My friend Jim Henderson has been playing the base drum for several years now… a steady deep voice that kept social media pressure on Mark Driscoll, one of the founding pastors of the recently defunct Mars Hill Church. For a period of time I was one of many people who enjoyed Driscoll’s video sermons.
I never liked his theology, mind you. I was disgusted by his apparent love of the hell doctrine, once in grace, always in grace, etc. But as I’ve found with a lot of preachers, the “how to live” and “value of faith in Christ” parts of a Bible-believing preacher’s message deliver value, even though I must personally filter out the parts that I feel demonstrate ignorance of how much love God plans to unleash on the unbelieving world in the future.
For me, I stopped listening to Driscoll after I heard him on video in an over the top rant against men who abuse their wives. (Not that I’m at all soft on that issue). The out-of-control anger he displayed, combined with his method of preaching on the subject of marital sex in his Song of Solomon series, made me realize that there was something significantly wrong with his spirit. He was totally hateful in his message against the guys he was trying to correct… and it made me realize that therefore, he can’t truly be in touch with God’s grace, though he talks about it a lot. And the human, emotional anger he showed in that outburst made me begin to suspect that he is guilty of this very kind of emotional if not physical abuse toward others, perhaps even his own family.
I have never been abusive toward my wife. Never guilty of violence of speech or action. But in my ministry I had been convicted in past years of being too strident at times in my rhetoric, too focused on argumentation. Then, about 15 years ago, I got called up short by Paul’s counsel to Timothy: “The servant of the Lord MUST NOT STRIVE.” Paul insists to gentle Timothy that he must be gentle to all. When I saw that I was being too combative in all my ministry efforts, I repented and have attempted ever since to be at peace with all, including those who oppose me unfairly or dishonestly.
Now I firmly believe that there is no category of sinner that a preacher has the right to eviscerate. Jude, Jesus’ brother uses an archangel as an example to state that even if we are speaking directly to the Enemy, we must stop short of “railing accusation”. If even archangels are cautious, “The Lord rebuke you” is all the power we need to wield. This must be what Alexander Pope had in mind when he wrote, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” In my view Driscoll’s violent speech disqualified him as a servant of the Lord. And I have not listened to him since.
A year or two after I made that decision, my friend Jim Henderson stepped up his efforts to pull Driscoll out of his lair by publicly challenging him to engage in a mediated dialog with Paul Young… a godly man whom I have the privilege of calling a friend. After all, Driscoll had gone after Paul publicly with ad hominem attacks in his sermons. Driscoll refused, but Young didn’t use his opportunity to speak against Driscoll. Which is as it should be. Ad hominem is always wrong, and godly men [almost] never engage in it.
Though I’ve occasionally worried that Jim was stepping on the ragged edge of ad hominem with Driscoll, I have cut Jim slack because he spent 25 years as a pastor, and he knows the disease of pride when he sees it. He has a personal aversion to the damage a bully can do… and he knew from his wide personal correspondence just how much damage Driscoll was inflicting on his congregants. Also, my own experiences with dishonest people in the church, and the great difficulty of making them accountable for their actions, caused me to be sympathetic to Jim in his campaign to keep people aware and alarmed about the activities of the Mars Hill leaders.
For most of the last 2 years Warren Throckmorton has picked up the gauntlet, providing a journalist’s sober observations of Driscoll’s activities. Jim has mostly been able to provide links to Warren’s blog, which has been a wealth of insight into what has really been happening. When the ship finally cracked open, and the people he has victimized began to go public with the facts, I followed it with interest, and not a few sympathetic tears.
And now that there is a legal push to bring the Mars Hill corporation to accountability before it can bury its tracks behind a dissolution of its assets, Jim is being accused of being a hypocrite on a scale that compares to Driscoll. And I feel compelled to speak up.
First, a humorous poem from Piet Hein on the issue of evil speaking:
AN ETHICAL GROOK
and I hear
and I speak no evil;
within my breast;
yet quite without
a man to the Devil
one may be
to hope for the best.
The best, which both Jim in his public opposition and I in my private resistance hope for, is repentance. Not the sleazy metamelomai that we all saw when Driscoll spoke a few months ago, but a true metanoia … a change of mind and action which has yet to happen. If and when it comes, healing can begin.
Until then, expressions of sentiment like those in the “Open Letter to Jim Henderson” [below] are counterproductive, in my view.
Alex Crane writes:
(skipping down to the scriptural issues he raises:)…
I read most of your posts eagerly looking for any shred of evidence that you would like to see Mark Driscoll redeemed. You have given no such indication.
