Why Mark Driscoll’s Influence Will Never Last: Jonathan Merritt Nails it Again

Mark Driscoll is promoting his new book, in which he is calling out Christian leaders for being too confrontational and fostering too much infighting… What the what? It gets better. Driscoll’s big publicity stunt to promote his book on being less confrontational, was to show up uninvited at rival-Calvinist preacher John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire Conference” and confront him for being too exclusionary.

Driscoll isn’t serious. Driscoll is just trying to sell books.

Jonathan Merritt wrote an interesting piece on Mark Driscoll at RNS – it’s worth reading. He chronicles Driscoll’s divisive past. Honestly, Mark Driscoll is one of the most divisive Christian leaders I’ve ever seen. His bombastic tweets and flippant comments are well known. Personally I think the low point was his Twitter post reading, “So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed.” Who says something like that? You know exactly who, because you went to Jr. High… which means you learned to spot the bully.

I was a pretty scrawny kid when I was growing up. I weighed 82 pounds in seventh grade (not kidding). I was an easy target, so I have a finely honed radar for this behavior. The truth is that I feel so, so sorry for Mark Driscoll. I really do. He seems miserable to me. He is in so much pain and he doesn’t even know it. So, he just goes around getting his pain all over everybody else. It must be exhausting to try to keep up his brand of tough, cool, always right, always in control, everyone who disagrees with me is going to hell, confrontational narcissism.

Merritt catalogs a few other Driscoll-isms:

When it comes to non-Protestants, Driscoll has joked thusly:

– About Jews / Catholics: “I don’t get the hats.”

– About a Jew: “I saw a man that I will now refer to as Mr. Goldilocks because he had these sideburns that were Goldilock-esque.”

– About Catholics: “there are weird rules like priests cannot get married, which has not worked out so well”

– On LDS and Muslims: “The Muslims. It got so quiet. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, man. Can’t we do the Mormons and the under britches, can’t we do anything else?’ No, that’s too easy. We won’t talk about the burkas.”

– On students in religious schools trying to keep the rules: “And you know there was some little Nazi walking around checking. That kid, like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be a deacon, that’s what I’m gonna be.’”

This same Mark Driscoll who has spent years dividing Christians and insulting almost every kind of people group imaginable now wants to put the kibosh on infighting? I know exactly how to respond. I cannot take it seriously. I think he just trying to sell books.

One of the most dangerous parts of this whole discussion is the fact that Driscoll, like many rock star pastors, has set up his life in such a way that he has no accountability. Merritt again:

The backlash from fellow Christians was so intense that Mars Hill Church’s elders sat Driscoll down to discuss the issue. [the effeminate worship pastor tweet] He later issued a statement saying the comment was “flippant”.

Driscoll’s list of divisive comments run much deeper than these isolated incidents. He has attacked emergent Christians, called yoga “demonic,” said stay-at-home dads are “worse than unbelievers,” compared nagging wives to water torture, and offended egalitarian Christians when he argued that women shouldn’t hold leadership positions in churches because they are “more gullible and easier to deceive than men.”

He famously rules Mars Hill Church with an iron fist, preaching against “sinning through questioning” and once remarked that he wants to “go Old Testament” on dissenters.

Honestly, I look at Driscoll and all I can see is a scared little boy who thrives on power and control, and who doesn’t care who he hurts while he builds his tower. I can’t figure out how people still follow this guy, but they do. His influence is enormous.

However, I think it is inevitable that Driscoll’s influence will not last, and here’s why: Eventually all of the people who follow Driscoll will grow up. When they do they will tire of being scolded and yelled at by a forty-year old with a faux hawk. When all of the twenty and thirty-somethings who thrived under his dualistic, black and white, in and out leadership finally hit mid-life they will hit eject. Honestly I think this will happen to many of the men (I say men because they don’t allow women), who are leading within the neo-Reformed/neo-Puritan cabal.

