In my Church History class we’ve finished the Reformation. We’re on to the English Revival under George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers. Dr. W recently handed back our papers on Luther. I went in to talk with him about it not because I was unhappy with the grade but because I wanted to do better on the next one. We ended up discussing me. Everything from Meyers-Brigg’s to my current living situation and all the way back around to my church home in Seattle.
I don’t want you to think I’m going to mount a great defense for Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. To be honest, Mark makes me incredibly uncomfortable sometimes (despite the fact that he’s tagged on my list of things I’m listening to). I’m about as Egalitarian as a Complementarian can be without actually being an Egalitarian. But in recent weeks there’s been a backlash (again) with Mars Hill and I felt slightly compelled to write as one who used to attend church at Mars Hill and who still podcasts Mark on occasion.
There was a matter of Church Discipline recently at the church and unfortunately someone’s information was let loose on The City and there’s been some controversy over whether or not church discipline is (a) acceptable and (b) too harsh in this instance. From what I’ve read in Scripture, I think that church discipline is entirely necessary. From what I read of the situation in Seattle, the situation doesn’t seem out of hand–it’s harsh, but sometimes truth is painful in its redemptive act.
That being said, it was hard to watch the church be attacked again. You don’t know what it’s like to be embroiled in controversy amid believers until you’ve had to walk to church through protestors to get to service on a Sunday morning or had to take criticism from a professor at your Christian college for where you attend church. It can be exhausting. It can be discouraging. Last week was like that experience all over again, via the internet.
And with that being said, I will acknowledge incredible reticence with Mark. In the past year, it sometimes feels like the man just says things to get a reaction, to force controversy. I don’t agree with all of his theological positions. I don’t think I’ll be reading Real Marriage if I get married because of the mixed reviews I’ve read. I don’t appreciate how argumentative he is. Sometimes, I wish Mark wasn’t so…well…so Mark-like.
But when I spoke with my professor the thing I kept coming back to was Mark Driscoll reminds me of Martin Luther.
Most of us know Martin Luther as the spark that ignited the Reformation. Erasmus laid an egg, Luther hatched it and by God we don’t trust the Pope anymore, do we! But Luther was much more complicated than that, and he was not the noble rescuer of lay people that we sometimes imagine. Luther was incredibly anti-semitic, and he cursed his opponents. Literally: Luther wished some of them to Hell. He was bombastic, he wrote against his opponents with incredible ferocity. Some of the things are disturbing. Some are amusing. I have a friend who sent me this link recently where the page refreshes each time with a new insult that Luther wrote.
I don’t love these parts of Luther. I find them disorienting: how could a man so obsessed with grace refuse to show it to his opponents? That’s a different discussion. The point is Luther was complicated. He had faults. Yet, he was the man for the job. Who else could have stood up to the Papacy in the 16th century, with the threat of excommunication (i.e. damnation), being hunted and yet continue to stand forcefully against the church that ruled the entire Western continent? Luther. Maybe he had to be bombastic, verbose and abrasive to get his point across, to maintain his position, and to change the tide of history.
Mark Driscoll isn’t going to change history, not in the way that Martin Luther did. But he is in a unique position. He pastors a church in one of the most unchurched cities in a rapidly secularizing nation. It’s a city of art and music, one of incredible beauty. But it’s a city of abuse, sorrow, and conflicted ideas. Mark is pretty black and white. He stands against the culture of his city, he is always pushing people onward and forward. Yes, he says wrong things. Yes, he overstates his position sometimes.
But I think that Mars Hill also does incredible ministry.
I don’t mind the criticism of Mars Hill and Driscoll. God knows, we should all suffer some criticism to keep us humble. What does make me uncomfortable are those who react to soundbites (which is truly all we hear at a distance), and then refuse to engage the man, the ministry and the good things that are happening.
We don’t write off Martin Luther–in fact, we celebrate him! Every Reformation Day friends and I drink German beer together and toast the man who freed us from the tyranny of the medieval church!
It’s similar with the church I still consider my second home. Mark Driscoll has sin. He has flaws. But the church of Mars Hill does good things. I think it’s dangerous to negate those things based on misspoken words and disagreement over issues that should be periphery within the faith.