Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Link: Open letter to the Child Star of PastorMark TV

Years ago Mark Driscoll said that the sign of an errant pastor was that when you'd go to look for the pastor's church the pastor's name was the domain name for the church. Okay, fair point, I suppose.
So what am I then supposed to make of Pastor Mark TV? What am I to make of Driscoll presenting his daughter Ashley as a model for other Christian teenage girls to emulate?
Spit take, this is how stories like that of Francis and Frank Schaeffer may begin. I've never met Ashley so it's not like I assume this is an inevitable outcome but Driscoll and company have been using Ashley at convenient times for years and at some point she may look back on these moments with, if not regret or anger, at the least some ambivalence.
Let's take the cutesy photo of Ashley smiling in Reformission Rev from 2006 with the caption "Thank you for buying my daddy's book." If prompted any child who loves her parents might say something like this and it may be harmless as far as things go ... but, it can also be taken as a sign that where public relations, image-promotion, and branding go that Ashley has been a useful PR/marketing tool for Mark Driscoll's image as father and family man. He wouldn't even be the first dad I've come across who has used his children as a point for boasting about the rightness of his ideas, ideals, and practices. He's just more obvious about it.
Now Driscoll fans have wanted to have things both ways. It's fine for him to be a celebrity preacher and say crazy stuff to get people's attention and say this is focusing on the "real" issues. So it's fine to say the author of The Shack is promoting heresy and say that because calling out false teaching is a public matter Matthew 18 doesn't apply. If Driscoll invites people to share stories about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leaders out there then people say he's confronting a real problem in the church. Driscoll himself will say that he's dealing with the "real" issue under a lot of issues. If Driscoll says that video games are stupid pursuits of vicarious victories that don't matter in contrast to building a legacy for Jesus (which, of course, we must assume he thinks he's doing) then Driscoll fans will come up with a way to exegete Driscoll's rant against video games as a way of saying he isn't saying video games are stupid so they can keep playing video games; the idea that Driscoll has pursued stupid vicarious victories that don't matter by watching a single baseball game just wouldn't compute.
Then the other shoe drops and Driscoll fanboys told MacArthur he needed to contact Driscoll privately abou this concerns and John MacArthur pointed out that he'd been doing that for some time. So when Driscoll rips into some public figure by name or by implication he's either speaking the truth or else he's doind something like engaging culture. When people speak up against Driscoll the fans tend to get nervous or angry because these people just don't know Driscoll's heart. Strange how they so readily know the heart of others. Since the heart is deceitful above all things I'm not quite sure why anyone trusts his or her own heart, let alone presumes to speak up with certainty about what's in the heart of another.
Now this is not hypocrisy because hypocrisy is advocating a standard that you don't live up to or even try to obtain yourself. There's a difference between hypocrisy and having a double standard. When I observe Driscoll fanboys I don't see a case of hypocrisy in which Driscoll is actually immune from criticism--Driscoll has at times conceded his critics have important things to tell him. What I observe in Driscoll fanboys is a double standard. They excuse in Driscoll what they cannot tolerate for twenty seconds in someone else because they judge Driscoll by a different set of criteria than what they apply to other people.
So if Ed Young Jr. or Benny Hinn or some other pastor outside neo-Calvinist land had his fourteen year old daughter contributing blog entries to a website named after the pastor how would neo-Calvinists take this. What if, say, Casey Treat had a child posting comments about what it's like to follow Jesus and be a kid in today's culture? How would Driscoll fans react to that? Is there some reason Driscoll can take his wife on tour to promote a book he wrote with her but Ed Young is crazy for having a sermon series on sex where he sits on a bed with his wife? Driscoll and his wife fielded questions on anal sex so this looks like a distinction without a difference ... or at least it would be if no double standards were ever involved.
You can think of it this way, once a person becomes a public figure libel and slander laws become far more lenient. I shouldn't really have to spell out what this means, do I? I don't think we really need to spell out how this could apply to a teenage girl of any kind? By bringing his wife Grace and his daughter Ashley on to Pastor Mark TV and by creating a book with Grace and setting up a thing like a "Real Marriage" tour for 2012 Driscoll is putting his wife and daughter into the public sphere as public figures.
If, as he indicated during some of his spiritual warfare talks in 2008, Driscoll screens emails so Grace doesn't get to see some of the nasty stuff that might be said (because she's sensitive about that stuff), why bring Grace into the public sphere herself? Maybe she's developed a thicker skin in the last four years? Okay, she's an adult. Ashley is still a minor. Minors who are children of controversial public figures and celebrities get things said about them. Let me rattle off a few non-random examples: Bristol Palin, Chelsea Clinton, George W. Bush (technically he fits), Frank Schaeffer (again). Then there are the famous child stars I don't really need to mention. Alisa Harris has a point worth considering, a man who would seek to protect his wife and family would have a legitimate basis for refusing or postponing a daughter's request to blog about how other people should live and using herself as an example just because she sees daddy doing it so much of the time.
