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.
“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.
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.
About Ryan Peter
Ryan Peter is a writer, journalist and ghostwriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes fantasy, sci-fi, inspirational fiction, and on faith. Ryan is also part of the New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) translocal team.