Driscoll’s Re-emergence

I’m attending the Thrive Conference in Sacramento where evangelical prodigal ex-pastor Mark Driscoll made a surprise appearance and lecture this morning.  It was announced last night, but that was the first any of as had heard about it.  Most of the lecture was about the persecution his family had experienced in the last year.  He also gave several practical reasons why we ought to forgive people.  But there was a gaping hole in what he had to say.

Pastor Ray Johnston of Bayside Church, which hosts Thrive, introduced Driscoll, saying that back stage Driscoll was humble and apologetic.  He said that this is the kind of guy he really wants to be in the foxhole with.  “I really just like this guy,” he said.

Driscoll appeared wearing a recognizable Mumford-style vest and pegged jeans, looking sheepish.  He hugged Johnston and took a seat on a stool.  The following are my rough paraphrase of what he talked about.  He said…

driscollWhat does the Bible say?  It says strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.  For you who are shepherds, Jesus’ goal is to bring a flock around you.  The enemy has a plan to strike you.  I want to talk to “struck shepherds.”

It’s harder when you have a family.  Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus were single.  It’s scary what to think what would have happened to their families.  If you are a shepherd that has been struck, you can’t talk about it in detail, because that would be gossip.  I don’t want to talk about me.  i want to sever you.  We had an 8 year conflict that finally went public.  Here he recommended 1st Peter 3:8-12 for such conflicts.

He then began to talk about “Grace and I,” and he said that he used to refer to her as a pastor’s wife, but now he has to refer to her as an ex-pastor’s wife because he is an ex-pastor.  They have 5 kids.  The last year has been difficult on them.  They’ve had to move three times for safety issues.  There were protests outside their home, and a person who sounded mentally ill showed up at their house and was arrested.  People would post his address online after he moved.  Someone went to the bathroom on his front porch, and he received hate mail.  At one point the media blocked the driveway to get an interview and a helicopter one flew over “to flush me out.”  He said they went inside and avoided being in front of a window.  He said his 8 year old came into the room wearing a military jacket and carrying an Airsoft gun and asked if the jacket was bulletproof.  He hadn’t realized the helicopter was the media and had only seen movies where the bad guys came out of helicopters and shot everyone.  The boy had night terrors for months.  At one point they wanted to sleep in a tent in the backyard, but someone started throwing rocks over the fence at his kids at 6:30 in the morning.  They filed a police report.  Another time someone scattered a bucket of nails all over the driveway.  He said his email had been hacked.

He said God spoke to he and his wife “audibly” and released them from ministry.

The Board (of Mars Hill Church, where Driscoll had pastored), who are good and godly people, had authority over him and released a statement before the Driscolls were ready that said that he had resigned.  The kids were in school at the time so they raced down to pick them up, but the kids had found out about the resignation through social media.  (Here Driscoll began choking up as he spoke.)  “We had served that church for twenty years.”  He had baptized around 10,000 people.  The middle son, who Driscoll said was the shepherd of the family, asked, “Who’s going to care for the people?”  We’ve helped start 400 churches and our church had 15 locations.  And now they had nowhere to go for church.  “We were just zombies.” So they had church in the living room.  The one daughter who could sang led them in singing and one son went and got a bucket to collect the offering.  The boy said they were going to give the money to a single mom so that she could buy toys for her kids.  They read Scripture.  “I’ve got to teach this family,” he realized.  It was the first time in 18 years he didn’t have a sermon prepared on a Sunday.  He said, “I just lost it.”

Addressing the crowd he said, “I’m jealous for the well-being of your families.” So he said he was going to be a dad and a pastor.  He taught them about forgiveness.  He said he didn’t want to raise kids who are bitter.  So he wanted them to forgive those involved.  He had seen the church picketed by people that he had baptized.  But we forgive because we’re forgiven.  We need to think about all of the malice brought against the chief shepherd.  We have a broken-hearted God.  Rather than vengeance, God had a plan, that Jesus would come so we could be forgiven and reconciled.  He had Judas and Thomas and Peter.  And he was destroyed in front of his own mother and brothers.  It destroyed a family and that’s what happens when a shepherd is struck.  He had wine vinegar in a sponge forced in his mouth, and his research has told him that this was what Roman soldiers used as an antiseptic after using the bathroom, like a kind of toilet paper.  That’s what Jesus went through.

