Why I don’t write about the Mark Driscoll controversy

People keep asking why I don’t write about the Mark Driscoll controversy:

Being Reformed and Presbyterian and all that is supposed to give me some special insight on these things. Well, strangely I guess it does but not in the way people might think. Being bathed in the old mainline protestant waters of ecclesial polity does color one’s perspective on church discipline and the handling of controversy but not in a way that brings greater clarity. Instead it limits presumption and the tendency to believe just anything one hears that another has said or done. In the old church we go back to evidence more than spicy headlines.

Here are a few reasons that I have nothing to say:

1. I’m not a fan. I’ve listened to maybe two sermons and read a blog. I have little in the way of perspective. I’ve heard much more about Driscoll than I’ve heard Driscoll.

2. I’ve been in church a long time. Until there are clear, identifiable charges against someone that can be measured for accuracy with witnesses and evidence I’m not biblically allowed to make a judgement.

“Christianity Today”, “Relevant” and random theologian blogs are not approved sources I can trust for that kind of information.

3. I’ve read the many very public statements about Driscoll by those that say they know, including Pastors that were at one time on staff with him. Those statements taste of bitterness and severity.

More, there is rarely any substantial claim of error. Some might be categorized as “sour grapes” complaining that they did not have more power and influence in the organization. Or that their theology adopted a more liberal bent and they failed to bring about liberal reformation in the organization which for some reason they felt the need to do.

These are strange reasons.

4. Misty, smokey, cloudy accusations of implied character defects or attitudes are almost always gossip, slander, libel or some other kind of sin.

Christians are allowed to not like people but they are not allowed to write about it in public outlets. (Oy, if we could just publicly attack all the Pastors we don’t like we might be here all day).  Some of the most influential public statements about Driscoll carry strange entitlements that, “I would not have ever written so publicly about this but I sent him an email about it and he never got back to me…” or something like that; it carries little weight. This kind of thing does not grant someone immunity from biblical standards for public behavior. Christians have the greater duty to always presume the innocence of an accused party until there is a clear finding of guilt.

Some driving the controversy seem pleased with the ugly, public nature of the discussion; an airing of Christian dirty laundry of which we should all be ashamed. There’s an old Christian saying, “It’s better that a guilty man go free than that an innocent man be convicted” but with that, if you can’t get a conviction you let God sort it out. Troubling the entire church with personal gripes is almost always a vanity.

5. The more aggressive commentary seems to grant itself a right to complain under the presumption that people need to be protected from Driscoll. I’m yet to see any clear statement of exactly what people need to be protected from. I have clear disagreements with many of Driscoll’s presumptions upon the biblical text involving everything from sex to how he chose to promote his book but I don’t consider any of these things I need to protect people from. It’s really a pretty strange focus for Pastor’s to take in regard to one of their own. If he were a unitarian or an open theist or a libertine I guess I’d feel a duty to speak out against the teaching but because he is protective of his ministry? Isn’t everyone? In fact, don’t they have a biblical duty to be so? Everyone with common sense is protective of their ministry.

One Pastor even went so far as to write that Driscoll, “destroyed people” that disagreed with him. That’s a pretty severe and easily provable charge that went forward without any evidence. The lack of substantiation alone would reduce the accusation to mere gossip. Pastors need to understand just as everyone else that they can’t say these kinds of things without sharing in the guilt they presume upon another. We need to see the destroyed people; we need to know their names and the measurement being used for “destruction”. Otherwise we can’t be a rational person and take this kind of thing seriously. The clergy does not get a free pass from the rules of evidence. Maybe he did destroy people, how would I know? But just saying it seems to lack both wisdom and charity. Public statements about other people that have not been substantiated through a trial and a finding of guilt are morally problematic.

6. I know this issue of having a trial seems like a lot to some people but there is no more dangerous thing in the church than the conviction without a trial. Churches have always had trials and courts. In this case the Elder’s board of Driscoll’s church did hear charges and found him not guilty of charges laid against him. Now many are trying to have an additional trial in the court of public opinion. They say things like that he is “disqualified from office” because of “attitudes”. Frankly, there is nothing in the bible about people being disqualified from public office because of attitudes. There are actions and doctrines and that’s all you’ve got to work with there. A problem with someone’s attitudes is something you’re going to need to work out for yourself.

If someone is accused of some sin they need to opportunity to hear the accusation, the witnesses against them, gather evidence on their behalf, to respond and if necessary to repent. Short circuiting the biblical witness isn’t good for anybody. Judgements made in haste are usually wrong and one side always sounds right until we hear the other side.

