Wednesday, September 10, 2014

a proposal for consideration, Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church and the idol of legacy

Part 22 of 1st Corinthians
Pastor Mark Driscoll | 1 Corinthians 10:1-14 | June 18, 2006

Here’s the tricky part: Figuring out what your idols are. Let me give you an example. Let’s say for example, you define for yourself a little Hell. For you, Hell is being poor. For you, your definition of Hell is being ugly. For you, your definition of Hell is being fat. For you, your definition of Hell is being unloved. For you, your definition of Hell is being unappreciated. That fear of that Hell then compels you to choose for yourself a false savior god to save you from that Hell. And then you worship that false savior god in an effort to save yourself from your self-described Hell. So, some of you are single. Many of you are unmarried. For you, Hell is being unmarried and your savior will be a spouse. And so you keep looking for someone to worship, to give yourself to so that they will save you. For some of you, you are lonely and your Hell is loneliness, and so you choose for yourself a savior, a friend, a group of friends or a pet because you’ve tried the friends and they’re not dependable. And you worship that pet. You worship that friend. You worship that group of friends. You will do anything for them because they are your functional savior, saving you from your Hell. That is, by definition, idolatry. It is having created people and created things in the place of the creator God for ultimate allegiance, value and worth.

So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get incredibly personal. This will get painfully uncomfortable if I do my job well. I’m going to ask you some probing questions. We’re going to try to get to the root of your idols and mine and I am guilty. I was sitting at breakfast this morning. My wife said, “So what is your idol?” I was like, “Hey, I’m eating breakfast! Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk about that.” I’m the pastor. I preach. I don’t get preached at. Eating bacon. Don’t ruin it. You know, it’s going good., And I told her, I said, “Honey, I think for me, my idol is victory.” Man, I am an old jock. More old than jock, lately, but I – I’m a guy who is highly competitive. Every year, I want the church to grow. I want my knowledge to grow. I want my influence to grow. I want our staff to grow. I want our church plants to grow. I want everything – because I want to win. I don’t want to just be where I’m at. I don’t want anything to be where it’s at. And so for me it is success and drivenness and it is productivity and it is victory that drives me constantly. I – that’s my own little idol and it works well in a church because no one would ever yell at you for being a Christian who produces results. So I found the perfect place to hide. [emphasis added]

And I was thinking about it this week. What if the church stopped growing? What if we shrunk? What if everything fell apart? What if half the staff left? Would I still worship Jesus or would I be a total despairing mess? I don’t know. By God’s grace, I won’t have to find out, but you never know. So we’re going to look for your idols, too. Some questions. Think about it. Be honest with me. What are you most afraid of? What is your greatest fear? See, that probably tells you what your idol is. Sometimes your idol is the thing that you’re scared of not having, not being, not doing. What are you scared of? You scared that you’ll be alone? Are you scared that no one will ever love you? Are you scared that you will be found out that you’re not all that smart? Are you scared that you’ll be stuck in the same dead-end job forever? What are you afraid of?
Let's propose that Mark Driscoll's words about himself be brought back to mind, that he said his idol is victory.  That may be true, but it may also only be half right?

"What do you mean?" you may ask.  Well, why do victories even matter?  Didn't Driscoll at one point remark that video games are stupid victories in a realm of activity that doesn't matter?  Not just any victories will suffice for him.  He said he wanted more influence, more success, more people saved. 

Yet we must risk asking the obvious question, is all of that really about victory or is it about something else?  How about "Living for a Legacy".

But then whose legacy do we live for?  If it was all about Jesus then what was the point of getting Result Source Inc involved in promoting Real Marriage to begin with?  Why would Jesus need their help?  Whose message was spread abroad that way?  The message of Jesus?  You can find that in a King James Bible if you want.  It was Mark and Grace Driscoll's message about marriage, which is not necessarily an altogether bad thing ... but it's still not exactly Jesus, is it?  Whose name was made famous by signing that contract?

