Friday, September 19, 2008

Mark Driscoll and Christian porn?

We're coming up on possibly the most significant homiletic rerun in the history of Mars Hill church. For the next few months Driscoll will be revisiting the Song of Songs, one of the earliest books of the Bible he went through as he and Mike Gunn and Lief Moi worked on establishing the church.

For those who didn't hear the earlier sermons preached on this book of the Bible, they are probably no longer available. A great deal of Driscoll's earlier sermons are no longer accessible in the media library. Nothing from Proverbs for instance (a book that could be revisited because much of the preaching from that series touched on gender roles and money and not so much on other topics, perhaps not coincidentally three pastors preached on taming the tongue during that period but Driscoll didn't, that could be the subject of another blog entry regarding a few high profile incidents that are in the public record). And obviously nothing from the first 1 Corinthians sermon series is available because as Driscoll pointed out, he has by now become so ashamed of how badly he handled the biblical text from that epistle he started over.

In fact Driscoll has generally said from the pulpit that he prefers to avoid recycling old material and revisiting old territory. He has not been fond of pastors who have a few years' worth of sermons in them and start recycling their own material. He has also set a precedent in which he has said from the pulpit that he revisits books when he believes he mishandled Scripture the first time.

Which leads us, now, to the question of why Driscoll is embarking on another visit through the Song of Songs. Based on what he has said from the pulpit over the years it would be natural to suppose that he feels he didn't do justice to the biblical book the first time. Those of you who may have heard the original sermon series know that he spent eight sermons on the material and focused chiefly on sex within married life and marriage.

What Driscoll did not do was focus on a commonly held interpretation of Song of Songs that it is not just about marriage but also an allegory of God's love for His people. He has rejected this on the grounds that early church fathers and later theologians were so scandalized by a book about sex being in the canon they allegorized the sexual content into a manageable place by emphasizing an allegorical function that can't be defended from the text.

The book nearly didn't get canonized, of course, because it was about sex, but also because there is no reference to God anywhere in the book. Period. This introduces a fascinating question for Driscoll's hermeneutic since he has said that all Scripture rightly interpreted points to Christ. Okay, great, so how does Song of Songs point to Christ if it can't possibly be an allegory about God's love for His people and is also about sex in marriage?

As I have written earlier there is absolutely nothing wrong with affirming that the Song of Songs is first of all about marriage and romance and sexuality. However, a few concerns come up on the eve of this homiletic rerun.

First of all, Driscoll espouses a hermeneutic in which in just this one book of the Bible the groom and bride can't be referring to God and His people because Driscoll doesn't want to imagine Jesus looking at him with a hard-on. Of course the allegory being taken as that of God's love for the individual believer dates more from Bernard of Clairveaux than from the early church fathers or the rabbis. The reductio ad absurdum here is itself absurd. Driscoll doesn't reject the metaphor of Christ as groom and His people as His bride when it appears in Revelation, just when it is taken by theologians as applying in the case of Song of Songs.

But that raises the thorny historical question of how Paul could positively liken the husband and wife to Christ and the Church from Scripture in spirit or letter if the only precedent in the Old Testament is that the marriage between God and His people is described as one fraught with adultery, idolatry, murder, and the like. There is no positive typology from which Paul can draw if the Song of Songs can't possibly be about God and His people. And, as I have written elsewhere on this blog, Paul can't possibly invoke Revelation because he obviously got martyred before Revelation was given to John. This is true regardless of how late or early we assign the authorship of Revelation and since Driscoll preached through about half of Revelation he would know this.

There is, in short, a typological case to be made that Paul can't very well invoke the groom and bride as a positive analogy from Scripture WITHOUT appealing to Song of Songs by way of typology. Does Driscoll think that Paul coined the metaphor of Christ and the Church as a husband and bride out of thin air? Paul invokes Genesis' words that a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife. This is a great mystery but I am speaking of Christ and the Church, Paul writes.

So what does that mystery refer to? Peter Leithart notes that one possible meaning is that the Incarnation is referred to, that Christ took on flesh and left the presence of the Father to be united with His Bride the Church through coming to us in the flesh. A problem with this typological interpretation is that we have no "mother" that Christ left. If it be said at this point that the "mother" could be the Spirit there are two considerations that weigh against this. First, Christ Himself says in John 16:12-14 that the Spirit of Truth will come and that He will guide the apostles into all truth. So clearly Jesus could not leave the presence of the Spirit even if we attempted to make that case (which I won't). Second, Jesus Himself was full of the Spirit, as Luke attests throughout his gospel. So it is apparent that there is no mother Christ leaves in His Incarnation. So Leithart is right that such an interpretation is weakened by the fact that there is no God the Mother Christ could leave to be united with His bride.

But Paul is apt to appropriate concepts that he says are in the Mosaic law that are nowhere to be found in the Mosaic law! Consider his words to the church in Corinth that women are to be silent, just as the Law says. The Torah never mentions that women are to be silent, at all! So where does Paul get this idea? No one would question that the passage is in Scripture and inspired but no one seems able to explain adequately how Paul derives such a precept from the Law. Yet no one would say that Paul is not writing inspired Scripture. So when Paul speaks of the mystery we affirm in Christ that the apostle is getting this idea from SOMEWHERE.

For that matter, let's take a brief aside to passages commonly interpreted as referring to Satan by millenia of Christian tradition that do not literally have much of anything to do with Satan. Driscoll has affirmed the validity of those allegorical interpretations when they apply to Satan and yet rejects the possibility of Song of Songs having any allegorical or typological function. Or at least he has so far over the last decade. Is Driscoll returning to Song of Songs because he has decided there is more merit to the allegorical and typological aspects now? If so then that would certainly merit revisiting the book. If not, then this homiletic rerun seems a bit mysterious.

But let's get back to Leithart's observation about the Christ-man/Church-wife metaphor. This is not something that is invoked literally but typologically by Paul. Clearly Paul knew the prophetic writings and knew of how in Isaiah and Hosea and elsewhere God describes His people as a wife. In Ezekiel the metaphor of Israel as a bride and God as a loving husband is explicit, and explicit in describing Israel's adultery. So when Paul invokes the husband and wife metaphor it has a history freighted with a lengthy history in the writings of being a very bad marriage indeed!

And yet Paul turns not to the prophetic literature where the metaphor is made plain, or the Song of Songs, but to Genesis. Why? It's especially baffling that he turns to Genesis because Adam and Eve were clearly not Christ. In his Corinthian correspondence Paul compares Adam as the first man to Christ the last Adam who is the forerunner of a new creation. Clearly Christ nourishes the Church as a man would cherish his own body, and we are the Body of Christ. The unity of these metaphors in the epistle is striking enough and easy to overlook (really easy). But what strikes me is that people don't seem to see the mystery as being how on earth Paul could invoke Genesis 2 as referring to Christ and the Church at all! That is a level of allegorical interpretation that, once accepted, opens the floodgates of seeing prescriptive statements about husbands and wives as referring to God and His people.

In other words, if you accept the analogy Paul uses in Ephesians 5 by quoting Genesis 2, how do you manage to reject the possibility of Song of Songs as an allegory?

But let's consider something in favor of Driscoll's approach. When Jesus met two disciples on the road at the end of Luke He said that the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms spoke of His coming. Nothing from the writings. Nothing from Job, nothing from Ecclesiastes, nothing from Song of Songs. And some rabbis have actually argued that certain of these books simply weren't canonized or weren't canon. Driscoll wouldn't dream of making that argument, would he? And Driscoll would probably not argue that Job contains no reference to Christ, and Ecclesiastes plays a role of demonstrating the futility of life apart from Christ (or at least apart from God, pending the revealing of Christ).

So, in favor of this position, let's suppose that Song of Songs simply wasn't considered part of the Scriptures because none of the writings were. After all, Jesus didn't mention them. But then we're back to the question of Paul's invocation of Genesis 2 as speaking of the mystery of Christ and the Church. And what positive typology could Paul draw on if he drew upon Adam and Eve, the first couple in history and the first people who turned against God among our race?
Genesis begins with a garden and ends with disaster, with God's people living in Egypt while the promised land languishes in famine. The Song of Songs speaks of a garden and of a man and a woman who love each other, which could potentially invoke a return or hope of restoration.
And the thing we should consider is that this is a song. Songs are meant to be sung or at least publicly performed. The songs we receive in Scripture are part of public worship. This mitigates against Driscoll's use of the text as a sort of Christian porn in which oral sex and various sexual positions can be discussed. Why? Well, simple, because for someone whom God has called to celibacy or someone who is not even of age this book of the Bible is effectively not for them and for them all Scripture is no longer useful for teaching or instruction because Christ is not present in the book in this hermeneutic, except perhaps to confer a blessing on some techniques the kiddies shouldn't know about.

If none of the names of God appear in the Song of Songs is that absence itself striking? No, because there are other books of the Bible in which the most common names of God simply don't appear. Esther, for instance, and Ecclesiastes.

