Can Driscoll’s Army of SuperMen Save the Church From Death and Destruction?

When do legitimate experiments to turn godly men into manly men mutate into mad science—a design to reject the unfit via spiritual “natural selection”? Answer: When church leaders base their efforts on clichéd fears, outside appearances, and worldliness.

Recently Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll lamented the “dying” Church. The Christian Post quoted from the Driscoll letter graphic, which reads:

Four years ago, Newsweek magazine proclaimed “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.” … Christians are being ostracized, gay marriage is being legalized, the bandwagon has stopped carrying us and has started running over us. The church is dying and no one is noticing because we’re wasting time criticizing rather than evangelizing.

The days are darker, which means our resolve must be stronger and our convictions clearer. This is not the hour to trade in work boots for flip-flops. You didn’t think you were here to kill time listening to Christian music until Jesus returned, did you?

… The latest statistics reveal that those actually practicing evangelical Christian faith is only around 7% to 8%.

If you’re a resolve-strengthened, work boot-stomping person who’s switched off K-LOVE for toughness and do notice things, you may spot other bad trends in the letter, such as:

  • Reactionary claims that echo worldly publications. Secular cover stories about the Church’s impending doom are about as common as Rapture predictions. Since that prediction, Newsweek has struggled with its own doom. The Church will live forever.
  • “America is failing, therefore the Church is dying.” Or, “therefore it’s the Church’s fault.” This is the equivalent of Hollywood disaster film clichés in which you know the end of the world has truly come because California falls into the sea and/or New York City explodes. In disaster films, clichéd global doom means only the coasts; according to some evangelicals, the Church’s clichéd doom equals the U.S.’s demise.
  • Bad and/or unnecessary statistics. Even if Christians number so few, why the panic? Meanwhile, authors such as Bradley R. E. Wright addresses bad statistics from Barna and others, and yet ministries still reflexively use them to promote their own focus.

Naturally Driscoll’s focus, for the conference and an upcoming book, is Christian manliness. Yet he is only the latest popular teacher—similar to earlier trendsetters such as John Eldredge and even “biblical patriarchy” activists—who not only teach that disciplined tough Christian men will save the Church, but they also claim only the right sort of man is fit for this.

Therefore, they say, we must breed more of these spiritual supermen.

Based on Driscoll’s rhetoric, this only includes men who work outside the house (whose wives do not) and men who drive SUVs. Others might add to this eugenics template: These men also love outdoor sports and refuse to question football. To do so is called “unmanly,” based not so much on Scripture as on the words of presidents and generals and worldly defined “toughness.”

What place do such simplistic standards leave for men who do work at home, who are fine with minivans, and strong enough not to care so much about appearances? What about those who venture that football isn’t a training ground for Christian manly martyrdom as some say, or that the sport may even promote violence and immaturity?

Would this spiritual male-eugenics project conclude that such inferiors can only envy young-buck pastors who flex muscles and laugh at the unfit Christian men’s skinny little arms, artistic temperament, and stay-at-home jobs? Would they say, “God can’t use you”?

Such a God would reject the scholarly, weak-speaking, thorn-in-flesh-afflicted apostle Paul.

Sorry Paul, thanks for trying, but to save the Church we only need “super-apostles.”

About E. Stephen Burnett

E. Stephen Burnett is a journalist, aspiring novelist, and editor and webslinger at Speculative Faith. His mission: to explore and enjoy epic stories that reflect the truths and beauties of the first and greatest Epic Story, God’s Word. He also writes for a dynamic news franchise in Austin, Texas and delves into Christ-and-culture doctrine at Christ and Pop Culture. He also enjoys nonfiction, soundtrack music, and spending life with his wife, Lacy, in their Texas headquarters.

  • Stuart Blessman

    I spent several years as a diehard Driscoll fanboy, convinced he was the answer to all the problems the church faces. Listened to all the back catalog, read all the books, and made it through the Luke series before the Real Marriage debacle and the firings and Andrew stuff came out, haven’t touched him since.

    But I remember even during my most fervent seasons a general feeling of unease about some of his manly rhetoric. Feeling both simultaneously fired up and ashamed of never measuring up, simply because I’m not that traditionally manly, I’m one of those “twenty something amateur theologians” who cause nothing but problems, I play video games, I do love football but fairly cool on UFC…etc.

    Isn’t there room for both, Mark?

  • Jason

    Did you know that there are already an incalculable number of churches in America that meet the criteria you’ve presented and that do a great job reaching the folks that agree with you? Did you also happen to notice that, in light of that fact, by publishing this factious post you are reinforcing Driscoll’s thesis?

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    1. Yes, absolutely many similarly minded Christians and Christian leaders are doing this. But I’m not sure how that relates to my challenge about why Driscoll, and similar sorts, are saying that only a certain type of man is spiritually worthy enough to “save the Church” from dying or weakening.

    2. I’m not sure what you mean. Which thesis do you believe this column merely confirms? If you’re referring to the belief that while the Church is dying, we simply don’t have time to debate among ourselves so we just need to shut up and get behind the “manly men” who say they have this all figured out, I couldn’t disagree more. Christ was far more concerned with His people living according to His revealed truth and love, rather than with “save the world” posturing according to the words of “super-apostles.”

    By the way, none of this is an objection to Driscoll’s character or motives as it is to his rhetoric. If I had to guess, I would say this results from “ministry myopia,” when parachurch leaders or groups capitalize on one particular teaching and thereby keep finding only evidence that others need it more.

