Why it’s important to (occasionally) say something about Mark Driscoll

Yesterday, I wrote a piece challenging Mark Driscoll for comments he made during a recent interview (and after).

This was the second time in five years I’ve written specifically about him. The first was in response to a talk he gave on the emerging church in 2007.

Writing about Driscoll may be good for the blog stats (not that he has anything to worry about), but there are times I wonder whether it’s good for much else.

I mean, the pattern is all too predictable. Driscoll says something provocative, critics howl with indignation, and supporters rush to his defense. Sometimes the uproar leads to a sort-of apology from Driscoll, accompanied by not-so-apologetic comments about “taking things out of context” and “missing the point.” The offending statements are purged from Driscoll’s web properties (as was the case when he mocked “effeminate, anatomically male worship leaders” on Facebook), and everyone moves on.

I’m sure there are plenty of people caught in the middle, understandably tired of all the fuss about Driscoll. Let him do his thing; if you don’t like it, do something else.

Sitting around, just waiting to pounce on Driscoll isn’t a redemptive use of anyone’s time, but sometimes we have to say something.

Like any celebrity pastor, when Mark Driscoll addresses a wider audience, he’s speaking for all of us who wear the label “Christian,” whether we want him to or not. In Seattle, where I lived for three years, he is the most recognizable face of Christianity — to both Christians and non-Christians.

I used to say, half-joking, there are two types of Christians in Seattle: those who hang on Driscoll’s every word and those who apologize to their non-Christian friends for him.

But it’s not really a joke.

One day, a friend who attended Driscoll’s church came to me for advice. She loved a lot of things about her church but was bothered by Driscoll’s periodic rhetoric toward gays, “effeminate” men, etc. She had a gay friend who she wanted invite to church. But she had some hesitation, too. What if Driscoll made one of his famous remarks — not just expressing his view of biblical sexuality, but belittling and demeaning gays in the process?

Driscoll had been on his best behavior lately, so my friend decided to take a chance. She invited her friend. And that Sunday, Driscoll fired off yet another degrading comment about people who are gay.

You can guess how the rest of the story goes.

The thing is, I understand why Driscoll wants a manly-man version of Christianity. For too long, the dominant portrait of the Messiah (especially in American Christianity) has been of a “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” A Jesus who didn’t make a sound in the manger (at least that’s how the song goes) and didn’t veer far from this course later in life.

Or there’s the seeker-friendly Jesus, who rose to prominence in the 70s and 80s, market-tested and focus-grouped to appeal to comfortable, middle-class suburbanites.

I don’t want that Jesus either, Mark.

But when Driscoll objects that he “can’t worship a guy [he] can beat up,” he’s created yet another distortion of the real thing. His image of Jesus owes more to Fight Club than it does the Bible.

During his recent interview, Justin Brierley reminded Driscoll that Jesus was, in fact, beat up. To which Driscoll replied yeah, but Jesus is coming back so he can “give a beating.”

Yes, Jesus is coming back in glory, as a king reclaiming his rightful kingdom. That’s part of the gospel story.

But I’m not convinced Driscoll’s idea of a cosmic butt-kicking is the best way to understand the highly symbolic, apocalyptic imagery of Revelation. Even if it is, I believe Driscoll misses the point for at least two reasons.

One, he fails to understand that Jesus’ glory is a direct result of his prior humiliation (Philippians 2). He is the glorious, all-conquering king precisely because he allowed himself to get beat up and laid down his life.

Two, Driscoll doesn’t seem to realize that even if Jesus is coming back to “give a beating,” as he says, that’s not the part WE have to play. When Jesus gave his followers their marching orders, it was very much along the lines of his first coming. It was “take up your cross” and “lay down your life.” It was “turn the other cheek,” not “give your enemies a pounding” (physical or otherwise).

You can talk about Jesus’ mighty return all you want. But it’s his first coming, not the second, that shapes our mission now and how we are called to live.

To say otherwise is to miss the point of the gospel, the “good news” that was meant to be liberation for all.

Those in the neo-Reformed community, to which Driscoll belongs, talk a lot about “getting the gospel right.” But when your picture of Jesus starts to look more like a Xander Cage/William Wallace/Batman figure… when your presentation excludes and demeans others, simply because they don’t conform to your definition of manly… then you haven’t gotten the gospel right.

And that’s why sometimes, we have to say something.

4 thoughts on “Why it’s important to (occasionally) say something about Mark Driscoll

  1. Pingback: Shock-jock pastor meets the full (but not so manly) might of the British Empire « Ben Irwin's blog

  2. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, here in Houston we have Joel O. I would love to see a celebrity Deathmatch between Mark and Joel. Mark might have the muscles, but Joel might blind Mark with his smile while his hair does the rest. It could be very entertaining.

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  3. Mark Driscoll says he can’t “worship a guy [he] can beat up,” so he conveniently created god in his own image. Driscoll is a macho man, and so is his Jesus!

    Personally, I like to think of Jesus with giant eagles wings, and singin’ lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like an angel band, and I’m in the front row and I’m hammered drunk! #dearbabyjesus

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