Driscoll on Patheos: My Request for an Apology

Several have wondered how can I stay on Patheos, since Patheos just invited Mark Driscoll to be a blogger on the Evangelical Channel. Good question. I had hoped I’d never have to respond or talk about Driscoll again, ever. He resigned in shame from Mars Hill, hurt hundreds and even thousands of people, and now gets to be back on a public forum, giving advice of all things? Huh, you might say, or what? Well, we know its about eyes, and Driscoll’s name gets that. Every website wants more hits. But Driscoll, come on! So, since I have my own nightmare with the man, one to which he gave me no formal and public apology–I thought, as scripture says–if the person doesn’t repent then take it to the people, Matthew 18. So here I’m taking it to the people. So here is my painful letter, written on Christmas Day, 2006. He tried to sully my reputation, painting me as a “typical professor” who denies Christ. He was wrong. So here is my letter I sent to him in 2006.

December 25, 2006

Dear Pastor Driscoll

I listened to the sermon “Is Jesus the Only God?” You led into this 12-part series with a series of snippets, one of which was mine, which you edited to make me say the opposite of what I said in the interview, “Christians who say, “I’m right … I think are fools.” Obviously, this was put together for shock effect. On the first sermon of the series, these snippets were followed with a video of my interview, which was played relatively in full. It doesn’t take a genius to put together the voice in the interview with the snippet that preceded it. I’m sure you are used to having your words taken out of context and put into places you don’t want them to go. This is what I think you did to me.

The sermon that followed was 12 reasons why Jesus is the only God. I listened carefully to the sermon. At one point, you make the point that “Jesus was arrogant and self-righteous and that is the point, he thinks he is God.” In other words, indirectly and sometimes directly the sermon was an attempt to respond, to refute the points of my interview. That is, I said, what Jesus most hated was self-righteousness and arrogance, symbolized most powerfully by his clear judgment against the Pharisees, Matt. 23.ff. So, not only did you misrepresent my words, but you used my words to set up your point. This seems disingenuous and malicious, considering I entered the interview in good faith to talk about different ways of speaking about Jesus. You say in your email, “I liked you.” This makes me wonder what you do to people you don’t like.

As to your sermon, I can’t help but respond. It reminds me of Becky Pippert’s Out of the Saltshaker into the World, basically making the point that, echoing C.S. Lewis, Jesus is either a lunatic or the Lord. These simple binaries are the currency of the game you play to make the choice simple and quick. Of course, thank God, the Christian tradition has never been that simple, superficial or manipulative. This is one of many reasons why your method fails considering the orthodox tradition and the Biblical tradition generally. That is the orthodox doctrinal tradition that demands acceptance of Jesus’ full humanity; the biblical tradition that shows Jesus’ humanity; where Jesus calls for humility in his followers; where Jesus is not always clear in his self-expression about his identity. I will highlight several of many, many points I could make.

