July 11, 2020

Why Mark Driscoll Bothers You (or Not)

mdrscl.jpgUPDATE: Driscoll has a short piece of video at Desiring God for those of you who might not have heard him explain his approach to being “missional.”

My review of Confessions of a Reformission Rev. can be found here.

After reading yet another sniping comment tossed at Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll, I started asking myself why it is that Driscoll seems to bother so many people.

Even though his preaching is readily available on the web, he’s not in the big leagues of media preachers quite yet. He has only written two books, and neither rises above the level of popular to the kind of academic polemic that brings out the apologists. While Driscoll has gotten a lot of attention in the blogosphere, his circle of influence is still relatively modest.

Why is Driscoll attracting so much lightning? Why have some watchbloggers connected him with the “Emergent” liberalism of Brian Mclaren and the contemplative prayer practices of new age Catholics when Driscoll has disavowed Emergent repeatedly, crtiiticized Mclaren and other Emergents specifically and is verbally anti-Roman enough to offend anyone close to an ECT mindset?

Recently, excerpts from Driscoll’s most recent book revealed what Driscoll fans have known for quite a while: the man is funny, but also occasionally crude. A self-deprecating anecdote about a late-night phone call from a masturbating church member has made the rounds and is now exhibit A in the blog trial of Driscoll. In at least some quarters, Driscoll’s admission that he has often used bad language has made him someone to label, criticize, and sound warning alarms over.

I think there is more to the Driscoll fish-fry than these chessy criticisms over language. Those who are trying to get Driscoll onto the spit with lots of dry wood in place have other issues that need to be acknowledged.

I. Driscoll bothers you because he’s engaging in real evangelism. Christians talk about evangelism all the time, then rarely, if ever, engage in it. Calling whatever we happening to be doing at the moment “evangelism” is an evangelial specialty. Driscoll, on the other hand, has actually gone to the most unchurched area of America and evangelized himself a large and growing church. Both of his books are full of examples of converts who are now church leaders. In Driscoll’s ministry, you actually get to see what happens when real, actual pagans get converted to Christianity, and what an evangelism-sustained church looks like.

This has to bother people who have redefined evangelism into various other things Christians do, like wearing t-shirts, going to conferences to see their favorite preachers and running a year-long contest to see who can make the most noise about “precise doctrine.” Driscoll isn’t running a social work center. He isn’t running a theological seminary. He’s not writing books denouncing other Christians for not believing in justification enough to be a real Presbyterian. He’s not picking on other churches- most of whom he clearly sees as irrelevant and ineffective in evangelism- for not following the Bible enough. He’s not building buildings, sending out videos or coming up with 40 Days of Emerging Church Shenanigans for your church. His web site doesn’t even have a store to sell Mars Hill ball caps, which is a shame because I really need one.

He’s preaching to the lost, teaching new converts and dealing with what it means to evangelize Seattle. He isn’t setting in the suburbs trying to outprogram the church across the street. Look at Mars Hill and you will see more genuine, Biblical, missional evangelism going on than you’ve seen in years.

Sadly, that apparently bothers some people, because it puts Driscoll in the communication business, not in the law enforcement or microbe discovery business. It means he can’t afford to play the Pharisee role and call it “standing for truth in our generation.” When Driscoll talks about changing the culture, it’s with the Gospel, not a Dobson-style political agenda. He has to work out everything from the standpoint of a church full of new believers. You and I need to pay attention. And if you believe that it’s “compromise” to go into a culture and incarnate the Gospel, then you won’t get it. You’ll make fun of coffee, goatees and hair. You’ll run pictures of David Crowder so you can hint that emerging folk aren’t to be taken seriously because they don’t look like you and your Bible study. You’ll question whether anything Driscoll has done has value if he doesn’t show up at your next convention of real Christians and admit he was wrong for not doing it your way.

Too bad. You are missing something important.

II. Mark Driscoll bothers you because he is more loyal to the Gospel than to any team.

The blogosphere is a “team sport” zone. A great way to get hated is to refuse to play at all, or to cross lines that others won’t cross.

