Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Mark Driscoll

Given that almost every evangelical blogger has already feasted on this subject, I had determined not to join the fray. But, in my study to preach 1 Thessalonians 5:14,15 I encountered a happy providence: the need for what I was learning and endeavoring to teach our Grace family was being illustrated on a grand scale as sides were being drawn over Mark Driscoll's use of what many think is corse and lewd language in his exposition of Song of Solomon.

For those of you who are new to this controversy, here's a very, very brief summary: In the past few years, Mark Driscoll (pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle) has had occasion to teach several times from Song of Solomon. In particular, he preached a sermon in Scotland in which he used descriptive language that many have deemed inappropriate at best, and vulgar and pornographic at worst. John MacArthur has penned a 4 part blog entry soundly critiquing Driscoll (you can read it at John Piper, in recent Q & A at Begg's "Basics" conference labeled Driscoll's use of explicit language as "horrible". On the other side of the field are the many for whom Driscoll is simply being authentic, real, and genuinely pastoral as he humorously and directly calls Christ-followers to the joys, and God-approved pleasures of oral sex, stripping, and other sexual delights within the bounds of marriage.

For any interested in my take, here it is: My biggest problem is with Driscoll's exegesis of Song of Solomon. He makes the text say stuff that the author doesn't say. The book is filled with mystery and nuance, but Driscoll insists that the author is speaking in graphic terms. What the book describes with art and beauty and literary restraint, Driscoll describes in undressed language. He simply does not teach the book the way it was written.

Secondly, I too agree that Driscoll's method of communication was simply wrong. One of the necessities in biblical preaching is to fit the means of communication to the message being communicated. As I tried to explain in a previous post (Nobility, Approachability, and the Vitality of Truth), MacLuhan was correct in challenging us to understand that "the medium is the message." By choosing the low road in terms of language in order to be what he considers "real", Driscoll has actually drained the nobility, mystery, and sanctity out of marital intimacy in the Biblical book (Song of Solomon) where marital intimacy is most nobly, honorably, and reverently described.

Thirdly, I disagree with Driscoll's premise, in the first place, that such direct and explicit language, mixed in with sexual humor, is needed in teaching Song of Solomon, and here's why: In taking a "Sex and the City" approach to the "mystery" of marriage, it appears that Driscoll feels the great problem in today's evangelical world is that we have a wrong view of sex. Our view is much to high, too reverent, to noble, to stuffy, too respectable. But, is it true that the pressing challenge among the 20- and 30-somethings is that their view of sex is too lofty, too noble, to serious? That their attitudes toward sexual intimacy in marriage are too narrow, to restrictive? That the great need is for preachers to provide a more blatantly explicit and humorous view of sex since the world around us just isn't doing enough of that? That our audiences are so narrow in their sexual views and experiences that we have to pry them out of their puritanical ways, and expose them to the fact that sex is really great? O wait, seems to me that the very wallpaper of our world is blatant sexuality, and the voice of society is constantly screaming at us to throw off all restraint and drink deeply and often from the fountain of sexual pleasure.

Do we really think - as preachers called of God - that we have to make sex sexier? Is our call really to get the wives of our congregation to think, talk and act "dirtier", and our husbands to demand a wider array of sexual pleasures? Funny, but I think our world is already doing that at such an alarming rate that what God intended to be an act of mutual communion, caring, and companionship has become a competition for ever-increasing levels of ecstasy. Now don't get me wrong. Marital intimacy is supposed to feel good, really good! And it does! But it is the unity, not the ecstasy that lies at the heart of the "two becoming one." And to the extent that the quest for sensory pleasure erodes the mutuality of the encounter, that quest has become an idol. Further, when sexual intimacy is taught as primarily a quest for increasing ecstasy, we are laying the foundation for an idol factory in the hearts of our people.

But we still haven't gotten to my #1 concern in all this. What is ongoing between Driscoll, Piper and MacArthur will - we prayerfully hope! - turn out for the best, for the church and for the individuals involved. I am confident that, behind all the rhetoric, these are men who truly want God's best, and will find their way down the path of humility and mutual love, to a godly resolution.

