Sunday, May 15, 2016

towers of Babel and legacies, a little Pentecost rumination on the dual nature of living for a legacy as a path to sin or love of neighbor

Today being Pentecost (Western calendar anyway), it seems a good day to reflect on what those recorded in Genesis as seeking to make a name for themselves set out to achieve.

It was, in a word, building a legacy.

You may well already know the story and let's not rehearse it if you don't already know the story of the tower project at Babel.

There was something Mike Anderson wrote a few years back about how what he saw at Mars Hill was a kind of tower building enterprise.  It's been interesting to see that comparison come up, because when former staffers from Mars Hill describe what Mark Driscoll was doing as being like building a tower of Babel that is a comparison that ties into a long Christian interpretive tradition that connects the tower of Babel to Babylon the Great in the apocalyptic idiom in Revelation.

It's not like Mark isn't still urging young guys to think in terms of legacy, of living for a legacy.

That is, in a nutshell the strength and core failure of Mark Driscoll's entire public career in ministry.  He may not be open to the thought that a strength is always a corresponding weakness.  Paul wrote that he was told by God that His strength is made perfect in weakness, but Mark Driscoll's last few years would not necessarily bear this out.  For a weakness to be a strength isn't the same as a strength bringing with it a weakness. 

Let's look back on Result Source and the Docent Group research help.  What's the incentive for those?  Legacy, more or less.  Over the years, whatever his initial vision of things was, something changed in Mark Driscoll's career.  There's an ironic clue to that within the title "God's Work, Our Witness".  it's in the word "our".  In spite of the many men and women from the history of Mars Hill who contributed to the film from 2011 there is a sense in which you have to watch that film with an alternate title that may more accurately reflect how Mark Driscoll seemed to come across, "My Empire, My Legacy."  It was all about  Jesus, perhaps, but it was all about a Jesus who gave Mark Driscoll a vision of legacy. 

One of the core stories of our shared faith as Christians is of Abraham and Isaac.  God promised Abraham a legacy  and the tale of the sacrifice of Isaac (which, of course, was thwarted) reminds us that while God promised Abraham a legacy of being the father of nations this promise took a lifetime to fulfill.  Then when the son was granted God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  The God who promises you a legacy can also command you to sacrifice that legacy in obedience to Him.  Precisely why Mark Driscoll or his supporters haven't invoked this analogy is a bit of a mystery. Driscoll mentioned hearing "a trap has been set" but that's about it.

But if we are in Christ then Christ is our legacy.  This could be liberating to us if in it we recognize that we don't have to fret about what our legacy is in a way that inspires us to work as if no one else could secure a legacy for us.  There's no need to get Docent Group research help for you to write books if you recognize that books don't have to be your legacy.  There's no need to take advice to rig the New York Times bestseller list if you recognize that whatever your legacy is, it doesn't require rigging a game. But these kinds of ploys suggest concern for legacy.  I've written this before that over the last twenty years what may have started as a sincere vision of a few guys to build a legacy together that pointed toward Christ slowly transformed into a franchise in which Mark Driscoll became focused on his own legacy--legacy isn't necessarily a bad thing to want but by the time you let the New York Times best seller list get rigged in your favor you have "probably" made legacy an idol.  I believe it was on the altar to the idol of personal legacy leadership at Mars Hill made a sacrifice that destroyed the long term health of what was once called Mars Hill Church.

It's seemed to me over the last few years, particularly in the wake of leaving Mars Hill years ago, that a great deal of harm people do to each other has not come from direct and conscious malice but through people doing what they convinced themselves was the right thing to do for the right reasons. When things didn't quite go as envisioned or the pressure to keep up with one's own metrics of success became too tempting, self-rationalization kicked in. A lot of us made foolish decisions and rather than face up to our foolishness we doubled down on the certainty that what we were doing and why we were doing it were incontestably good. We were working toward a legacy while forgetting that so long as mere mortals are concerned every legacy in some sense unavoidably comes about by the formation and preservation of an empire.  In spite of those among us who convince ourselves we really are free spirits and independent thinkers humanity on the whole seems to tilt toward kool-aid drinking and empire building. 

