Friday, August 01, 2014

Christianity Today: Mark Driscoll Addresses Crude Comments Made Trolling as William Wallace II

It's a little too bad CT didn't published the letter.   Since CT linked to the post here at WtH that provided a historical background for the development of the pen name William Wallace II it's helpful to reiterate what was in the post published earlier this week.

Driscoll has a lengthy history of expressing regret about the "tone" of what he says, how he has said things, and how people have reacted to things he has said.  What he has not shown much history of doing is apologizing for what he says, for the substance in his more inflammatory remarks over the last twelve years, and as noted in the post mentioned above, in 2011 Mark Driscoll responded to the 2011 Facebook scuffle in which he was criticized for inviting readers to share stories of effeminate anatomically male worship leaders by doing two things: 1) stating that the issue under a lot of issues was the debate about whether gender was a social construct or a God-given identity.  2) that his executive pastors wanted him to address real issues in a real way with real substance and this was a transition into not apologizing for anything he'd said on Facebook as such but a promotion of both the forthcoming book Real Marriage and what turned out to be Pastor Mark TV.

If Driscoll is willing to express regret in a way that is conveyed to Christianity Today about William Wallace II perhaps Driscoll would be willing to address the number of books in which he used the works of others without citation; or perhaps the times where he presented inaccurate claims about historic Christian doctrine and figures; or perhaps could finally address that Joyful Exiles exists. 

If Driscoll is sorry about his writings as William Wallace II that's easy enough to understand.  The cumulative case in the posts this week is that if you read past the tone and look at the substance of what he's had to say about men and women and sex and sexuality over the last twelve to fourteen years the substance of what he wrote in the thread "Using your penis" still has a significant degree of thematic continuity with the chapter "Can We ____?" from the 2012 book Real Marriage. If anything from 1998 to 2008 Mark Driscoll escalated his propensity to dismiss allegorical interpretations of the Song of Songs by Christian thinkers with gay panic jokes compared to his late 1990s series "Sacred Romance". 

Back in 2012 when Driscoll discussed ways of interpreting the book of Esther he mentioned that one option is to interpret the book as being about Esther being godly from start to finish.  This is a straw man formulation of the idea that Esther, though flawed, was still potentially a righteous person.  Christians would keep saying David was a man after man's own heart in spite of everything actually in the books of Samuel and Kings and if one were to propose that the David who emerges in the Psalms seems like a narcissistic whiner people will throw down the kid gloves and fight.

But what did Driscoll say about his simplified option 1 for interpreting Esther?

Well, then that’s a worthless Book. If the story is, “God loves and uses good people and he doesn’t love and use bad people,” that’s a worthless Book. If that’s the story, that I have to be my own savior, I have to be my own hero, I’ve got to straighten out all that I made crooked. Or worse yet, if you’ve made it crooked, it can’t be straightened out at all, because you’re a bad person and God doesn’t love bad people, and you’ve done bad things and God doesn’t use people who’ve done bad things.

This is something Wenatchee The Hatchet has addressed in the past but it is worth revisiting.  The problem in the excerpt quoted above is in the series of rhetorical moves Mark Driscoll made with respect to the biblical text of Esther itself by of commenting broadly on the way some interpret it.  He sets up a straw man form of the proposal that Esther could be seen as a primarily heroic figure in spite of her flaws and the next move is more troubling, "Well, then that's a worthless book."  What Driscoll has done here is say that "if" someone interprets Esther as a narrative in which a heroic figure serves God and God's people then the book itself is worthless. 

Given all those years in which Mark Driscoll enjoined everyone to place themselves UNDER Scripture here is a slippery slope that no pastor should ever introduce into the pulpit, the proposal that if one has a view of the scriptures you find problematic that you declare the book itself becomes "worthless".  When a pastor is willing to say that if you endorse a view about a biblical text he finds untenable that the biblical text itself is rendered worthless the gravity of that rhetorical ploy on the part of a man professing to be a pastor and making this move from the pulpit is a bit more than Wenatchee The Hatchet can find the right words for.  It's one thing to suggest that an interpretive approach makes light of certain themes in a text (someone could suggest, as has been done recently that N. T. Wright has made the mistake of making the subsidiary theme in Paul the primary theme while downplaying Paul's primary literary theme) without disparaging the text itself if the other view holds true.  Driscoll would never make the rhetorical move of saying that the Pauline epistles are completely worthless of New Perspective ideas are true, would he?  Even if they were somehow "true" Driscoll wouldn't stop appreciating that the Pauline epistles are in the Bible. 

If Driscoll states that he has grown and changed not all of that growth and change may necessarily be positive.  Back in 2004 he warned members of the God Box and the dynamics of remote denominational executive fiat. By 2014 Mars Hill has reached a point where the local campus pastors are not capable of making decisions about real estate.  This was evinced years ago when Mars Hill executive leadership announced the closing of the Lake City campus.   In 2009 he said he didn't start a side company to manage book royalties and in 2011 he set one up.  What the publication of Real Marriage in 2012 revealed was that in spite of years and years of publicly sharing how much he loved his wife and how good things were this turned out to be, well, not entirely true.  The problematic trajectory Mars Hill has taken and that Mark Driscoll in particular has moved in is a direction in which the things he warned members against from the pulpit a decade ago have become the things that executive leadership at Mars Hill has been doing for a few years now. 