So yes, Driscoll wrote a column saying Robert Schuller was his friend and he’d been at a Schuller conference. He says Brian Mclaren and other emergents are his friends. He thinks Rick Warren has a lot of good things to say.

He’s a Piper admiring five pointer who knows all the cage-phase tactics. He goes to the National Pastor’s Conference so that EmergentNo can put him on a list of people who MIGHT be associated with anything and everything in evangelicalism. He goes to churches and conferences that your team won’t go to. He’s not into the denominational thing. He doesn’t look for anyone- not even the big names in the blogosphere theology- to tell him what to believe. He preaches, studies and comes to his own conclusions. His books are published by Zondervan instead of P&R.

Through all of this, Driscoll makes it clear that he is not participating in the team arena. His own blog, his conferences and his church planting network are broadly inclusive of conservative evangelicals. He has no problem sounding like a fundamentalist, but he’s not interested in the fundamentalist team, the Calvinist team or any team as much as he is interested in being identified with mere Christianity as done in Seattle by a Gospel believing, church planting, missional, emerging preacher.

I’ll be sad if Driscoll becomes another denomination, or throws in with one of the current teams to the point that the TR watchblogs feel he’s safe for their sidebar. I like the fact that Driscoll calls himself emerging, but breaks that mold, calls himself reformed, but doesn’t act like he thinks he knows what I ought to eat and wear, and calls himself conservative, but can write a chapter on brewing beer in a book about reformation and evangelism. I like it that his friendships, reading list and mentors aren’t clones of anyone else’s.

If this bothers you, you are too loyal to a team.

III. Mark Driscoll bothers you because he embodies a missionally reformed post-evangelicalism that you’re fighting against for reasons that can’t be sanely explained.

For many of us, our interest in Driscoll is not because he is “the best” preacher- he’s good, but hardly an artist in the pulpit- or because he is “the best” theologian- he does what most of us do: read books and translate what we read in our teaching and preaching. We don’t see Driscoll as putting together the ideal church or writing the most brilliant books. He’s not Tim Keller. What Driscoll is, however, is a straight-up bold practitioner of the missional approach to Christianity that is coming to dominate the younger, post-evangelical landscape.

This isn’t your father’s or your grandfather’s approach to being a pastor. It’s not Rick Warren’s church or anything that you’ll see at the average SBC evangelism conference. This is an approach to doing church that is coming from the wisdom of missionaries and missional theologians, not from the marketers and advocates of consumer Christianity. It is an approach that is, no matter what you may think of the idea, unafraid to take on a postmodern, post-Christian generation on its own turf, in its own culture, without compromising what matters. Driscoll is modeling incarnational, missional, vocational principles that have been articulated by many excellent Christian minds, but which have not found their way into the church life and ministry practice of evangelicals in America until recently.

Those bothered by Driscoll frequently raise issues of “faithfulness” and “relevance,” as if these are are terms with automatic definitions and agreed upon meanings. Driscoll’s approach is utterly faithful and dangerously relevant. One read of Confessions of a Reformission Rev., will convince anyone that the “faithfulness” vs “relevance” tension is not one that can only be managed by becoming a suit and tie Calvinist living out the missional lifestyle of A.W. Pink, preaching the sermons of Charles Spurgeon and singing with an organ. There is a way to go into Seattle culture with the Gospel, and hold onto integrity.

This is not the “church growth” church. It’s not the full service program to get everyone’s kids in Superchurch with Bunky the Gospel Pony. It’s not the way seminary taught us to do it. It’s not the way SBC megachurches in the Bible belt do it. It’s edgy, experimental, new, awkward, scary, walking a tightrope, unafraid to offend the legalists and eager to include the people who’ve completely abandoned the church as most of us know it.

If this bothers you, just wait another ten years and see what evangelicalism looks like: your church or his.

