Even Mark Driscoll recognizes MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” as textbook scapegoating

Much has been made of the fact Mark Driscoll was asked to stop passing out free copies of his new book when he made an impromptu appearance at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference last Friday. But that was merely a procedural matter. No one was allowed to hand out literature at the conference unless it had been pre-approved. A reasonable and understandable request to which Driscoll graciously acquiesced.

However, Driscoll’s comments in response to why he chose to hand out his book at the event is telling:

There’s one chapter on tribalism and how within evangelicalism, Christians have tended to form into tribes and then have arguments or debates with other tribes – often times talking about them, but not with them.

I think he accurately discerned the spirit of the conference: “Let’s bolster our tribe by bashing another.” The question is, why do evangelical Christians  keep reverting to such primitive behavior?

Rene Girard’s mimetic theory of violence offers a simple answer: When a community is facing internal tension or external persecution–as Reformed Christianity most certainly is–one of the most effective ways to prevent self-destruction is for the community to redirect its hostility against a marginal individual or group. In other words, turn the potential war of all against all into a war of all against one–or most against some. Not only does this help reduce internal tension, it creates a strong sense of unity by purifying the group of dissenting voices and redefining the group’s identity over and against a common enemy.

Preferably, the target of the community’s scapegoating efforts should be an individual or group whose persecution will elicit no reprisals. The Charismatic movement fits the bill well, seeing as many people will agree with MacArthur’s critique of the movement’s excesses, at least in a general sense.

But for scapegoating to succeed, the crusade requires 100% unanimity. This is why in historical accounts of scapegoating (think of the story of Achan, for example, in Joshua 7), not only is the victim killed, so is his or her family. And the execution is often preceded by a confession, whereby even the victim admits to his or her guilt, whether or not it is factually true.

With this in mind, I think we can better appreciate the full power of Driscoll’s subtle protest of MacArthur’s conference. As one of the most influential Reformed leaders in America, by breaking the consensus MacArthur is trying to build, Driscoll almost guarantees the movement will wither on the vine. This is good news not only for the Charismatic movement but also for Reformed Christianity.

If people like Driscoll–whom I feature in Hellbound? laying out his own pretext for scapegoating re: the doctrine of hell–can see through such scapegoating efforts, that means the mechanism is failing, as Girard predicted it would. This leaves Reformed Christianity with two options: 1) consume itself with endless infighting while the movement slowly disintegrates, or 2) seek a new foundation for identity and unity that doesn’t require victimization or marginalization of others.

Judging from Driscoll’s comments, he’s actually advocating option number 2. Seeing as I regard Reformed Christianity as the epitome of sacrificial, scapegoating religion–and Driscoll as one of its most adamant proponents–I take this as a very positive sign.

Edit: As Kenton indicates below, a third option exists: Find a target upon which Driscoll and MacArthur can agree, which would reestablish unanimity. But I’m choosing to remain optimistic.

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About Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include "The Chicken Manure Incident," "Hellbound?," "Drop Gun," "No Saints for Sinners," "spOILed," "Sex+Money," "With God On Our Side," "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," "After..." and the upcoming biopic "The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton." In addition to his work in film, Kevin has written, co-written and edited over 45 books. He lives in Kimberley, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.

  • Greg Dill

    So, I’m a little lost. Is Driscoll with MacArthur or against? Was his arrival at the conference just a ploy to sell books, or was it a genuine protest against tribalism?

    • Kevin Miller

      In the accounts I’ve read, he took pains to communicate his respect for MacArthur’s teaching as formative, but there’s a “past tense” element to his comments, and I think while he supports MacArthur on a whole, he didn’t seem to favor the thrust of the conference.

  • KentonS

    I’m just a novice Girardian, but I see a third option here. If Driscoll doesn’t realize that JMacA is implementing the scapegoating mechanism, then Driscoll might just be playing the role of peacemaker. Eventually they will find a new target they can both be agree on and they will iterate the mechanism again.

    I’d love to be wrong about that, but given Driscoll’s track record, I don’t see him embracing mimetic theory.

    • Kevin Miller

      Funny you should mention that, b/c my mention of mimetic theory is the point at which Driscoll lost his cool during our interview. I’m not suggesting Driscoll will embrace mimetic theory, just that he is well aware of our tendency to scapegoat and is working to avoid going that route. But I think the third option you suggest is also a strong possibility.

