Why We (No Longer) Like Mark Driscoll

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind when it comes to Mark Driscoll.  The interview of Driscoll on Janet Mefford’s radio show where the host accused (admittedly, in somewhat of a prude manner) Driscoll of plagiarism in his latest book, Call to Resurgence.

The abrupt ending to the interview ignited a social media storm.  Since then, more evidence of Driscoll’s alleged plagiarism has come out.  Tyndale publishing has backed Driscoll through the ordeal.  And just recently, Mefferd took down the evidence for her allegations against Driscoll from her web site, issued an apology, and her part-time assistant producer for her radio show ‘resigned’ over the incident.  Just the other day, Mars Hill came out and said that the blunder was the fault of a research assistant.

Few evangelicals of Driscoll’s stature and fame have said much of anything.  Perhaps the biggest name to level heavy criticism is Carl Trueman (aka the anti-celebrity celebrity).   Doug Wilson, without necessarily defending Driscoll, paints a picture as to why it’s likely that Driscoll is not guilty of plagiarism but must admit responsibility for the error.

It seems that the majority of the evangelical sub-culture is turning against Driscoll.  Is plagiarism and ‘crashing’ John MacArthur’s conference the hinge upon which evangelical opinion of Driscoll turns?

My thesis is that the turn against Driscoll has been set in motion for a while, and it doesn’t necessarily speak to the praise of evangelicals.

Once upon a time, Driscoll was beloved, cool, and radical.  He was as edgy as Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Evans (though even Evans is beginning to annoy evangelical middle dwellers).  I remember my friends and I listening to Driscoll when we were in college and a bit in seminary.  We read and laughed through Confessions of a Reformation Rev (easily Driscoll’s best and most useful book).

What happened?

Well, Driscoll got older, became less edgy, and is now mainstream.

Is that really it?  Are we that shallow?  Isn’t it because he backed T.D. Jakes at EP 2?  Do we like Driscoll less because he is mainstream?

I think that is the reason that Driscoll has gone from being in the acknowledgements in Blue Like Jazz (“Mark the Cussing Pastor) to being compared as this generation’s Pat Robertson.

Think about it.  We liked Driscoll when his church was only in Seattle, Acts 29 was under the radar, he had only published a handful of books, was wearing Jesus-faced t-shirts during sermons, doing sermons on Song of Solomon and birth control, and made Calvinism cool enough to be a top ten idea in Time magazine.  He used to bash Rick Warren and Joel Osteen.  His language was never safe but always profound.  He did cool videos in graveyards.

When did the transition occur?  It’s hard to say.  Maybe it was sometime during his 3 year stint in Luke’s gospel (okay,  lame excuse).  In any case, Driscoll became less cool when he became less like one of us.  He went from being a well-loved rebel pastor to a mainstream guy hanging out with Rick Warren and Greg Laurie.  He shakes hands with Steven Furtick and Perry Noble.  Worse, he hugs T.D. Jakes.

He no longer wears Mickey Mouse shirts but is dressed more like…well…an adult pastor.  His multi-site church which goes into other states seems imperialistic, as if Driscoll is concerned about his empire (and even the appearance of threatening to sue churches who dare use the Mars Hill name).

On top of this, Driscoll has said some cookoo things that go beyond his funny stories in his Confessions.  Avatar is the most demonic movie ever made?  Twilight is evil.  It’s border-line sinful for a man to be a homemaker.

What has happened is that Driscoll has seemingly embraced the bourgeois over the bohemian (to borrow from David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise). He no longer questions the established, traditional Western church.  He is the establishment.  The CEOness of Driscoll rubs us wrongly.

This is why so many people were seemingly ready and happy to jump on Driscoll when the Mefferd story came out.  Before exerting patience as a fruit of the Spirit, we condemned the man through social media.  We question his calling to ministry and ethics.  Maybe we should question such things, but why are we so gleeful (and scarily focused) on such a matter?  Answer:  We criticize Driscoll just as we’d criticize any successful megachurch pastor who has reached celebrity status.  If it was (God forbid) Carl Trueman who was accused of plagiarism and some evidence came out on the internet, I think we would exert a bit more patience as a response came forth.

Now, before anyone jumps down my throat and accuses me of defending the ministerially rich and powerful, I too have issues with celebrity pastors and their ministry comfort (though I think Trueman and others are uncareful and uncharitable in their criticism at points).  However, I wonder if God is challenging us ‘common folk’ evangelicals to look in the mirror and confront our shallowness.  Why do we like one celebrity pastor/scholar but not another?  Why is Ligonier okay but The Gospel Coalition isn’t?  Why do we change our opinion on a particular figure?  I admit, I no longer care much for Driscoll’s writing or preaching as I did 5 years ago.  Is he less engaging now?  A little.  Is his record worn a bit?  Perhaps.  Am I an evangelical BoBo who is just embracing the latest fad in my sub-culture while still maintaining an aura of objectivity?  I don’t deny it.

The challenge before us, I believe, is to embrace (wait for it)…..King Jesus.  If we have one King who has inaugurated one Kingdom, and his Spirit has gifted the entire body of Christ to benefit one another, there must be some implications for us in how we tear into those comfy megachurch stars.

We also need to remind ourselves how badly we would screw up if millions of people downloaded our sermons, read our blogs/books, and a microphone was put in front of us whenever we talked.  I have a feeling that I would not handle it well and that social media would make me a fool in no time.

So, I don’t defend Driscoll in light of this latest scandal.  I only defend the Lord Jesus and his call to us to shed away our shallowness and to not have our tongues (or keypads) create a scorched forest.

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5 thoughts on “Why We (No Longer) Like Mark Driscoll

  1. Good post! If we can really keep our focus on Jesus and his kingdom, we can then look at what is said and written by anyone, “celebrity” or not, and keep the good and throw out the bad. It’s like being a Berean (not a “Reformed” one) 🙂

    1. Thanks Fred. I always appreciate your perspective.

      I should also note that I wasn’t meaning to insult or critique men like Steven Furtick or Perry Noble. I don’t always agree with these men, but I respect them as faithful preachers of the gospel and being laborers for the kingdom.

  2. Great post, Daniel. I’m with you on every point. I swallowed up just about everything from Driscoll from 06-08, including the great memoir you mentioned. Not sure if I got bored with him or if he’s just not that edgy anymore. Or maybe I value shorter sermons now! 🙂

    One point of clarification. Mars Hill never actually sued the church in San Fran. They sent a “cease and desist” letter and later apologized for it. I’m sure you know this, but the word “sue” sometimes has the wrong connotations.

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