Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Driscoll - Mars Hill Church

I had no plans to write about this subject here today. The thing is though, I would have been more than happy to simply leave my comments on this subject at Tim's, where he posted his book review of Driscoll's latest book... but he closed the comment thread leaving me unable to do that. So, since I believe it's a subject well worth discussing, I'm going to post here, what I would have posted there. Here, I can address this more in depth anyway, and I think it's well worth the time it's going to take me to do that, and you to read it, to make this much longer than a blog comment.

I do wish to be clear that while Tim posted a book review, I'm not commenting on the book. I didn't read it, and have no plans to read it. Like I said in my comment at Tim's, I have heard (and read) enough of Driscoll to know that I believe spending hard earned money on his book would not be a profitable thing to do. It would only make me regret that I spent my money on that, when I could have bought something without the trashy "humor" in it.

What I am going to comment on, is a few things said at Tim's.

Brian at Voice of the Sheep responded to Tim's review and said this:

"I’ve grown tired of Driscoll’s coarse language and his attempts to be cool and ‘with it’. I keep hearing the same old coined phrases coming from him, trying to make the same old tired gutter jokes with Jesus as the subject. It’s not funny. it’s not even hip. It’s just immature and irreverent. Grow up, Mark."
I couldn't agree more, and have said so for the last couple of years, both publicly and privately to whoever brings him up and asks my opinion. In a nutshell, the man has some good things to say but he peppers it with so much obscenity that it makes me feel sick to listen to him or read him. It makes it impossible to focus on the good things he does say, because the disgusting things he says are so offensive to me, that that's where I get caught up. (And for the record, this has nothing to do with being one of the homeschool moms he likes to make fun of, it has everything to do with being a person who was raised in the exact culture that Driscoll is ministering in right now - I'm FROM the greater Seattle area.)

Steve McCoy then responds to defend Driscoll's style (whether he was responding directly to what Brian said, is not clear) and says:

"Driscoll is speaking to a culture he understands. He’s not trying to be cool or
hip. He’s being himself and speaking the language of the culture, which most
Christians can’t do and therefore most Christians can’t appreciate."

Driscoll isn't trying to be hip? Really? Then maybe someone would like to explain away Driscoll's own words from this intro piece in the Seattle Times, when Driscoll came on board the local paper as a columnist for the Religion section:

Driscoll is pastor and founder of Mars Hill Church, a nondenominational evangelical church in Seattle. Since its beginning in 1996, the church has grown about 60 percent each year and now draws about 3,000 people — many in their 20s and 30s — to its four Sunday services. Driscoll, who believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible, says the focus of his columns will be "connecting the life and teachings of Jesus with contemporary issues and problems." Also, he said, he would like to "bring a breath of comedy and hipness to what can be an otherwise dull religious discussion." - (emphasis mine) source: 2005 Seattle Times archives
So at least in 2005, it was Driscoll's plan to be "hip" and be "humorous".

McCoy goes on to say at Tim's:

"If you don’t appreciate Driscoll’s humor, it’s probably because you either don’t live in the “emerging” culture (unchurched, younger generations) or don’t know how to appreciate healthy biblical contextualization (1 Cor. 9:19-22)."
Count me among those that sincerely do not appreciate Driscoll's humor. Count me also among those that are really tired of hearing the condescending remarks about both those that don't "get it" and those that are in the generation of young people that do "get it".

In addressing the latter first, I know of young people that are highly insulted to be thought of this way. The implication is that there is this entire, concentrated generation of 20somethings in the Seattle area that are so morally bankrupt that they find it uproariously funny when Driscoll mentions things in a "joking" way, that should be reserved for private conversation, or uses what many Christians find to be obscene language. No question, there are young people that do find him funny, relevant, and engaging. There are also 30, 40, and even 50something year olds (and older, I'm sure) that still find that kind of junior high/boy's bathroom talk quite titillating. At the same time however, there are also young people that find it a considerable insult to be thought of in this way. I don't blame them one bit, either. I was certainly no saint at 25 but I can tell you that I never liked being "lumped in" with the insulting way some older people described people in my age group. Blanket statements and generalizations like that are almost never accurate, and almost always unfair. This one is no different.

