A former Mars Hill pastor’s resignation letter

Via William Throckmorton:

Dustin Kensrue, the worship pastor at Mars Hill’s Bellevue campus, has resigned. That makes four out of nine Mars Hill pastors and elders who signed a letter calling for Mark Driscoll’s removal who have either resigned or been forced out.

If you want a picture of what’s going on at Mars Hill, read the letter he shared on Twitter this week.


Some excerpts…

While the nine signers of the letter that was leaked last week have been met with gratefulness and an outpouring of prayer from the people of Mars Hill, internally we have been dismissed and defamed as “immature” among other epithets…

One pastor was already removed from eldership for his part in signing the letter…

As for the 5 the signers who were at Bellevue, it was made clear we weren’t going to be fired at this point (I am assuming for PR reasons) but it was also made equally clear to us where the door was, and that it would be just fine if we chose to walk through it.

What executive elder Dave Bruskas revealed about governance at Mars Hill in a meeting with Kensrue last week:

He went so far as to say that if 61 of 63 elders across Mars Hill all shared the same conviction that something needed to change, it simply wouldn’t matter.

On the consolidation of power in the hands of Mark Driscoll and a handful of his closest allies, which casts serious doubt on the ability of the church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability to investigate with any integrity:

In the last 2 major revisions of the Mars Hill bylaws, the ability for the FCE [Full Council of Elders] to do anything has been all but completely taken away. The two things that the FCE can still do is to approve a change to the MH statement of faith, and to approve the slate of nominees for the board of BOAA [Board of Advisors and Accountability]. The problem with approving the slate is that it provides only the illusion of accountability since the FCE cannot nominate people for the slate, and if they did choose to vote a slate down, the current BOAA remains in power until the FCE approve a slate that the BOAA provides. At this point, continuing to even call the FCE a council is essentially a ruse and a farce.

Power is consolidated in such a way that the government of MH can only be described as an oligarchy which does not reflect the mutually submissive view of elder governance in provided in the Bible. And this theological shift points to the likelihood that this consolidation of authority through the revision of the bylaws is not, as it has been presented, an oversight or an unintentional byproduct of solving some other set of problems, but rather a deliberate and deft grab for power.

On the powerlessness of pastors and elders to lead Mars Hill out of this morass:

So, what’s the answer to the question “what can your elders do?” Simply put, sadly not much. This is why we’ve looked pained when you’ve have asked us what we are going to do about all of this…

Your pastors, who are on the ground with you, who know you, who care for you, who pray with you, and in whom you trust—these men have essentially no voice and no vote in what happens with your church as a whole, and the leadership is actively trying to limit the voice that they do have.

Read the rest here.

Image via Facebook

Good and bad reasons to criticize Mark Driscoll

The collapse of Mark Driscoll’s empire should give us plenty to reflect on. The dubious wisdom of megachurches functioning as mini-empires. The unhealthy influence wielded by celebrity pastors in our culture (and our willingness to let them wield it). The connection that seems to exist between certain theological perspectives and authoritarian (and sometimes abusive) forms of church governance.

But we should also consider what it took to finally hold Mark Driscoll accountable. There was a time not that long ago when criticizing his behavior would get you labeled a “hater” in many circles. In the end, even some of Driscoll’s allies wound up speaking out, but not always for the right reasons.

There are good and bad reasons to speak out against authoritarian leaders like Mark Driscoll.

Bad reason: self-preservation

The tipping point probably came when the Acts 29 church network revoked Mars Hill’s membership and called on Driscoll to step down. Suddenly, dismissing all of his critics as “haters” didn’t work anymore. Mark Driscoll was one of the founders of Acts 29. The leadership of Acts 29 were among his closest allies. When even your friends start telling you to “seek help,” the game is pretty much over.

Still, Acts 29 made no secret of their motivation for speaking out: self-preservation. From their letter to Driscoll:

Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behavior. We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior.

Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network…

In other words: You’re making us look bad.

Their letter acknowledged that Acts 29 had allowed Driscoll’s behavior to go unchecked—that they had essentially looked the other way—even after several of their own members confirmed the accusations to be true.

Acts 29 was right to urge Driscoll to step down, but it’s hard to read their statement as much more than throwing a former ally under the bus.

