One of the red hot debates - and I mean RED HOT - among those in the conservative reformed camp, centres around Seattle preacher Mark Driscoll. The blogosphere seems to be raging in debate. Volleys of "friendly fire" are hurtling back and forth as a wide variety of sound biblical thinkers take sides and stances.
The subject of the debate concerns the boundaries of decency and appropriateness when speaking from the pulpit as well as the legitimacy of contextualization as an integral part of mission endeavor (I'll be expanding on these tomorrow). The issues at stake here extend well beyond Driscoll but he has certainly become the poster boy/villain at the centre of the storm.
From the outset I want to say how much I love much of Mark Driscoll's preaching/teaching ministry. One of my favorite sermons (it is on my website) was preached by Mark at the Desiring God conference in 2006. But his raw and racy preaching have landed him a reputation as "the potty mouth preacher". This has probably been misleading for many as there is a wide perception out there that Driscoll is a preacher who regularly cusses. Though I haven't heard every sermon by Mark I have never heard the use of expletives in his material. The potty mouth label is actually more directed at his willingness to tackle what some might call x-rated subject matter.
I must confess that this subject matter and occasional locker room humor can make me nervous when listening to Driscoll and does give me great cause for concern. Here is a sample of the rollercoaster emotional experience I can go through when listening to a Mark Driscoll sermon:
"Amen preach it brother . . . wow that was profound exposition . . . ohh he got a bit irreverent with that comment, oh well . . . yeeeahhh stomp on the head of that heretic, way to go Mark . . . did he just say what I thought he said??? Naaah couldn't have possibly meant . . . man this guy is funny! . . . should I be laughing at this? . . . no Mark, don't do it, don't go there, please leave it alone, no don't, arrgghh! why did he talk about that . . . where's my medication? . . . great, he's back on the text, bloodpressure lowering, feeling better, will give Mark Driscoll the benefit of the doubt, amen brother Mark . . . hang on just a second did he just make a joke out of that . . . but he's so orthodox and what about that reformed theology . . . I get the feeling he's watching a bit too much Simpsons and South Park . . . but he's on our side . . . no Mark no, please don't do it, just throw that Song of Solomon sermon series in the shredder and nobody gets hurt and we can all go home"!
Mark lives in Seattle which is one of the most unchurched cities in America - certainly not Bible belt. Undoubtedly this presents challenges that a pastor in Dallas may not face (at least on the same scale). We're talking about a lot of young people with no biblical literacy or Christian heritage. Staring at this scenario Driscoll has taken it upon himself to become very culture savvy whilst remaining with a very tight grip on biblical orthodoxy and delivering thumping sermons loaded with reformed theology.
He looks like a night club security guy (you know, the guy with big biceps and the optional neck . . . but he didn't take the option). Mark is acutely aware of the surrounding pop culture and loads up his sermons with a wide variety of illustrations based on what is current and hip - he calls it contextualization but his critics call it worldliness. What sets him apart from the myriad of cool wannabe seeker sensitive pastors with mullets, soul patches, and untucked shirts is that he is very sharp and uncompromising when it comes to biblical doctrine and not afraid to label a heretic. He is certainly no sissy boy - a manly man if you like - and would not look out of place beating up Rob Bell for his lunch money.
When it comes to church eldership Mark says hasta la vista ladies - men only! He certainly isn't backward coming forward on this issue as Bill Hybels and the gender neutral folk at Willow Creek found out. When approached about making a church planting video for their annual conference at Willow Creek, Mark obliged in true Driscoll style. To say that people got offended would be an understatement. This is the video and it is definitely worth the look because it really encapsulates the Mark Driscoll persona.
Is it wrong that I find myself cheering? I really want to like Mark. I rejoice that he preaches the Gospel. On the issue of contextualization I can see both sides of the argument and perhaps we can all extend some grace. But has Mark Driscoll crossed the line of decency with some of his subject matter. Unfortunately, I think he has, and tomorrow I'll tell you why!
Go On To Part 2