Is father love welcome in the church?

Jesus with whipMark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and founder of the Acts 29 church-planting network, has endured withering criticism from both conservatives and liberals, Christians and non-Christians, even as his church has become one of the largest and most influential in the nation.

Mars Hill has been compared to a cult. Left wing outlets such as Slate and Huffington Post have been scathing in their critiques. There’s an entire web site devoted to Driscoll’s downfall, recording every controversial statement the church planter utters.

Megablogger Rachel Held Evans called Driscoll a “bully” for poking fun at the effeminacy of some worship leaders, and launched a letter writing campaign against him. A number of prominent pastors have called Driscoll to account for his occasional swearing, including Ed Young and John MacArthur, who declared the Seattle pastor, “unfit for the ministry.” Driscoll recently managed to offend every preacher in England by calling them “cowards.”

As I read the critiques, a question keeps popping into my head: Wouldn’t people accuse Jesus of these same things if he were to walk among us today?

In fact, they did.

Read John 10:20: Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” Even his own family thought he was insane, and tried to take charge of him (Mark 3:20). Christ and his disciples so angered people they lived under constant threat of arrest and death.

Discipleship has always upset people. It still does today.

The point of this blog entry is not to justify everything Mark Driscoll says, does or believes.  The accusations lodged against Mars Hill Church by former elders, if true, are disturbing to say the least. And simply being controversial is no sign of Christlikeness.

Whether you agree with Driscoll’s methods or not, a larger question remains: Is Mark a bully, or is he loving people exactly as Jesus did – with a “father love” we no longer recognize as love?

Many believers see God as a two-act play: the ferocious Old Testament God and the gentle New Testament God. The fire-and-brimstone God of the ancients has been replaced with gentle Jesus, meek and mild. It’s almost as if God was “born again” after the book of Malichi.

But the Bible presents just one God, and He is often just as “mean and wild” in the back of the book as he is in the front. Both God the Father and God the Son are plenty harsh throughout the New Testament. Here are a few examples:

  • Jesus fashioned a whip and used it to clear the temple, knocking over tables, sending people and animals running for cover. (John 2:13-16)
  • God proclaimed Jesus as “his beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Then He immediately cast that beloved son into the wilderness for a brutal testing. (Matthew 3-4)
  • Jesus rebuked adoring crowds, calling them “a wicked and perverse generation.” (Matthew 17:17)
  • Christ ridiculed his own disciples, calling them “dull” (more accurately translated, “stupid.”) Matthew 15:16.
  • Jesus called a desperate Canaanite woman and her people “dogs.” (Matthew 15:21-28)
  • God struck dead a couple that made a generous gift to the church after they fudged on the amount. (Acts 5)
  • Of course we can’t forget the Pharisees, Jesus’ perennial foil. The Gospels contain page after page of stinging rebukes, curses and condemnations for these religious know-it-alls.

Reason with me. Did God love Jesus? The moneychangers? The crowds? The Canaanite woman? Ananias and Sapphira? The Pharisees?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. And this is how he treated people he deeply loved. He dealt with them through deprivation. Rebukes. Insults. The death penalty.

What’s going on here? How could God be so mean to people he loved so intently? People he wanted to bless? People whose repentance he sought?

He was practicing father love.

When Jesus swung the whip and cleared the temple? Father love. When he called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs?” Father love. When he accused his dinner host of murdering the prophets? Father love.

Father love is like a vaccination: it causes momentary pain, but promotes long-term health. We hate to be on the receiving end of a needle, but we know we need it. And we’re better for it.

We are a generation of Christians nursed on mother love. We expect God to bless us, comfort us and accept us as we are. Our sermons, songs and self-help books reinforce this idea. We expect nothing but kindness from fellow believers, and when we are treated harshly in the church we freak out. Instead of examining our own lives, we default to the role of victim. “He couldn’t possibly be speaking for God, because he was so unloving,” we think. We often judge the appropriateness of another believer’s actions not by sober assessment – but how those actions make us feel about ourselves.

