Saturday, June 10, 2006

Yet Another Review of Driscoll's 'Reformission Rev'

Yesterday, I picked up Mark Driscoll's Confessions of a Reformission Rev, and finished it earlier this evening. If you're unfamiliar with Driscoll, he's the pastor of the 5000-member Mars Hill Church in Seattle and is affiliated with the emerging church (as opposed to the emergent church, which he deems the 'liberal' expression of the emerging church, except it's not the emerging church, it's the emergent church). Well anyway, my prior experience with Driscoll is threefold: I first encountered his style in an extremely heated commentary/rant posted on the Christianity Today blog where he called Brian McLaren and others 'homo-evangelicals' because of their sympathy with the struggles of homosexuals. That was just the first sentence. It got even juicier after that. This encounter eventually led me to a few of his sermon podcasts on the Mars Hill website, which are at least 45 minutes long each and a cross between stand-up comedy and Calvinist theology. Finally, I read an article that he wrote differentiating between the different ways in which the emerging church engages itself in the surrounding culture. This last essay suggested to me that there is a side to Driscoll that might balance out his 'homo-evangelical'-type comments, and thus be worth listening to.

So that led me to this book. The short version goes like this: you get both Driscolls here. Now here's the longer version.

Driscoll spends a good amount of time with church polity and how it approaches or responds to the culture in which it finds itself. Very early in Chapter 0 (the new thing is for books like this to have a Chapter 0), he differentiates between the traditional and institutional church (basically most of the 'mainline;' trying to create a safe space for people like us; we still have our place in Christendom; the use of written liturgy, vestments, etc.), the contemporary and evangelistic church ('come be a part of our wonderful and extensive programming;' clamoring to return to a position of influence in the culture; the use of contemporary and casual worship), and the emerging and missional church (accepts that the church is no longer influential in the culture; seeks to influence local communities; use of a blended worship of anything from ancient forms of worship to 'local' forms). He is quick to say that none of these forms are inherently bad because each addresses the culture and community in which it finds itself in a particular way. Of course at the same time, one can easily see which one he favors. He also identifies general trends in demographic that each form attracts, i.e., traditional and institutional churches do very well among retired folks in Florida...sigh...

In terms of polity, Driscoll identifies different forms of church governance. He will ultimately present his preferred 'Biblical' form that makes use of a pastor, board of elders, and deacons which handle church decisions and ministers to the congregation, all with the understanding that Jesus is the Senior Pastor. I was particularly interested in his critique of congregationalism, since my own tradition is largely congregational. His critique is that a democratic approach to making church decisions allows various interest groups to skew voting and ultimately slow church advancement or steer it in the wrong direction. There is some merit to that critique. The flip side is that a pastor and board of elders can function as a interest group in and of itself, and accountability within that structure is no good if they're all in agreement to begin with. The church will sin no matter what form of government it borrows from.

For Driscoll, the main point that he hammers home throughout his story of developing Mars Hill (for that is what this book largely might subtitle it, 'the diary of a megachurch') is the commitment to the (his) mission. He shares more than one story of kicking people out who aren't contributing to or who are hindering the (his) mission (and people get upset about commercials with bouncers and ejection seats), and doing his best to keep people on track with the (his) mission of the church. One thing that I take away from the book is that, between his kicking people out and his preferred form of church polity, he doesn't have a lot of faith in the masses to do what they should. One could attribute that to his Reformed background, among other things.

All in all, I appreciate his discussion of church forms and his discussion of a church clearly articulating and carrying out a mission. Here's what I didn't appreciate.

First, Driscoll's homophobia is glaring. There's a difference between believing that homosexuality is a sin and gay-bashing. He does a little of both. There is more than one comment about how he's a heterosexual and thus does not [dance, fingerpaint, have long discussions about his feelings, etc.]. These are effeminate qualities and thus homosexuals must have them...not me. He has very traditional ideas about gender roles and this is how he expresses his feelings on that a good portion of the time that they come up, never mind what he thinks about female pastors and women in the military as well (side note: I know a few women in the military who could kick a 250-pound guy's ass, so his ideas about that may be a little ill-informed as well). I will admit some sympathy with his general feeling that the hunter/jock/pickup truck crowd will not respond well to fingerpainting and the like when one considers church programming, but the implication that non-hunter/jock/pickup truck types are all effeminate is ridiculous.

Second, there is absolutely no mention of serving the poor, the marginalized, the homeless, or the disenfranchised. This was a big part of Jesus' message (Matthew 25, Luke 4), and it is nowhere to be found in the book. What we do get is needing to raise funds for a bigger building, fretting over hiring a good worship leader, and saving the artsy effeminate porn addict from an eternity in hell. Helping the poor is an extremely peripheral issue, if it is an issue for Mars Hill at all. Surely Seattle has a sizeable population in poverty that the city's largest church could help to address.

This isn't meant to be in the 'I didn't appreciate' section, but I didn't know where else to put it: Driscoll discusses at some length the concepts of spiritual warfare, demon possession, and having prophetic dreams. For me, he brings to the forefront issues that I've been reconsidering as of late. I believe in ghosts, have seen someone speak in tongues, and a Spirit-guided moment is a big part of my faith story. I also believe that mental illness is a very real problem for a substantial portion of the population. But one or the other by themselves no longer seems to be an adequate explanation for certain experiences. I could write a whole other entry on this subject. I'll just move on for now.

All in all, I take away helpful ideas on church structure, governance, and expression. I leave behind the cheap shots at gays, 'effeminate' men, and women. Like I said, one gets both during the course of the book. I wasn't surprised. Driscoll is passionate and committed to church mission and to building God's kingdom. Take away from his experiences what you will. He will offend as well as challenge.