We all have a potential temptation to go build our own tower of Babel of some kind, to say or do or be something that we'll get noticed for and remembered by. The reason this motive is so seductive is because it is a good and beautiful thing to be remembered and remembered in a positive light. 

What I think came about may be best put this way--Mark spent his life craving a legacy and telling people, but especially young men, to seek a legacy and to live for the sake of a legacy. For those of us who recall that Driscoll said he wanted to start a Bible school, start a record label, start a publishing company, host conferences and all that, all that stuff would have been a fine legacy to shoot for if worked toward in a way that recognizes that we can aspire to but at many profound levels never CONTROL our own legacies. Our legacy, if we are in Christ, is Christ Himself and what history records of us (if anything at all) is not so much in our control.  What we can control, which is more limited in many respects than we might like to believe, is how we treat other people and how we relate to them.

Although this blog has at times been described as a watchblog and some of Mark's fans have seen the blog as being against Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll that's not at all how I see it.  I see the times I've written about the history of Mars Hill as being FOR its people.  It seems good that someone spent some tie to write about the history of Mars Hill in a way that was not just advertising copy and that took seriously the lives and contributions of people connected to Mars Hill who weren't just that one guy who was always on the screen so much. Every so often I wonder about whether or not to try to set everything into an orderly narrative and maybe write a kind of underground history of Mars Hill. It'd only be "underground" in the sense that I don't particularly care what Mark Driscoll might think of a history of Mars Hill that took seriously that it could not have happened the way it did in the early years without Mike Gunn and Lief Moi and others who are not usually named.

But now there kind of is no Mars Hill.  It's one of the things about Mark Driscoll's legacy he has to live with, that the last twenty years of Mars Hill is being regarded by his posse as if it, in many respects, didn't exactly exist.  A legacy is a ffine thing to talk about until that legacy turns out to be one that ends in disaster debacle and shame.  Then it becomes ever so appealing to talk about rising from death.

There's a part about the life of David as king that can be easily ignored or skimmed over.  Yeah, we all heard about David and Bathsheba.  But we hear less about the things that led up to that.  Anybody remember the 2 Samuel 10 part?  There was that back and forth that led to armed conflict.  When the Ammonites found they'd made themselves odious to David they hired troops.  It didn't go so well for them.  But it's background to bear in mind as we get to 2 Samuel 11 and its notorious tale.  It's also good to bear in mind 2 Samuel 12.  For those who didn't read this book ...

Jacob Wright made a fascinating case that what made the siege against the Ammonites unusual in the history of David's reign is that if we bear in mind the Torah and its prohibitions, there were explicit prohibitions against engaging in an aggressive war against Ammonites.  Wars of defense weren't off the table, but attacking Ammonite territory to take it was forbidden.

Deuteronomy 2:19
When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot."

It's worth noting when we get to the famous 2 Samuel 11:1
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

There are, a bit mysteriously, those who would defend David's sending of Joab to wage war against the Ammonites and besiege Rabbah.  Maybe it was bad that David delegated his kingly duties of fighting battles and if he'd been on the battle lines he might not have been tempted by Bathsheba, but the legitimacy of the war itself isn't up for question. 
Or is it? Let's consider the possibility that in light of the warning in Deuteronomy to not aggressively go to war against Ammonites because Yahweh would not give Israel possession of their lands ... what did David think he was going to accomplish sending Joab out in war against Rabbah?

In other words, what if the author of the biblical text tipped us off that since David was already seeking to take lands that, had he appreciated the word of the Lord he should not have taken action against, why wouldn't he decide to seize for himself someone who was not lawfully his closer to home?

Let's consider the part so many skip past or don't even bother to mention, the part at the end of 2 Samuel 12:

26Meanwhile Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and captured the royal citadel. 27Joab then sent messengers to David, saying, “I have fought against Rabbah and taken its water supply. 28Now muster the rest of the troops and besiege the city and capture it. Otherwise I will take the city, and it will be named after me.”

