Do Driscoll's Enablers Need to Take Some Blame?

Of course, this post has the potential to sound like I told you so. I didn’t, actually. I never saw the appeal of Driscoll partly because celebrity pastors have never appeared to be serious. If you grow up with Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell on the airwaves, maybe you build up immunity. So I have not read or heard Driscoll. And I never issued warnings about his teachings (except for taking issue with the larger phenomenon of the hip church and pastor). Once news came out about his clairvoyance or plagiarism or off-color remarks (whether under pseudonym or not), it looked like Driscoll was mainly hype.

For that reason, his recent difficulties make nary a ripple among Old Calvinists.

What is intriguing is to see the way that Driscoll’s allies seem to be unwilling to own up to their own errors in judgment. Paul Tripp, for instance, wrote a letter of resignation to the Mars Hill board:

I love the gospel of Jesus Christ. I love the church of Jesus Christ. I love pastors. I love working with churches to help them form a leadership culture that is shaped by the same grace that is at the center of the message that they preach.

It’s because of this love that I accepted the position on Mars Hill Church’s BoAA. But it became clear to me that a distant, external accountability board can never work well because it isn’t a firsthand witness to the ongoing life and ministry of the church.

Such a board at best can provide financial accountability, but it will find it very difficult to provide the kind of hands-on spiritual direction and protection that every Christian pastor needs.

Is it really a problem of distance? What did it take not to see even from Philadelphia that Driscoll was an accident not waiting to happen but already an accident? I don’t write this necessarily to congratulate myself (only Jonathan Edwards’ powers of introspection can tell for sure). But why did folks like Tripp give Driscoll such a long leash for so long?

The same goes for someone equally geographically challenged:

Driscoll is a great communicator. He studied stand-up comedians in order to learn how to communicate to the modern generation and he succeeded. His performance is slick, passionate and entertaining. And he does communicate the Bible – it is not just the typical tele-evangelist styles of a few homespun stories, mixed in with some Bible verses and a bit of prophetic/pathetic shouting. I know many people who have been helped through his teaching of God’s Word – and I include myself in that number. For several years I subscribed to his podcast, although for the past three I have stopped listening, maybe because I felt I knew more about his family and church than I did my own! It also gets tiring to listen to someone who takes an hour and 15 minutes to say what could be said in 15. And what’s with the schoolboy obsession with sex? Anyone who preaches three lengthy series on the Song of Solomon as a sex manual for Christians has got things a wee bit out of sync! Most of us grow out of ‘the shock jock’ tactic of ‘Look how freely I can speak about sex’. Those of my female friends who complained about his misogyny were not being too ‘sensitive’ – they were right. I say that as someone who shares Driscoll’s complementarian theology but not his mistaken cultural application of that theology.

Driscoll was desperate to be an author. But he just isn’t. He can preach, inspire and motivate, but he is not a writer. He told me that a US Christian publishing company had offered him a seven-figure sum to have a series of books ghost-written in his name. He resisted that temptation then, although sadly he seems to have succumbed to something similar later. If what he told me about the Christian publishing company was true, then we need to repent at setting up a system that just apes the world – complete with our own charts, publicity machines and commercialised insanity.

Could Driscoll actually preach? Could Billy Sunday? Or was his appeal partly that of a performer, especially one who grew up like his audience listening to shock jocks?

The ordinary means of grace are truly ordinary and sometimes come administered by men who are not telegenic or charismatic or great orators. But that’s not the point. If they actually preach the word and keep themselves out of the way of Scripture, they do far more good than fellows like Driscoll even on his good days. As Calvin wrote:

God might have acted, in this respect, by himself, without any aid or instrument, or might even have done it by angels; but there are several reasons why he rather chooses to employ men. First, in this way he declares his condescension towards us, employing men to perform the function of his ambassadors in the world, to be the interpreters of his secret will; in short, to represent his own person. Thus he shows by experience that it is not to no purpose he calls us his temples, since by man’s mouth he gives responses to men as from a sanctuary. Secondly, it forms a most excellent and useful training to humility, when he accustoms us to obey his word though preached by men like ourselves, or, it may be, our inferiors in worth. Did he himself speak from heaven, it were no wonder if his sacred oracles were received by all ears and minds reverently and without delay. For who would not dread his present power? who would not fall prostrate at the first view of his great majesty? who would not be overpowered by that immeasurable splendour? But when a feeble man, sprung from the dust, speaks in the name of God, we give the best proof of our piety and obedience, by listening with docility to his servant, though not in any respect our superior. Accordingly, he hides the treasure of his heavenly wisdom in frail earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7), that he may have a more certain proof of the estimation in which it is held by us.

47 thoughts on “Do Driscoll's Enablers Need to Take Some Blame?

  1. “The ordinary means of grace are truly ordinary and sometimes come administered by men who are not telegenic or charismatic or great orators. But that’s not the point. If they actually preach the word and keep themselves out of the way of Scripture, they do far more good than fellows like Driscoll even on his good days.”

