Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MacArthur v. Driscoll

I had figured this issue was going to die down but it seems that's its going into the fifth round or so. Essentially the question here is whether it is acceptable for a preacher to speak naturally on sexual topics or not. In other words can you as a Christian minister discuss sex the same way you would discuss auto repair or is hemming and hawing and being vague a requirement.

Since this charge is being led by MacArthur I think it makes sense to start by quoting him. All of the quotes come from a series of 4 sermons that MacArthur gave on Driscoll entitled "The Rape of Solomon's Song" (Part1 Part2 Part3 Part4)
[Y]ou can[not] make a biblical case for Christians to embrace worldly fads—especially when those fads are diametrically at odds with the wholesome speech, pure mind, and chaste behavior that God calls us to display. At its core, this is about ideology. No matter how culture changes, the truth never does. But the more the church accommodates the baser elements of the culture, the more she will inevitably compromise her message. We must not betray our words through our actions; we must be in the world but not of it. . . . . It's vital that you not send one message about the importance of sound doctrine and a totally different message about the importance of sound speech and irreproachable pure-mindedness.

Mark Driscoll’s response to that admonition and the things he has said since have only magnified my concern.

Mark did indeed express regret a few years ago over the reputation his tongue has earned him. Yet no substantive change is observable.


The first misconception some have regarding this debate is that this is new for MacArthur based on a particular television appearance. So I'd just counter this by noting that MacArthur has been arguing this case against Driscoll for years. For example he attacked Driscoll "vulgarity" in his "Grunge Christianity" article. And I have heard claims this is personal, and I don't think it is personal. Over the years MacArthur has attacked so many different people on some many different ideological grounds with these sorts of campaigns there is no reason to believe that this is merely a cover. His followers have broadly attacked Missional Christianity as per the image to the left.

What I really see though as the base underlying cause is not vulgarity, but rather postmodernism. In The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception MacArthur also attacked Driscoll as the cursing pastor. But the big issue in this book is epistemological. Driscoll is philosophically postmodernist while completely orthodox in his theology. Driscoll argues that Christian have a responsibility to engage the last 200 years of epistemology in an effective way. MacArthur in a book on epistemology displays a shocking ignorance of the topic. That is in many ways a replay of the classic question of Galileo, "Does the bible teach what moves the heavens or how the heavens move" just applied to another sphere of human inquiry.

With that preface lets hit the 4 issues in this debate
  1. Legitimacy of cursing, or vulgarity.
  2. Legitimacy of expositional preaching on poetry.
  3. Legitimacy of expositional preachong on the Song of Songs in particular.
  4. General attack on postmodernism.
First with respect to the first charge I'm not sure Driscoll is actually guilty a sin here. Here is the latest joke that everyone is in a tizzy about. What I should mention though is you'll rarely see the actual joke. Where I come from a statement of charges should be specific, not vague. If Driscoll is to be disciplined for "jokes" the specific jokes should be listed with citations of where they came from. OK here goes:
Question: What does the bible say about masturbation
Answer: Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might (Ecc 9:10)
OK, were you shocked? Not did you feel like you are supposed to be shocked; were you actually shocked? My guess is no, that joke is tame. The sort of joke that anyone who understands it isn't going to be shocked by. I can't even imagine anyone being aroused by it, which is core to the definition of obscenity, so I'd immediately dismiss any claims about this joke being obscene. Now I think the reason the joke isn't repeated is because it is so borderline, far better to say "I can't repeat the obscene joke on my site...." and convict Driscoll without even a complete statement of the charges. The fact is that this joke is so far from obscene that television censors had no problem with it during daytime. If MacArthur (who preaches in Hollywood) thinks that is an obscene joke there are about 5 of the country's top comedy clubs within 10 miles of his church, where he can find out how off base he is.

