It has been a brutal year (or so) for Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll, or I suppose I should say former Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll. From being accused of plagiarism and what ever happened between him and John MacArthur at the latter’s Strange Fire Conference to Acts 29 publicly parting ways and a laundry list of grievances brought against him by current and former pastors of Mars Hill. Driscoll has never been far from controversy, but since the publication of his Real Marriage book it has been nearly constant. All of it peaked last week when he resigned from his post as the founder and preaching pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Washington. Through all the recent controversy I had been tempted to write a post on him, but refrained, and ultimately this post isn’t about him so much as it is about what this whole fiasco has shown me. That said, I should begin with a few words about my view of the man and his creation.
Pastor Mark and Mars Hill
When I was a younger Christian in my late teens I was hungry for something more than what my church offered. There were a lot of issues, but suffice to say that the gospel was shallow, I was far from intellectually fulfilled, and there was little that attracted me to various images of Christian men I saw. Almost simultaneously I met two men, one in person and one through the magic of the internet. A youth pastor named Allen and the voice of Mark Driscoll. they both presented me with a version of masculinity that was Christian but appealing, a gospel that was robust (or at least more than what I was used to), and an intellectually enticing view of Christianity commonly called Calvinism. What these two men introduced me to is a large part of why I am currently working on my second Master’s of Arts degree. I say this to both honor my friend Allen, whom I owe much to, and to show the impact Driscoll had on my early theological development. However, over the years since, my excitement over his ministry has decreased, and my worry increased. The culmination was when my wife and I decided against attending the Orange County satellite. The decision was based on philosophical differences that had emerged as I studied in seminary. Things like the jobs of a pastor, the legitimacy of video preaching, the crass language (especially in regards to sexuality), and what seemed like a shift from quality to quantity in most areas. Ultimately I would describe the difference as pragmatism, Driscoll held it in one hand and his Bible in the other. I, by way of contrast, have been accused of being anti-pragmatic in theological and philosophical positions.
The Culture I See
This shift to pragmatism is not simply a Driscoll thing, churches all over are employing pragmatism in their theology, philosophy, and social engagement. However, I have not seen a more pragmatic statement in a long time than the one I read concerning Driscoll’s resignation. As reported by Christianity Today,
In a statement, the church’s board of overseers accepted his resignation, but emphasized that they had not asked Driscoll to resign and were surprised to receive his letter.
They concluded Driscoll had “been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner,” but had “never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.”
Mars Hill’s leadership had concluded that Driscoll had not been disqualified because he had “never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy”. Talk about setting the bar low. Immorality, illegality, and heresy are not only causes for disqualification, but church discipline and potentially excommunication. Are we to understand that a leader has not disqualified himself unless he is guilty of immorality, illegality or heresy? Like I said earlier, this is not a problem with Mars Hill alone, but this is what our culture of pragmatism has come to. We can fire an “ineffective” pastor who teaches faithfully and leads in a godly manner, but who has not seen significant growth. Yet “effective” pastors are given license for thousands of evils that simply fall short of immorality, illegality or heresy. These are not the standards for disqualification. We have lowered our views on nearly everything ecclisiological. From church membership, preaching, and discipline to qualifications and disqualifications of pastors. But the Bible is not silent on these topics, as we have been, there are standards sprinkled about the Bible, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2 contain the most well known but they are everywhere in both testaments, ultimately we can sum them up in asking the following question: “is this how Jesus would lead?”
A pastor, biblically speaking, is an under-shepherd, that is, an assistant of the Chief Shepherd. Under-shepherds guide and lead under the authority of the Chief Shepherd. They only have authority insofar as it is given by the Chief Shepherd. They are meant, not to shepherd out of their strengths or in their own manner, but they shepherd in the strength and manner of the Chief Shepherd. In what manner, then, does Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, lead his Church?
The Nature of Biblical Leadership
Jesus leads as the servant king. That is, Jesus’ leadership is authoritative and assertive, but is gentle and compassionate, and certainly never arrogant, assertive, or domineering. Jesus’ leadership is of a kind that causes him to bear the shame of those he leads, it causes him to willingly take a beating and be bloodied so that those he leads—his Church, his bride—may be presented spotless. Think about that, we can be presented spotless before our Father because Jesus allowed himself to be dirtied with the his own blood. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul calls all believer, and one must think especially the leaders, to be humble as Christ was, Paul writes:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
God is not glorified in our arrogance, Christ is not imaged or exalted by the simple refraining from immorality, illegality or heresy. I do not say this to be another mud slinger, or Driscoll critic. I have been both at different points and in many ways I regret things I have said about other brothers who I saw, in my own arrogance, and misguided and wrong, for those times I apologize. I write this post now because of what this situation means. Mars Hill was once heralded as a citadel of reformed theology, the epitome of returning to the reformation as signified by long winded exegetical preaching and a brazen Calvinism in an age of airy spirituality. The sermons have drifted from exegesis focus to rant focus, the reformed theology has been mostly abandoned with the the exception of the TULIP soteriology. The good Driscoll has done has now become overshadowed in many sectors of Christian culture. I the words of Tim Keller, “In the Internet age, Mark Driscoll definitely built up the evangelical movement enormously… But the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships—which he himself has confessed repeatedly—was obvious to many from the earliest days, and he has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”
We ought to pray that Mark serves us as an example, let us try and avoid that which entrapped him. But let us not forget, as wall, that it is only by God’s grace that we are not standing in his place. Furthermore, it is by God’s grace, and not its absence, that Mark stands where he does now, let us pray for him as he is a brother and fellow worker that God used mightily, and maybe, time will tell, God still has plans for Mark and his ministry.
Thanks for reading,