Driscoll can only work within the very early immature stages of Christian discipleship, where rules, dualistic black and white thinking rule the day. Defiant about his immature behavior, Driscoll will continue to shun accountability and control people through fear and intimidation. Without the capacity for self-criticism, his glaring issues become will only become more pronounced over time. Those who follow him will see that his only mode of building community is to force community by erecting rigid boundary markers enforced through intimidation and fear. It’s simply not enough for us as we grow older and begin to crave wisdom and sacrifice. Any Driscoll devotees who grow beyond that narrative of dominance, dualism, and control will see that conformity is not the same thing as transformation. When that happens Driscoll’s influence will immediately melt.

So why even bring it up? Why give it any play? Because, I think that what Mark Driscoll is doing, and what he represents, is truly dangerous, and because “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I’m trying to be a good person, so I’m saying something. I’m thankful that Merritt is as well. If you have a moment, read the last few paragraphs of his article.

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  • randalllemke

    Hi Tim,

    I agree mostly with what you write here; I used to attend Driscoll’s church in my early thirties, but by the time I was 35, I had become uncomfortable with Driscoll and his ideas. Eventually, my wife and I decided to leave for another church and that was definitely the right move for us. Also, we have seen a lot of our peers follow suit, (most are in their mid-thirties) and now there are a lot of ex-Mars Hill people in our circle.

    However, I think that as people like myself matriculate out from under Driscoll’s influence, other younger, more impressionable men opt in and the cycle reboots. In our generation, there seems to be a vacuum of male leadership (think absentee dads), and Driscoll seems to deliberately place himself as a masculine role model to be followed and emulated. I think Driscoll will always have an influence because he knows how to draw a crowd, and the crowd itself is searching for strong masculine voices to look up to. This allows Driscoll to have his platform and for now, platform building is half the battle when it comes to having influence in evangelicalism.

    Just my 2 cents…

    • Moriah Conquering Wind

      The bogus perennial narrative among the general cluster of subcultures for young males — that “REAL men” and “male leadership” should follow bullying models such as Driscoll and certain aspects of military life — is a major contributing factor to this problem. It’s not just that true male leadership is lacking, it’s that the deck is pre-emptively stacked against young men recognizing it as such because they are programmed and brainwashed by the proverbial “short hairs” of homophobia into believing if it’s not bullying, aggro, and rude, it’s been “feminized” somehow.

  • scott stone

    It’s pretty simple. Never trust a woman over 40 who shops at Forever 21 and never trust a man over 40 who has a faux hawk.

    • Moriah Conquering Wind

      The faux hawk isn’t the problem (though I LOL’d at your post as I suspect was intended) … it’s the bogus perennial narrative that “real men” and “real male leadership” MUST be aggro, bullying, crude and rude — or else it’s been “tainted” with “feminization”.

  • tanyam

    Driscoll makes me think of Westboro Baptist. I suspect he and his followers, like the Westboro people, enjoy being derided. Let’s try ignoring him for awhile. He’d be dangerous if he had any power, but right now, the only power he has is what we’re giving him. That “all that is necessary” quote is over the top. He’s not the Third Reich. He’s a pastor who most Americans, outside a slice of evangelical subculture, have never heard of. File him with Pat Robertson. With a smaller profile.
    Maybe its a good sign that these celebrity preachers can’t afford their own tv stations anymore.

  • ryan

    Jesus is not mentioned once in this article and there are no Biblical references. If you want to complain about Driscoll, talk to him directly instead of posting gossip that edifies no one.

    • You don’t need Jesus to call out a bully. You don’t need Jesus to know what is right and what is wrong. You don’t need Jesus to defend people from those who enjoy hurting them.

      You don’t need Jesus to know what Mark Driscoll truly is.

    • MorganGuyton

      Sorry but that’s a lame response. I’m not a famous pastor and I don’t really call back random people who call the church asking to talk to me if they’re not part of my congregation. Why would Driscoll talk to anyone directly when he has so many demands on his time? When you’re a public figure, the rules are different. Paul didn’t “reach out” to the “super-apostles” he talked smack about in his letters ahead of time.

  • Marco Funk

    I think Matthew 18 says something about Christians speaking to Christians one-on-one about their offenses before hauling the issue before the community. It’s an interesting read. I recommend you give it a look.

