Mark Driscoll and the NY Times

One of the things i have learned about blogging is that some of the best Biblical posts often receive the smallest amount of press.  Typically the most read posts are ones that “stir the pot”.  In other words, just like in marketing “controversy sells!”  The temptation for those of us who enjoy Christian blogging is obvious. 

One of my best read blogs (and i have not had many) was a critique of a Ligonier Pastor’s Conference i attended where the guest speakers were escorted in limos.  Let me say again that I love Dr. Sproul and the conference itself was wonderful.  In this particular instance, I allowed myself to be played like a pawn by a group of bloggers that had it out for R.C. and R.C. Jr.  What i said in the blog i believed but i allowed this post to be used in a way that i did not agree with.  At the end of the day it was a good learning experience. 

With that said, I am still puzzled when i read articles like this about Mark Driscoll in places like the NY Times.  “Who Would Jesus Smack Down?”

Under the picture the following caption reads,  “Mark Driscoll whom conservatives call ‘the cussing pastor.‘”

 The article then begins like this, Mark Driscoll’s sermons are mostly too racy to post on GodTube, the evangelical Christian “family friendly” video-posting Web site. With titles like “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse,” his clips do not stand a chance against the site’s content filters. No matter: YouTube is where Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, would rather be. Unsuspecting sinners who type in popular keywords may suddenly find themselves face to face with a husky-voiced preacher in a black skateboarder’s jacket and skull T-shirt. An “Under 17 Requires Adult Permission” warning flashes before the video cuts to evening services at Mars Hill, where an anonymous audience member has just text-messaged a question to the screen onstage: “Pastor Mark, is masturbation a valid form of birth control?”

Driscoll doesn’t miss a beat: “I had one guy quote Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ ” The audience bursts out laughing. Next Pastor Mark is warning them about lust and exalting the confines of marriage, one hand jammed in his jeans pocket while the other waves his Bible. Even the skeptical viewer must admit that whatever Driscoll’s opinion of certain recreational activities, he has the coolest style and foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen.

 Mark Driscoll is now a well known pastor, author, and Christian conference speaker.  Perhaps no conservative minister has done more to help promote Driscoll’s ministry than Dr. John Piper.  If you have not listened to Piper’s recent conference sermons you can find them here     I found it ironic that the conference theme was titled the power and wonder of words.  At the very least, i thought Driscoll was an odd choice for this particular conference (theme).  I guess John Piper likes to stir the pot a bit too.

Pastor John MacArthur addressed some of these issues with regards to Contextualization at the last Shepherd’s Conference.  I thought his analysis was spot on and indirectly speaks to the issue at hand.  You can find that sermon here   (It is the sermon that addresses the ‘church growth movement’)

In case anyone wants to get on me for not talking to Mark Driscoll directly let me say I have written Mars Hill/Mark a letter expressing some of my concerns with regards to his teaching ministry (choice of words, etc).  I never did receive a response back. 

I am grateful for Mark’s commitment to the gospel and for his love for the lost.  He is reaching a tough crowd and we should all praise God for that.  Mark we love you brother; some of us are simply concerned that many young pastors believe your way of teaching and model for how to do church is the way to go.  No doubt, being hip and controversial can help draw young people and the unchurched to church…Yet for me the ultimate verdict is still out.  More on this point another time.

35 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Matt on January 10, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I really appreciated the article; I think it had a lot to say and it was fairly honest. There were just two things that bugged me about the article; they refered to Mark as the cussing pastor yet again… though they acknowledge he has worked on his language. I am not convinced that Mark Driscoll is still a “cussing Pastor” I think he has matured. But because of Donald Miller and the internet’s long memory he will forever be a “cussing Pastor.”

    This is a good reminder for all of us to watch our behavior because it is rarely forgotten and will be a blemish on our character long after repentance.

    The only other concern I had was her mention of Mark’s face on the video screen covering a cross at one campus. This is a low blow, and in consistent with the rest of the article. She basically suggested that Mark saw himself as God, which clearly he does not. Or that the church is worshipping him as God, which I have a hard time believing as well. A great article with a really bad ending IMHO.