Wenatchee recently finished reading Jacob Wright's book about David, Caleb and Judahite Memory.  It's a remarkable book and in it Wright points out that David waged a war with the Ammonite city Rabah, besieging it.  If you cast about for a few passages in Deuteronomy 2, though, you'll see that God warned Israel to not harass or make war with the Ammonites because God would not give them a possession of the lands of a descendant of Lot.  It is important to bear in mind that while everybody talks about David and Bathsheba nearly everybody forgets that David was waging a military campaign delegated to Joab to conquer an Ammonite city when if he knew the Mosaic law he should have known better than to do that. 

Why did he do it?  The narrative lets us know, Ammonites made a mockery of David's courtesy and overtures of comfort out of distrust.  David, for his part, took to war, a war that ended with David finally fighting himself and having himself crowned with the crown of Milcom.  Jacob Wright points out that this larger narrative reveals that David was fighting a war now not for the national interests of Israel or Judah but over personal renown and glory.  It was the kind of war a king took up to make a name for himself and it was in this context, Wright proposes, that David fought a war that displayed royal immodesty.  David's reign descended into coups and chaos and disaster from that point on and ended with David quelling insurrections with his professional army and then taking up a disastrous census that led to the deaths of tens of thousands and on his deathbed David enjoined Solomon to break promises for him that he realized would be politically inexpedient to keep.  What was the starting point of all that chaos and madness? 

Was it really David and Bathsheba?   No, it started earlier than that when David took the power of royalty and royal office as a basis for magnifying himself rather than serving the people. Even though David loved the Lord it was, arguably, an obsession with legacy that simultaneously vaunted him on to the stage of the ancient near east and also into the chaos that brought his reign to a rather miserable end. David had to remember that his legacy was not through the designs he had and the battles he won but the faithful promise of God.  If the quest to start a war over personal glory and renown was ultimately disastrous for King David ... who wrote psalms and was regarded as a prophet then ...

Driscoll's made no secret since the founding of Mars Hill he's been aiming for legacy.  He wanted the music label and the Bible college.  He's wanted to see steady growth.  The problem may be that he wants a legacy and the problem with legacies is that ultimately you can never control what a legacy may be or even if you ultimately have one.  Driscoll's legacy may be to be forgotten within a single generation by any but his relatives.  Didn't James warn in an epistle against speaking too confidently of the future?  Some have called for Driscoll to step down because they consider him unfit for ministry but there's a positive way of framing that, if Mars Hill is truly a church that belongs to and was founded by Jesus then let Driscoll step down to prove it, to prove that the spiritual community will survive and thrive just fine without him because it isn't Mark Driscoll's church in the end, is it?  Not if everything he's tried to tell everyone in the last 18 years has any shred of truth at all to it.

But the problem is that while a legacy can be good it was also the driving motive to build a tower at the plain of Shinar, the old tower of Babel.  Babylon.  It's not as though the history of Christianity in the West isn't chock full of people who were persuaded they were the one true church who were eventually described as Babylon.  Protestant/Catholic "dialogue" on that set of topics got pretty violent, after all.  The scriptures are a double-edged sword.  We could invoke them to say we are experiencing trials because of satanic attack or that the suffering is the just discipline we receive for our sins.  Leaders can talk about how opposition or discord comes from the Enemy and yet the scriptures reveal that in the Old Testament spirits of calamity and discord got sent out by the Lord to correct and punish wicked and self-seeking leaders.  Yes, a double-edged sword, which is why Wenatchee is loathe to pronounce judgments of the sort so many on so many sides have taken on their lips.

Some have suggested, not without cause, that Driscoll and company were too eager to grow too fast too soon.  Yes, Wenatchee made that point privately in 2008 and it was not considered.  But what if the problem is deeper and graver than that, that the legacy Mark Driscoll wants to see is one's he's been determined to see within his own lifetime.  The problem with that is not necessarily wanting a legacy but with wanting to see it in one's own lifetime because that is where the temptation to walk by sight and not by faith comes in.  There's no particular reason that for Jesus' fame Mark Driscoll should have even been writing books to begin with but for Mark Driscoll's legacy ... .  There's no particular reason to have been so sloppy in the citations and credits for half a dozen books since the dawn of Mark Driscoll's publishing career but for the sake of a legacy it would look good to be able to say he wrote all sorts of books while being crazy busy like the apostle Paul.  Even the recent apologetic tone couches the apology in terms of a legacy that Mark Driscoll hopes to be remembered by.

