Not everyone warmed up to Mark Driscoll's penchant for explicating biblical narratives in the most hillbilly way possible.
Mark Driscoll is one of the best-known representatives
of that kind of thinking. He is a very effective communicator—a bright, witty,
clever, funny, insightful, crude, profane, deliberately shocking, in-your-face
kind of guy. His soteriology is exactly right, but that only makes his
infatuation with the vulgar aspects of contemporary society more disturbing.
Driscoll ministers in Seattle,
birthplace of "grunge" music and heart of the ever-changing
subculture associated with that movement. Driscoll's unique style and idiom
might aptly be labeled "post-grunge." His language—even in his sermons—is
deliberately crude. He is so well known for using profane language that in Blue
Like Jazz (p. 133), Donald Miller (popular author and icon of the
"Emerging Church" movement, who speaks of Driscoll with the utmost
admiration) nicknamed him "Mark the Cussing Pastor."
I don't know what Driscoll's
language is like in private conversation, but I listened to several of his
sermons. To be fair, he didn't use the sort of four-letter expletives most
people think of as cuss words—nothing that might get bleeped on
broadcast television these days. Still, it would certainly be accurate to
describe both his vocabulary and his subject matter at times as tasteless,
indecent, crude, and utterly inappropriate for a minister of Christ. In every
message I listened to, at least once he veered into territory that ought to be
clearly marked off limits for the pulpit.
Some of the things Driscoll
talks freely and frequently about involve words and subject matter I would
prefer not even to mention in public, so I am not going to quote or describe
the objectionable parts. Besides, the issue has already been discussed and
dissected at several blogs. Earlier this year, Tim Challies cited one typical example of Driscoll's vulgar
flippancy from Confessions
of a Reformission Rev.
The sermons I listened
to also included several from Driscoll's
"Vintage Jesus" series, including
the one Phil Johnson critiqued in October.
The point I want to make is not
about Driscoll's language per se, but about the underlying philosophy
that assumes following society down the Romans 1 path is a valid way to
"engage the culture." It's possible to be overexposed to our
culture's dark side. I don't think anyone can survive full immersion in today's
entertainments and remain spiritually healthy.
I’ve had it with Mark Driscoll and his mouth. Now
You probably can get the basic idea
here. The incident that MacArthur referenced about Driscoll's vulgar
flippancy, just going from memory here, is probably the "was it a good
porno?" incident, quoted at length over here, as
part of a series of tagged posts on Mark Driscoll and the influence of porn.
Since by 2006 Mark Driscoll had wrapped up
the Genesis sermon series and had, the whole length of it, presented it as a
redneck hillbilly soap opera, what Mark Driscoll and his defenders could say in
reply to the Macarthur wing was that Mark Driscoll's contextualization of the
book of Genesis in redneck terms was a way to show how messed up all the
figures in the Genesis narrative were and how this demonstrated they were in
need of the mercy of God. It's not that this would be persuasive to a
Macarthurite, really, but that is a defense that was made. You can actually
propose that the polemic inherent in the story of Lot and his daughters leading
to the birth of Moab (“child of incest”) is that Jewish canonical propaganda
regarding the Moabites was that they were a bunch of drunken inbred yokels
because that’s what the origin story for that whole group was in the book of
Genesis. So in that sense Mark Driscoll’s racy approach to the biblical text
could be seen not only as not particularly blasphemous but highlighting more
directly than usual the polemical thrust of certain narratives in Genesis.
Now that we're a decade away from that sort
of thing, though, we can propose other angles to consider. In their fury
at what they considered Mark Driscoll's blasphemous remarks about the biblical
texts or things they considered uncouth it could be easy for the Macarthur wing
to overlook some things. The first is that when Mark Driscoll talked
about the kind of skepticism people in Mary and Joseph's day would have faced
about the plausibility of a virgin birth narrative, to say nothing of the
evangelists writing the Gospels, Mark Driscoll may have formulated how this
skepticism would have come across in the bluntest and most colloquial
contemporary terms but the charge implicit in "Is this not Mary's
son?" was preserved in one of the canonical gospels.
Galileans were not, as a rule, regarded as
hugely upscale and educated so someone like Mark Driscoll (or one of his
defenders) could make a case that if it seemed shocking and inappropriate to
describe Jesus as some uncharacteristically wise teacher with an uneducated
backwoods redneck bastard background this might not be "just"
something Mark Driscoll said for pure shock effect (although Driscoll doubtless
had that partly in mind); this could be because Driscoll was making a case for
how and why Jesus' popularity and the substance of his teaching offended the
religious leaders of the time.
Part of Driscoll's appeal was that in his
bluntness he presented himself as willing to tackle openly issues that other
pastors weren't even willing to discuss at all, or that's how the rhetorical
framing went. The Macarthur wing became a useful formal foil of the
"too conservative" branch of Christianity that gave Mark Driscoll an
opportunity to fashion his brand. He was not a Macarthur type of
conservative Christian and thereby not as fundamentalist in formal
presentation, nor was he on the other hand a mainline/emergent/liberal
sort. The Macarthur branch of American Protestantism was what Mark
Driscoll needed in order to rhetorically position himself as anything
resembling a centrist.
One of the things that was not memorably high
on the list of concerns from the Macarthur wing was an altogether different
concern about the ways in which Mark Driscoll repeatedly presented the biblical
narratives in redneck hillbilly saga terms. Even if we could propose
there's a basis from which to say it isn't necessarily blasphemous to translate
a historical idiom of biblical narrative into redneck terms, it's interesting
to consider that it was offensive to a Macarthur side of American Protestantism
to explicate the biblical narratives as if all the biblical figures were
understandable as white trash types.
In other words, I'm going to propose the
Macarthur wing was so busy being offended that Mark Driscoll explicated the
biblical narratives in white trash terms they didn't seem to stop to ask why Mark Driscoll would have chosen to
do so. The answer isn't all that difficult to propose in light of the
details Mark Driscoll shared about his own life, he basically had an urban
white trash upbringing and even grew up in a possibly nominal Catholic Irish
milieu. He interpreted and contextualized the biblical narrative in white
trash terms because it was the world he understood.
Had the Macarthur wing wanted to try for
something a little more salient than mere moral outrage they could have
proposed something more in line with the Pirate Christian Radio/Fighting for
the Faith critique of a preacher like Mark Driscoll. The problem with Mark
Driscoll interpreting Genesis as a hillbilly redneck soap opera isn’t
necessarily the redneck part in itself.
Even if we were to set aside altogether the question of whether that
might not seem to be a sufficiently reverential approach to interpreting
biblical narrative, we could propose it has the weakness of coming across as a
wildly self-aggrandizing form of narcigesis, reading your whole life story and
aspirations and anxieties on to a biblical text whether there could ever be a
basis for it.
And once we open up that as a possible
variable in interpretation we could test that hypothesis and ask, if there
seems to be a basis for it, why it might be so.