As to McCoy's second probable cause for us folks that don't "get" Driscoll's humor, he claims that's because we can't appreciate healthy biblical contextualization. Frankly, I find this claim old, and tired. There is an eternity of difference between being in the culture, and being of the culture. (John 17:16, Romans 12:2) Unless we are all living in caves somewhere with no contact with the outside world at all, we are all officially "in" the culture. Our mandate from Scripture however is to not be OF the culture, as we were before God's transforming grace got hold of our lives. We don't go where we used to go, dress like we used to dress, speak, think, act or approve of the things we used to find perfectly acceptable. That was the old way, the old man. So for someone to (constantly) say "well he's just speaking the language of the culture" is both an excuse to condone ungodly speech, and at the same time to insult the fine folks in the Seattle area by implicating that they can't get hold of gospel truth, without the trashy language tossed in there along with it.

Scripture says otherwise:

• For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

• For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1Cor. 1:18)

Yet, many (you'll find this most often among numbers-driven, mega-ministries) would have us believe that one must do this, say that, have this program, speak this way, or add some other kind of nifty little "hook" to one's preaching, to get the gospel into the ears of the ones who need to hear it most. It's all well and good to know your primary listening audience, and to be familiar with their struggles, their culture, their fears, their concerns, etc., but it is not in becoming or acting just like them, that is going to save them. We all "contextualize" in some way, there is no question there. The real question is how far can one go to contextualize, before they've crossed the line and compromised the very message of eternal life, and the very clear message in Scripture that Christians are different from the culture they live in?

Scripture is filled with instruction that we are to be blameless, good examples, good witnesses, godly, righteous, salt and light. Our conversations and our language in general is to be a reflection of that very same thing. This not only covers "humor", but every area of speech from the words we chose to use to the kinds of speech we engage in, such as mockery, insults, gossip, slander, etc. Indeed this is a struggle for many people, but it's a goal we should be passionate about aiming for, rather than making excuses for not doing it, and excuses for those who "don't get it". Trust me dear reader, a lot of us "get it" just fine, and once used the vile language of the world quite proficiently. Some of us were excellent mockers, class A liars, champions at the quick put-downs, and uber-creative with the profane, obscene, gossip and slander. Oh yes, we "get it" because we were once like that ourselves. We were once the "children of wrath" spoken of in Ephesians 2:3, doing, thinking and saying exactly what children of wrath do and say and think.

That was then... this is now. We are to be consistantly striving toward being transformed by the renewing of our minds, because we find it a worthy thing to be consistantly desiring to be more like Christ, and less like the "old man".

One the most refreshing things I saw at Challies' was this comment by someone else who clearly "gets it", but will no doubt be just as insulted as anyone else who dares to call into question the conduct of Mark Driscoll:

"Hi. I like your review Tim and I thank God for you for speaking up about it. It is very well balanced. What bothers me about Driscols’ language is not so much that it is “edgy” or “dirty” or merely “not in good taste” as you say, but that it makes jokes at God’s expense. There is simply no place for this kind of talk about Jesus’ conception among Christians. We should not promote tasteless images about Jesus Christ. When John saw the Lord in the book of Revelation he fell at his feet as though dead. This was not our of mere reverence, but dread and fear of the holiness and majesty of our God and Savior. In contrast to this, the intro language of Driscols’ book frankly breaks my heart, especially from someone who claims to love God. It makes light blazing holiness of our God. For all the talk on here about reaching young people, I would argue that this has nothing to do with personal preferences, or the group of people we are trying to reach, it is simply vile to speak of our Lord in such terms and this is the specific thing that should be repented of. Driscol may reach many with his ministry, and this is not a comment about his ministry as a whole, but for these specific comments about our God. And you are right. People like Tim Keller reach the people of the city effectively with respect, but without the worthless talk. By the way, we won’t be carrying this book in our store." - John Hendryx (
Driscoll's irreverence is something that many, many people have pointed out, and many, many others simply want to brush aside as part of his "style" or excuse it away as something that must be done because they've bought into the line that he constantly uses about Seattle being "one of the least churched cities in the nation" and leave it at that. Driscoll likes to refer to Jesus as a "dude", and has used that reference many times. His point in doing that is to make folks understand that in the flesh he was as approachable and as real as you or I. I get his point just fine. For me personally, I could never in a million years refer to God in the flesh as a "dude", but Driscoll doesn't stop there.

