What the Mark Driscoll Story Reveals About Every Leader

Two weeks ago World broke the story that Mars Hill Church paid a large amount of money to get Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage onto the New York Times best-seller list.

Mars Hill released a statement acknowledging the basic facts of the story, although they dispute the amount of money that World claims was spent on the best-seller campaign. Calling the campaign “unwise” but not “uncommon or illegal,” they insisted that it won’t happen again.

The story has raised a great deal of ire in the Christian blogosphere. Driscoll has always been a controversial figure, so in response to this latest news, some are gleefully shouting, “I told you so!” Others lament that the Christian evangelical leadership culture has sunk to a new low. Surely pastors and churches ought to be held to a higher standard than whether something is illegal or not. Beyond “unwise,” most people recognize the under-the-table marketing campaign as manipulative and unethical.

While I resonate with those concerns, I can’t shake the feeling that Mars Hill’s indiscretion shines a light into the dark corners of my own heart, and probably the heart of every leader. 

Everybody wants to make an impact. We sometimes confuse that desire with another, our desire to be liked and popular. There’s a prevalent lie abroad in our world, a lie that says the crowd’s applause is a signal that we’re making a difference. Of course that’s rarely the case. All too often agents of spiritual change are met with stony silence, seeming indifference, or even hostility. If you don’t believe me, just read the gospels and consider the life of Christ.

It would be easy to consider the Mars Hill story as an anomaly, just a story of one arrogant pastor or a wayward church. It would be similarly easy to chalk it up to our American celebrity culture, a culture that has clearly infected the local church in a bad way.

But I think the roots of the problem go much deeper. The problem is rooted in the sinful human heart, a heart that desires to please people instead of God.

I don’t think we worship celebrities because we’re American. We worship celebrities because we’re idolaters. We cannot see God, so we fashion idols in our own image. Then we dream that one day we can ascend to their pedestal and receive the adoration of other people, people who belong to God and are made to worship Him alone.

It’s all too easy to confuse the dim glory of man with the perfect glory of God. When we get the two muddled, we find ourselves seeking to be the Source of glory rather than a small reflection of it, and that’s when the real trouble begins.

Much like money, I don’t think fame is inherently evil. It’s just very dangerous. It’s the love of fame and applause that leads us to all manner of evil. When we convince ourselves that any means are justified, as long as our message gets out there, we’re on the slippery slope to idol worship. It’s too easy to undermine the gospel by using questionable methods to make it known.

What scares and dismays me is not simply that Mars Hill used questionable methods to promote Driscoll’s book, but also that I see glimpses of that sort of darkness in my own heart. The only hope for me is the lavish grace of God, who reminds me that I’m significant because He loves me and gave His Son for me.

That’s the only hope for any of us who lead others, whether on a large or small scale. We need to constantly bathe in His light or we run the risk of trying to falsely manufacture our own.

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Evangelicalism’s Gender War

I’ll start by saying that my church is complementarian in its understanding of gender roles. For those who are unfamiliar with that term, it simply means that we believe the Bible assigns different roles to men and women in the church and in the home. Most complementarians don’t believe that women are inherently inferior to men, but instead that they are called to serve God in different ways. At a popular level, most people associate complementarianism with the call for wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:21-33) and the prohibition against women teaching or exerting authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-14).

The contrasting position is called egalitarianism. Egalitarians generally (and I use the word “generally” because I am making broad generalizations here) believe that every leadership position in the church ought to be open to women and to men equally. In addition, they do not (generally) believe in different roles for men and women in the home. In other words, the call for wives to submit to their husbands is usually understood to be a culturally bound command, one that applied in Paul’s day but does not apply directly to today’s Christians.

The question of how men and women ought to interact at church and at home is a deeply personal and intensely practical one. It’s a topic that the Scripture talks about a good deal, whether or not we agree on how to interpret it. For that reason, I’ve been dismayed at the shape of popular discourse on this issue over the past few years.

Instead of debates about the biblical texts themselves, I’ve noticed that most of the public discussions about gender roles have turned into an evangelical “battle of the sexes.” For example, megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has taken a lot of heat for his seemingly chauvinistic remarks about women and about men whom he finds, well, unmanly. The pattern here is repetitive: Mark Driscoll says something that his critics consider offensive, they jump in to say he’s a bully or a jerk, and he either apologizes or defends himself. The same thing happened recently when John Piper said publicly that Christianity ought to have a “masculine feel” to it.

On the one hand, these discussions can be useful. They bring the issue of gender to the front of our minds and hopefully challenge us to rethink our own positions. The problem, though, is that these sort of attacks and counter-attacks never really address the root issue from the biblical text. Instead, they’ve degenerated to a discussion of who is “masculine” enough to lead the church and whether masculinity is better or stronger than femininity. Such discussions become confusing quite quickly. For example, what defines true “masculinity”? Do I need to be an avid hunter or bodybuilder to be considered a “real man”? If so, then my own masculinity (as an introverted and slightly artistic type) is suspect. On the other hand, if I believe in complementarianism, does that automatically make me a power-hungry bully who wants to make all women subservient to my authority? Does masculinity inherently threaten women by its very existence? Of course not.

