Christendom is dead. Now let’s set aside our differences and get to work telling people about Jesus.
If you wanted to sum up Mark Driscoll’s new book, A Call to Resurgence, in a sentence, that’d be the way to do it. And make no mistake, pronouncing Christendom, the age of cultural Christianity, dead is no overstatement, even if declaring the American church dead is. A quick survey of the cultural landscape in America (and the West in general) shows how much has changed, and it’s definitely not in favor of Christianity. So what are Christians to do? Are we to retreat and wait for Jesus to return? Are we to give up our distinguishing characteristics and blend into the culture?
We do not need more retreat, Driscoll says. We need resurgence:
This is not a time for compromise but rather courage. The fields are ripe. And as Jesus says, “the laborers are few”—in part because the prophets of doom are many.… This is no time to trade in boots for flip-flops. The days are darker, which means our resolve must be stronger and our convictions clearer.
A strong cultural critique
There is much to appreciate about A Call to Resurgence, starting with its intent. Driscoll’s greatest strength has always been his appraisal of the cultural climate in North America, and this is no less true in the case of this book, which is why chapter two shines. Here Driscoll offers a succinct description of many of the contributing factors to the death of Christendom—pornography, the acceptance of homosexuality, bad dads, a lack of generosity, intolerant “tolerance,” and the resurgence of paganism in its many forms.
I believe it’s no overstatement to say this is the book’s standout chapter, especially his breakdown of the “new paganism,” which owes a massive debt to Peter Jones’ excellent book, One or Two. Driscoll explains well its roots as described in Romans 1:18-32, and its various expressions, from atheistic one-ism (the idea of a pure naturalism) to pale imitations of Christianity (notably moralistic therapeutic deism).
A confused message on the essentials
While Driscoll is often insightful in identifying cultural issues, his assessment of biblical ones is too often simplistic. This is especially clear when he describes the various “tribes” within evangelicalism. These, he says, are united by their common agreement on the following black-and-white issues:
- The Bible as God’s perfect and authoritative Word
- one God in three persons (Trinity)
- human sinfulness by nature and by choice
- Jesus as fully God and fully man who lived without sin, died in our place for our sins, and rose from the dead
- salvation bestowed by the grace of God when a sinner turns from sin and trusts in Jesus alone through faith
- new birth through the Holy Spirit
- eternal heaven for believers and eternal hell for unbelievers
These, he says, are the essentials. Everything else is secondary (which apparently includes every aspect of ecclesiology and sacraments, which is troubling). And yet, if you look at some of the “tribal leaders” (a term we need to expunge from our collective vocabulary by the way), you’ll likely be shocked—possibly terrified—to see some of the names on the list. Among those apparently agreeing with the central truths of the faith? Joel Osteen. Joyce Meyer. Paula White. T. D. Jakes. Joseph Prince. I can’t help but wonder how Bill Hybels or Stanley Hauerwas would feel learning they’re on the same team as people who declare God wants his people to see every day as a Friday while enjoying their best life now?
Now, Driscoll’s no dummy—I have to believe he knows just how dangerous prosperity theology is. I have a hard time imagining him not being aware of Osteen’s unwillingness to answer straightforward questions on the issue of salvation, Meyer’s declaring she is not a sinner, Jakes’ health-and-wealth message and allegiance with modalism… So why on earth would Driscoll suggest these people who are leading tens of thousands astray agree on the essentials of the faith?
“I’m not talking about tolerating false-teaching wolves who, in the name of false-unity, love the sheep in order to feast on them,” he later writes. And yet this appears to be exactly what he’s doing by even including them as within the bounds on the so-called black and white issues.
Driscoll later compounds the reality that he knows not that of which he speaks by including Kevin DeYoung and Mark Dever in the “fundamentalist/non-missional.” Calling Dever or DeYoung fundamentalists is like calling Twilight quality literature. To quote the great theologian Inigo Montoya, “You keep using this word; I do not think it means what you think it means.”
A pragmatic approach to methodology
As troubling as all this is, a larger issue is Driscoll’s justification of his own methodology. The final chapter of the book is devoted to describing “principles that cover a wide range of situations and can be used to build or fix a church or ministry.” These principles include:
- preaching the Word;
- loving the Church;
- contending and contextualizing;
- being attractional and missional;
- receiving, rejecting and redeeming aspects of the culture;
- considering the common good; and
- evangelizing through suffering.
