It’s now public news that Pastor Mark Driscoll, of the megachurch Mars Hill of Seattle, has resigned. This comes after a string of inflammatory controversies. Love keeps no record of wrongs, but Google sure does, so it doesn’t take long to find out that Driscoll was accused of:
- bullying staff members, who ended up picketing outside of his church
- using church funds to artificially purchase and inflate sales of his book
- talking about women in pejorative ways, and
- using a pseudonymous online account to post profane rants.
After a six week hiatus amidst mounting calls for his dismissal, he’s resigned.
This now awakens in me a longing to see a story of redemption written here at the end. The 43 year old church leader still has a lifetime to rewrite the narrative. I’m reminded of the story of St. Nicholas of Smyrna who, apparently, after slapping another theologian with whom he disagreed, spent the rest of his life doing penitent acts of charity which would eventually form the basis of the stories of our St. Nick. I’d like to see Driscoll’s turn into a story of resurrection. So if I had the pen of the divine narrator, this is how I would write it….
Driscoll fades from public view saying little more than that he’s taking a sabbatical with his family. They sell the million dollar house. His wife begins working as a school teacher, an irony that is not lost on Warren Throckmorton and the last couple of commentators who are following the story, given how militantly opposed Driscoll was to women providing for their families. The story goes dark for about a year.
Then a photographer catches a shot of Driscoll. It goes up in the Christian media for a day. People tweet it. He’s in San Francisco, and the picture shows him behind a counter, wearing an apron, smiling and serving a meal at a homeless provider. The picture is fuzzy and no one can get the straight story on whether or not it was him. He doesn’t show up there again. Some time passes. Again there’s a report that Driscoll is working in an AIDS clinic doing bedside visitation with the dying in San Francisco. Rumors mount. Driscoll allows one interview, just saying that he is trying to do God’s will and wants to remain private. Behind the scenes there is a circle of young adults that he’s mentoring in the inner city. They’re a private band dedicated to spiritual depth and loving the poor. Driscoll lives an alternative life of a kind of Mother Theresa in the shadows. He does not seek audiences. He contracts no speaking gigs. He doesn’t write…for a while. Then, a few years later, he releases an autobiography. It’s a confession. And it talks with psychological depth and self-awarenesses about the forces that once drove him and the forces that drive him now. He becomes a Henri Nouwenesque kind of spiritual mentor, and suddenly every large-church pastor in the world seeks Driscoll out. They want to talk about their failures and their fears, their conflicts and their depression. He receives them all warmly and never says a word to the journalists about what he’s doing.
Driscoll lives into old age a redeemed man and a true pastor. He becomes a legend that people talk about with reverence. The stories of his younger years fade and are eclipsed by the saint that he has become. Now Driscoll is what every pastor should be – a living manifestation of the Sermon on the Mount. He is someone who hides in the shadow of the cross and lives as a subplot to a story that is greater than his own.
Just saying, if I were writing a good story, this is how I would want it to go.
“At the same time an epidemic of cholera in Seoul brought reports of the indefatigable toil of the Christian missionaries for the sick and dying there, how they performed duties from which the bravest Koreans often shrank, exposing themselves without stint, and saving hundreds of lives. ‘All these recoveries made no little stir in the city. Proclamations were posted on the walls telling the people there was no need for them to die when they might go to the Christian hospitals and live. People who watched the missionaries working over the sick night after night reportedly said to each other, “How these foreigners love us! Would we do as much for one of our own kin as they do for strangers?”
When Horace Underwood was seen hurrying along the road in the twilight, some of the Koreans remarked, “There goes the Jesus man: he works all day and all night with the sick without resting.”
“Why does he do it?” said another.
“Because he loves us,” was the reply.'”
-Palmer, Korea and Christianity, 1967, citing Moffett, The Christians of Korea, 1962.
The line between Church and State was established to keep the State out of the Church more than to keep the Church out of the State. That original intention has now been trounced by the city of Houston, Texas.
The city of Houston has an openly lesbian Mayor, and cultural controversies have surrounded her election in the Bible belt. It has also passed a non-discrimination ordinance which permits people to use the gender of the restroom they associate with, rather than the one to which they biologically belong. Opponents have filed a lawsuit against the city in regards to the ordinance.
The city’s attorneys have now subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors, forcing them to hand over all materials they’ve produced that reference the Mayor, the ordinance, or homosexuality. If the pastors do not comply, they face fines and confinement. The pastors were not involved in the suit, but were involved in a caucus of 400 churches that opposed the ordinance. No matter what the outcome is, the effect is a chilling attempt of the State to silence the Church.
