Thursday, February 9, 2012

Timeless Truth and Timely Methods

Early on in my career as a Starbucks customer, I noticed more and more of my Christian friends reading the same book. It had a purple cover, though it was the subtitle that ultimately did me in: “Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality.” Blue Like Jazz was the book “everyone” was suddenly interested in (everyone except me, apparently *grin*). At the time I was on this kick of reading any book that was seemingly having an influence on the Church. While I never did break that habit, I was able to work my way through Donald Miller’s work.

Blue Like Jazz is one of those rare books where I actually *felt* dumber after reading it. I mean, come on, any book that dedicates 31 pages of pointless cartoons can’t be taken seriously can it? One more quick rabbit trail before I plunge into the real purpose of this blog article … one of the funny things about Miller’s book is that when you ask people who’ve read it what they think it was about, the most common answer is: “I don’t know.”

In any case, it was in this book that I first heard of Mark Driscoll. And it was not a good introduction:

“I had this friend from Seattle named Mark who was the pastor of a pretty cool church near the University of Washington, in the village. He had a lot of artists going to his church and a lot of hippies and yuppies and people who listen to public radio. I went up and visited him one time, and I loved the community he had put together. I felt like I could breathe for the first time in years. Visiting Mark’s church in Seattle helped me realize I wasn’t alone in the world. I would talk to my friends about his church, to my friends at the church I was attending, but they didn’t get it.

Mark had written several articles for secular magazines and had been interviewed a few times on the radio and had gotten this reputation as a pastor who said cusswords. It is true that Mark said a lot of cusswords. I don’t know why he did it. He didn’t become a Christian till he was in college, so maybe he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to say cusswords and be a pastor. I think some of my friends believed that it was the goal of the devil to get people to say cusswords, so they thought Mark was possessed or something, and they told me I should not really get into anything he was a part of. Because of the cusswords. But like I said, I was dying inside, and even though Mark said cusswords, he was telling a lot of people about Jesus, and he was being socially active, and he seemed to love a lot of people the church was neglecting, like liberals and fruit nuts. About the time I was praying that God would help me find a church, I got a call from Mark the Cussing Pastor, and he said he had a close friend who was moving to Portland to start a church and that I should join him.” (Blue Like Jazz, p. 133-134. Bold Mine).
I urge the reader to do yourself a favor and not read Blue Like Jazz or anything else by Miller (other books include Searching for God Knows What – which is nearly as pointless). But Miller did do one thing for me, and that was to introduce me to “the Cussing Pastor,” Mark Driscoll.

Pinpointing the exact date is impossible now, but it was a few months after Miller’s book (sometime in 2004) that I began hearing more and more about this pastor who cusses. Christian friends began listening to his sermons, and as time went on I learned that he was a Charismatic Calvinist (that is, a Charismatic and a Calvinist), and very cool taboot. Unfortunately, the more I learned about Mark Driscoll the more problem areas I was discovering. Friends were reading his book, The Radical Reformission, where he invites the reader to “begin a radical journey with me as we explore what life in Christ can mean in the context of an emerging church in a changing world” (Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, p. 23).

Up to this point, my initial reaction to Driscoll was this: how can this man honestly be qualified for the office of Elder with such a filthy mouth? Don’t misunderstand me, I recognize that Christians let expletives slip out from time to time. But this is something we ought not to be proud of, and work hard not to do. I remember listening to sermons with my friends where he is cursing, and then I would read Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (NASB). With the luxury of hindsight, I might also have read from the pastoral epistles regarding the qualifications of an Elder.