It is likely that the allegorical interpretation of Song of Songs not happened just because of prudish theologians but also because the names of God are conspicuous by their absence. And yet Paul wrote that all Scripture is profitable. As I wrote earlier, if there is a positive example in which the marriage of God and His people existed in Scripture it did not exist in the prophetic literature, not even in Hosea, which merely included the PROMISE that the marriage would be good. There is also nothing in the New Testament at the time to indicate such an invocation except in Paul, who takes up the mystery of Christ and the Church from Genesis 2, the place where the metaphor clearly has no obvious textual precedent. If Paul invokes an interpretive tradition in which God is seen as the Husband by typology then there is a positive precedent within the Song of Songs that Paul could rely on.

In favor of an allegorical possibility, the Song of Songs is a superlative within Jewish idioms. Yet there is no sign of God. So how is it that the Song of Songs, which has a parallelism to holy of holies, makes no mention of God?

At a more practical level, I not only do not expect Driscoll to address any of these interpretive issues, I am not sure that the application he will bring to the text will necessarily consider the condition of a few groups of people. First of all, people who struggle with same-sex attraction won't find much of use if Driscoll revisits his approach in the past of talking about the joys of marriage and sex. It will be likely given as a goal to aspire to, to love Jesus, get married, and make babies, but it will not be something that everyone will actually attain. Since that is the case, what, really, is the value of preaching through Song of Songs for months the rest of this year if there are people in a thousands-strong church who Driscoll would rightly note may never get married? What is the benefit to them? That all these other people are getting nookie while the unmarried twiddle their thumbs?

Driscoll has a history of making jokes from the pulpit that are not necessarily always encouraging. When he joked several years ago that he didn't know how single people made it through the day it set a precedent in which he was capable of making a joke at the expense of the unmarried. He also made the argument that a single man couldn't possibly do more for the kingdom of God than a married man could, a statement he never really retracted but eventually counterbalanced. During the Proverbs series that is now removed from the Mars Hill media library Driscoll preached a sermon in 2002 that was so explicit in discussing what he believed the Song of Songs (interestingly enough) discussed about sexuality and sex that people left the sermon before he finished it and the sermon was not posted in the media library for quite some time [correction, it IS on there now, of course the burden on you as the weaker Christian is to have not stayed for the sermon when it was preached, which Driscoll joked about, or to make sure that if you're not supposed to hear this stuff because you're immature that you don't listen, either way the responsibility is yours now that they changed their minds and put it on the media library].

I happen to know this for several reasons: 1) I was there and heard the sermon myself and saw that it never got put on the media library 2) even if I wasn't there I met people who actually verified to me that they were there and that they did, in fact, leave, reasoning to themselves "I don't need to know this right now so I'm going to leave."

Driscoll has made a case that to talk frankly about sex from the pulpit is good because it is better that Christian young people hear about sex from the pulpit rather than from the world. But Song of Songs admonishes us to not waken or stir love until it is ready (or to awaken the lover until he is ready, depending on how you read or translate the text). The concern I have with Driscoll's precedent in hermeneutic is he has preached Song of Songs in a way that more or less lays out a litany of things that the unmarried are supposed to refrain from but that he explains with a great deal of fervor. Honestly, before I heard his sermons about Song of Songs I had no idea anyone would see oral sex in the text. If anything it seems that the Song of Songs as poetry allows people to read into the text and that is what Driscoll read into the text.

Another concern I have had over the years, since (as you can see) I have heard a lot of his teaching on the subject, is that he enjoins people to avoid sexual sin simply by saying "keep your pants on". Easier said than done seems to be the truth about most people and it is precisely on any practical considerations for how to do that (or not do that as the case may be) that Driscoll simply avers to reiterating a point without explanation. Don't have sex unless you're married and flee sexual immorality and temptation.

If Driscoll wants to revisit the Song of Songs to explore these sorts of issues then that is good, because he is, frankly, seriously overdue to address those issues at a theological or practical level. In a church that he notes is full of young singles there is surprisingly little discussion of how to avoid sexual immorality other than to tell people to not go there. Talking about how sexual positions and particular sexual techniques are in the Song of Songs and rejecting any possible allegorical aspect of the Song of Songs gives us a book in the Bible which is effectively Christian porn. If Driscoll and Mars Hill church warn that there are sermons the kids and teenagers shouldn't even be hearing that suggests that some of the content is sufficiently racy to merit being withheld from children and adolescents. Okay, so rabbinic tradition held that you had to be in your 30s to hear the book read, but this more or less underscores my concern. To meet Driscoll's reductio ad absurdum tendency with its own form of reply, Driscoll seems to set a up a hermeneutic for Song of Songs in which it's not really all about Jesus but about wifely strip-teases and holy blow jobs. The thing is, God has created a world where that can happen but does that mean it isn't porn the way Driscoll discusses it? And of what benefit will such a sermon series be to those the Lord may have called to celibacy, those who struggle with same-sex attraction, as I note elsewhere in this post?

Particularly the way Driscoll presents the book, he has a history of presenting it as a sensual work that describes sex and sexual love in ways that are both unusually poetic but also graphic. I never would have imagined that Song of Songs in referring to "his fruit was sweet to my taste" would have referred to what Driscoll says the text says. Where the Song of Songs is beautiful and evocative yet also mysterious and ambiguous (perhaps due to translation) Driscoll eliminates the mystery. Maybe not so far as the translation that uses the phrases "your vulva is a rounded crater. May it never lack punch" but that's the tilt of Driscoll's way with the text. And if you want an example of where I got this, fair attribution being the right thing to do ...;col1

If there is a mystery in the way of a man and a woman in Proverbs 30 Driscoll does not speak of it, not as a mystery. If anything his presentation that men are to love Jesus, get jobs, get married, and make babies presents what should be seen as a gracious gift of God to many but not all as veering sometimes into a paradoxical manifestation of law rather than gospel. In his sermons on Ruth in 2007 there was more discussion about what people ought to do and be than about Jesus. For a pastor who says "It's all about Jesus" there was mention of Jesus at the beginning and end of the series but not substantively in the interim. In a book like Song of Songs where no mention of God appears by any of His names, establishing that the Song of Songs is "all about Jesus" within Driscoll's hermeneutic will be, not to put too fine a point on it, spectacularly difficult.

Now notice that it is not that the Song of Songs is actually a pornographic book. It is a song, a remarkably ancient song. But Driscoll's presentation of this song of songs can hermeneutically transform the biblical text into something which can be taken as pornographic. The description of the woman being transformed into "the wifely striptease" may have some textual support on the basis of the navel not being a navel but a vagina, but it stretches the imagination a bit to suppose there is a strip tease happening. Conversely, in favor of Driscoll's rejection of Song of Songs as an allegory, if the bride represents the Church what does the vagina of the Bride represent? Anything?

The thing is that unless Driscoll drastically changes his approach to the Song of Songs I would be hard pressed to imagine what he's recycling material for now. Each time he has revisited a book of the Bible it has been to correct where he felt he failed the people of Mars Hill and God in his handling of a biblical text. I have to assume on the basis of precedent he has come to repent of something. The precedent over the last ten years by his own account leads in this direction. Even though it may be said that sex is one of the gods of this culture, Driscoll's cavalier jokes about the unmarried from the pulpit, though relatively few, are significant. He has presented the Gospel as aspiring that men would love Jesus, get jobs, find wives, and make babies. This is a gospel for young men, not for widows, not for orphans, not for those whom James said that true religion is helping these who are in need. I would agree that it is important for a man to exercise self-control but the homiletic precedent Driscoll has given does not suggest that he is likely to explain the basis for that self-control in a practical way. Since he has said numerous times that he met his wife before he became a Christian there is no certainty that he exercised himself the self-control he would ask of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

There is a precedent for vicarious wisdom both of the observational kind ("don't be like that guy") and the imparted kind ("Don't do what I did"). Driscoll provides a lot of observation vicarious wisdom on the subject of sexuality and avoiding sexual sin, but not a whole lot of the imparted kind of vicarious wisdom. If that is because he kept his pants on, great, explain how.
But among my concerns about this greatest hits approach Driscoll seems to be taking now is that, well, I am concerned that his racy way with the text over the last decade may have helped promote any problems he proposes to solve right now. He took a cessationist angle on the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians the first time, and he attests that he took a cessationist approach in Reformission Rev until God dealt with him. Then he preached through 1 Corinthians again years later with an eye to correcting, among other things, how he botched the exegesis and presentation of the spiritual gifts. By way of precedent, is it possible Driscoll is revisiting Song of Songs to rectify an imbalance in his teaching on the subject from the past? If so, this would be admirable because most men do not need to be advised to marry a woman they find sexually attractive.

