From Fanboy to Frustrated: A Plea To Mark Driscoll

“Did you hear what Driscoll said?”

I have come to hate that question, largely because it reflects the obsessiveness with regard to Christian culture’s pastor-celebrities. But I have also come to hate it because I grow weary of Mark Driscoll’s misstatements . If he’s not saying video games are stupid, or Avatar is satanic, then he is saying that “real men” are those who look and act like him. When I first was introduced to his ministry I was captivated. I became a Driscoll fanboy overnight. I read his books, listened to his sermons, and went to his conferences.

His ministry resonated with me in my particular season of life. Faced with some of the backwardness and introversion of the church I was working in, Driscoll drew upon my desire for a more progressive and outward-focused style of ministry. My own church at the time was consumed with keeping members happy, doing things like spending thousands of dollars on pipe organ repair. There was no interest in outreach opportunities or service projects, though I had arranged for both. It was a frustrating season, and as I read of the “missional” drive behind Driscoll’s church I found myself falling in love with his ministry. The idea of sending church members out on mission to their various contexts had massive appeal to me. That overall shift in ministry focus was starkly different from the self-indulgent “come to us” mindset that I was experiencing at my own church.

It’s important to consider that Driscoll is operating in a very specific context. I agree in part with John Piper who said that we ought to cut Mark some slack. He is pastoring in a difficult place. Seattle, as Driscoll often reminds us, is one of the least “churched” cities in America (there are more dogs than Christians).  Certainly Mark has been used by God to reach many people who wouldn’t otherwise be in church.

And yet, we rarely hear anyone make excuses for morally questionable behavior from David Platt, Francis Chan, or John Piper. Each of these men pastor growing, challenging, and, at times, controversial churches. But their humility is a hallmark of their public persona. They have a great deal of influence today and are often prophetic in their call to both the church and the nation as a whole. They publicly speak courageous words without seeming arrogant. Consider Piper’s now famous Youtube video calling out President Obama. Think of a young David Platt challenging his mega-church to stop buying into the American Dream. Their courage is not contaminated with an arrogance that suggests anyone doing it differently is a “coward.” None of these Christian leaders are regularly rebuked for their arrogance.

It seems that often Driscoll uses his success as a justification of his methods. Because his church is big, he can do and say what he wants. He has, of course, listened to his elders and made the occasional public apology. But Driscoll rarely takes seriously the criticisms of those beyond his immediate influence. It’s not always easy for those under our leadership and influence to see our glaring mistakes, but from a distance many have questioned Mark’s condescending machismo, his cultural indulgence, and his apparent pride and anger. These voices seem to make no impact on him. A pastor can’t, of course, allow himself to be consumed with the barage of critics who don’t know him personally, but there is a danger of living within a vacuum where criticism is always mitigated by immediate influence. The plethora of voices calling Mark to repentance (a plethora that often refrain from calling his peers, such as Platt or Piper or Chan to repentance) seem to warrant a valid hearing.

There is a fine line between courage and arrogance. However, Driscoll’s boldness often seems blatantly condescending. His most recent interview with a British Christian journalist revealed this tendency. In the interview he was oddly defensive. At one point the host asks Mark a legitimate question about a controversial chapter in his latest book and Mark became angry and insisted that the host was just picking at little things in the book for shock value (a particularly odd criticism coming from Driscoll). As the conversation continues he called the host “annoying,” and then began to accuse him of being a theological liberal. He turned the conversation from himself to discuss the hosts views of the atonement and hell, and accused pastors in the UK of being generally cowardly: “Let’s just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don’t have one – that’s the problem. There are a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.” What does he base this statement on? It’s not clear, and D.A. Carson has contested this diagnosis.

