An Open Letter to Pastor Mark Driscoll

October 28, 2013

Dear Mr. Driscoll:

I have a hunch that you will never read this letter, but since you have used this same “open letter” technique as a means to communicate with someone (as evidenced by your open invitation letter to Dr. John MacArthur), I thought I would I would give it a try myself. Actually, it’s in regards to that letter to Dr. MacArthur that I write to you.

First of all, I would like to thank you for your ministry. You have done a remarkable job of reaching a highly secularized part of the United States with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the Acts 29 network of churches is doing great work. I am acquainted with several men who are serving churches that are associated with Acts 29. Thanks also for standing against the unhelpful, even heretical theology that was typical of the so-called “Emergent” movement a few years ago.

Now, with regards to your open letter to Dr. MacArthur, I must say that I was somewhat surprised by it. I don’t presume to think that you care about my reaction since I am disconnected from the parties involved. But I’m not disinterested in the matter at hand. And since your letter was an “open” one and it could just as easily have been a private communication between just you and Dr. MacArthur, I am taking the liberty of responding as one who was an indirect recipient of the letter, given that it was posted on the Internet for any and all to read. Your letter to Dr. MacArthur was not some surreptitiously obtained, unauthorized posting of a private letter or email. You surely intended for it to be read by anyone with access to the World Wide Web.

Near the end of your “open letter”, you ask for suggestions on how your offer to Dr. MacArthur to attend and participate in your upcoming Resurgence Conference could be “more loving and reasonable.” I commend you for that. That’s a very gracious offer and request. So, I would like to offer a few suggestions, since you have invited feedback.

First, it occurred to me that a more “loving” approach to the invitation might have been to use the exact same means by which all of the other conference speakers were invited to participate. Were they were also invited in a blog post, that was fashioned as an “open letter”? If that was the case, then obviously you can disregard this suggestion. However, my guess would be that they received personal phone calls, personal emails, or personal letters of invitation. And I would not be surprised if I were to learn that some were even extended the invitation via an in-person, face-to-face conversation with you, or someone close to you. So, an “open letter” posted on the internet might fall a little short of the kind of expressed love you were maybe hoping for. Perhaps it’s only me, but the “open letter” could possibly be misunderstood as a bit of a stunt designed to elevate you and your thoughtfulness, while publicly shaming Dr. MacArthur if he fails to yield to your offer and drop everything he’s doing to accept your invitation. I’m sure that was not your intent, but I hope you can see how someone, including Dr. MacArthur, might draw that conclusion.

The second matter is perhaps a little delicate, but I hope you will indulge me. I trust that I am not the first person to tell you that you have a reputation for being a bit “edgy” when it comes to your inter-personal style.  I’m not sure I completely understand the expression, but I think I have heard or read your style described as “smash mouth.” I am guessing you know this since you point out in your “open letter” that you have been called to task for some of your words and deeds in the past. I bring this matter up now, because in your “open letter”, you go to great lengths to explain why you “dropped by” Dr. MacArthur’s conference in Southern California when you “happened to be in the area.” In the context of making your invitation to Dr. MacArthur more “loving and reasonable” you might want to reconsider the extensive explanation and defense of your actions, and simply apologize for the way that your actions might have been perceived. Again, I know this is delicate, but because of your history of doing, shall I say, knuckle-headed things, I’d like to suggest that it is entirely possible that some people might perceive that your actions during the Strange Fire Conference were intentionally provocative, maybe purposely antagonistic, even though you contend otherwise. I hope that you are tracking with me. What I am suggesting is that you should perhaps do less rationalizing and justifying of your actions and more acknowledging that because of your reputation and personal style, you are not really owed the benefit of the doubt, and that you then apologize (assuming you can do so sincerely) for taking advantage of the situation. And that you regret (if you really do) any problems or misunderstandings that may have resulted. Now, doesn’t that sound more loving than the self-righteous defense of your actions and your self-serving description of the incident that was presented in your “open letter”? In addition to being more loving and reasonable, it would also reveal a kind of humility that might surprise lots of people who may have incorrectly assumed that your appearance at the Strange Fire Conference was for reasons other than the ones you described in your “open letter.” I know that you cannot answer all the cynics, but I hope you can at least see how your reputation and personal style, mixed with the fact that you are on the record as being in disagreement with the particular doctrinal leanings of the Strange Fire Conference, might cause some cynical speculation about your real motives for simply “dropping by” for a visit without registering or being invited.

