Mark Driscoll: Father figure?

Today, I read an article which contains this link to a copy of a letter purporting to be from Mark Driscoll to members of Mars Hill church. I would encourage you to read it through in its entirety.

The polarising effect of Driscoll’s abrasive charm is well documented. He has been variously branded as an angry, foul mouthed, misogynistic, fundamentalist, homophobic, sex obsessed celebrity autocrat who bears more resemblance to Fred Phelps than Jesus Christ. His critics are legion, and the significant number of those who revile his candid brand of New Calvinism are perhaps second only to those who admire rather than admonish him. If the Young, Restless and Reformed movement had a poster boy, Driscoll would be a strong candidate for such an accolade.

I have followed Mark Driscoll for a number of years now, and in the interest of full disclosure, would unashamedly identify with the latter camp of admirers for much of that time. Spending seemingly innumerable evenings devouring his archived sermon series on various topics (such as doctrine) characterised a significant season of my Christian walk. I have bought and read several of his books, read dozens of his blog posts, subscribed to his leadership coaching videos, and even went out of my way to drive up to Birmingham one year to see him speak. As a friend once rightly suggested to me (with considerable surprise at the time) I was a ‘fan’.

In retrospect, my gravitation towards Mark Driscoll was driven by a broad range of factors. The ease of accessibility to Mars Hill resources through iTunes podcasts and the Internet in general was certainly one of these. My local church context at the time was undoubtedly another. I recall vividly, in 2008, feeling profoundly confused about the core tenets of the Christian faith, due in no small part to the morass of division and tension which seemed to typify my experience of church at the time. My own flaws not withstanding, I remember the disconcerting reality of having the proverbial rug pulled from beneath my feet, as it were, as I saw increasing numbers of people leave the church for a variety of (sometimes unknown) reasons. Doctrinal diversity, it turns out, doesn’t always translate into unity.

As a relatively new Christian, what I desperately yearned for was clarity, honesty, and certainty. I was hungry for Biblical truth because my life had been turned upside down through encountering Jesus. I wanted the basics spelled out for me. I needed somebody to show me how to read the Bible, how to pray, how to live, and how to make sense of the big questions. I craved some sense of belonging to a community which gathered together for the shared purpose of worshipping Jesus, getting to know him better, and sharing him with others. In short, I needed and wanted to be shown how to be a faithful disciple. Without minimising my own sin, idealism, failures, and unrealistic expectations of people, sadly, this ultimately wasn’t the reality I was faced with in my first church as an adult Christian.

Around the same time, I gradually became increasingly aware of the various streams of Western Christianity and the multifarious schisms, disagreements, approaches and perspectives which seem to characterise the wider body of Christ. I needed direction, accountability, and in all honesty, I wanted a father figure. As strange as it may seem to some, at the time I found Mark Driscoll’s uncompromising sermon messages, willingness to call out sin, and relentless desire to point to Jesus and his Gospel at every opportunity refreshingly straightforward. Perhaps our shared Roman Catholic heritage and working class origins helped to smooth the way for me to relate to his confrontational preaching style, I’m not sure. I certainly recall growing up around countless examples of wayward, rough talking young men who could have benefitted from a dose of Driscoll’s direct, impolite, ‘call a spade a spade’ approach to whipping them into shape, and pointing them to their desperate need for a saviour.

Whatever the case may be, I am thankful for Mark Driscoll. Did he get everything right? No. Neither will I, and nor will you. Do I agree with everything he teaches on or stands for? Certainly not. Yet from my perspective he provided a critical anchor for me when I was drifting away from true North at a difficult point in my Christian walk. He countered the confusion I had been feeling through the influence of what some commentators have described as the “emergent church”, and he helped me begin to understand that not all roads lead to the real, authentic Christian Gospel. He briefly, partially, (and remotely) fulfilled the role of a father figure in the faith, at a time when I most needed it.

So I hope that his repentance is genuine, his heart is sincere, and that God continues to use him for his Kingdom purposes. It’s likely that I may never meet the man this side of eternity, but I wish and pray God’s very best for him. In recent years I haven’t watched many of his sermons or kept on top of many of his other materials, and so his influence on my thinking has undoubtedly waned. I was disappointed by the recent controversies surrounding plagiarism charges in his latest book, and the scandalous revelation that he signed off on using a PR company to deceive people into thinking that his book “Real Marriage” was a Bestseller. Such developments have certainly helped me to take a more sober, critical viewpoint on his character, theology, and philosophy of ministry.

I will not however, cease to listen to his voice entirely since I believe that he, like so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, has something valuable to contribute to the church. I also agree with his infamous statement that, whilst he admittedly often goes too far, too many preachers don’t go far enough. I for one hope that we have yet to see the best of Mark Driscoll.