      • KentonS

        I’ll have to go back and see the interview. I didn’t remember him losing his cool. Was it in the final cut?

        I remember his stuff about national boundaries and state boundaries. It seemed there like he was saying he was willing to scapegoat on some things and not on others.

        • Kevin Miller

          That moment isn’t in the film.

          • KentonS

            Yeah, that would explain why I don’t remember it. :)

      • Simon Hall

        Just watched your movie for the first time last night – thanks!

        I wonder if despite his protestations Driscoll has allowed some Girardian thought to ‘infect’ him, maybe even through your own work. In which case, you have probably done the world a great service.

        • Kevin Miller

          Ha, well, you never know. Glad you enjoyed the film.

  • John Stuart

    All I have to say is enough with spiritual pride there is something to learn from the other side.

  • Jim

    Rampant Aethist?

  • Jeremy Sherman

    I think they’re both neither fully right or wrong. A dialogue between charismatics and fundamentalists is well overdue. I fall more into the latter but believe if there are speaking in tongues for example exhibited the bible is clear about the requirement of an interpreter. However without an interpreter tongues should not be exhibited publicly. To make a blanket statement that these gifts have ceased seems counterproductive to uniting the body. Yet, much of the charismatic movement seems to be experienced based. Is it wrong i dont know but in the showing and use of gifts the bible has laid specific ground rules in Corinthians. Most importantly to unify we must believe in the inerrant, completeness of the Word. If we have that as a jumping off point we can agree to disagree on secondary issues.

    • KentonS

      So… let’s say someone who self-identifies as a Christian/Follow of Jesus doesn’t ascribe to your belief in the inerrant, completeness of the Word. (I assume you’re referring to the 66 books, yes?) What if they add the apocrypha or throw out the Hebrew scriptures? What if they believe that God is not revealed in the 66 books, but in the person of Jesus revealed in a bible that has significance but lacks full plenary inspiration?

      Are those times we should join the crowd and yell “crucify him!”?

      It just seems to me like the only times Jesus got upset was when he was confronting the religious folks who expressed an urgent need for unity and expelled those on the margins. That’s my dos centavos, anyway.

      • Jeremy Sherman

        I think if we throw out inerrancy we’re generally not worshipping the God of the bible. Jesus is revealed from beginning to end in the bible. So yes we should follow the revealed Jesus in the bible. However He said Himself that he came not to abolish the law but, to establish it, and fulfil it. Im truly not a hardline cessationist (ive actually had visions and seen healings in my own life). I would say that we should be striving for doctrine out of the traditional biblical cannon(66 books). Reason being, my experience is fallible, i have a corruppted heart and mind. Even so God is fully revealed in the bible and i think when we stray to reach outside the Word what were really saying is Jesus atonement once for all is not enough. Kind of a prove it God mentality. Im all for unity but without the Word as the full revelation of God, we will go on as clanging cymbals in love with our denominations and not the triune God of the bible..

        • KentonS

          Thanks for that, Jeremy. Can I push a little further?

          Let’s say (hypothetically) we’re now at a different place: you say God is fully revealed in the 66 books, and I say God is fully revealed in Jesus. You say the books are infallible, and I say I can’t go there because there seem to be contradictions I can’t reconcile (Did Judas Iscariot hang himself or did he fall headfirst and his guts burst out? That’s rhetorical. I’m just using it for an example.). Let’s say I still believe in atonement (and any other essentials).

          Now I come up to you and ask to break bread together. Or pray together. Or ask you baptize me. Or I invite you to a bible study. Or offer to work together in a ministry we’re both called to. Do you answer “no” because we lack unity?

          • Jeremy Sherman

            Well, first of all…the way Judas died doesnt effect me theologically. I think as a follower of Jesus if he said the law is complete in Him and His work it’s hard to not believe inerrancy because clearly Jesus believed the law and the prophets to be enough for the basis of faith. That aside I’ve said all along that we can disagree on secondary issues. I dont know about ministry together because, if you don’t believe inerrancy i would be afraid that possibly we’re being subjective about the contents of the text? Which i would have trouble with because even Paul says the entire book is good for teaching. Frankly, i dont know you i think i would have to pray with, talk with, and consult the word with you. Ministry is a specific calling from God. Personally i would have no problem with fellowship and an open dialogue. I think there can still be unity, fellowship, and salvation without believing inerrancy. I guess i didnt state it clearly but i was trying to say we could believe Jesus not to be the only way if we didnt believe inerrancy but, i think i came off harsher then that. I apologize.