And while the attempts to render the man and woman as allegory seems to founder on details that Driscoll revels in, I am nevertheless cautious about embracing his approach, even though it seems patently obvious the poem is about romantic and sexual love. The easiest way for me to be persuaded of Driscoll's approach would be to assume that Jesus did not say that the wisdom literature pointed to Him. Otherwise, if Jesus referred to all of the Scriptures we have now, that path is impossible. It is only if the canon is open and not fixed at the time that Jesus spoke that this path is possible, and Driscoll has not taken that interpretive approach. Driscoll has taken the approach of talking about clear heels, what ever those are for. Seriously, as an unmarried man there's stuff Driscoll has discussed from the pulpit that doesn't mean anything to me (and, no, don't explain it, please).

Now here would be the paradox, what if Driscoll attempted to use Song of Songs in a literal, non-allegorical interpretive way as a way to rail against the abuses of sexuality in our culture? What if Driscoll effectively reads the song as a sort of Christian anti-porn porn? A sensual poem against debauchery? If that is the case then Driscoll is tackling a challenge that may be worthy, but a challenge he may have made all the more difficult because he reaches for the racy, the controversial, the flippant, and the blunt. Frankly, Driscoll is so little a poet I wonder how well he can tackle what may be called the poem of poems and preserve that poetry or convey its sense. But perhaps God may enable him to be up to it?

I guess I would like to be optimistic that perhaps compared to a sermon that even Driscoll himself (though probably with the vote of other elders) decided not to even post on the media library of Mars Hill church years ago that he'll take a different, less racy approach. But this is Driscoll, not Piper, so I don't have much confidence that this will happen. If after years of plugging for the raciest interpretation of the Song of Songs possible Driscoll takes time to chide us for having dirty minds it will be a rather sad irony for some of us, who never imagined the sexual innuendo and techniques Driscoll has seen in the text until he mentioned them from the pulpit.

Over the years Driscoll has joked that young men came to him and said "Pastor I struggle with lust" and he would pause for comic effect and then say "You need a wife. That's why you struggle with lust." But if you don't keep your pants on or in any way lose the struggle with lust then you're not fit to be married because marriage is for men and not boys. Not that this seemed to be played out in the life of Jacob with Rachel but I suppose that's another story. It nevertheless seems troublesome that Driscoll can joke that a struggle with lust is grounds to pursue marriage while setting up a paradigm in which a struggle with lust is not necessarily proof of viability for marriage if it leads to sin. But actual discussion of how to avoid sexual sin has tended to amount (thought not always) to simply saying "flee".

After years of holding up married life as a paragon of godliness if Driscoll says that some are not married because they have made an idol of marriage then how have years of his holding up the desire to see young men love Jesus, get jobs, get married, and make babies PREVENT that sort of idolatry? He may be at risk of upbraiding people for idolizing something he put on the altar himself. Not saying he has, mind you, but saying that it's something that should be taken seriously as a risk.

And yet he has said from the pulpit that when the pastors at Mars Hill encountered a couple that was sexually active their advice was that if they loved each other and love Jesus and were already sexually active the thing to do was to marry if they both wanted to marry each other. These are all things that have been said from the pulpit that are, as it stands, not things anyone could just download to listen to because those sermons aren't there. I don't suggest there is any attempt to cover tracks at all, but to simply note as someone who has heard quite a few sermons preached at Mars Hill that this establishes a long-term confusion in precedent. It is not likely to play out in sermons available through a media library but it may play out in the lives of people. This is why, having heard Driscoll say the sorts of things I have described, I can't help but be concerned that at some level Driscoll may be attempting to solve a problem that he is more responsible for contributing to than he may realize.

Mark Driscoll the person vs Mark Driscoll the persona

Several years ago there was supposed to be a protest by People Against Fundamentalism against Mars Hill. This protest was averted by a private meeting between Rose M Swetman and others with Mark Driscoll and Lief Moi. She expressed relief that things were handled in a mature way. She also noted that words in public are not the same as words in private and that everyone agreed they could work toward a healthier way of expressing their disagreement in the wider community.

And then ... two years later

She cites someone else's summary of Driscoll's public behavior to delineate a pattern:

I’ve observed Mark’s tactics often enough to recognize the pattern.
1. Describe the problem in technical theological terms to give intellectual weight to your position. (pride)
2. Declare the opposing view sin in order to scare people from considering its validity. (fear)
3. Label those who follow the other belief heretics. (shame)
4. Thus appointing yourself as the authority and guardian of truth. (control)

Now here's the thing, this is not quite how I would frame the process. It's more that Driscoll will be set that a problem has to be addressed and argue for what he believes the position Christians should take. If people dispute this he really will true to present a case for why he thinks the disputation is wrong. However, if he gets in over his head or loses his temper (both of those things happen), he will get sloppy and resort to one of two (or both) tactics to discredit the other side.

Reductio ad absurdum

Ad hominem

The first generally amounts to knocking down a straw man or taking what may be a nuanced argument down by means of an extremist version of the same. The second really needs no explanation. Both of these approaches were manifest abundantly in his career as William Wallace II, not least on the old discussion thread Pussified Nation. Understandably Driscoll doesn't want anyone actually reading what was on Pussifed Nation because he acted like an asshole. Period. At that time he operated under the suppostion that the ends justified the means so he would say whatever he thought needed to be said in order to make his point. Except when someone actually took his rhetoric at face value and wanted to fight him at 3am (Reformission Rev, Zondervan 2006, page 129)

What Driscoll conveniently omits from his account was that he spent so much time making vitriolic statements about anyone who disagreed with him while using a pseudonym that he was setting an example for the young men to follow, the very young men he held in his book were getting out of line. Well, duh. If the lead pastor writes a lengthy screed called Pussified Nation and claims that people who disagree with him must be guys who live in their mama's basements downloading porn from the internet then why be surprised if a bunch of young men who are baby Christians and look up to him as their role model start doing the same?

When, as William Wallace II, Driscoll dismissed an argument from some people as coming from guys who probably lived in their momma's basements and were downloading porn on the internet the recipients of these comments argued as though the comments weren't relevant. William Wallace II then wrote to the effect of "notice that they didn't refute a single thing I said" as though that settled the argument in his favor. Making a personal attack on the character of your opponent and then deciding that settles the argument isn't great debate form even in high school.

So with these things in mind it is more accurate to say that Driscoll will declare a position on something to be "the" biblical position. Anyone who disagrees strongly and cannot be persuaded gets labeled not necessarily always a heretic but as someone who is not "on mission" or, per Reformission Rev "dead weight". This can employ either reducing the counterpoint to a parody or simply impugning the character of whomever disagrees with Driscoll. This approach has been present in the public sphere in various forms since 2001 so it's not like this is news.

But I truly believe that what makes this whole dynamic problematic is that we must make a distinction that Rose seems to have struggled with for reasons that are obvious, just as those who have defended Driscoll seemed to have bungled something crucial and easy to miss. Before I touch upon that I want to take an aside into people saying Driscoll has repented or apologized for this or that regarding speech in public. It's not surprising he's never preached a sermon on taming the tongue and left that to other pastors he thought were better qualified to actually teach with authority on the subject.

Now if Driscoll has really repented of the things people think he has repented of perhaps he could republish Pussified Nation and his other exploits as William Wallace II. Perhaps he should go back and READ them to see how he treated brothers and sisters in Christ. That none of that material is available anymore, to borrow a page from Driscoll's playback, speaks volumes about his own vulnerability for making an ass of himself in the public sphere by shooting his mouth off. This is something that, it so happens, pastors and associates have talked with him about that prompted him to issue a public apology for the following:

The apology quoted in part in this link, by the way, is no longer acessible at Resurgence.

On March 27, [2006] Mark Driscoll posted an apology on his blog, Resurgence, for his comments above. An excerpt is below. To read his full remarks please visit his blog.

And after listening to the concerns of the board members of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network that I lead, and of some of the elders and deacons at Mars Hill Church that I pastor, I have come to see that my comments were sinful and in poor taste. Therefore, I am publicly asking for forgiveness from both Brian and Doug because I was wrong for attacking them personally and I was wrong for the way in which I confronted positions with which I still disagree. I also ask forgiveness from those who were justifiably offended at the way I chose to address the disagreement. I pray that you will accept this posting as a genuine act of repentance for my sin.

Which sin? Attacking people personally and how he confronts positions with which he still disagrees? Seems like repentance is a long path. And it is. If I may make a totally unsolicited suggestion I think that part of what Driscoll needs to do is stop trying to be a stand-up comedian, stop being someone funny and get back to being what made him, at his best, a fine pastor. Actually go through Scripture. When you promise implicitly to go through whole books of the Bible don't be some weenie who backs out of going through all of Revelation because you don't wwant to alienate members who are dispensationalist wingnuts or theonomistic fascists in embryo. :) After years of implicitly promising Mars Hill would go through whole books of the Bible the Revelation series, good as it really was, was a substantial breach of promise.