There was not one word about those who were spiritually abused.

Not one word about Mars Hill members who were subjected to coercive forms of “church discipline.”

Not one word about church leaders who were fired for questioning Driscoll’s power grab in 2007.

Not one word about those whom Driscoll berated, threatened, and verbally abused over the years.

If Acts 29 acted out of genuine concern for Mark Driscoll’s victims, why did they fail to even mention them their letter to Driscoll or in the public statement on their website?

Good reason: standing up for the abused

It wasn’t Acts 29 who brought Driscoll’s misdeeds to light. It was Stephanie Drury. It was Warren Throckmorton, whose relentless coverage kept more traditional media outlets playing catch-up. It was Matthew Paul Turner, who shared first-person accounts of spiritual abuse and bizarre exorcisms at Mars Hill. It was Dee Parsons at the Wartburg Watch. It was former Mars Hill leaders like Paul Petry and Bent Meyer who stood up to Driscoll when he consolidated his power in 2007—and were fired for doing so. It was Ron Wheeler.

There’s a big difference between Acts 29 and these individuals. One group acted out of self-preservation, the other on behalf of those who’ve been abused and marginalized by Mark Driscoll.

By their own admission, Acts 29 looked the other way for years while Driscoll consolidated power and perpetuated destructive patterns of behavior. Meanwhile, those who spoke out were labeled “cynics,” “vipers,” and worse by Driscoll’s defenders. Those who’d been abused were dismissed as little more than an angry mob. Driscoll’s critics were told they were simply using him to build their own platforms or sell more books.

To be sure, there are plenty of bad reasons to criticize someone like Mark Driscoll. And there’s a great chasm of difference between criticizing them and celebrating their downfall. But standing up for the abused means speaking out against their abusers. It means bringing their abusive ways into the light. 

That’s just what the so-called “cynics” and “haters” did with Mark Driscoll.

There are people out there who will not suffer spiritual abuse at the hands of Mark Driscoll anymore because of the work of Stephanie Drury, Matthew Paul Turner, and Warren Throckmorton, and others. Whether or not Driscoll continues as pastor of Mars Hill, he’ll never get the free pass he once had. People will go into his church with their eyes open (or at least with no excuse for not having them open).

That’s why I think we should be very, very careful about using the label “cynic” to silence public dissent.

Speaking out against abuse is more important than protecting the church’s reputation. It’s more important than preserving some artificial sense of “Christian unity.” It’s more important than self-preservation.

I hope we’ll remember that with the next Mark Driscoll.

Related posts: 
On using the label “cynic” to silence people
In defense of troublemakers

Image: Surrender Magazine

Let there be: love as the act of letting go

During his talk in Grand Rapids last night, N.T. Wright shared something I wish he’d had more time to unpack. (When you’ve got 45 minutes to cover the whole big story of the Bible, there’s only so much you can do. Even if you’re N.T. Wright.)

Going back to Genesis 1, Wright drew our attention to the language God used to speak the world into existence: “Let there be.” We often hear it as the language of divine power and control, language that sets God apart from us. God says something should exist, and boom! It does.

But maybe we think this way because we haven’t asked why God made the world in the first place. Ancient philosophers wrestled long and hard with this question. If God was perfect goodness, they reasoned, anything he created — anything that was “other” than himself — would by nature be something less than perfect goodness.

Why create that?

For N.T. Wright, the answer is fairly simple: love.

God creates because God loves. We exist because God’s love can’t be contained; it needs an object outside itself. We exist because God wanted someone to love.

Which, when you understand the nature of love, casts a rather different light on the language used in Genesis 1.

“Let there be” is releasing language.

“Let there be” is not so much the language of power and control. It’s the language God used to release, unleash and send his creative power into the world, where it would then take on a life of its own.

Which, after all, is what you do when you love someone. You don’t coerce. You don’t control. You don’t impose yourself. (For those who think I’m in danger of judging God by human standards, where do you think we got this ethic of love in the first place?)

When you love someone, you unleash them. You give them a good start, point them in the right direction, prepare them for the road ahead. But then you let them walk it. You let them discover and try and fail and become for themselves.

That’s what God does with his creation.

Let there be light.

Let dry ground appear.