IV. Mark Driscoll bothers you because he’s not lying about his sins.

If you have read this web site, and kept up with the drama that is my online existence, then you know that I have been taken to task for saying too much about my own sins, struggles and shortcomings. I’ve written honestly and I don’t plan to quit. This confessional writing gets an overwhelmingly positive response from people who are tired of religious hokum and BS, but there are plenty of people who think it’s the worst thing in the blogosphere and that I’m not really a Christian when I say I’m a sinner.

This is why I love Driscoll. From the first time I heard him till I finished reading Confessions, he’s been telling me about his cussing, his failures as a family man, his screw ups as a pastor, his learning curve and his self-inflicted pain. I know a lot more about Driscoll’s struggles than I do those of most of his critics. As of yet, I haven’t heard Driscoll lecturing anyone on how they need to shape up and start acting like the kind of Christian he is. Driscoll seems a lot more concerned with dealing with his sins as opposed to pointing out mine. Far out.

In other word, he gets what Luther got: the Gospel is a table for sinners and sinners only. He gets what Merton got: the phony self is the enemy. He understands what those few honest souls like Rich Mullins and Mike Yaconelli understood: the Gospel is perfect from God’s side and messy from ours.

Driscoll is what Piper calls a “gutsy” sinner, i.e. someone who takes the promise of justification through the mediation of Jesus as the way to rise up with bold, honest confidence in God’s acceptance and forgiveness.

The problem within evangelicalism is that we are all hurting, all struggling, all failing and all faking it, but we are acting as if we have it all together. We talk about sanctification and holiness, good works and living out our theology, when we are messes, each and every one of us. Our marriages aren’t that pretty picture and our kids aren’t those youth group darlings. We don’t pray much, we’ve got lots of questions and we really wonder if we’re not the world’s biggest fake.

What to do with the cussin’ Christian? Let’s denounce him, snipe at him and sneer. Let’s encourage him to come up to “our level.” What a pile of hogwash.

If Driscoll’s honesty bothers you, I’d like to suggest that it is either because you have a view of sin that is profoundly unbiblical or a view of your own heart that is afraid of the truth. A Driscoll who does not talk about his failures? Good grief. God help us when we want people who can honestly say they are real, earthy sinners to shut up and start talking like the rest of the preachers we know.

May we all be able to write, speak, pray, laugh and worship as Mark Driscoll does when he speaks of his swearing and his many other failures. Thank you Mark! Be yourself.

There are other reasons Mark Driscoll bothers many evangelicals. He has rejected the shibboleths that many Bible belt fundamentalists live by. He is rough, raw and opinionated. He is still growing and learning. He is blunt. His humor can cut, explode or fail.

He is, like Peter, just a man. Just a man walking the road with Jesus. If you are not looking at Seattle, Mars Hill and Driscoll with eyes open to what this does mean, and can mean, for American evangelicals, you are missing one of the most significant sea-changes in our lifetime. I’m watching with interest, and hoping that my heart can be open and teachable to what I see God doing there.



  1. Great post.
    I don’t always agree with Driscoll, but then I don’t always agree with myself!
    I think you’ve hit it right on. People don’t like Mark Driscoll because he’s doing the work of ministry… he’s living it out in a difficult place… he’s being real… he’s not playing church… he’s not locked in to one school / approach… he’s trying to listen to God and be obedient & letting all the “church” stuff drop by the way.

  2. u2wesley says

    I read Confessions after reading your review a few weeks ago. I’m recommending it to everyone I know. Driscoll’s orthodoxy is legit because it flows from his orthopraxy – his practise of the Gospel and his proclamation of it are one and the same. Driscoll’s preaching and teaching are effective because for Driscoll, there is actually something at stake when he stands before a group of people and opens The Book. That’s why he has an edge and most evangelicals don’t. And that edge is what’s making people nervous.

  3. Excellent post. I has an RSS subscription from Technorati to tell me everytime someone blogs about Mark, only because it gives me a chance exercise my eyes by looking at the ceiling.