When sin happens, someone has to pay.  Vengeance makes for great movies (especially starring Liam Neeson), but terrible ministry.  So he wanted to give us some compelling reasons why we need to forgive.

Then he prayed that God would bring to mind someone that we needed to forgive.

Exodus 34, about being slow to anger, is the passage that is most quoted within the Bible.  And the best way to glorify God is to forgive.  We are to forgive as Christ forgave us.  We’re not denying justice, we’re just handing it off to the highest court.

Then he went through (I think he said he had 5 points but only got to 4) a list of reasons why we should forgive.  They included:

1. Forgive because if we don’t forgive we’re saying that their sin against us is worse than our sins against the Lord

2.  Because I love you and forgiveness blesses you.  It releases stress and depression.  Not forgiving “makes your worst day your every day.”  It benefits you physically to forgive in terms of stress and sleep, and emotionally in terms of healing and letting joy return.  He did a brief excursus on the parable of the person who wouldn’t forgive and then had to go to the jailer, who Driscoll said was Satan.  We say that they need to repent to be forgiven (at this point Driscoll made the point by yelling), but, he said quietly, they don’t hold the key to the prison.  We do.  And we open the door when we forgive.

3.  You bless others when you forgive.  Jesus said to love your enemy, which is how we know the Bible was not written by human beings.  To not forgive someone is to take the seat of God.

4.  I believe God gave this message to me.  I’ve done 6 months of study on forgiveness.  I don’t want to say that I’m totally innocent.  Sometimes the shepherd is wounded because he punched himself in the head.  But forgiveness is always tied to the demonic.  Forgiveness is how we were delivered from the demonic.  In your anger do not sin an give the enemy a foothold.  Satan and the demons have never been forgiven for anything and they will never forgive anything.  So when you refuse to forgive, you are trafficking in the demonic.  Bitterness grows and can take hold and defile many.  But I want joy and grace to flow in your life.  So forgive them.  Then he closed in prayer.

Johnston came in and prayed for Driscoll and alluded to God doing something new in and for Driscoll.  It sounded like the forecast of a professional return.

As I say, that’s a rough paraphrase, but I think I’ve got the gist of the content.

Now here’s the one lingering issue I have.  Driscoll just gave a long lecture on forgiveness without asking for it.  Aside from the allusion to “not being totally innocent,” he really didn’t point out his own failings.  In fact, it seemed like the entire lecture was aimed at his need to forgive those people who had wronged him.  What has happened to his family is horrible, as he describes it, and should never happen.  But what lingers after Driscoll’s resignation is that he evaded his Board’s plan for a disciplinary procedure.  He never really reconciled with those whom he had harmed, and after all of his talk of forgiveness, it would have been so simple and so graceful for him to ask for it.  Perhaps that was to be the implication that was to be drawn from the whole talk – that Driscoll now needs forgiveness too.  But the weight of the graphic imagery of the abuse of his family left us with the undoubted impression that Driscoll was a victim who now needed to forgive those who had wronged him.  He was a “struck shepherd” that heaven had taken out.  I think his idea that Jesus’ goal is to gather people around the pastor is symptomatic of Driscoll’s issues.  And if this is indeed a step in the direction of a professional re-emergence, I think most of us still want him to address the many charges and challenges that have been brought against him.  He has certainly apologized for much of it, but I think any professional return on his part will require that those issues go addressed through a supervised process.  There are still many people who have been reportedly hurt, bullied, and fired from their jobs by Driscoll, and I think his read on forgiveness may have to more thoroughly include himself among the guilty if he wants to regain any kind of credibility.

