Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Time to clean up, Mark

I’m going to talk about Driscoll now, OK? And some of it is criticism. So let’s remind ourselves: there’s every reason to believe he’s a brother in Christ, that his ministry in Seattle is remarkably blessed by God and that he is, in the end, answerable to his own Master who is able to make sure he stands (Rom. 14:4.) OK?

That said: I’ve always had a sneaking respect for Mark Driscoll. I recognise that he’s reaching people others are not reaching – tattooed punks do need Christ, after all. It’s plain from his heroes and his teaching that he shares a lot – I mean a lot – of my doctrine (though he needs to get sorted out on cessationism and stop attacking a straw man). And I do believe that the Bible has a lot of straight talking about intimate marital matters which ought to be preached on. All of that has made me sit a bit light to the criticisms of his ‘cussing’; in fact, his smugness has bothered me more. (‘Hey, you like that joke? Good one, eh? I’ll use that one in the next service too.’ Yuk.) And I’ve been impressed by the respect Piper and others have shown him.

But I confess, I’m running out of patience. It began when I was watching a video of a conference session and Mark gave John Piper a jacket. Nice thought, eh? But ruined when Mark embarrassed John in public with a salacious remark about John and his wife Noel. Unnecessary, boy; unhelpful. Unedifying. And he can’t keep saying ‘I’m young – make allowances.’ M’Cheyne was long dead at his age! Anyway, he either is mature enough to be leader of a vast church and the organisations around it, or he’s not. Which is it?

Dan Phillips (here and here) commented helpfully on Driscoll and linked to a Macarthur article. Macarthur is no great fan of Driscoll, it’s safe to say. He’s concerned by – well, things that would have concerned every Christian a decade ago and most non-Christians not so long before that.

Macarthur refers to a sermon preached in Edinburgh, and repeated in Glasgow – yes, that’s right: Scotland. Driscoll began by offering his congregation a choice of three sermons, like this.
I’ll tell you what I’m going to go ahead and do. I’m going to give you three options. I’ve prepared three sermons. You get to choose what I talk about. Okay. The three options are these: The first is we can go through God’s heart for your city and God’s future plan in the upcoming season for your church from Jeremiah 29, which is what the first service chose. Secondly, I can talk about Jesus as God, give you ten reasons why as Christians we believe and know that Jesus Christ is the only God. Or third, I can talk about sexuality and cover the most exciting parts of the book of the Song of Solomon. Okay. So those are your three options. Your dear pastor is a great man, and I love him and appreciate him, and depending upon what you choose, don’t blame him. So everyone gets to vote, and then I’ll teach on whatever it is you want. So those of you who would like Jeremiah 29 and God’s plan for your city, raise your hand. Okay, both of you are really excited about that. [Laughter from audience] Ten reasons on Jesus Christ being God? Okay, many of you. Alright, sex in the Song of Solomon? [Cheers and laughter from the audience] Alright. Alright. Okay. I brought along some PowerPoint slides to illustrate. I’m just kidding. Alright, well I should probably pray then before we get to work in what is my favorite part of the Bible. If you are single, I apologize in advance. This will be a very unpleasant sermon for you, because the Bible says to not merely listen to the Word but do what it says. And you can’t.

Now, you've read it. Tell me – is he really offering them a choice? Or is he planning to preach on sex, but wanting to blame somebody else for it? It reads to me as if he’s beginning to revel in his bad boy reputation, as if he’s saying: ‘Hey, I’m the guy who dares talk dirty in the pulpit.’

You may not agree with that assessment. OK. But he does then talk dirty, and Macarthur (elsewhere) links to the transcript. (Dirt alert – it may not be good for you to read this!).

Some things need to be said. Very little of that sermon needed to be said. (Very little of that sermon is a sermon…)

Driscoll says he listens to Piper because Piper is encouraging rather than condemnatory. Good; I’m glad. John Piper is a great guy. And now, it’s time for him to say ‘Mark – enough is enough. It’s time to stop. And until you give evidence that you have stopped – well, I can’t help you any more.’


Si Hollett said...

I find it funny that despite completely rejecting any form of Christ in the Song of Songs, Mark Driscoll calls it his favourite bit of the Bible.