Now don’t get me wrong. We need mother love in the church. We must comfort the hurting. Men in particular need to learn to be gentle, patient and kind.

Yet as wonderful as mother love is, it will never propel us to something higher. If we are accepted as we are we will never change. If we are comforted but never challenged, our lives will accomplish little.

What is father love? It’s the love of a drill sergeant hurling abuse on his troops in order to steel them for battle. It’s the love of a coach yelling at his players to shame them into giving their all. It’s the love of a teacher rebuking a lazy student. It’s the love of a dad spanking a rebellious toddler to keep him from running into a busy street.

Young men crave father love. Why do they join the football team? The Army? Street Gangs? The mosque? These are among the few venues where men can still find the unyielding style of love they cannot find any more (one in three boys is raised in a father-absent home).

Of course, not all harshness is love. There is no place in the church for abuse, misuse of authority and egotism. When church leaders consolidate power and surround themselves with sycophants, this is a sign of danger.

But we must also recognize that love doesn’t always make you feel good. Sometimes love comes wrapped in barbed wire.

It’s been a long time since the church offered this kind of love. It can be dangerous to a pastor’s career. Members might leave. Donations could plummet.

How can we introduce healthy father love back into the church? First, we must grapple with these fundamental questions:

  • If a pastor seems to offend both believers and non-believers at every turn, is this a sign of strength or weakness? Godliness or carnality?
  • Is it ever appropriate for a minister to make fun of someone? If so, how might this benefit the body of Christ?
  • Is there room in today’s church for a leader who is harsh, salty and shockingly frank in his language?
  • Does God expect ministers of the gospel to guard their speech, never saying what they really think (like politicians)? Or should they let fly, regardless of the consequences?
  • Where do we draw the line between a pastor/elder who is exercising father love and one who is abusing his power?
  • Should churches adopt specific behavioral standards, and should they be allowed to discipline and “shun” members who fail to meet these standards?

The next time you hear an account of some pastor who’s in hot water for saying or doing something controversial or hurtful, withhold judgment. Get the facts. And consider the possibility that this leader may be exercising a kind of love that’s frightening but necessary. A kind of love that young men respect – and desperately need.

Mark Driscoll is human. He’ll make mistakes. I’d encourage you to judge him not by the latest controversial thing that pops out of his mouth – but by the tens of thousands of young men who are following Jesus because of his ministry.

Please comment below. See what 23 other commenters said on the Church for Men blog. Or join the conversation on our Facebook page. 

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  • Michael Cummings

    I started not to post but I can be utterly insane you say?

    A very good article. I did enjoy it very much. Only three suggestions if you please don’t mind.

    1) My mother is pretty…darn tough…but wouldn’t dare call her “not soft”.

    So I would have to let that one go.

    2) I do appriciate you associating Jesus as God…but cringe at the line “Jesus and God”.

    But you do acknowledge Him AS God…I just feel that He will be the God we will know and the new heaven and earth will be “Heaven ON earth” as “no one ascends to Heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of man (who is in Heaven)” but most all the preachers I see are looking up (like still from when He flew away), can’t wait to get to Heaven (which is passing away), and can’t wait to meet God (which I associate as the those in scripture who hated the idea of worshipping a Man, God’s original plan for man to rule and I’ll add quickly us lucky men with our woman at our side). This of course this stems a concern for said preachers because:

    And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

    John 6:40 KJV

    I just feel strongly that after He proved Himself (and inherited all things like we will through Him, being His wife, though they will acknowledge we will be sons of God before or after calling Him God’s only Son) and He sat down (like we do this being our Sabbath as He now renews our minds daily as Col 3:1-7 like the Father did through Him) we are seated in heavenly places in Him and He is working through us. (Enlightenment)

    But “Jesus and God” IS in the bible so…would have to let that go.