    We have Mars Hill shirts and hooded sweatshirts, but I don’t think we have Mars Hill Hats yet. If we do I’ll send one to you though so you can rep Seattle.

  4. Jeremiah Lawson says

    proof of point 2 is Driscoll’s recent sermon on the Cross, also known as the Atonement sermon series. During that sermon series I heard him cover explanations of the atonement that made some people nervous because they’d never heard christus victor discussed in the churches they group up in, never heard of christus exemplar, had never heard of propiation. In short, Driscoll showed no loyalty to a team in a way that freaked people out because the sermon series focused on the metaphors Scripture uses that people with team loyalties try to suppress.

    And I know from experience that the kinds of Methodist pastors who harp on christus exemplar here in Seattle think substitionary atonement is horrible and too many of the pastors who fixate on substitutionary atonement never get around to explaining what christus victor or christus exemplar even are. Paradoxically the Christians most likely to say “we can’t put God in our little box” are most likely to do just that while claiming otherwise. Driscoll’s sermons show that specious talk to be exactly what it is.

  5. Amen and amen. Too many examples to illustrate. Let’s just say that I’m cut and pasting this to my boss. Thank you.

  6. Good insight. You can’t know about Mark Driscoll and not have an opinion about him. Sounds pretty Christlike to me: Love’im or hate’im.

  7. “His web site doesn’t even have a store to sell Mars Hill ball caps, which is a shame because I really need one.”

    It won’t be quite the same, but since you’re not (in the grand scheme of things) all that far away from western North Carolina, make a trip over and stop by the Mars Hill College bookstore. We’ve got plenty of caps that say “Mars Hill,” and even some t-shirts with “Aeropagus.” And you can justify it as advertising a college, not some “read my t-shirt so I don’t have to really minister to you” kind of Christianity.

  8. excellent review — I have tried to write some of the same, though not with your “flair” — if we were all about the advance of the Gospel, we would appreciate Driscoll more.

  9. dpaultaylor57 says

    Thank you for saying some things that needed to be said. After reading your questions about ENo’s appraisal of Driscoll in the comments thread there a while back, I have to wonder how anyone can turn a blind eye to…the blind eyes claiming to offer “discernment” allegedly lacking elsewhere. The blogosphere needs more than gnat-straining, camel-swallowing “analysis.” This helps a great deal.

  10. Beyond brillant !!

  11. I’m not sure I agree at all, Michael.

    You almost seem to imply that if someone has a problem with Driscoll then they have an issue of some kind. I’m bothered by him, but it’s mostly because I find him rude and abrasive.

    All of the other stuff may be true about me as well, but that’s not why I’m ‘bothered’.

  12. What bothers me is the over-use of “missional”. I need to find software that bleeps that word out of my browser. It’s almost as over-used as “purpose”. I suppose if it wasn’t constantly used as a brickbat against conservative Christians, it wouldn’t be as annoying.

  13. graham: I believe that Paul was often rude and abrasive.

    wfseube: I’m be interested in particular instances where the word “missional” is actually used specifically as a “brickbat” against “conservative” Christians. For instance, perhaps you could read the book “Missional Code” by Stetzer, and SBC missiologist, and explain how he’s anti-conservative. Do you see Driscoll as anti-conservative?

  14. wordsworth says

    Michael, I love this article. Thanks.

  15. I believe that where “missional” is used “against conservatives”, it is as a defensive weapon against those who police the public square with an attitude of “only my way of understanding the Bible, of being a Christian, and of describing these things, is correct and acceptable”.

    As one whose views are largely conservative I nevertheless believe that if we would hold our conservative convictions with a lot more humility people who don’t see eye to eye with us on something or who wish to describe their experience of God in different terms, wouldn’t need to use buzzwords as a defence against us.

    It is when we forget the difference between “the Bible teaches” and “I believe the Bible teaches”, and also, often publicly, ascribe sinister motives to someone’s different understanding of the Bible or the Christian walk, that people feel the need to defend themselves.

