Religion Saves: Humor, The Emerging Church, The Regulative Principle


893 questions posted. 343,203 votes cast. Nine controversial subjects. The resulting sermons were then reformatted and expanded in the book, Religion Saves & Nine Other Misconceptions, released in June, 2009, through Crossway and RE:Lit.

This post will be dealing with three subjects from the book: Humor, the Emerging Church and the Regulative Principle.


There are few things about Mark Driscoll more talked about than his sense of humor. He’s got a sharp wit, is quite cutting in his delivery… but sometimes he’s just downright mean. And the question that prompted this chapter is a great one:

Why do you make jokes in sermons about Mormon missionaries, homosexuals, trench coat wearers, single men, vegans, and emo kids, and then expect these groups to come know God through those sermons?

Generally speaking, I appreciate Driscoll’s humor. Most of the time he avoids the edge of completely inappropriate, although there are times when he skirts dangerously close to the edge. As he says in the opening of the chapter, “I am on a mission to both put people in heaven and put the ‘fun’ back in ‘fundamentalism'” (p. 45). This is a noble goal to be sure; we can all stand to laugh at ourselves a little bit. In my younger days, I was a pretentious, trench coat wearing, comic book reading, intellectual snob who used a lot of big words to show off (and divert people’s attention from my insecurities).  I can laugh about that and poke fun a bit. And truly, there are some things that we do that are simply ridiculous and do need to be made fun of.

That said, this chapter is by far the weakest in the book, for a number of reasons. First, it’s least expanded from the initial sermon. Second, the first page is little more than an excuse to get as many jokes in as humanly possible, some of which are funny. Third, while I absolutely agree that humor is biblical and Jesus has a perfect sense of humor, a large portion of the chapter reads as little more than an attempt to justify Driscoll’s own (sometimes inappropriate) sense of humor. In doing so, I believe he has applied at least two texts in a way that they themselves do not allow.

A favorite barb of Driscoll’s is that Jesus said that the Pharisee’s moms “had shagged the Devil” (p. 59), referring back to John 8:44, wherein Jesus calls them “sons of hell.” Here’s my problem with this: First, the statement itself simply isn’t funny; it is just crass. In reading the cited verse itself, I find no evidence of sarcasm; rather it is said with a dreadful earnestness. Truthfully, whenever I’ve read Jesus tearing a strip off the Pharisees, I’ve found either a tone of bewildered irony, bordering on sarcasm, and this earnestness that I mentioned a moment ago. Now it could be that I’m misreading the text, but regardless, to say that their moms “shagged the Devil” is simply not funny.

A second example is Philippians 3:8. In this verse, Paul refers to his former life as a Pharisee as “skubalah.” In explaining the use of the word, Driscoll does a great thing providing a quote from Daniel B. Wallace who gives us some background on the word, which in it’s most harsh form can be translated as “s**t” or the like. As Wallace says, “this is all that the ‘flesh’ can produce—and it is both worthless and revolting…The reason for the shocking statement in v. 8, then, may well be to wake up his audience to the real danger of his opponents’ views” (as quoted on p. 48).  He further states that this word is provoked by Paul’s “white-hot anger over a false gospel.” What it is not, however, is scatological humor (commonly referred to as a “poopy joke”). To imply otherwise is, I believe, to do a disservice to the text itself.

Now, there is much a reader can find profitable in this chapter. The discussion of the comic plot within the Bible (a U-shaped plot, that takes the story from a perfect world, through a descent into misery and sin , and, in the end, to a renewed state of perfection with the second coming of Jesus). Driscoll also does a great job of pointing out some of the parts of the Bible that are actually really funny (like Aaron’s statement about the golden calf in Exodus 32:24). And the ten points on sanctifying comedy are actually quite brilliant. What I would suggest is that Driscoll himself continually examine his own comedy in light of these.

