Having affirmed MacArthur's central charge against Driscoll in my previous post, I have to say that he hasn’t convinced me on two points. First, MacArthur argues extensively in his posts 2 and 3 that Driscoll has wildly exceeded the appropriate boundaries of the biblical exegesis of the Song of Solomon. That may be true. That’s likely true. But whether Driscoll’s specificity is excessive is a debate that’s distinct from whether he’s lewd.
Let’s not forget, MacArthur wrote the book on lexical and cultural backgrounds research as a tool for exegesis and exposition. This has led him to exegetical conclusions from time to time over the years that, in my opinion, import cultural data from outside the text that shapes his understanding of the meaning of the text—meaning that the biblical author never intended, or at least never intended to emphasize. Additionally, MacArthur charges Driscoll with insufficient sensitivity to the genre of the Song, but some exegetes would argue that MacArthur falls into a similar trap in his approach to some genres—treating them with a degree of literalness that the genre doesn’t demand and shouldn’t be forced to fit.
MacArthur’s critiques of Driscoll, or the critiques made by others toward MacArthur, may or may not be right. Regardless, they’re a legitimate hermeneutical and homiletical debate. So I don’t believe that this component of the discussion is as significant as MacArthur seems to think it is. If it is significant, MacArthur's criticism might backfire. But having said that, again, I want to emphasize that I think MacArthur is dead right in the substance of his disgust with lewd humor.
Second, MacArthur hasn’t convinced me that his invocation Spurgeon’s response to the Downgrade Controversy is relevant. My understanding of Downgrade is that the foundational issues were about the authority of Scripture and the purity and priority of the gospel. I think it’s fair to say MacArthur makes that point himself in Ashamed of the Gospel (a book you ought to read if you haven’t), excerpted here.
Now to be fair, MacArthur hasn’t attempted to build a case in his posts on Driscoll that a gospel issue is at stake. In invoking the Downgrade Controversy, he may merely be making an analogical point about how it’s appropriate to respond to error. I have no quarrel with that. I’ve made similar analogical points in posts here, even when significantly distinct issues are at stake. I hope that’s all he intended to imply, since he clearly didn’t make any sort of argument for that conclusion.
So I’m glad that MacArthur isn’t claiming this is a gospel issue. That doesn’t mean it’s insignificant or meaningless. The upshot is that MacArthur is right to call on Driscoll to change his approach. He’s right to warn pastors who are tempted to use Driscoll as a model. The argument that he’s “won a lot of people to Christ and done a lot of great things” doesn’t hold any more water in Driscoll’s favor than it does when Danny Sweatt makes the very same case to defend Jack Hyles and Bob Gray.
To take it a step further, I believe MacArthur would be exercising reasonable judgment to ask John Piper and Don Carson publicly to stop putting Driscoll in a position of leadership. It’s undeniable to me that their choices will have an effect on how Driscoll is heard and received. For whatever reason, MacArthur didn’t call on Carson. He did speak to Mahaney, though I’m not sure how Mahaney fits in, except that he has had contact with Driscoll without rebuking him publicly. Whatever is behind it all, my hope is that Mark Driscoll will not squander his influence or become an unwarranted wedge between MacArthur and Piper/Mahaney.
Of course, MacArthur has every right to criticize Piper and Mahaney and every right to break off whatever levels of fellowship or cooperation he has with them, if in his judgment that’s the wise course of action. But at this point, I’m going to argue that it’s not wise (even if it somehow were to earn him an invite to a kindler, gentler conference platform of FBFI 2.0 . . .that would be some sweet irony, I'll admit). I’m also going to argue that it would undermine the good cooperative work they’re doing in restoring the gospel to a central place in (at least a sliver of) evangelicalism. MacArthur is iron, which I pray will sharpen other iron. But I hope that metaphor remains in its biblical context—a sharpening among friends, not enemies.