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‘the MD word’

August 12, 2008

Edit: I have left this post up as there are some aspects of it that I still agree with. It will be left up as something I have written and an opinion held. Driscoll is a fascinatingly interesting character and I have been blessed many times by his ministry. If anything. my respect for him has grown since the original post.- JM 31 March 09

For many, the jury is still out on Mark Driscoll. He’s the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and also the author of a number of books. A tough looking thirty-something, Driscoll is described by the term ‘larger than life’. He’s a gifted preacher, holds to a Reformed soteriology and subscribes to a complimentarian view of gender roles; which in his uber-liberal context of Seattle, could be considered akin to ministerial suicide.

But Mars Hill, by all reports, is growing and growing fast. Campuses are popping up all around the city and Driscoll has made no bones about actively setting goals for numerical growth. For some, Mark Driscoll is John Calvin meets Bill Hybels, with a little Vin Diesel thrown in.

My inner-meathead loves Driscoll. He’s brash, he’s funny, he’s the kind of guy who would do well at anything he chooses, making it big in Hollywood included (I’m thinking Bruce Willis cloned with a young De Niro). While listening to him preach, a huge love for his wife and kids is evident. Genuine compassion for people often comes from his mouth. Though, not for nothing he’s earned a reputation as a cussing pastor, however over time his language seems to have become more pulpit-appropriate.

Personally, I’m still not sure what my opinion is regarding Pastor Mark Driscoll.

The answer doesn’t seem clear cut.

I go through seasons of listening to him preach and really appreciating it. Then after a time he slips in my estimations, only to climb back up with some of his trade-mark deep insights. Some of the out workings of his theology, just leave me confused. He takes a pretty traditional Reformed theology and then… everything looks so different in practice, and I’m not sure how.

Earlier this year I had the great opportunity to be a part of Shepherd’s conference, hosted by Grace Community Church, the home of John Macarthur for going on forty years. Conversations between sessions inevitably turned to contextualisation, church methodology and Mark Driscoll. It was like Driscoll was at the conference, always alluded to, yet never named. From Phil Johnson preaching on Paul’s Mars Hill experience, to Macarthur ridiculing preachers wearing skull-imprinted t-shirts, Driscoll was the proverbial elephant in the living room.

One thing I love about some of the popular conservative speakers, is their commitment to unity. There is a unity which stems from common perspectives of the gospel. Doctrinal differences are never viewed as a good thing, but differences over secondary doctrines such as those of an Eschatological nature are cast aside. For that reason, you can have men like Macarthur sharing the pulpit with C.J. Mahaney, a charismatic Calvinist. Piper, Sproul, Dever, Mohler and Ligon Duncan; Amillenials with Premillenials. Baptists with the traditionally Reformed. All these men, stand together. Together for the gospel.

Mohler, Dever, Anwyabile, Duncan, Mahaney

Mohler, Dever, Anwyabile, Duncan, Mahaney

When one of the releases a book, all of them get a copy and critique it. Doing so means there is a level of accountability and by all appearances, those men present a united front within evangelicalism (though lately evanjellybeanism would be the more appropriate term).

Except Driscoll doesn’t seem to be a part of that bunch. Same sort of theology, same sort of message, popular to some of the same audiences; yet not part of the club. John Piper and him seem to get on pretty well, sharing the stage together a few times in the past. Though nearly everyone likes and respects Piper (with the exception of Jacob Prasch), so one can’t read too much into that.

I’m pretty confident some things have happened behind the scenes that we haven’t heard about. Whisperings at Shepherd’s conference hinted that Driscoll decided to reject the admonishing words of some of the men mentioned above, in effect saying he would do things his way. I don’t know exactly what happened, so I’m not going to pass judgement. Logically I would assume that many of those men would have attempted to take the younger Driscoll under their wing, and for whatever reason, that hasn’t happened.

