Tribalists All

While six middle-aged men continue to receive their comeuppance for challenging the soundness of rap and hip-hop, the imbroglio over whether Mark Driscoll plagiarized Peter Jones continues. (I don’t know why people are not debating whether Driscoll should even be writing books.) Miles Mullin writes a gloomy assessment of evangelicalism thanks to the structural problems that the Driscoll affair reveals:

Because of the personality-driven leadership inherent in contemporary evangelicalism, the tribalism it nurtures, and the reality that most of American evangelicalism subsists in some variation of the free church tradition, the final outcome of this story is clear. There is no authority that can adjudicate this matter other than the authority upon which both Driscoll and Mefferd have built their ministries: evangelical popular opinion. . . . Thus, regardless of whether or not Mark Driscoll truly plagiarized in A Call to Resurgence(and other books) or whether Janet Mefferd lied about Driscoll hanging up, their tribes will defend them to the end.

This is the troubling reality of the personality-based leadership that encompasses much of American evangelicalism. Often, charisma and dynamic communication skills trump character and integrity as popular appeal wins the day. And for those of us who wish it were otherwise, there is no court of appeal with the authority to hear our case.

I am not sure about the distinction between charisma and dynamic communication on the one side and character and integrity on the other. In the world of mass media no one has the kind of personal knowledge that allows us to tell whether a figure has any more character and integrity than he does charisma and rhetorical skills. Someone who actually holds an office of authority could function as an umpire in such a dispute. And said office-holder would have authority no matter what his gifts or integrity (unless of course he broke the rules that pertained to his office). In other words, an ecclesiastical officer could decide this matter (as well as an officer of the court) if Driscoll were part of a church overseen by officers who assented to church authority.

Now I can see where some might think this takes me, right in the direction of Jason and the Callers’ boy-have-we-got-a-solution-for-you appeal to papal supremacy. And that is exactly where I’d like to go since it seems to (all about) me that without temporal authority the pope’s spiritual office has descended to the levels of charisma, rhetorical skills, integrity, and character. Before Vatican 2 the papacy could claim greater authority and generally commanded it. But since the 1950s with the greater prosperity of Roman Catholics in the U.S. and greater academic accomplishments by Roman Catholic scholars, even papal supremacy does not command the conformity that it once did when the people prayed, paid, and obeyed. For instance, the Vatican’s power to police Roman Catholic universities has arguably never been weaker (despite Ex Corde Ecclesiae).

Here is one recent story where Roman Catholic professors are appealing to Pope Francis’ off the cuff remarks to challenge their administrations:

Pope Francis surprised many last month following the publication of his first full-length interview, in which he offered a less doctrinaire stance on issues such as homosexuality and abortion than any of his predecessors.

“I am no one to judge,” he said in response a question about gay people, echoing previous comments he’d made to media on the topic this summer and signaling to some that the Vatican was becoming more moderate. Somewhat similarly, the pope said that the church has grown “obsessed” with doctrine — at the expense of larger spiritual matters.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” he said. “I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that.”

But within days of the publication of the Vatican-approved interview, which appeared in the U.S. in the Jesuit magazine America, several American Roman Catholic institutions took a harder line on those exact issues.

The apparent disconnect led some faculty members at Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount Universities, which recently dropped coverage for elective abortions from their standard health insurance plans, and Providence College, which banned a gay marriage advocate from speaking on campus, to wonder whether their administrations had gotten the message.

Meanwhile, the theologians whom John Paul II tried to make more accountable through Ex Corde Ecclesiae are raising questions of their own:

An international group of prominent Catholic theologians have called the church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality “incomprehensible” and are asking bishops around the world to take seriously the expertise of lay people in their preparations for a global meeting of the prelates at the Vatican next year.

Church teaching on issues like contraception and same-sex marriage, the theologians write, are based on “abstract notions of natural law and [are] outdated, or at the very least scientifically uninformed” and “are for the most part incomprehensible to the majority of the faithful.”

Addressing next year’s meeting of church leaders, known as a Synod of Bishops, they say that previous such meetings involved “only carefully hand-picked members of the laity.”

Those meetings, they write, “offered no critical voice and ignored abundant evidence that the teaching of the church on marriage and sexuality was not serving the needs of the faithful.”

