Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Mark Driscoll and the Gospel of [escaping] white trash: Part 6--the necessity of the abjection of the redneck in Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill era preaching for his soteriology and for his capacity to connect to a region's stereotypes

It's not mere speculation to say that Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill era preaching was suffused with a kind of redneck theology.  Driscoll underscored this by example during the 2007 sermon series The Rebel's Guide to Joy.


5 of The Rebel's Guide to Joy
Pastor Mark Driscoll | Phil. 2:1-11 | November 04, 2007

Now carne means meat, and it’s the same root word as incarnation. So Jesus is God with meat. That’s what he is. That’s what it means. This is redneck theology. That’s what it is.

There may be no better way to make a case that Mark Driscoll presented us with a redneck Gospel than to point out that he explained the Incarnation of Jesus Christ in explicitly redneck idioms and matter-of-factly declared that the incarnation was God with meat, redneck theology.  Straight from the horse's mouth, as an old saying goes.

By 2008 Mark Driscoll had enough objections come his way about his approach to humor he made it the whole point of one of his sermons:


Part 2 of Religion Saves
Pastor Mark Driscoll | January 13, 2008

...  And then it moves along. God floods the earth, kills everyone except for a family headed by a man named Noah. They climb into an ark. Upon exiting the ark in Genesis 9, there’s this really funny little story where Noah gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent. I mean, the whole book is a hillbilly redneck saga, par excellence. It’s like all of Genesis takes place in a trailer park. It’s absolutely mesmerizing. I preached the book a while back. If you were here, you know it’s filled with redneck comedy. And Noah gets drunk, passes out naked in his tent, like a hillbilly redneck on vacation. And when I see – I see a guy, not with a tent, but blue tarps. I see a guy in swim trunks and cowboy boots, drunk on moonshine with a John Deere cap, sitting around playing Texas hold ‘em with his uncle daddy, eating Hot Pockets. That’s just how I see it.


Number five, keep looking for the line. But here’s the problem. Everyone has the line of propriety at a different place. I preach to you guys, the line’s in one place. Goes out to the campuses, line’s in another place. Goes out on the Internet, the line’s in a totally different place. It’s crazy. I’ll preach on rednecks and make fun of rednecks, and you guys are like, “Ha-ha-ha,” and then I get some sort of rebuke in crayon from Kentucky.

Driscoll recognized that he could very easily make jokes at the expense of rednecks in Seattle that would make him more popular while the same jokes would alienate listeners from Kentucky (assuming he didn't say all of that purely for rhetorical effect, a trait that, as we've seen over the last ten years, is a prominent component of Mark Driscoll's mode of public address).

Why spend so much time joking about the redneck and the hillbilly if that’s Driscoll’s own lineage? What could be accomplished through Mark Driscoll making fun of rednecks for a Seattle crowd? It may be so obvious it actually needs to be said.

One of the observations Jacques Ellul made about the propagandist is that the propagandist cannot work from nothing. The propagandist can't just start from a blank slate.  It's necessary for the propagandist to identify and capitalize on the stereotypes and prejudices that are endemic to the population that is intended to be seduced, agitated or integrated into the propagandist's interests. 

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 1965 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

from pages 36-37

The third important conclusion, drawn from experiments made chiefly in the United States, is that propaganda cannot create something out of nothing. It must attach itself to a feeling, an idea; it must build on a foundation already present in the individual. The conditioned reflex can be established only on an innate reflex or a prior conditioned reflex. The myth does not expand helter-skelter; it must respond to a group of spontaneous beliefs. Actions cannot be obtained unless it responds to a group of already established tendencies or attitudes stemming from the schools, the environment, the regime, the churches, and so on. Propaganda is confined to utilizing existing material; it does not create it.

... opinions, conventional patterns and stereotypes exist concretely in a particular milieu or individual.  ... ideologies exist which are more or less consciously shared, accepted, and disseminated, and which form the only intellectual, or rather para-intellectual, element that must be reckoned with in propaganda.

... the propagandist must concern himself above all with the needs of those whom he wishes to reach.

