“Did you hear what Driscoll said?”
I have come to hate that question, largely because it reflects the obsessiveness with regard to Christian culture’s pastor-celebrities. But I have also come to hate it because I grow weary of Mark Driscoll’s misstatements. If he’s not saying video games are stupid, or Avatar is satanic, then he is saying that “real men” are those who look and act like him. When I first was introduced to his ministry I was captivated. I became a Driscoll fanboy overnight. I read his books, listened to his sermons, and went to his conferences.
His ministry resonated with me in my particular season of life. Faced with some of the backwardness and introversion of the church I was working in, Driscoll drew upon my desire for a more progressive and outward-focused style of ministry. My own church at the time was consumed with keeping members happy, doing things like spending thousands of dollars on pipe organ repair. There was no interest in outreach opportunities or service projects, though I had arranged for both. It was a frustrating season, and as I read of the “missional” drive behind Driscoll’s church I found myself falling in love with his ministry. The idea of sending church members out on mission to their various contexts had massive appeal to me. That overall shift in ministry focus was starkly different from the self-indulgent “come to us” mindset that I was experiencing at my own church.
It’s important to consider that Driscoll is operating in a very specific context. I agree in part with John Piper who said that we ought to cut Mark some slack. He is pastoring in a difficult place. Seattle, as Driscoll often reminds us, is one of the least “churched” cities in America (there are more dogs than Christians). Certainly Mark has been used by God to reach many people who wouldn’t otherwise be in church.
And yet, we rarely hear anyone make excuses for morally questionable behavior from David Platt, Francis Chan, or John Piper. Each of these men pastor growing, challenging, and, at times, controversial churches. But their humility is a hallmark of their public persona. They have a great deal of influence today and are often prophetic in their call to both the church and the nation as a whole. They publicly speak courageous words without seeming arrogant. Consider Piper’s now famous YouTube video calling out President Obama. Think of a young David Platt challenging his mega-church to stop buying into the American Dream. Their courage is not contaminated with an arrogance that suggests anyone doing it differently is a “coward.” None of these Christian leaders are regularly rebuked for their arrogance.
It seems that often Driscoll uses his success as a justification of his methods. Because his church is big, he can do and say what he wants. He has, of course, listened to his elders and made the occasional public apology. But Driscoll rarely takes seriously the criticisms of those beyond his immediate influence. It’s not always easy for those under our leadership and influence to see our glaring mistakes, but from a distance many have questioned Mark’s condescending machismo, his cultural indulgence, and his apparent pride and anger. These voices seem to make no impact on him. A pastor can’t, of course, allow himself to be consumed with the barage of critics who don’t know him personally, but there is a danger of living within a vacuum where criticism is always mitigated by immediate influence. The plethora of voices calling Mark to repentance (a plethora that often refrain from calling his peers, such as Platt or Piper or Chan to repentance) seem to warrant a valid hearing.
There is a fine line between courage and arrogance. However, Driscoll’s boldness often seems blatantly condescending. His most recent interview with a British Christian journalist revealed this tendency. In the interview he was oddly defensive. At one point the host asks Mark a legitimate question about a controversial chapter in his latest book and Mark became angry and insisted that the host was just picking at little things in the book for shock value (a particularly odd criticism coming from Driscoll). As the conversation continues he called the host “annoying,” and then began to accuse him of being a theological liberal. He turned the conversation from himself to discuss the hosts views of the atonement and hell, and accused pastors in the UK of being generally cowardly: “Let’s just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don’t have one — that’s the problem. There are a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.” What does he base this statement on? It’s not clear, and D.A. Carson has contested this diagnosis.
The problem is that Driscoll believes that the degree of a pastor’s fame is evidence of his faithfulness. It’s a weird and painful interview and the odd defensivness of Driscoll throughout it seems to suggest he is more willing to dish out criticism than receive it. It’s one thing to disagree with someone over theological and methodological issues, but to belittle them and their churches seems to fall short of “courageous” and is more akin to the stereotypical high school jock mocking someone different. If you are an egalitarian be prepared to get stuffed in a locker. If you’re an “anatomically male effeminate worship leader” be prepared for swirlies. I am reminded of Titus 1:7 where an elder is commanded not to be “arrogant or quick-tempered.” This description lies in stark contrast to Driscoll’s own estimation of himself: in a recent discussion at the Elephant Room he joked that his emotional range goes from angry to really angry. It’s not that Driscoll is incapable of thoughtful, careful, and strategic theological development and discussion. His writings are evidence of this. But, sadly, he is increasingly becoming known for his bullying rather than his thoughtfulness.
I hate writing posts like this, especially about someone from whom I have learned so much. But it is out of such appreciation that I am begging Driscoll to confront these problems. His ministry is far too influential for him to continue in this manner. We are all arrogant jerks at times, but when that behavior and attitude begins to come out regularly in very public forums it reflects on the church at large, and even on our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t take this role lightly. To publically critique Driscoll is a serious thing. But when you are a public representative of the faith making very public sins, and when you’ve made apologies for some of the sins but not made changes to your habits you should be called out publically. Perhaps, behind closed doors Driscoll’s elders and friends are challenging him on this, but there is no evidence of change in his behavior. It is necessary, then, for the public call to be made. Those of us who are brothers and sisters in Christ should challenge one another always, and I consider Mark my brother. We’ve never met, but I love him. And though we’ve never met, I am compelled to call him to repentance in love.