Mark Driscoll: There He Goes Again

Mark DriscollYou can always count on Mark Driscoll to stir things up in the online (and offline) world.  He seems to have a knack for that.  It seems to be one of his spiritual gifts.

There’s a reason why he has a solid reputation as New Calvinism’s bad boy pastor-leader.

He earned it.

And he keeps on earning it, week after week, month after month.

Now he is in a literary brouhaha that isn’t very funny.

Plagiarism! (Or, thou shalt not steal, unless it’s from a “good friend.”)

You may have read my initial musings about the Reformed phenomenon known as “New Calvinism.”  If not, you can take a few minutes to read it here: “Is the New Calvinism Really Calvinism–Or Is It Just Five-Point Evangelicalism?” 

I do like some of what Driscoll preaches.  I do not like a whole lot of what he practices.

Strange Ire

Last month, Driscoll dropped by John MacArthur’s anti-charismatic “Strange Fire” conference and donated (or maybe they were “confiscated”) some brand new copies of his latest book, A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?

Confiscated or donated?

You be the judge:

But this was just an interesting sidelight to what was going on inside.  The real story was the conference itself.  Joel McDurmon of American Vision talks about that here: Reckless Fire: MacArthur’s Strange Conference.

A Call to Insurgence

Last week Driscoll was interviewed on Janet Mefferd’s syndicated radio talk show, and he was asked some rather pointed questions.

Problem: Mark Driscoll does not like to be asked pointed questions.

He prefers to be the one holding the sharp instruments and doing the asking (and the accusing, and the finger-pointing, and the Spirit-led rebuffing).

I’ve listened to the interview a couple of times.  Frankly, the exchange makes Driscoll come across as an insolent, piously self-important celebrity. (“I’m sick and I’m doing you a favor by letting you interview me!”)  It makes Mefferd come across as a seasoned, take-no-prisoners journalist who did her homework and stuck to her script despite her subject’s best efforts at eluding and deflecting her hardball questions.

The interview has caused a “strange fire” of controversy to combust online.  It’s worth listening to if for no other reason than to catch a glimpse into the touch-not-the-Lord’s-anointed world of the Mars Hill strongman, “sex-pository” preacher (couldn’t resist) and patriarch.

As you listen to and read all the various comments and articles about this online, one of the recurring criticisms against Mark is that he hung up on Janet after their lengthy sparring on the subject of his alleged plagiarism.

Hung up? I don’t know, you be the judge:

http://audiour.com/playlist/3lewj0or

In any case, the issues raised by Mefferd were Driscoll’s twin sins of crashing the Macarthur event (to create a new distribution channel and PR event for his book, perhaps), and that of not crediting his “good friend” Dr. Peter Jones with what Mefferds cites as 14 pages of Mark’s new book that are comprised of material lifted from Dr. Jones’s seminal work on the subject dealt with in those pages, i.e., the link between illicit sex and neo-paganism.

Some have taken Mefferd to task for being overly fixated on the plagiarism issue.  Others have taken Driscoll to task for being overly fixated on, well, Mark Driscoll.

The blogosphere is ablaze.  Here is a sampling:

Mark Driscoll Accused of Plagiarism by Radio Host

Mark Driscoll Reacts to Janet Mefferd’s Questions About Plagiarism and Strange Fire

Mark Driscoll and Jane Mefferd: Plagiarism, Tribalism and Paganism

Gospel-Centered Plagiarism: Further Evidence of the Demise of the T4G- 9Marks-Gospel Coalition Crowd?

To think that Rand Paul has been ostracized for a whole lot less!

Regardless of the outcome of this, Driscoll will continue to be the darling of the “young, restless and Reformed” crowd.  Mars Hill Church will continue to spawn imitators and detractors.  And the dead bodies will continue to pile up behind the Mars Hill bus.

Driscoll’s book will definitely sell a lot of copies.  And it will tow the standard evangelical line on pessimistic premillennial eschatology and pietistic, quasi-covenantal, non-theonomic Christianity — you know, the kind that (in my humble, “old” Calvinist opinion) there should NOT be a resurgence of!

Why Care About Any of This?

Why does this matter?  Because it highlights, for all the world (and the church) to see, what happens when a prominent, popular and controversial Christian leader holds himself to a lower standard than he holds everyone else to.  An infraction that would ordinarily be considered a sin or at least a serious violation of ethics worthy of dismissal or some form of negative sanctions in a different (non-celebrity) pastoral or professional context, gets glossed over and excused when it is committed by someone who is ostensibly engaged in high-level Kingdom work that is much too important for trivial distractions that should only be of concern to mere (non-celebrity) mortals, such as plagiarism.