All this causes me to worry. I worry that this new resurgence in Reformed theology amongst younger people will be divided. Divided not because of the gospel and theology, but because of methodology. I hope it doesn’t get to a point where the biggest decision a seminary student will have to make is whether to preach in a suit, or in jeans and steel-caps. If that debate becomes a hill to die on, then we’ve missed the point. That’s liking buying the leather seats but forgetting the car itself. It must not happen and I hope sensibility prevails for the cause of the gospel of Christ.

With that out of the way. I’m led to wonder a few things about Driscoll and his way of doing things. I still have time to listen to the guy and I’ve yet to write him off. Not that I think he cares either. Growing a church of 7000 attendees from an initial group the size of the average Mormon family would probably serve to lessen the sting of any criticism. Driscoll’s words could easily smack of self-vindication regarding what Mars Hill Church has become, all in the midst of godless Seattle.

I’m currently wondering for the thousandth time why much of the western church clings so tightly to culture. Many say that in order to minister to people, you have to meet them in the culture in which they live. I agree that at the other end, quite a few pastors cause an unnecessary offence by throwing stones at the culture in which people spend their daily lives.

But there has to be a line. Somewhere.

So many churches seem intent on looking exactly like the world around them. The seeker-sensitive movement has firmly entwined itself with culture. When you make church a man-centred entertainment/self-help emporium, you place yourself in a precarious position. Now, I’m not saying Mars Hill and Driscoll have done exactly that, but it would be hard to argue that their ministry style is not quite reliant on their surrounding culture.

The problem is, culture changes and will continue to do so. It won’t be a huge loss if ultimate fighting somehow dies in popularity in the US, Driscoll would simply remove all references to rear-naked chokes and armbars from his sermons.

But in the last half century, we’ve seen some huge changes in western culture. There is a gradual slide from typical Judaeo- Christian values and society is worse off as a result. What happens if in 10 years time, sexual immorality becomes even more rampant and you can watch graphic rape along with your American idol during weekly prime-time? What do churches do when they’re tied so inextricably to culture? Will they plunge downwards with culture, or first of all stand on the high ground of Biblical truth?

That will be a very real struggle for my generation and I hope all pastors, Mark Driscoll included, think about such questions honestly.

To finish off, I’m linking a clip of Driscoll running an altar call, Mars Hill-style.

Regardless of what one thinks about altar calls, I’m unsure of how Mark’s theology leads to this kind of practice. I’d expect this out of Rick Warren, but to hear it from Driscoll, shocked me. What exactly did I find amazing? It doesn’t ultimately worry me that he got the guys up on stage, had them acknowledge a few points of doctrine, then prayed for them. What worried me was that he then asked the congregation to acknowledge them as brothers and gave them communion, effectively declaring them to be justified and righteous in the eyes of God.


The late Arminian preacher, Leonard Ravenhill, would have a low tolerance for this kind of thing. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to stand up there and do an altar call in such a way for fear of violating Proverbs 17:15, “He who declares the wicked to be justified, is like an abomination before the Lord.”

What do you think?


14 Comments leave one →
  1. Rhett permalink
    August 12, 2008 11:26 pm

    Honestly, I don’t see the reaon for the big divide. So he doesn’t want to join the Reformed Big Shots club… so what.

    I’m not even remotely in that club, or Driscoll’s for that matter, yet I was profess unity with them in Christ, and on the essentials.

  2. Rhett permalink
    August 12, 2008 11:44 pm

    Also, listening to Driscoll’s sermon on Predestination (from the Religion Saves… series) he talks about adding a “huge footnote” to Limited Atonement in TULIP, but he says he doesn’t have time to go into it. I got the impression that he doesn’t go in for double predestination.

    I would call that “moderate” Calvinism, especially compared to someone like John Piper. Am I wrong?

  3. August 13, 2008 3:24 am

    Rhett, I can understand that line of thinking re-Driscoll, but from what I’ve heard and what is starting to become apparent, this may cause a big split between pastors and seminary students. The question may well become, will you follow the Mars Hill methodology at all costs, or not? Trust me, I’m not trying to sound prophetic, but the lack of a good relationship between those camps may well cause further division down the line.

