About a week and a half ago we looked back on how Mark Driscoll recounted the story of his conversion in a 1992 op-ed he wrote for The Daily Evergreen. He provided what was ultimately a boilerplate narrative of "I tried to prove Christianity wrong and became a Christian." It was notable mainly for who he neglected to mention, Grace Martin and her family. For as often as Driscoll shared that God told him to marry Grace, teach the Bible, reach young men and plant churches, one of the earliest accounts has no mention of Grace or her family. To go back and read that if you haven't already, here's the link for that stuff.
But that was the conversion narrative in 1992 tailored to a polemical question as to whether Mark Driscoll was perceived by his peers as a fundamentalist Christian because he was raised that way, back when Mark Driscoll was writing for The daily Evergreen. A decade later in a new millennium, when the subject was the distinction between faith and works in a sermon it wasn't some Christian guy in a dorm that Mark wanted to disprove the Bible to that catalyzed his conversion. Not that that guy necessarily didn't have a role to play, but you can read the sermon transcript here to see that in 2002 Driscoll's account of how he came to a conversion experience involved a conversation with a drunk fratboy.
FAITH AND WORKS
Part 4 of Galatians
Pastor Mark Driscoll
June 02, 2002
And my misunderstanding was this: I thought that as long as you believed in God and you were a good person, then God would love you and you would go to Heaven. That’s what I thought. And if you would have asked me, you know, when I was up until the age of 18 or 19, “Are you a Christian?” I would’ve said, “Yes, and a Christian is someone who believes in God and is a good person.” And that’s what I thought. Until a drunken frat guy shattered my world with one decent question, and God uses anything. He used a drunken frat guy, who was like a seventh year sophomore to absolutely upset my theological worldview. [emphasis added]
So in this account from 2002 the catalyst wasn't the Christian guy in the dorm Mark Driscoll was in that he mentioned in his 1992 op-ed at The Daily Evergreen, it was a drunk frat guy who zinged him with a question. Let's assume that both the Christian guy in the dorm and the drunk frat guy both existed. The observation here is that Mark Driscoll's stories of his conversion tend to be tailored to the rhetorical point he intends to make in a given context and that details of biography that aren't germane to that point get glossed over or simply aren't mentioned at all. Driscoll explained himself further in the 2002 sermon:
I did not drink because I made a list of rules to declare myself self-righteous. So, I said, “Why, I’m gonna be a good person.” I made this little list of things that I thought a good person should be. I won’t lie. I won’t steal. I won’t cheat. I won’t drink. I won’t smoke. I won’t, you know, beat anyone up who doesn’t deserve it. I won’t – I had this list of things that I would do and not do, and I would declare myself “good.” That is the essence of works and self-righteousness. That was basically my worldview. “I make my rules, and I live up to them. I’m a great guy.” [emphasis added]
Now before we move along with the rest of this story we need to remember something. Did Mark Driscoll not mention in a sermon from 2001 that he did, in fact, lie on an occasion to get something he wanted?
starting at 54:45
Proverbs 29:21, “If a man pampers his servant from youth, he will bring grief in the end.” These guys are pampered; totally pampered. Okay? And again, this is not a boasting on me. This is a – this is actually a tribute to my dad. I was eleven years old. I was going out for the little league all-star team, and I needed a new glove. My dad said, “Good. Go make some money.” I said, “Hey, dad, I’m eleven.” He said, “Well, you’re taller than the lawn-mower. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” True. So, I get the lawn-mower, and I go and I mow lawns to get my glove. And I come back and my dad says, “You owe me gas money. You used my gas.” It’s the nicest thing my dad ever did. Up until that point, I didn’t know gas cost money. Now, I do. Now, I appreciate gas.It comes to the point where I’m 15 and I wanna get a car. I said, “Dad, I need a car.” He says, “Good. Go get some money.” I said, “Okay, fine.” So, I falsified my birth certificate, I lie about my age, and I get a job at a 7-11 selling lotto tickets and liquor and cigarettes to people that are twice my age. I was not a Christian, so – I shouldn’t have done it anyways, but I wasn’t a Christian. And so, I’m 15, working at a 7-11 selling stuff. And I make a decent living, and I buy my first car, a 1956 Chevy that I should’ve never sold. That’s a whole other sermon. And – and so I’m 15, driving myself to work without a license, because I gotta go make money to pay for my car. [emphasis added] Okay? And again, I was not a Christian. Okay? So, I’m not saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”
So ... did you catch that in the 2001 sermon he described how he was not a Christian? Of course you did. And for the 2002 sermon he said that if you'd ask him if he thought he was a Christian he would have said he was and had reasons for it. The simple explanation here is that Driscoll considered himself some kind of good-enough sort to be a Christian or a Catholic, but that the Driscoll who made his name as a Protestant would say he wasn't a Christian at the time. America has no real shortage of Protestants who look back on their days as altar boys and decide they weren't really on Jesus' team. Driscoll just happens to be one of them.