          • KentonS

            Thanks. I could go on, but lets’ let that stand as the last word.

      • http://www.ibfellowship.org/ John Chester

        No we shouldn’t yell crucify them, but we should firmly point out that they are outside of the pale of orthodoxy, and not call them brothers in Christ. Jesus didn’t value unity above all things and neither should His followers.

        • Jeremy Sherman

          Its funny because , Jesus said je came to divode not unify. I’m saying we need to nurse brethren back to a point of orthodoxy. I’m terrified of the passage which says depart from me I never knew you. I think when you stray from orthodoxy that verse should be all the more terrifying.

          • KentonS

            Just when I think I’m out… they pull me back in. -Michael Corleone in The Godfather III

            Jeremy, go back and read that passage (Matt 25). The goats that spoke up HAD “ortho” (“correct”) “doxy” (“thinking”). They were stunned that they were in the goat category! Likewise the sheep that spoke up did NOT have “correct thinking”. They were stunned too! They weren’t separated on their “doxy”, they were separated on their “praxis” (“actions”)! To John’s remark, I’d defer to Jesus.

            Matt 7 Only the one who DOES the will of my Abba (will enter the kingdom)
            Matt 12 Whoever DOES the will of my Abba is my brother (also Luke 8)
            John 15:14 You are my friends if you DO…
            (Emphases added)

            Jesus never was too concerned about people wearing the “outside the pale of orthodoxy” label. (John 4, Luke 10, Matt 15, Matt 8…)

          • Jeremy Sherman

            They were doing thing in His name. However, they never knew Him. I’m not saying orthodoxy is everything but, again Jesus clearly believed the scripture laid the foundation that told of Him. I’m satisfied with the Word and don’t think we can add or detract from it. 80-90% of charismatics believe in prosperity theology and Hebrews 11 will tell you that by faith you will in all likelihood lose your life. Seeing God as a reciprocal relationship instead of an all sacrificing all for His Glory type relationship because of His completeness and the cross is not only unorthodox but, hertical..Jesus always tied the heart, work, and mind into His teaching. I just believe you’re partially right He is addressing works but, Hes also addressing regeneration and the mind.

          • KentonS

            No! You misread it! They *weren’t* doing things in His name. They were NOT feeding the poor. They were NOT visiting the prisoner. They were NOT clothing the naked. And it was because Jesus was encountered in those very poor and those very prisoners, and those very naked that they did not know Him.

            You might also want to review how Jesus read scripture. In Luke 4 when He reads from Isaiah, He redacts all of “the good stuff” – foreigners working their fields, the day of God’s vengeance, etc. They stoned Him for “detracting from the Word”. If you put your faith in a book, your faith will fail. Put it in the One whom the book testifies about. (John 1)

            And I don’t know where you’re getting your stats about 80-90% of charismatics believing in prosperity theology, but from personal experience, that number is WAY off.

            Your last two sentences are right on. When it mattered the sheep who thought they were goats had the heart, work and yes, even the mind together. But the particulars of their theology were “outside the pale”. The “church” (and I use that term loosely) may scapegoat them, but Jesus welcomes them.

  • leadsoldier

    Do you honestly think Girard’s writings on this subject make a useful metaphor for the Strange Fire Conference ‘waging hostile war’ on the Scapegoat? Does the language of war, hostility and violence lend itself to this scenario? I don’t think you understand Girard at all; or you are counting on applying Girard’s theory for the sake of effect on a naive or uninformed audience. Carry on with your art by all means, but wowsza, leave Girard out of it. Of course I imagine the creative footage you could compile in your documentary. Complete hyperbole, IMO.

    • Kevin Miller

      I’m not using Girard’s ideas as a metaphor; I’m using them precisely the way Girard uses them, as an explanatory model to help elucidate the underlying dynamic of tribalism. And yes, there is an inherent hostility in MacArthur’s language and theology. Just listen to his opening address. He’s using the Charismatic movement the same way people have always used scapegoats, as the foundation for unity and identity over against the other. For the community to survive, the scapegoat (the false teachers of the Charismatic movement) must be expelled.