  4. August 13, 2008 3:45 am

    Great, I typed out a response, went on the Mars Hill site and my internet cut out and restarted itself. “Do not touch God’s anointed”?

    Rhett, the huge footnote Mark talked about would have been changing the L in TULIP to unlimited/limited atonement. Basically affirming what nearly every Calvinist would affirm. It speaks of the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement for all men, but at the same time the limited atonement in a salvific sense for the elect. I suggest you listen to this message, it goes much more in depth and to date is one of my favourite Dricoll messages:

    Seeing as Calvin himself did not embrace double predestination, I would not call single predestination ‘moderate Calvinism’, it is perfectly consistent with traditional Calvinism. Piper does hold to election-reprobation, I think he called himself a 6 or 7 pointer. So when Driscoll speaks of the footnote, he’s talking about unlimited/limited, not double or single predestination.

    I got the video working again, someone at Mars Hill disabled embedding on that video, so now I just supplied the link.

  5. Rhett permalink
    August 13, 2008 6:10 am

    I like this sermon. Driscoll is remarkably open in a way that would shame some Arminians. I like him.

    I adopted that “moderate Calvinist” thing because on the back of Millar Erikson’s “Christian Theology” book, J.I Packer calls him “Gently Calvinist”. I liked it as a term, but I modified it.

  6. August 13, 2008 7:57 am

    I agree, I haven’t listened to it in a while, but this got me interested in Driscoll as a 19yr old.

    Right, calling that moderate Calvinism because it sounds nice is just not on. You just Barth-tised the terms. 😛

  7. Rhett permalink
    August 13, 2008 8:54 am

    Not because I think it sounds nice, but because it definitely presents a “gentler” view of God than hyper-Calvinism or double-predestination.

  8. August 14, 2008 3:34 am

    Maybe they didn’t adopt Mark Driscoll into the Reformed Gang because “Together 5 the Gospel” would just totally ruin their clever word-play…

  9. August 14, 2008 3:41 am

    though I guess he’s got the Acts 29 network to call his own…

  10. servant permalink
    August 14, 2008 5:53 am

    Driscoll is remarkably open in a way that would shame some Arminians. I like him.

    Come on Rhett, be fair – all people are guilty of being “closed” – wouldn’t it better read – “Driscoll is remarkably open in a way that would shame some people. I like him.”

    You’re creating uneccesary divisions and it’s getting tiresome. I like Driscoll as well, yet I would have to be placed in the “Arminian” camp.

  11. Rhett permalink
    August 14, 2008 6:22 am

    Sorry Frank – I don’t know what to recommend. Perhaps restrain from reading my posts/comments if you find that so? I really am not intending to offend you, just to share my honest thoughts. Personally, on your own blog, I find it a good practice to just not comment if I ever find your own opinions tiresome. (Which is rare).

    What I meant by my comment is that Driscoll lays out both positions (you should listen to it if you haven’t) and says, ultimately, it’s not a big deal. Both groups are more than welcome in his church. Why reconcile friends. Etc, etc. I liked that.

  12. servant permalink
    August 14, 2008 7:25 am

    Fair calls – allow me to move beyond my last comment then and simply ask – when you refer to “some Arminians”, who are you talking about? It just seemed like a very flippant comment.

  13. Rhett permalink
    August 14, 2008 7:28 am

    I just wonder whether Calvinism would get as fair a treatment in a church that is as Arminian as Driscoll’s is Calvinist. Does that make sense?

  14. servant permalink
    August 14, 2008 7:47 am

    In some it would and some it wouldn’t. The same when it’s all reversed. I can state for a fact that Arminianism doesn’t get a fair treatment in some reformed/calvinist churches. I’ve seen Arminianism called a heresy and nothing more than a cult. I’ve seen that on more than one occasion.

    It’s for that reason that I thought your statement was unfair. The pitfalls sadly happen both ways.

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