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A Temperate Comment on the Mark Driscoll Controversy

A Temperate Comment on the Mark Driscoll Controversy

I like the tone of this article by Andy Crouch in Christianity Today. I’m concerned about the concentration of Christian thinking, preaching, teaching, and writing in the hands of Christian celebrities. I think Crouch makes some good points.

As a Christian publisher myself (Energion Publications), I don’t intend to comment on the details of this case. I would note that it is incredibly easy to make mistakes and very hard work to find them. There have been a number of times when someone I work with says, “I don’t see how anyone could make (or miss) that mistake” only to do something similar (or worse) by mistake down the road. I do not say this to excuse wrongdoing or carelessness, but to make us think twice before throwing stones at others.

When we do make a mistake, the correct response is not defensive. It is to say simply, “I made a mistake. I’m sorry. I’ll correct it.” I’ve been there any number of times.

I hope that in my own publishing work I am managing to distribute the work of a broad range of people. As a small publisher, these people will rarely be celebrities. To me, however, they are stars. Why do I say that? I have authors who donate their royalties to various causes. I have authors who have refused royalties on certain books in order to help me reduce the price and allow wider distribution. Every author I publish is active in service in a variety of ways. I have encountered no authors who are not extremely anxious to give credit to everyone who contributed in any way. I have even had to suggest that authors cut down the acknowledgments section in a couple of cases.

That’s what I took away from Andy Crouch’s article. There’s a church filled with people who can contribute. I want to give as many as I can a voice. The church needs to hear them, and not just the folks who can get a manuscript accepted with one of the big presses. The church needs to realize the breadth and depth of the talent available to it.


Why Certain People Tend to Polarize

Why Certain People Tend to Polarize

Scot McKnight asks why Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and Albert Mohler start a firestorm when they say certain things, while others, such as Tim Keller can believe and say those same things, but don’t get the same heated response. There’s an interesting discussion in the comments, which is worth reading.

This whole topic led me to think about something else, however. Is there a proper role for polarizing figures? I have started a few arguments in my time, but I don’t aim to be polarizing. I aim to bring people together. So I tend to look more favorably on the non-polarizing proponents of any position, those who invite conversation while suggesting new (or resuggesting old) ideas.

At the same time, I don’t think those who build consensus are sufficient to bring out the truth. There have to be voices that challenge the way things are done. There have to be people who generate the annoyance and anger that it takes to get people moving. As an egalitarian, I have to think that Mark Driscoll and John Piper may be good things for the entire discussion and even for my cause.

By this I do not mean that they are promoting my point of view by being radically on the other side. I could equally suggest that someone equally polarizing on my side of this particular issue might also have a beneficial role to play, however much they might annoy me. I’m reminded that the prophets were not always sympathetic, moderate people. They normally preached a radical message and did so often in radical ways.

You may object that the prophets preached truth in radical ways. Of course, those who do speak in polarizing ways all believe they are speaking the truth. But that’s not my point. I believe that people tend not to move due to moderate suggestions.  The preacher who suggests to his congregation that they really ought to be just a little more generous may find that they give only a fraction of that “little more.”

I think both extremists (in moderate numbers!) and polarizing people (again, in moderate numbers) do us a great service. Many of us would never move at all if we were not drawn or pushed away from their positions by their positions and manner of presentation.

I discuss identifying the extremes as an important part of thinking in my earlier post Moderate Thinking.


Preachers: Respecting without Idolizing

Preachers: Respecting without Idolizing

Eddie Arthur at Kouya Chronicle comments on recent debates about John Piper and justification. Amongst other things, he says this:

It might surprise some of you that I recommend Doug’s articles because in his review of Piper’s criticism of Wright, Doug comes down fairly and squarely on the side of Wright, not Piper. For most Evangelicals John Piper has a status approaching infallible. However, on this question, everything I’ve read leads me to side with Tom Wright (though I will fully admit to not yet having read Piper’s book).

(HT: Gentle Wisdom, in a related post, also well worth reading.)

Eddie is to be congratulated on his attitude of respect for John Piper, while at the same time being willing to recognize where Piper is not quite so strong. After reading Eddie’s blog for some time, I would have expected no less. But many Christians find it difficult to both hold a preacher or teacher in high regard and disagree with them. If we shift the cultural and religious context, and refer to leaders instead, I suspect it is a strongly human characteristic. We like to either like or dislike someone, and to do so without qualification.

There will be those who think I don’t respect Piper at all. After all, I have criticized him recently. But I have also appreciated what he has to say on many topics, including prosperity theology, though I differ there in the details. Mark Driscoll is another preacher I have criticized, but also one from whom I have much to learn. My theological perspective is very, very different from these two men, yet I find myself continually blessed by interacting with what they write, even–or especially–when I dislike it.

The other day my wife and I were watching 60 minutes on Joel O’Steen. Now if you want to find a preacher who gets on my nerves there he is. There’s all the glitzy, prosperity oriented, shallow, showmanship that I dislike most. When the segment was over my wife and I discussed it. We frequently do this, because we both teach, and often do so together. We found that there were things we could learn from the work in ministry, as well as many things that we both deplore. I look, for example, at the time he spends on his sermons. Wouldn’t it be great if more preachers spent that kind of time and effort on their proclamation of the word each Sunday!

