There’s something attractive about Mark Driscoll to Methodists in a Clint Eastwood (pre-chair-incident) kind of way. We often see our denomination’s attendance decline as punishment for our unwillingness to “stand up for the truth,” “call sin a sin,” use words like hell and Satan and wrath in our sermons, etc. We’re surrounded by independent evangelical megachurches whose preachers have booming baritone voices that tell it like it is, which is why they’re growing faster than any tower Babel ever built. And then Driscoll tweets this:
Wow Pastor Mark, when you say things like that, it’s like pitching a 60 mile an hour change-up to every Sammy Sosa in the blogosphere. I guess when you’ve got a big tree, your fruit hangs low. It seems tacky even to comment on this tweet, and I wouldn’t if it weren’t the fruit of a tree that many of my fellow evangelical-ish Methodists are pining after (see the comments on this piece).
Central Texas Methodist Bishop Mike Lowry wrote a glowing appraisal of Driscoll’s ministry, which he saw as “vibrant and courageous in the way in which it engages the city.” To be fair, Lowry did say that Mark’s “theology is more Calvinist and hard-core evangelical than I embrace.” But maybe if we Methodists were “hard-core” enough to accept the sober truth of Pastor Mark’s tough God, then we could have “vibrant and courageous” congregations too. How many of us secretly think that?
Charismatic hubris is not only attractive; it’s Biblical. Jesus impressed his synagogue audiences “because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22). There’s something compelling about leaders who know that they’re right and act on their convictions. Others are reassured by their self-assurance so they tend to draw lots of disciples. Self-certainty is a very attractive vision to cast, particularly if your version of what’s wrong with the world resonates with a sizable demographic of people and especially if you prove that you’re willing to say politically incorrect things aloud that your disciples have felt shamed into not saying.
Self-certain heroes are very different than “teachers of the law” who trudge around with their Books of Discipline and the open-minded nuance expressed by their inability to avoid resolving every disagreement with a “both-and” statement. We want a hero who speaks the truth with clarity, not a confusing web of committees and boards that crank out long reports nobody reads and resolutions emphatically asking our government to please do something about poverty and climate change and tomatoes picked in Immokalee, Florida.
Clarity can build a big church, as long as it’s a clarity that speaks to the sensibilities of the people in the neighborhood. Clarity has a way of scratching our ears that feels good (2 Timothy 4:3). Now there’s nothing wrong with clarity as long as it’s the perfect truth. When the Truth becomes a human being and speaks with authority, that’s awesome. But we’re not Jesus. As Paul says, “Now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Churches don’t do so well when their pastors speak about God’s truth as though they are describing a “reflection in a mirror.” They tend to shrink.
It was because Jesus often “knew in his spirit… what [other people] were thinking in their hearts” (Mark 2:8) that He would make very presumptuous, offensive statements, like calling Simon the Pharisee a terrible dinner host after Simon got an uncomfortable look on his face when Jesus’ feet were being eroticized by a prostitute (Luke 7:36-50). I imagine Mark Driscoll feels that he was emulating Jesus to speak with bold prophetic clarity in proclaiming that Barack Obama doesn’t believe in the Bible and “likely” doesn’t know God. Notice the precision with which he qualified the last part.
The main theological difference between me and Driscoll is that I don’t believe God picked teams before the beginning of time. I guess if you don’t think Jesus died for everybody, then it frees you up to say things that might otherwise make you worry about alienating people you’re supposed to share the gospel with, such as half the population of this country. If their destiny has been already set, then if they’re elect and you’re elect, they’ll agree with you even if you err on the side of clarity rather than tact.
And when you say these bold, politically incorrect things, the people in your church who know they’re on God’s good side will get even more fired up to find others who agree with you so that your church gets even bigger. You’ll even make Methodists want to leave behind their roundtables of nuance and niceness so that they can join you in the land of clarity where megachurches shoot up to the sky like Jack’s beanstalk.
I can’t rebuke Driscoll out of hand for his prophetic conviction, because I believe with perhaps as much hubris that God has given me a prophecy too. I actually think Mark Driscoll is a very important witness within evangelical Christianity today, along with others like Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, Terry Jones, Dinesh D’Souza, John Hagee, Todd Akin, and my favorite Biblical exegete Steven Anderson. What if it’s true that God is bearing all of them with great patience so that, as our eyes are opened by their testimony, the riches of His glory can be revealed to the objects of His mercy?
I keep praying that God would make their fruit plain (Matthew 7:17), and He keeps on answering my prayer. The pigs keep stampeding off the cliff, and the exorcism of the American evangelical church continues. Who knows? Maybe all the Methodists will eventually ditch Methodism for the big churches with vigorous and courageous preachers. We’ve certainly had plenty ditch our congregation for the local “community” church. As a preacher who is anything but vigorous and courageous, I gain comfort from one who once wrote that he “resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified” because he “came in weakness with great fear and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:2-3). I guess I just fear God too much to tweet damnation over presidents.