Recently I posted some thoughts on what I see as the really inappropriate verbal and written attacks being carried out by professing Christians against Mark Driscoll, a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The inevitable happened, and some people (whether here at the blog or elsewhere) suggested that maybe I would be more supportive of some of those attacks if I didn’t happen to agree theologically with mark. Really, it was suggested, I was being over sensitive when he was being criticised and giving a free pass to anything he says or does just because I’m on his “side,” doctrinally speaking. That, some thought, is why I don’t think he should be called a jerk, an ass, a slime ball, a “douchebag” and worse. It’s not that I think such conduct is wrong, I’m really just biased and over-sensitive about my theological buddies being disagreed with.
As a response to my concerns about the way Mark is being treated, this is actually a fallacious approach. It’s the old ad hominem fallacy, suggesting that my criticism of the treatment being dished out can be dismissed because of some other feature I have – like agreement with Mark on theological matters. Of course this is a mistake, and even if I agreed completely with Mark on theological matters the concerns that I raised about the conduct of fellow Christians should be taken no less seriously than if I disagreed with Mark on every point of doctrine imaginable. So this kind of reply is a non-starter.
But, as I said in the comment thread of my previous blog entry, I actually don’t agree with Mark at every point, and even some of the things for which he is now lambasted by his spiritual family are things that I disagree with him on. I just choose not to belittle him for them. One such thing is Mark’s concern over the “chickification” of Christianity, and the way he can use that concern to dismiss points of view that really have nothing to do with it. Here’s an area where I think appropriate criticism is required. Although I agree with part of what Mark – and many others for that matter – say about the feminisation of the Christian faith, I think he misunderstands and badly misapplies the principle to which he appeals, in a way that many other evangelicals also do with different principles. So to reassure people that I’m not a “Mark Driscoll sycophant,” I wanted to unpack some of the concern I have here – maybe even for the purpose of modelling the kind of criticism I think is appropriate, having already vented a bit about what’s not appropriate.
First, I do want to talk about how Mark gets it right in this regard, to provide the backdrop for how I think he (and others) go wrong. I’d like you to watch these two clips. First, here’s Mark talking about the fact that the church needs “dudes.”
You might think he goes too far. The language of “chicks” and “dudes” might not resonate with you. That doesn’t matter. You might think that because he says that getting young men into the church means getting “everything,” he thinks that women are “nothing.” I don’t think that’s what he meant, but I want to you to see what he’s getting at: The church is not young-man-friendly enough, and it suffers as a result. In case you think that he really isn’t interested in reaching women:
Did I say I don’t want women and children? That’s not what I said. But women and children with men who abandon or abuse or avoid, that’s not nice for women. Ask a single mother how nice it was that the man abandoned his obligations. Ask a woman who’s getting beaten by her husband how much she would like someone to be stronger than him, and to give him the truth? See, I think the nicest thing we can do for women, the nicest thing we can do for children, is to make sure that the men are like Christ; in a good way; in a loving, dying, serving way. Pouring themselves out. That’s why I get frustrated when I see churches that have enormous children’s ministries, and enormous women’s ministries, and no men.
Mark Driscoll, Proverbs, Part 5: Men and Masculinity, 28 October 2001
Mark is right. Next, here’s an example of Mark expressing anger over the way a lot of professing Christian men interact with women:
You mightn’t like his style, you might think a pastor who shouts at his congregation is out of line (I think it’s fine sometimes), you might think it’s showmanship. Heck, maybe it is. Overlook that, because I’m just trying to show you what he says. He places a very strong emphasis on bringing men into line in their relationships with women as followers of Christ and bringing men into the church, and he’s bothered by the feminisation of churches.
Mark’s not the only one raising these concerns.
Andrew, a fellow New Zealand blogger and self-professed centrist Anglican (and in spite of what you might think, that’s not a redundancy), who himself is not a complementarian, nonetheless observes:
It is right and proper to be concerned about the gender and generation mix of the church. It is a worry to find mid-morning congregations (i.e. in Kiwiland, the main congregation of a parish) composed of elderly people. It is worrying because it raises the question when and how the next generation of that parish will arrive. It is also a concern to find that a congregation is mostly composed of one gender: at the least it raises the question whether the gospel is being presented in such a way as to engage with one half of humanity rather than both halves.
I won’t labour the point with a long list of examples. The point is, there are Christians out there who think that there’s a problem. One last example that I will use is “Church for Men,” where you can find a few resources on the subject.
I think that there are people out there who simply don’t appreciate this concern adequately and who dismiss it as chest-beating or an attempt to make churches macho. I won’t go into examples, because my point here is not that they are wrong. So I’ll just say that I disagree with them, and I think there is a real problem, and that marginalising the problem (and by extension those who feel disadvantaged by it) is harmful. It’s a problem, thankfully, that a number of churches and organisations are working to address, but a problem I won’t be exploring in-depth here. The problem just serves as the backdrop for the actual criticism I want to raise.
OK, the scene is set. Mark Driscoll is concerned about the phenomenon that others are also drawing attention to, that Christianity is becoming “chickified,” and it would really be a lot better if churches were more appealing to men, and allowed them to be men without all the sissification he sees in churches today.
This was discussed between Mark and his interviewer Justin Brierly recently, and you can hear that interview on the Unbelievable podcast. Subscribe through the iTunes Store, or the link to the episode is here. The interview covered a range of subjects, from the book written by Mark and his wife Grace about marriage, to Mark’s view on women in ministry, to the history of Mars Hill Church, among other things.
