Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Book Review

I really don't have any strong opinion one way or another about Seattle pastor, Mark Driscoll, simply because I have never really followed his ministry. What I knew of him and his ministry came from folks whose discernment and concerns about Driscoll's ministry I respected. My first exposure to him was an 80-minute message he gave at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary last fall (linked in the review below) and after hearing it, I appreciated his candor and criticism of the emergent church movement where he was once a prominent personality.

Though I think there is real validity to some of the concerns raised by thoughtful critics, there are those who are in my opinion rather extreme and ungracious with their words against him. What I have witnessed of Driscoll since listening to his SEBTS message is a young guy who seems to be teachable and is desirous to learn from older, solid men like John Piper. I see this as a good thing on Driscoll's part, not a failure of wisdom on Piper's part, or any other pastor who appears to have come along side him and his efforts. I hope I am right, and not proven wrong.

With that in mind, I appreciated Hayden's review of one of Driscoll's books.

- editor

Confessions of a Reformission Rev. :
Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church

Mark Driscoll

A book review by Hayden Norris

There is probably no other Pastor that ignites such a firestorm among evangelicals as Mark Driscoll. He even jokes about this fact with comments like, “I am a uniter. I unite feminists, homosexuals, liberals and cultural fundamentalists together in dislike of me.” Mention his name in the blogosphere and you are sure to get comments from detractors and devotees alike. (See HERE or HERE or just "Google" his name for examples of how heated it can get)

I always thought that Mark Driscoll was a crude, rude, and theologically liberal pastor. I mean, he is the guy that is commonly called "the cussing pastor," isn’t he? Because of this impression, I never really thought too much more about him or his ministry in Seattle. I knew that he pastored a church called Mars Hill and I thought it was just an outgrowth of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is close to me. I knew I didn’t like much that was going on at Rob Bell’s church so I figured that the same kind of stuff was going on in Mark’s church in Seattle. Aren’t all those Emergent’s alike?

My impression of Mark Driscoll was about to change in October 2007. That was when I heard of a sermon that he preached at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (go to the chapel schedule page. The sermon was preached on Friday September 21st as part of the Convergent Conference). I thought to myself, “Southeastern is no liberal seminary, why did they invite him to preach there?” So, I downloaded the sermon and listened to it as I mowed my lawn. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. To make a long story short, I decided to listen to his series on the book of Philippians and I was blessed by much of what he said in that series as well.

Why had I formed such a dim view of Mark Driscoll? Honestly, it was because I never bothered to listen to any of his sermons and took the word of some men that I admire and didn’t do my own ‘homework’. After listening to Mark preach, I decided to enter the fray in the blogosphere because I had some concerns and questions that I wanted to interact with others on. This endeavor was ultimately fruitless because it seemed that both sides had made up their minds about Mark Driscoll. Either he was the spawn of Satan who was going to wreck the church with his methodology or he was the savior of the church that was going to make the church more hip to the culture. I could see the arguments on both sides as having some validity, and because I didn’t fit into either side I was accused of being "wishy-washy." Was it really that important to be on a side in this debate? Isn’t Mark Driscoll a brother in Christ?

Anyway, I decided to read a book by Mark Driscoll to try and understand his ministry better. The book I chose Confessions of a Reformission Rev. is really a biography of how Mars Hill Church, Seattle, came to be. Overall, I enjoyed reading of God working in and through Mark Driscoll and the people of Mars Hill Church. The chapter titles were funny and they set the tone for the book. It was clear to see from the start that Mark is passionate about two things: Christ’s Church (and in particular Mars Hill Church) and evangelizing the lost in Seattle. This was refreshing and I really think that it is through these two passions that Mark approaches ministry.

There were other positives about the book that I found like:

- Chapter 0 was a well written chapter. It really set up the author’s view of the church today.

- Chapter 1 had some great insights of how Christ must be the priority in everything we do.

- I loved his desire to continue to teach doctrine even when at times it would have been easier to compromise.

- I enjoyed his transparency in dealing with his own sin.

- I really enjoyed hearing of his many failures and how he dealt with them.

- I enjoyed his Gospel centered-ness throughout the whole book. He, and his wife, gave up much blood, sweat, and tears to build Christ’s church in Seattle.