29So David mustered the entire army and went to Rabbah, and attacked and captured it. 30David took the crown from their king’s head, and it was placed on his own head. It weighed a talente of gold, and it was set with precious stones. David took a great quantity of plunder from the city 31and brought out the people who were there, consigning them to labor with saws and with iron picks and axes, and he made them work at brickmaking. David did this to all the Ammonite towns. Then he and his entire army returned to Jerusalem.
When David hears from Joab that if he doesn't come officially finish the job of conquering Rabbah that Joab would name the conquered city after himself that tells us something, that just as David saw fit to take a woman who was not his wife for himself, he was willing to take the city of Rabbah himself so that it was not named after Joab's victory.

David had set his heart on taking what was not lawfully his BEFORE he took a man's wife and had that guy killed.  Jacob Wright's observation is worth repeating, that the turning point in David's reign (and one for the worse) was when David stopped fighting battles in the interest of the Israelite people at large and started fighting battles he shouldn't have been fighting for ... what?

His personal legacy.

It's not like we never come across David concerned for his life and how people think about him in the Psalms ... but we'll leave that aside having merely mentioned it.

To 1 Corinthians 13-14 all of this, if your great motivator in Christian ministry is a personal legacy or a family legacy, stop.  Quit.  Bail on that.  If what motivates you in Christian ministry is that the legacy you want to further is the love of Christ for the whole world and for those who put their faith in Christ.  Okay ... maybe keep doing that. 

A king who serves out of love for the people is a king whose legacy will be fairly secure; a king who fights to win glory for himself will at a few different times, eventually, get remembered as a jerk. David came to regret what he had done but Nathan's rebuke included a warning, because he'd despised the word of the Lord and seized what was not rightfully his the sword would never depart from his house.  At the risk of going all Yoda here, once you take the dark path forever will it influence your destiny. Once David took the path of self-glorification and the creation of a legacy for himself instead of serving the people it permanently altered the course of his kingdom.  There were plenty of signs the united monarchy wouldn't last; the census at the end of David's reign led to a plague and in the end his final years were marked by subterfuge and deceit within his own house.  David's last words were warnings to kill threats real or imagined against a unified monarchy. David was a man after God's own heart ... but ... that didn't mean that David wasn't concerned about his personal legacy in ways that led him to do things that were disobedient to the Lord. No matter how directly divine you may think your "calling" is, it is absolutely no assurance that you will not at some point choose a selfish and evil thing in the pursuit of a personal legacy. If even David was guilty of it how easily could you or I or someone else succumb?  Very, very easily.

Whether or not Mark Driscoll is ultimately a Christian isn't something I see reason to talk about.  We could assume for sake of consideration that his Christian faith is not in doubt any more than Christians doubt that David was one of the saints of old.  But that Mark Driscoll made a series of ultimately catastrophic decisions or allowed those decisions to be made on behalf of his personal legacy at the expense of the survival of what was once Mars Hill seems ... fairly easy to establish. It's not even exactly an irony at this point that in making the decisions he made he kind of destroyed the legacy he'd been working on with others over the last twenty years. If Mars Hill became a tower of Babel as some have proposed, then it might be that God providentially came down and sowed the seeds of its death so that having preached "legacy" for decades Mark Driscoll might be confronted with the possibility that you and I and he can't just make our legacy be whatever it is we will for it to be.

The extent to which he's eager to start another church with a bigger building than his start-up from twenty years ago and eager to stay in media saturation mode makes it hard to take seriously the idea tha the's repented of anything.  Even how he left Mars Hill can seem as if it were informed by a desire to preserve his personal reputation and legacy to a point where he could, since he wanted to, re:boot his career.

But the scriptures tell us that just because a guy is empowered by God to accomplish something in a supernatural way doesn't mean that persists.  The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, for instance.  Samson did not realize when the strength of the Lord had left him because he allowed his hair to be cut.  The seventy elders Moses had appointed (who remembers them?) prophesied ... but that did not continue. One of the most dangerous misunderstandings about the activity of the Spirit in the scriptures is that whatever the Spirit is described as doing can be construed as both normative and as continuing.  We should not assume that just because mark has talked about how he was called by God to do X Y and Z that this calling may remain in place.  It's not like there's no precedent in the Bible itself for God to raise up someone for a task who failed at it and who was then cast aside in favor of someone else who was more obedient to the Lord.  That's how David got his job.  But even David proved susceptible to the temptation of legacy.

