A Review of Mark Driscoll’s Latest Book
Stephanie Drury, a blogger at beliefnet, and a fellow preacher’s kid, reviews Driscoll’s latest work:
When I got an email from Thomas Nelson asking if I’d like an advance copy of Mark Driscoll’s new book, I malfunctioned for a second and then deleted the message. Within a day or two I skulked back to my trash folder and sent them my address, knowing that if I read the book I’d have to write this review. Just know from the outset that words basically fail. Starting with the fact that I was sent a copy of anything by Mark Driscoll to review, I can hardly begin to explain my feelings about this book. But don’t worry, I’ll try!
Once I got past the denial stage of having a Driscoll book in my home and moved into the acceptance stage of reading it and writing this, I knew my involvement with the Seattle therapeutic community would inform the way I read him. I meet a lot of people who have significant spiritual and emotional wounding, and I’ve gotten to hear the stories of many people who have been involved at Mark Driscoll’s church here in Seattle (Mars Hill). The stories out of there cause me so much concern. What I hear about gender roles and authoritarianism manages to surprise me and make me cry even after six years of hearing them on a fairly regular basis. (For more information and actual accounts of people who have been at Mars Hill Church, search these articles as Amazon reviews won’t let me use URLs: “Jesus Needs New PR Mark Drisoll’s church discipline contract,” “Mark Driscoll’s gospel shame: the truth about discipline, excommunication and cult-like control at Mars Hill,” and visit Joyful Exiles dot com, and Mars Hill Refuge dot com.) It’s not a secret that I feel Driscoll’s teachings and his increasing popularity are a powerfully destructive epidemic in western evangelicalism. Having said all that, the writings of Mark Driscoll delight me in the way Tommy Wiseau’s movie “The Room” delights me, which is the same way GWB’s “Fool me once, shame on you” quote delights me, which is the same way the Miss Teen America contestant talking about maps and “the Iraq” delights me. Getting into the book I actually started to cheer up. When Driscoll reassures us “It’s not a sin to purchase items or even to appreciate or enjoy them” (p. 8) and says “Ghandi…enjoyed having underage, nude, teenage girls share his bed” (p. 16), I defy you to bounce giddily in your seat.
We don’t need another book like this. This book has been written thirty hundred times and is surely going to sell like crazy so, you know, why not. CHA-CHING THOMAS NELSON GET AFTER THAT GLORY TO GOD. It follows the typical premise of instructional Christian books: a pop culture analogy for a spiritual hunger/defect, numbered sections of steps to take and handy anagrams (“To help you understand idols, think of them in terms of Items, Duties, Others, Longings and Sufferings,” p. 7), using the words “you should” on almost every page, and rushed transitions that make you stop and ask “did he really just say that?” Some of these nuggets include: “One popular Christian counseling book says, ‘In a pinch you could do all your counseling from Ephesians’” (p. 19), “Paul’s timeless words on reconciliation are as timely as ever” (p. 86), and “Rather than dating, relating and fornicating, you could be praying, serving and worshipping” (p. 194).
My biggest problem with this book may be the oversimplification of human identity. On page 18 Driscoll says “My goal is to take one massive need in your life, your need for identity, and connect it to one book of the Bible, Ephesians.” Okay, I guess you could do that, but what is the benefit? To take one book of the Bible and attempt to derive something as core as an identity from it seems like a recipe for a primordial crisis. The stories of people I meet that were raised to derive their identity from the Bible in this way while leaving no avenues open for exploration, possibility or mystery tell me this is an incredibly dangerous approach to take. And Driscoll’s not even talking about basing your personal identity on the premise that the entire Bible is inerrant, he’s talking about ONE BOOK. My spidey sense is tingling.
On p. 52 he says “Why does God bless us?” and says Paul wrote that God’s blessing is “to the praise and glory of his grace.” Well, okay, but where is love? Where is space for that? Where is space for questioning and doubting? Where is attribution to mystery and the great unknown? I didn’t find any of that in this book.
Driscoll has clearly been advised by his publicist to take his image in a new direction and has kept his thoughts on gender roles quiet for the most part. He says his usual stuff about loving your future spouse before you meet them, which he doesn’t seem to view as unrelational or idolatrous. This is the kind of stuff that Mars Hill Church teaches that seems like it could have some merit, a good side to it, could possibly be a good point, and that veneer of goodness is what clouds the underlying aspects that cause people to deny their intuition and invalidate other ways G-d could speak to them.
He saves his Satan talk for the last chapter in which he says “Satan’s goal is for you to take the bait without seeing the hook. Once the hook is in your mouth, he’ll reel you in to take you as his captive” (p. 222) which is especially eerie for me in context of those I’ve known who have been involved at Mars Hill Church and have left. The good things on the surface drew them in. The shame and vying for absolution kept them there. But if Jesus said his yoke is easy and you are toiling under what you are being taught, is it possible something is wrong? If you are not allowed to bring your questions to your faith community, is it even a community of faith?
One frustrating thing about these kinds of nominally Christian publications is that the regurgitation of Things To Do cancels out so much possibility, makes the unspeakably complex so simplistic, and speaks with authority on subjects no one can have mastery of. The beautiful Story isn’t handled with due reverence or curiosity, but with a posture of mastery and absolutism. And as I write this on the first Sunday of Epiphany it puts me in mind of the Magi with whom Epiphany begins, who were wandering and seeking that which they’d only inferred from the sky. How mystical is that? Why isn’t such mystery given a place in evangelical Christian culture?
On p. 48 he says “Paul taught that God has chosen and predestined you to receive his love, enjoy his grace, and be his friend forever.” He goes on to say “The doctrine of predestination can understandably bring to mind a host of questions. Why does God save some people and not others? Is God unfair and unloving to save some people and not others? Is there no hope of salvation for those who are not chosen by God? Sadly, the hard questions are often debated more than the divine truth of predestination is celebrated.” Oh, there’s that validation of doubt I was asking about. It’s dismissed with a “Sadly,…” and shamed for not celebrating something Driscoll calls “divine truth of predestination.” Nowhere in the text is the word predestination used and especially isn’t called “divine truth.” How dare YOU, sir.