The problem is that Driscoll believes that the degree of a pastor’s fame  is evidence of his faithfulness. It’s a weird and painful interview and the odd defensivness of Driscoll throughout it seems to suggest he is more willing to dish out criticism than receive it. It’s one thing to disagree with someone over theological and methodological issues, but to belittle them and their churches seems to fall short of “courageous” and is more akin to the stereotypical high school jock mocking someone different. If you are an egalitarian be prepared to get stuffed in a locker. If you’re an “anatomically male effeminate worship leader” be prepared for swirlies. I am reminded of Titus 1:7 where an elder is commanded not to be “arrogant or quick-tempered.” This description lies in stark contrast to Driscoll’s own estimation of himself:  in a recent discussion at the Elephant Room he joked that his emotional range goes from angry to really angry. It’s not that Driscoll is incapable of thoughtful, careful, and strategic theological development and discussion. His writings are evidence of this. But, sadly, he is increasingly becoming known for his bullying rather than his thoughtfulness.

I hate writing posts like this, especially about someone from whom I have learned so much. But it is out of such appreciation that I am begging Driscoll to confront these problems. His ministry is far too influential for him to continue in this manner. We are all arrogant jerks at times, but when that behavior and attitude begins to come out regularly in very public forums it reflects on the church at large, and even on our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t take this role lightly. To publically critique Driscoll is a serious thing. But when you are a public representative of the faith making very public sins, and when you’ve made apologies for some of the sins but not made changes to your habits you should be called out publically. Perhaps, behind closed doors Driscoll’s elders and friends are challenging him on this, but there is no evidence of change in his behavior. It is necessary, then, for the public call to be made. Those of us who are brothers and sisters in Christ should challenge one another always, and I consider Mark my brother. We’ve never met, but I love him. And though we’ve never met, I am compelled to call him to repentance in love.

About Dave Dunham
  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Yeah, as a fellow backslidden fanboy, I’ve started to cringe every time he opens his mouth now.

    I think part of the problem is his elevation of his own opinions to a level of authority on the basis of his so called “gift of discernment,” which when it isn’t manifesting itself as bizarre visions, presents as this idea that what he thinks about a cultural text is the only way to skin it… (ala Avatar and video games). Imagine what he’d do if there was an Avatar video game. Wait. Is there?

    I suspect whenever we start to feel like we are particularly and extraordinarily gifted we’ve got to question where that lofty opinion of ourselves is coming from. I’m praying that Mark turns his obvious ability to make judgments about culture onto himself. And soon.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    David,

    You have, I believe, captured the frustration of many. I would like to add one more thing to this as a way of illustrating how fake this bravado of Pastor Mark really rings to me.

    As you pointed out, he was terribly rude to his interviewer over the ministry of Brierley’s wife. Driscoll was aggressive, and he didn’t cut Brierley any slack. I do not agree with Breierley’s position, but I thought Driscoll handled it like a bully, not as a pastor should.

    Then we come to the Elephant Room 2. Here, Driscoll has the opportunity to interact with a notorious Word of Faith preacher face to face who also happens to be, at best, a modalist sympathizer. Driscoll is famous for chewing out Joel Osteen for his Word of Faith teaching. But TD Jakes? Kid gloves and back-slapping. Why wasn’t he half as aggressive with Jakes as he was with Brierley over something ten times as important? Where was his bravado when it really counted?

    Just an observation of one more thing that frustrates me as well.

  • David

    Great observation Brad. That is ridiculous. One hits more personally to him so he is super defensive and the other is in a context of mutual admiration and so Jakes gets a pass.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    I should also add that his “chewing out” of Osteen was long-distance through the media. Not in a face-to-face elephant room chat. Not that he has to be face-to-face to call out Osteen, but with regards to bravery, it is easier to do those things at a distance.

  • http://chelseabatten.com Chelsea

    I think the appeal of Driscoll is that of a tough teacher to a problem student. Immature Christians, or those who have been trying to see how much they can get away with, instinctively respect (and start to adore) someone who won’t let them get away with wilful nonsense.

    The disillusionment comes when these Christians start to mature, and their mature struggles are continually treated by Driscoll (and his ilk) as if they are still wilful nonsense.

    Big leaders thrive on baby Christians. Put another way, baby Christians are drawn in big numbers to leaders like Driscoll. They take comfort in a large crowd and a large personality, who will tell them what to do. When they start to develop personal discernment, the leader is often not ready to handle it. (Best case, he’s too accustomed to having the final say in their lives. Worst case, he’s a megalomaniac.)