So, Driscoll may have had to do some soul-searching about how he had, in fact, lied about some stuff to get ahead. Ironically Driscoll mentioned that story in a sermon where he lamented that some guys take shortcuts.
And I realize that, since I was young and I was strong, I could make more money. And so I started dinking around trying to figure out where to make more money. And I find out that guys in unions make a lot of money. And – at least compared to me working at the 7-11. And I got tired of getting robbed and held-up, too. ‘Cause if you run a 7-11 behind a Déjà vu, somebody’s gonna put a gun at your head. And after a couple of those, you realize, “For minimum wage, I’m not taking a cap. You know? I’m not gonna get shot for, like, a pack of cigarettes. I’m not gonna do that.” So, I lied about my age. I falsified my birth certificate again, and told them I was 18. Got a job working long-shoring down on the docks in Seattle. And I would go throw 100-pound sacks of peas, and unload trucks, and work hard. And they paid me tremendous money. [emphasis added] At the time, it was like $10.00-something an hour. This was, like, in 1986 or ’87 or something. And I’d work 40 hours a week, and over-time was double-time. And none of the guys would wanna work over-time. Usually it was on Friday, ‘cause they had to get containers out, and those guys all wanted to go to the topless club.
And so, I would work all the over-time at $20.00 an hour as a 16 year old kid. This is in the mid-‘80s. Right? So, I’m loaded. I have money, money, money, money. So, I buy a car, and I start saving for college, doing my stuff. And with my dad – I thank God for my dad. My dad’s like, “You’re a guy. You work. You pay your way. Good. It’s good for you.” And you know what? He’s right. He was totally right. Thank God for my dad. My brother and my other brother and myself, we’re all doing great, making good money, doing fine. My brothers are all in management leadership running companies or businesses. It’s great. You pamper a guy from his youth, and he just – he gets this course of action. All of the sudden he feels like if his hands are dirty, or his muscles are sore, or if he put-in a long day, or thought something was tough, that’s unusual; that’s abnormal. And so, he avoids it.
For the moment we're just going to note that in this 2001 sermon Mark said he made good money and was doing fine, although in a 2006 book he'd mention something or other about not having a credit rating good enough to buy an outhouse.
So, now, let's get back to the 2002 sermon where he recounted his epiphany about faith and works because a drunk frat guy asked him a question:
So, I had these rules, and one of my rules was I won’t drink because then God will look down and say, “Well, I’m going to pick Mark for my team because he’s such a great guy.” After all, I was.
So, what happened was I was at a frat party in college, which is not the typical place that God shows up in powerful, illuminating, theological acumen. But this drunken frat guy came up, and he said, “Here. Drink a beer.” And I said, “No, I don’t drink.” He said, “Why?” I said, “I’m a good person.” (Laughter)
And he said, “Well, why do you want to be a good person?” I said, “Because I believe in God, and I’m a good person.” He said, “Well, Jesus drank,” which is about the only part of the Bible he really knew. That and, “Thou shalt not judge.” He put those two verses together, and he’d come up with alcoholism. But anyway. (Laughter)
I said, “No, I’m a good person.” He said, “So, how do you know you’re gonna go to Heaven?” I said, “I know I’m gonna go to Heaven because I’m a good person.” And he asked this question that shattered my world. He was basically mocking me, trying to get me to drink. And he said, “Well, how good do you have to be to go to Heaven?” I thought, “I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t know.” And he said, “Do you have to be good all the time? And if you’re not good some days, does that cancel your bad days, and who makes the rules, and how do you know what’s good and bad?” He was just sort of in a drunken stupor rambling, but it was a really good question, I felt, particularly considering his condition. [emphasis added]
I said, “I don’t know,” and I started thinking about that. How good do I have to be? How moral do I have to be, and who determines the morality? Do my good days cancel my bad days, and did my sins cancel my obedience? And I started getting really muddy about where I was at. Up until this point I thought, “I’m a good guy. I’m a great guy.” And then I realized, “Well, maybe I’m not good enough.”
Just consider the wisdom and shrewdness of Mark Driscoll that in this story it was a drunk frat guy asking a question that spurred Mark Driscoll into depths of introspection. It's almost as if Mark Driscoll were an Augustine considering what he had done to a pear tree or something.
And so, what I decided was, “I’ll read the Bible to get all the rules, and then I’ll do them to make sure that I’m a good guy.” Okay. Now my wife, she was my girlfriend at the time. Moral of the story is if a woman gives you a Bible, give her a ring. She gave me this Bible as a graduation present from high school, and I started reading the Bible.