All propaganda must respond to a need, whether it be a concrete need (bread, peace, security, work) or a psychological need. ... The propagandist cannot simply decide to make propaganda in such and such a direction on this or that group. The group must need something, and the propagandist must respond to that need.

So let's propose an idea here. When Mark Driscoll presented an Incarnation of Jesus Christ as a redneck who came to save the world and redeem humans from Satan, sin and death in the flesh of Mark Driscoll's proverbial redneck this was Driscoll's way of translating into contemporary vernacular idioms the old idea that Jesus did not come in the likeness of any beauty or majesty--Driscoll presented the kind of Jesus in this redneck Gospel that urban Seattleites would reject, which can become a way to understand how "wee" would reject Jesus because Jesus offered us nothing. 

The way this rhetorical flourish worked depended on leveraging a stereotype about rednecks and white trash culture as something worthy of abjection.  It may have been the way Mark Driscoll decided to explain the humility with which Christ became human to live with humanity, die for humanity, and redeem us from sin and death not just because it was a useful way to make the strangeness of Jesus' perceived mission clearer but also because nobody aspires to be white trash in the United States.  Not even Mark Driscoll. 

Look at how his narrative of the Driscoll name goes back in that 2010 blog post to the royal lineage.  No American seems that eager to boast of white trash roots ... and if it weren't so unusual Hillbilly Elegy wouldn't be a talking point in sections of the press, would it?

What the Macarthur wing may still not appreciate about Mark Driscoll's translation of the Genesis narrative into the vernacular of white trash attempted to do was to present humanity as a whole in the most white trash possible terms to reveal the abjection of the human condition in a way that would make the coming of Christ, a necessary framing point in which to understand how Mark Driscoll discusses Genesis, explicable--if Jesus became incarnate in redneck terms to save hopelessly lost rednecks then who would object?  Well, some people did object although it's not clear whether what they objected to was what they regarded as the blasphemous way of discussing biblical narrative or possibly also at the transformation of the biblical narrative into a white trash epic--

If, as I've been proposing this year, Mark Driscoll can be understood less as a pastor with competency in biblical studies and pastoral care and more as a well-trained and calculating propagandist, then Mark Driscoll playing to Seattle area stereotypes about white trash could explain the paradoxical and to many progressive/secularist writers the still baffling appeal Mark Driscoll came to have.  Mark Driscoll's views on women and gays were supposed to have made him foundationally unappealing to urbane Seattleites, right?  His jokes about feminists and gays were in disastrously poor taste, right? 

Well, for those who were only setting out to be offended by those kinds of jokes let's observe that the record shows that on a sermon for sermon basis Mark Driscoll may have told a whole lot more jokes about rednecks, hillbillies and so on.  Driscoll spent more time making fun of the group of people that, as one memoir has told us lately, it's considered acceptable across the board to still look down on.  Leveraging Puget Sound area stereotypes about white trash could have played a powerful double role in Mark Driscoll's public rhetoric. 

The first thing it did was run with an existing stereotype in the region that holds a negative view about white trash, whether urban or rural.  The second thing it accomplished was that by taking the white trash milieu and then transposing Jesus' incarnation into a kind of redneck-meat-incarnation Mark Driscoll was able to present Jesus' incarnation as taking on a humility of not merely becoming human but a human in the socio-economic strata of a culture that had zero prestige and was even the butt of taunts. 

But there's also a third thing that could be accomplished by Mark Driscoll joking steadily about the white trash world that Joe Driscoll chose to leave.  There are two basic modes of humor, laughing with and laughing at. There’s little room to contest the idea that Mark Driscoll decided to laugh at the redneck rather than with the redneck. It could have given him plenty of opportunity to emotionally and socially distance himself from his own background.  For every redneck joke he told, in whatever form, he had an opportunity to argue to himself and the public that he was in some sense no longer himself an exemplar of the redneck milieu.  That might be the closest a person could get to eating your cake yet having it, too. Over the years Mark Driscoll could joke as if he could discern who had more degrees than Fahrenheit and was educated beyond their intelligence and when a suitable moment came, could invoke his argument-trumping credentials with the best of them.  But in order to pull off this rhetorical feat, Driscoll would have to leave a back door open that would admit to the white trash roots of his identity.