Of course, an apologist could say that this changes nothing. The pope is still in charge. Which of course is true in a sense. But his being-in-chargedness is not exactly evident in large sectors of the church, any more than Protestants have some way to adjudicate the Driscoll affair. And if we recall how popular Francis is compared to Benedict XVI, the categories of charisma and character turn out to be as crucial for a pope’s clout in the modern church as it is for celebrity pastors among Protestants.

Which is just one way of saying that in the modern world where churches are “merely” spiritual institutions, without backup from the state — the real power in contemporary affairs, Roman Catholics and Protestants are both shooting blanks. (Eastern Orthodox may be different when you can have titles like this one — His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch.) And that may explain why so many popes, now regarded as being products of time and place, the ones who oversaw Inquisitions, abducted Jewish boys, and condemned all aspects of modern social life, had a point. If they were going to retain their power, it needed to be powerfully palpable and visible.

31 thoughts on “Tribalists All

  1. His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch


    Yeah, how our church manages to retain anyone when all we give ’em is “teaching elder” is a mystery. Something else must be drawing the few and the proud to the ranks of OPC ministry..hmm….


  2. Miles Mullin laments: Often, charisma and dynamic communication skills trump character and integrity as popular appeal wins the day. And for those of us who wish it were otherwise, there is no court of appeal with the authority to hear our case.

    This is a feature, not a bug.


  3. I agree with the point about whether Driscoll and his ilk should be writing books in the first place. The general formula as I understand it is once you get to be popular and have a big following then you are encouraged to begin writing books because they’ll sell. I mean how many books did Driscoll write and how many did he try to publish before he hit the big time? What publisher would touch anything he’d written if he had 200 people in his congregation and didnt act like a cross between a bossy older brother, a frat boy, and a grunge era punk without the hair?This seems to me exactly backwards. Those who write serious books might hit the big time because of their work, but it is unintentional and it is the work itself that is foregrounded, not the celebrity status of the author. That’s the way it should be. I mean what we’ve got today is something like the evangelical Kardashians, famous for being famous, who then monetize that unearned fame by producing commodities snapped up by their fan base. Sad. But I guess this is just the latest iteration of a longstanding problem. And just a P.S., as a teacher who has dealt with plenty of plagiarism cases, I would say that the evidence we’ve seen so far, any high school English teacher worth a dang would absolutely flag as plagiarism. But the problem is that we’re not dealing with a spoiled, immature, lazy high school student here. Or are we?


  4. Ash: I mean what we’ve got today is something like the evangelical Kardashians, famous for being famous, who then monetize that unearned fame by producing commodities snapped up by their fan base. Sad. But I guess this is just the latest iteration of a longstanding problem

    Bingo. There is an old book by Daniel Boorstin, The Image, that nailed this phenomena. The Kardashians are perfect stand ins for the example he used, the Gabor sisters. But I don’t know that it is a problem– the entertainment value is huge.


  5. “a cross between a bossy older brother, a frat boy, and a grunge era punk without the hair”

    “something like the evangelical Kardashians,”

    Zing zing. You get the Muddy seal of approval.


  6. Here is what she says:
    Before we go to break, I just want to say something really, really quickly to you. A few weeks ago, as many people know, I conducted an interview with pastor Mark Driscoll. And I received lots of feedback on that interview, both positive and negative, but I feel now that in retrospect, I should have conducted myself in a better way. I now realize the interview should not have occurred at all. I should have contacted Tyndale House directly to alert them to the plagiarism issue. And I never should have brought it to the attention of listeners publicly. So I would like to apologize to all of you and to Mark Driscoll for how I behaved. I am sorry.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate that the story would go viral online the way it did and creating such dissension with the Christian community was never my aim. And so in an effort to right things as best as I can, I have now removed all of the materials related to the interview off my website, and also off my social media.

    This explanation is no clarification. She says she is sorry about certain things – her behavior and resulting dissension – but never says she was actually wrong about the plagiarism allegation.


  7. MM – ain’t what Mefferd said kinda like what Patton said when he was forced to publicly apologize to that shell-shocked soldier he slapped around, … “I’m sorry you’re a coward.”