It’s okay to (oops!) inadvertently appropriate someone else’s “intellectual property” and unique, original, historical-theological insights without proper citation or acknowledgement.  But just try that with any of Driscoll’s sermons or any other pastoral (or creative) content presented via Mars Hill Church!

Driscoll’s credibility is being challenged (again).  His integrity is being challenged (again).  But his approach to ministry and edgy style have caught on and caught fire (and caught hell) in the evangelical and Reformed worlds.  He is a spiritual superhero to many.

The question is,…

Will Mark Driscoll’s brand of Christianity have a funeral or a future?

I don’t know.  It’s too early to tell.  Let’s just hope his humility and charitable disposition don’t get in the way.

The long-term project of building the Kingdom of God on earth is going to need a lot more than lone-ranger bus drivers and church buses filled with compliant, sycophantic passengers onboard following “dead-end” eschatological road maps to get us to our universally-acknowledged and intended destination known as the Second Coming of Christ.

________________________________________________________

***** UPDATE: Dec. 11, 2013 *****

It’s been a real roller-coaster ride these past three weeks, with Janet Mefferd posting additional examples of Mark Driscoll’s alleged plagiarism on her website, then pulling them off, then pulling the recording of the interview off her website, then issuing an apology for the way she handled the interview.  Then her assistant producer resigning over how Mefferd was treated, posting the following online:

All I can share is that there is an evangelical celebrity machine that is more powerful than anyone realizes. You may not go up against the machine. That is all. Mark Driscoll clearly plagiarized and those who could have underscored the seriousness of it and demanded accountability did not. That is the reality of the evangelical industrial complex.

Brilliant take by the former assistant producer. (You can read the rest of her comments here.)

“The evangelical industrial complex.”

President Eisenhower would be proud of that new twist on his ominous phrase!

World Magazine has weighed in on the controversy.

So has The Blaze.

Is the ‘New Calvinism’ Really Calvinism–or Is It Just ‘Five-Point Evangelicalism’?

New Calvinist Montage

Forgive me if I don’t seem to be enamored with the new “emerging” breed of Calvinists that has cropped up and become all the rage in Reformed and conservative evangelical circles during the past 7-10 years.  And forgive me if I dismiss them as five-point evangelicals and ‘sovereign-grace antinomians.’  But, frankly, based on what I have seen over the last few years, that is how I perceive them.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad that the term ‘Calvinist’ now carries less of the baggage and unwarranted stigma of “cold, narrow, non-evangelistic” and even “heartless” Christianity that it did in the bad old days prior to the mid-to-late-20th-century revival of interest in the Puritans and Puritan theology.  The Genevan Reformer and ‘prince of commentators’ has been much maligned and maliciously slandered for too many years by too many “Bible-believing” Christians.

What I am not glad to see is that what is being passed off to the Christian public as “new Calvinism” — i.e., a badly-needed update and remix of the “old” Calvinism — appears to me to be really just a thin veneer of Reformed doctrine applied to the existing populist hull of American evangelicalism.

The first time I heard about “New Calvinism,” was probably only about three years ago when I was doing some online searching for a Reformed theological topic.  I don’t remember exactly what the topic was, but I know it had something to do with Calvinism (and probably eschatology).  I came across a TIME magazine article from 2009 that mentioned New Calvinism as one of the “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”  Seemed like a bit of really good news at the time.

Finally! The legacy of John Calvin is getting its due.  The recognition, vindication and audience it deserves — and in a venerable old “mainstream media” outlet like TIME.  At last, the seeds sown by 20th-century purveyors of predestination, election and TULIP-driven theology were starting to sprout amongst the newest generation of younger Christians.  “Generation C.”  Finally, rampant evangelical Arminianism had met its cultural and ecclesiastical match.  Score one for our side!

But, alas, that sense of elation, gratification and vindication was short-lived.  At least for me.  Once I became more aware and more familiar with what some of the ‘New Calvinists’ were teaching and preaching (and in some instances, how they were preaching it) — given the more holistic covenantal Calvinism, theonomic-postmillennial-Reconstructionist theology and historic Reformed doctrine and creedal confessions that I subscribe to — I became more uncomfortable and less enchanted with the latent anti-Calvinist, antinomian and quasi-biblical aspects of it.