I seem to remember just a year or two ago hearing that all the gay and lesbian population in America wanted was a legal right to equal marriage rights. It seems like it didn’t take long for the effort towards tolerance to become a club to be used against the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. Perhaps now that there is a string of lawsuits against Christian business owners and even personal attacks directed at employees of businesses owned by Christians, it’s time we stop pretending like “tolerance” is the goal. It looks like the goal is the power to silence Christians, even in their houses of worship.
The Church has withstood worse. From its earliest days, Christians have been killed for refusing to worship emperors, taxed for refusing to convert to State religions, and imprisoned for fighting State-led injustice. We tend not to give up. It comes from the fact that the Creator of the universe at one moment in history walked among us, and, among other great promises, told us that “the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church” (Mt. 16:18). If hell doesn’t stand a chance, I doubt Houston will fare any better.
In the meantime, we are to love people who do not love us and point the world towards Jesus. We stand on the shoulders of two millennia of ancestors who have done just that.
I can remember my grandmother showing me how to bait a hook, and my grandfather teaching me how to distinguish the tension in the line that is caused by a river’s current from the pull of a snagged trout. I don’t mean I remember the idea. I mean I can see in my head some clear pictures of them teaching me – of a silver fish in the bottom of a gray bucket, of a yellow kernel of corn in my hand next to the hook, of Granddad smoking his pipe on the bank. That was almost 40 years ago. 40 years ago, I had thousands of experiences each day, but that one I can still picture.
I can remember my youth pastor teaching me how to read the Bible. We were having a Bible study in a dusty upper room of a church, back when churches still had libraries, and we sat on the floor in a circle, and he showed me how to think through the biblical text. We were reading Isaiah. The carpet was green. I can see us sitting there.
I can remember a leader in my college ministry at church teaching me how to articulate a rational defense of the Christian faith. We sat in the basement of his house watching VHS tapes of William Lane Craig debating other scholars. We would pause the tape to debate the points that he made, and also to talk about our girlfriends and our desired careers and the news. I can remember the very intense look my friend would get when he mulled over philosophical questions. He’s now a philosophy professor who teaches at the same school as Craig. I picked up a book in a theological library the other day because I saw my friend had written one of the chapters, and he had written about a subject I remember us arguing about one night.
Mentoring is not the act of an expert passing on a field of expertise. It’s the moment that someone who is passionate about one of their interests stops to show why it matters to someone else. What matters in that transaction is not that someone with a professional certification educates someone else. What matters is that a memory is made when two hearts and minds gather around a topic of a similar interest.
Imagine what would happen if everyone who is passionate about Jesus took just a moment this week to talk with someone else about what Jesus has done for their marriage, their morals, the meaning of their lives, their parenting, their friendships, their prayer life, or their inner peace. Imagine if all they did was share a question they wondered about concerning Jesus so that two people could wonder it together. Mentoring is making memories that Jesus can use for the rest of someone’s life, and everyone who follows Jesus ought to be a mentor.
This week can pass by forgotten, or it can live on in someone’s memories for the next 40 years.
Did you ever wonder whether the Bible was written close to the events it describes or much later? I’ve heard people dismiss the Bible as a later, legendary account composed many generations after the life of Jesus. The manuscript evidence gives us a hint.
The oldest piece of a manuscript that we have is a tiny little piece of paper that’s only about 3″ long and 2″ wide, which is now in a museum in England. It has text from John’s gospel on the front and on the back, and scholars who study ancient manuscripts say that the handwriting dates to between 100 and 150 AD. This piece was found in Egypt, which suggests an earlier original, allowing time for the story to have travelled over 400 miles.
However, Ignatius Theophorus of Antioch, who lived from around 35AD – 117AD, wrote seven letters in which he quotes from at least 17 of the 27 New Testament letters, suggesting that they were in circulation even earlier, in the first century. Clement of Rome, who died in 99AD, left behind a letter which quotes or refers to at least 9 letters of the New Testament, making their first century authorship undeniable. These include a quote from Jesus, making the gospel stories unquestionably first century. An early Christian document called the Didache, which scholars date to the end of the first century or beginning of the second, refers to Jesus’ teachings in the gospels, particularly Matthew.
Credible scholars now date the New Testament entirely to the first century. Since the date of Jesus’ death falls in the 30s, that means the whole of the New Testament was written within 60 years of his death, which means during the lifetime of his contemporaries.
Those who try to push the dates later must do so by controverting the obvious historical testimonies of both the biblical accounts and non-biblical witnesses. Their agenda-laden activism does little to confuse the open-minded and clear-sighted, but it tends to empower those who are looking for loopholes and who don’t want to do real research. The story of Jesus cannot be discredited as a later legend scripted by people of another generation. It was written in his day by people who knew him and his disciples.
