Mistakes we can make about Driscoll

Recently Sydney has had the pleasure of hearing an American preacher, Pastor Mark Driscoll.  In a two-week period he spoke in many venues, including the Cathedral.

In the Cathedral he twice addressed a packed gathering of Christian workers.  His second address was a challenge to our evangelistic ministry of the gospel in this city. 

He lovingly told us of eighteen problems that he saw we had.  It was an address that has caused some considerable discussion amongst Sydney’s evangelical community.

Since that address I have been approached by many people wanting my opinion on Mark Driscoll and in particular on his critique of Sydney’s evangelism. 

As one of those who invited Mark to speak to us, I am keen to keep the conversation going and to ride the enthusiasm that he has engendered amongst the next generation of Christian leaders.

I hope to look at the eighteen points in subsequent articles but before doing that I think it is important to make some general observations about listening to criticism.

Mark Driscoll is a fine Christian man, gifted and blessed by God to undertake a great ministry in his home city, Seattle. 

He loves the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord.  He upholds the great Reformation doctrines of grace and seeks to teach the Bible as he reaches the lost with the Gospel.  His gifts in oratory and communication are enormous.  He is a great evangelist: able to communicate with his generation, making the gospel clear and its claims compelling.

His address to us in the Cathedral was more that of a prophetic preacher than an expositor of the Bible. 

He spoke as a Christian friend about the problems he sees we have.  As such, it is important that we weigh what he says (1 Corinthians 14:29).

There are three obvious mistakes that we can make concerning such a message and messenger.

The first mistake is that of reactionary defensiveness. 

He was hard-hitting and critical.  He said things that can make us feel very uncomfortable.  He said them with force and vigour.  He was calling upon us to change our ways. 

All of this can create defensiveness within us.  We want to argue with him and explain ourselves.

There are many ways that we can defend ourselves. 

We can find fault with his manner or his choice of words.  We can look for holes in the logic or point out the minor errors of fact especially about Sydney.  We can qualify what he has said to the point where we have domesticated his main points. 

Or we can complain about what he failed to address (e.g. some find fault in his attack on young men because he did not speak to young women - as if he was supposed to say everything).

Some people are unhappy with his rhetorical use of hyperbole, generalisations, stark contrasts, lack of nuanced discussion - but in all this he is not dissimilar to Jesus’ preaching. 

He is a man who confronted us with hard questions - we must be very wary of our own defensiveness.

The second mistake is to become a sycophantic follower. 

Mark is a remarkable man with many clear and great insights but he is not the only one, nor is he always right about everything, nor would he want people to follow him instead of Jesus.

The prophet is without honour in his own country but has great honour overseas.  It is humorous to hear of the respect that our preachers have overseas, and the honour that overseas speakers have in Australia.

We have had many compelling preachers come through our city over the years.  Each arouses a new generation of enthusiastic followers. 

Over time we get used to the arrivals and departures of the John Stott, Dick Lucas, Billy Graham, Bill Hybells and Rick Warren.  We have been blessed over the years by books and tapes from Francis Schaeffer, Tim Keller and John Piper. 

America is full of great preachers and leaders who influence Australian Christianity.  Mark is not the only voice to listen to and learn from.  It is immature to think that any single person is the answer to all our problems.

Mark Driscoll’s challenge to us is timely and helpful.  But his criticisms may be more helpful than his solutions. 

The gulf in church life between a denominational church in Sydney and an independent church in Seattle is quite enormous.  Our theological perspective on church and ministry is also quite different.

This is not to say we have nothing to learn from him or that we should not change what we are doing in the light of his challenge. 

But just as defensiveness is wrong, so is slavish sycophancy.

The third error is to do nothing.

It is manifest that if we are going to reach our community we must change. 

Mark has challenged us to change and I believe he is right.  Much of what he said is already in the Diocesan Mission statements. 

But having them in mission statements and putting them into practice are two different things.

I was glad to host Mark speaking to us because he is challenging us to change in the very direction that we want to change. 

But it is all too possible to spend time weighing what he said rather than doing anything about it. 

He has caused a real movement in the camp - it is important that we capitalise on his visit and bring in change.

Those who are defensive will oppose any change. 

Those who are sycophantic will wait till Mark returns to tell us what to do.  Both errors we have to avoid. 

If Mark never returns it will be a shame and our loss.  But it will be an irrelevance to his message - for his challenge to us was to get moving, to take initiative, not to wait around to be told what to do next.

Phillip Jensen, is the author of a number of books and a sought after speaker in Australia and internationally. He is the Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral. Visit his page here or go to phillipjensen.com.

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