Steve Camp, a Christian brother who is no stranger to standing up for the right thing (and taking massive heat for it), is often criticized for the words he uses to describe Driscoll's style, coupled with the fact that he dares publicly critique him in the first place and offer a counter-opinion to the "oh isn't he wonderful" sentiment so prevelant in the Christian blogging community. In a comment he posted yesterday at Challies' blog (that was removed because Tim found it "sufficiently inflammatory") he asked:

"Does any one of the Driscolletes here think that the constant use by Driscoll of smutty language, scatological speech, graphic sexual descriptions of a woman’s private parts, using Scripture to humorously justify masturbatory acts, using the name of the Lord as a punch line in jokes, twisting Scripture to support degrading stories, and demonstrating little or no reverence of the fear of the Lord in public worship... and all this taking place, mind you, while “preaching the Word” from the pulpit, is acceptable pastoral practice and demeanor? (All of this is well documented by Driscoll’s own vodcasts and podcasts and yes I have read his two books and virtually listened to everything that he has released on podcast and vodcast the past three years). Aren’t any of you offended by this?" - Steve Camp

In the last 3+ years (since I first heard of Driscoll) I have certainly not heard as many online audio messages from Driscoll as Camp has (I can only listen to so much of that sort of thing, and in some instances have had to just turn off the mp3 because it was just too offensive), and the truth is, the words that first come to mind for me are exactly the same words Camp uses to describe his style. I did watch/listen to the Q&A and sermons on the Birth Control and Humor topics (I've been told they've since been edited to remove some of the more overtly offensive material) and found them to be so irreverant and disgusting, that I actually felt physically sick watching and listening. And this, from a Christian pastor.

I've talked to my pastor about him, and he has used some of the same words Camp uses. I've talked to my husband about him, and he also has expressed the very same reaction. I've talked to many, many people over the years about this and they also agree that this particular and intentional vulgar and offensive approach is just as ungodly as it can be. In Tim Challies' review of Driscoll's book yesterday, he also described this "side" of Driscoll as in poor taste, inappropriate, flippant and unnecessary. While he did find some things in the book that benefitted him and that he appreciated, he was reluctant to give the book an endorsement, and even went as far as saying:

"I would certainly not be happy if Driscoll, standing face-to-face with my wife or my children, used some of the words and phrases in this book. Why then would I hand them the book and recommend that they read it?"

So, who's not getting it? Is it just me, just the homeschool moms that Driscoll likes to mock, just extreme fundamentalists, and/or people who are just "mean spirited" and want to cause trouble by sitting around in their pajamas, living in their mom's basement and blogging all day and taking pot-shots at him (that was a line I borrowed from Driscoll himself, by the way)? Hardly.

There are a lot of good folks that are bothered by this, and rightly so.

In a blog post titled Grunge Christianity posted over a year ago and subtitled "Counterculture’s Death-Spiral and the Vulgarization of the Gospel" Pastor John MacArthur says this about Mark Driscoll:

"His language—even in his sermons—is deliberately crude. He is so well known for using profane language that in Blue Like Jazz (p. 133), Donald Miller (popular author and icon of the “Emerging Church” movement, who speaks of Driscoll with the utmost admiration) nicknamed him “Mark the Cussing Pastor.” I don’t know what Driscoll’s language is like in private conversation, but I listened to several of his sermons. To be fair, he didn’t use the sort of four-letter expletives most people think of as cuss words—nothing that might get bleeped on broadcast television these days. Still, it would certainly be accurate to describe both his vocabulary and his subject matter at times as tasteless, indecent, crude, and utterly inappropriate for a minister of Christ. In every message I listened to, at least once he veered into territory that ought to be clearly marked off limits for the pulpit. Some of the things Driscoll talks
freely and frequently about involve words and subject matter I would prefer not even to mention in public, so I am not going to quote or describe the objectionable parts."
MacArthur ends his post with this:

"I frankly wonder how any Christian who takes the Bible at face value could ever think that in order to be “culturally relevant” Christians should participate in society’s growing infatuation with vulgarity. Didn’t vulgarity and culture used to be considered polar opposites?"

