Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Why I don't support the Mark Driscoll witch-hunt - and why I still support him.

[ 24/01/2022 UPDATE - though I am leaving this on my blog I can no longer agree with supporting Mark Driscoll.  Further revelations about his behaviour and leadership at Mars Hill have come to light and his continued refusal to properly engage with church discipline and meaningful repentance over this is unacceptable to me. ]

"Mark Driscoll has had a tremendous impact on me - he has shaped me and built me up in Christ more than any other living minister."
Over the past year the 'Young, Reformed, and Restless' community has been shaken by one of their prize pastors seemingly falling foul at every turn.  Accusations and allegations have flown whilst vitriol has been pouring out of every pore - on all sides.  Things have hit a crescendo with Acts29, the church planting network that Driscoll co-founded and presided over, finally removing Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll from their network.  

I can say at the outset that in all of this I am biased, that is the simple truth - but it doesn't mean that I am wrong.  Mark Driscoll has had a tremendous impact on me - he has shaped me and built me up in Christ more than any other living minister.  Through his books and sermons God has led me into the truth of reformed theology, the importance of Christ-centred preaching, the fact that all of the Scriptures are about Christ, and that if we are to spread the gospel we must do so in a way which relates to those who listen.  But what are all these allegations about?  Well let us look at some of them.

The first set that come out of the woodwork are to do with the fact that Driscoll is a charismatic (though not a 'charismaniac').  Driscoll openly claims to have seen visions of peoples sins - at times graphically - and has been able to use this gift of knowledge to minister to people who were covering up their sins.  Indeed, it was this gifting which ended up saving his marriage after God revealed to Driscoll why his wife was so distant (see Real Marriage pages 11-12).  Likewise, Driscoll supports speaking in tongues (if it is done biblically) and he once did a teaching course of spiritual warfare which involved a form of exorcism/deliverance which included finding out the name of the demon and by using the reading of Scripture and the name of Christ casting out the demon.  I will lay my cards down right here - I am, unashamedly,  a Charismatic Calvinist.  I see absolutely no biblical reason to believe that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased and I see no historical reason to either.  Whilst I am a pedant for keeping things biblical and most definetly demand 'good order' in churches, in principle I have no issue with the concept of receiving knowledge of other peoples sins from God: after all Spurgeon had the same gifting and used it to great effect.  Whilst Driscoll's charismatic claims might drive cessationalists and the more traditionally Reformed folks up the wall it doesn't even make me blink, I've witnessed these things, I've experienced these things, I thank God for these things.

"Tyndale House, a most reputable Christian publisher, looked into the claims of plagiarism, and their conclusion?  There was no plagiarism - end of."

A more recent hoo-haa is over allegations of plagiarism.  On live radio Driscoll was accused of plagiarising one of his good friends in his most recent book 'A Call to Resurgence'.  There and then he said that was not aware of any plagiarism but would look into it with the publishers and comment on or apologise for it then - but the interviewer would not let it go.  To my mind the interview was a sample of Driscoll facing a very tough and unfair situation and dealing with it gracefully and biblically.  Allegations soon spread to lots of his other works, especially an in-house study guide on 1 and 2 Peter which contained, without citation, a lengthy quote from one of Carson's commentaries with only a few words changed to make them more understandable to the non-scholar.  So, what are we to make of this - is Driscoll a fraud who deserves to go to jail and should step down from ministry?  No.  

Tyndale House who published his most recent book, a most reputable Christian publisher, looked into the claims of plagiarism, and their conclusion?  There was no plagiarism, the source was sufficiently cited - end of.  But what about the Study Guide?  Driscoll has openly said and apologised for there being errors in citation, he was not aware of them at the time, they were unintentional, and resulted from a complex process of how the guide was researched (involving a  team of researchers who fed material to Driscoll) but ultimately he did take responsibility for it.  Mars Hill immediately removed the guide from the website and Driscoll personally contacted Carson who, by the way, has fully accepted his apology.  People make mistakes, people correct them when they come to light, people apologise, and people forgive.  Why this is still being thrown around is beyond me.

On the topic of books, Driscoll paid a marketing firm to promote his Real Marriage book to help ensure it  became a best seller - it did.  Was this wrong or just being as shrewd as a serpant in dealing with the world that desperatly needed Biblical truths about marriage and sexual relations would reach the widest audience?  Personally I lean to the latter, but in any case once again Driscoll has apologised and had references to it being a New York times No.1 best seller removed from future copies.

