This week has seen yet another blow-up in the ongoing debate about the ministry of Mark Driscoll. Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and one of the founders and leaders of Acts 29 Network, which is an organization focusing on church planting. Mark is also one of the original members of the Young Leaders Network, which was in part responsible for the study of the contemporary church’s ineffectiveness with the so-called post-modern generation. That network of men has since fragmented with some of its original leaders assuming roles in what is now called the Emergent Village, others who would be labeled as “emerging” and still others who have concentrated on fully evangelical pursuits. Driscoll falls into this last category.
However, Mark Driscoll has not styled himself or his ministry in the manner of some of the other conservative theologians who are hugely popular right now, even among post-moderns, such as John Piper, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, and Josh Harris, among others. And because of that, he comes under frequent fire from many different directions for his style of preaching, and even the clothes he wears and his appearance. Occasionally from the men listed above, but especially from the blogoshere. What strikes me as ironic is that considering Mark is on their same “team”, it might be more accurately called “friendly fire.”
This week, uberblogger Tim Challies reviewed Driscoll’s new book Vintage Jesus. Overall, Challies thought the book had its good points and was biblically and theologically sound. However, he could not in good conscience recommend it broadly because of Driscoll’s choice of words when describing various parts of the narrative of Jesus’ life. The comment section of Challies’ blog lit up. The expected (at least as far as I am concerned) occurred. Those who defend Mark Driscoll’s ministry wrote back and forth with those who are indignant about him and his ministry style.
On Wednesday, Challies wrote another blog, this time with the title “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mark Driscoll?” A PROBLEM!? Challies begins by saying on Wednesday that he liked 99.9% of the book but was troubled by a couple of mis-steps he thought were quite serious. The real purpose of the second blog, I believe, was for Challies to qualify some of the comments he made the day before and maybe to do a little mea culpa in terms of explaining the basis of his review and criticism. The comments section of his blog exploded again. And it was the same scenario as the day before with cordial, mostly edifying disagreement between the two sides.
What strikes me most profoundly about Mark Driscoll and his ministry is how effective it is. He claims to pastor one of the fastest growing churches in one of the least “churched” cities in the U.S. And yet he is roundly criticized by so many. Why are his efforts being so richly blessed by God, if he is as awful as so many of the naysayers suggest?
I am careful to use the term, but I am a Mark Driscoll “fan.” Or at least I am an admirer of his ability to combine a timeless message with timely methods to reach a comparatively unchurched generation. Do I appreciate every aspect of his ministry style, especially his smashed-mouth approach. Absolutely not! Do I cringe at some of the things he says? You bet! Do I think he could find better words or phrases to say the same things? Yes, I do. Do I have the same threshold of sensibilities and sensitivities as his congregation? Probably not, after all, I am probably 25-30 years older than most of the worshipers at Mars Hill. That doesn’t make me any better, just different. Do the ends justify Mark’s means, vis a vis his style of ministry? I guess I would answer that by saying I can overlook the style as long as the substance is there. And interestingly, Driscoll is seldom criticized for his theology, even by the folks who call for him to repent, or even step down from his pulpit. Isn’t it the substance of the doctrine that ultimately matters? I guess that I will take the position that I’ll let God be the judge of whether Driscoll’s style is something He approves of, merely tolerates, or loathes. If it is the latter, I believe our sovereign God has the power to change it, even to the point of taking him home, if that is what is required.
As for the comments on the blog sites, no one changes anyone’s mind on a topic like this. They are simply a forum for the armchair theologians to “share” and appear to be informed and righteous. Apart from the exchanges on Challies’ site, some who did not get a rise out of anyone there have taken their arguments to their own sites to see if they can evoke comments.
The arguments on both sides of the debate are growing tired and repetitive. I posted a “comment about the comments” at Challies’ site, but Tim’s surrogate moderator David Kjos deleted it. I have subsequently received an apology and explanation from Tim and an acknowledgment from David saying that he may have been too hasty in booting me. In reading the huge number of comments on these two days of blogs, both pro and con, it caused me to think of some of the discussions that may have taken place back in the first century between those who embraced Jesus and his ministry, and those who were clinging to the well-healed traditions of the establishment religion of the day. Here’s the comment that was deleted from Challies’ site:
“If anyone ever wondered what the conversations might have been like between Nicodemus and the Pharisees, surely this thread (comments on Challies’ site) must come pretty close to approximating it. On one hand the supporters, on the other, the detractors. And at the center, a man who is doing God’s work, according to his calling as he understands it.”
Let me make it clear that I am not attempting to draw any strict comparisons between Mark Driscoll and Jesus Christ, other than the interesting parallel between two men, called and appointed by God, realizing extraordinary results in causing people to recognize their need for repentance, using what would be considered “non-traditional” approaches in the context of the time and place of their respective (earthly) ministries. And all the while the critics heaping judgment upon them both.