The Emerging Church

The Emerging/Emergent Church has been a topic of discussion for nigh on a decade now. Hundreds of books pertaining to it have been published, some pro, some con, but all highly opinionated. This chapter begins with the question of what can more traditional or established churches learn from “emerging” churches? Driscoll begins this chapter with a lot of honesty and humility, explaining his roots in the movement which began as the Young Leaders Network and his subsequent exit for reasons pertaining to both his theological concerns over where the group was heading and his own immaturity.

He then proceeds to describe what he refers to as the “four lane missional church highway”—the ‘missional evangelicals,” “missional house church evangelicals,” “missional Reformed evangelicals,” and “emergent liberals.” The bulk of the chapter is spent on the fourth group, the emergent liberals, although he notes that there’s some crossover between various groups (ie, some house church guys are emergent liberals, others are Reformed evangelicals, and so forth). The key distinction he makes is that “emergent liberals [are] not theologically evangelical and are the most controversial” (p. 214).  Three leaders in this movement are critiqued: Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell. Of the three, Driscoll knows personally all but Rob Bell.

It should be noted that Driscoll handles his critique of these men’s doctrine very well. He does not attack their character, painting them as men twirling their sinister moustaches while sipping scotch and listening to, I don’t know… Journey. He addresses only public statements from books, films, interviews and sermons. And it is appropriate to address public error publicly. I could literally write thousands of words on this section, but I think the book itself does a great job of making the point with arguments built principally from verbatim quotes (with 120 sources cited). The research is thorough and I didn’t see a straw man in the bunch.

The commentary on Rob Bell is particularly interesting in that it suggests that the reason he’s popular is because many Evangelicals read into him their own “Christian baggage” to suggest that he’s saying things that he might not be, in fact, saying. And instead of attracting new converts, Bell and other emergent leaders seem to attract only disgruntled evangelicals.

The chapter ends with an appropriately grim prognosis of the emergent liberal stream, that they are unlikely to heed the warnings of others and repent of their doctrinal errors anytime soon. And should that happen, it will be tragic for many who have bought into the lie that they’re selling.

The Regulative Principle

Out of all the questions in the top nine, this is the one that seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s not about sex, humor, predestination… it’s about worship. And specifically a principle that I suspect most people in Driscoll’s church (and his podcast listeners) had never heard of up until that point.

In this chapter, Driscoll lays out the two primary principles Christians apply to corporate worship: The normative principle and the regulative principle. The normative principle is defined as saying “that corporate church worship services must include all the elements that Scripture commands and may include others so long as Scripture does not prohibit them” (p. 250).  The regulative principle is defined as teaching “that corporate church worship services must include all the elements that Scripture commands or that are a good and necessary implication of a biblical text, but nothing more” (p. 252). In analyzing the two positions, Driscoll states that while the regulative principle is helpful in intent, a strict application will lead to error. He spends a few paragraphs taking  a reductio ad absurdum approach to the principle, one of which states that “if we are allowed to sing only Psalms, then it follows that while it is not a sin to speak other parts of the Bible, it is a sin to sing them” (p. 254).

Following his critique of these two positions, Driscoll gets to his point, which is really that a blending of the strengths of both positions is necessary for proper worship. He defines this in the somewhat pretentiously named “missional worship principle” (p. 256). The idea behind it is that continual worship is required of all Christians on whom God continually pours out his favor. This is a great point to make and a necessary distinction. In the end, it leads to the fulfillment of Driscoll’s desire for himself, his church, and for all Christians:

We want to be faithful to the Scriptures. We want to be fruitful in the culture. We see no reason to choose one or the other. We  see no excuse for violating the Bible. And we see no excuse for not earnestly laboring so that as many people as possible participate in the worship of God the Father through the mediatorship of God the Son by the power of God the Spirit (p. 257-258).

In this, I think we see a great description of what it means to be a continuous worshipper.

Tomorrow: The conclusion of Religion Saves week.

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