      • leadsoldier

        Are you not taking a hostile stance against MacArthur as one who attacks or rebels against an ideal of unity above all, which he rejects and which you affirm? Someone must define unity, after all; and presumably there must be some objective criteria by which to define such unity. Just as “in nonessentials, liberty” for those who like that term. Then the list of “non-essentials” must become essential in order to delimit the debates concerning “essentials”. Are you not basing your argument against MacArthur’s tactics on a vision or ideology of “charismatic” which you consider objectively true? In which case MacArthur and his disciples must be clearly defined as a threat and kept out of the “big tent”?

        • Kevin Miller

          I’m neither taking a hostile stance against MacArthur nor defending the Charismatic movement. I’m merely criticizing the tendency we have to revert to tribal thinking as a way to bolster our identity and recognizing that perhaps Mark Driscoll shares my critique.

  • Jeremy Haynes


    Well guys, I was at the conference and this conference was anything but “scape goating”. The real issue that was discussed was not primarily the solid Christ loving continuations Christians, but the confusing camps (IHOP, Bethel, Toronto blessing etc). In contrast, I think that Mark Driscoll’s noble attempts were more negative than helpful. Now it looks like MacArthur versus Driscoll, and that will take the focus off of the real problem. And that my friends is a tragedy.

    • KentonS

      And what exactly is “the real problem” that would lead to “tragedy” if the focus were taken of it?

      • Jeremy Haynes

        Hey Kenton!

        First of all, the “tragedy” is that the people are talking about MacArthur versus Driscoll. When we have Christian voices like these two men at “seeming” odds it makes it look like this is what the conference was about. We do not want some our strongest leaders in conflict within the public forum (this doesn’t honor Christ). But in fact, it was about “real problems” within churches across the world. For example, the word of faith theology, holy laughter theology, holy drunk ness theology, slaying people in spirit, golden dust clouds and ministries that believe you can be trained to supernaturally heal people by enrolling in their classes. These are just a few of things that all cessation it’s are concerned about and that some charismatics are concerned about. Unfortunately, these types of activities are not just fringe issues according to the size of these ministries.

        I hope this post clarifies my last post. Thanks for asking:)

        • KentonS

          Thanks, Jeremy.

          Yeah, I guess in the scheme of things I don’t think of people being slain in the spirit as a big crisis facing the church.

          I grew up charismatic. And while I know longer attend a charismatic church, I still have great respect for the people who taught me and demonstrated for me the unconditional love of Jesus in my formative years. Were they perfect? Of course not. But the stuff I heard John MacArthur say about these people I love in the first few minutes in that link above was pure evil. Maybe you missed that part of the conference, but that was textbook scapegoating. The only thing I could appreciate about it was that I began to understand why Jesus was so hostile to the Pharisees.

          • Jeremy Haynes

            Well sir! Thank you for your input.

            Take care:)

  • Busdriver4jesus

    Dude, the mental gymnastics required to arrive at your conclusion are
    impressive… even if Driscoll and MacArthur have different ideas about
    spiritual gifts, they both are rock-solid on the non-negotiables of
    Reformed orthodoxy (the literal reality of an actual place of torment
    being great example). Christianity is, by definition, an exclusive
    religion, but those on the inside are commanded by their Leader, both in word and by example, to love those who hate them and work to winsomely persuade them of their error. Sounds like the most benign tribalism I can think of.

  • Otti Candel

    Unity is not unity if it’s not in truth, not in Christ, not in Spirit. I strongly believe that the purpose of this conference is to defend biblical truth and to promote the truth that is the sufficiency of the Gospel-the word of God. Many have voiced their protest against this conference to defend the charismatic movement. Who in their renewed mind would oppose truth to advance a movement that has the power to lead true Christians to be deceived. The door to the Kingdom of God is widely opened to those who believe but they are hindered to come in by those in sheep clothings. There are some who say, “Ignore its error and embrace its truth.” It can make you really sad if you are in the midst of these sincere people who accept damaged goods. Christians should seriously examine the way in which they walk in. the path is straight but by the time one realized, flesh and bones have already betrayed the soul.

  • thirdwaver

    Those defending JMac and strange fire generally demonstrate 2 things: a profound and disturbing conviction of their own rightness and an even more disturbing lack of love. I can’t embrace a mindset that chooses my desire to be right over relationship, and I certainly can’t embrace the mindset that condemns fellow followers of Christ to hell because of disagreement on a non-essential doctrine. I think we would be better off if our foundation for relationship was the Person of Jesus, not our “correct” doctrine.