Because I’m not one to rely on hearsay only, I quickly bought and read The Radical Reformission. Little did I know that I was about to open up the can of worms known now as “The Emerging Church Movement” (ECM).  Mark explains the beginnings of the ECM:
“A team of young pastors, including myself, was then formed by Leadership Network, and we flew around the country speaking to other pastors about the emerging culture and the emerging church … Now that the time has come to write, I am presenting this book as a contribution toward the furtherance of the emerging church in the emerging culture.” (Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, p. 16-17).
Fine; but what is the purpose of the Emerging Church Movement (ECM)? Driscoll explains:
“Our lives shape, and are shaped by, the culture we live in, and the gospel must be fitted to (not altered for) particular people, times, and circumstances so that evangelism will be effective … We have the church, or the gathering of God’s people – which includes those who are not Christians (Matt. 13:24-30) – where people are built up in their faith and knitted together in loving community. They can then faithfully engage those in the culture with the gospel, while experiencing its transforming power in their own lives.” (Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, p. 20-21).
Based on the annotations I made on these pages it is safe to assume I did a double take when I read that. Some of what he says is true, like how our lives shape and are shaped by the culture. However, he strays way off of the straight and narrow path when he speaks of the church being made up of Christians and non-Christians. He builds on this point throughout the book to such an extent that I am certain he did not misspeak here. In fact, he explains his view of evangelism called “Reformission Participation Evangelism” which he describes as “Belong to the church, then believe in Jesus” (Driscoll, p. 68) and “Reformission evangelism blurs the lines between evangelism and discipleship” (Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, p. 73). He continues:
“In reformission evangelism, people are called to come and see the transformed lives of God’s people before they are called to repent of sin and to trust in God. Taking a cue from dating is helpful on this point. If we desire people to be happily married to Jesus as his loving bride, it makes sense to let them go out on a few dates with him instead of just putting a shotgun to their heads and asking them to hurry up, put on a white dress, and try to look happy for the photos.” (Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, p. 68, Bold Mine).

Here we arrive at the heart of the matter. Is the Church made up of Christians and non-Christians? I believe the Bible is abundantly clear that though unbelievers are welcome to attend corporate worship meetings, the visible Church (those who have made a sound profession of faith) is made up men and women who have submitted themselves to the authority of elders at a local church and have become a part of that fellowship. This is a clear presupposition of the Apostles in their writings: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17, NASB). Notice also that the author presupposed the elders will give an account to God on how well they watched over the souls of Christians under their care. This means they had to know who they were, knew of a convincing profession of faith, and kept an account of their spiritual well-being. Let me now ask the question: how does this fit with what Driscoll is suggesting?

How does Driscoll put his “belong then believe” model into practice? He goes into detail:
“Since the gospel must be contextualized in a way that is accessible to the culture and faithful to the Scriptures, God’s people must continually review their presentation of the gospel to ensure that the form in which they present it is the most effective one.” (Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, p. 55-56).
We finally arrive at one of the common terms used by the ECM: “contextualize.” Which is their way of saying, “change the style, presentation method, and setting to become as ‘relevant’ as possible to achieve the best results while preaching the gospel” (not a quote). I’m left scratching my head at this point because the gospel is already relevant to every culture. We are all sinners, and therefore the message is about as relevant as it can be. Nothing in the style or presentation can have a positive impact in the saving of one’s soul. In fact, we are only the planters and waterers (if that is a word) of the seeds of truth – only God causes growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).

I remember talking with a group of pro-Driscoll Christians about how Driscoll’s entire philosophy of ministry seemed inconsistent with Calvinism, because he acts as though his cool methods might actually have an impact in saving men’s souls. We know that men are unable to repent and believe in and of themselves. They lack the ability: “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7, NASB).

Please pay special attention to this next citation, as Driscoll puts his methods in plain detail:
“Reformission Christians and churches exist to perpetuate the gospel and should be swift to change their cultural forms if they are not the most beneficial for achieving that goal. This is what Paul told the Corinthians about being all things to all people and using all means to see as many people as possible saved (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Reformission churches have to continually examine and adjust their musical styles, websites, aesthetics, acoustics, programming, and just about everything but their Bible in an effort to effectively communicate the gospel to as many people as possible in the cultures around them.” (Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, p. 100, Bold Mine).
That’s quite a list of things in a state of constant flux. Again we see the focus on the outward appearance of everything: the style, the aesthetics, sound quality, “and just about everything but their Bible” to communicate the gospel to as many as possible. But is this really necessary, and more importantly, is it Biblical? Driscoll does cite 1 Corinthians 9, but is he interpreting and applying it correctly? Paul does clearly state that he has “become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22b, NASB). Sentences before this the Apostle discusses becoming a Jew to the Jews, and to the Gentiles a Gentile. So doesn’t this prove Pastor Mark’s point? Is he not justified in making sure the sound system is as relevant as possible so he might save others who might otherwise be turned off to the gospel?

