The Shape of Piper’s Foundation Laid for Driscoll

The Shape of Piper’s Foundation Laid for Driscoll

“People want to hear what I have to say. It doesn’t matter what I do.”

Newt Gingerich

Permission to treat others poorly often leads to people treating others poorly. It is bad enough when permission is denied and yet people continue to treat others dishonorably. Provide a framework for one’s personal tendencies and the excesses become obvious.

I started down this trek in my last post by suggesting John Piper missed an opportunity to play a helpful mentoring role to Mark Driscoll. Other supporters of Driscoll should not get a “bye” in playing respectful objectors. But Piper’s position is so widely held that the reason for the overall silence from those who readily ring the bell for Driscoll may signal a much larger indictment than should be shouldered by Piper alone.

We may be witnessing little more than a couple of high profile pastors emulating their cultural surroundings. Witness Newt Gingerich’s outburst at being asked about his, as John Stewart put it, “somewhat overlapping marriages.” Rather than call Newt on the carpet the interviewer cowers in the face of Gingerich’s reaction. Too often this is how Driscoll responds to criticism and those who may be in position to offer a critique cower rather than face a cage match.

Long before Driscoll was fulfilling the hopes of every pragmatic Evangelical by pulling off in Seattle what “no one has done before,” Driscoll responded rather bombastically at a Soularize event held there. (I do have the audio. Yes, he has since distanced himself from those culture-embracing Emergents. Keep reading.) Sure he disagreed with the questioner. You may too. I may. But, his tact in reply was to get louder and personal. His recent interview in the UK and his subsequent response were consistent with his pattern. When pressed, get personal. Claim extraordinary results as reason your position is the preference and then ridicule an entire culture for the lack of any comparable model. (Pastor Mark responds from his perspective here.)

I read an article referencing the dustup with Driscoll, MacArthur and Piper a number of years ago. The author suggested that Driscoll had experienced the work of sanctification. He should no longer be considered the cussing pastor. Good for Pastor Mark. But, disagree with Mark and it is hard to see much progress.

The move to create a Jesus to fit an MMA imag(ination) is really nothing more than an extension of cultural iterations where might makes right, men are the rule, and life experiences are cast as male enhancements. Don’t think so? The reviews of Real Marriage I have read indicate a hermeneutic intended to create in marriage an atmosphere for the sexual gratification of the male as its raison de’etre. Piper’s vision of masculine Christianity grants permission.

Radical? Reformissionary? Nah. Satisfied in God? Really? The moves are more host culture dressed up with Christian-ese than radical appropriations of the way of Jesus in modern times. Before taking offense for Messrs. Piper and Driscoll, this is the current state of affairs in Christendom as I see it. In other words the defense of a masculine version of Christianity is verbally defended in the public sphere by these high profile pastor/preachers but they represent the common approach in a good many settings. Or put simply, they announced what others also believe and practice in an ever-narrowing band of Christendom. (For the particular nuance of “Christendom” I have in mind take some time to read David Fitch.)

Rachel Held Evans solicited responses from male theologians/pastors for feminine images of God in the Scriptures. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem longing to gather his people as a mother hen would gather her chicks but they would not. While Jesus referenced his feelings in terms of metaphor, he did not choose a masculine analogy.

My aim is not to defend an egalitarianism that simply reduces human beings to a gender-less brood. The issue is much deeper than that.

What if some outside of Christianity understood the radical move of Paul better than those inside the faith once for all delivered. Rather than pit Paul against Jesus, some political theorists who have turned to reading Paul suggest a better reading of him is as a figure more radical than Jesus. Scandalous. What if they are right?

They are not promoting Paul above Jesus. Instead, their reading seems to suggest Paul takes Jesus and appropriates his message in ways that undercut some of the long held assumptions about the way the world should work. Maybe it would look something like this. The Apostle Paul challenges the pagan cults in Corinth as he suggests women keep silent in the church. If, as scholars contend, there were one thousand temple prostitutes exercising authority over men acting as seductresses many of whom were repenting and joining the community of Jesus people in Corinth, then one could assume they needed to learn the ways of Jesus and rather than as novices in the faith simply baptize their patterns thereby disrupting the church.

Is it really appropriating the message Paul gave to somehow convince us that today women who come into the church are secretly temple prostitutes who share the same need as the women in Corinth? What if the more radical move would be to take the scandalous message of Jesus’ liberation and see in our modern culture(s) the need to appropriate Paul’s radical interpretation of life in Jesus that cuts across ethnic, gender, and social position? The result would be challenging human sex trafficking, working to restore dignity to young women by refusing to see them as simply young boys without the accompanying genitalia, and standing with women in other countries who suffer the indignities that go with chattel status. Now that would be a radical move. That would be a Jesus move.

We spend way too much time looking for ways to sooth the male ego. What we need are pastors to stand and suggest healing and liberation for men whose socialization has for them created a need to pound their chests to prove their masculinity.  (Consider the comment by Guy in the previous post.) The move does not undermine male leadership. But, it does set it in the context of a Body created by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus who sets us free from the need to hold on to hubris. Pride produces actions that inevitably reduce the importance of a self-selected subset of human beings in order to maintain positions of power and authority. Pastors need not create a vocabulary to veil this for their congregations but expose the way these patterns have debilitating effects on vitality in the Church.