It may be telling that as the decades have rolled by the legacy of Mars Hill as a fellowship of Christians has turned into the story of Mars Hill Church and while God's Work, Our Witness had a lot of first person plural whose story was it consistently returning to?  Who was narrating the primary story?  Whose story has increasingly defined and dominated the narrative of the community that has called itself Mars Hill?  When's the last time Mark Driscoll mentioned Mike Gunn or Lief Moi?  For all the talk at his resignation of how there would have to be a chapter about Jamie Munson when's the last time Mark Driscoll mentioned Jamie Munson?  Whose legacy has the story of Mars Hill been about?  Jesus?  Well ... maybe ... but it's been striking how superfluous so many crucial people in the history of Mars Hill have become, people who were supportive of Mark's advocacy for legacy, who are now names scrubbed from the official history.

That might be a hint that it is the legacy that is the real idol. 

Would Mark Driscoll serve Jesus even if it meant no earthly legacy anyone remembered?  Or would have find some other way to have a legacy?  That is a question that, so far, no one has even asked.  But the question of whether or not a man could have a legacy and a name in spite of having no earthly means to do so was one that struck the prophet Isaiah.  It may first be appropriate to consult Mark Driscoll on the technical definition of a eunuch.
Jesus Has a Better Kingdom
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Esther 1:10–22
September 21, 2012
about 8:39 into the sermon.

Number two, men are castrated. Men are castrated. I’ll read it for you. “He commanded—” and these guys got names. “Mehuman—” That’s kind of a rapper name, I was thinking, like, ancient Persian hip-hop artist, Mehuman. That’s how it’s spelled. “Biztha.” Sounds like a sidekick. “Harbona, Bigtha.” That’s my personal favorite. If I had to pick a Persian name, Bigtha. Definitely not Littletha. I would totally go with Bigtha. “Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas.”

Okay, a couple things here. The Bible talks about real people, real circumstances, real history. That’s why they’re facts. It’s not just philosophy. Number two, if you ever have an opportunity to teach the Bible and you hit some of the parts with the old, crazy names, read fast and confident. No one knows how to pronounce them, and they’ll just assume you do.

Here are these guys. So, you’ve got seven guys, “the seven eunuchs.” What’s a eunuch? A guy who used to have a good life, and joy, and hope. That’s the technical definition of a eunuch. A eunuch is a man who is castrated. [emphasis added] Proceeding with the story before I have to fire myself.
A future hope, perhaps?  An eternal future hope or a revocable living trust?  Well, see, by Driscoll's jokes, the eunuchs were the guys who used to have a good life, and joy, and hope before they were castrated, emasculated, and why?  Because while eunuchs (and Nehemiah was probably one) had prestige in the royal court they had no legacy because they were prevented from having heirs and if you had no heirs you had no legacy as conventionally understood.  If you had no lineage with land holdings in the region you also didn't have a legacy to speak of in many cases. And as Wenatchee has established in various ways, Mars Hill is certainly interested in real estate and Driscoll praised his friend James MacDonald as having the spiritual gift of real estate acquisition.  But for a eunuch, no heirs, no legacy. 

In one of his sermons John Donne noted the early divines observed that the first man named all the animals but did not name himself, a sign that the human heart does not observe itself so clearly as it observes what is around it.  There is a sense in which no one can necessarily discern the idol in his or her own heart, which is why the fellowship of believers, followers of Christ, is precious.  You or I may not even know what our idols are that another may see.  If you've read this far, consider that the idol of Mark Driscoll might not be what he's said it is, victory, but legacy.  What if that was the idol of Abraham?  What if that was why Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son, so that Abraham would show through obedience he was willing to sacrifice who he thought was going to be his legacy to the God who made the promise to give him a legacy? 

But the prophet Isaiah wrote that the Lord had something to say to the eunuchs, who could legitimately have a lament that they had no legacy for their time and place.  They would die and be forgotten.  Isaiah gives to them a promise from the Lord.

Isaiah 56: 3-5 (NIV)
Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.

