I have just begun reading The Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll. Mark is known as being on the Conservative fringe of the Emerging Church. He must at least somewhat orthodox because he invited John Piper to deliver several messages at the 2004 “Radical Reformission Conference.” Don Elbourne listened to the audio and wrote, “John Piper, the key note speaker, delivered three sessions saturated with Christ-centered, God exalting, relevant, practical theology. I admit being already partial to Piper as a recent enthusiastic convert to Christian Hedonism, but I must say I don’t think I’ve ever heard Piper more radically poignant. He tackled current issues such as Greg Boyd’s Open Theology, N. T. Write’s New Perspective on Paul, popular misconceptions about Calvinism and Evangelism, communicating the truth of the gospel in a postmodern culture, and more. He titled his three messages, ‘The Whole Glory of God: Governing and Knowing All that Will Come to Pass,’ ‘The Whole Glory of Christ: Imputation and Impartation of His Righteousness,’ and ‘The Whole Glory of the Gospel of God: From Him, Through Him, and to Him.’ Well worth the listen.”
I thought it might be interesting to examine this book in some detail. I may not provide a synopsis for each chapter, but I would like to do more than simply write a review when I have finished reading it.
Today I’ll introduce the introduction (so to speak). It begins with a short biography of sorts. Driscolls tells a little bit about his childhood and his conversion during college. After graduating he worked in Christian radio for six years before beginning Mars Hill Church in urban Seattle. He later co-founded the Acts 29 Church Planting Network which has started over 100 churches in eight countries during a five-year period.
After introducing himself, he begins to introduce his Reformission. Driscoll defines Reformission as “a radical call for Christians and Christian churches to recommit to living and speaking the gospel, and to doing so regardless of the pressures to compromise the truth of the gospel or to conceal its power within the safety of the church” (page 20). The goal of Reformission is “to continually unleash the gospel to do its work of reforming dominant cultures and church subcultures” (ibid).
These three forces, gospel, church and culture, form a triangular relationship. Reformission begins with a return to Jesus who saves us by His grace and sends us to be missionaries to our world. Jesus has called us to “(1) the gospel (loving our Lord), (2) the culture (loving our neighbour), and (3) the church (loving our brother)” (ibid). Tragically, Driscoll asserts, one of the main causes of the failure to fulfill our mission has come by being faithful to only one or two of these counts.
Driscoll provides three formulas to show what happens when one of these areas is neglected:
Gospel + Culture - Church = Parachurch
Many Christians become frustrated with the church and abandon it in favor of outside organizations. While these organizations can do a lot of good, they allow people to remain disconnected from the local church. People are connected to unbelievers, but outside of a context where they can introduce these people to the wider church body. This in turns leads to theological immaturity (and I would assert it also leads to a greater possibility of theological error). Further, parachurch organizations are often organized around only one type of person (the poor, youth, etc) so they do not display the diversity of the body of Christ.
Culture + Church - Gospel = Liberalism
Some churches are so concerned with being culturally relevant that they neglect the gospel. These people convert others to the church but not to Jesus. Driscoll says that “This is classic liberal Christianity, and it exists largely in the dying mainline churches” (page 21). Many conservative Christians would also suggest that much of the Emergent church fits into this category, having forsaken the gospel in favor of culture and community. These people run the risk of loving their neighbour at the expense of loving God.
Church + Gospel - Culture = Fundamentalism
Some churches care more for the church, its traditions, buildings and politics than the spread of the gospel. While they know the theology of the gospel they rarely take it to the people. We can wonder whether these people love the lost as much as they love their buildings and traditions.
Driscoll claims that Reformission gathers the best aspects of each of these types of Christianity: “living in the tension of being Christian and churches who are culturally liberal yet theologically conservative and who are driven by the gospel of grace to love their Lord, brothers, and neighbours. This book focuses on issues related to the scriptural content of the gospel and the cultural context of its ministry, and I write out of my sincere love as a pastor for Christians, churches, lost people, and culture” (page 22).
In reading this chapter I was struck primarily by Driscoll’s affirmation of the centrality of the gospel. This seems to differ significantly from some other leaders within the Emergent church who seem to fit squarely in Driscoll’s category of Liberalism. I take this as a positive sign. I also appreciated the three forumlas he presented as they seem to make good sense. I was immediately able to think of individuals and churches that fit into each of the three categories. I will reserve further comment until I have read more of the book.