June 4, 2020

Riffs: JMarkBertrand: Diss Isn’t Discernment

logo.gifMark Bertrand on watchblogging and the “either/or” assumptions of its practitioners. This post deserves wide circulation among all bloggers.

I’ve told this story before, but it bears retelling. I once had a young reformed Baptist pastor and his wife over to our home for dinner. We had mutual friends and I wanted to be able to discuss reformed theology with someone. After a pleasant meal, the young pastor and I went over to my office and talked shop for a while. The discussion began to take a bizarre turn.

His church had elders and he was quite seriously distraught that our church didn’t, particularly since I admitted believing that elder rule was really the Biblical teaching. His thinking went this way:

The Bible teaches elders. You are set aside as a teacher of the Bible. Yet your church does not have elders. This not only calls into question whether you are fit to be a minister, it calls into question whether you are a Christian, since you are blatantly, openly disowning what the Bible says and not adopting its practice as yours. You are a false shepherd- his words exactly- and likely not even a sheep.

I don’t know how much I spent on that dinner, but it was too much.

He was young, reformed, cocky, rude and arrogant. He had no sense of what SBC pastors face and didn’t care. There were two kinds of people: those in his tiny denomination, and then a bunch of people who probably weren’t Christians, particularly if they invited him over for dinner, but didn’t confess Christ to suit him at the first opportunity.

This blog has frequently noted that the issue at hand is not the errors of the emerging church or Michael Spencer, but whether we are Christians at all. I repeat: the issue is whether we are Christians at all.

“I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” That’s the creed. And I think we all believe that, but how do we get there…and stay there…and know who is there? Now things get sticky, don’t they?

If we believe in justification by faith, can we stop requiring other people to believe in our version of the doctrine of justification by faith? Can we stop requiring everyone to read all the passages we read, the way that we read them? Can we stop requiring all true Christians to see the world as we see it, have our presuppositions and share our preferences in scholarship?

If we believe in the sola fide, can we stop requiring people to believe in our version of faith, our articulation of that faith and our experience of that faith? Can we say Jesus- the Biblical Jesus, not another one- is salvation for his people and recognize people who believe that as Christians?

Can we consider that the inner conviction we have that the true church is roughly coterminus with the people we consider Christians might be biased?

Can we consider that guys with candles, a different vocabulary and bad music aren’t apostates? They just aren’t us.

Can we say we believe in the church catholic, and that church is the one Jesus loves and lives for? That it includes the emerging and the reformed and the post-evangelicals and the BHT and teampyro and Merton and Kyle Lake and a number too great to be counted?

I didn’t think so. Too bad. Maybe one day, when we see the finished work of love, it will overwhelm us enough to admit that grace really was more amazing than explainable.


  1. I read this post and the one you deleted and I agree whole heartly with you. And I think you can understand why certain people don’t like Mark Discoll because of posts like this:
    I don’t believe all of what he is saying is false, but why say it? Why cut people down you don’t know (let alone send them to hell)? There is nothing positive about rhetoric like this, and it does build up or help anybody. (And according to the logic of the LA times article we should all be muslims, Amen for more demands on adherents… and who said his burden was easy and his yoke light)
    Maybe one day we will see that finished work of love, but with words like these today is not that day.

  2. I thought that the Driscoll post failed to take account of the faithful people still in mainline churches. Almost every mainline has many conservatives in the pews that do not believe in leaving what has always been their church. I particularly thought Driscoll’s article was unaware of people llike Mark Roberts and Tod Bolsinger in the PCUSA, or te Good News movement in the UMC.

  3. Brian Pendell says

    This reminds me of a conversation I had at a church retreat not very long ago …

    Lay person: Why do we serve grape juice instead of wine in communion? Shouldn’t it be wine?

    Other person: Well, yes. You’re absolutely right. But be that as it may, this is a [deleted denomination] church and there is no way that’s ever going to change. Yes, it’s more accurate, but it’s not a sword to die on.

    Person didn’t want to let it go … but honestly. There are battles that are worth fighting, and battles that are not.

    Getting a church to do anything isn’t a matter of simply standing in the pulpit and saying “thus sayeth the LORD” and lo! it is so. I will enjoy watching your young pastor’s future career in his first church with great interest … and, perhaps , some sinful gloating. I hope I can resist the temptation.


    Brian P.

  4. My childhood pastor used to always say, “Young preachers are like wasps. They’re bigger when they’re born than when they grow up.”

    There are many, many things I really like about Mark Driscoll. As a former pastor of a mainline church (UMC) I concur with many things he said in his post – I’ve been there, done that.

    Still, there is a certain spirit that comes across in his words that is less than productive and is more preaching to the choir than any genuine attempt at reforming denominations that long ago went adrift on the sea relativism. It doesn’t even sound like a final appeal for the remnant to leave Babylon. Is it possible to speak the truth in love? Where’s the grace?

    I’m only 45, but whenever I read or listen to Driscoll, especially after reading his Confessions, I always keep in mind that he is still in his mid 30’s and has only been a pastor for 10 years and a Christian for just a few years longer.

    While he has been incredibly used of God to bring thousands into the kingdom and he is saying and doing many, many things that the larger church desparately needs to hear and see, he still hasn’t passed his 40th birthday. Wisdom and discretion come with age.

    Recently I started listening to the music of Keith Green again. It doesn’t seem possible that he’s been gone for nearly 25 years or that he was only 28 years old when he died. In many ways, Driscoll reminds me of Keith Green.
    Green could be abrasive, divisive, hard to get along with and often came across as judgmental and arrogant. But when his fingers hit the keyboards the Holy Spirit moved and God only knows how many people are still being called to a deeper walk and a life of service in Jesus’ name through Keith’s music.

    I often wonder what Green would be like if he were still alive. Today he would be 52 years old. Would his incredible passion and zeal have turned to vinegar or fine wine? We’ll never know for sure, but I want to believe that he would have kept growing but still calling people to follow Jesus.

    I also want to believe that Driscoll will continue to grow and learn and lead. So, I can handle an occasional rant that goes over the top. Scripture certainly records more than a few of those, and I think that there is a certain office for rattling our collective cage in order to keep the church on task.

    I don’t think Driscoll is destined for the fate of the wasp.

  5. This entire post brings to light the basic fault of “I just believe what the bible says, and you don’t!” way of thinking. It’s very annoying. As Chesterton put it:

    “The catholic does not, in the conventional phrase, believe what the Bible says, for the simple reason that the Bible does not say anything. You cannot put a book in the witness-box and ask it what it really means. The Fundamentalist controversy itself destroys Fundamentalism. The Bible by itself cannot be a basis of agreement when it is a cause of disagreement; it cannot be the common ground of Christians when some take it allegorically and some literally. The Catholic refers it to something that can say something, to the living, consistent, and continuous mind of which I have spoken; the highest mind of man guided by God.”