Let the land produce.

Let the waters teem.

Let the humans rule.

It’s the language of love, and it carries enormous risk. To let creation do this and that was to allow it to move in directions God might not have wanted. In love, God gave his creation freedom to flourish, but that also meant giving it freedom to fail.

“Let there be,” even if it means creation goes very badly wrong.

Which of course, it did.


Not many years ago, this would have been completely foreign to me. I wanted a God who superintended the minute details of the universe. I wanted a God who knew everything that was going to happen because he had already determined everything that was going to happen. I preferred “God is in control” to “God is love.” I even wrote a master’s thesis defending the doctrine of meticulous sovereignty against the “open theism” of Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, and Greg Boyd.

If I’m honest, I wanted God to be in control because I wanted to be in control. Sounds paradoxical, I know. Yet in my limited experience, those who insist the loudest on God’s absolute power have a habit of clinging tightest to power themselves — of controlling others, or trying to anyway.

Which, in many ways, is the exact opposite of what God did when he created us.

When we seek to control others, when we seek to dominate or impose our will, we commit an act of uncreation. We move against the flow of God’s creative power, saying “let me have” instead of “let there be.”

In order to participate in God’s creative work, to be co-creators with him (which is, after all, part of what it means to bear God’s image), we have to let go of power and control.


As a parent, this does not come easily for me. I want my daughter to turn out “right.” Heck, she’s only three, and already I worry: Will she be OK when she’s older? Will she even like us? Will she care about those in need? Will she fall in with the “wrong” crowd? Will she want anything to do with God?

The thing is, I can’t control how she turns out. I can try my best to guide her, give her a good foundation, point her in what I hope is the right direction. But then I have to release her to discover and try and fail and become for herself.

My wife and I brought her into this world. In our own very small way, we said, “Let her be.” And we have to keep saying it every day.

I’ve seen parents hang on to the illusion of control, falling into a tailspin of grief when their kids don’t turn out the way they’d hoped. I’ve seen parents use their unfulfilled hopes as a weapon of guilt — still trying to control their kids, still trying to force them into a predetermined mold.

And I worry every day that I’ll do the same with my daughter someday. Because I really, really want her to turn out well. But I can’t control her. To try to is folly. It is uncreation. To insist on control is to refuse our invitation to participate with God in the act of saying “let there be,” in the act of releasing our own small piece of creation to become what it will.

Because that’s what love does.

Farewell, complementarianism (pt. 3)

When I was in college, we had chapel three times a week. Occasionally, the featured speaker was a female pastor. In which case, I usually ended up telling myself she wasn’t a very good speaker — which was proof (in my mind) that God hadn’t gifted women for pastoral ministry.

Yeah… I was that kind of guy. A 20-year-old kid (who, by the way, got a D on his first public speaking assignment) judging the validity of a person’s entire ministry on the basis of one sermon that was probably a whole lot better than I was willing to admit.

Recently, I heard Mark Driscoll imply that his church’s success is proof that God endorses male-only leadership. During an interview with Justin Brierley, Driscoll compared his church’s growth to that of Brierley’s much smaller church, which is pastored by a woman.

When the interviewer asked if it’s fair to attribute the size of one’s church to the pastor’s gender, Driscoll replied:

Yup. Yup. You look at your results, look at my results, and look at the variable that’s most obvious.

(You can a read a partial transcript of the interview here, or read the piece I wrote last month about it.)

I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between Driscoll’s logic and mine back in college.

Of course, if we applied this kind of logic across the board (and not just when it suits us), we’d have to conclude that God’s favorite church is pastored by Joel Osteen.

We’d also have to conclude that a lack of measurable success is an indication of God’s disapproval. But would Driscoll want to argue that William Carey was a failure just because it took the 19th-century missionary to India seven years to win a single indigenous convert?

Both Driscoll and I were guilty of making superficial judgments about the validity of women in ministry. I based my judgment on the quality of a single speaker. Driscoll based his on numbers (as if there aren’t any large, successful churches pastored by females).

As I’ve come to terms with my own superficial judgment, I haven’t just concluded that complementarianism is a bad way to read the Bible. (I happen to think it is.) I’ve also come to believe that complementarianism doesn’t work in the real world.

