Confessions of a Reformission Rev.
Mark Driscoll is one of those guys I just cannot figure out. Despite being only thirty-six years old, he pastors a church of over 3,000 people, is President of a major church-planting network and is considered one of the fifty most influential pastors in America. I am not the only one confused by Driscoll who is varyingly described as emerging, missional, Reformed, sarcastic and vulgar (all of which are true of him). He is immortalized in Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz as Mark the Cussing Pastor (a title Mark seems to feel is both funny and well-deserved), but is increasingly being asked to speak at events alongside people I simply cannot imagine either cussing or delighting in such a reputation (he will, for example, appear along with John Piper, D.A. Carson and others at the 2006 Desiring God National Conference).
It was with great interest, then, that I began Confessions of a Reformission Rev., a book which is partly autobiographical and partly a biography of Mars Hill Church. And indeed Driscoll and his church are, in many ways, inseparable. The book begins with “Ten Questions,” a chapter which defines various important terms and introduces the concepts Driscoll wrote about in his first book, Radical Reformission. The remainder of the book follows the growth of the church from 0 people to the future where Driscoll hopes to have at least 10,000 people attending each Sunday. The chapter titles and structure are as follows:
- Jesus, Our Offering Was $137 and I Want to Use it to Buy Bullets - 0-45 People
- Jesus, If Anyone Else Calls My House, I May Be Seeing You Real Soon - 45-75 People
- Jesus, Satan Showed Up and I Cant Find My Cup - 75-150 People
- Jesus, Could You Please Rapture the Charismaniac Lady Who Brings Her Tambourine to Church? - 150-350 People
- Jesus, Why Am I Getting Fatter and Meaner? - 350-1,000 People
- Jesus, Today We Voted to Take a Jackhammer to Your Big Church - 1,000-4,000 People
- Jesus, We’re Loading Our Squirt Guns to Charge Hell Again - 4,000-10,000 People
As is suggested by the title, the book is confessional. Driscoll is transparent in discussing his own shortcomings and failures and in accepting blame for many of the problems the church encountered through the years. He was, after all, immature and unprepared for the task that lay before him. In many ways the church grew through trial and error. Often Driscoll encountered a particular question or problem and wrestled with Scripture to understand what the Bible taught on that subject. He shares many of these in this book. Among the issues he discusses are ecclesiology (the organizational structure of a church), reformed theology, expository preaching, and the role of women in the leadership of the church. On the whole it seems that, when faced with such challenges, he was faithful to Scripture. These times of seeking after God’s will for his church shows that he truly does seek to honor God.
Mark Driscoll was one of the early leaders in what has come to be known as the emerging or emergent church. He is careful to define both terms, suggesting that he still believes in the principles upon which the emerging church was founded, but deliberately separates himself from the emergent crowd and such men as Brian McLaren. On pages 21 and 22 he says that “the emergent church is the latest version of liberalism. The only difference is that old liberalism accomodated modernity and the new liberalism accomodates postmodernity.” As for Driscoll, he “swim[s] in the theologically conservative stream of the emerging church.”
He also discusses issues of cessationism and continuationism, though not in those terms. He comes out clearly in favor of the continuing gifts. “Up to this point,” he says, “I had been basically a theological cessationist and a fan of fundamentalist straw-man attacks on charismatic Christians. It wasn’t until some years later, however, that I came to see the cessationists’ interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12-14 as the second worst exegesis I have ever read, next to that of a Canadian nudist arsonist cult I once did some research one” (121). He often speaks of visions, dreams, healings and prophetic words which continue to guide him to this day.
There is much in this book that is very good. Driscoll has some very good insights into culture, Scripture and human nature. These are just a few of the many quotes I marked as being particularly interesting, thought-provoking or insightful:
- “I’m still not sure if most pastors are aware that their churches are comprised of people they don’t yet know. Those people will never come to the churches, so the pastors need to go to those people” (61).
