Mark Driscoll and the Art of Unrepentant Repentance

I’ve had a real problem with mega-celebrity, bad-boy, foul-mouthed, plagiarist-publicity-seeking, sex-obsessed, females-better-submit-or-else, God-is-going-to-send-pretty-well-everyone-to-hell* pastor Mark Driscoll for a long, long time. Yes, his church(s) in Seattle have seen significant growth, and if “growth-in-numbers” equals “God-must-like-him-better” theology, then anything I have to say would have to be interpreted as sour grapes.

OK, lots of hyphenated words here–I tend to do that when I get passionate.

But he has now published a letter of repentance–which says it is only for the Mars Hill Church Family but which he (or his publicity team?) posted on Reddit, and I want to be hopeful about this.

But while I want to trust that real repentance takes place, I could not help but to note that he equates himself with God the Father. Two quotes from the letter:

Also, I continue to find great joy in teaching the Bible every week to people I have grown to love with a father’s affection.

As I get older, I am seeking to increasingly love our people as I do my own children in order for our church to be a great family, because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

With the Father’s affection, –Pastor Mark Driscoll”

With his deep father-in-total-charge authority (OK, still having passion/hyphenation issues here) theological base and his understanding that he is everyone’s father, it appears that his repentance still gives him ultimate and sole authority over the people of Mars Hill. I find this extraordinarily scary and with an even greater likelihood of a cult-producing outcome.

I fear that real humility is yet to appear.

I would love to be wrong.

He says in the letter that he is going to remove himself from social media for a year. However, he writes, “In the meantime, Mars Hill and Resurgence will continue to post blogs, sermons, and podcasts on my social media accounts, but otherwise I’m going offline.”  Right.  That is so offline.

This just looks like yet one more ploy to enhance his position as a celebrity pastor while disingenuously insisting he is so not interested in being a celebrity pastor.

He has acknowledged that he may have just possibly hurt some people by his “angry prophet” presence. Yes, he has.

But I am also aware that anyone serving in a strong pastoral leadership role has the capacity to hurt people deeply. There is no question that I have hurt others–generally unintentionally, but I know it happened, and there are unhealed breaks in communion that I grieve over.

Nonetheless, Mark Driscoll’s theology (and others like him, such as John Piper and John MacArthur) get to play the “angry prophets” because they insist they represent an “angry God” with theology that routinely demeans women and sees female function only in relation to making some man happy. This is scary theology–and often leaves a wide, wide swath of destruction. Driscoll himself has made no secret of the fact that his wife is to service him on her knees whenever he feels the need for sexual release.

And I know too well the destruction of the angry-male-God theology. I lived it for a long time–and very nearly ended my own life because of it. Because I had no worth as an independent person, and because my marriage was set up in such a way that divergent thought on my part had to be stamped out by any means possible, I reached a point where the only logical conclusion was for me to destroy myself in order to please God (male) and the other men in my life.

It was hell. And I mean that in the “literal” sense–I lived it. Darkness so deep nothing could penetrate. Death was the only relief available.

Many criticized the choice I made: the choice of life, which meant leaving that marriage. I paid a huge price, personally and professionally. I still occasionally wonder if the world, and my family, would have been better off had I been able to figure out a way to die that would not have brought too much shame on them. Divorce leaves a lot of scars.

And so, when I read of Driscoll’s “I am still in charge and I’m your father so don’t question me” repentance, deep places with me surface and I get nearly ill.

I do believe there are people who do thrive under that kind of theology. But I was not one, and a lot of others who are slowly dying inside have no place to go, no way to speak out, no exits available to them.

I weep for them.

I think this is wrong and a violation of God’s intention for humanity and kingdom of heaven life.

But again, I could be wrong. That is where my repentance always starts: I could be wrong. I hope that Mark Driscoll can get there.

*Driscoll affirms his belief in the five points of Calvinism including the affirmation that God has predestined some people for “election,” i.e., only those God chose ahead of time will make it to heaven, and that God plans to send everyone else to hell.  See this link to read his lengthy post on the topic.

