Back in 2006 Zondervan published a book called Confessions of a Reformission Rev. by Mark Driscoll. The book was Driscoll’s guide to teach pastors and church planters through his own successes and failures as a church planter. At the time, Driscoll had seen a lot of success and growth with his Seattle church Mars Hill. I purchased this book several years ago when I was reading and listening to a lot of the popular neo-Calvinist leaders like Driscoll, John Piper, and Tim Keller. However, I never got around to reading the book and quickly forgot that I had it.
If we fast-forward a bit, you will find me today, halfway through my MDiv at a Methodist seminary. In the last two years I have learned a lot of things that contradict with Driscoll’s theological and social approaches to Christianity. I have been shaped to see Driscoll’s brand of neo-Calvinism as misguided. I have grown to resent his harsh gender distinctions. I have found that I don’t trust his exegetical approach to Scripture.
It was in this theological context that I came across Driscoll’s book the other day while I was unpacking a box. I thought that it would be interesting, considering my current theological perspectives, to go back and read Confessions of a Reformission Rev. and to reflect on what Driscoll is saying. Further, I want to work hard to highlight the strengths of this book because if I can’t learn from people that I disagree with, I’m not actually learning.
I thought about writing a “The Good And The Bad” review of the book, but I realized quickly that I could write 10 cynical pages on what I didn’t like about it. To be honest, the world doesn’t need any more Mark Driscoll bashing right now… there is plenty to go around. So, as an exercise I decided to only write about the good things.
Here they are… a few things that I liked about Confessions of A Reformission Rev:
1) Driscoll rejects the “generation labeling” model of social categorization. As a “millennial” I have often been frustrated by the numerous books and blog posts about how the church can “win back” people my age. I find this desire to reach young people to be misguided. We are called to reach all people, regardless of age or place. Driscoll realized early on that a healthy church could not just be one that reached college students because a healthy church must be intergenerational. If you only fill a church with young people they will not learn how to grow into responsible old people. This is incredibly valuable.
2) Driscoll believes that teaching right Christology is an important component of a healthy church. It matters that Jesus was fully God and fully man. It matters that Jesus really died. It matters that Jesus really rose from the dead. These truths are essential. If we reject these core beliefs we may as well pack up and go home.
3) Driscoll takes the Christian faith very seriously. He believes that there is power in our faith. He believes that there is something special about our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and that the Holy Spirit is doing real work in this world. So many churches that I encounter seem to have a “take it or leave it” approach to their faith. So many churches exist because a handful of people have been meeting together with the same handful of people for 50 years. This kind of apathy slowly kills churches. We need leaders that think this Christianity business really means something.
4) Driscoll is fantastic at engaging the artistic community. Too often churches try to engage artists by telling them to “paint a picture about God’s love” or to choreograph a dance to a Christian worship song. Throughout the book Driscoll seemed open to trying new things with their worship music and visual arts. He gives the artists room to try and fail and figure things out. This has led to Mars Hill’s thoroughly developed art culture.
5) Mars Hill values the Sacraments enough to have regular baptism services and to take communion every week (however I doubt that either of those practices mean the same thing to Driscoll as they do to me). Their services are 1 and ½ to 2 hours long so that they can have time for communion every week. While many mainline Protestants may scoff at this duration and then retreat back to their 60-minute services with 12-minute homilies, a survey of Orthodox and Coptic Christian traditions from around the world shows that longer services are quite common everywhere outside of the United States.
6) Mars Hill has had to go through a lot of trial in order to survive. They have had to frantically change locations on several occasions. They have had to piecemeal their leadership teams and worship leaders. For the first decade they had to set up and tear down and move and change constantly. Through their uncertainty, the church survived and kept walking forward toward their mission. This laboring helped to grow the church into a community of focused Christians.
I think that a lot of the apathy and complacency in modern churches is a product of their stability. They don’t have to actually do anything in order to be a church. When nothing is required of you, you don’t try and you become apathetic. Church plants like Mars Hill don’t allow you to be apathetic because apathetic Christians don’t wake up at 6am every Sunday so that they can help set up a church from scratch.
7) As Mars Hill started to grow, Driscoll worked with church leaders to set up intentional living communities. These communities served as centers for bible studies, community meals, and leadership formation. Even though I value intentional community and have heard several people talk about it, I could not currently name for you a Methodist Church that is intentionally setting up communities like that.
8) It is really tricky to talk about Mark Driscoll and gender roles. I almost completely disagree with Driscoll’s stance on women in ministry and his insistence on traditional gender roles in marriage. With that said, there are things about the way that he challenges men that we can definitely learn from. I don’t buy into his hyper-masculine, cage-fighter Jesus or his willingness to abusively insult some men for being effeminate. Those things are flat-out wrong. But I greatly appreciate his determination to look at young men and require them to step up to be better Christians.
Driscoll requires that young men in leadership stop sleeping around and looking at porn. Men who bear the name “Christian” should not be taking advantage of women like that. He also pushes young men to get stable jobs and to stop taking advantage of their parents for shelter and financial support. I think that these requirements are spot on. We do need to challenge these destructive attributes of the modern masculinity complex… a complex that tells men that they can do what they want with women and should spend their days smoking weed and playing video games.
With that said (and I want this to be very clear here) I think that his bullying of men that don’t fit into his gender molds is absolutely wrong. Men should not be insulted for not being aggressive and for talking or dressing differently. I have no patience for that side of his gender dialogue.