Tuesday, September 23, 2014

revisiting some earlier material, Mark Driscoll vs the Puritans on the subject of Song of Songs and marriage

originally published here, this material is worth revisiting because for as often as Mark Driscoll has paid lip service to Puritans comparing what he has had to say about Song of Songs over the last 18 years is worth comparing to what Puritans have had to say about Song of Songs.


Over his 18 some years in public ministry Mark Driscoll has come to be an advocate of the Puritans.  He has spoken fondly of them over the years and has been particularly keen to stress that the Puritans weren't against sex in marriage the way they are sometimes popularly portrayed as being.  There was even a time, which former members of Mars Hill Church may recall, where Mark Driscoll would mention that a Puritan group excommunicated a man for not having sex with his wife as much as the wife wanted sex. Driscoll never seemed particularly interested in sourcing any of this anecdote and so it often seemed to Wenatchee The Hatchet that, at best, the story would merely be apocryphal.  But perhaps historians of the Puritans can enlighten us all with respect to what real incident Mark Driscoll might have been referencing. 

Now there have been a few things said here and there about how Mark Driscoll has shared quite a bit about Grace Driscoll's personal history above and beyond what Mark Driscoll has shared about his own history and family history.  Andy and Wendy Alsup in particular, reviewed Real Marriage and Wendy Alsup noted that the book seemed lopsided in what was shared about Grace compared to what was shared about Mark Driscoll.  As public statements by Mark Driscoll about his wife go, he has actually publicly stated she has had five C-sections and a miscarriage in addition to having mentioned how bitter toward her and unsatisfied by her sexually in the earlier years of his marriage.  In the much-discussed "Can We ____?" chapter of Real Marriage a defense of oral sex and anal sex as acceptable among mutually consenting spouses was made.  And it is at this point, among others, that Mark Driscoll's public teaching and preaching seems to have little to do with what can be documented from the writings of Puritans.  The Puritans can seem to have more to do with being a useful name to drop for a group that Mark Driscoll has found useful rather than a group of authors whose work seems to have had any real perceptible influence on Driscoll's public ministry or writings.

Now it's true that some people don't even consider Richard Baxter to be a legit Puritan but let's start with Richard Baxter anyway, since he is popularly considered a Puritan and because excerpts of his practical writing on Christian economic (i.e. family) life was republished in a book format slightly before the publication of Real Marriage:

let's look at page 445 in a section where Baxter discusses the duties of wives to husbands and considers various grounds for legitimate possibility for divorce.

Quest. XI. Is not the case of sodomy or buggery a ground for warrantable divorce as well as
Answ. Yes, and seemeth to be included in the very word itself in the text, Matt. v, 31,32,

which signifieth uncleanness; or at least is fully implied in the reason of it. See Grotius
ibid, also of this.

Okay, so times have changed in the last few centuries and it would appear that Mark Driscoll has publicly endorsed as potentially acceptable within marriage acts that Richard Baxter advised were categorically sound reasons for a wife to divorce her husband, or at least so it would seem.

Then with respect to quite a few things Mark Driscoll has said in published books about his wife ... Baxter has some interesting directions toward spouses regarding their mutual obligation to preserve each other's honor.

page 437
Direct. IX. Also you must be careful of the lawful honour and good names of one another. You
must not divulge, but conceal, the dishonourable failings of each other; (as Abigail, except in any case compassion or justice require you to open them to any one for a cure, or to clear the truth). The reputation of each other must be as dear to you as your own. It is a sinful and unfaithful practice of many, both husbands and wives, who among their companions are opening the faults and infirmities of each other, which they are bound in tenderness to cover.  As if they perceived not that by dishonouring one another, they dishonour themselves. ...

from page 433
Remember still that you are both diseased persons, full of infirmities; and therefore expect the fruit of those infirmities in each other; and make not a strange matter of it, as if you had never known of it before. If you had married one that is lame, would you be angry with her for halting? ... Did you not know beforehand, that you married a person of such weakness, as would yield you some matter of daily trial and offense? If you could not bear this, you should not have married her.

Remember still that you are one flesh; and therefore be no more offended with the words or failings of each other, than you would be if they were your own. Fall out no more with your wife for her faults, than you do with yourself for your own faults; and than you would do, if hers had been your own. This will allow you such an anger and displeasure against a fault, as tendeth to heal it; but not such as tendeth but to fester and vex the diseased part. This will turn anger into compassion, and speedy, tender diligence for the cure.