No small, cultish phenomenon, this.  It has caught on like wildfire in some Reformed and evangelical churches.   It has taken the Southern Baptist Convention by storm.  (And not a perfect one, either.)  It has found its way into ‘conservative’ Reformed and Presbyterian denominations.  It has opened up a whole new market for charismatic continuationist theology!  And it has resulted in a lot of ‘young, restless and reformed’ Christians packing non-traditional churches to hear “unchurchy” sermons preached by “unchurchy” pastors, and worship to “unchurchy” music.

What’s Going On Here?

I have first-hand experience with some of the changes wrought by New Calvinism as it finds its way into the sanctuaries, pews and pulpits (the “DNA”) of otherwise Reformed-Calvinist churches.  Some of the changes are more architectural and visual rather than doctrinal.  But they are subtle (and some not so subtle) and unmistakable.

First, the pews get taken out.  (That’s so Old Calvinist!)  Upgrading to the new, plastic, fold-up chairs.  Out with those warm, inviting community and family-friendly benches.  In with the new, individualistic, one-size-fits-all, pack-em-in-like-sardines-for-Jesus theater seats!

Then the accoutrements of traditional Christianity get removed, especially well-lit worship spaces.  Replaced by dark, spooky, theater-like venues with all sorts of lighting effects to “enhance” the worship experience.  LOUD, pulsing musical numbers combined with soft, sentimental ballads played by talented and gifted folks who transform every worship service into a garage-band, ultra-casual, youth-group-style performance.  An occasional hymn, updated, for old time’s sake.  “A” for effort, guys (and gals).  But, whatever happened to being offered a choice between “contemporary” and “traditional” worship?

But What Are They Teaching?

Well, they’re not teaching Calvinism, that’s for sure.  At least not Calvin’s Calvinism, in my opinion.

Oh, there’s talk about God’s sovereignty, grace, the depravity of man, the holiness of God, authority of the Bible, power of the Holy Spirit, transformative impact of the Gospel, etc..  Generic Calvinism.  But beyond that, what’s missing is the full-orbed, rich and all-encompassing theology of historic Calvinism.  The “new” version is more of a truncated, boiled-down mixture of pietism, TULIP soteriology (with a few bulbs missing) and mainstream evangelical-cultural accommodation, and a heaping helping of doctrinal ecumenism.

A Case in Point

Here is what one of New Calvinism’s pastoral frontmen, Mark Driscoll, had to say when commenting on that TIME magazine article:

New Calvinism Vs. Old Calvinism

FOUR WAYS ‘NEW CALVINISM’ IS SO POWERFUL

  1. Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.
  2. Old Calvinism fled from the cities. New Calvinism is flooding into cities.
  3. Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges. New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.

http://theresurgence.com/2009/03/12/time-magazine-names-new-calvinism-3rd-most-powerful-idea

Now, go back and read through those four points again, slowly…

Is it just me or is this just a REALLY misinformed and badly distorted misrepresentation of “Old” vs. “New” Calvinism?

“Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal.” “Separated from or syncretized with culture.”  “Fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”    

“New Calvinism is missional” “Seeks to create and redeem culture” “… is joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit”

“New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.” 

“Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges.”

Huh?

A better name for this would be, “Four-Point ANTI-Calvinism”!  Historically inaccurate and theologically misleading about what it claims to be a resurgence of.

In the short time that New Calvinism has been with us, it has stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy and interest.  Its leaders have become household names (and lightning rods) in their own right among “Bible-believing” Christians around the world.  Besides Mark Driscoll, there is Albert Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Tim Keller, and of course, New Calvinism’s “senior pastor,” John Piper, and others.  Obviously, these men have all had very good and quite biblical things to say about any number of issues over the years.  But there have also been some troubling aspects to their teachings and beliefs — publicly stated and publicly propagated, which means it is perfectly legitimate and valid to criticize them and ‘call them out’ on it in public — things which should dismay a good number of you, and ought to otherwise undermine some of their credibility and “disqualify” them from occupying their lofty perches as peerless, unassailable fonts of theological knowledge, as many conservative and Reformed Christians hold them out to be.

What Would Calvin Do?

‘New Calvinism’ has gained such a foothold and garnered such a sizable audience and made its formidable presence known in such a big way across the evangelical and Reformed landscape during the past decade, that I think I may take a closer look at it in future posts.

I’m just a layman.  And I’ve got no “dog in the hunt” here.  And I may be completely off-base in my impressions and my analysis.  But I just wanted to share my two cents’ worth and voice my personal perspective on this.  As a Calvinist and as a Reconstructionist.