- “The professor wound up getting divorced a few times, which just proved to me that often people who mess with the Bible want to sin instead of repent, which explains why they bury Scripture under philosophical fads (Rom 1:18)” (78).
- “I was wrestling through some theological issues, such as election, predestination, and other matters generally known as reformed theology. So I taught through the book of Romans on Sunday nights, which helped to clarify our doctrinal convictions as a church and cemented us as a church with a reformed view of God and salvation. If you don’t know what that means, the gist is that you people suck and God saves us from ourselves. For more details, you can read the book I’ll write on it in the future or just accept a plain, literal reading of Romans, particular Romans 9-11” (85).
- “I feared that if we did not put our marriage and children above the demands of the church, we would end up with the lukewarm, distant marriage that so many pastors have because they treat their churches as mistresses that they are more passionate about than their brides” (102).
- “As I studied the Bible, I found more warrant for a church led by unicorns than by majority vote” (103).
Despite the many great quotes, there were a couple which I felt showed lack of discernment in theology, and equally troubling, several that which I felt were in poor taste, displaying the vulgarity for which Driscoll has formed something of a reputation. There are a few that are similar to this, using a pejorative term where a more tasteful one would have been, in my opinion, more appropriate: “Every one of them was older than me, a chronic masturbator, a porn addict, and banging weak-willed girls like a screen door in a stiff breeze…” (128). I also found this one quite disturbing:
This was drilled home for me one night when the church phone in our house rang at some godforsaken hour when I’m not even a Christian, like 3:00 a.m. I answered it in a stupor, and on the other end was some college guy who was crying. I asked him what was wrong, and he said it was an emergency and he really need to talk to me. Trying to muster up my inner pastor, I sat down and tried to pretend I was concerned. I asked him what was wrong, and he rambled for a while about nothing, which usually means that a guy has sinned and is wasting time with dumb chitchat because he’s ashamed to just get to the point and confess. So I interrupted him blurting out, “It’s three a.m., so stop jerking me around. What you have done?”
“I masturbated,” he said.
“That’s it?” I said.
“Yes,” he replied. “Tonight I watched a porno and I masturbated.”
“Is the porno over?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Was it a good porno?” I asked.
He did not reply.
“Well, you’ve already watched the whole porno and tugged your tool, so what am I supposed to do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “You are my pastor, so I thought that maybe you could pray for me.”
To be honest, I did not want to pray, so I just said the first thing that came to mind. “Jesus, thank you for not killing him for being a pervert. Amen,” I prayed.
“Alright, well you should sleep good now, so go to bed and don’t call me again tonight because I’m sleeping and you are making me angry,” I said.
“Well, what am I supposed to do now?” he asked.
“You need to stop watching porno and crying like a baby afterward and grow up, man. I don’t have time to be your accountability partner, so you need to be a man and nut up and take care of this yourself. A naked lady is good to look at, so get a job, get a wife, ask her to get naked, and look at her instead. Alright?” I said.
I cannot understand why he feels this type of quote is necessary. While this book is filled with confession, the one thing Driscoll does not seem to regret is his reputation as a loose canon and a man whose mouth is often filthy. I wonder if this will be the subject of another of his biblical studies. I hope it will be, for whatever he may feel he gains through this crudeness, it simply cannot be God-honoring. Scripture affirms many times that what comes out of the mouth is a sure indication of what is in the heart. Thus we have good reason to examine what we say and how we say it, for words are merely symptoms of what lies inside.
In the end analysis, I really did enjoy Confessions of a Reformission Rev.. There is much in this book that is edifying. It helped me understand Mark Driscoll and showed how he grew a megachurch in a largely unchurched city in only eight years. He is clearly a passionate, focused man who is genuinely seeking hard after God. He has much to offer the church. I wonder, though, how long his message will be heard as long as it is wrapped in a sometimes vulgar, always sarcastic, package. It may endear him to some, but it will surely alienate him from far more.