 2012
3. Theological depth is critical. Honestly, I was surprised that so many could make such quick and bold pronouncements of Jakes’ orthodoxy after a short conversation before cameras. Jakes used the same spiel he’s always used. The entire discussion revealed not only Jakes’ poverty but the poverty of a lot of evangelical and Reformed Christianity. In the final analysis, we were given not only a view of Jakes’ modalism but also of our own slippery and sometimes lazy grasp of the Trinity and other doctrinal issues of importance. Let’s admit there’s truth beyond our knowledge here. But let’s also admit that too many of us have not really sought to grasp what may be known. Consequently, a lot of observers weren’t theologically prepared to discern truth from error, heat from light, wheat from chaff. For me, that was painfully clear in the celebratory declamations following the event. It saddened me and left me with a resolve to teach more systematic theology to my own church. It also left me more determined to be a watchman on the wall. How urgent it is for us “to watch our lives and doctrine closely.” I think I’ll read Spurgeon’s “The Minister’s Self-Watch” again today, just for my own soul’s sake.
7. Our cooperation needs to be principled rather than pragmatic. This has really come home to me in a powerful way. I realized something about myself. My cooperation in TGC has largely been pragmatic. I learn so much when I’m with the guys. I’m stimulated by the conversations we have. Many lessons and resources are shared with the church I pastor. In all these ways I benefit from TGC. Here’s the problem: I’ve been essentially selfish. I was in danger of only cooperating for as long as it benefited me. I was in danger of being “at the table” but not really contributing fully. That’s selfish and it’s sin. The divisions and threats to unity forced me to remember (realize?) that I need to remain involved in TGC because there are important principles at stake. There is the evangelistic signal effect of unity with other disciples who hold the same gospel (John 13:34-35). There is the need for unity beyond my local congregation. There is the necessity of defending and confirming the gospel (Phil. 1:7; Jude 3-4). There is the necessity of every part of the body contributing to the whole (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4). I could go on. The point is simply this: One danger to our unity and our coalitions may be the tendency to think in pragmatic rather than principled terms about our cooperation. I need to be principled.
Driscoll has been demonstrating for years, whether by the recent public rehabilitation of Jakes or gaslighting Justin Brierley or, back in 2007, by the firings of Bent Meyer and Paul Petry on the eve of voting through bylaws that though he talks big about principle he ultimately reveals himself to be a pragmatist when there's something he wants.
2012 has been hit after hit of Driscoll showing us in very concerete and well-articulated ways that he's a pragmatist who claims to be principled. He hasn't just shown us how he does this in the present but has been making money describing how he's done it in the past. He's about reverse-engineering his life and building a legacy and not limiting himself to the tribe he has found useful as a way to promote his brand. He has demonstrated that he's able to seek advice from a man like Ed Young Jr. and then turn around and make fun of him to make a point. He's demonstrated that he's willing to get along fine with T. D. Jakes as he pushes for the bigger numbers.
Driscoll's demonstrated that withdrawing from the Gospel Coalition is done amid the assurance there's no relational tension even though Carson publicly chided him about his remarks on British Christians; Carson and Keller were not overjoyed about Jakes being considered on the same team; and Anyabwile expressed his belief that the only basis for considering Jakes a fellow Christian would be based on a mercenary pragmatism and doctrinal laziness of a very high order. But, Driscoll assured Justin Taylor back in 2010, a thousand members left Mars Hill during early 2008 because they raised the bar on doctrine. Curiously building the member class into a church series is itself yet another form of pragmatism. Why attempt to host new member classes and teach them doctrine if 1,000 members have recently left if you can just make it the sermon series they hear every week for months and then just ask them to sign on the dotted line? Pragmatism.
But perhaps most of all he's shown us pragmatism here:
Mark and Grace Driscoll
Thomas Nelson 2012
We didn't know how to talk through these extremely hard issues without hurting each other even more, so we didn't talk about them at all. I just got more bitter, and Grace just felt more condemned and broken, like a failure. Occasionally we'd meet a Christian pastor or counselor who was supposed to be an expert in these areas, but we never spoke with them in much detail, buecase in time we found out they either had marriages as bad as ours our they had been committing adultery and were disqualified for ministry. We felt very alone and stuck.
People have remarked on how Mark Driscoll said if he'd known about Grace's unfaithfulness early in the dating relationship he wouldn't have married her. People tend to focus on Mark and Grace. That's understandable but I want to highlight something else. Instead of frontloading Mark and Grace Driscoll's agency let's reverse thing and assume the divine command given to Mark Driscoll to marry Grace.
Before we do this, however, we need to consider the following: Driscoll famously expressed how he read a passage in 1 Timothy that said whoever would not provide for his own family had denied the faith and become worse than an unbeliever. Grace was, for a short time, the breadwinner of the house and it took a toll on her health. Driscoll realized he had denied the faith and become worse than an unbeliever, as he said a few times. What was his solution? Step down from ministry as unfit to serve because he had denied the faith? Nope. He "repented" in time to get a salaried position at Mars Hill and kept on preaching about marriage. After all all those young people and young couples desperately needed his insight and wisdom. Driscoll was not so principled he wasn't going to soldier on.
