Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Truth Driscoll Didn't Intend to Teach

I could begin by crowing, "I told you so!"

But how we say something can be as important as what we say.  So I won't gloat.  Even though I was right.

More's the pity, however.

I've never been enamored by pugnacious Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll.  Driscoll is the founder of Mars Hill Church, which until recently, has been a fabulously successful ministry in a city reputed to be one of the most difficult to evangelize in all of North America.

Driscoll and his staff created a sprawling empire crossing various social media platforms and multiple worship sites, promoting a raw, masculine worldview that purported a relevance attractive to Washington state's rough-and-tumble, Pacific Northwest individualism.  His legions of congregants and fans, both in Seattle and across our evangelical ghetto, gushed about Driscoll's bluntness and no-holes-barred teaching.  He told it like it is.  He wasn't afraid of offending people.  He put the pants back on Christianity, as well as the swagger in Christianity's step.

All stuff that I believe distracted from the Gospel, fed a false understanding of Who God is, and helps to prove why Christian celebrity worship is rarely effectual.

But most people don't care what boring guys like me think.  They cared what the entertaining Driscoll said; and even more, how he said it.

These days, however, Driscoll's ministry is crumbling all around him, as charges of plagiarism, secretly buying a top spot on the New York Times bestseller list, and the vocal defection of disillusioned assistants and congregants have made headlines in our evangelical media for months now.  Driscoll picked a petty scuffle with a far more revered leader in modern evangelicalism, John MacArthur, in the parking lot of MacArthur's California church.  Janet Mefferd, a popular Christian talk radio host, made waves by awkwardly cornering Driscoll on the air about the source material for his latest book.

Now comes word that a former follower of Driscoll's, named Rob Smith, is organizing a silent protest against his former pastor at the site of Driscoll's satellite church campus in Bellevue, Washington.  He's asking other disenchanted Driscollites to show up at the church this coming Sunday, each with a sign to hold that bears their name.  Smith's idea stems from a recent attempt by Driscoll to apologize to people who claim to have been hurt by his teachings, if only those people weren't "anonymous."  Indeed, a Facebook page has sprouted called "Dear Pastor Mark & Mars Hill: We Are Not Anonymous," and it's acquired 500 members since July 24.

I'm not going to get into all of the claims of abuse being alleged about Driscoll and his staffers.  But certainly, plenty of something has been going on that hasn't been good, edifying, and Godly.  Perhaps in Driscoll's drive to build his church, and his rationale for using unorthodox language and attitudes for doing so, he attracted a number of people within whom the Holy Spirit wasn't working His salvation after all.  Maybe Driscoll's charisma and willingness to be unconventional proved attractive to Seattle's unchurched simply because they didn't want a church or a faith that they considered to be frumpy, or that frowned on coarse language, or was careful about what we say, and how we say it.

In other words, to a certain extent, Driscoll may be guilty of simply providing Seattle the kind of church the edgy city thought it wanted.

Regardless of what it was that attracted all of these now disenchanted people to Driscoll, it can't be denied that the main flaw we're now hearing everybody talking about centers not on the explicit doctrine Driscoll tried to teach, but on how he taught it.

He apparently tried to teach about how the father is supposed to be the spiritual leader of the home, but in the process of saying those words, he ended up vilifying women, emasculating men who didn't fit his paradigm of masculinity, and reputedly destroying marriages in his church.

He apparently tried to teach about the immorality of sex outside of heterosexual wedlock, but he ended up projecting a seething hatred of gay people that the Bible never teaches.

He apparently tried to teach about how Christians are involved in spiritual warfare when we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in holiness while on this planet.  But he ended up constructing a model of church-performed discipline and exorcisms that demonized struggling congregants instead.

And these are just a few of the most frequent allegations leveled against him.  Not just by disgruntled church members.  But by some of his pastoral assistants who helped him perpetrate these misrepresentations of basic theology on their congregation.

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it:  how we say something can be as important as what we say.  Trying to present the Gospel using tools apart from the Fruit of the Spirit is fraught with peril.

That appears to be the consistent thing Driscoll taught, even though he didn't mean to.

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