But just to provoke the seething hoards who still hate Driscoll, let me say something that I’ve said before – he’s a brilliant orator.  There are few communicators like him, and in the right place, with humility and supervision, he could live a life of effective ministry for Jesus.  Those Christians who still want to disagree might want to think about who the Apostle Paul really was.  And honestly, we might want to think about whether or not we really do believe in forgiveness.  Because no one is beyond it’s reach, and Jesus did give us a heads up that we will be judged in the same way we judge.  To hate Driscoll is to reject grace.

This was my initial dream for Driscoll when he resigned.

The Faith of Tolkien

On the advent of the release of the third and final installment of The Hobbit films, and in honor of Advent the greater, I’m amused at the giant story of faith sitting hidden in plain sight in the American culture.  J.R.R. Tolkien was not only a devout Catholic, he was an evangelist.  And his quiet evangelism has shaped a legacy for modern evangelicals in a way that few of us are aware of.  If you, on the other side of this screen, are an evangelical Christian in America or Europe, there’s a pretty good likelihood it’s because of the guy who wrote the Hobbit.  If you hate evangelical Christians in America, you should likewise hate the guy who wrote the Hobbit (troll that you are).

Tolkien describes, in his essay “On Fairy Stories,” the great turn of events that must happen in every Fairy Story for it to legitimately qualify for the genre.  He calls that crisis and redemption a “eucatastrophe.” He writes,

At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy story. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite—I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.

He then describes how the gospels are a form of Fairy story, though true, and he calls the resurrection of Jesus a eucatastrophe.

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my Tolkersfeeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy- story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self- contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

Now it’s exactly this kind of thinking that Tolkien shared with his friend C.S. Lewis.  They both worked at Oxford, Tolkien as a professor and Lewis as a tutor.  They gathered together in a pub with friends to drink and read their writings to one another in a group they dubbed The Inklings.  And sometimes they strolled down the Addison walk at Magdalen College together.  On these treks, Tolkien talked to Lewis, then an atheist, about how God wrote himself into his own story in order to bring redemption out of the tragedy of the human condition – the greatest eucatastrophe of all.  Tolkien was influential in bringing Lewis to faith.  Lewis, in turn, encouraged Tolkien to publish his works about hobbits and orcs and dragons.

Most people know what a significant influence Lewis has had on Western European and American society through books like Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and the Chronicles of Narnia.  Lewis was a passionate defender of a propagator of the Christian faith after Tolkien helped him get there.  Most pastors in America have at least dabbled in Lewis, and to this day it is not uncommon to hear him quoted in the Sunday sermon.  His Narnia series alone has sold over 100 million copies, making him one of the most read fiction authors in history.

So the quiet little walks with the evangelical Tolkien created one of the greatest evangelists and Christian authors of the 20th century, one who is still shaping preachers and congregations and readers today.

So as the Hobbit releases this week, Christians should hail this as the great achievement of one of their direct spiritual ancestors.  All the fiery impulse of the good underdog standing up to bullying evil is captured in this Fairy story.  And keeping stories like this alive in our culture will always awaken a moral impulse that makes people wonder at the source of good and evil.  It makes us long for the triumph of good, for the eucatastrophe of our broken world.  Rather than settling for preachy, two-dimensional Christian movies that are painfully overt and poorly written, Christians ought to celebrate works like the Hobbit.  And we ought to call attention to the fact that the literary legacy of one of our most devout is now being fawned over by the movie going public on Saturday night, while his spiritual legacy once-removed is still prodding congregations on Sunday morning.

Oh Well, Rob Bell

ImageI always liked Rob Bell’s call narrative.  He says that when he was young, he felt like God told him, “Just teach this book.” Forever after, that was to be his call.  Now he has the chance to do it on a wider scale than ever before.  His latest book, “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” was the best chance yet, because the controversy surrounding his last book, “Love Wins,” made him virtually a household name.

What Bell Could Have Done

Bell is now poised in exactly the place every evangelist should want to be: hated by religious teachers, loved by the masses, and enjoying a wide (and lucrative) voice in the public sphere, from which he can preach the gospel without hindrance.  And he honestly starts to do that.  He talks about a God who loves us, a God who took on flesh as Jesus, a God who gives us hope.  He acts like he might intend to entice a modern Millennial audience to follow the God whom they’ve always heretofore been told is an oppressor. 