“We all know that Eve came from the side of Adam himself. Scripture has told this plainly, that God put Adam into a deep sleep and took one of his ribs, and fashioned the woman. But how can we show that the Church also came from the side of Christ? Scripture explains this too. When Christ was lifted up on the cross, after He had been nailed to it and had died, one of the soldiers pierced His side and there came out blood and water. From that blood and water the whole Church has arisen. …We receive birth from the water of baptism, and we are nourished by His blood. …Just as the woman was fashioned while Adam slept, so also, when Christ had died, the Church was formed from His Side.” -John Chrysostom, “How to Choose a Wife”
If I could study any of the biblical cities, I’d study Ephesus. I’d study it because it was a burgeoning, multi-ethnic, religiously diverse metropolis. I’d study it because it’s the best preserved of the ancient cities, having been vacated by a majority of the population after a wicked bout of malaria. And I’d study it because, through it, a couple of Christians changed the world.
Imagine that if you decided to teach the faith to one person, you would create out of your city a hub of Christian teaching, writing, and thinking for the next hundred years. Imagine that if you decided to teach the faith to one person, one day people would talk about your city the way they talk about Salt Lake City – you know, “it’s ok to visit, but there sure are a lot of Mormons there.” Substitute “Christians” – that’s what a single mentoring relationship can do.
At Ephesus, Paul went and preached, staying 3 years and beginning a church. He appointed Elders and empowered saints. Then he left. But while he was there, he mentored Timothy, his “son” in the faith, to whom he passed on the best of what he knew.
John, the disciple of Jesus, settle there and became a pastor. He led the church, continuing to pass the faith on. We know of just a few names of individuals who moved from rural and distant parts to the big city, and that changed the city.
Ephesus became one of the centers of the Christian church in the centuries to come. By the 5th century, when the Roman Emperor wanted to call together a council of the bishops of the church, he called them to Ephesus.
It’s not inconceivable that any American city could have such a legacy. It only took one or two people gathering, engaging, loving, and teaching. Anyone can do that, in any city. Why can’t it be your city? Why can’t it be mine?
A snow-capped couple used to sit next to me in a café, clucking away with each other and passing friends. The first time I noticed them, I was trying to read Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation,” but couldn’t pay attention. I was privately amused at the way they loved each other, giggling as they finished each other’s sentences and offering to get up one for another, because at their age, it was too much of a commitment for them both to stand up.
I was conscious of my eavesdropping, but not of the effect they were having on me. They became part of the aesthetic of the café – the warm, sun-filled widows, the robust, walnut-toned coffee, and the happy old couple as familiar as the furniture. They were always there.
Until one day I saw her alone. When I stopped to ask, I withered to hear of his passing. She was thereafter different than she had been before, as was the café.
That couple for me is a better metaphor for the Trinitarian God than most of the go-to illustrations. St. Patrick notably used the three leaf clover to explain the Trinity to the pagan Irish, but his metaphor was flawed, because if you pull a leaf off of it, you still have a deformed clover, but a clover nonetheless. A widow is something fundamentally different than a spouse. One does not merely lose a spouse, one loses spousehood. When we love and are beloved, to lose love changes our identity.
Imagine the Trinity not as a mechanical philosophical concept requiring technical definitions of “substance” and “nature,” but rather a being who is so infused with and exuding love that the Father, Son, and Spirit are giddy at finishing each other’s sentences, that within the nature of the one God is a love so overwhelming that it must be reciprocated. Trinity is love immune the frailties of human love. It’s love made perfect, love like the first time a baby laughs, love like a wedding, love like a hero dying to save someone else. Imagine a love so urgent it can’t resist exposing itself to the risk of betrayal and brutality. It will pay the cost if only to love one more. Imagine a kind of love that promises a day when inseparable lovers are reunited, because that’s how a good story is supposed to end.
A friend of mine who is a missionary in a Muslim country tells me that she sometimes tells Muslims that there is “love if,” “love because,” and “love despite” – you can love someone if they will do something for you, because they have done something for you, or despite anything that they do for you. She has been told more than once by the people to whom she ministers that “love despite” isn’t real.
Imagine love despite. That’s a better description of Trinity that most of our metaphors.
Posted on the ECO blog….
“Pastor Ken Fong spoke at our Session retreat about the power of change and innovation. He described how his father took part in the initial designs of those computers that we’ve all heard of which took up an entire room and could do little more than function as a calculator. But for their day, those computers were anamazing innovation. Pastor Ken then shared how late in life his father didn’t even own a computer and didn’t care to own one. “Something happened,” Ken said, “and what happened was that reality exceeded his dreams.”
My sense is that….” Read the rest here.