Mark Driscoll and the Reformed-Emergent smackdown, pt. 1

About a month ago, Mark Driscoll (pastor of Seattle’s ginormous megachurch phenomenon otherwise known as Mars Hill—not to be confused with Michigan’s ginormous megachurch phenomenon also known as Mars Hill) spoke at the Convergent Conference, sharing his thoughts on two competing visions of Christianity.

In his speech (click here for the podcast), Mark drew strong battle lines between what he calls the “Revisionists” (i.e. the emerging church) and the “Relevant Reformed” (his group—i.e. the cool Calvinists).

Recently I took a theological worldview survey for the fun of it, and apparently I’ve got a little bit of the both groups me, among other things. (Not to blur the battle lines or anything…) While there are some very real differences between these two perspectives, I’m not sure I buy the idea that they’re mutually exclusive in every way.

Needless to say, there have been lots of reactions to Mark’s speech—some heralding it as a watershed moment marking the beginning of the end for all those emerging types… others questioning the tone and substance of Mark’s presentation… and still others simply, ah, winking at Mark.

Mark Driscoll is an important voice in the church today, so I decided to tune in and see what Mark had to say. And it provoked a number of thoughts/questions/observations. I see at least five dangers in it all, so I think I’ll divide this into five posts. Here’s number one:

1. The danger of conversations and the even greater danger of not having them

There is no single term that can describe the entire emerging church, but I think many would agree that seeing faith as a conversation—that is, a dialogue, a journey, a process of discovery—is one of the emerging church’s major contributions to Christian thought. Even one of its leading critics, D.A. Carson, picked up on this in the title of his book, Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church.

But Mark seemed to depict conversation as one of the great threats to the church:

What concerns me is what I see in Genesis 3… It shows us where history went askew and we were led by the serpent—which Revelation reveals is Satan our enemy—into error and falling. And that is through a conversation. And the emergent church has positioned itself as a conversation—a conversation about things that God has said. A conversation about whether or not God meant what he said. Of course, I don’t mind a conversation. I have a wife and two daughters—I’ve had them. But when God speaks, we are not to converse. We are to obey.

Now, the notion of faith as a conversation was not invented by the emerging church. It’s an integral part of the biblical story.

What about Abraham, who not only conversed with God, but openly questioned how God could bring about his promised blessings (Genesis 15)? Or what about when Abraham bargained with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-33)?

What about Moses, who tried (and failed) to converse his way out of leading the Hebrews (Exodus 3-4) and, on another occasion, boldly—and successfully—talked God out of destroying the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 32:11-14)?

What about Job, who engaged in such a scandalously frank conversation about God’s justice that his friends rebuked him for it? (In the end, Job’s friends were rebuked by God for questioning Job’s integrity.)

What about the rabbis, who engaged in a never-ending conversation about the Torah, how to interpret it, and which laws were more important—a conversation that Jesus actively participated in?

Conversation is risky—and yes, it can be dangerous. But a conversation about what God said is not necessarily the same as a conversation about whether or not he really meant what he said. After reading the scriptures, some might even say that faith itself is one big conversation; it’s through conversing with the text and each other that God reveals himself to us. God demands our allegiance and obedience, yes—but he also invites us to wrestle with him, like Jacob did.

Tomorrow, part 2: the danger of being against being known for what you’re against

5 thoughts on “Mark Driscoll and the Reformed-Emergent smackdown, pt. 1

  1. Sigh.

    “When God speaks…”

    I love oversimplification.

    When did God speak?

    How did he speak?

    To whom did he speak?

    What does that mean today?

    What did it mean then?

    In what literary genre was his speaking recorded?



    I’m tired already.



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