  16. The anti-conservatism I see is the drone of accusers that claim that conservative Evangelical churches are not “missional” (it’s usually in the form of a backhanded accusation) – that there is no focus on service, and conservative Christians merely sit around and talk about doctrine with no outreach (“Our church is missional – you bad ol’ modernists just worry about numbers”). If I could modify my post, I’d replace the word “constantly” with “often”.

    But, it’s the over-use of the word that annoys me the most.

    And, no, I don’t believe Driscoll is anti-conservative. In fact, I can think of one or two of the explicit EC crowd (Kimball, for one) that are not anti-conservative either.

  17. As I said, books on missional approaches don’t partake of your characterization.

  18. JoshGolden says

    Michael, I often appreciate your support of Mark. Especially since I live in Seattle and have many, many friends who attend or are members at Mars Hill.

    However, as Graham suggested in an earlier post, the abrasiveness is something to take into account. In my experience, it’s not similar to Paul’s as you suggest. I have attended with non-christians and new christians who have walked out (literally at times) offended. Not offense at the gospel, but by the arrogance of the preaching.

  19. Josh, would you mind sharing what you mean my “arrogance of the preaching”?

  20. JoshGolden says

    I think by arrogance, I mean appears to lack humility (certainly not all the time, and often he comes across as humble as well, it depends on what he’s speaking about). I find myself most often in agreement with Mark when I have heard him speak or preach. Interestingly, I have found myself feeling the need to defend him in a couple of conversations and it seems to me that people take issue with a few specific things(I am not interested in talking specifics here), though when the conversations go a bit further, they end up feeling offended by the delivery or that he was rude or insensitive about something or other, and arrogance is a word that’s come up.

  21. Fair enough. I was curious because I watch as many vodcasts as I can and have listened to a number of mp3 sermons and my most common reaction to him is, “Dang, I wish someone in my life would talk to me that way.”

    Different strokes, I guess.

  22. Michael, you’re discussing why Driscoll bothers me and I’m telling you. I think the fact that Paul could also appear rude is pretty irrelevant. If such reasoning is valid (or excuses the offensiveness) then I may as well make anti-Semitic statements and say, “Well, if that bugs you then Luther would have bugged you.”

    On top of that, I’m not sure I’m convinced that it’s wrong to say I probably wouldn’t have liked Paul either.

  23. Graham, I appreciate your honesty. Let me be very clear that I believe the entire uproar over Driscoll’s language is a complete ruse by a faction of Reformed evangelicals with an agenda for seeing the true church in their own narrow image. For these people, Driscoll will have to be faulted and faulted again until he is taken down. They are upset that Piper is endorsing him, but half of this faction doesn’t trust Piper either.

    If people find Driscoll rude because he is a young man with a lot to learn and many honest imperfections, that’s fine. If they find him arrogant because he’s not their version of a Calvinist, then color me unimpressed.

    BTW- I listen to a lot of preachers, and Macarthur, Piper, Jason Robertson, Mohler, Lloyd-Jones and many more can be pretty blunt and “short” when they want to. Driscoll doesn’t seem to be much different from thousands of preachers in the conservative tradition here in the states.

    But to each his own.

  24. JoshGolden says


    I think I agree with you, if I understand what you mean. I am encouraged when pastors admonish their congregations and I can imagine Mark would not be one to shy away from this. Do you get the sense from what you’ve seen/heard that this is the case?

  25. I don’t know anything about Mark Driscoll besides what I have seen written here. My guess would be that he doesn’t care too much about what we write here. Essentially I don’t think this is about him nearly as much as it is about the gospel. His heart has been set free by understanding the radical freedom of God’s forgiveness for people who know they’re screwed up. As bad as he has portrayed himself through his confessions, he is worse. What good news for someone who gets that God loves sinners and justifies the wicked. These opinions floating around about Mark seem like they are simply perceptions based on different agendas. The gospel is so much bigger than that. It seems that Mark simply wants to see the love of Christ made known in the world. Maybe we should stop blogging and join him.