Not that promises are always explicit, or even able to be kept, but this highlights a distinction between what we'd have to call Driscoll the person and Driscoll the persona. Driscoll the PERSONA gets him in all kinds of well-deserved trouble. Driscoll the person is smart enough to know better than to get himself into this kind of thing, I would hope. But the public retraction to Christianity Today more or less shows that ten years after founding Mars Hill Driscoll still got himself in trouble for shooting his mouth off, pre-emptively defending himself as he works to a silly one-liner conclusion of "In conclusion, this is all just gay." He knows he's not Parker or Stone and that he's not writing episodes of South Park already. If a pastor is to be above reproach and to be well thought of by outsiders Driscoll has done an exceptionally poor job since people within the body of Christ continue to take issue with how he handles conflict in the public sphere. This is not even a venue in which to consider how he may handle conflict in private, nor is it necessary. It's enough to point out what is a matter of public record here.

And even sympathetic believers have expressed concerns about HOW Driscoll makes points in a way that can be potentially damaging to the causes he decides to champion:

What bothers me is not just the use of these phrases, but the utter non-necessity of doing so. They are designed to illicit laughs and perhaps show people how edgy Driscoll is. But they are, in my estimation, completely unnecessary, especially since Driscoll is perfectly capable of being humorous without being dirty. The book would not suffer at all without them. It is easy to gain laughs through such words and phrases, but just because we are able do so, I don’t think we necessarily should. Thankfully such examples are rare (though one could argue that their rarity proves how unnecessary they are). There is so much more to Driscoll than his sense of humor and his edginess. I hope that sooner or later he becomes known for what he does that pleases God rather than what he does that shocks the masses. In some cases I’m convinced they are not the same thing.

It couldn't get any clearer here and the implication is obvious but needs to be spelled out. Driscoll as a person uses a persona that in the long run could harm the cause he hopes to promote. At some point when Driscoll is 44 and he's still talking about how we need to stop having so many chick-a-fied dudes who listen to Mariah Carey it will become apparent that his hour has passed him by. His hour has probably passed him by now. He was culturally relevant in his 20s, for whatever that's worth, because he was not a father and a pastor/missiologist/whatever-he-calls-himself-now with only a wife and not many kids. He had time, in other words.

But at some point contextualizing the Gospel only gets you so far and you have to live it. At some point you have to love your neighbor and figure out how that works, how that gets done. We are not known as Christ's because we are edgy or can contextualize the Gospel, but by our love for one another. At some point Driscoll has to keep being aware that the danger in his persona is that it stops contextualizing the Gospel and starts contextualizing Driscoll.

It is curious to read various accounts of people in the blog-world who speak of how disarmingly humble Driscoll is. He's not, and he said so last year in a sermon about humility he said he wasn't qualified to preach. Fair enough, let's take his word for it. Repentance of pride is not something that is demonstrated in a single sermon but in years of actual humility. Humility entails recognizing that our honor and dignity do not come from us but from Christ.

Frankly, Driscoll has said things from the pulpit and has had things said about him by others in the public sphere that no one puts together and asks about, details that suggest to me that the persona/person distinction may be the single greatest long-term threat to the viability of Driscoll's ministry. Since I don't WANT him to lose the ministry the Lord has given him I'm making a blog entry here in the hopes that even if the odds of him reaeding this are absolutely zero that the Lord can use this however he will.

Really, I do want to be able to tell people thirty years from now that Driscoll has grown into the work the Lord has called him to. If I ever marry and have kids I want to be able to say to them that Driscoll really loves the city of Seattle and not simply a church in his own imagination that he's trying to get his real church to become more like (page 40 of Reformission). It's not a bad thing to have a vision for a church, but I hope that Driscoll remembers that his obligation is to love the actual church Christ has given him, not the one he wants in his mind. Loving that second kind of church can simply be idolatry.

When the Lord isn’t talking to this man, kiddingly called a short-fused drama queen by his wife, his critics are blogging about him. Some of the sharper barbs make it difficult for Driscoll to hide the hurt.

Well, Driscoll, stop acting like an asshole and you'll be less likely to get hurt. I say that in Christian love (no, really, I do). If your wife calls you a short-fused drama queen that suggests that it can't all be the doing of blogger critics that you feel hurt. Don't forget the golden rule, brother. Treat others as you would have them treat you. If what you want is to be lampooned by The Wittenburg Door every year for the rest of your life; if what you want is to have the legacy of Pussified Nation and "this is all gay" to follow you where ever you go; if you want to have a huge church of people you don't know whose lives you touch in only the way that a stand-up comedian does, then by all means stay the course.

If your wife can joke that you're a short-fused drama queen or say that you're Elimelech as you put it so eloquently in your sermon on Ruth 1 in January 2007, then it sounds like your wife has some insight into character traits you still need to work on. If you keep your pants on, great, but if you can avoid sinning with your tongue, congratulations, you've hit varsity in spirituality. James 3 more or less covers that. If a man avoids sinning with his tongue he has self control. Driscoll seems to have trouble avoiding sinning with his tongue. With our tongues we bless the Father and curse men. Perhaps in a city that is often considered liberal and godless Driscoll's sins of speech are considered insignificant because he's not boning someone he's not married to or taking drugs or stealing money. But that by itself is not enough to say his record is spotless.

In fact by his own testimony his record can be taken as deeply problematic. On January 7, 2007 about an hour into the sermon (i.e. the last few minutes) Driscoll asked listeners to consider who in the book of Ruth they are most like. He said of himself, "I am Elimelech". He elaborated:

1 hour in 1.07.2007 sermon on Ruth 1
...Elimelech is the guy--everything falls apart. It looks dark, it looks bad. He takes a poll he makes a plan. He decides Moab has a lower cost of living. Moab has more vocational opportunity. Moab has food on the table. I will make a plan, I will be the sovereign. I will take care of everything. Trust me. I know what I'm doing. He leads well. He plans well. He tries to be the sovereign (they're all going to die anyways). I am Elimelech.

I asked my wife, "Which one am I?" ... She didn't even breath, didn't even take a breath, "Oh, you're Elimelech." And his name means what? MY GOD IS KING! That was me. If you asked me, Jesus, sovereign, lord, king, God! And if I ever need Him I'll call him but I don't think I do because I've got all this taken care of.

Well, props for honesty, but this is the kind of confession that, encouraging as it is, is discouraging in others. A pastor of a church that is in the thousands said from the pulpit that his approach is to be Elimelech. Doesn't that cast a worrisome shadow on the whole next year's worth of sermons in, say, Nehemiah or Phillipians? How do we know he wasn't being Elimelech through that entire stage or since? But it is a helpful confession because it helps to shed some light on Driscoll's penchant for making inflammatory public statements he later (sometimes) regrets.

Thing is, whatever Driscoll's persona is there are people who know him as a person and if Driscoll's wife has kidded that he's a short-fused drama queen and said without hesitation he is Elimelech, which in Driscoll's explanation means a man who claims to love God but goes on doing what he thinks ought to be done because he wants to be in control, this is not the greatest public endorsement of a husband as qualified to be a minister of the Lord, is it? This is not a no harm no foul situation. The qualifications for an elder in Titus 1 include:

1. be above reproach
This wouldn't mean that he won't appear in the Wittenburg Door every year, would it?

2. self-willed (i.e. not arrogant or eager to please self)
Elimelech (to whom Driscoll and his wife have compared himself) certainly was self-willed

3. not quick-tempered (irascible)
His wife testifies to this

4. addicted to wine
Not likely a concern but I can't speak to it.

5. not pugnacious (not a brawler or a fighter)
His whole public persona more or less establishes this and that's even if we don't count his behavior as William Wallace II. In conclusion this is all just gay.

6. not fond of sordid gain
Probably not a problem but I can't speak to that.

7. hospitable
At some point he was based on what he wrote in Reformission but it's hard to verify now.

8. loving what is good

9. sensible
... CAN be

10. just

11. devout

12. self-controlled,
Not with his tongue, per James 3, but in other respects I'm sure he is self-controlled.

13. holding fast the faithful word so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

Now the thing to consider at this point is if Driscoll's spectacular and public failures in some of the above points make him unfit for ministry. Obviously the answer is "no" but the real issue is whether or not Driscoll's continuing struggle with the things in which his own wife jokes are not first level threats to the viability of Driscoll's ministry. In Scripture there was a macho man who had God's hand on him in a mighty way who had a temper and would lash out at people who upset him. Samson eventually had his hair cut, his eyes put out, and was left alone with the Phillistines he had spent so much time antagonizing, and whose women he found so alluring, that while in his last breath he accomplished God's will it was at the expense of his own life and the dignity of God's people. It was also as much a suicide as an act of war.

I don't want Driscoll to risk becoming any kind of Samson among God's people. Driscoll the person is a gifted man who loves the Lord and has many things God may choose to accomplish through him. Driscoll the persona from the pulpit (which is what we tend to hear or read in the public sphere) has displayed and admitted to character flaws so significant that it's surprising there has been relatively little discussion about the startling gap between the Driscoll who people say is humble in person who admits in public he's not humble at all. There's a startling gap between the people who look to Driscoll as a hero in homiletics, the man who admits from the pulpit he is Elimelech and whose own wife described him as Elimelech and as a short-fused drama queen. Suffice it to say that this does not make the man above reproach if his own wife makes statements like this to him and about him in the last year. If the statements aren't true then someone needs to repent. Even if the statements are then TWO people need to keep repenting.