Now "corse jesting" is prohibited by Eph 5:4, as is "silly talk". Even if I were to grant that MacArthur has gone a lifetime without making a course joke, I'd say he's the pot calling the kettle black when it comes to this verse given the mountain of sillyness that comes out of him. So the question is do we want to remove pastors from office for Eph 5:4 violations and if so which ones would remain standing at the end?

So having dismissed obscenity lets move on to the second charge Driscoll's interpretation of the Song of Songs. First off, Driscoll has a dedicated site on Song of Songs, Peasant princess, where you can see for yourself he does a good job doing a very standard poetical deconstruction of a love poem. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary you wouldn't hear in any high school literature class taking apart a poem with lots of metaphor and allegory. The interpretation itself is not particularly unusual either, it is standard fare that you would find in most good commentaries. Adele Reinhartz opens his analysis with “The Song of Songs is the bible’s only extensive discourse on human, erotic love.” The idea that this erotic treatment is some innovation of Driscoll's is nonsense. Driscoll presents the material well but in a very direct way.

So now lets get to the charge, we have notes on Driscoll's sermon with "objectionable" parts highlighted. Now there is no question this is on the level of a 7th grade sex ed class in a sermon only given to people over 18 while discussing a love poem. Is this over the line? Is deconstruction of a biblical poem a legitimate activity. Tim Challis as well as MacArthur answered this question in the negative. I think this point can be immediately dispatched by noting that the Book of Hebrews is an exposition of the poetry of Psalm 103. God cannot forbid what is commanded.

So then we have to turn to a more specific question if there is something unique about Song of Songs that prohibits it. And in general the answer comes back to sex. That is the MacArthur position is that a preacher can discuss politics, law, history, theology, the news, sports, movies.... from the pulpit without hemming and hawing but you can't say things like "when woman are sexually aroused blood flows to the inner and outer labia". To prove this is sexually specific would anyone object to the equally explicit, "when a person is having a heart attack they often feel stabbing or shooting pain down the arms". Was the heart attack comment obscene? I'd say no, it was good medical advice. And that is precisely my opinion about the first comment as well.

But this is a tricky point. And it gets to the very core with the debate regarding missional Christianity. Missional Christianity rejects Churchianity and the standards of Churchianity when it comes to behavior whether in dress, attitudes towards body modification, in speech, in layout of the church. It says that it is going to walk away from some aspects of Churchianity to be able to actually reach people who would otherwise not be reachable. The bible never commands this sort of bashfulness, it is rather part of the "Christian culture". Paul lived in a culture vastly more explicit and open regarding sexuality than our own and never prohibited living in the culture, rather he demanded the opposite outreach.

What Driscoll did speak openly about a sex act he did so the the same way one would speak about grocery shopping or driving. And I think this is what people are reacting to, it was not the sexual content of anything Driscoll said but rather his lack trepidation in discussing it. Driscoll is not embarrassed to speak openly and sex that I think that not the content is MacArthur really found distressing. I had a similar experience on this board when trying to have an adult discussion of Christian Domestic Discipline. What I found then as well as every time this topic comes up, was that Churchianity's insistence on in treating sex differently than driving on adult boards is to impose upon sex the very obscenity that people like MacArthur are supposedly objecting to.

And this finally brings us to MacArthur's general attack on postmodernism. For MacArthur postmodernism is a chance to relive his hero's battle (see Spurgeon and the Down-Grade Controversy), (and Fed Up by Johnson). For Driscoll it is an opportunity for the church to reform its literature and make itself relevant to a culture which is altering its opinion on core issues about the connection between mind and world. The ideological struggle between Driscoll and MacArthur, deserves its own post and further should be broadened . Driscoll himself asserts that the primary division he has with MacArthur is over the contextualization of gospel.