Phil Johnson, who most of you already know from reading TeamPyro had this to say in his post titled "Fed Up"

"I listened to this by Mark Driscoll. I wish I hadn't. Driscoll's smutty language and preoccupation with all things lowbrow are inappropriate, unbecoming, and dishonoring to Christ. I completely agree that many Christians fail to appreciate the true humanity of Jesus. But it's not necessary to get vulgar in order to communicate the truth about His humanity. This is the first time I have ever posted anything critical of Driscoll. I have appreciated his defense of the atonement and his willingness to confront the neo-liberalism of other Emerging leaders honestly. But I don't think his perpetually coarse language in the pulpit and his apparent preoccupation with off-color terms and ribald subject matter are merely minor flaws in an otherwise healthy ministry. It is a serious shortcoming. No, it's actually worse than that, because it blatantly violates the clear principle of Ephesians 5:3-4. It is shameful (v. 12) and therefore a reproach. It's characteristic of the old man and one of the fleshly behaviors we are expressly commanded to put aside (Colossians 3:8). Scripture even seems to indicate that unwholesome language signals an impure mind (Matthew 12:34). And yet this seems to be a deliberate, calculated, and persistent practice of Driscoll's. It is practically the chief trademark of his style. That's troubling, and even more troubling when I see young Christians and older believers who ought to know better mimicking the practice. If this is the direction even the very best Emerging-style ministry is headed, it's not a trend any Christian ought to find encouraging, much less one we should follow."

As it happens, I have a friend who is a member of Mars Hill Church, and when I asked him about the "humor" sermon Driscoll preached not long ago (a part of his "Ask Anything" series) he commented that he "cringes every time he (Driscoll) opens his mouth". Over and over and over again whenever someone blogs about Driscoll, comments come flowing in from folks that say the exact same things Camp, MacArthur and Johnson have all been quoted here as saying, and immediately following (you can set your watch by it, without question) will be "fans" and supporters of Driscoll who will mock insult, berate, and often use the very same offensive language to attack the critics, as Driscoll himself uses and attempts to justify.

So then... what about the much exalted fruit of the ministry of Driscoll? It doesn't take a genius to look much further than the very words (and the flippant, disrespectful attitude behind them) of Driscoll's biggest fans (and folks most influenced by him), to see at least some of the fruit. They speak the same language he does, and they don't care who knows it. He has been their example and he has taught them very well.

So, what business is this of mine? Why do I write about this and why do I care? I've had a few folks ask me that, and it's a valid question. It may seem like I'm not in any way personally affected by all of this, and it may seem like whatever Driscoll is doing and saying 2500 miles away in his Seattle church has no relevance on my life at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am personally affected by this because I have a friend that attends MHC, and have spent the last year or so in prayer for this person's family. I know more about what's going on out there that I ever wanted to know, and it personally grieves me, and causes me to spend time in prayer for the leadership out there, as well as the other families directly affected. My husband and I and a couple of close friends have had numerous, in-depth discussions about this and wrestled with all the "public' opinions, and have tried to line it all up with Godly, Biblical answers. That's just the personal side to this and I'll leave it at that.

I care however, for other reasons as well. Namely because, these things matter. Truth matters, conduct matters, influence matters, and who we set up for ourselves (and our children) as teachers and examples, matters as well. It matters so much in fact, the Holy Spirit purposely inspired the words of 1Timothy 3:1-7 to give the mandate for the moral character of a pastor:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (NASB - emphasis mine)

If it mattered so much to our heavenly Father to inspire these words by His Holy Spirit, then it certainly should matter to me, and you, and anyone else calling themselves a Christian. Those character traits that I highlighted in that passage should be descriptive of any man in a pastoral role. These are the things a Christian pastor should be known for. When any of those things mentioned above are absent from the conduct and character of a leader in a church, or his reputation is one of highly questionable character, conduct or language, the whole congregation suffers as a result. In our age, with technology being what it is and instant access and influence of pastors, leaders, speakers and authors all around the world, that influence, whether good or bad, affects the Christian church even hundreds or thousands of miles away, almost instantly. It matters because who you're under the authority of in your local church, is almost certainly listening or reading someone that is influencing his thinking, his language, his theology and his basic approach to Christian life in general. If he's listening to godly men with respectable character, then praise be to God for that! This is the wonderful, God glorifying use of this instant-communication technology we all have access to. If however, he's listening to men of highly questionable conduct and speech, then this is a grievous thing and you and your family will also be affected by it.

Just as certainly as iron sharpens iron and a godly man influences another in good ways, bad company will also indeed, corrupt good morals.

So yes, as a mother, a teacher, and a child of God, it all matters a great deal to me, and I'm glad it matters to others as well, regardless of the attacks they come under for the stand they take on it.