    • Tim Keel

      Hi Marco. I watch this strange phenomenon take place any time someone chooses to address Mark Driscoll and his public comments or antics. Random people come out of the woodwork chastising Mark’s critics, quoting Matthew 18 as if that is the issue that is at stake. It is not. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but Mark is quite a critic himself. I wonder if you approach or email him directly, or post comments on his blog following sermons or posts or stunts in which he calls out, criticizes, or otherwise mocks people he disagrees with in a public venue (rather than approach them one-on-one in the way you describe above)? I doubt you do. In fact, if you were to do what you advocate Tim do, there is a very good chance you would find yourself in the very uncomfortable position many others have found themselves in when they try to talk to Mark one-on-one in the spirit of Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 18.

      • Marco Funk

        ah, yes… great reason to join Mark in the shouting match. Since our ‘enemies’ don’t play according to Jesus’ rules on reconciling dialogue, then neither should we. Hmm… great stuff bro

  • BrendtWayneWaters

    “Driscoll isn’t serious. Driscoll is just trying to sell books.”

    The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; but Tim Suttle can know it.

  • BrendtWayneWaters

    Merritt nailed it? LOL! Now THIS guy nails it:

    After spending over 500 words establishing that Driscoll is a smart*** who is given to hyperbole, Merritt then takes a 30-character tweet from Driscoll completely at face value. And thereupon rests the entire basis of Merritt’s “AHA! I’ve got you!” And without that triumphant “gotcha”, the post falls flat on its face.

    More here: http://allreallyisvanity.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/in-defense-of-someone/

  • Big Giant Head

    My only exposure to Driscoll is through his video series, “Vintage Jesus.” It is brilliant. All I can say is that God has shown again and again to use imperfect vessels; He has used Driscoll mightily. Maybe he needs to mature him a bit, but clearly he uses him. I’m thinking there is no greater privilege for any truster in Jesus.

  • I’m rarely this blunt, but you all don’t have a clue. Mark D is accountable to those above him, and under him, and to a network of national high profile pastors. His visit to MacAuthur’s conference was an attempt to open a conversation, rather than throw theological fireballs from a protected pulpit. He’s even offered MacAuthur center stage at his Resurgence conference for a 90 minute public conversation as a follow up. Doesn’t sound like a control freak to me.

    Do you know that Driscoll’s Acts 29 movement trains pastors and plants churches without respect to denomination? Driscoll, a firm Calvinist (which I am not BTW) trains and funds Baptists and other “come as your are” free will pastors as well as the Calvinists.

    Assuming you know someones motives is the kind of judging that Jesus condemns in his church. We are to evaluate fruit, and from every measure, Driscoll and the network of Acts 29 churches, the Resurgence conference, the Mars Hill churches and the vast amount of free bible teaching they give away online, Driscoll has nothing to worry about when he stands before Jesus.

    • Stacey (the kids’ Aunt Tasty)

      How did that Acts 29 thing work out?

  • Josiah Sohlden

    Hey Tim,
    I can appreciate some of your criticism of Driscoll…particularly (or more generally) your critique of “rock-star” pastors. However, the church has many parts and some are quite presentable and some are not but those parts should be treated with “greater modesty (1 cor 12).” For every person who appreciates your viewpoint there is another who looks at Driscoll as one of the few contending for the Gospel (Jude 1) as opposed to contextualizing it away into oblivion. One could quite easily look at your writings and those you write for and come to the conclusion that all you really want is for Christians to vote democrat. And that, in your attempt to re-capitulate the Gospel in what you perceive to be a post evangelical world, you end up demeaning the Gospel by politicizing it. One could easily argue that you want a post-evangelical world and Gospel to be a reality (for some very good reasons) but you spend (waste?) much of your time deconstructing evangelism (and evangelicals like driscoll)… which really isn’t all that helpful for anyone. One could easily come to all of these conclusions especially if one looked only for things to criticize you about. Is this what you do to him? all that to say, like it or not, you and driscoll are on the same team. And both of you are annoying at times.