MacArthur is Reformed, were he Arminian we could ask for a clear number like, how many souls should be lost due to an unwillingness to be missional: five, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, five hundred thousand...? How many would would just be "collateral damage" and not induce a policy change and how many would make outreach worth it. Since the answer is most likely in the millions, today I think this is a worthwhile question. MacArthur cannot reach the people that the missional Christian movement meets and reaches out too. So were he and his followers successful in delegitimizing it the number who would leave or never join the faith would hopefully only be in the tens of millions over the next century. But MacArthur is reformed so essentially he can be as ineffectual as he wants in outreach, since his works have no part in people being saved. So I close with question to readers who disagree with me, what your number?


See also:

14 comments:

Icy Mt. said...

Some churches need to have suits and ties on Sunday morning. Some churches need to have Vampire Weekend t-shirts, cutoff jeans and flip-flops. Some churches have complex architectural scenery and some meet in warehouses. Bringing people to Christ is the Prime Directive, not where you worship or what you are wearing while you do it.

Persiflage said...

Thanks - very informative. You included some info I hadn't seen yet.

That Cathy Mickels article is priceless - too many funny quotes. She's got some pretty tight standards there on what constitutes "crude" and "dirty."

I'm sure Driscoll is aware the "Victorian" critique he gets from a number of churches, and I'm sure he doesn't care. There's the Gospel that needs to be preached, and he's reaching men who are NEVER going to be reached by the approximations of "ladies tea socials" that count as churches these days.

CD-Host said...

I agree. You should say that on the defenese of Driscoll to the left (next post). Honestly I find a lot of women's Christianity to be stagnating. The debate on Driscoll convinced me that Driscoll is essential.

shanti said...

A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing,like a large sword in the hands of a child.Go back to the word of God and summit yourself to it.

MRWBBIII said...

JOHN PIPER ON MARK DRISCOLL SERMON JAM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJmkk1XjrGw&feature=channel

Anonymous said...

Cograts to whoever wrote this blog article...

Macarthur himself responded in front of thousands at T4G the other day:

http://www.vimeo.com/10941231

CD-Host said...

I only wish that were true and he would engage his critics in reasoned debate.

Zelda said...

Part 2

Basically what I hear you saying is John MacArthur should 'lighten up', He's too serious, he's out of touch, time's have changed, we can interpret The Bible the way we want, Jesus is LORD in name only. You stated that Driscoll is and I quote: “Driscoll is philosophically postmodernist while completely orthodox in his theology.” That is high praise for a pastor who has come out and encouraged Christians to engage in Contemplative Prayer which is routed in Roman Catholicism and New Age.
And yes, I was shocked as well as I should be. Are you not aware that the antics of Mark Driscoll, bring blame to the ministry, 2 Cor 6? Why is it that GOD wants HIS saints separated unto HIM? Why do you think? There is the world’s way, which is wrong, and GOD’s way. You know lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and the boastful pride of life? 1 John 2:16 GOD wishes HIS Children not to take part in what the world takes part in and offers. Remember, we are a Kingdom of Priest, A Holy nation. We are to be HOLY as HE is HOLY.
What this basically comes down to is this: The LORDSHIP of JESUS, and the issue of one’s own heart. If JESUS is GOD, and HE is, HE is LORD. And if LORD, do we dare not rightly divine The Word of Truth? You want to stand before The LORD, King of everything and relate to HIM why you personally feel: “First with respect to the first charge I'm not sure Driscoll is actually guilty a sin here….. My guess is no, that joke is tame.” Think about it. And yes, I was shocked.
Again, JESUS is LORD, not a LORD, but The LORD. Sovereign: Kurios, Absolute: Despostes. And what are we, Doulos: slaves of Christ, i.e. complete surrender to HIS will. A true Child of GOD would not even entertain the idea of speaking some of the things that come from Mark Driscolls mouth for we know that to do so does not bring honor and glory to GOD, how could it? How did the joke bring glory to GOD?
For that matter, how did this comment from you fare: “from the pulpit without hemming and hawing but you can't say things like "when woman are sexually aroused blood flows to the inner and outer labia". I am wondering do you find anything wrong here?
Why, does John MacArthurs message not resonate with you? They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 1 John 4:5-6 NKJV My prayer for you is that you will begin to really understand what’s really going on. True Christians are missional, being led by The HOLY SPIRIT in how the mission is carried out in the life of HIS Children, and having the mind of Christ, 1 Cor 2:9-16

Zelda said...