So all this is to say that I am encouraged by things I've heard Driscoll teach and preach over the last eleven years. I hope that the Lord continues to use him to be a positive influence. But in order for that to happen Driscoll can't just say once or twice that he's Elimelech or that he isn't good about controlling his tongue. He needs to get better about it. It won't do his ministry or the cause of the Gospel any good if he keeps his pants on and doesn't cheat on his wife but makes an ass of himself whenever he opens his mouth because he's trying to be the pastoral equivalent of Chris Rock. Dude, you're just not that funny. You're a pastor (no, a missiologist perhaps) and not a stand-up comedian. Set aside yourself and focus more on the Word so that He becomes greater and greater and you become less and less. This isn't about the funny stories or poignant stories you tell about your wife or kids. This isn't about them. This isn't about you. You can say that it's all about Jesus but why don't you get back to it actually being about Jesus.

I say this as a brother in Christ who wants to be able to tell any kids I have that the Lord has continued to do good things through you. Since you don't have a problem shooting your mouth off in the public sphere it's appropriate to respond in the public sphere, not to shame you but to speak what I understand to be the truth in love. It is not because I have any right to say things like this that I say them. If anything I would prefer to have not felt a need to say them at all. But I am concerned that people both for and against Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll utterly fail to grasp the significance of this person/persona distinction I've seen over the last ten years. It worried me years ago and it worries me now.

The greatest threat to the health and viability of your ministry and your church is not outside you, it's in you. And if the persona of William Wallace II is who you really are when you're not in pastor mode, ask yourself if you've been in the right job these last ten years. If the persona that says "in conclusion this is all just gay" is who you really are as a pastor, then you're not above reproach, you're quick-tempered, you're a brawler, and these things cast some reasonable, self-attested doubt on your qualifications to be an elder. I don't say this because I have any qualification to speak of my own character. I don't. I'm the most pathetic sinner there is, but Scripture is what it is and your testimony and that of your wife about your character is now a matter of public record.

Who is this man Elimelech who travels the world and tells other people how to be missionaries and pastors who by the testimony of people who have heard your conferences aren't sure you spend any time with the congregation you ostensibly shepherd? Who is this man who is described as a short-tempered drama queen who is considered one of the most influential pastors in the United States? It is not that I have any basis to speak in myself. I never have and I never will, but the Word of the Lord remains true and if a man testifies against himself in the public sphere that needs to be addressed when the man takes the role of instruction people how to contend for the Gospel.

Where are your friends who helped you start the church that is Mars Hill? Where are they now? Why have dear friends vanished from the employ of your church while you explain to young pastors that it's best not to get into ministry with friends? If these men and women made themselves unfit for ministry it was you who decided they were fit for ministry to begin with. To be honest it seems as though it fares better for people who you consider enemies of the Gospel or your mission than for those who you consider friends or even gospel partners. You're more likely to issue a public apology to people for shooting your mouth off if the public record is anything to go by. We'll never know who those hyper-Calvinists were who you considered dead weight anyways.

Of course most people will never know just how much the persona of William Wallace II encouraged young baby Christian dudes to imitate your unfortunate example. Since I read a fair amount of what Wlliam Wallace II put on the internet it's not as though I'm speaking speculative. You're better, but not enough better that you have reason to speak as though you were the mature guy helping the other 20-something dudes get their act together. Your act was part of what inspired them to be the jerks they were. They were following your example. Remember the posts of "Wallace! Wallace!" by any chance? It's easier to be a jerk for Jesus when you have cheerleaders, isn't it?

Thing is, a lot of this stuff doesn't even have to be on purpose for it to be a problem. Sometimes the problem happens when a person shoots his mouth off in anger or to be funny. Yet other times the problem arises when people presume the Lord's grace will work things out without applying real wisdom, foresight, and seeking counsel in a situation. The least that could be done in those situations is to avoid making public service announcements about things that never come to pass or get reversed. James warns Christians against counting chickens before they have hatched, to use a familiar phrase. Some people, however, tried counting anyway and publishing it in a book. It's an understandable mistake ... but one that needs to be asked about in the public sphere now.

And nothing speaks of confidently foretelling something that doesn't seem to have come to pass quite like the would-be second Ballard campus mentioned in Reformission Rev. What happened to that 43,000 square foot building you mentioned on page 176 of Confessions of a Reformission Rev (Zondervan 2006). Are there services in that building now? Did that project get completed? What did you and the other pastors who all voted on that project do with the money God providentially gave you through the trust of the people at the church at the time? This is a matter of public record, too. How much did that building cost? Is it being used for what you said it was going to be used for in 2006 when your book got published? Have you and the leaders accomplished what you promised you would do with that building project? If so why does everything on the public websites about Mars Hill indicate the project seems to have gone nowhere. There is no second Ballard campus that hold services. And if the "dumpy wearhouse Jamie [Munson] found one block away from our building" and the pastors voted to buy isn't being used for what you said it would be used for in 2006 in your book have you and the other leaders endeavored to build a tower without counting the cost?

Is it possible at this point that you and the other pastors have voted to purchase a building that turns out to have been a case of exceptionally bad stewardship. It sure seems as though by publishing what you did about the building on page 176 of Reformission you broke the spirit of James 4:13-16. Didn't you speak in advance of things that had not yet come to pass? Where are the live worship teams in that building a block away from the Ballard campus? Can you explain how you and the other pastors were good stewards in making the purchase of that 43,000 square foot building that isn't even listed as a campus where services happen even today? This was a building you and other pastors bought with God's money. How will you account for it on the day that our Lord asks of you what you did? Meanwhile, if you're going to announce a capital campaign from the pulpit and the end result is this pathetic dumpy wearhouse not being used for church services don't you think that constitutes a complete failure of the capital campaign. If you have wondered whether or not people don't trust you because they don't know you well enough, that's not the reason. We don't need to know more about your wife or kids. People need to know more about how the money gets spent that you and other pastors urge people to give for the sake of the Gospel. So a public follow-up on what you declared would happen on page 176 in Reformission Rev seems reasonable to ask for.

Don't misunderstand me, I am fond of the church and have been connected to it in a variety of ways for years. That is precisely why as much as I care I feel I can no longer simply be quiet just as I do not wish to make baseless and false accusations as some have in the last year, or to dishonor God by despising the wisdom of airing dirty laundry in public that could be discussed privately. On the other hand, I see no obligation to be silent when a variety of concerns about the conduct of Mars Hill leadership have been thrust into the public record not by a breach of trust within the community but by the very testimony of leaders and the family of leaders in the last two years. Public boasting, public speech, public announcements, and the elimination of foundational people to the history of Mars Hill from the public presentation of the church all constitute things about which public enquiry is valid.

So those concerns which arise from statements in the public record are concerns that can and should be asked about in the public record ... even if in the form of blog entries too boring to be read by almost everyone on earth.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mark Driscoll's friends vs gospel partners

In a recent sermon Driscoll gave (Phillipians 1:1b-11) he described a shortcoming in friendship as it is often understood. What we call friendship is often based on proximity and affinity. We are in the same place at the same time and have the same bonds, whatever they may be. When these change over time and, say, we find that the people we considered friends don't have the same issue of proximity or affinity anymore we lament the loss of a relationship that perhaps is not as deep as we thought it was. The friendship was not the sort of friendship we told ourselves it was. Driscoll said that at that point perhaps we have overstated the relationship and that it really wasn't much of a friendship. By contrast, he provided an explanation of what he called gospel partnership as an alternative to a less deep form of bond.

Now this becomes pertinent in terms of public statements because Driscoll has said that Lief Moi and Wendy Alsup are both people he has considered "a dear friend". Neither is listed as a pastor or deacon or employee of the church now, which perhaps is relevant simply because Driscoll has said, per Jared Wilson and others' testimony, that it is not wise to be in ministry with friends but to have friends and have people in ministry but not have so much overlap. So is the sign of Driscoll's friendship that these people AREN'T in ministry with him any longer and that is how they are good friends?

The term "gospel partnership" is interesting, but it seems redundant. Jesus did not really say "I no longer call you my servants because a servant does not know what his master is doing. I now call you gospel partners ... ." Obviously Jesus didn't say that. Driscoll may have felt it was necessary to establish a contrast between a worldly idea of friendship and a biblical understanding of friendship. It's one thing to say that gospel partnership is much deeper than friendship 23 minutes into a sermon, but it's another thing to, say, actually pay attention to the words of Christ on friendship. Driscoll has, unfortunately, set up a dichotomy between "gospel partnership" and "friendship" that is redundant and finally silly. We are offered friendship with God through Christ and if that is a measure of friendship Driscoll doesn't feel can be clarified in a sermon that's too bad.

