This is the fourth article in a series about Mark Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission. You can find the first article here, the second here, the third here and the fourth here. Today we arrive at a chapter cryptically entitled “the sin of light beer.” As usual the subtitle is more helpful: “how syncretism and sectarianism undermine reformission.”
In this chapter Driscoll discusses the opposing concepts of syncretism and sectarianism. He uses the examples of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes to highlight four unbiblical reactions to culture. The Pharisees were sectarian, developing an unending number of laws to seperate themselves from the common people. The Sadducees were syncretists, compromising their beliefs in order to blend into the culture. The Zealots misused culture as they attempted to usher in God’s kingdom through the use of force. The Essenes ignored culture altogether, retreating from society where they could seek mystical encounters with God in monkish privacy.
“The problem with each of these ruts is that they are ways of seeking godliness, as we define it, rather than as God defines it. But the things that those who are stuck in them desire (holiness, cultural relevance, social transformation, spiritual experience) can’t be brought about by legalism, liberalism, legislation or lunacy; instead, they are natural effects of faith in the powerful gospel and come from God alone to those who are about his reformission business” (page 142). As he repents of both of these forces, Driscoll writes, “The problem with both syncretism and sectarianism is that they deny the clear teaching of the Scriptures that the power of God unleashed through the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform anyone. Sectarians do not live by the necessary faith in the gospel and therefore believe that evil hearts and sinful actions and worldly social structures are more powerful than God, unable to be redeemed, and therefore are a waste of our energies because they are destined to be meat on God’s grill anyway, so why bother? Likewise, syncretists do not live by the necessary faith in the gospel and therefore believe that the hearts of people aren’t that bad, their actions aren’t that sinful, and since people are doing the best they can, we can’t expect any sort of radical transformation, and so we should simply bless them with a sentimental love” (page 145).
And so we see that Sectarians love God but fail to love their neighbors, while syncretists love their neighbors but fail to love God.
The final part of the chapter is a long discussion of attitudes towards alcohol within the church. Driscoll believes, as I do, that we have freedom to decide whether or not we would like to drink (in moderation, of course). I was left a little confused as to why he chose to address this particular issue in such depth, as it did not seem to highlight syncretism and sectarianism as well as another issue might have. Regardless, he felt it was relevant to the topic at-hand. The chapter concludes with these words: “Here’s what I’d like you to remember from this chapter: reformission is not about abstention; it is about redemption. We must throw ourselves into the culture so that all that God made good is taken back and used in a way that glorifies him. Our goal is not to avoid drinking, singing, working, playing, eating, love-making, and the like. Instead, our goal must be to redeem those things through the power of the gospel so that they are used rightly according to Scripture, bringing God glory and his people a satisfied joy” (page 152).
This was probably the shortest and lightest chapter in the book thus far. I agree with the majority of what Driscoll teaches here. I have seen plenty of first-hand evidence of the dangers of both syncretism and sectarianism and have been closer to both of those than I would like to admit. Driscoll is right in his conclusion that both of these errors lead to an outright denial of the power of the gospel; they lead people to depend on themselves rather than God. His warning against these forces is useful and powerful.
The only area in which I found myself in potential disagreement with Driscoll is in his discussion of redeeming culture. I suppose I am not so sure that God has asked us to redeem culture. God’s primary interest is, of course, in people. This is something I know Driscoll would affirm. But Driscoll would suggest that we are also to focus on the redemption of music, film, and every other area of culture. I am not so sure. I guess the trouble is that I do not see the biblical mandate for the redemption of culture. Neither does Driscoll provide satisfactory biblical proof. So this is an area to which I will have to dedicate further time and reflection.
We continue soon with the final chapter.