17 thoughts on “Mark Driscoll and the Art of Unrepentant Repentance

  1. Nobody’s repentance is ever perfect. Let’s not be quick to presume and to judge, especially our brethren in the Lord. Let us first look upon our own sinful hearts before we judge others.

    Let’s also be patient and wait to see the fruits of this profession of repentance, whether it results in greater sanctification for Pastor Driscoll or more of the same behavior.

    Also, we ought to be grateful for all the good that Mark has done in Christ’s name. What have you or I done that can compare with it?

    Finally, we should ask ourselves, how many people suffered because of Mark’s plagiarism and his publicity seeking stunts? Do I attend his church, or am I one of the leaders that he offended or cast out? (For me the answer is “no” and “no.”)

    If you choose to be “victimized” by things that don’t directly affect you, you (along with those who follow you in this) will suffer because that’s the path you have chosen, not because Mark Discoll had some kind of power over you.

    Final thoughts…

    I wonder what it means when a Christian doesn’t bother to capitalize the “G” in God when referring to our Heavenly Father.

    Also, don’t all the hyphenated words imply that you might be a little angry?

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    • Martin, Christy is a published columnist who works for a number of newspapers. As her editor at one of these newspaper, I can promise you that if she plagiarized anything in her work, she would be fired because it is a breach of policy and ethics, and her dismissal would be published and the plagiarism cited. Plagiarism might not cause physical injury, but neither does property theft, and that is punishable by law.

      No one is choosing to be a victim, here. Driscoll is being scrutinized for dishonesty, intellectual property theft and answering calls for repentance with defensiveness.

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    • Yes, I acknowledged my anger. As for plagiarism: it is an act of theft. A religious leader who routinely steals from another shows a profound crack in his or her character that is not isolated from other character flaws. In this case, Driscoll, by refusing to acknowledge the well-documented plagiarism, is essentially saying, “What does it matter? Aren’t I more important than a few obscure scholars?” And there I say, “Not in the Good News that Jesus brought to us” where the littlest, the last, the lost and the least are the ones that matter in the Kingdom of Heaven. Driscoll gives the impression that he is not interested in those little ones, and that God is not interested either. That, in my opinion, is a dangerous distortion of the Gospel and needs to be addressed. To celebrate Driscoll’s ministry is to celebrate that the least will continue to be spoken of in degrading terms by not only Driscoll but also his followers. And that theft is no big deal because, after all, Driscoll did it and so no reason to repent from such actions. That is a problem for someone who insist that he is the mouthpiece of the Holy One.

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  2. I don’t think it’s wrong for Driscoll to think of himself as a spiritual father to (many of) those he pastors. Paul used the same terminology, especially regarding his relationship with Timothy. The key is this: what are the characteristics of a father? I understand how, in a male-dominated, misogynistic “theology,” you might view this as an authoritarian situation. However, I would argue that this is not what a father is at all. My father was a pastor in the midst of what was known as the Shepherding-Discipleship Movement, where there was a definite emphasis on pastoral authority and on “serving the one over you.” He rejected that thrust because he saw the example of Jesus in Scripture as that of a servant – so he emphasized “servant leadership,” where he viewed himself as a servant to those in his care. He modeled this in our family and demonstrated this especially to the single women in the church: after every snowfall, it was typical for them to see him outside their homes shoveling their driveway and sidewalks. This had the desired and predictable effect in that it fostered a spirit of community and service among the whole congregation.

    As a father myself (and now a grandfather), I have tried to model servanthood to my children. A father wants what is best for his kids and willingly sacrifices for their good. A father is patient with his kids, especially once they have reached an age where they need to be making their own decisions – even if their decision lands them in jail! I learned long ago that I was not in control and that I was in regular need of grace, even as I tried to be a minister of grace to my family and to those around me.