And, at a practical level, it would seem that Driscoll has set an unfortunate precedent for misunderstanding in the public sphere, since it would appear that calling Lief Moi or Wendy Alsup a dear friend doesn't really mean anything. He should have said "gospel partner", which evokes, potentially, the attitude that this man or that woman is a good partner in a business enterprise. This is just a matter of considering anywhere Driscoll has used the phrase "a dear friend" in connection to his point about gospel partnership in his sermon from October 14, 2007.

Does this mean Driscoll doesn't have dear friends? No, of course not, but it means that in this case he has felt obliged to make a distinction that blurs rather than clarifies a scriptural definition of friendship. I agree that most people do not have an adequately deep or biblical understanding of friendship. The reason that I rarely say that someone is a friend but rather an acquaintence in my own life, even of people I have known for years, is because I consider the term friend sufficiently defined by Scripture to be so weighty that I would rather not say that many of that people I'm acquainted with are even friends. I might know 200 people and I would consider about ten of them friends.

Now regarding the distinction between friends and gospel partners is one thing, but where Driscoll's behavior in the public sphere is concerned there is another, there are those he considers theological enemies. Where the public is concerned it's almost better to be one of those people than a friend or a gospel partner because if at some point Driscoll decides that people who had previously been "on mission" with you became, say, problematic hyper-Calvinists who were getting to be dead weight (Reformission p 131) then being a friend or a gospel partner stops happening.

So given the contrast Driscoll has provided between friends and gospel partners in the public sphere does anyone want to be Driscoll's gospel partner? Friend might not be that meaningful in the end. But Driscoll seems to be good for his word, since two dear friends are no longer working with him in Mars Hill. The reasons don't need to be given and frankly don't particularly interest me at this point.

What interests me at this point, obviously, is to consider and bring attention to things in the public sphere that have not gotten a lot of follow-up. This is, I pray, a way to help Driscoll by pointing out things for public consideration that he and others have already put in the public record. Of note for this post, obviously, is that Driscoll seems to feel that mere friendship is not good enough for a long-term meaningful relationship per his sermon, and yet he has since that time been willing to refer to people as dear friends without consideration for his own negative comparison of "friend" to "gospel partner". Even if we grant the point in advance that he made this distinction for rhetorical purposes there's something to be said for sticking to your own distinctions. In some ways it would be better to be considered Driscoll's enemy than a friend or a gospel partner because based on public record Driscoll would be more likely to apologize for putting his foot in his mouth and saying something harsh.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

from Internet Monk, again

This section sums up the point so elegantly I want to just point it out, emphases added.

We evangelicals apparently need to believe a version of the prosperity gospel where, at the least, none of us are below an understood “line of credibility” in Christian experience. And if we happen to go below that line, don’t expect instant encouragement. You may be surprised at what happens to you when you become walking evidence that not everyone is as happy, blessed, obedient and satisfied as they are supposed to be.

Ask yourself this question: Why is it that so many western Christians find the greatest challenges to their faith are experiences that do not even qualify as persecution or serious suffering? Why will the loss of a a job or the moral failure of a pastor lead to the end of faith? Why do interpersonal conflicts in a church cause so many to abandon Christianity altogether? Is there something about these experiences that are inherently discouraging to a particular kind of faith experience? Perhaps a faith experience that says things should be turning out right most of the time?

The “real prosperity” gospel especially appeals to the idea that the church is fixing things, people and situations. In this kind of thinking the church has a repository of wisdom and power that can actually cause us to live in a different world than our neighbors, a world with different rules and a different outcome to the usual situations.

I don’t know of many Christians who want to stand up in front of a room full of unbelievers and say “I live in the same world as you do; a world with the same problems, the same questions and the same kinds of pain and failure. God doesn’t provide some kind of insurance or protection from this world, and Christians aren’t wise enough to understand or fix everything in this world. In some ways, you (atheists) may be wiser than any one of us. What we have to offer is the gospel of Jesus, and the truth of the gospel isn’t a pay off in this world. Whatever changes the Gospel makes in us, we remain human, fallen and in need of final rescue, redemption and resurrection. There is plenty wrong with us, and some of it is shocking and terrible. In this world, we’re on a pilgrimage to follow Jesus, to love neighbor and to live our lives in an authentically human way.”

Monday, September 15, 2008

re: Jared Wilson's blog on Mark Driscoll's teaching on preaching, why not have friends in ministry? follow up to an Anonymous poster

There's something in these points Jared Wilson made that seem especially poignant and puzzling in light of Leif Moi disappearing from getting any mention as a founding pastor in Mars Hill's internal media presence. For that matter there's no mention in the "early days" section that Mark Driscoll cofounded the church with Mike Gunn and Lief Moi, an omission that is curious because in Confessions of a Reformission Rev the picture of Moi and the description of his role in the book indicate he played a crucial role.

But before I ask some questions about a confluence of public statements over time on that subject I want to respond to what may be some good points proferred by Jared Wilson and consider some aspects of that.
... Again, I don't know what it's like to be Mark Driscoll or anyone else in a similar position. But it appears as though he's saying that it's important for a pastor to not have to be involved in the goings-ons and daily lives of his congregation, or at least some of them (as, again, I know it's not possible to personally minister to every single person who wants/needs attention). In fact, as you listen to how his week shapes up, Driscoll appears to be either a) alone, b) with family, or c) with staff (but not even with staff as much since he's only in his office two days a week)....

Years ago during the 1 & 2 Timothy sermon series Driscoll said the problem with denominations is that the leadeship has no sense of what is going on in the trenches. They are so far removed from any actual congregational life they don't know what's going on. This allows them to make leadership decisions that do not reflect well on the needs of location congregations. A way to avoid this risk could be to simply let local pastors manage all details of the local congregations in a multi-site church.

But that means that the local campus pastors, not Driscoll, have the slightest clue what is going on at the level of individual campuses. So a guy like Bubba Jennings (a campus pastor) or Jesse Winkler (ditto) would know something of what is going on at a campus and be able to observe things that Mark may not. After all, if Driscoll's sermons are spread by way of videology it effectively makes him, in one sense, a denominational leader who can preach sermons without knowing what the significance of his sermons are to the actual needs and situations arising at a multi-site campus.

The Mark Driscoll who preached through 1 & 2 Timothy years ago might have argued that taking this position would be bad because it would potentially put him completely out of touch with the congregation. On the other hand, even as far back as Reformission Rev in 2005 (Zondervan) we should not be terribly surprised that it has come to this. Why? Well, I'll get to that. We should be careful to note that Driscoll has actually said that he's not really a pastor.

Does Driscoll think that having a connection to the congregation and investing in their lives is important? If he does then he sounds like he's not doing much about it. If he's investing in the lives of the leadership circle around him then he's functioning well in that capacity but at this point is more effectively a leader of a small denomination, and I don't think even Driscoll himself would argue against this understanding of things. Multi-campus structure, presumably by-laws that lay out the order of power, probably an executive board and the rest of the pastors as employed at the discretion of the executive group, all seem like marks of a denominational structure. It seems fair to ask if this was what Driscoll circa 2002 would consider a good thing. Then again, in the earliest years Driscoll would say from the pulpit that Mars Hill would never divide ministries into demographics but there are obviously such ministries or there wouldn't be a note that no childcare is provided during certain evening services. The potential significance of that is something that can be addressed later. On to Wilson's other thing.

Here's my thing: Living life with the people of the church -- as one of the people of the church -- is how a pastor earns the credibility and respect to preach. Driscoll's train of thought goes to a place I cannot fathom, and it appears as though he's recommending a pastoral role that is basically divorced from congregational life.When I read in Acts about the early church "having all things in common," I don't see it saying "except for the overseers who needed time to study." Even with my limited wisdom, I don't see it as wise for a pastor/elder to live and work hermetically sealed off from those he's supposed to be pastoring. You might as well just call yourself a teacher or speaker and be done with it.The church should have no tolerance for pastors who don't pastor.

But, as Driscoll put it in Reformission Rev in 2006. He's NOT a pastor, not really. He's a missiologist. He may be a missiologist who is uncomfortably (in some ways) settled into being the primary preaching pastor of a multi-campus church. but he's not really a pastor, not in the sense that Jared Wilson might understand the term. At least not now. So Wilson may want to keep in mind that if Driscoll has said of himself that he's not a pastor so much as a missiologist then that may affect how relevant Wilson's concerns are.

But, to be fair to Wilson's poits, if Driscoll has the formal role of being a pastor but is really a missiologist then what's he doing from the pulpit just about every Sunday? Being a pastor? Being a missiologist? Since being a missiologist is basically not the same as actually being a pastor is it possible that Driscoll is holding on to aspects of a position he has outgrown? If he is a pastor than who constitutes the flock that he is an overseer for? Does he oversee them?

