Different Versions of Christianity

So here’s my thought on the Driscoll fiasco that everyone keeps asking me about. Doug had a great quote in the CT article on Mark. He said, “I think that we’re basically talking about two different versions of Christianity.” With this, I think, Mark would agree.

What troubles me about Mark’s critiques of Rob, Brian, and Doug, is that he is investigating the minutiae, the fine print, the footnotes. It’s almost like the scribes that Jesus constantly dealt with — those who kept trying to trap him in his own words (while ignoring the overall gospel that he was promoting). Mark doesn’t like that Brian footnotes a book called The Scandal of the Cross, that Rob recommends the philosophy of Ken Wilbur, that Doug has one line about our need to find “new ways to be sexual.” Once, at lunch with me, John Piper had a similar concern: that Brian endorsed Steve Chalke’s book, a book that in one line reiterates a view of penal substitutionary atonement held by many feminist theologians for three decades. (Please, read Chalke’s book — the rest of it really isn’t about denigrating your sacred theory of propitiation. Most people I meet have heard one line of Chalke’s book, but haven’t actually read the book.)

This kind of argument is tenuous at best. Criticizing folks for who they read, who they footnote, and who they endorse is not particularly persuasive, methinks. I’d much rather have Driscoll and Piper say, “We’re promoting a very different version of the faith than the emergent folks. Let’s look at the big picture of what they’re saying versus the big picture of what we’re saying.”

I’m sure that I’ll take some flack for implying in a sermon last Sunday that John MacArthur is a soft gnostic (I happen to think that 90% of Americans are soft gnostics, just as I think that 90% of Americans are semi-pelagians). I am talking about the overall Christianity that Johnny Mac is espousing — I think that it’s too platonic, and that it neglects hebraic holism — the water that Jesus swam in. I don’t really care if Johnny Mac (or Piper or Driscoll) reads Paula White, Jonathan Edwards, or Karl Marx. I’m most interested in the overall theology that he’s espousing. I do, indeed, think that it’s very different from the version that I’m espousing.

And I sure do appreciate the folks who keep inviting me to come and talk about it. They may not like it, they may not agree with it, but they should at least have the opportunity to hear about it.

That’s all.

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  • art

    I understand what you are saying…but isn’t what author a person endorses and promotes say at least something about that person?The NT authors were obviously affected by the OT and some other 2nd Temple Jewish writings (like Jubilees, 1 Enoch, Aramaic targums, etc.). Doesn’t that say something about what they believed and what types of works affected their thinking?Calvin quoted St. Augustine like a champion. Wouldn’t that lead a reader of Calvin to conclude that St. Augustine’s thoughts/theology had an impact on Calvin?Had Calvin quoted Marcion like he quoted St. Augustine, we would probably have written Calvin off as a heretic because his work would have reflected Marcion’s work that he read and quoted so much.I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read widely. On my bookshelf right now I have Ehrman, Crossan, Borg, Nietzsche, Russell, Huxley, Pagels, and Funk. I find their work interesting, but I would never promote it and condone it as work that everyone should take three years to read carefully.On one hand, you have Driscoll who probably spent too much time critiquing Bell and McLaren for a book that they promoted.On the other hand, you are saying that this argument is not persuasive.While it might not be completely persuasive, I think it is something that should be well considered, especially if these works are being promoted by Bell and McLaren.I’m not trying to pick a fight or defend Driscoll. I just think there is a middle ground here.Does that make sense?

  • Tyler

    Tony, this is well-written, thoughtful, and convicting. I think you’re right when you say that Driscoll should be focusing more on the big picture than just on footnotes, yet at the same time I agree with art when he says that who your influences are and who you footnote/recomend says a lot about your own work and where it is heading. But this is where the ambiguities begin: Rob Bell has not only recomended Ken Wilbur, but in Velvet Elvis, Bell footnoted John Piper, writing that you have to read everything he has ever written. In Sex God, Rob Bell footnoted Donald Miller with a similar recomendation. The point is, Mark Driscoll mentions these authors in the same sermon he critiqued Rob Bell, and we all know what a big fan Driscoll is of Piper and Miller.If you’re recomending the works of a Charismatic Reformed Baptist who teaches Predestination, Reprobation, Election, Penal Substitution and Limited Atonement, you can’t be that far from orthodoxy. But at the same time, why would you recomend Ken Wilbur? Either you read Piper through Wilbur, Wilbur through Piper, or both through yourself (which I think is the case with Rob). I really don’t know what I’m trying to say here, I’m just throwing that out there.