So here - finally - is my main concern: Why is it that those who are trying to come alongside Mark Driscoll and hold him accountable for what is clearly an undisciplined use of language are from outside his immediate circle of ministry partners? Where are the leaders of Mars Hill? Where are the stalwarts of Acts 29? If I am clear on Paul's direction in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, it is the responsibility of those in our own circle to "admonish" (warn) those who are exhibiting an "unruly" (undisciplined) life. So, the deafening silence coming from Driscoll's own camp can only mean one of four things:
1) Those closest to Mark don't see anything wrong with the way he has consistently used explicit language and sexual humor when preaching.
2) Those closest to Mark do recognize his language and sexual humor as inappropriate but they are too zealous to protect their side, or too afraid of Mark, to do anything about it.
3) Those closest to Mark do recognize his language and sexual humor as inappropriate, and they have already taken steps to corral Mark, but it just hasn't been made public.
4)Same as 3, and it has been made public, and I just haven't heard or seen it.

I hope #3 or #4 is the truth. I really do. I have watched, read, and listened to, Mark Driscoll. I have flown my pastoral staff up to Mars Hill to meet with some of their folks to talk about ministry. I have attended one of Mars Hill's conferences. And while I have not adopted the style he exhibits, I have been benefited by his thoughts on several occasions. I believe he has a great influence, and even a good influence on many who need Jesus. And for that reason, I pray that he will more and more adopt a disciplined and appropriate way of commuicating the truth of God's Word.

Hope this helps,




At 8:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first comment is express what a restful feeling it is to lean into your pathway of thinking. I read your blogs readily anticipating clear, consise, honest, biblically accurate communication.

Secondly, after spending an entire week @ Tabot Seminary studying cases of sexual misconduct evidenced in the lives of those who were actively involved in places of Christian ministry, your blog provided a refreshing break from some of Christiandoms darkest manifestations of sin, evil, and "sexual deviancy."

There is no doubt that unchecked lustful thinking generates momentum towards lustful activity.

Further, and more the point of your topic, I thank you for holding high the wonder of
God's gift of sexual design. Poor use of language about the wonderful gift of spiritually healthy sexuality can and does mask the soft yet constant light of God's grace.


At 7:18 PM , Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

One of the best posts I have read on this topic. Thank you.

At 11:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am one of the many that have benefited from listening to Mark Driscoll's sermons. I have been very heart broken to hear that MacArthur chooses to blast Driscoll with no sign of gently and humbly coming beside him as a friend in Christ. We don't need to know MacArthur disagees with him. He is not a false prophet...he makes mistakes...we all do. And when we do, please come alongside us lovingly. It seems to me he would welcome it, but again I don't know him. Thanks for your unemotional and objective, Biblical view of the situation. I pray that Grace can be so intent on creating unity in Christ,that if any of us fail, we have friends to help instead of enemies to blast us!

At 8:28 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You missed a fifth possibility.

5.) Mark has either silenced or gotten rid of* those within his circle that disagree with him.

Don't laugh. I've seen this done before in an unhealthy church setting I had to leave. Authority can go to one's head. And some men will surround themselves with yes men.

*(Gotten rid of, as in, pressuring them out of the church, not doing them in. :) )


At 9:15 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of great dialogue here. As a single male I have to say that Mark's style of teaching appeals to me and I tire of the same old mamby pamby teaching of some pastors who are too shy to just come out and speak the truth.

But, my point is probably biased because I work for and we distribute and produce his Song of Solomon message and I LOVE IT! It's so real and I think that many marriages break up because of what people aren't saying. Sex inside of heterosexual marriage shouldn't be shameful and perhaps it's our stuffy Christian culture that has made people feel ashamed of their intimacy or desires. But what do I know really, I'm single, male and a virgin - a rare breed these days. Nothing I'm bragging about, just stating a fact - and I like Mark's interpretation of Song of Solomon as well as Tommy Nelson's and Matt Chandlers. All are great teachings on the subject and I do also appreciate this post, it was very well written without being judgmental.


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