For example, it’s believed that in China, many (if not most) of the churches are led by women. Would anyone like to argue it’s better not to have these churches at all than to have women leading them?

Or what about women teaching boys in Sunday school? If women aren’t supposed to teach men, and if “men” means adult males, then at what point does a boy become a man? At what point is it no longer OK for him to be taught by a woman? Adulthood is defined differently by different cultures, so how do you avoid making an arbitrary, hairsplitting distinction?

I’m not suggesting these are new questions. Plenty of people have raised them before. Nor do I want to suggest that complementarians don’t have any answers to offer. They do.

What I’m suggesting is that the answers border on being convoluted, arbitrary, and morally ambiguous. Complementarians take pride in being committed to moral absolutes. But it seems to me that those who affirm the full participation of women in the church are the ones who speak with greater moral clarity. To insist on excluding women from certain roles is to open yourself to a barrage of “what if” scenarios. It forces you to invent a succession of increasingly desperate rationalizations, exceptions, and qualifiers to preserve your theology while coping with reality.

I guess I just believe that if our theology doesn’t work in real life, it isn’t good theology.

Part 4 (the final part) in this series can be found here.

In defense of troublemakers

Last year, a 25-year-old Seattleite named Andrew got a taste of Mark Driscoll’s almost cult-like style of church discipline. Andrew’s story has made the rounds many times since blogger Matthew Paul Turner first shared it. I won’t rehash the details here.

Yesterday, Slate picked up the story, which prompted some to accuse Turner of tarnishing Christianity’s reputation by criticizing Driscoll. The following comment, posted to Turner’s Facebook page, captures the feelings of those who believe it’s wrong for Christians to publicly criticize other Christians:

Way to go Matt. You’ve given those far from God fodder for scoffing at Christ and his bride… hope you are proud.

Matthew Paul Turner loves to poke a stick at the more ridiculous elements of the Christian subculture. From really bad church signs to abstinence bears, he invites us to share an ironic laugh at the expense of the absurd.

But there’s nothing funny about spiritual abuse. So instead of his usual satire, Turner’s criticism of Driscoll is intense, earnest, and, at times, angry.

Which bothers those who think it’s more important to protect Christianity’s reputation among nonbelievers than to call out abuse and injustice in our midst.

But such preservationist instincts never stopped writers of the Bible from criticizing corruption in the early church — loudly, at times. If it’s wrong to engage in public criticism of those who are abusing others in the name of Christ, then we may want to consider making some drastic changes to our Bible. We could start by cutting 1 Corinthians.

Paul lashes out at the church in Corinth for everything from separating into factions to neglecting the poor. His letter is now canonized in sacred scripture, where anyone, Christian or otherwise, can read it. Whether he knew it or not, Paul was airing the Corinthians’ dirty laundry for all to see.

“But they’ll know we are Christians by our love,” some argue. And they’re right. Jesus himself said as much. But if it’s Jesus’ reputation we’re concerned about, then it’s incumbent upon us to speak up when someone abuses people in his name.

Love means standing up for the abused and marginalized, even — and especially — when their abusers profess to follow Christ. Yes, even if that means being labeled a troublemaker.

The world could use more troublemakers like Matthew Paul Turner.

The day the tulip died, part 7

My journey toward Calvinism was gradual, and so was my departure.

My wife and I quietly left our neo-Reformed church, not entirely sure what we were looking for. A friend from our old church predicted we’d be back before long.

Instead, we ended up at Mars Hill (the Michigan one, not the Seattle one). To my neo-Reformed friends, it’s OK to roll your eyes and say, “Well, that explains a lot.” I used to look at Rob Bell and Mars Hill the same way many of you do.

In fact, I thought about telling this story without mentioning Rob or Mars Hill by name. My guess is that some on the Reformed side will be tempted to dismiss what follows, purely because of the association with Rob Bell. Anyone who’s been part of the Mars Hill community knows what I’m talking about; Rob even alluded to it in his final sermon (top of page 7).

But Mars Hill is too important to this story to leave unmentioned.

Anyway, during my Calvinist days, I dismissed Rob as just another trendy pastor with a knack for saying what people wanted to ear.

