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Confessions of a Reformisson Rev. – Further Thoughts

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My review of Confessions of a Reformisson Rev. by Mark Driscoll raised a furor. I was shocked by just how quickly the comments began to add up. They quickly bounced up to over 170 before David, who helps me moderate the comments area, decided that they had served their purpose and needed to be shut down (and I fully support the decision). Many blogs picked up the discussion as well. Because of the amount of virtual ink that has been spilled discussing this post, and because of what a few people have subsequently said about me, I wanted to add a few comments.

First, It is an unfortunate truth of the blogosphere that sometimes the tone and content of a blogger’s post can be lost in the subsequent comments and discussion. I fear this may have happened with my review of Confessions of a Reformission Rev.. It may surprise you to know that my review was largely positive. I thought Driscoll had many good things to say and I tried to articulate that. It was not until the final paragraphs that I addressed my foremost concern with the book: the sometimes vulgar language. However, almost all of the 170+ comments focused only on this critique and very few mentioned the positive aspects of the book. Thus, while my review was largely positive, the comments were largely negative. So let’s be fair here and acknowledge that I think Confessions of a Reformission Rev. was quite a good book with many valuable things to say. Had I thought it was an awful book I would not have provided a link to buy it from Amazon.

So please understand what I said about Driscoll’s book and what was actually said in the later discussion. I cannot be held responsible for the tone or content of comments. Even here I would like to say that the vast majority of comments were level-headed and maintained a godly tone.

Second, it is important to note that what I wrote was not a theology of cussing, nor an examination of Mark Driscoll’s ministry. Rather, it was a book review. On the whole I tried to discuss only the book. After all, most people who read the book will know little more of Driscoll than what they encounter within the pages of Confessions of a Reformission Rev.. As some have pointed out, Driscoll recently penned an apology for some vulgar words he had written in response to the views of Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren. In this article he apologized directly for what he had said about them and also suggested that he is attempting to moderate his use of harsh language. You can read this apology here. It is possible, and even likely, that the manuscript for his book was finalized before he was convicted of sin in his response to McLaren and Pagitt. Thus it is possible that, if given the ability to edit the manuscript, he might not have included some of the more vulgar sections of Confessions of a Reformission Rev.. Only Mark knows. But I don’t feel this is necessarily relevant to my book review.

Third, I do not feel that I need to first approach the author in order to critique his work. Mark Lauterbach wrote a post called Examples of how to critique? in which he said: “It is cheap to critique without trying to show the person their fault.” He advocates a Matthew 18-like process of confrontation and correction. I disagree with him. Driscoll’s book is a matter of public record and when a book (or a blog article) is published and publicly distributed, it is with the assumption and understanding that it will be read and critiqued. Reviewing books would be a useless and impossible enterprise if I first had to approach each author before I pointed out flaws or weaknesses. Matthew 18 does not apply to these matters of public record.

Fourth, it seems that some people were offended that I quoted Mark Driscoll’s use of vulgarity. To be honest, I did struggle a little bit with whether or not I should do this, but eventually decided that I could do so in good conscience. I dislike such use of language and felt bad that people would encounter it on my web site. Still, I feel that it was necessary to show that I was not merely being over-sensitive when pointing out that the book can be vulgar. The vulgarity of this book is not simply in using words like “crap.” While I hope there will not be a next time, if there is I will attempt to first post a disclaimer of sorts so those who do not wish to read such language can simply click the “back” button and avoid it. But I have to ask…is there anyone who can honestly say that he or she would have clicked “back?” Experience tells me that a disclaimer is really usually little more than an invitation.

Fifth, I probably could have articulated this within the review, but did not feel at the time that it was necessary. Perhaps I was wrong. One of the things I find most difficult about Driscoll’s vulgarity is that it is, at least sometimes, measured and deliberate. This is shown clearly within the dialogue with the college student. There is absolutely no way that what Driscoll presents is a completely accurate, word-by-word account of what happened. If he was as tired and groggy as he would have us believe, he could not remember every word that was spoken that night. What he presents is a memoir more than a transcription. Thus he could have used a less-vulgar term to describe what the boy had done. Yet he chose to be provocative. And in fact, I don’t think it was even necessary to publish the exchange in the first place. Driscoll added it to the book to show that he was reaching the end of his rope, but he did not need to provide this story. It is clear that he did so in order to be deliberately provocative. There can be a fine line between confession and exhibitionism. As I said: deliberate provocation.

Sixth, Justin Taylor wrote the following this morning: “I do wish that his extended quotation (which is causing all the heat) had been set in context more than it was.” Justin may be right. The quotation was taken from early in Driscoll’s career, and thus may not reflect what he would say if the same situation were to arise today. At the same time, it was written only recently. See point five, above. Justin also posts a great quote by J.C. Ryle. I agree entirely with what Ryle says and hope that Justin was not directing this at me in particular since I truly do feel that I was quick to see grace in Driscoll. See point one, above. J.T. was quite right, though, to indicate that some people made the error of committing “Graceless Slander Under the Guise of Discernment and Doctrinal Fidelity.”

As always, I am surprised by which of my articles cause a great amount of discussion and which do not. On the whole, book reviews are the posts which tend to gather the lowest number of comments. I was shocked, then, to see just how much discussion arose as a result of this one. Still, I think there was been some valuable and beneficial discussion and I trust that it has somehow proven valuable.

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