  2. Matt-

    Thanks for the good comment. In my humble opinion, Mark’s humor (though often funny), is sometimes off color esp. for a Pastor.

    I remember that happening in my Christian dorm from time to time but even as a college student i knew when a line had been crossed. My friends and I tried to keep each other accountable (even in private conversations).

    James 3 and other passages come to mind here. But w/o posting another article right now i will sign off.

  3. One more thing… I know the NY Times has a secular agenda running through it and its stories. An interesting commentary on an interesting pastor.

  4. MD will be speaking at the Gospel Coalition in April. Should be interesting to hear him. I wonder if there is a difference between how he speaks at events like this and how he speaks at his home church?

  5. I was skeptical when I first learned about Driscoll in late 2005. I started reading his blog and what I read made a lot of sense. I didn’t really dive in until he received Piper’s endorsement. I figured that if John Piper endorsed him I should give him a fair shot.

    I listen to most of his sermons and I can say that I have yet to be offended or shocked. He does say things and do things that the typical blue-haired Baptist church lady would find shocking. However, I have yet to hear anything that I would put beyond “PG.” In fact, I’ve listened to half of his series on Song of Songs and found that he goes out of his way not to be offensive in the Q&A, despite plenty of chances to do so.

    It is a shame that Donald Miller hung that appellation on him. It may have been true then, but his language is much better now. What I do know about him is that he is theologically sound and is reaching lost people that would not otherwise be reached. He pulls no punches with his theology either. Isn’t that what a pastor is supposed to do?

  6. Posted by Dave Crawford on January 11, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Jason–agreed. I have benefited greatly from his series on Song of Songs. Last year I was convicted that I had joined in the Mark Driscoll pile-on in private conversation, having never listened to his preaching. I listened to about 60 hrs. worth. So far, I cannot see most of the mainstream criticism of his ministry as valid. Others will see it differently. One thing is sure, if we offer criticism we must do so from an informed perspective.

    Caleb–appreciated your last paragraph. It’s a note of graciousness not often directed toward Mark.

  7. Posted by Albert on January 11, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Hi Caleb,

    I agree, that it is concerning how many are trying to blindly imitate Mark and by doing so (as often happens) take on some of his “faults” more than his “strengths”. This is just as much a problem for those trying to be mini John Piper’s or mini John MacArthurs (me being a good case study on how that’s a failure).

    Certainly the NYT isn’t a great source for accurate information – given their very bad take on Calvinism. but is is an interesting article. You can almost see the frustration the liberal secularists are having with why so many are abandoning their ranks for what them deem an outmoded bigoted religious world view.

    The “Desiring God” talk by Mark last year (as with all the other messages at that conf) was very good, I thought. He certainly is not the “cussing Pastor” he may have been once upon a time. It’s too bad the nick-name has stuck.


  8. The best of men are still men at best. With that said, some Christians have larger warts then others. The NY Times article quotes Driscoll talking about Martin Luther and the fact that he drank beer while writing theology etc.

    Luther was a one of a kind Christian no doubt. But it would be silly to imitate Luther’s rough edges (like his sometimes coarse language or the fact that he became more and more anti-Semitic towards the close of his life). Adolf Hitler used (and abused) Luther’s writings on the Jews and took them somewhere Luther would have died to witness.

    Part of this conversation is subjective. For example the NY Times quoted this event at Mark’s church An “Under 17 Requires Adult Permission” warning flashes before the video cuts to evening services at Mars Hill, where an anonymous audience member has just text-messaged a question to the screen onstage: “Pastor Mark, is masturbation a valid form of birth control?”
    Driscoll doesn’t miss a beat: “I had one guy quote Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ ” The audience bursts out laughing.

    Some of our readers may think this was not only cute and really humorous but also most appropriate for a pastor to say (even to a mixed audience during a Sunday PM worship service). Other readers (like me) find this exchange unwise and distasteful. One pastor once reminded me that a leader’s liberty is a follower’s license.