The culmination of many of these turnarounds could be found in Real Marriage.  This was the pivotal point at which Driscoll was not preaching through a book of the Bible, nor was he preaching through a topical series of doctrinal ideas or theological questions.  Instead Real Marriage constituted a series built around a book written by Mark and Grace Driscoll which now turns out to have featured content taken from the works of others without adequate citation and which was bought a place on the NYT bestseller list and this last point was admitted to by none other than the BOAA itself.  The Mark Driscoll circa 2000-2004 may be a source of embarrassment to Mark Driscoll circa 2014 but that Mark Driscoll of late has done things and said things that the Mark Driscoll of 2000-2004 warned us were characteristic of out-of-touch denominational systems and problematic pastors might just be something Mark Driscoll and the other leaders at Mars Hill may need to be reminded of. 

And, as we've noted here at Wenatchee The Hatchet, however sorry Mark Driscoll may be about his tone the substance of his ideas have not necessarily changed.  Mars Hill purging a decade worth of Driscoll's sermons and scrubbing away materials a week or so after it has been quoted at Wenatchee the Hatchet is not the most encouraging sign that Mars Hill leadership is listening or open to a public presentation of ways they have changed that run counter to the early ideals of the community. 

What is most striking about the narrative of the Driscoll marriage in Real Marriage is that during the William Wallace II days this was apparently a bitter and depressive period for the Driscolls in which Mark Driscoll might write "using your penis" under the pen name William Wallace II while the private reality was that he wasn't having as much sex or sex that was good as he wanted and he was bitter about this.  The bloggers and authors who have zeroed in just on "Pussified Nation" without grasping its historic context are going to be missing the significance of the thread and related content.  It is not possible or wise to separate the writings of William Wallace II from the Mark Driscoll who recounted in Real Marriage that in the earlier years of the church he did counseling with young couples and sexually ravenous single women just made him resent his wife a bit more.  (discussed on pages 14 and 15 of the 2012 book, and seems to refer to around the year 1998, a couple of years before "Pussified Nation"). At no point did Mark Driscoll seem to have any epiphany that if he was tending toward viewing sex as a god that he might not have ever been in the best position to rebuke other men in the church for having similar problems. 

What is most striking and least-discussed about the William Wallace II period in this week's journalism and blogging so far is to ask when or how soon or if Mark Driscoll's elders or pastors knew he was writing under this pen name and if they approved.  It is not clear whether or not Mark Driscoll did what he did as William Wallace II with the knowledge and approval of the other elders at the church that was Mars Hill or not.  To go by the stories shared in the 2011 film God's Work, Our Witness a viewer might get the impression that whatever Mark Driscoll's public remorse now in the production of the 2011 film everyone seemed eager to praise Driscoll for how he conducted himself in the period in which he was writing as William Wallace II and even Driscoll himself has not just said he cussed and yelled a lot but that God drew a straight line with a crooked stick and, particularly in the 2011 film, members and staff praised Mark Driscoll for what he did. 

If Mark Driscoll really regretted everything about that time how did that narrative element get into the 2011 film when he could have and should have rejected that entire episode as inappropriate to God's Work, Our Witness?  Driscoll said he sinned and cussed a lot during his William  Wallace II days but go back and read that account again and you may find that the predominant tone and theme in that section is Mark Driscoll talking about how the men were really getting out of hand and he was frustrated at them, took up the pen name William Wallace II along the way, and that in the end the "life change was unreal".  In other words, if there's nothing about the substance of what he said and did in that period of Mark Driscoll's life why would he ascribe the results of what he did to divine providence at any level?  Why not say, rather, that there was nothing good whatever that came from that period of his ministry when he wrote about it in 2006 or talked about it in the 2011 film? 

As discussed earlier this week, Mark Driscoll looked back on the Dead Men days in the following way in 2011.

There were maybe 100 to 120 guys at that time. Probably the average age was maybe early twenties, twenty years old. You’re talking college guys. But a lot of those guys, to this very day, they did it, man. They’re running companies. They’re deacons, elders. They’re starting churches. They’ve gotten married. They’re having kids. Their lives are changed and they are still, you know, hands up, chin down, feet forward, getting it done. And it’s just really cool what God did in this place.

Think about that for a moment "And it's just really cool what God did in this place."  Mark Driscoll has credited God with doing things through him in his William Wallace II/Dead Men stage in print and in film.  If Mark Driscoll has changed and has stopped embracing the ideas he presented as William Wallace II then the contrast between the tone and substance of "Using your Penis" and "Can We _____?" should be considerable.  Is it?