I became a follower of Jesus when I was just nineteen. Shortly afterwards someone introduced me to Pastor Mark. It was a thrilling experience to listen to Driscoll’s preaching. This was back before there was video at Mars Hill. I remember my second year at university listening to countless hours, hundreds of Driscoll’s sermons, all for free at the Mars Hill website. As time went on, I remember looking forward to getting back to my house so that I could watch his latest sermon on Grace and Works, humour in the Bible, abortion and birth control, or whatever it might have been. He was funny and engaging and cool and convicting. I read his books, which were an inspirational story of success in sharing the gospel in a difficult environment and in seeing a new community formed. Even given what I’m about to say, I still think Death by Love is one of the best Christian books I’ve ever read, elucidating and demonstrating the multi-faceted dimensions of the gospel in a powerful way. In short, Driscoll made me want to be a responsible, godly and Christ-like man. He laid a deposit in my soul which profoundly changed my outlook, I think for the better.
Time went on, and I don’t know what happened, but I became less interested in Driscoll. The last things I listened to were his sermons on marriage a couple of years ago and one sermon from his series on The Ten Commandments, probably a year ago. The marriage sermons were good, but The Ten Commandments one I felt was a bit shallow. I felt Driscoll made a number of unsubstantiated claims and that his hermeneutics surrounding the Law were very lazy and hadn’t engaged with any scholarly sources or exegetical questions that might have come up upon reading the passage. And I sort of left it there really. Nowadays, if I were to listen to someone online in would probably be someone like Tim Keller, who I find biblically literature, intellectually stimulating and spiritually challenging. I’m sad to say I don’t find Driscoll to be those things any more.
Recently Driscoll has come in for a lot of flak. He has most certainly done some very bad things, some of them shameful. He may have even ruined people’s lives. Everybody knows now that Driscoll has stepped down from his post at Mars Hill for at least six weeks. If you haven’t already watched the video of Driscoll making his announcement, I would highly recommend it.
Given my mixed experience, I’ve thought about what my reaction should be. I’ve got a few thoughts.
This is one of the things I see in my heart when I read and hear about Driscoll’s fall from grace. I read the letter from the Acts 29 board, kicking him and Mars Hill out. I’ve seen countless letters and articles from people who have been let down or abused by Driscoll online. And to be honest, my reaction is often one of perverse curiosity and almost a kind of parasitical delight in the downfall of someone who has been so successful. It’s a story, I suppose, and stories are interesting, even when they involve other people’s pain and misery.
I feel sadness when I look not at the legitimate criticism of Driscoll, but of Christians heaping merciless criticism upon him. I choose my words carefully when I call it merciless. For example, I just did a quick search and found this website The Mark Driscoll Controversy. The homepage lists five reasons that Mark Driscoll is a false prophet. Have a look for yourself and see what you think of these reasons. I have to say that calling someone a false prophet for wearing casual clothes, liking punk rock music, supporting Christians having tattoos and claiming to have visions is pretty lame.
I have come across many blogs celebrating the demise of Driscoll because of his stance on issues of gender and sexuality. I have seen many comments on social media to the effect that the writer is dancing with joy to hear of the news of his failure.
Some of this criticism may be legitimate, but I call it merciless because I think that many people are looking to criticise Driscoll as much as possible and want to find reasons to slag him off and do him down. Some of this I’m sure is because people simply hate him for saying what he has said and doing what he has done.
I’ve thought a lot about Driscoll over the last couple of days. Personally, I’ve just come to an end of five years working full-time in some kind of Christian ministry, and I’ve been trying to imagine what Driscoll might feel like. My experience is nothing compared to his in so many ways, but here is what I imagine.
I imagine Driscoll feels an almost unbearable burden of shame for the things that he has done. If you watch that video you can see that he is a broken man. Even the hardest heart must feel sorry for him that those things he wrote on that website almost fifteen years ago got found and publicised. He had said sorry, been forgiven and put it past him, and then it was back in everyone’s face while he was on holiday with his family. When he speaks about it in the video, he clearly feels terrible shame and regret.
