Monday, June 27, 2011

A friend is useful at all times and a brother is born to be ranked?

One of the things where I have had no problem saying that Mark Driscoll is weak is in handling Old Testament texts. Another area where I believe he is weak is in discussing friendship. He's turned his sights to discussing the subject recently and, honestly, he's still not quite impressing me. It's important to discuss how pastors prioritize friendship, family and ministry but even in his attempt to field these important topics in a practical way there's something a bit funky.

See, Mark cannot but help but constantly rank and evaluate whole categories and individuals on the basis of utility. Consider this set of number-ranked categories:

0 Enemies

+1 Old Acquaintances Not in regular, meaningful contact
– Past relationships such as classmates, teammates, coworkers, neighbors, etc.

+2 Distant Relatives Little regular contact other than when obligated
– Family event (funeral, wedding, reunion, holidays)

+3 Neighbors Not in community; see often but not close
– Not in one another’s homes and only surface chats

+4 Connections Same social circles bring together
– Kids in same school, on same team, or in same activity
– Work out at same gym, etc.

+5 Coworkers

+6 Activity Group Doing something organized with others
– Sports team, community organization, club cause, hobby

+7 Close Family See and speak to frequently
– The family you enjoy and pursue

+8 Fellowship “Church Family”
– Bible study group, ministry partners

+9 Close Friends Friends you frequently see and speak to

– People you enjoy and pursue, mutually

+10 Spouse

So within this number ranking enemies are understandably at 0. But consider that in lane +7 there's "close family". These are family members you like and pursue. Above that are "church family", Bible study group and ministry partners. Now I'm not sure why people you see once a week in a community group or Bible study outrank your own children or your parents. I'm not sure why a pastor you work with in a ministry setting or "friends you frequently see and speak to" are in a higher ranked category than a brother? I don't know what, if anything, any of these rankings suggest about Driscoll's relationship with his siblings and children but in any case, there it is, he's set up numbered lanes in which his children and any siblings rank below guys like Jamie Munson or Scott Thomas and whomever he considers "a good friend".

Even if I grant the axiom that a friend must of necessity be a peer and that therefore one's children can never, ever be one's friends that doesn't factor in adults who have relationships with siblings and parents. If the family, as nearly anyone with a functioning brain could attest, is where socialization habits are developed then any kind of ranking system is going to eventually be useless in the real world. A person who could technically qualify as +9 or +8 may do so for reasons that are not necessarily discussed or analyzed.

It is also not a foregone conclusion that one's spouse must always, only and ever be in the +10 category by definition. What happens to the widow or widower? Does that mean that +10 friendship has been lost and cannot be regained except through remarriage? How, in this context, does the Bible study member or fellow church employee still manage to be +8 while siblings and parents who have known you since before your spouse died are in +7?

Notice, too, that in the context of complementarian applications of headship even the +10 category friend (the wife) is still someone of whom Driscoll has said "it's not headship until you disagree", more or less indicating that even the +10 friend of the wife has to cut off friendships with people who have had a falling out with her pastor-husband. He may be your +10 friend but you've got to submit to him and let him make a financially stupid decision if you can't persuade him to change his mind. She may be your +10 friend but when push comes to shove you can exercise headship and tell her she has to stop hanging out with that brother in Christ you fired. As I've been saying at some obvious length the problems with a real world application of any of this numbered lane stuff are legion. Ranked numbering categories for whole swaths of people has the appearance of practicality and wisdom but the real wisdom probably awaits part 3 where some actual scripture may get discussed.

Those of us who aren't married apparently have no +10 friendship amongst flesth and blood. Christians who deal with a same-sex attraction and do not act upon it out of obedience to Christ apparently have a sucker's deal for ever hoping to obtain +10 friendship in this life, which yields all sorts of subjects on what this may mean. At some point a person is not married and the ranking system presumes a lifelong marriage rather than accounting for the possibility that there are unmarried men and women in all sorts of places. Apparently +10 friendship is reserved just for the person who is willing to carry your babies? If that's so would that I had such a friend and could benefit from having a friendship that apparently Paul thought was perfectly okay to go through life without! But I have written so much on how conservative Protestants work around what Paul said about marriage (the +10 category friendship lane) I don't wish to recite all of that here.

Which gets me to Driscoll's public use of the term "a good friend", often anyone who is serving in ministry at the moment he uses the term who, three years from now, is probably not necessarily going to be in ministry with him or getting called "a good friend". I'm not going to name names because that's not my point, my point is that I'm not surprised that Driscoll, even when he attempts to field the issue of friendship, displays the same weakness in methodology now that he's displayed over the years. I'm not saying he shouldn't prioritize levels of friendship, I'm suggesting that his need to evaluate and find people good or wanting on utility is the core of his problem in approaching this subject. He could have broached the topic of closeness and relational intimacy without having to resort to a ranked number system in which his kids must of necessity be in a lower numbered rank than a pastor who, technically, works for him.

For that matter he isn't really setting the discussion forth in a way that accounts for possibility that at different stages in life a person may be closer to people who are technically in categories 7, 8 or 9 than 10. Has he never talked with a parent or an in-law (category +7?) about ways to improve his marriage. If a friendship must be defined as being a voluntary mutual peer relationship then what's the deal with Jesus telling his disciples "I call you friends"? Surely this does not mean that in every respect, even before the Resurrection, that Peter or James or Thomas were friends by dint of being peers with God the Son, right?

If greater love has no man than this that he lays down his life for his friends then where does that play into the ranked lanes? A father who is not willing to risk his life for his children or brothers or parents more than for a Bible study friend or an employee in a church setting has probably missed the boat somewhere. I'm not saying Driscoll is advocating that, just using these examples as way to point out the goofiness of the very idea of the ranked lanes. If Christ can call those of us who are His friends then this suggests that the ways in which we rank each other may be a sign that we have room for growth. Ever since Reformission Rev Mark has been fond of categorizing and ranking people according to their usefulness to him as a pastor and it's a little disappointing that half a decade later, when he's trying to explain how he had misconceptions about what real friendship is, he's still basically showing the same attitude with respect to who counts as being at what level of friendship. It's in the ranked numbers, folks, and it's from the man himself.

Still, I'm not saying there are no practical insights to be gained from this series, just that even in this Driscoll's showing that he can't resist ranking and tallying humanity. If you skim this series but go and listen to Tim Keller's two sermons titled "Spiritual Friendship" (which are both awesome, not coincidentally) you'll have a more persuasively biblical and big-picture approach to what Christian friend looks like. Keller's preaching can give you a bird's eye view and Driscoll's stuff, put distinctly at a lower level of thought in terms of scriptural study, can give you some broad, axiomatic approaches to the concepts Keller sets forth.

Unless Driscoll pulls off something amazing in part 3 I'm not going to be holding my breath that it will be anything much to discuss beyond his sharing yet again that lots of people want to be friends with pastors for social status reasons and that you shouldn't let that happen. Well, if he can admit that he has decided lots of people ought to be his friends for social status reasons and admit that the temptation to use people runs both ways then that will be an important warning to pastors. As the pastor at my church once put it in a sermon, the measure of a pastor as a shepherd is how he treats the people he can't get anything out of. If you are only considerate of the people you consider useful that is the distinction between the heart of a shepherd and the heart of a hired hand.

Finally, if Christ is the one we seek to follow and emulate Jesus is the one who through His death took us from 0 to +10 at the Cross. On that I trust we can all agree and I would prefer to end on the things we can all agree on.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!