  • Jason

    Actually I think “ministry myopia” may be a fair interpretation of
    Driscoll’s position, but I feel he may take it as a compliment. My
    opinion is that he’s highly focused on meeting (and not willing to
    ignore) the challenge right in front of his nose: Young men increasingly
    choosing any and every path except for the path of repentance and
    passionately following Jesus. I personally don’t take issue with that
    mission but I understand why others might, because he may be working to
    appeal to a certain group of people but he’s doing it in a public forum
    in front of lots of groups of people.

    In the excerpt that you posted, his thesis seems to be “The church is
    dying and no one is noticing because we’re wasting time criticizing
    rather than evangelizing.” Is there no truth there? Personally, I think
    that there is. Due to both in-fighting and hypocritical treatment of
    certain groups of non-believers, the church-at-large is quickly
    marginalizing and ostracizing itself from meaningful cultural interface
    and influence. I think this is problematic because we are actually
    facilitating the breakdown of any commonly held trust-based or
    respect-based rapport which historically has allowed us a certain level
    of ability to talk about Jesus with a non-hostile audience. The first
    person who is going to run away from something like that is going to be
    young men with ambition.

    I don’t feel that right now is the worst time to get this particular
    conversation going, and I can think of worse ministry objectives that to
    appeal directly to young guys.

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    to appeal directly to young guys.

    We agree more than we disagree (which might end up being a subtle rebuttal of some of your position!). But my rebuke isn’t about “appealing to young men” or to “trying to unite the church” or even as much to “trying to save the church from death.” It’s specifically to this strange view that only specific kinds of strong young men can save the church — specifically the spiritual eugenics-style cliched “superman.”

  • Jason

    I must admit for the most part I just enjoy the conversation about this and we probably have similar points of view. I just don’t think I have any issue with his position or his appeal on its face. I think there are probably all kinds of people at Driscoll’s churches and some may even find his priorities a bit uncomfortable but he does appear to be working extra hard to appeal to young, male leadership types, and if because of that his ministries attract more of that demographic and at the same time continue to keep Jesus and biblical teaching at their core, I wish him success. I do understand what you’re saying though and don’t discount it.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    It’s comical to me that John Eldredge is seen as a source for manly manliness, when I find his writing embarrassingly effete in places. How can anyone forget that book where he said God sent hearts to him? Including one shaped from cow poop? Yah, moving on…

    As for the apostle Paul, I think he actually was “manly” in some ways Driscoll would appreciate. “Weak-speaking” is a very inaccurate description of Paul, to say the least, and a complete misreading of the passage you quoted. Paul was contrasting himself with natural rhetoricians like Apollos. It’s not that his words were “weak” (quite the contrary), it’s just that he wasn’t clever or golden-tongued. He was blunt, forthright and business-like. But all those things are frequently associated with a masculine style and delivery. Indeed, some of Paul’s diatribes about casting out sinners in the church (cleaning house, Jewish style) might as well be a model for a few of Driscoll’s own rants. There can also be more or less “manly” scholarship.

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    The point remains, however, that people were flocking to follow the “super-apostles,” considering them — in the context of their day — stereotypically “manly” while Paul’s style was different. It’s true that standards have now changed, but same truth is that God can use anyone, even if his gifts are not considered reflective of the current era’s views of external masculinity.

  • Ben

    Jason, I tried to address this issue a bit in an article I wrote on manliness a while back. The issue is not with Mark Driscoll encouraging young men to use their strengths… the problem is that his tone and comments suggest that only they HAVE strength that is worthwhile, while men with very different strengths are somehow diminished. I think it’s quite appropriate to call Driscoll out on these unbiblical categories without losing the ability to encourage young men to take responsibility for their God-given strengths and passions. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture/manliness-reconsidered/

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    Earlier I meant to say, though, that I agree with the strange paradox of Eldredge extolling manly manhood mainly through use of outdoor metaphors and much anti-”wussy man” rhetoric that precedes Driscoll and others. But then comes his “Jesus is my boyfriend and He whispers to me all the time” theology, and er, overly sentimental material such as the “I see symbol hearts from God even in the shape of a cowpie” material.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Er, well, not in Jewish culture, actually. Ever read _The Chosen_? “Nu, he has an iron head!” Being a scholar who really knew the Torah front to back was a sign of masculinity in Judaism. So it actually doesn’t make sense to list “scholarly” among Paul’s less “masculine” attributes, _especially_ in his own cultural context!

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    And yet today the theological pinhead who doesn’t get the yuks and the crowds with his silver tongue and tough administrative style would be thought of as less manly. I’m drawing two contrasts: between “manliness” standards of Paul’s audience (in this case not Jews, but pagan Corinthians), and between Paul’s mode of being a man and the culturally derived external standards of our era.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Apollos would have been a great scholar too. In fact, his rhetoric was admired partly because it revealed the depth of his scholarship. The Greeks were no slouches in that area. Ever hear of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? (Morons, by the way.) As for toughness, Paul was extremely tough! So much so that almost nobody could stand to work with him.

    I guess I just don’t see this as a masculine vs. feminine thing. I see it as a charisma vs. no charisma thing. Paul had about as much charisma as grumpy cat, and he describes himself as unimpressive. But that’s not really equivalent to un-manly.

  • wisdomhunter

    Esther, was that a reference to the Princess Bride? ;)

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Your vote of confidence is overwhelming!

  • wisdomhunter

    First 15 seconds…enjoy! :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_eZmEiyTo0


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