Outsized personalities have a way of going through identities the way a popular actor goes through roles. Classic rock fans will think of Ian Anderson as the many-costumed frontman for Jethro Tull (the best band ever, by the way), whose personas have included Fagin of Oliver Twist fame, Renaissance minstrel, gypsy piper, and English country squire.
Comparing today's celebrity pastors to rock stars isn't much of a stretch. They strut the stage like rock stars, hype the crowd like rock stars, are fastidiously disheveled like rock stars, and far too often make the headlines like rock stars. They even tour like rock stars, moving from city to city to spread their particular brand of Christianity mixed liberally with cult of personality.
Mark Driscoll has exemplified both of these trends. His persona has changed multiple times (is he emergent? Calvinist? megachurch? charismatic? evangelical?), and his propensity to do rock star things like yelling into microphones and dropping foul language while pacing the stage is legendary. So who is Mark Driscoll, and why should anybody care?
Unlike most celebrity pastors (a term which describes pastors known just as well outside their congregations as inside them), Driscoll has always maintained a strong theological emphasis. He's not afraid to call out sin where he sees it, to call himself a Calvinist, to use decidedly un-hip terms like atonement and justification, and to read lengthy passages from the Bible.
But that isn't the whole story. If it was the whole story, Mark Driscoll wouldn't be a celebrity pastor. You don't sell lots of books, get speaking engagements, and have your image plastered across the Interwebs by faithfully preaching the Word of God to your local church while taking on yourself the burdens of your people.
You get to be a celebrity pastor by being a firebrand, by causing trouble, by getting on the wrong side of one too many debates, by putting yourself on the line when you should and when you shouldn't, by calling people names and yelling too much, by using visuals during your sermons, etc. There are many paths to celebrity pastordom, but only one way to stay there.
And that is simply to keep doing those things, even when they've got you into trouble so many times it's unclear whether you're actually doing the good you initially set out to do. Mark Driscoll is clearly committed to staying in the land of celebrity pastordom, and both his fans and his critics are more or less happy for him to stay there, too.
The list of times Mark Driscoll has said or done the wrong thing is very long. From preaching a raunchy, sexually explicit sermon on the Song of Solomon to a church in Scotland, to appropriating tax-exempt funds to pay his way onto the New York Times Bestseller List for his (also sexually explicit) book Real Marriage, Driscoll has a lot to answer for.
Then there's the time he claimed to have pornographic visions of sins committed by members of his church, Mars Hill in Seattle, Washington. And the time he aired sins committed by his wife before they were married to the whole world, sins which he also says he witnessed via dream sequence years after they'd been committed.
And the many documented cases of plagiarism in his books, and at least one instance of a plagiarized sermon series (though who wouldn't want to plagiarize Tim Keller?). And the strange fact that the evidence for all of these crimes and misdemeanors has been subsequently scrubbed from any website owned or operated by Driscoll and his church.
It's no great surprise for those who've listened to many of Driscoll's yelling sermons that he also has a violent temper, a tendency to abuse and dominate the elders and laypeople beneath him, a huge ego, etc. These tendencies are attested by former elders of Mars Hill Church who have since apologized for their role in all this.
Most problematically, Driscoll's problems have manifested in his doctrine. At the infamous Elephant Room 2, Driscoll participated in a session in which the Modalist and Word of Faith heretic T. D. Jakes was rehabilitated as an orthodox Christian....without ever renouncing his heresies. Since then, Driscoll has swapped many book recommendations with the likes of Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, and their ilk, none of whom meet the qualifications for a shepherd of Christ's sheep.
This isn't meant simply to be a litany of Driscoll's sins in which we callously, hypocritically, and judgmentally castigate him for the sins that beset all of us. But because he is a pastor, Driscoll is held to a standard by Jesus Christ that he hardly seems to have met, and that has increasingly uncertain and harmful consequences to Driscoll, his church, and the wider body of Christ.
Among the many qualifications for overseers (elders, pastors) given by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are that he be "self-controlled" and "not violent but gentle" and "not quarrelsome" and "well thought of by outsiders." Preaching about sexual immorality in immoral ways, chewing people out, and plagiarizing don't meet these standards.
In the third of Paul's pastoral epistles, Titus, the apostle to the Gentiles uses an entire chapter (2:1-15) to stress the importance for pastors to preach sound doctrine. While hanging out with false teachers like Furtick and Noble isn't necessarily an abrogation of this command, implicitly telling millions of Christians that T. D. Jakes can be trusted certainly is.
Driscoll recently preached a sermon in which he made remarks that he prefaced by saying "this might be heresy." Overlooking the fact that pastors should only preach from the pulpit what they know to be the Word of God, the content of Driscoll's subsequent remarks were particularly worrisome.
He didn't say Jesus sinned, but he did say Jesus made mistakes. Does he profess the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, and the doctrine of Christ's perfection? More to the point, is he self-identifying with his version of Jesus, implying that he hasn't sinned, but he has "made mistakes"?
Either way, these patterns and recent comments on Driscoll's part are enough to give any Christian pause. Do we think that Driscoll is beyond redemption? Of course not. We are all the chief of sinners, all in need of grace, and all prone to deny our Lord and Saviour through our actions and words.
But the one thing that marks the Christian life that is publicly absent from Mark Driscoll's ministry is repentance. There was a letter in which he admitted to mistakes and put himself under a sort of church discipline consisting of keeping him from social media, but there has been no direct address of particular sins followed by restitution and turning from them.
Until there is, we can't in good conscience continue to sell Mark Driscoll's books. At one point he actually stated that any pastor caught plagiarizing should immediately step down from ministry; does he not preach to himself as well as to others? It would seem not. We pray that repentance is forthcoming, and in the meantime we narrow the list of authors we carry once again.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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