This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Driscoll's Tribal Christianity

Tim Challies' review of Mark Driscoll's new book, A Call to Resurgence, is up on his website. As usual, Challies gives a great synopsis of the book and provides a fair critique. It can be found here. {And after writing this post, just saw this review by Andrew Wilson, which provides a perspective from a different angle.}

I'll admit it. I'm not objective when it comes to Driscoll. A lot of my friends really like him (and I hope we're still friends after you read my comments!). For a long time, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Though I wasn't an ardent defender, I believed that he was at least misunderstood.

I don't feel that way anymore. In my opinion, he lacks many of the character attributes I believe are essential for effective pastoral ministry. Controversy doesn't just follow him... he stokes it like you would a strange fire. Pastoral ministry isn't just about saying the right things, it's about saying the right things in the right way.

I look forward to the day when testosterone-fueled, hyper-aggressive leadership styles wane in influence in Christ's church. So, at this point, my knee jerk reaction to Mark Driscoll is to be critical.

But I have to admit this: he says some good things sometimes in terms of the content of his messages. For example, I haven't read A Call to Resurgence but Challies gives the following synopsis of a chapter that deals with "tribalism" within Christianity:

With a nod to Seth Godin, he [Driscoll] shows how tribalism is now more prominent than denominationalism and describes some of the common tribal commitments within Christianity. He highlights four questions and shows how Christian tribes may be distinguished by their answers to these questions. 
  • Are you Reformed or Arminian?
  • Are you complementarian or egalitarian?
  • Are you continuationist or cessationist?
  • Are you missional or fundamental? 
He then builds profiles based on the possible answers. So, if you are Reformed, complementarian, cessationist and fundamentalist, “you probably like Together for the Gospel, the Gospel Coalition, Nine Marks, R.C. Sproul, reading books by dead guys, expository preachers who wear suits and have bad bands at their services, and wish this book had more footnotes and fewer jokes.” Driscoll himself is a tribal chief within the Reformed, complementarian, continuationist and missional tribe. “You probably have an occasional bad attitude, tattoo, impressive theological library and liquor cabinet, ESV Study Bible, entire collection of the latest indie rock, flannel shorts, and boots for no reason as you do zero logging.”

Assuming Challies is capturing Driscoll's content accurately, there is much to think about here.

First, is Driscoll accurately capturing the major "tribes" within Christianity? My sense is that he is to a large degree.

Second, are these false dilemmas? Must we choose an either/or in each category? I'm not sure of the way he defines the difference between, for example, missional and fundamental, but are they (a) my only two options and (b) so binary that I can only choose one?

Third, as we become infatuated with certain leaders and fads within Christendom, do we find ourselves forced to affirm certain things out of fear we won't fit it? Does our drive to conform to a certain tribe trump our desire to earnestly study God's Word and conform to it?

Fourth, does the mega-church, multi-campus model of ministry fuel the tribes-mentality within Christendom? I sense a certain irony to the chapter as Challies describes it and I wonder how Driscoll handles that irony. He hasn't just passively been forced into the tribe of which he is chief. He actively celebrates that tribe and mocks those who are not part of his tribe (though, to be fair, he often mocks himself as well).

Ultimately, I think there is a lot to be said for what Driscoll warns of here, but I wonder if he's the best messenger to deliver the message.

1 comment:

  1. I feel the same way about Driscoll. I have been torn because I have seen many guys get pointed the right direction by some of his doctrine like soteriology and God's sovereignty, but it makes me nervous when they dwell on him or are unable to see his serious flaws as a pastor/teacher. Then I try to calm myself down because some of his tendencies might be useful/called for in a context like Seattle. But in the end he's a nationwide personality and he is very unhelpful in far too many areas. I'm hoping he gets dulled down over time and with maturity, but he's seems to have gotten worse instead of better in recent years.

    I also disagree with him in terms of the tribes. I think his characterizations are somewhat accurate (though occasionally too narrow and false dichotomies like you pointed out); and we can call them tribes or denominations or whatever, but in my opinion they are helpful because they give definition. Since Christians today are so anti-confessional (insert big frowny face), these tribes/denominations are the next closest thing we have to getting some definition on someone's beliefs. In my opinion, the more definition and understanding we have of each other's doctrinal positions the easier it is to determine when it is or is not appropriate to "work together". The major problem with evangelicalism is its lack of depth (mile wide and an inch deep, as it has often been said), and eliminating/ignoring distinctions just makes that worse. It leads to the "least common denominator Christianity" where all one needs to do is give a thumbs up to Jesus and we're suddenly in unity. So I would want more "tribal-ness" in that sense (not necessarily more tribes). It would be awesome if there was a mass return to the historic confessions but we all know that probably won't happen, so I say rah-rah for tribes and denominations- not because it fosters divisions, but because it allows for wise and careful interactions across those boundaries.

    I hope I explained that well enough.