I believe that what Paul is not talking about here is a “coolness” factor, or the style of dress, but rather a recognition of where they are coming from spiritually. We can certainly agree that Paul would not have sought to needlessly offend his hearers (such as eating pork in front of Jews), but to go to the great lengths that Mark describes is where we part company. Remember that Paul wrote elsewhere: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, NASB) and “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:20b, 22-23, NASB).

Driscoll functionally disagrees with God by believing he can do a better job of making the gospel more relevant through aesthetics. To say it directly, since the Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom, should we provide signs and wisdom? The obvious answer is: of course not. Yet Driscoll’s philosophy would seemingly seek to.
Continuing on, how does Pastor Mark suggest we understand the culture so we can preach a relevant gospel? He provides a to-do list meant for small groups or families. Here is the first point on his list:
Try shopping at a new grocery store, reading magazines (especially their ads) you would never pick up (middle-aged male plumbers could read Cosmo Girl), listening to new music (Christian-pop fans would do well to tune in the hardcore station), listening to new teachers (Christian-radio fans should tune in to a sexual talk program like Tom Leykis or Howard Stern), and watching a movie you normally would not.” (Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, p. 131-132).
My heart goes out to the many Christians who have decided to take this advice in a vain attempt to be more effective evangelists. Not only does it not make them more effective (if anything it makes one less effective), but some things in this list would certainly cause Christians to stumble and fall into sin. Applying this consistently, are we really to become intimately familiar with everything sinners do so that we can share the good news of Christ with them? I’ve got news for Mark, Christians are already perfectly suitable for discussing the gospel with any sinner. Wanna guess why? Because all Christians are fellow sinners. We have that in common. What’s more, our message is unbelievably good news for sinners. I only wish he saw it that way.

Does Mark Driscoll have an opinion of churches he deems uncool or irrelevant? Yup, sure does:
“For example, a pastor friend of mine was hired by a dying church. At one time, the church’s enormous facility had housed nearly nine thousand people, but the congregation had dwindled over the years to roughly one hundred, most of whom were beyond retirement age. They hired him in hopes of keeping their church from joining the more than three thousand churches in the United States that die each year. What he quickly learned, however, was that while they wanted things to change, they did not want to change. To this day, they remain unwilling to change the aesthetics of their very dated sanctuary, or to upgrade their sound system, which is nearly thirty years old, or to reconsider the style of their worship music, or to make any adjustments to their programming or philosophy of ministry.” (The Radical Reformission, p. 50).

My church sings a song with a line that reads: “We long to see Your churches full…” How true that is, and how sad it is when a church has to close its doors. What saddens me with this church’s scenario is not the falling numbers so much as the suggested reason for their dwindling numbers. It is suggested that if only the church would update their style, their sound system and outdated sanctuary … they would draw in the crowds. While the Christian should always rejoice with new converts to the true faith, a church’s success or failure is not based on the number of regular attendees or members. My elders have preached more than once that sometimes church numbers shrink because of the truth being presented – and that isn’t a bad thing.

Traveling through time and space to the year 2008, Mark Driscoll has stopped cursing (thankfully), left the Emerging Church Movement, and has certainly grown up a bit. Emily and I visited his church when we were in Seattle a few years back, and so I picked up a copy of his latest book: Vintage Church. Anxious to see if any of his views have changed I started the book on the flight home.

Cussing is not the end all be all of sins, but even so, I rejoice with the fact that Driscoll was called out for his foul language, and ultimately stopped using curse words (especially in his sermons). Still, it is a fair question: how did he ever make it to the Eldership with that kind of language?

News hit that Driscoll had left the Emerging Church Movement because of heretics like Rob Bell (a universalist) who were also a part of the movement. Again, I applaud him for this. However, did any of Driscoll’s personal views that are at the core of the ECM change? Nope. His views about the church’s philosophy of ministry are nearly identical. So what’s different or new? Well, he still heads up the Acts 29 Network of churches, employing the ECM philosophy – though not affiliated with the ECM.