  26. I just say BRAVO to Driscoll and to you, both of whom are man enough to say it straight. Refreshing.

    And by the way, Jesus was pretty abrasive as well at times (the term “scandalon” comes to mind), and to anyone who can say they wouldn’t have liked him either I would say that implies a rather deeper problem. :o)

  27. Amen bro!

    I listen to several sermons a day (thank You God for podcasting :0) and I have been listening to a lot of Driscoll. God is using it to give me a greater vision of Him, the cross, and it has caused me to not take myself so seriously.

    It’s breathing new life into my understanding of Christ.

    And his talks from the recent ‘Convergent’ conference at Southeastern Seminary are really powerful:


  28. Driscoll used to get on my nerves. Of late, he’s gotten into my heart. It has taken time, but I’ve grown to love his preaching. What bothers me about Driscoll is that I feel he often seems to appeal to the carnal nature to get a laugh or make a point. At times, I’m surprised that Piper endorses him and D.A. Carson has been known to defend him (slightly).

    But after listening to MD over a number of months, I feel that I’ve gained a greater understanding of his heart. I think if more of His critics would consistently take the time to listen to more of his sermons, they would find it far more difficult to throw grenades at him. He may say things that are inappropriate at times (by my estimation), but there is no doubt in my mind that he is a genuine, Christ-lovin’ dude who takes the Great Commission personally.

    I find it easy to identify Driscoll’s sins when I hear him preach. But what really bothers me about his preaching is that he often sheds light on my own personal sins and corruption. I listen to a lot of sermons from a lot of popular evangelicals (Alistair Begg, MacArthur, Piper, etc.). I can honestly say that Driscoll’s preaching forces me to deal with my own corruption more than any of the others.

    Is he prideful? Yelp. But who isn’t? Does he offend people? Definitely. But ask an evolutionist (or even a charismatic) if they find MacArthur offensive? The issue isn’t whether or not Driscoll offends people; it’s who he offends. MacArthur (and others) offends pagans with his preaching. Driscoll offends professing Christians. What gets me, however, is that when I look at the New Testament, Jesus (and Paul) was much more offensive to religious moralists than to sinners. I’m not suggesting Jesus or Paul preached just like MD (they didn’t). But I am pointing out that he seems to be ticking off the same type of people who had problems with Christ, Paul, and the rest of the Apostles. He aims to reach pagans, but unlike Osteen, actually goes at them with the message of the cross.

    I don’t know if it has been mentioned here, but I believe Driscoll’s stance on beverage alcohol angers many of his naysayers and greatly influences their criticisms. They are victims of a post-prohibition culture that would have likely denounced Luther had they lived in his day instead. Driscoll has no concern for denominational identity and/or the opinions of the evangelical elite. He appears simply to strive to draw lines where the Bible draws lines.

    I can’t say I like everything he says, but I can’t judge him or dismiss him. I think others need to suspend their judgment and keep listening to him and observing his ministry. The more I hear him, the more I find myself defending him.

  29. David D. says

    First of all, I am a fan of Driscoll. I like his preaching because, most of the time, he is a model preacher. He goes through the text explaining it and applying. However, as someone once said of John Calvin, I will only follow him so far as he follows Christ. I don’t think that his church model would work every where, but I can appreciate what he has done.
    All of that being said, there is something that was said, and since I am new to this blog I don’t know if it is the norm, but it was said that we are in a post-evangelical age, or something like that. I whole heartedly disagree with the very notion of that. There is no doubt, that evangelicalism has, by and large, become a joke, but that does not mean that we should abandon it. Instead, I think we should focus our efforts on trying to redeem it. The term itself was coined by the reformers, if I am not mistaken, because of their insistence to rely solely on the gospel. Instead of saying that we are post-evangelical, we should be trying to be evangelicals in the truest sense.

  30. Wordgazer says

    Driscoll bothers me for none of the above reasons. Driscoll bothers me because he’s authoritarian, controlling, and believes in male entitlement and the subjegation of women.