What Bell Did

He starts to but doesn’t follow through.  Because when it comes to an obligation to respond to God, he can’t say anything more that lots of people are kind of spiritual (chapter 1).  When it comes to miracles, he can’t say anything more specific than that everything is wonderfully miraculous (chapter 2).  When it comes to God revealing himself, he can’t say anything more than that the biblical writers were coming up with flawed analogies (chapter 3).  When it comes to the Holy Spirit, he here wanders around quite a bit (chapter 4), establishing little more than that life is mysterious and “we” have a sense that history is progressing somewhere.  He finally comes to Jesus, whom he dives into without any explanation of why I should be interested in Jesus more than Buddha or Muhammed, and why I should believe the Bible is at all reliable (chapter 5).  Chapter 6 doesn’t fall within the realm of traditional Christian theological doctrines.  The chapter simply asserts that God is “progressive.”  Finally, in the last chapter, Bell is supposed to tell us what to do with this progressive, hope-inspiring God who never does anything to make us unhappy, but instead is in the business of blowing our minds.  This final, punchline chapter just doesn’t hold together.  He tells the story of the sheep and the goats, but strangely leaves out the goats.  Then he tells the story of a comedic friend who pretends to be a priest and take confession, which shows how much we need to confess.  Then he tells a story about a yoga class in which women weep because they are integrating their bodies with their “being.” Then he talks about how our brains react when we watch each other.  Then he talks about communion, the purpose of which is to open our eyes to the fact that God is everywhere bringing everything together.

This isn’t even liberalism.  This is pantheistic mush.  This is Spinoza and Hegel reheated and dumbed down.

The enemy throughout the book is a group of wildly construed straw men.  They are Christians who protest against peace and hate questions and are out of date and oppose progress.  Who are these people?  Well, they’re not Rob Bell, that’s for sure.  He’s way too cool for them.

What Bell Didn’t Do

What Bell doesn’t do is tell us why on earth anyone should trust the biblical revelation of Jesus once the cultural ship sails towards secularism.  Bell thinks he’s an evolutionary step above the biblical writers.  He credits the explicit self-revelation of God to the writers’ personal impressions.  When they make moral judgments on issues like homosexuality, Bell knows they’re wrong and that God’s revelation has progressed.  Yet it’s not clear why the gospel writers’ impressions of Jesus aren’t also projections.  After all, miracles may just be their antiquated means of describing what they saw.  Bell’s use of Scripture generally is not deferential.  He riffs off of it but doesn’t submit to it.  He’s moved from exegesis to allusion.

Let me use a surfing metaphor, since Bell’s new book is rife with images of water skiing, surfing, and sunbathing from the beaches of southern California, where he now spends most of his time.  Let’s say someone drifts out on a surfboard to enjoy the sun.  Then they keep drifting.  Then they take a nap.  When they wake up, still on the board, land is nowhere in sight.  Now that person is still alive and still floating, but prospects aren’t all that good.

Bell has cut himself loose from a local church, from the accountability of community, from the necessity of responding to critics, and from the canon of Scripture.  Now he’s drifting.  His still alive.  Hey, maybe he’s enjoying the sun.  But he’s getting further away.  And prospects aren’t good.  And sadly, he has a little fleet of floating followers.

In Bell’s mind, all of this is progress.  He’s moved from the hard work of pastoring in the harsh climate of Grand Rapids to the relaxing life of writing books in Laguna Beach.  In fact, Bell is now charging 50 people at a time $500 to spend 2 days with him, which includes casual conversation and a few hours of surfing.  He’s about to do this for the fourth time.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is $100,000 in 8 days to be covered in the dust of your rabbi.  To which land is he anchored?  Not to his original call narrative.

Rather than joining the Bell critics who use the clicheic promise not to drink his Kool-Aid, I’d recommend a metaphor a bit more in keeping with the substance of Bell’s theological work.  Don’t eat the cotton candy.