The most recent thing to come up has been about comments made on an online forum by Driscoll under the pseudonym William Wallace II which were derogatory and offensive and contained inappropriate swear words.  So with all that has been going on why would Driscoll suddenly go online and do something so stupid?  He didn't.  Driscoll has not been online for months as, under the Board of Advisors and Accountability it was decided that he should step back from social media to spend more time with his family and praying through issues.    This incident relates to something which happened not two or three but fourteen ago, which Driscoll in his books has openly and publically repented of and said was very stupid and unchristian.  So why is it being dragged up now?  That is a good question!  Attached to this issue is the moniker of Driscoll being the 'cussing pastor' the preacher who swears openly in his sermons much to the ire of grannies and traditionalists.  Has Driscoll sworn in his sermons?  Yes.  Has Driscoll sworn in any sermons from the past five or so years? No.  Driscoll has publically said that he was childish back then and, whilst the Bible contains language which is extremely crude and offensive, it is not necessary or appropriate to use foul language as a way into a culture.  Driscoll stopped being the 'cussing pastor' long ago.   

"People make mistakes, people correct them when they come to light, people apologise, and people forgive."

Here is a video in which Driscoll explains why he has in some contexts (namely genuine questions people ask about sexual matters) used explicit language and why it is important for the church to deal with these issues:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvSHu0BVEOw At this link, though actually criticising Driscoll for his Neo-Calvinism, you can see that Driscoll has apologised to people hurt by his earlier 'cussing': http://axxess.org/?p=80

Another example of extremely divisive behaviour on Driscoll's part was when he turned up at John MacArthur's charismatic condemning 'Strange Fire conference' and started handing out copies of his book.  I won't go into details here but I think the whole thing was blown out of proportion and the real news should be some of the outrageous things said about genuine Christians by the speakers of the conference.  Suffice it to say that whilst it was not the wisest of moves I don't think it was such a big deal and what actually happened concerning whether books were confiscated can easily be read different ways depending on who you listen to.

A number 'Mars Hill survivors' and critics of Driscoll claim that the whole culture of Mars Hill is misogynist and makes women out to be lesser than men in value.  Mark Driscoll is unashamedly a complimentarian, he strongly believes that the Bible forbids women from teaching in churches and holding church leadership/authority posistions.  If you disagree with his interpretation of the Biblical evidence then this could be a fair criticism of him - but only if you at the same time lambast countless other massive evangelical names at the same time.  I actually found the teaching of him and his wife in their book Real Marriage to be far less 'extreme complimentarian' than I expected and much more generous to real life situations that many face.

Then we have the allegations of him not being a serious Christian theologian but rather a heretic for 'accepting' T.D. Jakes during an Elephant Room discussion.  T.D. Jakes has been a well known Modalist/Oneness Pentecostal.   In a discussion with him Driscoll tightly questioned him on his view of the Trinity - and T.D. Jakes said that his view had been changed away from Modalism and towards orthodox Trinitarianism, which has led to many Oneness Pentecostals now considering him a heretic, but Jakes said he still struggles with some of the Greek theological language the Church adopted - namely that of 'persons'.  Driscoll, after asking some very direct questions and getting some equally direct answers, ended up being gracious and giving Jakes the benefit of the doubt on the matter and encouraged him to keep seeking the truth.  Driscoll did nothing wrong, whilst T.D. Jakes has many other issues in his theology, extending Christian charity when someone tells you they don't believe what they used to is not a sin.  Once again Driscoll became the man people love to hate simply because they can, it was unnecessary, unedifying, and a poor witness to Christ.   You can see a report on the encounter and a transcript here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2012/january/td-jakes-embraces-doctrine-of-trinity-moves-away-from.html?paging=off

"for a power-hungry megalomaniac Driscoll has certainly done a heck of a lot of things which testify against that 'truth'"

A final, and perhaps the most serious, issue is to do with the idea  that Driscoll is a power-hungry egotistical maniac who cut down everyone and anything in his way to become 'Driscoll the Great and Powerful' running his own little kingdom like a Pope.  Much, but not all, of this relates to incidents back in 2006-2007 when Mars Hill went from an elder led ministry to one which was much more corporate in style.  People were fired, people were layed off, people were hurt, it got nasty it got personal, and people had great fears.  To be honest much of what happened back then is still a mystery, it is all murky and dark - what we do know is that the growth of the church increased exponentially following the changes.  Mark has on a number of occasions acknowledged that what happened back then was not great, that it could have been done better, that mistakes were made.  Anyone who has ever seen or been part of a church restructuring of the magnitude that took place at Mars Hill (and had to take place) will know that because of human nature it is never, ever, amicable and pretty.  The state of the church prior to the changes nearly destroyed Driscoll's marriage, almost destroyed his health, and everything else.  Has Driscoll made really (and I mean REALLY) unhelpful comments about that time which did nothing to service to the glory of God - like mentioning throwing people under the 'Mars Hill bus'? Sure, but I don't know many people who haven't after such a mess when humour can become a natural defence mechanism.  Do mistakes made back in 2006-2007 mean Driscoll should step down, even after he has apologised?  I don't know enough about all the allegations but personally I doubt it. 

