UPDATE: Driscoll has a short piece of video at Desiring God for those of you who might not have heard him explain his approach to being “missional.”
After reading yet another sniping comment tossed at Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll, I started asking myself why it is that Driscoll seems to bother so many people.
Even though his preaching is readily available on the web, he’s not in the big leagues of media preachers quite yet. He has only written two books, and neither rises above the level of popular to the kind of academic polemic that brings out the apologists. While Driscoll has gotten a lot of attention in the blogosphere, his circle of influence is still relatively modest.
Why is Driscoll attracting so much lightning? Why have some watchbloggers connected him with the “Emergent” liberalism of Brian Mclaren and the contemplative prayer practices of new age Catholics when Driscoll has disavowed Emergent repeatedly, crtiiticized Mclaren and other Emergents specifically and is verbally anti-Roman enough to offend anyone close to an ECT mindset?
Recently, excerpts from Driscoll’s most recent book revealed what Driscoll fans have known for quite a while: the man is funny, but also occasionally crude. A self-deprecating anecdote about a late-night phone call from a masturbating church member has made the rounds and is now exhibit A in the blog trial of Driscoll. In at least some quarters, Driscoll’s admission that he has often used bad language has made him someone to label, criticize, and sound warning alarms over.
I think there is more to the Driscoll fish-fry than these chessy criticisms over language. Those who are trying to get Driscoll onto the spit with lots of dry wood in place have other issues that need to be acknowledged.
I. Driscoll bothers you because he’s engaging in real evangelism. Christians talk about evangelism all the time, then rarely, if ever, engage in it. Calling whatever we happening to be doing at the moment “evangelism” is an evangelial specialty. Driscoll, on the other hand, has actually gone to the most unchurched area of America and evangelized himself a large and growing church. Both of his books are full of examples of converts who are now church leaders. In Driscoll’s ministry, you actually get to see what happens when real, actual pagans get converted to Christianity, and what an evangelism-sustained church looks like.
This has to bother people who have redefined evangelism into various other things Christians do, like wearing t-shirts, going to conferences to see their favorite preachers and running a year-long contest to see who can make the most noise about “precise doctrine.” Driscoll isn’t running a social work center. He isn’t running a theological seminary. He’s not writing books denouncing other Christians for not believing in justification enough to be a real Presbyterian. He’s not picking on other churches- most of whom he clearly sees as irrelevant and ineffective in evangelism- for not following the Bible enough. He’s not building buildings, sending out videos or coming up with 40 Days of Emerging Church Shenanigans for your church. His web site doesn’t even have a store to sell Mars Hill ball caps, which is a shame because I really need one.
He’s preaching to the lost, teaching new converts and dealing with what it means to evangelize Seattle. He isn’t setting in the suburbs trying to outprogram the church across the street. Look at Mars Hill and you will see more genuine, Biblical, missional evangelism going on than you’ve seen in years.
Sadly, that apparently bothers some people, because it puts Driscoll in the communication business, not in the law enforcement or microbe discovery business. It means he can’t afford to play the Pharisee role and call it “standing for truth in our generation.” When Driscoll talks about changing the culture, it’s with the Gospel, not a Dobson-style political agenda. He has to work out everything from the standpoint of a church full of new believers. You and I need to pay attention. And if you believe that it’s “compromise” to go into a culture and incarnate the Gospel, then you won’t get it. You’ll make fun of coffee, goatees and hair. You’ll run pictures of David Crowder so you can hint that emerging folk aren’t to be taken seriously because they don’t look like you and your Bible study. You’ll question whether anything Driscoll has done has value if he doesn’t show up at your next convention of real Christians and admit he was wrong for not doing it your way.
Too bad. You are missing something important.
II. Mark Driscoll bothers you because he is more loyal to the Gospel than to any team.
The blogosphere is a “team sport” zone. A great way to get hated is to refuse to play at all, or to cross lines that others won’t cross.
So yes, Driscoll wrote a column saying Robert Schuller was his friend and he’d been at a Schuller conference. He says Brian Mclaren and other emergents are his friends. He thinks Rick Warren has a lot of good things to say.
He’s a Piper admiring five pointer who knows all the cage-phase tactics. He goes to the National Pastor’s Conference so that EmergentNo can put him on a list of people who MIGHT be associated with anything and everything in evangelicalism. He goes to churches and conferences that your team won’t go to. He’s not into the denominational thing. He doesn’t look for anyone- not even the big names in the blogosphere theology- to tell him what to believe. He preaches, studies and comes to his own conclusions. His books are published by Zondervan instead of P&R.
Through all of this, Driscoll makes it clear that he is not participating in the team arena. His own blog, his conferences and his church planting network are broadly inclusive of conservative evangelicals. He has no problem sounding like a fundamentalist, but he’s not interested in the fundamentalist team, the Calvinist team or any team as much as he is interested in being identified with mere Christianity as done in Seattle by a Gospel believing, church planting, missional, emerging preacher.
I’ll be sad if Driscoll becomes another denomination, or throws in with one of the current teams to the point that the TR watchblogs feel he’s safe for their sidebar. I like the fact that Driscoll calls himself emerging, but breaks that mold, calls himself reformed, but doesn’t act like he thinks he knows what I ought to eat and wear, and calls himself conservative, but can write a chapter on brewing beer in a book about reformation and evangelism. I like it that his friendships, reading list and mentors aren’t clones of anyone else’s.