Oh! So NOW in the 2002 narrative Grace becomes a substantial supporting character in the conversion narrative! She was never mentioned once in the 1992 account for The Daily Evergreen. Driscoll didn't even make much effort to explain how he got a Bible, and just mentioned that he had not owned or read a Bible until he was in college. So whereas in 1992 he read through the New Testament to prove the Christian guy wrong, in the 2002 narrative he read through the New Testament looking for good people in the hopes he could count himself a good person, too:
I started reading the New Testament, and the first time through I hated it. It made no sense at all. It sounded like everyone was bad, and I kept looking for the good people to figure out what they were doing. And even the people that I thought were good at the end of it ended up killing God, and I didn’t think that necessarily proved that they were good people.
So, I kept reading and reading, and I got through the whole New Testament and I couldn’t find any good people. And I couldn’t find any way to declare myself good, which really troubled me.
And there you have it, a 2002 account in which Mark Driscoll said he thought he really was a Christian because he laid out the rules he felt you needed to follow to be a good person, he felt he pretty much followed them and that meant he was basically a Christian. Okay and yet there's nothing here about that residence hall Christian guy who bugged Driscoll so much he just told the guy he really was a Christian from the 1992 Daily Evergreen piece. Neither account highlights a point that Driscoll would bring up later about how he was an altar boy and an arty jock in 2013, yet another decade later.
Maybe he doesn't look back on himself as having been a Jesus-loving Catholic altar boy but the observation presented for your consideration is that Driscoll saw fit to mention that he even was an altar boy as part of establishing what he considered his credentials to be regarding the arts. Not entirely unlike his claims about having been a professional journalist, indeed even more so, Mark Driscoll's self-attested artistic streak can come across as all hat and no cattle.
Unless we're counting Mark Driscoll's artful ways in fashioning narratives from the pulpit it's a little tough to know when he's sketched anything with pen or pencil. Which mediums did he experiment with? Did he find water color dried too fast? Did he find acrylic paint hard to control? Did he find oil paints just right on every point of use except for the atrocious smell? Did he experiment with ceramics and discover he was all thumbs whereas pen and pencil worked for him? Did Driscoll admire Bill Watterson and Rembrant? Oh, ah, no, that's just some reminiscing about an earlier time decades ago for me. I trust you get my concern--if Driscoll experimented with different mediums it would seem like he'd have had something to share about those experiments.
Keep in mind, when comparing these narratives the tension is not in the reported events. The facts (whatever they are) can still be the facts. That Driscoll in 2002 could say in a sermon he didn't lie or steal, however, becomes slightly more difficult to square with his matter-of-fact claim that he fudged his birth year to get a job. By Driscoll's account he lied about his age to get a job so he could get a vehicle he proceeded to drive without a license and all that was back when he wasn't a Christian ... in the 2001 sermon.
But for the 2002 sermon he talks about how if you'd asked him if he was a Christian he would have said he totally was because he had not been confronted with the distinction between faith and works by the drunk frat guy's question yet. That would come later. The part where Driscoll assumed he was good enough because he followed his own rules, that part's not too hard to believe.
Comparing the 2001 and 2002 sermons highlights what a difference a year makes, not least when the point you're trying to make in a sermon requires a substantially different tone of personal narrative to illustrate a point. It's just a shame that the stories Mark Driscoll shared to show how industrious he became in response to the wisdom of his dad show that his early career was, if we take Driscoll's account at face value (and, perhaps, we shouldn't) he took quite a few shortcuts on being honest about his age, driving without a license, and so on. He shared stories that showed that even if he urged other men to not take shortcuts he shared the shortcuts he took to get to the point where he had money, money, money.
People can be complex and multi-faceted, obviously. It's just that between the 1992 story Mark gave for his conversion and the 2002 story he gave for his conversion we get the 1992 Mark saying he wasn't a Christian and he became a real Christian trying to debunk the Bible. In the 2002 account he thought he was a Christian until a drunk guy rocked his world with a simple question (which, in narrative terms, makes Mark look like he had keen insight into the nature of the question the drunk guy asked that the drunk guy himself is implicitly held to not have had).
Let's assume both these accounts are basically accurate, the tension isn't in the events, it's in the interpretations Mark supplies for what we're supposed to observe in the events. He could be the same nominal Irish Catholic kid in every account, but in the 1992 story he tried selling himself as the spiritual-but-not-religious type who found the truth of Christianity by trying to disprove it. In the 2002 story he would have us accept that he assumed he was totally a Christian because he had his rules for life and he followed them and that meant he really was a Christian and he took to reading the Bible because a drunk guy asked "how good do you have to be?" Driscoll proceeded to read the Bible not to disprove its accuracy in this 2002 account, but to confirm to himself his own goodness.
The tension is in the contradictory self-ascribed motives across the narratives. If we take the narratives as testifying to a whole then Mark Driscoll told us he set out to both disprove the Bible's legitimacy and also look through it to confirm through it for himself that he was good enough to call himself a Christian. Now if Mark Driscoll was what one biblical author called "double-minded" maybe that's no surprise in the end.
But sometimes it seems as if what Driscoll does is fashion a narrative in order to make a point and that if narrative A ascribes a motive to Mark that conflicts with the motive in narrative B, well, who's going to pay attention?