Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Controversy Week: Mark Driscoll (now Updated)

I have been mulling some comments about some things happening in conservative evangelical life in the U.S.  All three of the circumstances have some controversy surrounding them.  I'd like to weigh in for a moment.

Let's start with the lightning rod, Mark Driscoll.  He's planted a church in Seattle, seen thousands come to Christ, been a part of controversy before, and has, in my estimation, been a pretty good guy who has done good Kingdom work.  Some disagree with that last phrase (which they have the right to do), but God forbid my life being under the same scrutiny as his.

The problem, as I see it, is he started believing his own press.  In the South, you might say he was getting a little big for his britches.

First, there were plenty of controversial sermons.  Just Google "Mark Driscoll controversial sermon" and you'll have enough material, a good portion of which is not worth your time.

Second, there were plagiarism issues.  He, pretty clearly, plagiarized a chapter in one of his books.  I'm in a doctoral program where not citing sources gets you kicked out.  I'm not sure that publishing a book should get a pass either.  Then there was plagiarized material in a study guide the church sold.  Then more material in another book.  Then a sermon, more or less.

Now, here's the deal on some of this.  I have ingested several books in my lifetime that have had such impact on me that I can quote them without knowing that I am quoting them because it has become part of my thinking.  He gets a pass from me on stuff like this.

Here's the difference:  when someone says, "Hey Trent, that's from Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy, right?"  I typically think for a second (to make sure that's right), and then say, "Yep.  You should read that book again!  It's just that good!"  If someone asks, "Hey, why didn't you give him credit in your sermon?"  I look at them, and yes I have done this, and say, "You know, some of his writings have soaked into me and they just come out at various times.  But you're right - I should have said it was Willard's material.  Spread the word that the good part came from him, okay?"

Driscoll hasn't done that to my knowledge.  He's berated a talk show host.  He's backpedaled on some of his claims.  And he's blamed an unnamed research assistant who conveniently no longer works for the church.

Lastly, there is the New York Times Bestseller issue.  His church (!) paid over $200,000 to get his book on the NYT list, some of that going to a company that specializes in gaming the system and some of it going to purchase books per that company's recommendation.

Confession:  I've never written a book, though some day I hope to, so I don't know the pressure that comes along with actually selling the stuff.  However, gaming the system to make the NYT list seems to go way beyond "getting the message out" and "all things to all people in order that I might win a few."  Long past contextualization, it seems like cheating.

To his credit, he has withdrawn his moniker as a NYT bestselling author and taken some other steps.  But the deal is that the church still paid for it and it undoubtedly profits Driscoll, something the IRS calls inurement and frowns upon with penalties.

** Update ** Driscoll has written a letter of apology that gets a solid 'B' from me.  It specifically addresses the NYT issue and vaguely addresses some other stuff.  Link here.

Here's why all this crud matters (at least to me, and I hope to you).

We gripe about politicians who don't do what they say, do the opposite of what they say, or cut a deal that's good for them and bad for everyone else.  We fuss when our boss messes us over and takes credit for something he had the tip of his pinky in, but no other investment.

But we have nothing to say when one of the more famous pastors in America (is that the problem in a phrase?) has all this happen in a matter of a few months and gets called on the carpet for it, with barely a word of explanation but lots of excuses?

Shame on us.

If God withdraws His hand from what appears to be a substantial, theologically informed, Spirit-driven movement among the younger generation, it may be because we tolerated the celebrity instead of loving the Truth.

I'm not on a witch hunt here.  Again, God forbid my life be under the same scrutiny.  But we have to speak to our own.  Judgment begins with the house of God.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps there should be no judgment in the house of God from the members, but only from the head. It is my belief, and sadly my experience, that judgment always comes back and bites me in the butt!