Just today I read that someone has 70 people with charges to be filed against the Pastor if he does not resign. This might sound intimidating and obviously it is intended to intimidate but also seems intended to cast aspersions. What are these accusations? Who are these 70 people? What will they say? How will Driscoll respond? This public proclamation was an unjust act. It could be interpreted as an attempt to declare guilt in the absence of a single proven accusation by creating the presumption that at least one of the 70 accusations would surely prevail. How could there possibly be 70 accusers if someone were not indeed guilty of something? And the answer is of course that we can’t answer that, because we have no idea what the accusations are, who made them or what evidence they bring to bear.

It’s salacious and gossipy and interesting on many levels but does not count as evidence for anything.

Don’t get me wrong. Pastor Driscoll could be guilty of anything or everything but so far he hasn’t been proven guilty of anything and that’s where this stands.

If we are to be Christians about this it may move no farther in judgement or conscience.

Here’s a recent letter from Mark Driscoll in regard to the controversy:

“Dear Mars Hill Church,

Thank you.

I have received a great deal of love and encouragement from you for more than 17 years. I genuinely appreciate every person who prays for my family and me. Also, I continue to find great joy in teaching the Bible every week to people I have grown to love with a father’s affection.

For those of you who have been around for a while, it is amazing for us to see all that Jesus has done. People often ask if our church today resembles what I had originally planned. Not even close. The smallest location of a Mars Hill Church is bigger than what my total vision was for the whole church when we started.

As the church grew over the years, it was clear that both the church and I were unhealthy in some ways, despite some wonderful people and amazing things that the Holy Spirit was doing in and through them. For years, I felt a joy in teaching the Bible and love for the people, but frankly was overwhelmed on how to organize and lead all that was happening. I felt the crushing weight of responsibility but did not know what to do, and I lacked the abilities to figure it out. I was frustrated at my shortcomings, but needed help from people who were more experienced and mature. In my worst moments, I was angry in a sinful way. For those occasions, I am sorry. As I’ve expressed in several sermons, I needed to mature as a leader, and we needed to mature as a church.

In the last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father. Those closest to me have said they recognize a deep change, which has been encouraging because I hope to continually be sanctified by God’s grace. I understand that people who saw or experienced my sin during this season are hurt and in some cases have not yet come to a place of peace or resolution. I have been burdened by this for the past year and have had private meetings one at a time to learn from, apologize to, and reconcile with people. Many of those meetings were among the most encouraging moments in my time at our church. Sadly, not all of those relationships are yet mended, but I am praying that God is gracious to get us to that place of grace. Now that others have come forward, my desire is to have similar meetings with those who are willing.

In the past few years, we have also made significant improvements to how we are governed and organized as a church. This has been difficult, but long overdue. The Board of Advisors and Accountability is a great blessing to us all, as they combine wise counsel and strong oversight during this process. I have been a pastor for a long time, but have not had a close pastor since college. I now rejoice that God has been gracious to give me pastors for accountability and wise counsel. Through their counsel to confess my own sin, while not being distracted by the shortcomings of others, the Holy Spirit is making me a better man and pastor, which I pray helps us to become a better church. This is the truest and strongest pastoral love and accountability that I have ever had and I thank the Lord for it. Pastor Dave and Pastor Sutton have also joined me as Executive Elders. They have been very helpful in getting my team and me to the most unified, loving, and healthy place we have ever been. I really love our church, and I see where it was unhealthy, where it has gotten healthier, and where we can continue in that path. I am very encouraged by where we are and where we are going.

However, this process has required a lot of changes, and admittedly we did not handle all of these changes equally well. We are fully aware of and grieved by ways we could have done better with a more effective process and more patience, starting with me. I am deeply grieved and even depressed by the pain we have caused. Many have chosen to air their concerns online, and I apologize for any burden this may have brought on you, and I will do my best to clarify a few things without, I hope, being angry or defensive.

First, a marketing company called ResultSource was used in conjunction with the book Real Marriage, which was released in January 2012. My understanding of the ResultSource marketing strategy was to maximize book sales, so that we could reach more people with the message and help grow our church. In retrospect, I no longer see it that way. Instead, I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong. I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again. I have also asked my publisher to not use the “#1 New York Times bestseller” status in future publications, and am working to remove this from past publications as well.

Second, in recent years, some have used the language of “celebrity pastor” to describe me and some other Christian leaders. In my experience, celebrity pastors eventually get enough speaking and writing opportunities outside the church that their focus on the church is compromised, until eventually they decide to leave and go do other things. Without judging any of those who have done this, let me be clear that my desires are exactly the opposite. I want to be under pastoral authority, in community, and a Bible-teaching pastor who grows as a loving spiritual father at home and in our church home for years to come. I don’t see how I can be both a celebrity and a pastor, and so I am happy to give up the former so that I can focus on the latter.