  9. I don’t know how recent or old this article is but i just came across John MacArthur’s more specific take on this topic:

  10. Posted by Scott Christensen on January 12, 2009 at 11:50 am

    It seems to me that a perpetual temptation we have even as redeemed creatures is to push the enevelope on controversial matters. The temptation is magnified when we see someone pushing the envelope whom we otherwise regard as sound and godly. If they watch and praise a particular ‘R’ rated movie then surely its okay for me. We tend to think, “It certainly must be in the bounds of Christian propriety because this person has always impressed me as being sound, biblical and godly.”

    I have been lured into this kind of thinking on several occassions and only after having fallen into temptation do I realize that it was unwise to judge matters based on another’s reputation. We must be careful how we draw lines on these matters and judge our consciences by our convictions on the Scripture’s voice not the voice of those we otherwise respect.

  11. Scott — I completely agree. I only gave Driscoll a listen because I trusted the opinion of Piper. Now that I’ve listened to several of his sermon series I personally am convinced that he is speaking truth in love, but in a way that makes many traditionalists uncomfortable. However, I personally do not feel that he goes beyond the bounds of what is permissible or profitable.

    It is interesting to read through these comments and draw some inferences on beliefs through them. For example, is Caleb condemning the fact that Luther drank beer? Personally, I think caffeine is a worse substance in the church than alcohol given how so many within the church have a chemical dependency to it. Yet few mind being mastered by caffeine. Obviously alcohol addiction has more grave consequences, but it seems that Christians have liberty for moderation in both, whether it is prudent to exercise that liberty or not.

    Is it impossible for a believe to watch a movie rated “R” in good conscience no matter what? Personally, I don’t watch any TV because so much of it is sexually-charged, but I have stopped condemning those who do. I can’t even watch a pro football or basketball game because of the cheerleaders when they come back from commercial. It’s not a good idea for me.

    My point is that we must be careful not to elevate our traditions ahead of the demands of communicating to our audiences. I suppose we can disagree about whether Driscoll violated Eph 5:4 with that joke he made, but I don’t think he did. At the risk of venturing into pragmatism, it is clear that his church has led people to repent of their sins and embrace the gospel. It seems to be bearing genuine fruit. To me, it looks like a healthy tree, just one that smells different than the rest in the orchard.

  12. […] Mark Driscoll and the NY Times « Expository Thoughts […]

  13. Well,

    Driscoll makes me somewhat uncomfortable, but I can’t say I’m perfect with my speech either (but then again not on the pulpit)! However, from the messages I heard him speak, I personally heard, I didn’t hear anything offensive (he’s def. not soft spoken though hahaha).

    But, you know what, as others said, I believe he is doing good work. Besides, how bad can a strong Calvinistic complementarian in the middle of one of America’s most liberal cities be.

    Besides, I’m glad the NYT juxtaposed him next to 100% charlatans like Joel Osteen who are the real plague on Christianity (I don’t think that about Hybels btw…). If you don’t like Driscoll, you know you like him about 1000 times more than you do Osteen

  14. This was an interesting article to read. Though I have not been a fan of Mark Driscoll either, the article did offer some more insight regarding what I did not know about him.

    I do not have a further dislike or liking for him, just additional information about him as a person and a pastor.

    I agree too, that it was inappropriate to joke about masturbation as Driscoll did. He may have spoken seriously regarding the question after his reply too, but the article doesn’t reveal that for the reader.

    It is a concern to me as well regarding the youth who see Mark as a role model of radical pastoral ministry. Hopefully, Mark is pointing those who have been called to the ministry, to Christ and to model Him and what He has done.

    Hopefully he is.

  15. I heard the message where Driscoll made that joke. It was a springboard into a serious treatment of the subject. Personally, I’m grateful that he is dealing with these issues at his church.

    John — I agree with you 100%. Some may disagree with Driscoll’s style, but I don’t think they would disagree with his message. Osteen has tremendous style, but feeding his people cotton candy each week doesn’t do anything good for their souls. It certainly brings God no glory to turn Him into a cosmic vending machine.