    3) And lastly I kept expecting this verse:

    Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
    Luke 6:26 KJV

    Because that verse supported what you said in the article.

    So no harm no foul I would say…I did enjoy it.

    It so seems Christmas isn’t the only thing missing Christ. Maybe I’ll be an Xian…but I’ve been known as something similiar already…

    Though I feel I have been covetous and zealous for my young bride…I still disagree with…someone who claimed my lady and sister were for strange men’s hands…and was told that’s what they created me for (cooling admitting to the killing and raping and robbing and drugging of my families and friends and associates…and stars and athletes and all business…even people in the vicinity, more thousands of both) I was truly…amazed. So as I said before they won’t get a good report from me, and as told look on the bright side.
    Being used for white supremacy (tortering me to feel better a few ways…for monetary value…for revenge…for that subhuman burning cross effigy effect…and so God will grant me the power to work miracles. As it is not in me to do God’s work I am dead in Sin but alive through Christ. We are saved by faith through God’s grace (unmerited favor) and He does the works described in James.

    (Though Christmas is for kids, I would say to them “here’s some coal, build your own abominable snowman”)
    I am a witch doctor aka medicine man. Revelation 11 speaks of the two witnesses Jesus and The Holy Spirit.

    Revelation 1:5 KJV
    And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

    Romans 8:16 KJV
    The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

    Deuteronomy 17:6 KJV
    At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.

    These are philistines…

    Exodus 22:18 KJV
    Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

    2 Chronicles 24:11 KJV
    Now it came to pass, that at what time the chest was brought unto the king’s office by the hand of the Levites, and when they saw that there was much money, the king’s scribe and the high priest’s officer came and emptied the chest, and took it, and carried it to his place again. Thus they did day by day, and gathered money in abundance.

    Romans 1:27-32 KJV
    And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as THEY DID NOT LIKE TO RETAIN GOD IN THEIR KNOWLEDGE, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: WHO KNOWING THE JUDGEMENT OF GOD, THAT THEY WHICH COMMIT SUCH THINGS ARE WORTHY OF DEATH, NOT ONLY DO THE SAME, BUT HAVE PLEASURE IN THEM THAT DO THEM.

    Romans 3:8 KJV
    And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

    Romans 4:5-6 KJV
    But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

    Revelation 2:6 KJV
    But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

    Revelation 2:15 KJV
    So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

    Revelation 11:1-11 KJV

    And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. AND THEY THAT DWELL UPON THE EARTH SHALL REJOICE OVER THEM, AND MAKE MERRY, AND SHALL SEND GIFTS ONR TO ANOTHER; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth. And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.

    I couldn’t find the NT filthy rags verse…implying these bloody works they do may make them physically and mentally look and feel better, but like a menstrual cycle do not produce new birth.

    God bless you sorry for your time.

  • Jason Hunt

    Father-love is not welcome in the church; it looks like meanness to our effeminate pastorates and congregations.

    Waiting for the scathing article from Rachel Held Evans. ^_^

  • Dingdong

    David, this is brilliant mate – you just keep saying what I and many others are saying – this is going in the Mashup for sure!

  • Tom Hilpert

    You’ve seen my comments on another recent post. I want to continue to say, you are doing great work, David. This post is excellent! It struck me just the other day, that first message that Jesus preached, according to Matthew, was “Repent!”

  • Stanley Charles Schirmer

    I don’t believe you can, or should, apply binary ideas such as gender to something as big and all encompassing as love. Love is so much more than the puny frameworks we try to use to explain away our own prejudices.

  • cypher20

    Hmm, very interesting, especially when you are talking about how we just want to always be validated and are overly sensitive to criticism. I don’t know much about Mark Driscoll, so I can’t speak to him. From what little I know of Rachel Held Evans, if he has upset her, he is likely to be okay in my book. The rest of your article really seems spot on though, thanks for posting. You’ve given us some food for thought here.