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Driscoll Drama: To those who sold tickets

In many ways, Mark Driscoll’s stepping down from his church brings to a close a somewhat ignominious chapter in the history of American Evangelicalism (you know something is ignominious when it gets Voxified). The Driscoll Decade of Drama unfolded like a circus: for ten years there was a show in town, and there were otherwise respectable people selling tickets. Many of those people have now taken to hoping for Driscoll’s repentance. Here is the most famous example:


First, a few disclaimers. 1. Ten years ago I made a personal rule to not blog on anything related to Mark Driscoll. To the best of my memory I have kept that quasi-vow, but am breaking it now.

Second, I have a huge/tremendous respect for John Piper and Douglas Wilson. They are probably my two favorite living authors, and Wilson is probably my favorite Christian blogger (along with Challies, of course). I mean no disrespect to these men at all.

Now then.

It strikes me that in the chorus of calls to pray for Driscoll’s repentance, or hope for his hopeful repentance, or whatever other optimistic attitude we are supposed to have for that aforementioned repentance, there is something missing. Namely, the ownership of the problem.

And here is where some history is helpful. Much of this is old news, but bear with me.

About 12 years ago Driscoll began publishing and advocating a new way of doing church. Out with regenerate church membership. Out with corporate worship music as it has always been known. Out with sanctification as a theme. Out with a pastor who is actually in your church. In with being cool, in with being gruff, in with the occasional coarse language. While this simplifies it a bit, you get the idea if you see Driscoll in this stage of his ministry essentially taking the seeker sensitive movement to the grunge community of Seattle. MacArthur even labeled his approach to ministry “Grunge Christianity.” While he didn’t mean it as a compliment, that’s the way it was taken, which pretty much says it all.

Over the next few years Driscoll gained national influence as other Christian leaders propped him up. John Piper brought him to his own pastor’s conference as the key-note speaker. The Gospel Coalition made him a board member. He was able to reach a wider and wider audience.

By 2009 it was obvious that the doctrine of sanctification was seriously neglected in the theology that was coming out of Acts 29 and specifically Driscoll’s preaching. In April of 2009 John MacArthur wrote a series of blog posts on Driscoll’s preaching (The Rape of Solomon’s Song)—which to my knowledge is the last time he has said anything publicly about Driscoll. This was the year I gave up talking about/reading/listening to Mark Driscoll. By that point it was either obvious to people what the danger was, or there was really no helping it.

Unfortunately, also in April of 2009 Driscoll preached at the Gospel Coalition’s national conference. And even after that other leaders and institutions continued to expose their people to Driscoll’s leadership and preaching. He did a marriage conference and Liberty University. He started a conference with Rick Warren. He featured on Family Life’s Men’s curriculum. In other words, the groups that Driscoll was lambasting in his books 10 years earlier were eager to have him, and equally eager to expose their people to his teaching.

And Driscoll in turn used his increased influence to expose his new followers—including The Gospel Coalition crew—to TD Jakes. Driscoll’s subsequent claim that Jakes’ modalism could be considered orthodoxy appeared to be the last straw with the TGC crowd through, and Driscoll left their council a short time later.

We can skip the bit about plagiarism, or his stunt at Grace Church, or no-compete clauses for pastors, or buying his way onto the New York Times bestseller list with church money, etc., and jump to present day. Driscoll has been removed from Acts 29, and “charges have been filed” against him within his own church. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds bad. So bad that he is stepping down for six weeks.

Which brings us back to the blog/tweet that we should be hopeful for Driscoll’s repentance. While I am always in favor of repentance, and  remain hopeful for it in everyone, the call for it here is exceptionally tone deaf.

That’s because to pastors outside the Christian-rock-star echo chamber, the issue has never really been one of “will Driscoll repent?” Rather the issue has always been one of “will Christian leaders recognize how foolish it was to expose their people to Driscoll’s preaching and leadership?”

That remains my question today for those that lent him their pulpit and their audience. Looking back on the whole decade (2004-2014), do those leaders (Piper, Wilson, Liberty, Denis Rainey, D. A. Carson, and so on) see that they had a role to play in this? Douglas Wilson–who is one of the Christian leaders who helped Driscoll grow his audience–wrote that he is concerned that some people jumped on the Driscoll train because it was the cool ticket in town, and now they are jumping off only because it is the new cool. To which I say: when the train is on fire, of course it is cool to jump off–after all, everyone is doing it.

But my real question to Wilson is: “Do you see your responsibility for directing people to the train to begin with?”

When the credits roll on this generation of American Christianity, there will be this interesting segment in the 2000’s where a famous Christian essentially mocked sanctification, and instead of being rebuked he was promoted. Obviously this ended poorly for the famous Christian (and his church), but what of those who bought the ticket and took the ride? What of those who sold the tickets? Is it too much to wonder if they will say more than “we sure hope he experiences a sense of hope in this time?” Wilson says that is the best he has to offer—but I don’t buy it.

Specifically, we need more than a simple, “I like Driscoll, and I hope things work out well for him.” I’d like to hear them say, “the biblical qualifications for elders are important, and we made a judgment mistake in holding someone out as a Christian leader who did not meet them.”

Yes, I hope Driscoll comes out feeling like a new man. But more than that, I want the evangelical leaders who were largely responsible for shaping the last decade of Christian leadership to understand the importance of the biblical qualifications for pastors. I want them to see that while the Driscoll Drama may have happened anyway, that doesn’t mean they needed to sell tickets.

(I encourage everyone to read Eric Davis’ post a few weeks ago—there he offers a few necessary lessons from this ordeal)