My wife frequently gives a portion of her testimony when we’re teaching. She was greatly blessed and had a life-changing experience with the Holy Spirit at the Brownsville Revival here in Pensacola. Now many readers will again be surprised that I have any connection with Brownsville, given the more rationalistic tone of my own faith. But those who have read my own testimony will perhaps remember this. She tells of how she was powerfully changed and for many weeks continued attending the revival and drinking in everything that evangelist Steve Hill had to say. Then came the night when he read a text and made a point and she said, “That’s not right! That’s not what that text said!” With a bit of thought she realized that two things were compatible. Steve Hill could be wrong. Steve Hill could be God’s instrument in a powerful change in her life. The two things were not incompatible. She tells that as an important point of maturity in her Christian faith.

I blogged yesterday about being willing to live with uncertainty. Just as we like certainty about the facts we use in living our daily lives, we also like certainty in our leaders. A preacher is either good or bad, not quite good but fallible. But that is the wrong perspective. We are all human, all fallible, all less than perfect. I can often learn from people whose behavior I do not like, or whose teaching grates on me in many ways. At the same time, I must always be aware that even people I truly appreciate may be in error.

I need to respect preachers, teachers, and leaders, without making the mistake of idolizing them.

Can a Liberal Learn from Mark Driscoll?

Can a Liberal Learn from Mark Driscoll?

I’m using the dreaded “L” word for myself again, because if I was put up against [tag]Mark Driscoll[/tag] I would certainly come out as liberal, no matter how moderate I think I am. Regular readers of this blog know that I disagree with him on a substantial range of issues.

There’s a profile of Driscoll available on the Christianity Today web site (HT: Adrian Warnock). There’s some interesting things here, including most of the stuff on which I differ. Occasionally I stir people up through what I write on this blog, but in real life, I put much of my effort into reconciliation. I try to be a peacemaker in church. I’m not a [tag]Calvinist[/tag] by any stretch. Even good [tag]Arminian[/tag]s suspect me of heresy in the pelagian direction. I’m [tag]egalitarian[/tag], not [tag]complementarian[/tag], and if the bad guy is threatening the playground, I’m going to call 911 before mixing it up with them myself.

Yet there are a number of things one can learn here. Driscoll really believes what he is teaching, and I think the evidence is good that he cares about his church and the people of his community. He’s willing to meet them culturally, something that other church people ranging from right to left are not willing to do. To many of us church is our culture, and others have to leave the “world’s culture” and become part of the “church’s culture.” But we have no particular reason to assume that the church’s culture as we practice it is actually better than the world’s culture. Driscoll seems to have caught on to the fact that from the point of view of the church, especially the mainline church, reaching the person down the street is just as much cross-cultural ministry in many cases as is going overseas.

Nonetheless, I deplore Driscoll’s position on women in leadership and in ministry. I believe it would be quite possible for the church to articulate and practice a strong theology of family and of leadership without wedding itself to the single model of the dominant male. At the same time, egalitarians sometimes behave as though men don’t need to learn any leadership and even foster the “let women take care of spiritual things” attitude. We need to learn to respond to those attitudes.

Too often what we practice is not the empowerment of all people to use the gifts God has given them and to follow God’s call on their lives, but it is rather a “let those who will do it go ahead.” We’re afraid to challenge men in spiritual leadership because we might sound too much like Driscoll. I am willing to confess to weakness when it’s there, but in this case, I’m not myself confessing to this practice. I have regularly preached that men need to be ready to get up on Sunday morning and lead their families to church. They need to be actively involved in both church life and in the moral life of their family and community.

A family can only be properly led when both father and mother take up their appropriate gifts. But this does not allow looking down on supposedly “feminized” men either. That male leadership can involve the man cleaning the house, doing the dishes, changing diapers and helping get the children dressed. It might involve a husband getting the children to Wednesday night activities because the wife is working or out of town on a business trip.

In other words this is another part of modern culture that we could meet with the gospel, rather than try to change into a first century image that exists largely in our own minds.

I would suggest reading the Christianity Today article asking yourself this: “How can I make my spiritual life connect more with the age? What are the essentials of my spiritual and ethical beliefs, and what are just my church culture?” All of us could do with such a checkup.

Could You Take Your Pastor?

Could You Take Your Pastor?

I recall an argument in my freshman year in college, in which a fellow-student who was much larger than I was decided to end the debate by saying, “I think I’ll just beat you up!” He could have too. I wouldn’t have stood a chance. So obviously he was right.

Well, I’ve found a second thing today that I would like to say isn’t true, but there it is. Via Locusts and Honey and Ignite I found this article by [tag]Mark Driscoll[/tag]. Now I must confess Driscoll has been dropping lower on my favorite list after his comments on the ESV which I discussed here.

But in the referenced post Driscoll discusses his love of mixed martial arts. Now I’m not going to attack people for the sports they watch. I’m a baseball fan myself, even more so than usual because my stepson John Webb is a pitcher (AAA this year though he has some big league time). I get illustrations for spiritual things from baseball. Sometimes I even get some from football. I don’t generally watch boxing. I’m probably not “manly” enough in Driscoll’s world.

Then he concludes thus:

Because I am a Christian pastor I now need to find something that connects all of this to being a Christian. So, I’ll just say that while young men are watching tough men compete, the reason they don’t go to most churches is because they could take the pastor and can’t respect a guy in a lemon-yellow sweater, sipping decaf and talking about his feelings.

Well, let me suggest something just as blunt: If you determine whether someone is worth listening to based on whether you could take him in a fight, if you despise someone because they wear a lemon-yellow sweater, sip decaf, or talk about their feelings, then you need to seriously reexamine both your intellectual and your spiritual life.