It is worth noting that for a power-hungry megalomaniac Driscoll has certainly done a heck of a lot of things which testify against that 'truth'.  Driscoll has stepped down from presiding over Acts29, relinquished much of his power over Mars Hill to other executive elders, put himself under a Board of  Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) which includes both executive elders of Mars Hill and other ministers from outside, and importantly following their counsel Driscoll has apologised, stepped back from social media,  and generally is reassessing his ministry and what is given emphasis in it.  On a number of occasions he has reached out to those who have been hurt and who form a powerful pressure group of anti-Driscoll ex-Mars Hill 'survivors'.  As Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Fellowship said concerning Driscoll and his time under the oversight of the BOAA before resigning from the BOAA to focus on his own ministry: "I have found him [Driscoll] to be exemplary in his current readiness to live under the BOAA oversight. I am not resigning because I doubt Mark’s sincerity in any way. I believe in Mark Driscoll and his heart to leverage difficult lessons in service to Christ and his church in the years ahead. I am excited to continue to support that trajectory as Mark’s friend  as I focus my efforts on Harvest Bible Fellowship.”  Dr. Tripp who also was on the BOAA has stepped down recently not because he is unhappy with Driscoll but because he wants to be even more involved in Mars Hill and thus would no longer be an impartial and independent voice!  

"There have been, and still are, some serious issues at Mars Hill relating to its past, and issues of reconciliation among aggrieved parties."

Driscoll's acknowledging of his own issues with pride and power go at least back to 2007 when he openly repented and apologised to his church and all listeners during a sermon on Philippians, the transcript can be seen here with he apologies near the start: http://marshill.com/media/rebels-guide-to-joy/the-rebels-guide-to-joy-in-humility/ajax_transcript  His humble apology over a number of these issues, his recognition of his own very real and hurtful failures, and his decisions to have oversight whilst stepping back from social media and other speaking engagements can be seen in this widely spread letter (which was intended to be kept private but is now very much in the public) 
http://www.reddit.com/r/religion/comments/20gg40/markdriscolladdressesmarshill_church/  For me, this letter spoke right to my heart of my own need to repent and own up to my failures and sins and how they affect others - for me this letter modeled biblical repentance and our response should be biblical forgiveness even to, and above, 70x7 times.

There have been, and still are, some serious issues at Mars Hill relating to its past, and issues of reconciliation among aggrieved parties.  However, despite these I do not honestly believe that Mark Driscoll has done anything which should require him to step down from being a pastor.  I do not think that he has brought disrepute to the glory of Christ - though many have tried to paint him that way.  Mark Driscoll started a church shortly after he came to Christ, he was immature, he was reckless, and he was broken.  But God uses the weak to shame the strong, and he took Mark and used him as an instrument to shine the light of the gospel into countless people's hearts - far more hearts than any of his accusers have.  Mark has a legacy which hangs over his head from mistakes he made some time ago, but he has repented and got right with God, and he has tried to get right with others (even if they won't accept that).  The Mark Driscoll of 2014  is, in reality, whilst certainly a work in progress, as 'above reproach' as the majority of ministers of God's word, he is the loving husband of one wife, he has become far more self-controlled, he has grown to be largely sensible, respectable, and hospitable.  The Mark Driscoll of 2014 is most definitely one of the most able teachers the church has known, he is not addicted to wine, and under God's hand and the supervision of the BOAA he is becoming gentle in a godly way, righteous but not a bully, passionate but not greedy, seeking to glorify Christ but not quarrelsome (unlike many of his accusers...).  The Mark Driscoll of 2014 is as ever a man who manages his household competently, he has his children under control in all dignity, he is not a new convert, he has reacted against becoming conceited, and whilst some bewail his many alleged evils, among many others he holds a good reputation as the man who preaches the gospel of grace to the burnt out, the broken, the drug addicts, and prostitutes, the homeless, the needy, and the most sinful.   

As the BOAA made clear in its response to the evicting of Driscoll and Mars Hill from Acts29, "we are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long. And we are. I also told them that more opposition would undoubtedly be coming, and it has.... Be assured of this, the formal charges that were filed were serious, were taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly. There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time now.  Our board’s decision is final regarding these charges, although will no doubt continue to be played out in the courts of public opinion."

I don't know Pastor Mark Driscoll personally, but I've read all his books, listened to most of his sermons, and read the majority of his blogs etc.  So this article is just the personal musings of an onlooker thousands of miles across the pond.  Take it or leave it.  But regardless of what happens next, the one thing which above all else endeared me most to Driscoll in the beginning when I started listening to his sermons was that unlike all the other preachers I heard he was willing to stand before thousands and hold up his hands and say "I messed up", "I'm sorry."  I only pray that in my ministry, when I really mess up - which no doubt I will (many times) - I have the courage to do the same.

"There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time now."

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