  8. I’ve never understood why people, especially those in NAPARC, refer to men like Doug Wilson and Mark Driscoll as “pastor”. Whatever their entrepreneurial gifts, those two particularly (guitar player turned pastor after congregation split, MA in philosophy, and a guy from Seattle, BA in speech communication) make independent baptist ordination look like apostolic succession.

    I don’t see the thing with Driscoll plagiarizing DA Carson. “But he’s making money he didn’t rightfully earn!” Yeah, well…


  9. DGH, you’re bang on here. Driscoll is a maverick, accountable to no church court. A Presbyterian setting would, at least, investigate these charges.

    With respect to the Callers anticipated appeal to Papal-supremacy, I would respnd that in matters of church discipline, Papal-supremacy is about as useful as an ash-tray on a motor bike. What is the likelihood that a plagiarising priest would be brought to Papal justice when rampant sexual molestation of minors not only goes unpunished, but is rather covered-up and even facilitated? If Driscoll was a priest (Father O’Driscoll anyone?) the worst that would happen to him is that he’d be moved to another parish where he could plagiarise someone else.

    Mind you, I suppose if he was a priest, we’d all be spared his tedious lectures/writings on sex (since he’d have to keep his sexual experiences to the confession booth).


  10. I’m not sure this is quite right. If Driscoll had advocated universalism, come out in favor of SSM, suggested that Adam isn’t historical, etc… I suspect that Evangelicals would have been quite effective at policing their own – bye-bye to evangelical book distributions, invitations to conferences, mention on evangelical radio, and links from evangelical blogs. A sort of shunning that would suck the oxygen out of what ever influence he currently has (what is Rob Bell up to these days anyway?). In this case, I think most people believe that the plagiarism accusations (even if true) just aren’t a very big deal. I mean, the next thing you’ll hear is that he was jaywalking in Seattle and driving 62mph in a 55mph zone.

    I think there are a lot of problems with Driscoll, but I have a hard time working up any kind of angst over accusations of plagiarism (the same with the recent charges brought against Rand Paul). I think Morgan & Reynold’s “Appearance of Impropriety” is apposite to the Driscoll episode – namely an obsession with ethical technicalities distracts us from more substantive matters. The chapter on plagiarism is available online.


  11. Some Christians do think it’s not a problem to use the world’s courts as long as the other folks are not Christians. When I tell a lie, is that lie my private property? Caner from Falwell’s fraud passing for a college….”university”. When an “evangelical” institution separates people from their money to start up an income-generating political machine, do we think the capitalist media will expose any of it?


  12. Mark Driscoll, Death by Love, Crossway, p 174—”All those in hell will stand reconciled to God but not in a saving way…In hell, unrepentant and unforgiven sinners are no longer rebels, and their sinful disregard for God has been crushed and ended.”

    Which is worse, the universalism of Rob Bell or the “universal atonement but without universal salvation of Mark Driscoll?

    Mark Driscoll, Death by Love, Crossway, p 174—”All those in hell will stand reconciled to God but not in a saving way…In hell, unrepentant and unforgiven sinners are no longer rebels, and their sinful disregard for God has been crushed and ended.”

    No big deal. Which “evangelical” or even “Reformed” institutions have a problem with saying that God double punishes (once in Christ’s death) those who never believe the gospel?


  13. @MM My point isn’t that Driscoll’s views aren’t problematic. Rather, it is that evangelicals can and do police their own. Their shibboleths may not be coherent (or even constant for that matter), but that’s a different problem.


  14. what is Rob Bell up to these days anyway?

    Rob Bell’s Nooma videos continue to sell as do his other books. He’s been doing lots of higher paying events. For example $35 / head speaking engagements with quite often 1000+ in attendance. Leadership seminars. He’s written a new book which is getting huge presales. I’d say he is doing fine though he’s moved into the popular liberal Christianity rather than the left wing of evangelical.


    Anyway as far as Driscoll. I think Driscoll is deservedly famous. First off he was one of the big 5 of the original emerging church along with Burke, Kimball, Pagitt and Ward. From there he became a leader of the young radical reformed movement. He taught a generation how to create a church that young men enjoyed. He started essentially his own denomination. He has real accomplishments.