    Every P&R pastor should hang this quote on their wall.

    That’s gold, [Darryl]. Gold!

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  2. Why is John Piper getting a pass?

    Piper helped Driscoll get his mainstream makeover, Driscoll went from being Emergent Church’s Cussing Pastor to the Missional New Calvinist Poster boy all thanks to John Piper.

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  3. Driscoll got a lot of attention because he was not only reaching “the city”, but the overwhelmingly secular city of Seattle. Hmmmm, who else lays claim to reaching and overwhelmingly secular, world-class City?

    That, and he was hip and edgy in ways that most white, middle class, middle aged pastors would look silly trying to emulate.

    In short, he was a rock star, but like all rock stars, he came with rock star baggage.

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  4. When I was looking for the Driscoll clip I ran across this one by Tim Keller on homosexuality. Talk about tying yourself in knots. Homosexuality is wrong because it doesn’t further human flourishing? Just grow a set and say it’s a violation of God’s design of the human body and the Ten Commandments.

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  5. “Accordingly, he hides the treasure of his heavenly wisdom in frail earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7), that he may have a more certain proof of the estimation in which it is held by us.”

    Well, that’s certainly Driscoll.

    The whole equation makes even more sense in the Arminian fashion, that flawed as he is, Driscoll brings souls to Christ, say no less than the rest of such highly flawed vessels in history. Driscoll can pierce brains and hearts that your rather droll and theoretical version of Christianity cannot.

    Still, even for a Calvinist [per Calvin above], there seems no theological problem, that God would use such a blunt instrument

    Why did you hit your mule over the head with that two-by-four?
    Well, first you’ve got to get his attention.

    is appropriate, even divinely necessary.

    As I’m a student of your religion, I’ve been following the attacks [great and small, mostly small] on Driscoll from Warren Throckmorton, et al., who have made common cause with the enemies of the Gospel more than with its friends. DGH is in top form with

    What did it take not to see even from Philadelphia that Driscoll was an accident not waiting to happen but already an accident?

    when questioning fellow Calvinists. Arminians could say ‘at least he’s saving souls,’ but in your theology, those souls are already saved. I continue to observe with interest.

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  6. Chortles weakly
    Posted August 19, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink
    Tom Troll, if I weren’t such a big softie slobbering love bucket I’d say what we have here is world-class tool defending a world-class tool.

    Chortles Weakly Sycophant, you just blew your fuse. Truth is, you’re all world-class tools. Some of you are just better than others at it.

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  7. Watching the horror show led by three or four contributors the last ten days, Tom seems like a helpful guest here…

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  8. It was refreshing to come across this post — maybe the point is made elsewhere but I haven’t seen it. “Leaders” who go astray are only leaders because there are those willing to follow. M-L Jones makes the point in a number of places that congregations, as well as pastors, have responsibilities that are serious in pursuing truth.

    Driscoll was a student body president while he was in college; he has continued in that mode ever sense. He is continually running for re-election, for a mandate, for validation and followers. The thinker he follows most closely is Peter Drucker; he is, in the end, an organization man, not a church man. He has attracted, for the most part, those who appreciate a good organization and their appetite for that has enabled him to enjoy a large degree of variability in content. Thanks for a great post.

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  9. After 40 years or so in Christian churches I’ve come to the point that when I encounter a charismatic, strong-willed pastor, of whatever stripe, I run the other way. Just not doing church that way ever again.

    Give me a humble guy who just goes about his business, doing the routine things, letting Jesus be the star of the show.

    I think what Tom is missing is that the charismatic minister almost always does more harm than good in the long run. Charles Finney also brought about lots of conversions…allegedly.

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  10. D.G.,

    Turning a blind eye to those kind of flaws is fine, although hopefully a consistory is working with their pastor to help him improve on what can be improved.

    Turning a blind eye to the kinds of flaws that Driscoll was alleged to have had will only come back to bite a consistory, though. They need to be dealt with.

    Part of the problem is that “Reformed” Driscoll had no Consistory, Presbytery, or Classis to which he was truly accountable, which demonstrates the problem with people who claim to be Reformed while at the same time dispensing with Reformed church polity.

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  11. EC, gotcha. And the problem that Driscoll’s followers did not recognize was a desire for fame. My followers have the same problem. But for me, since fame hasn’t come, I’m holy.

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  12. “We ought, therefore, to rejoice if God   accomplishes anything that is good by means of wicked persons; but they ought not on that account to be either placed by us in the ministry, or looked upon as Christ’s lawful ministers.”

    Calvin, Commentary on Philippians 1:18

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  13. DGH – I greatly appreciate this post, because I’ve been in the PCA for about 20 years, and for the past 7 or 8, I’ve seen quite a number of young pastors in our emulating Driscoll.

    In my previous church, which I left because of the “purposed driven church” template approach to discipleship that got infused, along with the influx of the CEO/business leadership model. Added to with both of those were pastoral personalities that were more and more being modeled off of Driscoll.