  1. The orthodox Christian tradition, after many centuries of disputes, came up with the doctrine that Jesus was fully God and fully human. Your sermon swallows Jesus’ humanity into his Godhead, which was an early Christian heresy called Modalism—condemned by orthodoxy–and all forms of orthodoxy that I know.
  2. Why is this important? If Jesus were not fully human his act of redemption would not be efficacious; for his salvation to be truly salvific we need him to know our struggles completely and yet have risen above them—as Tertullian said, “He became man so we could become like God.” Moreover, we cannot relate to the Godman if he is a cartoon character, and his struggles, which were numerous, were fake and not real.
  3. Now, for the Biblical evidence, I only had time to go through the Gospel of Matthew. It was interesting to notice most of your proof texts were from the Gospel of John, a gospel developed late in the 1st century and stressing Jesus’ incarnation, but even in this gospel, Jesus is clearly in relationship to the Father, unless—and I believe you said this—he is talking to himself, which turns the relationship with the Father into a kind of psychotic break.
  4. Now, from Matthew:
    1. Early on Jesus chose to submit to John, to be baptized. Matt. 3.15.
    2. In the temptation, Jesus is clearly tested and tempted, doubts and must overcome a real challenge—otherwise it is a joke, and no real victory over sin and temptation. Matt. 4.2.
    3. In the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek…” not the haughty, arrogant and self-righteous. Matt. 5.5
    4. Later, Jesus says “Don’t stand and pray on the street corners…do so in secret and your Father in heaven will hear in secret.” Again, admonishment against arrogance. Matt. 6.5.
    5. Matt. 10:32, Jesus acknowledges us before his Father in heaven; making the point of a relationship—he clearly doesn’t think he is mumbling to himself.
    6. Matt 12:50, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven….is my brother…” Again, a relationship—for Jesus too, it is a challenge to follow the will of his Father.
    7. Matt. 16:16, the Transfiguration, voice from heaven, “You are the Messiah, Son of the Living God.” Again, relationship.
    8. Matt. 17. My son…. same thing, a relationship.
    9. Matt. 18:5. “Whoever becomes humble like children…. Is greatest in the kingdom.” Again, an admonition to be humble.
    10. Matt. 20:26. “Whoever wishes to be great must be your servant.” Again, my point of the importance of humility, a lack of arrogance and self-righteousness—these are the keys to the kingdom.
    11. Matt. 25:31-46. The great parable where the sheep and goats are separated based on whether they DO God’s will to feed the hungry, clothe the naked…. etc.” No mention of belief really, just action of justice and compassion… Then, going back to Matt. 7:21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom…” That is, formulaic belief is the not the key to entrance into the kingdom, but compassion and justice to the weak in our midst, action counts, words can lie.
    12. Matt. 26:36, Jesus prays in agony to his Father in Gethsemane, not wanting to face his agony on the cross. It shows Jesus’ humanity, his suffering, his doubt, his lack of arrogance.
    13. Matt. 27:11. On several occasions Jesus is indirect, oblique and downright silent when asked about his identity; you seem to overlook this Jesus who is often not clear about his identity not to mention the mystery in his teachings. For goodness sakes, the Gospel of Mark is one long display of how ignorant and stupid the disciples are; they don’t get it…. we should be careful as to whether we do. Again, the need for humility.
    14. Matt. 27:46. Jesus during his greatest suffering calls out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” If this is not real, as you said, the crucifixion is a con job—no real suffering. Jesus did not really suffer. Of course, I say balderdash, he suffered and in his suffering, we sympathize, understand, take up our cross and follow him.

In any event, for many reasons I am upset with what you have done and said. Your arrogance and self-righteousness, which you seem to deem appropriate for followers of Christ, seem utterly against the spirit of Christ. Your implicit and explicit condemnation of all manners of people religious—either fellow Christians or other religionists, seems out of the spirit of Christ. For me, and this is my deepest hope, that in Christ all are saved, not to hope for this is cruelty of the worse kind. “For God so loved the world….” Not just certain types of Christians, the world…and I pray, as I said in my interview, that in him “all things are reconciled…” This isn’t some sentimental desire, but a heartfelt passion of my heart—again, if you enjoy the condemnation of others, then it seems to me, there is no love in you, and you fulfill Nietzsche’s main critique of Christianity—that it is a faith of the weak who resent the strong.

So, what is the remedy? I really don’t know. Because I’m a Christian I don’t believe in suing people. I write this as a brother in Christ, seeking reconciliation, perhaps mutual understanding—perhaps a public apology? Perhaps you should admit your own doubts—I know you have them. But that really doesn’t happen when one side always thinks they are right. I think I am right, but I have doubts and I maintain the need to be self-critical. This is not relativism (which by the way is a silly, superficial and contradictory philosophical position). I am a critical realist—that is, I believe that truth exists for which one makes plausible arguments—but there are no proofs. Every epistemological system is built on foundational axioms that cannot be proven—even science—thus the need for humility—we may all be wrong.  Read Christian Smith’s Moral, Believing Animal (Oxford 2003), to understand that certainty and absolutism are foolishness and a con job. To proliferate this con turns your followers into dupes—at one time or another they will find out and they will reject belief altogether. This is the problem with the kind of literalism you purvey; in the end people realize it is doesn’t work. Faith is fundamental because it realizes it stands on trust (not on false certainty); trust in a God who is the light in the darkness.

In Christ,

Jim Wellman

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