And at the risk of indulging in my fondness for N. T. Wright (who I know for certain Driscoll has read), in the book Jesus & the Victory of God, Wright points out that the Pharisees were not people with tons of formal political power. Some of them, yes, had substantial influence but they were in many cases public figures by dint of their passion for the Torah and Israel's identity. THey could be likened in many cases to journalists and pundits. Or, to borrow Driscollian vernacular, people blog. Now if it is bad for people who are self-appointed experts on how other people should live why invite one's daughter to join the Christian blogosphere at such a young age? Not to speak too dismissively but the most brilliant fourteen-year-old is still a fourteen-year old. If our Lord Himself did not enter into public ministry until he was in his thirties as is traditionally described what's wrong with suggesting that a boy or girl imitate Jesus and wait a bit before deciding to jump into the public speaking and teaching game?
Now I'm not saying kids can't or shouldn't get before the public and do things they love to do. I mean, I own too many Hilary Hahn albums to make some categorical statement like that! I also own too many Stevie Wonder albums to say that a talented child shouldn't be out there doing things to entertain people and enrich their lives. At the risk of seeming like a callous person, does Driscoll think he has a Hilary Hahn or a Stevie Wonder on his hands in the form of Ashley Driscoll? Is she that comparable level of great, brilliant, and disciplined? Is she that great at theologian? Paternal affection is frequently cool and all but that doesn't mean that Ashley Driscoll is ready to have a primetime slot.
Okay, you know, if she did a discourse on problems in Nestorianism or unpacked the significance of allegations of Montanism in contemporary Pentecostal thought then MAYBE I would grant she's the theological whiz kid Driscoll has bragged about from the pulpit. But even if she is, what is the value in having her out on the internet now where, as the daughter of a public figure megachurch pastor, she will be inculcated into the same pasttime and vocation. The trouble is that if she doesn't go crazy at some point like teenagers will do she could just be getting groomed to be a Pharisee of Pharisees.
If that doesn't happen, Ashley Driscoll is still wading into the realm of blogging and being the celebrity pastor's kid. Given how the internet has a habit of bringing out a lot of peoples', er, not-so-inner Driscoll quipper mentality, is putting Ashley into this cyber-world at the age of fourteen a particularly great idea? Obviously I don't personally think it is. She's not my kid, you may say, I grant that, too. It's just that, well, I saw the picture of Ashley with that caption "Thank you for buying my daddy's book" and I thought it was cheesy, manipulative, and kitsch back in 2006. I don't yet see giving Ashley a platform to show off the great theology her daddy thinks she has as a fourteen year old is necessarily any different. It's a way for Driscoll to brag about how your family should be like his family but it doesn't mean Ashley deserves or needs to be part a new website shilling Driscoll stuff that she contributes to chiefly on the basis of nepotism.
I can't really overstate this concern--if this wasn't the fourteen year old daughter of a celebrity megachurch pastor who's gunning for 25,000 members even though numbers don't matter, would anyone give a crap what the fourteen year old girl had to say about theology? If this were just a fourteen year old girl nobody had heard of who had a father nobody had heard of no one would even know she was in a position to write. To be a Driscoll-level of blunt about this, the only reaoson Ashley Driscoll would have any platform at all is due to plain old nepotism and at this tender age in her life Driscoll has more to benefit from having Ashley blog than Ashley will gain from it unless Driscoll's going to use Ashley's blogging as a way to invite instructive and constructive criticism to her about how to make a sustained argument. Like anyone who would read a Pastor Mark Driscoll's daughter blog is likely to be allowed to do that anyway.
Once it's on the internet it can stay up there for a long time. Consider that there are folks who still remember Pussified Nation. If anything it would be useful if one day Ashley Driscoll could grow up to see Pussified Nation and see the kinds of stuff William Wallace II wrote. If there was something Driscoll can look back on (and should) to tell Ashley about what to do and not do on internet discussion he could turn to Pussified Nation from the unmoderated Midrash and say, "Honey, whatever you do, don't do what I did."
Nah, in Reformission Rev he sold his actions as necessary to get the young men in line. Oh, that'd be the other 20-something men who thought they were going to change the world. If Driscoll makes any claim to have regretted started into ministry too soon and before he was really ready then it would be on the basis of THAT that letting Ashley become a celebrity blogger by nepotistic proxy ... on the basis of that he might just be a teensy bit of a hypocrite. Or maybe just a double standard.
I guess I should look forward to Ashley Driscoll's review of William Gurnall's The Christian in Full Armour then. Or maybe her review of the cases for and against paedobaptism and why she thinks Calvin was wrong to advocate paedobaptism. If Driscoll was serious in saying a lot of young people are wrongly and idolatrously obsessed with the Christian conference scene why is he not only going on a tour with his wife to promote a book on "Real Marriage", but also assimilating Ashley into the borg-like world of neo-Calvinist blogging? I mean, if I had a life, which I don't quite have, I might blog a whole lot less. But Mark assures us that his baby girl is a great theologian and who am I to doubt his paternal affection?

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