A Troubling Perspective on The Gospel Coalition (but what a lot of people have been saying)

Dane Ortland is very positive on the recent Gospel Coalition conference, especially his dad:

Really appreciated Matt Boswell’s leadership of the singing. That was one of my favorite things about the event. Don Carson on John 11 was rich indeed. Tim Keller on the new birth: typically insightful. Paul Tripp on suffering: deep wisdom. The best thing I heard all week was my dad’s talk ‘Pastor, Your Church Can Become Healthy Again.’ I wish everyone at the conference could have heard it. Searching, deepening, eye-opening, emboldening.

Scorecard results:

Carson – rich
Keller – typical
Tripp – deep
Ortland – bold

Then this:

I wonder what all of us who support TGC can do to consciously work against this great enterprise being quietly taken down by the flesh. Human nature being what it is, it seems to me virtually inevitable that an event such as this, with well-known speakers, and a big crowd, and a green room, and preachers quickly and quietly escorted around, provides a unique venue for venting the flesh, for schmoozing, for preening and parading–unless we deliberately fight against it. Left in neutral, we will slide toward worldliness; church history, the Bible, and honest self-knowledge all confirm this, unpleasant as the thought is.

Green room for celebrity preachers? Not standing in line with the hordes for donuts? Preening and parading? Sounds like the slide is already happening.

Hint: it has a lot to do with celebrity.

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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.