  • http://www.rogerupton.wordpress.com Roger Upton

    I love Driscoll’s ministry and how God has used his church to call many the world over to think missionally. However, I agree with your concerns. It seems as though he now exists in a vaccum. It seems he thinks he can say or do anything and be above accountability. I’m sure he’d tell you he doesn’t actually think that, but it seems he does. I thought his newest book Real Marriage was unneccessary, and I got the vibe that it was the latest of his attempts to simply shock everyone. It’s almost as if he’s bored. He is definitely overexposed. I think it would suit him and his church better if he simply got off the conference circuit, stopped writing a new book every 6 months, stopped appearing on every nightly news show, and concentrated on being the preaching pastor of Mars Hill, as well as a husband and dad.

  • Amy

    Chelsea, I think your comment, “Big leaders thrive on baby Christians” is spot on. All that adoration leads to huge amounts of pride that would be difficult for the most mature believer to resist. I fear that what we are seeing in Driscoll is a downward spiral. The Bible is clear about pride and what follows. If the repentence that the writer calls for goes unanswered, falling is inevitable.

  • Scott McClellan

    David, I’m curious about your take on the process of how your view of Driscoll changed. Was it something he said? Was it something someone said in response to him? Or was it something else, apart from Driscoll, that caused you to react differently when you encountered Dricoll again?

    I ask because I often wonder about the debates that often take place on blogs and in comments sections. Are they completely futile or is there hope of one participant significantly influencing the views of an opposed participant?

    Because it’s rare to hear someone admit their view on anything has changed, I thought I’d single you out and ask you what you thought about the process.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Hah, um. I have a lot to say about Driscoll and almost nothing to add to this particular discussion that hasn’t already been said.

    We egalitarian feminists in the church have long been wary of Driscoll, and it’s good to see those who, though they agree with him in many areas theologically, are waking up to the abusive nature of his “leadership.”

    I’ve said it multiple times, but it feels like, to me, that 2012 is going to be the year that we see Driscoll fall, and fall hard. This does not bring me delight – it’s more like watching a slow motion train wreck. He’s beginning to step on far too many toes.

  • Ryan Mathison

    So sad…I came from the broader evangelical non-denominational “bible believing” church set-up that exploded in the early 90′s and must say that the propensity to have “pastor worship” occur was high. When I consider all the pastors that “rule” over those churches they all have a common thread – they would make fantastic CEO’s because they are highly driven, strong-headed, goal oriented, and focused on accomplishing their agenda (though they say it is God’s). They have little to no accountability, and the plurality of leadership they say they have is often a board of other like-minded pastors that they are buddies with. If they have local leadership in their own church, they often set up like-minded men that have bought into their agenda and make them “associate pastors”. At then end of the day a lot of people are attracted to people they identify as “strong leaders” that seem to be successful (have a large church, nice marketing, are on the radio, have been published etc,..) because they mistake the strength as coming from the Holy Spirit, and the “success” as coming from the hand of God. Since leaving that scene in 93′ and joining a reformed denomination (due to moves first URC, then PCA then OPC) I have REALLY come to appreciate ministers that have gone through seminary training (a humbling experience that refines men whom feel called to care for God’s people), as well as the Presbyterian form of church government which ensures a plurality of leadership, and multiple layers of checks and balances in its Presbyteries. The OPC has a lot of ministers who have their ThD (Doctor of Theology), and those without all have their MDiv at least. Though this is true, they make a deliberate choice NOT to call upon or give the most gravity to ministers with the highest degrees, or the most published, or the largest congregations during Presbytery meetings as well as the General Assembly (a time when all the teaching and ruling elders from around the world convene annually). Furthermore, there is a focus on church planting (not church growth for a pastor of a single congregation). The idea is that once a local congregation get’s too large (say between 125 – 250+ members) the difficulty to maintain intimate fellowship among everyone get’s overwhelming and the focus on another church being planted to support that areas needs are prayerfully considered. At the end of the day the pride of man, and the hunger for influence and in the end, the hunger for power is sadly not something that we shall shed until we are glorified. The Church must combat this from entering the pulpit. When a man is called to stand in the place of Christ on Sunday mornings and preach the Law and Gospel to sinners in need of being saved, and being assured they are saved, THEY MUST cast their agendas, pride, and personal opinions to the wayside and be careful to extend only what Christ would extend to his bride.