Number Two, the flesh. The world is your external enemy, the flesh is your internal enemy and I want you to see how these work together.

Your flesh (internally) has sinful desires, rebellious proclivities and the world continually provides opportunities for sin in the flesh.  One of my favorites on this is the Puritan Thomas Brookes. He's got a book, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. I think he's one of the greatest puritan writers. He's just a very skilled writer. And he uses this analogy which I really like, I use it sometimes in my preaching--and that is that you need to see your flesh as a hook and you need to see the world as bait. I'm paraphrasing. That in you there are wicked desires and in the world there are wicked opportunities to feed those desires and they work together and all Satan wants to do is bait your hook with whatever feeds your flesh. So he'll take anything from the world, put it on the hook of your flesh.  As long as you bite he doesn't care. Satan will give people sex, money, fame, power, glory. He'll give them whatever they want. He doesn't care because his whole goal is to get them to bite and then reel them into destruction and death.

If you're a fisherman you know it's that way. Fisherman know fish are not the most brilliant of creatures and depending on what fish you're trying to catch that determines what bait you put on the hook and you drop it in and you wait for one that is foolish enough to bite thinking they're going to feast and then you feast on them.  That's how Satan works. The key is with yourself and the people that you counsel to really come to the place of honesty about the hooks in the flesh.  [emphasis added] What is, what is the hook that you're most prone to bite on?  Is it sex? Is it drugs? Is it alcohol? Is it money? Is it pride? Is it comfort? What does Satan like to bait your hook with because it tends to be where you most frequently bite.

And when we're speaking of flesh, we're talking not just of your physical body--a misunderstanding of that word in some translations (they really confuse this) the flesh is not just your physical body, your flesh is your internal resistance to God. It's rebellion. It's that Adamic seed. It's that corrupt aspect. We're made in God's image; were image bearers; we sin; we become marred, stained, effected by sin; we still bear God's image and when we become a Christian we get a new heart and a new nature and a power through the Holy Spirit (the great doctrine of regeneration) but we still have flesh. We still have fleshly desires, fleshly yearnings. They don't completely go away until we're glorified (right?), we die, we rise, and we start over, as it were. But Christians still have fleshly desires.

Sadly, it seems that Mark Driscoll may have forgotten that one of those fleshly desires can be legacy, and if we had any moments of forgetfulness, the lectionary reading today can help us out.

Genesis 11:1-4, 8
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, a they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

So if a Christian has a fleshly desire for legacy how does one put that fleshly desire for legacy to death in practical ways? Can it be done?  Or can re-orienting our desires to be subordinate to the love of Christ and neighbor be of any help?  Paul warned that without love gifts are mere noise. We may have just seen how in just a few short years God providentially dismantled a legacy that had been taking decades in the making in Seattle. If Mark Driscoll's still calling himself a Calvinist he can't really get around this matter by trying to blame Satan.  And even if a spirit of calamity had some part in the dissolution of Mars Hill, Judges 9 should be reminder enough that, as we've discussed before, the range of Old Testament narratives about evil spirits sent against leaders of God's people tends to play out with this pattern where God authorizes demons or spirits of calamity to bring disaster on men who arrogate power to themselves to serve themselves and their own legacies rather than to serve the people.

Legacy is a paradoxical thing in humans.  It's both the thing that seems most noble and most nasty about us.

POTSCRIPT 05-16-2016

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?

1 comment:

chris e said...

There's a certain lack of awareness that runs deep. The idea that a 'legacy' turn bad seems to have occupied the thoughts of neo-calvinist pastors in search of a legacy very briefly, if at all.

Kind of like those twitter bios by people described as 'pastor .., father .., husband ..' whose feeds rail against functional idolatry.