Ultimately, this was not a theology book but a biography, and when viewed that way it was an interesting read.

Here are some quotes that I appreciated from the book:

“I decided that being cool, having good music, understanding postmodern epistemology, and welcoming all kinds of strange people into the church is essentially worthless if at the bedrock of the church anything other than a rigorous Jesus-centered biblical theology guides the mission of the church. And I needed to labor to continually improve as a Bible preacher because there is enough power in the preaching of God’s Word alone to build a church from nothing. It seemed that we were in a spiritual war and that if light was going to spread throughout our dark city, it would have to emanate from the pulpit.” (pg. 78)--- This was said after a very difficult time in the church’s history.

“Larry’s [a pastor of a large church] simple questions struck at the core of who I am. I am a Christian first. Husband second. Daddy third. And pastor fourth. I enjoy ministry, but I live for Christ and my family… I have learned over the years not to shelter my kids from work but instead to take them with me on hospital visits and such to learn to share the gospel and pray for people, because my kids are my first disciples and I enjoy them.” (pg. 165)

“… it is my deepest wish that Jesus keep pruning me, because I love him, want to be with him, want to be like him, and enjoy being on mission with him more than anything. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Amen.” (pg. 184)

I wish that I could say this is where this book review ends though. I also found some areas where I didn’t agree with Mark. His language usage is one of the areas that causes great concern among many people, and in this book he brought that same flaw. He uses many sexual references that are unnecessary to make the point he is trying to make. Here is a short list of some of the ‘over the top’ comments.

“…and looking around at the equivalent of a Viagra before-photo of lifeless geriatrics, I truly could not discern why that church existed.” (pg. 48)

“A naked lady is good to look at, so get a job, get a wife, ask her to get naked, and look at her instead….” (pg. 60) --- As he counseled a College Student on the phone at 3 AM who was struggling with pornography. It seems to have worked because the young man followed his advice

“… because you can’t charge hell with your pants around your ankles, a bottle of lotion in one hand, and a Kleenex in the other.” (pg. 129) --- As he challenged the men of the church to be men.

While Mark probably did say these things, they really didn’t add to the narrative of the story. They seemed a little out of place and detracted from some of the good points he was making. Some other concerns I had with the book are:

- Mark makes some major decisions based on ‘prophetic dreams’ which gets my cessationist dander up. He deals with cessationism as a quack heresy, which it is not, and in my mind places too much emphasis on dreams.

- He seems to equate maleness with a Type A, Rambo, UFC Champion personality. It comes across as, "If you aren’t like this, you aren’t a male." He even uses this definition in his preaching which causes me to ask, "where is the balance of 1 Thessalonians 2:7?" What about the humble servanthood of Jesus?

- Also he counsels a lot like a "bull in a china shop." If others try this in their ministry it may not come across the same way. We should all remember 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. I enjoyed reading about Mars Hill Church in Seattle and it encouraged me to press on in the ministry the Lord has given me. I am a pastor in a church outside of Flint Michigan which was just named the 3rd most unlivable city in the country. While Mark has some rough edges that need to be smoothed, I trust that the Lord will continue to work in him. It is encouraging to see godly men like John Piper, D.A. Carson, CJ Mahaney, and Mark Dever having input in this young pastor’s life.

I learned through this whole ordeal to make sure that I do my ‘homework’ before I jump on the denunciation bandwagon. I am definitely a conservative, expositional, Christ-centered preacher, but I can appreciate the ministry of Mark Driscoll because of his dogged adherence to teaching doctrine to the people of Mars Hill Church. I enjoy his candor and ideas. I particularly like his definition of being doctrinally conservative and culturally liberal. (See this video for a good explanation).

While I do not buy into this definition fully, it does make me think. Sometimes, Mark crosses the line, but I will leave it to the elder’s of the church he pastors to correct him. (Also the above men as well because they will influence him in a way I cannot). If you want to get a glimpse of Mark Driscoll’s heart read Confessions of a Reformission Rev. I think this book will help you to understand his ministry, and then make an informed decision on which "side you are on."

Hayden Norris is an associate pastor at Mt. Morris Community Church in Mt. Morris, Michigan.

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