  16. I notice Ingrid Schlueter is having a real go at Driscoll over at her Slice of Laudicea blog. It looks like she is gathering together a band of likeminded sisters to take on the “cussing” pastor.

  17. Posted by Matt Hall on January 15, 2009 at 1:59 am

    Based on Schlueter’s post about Driscoll and nothing else… give me the *formerly* cussing Pastor over the currently mean-spirited blogger.

    Perhaps Schlueter could be more gentle in her criticism?

  18. Perhaps Schlueter could be more gentle in her criticism?

    Doesn’t look like she is going to take your advice – I notice she has put out a press release on the subject. She is also targeting Lutzer and Piper for endorsing the cussing pastor.

  19. I’m not sure what she hopes to accomplish, but I wonder how it advances the gospel.

  20. Posted by Dave Crawford on January 15, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    After 4 years in a job in which I work with dozens of Christians who are from other theological traditions, I have become painfully aware that those from “our circles” are chiefly known by what and *whom* we are *against.* Of course, there is a lot of doctrine and a lot of people that we should be against (and I am). But it makes me sad that in the eyes of many this is our chief identifying characteristic. Right or wrong, this should not be the case. What’s going on at the Laodicea blog is–in my fallible but hopefully humble opinion–really, really unhelpful.

  21. One thing I’ve learned in seminary is to read original source material before making a conclusion. I read through some of the posts over at Slice. It’s a good thing that the folks there do everything perfectly so they can comfortably criticize everyone else without acknowledging the good that they do.

    I agree Dave — these in-house battles do very little to bring glory to Christ for those who need to know Him. When I talk to unbelievers I find that I have to start by distancing myself from all the stereotypes as much as possible. Debates like this don’t help a whole lot.

    My prayer is that all of us who profess faith in Christ would pick our doctrinal battles carefully and focus on the essentials. Don’t get me wrong — I like a good debate over election as much as the next Calvinist, but I don’t get too caught up in whether someone wants to worship with drums, pianos, organs, or bell choirs, etc. And I certainly won’t fault a pastor for taking on an expository series on Song of Songs.

  22. Interesting thoughts guys but I notice its not just Ingrid who is critical of the cussing pastor.
    Here’s John MacArthur on Driscoll “I don’t know what Driscoll’s language is like in private conversation, but I listened to several of his sermons. To be fair, he didn’t use the sort of four-letter expletives most people think of as cuss words–nothing that might get bleeped on broadcast television these days. Still, it would certainly be accurate to describe both his vocabulary and his subject matter at times as tasteless, indecent, crude, and utterly inappropriate for a minister of Christ. In every message I listened to, at least once he veered into territory that ought to be clearly marked off limits for the pulpit.”
    Tim Challies also isn’t a great fan “Despite the many great quotes, there were a couple which I felt showed lack of discernment in theology, and equally troubling, several that which I felt were in poor taste, displaying the vulgarity for which Driscoll has formed something of a reputation.” and this “While this book is filled with confession, the one thing Driscoll does not seem to regret is his reputation as a loose canon and a man whose mouth is often filthy.”
    And Phil Johnson is typically uncompromising in his views “Driscoll’s smutty language and preoccupation with all things lowbrow are inappropriate, unbecoming, and dishonoring to Christ” and this coup de grace “But I don’t think his perpetually coarse language in the pulpit and his apparent preoccupation with off-color terms and ribald subject matter are merely minor flaws in an otherwise healthy ministry. It is a serious shortcoming.”

    MacArthur, Johnson, Challies all critical to differing degrees and Ingrid leading the sisters looks like the cussing pastor doesn’t have his sorrows to seek.

  23. So three very traditional men disagree with his use of language. However, they disagreed with it in respectful and constructive ways, unlike the Slice folks.

    Again, I’ve listened to probably 100 hours of his preaching and I have never felt like he crossed the line. He certainly got close to it a few times. I also know that in the past 6 months or so he has become much cleaner, probably due to the influence of men like Piper and Mahaney. This is really a subjective argument, despite the objective truth of it in Ingrid’s eyes.

