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Can a Liberal Learn from Mark Driscoll?

I’m using the dreaded “L” word for myself again, because if I was put up against [tag]Mark Driscoll[/tag] I would certainly come out as liberal, no matter how moderate I think I am. Regular readers of this blog know that I disagree with him on a substantial range of issues.

There’s a profile of Driscoll available on the Christianity Today web site (HT: Adrian Warnock). There’s some interesting things here, including most of the stuff on which I differ. Occasionally I stir people up through what I write on this blog, but in real life, I put much of my effort into reconciliation. I try to be a peacemaker in church. I’m not a [tag]Calvinist[/tag] by any stretch. Even good [tag]Arminian[/tag]s suspect me of heresy in the pelagian direction. I’m [tag]egalitarian[/tag], not [tag]complementarian[/tag], and if the bad guy is threatening the playground, I’m going to call 911 before mixing it up with them myself.

Yet there are a number of things one can learn here. Driscoll really believes what he is teaching, and I think the evidence is good that he cares about his church and the people of his community. He’s willing to meet them culturally, something that other church people ranging from right to left are not willing to do. To many of us church is our culture, and others have to leave the “world’s culture” and become part of the “church’s culture.” But we have no particular reason to assume that the church’s culture as we practice it is actually better than the world’s culture. Driscoll seems to have caught on to the fact that from the point of view of the church, especially the mainline church, reaching the person down the street is just as much cross-cultural ministry in many cases as is going overseas.

Nonetheless, I deplore Driscoll’s position on women in leadership and in ministry. I believe it would be quite possible for the church to articulate and practice a strong theology of family and of leadership without wedding itself to the single model of the dominant male. At the same time, egalitarians sometimes behave as though men don’t need to learn any leadership and even foster the “let women take care of spiritual things” attitude. We need to learn to respond to those attitudes.

Too often what we practice is not the empowerment of all people to use the gifts God has given them and to follow God’s call on their lives, but it is rather a “let those who will do it go ahead.” We’re afraid to challenge men in spiritual leadership because we might sound too much like Driscoll. I am willing to confess to weakness when it’s there, but in this case, I’m not myself confessing to this practice. I have regularly preached that men need to be ready to get up on Sunday morning and lead their families to church. They need to be actively involved in both church life and in the moral life of their family and community.

A family can only be properly led when both father and mother take up their appropriate gifts. But this does not allow looking down on supposedly “feminized” men either. That male leadership can involve the man cleaning the house, doing the dishes, changing diapers and helping get the children dressed. It might involve a husband getting the children to Wednesday night activities because the wife is working or out of town on a business trip.

In other words this is another part of modern culture that we could meet with the gospel, rather than try to change into a first century image that exists largely in our own minds.

I would suggest reading the Christianity Today article asking yourself this: “How can I make my spiritual life connect more with the age? What are the essentials of my spiritual and ethical beliefs, and what are just my church culture?” All of us could do with such a checkup.

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  1. Thanks for this. I think Driscoll is great! Yes, I disagree with him on some issues, notably about women in leadership and ministry, also about how he chooses his Bibles. On both issues he has been listening too much to the Reformed crowd. But it seems he is not really happy with the situation, as I note from these words which Adrian quoted:

    “If I could change one part of the Bible,” Driscoll told The Seattle Times about Paul’s writings on gender roles, “that would be the part, just so I could be left alone.”

    Maybe sometime he will learn how to read the Bible appropriately and how to apply what Paul wrote today. While he is feeling uncomfortable about this, there is still hope.

  2. I’ll confess to not being intimately familiar with Driscoll’s teachings, so I’m open to be told that I’ve got things completely wrong.

    It does seem to me, though, that he’s trying to attract men by saying Christianity doesn’t mean having to be forgiving, peaceful, patient, kind and all those other ‘feminine’ qualities, but that you can be a macho man and have power and wield it over others. To me, that steps beyond the bounds of engaging with culture into selling out on Christianity.

  3. What I’d like us to learn from Mark Discoll is engaging culture, and separating “church culture” from “following Jesus.” I do not think he has successfully accomplished those goals, especially in the area of using the gifts of everyone, including women and those who don’t fit into the “manly man” category.

    And yes, pushing the macho can go directly contrary to the teaching of Jesus. But strong men are not necessarily contrary to the teachings of Jesus. I’ve known men who could kill you with one hand tied behind their backs, and yet were forgiving, loving, and generally fine examples of discipleship.

    I deplore Driscoll making that such a key characteristic of ministry. I also decry those who would push those men out of church because they don’t fit the culture. I’ve seen both happen.

    (wow, rambling in comments! bad me!)

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