Part 1

I have a question for you, where do you stand regarding the inerrency and infallibility of Sacred Scripture? I ask this question because I am puzzled, primarily for this fact:
Paul The Apostle said in Ephesians: But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Ephesians 5:3-10 NASB
In light of what is written, it seems obvious to me that if we are commanded not to do a thing, then we should not do, a thing. Simple. YOu ridicule your Brother in Christ, for what purpose? I would say to you: Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13:5 NKJV

CD-Host said...

Hello Zelda and welcome to the blog.

In light of what is written, it seems obvious to me that if we are commanded not to do a thing [eph 5:2-10], then we should not do, a thing. Simple. YOu ridicule your Brother in Christ, for what purpose?

Well I spent a good deal of time indicating that I didn't believe that Driscoll met the criteria of this bible verse. For example Nothing particularly out of the ordinary you wouldn't hear in any high school literature class taking apart a poem with lots of metaphor and allegory. The interpretation itself is not particularly unusual either, it is standard fare that you would find in most good commentaries.

Basically what I hear you saying is John MacArthur should 'lighten up', He's too serious, he's out of touch, time's have changed, we can interpret The Bible the way we want, Jesus is LORD in name only.

I apologize I'm not following. Can you quote the places that I said those things?

You stated that Driscoll is and I quote: “Driscoll is philosophically postmodernist while completely orthodox in his theology.” That is high praise for a pastor who has come out and encouraged Christians to engage in Contemplative Prayer which is routed in Roman Catholicism and New Age.

I would assert that most of Protestant Christianity is routed in Roman Catholicism. So in and of itself that fact that Catholicism does something is no reason to disqualify it. For example: the canon, church marriage and most Christmas carols are all routed in Roman Catholicism. I assume you don't reject them on that basis? Further contemplative prayer predates Christianity so I doubt it actually is rooted in Catholicism but rather was adopted by Catholicism.

What this basically comes down to is this: The LORDSHIP of JESUS, and the issue of one’s own heart.

As far as I know Driscoll agrees with MacArthur on Lordship Salvation and is not a proponent of Free Grace. So you are picking an area where MacArthur and Driscoll agree not disagree.

A true Child of GOD would not even entertain the idea of speaking some of the things that come from Mark Driscolls mouth for we know that to do so does not bring honor and glory to GOD, how could it? How did the joke bring glory to GOD?

Most Christians spend most of their day engaged in secular pursuits. I'm sure when MacArthur is talking to his mechanic his speech is not bringing glory to God but is indistinguishable from anyone else's speech.

The idea that all speech must be glorifying is a standard I don't think any meet. As for joke's "If you had not plowed with my heifer" which is a joke where Samson is insulting his wife while making a sexual innuendo. MacArther's hero Spurgeon talks about the value of humor The Medicine of Laughter: Spurgeon’s Humor.

Got to go for now I'll respond more later.

wes said...

Driscoll is Reformed in theology, so it's odd that you would use him as the contrast in accusing Reformed christians of being inneffectual in evangelism.

CD-Host said...

Wes --

Actually MacArthur is fairly effectual. I was accusing reformed in general of not being focused as explicitly on growth in a "business like" way. I do think that is fair.

Where I do think MacArthur has a problem is in not being missional. His ministry style is more limited in whom it is likely to reach in large numbers. It happily allows large percentages of the population to be underserved.

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Unknown said...

Everything we do has to be for the glory of God while the Holy Spirit is within us we're not to sin with our bodies or mouth. We may say the things to please the needs of the ear to justify the actions of this world but in the end there's only one judge fear God