  • David

    Scott,

    That’s a good question. I am not sure I’ve analyzed it very thoroughly. I suspect over the last year I have been willing to listen to more critics of Driscoll than I was when I first found out about him. There were a number of bloggers whose commentary and diagnosis of various “Mark Comments” began to make sense. The more I read the more I found myself agreeing. I think once the “awe” of the initial introduction to Mark wore off I started to receive critiques of him with a more open mind. That’s a guess at this moment anyways of the “process”.

    Dave

  • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

    David, thanks for this post; as one who is equally concerned about Driscoll’s attitude of late, you’ve done a very good job of voicing your concerns and modelling Christ-likeness while doing it.

  • joel

    not much surprising here. driscoll isn’t really speaking to please people. he’ll be tempered by God and fellow believers who have authentic authority and to whom he is accountable in his everyday life, or not. in either case, God will not be mocked.

    no one has genuine authority and accountability in another person’s life without responsibility, as well. epistles written by paul were to those over whom he had proper authority and a relationship with a track record. his instructions are valid today, yet are not often heard when conveyed by someone outside the realm of “our circle of mutual accountability”. if we know one another, we have a chance at hearing one another. we all choose who we let in the door of important rooms in our lives. and if we allow no one to speak to us, we are not likely to grow much in relationship with a living God.

    where “stepping on toes” is concerned, there is far more fluff coming from pulpits in this nation than tough words for a church who has largely become enamored with the smorgasbord of knowledge, influence, possessions and lifestyle. there is a much needed push in the body of Christ to be set apart. Christians are glad to have “spiritually flattering conversations” with other believers, yet are less and less likely to engage people with a challenging and life changing gospel in the marketplace, schoolyard or public square. not in some weird, mystical, untouchable way, but in a bold, yet approachable life that has no shame in the gospel and finds no sin outside the grace of the God who forgave us of our own sinful actions leading to driving the spikes in the hands and feet of our own Savior.

    He rose after conquering death, hell and the grave!!! does today’s church really believe that makes a difference, today? if so, why is it embarrassing to talk about it anywhere? if He is who He said He is and the Spirit He sent is indeed in us, are we the same old person with a little more goodness, or are we a new creature where old things are passed away and all things are becoming new? who really desires a Jesus that we hide with anything resembling the old us? anyone can act like a good guy or develop communication and charismatic skills. only Christ can change a life, heal blind eyes and truly liberate captives whether in a prison made of steel, flesh of spirit.

    if we just can’t fathom dying to ourselves and His Spirit is not the driver of our vessel, we really haven’t anything much more to offer than whatever motivational speaker rolls through town next. we cannot shy away from the unpopular, yet only saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the sometimes difficult words found written by the bible authors to contemporary leaders and those in the fellowship of believers. more than a few of Jesus’ words were construed as harsh to those who wanted or expected to see things unfold differently for whatever reasons.

    bottom line, driscoll isn’t the real issue. the issue is the notion that any of us “has it just right” when the reality is He’s forming a spotless bride for His return. the heat is being turned up and His Majesty is separating the dross and the pure gold. some difficulty will occur because He will use some odd and imperfect vessels today as He’s always done. (see every bible “hero”) i applaud driscoll for his stirring up a luke warm church, while withholding judgment on his technique. either lead, follow or get out of the way. it isn’t about any man, save Christ. to the man needing to be challenged by a man, driscoll may be being used to knock down some huge walls. to the person needing a bit more tactful or graceful tone, maybe a nice quiet place with a pipe organ, liturgical readings and a hymn or two may be the perfect refuge. God is I Am and will find you if you’ll be found.

  • Adam E

    Hey Joel,

    May I respond?

    no one has genuine authority and accountability in another person’s life without responsibility

    You used the example of Paul – well the apostle Peter was rebuked by the young upstart Paul for having double standards when mixing with gentiles. We can receive rebuke and criticism from those below us if we are humble enough. Is Driscoll humble enough?

    the issue is the notion that any of us “has it just right” when the reality is He’s forming a spotless bride for His return

    But does my fallen nature proclude me from holding to account our brothers when they stumble? If that is true, then no one can hold anyone accountable, and that’s a dangerous idea. A relationship with god involves three groups: me, the Godhead and the church community. That community provides accountability.