  • Pete

    you read what you read. I have not read Crossan but my assumption is that he is an awesome scholar with good method and TERRIBLE assumptions. Knowing that Crossan espouses the “jesus of ethics” that is why I bet Mclaren may like him among other reasons. At the very core of jesus, FOR SURE, without supernaturalism, it ethics. The fact that me and Jesus think he was the messiah of the world is more important, but less evident.

  • Matt Cleaver

    Tony,Good thoughts. I’ve noticed a lot of gnosticism in mainstream evangelicalism and have always been confused when I read stuff that accuses the EC of gnosticism. If someone wants to accuse the emerging church of heresy, gnosticism is not the heresy of choice. Oh and ditto on the semi-pelagianism.Now the question is: do you consider soft gnosticism and semi-pelagianism as heretical or simply unhelpful? I think I know the answer.

  • :::: Travis Keller ::::

    tony,great observation that 90% of americans are soft-gnostics. i’ve had similar conversations where i’ve been more generalizing and stated that most “popular-american-christians” (a term worth digging into) are pharisees and gnostics. could you expound on your thoughts defining and clarifying “soft-gnosticism?”travis

  • Chase

    Book endorsements may not be a big deal for you, but they are for me and at best reflect an irresponsibility in those giving the endorsements…at worst, I digress.

  • anselm13

    Tony, I agree with your comments. However, what one reads surely tells something about a person. I suspect what it tells and the degree to which it tells it varies between the individuals and groups forming the assumptions. It apparently means something to Mark Driscoll (I know nothing about him myself other than he seems obnoxious, but I suspect past his bluster he’s a caring person) that Rob Bell recommends Ken Wilbur, but for me it means nothing. In any event, I agree with your confusion over battles of reading preferences. If one’s view of Christianity is consistent with Mark Driscoll or John MacArthur, I doubt you’ll accidentally be bamboozled by the Christianity espoused by various individuals associated with “emergent folks”. I suspect you wont need to have obscure footnotes brought to your attention. Just read some of their perspectives. It seems that in the Christianity of Driscoll and MacArthur it is of utmost eternal importance that one not be led astray by encountering “dangerous” material and that one assist fellow believers in this intellectually confusing world. It would be preferable to them if difficult movements to define and categorize within Christendom would just declare themselves heretics or atheists, to facilitate proper differentiation. I guess they think other Christians we’ll be duped by “emergent folks” and need guidance, hence they work to expose Rob Bell and others as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  • Victor

    Great points, Tony. I thought it was odd that Driscoll spent much of his critique of Bell on a book that he recommends.At last year’s Desiring God conference John Piper talked about his lunch with you and how you have very different epistemologies. At that same conference Mark Driscoll said this: “We’re less about Christian culture and we’re more about, ‘is it in line with biblical values?’ Just because it didn’t come from a Christian doesn’t mean it may not have content that is in agreement with Christian theology.”When Bell tells people to read Ken Wilbur’s book he’s not saying, “read it and believe everything he says about God and the world.” It might just be a good book that has some good things to say. I’m having a hard time understanding how Mark doesn’t see that.

  • Johnny Cashville

    Following the hyper-critical perspective of those that I often refer to as “the dignity thieves”, wouldn’t the writings of Paul be criticized as well? In Acts 17:27-29 Paul states, “‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'” As many of you know, Paul is quoting pagan Greek poets here. These attributes were written about Zeus! So, are we to say that Paul teaches a heretic gospel because of the sources he used to present the truth? A agree, if the message being taught is not biblical, then let the discussion shine the light of truth on the matter. However, if you are going to start criticizing people for who they read, who they quote or who they are friends with, your contribution will most likely be division within the body and very little more. I’m pretty sure I can find a few scriptures that speak to that matter.