    Maybe what this comes down to is whether or not you could recommend that someone sit under his teaching. Or do you have to tell people to avoid him because what he says will not edify and will bring you in fact closer to sin?

  24. I think part of the larger picture here is that as pastors, and therefore the spiritual leaders of our congregations, our speech and our conduct become the bar for our people. We are to keep the bar high, not lower it. Ephesians 4:3-4, James 3:1-12, Colossians 4:6, Romans 14;13 & 21, Ephesians 5;12 are pretty clear guidelines for us in this area. We are to be discipling our people, whom God has entrusted to us, to be more like Christ, to grow in holiness; we are to be exhorting our people to follow the command in Romans 13:13-14.

    I have heard Mark Driscoll use coarse language in his sermons, and I also listened to an interview just a few months ago where he defended himself and said, to the effect, that he did not see anything wrong with his language. I have also heard him in venues among other pastors and he keeps his language in check. So I think what he does, he does with full knowledge of what he is doing……something to think about.

  25. Posted by S. Dahl on January 17, 2009 at 10:57 am

    According to the NYT article, Driscoll also uses the unbiblical practice of shunning members who voice dissent. Isn’t that as bad as any coarse/crude language or smirking sexual innuendos?

  26. Posted by Matt Hall on January 18, 2009 at 1:41 am

    It has already been established that the NYT article has some factual errors and bias.

    Driscoll’s church practices church discipline; which is different from shunning.

  27. Posted by S. Dahl on January 18, 2009 at 3:49 am

    You said: “Driscoll’s church practices church discipline; which is different from shunning.”

    Really? Do you have first hand knowledge? Is it biblical to discipline a church member for political reasons and require the church members to disassociate from one who has not sinne but may have expressed legitimate questions or concerns? That sounds like shunning to me. Or at least a very heavy-handed “lording over.”

    Do you have some inside information that is not readily available on the web? Such as this informative site:
    Seeking Justice & Reconciliation at Mars Hill Church

  28. “Driscoll also uses the unbiblical practice of shunning members who voice dissent. Isn’t that as bad as any coarse/crude language or smirking sexual innuendos?”

    Well it ain’t good but then ask yourself the question are you really surprised when a man uses crudity in his ministry and degrades the pulpit in such a fashion that he is also allegedly not biblical in administering discipline.
    I mean did any of the apostles degrade their office by filthy talk and corrupt communications ?

  29. Let’s keep these comments on topic. Personal church conflicts should be resolved by the local church. This was one of my lessons learned about the Sproul Jr. matter.

    Thanks guys

  30. I would suggest you check out you tube if you want to hear some short comments by Mark Driscoll on various topics. It is good to hear what Mark says about various issues rather than simply hearing what others say about Mark (though discerning critiques can be most helpful too).


  31. I just finished listening to Driscoll’s presentation from the Desiring God conference titled, “Christ, Controversy, and Cutting Words.” He builds a case for times when it is appropriate to use harsh (though not foul) language. He also confesses his own personal sin in this area and his need for greater sanctification.

    I think it was 1:22 well-spent, particularly when he explains the context in which he is preaching. I think it’s safe to say that the influences in his community are different than they are in my town.

  32. I think that article does a better job than the one in the NYT, but it still makes it sound like all he preaches on is sex. He did a series on Song of Songs, so naturally he talked about sex. I’m glad that the article brought out that he is also an inerrantist as well as a Calvinist and it clearly explained his convictions about Jesus as the only way to salvation.

    The comments after the article are telling as always. Those who attend MHC defend him and those on the outside either think he is a nut or a con man. Gee, is it possible that his church is growing because people in Seattle are hungry for truth?

  33. Posted by Cory on January 27, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Bro. Caleb,
    I read your post, read the NY article and viewed a variety of youtube clips on Driscoll and I’m still not sure what your areas of concern are about him…are they theological..or is it just his sometime choice of words?

  34. […] several recent posts that are pertinent.  See here (don’t miss Jerry Wragg’s comment,) here for a take on the NYT article and here where we see that Driscoll evidently missed an opportunity […]

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