Then Rob spoke in one of my seminary classes. (This was long before he had become one of Time’s 100 most influential people.) I was struck by how poorly he fit the populist megachurch pastor stereotype. He seemed to draw large numbers in spite of his best efforts, not because of them. Refusing to put a sign outside the church (there isn’t one to this day), spending the first year teaching through Leviticus, etc. He wasn’t taking his cues from the church growth consultant’s playbook, that’s for sure.

So we came to spend three-and-a-half very formative years at Mars Hill. During this time, Rob said two things that ended my journey with Calvinism.

(How’s that for leaving you hanging till the next post?)

Part 8 of this series can be found here.

Mark Driscoll and the Reformed-Emergent smackdown, pt. 5

At last, like a bad boxing film series that just goes on and on, we’ve arrived at part 5. (Unlike some boxing films, however, there will be no part 6.)

5. The danger of freezing the Bible

I have no doubt Mark is passionate about the Bible and passionate about Jesus. Describing his own movement near the end of his speech, Mark says:

What tends to be driving this stream is a return to expositional Bible teaching that is theologically motivated and Jesus centered.. The sermons in a lot of these churches…tends to be at least an hour. The repentance of sin and trust in Jesus is continually heralded. The way they distinguish themselves from older Reformed theology is that they’re nice.

Not bad (especially the part about being nice!). But each of us must confront the possibility that sometimes what we are advocating or defending is not the Bible, but our view of the Bible.

For example, one of the reasons Mark criticized Rob Bell is because of Rob’s belief (inspired by William Webb’s book Slaves, Woman & Homosexuals) that we must look for the trajectory of scripture. This view, known as the redemptive movement hermeneutic, teaches that it’s not always enough to look at the words of a single passage of scripture. We need to look at the whole Bible and try to see where God is moving.

Mark claims this interpretive method represents “the pinnacle of academic arrogance” because he says it is based on the assumption “that we are more enlightened and that our culture is more enlightened than Paul or Jesus or Moses.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The idea behind the redemptive movement hermeneutic is that God’s plans for humanity often unfold over time—and that sometimes we can discern the trajectory of God’s plan by moving through the scriptures… by asking how they spoke to people way back when and how they speak to us today.

Take slavery. The Bible never prohibits owning another human being, yet virtually every Christian alive today understands slavery to be incompatible with God’s design.

We know it to be true because we recognize the seeds of this idea being planted in Genesis 1, where human beings are created in God’s image. We see glimpses of the trajectory of God’s plan in the Torah, where Israel is held to a comparatively higher standard in its treatment of slaves—even though the Bible still falls short of banning slavery outright.

When Paul shows up, he argues there is no distinction between slave and free, encourages slaves to seek their freedom (without disobeying their masters, however), and even pleads with a slave owner to welcome back his runaway slave as an equal in Christ.

But still… our rejection of slavery as a moral evil is not based on any direct command from scripture, but rather our understanding of the trajectory in which God is moving.

Mark disputes the notion of a trajectory in the Bible—particularly when it comes to the question of a woman’s role in the home and the church. (He actually misquotes scripture at one point, suggesting that the Bible says a man should be “the head of his household.”)

Mark claims the “same argument is being used for homosexuality and all kinds of other things,” even though the whole purpose of Webb’s book is to demonstrate how the redemptive movement hermeneutic takes you one direction on some issues (like slavery and gender equality) and a another direction on some other issues (namely, homosexuality).

The redemptive movement hermeneutic has inspired me to hold a bigger view of the Bible. A Bible-with-a-trajectory-to-it is a more dangerous book because it can make even more demands of me. I have to wrestle with it even more—asking not only, “What are the words saying?” but also, “Where is God moving?”

Contrary to what Mark says people like me believe, I don’t look to my own intellect or the surrounding culture for answers. They are to be found in the revelation of God in scripture and in the person and work of Jesus.

So there you have it. I respect Mark, but I see a few things differently than he does.

I want to be someone who’s not afraid to engage in the big conversation about faith and life and Jesus.

I want to be someone who embraces the best from many different Christian traditions—Reformed, emerging, evangelical, etc. (And that’s just to name some of the traditions we encounter in our Western, predominantly white culture. We shouldn’t stop there. We should explore what Christians in places like Africa and Asia are saying, too.)

