Summarising the Discussion on Mark Driscoll

When it was announced that Mark Driscoll, well-known evangelical pastor at Mars Hill Seattle, has stepped down for six weeks while allegations against him are examined, it resulted in a flurry of opinion, conversation, and finger pointing. I don’t like to say too much about this sort of thing. I don’t know Driscoll, have never been to his church (they just never appealed to me) and live on the other side of the planet anyway. But some of the opinions around this are worth talking about.

If you’re not quite up to speed on who Driscoll is and the background of the allegations, an article at Vox.com summarises it well, although I don’t care for the overall tone of it. However, what’s interesting to note is how Driscoll is called an “evangelical rock star.” That perception is, perhaps, exactly right and, perhaps, exactly the problem with modern Christianity.

So here are, what I found, the more interesting opinion and interests about the matter:

Nate Pyle in his post “The Tweetable-Tale of Two Mars Hill Pastors” speaks about how the evangelical community seems to place more importance on what you believe over what you practice. It’s a fair point and one worth thinking long and hard about. He asks:

“…I can’t help but wonder, are we as a church in danger of conflating right thinking with salvation, thus making it a work by which we are saved? Are actions more forgivable when a person’s theology is right?”

This spawned several public and private conversations on social media. Those outside of the Protestant fold have been questioning just how Protestant churches decide on orthodoxy anyway and why there seems to be a lack of accountability. In particular, there have been questions around why no one said or did anything when Driscoll preached a sermon like this one: God Hates You. (Personally, I think Driscoll was trying to re-preach Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”)

Conversations around how we all seem to put more emphasis on belief over practice also abounded. I think this is a solid point and one worth thinking about.

Jesse Johnson in his post “Driscoll Drama: To those who sold tickets” takes influential evangelicals to task for neglecting to actually deal with obvious  issues from the beginning and willingly exposing their people to Driscoll’s teaching, even though there were issues.

“It strikes me that in the chorus of calls to pray for Driscoll’s repentance, or hope for his hopeful repentance, or whatever other optimistic attitude we are supposed to have for that aforementioned repentance, there is something missing. Namely, the ownership of the problem.”

What I found most interesting was how Johnson felt that the doctrine of sanctification was being ignored and now we’re seeing the result. He says:

“By 2009 it was obvious that the doctrine of sanctification was seriously neglected in the theology that was coming out of Acts 29 and specifically Driscoll’s preaching… While I am always in favor of repentance, and  remain hopeful for it in everyone, the call for it here is exceptionally tone deaf. That’s because to pastors outside the Christian-rock-star echo chamber, the issue has never really been one of “will Driscoll repent?” Rather the issue has always been one of “will Christian leaders recognize how foolish it was to expose their people to Driscoll’s preaching and leadership?”

(Notice Johnson talking about the Christian-rock-star echo chamber.)

Doug Wils’ post “Though There Is a Difference” takes evangelical leaders to task for jumping on the Driscoll band-wagon when it was cool and then jumping off when that became cool.

Jonathan Merritt’s post “Why Christians Shouldn’t Celebrate Mark Driscoll’s Demise” seemed to become a popular post on the subject.

“Part of me wants to pop bottles and strike up the band. I want to rejoice like one person in my twitterfeed who responded to the announcement, “Good riddance, Mark Driscoll”. But as I’ve given it more thought, I cannot celebrate the demise of Mark Driscoll, and I don’t think Christians should either.”

He goes on to quote  Proverbs 24:17: “Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble.”  I didn’t like this post for reasons I won’t get into but I include it because it shows how some evangelicals felt embarrassed about Driscoll.

Then finally, Steve Murrell concluded: It’s none of my business.

Do I have any thoughts?

Who cares about my thoughts? But I’ll offer this up for consideration anyway because I think this is the core problem of not only this scandal but many of the others popping up from time to time in the evangelical world: there is a lack of real relationship between leaders. Especially big-name evangelical leaders. You can’t build an accountable and proper relationship using documents and contracts and signed a creedal statement. Unfortunately, in many ways, evangelical organisations do just that.

Dudley Daniel, who used to lead the NCMI team (which my church partners with) used to say “Friendship before function.” Over and again I see the wisdom in this simple little saying. While my own church group has had its fair share of controversy, most of it hasn’t been public, precisely because if friendship comes first accountability can happen properly. Friendship before function means something takes longer to build and perhaps doesn’t gain the kind of prominence other movements / organisations etc. enjoy (or do they enjoy it?) but its roots run deeper, making it effective in the long run.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that Driscoll’s situation (as in many others) may be a case of too much too soon. I don’t really blame him for that; perhaps the general evangelical culture and approach to accountability in ministry and friendship is to blame.

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3 thoughts on “Summarising the Discussion on Mark Driscoll”

  1. Well, I’m outside the Protestant fold and, while I agree with you on the rock star thing, what I don’t get is, abusive behavior besides, why Bell teaching that God wants all people to be saved should be considered heretical, while Driscoll teaching that God hates you should be considered acceptable. From an Orthodox (and historic Christian) perspective, the latter sounds far more problematic!

  2. Pingback: Summarising the Discussion on Mark Driscoll | The Christian Blogger

  3. Driscoll’s title “God Hates You” is certainly not “considered acceptable”. I’m quite sure that if you listened to the sermon that wouldn’t be his message or the teaching. The difference between Bell’s suggestions that all will be saved and the issues around Driscoll is the first relates to doctrine/truth (what is said) and the latter to excesses in practice (the way things are said/done). Dealing with heresy is relatively less complex than dealing with excesses in personality and practice as the Driscoll thing has shown (just the perspectives on it alone are exhausting to keep up with) — enforcing accountability is a very consuming, convoluted process to go through and is, as Ryan points out, possible only on the strength of relationships. Enforcing accountability is also about dealing with the wrong in a whole lot of right–excesses rather than untruths. Ultimately, hopefully, accountability leads to qualifying a repentant person and that’s what we trust for for Driscoll.

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