    In the Old Testament, Baalam learnt that God will use anything to speak to you if you are humble enough to listen.

    there is a much needed push in the body of Christ to be set apart

    Exactly, Driscoll, as a pastor should not be acting in the way he does: that’s how the world acts. With pride and arrogance. It is our (the global Christian community) role to call Driscoll to account. And to be humble when we are also called to account.

    It’s not easy being a mega pastor, running a church and Driscoll can certainly bring much clairty, teaching and help to the body of Christ still. I find him very useful and challenging to listen to and to read. He is a big personality, and his sins are very obvious for all to see, where as many other pastors (as you allude to) are guilty for very private sins, like watering down the . But he does need to keep repenting of his arrogance, apologise for statements that are untrue and hurtful to the global church community.

    I think your conclusion to “lead, follow or get out of the way” as our response, denies God’s purpose for accountability. I am a leader of a small group, and I want to be humble enough to respond to criticism from my peers, my own leaders, and even those beneath me in my group.

    Christ teaches us that to lead as he did, we must have humility. I hope Driscoll learns and grows in humility. And I hope he doesn’t have to fall for that to happen. God knows that the church has seen enough falling stars…

    Blessings

  • Ben

    Wow. I suspected another gripe out session here but this actually seemed pretty humble. The last paragraph makes that clear. Thanks. I hope he takes heed and perhaps renews his heart. I personally become a jerk when I don’t do that enough. I appreciate his personality and doing what he has done. I guess trying to paint that as a picture for everyone else is the problem.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Just from my own point of view, in response to Adam and Joel’s discussion: I dislike the idea that anyone is “beneath” anyone in the Body of Christ. It kind of flies in the face of the priesthood of the believers.

  • Adam E

    Hi Dianna,

    Yes we are all equal, but there are loads of passages about submission to Godly authority and what authority structures should be within the church: ( Paul’s guidelines for elders and deacons for instance). That is what I was referring to by beneath. Purely in a organisational structure sense. In Christs kingdom, I serve those who are ” beneath me”. But maybe we’re getting off topic…

    Blessings

  • http://johnkpatterson.wordpress.com John Patterson

    The Holy Spirit is the wind that lifts red flags high, warning people away from those who would deceive them and bind them to their personal version of Godliness. I am confident that He will speak to Driscoll and his church, if only they are willing to listen. But first of all, may He speak to us, and help us give grace to everyone in the Church, whether or not we think they are causing it harm.

  • http://aborrowedflame.com AndrewFinden

    You’v articulated well a lot of things I’ve been thinking of late!

  • http://steamtunnelpilot.blogspot.com Sergius Martin-George

    So how is this all going to play out? How will it end for Driscoll (cause you know he’s going down one way or another)?

    Will it end up like
    THIS?

    Or like THIS?

    Or in some other fashion?

  • Robert Mckee

    Yeah, I think Driscoll is pretty arrogant. It’s hard to listen to him sometimes because of it. I think his teaching is usually pretty solid though.

    It’s hard because we all have problems and to call out Driscoll isn’t really that necessary, yet I do agree that he is abrasive in a negative way.

  • Casey

    When I heard Mark said his reasons why adult males don’t go to church, I was thinking he never met my dad. My dad, may he rest in peace, said that he found a lot of pastors arrogant and self-grandiose. He did accept Christ before dying. Mark has said on several occasions that he felt men don’t go to church because it is to effeminate. He really has no idea what he is talking about concerning the whys. There are a lot of reasons.

  • Dualhammers

    I think that Mark Driscoll is partly so successful in Seattle because he is in-tune with the arrogance of the city. People in that city are, for the most part, wealthy and successful and view their success as proof of their rightness. He appeals to them not on the basis of the bible but on the appeal to their ego. It’s easier to attract people when you tell them to embrace their arrogance than to die to their self.


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