There was a day when I cared deeply about site statistics. If a person sets out to write, you can be sure they prefer to be read. Echo chamber writing serves only delusional purposes. When the recent installment of the Mark Driscoll story broke, I shuttered the urge to write. There are so many ways this story is like the disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight MH370. Everyone speculates. Only time will tell.
What prompted this foray into the story was the question from our daughter, Tommie. She wanted to know my take on this story. I feel I should respond since she asked in quiet and did not disrupt a study on the subject. (I hope you got that bit of humor. If not, that is OK. Patty tells me I am not very funny. Oops. I did it again.)
It appears there are three camps – lovers, haters, and others. I would self-identify as in the others category. Despite my former days of interest in siding with camps within my tribe, read denomination, I feel more ambivalence than energy. It is not that I do not have an opinion on celebrity pastors, multi-site churches, megachurches, and the way these phenomenon shape both public perception and the way spiritual formation takes place within a given church setting. My self-diagnosis with regard to my antipathy rests in a matter of spheres. God insists that I exist within the framework of my local congregation and give attention to how that vocation gets worked out within that context.
What does interest me is how these events get interpreted, a hermeneutics of sorts. Consider Mark Driscoll’s apology as a “text” to be interpreted. Here are a few of the hermeneutical exercises that intrigued me.
First, Janet Mefford interprets Ray Ortlund’s response offered at The Gospel Coalition website. Ortlund interprets Driscoll’s apology for TGC faithful. Here Mefford takes exception to the way Ortlund characterizes those who question Driscoll. It is hard not to think Mefford is calling Ortlund out for a sycophantic reading of the new apology.
In the wake of the letter, many Christians who have long been silent on the topic of Driscoll scandals, in general — notably, for example, the serial-plagiarism scandal that has dogged him since my November interview with Driscoll — have come rushing out to laud the embattled pastor’s mea culpa.
At The Gospel Coalition website, Ray Ortlund — whom the Mars Hill website listed in 2009 as a church planter with Driscoll’s Acts 29 Network — wrote a column, called “What Just Happened,” at the group’s website. In it, Ortlund interpreted Driscoll’s letter as a definitive act of repentance that neutralizes the arguments of any who would dare continue to criticize him. “Let’s understand what just happened,” Ortlund wrote. “His repentance just pulled the rug out from underneath all the Driscoll-haters out there. He shifted the moral burden to them.”
First of all: Driscoll-haters? Is he really implying that if you have a problem with things like lying, stealing, fraud, hypocrisy, cheating, cover-up and corruption, you literally hate Mark Driscoll? That’s absurd. A better name for those kinds of people — those who want their pastors to engage in godly behavior — actually would be “Christians.”
Second, Kester Brewin applies a radical reading to the episode. Kester applies his radical reading of the Prodigal Son Story to Driscoll’s move from angry-young-prophet to father figure. Many of you will not be able to get past Kester’s reading of the Prodigal Son. I understand. But, if you are able, there is a very interesting way to look at what Brewin describes as the move from angry-young-prophet to father figure that should sound the alarm for all of us.
The ‘turn’ of the story occurs when the son is helpless, among animals and animal food. He feels too weak to push through with his escape, so gives up and returns. Thus, the ‘angry young prophet’ quietly goes back, chastened, and grows to become the father. Takes over the business, his anger pushed down, suppressed, taken out in tiny systemic, authoritarian ways, until his own son grows… and grows angry, and the cycle repeats again.
Jesus refused that way. Coming from a place of great riches to a place of great need, he experienced hunger and poverty. But he didn’t just give up and go back. No, he challenged his father instead to stop hiding, to come out and be vulnerable among these people too. This is the non-tragic ending that the prodigal son misses, and that the gospel presents.
When Driscoll talks about moving from ‘angry young prophet’ to becoming a father, it makes me worry that he is simply following this well-trodden path that the prodigal took… and the father too, in his own youth. Didn’t the angry young divinity of the Old Testament make moves to becoming the loving father? But this cycle only leads to another generation being suppressed, oppressed, and having anger generated too.
For those that cannot read past Brewin’s radical reading, the caution is that the move from angry-young-prophet to father figure is not a postive move for Driscoll.
Third, Jim West interprets the events in farcical terms, or more simply mockery. Here I am thinking of this piece in terms of Marx’s restatement of Hegel that historical personages appear twice, first as tragedy and then as farce. If you are following the series of events that preceded this apology, then you will understand the connection between mocery and farce as you read West’s attempt at Keirkegaardian humor.
I come to you with an unconditional apology. But first, thank you for not leaking this private document. I wouldn’t want to apologize to just ANYBODY.
Now that that is out of the way…Whew! It feels really great to finally be so humble.
I have received a great deal of love and encouragement (hero worship) from you for an impressive sounding amount of years. I appreciate every person who prays for my family and me–except for the ones who I don’t make myself available to, which is all of you. I continue to find great joy in doing the preachy-teachy in your face with a father’s razor-sharp military-grade affection. Who has two thumbs and enjoys yelling in a downward direction while walking off his steak and eggs breakfast every Sunday? This guy.
People often ask if our church today resembles what I had originally planned. Not even close. Our smallest warehouse full of money is much bigger than my biggest wheelbarrow-full-of-money-and-Rachael-Ray dreams of days gone by.
For the non-skeptical, this was a smart move. But for the skeptical, this was a smart move. Because of his public apology, Driscoll’s fans know he’s here to stay. Because of his public apology, Driscoll’s critics know he’s here to stay. For some, it is Driscoll’s faith that makes him so appealing. For others, it is his faith that makes him so dangerous.
Both sides of the same coin. What is the coin?
And finally, for my list, Maggi Dawn demonstrates that words mean something. Maggi draws attention to the use of our Senior Pastor Jesus and that really what Driscoll apologizes for is being too busy,
I usually stay out of discussing Mark Driscoll. I don’t warm to his style of ministry and what I’ve read and watched in the past seemed to me to be full of theological and pastoral problems, not least of which is the paternalistic, macho approach he takes to ministry. But his recent “apology” seems to me to require some response, because he is now pitching himself as a reformed Reformed pastor, which begs a little examination.
The drift of Driscoll’s apology is a reply to his recent sales scandal, in which he hired a company to buy copies of his book to promote it to bestseller lists; he was also accused of plagiarism.
““My angry-young-prophet days are over,” writes Driscoll in his apology statement; “to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father.” He writes that the problems he has caused were the result of him being overwhelmed, and of his plans to cut back on social media and public engagements. All well and good, that’s what any sane person does when they find their workload is too heavy.
But the underlying message is that his ministry has never really been that far off course; he affirms what has gone before and that he will continue with his basic vision, a central point of which is “Train leaders (especially men)”.
The worrying part of his statement, to me, is that in stating his desire to be accountable, he names various men whom he will work with as advisors, but also says, “To be clear, these are decisions I have come to with our Senior Pastor Jesus Christ.”
You may have read others who responded. Maybe you saw in one of Jim Henderson’s FB post comment thread a number of people who have been directly involved in the ministry of Mars Hill, and so Mark Driscoll. Their wounds appear deep. Or maybe you discovered that some twenty former pastors associated with Mars Hill have sought mediation and reconciliation in a formal letter to Mars Hill’s leadership, as yet of yet with no response. For me the visceral responses that come from wounding are a different point, or at least a different matter.
What I find helpful in forming an opinion is watching the way language works in assessing the apology in light of a very visible, very public ministry. One which if most pastors would admit to is a matter of degree. Every pastor functions within a particular sphere. How do people assess your words and actions?
What do you think of these interpretive evaluations?