The third thing may be as delicate as the second, because I am sure that you are justifiably proud of your new book and are anxious for lots of people to read it. But I am trying to help you fashion a more loving and reasonable approach to Dr. MacArthur. Please accept this suggestion in the spirit in which it is intended, that is, of being helpful. The promotion of your book in the “open letter”, could appear to be more salesmanship and marketing than a loving and reasonable appeal for a man to adjust his schedule and change his plans on relatively short notice, to participate in your conference. Consider the discussion (promotion) of your book in the “open letter” in the light of the acknowledged fact that you were signing book copies and distributing them at Dr. MacArthur’s conference, on the property of a church for which you are not the pastor, without prior permission or invitation. Do you see how your mentioning the book so extensively in the “open letter” might be misunderstood? A relevant application of the teaching found in Ecclesiastes 3 might go something like this…there is a time for inviting a man to a conference, and a time for promoting a new book.

Finally, while I don’t question the authenticity of your offers, I hope that you will see the possibility that the various descriptions of your generosity (paying for travel, honorarium, you working without fee, waiving on-line charges live-stream, etc), could be misunderstood as singularly pointing out what a great and generous guy you are. After all, paying the travel expenses for out-of-town conference speakers and offering honorarium is not out of the ordinary, and Dr. MacArthur himself streamed the Strange Fire Conference for free (because the conference sold out). So, you are not really offering anything unusual or extraordinary, nor something that merits special attention by Dr. MacArthur. In other words, I am guessing that the descriptions of your benevolence will probably not be persuasive to your intended reader. But the way in which you present them for the benefit of all of the other recipients of your “open letter” on the Internet, seems to have at least the faint fragrance of some species of pride, maybe even hubris, though I am pretty sure that was not your intention…right?

There were a few other matters in your “open letter” that deserve some conversation, but perhaps another time. Like your assertion that because the “majority of Christians” are not cessationists, there must be something inherently right about continuationism. This logic falls in the category of “everyone is doing it”, and is not particularly convincing. Using that same approach, I could say that because all Christians continue to sin from time to time, it must be okay. Like I said, perhaps another time.

Thanks for reading and graciously receiving my suggestions. I hope that they will help you make the more loving and reasonable offer to Dr. MacArthur that you were hoping for.

God bless you and your ministry, and God bless your Resurgence Conference early next month,

Chuck Thomas

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Driscoll in the news again…this time on Nightline.

January 28, 2009

No seven minute video can do justice to Mark Driscoll and his ministry.  As a man and as a pastor, he is far too complex.  And the style and manner he employs to reach a very specific demographic with the message of Jesus Christ, is too easily misunderstood to be fully explained in what amounts to being a hit and run segment on a television news magazine produced by the mainstream media.  While you might be able to discern some of the agendas that ABC may have had in their piece on Driscoll, their report on Nightline is not a totally unfair representation of the man, his church and his theology.

P.S.:  The line at the end of the video about bringing a church like Mars Hill to your neighborhood is probably a veiled reference to the Acts 29 Network of church planters that does NOT intend to drop a Mars Hill look-alike in every neighborhood, but rather to facilitate new church growth that meets the individual needs of a community through resourses, education and support.


If the New York Times is critical, he must be doing something right.

January 10, 2009

mark-driscoll

The New York Times Magazine will run an article on Mark Driscoll in its January 11, 2009 issue.  The on-line version can be read at this link.

Not surprisingly, the NYT writer gets her story a little mangled, particularly in her descriptions of Calvinism and in the hyperbole about the man Calvin, himself.

And there is clearly a hint of cynicism or perhaps even disdain for Reformed Theology and Mark Driscoll in particular and very likely, evangelical Christianity in general.  And the writer’s predictions at the conclusion of the article cannot be based on anything other than personal opinion, mere speculation, or maybe wishful thinking, reflecting her preference for the future of Mark Driscoll’s ministry. 

Still, she does get some things right.  And for those who are unfamiliar with Mark Driscoll, they will get at least a peak at his highly effective ministry in a part of our country that would be most generously described as “counter-cultural” and is perhaps more accurately characterized as anarchist.

For those seeking to reach the unchurched and post-modern, there are lessons to be learned from this man.

HT: JT and MR


The Driscoll Dichotomy

February 22, 2008

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.