  • Chris Enstad

    Isn’t the Driscoll, Piper version of Christianity called nomism?

  • Anonymous

    we’ve got a whole group of leaders & ministers that foam at the mouth every time they see the names of these emergent icons: driscoll, bell, mclaren, groeschl, etc.here’s an idea: let’s think for ourselves a little bit more and allow the same God they profess to illuminate these matters to us directly.a little frustrated…

  • Beloved

    Tony, a question for you…Do you think that the “Piper-Driscoll” (as they have come to be so affectionately known here) epistemologies are unorthodox representations of the most historic tenets of Christian belief, or do yours and their paradigms simply give more or less weight to historic orthodoxy (read: orthodoxy that is ‘closest’ to the biblical authors)? Feel free to respond here or via email.

  • carla

    Tony, you make a great–and important–point. We seem to put theology/spirituality in a separate category of influence, like only stuff that is about spirituality impacts our spirituality. I mean, why don’t we all compare our fiction choices and see what that tells us about each other? Which history books have we read? What comic books are on our shelves? This is part of the gnosticism, too, believing that our spirituality is only shaped by overtly spiritual influences.People can read a book and appreciate what it says without it significantly changing their worldview. People can read a book and disagree with what it says but still find it to be a great book. One of my lit professors in college used to ask us how we responded to a book. He didn’t want to know if we liked it because that’s not the point of reading–any reading.For that matter, I think we wrongly reduce what it means to be a human being when we assume the books we read shape us in ways that tell the whole story of who we are. Why doesn’t Driscoll ask what movies or tv shows or websites or music Brian and Doug and Rob enjoy or tell their friends about or find interesting? Why not look at how they treat their wives and children, how they manage their money, how they respond to their critics, how they spend their freetime, whether or not they have freetime? I would suggest that these things shape us too–maybe even more than what we read.

  • Adam Mellem

    If you’ve been following Driscoll’s blog at all, you will notice he’s been talking about the UFC games (extreme fighting games) he’s been attending.Tell me: is reading and referencing a controversial text as much of a public testimony of your life as attending games where two men “make a bloody mess” out of each other?For me, Driscoll’s public approval of such modern Roman games, glorification of violence, and statements such as “The reason they [young men] don’t go to most churches is because they could take the pastor and can’t respect a guy in a lemon-yellow sweater, sipping decaf and talking about his feelings” have called into question any ministerial legitimacy.Driscoll says, “[Young men] are not motivated by a weepy worship dude(ish) singing prom songs to a Jesus.” Such insightful and academic work is truly the making of a great church leader.

  • Zach

    What one reads can say something or nothing about someone at the same time. Its a faulty way to make judgments about a person. They are points in a painting by Seurat.The insecure will strain at gnats.

  • Chase

    Actually, probably the 200 Mars Hill Baptized last Friday might be a better mark of the fact that Driscoll is a good Church leader.

  • Lindsey

    So clearly we’ve established that you can’t reduce a person or an entire movement to one quote (misquote) or one piece of one person’s life. Dear God, teach us all humility and patience. And teach us that there is more to following Jesus than merely right doctrine.

  • Mike Morrell

    My inner editor is shrieking–it’s Ken Wilber, friends! Wilber with an “e”! And after hearing many Christians I respect engage with Wilber’s work, I’ve read a few of his books myself. And you know what? He’s got some great stuff to say to us–some directed particularly at Christians. It never ceases to amaze me how some folks take pot-shots at those of us who read widely. Is it not, as Martin Luther hymned, our “Father’s world?” Wisdom can be found everywhere. And yes, discernment must be everywhere too, I’m agreed. But conservative Christians read and quote Dr. Laura, right? Okay if that felt like a low blow, then how about Neil Postman or Robert Bly? These folks, while not necessarily Christians, are thought to have insightful thoughts that illuminate something of our contemporary social/cultural condition. Same with some of us appreciating an eclectic Buddhist philosopher who himself reads and cites generously. But fret not, my church isn’t going to start having ‘mandala services’ soon…