I want to be someone who does not misquote or misrepresent those I disagree with. I want to accept and even celebrate the fact that people like Mark—though they have a very different understanding of the Bible—are every bit as devoted to Christ.

I want to be someone who embraces the whole Bible—even when it challenges me to go beyond my own preconceived notions.

Last (to quote Doug Pagitt) I want to be the kind of Christian who refuses to treat those with different perspectives as enemies. I want to be someone who believes that “since I am supposed love my enemy anyway, I might as well get a friend out of it.”


Mark Driscoll and the Reformed-Emergent smackdown, pt. 4

Three down, two to go…

Here’s part 4 (or use these links for part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

4. The danger of forgetting the best of your own theology

To me, one of the most interesting comments Mark made is one I mentioned in yesterday’s post: “If you don’t love Jesus, you’re a bad Bible scholar.” Does this mean that Christians shouldn’t listen to anything non-Christians say about the Bible? Coming from someone who embraces a Reformed tradition, this seems almost anti-intellectual.

So does the opposite hold true? If you love Jesus, does that automatically make you a good Bible scholar? What happens when two people who both claim to love Jesus have very different interpretations of the Bible? Should we conclude that one of them (the one whose interpretation conflicts with ours, naturally) must be lying about his or her reverence for God? Does a difference of opinion give us the right to cast doubt on their devotion?

Back to the original question. If someone makes no claim to be a follower of Jesus, does that automatically disqualify them from saying anything useful about the Bible? Should be plug our ears and hum when they speak?

It’s here that I think Mark may have forgotten one of the greatest contributions of the Reformed theology he embraces.

Now I don’t consider myself to be Reformed (not with a capital “r” anyway). I’ve been there before… and moved on. I’m a recovering Calvinist. The more I study the scriptures, the less I’m persuaded by the classical Reformed view of predestination.

However, there’s at least one thing from my experience with Reformed theology that I’ve held onto. To me, this something is arguably one of the key elements of a Reformed worldview: the notion that in a world created by God, we as Christians can celebrate truth wherever we find it because all truth is God’s truth.

This is what common grace is all about. God does not just give good things like sun and rain—or wisdom and knowledge—to the righteous (Matthew 5:45). Which is why it’s so dangerous to say something like, “If you don’t love Jesus, you’re a bad Bible scholar.” Sure—if you don’t believe in the resurrection, I may not take your word for it what happened after the crucifixion, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach me anything about the life and times of Jesus.

On three different occasions, the apostle Paul quotes pagan sources. He did so in writings that came to be regarded as sacred scripture (Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12-13). He even refers to a Cretan philosopher as a “prophet.”

Paul was comfortable using the ideas of people who didn’t know or love Jesus to express biblical truth. Why? Because Paul lived with the confidence that all truth is God’s truth—that (to paraphrase Jay Kesler) we can overturn every rock in the pursuit of truth because there’s nothing that’s going to jump out from underneath and eat God.

Maybe reading books by the likes of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan isn’t necessarily a bad idea after all.

Tomorrow, part 5: the danger of freezing the Bible.

Mark Driscoll and the Reformed-Emergent smackdown, pt. 3

And here’s the third installment of my thoughts on Mark Driscoll’s speech on the emerging church (or you can read part 1 and part 2)…

3. The danger of guilt by association and selective quotation

Toward the end of his speech, Mark had some good things to say about the importance of incarnational ministry. He understands that “the world has changed” and that “the assumptions of modernity no longer hold.” He talked about the need to be about both “God’s Word and God’s world.” On the whole, pretty good stuff.

But as good as Mark’s comments on incarnational ministry, some of his criticisms of the emerging church were equally careless.

At times, he blended a more-or-less accurate assessment of emerging Christianity with something less than the whole enchilada. Like when he said emergents believe in having conversations about what God said—true—as well as whether God meant what he said—not necessarily true. (I’ve linked to it a couple times already, but for a good introduction to the emerging church by someone who understands that it’s not a monolith, go here.)

Another example was when Mark addressed Rob Bell’s comments on the virgin birth in his book Velvet Elvis. According to Mark, Velvet Elvis “actually calls into question the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.” He even characterized Rob as saying, “‘Now I believe in the virgin birth, but I’m just saying we don’t need it.'”