I believe you are very wrong in your attitudes towards Mark. While I do not expect anyone to excuse Marks wrongdoings, I do expect them to respond in a respectful, Biblical manner. The governing scriptures are as follows:
2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Luke 17:2-4 If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
Galations 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Romans 14:1-23 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
I hope you see the theme here. Moving on from here, I am going to ask a couple of questions, and I would like an honest answer.
I skipped over the more accusatory elements of Alex’s remarks and wish to address instead his suggestions of relevant scriptures.
The 2 Thessalonians texts tell Christians to avoid contact with “unruly” people. Perhaps Alex is suggesting that Jim is unruly for speaking up about the Mars Hill situation? I would argue that unruliness as Paul used the term means not working for a living, but instead living off of other brethren. I think that describes Mark Driscoll perfectly, since he got something approaching a million a year from his congregants, and evidenced has surfaced that he colluded with others to fraudulently extract donations that enriched the inner circle through the “Global Fund” campaign. He also used the church’s money to promote his book, which contained documented plagiarism (a form of theft) and produced personal income for him. Unruly people according to Paul’s definition should be disciplined and if they do not change, excommunicated. Paul knew that this would be the way the “man of sin” would expand its work and gain control of the church once the apostles were off the scene. And so it was.
The Luke text advocates open rebuke. Since Driscoll has refused any contact with his accusers, the only way to rebuke him is through the social media. Has Driscoll repented? Everything I have seen is the most transparent kind of sham repentance.
The 1 John 2 text states that we must love God’s people. People who do what Driscoll did do not act like God’s people, and if they are attached to the church of Jesus, need to be rebuked. “[Leaders] that sin [publicly], rebuke before all.” Dozens, hundreds of witnesses have come forward in godly ways to share the damage Driscoll has done to them. He has no shred of righteous authority left to hide behind.
The Romans 14 text is not relevant as it is talking about matters of conscience that are not clear moral imperatives. It is aimed at Christians who tend to get judgmental of their brethren over issues that do not have a clear mandate in scripture, or which have a dispensational dimension. For example, some Christians believe that worship on the 7th day is a dispensational truth. Neither side of a controversy like that has the authority to judge their brethren for either accepting or rejecting that practice… it is clearly a case of individual conscience.
The 2 Timothy and Galatians texts provide basic guidance for how to deal as leaders with assembly brethren who are immature in their moral growth. They don’t really address the appropriate tactics for an egregious case of pride run amok who has gathered the momentum of a freight train and is hell-bent on imposing his will on thousands of people.
Driscoll has run afoul of the most basic commands of scripture. All of the admonitions of Paul and Peter and John and Jude together barely scratch the surface of what to do as a called-out assembly (which was all the early church ever was) when a wolf is at the controls. Jesus said “by their fruits you shall know them.” He warned that in the Day there would be MANY who would say, “Lord, we did many wonderful works in your name”… and he will say “I never knew you.” So take your pick. Let’s hope Jesus never knew Mark Driscoll. Then he’ll be resurrected with the rest of the world of mankind and learn Christianity the right way… with love and acceptance of all. Or, if you think Mark was once a godly Christian and went rogue, you might want to look at how Jude intoned against those who were “twice dead, plucked up by the roots”. I prefer to think Mark is just a product of a whole system that has a corrupt view of Jesus that is popular but not really imbued with our Lord’s saving grace.
How should we as Christians react toward those who claim to be Christ’s but who lie, defraud, use violence and vituperative language, browbeat the consciences of those who do not approve of liberal sexual practices, steal other people’s words, reputations, and money, etc. — all of which appears to be what Driscoll has done? … Pray for them, expose their evil deeds, and courageously warn others about them, as the Apostles did by name in several cases, and as Jim Henderson and Warren Throckmorton have done.
But don’t give up on Christian fellowship. Don’t abandon “church”. Abandon Churchianity, but stay in fellowship with godly people who have made Jesus the Lord of their lives in actual fact. Christianity has ALWAYS been a “little flock.” Don’t throw out the tiny baby of real disciples with the ocean that God is draining right now… an ocean of worldly, unregenerate Christians-in-name-only.
As for Driscoll, anything he gets from his victims and the courts and the public exposure of his misuse of his pulpit is well deserved in my view… and probably a mild foreshadowing of the shellacking he will get on the judgment day. Fortunately the true God is much more forgiving than the one he preaches and tweets about. Mark has so much good that he has done, and if he doesn’t come to real repentance in this life I am confident he will in the next. When he learns, when he grows, will all depend on how much real manliness he can show.
And Alex? I’m confident God will give you more experiences that help you have a more discerning view of the antics of misguided Christians. It won’t be fun but it will be valuable. In a separate post, I’ll address the 4 questions you ask Jim.