  • Anonymous

    I get asked to blurb about 3 or 4 books a month, and I cannot possibly blurb them all. So I try to choose wisely and try to blurb about half academic and about half in Christian living. I’ve not yet a book where I agree with any author on everything. So, whenever we blurb books there are things in the book we cannot endorse completely.Some read a book to see if it makes mistakes; some read a book to see what they can get out of it. I do the latter, and if the book gives me plenty I can endorse it. Read blurbs for what they say and not as an indicator that the blurber agrees with every line and footnote in a book.Brian McLaren’s endorsement of Chalke no more says Chalke is the emerging leader of England than that Tom Wright’s endorsement of the same makes Chalke an Anglican bishop.Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves a little more carefully what a blurb means on the back of someone’s book. Does it really mean “I agree with everything?” Is this the same as the “imprimatur”? We should avoid carelessness in blurbing and we should not expect total agreement in seeing someone’s name on the back of a book.Scot McKnight

  • Jeff Greathouse

    Thanks for the write-up. I appreciate it.

  • el mol

    Driscoll is Hot!ja

  • Tony,

    I left this comment over at theoblogy, but wanted to reiterate it here at your new home.

    I appreciate this post. I wonder if there’s a carry-over from the “second-degree separatism” of the 20th Century Christian Fundamentalists in this. The thinking was once that if you associated with those seen as apostates, then you yourself was apostate. Sad, really. I think we can learn more from those who do not agree with us right down the line.

    By the way, I am in the middle of a series critiquing John MacArthur’s book, The Truth War over at Vanguard Church.

  • Joy

    I know you are just getting settled in over here… but I hope you will continue this conversation.

    Was this event “Convergence” or whatever, an Emergent Event… or even an emerging church type event… if it was, WHY in the world is Mark Driscoll speaking.

    I like your new digs… Looking forward to your followup on this!

  • Lon

    great thoughts on the whole issue… I admire all the guys Mark listed, and Driscoll himself… I just wish we could all get along…

  • Tony, could you maybe extrapolate “…. just as I think that 90% of Americans are semi-pelagians” (I get the soft gnostics, but maybe I have a incorrect idea of pelagianism, not that I know much about him/it).

  • Tim

    From a postmodern perspective, footnotes are important to one’s thought. James K.A. Smith, either in Whose Afraid of Postmodernism or The Fall of Interpretation (I have to go find it), says in effect that we are part and parcel our bibliography. Granted that Driscoll’s arguments were not the most convincing, footnotes do shed light (at least) on those who are influencing us (or not). As Merton said, we are not an island or as Hauerwas said about never having a new thought only forgetting where he read it. So, the books that people endorse helps (alittle) in understanding the presuppostions that undergird their thought. The argument from footnotes, therefore, may not really be an argument, but a least it is illuminating.

  • Hey Tony et al,

    I’ve written about this kind of “associative blacklisting” elsewhere. I think that the kind of “footnote criticism” you’re talking about has much to do with people of modern stripes hoping to reduce the world to fewer finite categories. It gets complicated when shades of colors exist, and many prefer a black and white world.

    It seems to me that the Driscoll’s of the world are simply creating smaller categories (to make the world easier to navigate through their modern lens) by lumping various groups/people together. But of course this is neither fair nor accurate. More thoughts on this issue here:


  • Max

    As I examine the blogs of the visible emergent voices, it has become clear that the criticism against classical theism is this notion of platonism. I’m hearing it all over. The statement that John MacArthur’s (I believe his friends call him Johnny Mac, Tony) theology(Christianity) is too platonic evidences this. Yet none of you (visible emergent proponents) ever proves this “claim”. It has become a convenient label by which to denigrate sound theology, exegesis and hermeneutics and in turn promote a “newer christianity”. If you consider John MacArthur a soft-gnostic, then the emergent stream is clearly far past that towards a “hard gnosticism” with it’s espousal of jewish mysticism, hebraic holism, lectio divina etc.

    As a cursory passing of the writings and ruminations of the “emergent village” presents a love of this world (Springsteen worship 😉 and very little teaching of the nature and attributes of God in whom we are to fear and love with every ounce of our being. And, oh yeah, a huge love-in with the leadership of the emergent voices telling y’all how great and thoughtful you are.

    Be careful, my friend. I write these thoughts with love of Christ and His truth for you in mind.