So… Mark Driscoll.
By now, you’ve probably read scores of blog posts from all corners of the Internet talking about his removal from membership with Acts 29, the church planting network he co-founded, and its board’s call for him to take an extended leave of absence from ministry.
You’ve read accounts from his apologists and antagonists alike, responding to the charges of abusive behavior, vulgar language, and sinful anger, to name but a few of the disqualifying charges leveled against him.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably had a mix of emotions.
“How could I have been so foolish?”
I first learned of Mark Driscoll in 2006, as a fairly new Christian (about 18 months as a believer), and just beginning to come to some doctrinal convictions. I was a member of a church that followed a seeker-sensitive model, but with little gospel proclamation. Hearing him was refreshing, even if I could have done without the yelling and whooping. He was relatable in the way he spoke. He talked about Jesus a lot. He preached the Bible as if it really mattered.
Those are things I’m truly grateful for.
But over the years, as my own discernment and convictions grew, his shininess became tarnished. Questions and concerns started growing: about the quality and content of his preaching, about his responses to criticism about his books, about the concerns I was seeing more and more frequently in my newsfeed and hearing from people in the circles I travel in.
And then the plagiarism allegations came to light, which have been more or less proven true (whether you agree with how they came about, well, that’s a different discussion). And then the revelations of the culture of fear and abuse from former—and well respected—elders and staff members. And then the… You get the idea.
With revelation after revelation, my disillusionment started to turn into anger—anger at the numerous and carefully crafted apologies that seemed designed to absolve oneself of guilt, but lacked true contrition. Over the number of people damaged, even as numerous people came to know the Lord. Over the way the Lord’s name was being defamed as one man continued to act with impunity and without accountability.
What do I—as someone watching this mostly from a distance—do with this? What do I do with this anger, this heartbreak, and this feeling of “oh my goodness, how could I have been so foolish?”
Turn away from anger
As hard as it is, turn away from anger. When anger is left to fester, it becomes bitterness. And bitterness is death. When we let anger linger, the offense we feel can lead us to rejoice in Driscoll’s downfall. What was hidden has been revealed, as the Lord said it would be. But the last thing we need to do is point and say, “I told you so!”
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,” Proverbs 24:17 tells us. If you see Driscoll as an enemy to the gospel or as your enemy, you must not rejoice in all of this, as tempting as it may be. It’s disrespectful to him, it’s unbecoming of you, and it’s dishonoring of the Lord Jesus. To not put too fine a point on it, if you are rejoicing over Driscoll’s downfall, consider your ways.
Similarly, remember that we live in a culture that distrusts authority of any kind. You and I are not immune to this. And seeing the actions of a prominent figure like Driscoll can exacerbate this tendency. When a leader falls, we easily say, “And that’s why we shouldn’t have leaders,” when the truth is we shouldn’t have leaders who don’t have true accountability. God established leadership in the church, but he also established accountability for that leadership. It’s why we’re told that Jesus walks among the churches, and stands in judgment over them. It’s why we always see a plurality of elders—not in name only, but in practice—and teaching always tested against Scripture. It’s why laypersons can and should be able to raise concerns about our leaders, just as we can about one another.
Let grace triumph
But more positively, what we can do is, where we need to, seek forgiveness. If, in my failure to voice concern about a leader I have failed my brothers and sisters in Christ, I need to ask their forgiveness. If by my actions, I have allowed an abusive leader to continue unchecked, I need to repent. If in my desire to believe the best about someone (which we should always seek to do), I have failed to examine that person critically, I need to admit I was wrong.
I am not personally responsible for Mark Driscoll’s continued pattern of sinful behavior (and chances are, if you’re reading this, you aren’t personally affected by it, either). But while I am not responsible for his actions, I do need to confess something: I was not discerning enough about him. I wanted to think the best of him. I wanted to believe that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he had true accountability. I was wrong, and I am sorry because, had I realized how bad things truly were, I would never have recommended his books, nor would I have recommended his teaching. But here is my hope in this: that grace would triumph.
And that’s my prayer in this ugly situation. I’m praying that those who have been hurt by Driscoll’s abusive behavior, those who have been maligned and slandered, will find healing and restoration. I’m praying that Mark Driscoll would heed the call from his brothers in Christ to take an extended leave—even a permanent one—from ministry and get the help he desperately needs. I’m praying that the existing elders who remain at Mars Hill will have the courage to humble themselves as they attempt to pick up the pieces and restore trust among those who make it their home. I’m not praying for former glories to return. But I am praying that, true to their tagline, every decision made from here on out would really be “all about Jesus.”