    I know we’ve had our disagreements about TKNY, but Driscoll (and Rick Warren/Bill Hybels) have been far more negative role models for the misguided wing of the PCA.

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  14. Driscoll’s enablers definitely deserve just admonition and remonstrance. Particularly John Piper, who was sent to “mentor” Driscoll, yet Driscoll seems to have royally rubbed off on Piper, and Piper allowed himself to have numerous “cool hip” pastors use him, or refer to him for validation.

    Based on numerous typically bizarre “tweets,” particularly recently, John Piper, the apostle to Mars, seems to have picked up the “sex therapy” schtik.

    But good luck trying to have any godly man of stature render to Piper the strong rebuke he richly deserves. Piper seems to have an almost personality cult like following, and too many people have him nearly idolized. Too many put way more energy into vilifying anyone who properly calls out Piper, and other Driscoll enablers, than they seem to have toward keeping the precious gospel of our Lord Jesus presented and free of reproach.

    “I LOVE Mark Driscoll’s theology!” – John Piper

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  15. DG – Yes, I think TKNY has enabled Driscoll through The Gospel Coalition. While I still have admiration for the work Keller has done at the local church level in NY, I think both he and Carson are way too “hands off” in monitoring what goes on over at the TGC and seeing the impacts that TGC’s activities have on the culture of the broader evangelical church.

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  16. I think that the perception that Keller and Carson are hands-off at TGC is precious. I think they have managed a perception that they are somehow just other fellows in an orbit there, but if you think anything gets posted there that they aren’t fully managing, you don;t know them very well.

    Ask yourself this: why was the first volley (maybe the only volley) from TGC toward Driscoll issued by Jared Wilson? Because he’s the one good man (and I grant you: he’s a nice fellow), or because that’s literally the least they could do without doing nothing at all? Why the least-influential guy on staff writing the “please Mark repent” letter?

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  17. DGH, containing the damage from the Driscoll fallout is a huge deal. At least on this issue, I suspect Frank is right. Too many $ involved.

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  18. Dan, I don’t think so.
    TGC cut ties with Driscoll a while back. They haven’t had anything to do with him for a while. They have no stake at this point in time.
    And believe me, neither Carson or Keller have any editorial duties or day to day oversight with regard to the staff at TGC. You’ve got Ben Peays (very nice guy) and Collin Hansen (decent, but fairly clueless) providing the leadership there. None of TGC staffers are as richly educated as either Carson or Keller. Some of the contributors (like Wilson and DeYoung) pastor, elder or deacon experience, but the staffers (who provide editorial oversight) are very green and lack quite a bit of discernment.

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  19. I also forgot to mention the chief enabler: the Acts29 organization which allowed Driscoll to use their ministry to build his own personality cult. People associated with A29 just wanted to believe that his sinful behaviors were outweighed by other attributes that he brought to their ministry — compromise. They proactively promoted Driscoll for years. I think that’s why it was such a big deal when they severed ties.

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  20. Jay, the repercussions from the Driscoll fiasco have had a serious impact on the business side of the publishing industry and will continue to do so. How widespread it will be is the immediate question, but I doubt the last shoe has dropped.

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  21. Keller throws MD under the bus in the NYT. What took him so long?

    “He was really important — in the Internet age, Mark Driscoll definitely built up the evangelical movement enormously,” said Timothy Keller, the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and one of the most widely respected evangelical intellectuals in the United States. “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.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/23/us/mark-driscoll-is-being-urged-to-leave-mars-hill-church.html

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  22. Looks like another celebrity pastor may have an even larger collection of enablers than Driscoll:

    The papacy is swaddled in sycophancy in the best of times. Add to that the exultant adulation induced by celebrity culture. It is a heady mix that can beguile a decent man into a grandiose conception of himself that blinds him to the limits of his office. And encourages conceit in his own sympathies.

    Francis’ excursion into Middle East politics illustrated the danger of a pope assuming office as a saint-in-waiting. His incautious behavior ought to have received more scrutiny from the Catholic press than it did. Instead, the amen chorus crooned about peace, prayer, and fraternal dialogue, as if fine words pull the sting from the scorpion’s tail.

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  23. Erik Charter
    Posted August 20, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink
    After 40 years or so in Christian churches I’ve come to the point that when I encounter a charismatic, strong-willed pastor, of whatever stripe, I run the other way. Just not doing church that way ever again.

    Give me a humble guy who just goes about his business, doing the routine things, letting Jesus be the star of the show.

    I think what Tom is missing is that the charismatic minister almost always does more harm than good in the long run. Charles Finney also brought about lots of conversions…allegedly.

    I hear you on all this, Erik. But I’m not sure you get me here.

    My point directed at your Calvinistic cabal here is that according to your own theology, “conversions” do not exist. “A humble guy who just goes about his business, doing the routine things, letting Jesus be the star of the show” is all that’s necessary.

    Just keep the doors open and God handles the rest. In fact, He’ll keep the doors open. Discipleship is a turnkey operation, really.

    Like

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