  15. “Those meetings, they write, ‘offered no critical voice and ignored abundant evidence that the teaching of the church on marriage and sexuality was not serving the needs of the faithful.’”

    Church teaching is supposed to serve the needs of the faithful?

    And wouldn’t being “faithful” by definition entail obeying church teaching?

    All I can say is, thank goodness these folks are Jason & The Callers’ problem.


  16. CD – First off he was one of the big 5 of the original emerging church along with Burke, Kimball, Pagitt and Ward.

    Erik – Driscoll’s the only one I’ve even heard of.

    At least you didn’t capitalize “big”…


  17. @cdh So Bell has been pretty effectively cut out of the ev-subculture? That’s kind of my point. The “problem” revealed by the Driscoll affair isn’t structual. They have effective ways of policing their boundaries…of course they don’t police other arenas. The problem, such as it is, is the choice of sacred cows….


  18. I agree that “they” have ways. This is why we should not ever think of ourselves as “evangelicals”. Indeed, if we tell the truth about election, they have ways of excluding us from the conversation. They warn others about our being “marginal”, even though being marginal would tend to mean that there was no need for the warning.

    The gospel coalition— “It reminds me of the T-shirt, Jesus Loves You. Then Again He Loves Everybody. There’s no good news in announcing that God loves everyone in the same way just because he wants to. The good news is that in love God sent his Son to live for our lives and die for our deaths”

    mark: The evangelical structure prevents non-in-house talk about election: and cannot tell the truth that Christ did not die to satisfy justice for everybody. Evangelicals will only say that God does not love all the same, or equally. But they continue to assume that God loves every sinner.

    What’s with the ambiguity of the gospel coalition’s “just because he wants to”?

    1. God loves the elect in a holy way, not just any old way, yes.

    2. But holiness and justice do not deny that God loves “just because he wants to”. God loves because He wants to, and His nature requires justice for all those He loves. There is no love apart from Christ and His substitution for the elect. Christ has no love for the non-elect.

    3. It’s true that Christ’s death is not what causes God to love anybody, but it’s also true that God was never ever going to love any person apart from Christ and His PROPITIATORY death for that person. I John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

    The evangelical self-policing structure produces the sophistry of J I Packer.—- “god loves all in some ways and god loves some in all ways” in the Grace of God and the Bondage of the Will, volume 2, p 419


  19. @Sdb —

    Clearly Evangelical Christianity did a good job in saying that universalism was not an acceptable position for an evangelical. I’d agree 100% they policed the boundary on the heresy issue. And in general I’d say that Evangelical Christianity is doing a fantastic job in keeping doctrinal divergences rather low, which is why I find the whole Catholic attack on this issue ridiculous. The group being attacked is far less diverse than the one doing the attacking.

    IMHO Rob Bell for evangelicals is getting thrown in the “inspiring but not Christian” batch along with William Young (the Shack) or Deepak Chopra. But let’s not forget Rob Bell is selling more books than ever and making more money than ever. His suffering isn’t too great.

    IMHO in most right wing churches the membership is well to the left of the pastorate. In most left wing churches the membership is well to the right of the pastorate. That’s not nearly as much of a difference in theology between the membership as there is between the pastors. But there is a difference. So it is pretty easy for people to shift left, there is a nice continuum in American Protestantism.


  20. @Erik —

    Driscoll is far and away the one closest to OPC and thus the one who is influencing you the most. Driscoll is aiming his missional approach at men whose wives are active evangelicals that came from the evangelical tradition and/or men who are aren’t married but are evangelicals. People who think they should be going to church. Karen Ward does a lot of work on missional Christianity with people who don’t have any guilt about not going to church and often haven’t attended church in years. Someone who isn’t even guilty about not going to church and barely considers themselves Christian is not going to join an OPC congregation. And moreover if they did, they would be rejected. Driscoll is in your circle, Karen Ward is not.

    I think in practice, though not in theory, most OPCers would acknowledge that your version of Christianity has nothing to say to her membership. I personally happen to think that’s true of Acts 23 churches as well. But the difference is that your church believes that Acts 23 members are PCA/OPC potential. They are “close enough” that there is competition especially for edge cases. Since she’s not pulling from the same pool of potential members you are she doesn’t get discussed.