Then Driscoll discovered, shortly before the birth of Ashley, that years and years before Grace had cheated on him this one time and wasn't honest about it. That's unfortunate and Driscoll felt betrayed because if he'd known this about her he wouldn't have married her ... even though he's insisted for twenty years God told him to marry Grace. Did God have to providentially prevent Grace from being honest long enough to ensure Driscoll would obey what Driscoll says was a direct command? Yep, apparently so. I invite you to think about that. Driscoll has assured us God told him to marry Grace. Driscoll also insisted that if he had known about Grace's unfaithfulness in their earliest dating days he wouldn't have married her despite the aforementioned divine command.
What can account for these tensions except to propose that God providentially permitted Grace's deceit, whatever form it took, so that Driscoll would inevitably obey what he's continually told us was His command. This is a small thing for the Lord to achieve since He authorized a lying spirit to speak to the prophets of Ahab. If a deception has to be the foundation from which a marriage can be safely built because God commanded that marriage of Mark Driscoll then so be it. God permitted the deception of Esau by Jacob and the scheming of Rebekah to establish the lineage of Israel, after all. Apparently Mark Driscoll providentially needed to be deceived in order to marry Grace to begin with and thus obey what he said was God's command to him, at least if we take at face value what Mark and Grace Driscoll shared in chapter 1 of Real Marriage.
God providentially foresaw that Mark Driscoll needed to not know about Grace's one moment of infidelity early in their dating relationship when neither of them were Christians because God knew that if Mark Driscoll knew about that he would not obey God's command to him to marry Grace. If we begin not with Mark and Grace but with the will and sovereignty of God the Driscolls have told us a story where this is actually the only plausible interpretation given what Mark and Grace Driscoll have told us about themselves and their character from the early years of the marriage. Given the character of Mark and Grace Driscoll, by their own account, and given the certainty with which Mark Driscoll has repeated the divine command over the last twenty years do the Driscolls give us any other option but to interpret that their marriage needed to be predicated on Grace not being honest about the full nature of her sexual history given Mark Driscoll's character? It's something to consider.
So, back to the excerpt proper from Real Marriage, Driscoll assured us that there were no problems in their marriage that disqualified him from ministry. Yet Driscoll also recounts that when consulting alleged Christian counselors and experts on marriage they found that these people had marriages that were as bad as the Driscolls marriage. Or the Driscolls found out about an affair or something that revealed these experts were unfit for ministry. Let's back up a bit and look at that earlier claim.
We're supposed to believe that the Driscolls did not have a marriage so bad that it disqualified Mark Driscoll from ministry on the one hand but we're also asked to believe that the Driscoll marriage was so bad that anyone who had a marriage as bad as the Driscoll marriage was not really fit for ministry or to help the Driscolls? Why, then, had Mark Driscoll stayed in ministry and counseled so many couples about sex? Well, it's certainly a pragmatic decision. Driscoll had worked out what his destiny was and has told us it was a divinely given task. As Driscoll mentioned in an Acts29 Q&A in early 2008 he had a history of his gifts outpacing his character and continually outpacing his character. By now, I suppose, many people agree with the gist of this self-appraisal. He keeps demonstrating it to us year after year.
Driscoll is excited that the nets are breaking and the boats are sinking because that means the growth is amazing. I suppose transfer growth is pretty awesome if your goal is growth. Assimilating more and more entities into Mars Hill no doubt is exciting and it must be exciting to now have Jakes at your disposal to learn how to take the numbers of your church to the next level. If along the way a marriage had to be entered into on the basis of some deception of the man wouldn't have obeyed what he knew was God's direct command, well, that was just inevitable and necessary, wasn't it? As Driscoll once recounted of himself and Grace, "We broke some rules but God is faithful."
It would appear that when it comes to what rules are broken, how often, and why there could be a disturbingly consistent set of double standards and special pleading Mark Driscoll measures himself by. His marriage wasn't bad enough to disqualify him from ministry but it was bad enough that no one who had a marriage as bad as he thought his was was qualified to help him sort his out. What kind of man goes to expert after expert in counseling, marital counseling, and mental health and then concludes that every single one of them failed to be qualified to give him any practical insight? Driscoll is apparently very sincere when he said "Had I known this about her I wouldn't have married her."
A corresponding revelation, "Had I known Mark Driscoll was this kind of man ten years earlier I would never have considered him fit to be a pastor" is not a corresponding epiphany Driscoll apparently wants anyone to have. Our failures are grounds for us needing to shut up already while his failures are grounds to "repent" in time to sell a best-selling book telling us how he reverse-engineered his marriage into the best it's ever been. He gets to talk about how Reformed he is while simultaneously opening up the door to learn from Jakes on how to run a church of 30,000. He gets to pillory William Young over The Shack in 2008 and then not feel like pressing Jakes on the Trinity beyond a creed in 2012. He gets to seek advice from Ed Young Jr. in 2007 and tell his church about it and then in 2011 make fun of Ed Young Jr. for overdoing sex in spite of Driscoll's own 2007 Scotland sermon.
There seems to be a principle at work in all this but that principle seems to be pragmatism. If a marriage that doesn't disqualify Mark Driscoll from ministry disqualifies every single Christian counselor and marriage therapist from speaking into his marriage if they have a marrage as bad as his was there are principles there, I guess, but it looks suspiciously like the principles of special pleading and double standards. It is disappointing to see.