On the one hand I don't consider Wilson's concerns to be valid in the sense that if we take Driscoll at his word in Reformission Rev we see that Driscoll says he's a missiologist more than a pastor. But, on the other hand, Wilson's concerns seem valid precisely because it seems, on the face of it, that a missiologist is NOT a pastor and that in several respects Driscoll's position is sufficiently removed from members of the church that he functions more like a denominational leader. Which is just fine, so long as he acknowledges that that is more, in essence what he is. It raise the question, if Driscoll is a missiologist, why he takes the role that regular pastors do on Sundays.

And to that degree, since the purpose of apostles (of which he identifies himself as one, i.e. a missiologist/church planter) is to prepare the saints for ministry and good works, perhaps what Driscoll may want to consider is that part of that task is preparing other people who actually ARE gifted with shepherding gifts to, you know, actually shepherd the congregations in the multi-campus system. To go by the multiple sermons preached by various campus pastors on Jonah available through the media library it looks like that's actually the direction Driscoll may be going. If the direction Driscoll and the other elders have is to go more in this path, of letting campus pastors have more and more opportunity to speak directly to the congregations then this would be consistent with the approach a missiologist probably ought to take.

The less fortunate path would be to retain centralized teaching that goes directly to a set of congregations Driscoll simply has no meaningful connection to. This isn't exactly bad in itself but it carries within it a risk in the long run, which is that Driscoll will become a de facto denominational leader who has no meaningful connection to the church he leads. The risk inherent in that second approach is that a church like Mars Hill is so enamored of electronic communication, on-line donations, and satellite feed of Driscoll's sermons across campuses that what they may not realize is that their attempt to foster some kind of community has become a virtual church in which a person need not attend a service in order to hear preaching, need not attend a service to donate to the church, and would only "need" to attend a service at a campus in order to serve, in whatever capacity might already be approved of. Whether or not Driscoll from 2002 would consider his approach to what is apparently still some kind of pastoral ministry in 2008 is impossible to assess. But it does seem Jared Wilson should consider that Driscoll's own account is that he's not really a pastor but a missiologist. Perhaps it's fair to point out that Wilson should not find Driscoll wanting by a measure Driscoll doesn't seem to apply to himself any more than Driscoll should find Wilson wanting by criteria that are important to Driscoll that Wilson may not endorse--which is probably just stating the obvious.

The second disagreement I had was in Driscoll's response to a question about leading friends on staff ministry. Driscoll said don't do it. Don't do ministry with friends. Have friends and have staff.He's not saying you shouldn't be friendly with staff or treat them as non-friends; he's saying, as far as I understand him, that you shouldn't do church ministry with close friends because it makes management difficult. What happens when you have to do performance reviews or, God forbid, let someone go? He even has a personal story about having had to do this.

Now as someone else pointed out on Wilson's own blog entry, this could simply mean that Driscoll simply points out that a buddy syndrome can set in that makes it hard or impossible to enforce any accountability. Thing is, over the years Driscoll has said that co-founding Mars Hill with two good friends (Mike Gunn and Leif Moi) had the opposite tendency, that they tended to help keep him accountable, reel him in, shoot down bad ideas and the like.

Around page 34 of Reformission Rev Driscoll has a 9th out of 10 questions, something roughly on the order of "do you have the guts to shoot your dogs?" He then explains that dogs represent bad styles, stupid ideas, weak procedures, loser leaders, and other things that just need to be abandoned. A pastor has to have the courage to shoot these dogs once and make sure they stay down and dead.

It is doubtful that Driscoll has changed in his belief that dogs need to be put down but he has changed his views on whether or not a pastor should be working with friends in full-time ministry in the last six years. No one seems to have asked him why. Would the disappearance of Moi from the list of pastors employed by Mars Hill church have anything or nothing to do with this? If Moi wasn't a dog then what happened to him?

Obviously no one has to answer these questions but the things Driscoll has said in conferences about friends in ministry is so different from what he has said in earlier years about the vital role his friends, with whom he worked in ministry at Mars Hill, have played in helping get Mars Hill off the ground that it's a bit startling that men he considers good friends, or did in the past, get nary a mention on the Mars Hill public spaces these days.

For that matter, if Driscoll considers Wendy Alsup a good friend she's not listed as a deacon employed by the church anymore either, even though her book just got published. Michael Spenser (aka Internet Monk) wrote a very warm review of Alsup's book and mentioned that Alsup had a knack for getting to the point and not distracting the reader with attempts at story or humor that her pastor doesn't share. Well, if she's not listed as a deacon any more it's not certain that Driscoll is her pastor anymore.

So given Driscoll's public statements over the years and his recent statements about not working with good friends it might lead one to have the misunderstanding that some of the people he considered friends may have been dogs, or may have felt they had good reason to stop serving at the church. Since a person can't know which is which without actually knowing the people in question and they are entitled not to talk about it, all this is simply to point out that what Jared Wilson recounts and what Driscoll published in 2005 may or may not have some overlap. Perhaps Driscoll fired a few people he considered friends at one point because he considered them dogs? That would be the simplest explanation of things but I'll totally understand if no one at Mars Hill past or present feels like discussing that.

All things considered from public statements given by Driscoll in print and at conferences that might be the simplest explanation, though. I want to stress that there seems to be too much speculation as to these things on the internet. My asking questions does not mean that I actually know why people's names are no longer listed in the deacons or pastors at the church, just that I am noticing that Driscoll's change of heart about friends in ministry might have a connection to the application of his "Shoot your dogs" principle laid out in Reformission. Of course unless Driscoll says something more the rest would be speculation. But in a way, for the name of a founding elder to vanish from any reference in Mars Hill media raises the question of why. We can surmise that Moi isn't still being a pastor anywhere. But there's no indication that he was a dog that need to be shot, to borrow Driscoll's colloquialism. So the middle point between these two axes would be that the man left for reasons we are not privy to.

More or less, since these things are statements made on the record to the public a person can ask what the significance, if any, of these things are. Wilson's points are interesting. I agree with some of them but it is more pertinent to today's blog entry that an anonymous commenter mentioned some things recently, things that I can't really verify but am admittedly skeptical about. When a person who Driscoll has said for years is a good friend is no longer listed as a pastor at the church that person co-founded then there are basically only two or three possibilities. That person could have been a dog Driscoll and other pastors at MH had to shoot, per the paradigm laid out in Reformission Rev back in 2005. That person could have resigned for something that made them unfit for ministry in either their eyes or the eyes of others, or the person could have resigned in protest of something. Sheer longevity over a ten year period mitigates strongly against the third option being the most likely.

So, my anonymous reader, does this help address why I am skeptical about some of the rumors you mentioned?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll

This is a fascinating little book, one about which I could write a great deal. Whether it's slavery and race relations; theories about the link between theological orthodoxy and Americna theories of political thought; or the polemic between Protestants and Catholics about the issues of private interpretation and the necessity of an authoritative interpretive tradition in the development of a society; or the fascinating debate about the level at which we can read Providence in current events as a justification for our own actions ... there's all sorts of stuff in this little book.

Noll's central premise is that the key issues that undergird the Civil War could be explained as irreconcilable differences within Protestant Christendom about how to interpret the Bible on the issue of slavery and how to interpret actions in current events as providential in connection to that. You had two sides that, predominantly, held that Scripture was true and the highest authority, but they could not agree on what, finally, the Scripture said about the subject in a way that could be implemented in terms of policy.

To paint with brushstrokes that are braod where Noll's are fine, both abolitionists and defenders of slavery tended to focus on the subject of slavery itself without sufficiently looking at the question of race that lay underneath it. Both sides were not exactly generous amongst whites in assessing the situation in terms of whether or not blacks were equal or not. Noll's most intriguing chapter deals with Catholic critiques of the largely Protestant debate with a few predictable but nonetheless illuminating points.

The first point was that Catholics argued that this was proof of the deleterious influence of Protestantism and that the fact that Mormonism emerged in the Protestant United States was proof that insanity in all matters of religion was assured because there were no centralized traditions or controls.

The second point was that while it was obvious to Catholics in Europe that slavery as it was practiced in the United States was wrong, it was equally obvious that material interests overrode theological precision. The North may have pressed for abolition but they financially benefited from slavery. They were also no less racist than the South. Protestants and Catholics outside the United States, interestingly enough, were more against slavery than they were for the North. They considered the North to be at least as bad and conservative Protestants and Catholics tended to see the Civil War as an outworking of materialistic and rationalistic impulses in Americna theology married to an anti-intellectual streak that was, ironically enough, given a qualified defense by none other than Jonathan Edwards, one of the earliest and most prominent intellectuals in the nascent United States!

Now it never ceases to amaze me how people can do what they call "simply reading the Bible" and use that to come to the most astonishing conclusions. That is what happened with slavery and race in the 19th century. The theological debates never got resolved at the level of theology. They got resolved through armed conflict.

