Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Mark Driscoll and the Gospel of [escaping] white trash: Part 4--the John Macarthur wing took umbrage at Mark Driscoll presenting Genesis as a white trash soap opera, fixating on “what” at the expense of “why”

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 it’s personal!


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.