As principles, these are certainly all well and good. But where I struggle is in Driscoll’s description and application of the methodology he advocates. I’ll give two examples:
Preaching the Word. Driscoll correctly asserts that the Holy Spirit gladly empowers preachers to proclaim the Word and illuminates the understanding of the hearer to receive and obey it. The results, he says, are “more Christians and better Christians. Lost people get found, and found people get closer to Jesus,” which is more or less true (except when it isn’t). Although a bit simplistic, I don’t really have a major beef with this. But then I kept reading:
This explains why even video preaching works—because the power is in the Word of God, not the method of delivery. So long as the Word of God is in a room along with the people of God and the Spirit of God, it does not matter if the servant of God is there.
It does not matter if the servant of God is there, so long as the Word of God, the people of God and the Spirit of God are in the room together.
If it does not matter if the servant of God is present, why then does it matter if the people of God are in the room together? As long as the Word is being faithfully preached, why does it matter if I’m in a room with a bunch of other believers or in my car listening to a radio ministry or podcast? The Holy Spirit’s going to work through it, isn’t He?
While I certainly don’t discount the effectiveness of radio ministry, podcasts, books, blogs and the like, these are helpful add-ons to our spiritual growth, not our primary outlet of worship—and that includes the preacher’s worship. My concern with this notion is twofold:
First, you don’t find it modelled in Scripture. In fact, you find John explicitly stating the opposite. “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). Even in Paul’s ministry, his desire was to be present with the believers; he wrote because it was necessary.
Second, Driscoll seems to overlook an important truth: the people of God are to gather together, yes; but the servant of God is one of the people of God! In the Church, the shepherds are also sheep. When a pastor forgets he’s also part of the flock, he sets himself up for disaster. Can a pastor who doesn’t know the people shepherd them? Can a pastor who isn’t part of the community of believers have accountability?
While Driscoll warns his readers of the dangers of methodolatry—losing sight of the principle and remaining committed a particular method—he would do well to take his own advice. Based on what he’s presented, the argument is totally grounded in pragmatism. Driscoll advocates for video preaching because he does it and it “works.” But let’s not pretend it’s anything more than that, okay?
Loving the church. This notion of doing what works, this pragmatic approach to ministry, comes up again in his dealing with church planting. Here, he emphasizes urban church planting over suburban and rural planting because there are more people present, and the city is “upstream” culturally.
“The key to actual change is to start upstream,” he writes. “We need to lead politicians, artists, judges, musicians, and the like to Jesus.”
Now, this is true, certainly; we need politicians who love Jesus, musicians who serve Jesus and judges who bow before Jesus. But we need farmers, homemakers, grocery store owners and the like to do the same, too—not because of their perceived influence in society, but because they’re sinners in need of redemption.
Imagine if Jesus only selected key members of society to follow Him? Imagine if He only went to the people who were “upstream” culturally? But what did he do? He called uneducated fishermen, shady government agents, and religious weirdos as his Apostles. He reached out to the poor, the marginalized, the unlovely. Jesus was murdered by the people “upstream” in his culture. And what happened? Within a few centuries, half the Roman Empire was following Jesus. Remember, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).
To be clear, I’m not against urban planting—wherever there are people, we need to be planting churches. But we must be careful not to let pragmatism guide our mission; left unchecked, this approach leads to a type of ministry that looks completely unlike that of Jesus Christ.
Driscoll is right that we should always evaluate our practices in light of biblical principles—but from what he’s written, I’m not certain he practices what he preaches.
A final question
Finally, there’s the elephant in the room: Driscoll himself. I’m all for a call to greater unity in the West. But is Driscoll—who has made a name for himself by being divisive—the right person to be issuing the call? I’ll be honest, I’m not sure.
In short, A Call to Resurgence is everything you’d expect from Driscoll: it’s occasionally insightful, frequently funny and, unfortunately, often foolish. While we most definitely need a call to resurgence, this book doesn’t represent the call we truly need.
Title: A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?
Author: Mark Driscoll
Publisher: Tyndale House/Resurgence Publishing (2013)