Now it seems that Noll is right, that the theological conflicts that led up to the Civil War didn't get resolved and haven't been resolved. What interests me is that Noll doesn't bring up something that would seem like an obvious possibility, that the theological crises about providence and the interpretation of Scripture in the United States in a culture where there is no state church and no longer a prevailing theological consensus could explain the rise of the ecumenical movement int he 20th century. I'm sure Noll knows all about this stuff and sees how it developed better than I do. It's interesting that he notes that in the 19th century Protestants did not look to the Catholic tradition and interpretation on the subject of slavery because Catholicism was not considered part of Christendom. It was as bad or worse than atheism for many Protestants, and Protestants equated the centralizedauthority and tradition of the Catholic church as the enemy of both reason and liberty, to say nothing of the Bible itself.

But it could be readily proposed in hindsight (which is always 20/20, you could say) that at precisely that point a more ecumenical understanding of how to interpret Scripture within a fundamentally Christian framework was needed.

Noll's observation that many of the most formative and formidable theological writings in Christian history often came in response to brutal military conflicts is fascinating. Augustine wrote City of God in reaction to the fall of Rome, Luther and Calvin wrote clarifying documents in the context of militarily unstable situations. More recently Bonhoeffer wrote in reaction to the rise of National Socialism. Even in a more popular literary veing rather than a strictly academic theological discourse Lewis and Tolkien both were influenced by what they observed during the great wars of that century. Yet in America theology rarely rose to deal with anything much that touched on these issues either in the 19th century or even much of the 20th century. There was the civil rights movement but Noll might point out that it was the black theologians in both centuries who were actually struggling to articulate a biblically informed theology that would have a bearing on both policy and culture.

What sticks with me is how confident people were on any given side that Providence proved them right. X happened that went my way so that means God's on my side. Or X happened that I wish hadn't happened so God must be humbling me for some reason like not observing the Sbbath rather than enslaving black people. We defeated the cessationists so that means we're in the right. There was little room for nuance or self-reflection once violence and arms were taken up.

For those who have read this blog a bit there's no subtlety to what I'm saying here. There have been reports of harsh actions and harsh words on a few things here and there. It is, so far as I can discern, not a sign that providence is really vindicating either side and that both sides reflect, by way of hyper-extended analogy, what Noll might call a failure of the North and South to examine the failures of their own theological paradigms or to ground them in Scripture and a still deeper failure to recognize that powerfully materialist, self-interested goals fueled the allegedly "common sense" theology on both sides. The South did not want to lose their slaves and did not trust the rising materialist capitalist mercantilism of the North, which seemed set on amassing financial control over the region. Then there was that problem that abolitionists had so many radical voices that were in essence denouncing any semblance of orthodoxy meant that people did not oppose slavery in part because they felt that abolitionists were possibly not even Christians. The North had people who declared that slavery was wrong but did not address their own racism. They also did not address how they profited from the very thing they denounced or that they were wililng to employ whatever force was necessary to attain their goals.

As a recent historian noted, there were problems of civil conflict even within the Confederacy and Noll's book is intriguing for pointing out that on both sides of the conflict there was not a clear theological consesus that was clearly biblically defensible across the board. Things were simply taken for granted. To invoke a great analogy, Israel thought that by having the ark of the Covenant they could prevail in battle. Not true. As the prophet Jeremiah warned, it doesn't matter if you say "the temple of the Lord" the house at Shiloh was destroyed. There is nothing special about a Christian nation that ensures that what is right will always be what it decides. By way of contemporary application, a church that is growing and has popular leadeship does not thereby secure any confidence that it is doing things right in theology or applied ethics in and of itself. Benny Hinn has tons of people at his church. So does T. D. Jakes. Osteen has a huge church but how much of the Gospel is really shared there?

The great mistake both the North and South seem to have made, which is painful yet understandable, is to presume upon Providence and to presume that their side is the one justified by God. History seems to suggest that in the scope of Scripture and Christendom overall it would be hard to say either side was all that admirable in the end. To ask me to side with the North or South now would be like asking me to decide whether Judah or Samaria was more faithful to the Lord. One went into exile sooner than the other but both went into exile.

Yes, for long-time readers, THIS ties into the meta-theme, too.

another poem, it's been a while

It's not the greatest thing, a bit perfunctory even, but I felt I needed to write it. Been reading Surprised By Hope, Bishop Wright's recent book, and it got me toying with the idea of writing a poem again. Last time I recall posting a poem here was a meditation on John 1:1-5

So here's the poem that has a fairly obvious theme:

Lord, You made Adam from the earth
And gave him life through Your own breath
Yet he forsook a life of mirth.
he turned from You, and gave us death.

Scarce had You made the earth and sea
And filled them both with living things
Than Adam turned from Your decree.
Now Death each generation stings.

Before all this You did resolve
to suffer with us for our sake.
You through Your own shed blood absolve
Our sins which drove each metal stake.

Though we, made last, chose death for all
And ruined the world You bid us tend
You came to save us from Death's thrall,
Our broken flesh and souls to mend.

You are Yourself the Promised One
Who struck the wicked Serpent's head.
You are the true life-giving Sun
Who now is risen from the dead.

Now You are first-born from the grave
And by Your word make all things new
What Adam ruined You will save
Because You are Faithful and True.

What I have tried to convey that may not come across is that Christ made the world and placed Adam in it last, Adam who brought death and destruction to the very world he was charged to keep. Christ, therefore, came to die for this world and the death Man brought to it, and by being the last Adam is paradoxically the first. There is a fascinating irony in this that the man who was made last brought death to all that came before him, while Christ died first so that He can bring life to everything that will live in the new cosmos He will bring about at the end of the age.

I don't know if that comes across in the poem, which is a first draft and not necessarily anything special. I'm not John Donne, that's for sure. But if you find this at least interesting enough to read, well, I suppose that's what blogging is for.

If the name of a Mars Hill founding pastor vanishes from Mars Hill websites has no one noticed?

Given all the blogging for and against Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll over the years the most startling thing is what hasn't been discussed or researched, at all.

Here's the question, given that Driscoll's 2005 book Confessions of a Reformission Rev (Zondervan) established that Leif Moi was one of the three founding pastors, why has Leif Moi's name all but vanished from Mars Hill websites?

Now perhaps someone would say there's no news and no story. Well, given the news and blogging about the church it would SEEM like a newsworthy observation that there's a founding elder of Mars Hill whose name seems to have dropped off. Mike Gunn is obviously still working at Harambee. Any Google search could establish that. Driscoll is still doing his thing at Mars Hill. Moi? Nowhere. You may even have trouble downloading any sermons he preached over the years. Old sermons get off-loaded from media libraries all the time but Moi preached sermons as recently as last year. No sign of them.

Nothing from any newspaper or blogger about this. Zip. And yet it's an elephant in the room. What happened that a founding elder of one of the fastest growing and influential Protestant churches in America has seemed to disappear and neither the pro nor the anti Mars Hill or Driscoll bloggers have even noticed?

This is simply a matter of having Driscolls Reformission Rev book and visiting the Mars Hill websites to see how things have developed since then. There's no mention in the short history of the church now of either Mike Gunn or Leif Moi, which seems sad since it would appear that for the first decade of Mars Hill's existence these men played an extremely important role. It sounds like it was doubtful that the church would have survived without help and encouragement from these men.

It's puzzling. Has Moi had health problems? Did he resign? Why no mention of the resignation of one of the founding elders of a church this large and with a lead pastor this famous?

Now maybe there's nothing going on at all ... but there seems to be a puzzling silence about this from people who, to go by their vociferous pro or anti Mars Hill Church/Mark Driscoll blogging or news coverage, would catch a detail like this.

Me? I'm deeply ambivalent. I really like and dislike aspects of MHC and the leaders, leaning fairly strongly toward appreciating it, though, which might be an understatement. You can't notice a strange, un-reported thing like this if you don't read broadly on the subject.

So if no one else blogs about this then that's fine, maybe preferable. In journalism people like to take stock of under-reported bits of news. Where anyone with any interest in Mars Hill Church pro or con this would seem like THE elephant in the room, the thing that no one has uttered a word about. To pick some non-random examples, nothing from Adrian Warnock, nothing from Steve Camp, nothing from bloggers who seem to follow Driscoll and Mars Hill to see what is going on.

Now this blog entry is not a place where I have any plans to do anything other than point out what seems to be obvious and not discussed. Given the contentious and invasive things I've seen in how people writing against Mars Hill Church have handled themselves in the last 14 months I don't want this blog entry to be taken as suggesting people try to dig up something on what may be a non-story. I stumbled upon The Stranger's coverage of the pastor firings over the last year and CLEARLY someone compromised a bunch of proprietary information in the process of breaking that story. I find that kind of thing wrong and, no, I don't care if you think you're some Hunter Thompson type. There's something to be said for recognizing that carefully going through on-the-record, publicly accessible information can still get you a news story without necessarily always relying on some hoped for "deep throat". And I won't beat around the bush on this one, there are people whose privacy was compromised whom I have met personally that were included in that coverage. I no longer want to kick whoever did that in the nuts but it's been a year.

Anyway, to me, it would nonetheless seem like news because a founding pastor can be likened to a root from which the church, as a plant, grows out of the foundational soil of Christ. So if a root disappears where did it go?