If this bothers you, you are too loyal to a team.
III. Mark Driscoll bothers you because he embodies a missionally reformed post-evangelicalism that you’re fighting against for reasons that can’t be sanely explained.
For many of us, our interest in Driscoll is not because he is “the best” preacher- he’s good, but hardly an artist in the pulpit- or because he is “the best” theologian- he does what most of us do: read books and translate what we read in our teaching and preaching. We don’t see Driscoll as putting together the ideal church or writing the most brilliant books. He’s not Tim Keller. What Driscoll is, however, is a straight-up bold practitioner of the missional approach to Christianity that is coming to dominate the younger, post-evangelical landscape.
This isn’t your father’s or your grandfather’s approach to being a pastor. It’s not Rick Warren’s church or anything that you’ll see at the average SBC evangelism conference. This is an approach to doing church that is coming from the wisdom of missionaries and missional theologians, not from the marketers and advocates of consumer Christianity. It is an approach that is, no matter what you may think of the idea, unafraid to take on a postmodern, post-Christian generation on its own turf, in its own culture, without compromising what matters. Driscoll is modeling incarnational, missional, vocational principles that have been articulated by many excellent Christian minds, but which have not found their way into the church life and ministry practice of evangelicals in America until recently.
Those bothered by Driscoll frequently raise issues of “faithfulness” and “relevance,” as if these are are terms with automatic definitions and agreed upon meanings. Driscoll’s approach is utterly faithful and dangerously relevant. One read of Confessions of a Reformission Rev., will convince anyone that the “faithfulness” vs “relevance” tension is not one that can only be managed by becoming a suit and tie Calvinist living out the missional lifestyle of A.W. Pink, preaching the sermons of Charles Spurgeon and singing with an organ. There is a way to go into Seattle culture with the Gospel, and hold onto integrity.
This is not the “church growth” church. It’s not the full service program to get everyone’s kids in Superchurch with Bunky the Gospel Pony. It’s not the way seminary taught us to do it. It’s not the way SBC megachurches in the Bible belt do it. It’s edgy, experimental, new, awkward, scary, walking a tightrope, unafraid to offend the legalists and eager to include the people who’ve completely abandoned the church as most of us know it.
If this bothers you, just wait another ten years and see what evangelicalism looks like: your church or his.
IV. Mark Driscoll bothers you because he’s not lying about his sins.
If you have read this web site, and kept up with the drama that is my online existence, then you know that I have been taken to task for saying too much about my own sins, struggles and shortcomings. I’ve written honestly and I don’t plan to quit. This confessional writing gets an overwhelmingly positive response from people who are tired of religious hokum and BS, but there are plenty of people who think it’s the worst thing in the blogosphere and that I’m not really a Christian when I say I’m a sinner.
This is why I love Driscoll. From the first time I heard him till I finished reading Confessions, he’s been telling me about his cussing, his failures as a family man, his screw ups as a pastor, his learning curve and his self-inflicted pain. I know a lot more about Driscoll’s struggles than I do those of most of his critics. As of yet, I haven’t heard Driscoll lecturing anyone on how they need to shape up and start acting like the kind of Christian he is. Driscoll seems a lot more concerned with dealing with his sins as opposed to pointing out mine. Far out.
In other word, he gets what Luther got: the Gospel is a table for sinners and sinners only. He gets what Merton got: the phony self is the enemy. He understands what those few honest souls like Rich Mullins and Mike Yaconelli understood: the Gospel is perfect from God’s side and messy from ours.
Driscoll is what Piper calls a “gutsy” sinner, i.e. someone who takes the promise of justification through the mediation of Jesus as the way to rise up with bold, honest confidence in God’s acceptance and forgiveness.
The problem within evangelicalism is that we are all hurting, all struggling, all failing and all faking it, but we are acting as if we have it all together. We talk about sanctification and holiness, good works and living out our theology, when we are messes, each and every one of us. Our marriages aren’t that pretty picture and our kids aren’t those youth group darlings. We don’t pray much, we’ve got lots of questions and we really wonder if we’re not the world’s biggest fake.
What to do with the cussin’ Christian? Let’s denounce him, snipe at him and sneer. Let’s encourage him to come up to “our level.” What a pile of hogwash.
If Driscoll’s honesty bothers you, I’d like to suggest that it is either because you have a view of sin that is profoundly unbiblical or a view of your own heart that is afraid of the truth. A Driscoll who does not talk about his failures? Good grief. God help us when we want people who can honestly say they are real, earthy sinners to shut up and start talking like the rest of the preachers we know.
May we all be able to write, speak, pray, laugh and worship as Mark Driscoll does when he speaks of his swearing and his many other failures. Thank you Mark! Be yourself.
There are other reasons Mark Driscoll bothers many evangelicals. He has rejected the shibboleths that many Bible belt fundamentalists live by. He is rough, raw and opinionated. He is still growing and learning. He is blunt. His humor can cut, explode or fail.
He is, like Peter, just a man. Just a man walking the road with Jesus. If you are not looking at Seattle, Mars Hill and Driscoll with eyes open to what this does mean, and can mean, for American evangelicals, you are missing one of the most significant sea-changes in our lifetime. I’m watching with interest, and hoping that my heart can be open and teachable to what I see God doing there.