Are there any eunuchs or places for eunuchs in the gospel that Mark Driscoll preaches?  Are there places for those who have no legacies or does Driscoll aim to preach a good news that is about legacy first and about Jesus as a means to such a legacy?  Repenting of idolatry and of worshipping your idols is important, about that Wenatchee would agree with Driscoll ... but what if Mark Driscoll has misdiagnosed what his idol may be?  If he's still fighting now to preserve his legacy and that turns out to be his idol then all is not well.  Things could be worse now than they were before.  We can't be sure.  Paradoxically a resurgent star for Mark Driscoll could be the worst thing that can happen both for the Christian community and also for Mark Driscoll if legacy is his idol and not just victory. After all, victory is usually just the means to an end.

The days that come will give the world a chance to find out whether the legacy that Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll are fighting for is really for the legacy of Christ or for the legacy and renown of Mark Driscoll because the last two year's worth of controversy suggest that these two legacies are not necessarily one and the same. The legacy of one might have to die so that the legacy of the other might be lifted up and that is obviously a scary prospect for a man who has said for decades what he believes God commanded him to do. God promised the birth of the son Isaac ... but then also commanded the sacrifice. 


vineland said...

Just a couple of comments on comparing Driscoll to David - Driscoll is a Saul figure, not a David figure. We have evidence later on that David didn't have the complete Torah - it is found later in the temple, but it isn't clear that the Ark is ever open during the reign of the pre-temple kings. That would mean details in the Mosaic law wouldn't have been known and certainly not when David was run out of Israel by Saul. It isn't like today where there are copies of books on every corner. Yeah, David was a warrior king, as all Late Bronze Age kings were. That cost him the chance to build God his temple - a place where the presence of God dwelt. But, it is sort of irrelevant if David is fighting an Ammorite or not, he wouldn't have known the Law's difference, he reacts as a Late Bronze Age king would, he punches back. Far too many men died under David's reign, sure, but that blood on his hands cost him the temple.

There is no chastisement of David by God for specifically picking on the Ammorites. It is a non-issue. Too much time is spent trying to make God's Deuteronic laws have connections to the non-Torah parts of the Old Testament. Too much time in the whole Calvinist camp is spent trying to make various OT greats into failed figures by tying in a Mosaic infraction. The point of the King David stories are to show a man who would lead Israel the way God told him to, once he was King. When he failed in a big way - and God saw the killing of Uriah as a big issue (justice, racism/ethnicism, etc.)- God punished him. The whole Ammorite issue is a non-issue here. The whole comparison of David and Driscoll rings off key, Driscoll would be a Saul in this story, not a David. Saul is the real power-hoarder, not David. David is contrite when he kills Uriah, mourns when he loses the chance to build God's temple. God isn't even bothering to correct Mark, he is just in free-fall (a far worse place to be) with no to little remorse. Still firing pastors who speak up, not coming clean on his plagiarism, insulting people who point out his faults (like Janet Mefford, he owes her an apology, for it is her that showed the world what was going on with his books, and integrity).

I think we miss that Saul was also called by God to be King, but then God was grieved that he called him. Even if Driscoll was called by God, it doesn't mean it is a life-time guarantee. God can be grieved that he chose Driscoll. I feel this needs to be pushed back a little because Driscoll is not a "David" to Christianity, even his supporters like Tim Keller and Tim Challis are starting to admit he had huge flaws in his Christian walk early on that have only been exacerbated. King David, on the other hand, became more and more focused on God during his reign. God never corrected his late Bronze Age thuggery style rule, but then, he was looking for a place to plant his own son't birth in this world, and David's focus on God alone in the end. David was King till he died, dying rulers always gave random last-minuet orders from their death beds, even Isaac gives weird orders for blessings from his death bed. It is just an ancient way, not something to tie into David being a legacy builder - he wasn't out for himself, but for God. Saul was out for himself, it is important to recognize the difference, too bad that author missed it.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Proposing that David might not have had access to Deuteronomy would be simple if one ran with either or both of the following notions:

1. Deuteronomy may not have even been written until Josiah's reform
(a pretty common secular/liberal view)

2. David didn't have access to Deuteronomy because he's a figment of national imagination
(also pretty common these days)

But if you reject even one, let alone both, of those premises then proposing that David didn't have access to Deuteronomy introduces a pretty phenomenal burden of proof, doesn't it? Is that where you're coming from? Assuming David actually existed and that Deuteronomy reflects Mosaic authorship?