There are things that I have done in real life and online which have made me feel shame. When you’re in ministry full-time and these things happen, it’s very difficult not to think of yourself as a complete failure and to imagine the damage that you’ve done to your reputation and possibly to your ministry or your church through your bad behaviour. You think about the young people who might have seen or heard it, and you hope they didn’t pay too much attention. You think about older men you respect and hope they don’t go on Facebook too often.
Many bad things I have done have been online. Like Driscoll, I am quick to fire off insults and hurtful comments on social media. I get angry and indignant very quickly, write something, and regret it two hours later. It’s a horrible feeling, and the shame literally stays with me for days, weeks, or months afterwards.
There are people I’m embarrassed to see sometimes because I feel that I have let them down or betrayed them or wasted their time. It’s too awkward to bring things up from the past, so you don’t say anything. But you know it’s been hard for both of you. You wish there was some kind of absolution, but it’s too hard this side of heaven.
I imagine Driscoll feels what I feel but a thousand times more strongly, and I can’t imagine how difficult that must be. I think there are probably times when he hates himself with all his strength, feels like a total failure as a minister and as a husband and father, and can’t look at his reflection in the mirror.
And it’s because of reflections like this that I feel sympathy for Driscoll. If you haven’t done full-time ministry, I would ask you to be slightly slower to criticise those who are trying. I know it sounds like a sob story but there are aspects to it which are very difficult, especially when you are an angry and convicted young man. You make mistakes, lots of them, and the more successful you are the more they are amplified.
I think about the gospel (I’m a huge fan of Tim Keller on this) and how we must try to relate it to everything in life. What does the gospel say to me in this situation? To me, it says one word: Grace.
When I think about that sense of shame I mentioned earlier, the shame I feel, the shame Driscoll feels, the embarrassment, the feeling of condemnation, the damage done to relationships through sin or misunderstanding or incompetence of whatever, I meditate on this word ‘grace’ and it’s like someone has opened the window, and the spring breeze comes into a stuffy room. I inhale it, and I feel relieved. Oh, that someone would show me grace when I have been an idiot, and when I deserve for all my stupidity to be condemned and criticised! Oh, to know that I am loved and cared for, even though I’m a fool!
You know that feeling, I’m sure. That feeling when you’ve done something stupid, and you carry round the regret like a weight in your soul. At that moment, all you want is someone to forgive you, and to take it away, and to tell you everything’s cool, and there’s nothing to worry about. It’s all water under the bridge. What a wonderful saying!
Love and Hope
Two thoughts from the Bible to finish off. It says somewhere that ‘love covers a multitude of sins’. Think about that. I think that means that when you decide to show love to someone, it’s much harder to see that person’s sin. You end up thinking better of that person. You end up encouraging them and wanting good for them, because you love them. You defend that person when others criticise and slander. That person may cross the line eventually, but you are far slower to see that than others who show no love.
In a famous place, it says that ‘love hopes all things and believes all things’. I think this means that, when you decide to show love to someone, you hope that the best is true and that you make a choice to believe what they say is true. It might mean that you get taken for a ride, but you’re willing to take that risk in love.
So, my conclusion is that I am going to show this kind of love to Driscoll and encourage others to do the same. The reason for this is the gospel, and because I would like other people to do the same for me when I make mistakes.
So I watch Driscoll’s apology and I make the decision to believe him, to believe that he is sorry, to believe that he wants to change, grow and mature, and put childish ways behind him. I believe him that this apology is not a stage-managed attempt to save his celebrity status, but that it is genuine and deep repentance.
It might be the case that Driscoll has disqualified himself from ministry but I hope it’s not. It’s not my decision anyway, and I’m happy to leave that to the elders in his church. I hope he can go on sharing the gospel with believers and unbelievers. I hope his church will continue to thrive and grow. I hope he can continue to be a good husband and father. I hope he’s okay.
As far as I’m concerned, it is water under the bridge now. Let’s forget what is past and strain forward to what lies ahead. Isn’t that what Jesus is all about? I really hope it is, for my sake as well as Driscoll’s.