He still criticizes churches for their failure to incorporate the culture into the church:

“Not far from my home is a small church that has struggled for years. Every time I drive by that church I pray for it because I love the church, in general, and I know that this church, in particular, has a long history of loving Jesus and believing in the Bible. But it got stuck in a culture cul de sac, so it couldn’t adapt as culture changed. Younger people couldn’t connect so they didn’t come. The people died off so that virtually no one was left. The pastor was discouraged and struggled to know what to do. So I decided to try to meet the pastor to see what I could do to encourage and serve him. Thus far I have had no success, despite repeated efforts. Their lack of technology is part of the problem.” (Driscoll, Vintage Church, p. 267, Bold Mine).
Just so we’re clear: Driscoll says this church is failing because it didn’t adapt the culture of the church to match the culture of the world. Alpha and Omega Ministries did not come up with this phrase, but it is very applicable here: “What you win them with is what you win them too.” Translation: if you win new church members because of worldly culture guess what you won them to? Yup, worldly culture.

Commenting on sermons, Pastor Mark says the following:
“Learn from politicians, stand-up comedians, and anyone else who stands on a stage to speak to a crowd for a living. I know the fundamentalists who read this would freak out to think that Dave Chappelle, Carlos Mencia, Chris Rock, or Dane Cook have anything to teach a Bible teacher, but the fundamentalists fail to recognize that their team begins with the word fun, and they are guilty of false advertising because they are no fun at all.” (Driscoll, Vintage Church, p. 105-106).
Is this supposed to be an argument? Because making a clever play on words saying that the Fundamentalists are no fun at all, doesn’t make his point valid. He is right about one thing though: us fundamentalists do completely disagree with him that Elders should learn how to preach from the likes of Dave Chappelle and other comedians. Compare that idea with what Paul says about the duties of an elder: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5, NASB). Did the Apostle forget to include “fun”? I’m sure he didn’t.

Does this mean an elder should try to be as boring as possible? Of course not. But at the same time an elder should not try to make his sermons “fun.” God’s people deserve good preaching, not a comedy show. Is it okay to have a joke or two in a sermon? Absolutely! But this is far from trying to have a sermon reach a certain level of fun-ness, or by mimicking Dave Chappelle.

Earlier I mentioned how “contextualization” is a key element of Driscoll’s view (and that of the ECM) of a church’s philosophy of ministry:
“Too many churches are built solely to accommodate religious people, even though their culture and cultural methods of ministry are not welcoming or hospitable to those outside their Christian culture. Contextualization is about making the church as culturally accessible as possible without compromising the truth of Christian belief. In this, what is sought is timeless truth and timely methods. In other words, contextualization is not making the gospel relevant, but showing the relevance of the gospel.” (Driscoll, Vintage Church, p. 228, Bold Mine). 
This is an example that Mark Driscoll has been paying attention to his critics. That last sentence in particular is (I believe) a direct response to those of us who have criticized him for his views on blurring the lines between evangelism and discipleship. You can say all day long that contextualization is not an attempt to make the gospel relevant, but it doesn’t make it true. It sounds more polished than how The Radical Reformission put it, but the statement “timeless truth and timely methods” proves he doesn’t consistently apply this belief.

I’m glad that I can at least agree with Driscoll on not compromising on the truth (although the recent events surrounding the Elephant Room 2 would prove me wrong). We already know that what he means by “timely methods” can include anything from the sound system, to technology, style, websites, and other aesthetics.

Nothin’s really new here, except that Vintage Church is a much better written and better thought-out product than earlier books. Although, there is one noticeably new difference in his emerging (pun intended =)) viewpoint on the church: multi-campus or multi-site churches. In fact, he dedicates an entire chapter to this subject in Vintage Church. He uses video-broadcasting via the Internet or Satellite so his sermons can be broadcast into multiple church campuses.

More and more churches are following this kind of church model. In fact, I had friends who attended a mega-church in high-school who were one of the first in my area to implement this idea. Today, many more churches are doing the same thing. The proponents of this viewpoint argue that “this is what works for us." My problem with that is this view is unbiblical. In the New Testament, we see the Apostles had elders appointed in churches in every city (Titus 1:5). Previously I discussed how the presupposition of the New Testament is that one’s elders actually know you.