    Mostly Presbyterianism proper weren’t influenced by the emerging church. EC was an invention of the early years of Liberal Christianity, struggling with many of the same issues as the liberal Christians of the late 19th century struggled with. Your churches by and large are too rightwing to have that dialogue. For example early Liberal Christianity / ECism deals with “now that we see Adam as purely metaphorical how do we interpret Paul”. For your churches Adam isn’t purely metaphorical. EC was a movement that impacted Reformed Baptists somewhat, but even for them it mostly was/is going on to their left.


  21. Today’s Roman Catholic faculty got it honestly:

    Can Catholics be American and remain Catholic, rendering to Caesar the things that belong to him and rendering to God what is due to the Lord? Can Catholic universities be both bona fide centers of higher education and faithful to the Magisterium, reconciling the standards of the American University of University Professors with the Oath of Fidelity to the Church?

    This compelling book recreates the dramatic events of 1967 at Catholic University with scrupulous documentation from all the available records of personal papers, correspondence, and committee reports that represented the views and arguments of both sides of the controversy — one that divided the Church, confused the faithful, and undermined papal authority.

    These questions about loyalty and obedience naturally arose during the wake of Pope Paul VI’s controversial encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 that led to the “coup” that is the subject of this book. Led by theology professor Fr. Charles Curran, the theology faculty at Catholic University, and 500 dissenters who signed a “Statement of Dissent,” the protesters claimed: “The Encyclical is not an infallible teaching.”
    In their formal declaration of July 30, 1968, they argued: “It is common teaching in the Church that Catholics may dissent from authoritative, noninfallible teachings of the magisterium when sufficient reasons for so doing exist.”

    Fr. Mitchell’s book explains how the delicate resolution of this conflict proved to be a fatal error or tragic mistake with profound consequences. A Catholic University that attempted to negotiate a tentative peace between two irreconcilable views of the papacy eventually advanced the cause of dissent and division in the Church.

    Among those sufficient reasons for dissent, the protesters cited the testimony of many Catholic couples, the experience of Protestant denominations, and the evidence of modern science. Posing as an alternative tribunal equal in authority to papal magisterial teaching, the dissenters acted like a superior court overturning a lower court’s flawed decision: “. . . we conclude that spouses may responsibly decide according to their conscience that artificial contraception in some circumstances is permissible and indeed necessary to preserve and foster the values and sacredness of marriage.”

    This view of contraception had already appeared on the scene in the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference in the 1930s when a similar argument justified contraception in some rare cases and urgent necessities — a seemingly cautious approach that soon, however, ignored all inhibitions and accepted contraception as a modern way of life.

    Despite the flagrant disobedience to magisterial teaching, the protesters claimed fidelity to the Church in the guise of “loyal dissent.” They argued in their statement that Humanae Vitae reflected major defects such as invalid ideas about “the evil consequences of methods of birth control” and “an almost total disregard for the dignity of millions of human beings brought into the world without the slightest possibility of being fed and educated decently.”

    In short, Fr. Mitchell’s book illustrates with luminous clarity the chain of reasoning used by the dissenters to make their cause sound righteous and enlightened. The School of Theology at Catholic University and other theologians at Catholic colleges, in effect, instigated a revolt in the Church under the pretext of academic freedom and theological expertise.

    Always avowing obedience, cooperation, and a love of the Church, the dissenters acted morally justified by their disinterested pursuit of truth, their commitment to academic excellence and scholarship, and their concern for the institution of marriage. The theologians, however, de facto chose to submit to the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) as their final judge rather than to the Magisterium.
    Nonetheless, as the book reveals by its careful review of all the official statements of the major figures involved in the controversy — Msgr. Kevane, Archbishop Krol, Archbishop O’Boyle, Charles Curran, Bishop McDonald, Archbishop Hannan — the commitment to American democratic principles, the approval of the AAUP, and an emulation of the empirical methodology of the secular university informed the real unspoken agenda of the dissenters.

    Catholic University wanted to be created in the image of the Ivy League schools, and its theology professors desired to be governed by the norms of an academic establishment notorious for its skepticism of religious knowledge. The zeitgeist of the radical 1960s had infiltrated the Church, and the protesters imagined themselves both devoted Catholics and loyal Americans.


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