    I read Driscoll’s apology and was also struck by how self-serving it seemed. And, while I disagree with much/most of Driscoll’s theology and antics, I have to assume he is loved by his wife and family, as well as most of the membership of Mars Hill Church. I pray that his apology is a first step in God dealing graciously with him to bring him to the place he needs to be so that he can be truly used of God in being the minister of grace each of us is called to be.

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  3. I probably spent three hours yesterday listening to Driscoll on youtube,com. Why do so many United Methodists have a crush on Driscoll? Is it the numbers he’s attracted or the energy he’s injected into the evangelical movement?

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    • I think it is the numbers, Cindy. We have equated big number with big success (as God’s favorite child), plus all the money that he is taking in. It’s a poor measure of what faith is about, but there is also the reality that there are bills to pay .. .

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      • Driscoll does a number of things well. He’s an engaging speaker and radiates conviction when he’s preaching. I also appreciate the sense of excellence in aesthetics his church seems to use. Now, that’s not to say I judge worship based on aesthetic. You don’t have to have the latest software and a full print and graphics shop (Mars Hill clearly employs graphic designers to extend the curricula to the entire worship space. Nicely done.) to have an aesthetic. One thing that appealed most to me about Krum UMC was the invitation of the youth while doing their acolyte tasks. I was moved each week that my attention was brought back to the light and “the light” (our children are our light!) and that we all sent them forth together. My attention was always caught by the stark cross on the neutral wall behind the lectern.

        One thing he doesn’t do well: be accountable for plagiarizing the writer he told Mefferd he loves.

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  4. Love what you wrote! The funny and ironic thing is that a WOMAN–Janet Mefford- has almost single-handedly brought down this creep! When she first interviewed him and ask him if he had let John Macarthur know if he was coming to Macarthur’s conference…like a smarmy teenager…Driscoll took a tone with her and said,” Well, I tweeted the day before to about 700,000 people, so I’ll bet they knew,”. I knew it was the beginning of the end for this punk. He is just a punk…and I feel so sorry for those who can’t really see him for what he is. By the time Mefford was ending the interview…he sounded like he was about to cry like a baby. So much for his “REAL MAN” persona…right? All I can think of when I see him is one of those hamsters getting out of a Kia Soul car. He would be great for that ad.

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    • Marcia, you are right! I just listened to an interview this morning with Medford regarding all of this (posted yesterday), and it is excellent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-k83yNhMJdQ&feature=share
      Christy, this was a very good post, I’m glad you wrote it. The more people that speak out, hopefully the abuses will end. I’ve known many hurt from MD, and I have friends that are teetering on whether to leave Mars Hill or not. I’ve said this before, this church was started on sifting sand.

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    • I find myself cheering for Mefford as a reporter and editor, but ambivalent toward her as a gay Christian. I do agree with her that what he did is, indeed, plagiarism, and I can’t believe his publisher hasn’t removed remaining books from its inventory and agreed to reprint with proper footnoting.

      And wouldn’t MacArthur and Driscoll be on friendly terms, at least theologically?

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  5. It rarely surprises me when the female submission theology attracts big numbers. When a relationship is based on master and servant model, things are simpler. According to this model, the birthright of heterosexual adult men is the prescription of moral rightness for everyone who is not male, adult or heterosexual.

    I think what you are getting at here is very deep, and very important. If god is a god of relationships, and Jesus so clearly humbled himself to serve the disciples by washing their feet, what is God saying to us? I think god is making an invitation that is equal parts sweet and thorny. A relationship between equals not only upsets the presumption of the presumed birthright, but it invites sinners to disrobe spiritually. To shed artifice and stand honest before each other. This is auhthentic; to present yourself as sometimes stubborn, perpetually self- center before your beloved (lover, friend, child, parent, sibling) and ask to go on entangled? This is real, deep intimacy.

    I believe this push toward shallow female submission is to do damage to the gospel. Deep, humble submission to God and one another? This is what opens us to know love and to be remade by us. I so want God to lead me there.

    Cindy Breeding

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