Being all about Jesus: thoughts on Mark Driscoll, anger, forgiveness and grace

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So… Mark Driscoll.

Yeah.

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.”


Photo credit: Lel4nd via photopin cc

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  • Michelle Dacus Lesley

    You hit the nail on the head–accountability. I think one of the most important things that could come out of this situation is for churches that employ a leadership structure similar to Mars Hill’s to take a good hard look at the way they do church governance. There are problems with an elder system and there are problems with a congregational system, but I think it’s now been proven that a monarchial system is not the way to go.

  • Ben Thorp

    I think the other point of note is that poor character does not necessarily mean poor doctrine – I suspect that a number of commentators, whilst carefully pointing out that they do not rejoice in his ‘downfall’, will take this as an opportunity to point out that his downfall is, in part, a result of whichever point of doctrine of his they disagree with – be it Calvinism, complementarianism, charismaticism or whatever.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Yep, I’ve seen a lot of that floating around already, and I’m glad you’re pointing it out, Ben.

  • derekiannellismith

    The only thing I do not see in all of these commentaries (yours was the best I have read) is the reminder that we should seek first the kingdom and His righteousness and not worship or hold Mark Driscoll in the place of God/Jesus. Christendom always seems surprised and is up in arms when these things happen but we should not be surprised because of “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,(2 Tim 4:3). I am not condoning his behavior, but James 3:1 has a promise for leaders (it is a scary verse for me and warrants trepidation). Further, Mark’s behavior may be in the limelight, but many of us tend to look at the splinter when we have planks. I am always hesitant to comment on these things because of the sin in my own life if exposed is more horrendous then his external ones. That all said, again, I plead, why are we surprised. David’s life and many others are on the pages of scripture but yet God uses it to remind us that we should take heed lest we fall, that no temptation has seized us but such is common to man, that God has provided a way that we can bear up under it, but we also forget the next verse… FLEE from idolatry. Again, good article and I realize that you probably also wanted to include some of these items, I thought I could participate with you in ministering e-world and bring some sobriety. The reality is, there will be another scandal with another minister that will put Mark in the shadows and we will have another minister to lambast shortly but we cannot forget 2 Pet 1:12.

  • Amber

    I think it’s important in situations like this to remember that a pastor’s ‘fall’ doesn’t necessarily delegitimatize all his ministry or all his teaching in the past. The situation isn’t exactly the same, but my college pastor, with whom I went to Amsterdam to plant a church, had an extramarital affair and left the faith. Because his teaching had been so formative for many new Christians, they began to question much of their faith – they had a hard time separating the two. But his teaching and influence in their life was still from God. A pastor’s mistakes don’t erase the good he did in the past, if that makes sense. All three of the pastors who have most impacted my faith have failed, if I can call it that. (Two had affairs and left the church the third made what I considered to be a very bad decision (closing our church so he could pursue politics)). So I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that their influence and ministry in my life was real and from God even though there were some real mistakes as well. But I have definitely been delivered from putting leader on too high of a pedestal. :)

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Absolutely. The legitimate good of his ministry should still be seen as that—good. But it would be prudent to reexamine the fruit to see how much is actually good. At least, that’s the process we’ve been going through in our home.

      • Amber

        I agree.

  • http://sharletsees.blogspot.ca/ Sharlet Hodgson

    Well said.
    “as my own discernment and convictions grew, his shininess became tarnished.” – yep.

  • Jeremiah Henson

    I don’t understand why the need to list his sins in an earlier paragraph and then say we need to forgive him. Sounded like a bashing article disguised as an article about forgiveness. We love to bash others when they fall rather than privately approaching them first as commanded in Matthew in the chapter on church discipline.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      The intent behind including them was not to bash Driscoll, but rather to set context using instances of public sin (which biblically is not mandated to be addressed privately—although it most certainly has been multiple times by people who have had the ability to do so).

  • Melody

    I especially like what you said about not holding onto anger. All too often I see Christians saying horrible things about other Christians – hoping the disappointing Christian will go to hell, hoping God destroys their lives instead of restoring them, etc. – but the Bible doesn’t teach us to act that way. We ought to be sad when Christians behave poorly. We should pray that God would bring them to repentence and then restore them.

  • Robert Sakovich

    My concern is that there were two camps on Mark Driscoll from the beginning and the leaders of the camp that have supported him for so long have not come out with statements like what you have written here. John Piper, James MacDonald, the folks at TGC, and even Acts 29 haven’t admitted not being discerning enough about him and that they wouldn’t have recommended his books and such because of what he was caught up in. And I can’t help but to think that they have had more knowledge of the problems than any of us here have had over the years. These men have a lot of influence and with that comes a great deal of responsibility. I am thankful for how you have admitted where you fell short in discernment, but would appreciate it if people who really should have known better would do the same.
    I also worry that people still feel that those like John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, Dan Phillips, and Frank Turk were too harsh or had a wrong tone in addressing these issues. Look at the mess that there is around everybody involved with Mars Hill…it is clear that the warning needed to be made strongly because the danger was so severe. I think that the leaders from the camp that supported Driscoll when he needed to be called out so long ago need to both admit their fault in this and recognize that the other camp was actually right to issue such a strong warning. I pray that will happen, but I haven’t seen any signs pointing towards that. At least I can point to this article as a beginning of a humble response of one’s own error in not being discerning. That gives me some hope

  • Reformed Berean

    Another lecture. Maybe, if people weren’t enablers and apologists for Driscoll throughout these years were there were multiples signs that Driscoll was NEVER biblically qualified to be a pastor, then real people would not have been hurt. He lacked the character as outlined in the Bible to be an Elder. This is what has been proven thrue through the years over a myriad of examples that show Driscoll’s lack of character. Go back and read John MacArthur’s early thoughts about Driscoll and you will see where his analysis was spot on. But the YRR movement was too busy praising Driscoll and calling MacArthur what equates to an old curmudgeon.

    And why the veiled attack on Janet Medford? She was right about Driscoll’s plagiarism and Driscoll’s behavior in the face of those accusations was deplorable.

    Lastly, Driscoll is the just the fruit of the celebrity evangelical culture that permeates all through the Church today. Hopefully, people will see the folly of promoting such a culture.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Thanks for this feedback.

  • Wolfs’ Bane

    Your statement early on that you attended a church with a “seeker-sensitive model, but with little gospel proclamation” started me out wondering about you and just how astutely you blog theologically. By that, I mean: how do you not know that the so-called seeker-sensitive model by its very nature has little gospel proclamation?

    The evidence of abuse of Mars Hill members has been there and quite evident to anyone who was not stubbornly hearing and seeing no evil, long before it more recently “came to light” on certain Web sites.

    You make some very good points. There is certainly a difference between rejoicing over Driscoll’s downfall, and being thankful that an abuser is exposed. There needs to be real discipline. Not to knock his knees out from under him, but to correct and restore one who is hopefully truly a redeemed man who will be brought by the Holy Spirit to repentance. I like most Christians consider him a brother — one who is not qualified to hold office in a church. I say that as one who doubts my own qualifications to hold even the office of deacon in a Reformed church, even though I know I am saved by grace, through faith.

    You say, “let grace triumph.” Yes, I agree. Above all, let God’s Glory triumph. It is in and to God’s Glory that He elected sinners to save, that He saves us…and that He eternally punishes the reprobate. His Glory is even above and encompassing of the Grace manifested toward sinners.