Mark Driscoll, integrity, and the sound of silence…
Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll continues to undermine his once-recognized opportunity to be reckoned among leading Evangelical pastors. This latest incident comes with revelations that Driscoll, and leaders at his Mars Hill church in Seattle, devised a scheme that enabled him to buy his way onto the New York Times best-sellers list. They were caught gaming the system.
Details of the latest dust up are reported by Christianity Today and World magazine as well as by several secular publications. One of the more interesting pieces was written Sarah Cunningham for The Huffington Post. Even though she understates the seriousness of his offense, comparing it to getting pulled over for a broken headlight, she ends by raising the right issue.
I believe in Pastor Mark’s God. And I wish only well-being for him and his. But despite the potential problems with saying it aloud, I have to tell you, I am one moderate evangelical who is growing increasingly tired of the silence. I hope it is increasingly time for those who are uncomfortable with the way our faith is being represented in these antics to find their voice.
Whether or not theologian Carl Trueman saw the Huffington Post article, he takes up the issue of silence in an article entitled “The Crisis of Leadership in American Evangelicalism.” He touches on several important background issues within Evangelicalism before addressing the failure of leadership.
What it means to be an Evangelical
As an English Presbyterian living in the States, I am never quite sure about whether I am an “Evangelical” by American standards. Back home, I am Evangelical without question, but here it is more complicated. I certainly hold to a traditional, orthodox Protestant faith with a strong existential twist. But American Evangelicalism is more (and sometimes much less) than that. The political commitments of the movement are, on the whole, a mystery to me.
[W]hile the celebrity leadership of the movement is comprehensible to me in sociological terms, I find it distasteful and arguably unbiblical. It too often seems to represent exactly what Paul was criticizing in 1 Corinthians 1.
For those unfamiliar with recent American evangelical history, some background: Six or seven years ago, Calvinism became cool. More than that, Calvinism became so cool it started to become a very marketable commodity and to attract big money. A broad, eclectic, and dynamic movement emerged, dubbed that of the “Young, Restless and Reformed,” after the title of a book by Collin Hansen. Calvinistic churches seemed to be thriving as mainline churches continued to struggle. Recruitment at Reformed seminaries remained buoyant even as it declined elsewhere. Young people read serious theology and sought to connect their faith to all areas of their lives.
A symptom of broader Evangelical weakness
Mark Driscoll is one person, a uniquely talented individual. Yet he is also a function of structural problems within the new Reformed movement itself. Despite its distinct and in many ways sophisticated theology, the “young, restless, and reformed” movement has always been in some respects simply the latest manifestation of the weakest aspects of American Evangelicalism. It was, and is, a movement built on the power of a self-selected band of dynamic personalities, wonderful communicators, and talented preachers who have been marketed in a very attractive manner. Those things can all be great goods but when there is no real accountability involved, when financial arrangements are opaque in the extreme, and when personalities start to supplant the message, serious problems are never far away.
The culpability of silence
And then, finally, there is the silence. The one thing that might have kept the movement together would have been strong, transparent public leadership that openly policed itself and thus advertised its integrity for all to see. Yet the most remarkable thing about the whole sorry saga, from the Jakes business until now, has been the silence of many of the men who present themselves as the leaders of the movement and who were happy at one time to benefit from Mark Driscoll’s reputation and influence. One might interpret this silence as an appropriate refusal to comment directly on the ministry of men who no longer have any formal connection with their own organizations.
Yet the leaders of the “young, restless, and reformed” have not typically allowed that concern to curtail their comments in the past. Many of them have been outspoken about the teaching of Joel Osteen, for example. In their early days, when the Emergent Church was vying with the new Calvinism for pole position in the American evangelical world, they launched regular, and often very thorough, critiques of the Emergent leaders. In retrospect, however, it is clear that these were soft targets. Their very distance made them safe. Problems closer to home are always much harder to speak to, much more likely to earn opprobrium from one’s friends, and thus much more likely to be ignored. The result, however, is that some leaders become very accustomed to always doing things their way. All of us who are thought of as Evangelical or Reformed now live with the bitter fruit of that failure of leadership.
“Mark Driscoll’s Problems, and Ours: The Crisis of Leadership in American Evangelicalism” by Dr. Carl Truman was published by First Things as a “Web Exclusive.” Dr. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.
“Mars Hill Defends How Mark Driscoll’s ‘Real Marriage’ Became a Bestseller” was published by Christianity Today.
Sarah Cunningham’s “The Injustice of Silence: Why Our Culture Pulled Mark Driscoll Over For a Broken Headlight” was published in The Huffington Post.