Why is his favourite bit of the Bible about nothing more than sex (in his view)? Why not Romans, or John, or Ephesians, or Exodus, or Isiaih as his favourite book? Is that because he loves sex more than Jesus? Probably not, but it's worrying. Yes, people have had the Song as their favourite book - the Puritans wrote more commentaries on it than any other book - but that was because they saw it as relating to Christ and the Church, rather than just being Solomon's Karma Sutra.

DJP said...

Well-said, Gary.

Gary Benfold said...

Thanks Dan. Now that he's got both you and me warning him, that should make him take notice, eh!

Young Mr. Brown said...


I'm with you on this one. I've always felt that since Mark Driscoll is sound on the big issues, that I would give him the benefit of the doubt about minor matters of style. Especially as brothers who know him much better than I do (like Piper) have been saying that he was a good bloke.

And I had expected that, as he mixed more with leading evangelical figures, there would be less controversy about his, er, um, earthiness, would diminish, and he would mellow. The fact that opposite seems to have happened is worrying.

Something he said last year came over as so ungentle and arrogant that I was quite taken aback. What I have just read here makes me even more concerned. I am increasingly of the view that some aspects of Mark Driscoll's style are not minor matters.

Jon said...

It's difficult to argue with MacArthur's stance on 'grunge Christianity' but, as you say, Driscoll's ministry is prospering among a people group which (I imagine) MacArthur's is not. And that is difficult to ignore. But I would say that language and propriety is not the issue (though undoubtedly Mark goes too far). The issue is, I think, the measure of cultural integration an evangelical church must have to reach into society an save people.

Mars Hill is a huge church, and while I wouldn't suggest everyone in regular attendance is saved, some people must be. So, are these "tattooed punks" simply lovers of colourful language and sermons of sex, or is there evidence that Driscoll's methods of cultural relevance (though imperfectly executed) are helpful in reaching godless generation X-ers?

The Squirrel said...


If the size of a church is the measure of its godliness, then Joel Osteen's church must be one of the most godly out there... Are you sure that you want to go there?


Jon said...

With respect, that is not the point I was making. Size is not correlative to the godliness of a church, hence why I qualified that the size of Mars Hill was probably not representative of the number of its attendants saved. That's probably true of most churches, but it would be more true, I would venture (and we have definitely strayed out of the realms of empirical verification here!), of a church founded on sound doctrine as opposed to prosperity teaching.

ReformedChristian said...

Hi Gary,

I was at the first service in Scotland and it was definitely a choice, we choose Jeremiah 29. (You can see on my blog that I wasn't entirely happy with the hermenutics that he used). He did introduce the choice in the same way. I got to speak to him after one of the services and saw his heart for God, the gospel and for people.

I remember someone from my church critizing you for the way you introduced Alistair Begg at Caister. I personally loved the banter you guys had.


The Squirrel said...


I understand that that was not your point. Thanks for the clerification.

"the size [of a church is] probably not representative of the number of its attendants saved. That's probably true of most churches, but it would be more true, I would venture (and we have definitely strayed out of the realms of empirical verification here!), of a church founded on sound doctrine as opposed to prosperity teaching.

I would disagree. Those who desire to have their ears tickled would not be comfortable in a church where the whole council of God is faithfully preached. In my (limited and, as you said, not empirical verifiable) experience, the relative size of the congregation is smaller but the percentage of the regular attendees who are regenerate is higher in direct proportion to the level of emphasis that the church places on sound doctrine.


Gary Benfold said...

Hi Jon,

thanks for your comment. I remember that Caister - some people told me that they didn't like the banter, either. If your point is that nobody pleases everybody, fair enough. But we mustn't move from that, gliding almost without recognising it, into saying that no criticism is ever objectively valid. I'm sure you'd agree. Driscoll himself compares the criticism he gets to the criticism Spurgeon got; but the comparison is invalid. Some disliked Spurgeon's 'familiarity with God'; I'm protesting against Driscoll's dirt.

There's lots about MD that I admire; I fear, though, that unless he reins in, his balloon will go 'pop'.

Gary Benfold said...


sorry - my last comment was in reply to Stephen, not Jon. don't think you're being ignored though, Jon!

Jon said...

Squirrel, yes, the last sentence of my previous post is nonsense... I meant to write that the godliness of a large church is likely to be proportionally higher (again, how would you know for sure?) in a church founded on sound teaching rather than prosperity, and not t'other way around.

I'm not a statistician so I don't think I can meet you in talking about proportion and percentages, but we're in agreement about the value of sound teaching at least.

Gary, don't worry I can well amuse myself.