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.