The real issue, which is seldom discussed in public these days, is whether passages like 1 Timothy 2 and Ephesians 5 prescribe different roles for men and women. It’s simply not about whether men are better than women or vice versa. Unfortunately, that’s how it’s often been framed, or at least how each side is interpreting the other. Instead, we need to look carefully at the passages in question and ask what they prescribe in terms of gender roles. That’s really the substance of the debate that needs to be taking place.

Don’t be sidetracked by the caricatures and name-calling that’s dominating this discussion in the public square. The debate shouldn’t be so much about how one position or the other makes us feel, but instead about how faithful it is to the biblical text. That’s true of any theological debate, but particularly one relating to a topic that is so personally applicable.

The reason I hold a complementarian view is simple: I believe the biblical text warrants it. I don’t think I hold my view because I hate or dislike women. Just like most egalitarians don’t hold their view because they hate or dislike men. The recent public scuffles might have led some to believe otherwise.

At some point I hope to spend more time on this blog specifically surveying the critical passages, but this post is just a reminder (to me and to my readers) that the real goal is to study what the Scripture says. That’s where sound conclusions and applications come from, not from aligning ourselves with the loudest voice in the latest debate. It’s a serious issue with serious ramifications — it doesn’t require personal drama to make it relevant or important.

How do you feel about the topic of gender roles in the body of Christ? Are you confused by the recent discussions or interested in them? 

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How Should We Talk About Sex?

So Mark and Grace Driscoll just released a new book about marriage and sex, and it’s #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. It’s generated a good deal of controversy because of one chapter, in which the Driscolls answer graphic questions about what sort of sexual behavior is permissible in marriage.

Pastor Ed Young also released a new book with his wife Lisa, called Sexperiment (yes, that’s the real title), based on the highly publicized challenge they issued to married members of their church to have sex every day for seven days. In conjunction with the book’s release, the Youngs staged a “bed-in” on the top of their church building for 24 hours. I think the idea was to generate buzz around the concept that sex is a good thing created by God. Something like that.

All of this has raised the question of how we should talk about sex in the Christian community. The Bible talks about sex and marriage a lot, and in today’s sexually obsessed culture we can’t ignore the subject. As a college pastor, I’m solidly convinced that it’s a critical topic to address, especially with young people.

But are there boundaries we should set around how we discuss the subject? Let me suggest a few principles for how to discuss sex in a straightforward yet productive way:

1. Treat it as a sacred subject. Why? Because sex is sacred. Paul tells us that the “one-flesh” relationship in marriage represents the relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:31-32). So sex isn’t something to snicker at or sensationalize. Every pastor knows that talking about sex is an easy way to fill the room. Our world is fascinated with the topic. So it’s quite tempting to talk about it in a way that’s certain to generate attention and controversy. But that’s a mistake. The Bible treats it as an important and serious subject, and I think we should as well.

2. Treat it as a deeply personal subject. Every person has different feelings and attitudes toward sex. Some are addicted to it, some are afraid of it, and some are repulsed by it. Some people have been abused, used, or neglected. And of course some people have perfectly healthy views about it. I don’t think it’s wise to give everybody the same advice when it comes to specific expressions of marital sexuality. For some couples, having sex every day for a week is a good idea. For others, it’s a terrible idea. In fact, some couples should probably be advised to abstain for awhile, to work on other areas of their relationship first. Because every person is different, every marriage is different and should be approached that way.

I also think some things are meant to be private. The details of one’s sex life in marriage aren’t meant to be shouted from the rooftops or sold in the local bookstore. I don’t think this is prudishness. Instead, it’s an acknowledgement of the deeply personal and sensitive nature of sexuality. We need to be careful not to make others feel unnecessarily ashamed or inappropriately curious or deeply disgusted. A good question to ask is, “Why am I sharing this detail? Even though sharing it isn’t a sin, is it productive and beneficial?”

3. Acknowledge that sex is more than a physical act. Because our bodies and spirits are so closely connected, sex is much more than the union of two bodies in a bed. My sexuality is deeply tied to my sense of personal identity. When people engage in sex, they are opening themselves up to another person in more ways than the physical. Even those who have never engaged in sex recognize that their sexual desires touch on issues much deeper than the physical body. So when we talk about sex, we need to discuss it in conjunction with other critical issues, like how we relate to God and to other people. Crude discussions about what positions or activities are acceptable from a physical standpoint tend to miss the point. The bigger issue is how we ought to approach sexuality from the standpoint of discipleship — in other words, what does my sexuality have to do with how I follow Jesus? The Bible seems much more concerned with that question than about the specific details of how and when and where to engage in marital sex.

Like I said above, we have a responsibility to address this critical subject from a biblical standpoint. I think most Christians would agree. But I wonder sometimes if we cross the line from biblical teaching to sensationalism. Or from discussing sex to idolizing it. “Everything is permissible — but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible — but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). I pray we’ll have the ability to discuss the topic in a way that is both permissible and constructive.

What would you add or take away from my analysis here? 

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