Monday, May 25, 2009

John MacArthur on Mark Driscoll: What's Dead Right and What's Unconvincing (Part 1)

In the past I’ve written favorably, critically, and neutrally (regarding things that were simply informative) about Mark Driscoll, depending on how I assessed the particular event or statement in question. Driscoll is one of about seven pastors whose sermons I listen to regularly, so I have a bit of familiarity with his style, emphasis, and theology. And by the way, without a doubt Driscoll’s the answer to the question, “Which one of these is not like the other one?”

I haven’t yet had anything to say about the swelling skirmishes over Driscoll’s more recent inflammatory comments. If I recall correctly, I’ve raised the issue a bit in the past, but that’s neither here nor there. Frankly, I've wrestled personally with how I should think about Driscoll. For all I don't want to replicate, I respect his militant clarity on the gospel and biblical authority in an culture that's more anti-Christian than any I've ever encountered outside a Muslim country. But as time has passed, and his pattern has persisted despite personal admonitions, it's become more difficult to maintain neutrality. And though John MacArthur unloaded four barrels on Driscoll in a series of posts about a month ago (compiled helpfully here), I only read them today. Having done so, I want to do whatever I can to push readers here who share my mixed emotions toward most of MacArthur's conclusions, even while I note some reservations.

I want to be exceedingly clear. I believe what MacArthur has written is, essentially, on target. (I’ll quibble just a bit on the details tomorrow, but I hope the broad point is undeniable.) I also think he is unquestionably right to go public for several reasons. First, he did engage in private correspondence with Driscoll prior to his published criticism. I don’t think he was obligated to do that, but I do think that approach was wise. Second, Driscoll seems not to have significantly altered his course after admonition from other leaders. Third, other conservative evangelicals, such as Don Carson and John Piper, are elevating his status by putting him on prominent platforms. The fact that those invitations are occasionally accompanied by expressed reservations is not irrelevant, but it doesn’t justify making someone an example of Christian leadership who repeatedly, willfully, and brazenly displays conduct that is, at best, foolishly.

In his first post, MacArthur made a comment that sums up everything I think he gets right in his critique of Driscoll: “There is no hint of sophomoric lewdness in the Bible, even when the prophet's clear purpose is to shock.” It’s unimaginable to me that anyone who’s heard Driscoll on any regular basis could acquit him on that charge. Despite all that I find exemplary in his preaching, sophomoric humor is a recurring theme, whether it’s lewdness or simply illustrations that trivialize biblical truth in order to make a point.

If I’m applying correctly Richard Weaver's thoughts in Ideas Have Consequences, he has something to say to Driscoll along these lines. He writes:
[S]entiment is anterior to reason. We do not undertake to reason about anything until we have been drawn to it by an affective interest (p. 19).
Weaver is relevant to this discussion (again, if I’m right about him) because Driscoll’s preaching style shapes both his message and how it is received. His giftedness as a communicator fosters an “affective interest” in the mind of the listener. His strategy to model his style after popular comedians cultivates a gut-level connection to his audience that grabs them before their minds are able to process and evaluate the content. If they like his personality and his style and his humor, they’ll be inclined to sit back and relax, listening largely uncritically to his content and even less discerningly to whether the form of the preaching event is fitting to the gravity of the message.

That’s what I perceive to be the foundational problem with Driscoll’s approach—a problem that Weaver would argue precedes the prurient interest MacArthur emphasizes. But in combination with lewd humor, that approach becomes even more toxic in that it anesthetizes the conscience of the listener not only to the lewd humor, but also to critical evaluation of Driscoll's conclusions, many of which are dubious in his sex-oriented sermons.

Tomorrow I plan to publish part 2, which will articulate my reservations with some of MacArthur's argumentation and its implications.


Eddie said...

Just FYI. This statement is wrong, "Second, Driscoll seems not to have significantly altered his course after admonition from other leaders." Listen to Piper's 6 minute discussion on this issue at

Michael said...


May I respectfully say that if you understood Weaver, you would not be a nominalist and certainly not a Baptist?


Seriously, Weaver is talking about pathos vs. logos. He is talking about the unprovable axioms, the "metaphysical dream," that compels us to consider something and is a lens through which we reason about it. Weaver is more talking about why you care to analyze Driscoll or why Driscoll even founded Mars Hill - not whether Driscoll's sermons are Biblical.

The chapter in "Ideas Have Consequences" about Mark Driscoll and John MacArthur is titled "The Great Stereopticon."


Michael said...

Seriously, Weaver is NOT* talking about pathos vs. logos. So sorry.


Ben said...


I'll check it out.


Thanks. I understood a little of what you said. So I'm assuming I understand less of Weaver. Perhaps I should have clarified from the start that, even if I'm far off of his point, I wonder if there's an analogical relationship. By that I mean, clearly Driscoll or those like him weren't the topic of that chapter, but I wonder if he's not saying something universal about how people are not only compelled to consider something but also conditioned to respond to it. In any case, this part of my argument has nothing to do with whether Driscoll's biblical. It has more to do with how its form affects how even a thoroughly biblical message is received.

And even if that's totally unrelated, well, he jarred me to think that though, and it seems plausible—at least worthy of consideration.

Michael said...


Well, yes, that is all true. I agree with your overall opinion of Mark Driscoll, and I'm glad you deduced it even if I dispute your means. I was concerned that you had missed the larger point of what was not your largest point.

Nitpicking, in other words. :)