So let me ask the proponents of multi-campus churches: in light of Hebrews 10:17, can elders honestly keep watch over your soul if they are being broadcast via satellite or the Internet? Can they give an account to God on how they cared for you?

If I were a proponent of multi-campus churches I might respond like this: “That’s why each campus has their own set of elders, so we can be cared for.” I would simply ask: isn’t there someone qualified at the campus who can teach, rather than broadcasting an elder you don’t know into your location? The real issue boils down to the fact that the New Testament describes church government in such a way that a church’s elders are to teach that group of people. We see this in one of Peter’s epistles: “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3, NASB). Notice that Peter is speaking to the elders “among you” and exhorts them to shepherd the flock “among you.” He is not speaking about elders of some other church caring for another flock. Rather, he speaks to elders shepherding "those allotted to your charge.”

We’re nearing the conclusion of this Great-Wall-of-China of a post. I know that it’s been a long journey for us to arrive at this point, but I wanted the reader to see Driscoll’s own words to better understand his philosophy of church ministry.

Unfortunately, there are a few final things we need to cover before I announce my conclusions of what to make of Mark Driscoll. Please take a moment to watch this 5 minutes video of Pastor Mark preaching on spiritual warfare and the gift of discernment, commonly known now as the “I See Things” Video. There are so many problematic things from this video that it is difficult to know where to begin. I’ll do my best…

First, the issue is not whether God *can* communicate extra-Biblical revelations to us. Of course the Lord has that ability – He is the Creator of communication. The underlying issue is that with the ceasing of Apostles and of new Scripture, the revelatory gifts have also ceased. We have a completed revelation of everything we need to function as Christians. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB). This is called Sola Scriptura – which is denied by those advocating for continuing extra-Biblical revelation, because at its heart, Sola Scriptura recognizes the Scriptures as the sufficient rule of faith for the Christian. Therefore, when Driscoll claims to receive personal revelations from God outside of the Bible, we know this is either from one of two sources: from his vain imaginings (Jeremiah 23:16) or the devil (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Second, what troubles me most from this sermon is that he encourages the audience that some of them might also have the same gifting to “see things.”

We have finally reached the end of this lengthy discussion about Driscoll, and I’d like to conclude by asking a question: what has Mark Driscoll done to earn the right to be an influence in your life? Because that is the real question that needs answering. Has he done anything to earn that privilege? If your answer is: “Well I’ve listened to some of Mark Driscoll’s sermons, and found some things that were a great encouragement to me,” might I respond by asking: but what about the many shortcomings? I recognize we all have shortcomings, as Christians. We sin every day. But elders are called to be above reproach, and blameless. What this means is not that they have to be perfect, but that their shortcomings cannot include some of the things Driscoll fails in.

He is an elder of a church, and a leader in the Acts 29 Network (and formerly of the Emerging Church Movement). Shouldn’t he be held accountable to the Word of God for his unbiblical view of church government (multi-campus churches)? How about his desire to always be involved in the controversial?

Pastor Mark is lacking in one area more than others: discernment. He would rather appear cool to the world, incorporating the world’s culture into the church … rather than focus on the foolishness of preaching (1 Conrinthians 1:21), which is the means God uses to save sinners. Even more recently, he participated in a discussion called the Elephant Room 2 where he overlooked T.D. Jakes’ heretical modalistic views (views that deny the Trinity). The conclusion of the Elephant Room 2 discussion was that Jakes believes in the same God and should be welcomed into the family of God. Again, we see a common theme: a lack of discernment.

Now to be fair, I am not suggesting that everything Mark Driscoll does is wrong, bad, or even unbiblical. What I am saying is that he is a combination of good and bad things, and we ought not to have him as a positive influence in our lives. So if you read his books, do so from a desire to better prepare yourself against his current unbiblical views on church government and philosophy of ministry. If you listen to his sermons, for the same reason. I would recommend not to spend your time subscribing to his podcast for your spiritual betterment – because he has proven himself unfit for the task.

I pray that God might grant repentance to Pastor Mark, that he might change his unbiblical views, but that specifically our Lord might grant to him a spirit of wisdom (Ephesians 1:17) – as well as to all of us.

Thank you for sticking with me,

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