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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mark Driscoll?

How do you solve a problem like Mark Driscoll? Is he a darling, a demon, a lamb? He’d out pester any pest; drive a hornet from it’s nest. He could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl. He is gentle; he is wild. He’s a riddle; he’s a child. He’s a headache. He’s an angel. He’s a…

Never mind. Forgive me for the introduction. Just a couple of days ago my mother-in-law and I were discussing The Sound of Music and somehow this came to mind. I post it with apologies to Maria Julie Andrews. May she sing forever.

Yesterday I posted a review of Mark Driscoll’s new book, Vintage Jesus. Were I to summarize the review I’d say that I was “hesitantly positive” towards it. I liked 99.9% of it but was troubled by a couple of mis-steps that I judged to be quite serious. These involved Driscoll’s use of phrases that I’d consider inappropriate. If you’d like to know more, you can read the review.

The review generated quite a reaction. The post quickly generated almost 70 comments before I realized the discussion was really not progressing and I opted to close it down. I was not surprised at the reaction. Love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion about Mark Driscoll. As has been proven when I’ve written about his other books, writing reviews is a lose-lose proposition. Some will react with anger that I even saw fit to mention the phrases that troubled me while others will react with disgust that, despite those things, I did not condemn the book and its author. Of course there were many who appreciated and I received some kind emails from people, many of whom known and love Driscoll, thanking me for taking a balanced approach. I hope the review communicated both my respect for him and this book and my hesitance based on his occasional use of rough language.

So how are we to think about Mark Driscoll? I’ve had to work through this in my mind and I thought I’d share just a few of the things that have rattled around my brain in the past years, weeks, months, days. I do this not to convince you but rather to explain why I could dislike certain references within Driscoll’s work, and yet not allow that to form the basis of a blanket condemnation of the book, the man, and his ministry. Maybe (and hopefully) this will explain to you why I reviewed the book as I did.

He’s a Real Guy

Not too long after I started blogging, I wrote a review that, in retrospect, may have been too harsh and perhaps even unfair (you may know of the author but have probably not read the book). As I read through that review today, I sometimes feel a twinge of conscience. Other times I feel that it was a legitimate criticism. In either case, several months after writing the review I had the opportunity to meet the author and was rather surprised to see that he was a real man. He wasn’t some cleverly programmed computer who just happened to write a book, but a real guy with a wife and kids and friends and family. Somehow that hadn’t occurred to me. It came as a shock and I believe it changed the way I review books and the way I address other people on this site.

Mark Driscoll may have a larger-than-life personality, but he is still a real guy who not only offends others but is no doubt offended by them. I’m sure his bravado on the stage is matched by times of sober reflection in private. We need to be certain that in our critiques we do not say things that we’d never say to him face-to-face and that we do not treat him as a guy that, since he is so remote from us, is somehow less human than we are. It’s an obvious point, I know, but in this depersonalized online world it’s worth reminding ourselves of it quite often.

This should go without saying, but I think it is sometimes easy to forget that people with big personalities are still people. Driscoll is a guy who, at the end of the day, goes home to a family not too different than yours or mine. He has children who love and and a wife, who, if she’s anything like mine, probably takes criticism of him harder than he does. He’s a real guy. Maybe he even cries at the end of chick flicks. Probably not. But he’s still a real guy.

Major on the Majors

Last weekend I had the privilege of spending a fair bit of time with D.A. Carson and he said something about Driscoll that I found interesting and meaningful. Because he has said this to others, I don’t think I’m violating any kind of trust in mentioning it. There is no doubt that people have had difficulty knowing what to do with Driscoll and knowing how to think about him. But Carson said he finds it helpful to look not just at where Driscoll is, but at the trajectory he is on. I took that to mean that if we look at where he has come from and then plot a course by where he is now, we’ll see that he is growing and maturing as a Christian and that he is continually emphasizing better and more biblical theology. We are all works in progress. This is not to say that we should hope that Mark Driscoll grows up to become John MacArthur or R.C. Sproul. Rather, it simply means that it is sometimes wise to look at the wider picture.

When we look to that wider picture we see that Driscoll clearly believes in and teaches the gospel. He has proven that he has a very good grasp on Christian doctrine and that he is no theological light-weight. He has proven that he’s unashamed to preach the gospel in contexts adamantly opposed to it. Thus any of our criticisms of him are dealing with, at best, secondary matters. This is an important matter of perspective.

By Their Fruit…

Matthew 7:16 is a well-known passage and one that is important to this kind of discussion. In a passage dealing with false prophets (a title many are willing to assign to Driscoll) Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” And when we look at Driscoll’s ministry, there is no doubt that it is bearing fruit. While I have not traveled to Mars Hill and have not spent a lot of time in Acts 29 churches, I’ve spoken to many people who have. And it seems beyond dispute that the church and the movement are seeing a huge number of genuine, gospel conversions. These are not people who are coming forward at a crusade and later returning home and wondering just what they’ve done, but people who are seeing their hearts and their lives transformed by the gospel. There are multitudes being saved among the most difficult-to-reach demographic in the most difficult cultural settings in America. They are not being saved to a gospel of easy-believism or self-esteem, but to the true gospel built upon true, biblical theology.

If we are to judge Mark Driscoll, his church and its church planting movement by its fruits, we will have to conclude that God is choosing to bless them and to bless them in abundance. Like it or not (and for some reason I think too many “discerning” people don’t like it and refuse to admit it!), God is using this guy for His glory.

Because of…or Despite?

This may be a seemingly-silly distinction, but it is one that I’ve found helpful. It is true of any Christian that there are times God uses us because of who He has made us to be. He has given us all certain talents and gifts and He often uses us because of these things. God blessed Charles Spurgeon with a towering intellect, an incredible memory, and an amazing ability to communicate and through these God-given means He used Spurgeon. Yet it is equally true that God uses people despite certain aspects of their lives of personalities. All of us are blinded to certain sins and failings and all of us continue to provoke God on a daily basis. But God uses us despite these things.

When it comes to Mark Driscoll, some Christians would say that God uses him despite his use of sometimes-vulgar language while others would say that God uses him because of such cultural relevance. Of course there are others, some of whom seem to fancy themselves the church’s conscience, who would say that Driscoll is not and will not be used by God because of these things, but I’d suggest they are simply ignoring clear evidence to the contrary. The basis for this “because of / despite” distinction will come down to a Christian’s understanding of certain biblical exhortations about language and to a person’s biblically-informed conscience. In either case, we need to acknowledge that Christians differ on certain issues and what is vulgar to one person may not be to another. We need to allow room for conscience to speak where biblically-submitted Christians differ. So you will need to respect my hesitance when it comes to phrases I understand to be vulgar while I’ll have to tolerate your freedom to disagree. This is true tolerance—a respect on the basis of differences.

So?

I have never met Mark Driscoll. I don’t think he and I have ever exchanged emails or text messages or instant messages or anything else (or not that I remember, anyways). So I have no personal connection to him. But I love the guy as a brother in Christ. Whatever you feel about Mark Driscoll, you’ll need to agree that God is using him in an unusually powerful way. You’ll need to affirm that he is a brother. This is a reason for rejoicing, and I do rejoice. I pray for Mark Driscoll, that God would continue to bless his ministry and continue to do amazing things through him. I do not agree with some of the ways he chooses to communicate, but neither do I need to. He is doing the Lord’s work in a tough place. And I love him in Christ and support him in that work.