During the interview, Mark made the claim that many British churches reject a penal subsitutionary view of the atoning death of Christ because “it seems too dark, too masculine, too intense.” Toward the end of the interview, after the interviewer divulged that his wife was the pastor of his church, Mark asked him if he believed in literal, eternal conscious torment in hell. Now why would that question come up? You see, as Mark then explained, not believing in the eternal conscious suffering of the damned goes hand in hand with a weaker, less manly view of God, with a lack of biblical manliness. It’s soft. The discussion rounded off with Mark – only very slightly in jest – saying that Justin needed to stop drinking decaf and get a little more courage.
Manliness? Courage? Something has happened here. A perfectly worthwhile and valid concern about the way we do church has morphed into something completely different: A way to dismiss other doctrinal points of view – and by extension the biblical arguments for them – by psychoanalysing the people who hold them, and by creating our own standard of what is and is not in keeping with certain virtues.
How on earth can Mark Driscoll or anyone else determine what type of punishment is more in keeping with true manliness?
Firstly, how on earth can Mark Driscoll or anyone else determine what type of punishment is more in keeping with true manliness? One would have thought that a real, old school tough dude would think that a firing squad was a stern end for an evildoer. And yet somehow because this isn’t as drawn out and horrific as torturing somebody forever, it could be more aggressive and sadistic and therefore more manly, so it is false and the more manly alternative is true? Is that really the way of assessing theological points of view that Mark is implying? Of course, if it is then his view is just as easily dismissed as the views that he himself dismisses. After all, if you just hold to a point of view because it’s in keeping with gruffness and toughness, it’s more aesthetically terrible and more difficult to stomach, then you don’t hold it because it’s true.
I would also put money on myself if Mark and I were to meet in the MMA ring. Bring it.
I’m a Calvinist. I’m also a complementarian. (And I may have just lost some readers by saying that.) I think the penal substitutionary view of the death of Christ is basically right. I think churches should actually practice church discipline. I share those points of view with Mark. I would also put money on myself if Mark and I were to meet in the MMA ring. Bring it. I would do that to make the point if I had to. I would make him cry uncle. If he wouldn’t worship a guy he could beat up, he certainly wouldn’t have to refrain from worshiping me on those grounds (not that I would have him worship me of course). Let’s just see who the winner is (it would be me), and since the winner is obviously tougher and therefore more like a proper man and therefore more like God, his theology must be right. Shall we? Look, I have no time for the kind of limp approach to theology that Mark has no time for, but I have just as little time for the man who wants to play psychiatrist to everyone who doesn’t share his doctrines. Frankly I don’t think that’s manly at all. Argue about it, man. Deal with the biblical evidence. Don’t go all Freudian on me. That’s not the way to fight such battles. Be a warrior, not a namby-pamby analyst (I’m trying to relate here, bear with me). In lieu of the MMA match, I would gladly set aside a longstanding rule I have about publicly formally debating other Christians, and I would debate Mark on what the Bible teaches about hell. I would show that quite irrespective of testosterone levels, the biblical evidence is against him. The Bible does not teach eternal torment. It teaches annihilationism.
Interestingly, during the interview Mark named a number of great conservative evangelical writers who have influenced the new wave of young conservative Christians like a number of those are Mars Hill Church, and among them was the British theologian John Stott “who I really love.” This, of course, is the same John Stott who caused heart palpitations among a number of conservative American evangelicals when he went public with his endorsement of annihilationism. Was he therefore showing signs of gender weakness? Was he less of a real man? Maybe a bit gay? Perhaps he believed in Mother God? Hardly. Edward Fudge, a dead giveaway for a very conservative Evangelical, went into painstaking detail through hundreds of pages of biblical exegesis and historical detail to provide what most normal people would call dry, boring evidence for the doctrine of annihilationism. But this somehow reflects – not a critical response to the Scriptural evidence, but a caving in to the softening, effeminate view of God and approach to church? Come off it.
Of course Mark’s not alone here. An evangelical giant, J. I. Packer slipped into the same sort of reductionism, saying that “the feelings that make people want conditionalism [annihilationism] to be true seem to me to reflect, not superior sensitivity, but secular sentimentalism.”1 The problem here is the same: “I have a view of what I think is more sentimentally appealing, and since somebody else’s belief lines up with what I think is more sentimentally appealing, it’s therefore the case that they are motivated by that sentimental appeal.” Outside of the academy, others make the claim more bluntly: “the motivation for annihilationism is emotional.” This kind of intellectually vacuous cheap shot is all throughout evangelicalism, and rears its head when people would rather dismiss others then get their hands dirty with the evidence.
People do this with other principles too, like a commitment to biblical authority. “I believe in the authority of Scripture. The Bible teaches eternal torment. You believe in annihilationism. Therefore you’ve got a weak commitment to the authority of Scripture.” Well, no. It would be nice if issues could be settled so easily, but we just don’t think that the Bible teachers eternal torment (and we’ve got piles of good evidence for our view), just like we don’t think you have to believe in that sort of torture in order to be a real man and have a sufficiently “male view of God.”
That is the criticism I would make of Mark Driscoll’s teaching. It’s not that he’s wrong about Calvinism, or about gender, or about church discipline, or about the need for the church to resist the “chickification” in its presentation, music, mannerisms and so on. I have no problem with that. The criticism that I make of him is the same criticism I make of many evangelicals. They take fine principles, and they just don’t know how to use them. They try to apply them when they’re simply not relevant, and they dismiss points of view in an uncritical and sloppy way with those principles instead of through a process of genuine intellectual and biblical engagement. Mark (and others): Appealing to the recovery of biblical manhood is not the way to answer questions that depend on biblical exegesis, like predestination, the nature of the atonement, or the nature of eternal punishment. When it comes to that, I’m afraid you’ll just have to man up and engage the issues.
- J. I. Packer, “Evangelicals and the Way of Salvation: New Challenges to the Gospel — Universalism, and Justification,” in Evangelical Affirmations, ed. Kenneth Kantzer and Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 126.