For someone who has touted the Puritans as being fantastic it's a bit difficult to see how the ways in which Mark Driscoll wrote about his estimation of Grace Driscoll's failures would be much in keeping with Baxter's advice toward the married on preserving the honor of the other as though it were the public reputation of one's own self.

Now over the years Mark Driscoll has at times said that people who read Song of Songs as an allegory of the love of Christ for the Church ruin it because, well, then he proceeds to gay panic jokes with respect to the Parousia.  Well, this is another point about which Mark Driscoll seems to have little to do with the actual Puritans he sometimes likes to name-drop.

Let's see something the Puritan Richard Sibbes had to say about the Canticle of Canticles:

from the sermon "The Spouse, Her Earnest Desire After Christ"
... This book is nothing else but a plain demonstration and setting forth of the love of Christ to his church, and of the love of the church to Christ; so familiarly and plainly, that the Jews take great scandal at it, and would not have any read this book till they are come to the age of thirty years, lest they thereby should be tempted to incontinency; where in they would seem wiser than God himself. But the Holy Ghost is pleased thus by corporeal to act out those spiritual things, which are of a higher nature, that by thinking and tastign of the one they might be stirred up to translate their affections (which in youthful age are most strong) from the heat of natural love to spiritual things, to the things of God; and all those who are spiritually minded (for whom chiefly the Scriptures were written) will take special comfort and instruction thereby, though others take offence and scandal at it.  So here, the union between Christ and his spouse is so familiarly and livelily set forth by that uninon which is between the husband and wife, that, though ungodly men might take offense at it, yet the godly may be bettered by it.

Then there's some guy named Matthew Henry

Complete Commentary of the Whole Bible
Matthew Henry (1706)
... The books of scripture-history and prophecy are very much like one another, but this Song of Solomon's is very much unlike the songs of his father David; here is not the name of God in it; it is never quoted in the New Testament; we find not in it any expressions of natural religion or pious devotion, no, nor is it introduced by vision, or any of the marks of immediate revelation. It seems as hard as any part of scripture to be made a savour of life unto life, nay, and to those who come to the reading of it with carnal minds and corrupt affections, it is in danger of being made a savour of death unto death; it is a flower out of which they extract poison; and therefore the Jewish doctors advised their young people not to read it till they were thirty years old, lest by the abuse of that which is most pure and sacred (horrendum dictu—horrible to say!) the flames of lust should be kindled with fire from heaven, which is intended for the altar only. But, II. It must be confessed, on the other hand, that with the help of the many faithful guides we have for the understanding of this book it appears to be a very bright and powerful ray of heavenly light, admirable fitted to excite pious and devout affections in holy souls, to draw out their desires towards God, to increase their delight in him, and improve their acquaintance and communion with him. It is an allegory, the letter of which kills those who rest in that and look no further, but the spirit of which gives life, 2 Cor. iii. 6; John vi. 63. It is a parable, which makes divine things more difficult to those who do not love them, but more plain and pleasant to those who do, Matt. xiii.

So if the Puritans considered the allegorical approach to Song of Songs to be the right and proper way to interpret the text and Mark Driscoll has repeatedly joked that he loves Jesus ... but "not like that" as a way to dispel even the possibility of a typological or allegorical reading of Song of Songs then he's coming across like a poser on just how much he really regards the Puritans as interpreters of biblical text when Song of Songs is the subject. 

In fact sometimes it can seem to Wenatchee The Hatchet (a matter of personal opinion) that Mark Driscoll's regard for the Puritans can end up seeming more formality than reality.  It is also a reason to doubt whether or not a sustained critique of Mark Driscoll as a Calvinist has any relevance to Mark Driscoll's ministry.  He wasn't always a Calvinist, for those who were at Mars Hill in the earlier years, and attempting to criticize his doctrine or ministry on the basis of appelations to Calvinism or Puritans also seems to run into the obstacle of how thoroughly he seems to ignore what the Puritans actually had to say about marriage and Song of Songs in order to have published large swaths of what actually ended up in Real Marriage.  You "could" get the Driscoll book but there wasn't anything in the book that added anything other than Driscollian autobiography to a number of ideas that were articulated by the likes of Richard Baxter centuries ago.

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