A friend called yesterday concerned with what he was reading on this whole affair. He maintained that in his setting the call to men to assume responsibility was having a positive effect on the congregation. Good. Every human being needs to be called to responsibly live in the commonwealth of God. If men are failing at that, then call them out. But do not create for them a means to maintain what they impulsively will do – keep others, especially women, as servants. Jesus’ call is to be a “servant of all.” We hate that little word “pas.” But, those beholden to a literal reading cannot somehow escape the clutches of that little word.

Masculine Christianity? Masculine feel to Christianity? Maybe one day we will let go of hyphenating the Good News of Jesus and see it as it was declared, Good News for all people – to them and for them a Savior has been born, Christ the Lord. That would be a better foundation Piper could lay for Driscoll.

  • http://martyduren.com Marty Duren

    Dude. Seriously good stuff.

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Thanks Marty.

  • http://martyduren.com Marty Duren

    While John Eldredge is simultaneously not a theologian and despised by many because of it, he does note both the man (Adam) and the woman (Eve) are created in the image of God (“in the image of God He created them“). He suggests the personality of God to be too wide and deep to be fully represented by a single gender. As a result, neither male nor female carry more of the image of God than the other. Instead, both bear the Divine image in ways not demonstrated by the other. Different writers may have said the same thing, but it certainly is leant support by verses like the hen and chicks reference you made.

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Marty, interesting reference to Elderidge.

      Picking up on the point of the Divine personality being wider than single gender representations . . . most human beings are wider than the perceptions, designations, and labels, they are either assigned by others or assumed for themselves. How we could possibly think God could be housed in terms like masculine and feminine is to suggest God may be limited by a building made by hands.

  • http://www.kinnon.tv Bill Kinnon

    Powerful stuff, Todd. Important, too. Well said!

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Thanks Bill. You must know that your regular cogitations are inspiring if not impetus to think deeply.

  • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

    Great stuff, Todd. Thank you.

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Emily, in many ways this is both a response to the immediate circumstances related to Driscoll and Piper and in another respect, this is a response to Scot McKnight’s little e-book, Junia Is Not Alone. You, among others, represent the faithful tradition of Junia. The Church is better for it.

      • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

        Thanks, Todd. That means a lot.

  • Matt

    Well-said. I have always found it strange that Driscoll can stand on stage in a million-dollar building, dressed in jeans, graphic t-shirt, and leather wrist band, and make it to the top of the NYT best-seller list– all while lambasting something called ‘culture.’

    Since you mentioned MMA, here is my take on it:
    http://theotherjournal.com/2011/06/28/the-confessions-of-a-cage-fighter-masculinity-misogyny-and-the-fear-of-losing-control/

    Thanks for writing this piece.

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Matt,
      You too pick up the cultural trappings that betray notions of radicality. And, I have read your reflections and found them very good. Glad you posted the link here. Maybe others will find their way to your place and be helped to think critically.

  • Guy Rittger

    Todd – Really thoughtful, provocative commentary. Just want to add one observation, taken from my reading of Jacob Taubes’ “Political Theology of Paul”. If I follow his line of thought, the radicality of Paul’s message is not in relation to the gospel message – keep in mind that the writings containing the teachings of Jesus didn’t exist in Paul’s time – but in relation to how the gospel message was understood by the followers of Jesus still living in and around Jerusalem, particularly Peter and the other apostles.

    That is to say, the earliest “Christians” still considered themselves, first and foremost, Jews and this was apparently reflected in their understanding of the scope of the new covenenant established by the death and resurrection of what was essentially a Jewish messiah. It was, I think, the “problem” of the Gentiles that led Paul to his more expansive – “radical” – understanding of the gospel, which includes a vision of human freedom that ultimately – if only potentially – put Christianity in conflict with established, pre-modern cultural practices.

    My own problem with people like Piper and Driscoll is that they continue to ignore – or perhaps unconsciously repress – the message of radical freedom that Paul revealed in the gospel message, and adopt the fairly conventional standards and practices of their contemporary host cultures.

    This is why, when all is said and done, there doesn’t seem to me to be much difference between what they teach and what the dominant secular culture requires, particularly with respect to gender identity and relations, in this particular context.

    Respectfully,

    Guy

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Guy,
      I agree with your reference to Taubes. I am still reading. However, I was thinking how we might appropriate their particular reading for this context.

      Your second paragraph is an important reminder to the path of Paul’s radical move regarding freedom.

      As always, I am helped each time you stop by to comment.

      Peace.

  • Guy Rittger

    Todd – I should have noted that you already “cut to the chase”, as it were, in the 12th paragraph of your post. That, to my mind, is the appropriate “Jesus move” for any reading of Paul that wants to get to the heart of the challenge he faced crafting a relevant message to his contemporary audience.

    The “readings” of Paul by Piper, Driscoll, et al., focus on what I’d call the historical/culturally contextual compromises that Paul makes with the gospel message of radical freedom in the interest of meeting his audience at the place they find themselves on their Christian journey. Instead of recognizing these accommodations for what they are, Piper, Driscoll, et al represent them – admittedly in their somewhat contemporary form, which is, let’s face it, already going down the slippery slope and allowing for historicist readings of the New Testament – as eternal verities. What gets left on the cutting room floor is the tension between contemporary practice and ideals of freedom. In return, we get more words of men masquerading as laws of God.

    If you could dig up examples of Piper, Driscoll, et al “wrestling” with the relevant Pauline passages on freedom, that would be interesting indeed.

    Respectfully,

    Guy

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Guy –
      I just may have to look for those occasions of Piper/Driscoll wrestling with the relevant passage on freedom.
      Peace.

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