When I was a new Christian at the age of 19, God spoke to me and told me to do four things. Today, I see that calling as: Love Grace and our family, Preach the Bible Train leaders (especially men), Plant churches. Other things may be good, but I do not have the time or energy for them right now. My family and our church family need me focused and energized, and that is my deep desire. Therefore, I will be spending my energies growing in Christ-like character by grace, staying connected to Grace and our kids, loving and serving Mars Hill Church which continues to grow, teaching the Bible, and serving Christian leaders through such things as blogs and podcasts at Resurgence. Starting this fall, I will also be teaching at Corban University and Western Seminary in Bellevue to invest in young leaders. For a season, I want to pull back from many things in order for us to focus on the most important things: glorifying Jesus by making disciples and planting churches as a healthy, loving, and unified church, with our hands on the Bible and our eyes on Jesus.

To reset my life, I will not be on social media for at least the remainder of the year. The distractions it can cause for my family and our church family are not fruitful or helpful at this time. At the end of the year, I will consider if and when to reappear on social media, and I will seek the counsel of my pastors on this matter. In the meantime, Mars Hill and Resurgence will continue to post blogs, sermons, and podcasts on my social media accounts, but otherwise I’m going offline.

I will also be doing much less travel and speaking in the next season. In recent years, I have cut back significantly, but I will now cut back even more. I have cancelled some speaking events, and I am still determining the best course of action for a few that I’ve committed to, as they are evangelistic opportunities to invite people to salvation in Jesus Christ, which is something I care about deeply. I will be doing very few media interviews, if any. Also, I’m communicating with my publisher to determine how to meet my existing obligations and have a much less intense writing schedule.

Personally, I find this all relieving. The pressure and pace has increased every year since I started in 1996. I don’t want to be burned out or angry, and I want to become more like Jesus every year. I want to teach the Bible, love well, and run at a pace to finish my race many decades from now. My health is actually in the best place it has been in recent years. I have a skilled and unified team that loves you and can handle more responsibility, if I can free up the time and energy to love them and invest in them. Grace and the kids are doing very well, and my family is still my joy and priority. This year we will have three of our five kids as teenagers, and our oldest will be a senior preparing for college. I don’t want to miss this season, as these are years I can never get back. If I am going to err, I want it to be on the side of guarding too much time and energy for family and church family rather than not enough.

To be clear, these are decisions I have come to with our Senior Pastor Jesus Christ. I believe this is what He is asking of me, and so I want to obey Him. The first person I discussed this with was our first, and still best, church member, Grace. Her loving agreement and wise counsel only confirmed this wonderful opportunity to reset some aspects of our life. I want to publicly thank her, as it was 26 years ago this week that we had our first date. She is the greatest friend and biggest blessing in my life after Jesus. When we recently discussed this plan to reset our life together, late at night on the couch, she started crying tears of joy. She did not know how to make our life more sustainable, and did not want to discourage me, but had been praying that God would reveal to me a way to reset our life. Her prayer was answered, and for that we are both relieved at what a sustainable, joyful, and fruitful future could be. As an anniversary present, I want to give her more of her best friend.

I have also submitted these decisions to the Board of Advisors and Accountability. They have approved of this direction and are 100 percent supportive of these changes. It’s a wonderful thing to have true accountability and not be an independent decision maker regarding my ministry and, most importantly, our church.

Lastly, if God would lead you to pray for me, the Scripture he has impressed upon me this past year or two is 1 Corinthians 4:15: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” As I get older, I am seeking to increasingly love our people as I do my own children in order for our church to be a great family, because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

With the Father’s affection,

–Pastor Mark Driscoll”

Neiswonger

5 thoughts on “Why I don’t write about the Mark Driscoll controversy

  1. In general I have not followed much on Driscoll, but my feeling is a lot of people who are angry with Christianity, reformed viewpoints, or certain evangelical stances find it easier to attack Driscoll on character and implicitly attack his viewpoints rather than to deal with the viewpoints. He has made it easy to criticize himself at times, but I don’t really see anything he has done that warrants nearly as much backlash as he gets. I generally wish more theologians would deal simply with viewpoint rather than bringing figures into the question.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding Pastor Driscolll but I still want to thank you for the insight provided. It has given me some pause [and repentance] on how I speak or treat certain matters I have heard and made judgment. Thank you for correction!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t been following this issue but I completely agree with your perspective and find it a very helpful reminder of the proper way to handle charges against a church leader. Grace and peace

    Like

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