What’s interesting is the way Mark combined direct quotation (reading an excerpt from Velvet Elvis) and loose paraphrase—without telling his listeners which was which. By doing this, Mark misrepresented what Rob actually said. In Velvet Elvis, Rob affirms his belief in the virgin birth as part of the historic Christian faith—one he wants “to pass… on to the next generation.” Rob’s point (at least what I took from it) was that for him, even if the virgin birth were somehow disproved, he would still find Jesus more compelling than anything else out there. That’s not the same as saying, “We don’t need the virgin birth,” or calling it into question.

Elsewhere, Mark criticizes Rob’s use rabbinical sources in his interpretation of the New Testament because, in Mark’s words: “If you don’t love Jesus, you’re a bad Bible scholar.” (Never mind that the oral traditions of rabbis like Hillel and Shammai predate Jesus.)

But the rabbinical sources can help us better understand Jesus because much of what he taught was interacting with other rabbinical interpretations of scripture. Jesus himself, though he lived before the term rabbi evolved into a formal title, followed many of the common practices of rabbis—such as choosing a select group of disciples and teaching in the synagogues. Many of the sayings and even exact phrases Jesus used (such as “binding” and “loosing” in Matthew 16:19) come straight out of the rabbinic tradition.

Here again, Mark builds his case on selective quotation—or more precisely in this case, no actual quotation at all. He says that Rob “holds up rabbinical authority as the key to Bible interpretation and hermeneutics.” In the more than three-and-a-half years I spent at Rob’s church, I don’t remember hearing him claim that rabbinical authority is the key to biblical interpretation. The reality is that Rob, like most good pastors and teachers, uses a number of sources to help him better understand the scriptures.

Elsewhere, Mark goes after Brian McLaren, but his criticism rests largely on Brian’s endorsement of a few books—including one by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg (who are not evangelicals) and another by Steve Chalke (who is evangelical). Of Crossan, Mark says he “does not give us anything biblical regarding the person and work—including the resurrection—of Jesus.”

I’ve read two of Crossan’s books and one of Chalke’s. I’m smart enough to know I don’t agree with everything they write—particularly Crossan, who doesn’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. But that doesn’t mean they can’t offer some valuable insights that I can benefit from. I’m also smart enough to know that endorsing a book doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with everything that’s in it, either. Listening to people with different perspectives is part of what sharpens us.

Mark—and others—may have legitimate reasons for disagreeing with someone like Brian McLaren. But any case they wish to make would only be stronger if they built it on what the person actually said and not who they’re associated with or which books they read.

Tomorrow, part 4: the danger of forgetting the best of your own theology.

Mark Driscoll and the Reformed-Emergent smackdown, pt. 2

Yesterday, I posted some thoughts on Mark Driscoll’s speech at last month’s Convergent Conference. Plenty of others were blogging about this long before I was. To see what they’re saying about the speech, go here.

Whether or not you agree with Mark, he’s a significant voice in the church, and it’s worth listening to his presentation (if you have time—it’s about 80 minutes long). Click here to download the podcast.

Here’s my second major takeaway from his speechification (go here for part 1)…

2. The danger of being against being known for what you’re against

Mark’s speech began with a few moments of impossible-not-to-admire introspection. Telling his story with refreshing humility, he described a time in his life when he was too “jealous, proud, self-righteous, and mean spirited.” I wish more of us could be this transparent.

Mark went on to say, as he began his critique of the emerging church, “It’s really hard for me. I don’t want to be the man who’s known by what he’s against.”

The next 40 minutes—precisely half of his speech—were spent criticizing three people: Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell. In the case of one of these individuals, Mark openly questioned his devotion to God and called his theological method “frightening.” The word heresy was used in close proximity to these names.

I’ve met these three people before. Shared a meal with a couple of them. One was my teaching pastor for more than three years. I may not agree with every single thing they say, but I have a great deal of admiration for these guys.

Of the three, only one has responded to Mark’s speech. None have gone on the counterattack. And none of them have questioned Mark’s devotion to God.

Maybe, if we want learn how avoid being known for what we’re against, we should look to those on the receiving end of Mark’s criticism.

Tomorrow, part 3: the dangers of guilt by association and selective quotation.