Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Places In-Between

I’ve known good times and bad. I’ve known what it’s like to be in poverty and to have plenty. I’ve known success and failure. I’ve known acceptance and rejection. I’ve known victory and loss.

None of these are new experiences for any of us (although, most would probably say they have known far more bad, poverty, failure, rejection, and loss than their alternatives). And most of us understand and are prepared that any of them might happen to us at any time. They are all “places” we arrive in in time which are, to some degree, taken for granted.

What is more difficult, though, are the places in-between. Those times of waiting. Waiting for a call-back. Waiting for someone to respond. Waiting for an offer. Waiting for things to get better (or worse). What I mean is—when you’ve done all you can do, and now all there is for it is to wait. The waiting never ends as soon as we’d like it to. Sometimes it hardly ends at all.

And, even worse, sometimes when you wait and wait, and when you’ve been in limbo it seems like an eternity, hoping and praying that something will happen, you finally get to that moment where you think you’ve got a chance and…you have wait some more. Sometimes you have to wait just to learn how much longer you might have to wait to learn if there is a chance that the waiting is over.

Sometimes it feels like rejection would be easier than this.

“The waiting is the hardest part…” says Tom Petty. And he’s right. Waiting involves not knowing. It begs anxiety. It tries patience. It tortures willpower. It mystifies hope. It shakes confidence. It tests faith. Funny thing is, so often waiting doesn’t have to be waiting. A single word from another could alleviate it. A call or a message could make it better. But consideration is not extended. A word of assurance does not come. Oh, the worst thing—you’ve waited and waited, thinking someone will come through, someone will answer you, someone will care. You finally reach them and find out they’d forgotten you were waiting. “Oh, that’s right. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

So, you think, “I’ll keep praying.” But, as usual, God is silent.

These are the waiting times. The places in-between. They are desolate, deserted places. Thirsty and cold and lonely. They are distant and hopeless, full of questions without answers and doubts and the temptation to give up. They are places of mirages—momentary glimmers of hope which appear all-too-real until you just begin to believe it before they fade away, revealing they were never real.

But these are strange, torturous deserts where you can see people enjoying lush oases right next to you. You can be lost and alone as you sit and eat with someone who is not in the desert with you. You may watch with envy, trying hard to be happy for them, but desperately wishing for your own oasis.

I am reminded of the Lord’s disciples in Acts. After his ascension, prior to Pentecost. Their ridiculous question, his cryptic answer. And the command to “wait.” “Wait for the gift my father has promised.”

So much has happened. Jesus had died and they were hopeless. They had to wait. He rose again and things were better! Hopes were restored! But then he was leaving and they were confused again. Now…the waiting again. What to do?

One could say, “Well, they set about preparing themselves. They chose someone to replace Judas. They stayed busy.” One might be wise to note that. It’s hard to prepare yourself when you don’t know what is coming, but they did the best they could.

You could say, “They spent time in prayer.” This would also be true.

Another might say, “They waited together” because the text says that they spent much time together. Also a wise observation.

None of these ease my waiting, though.

To my mind, what it seems they did was…wait. They sat in the in-between place and kept their minds as active as they could be. But, they waited. They did the thing that kills me the most. They waited and trusted and acted where they could.

Waiting and trusting are co-essential. One can’t do one without the other. And, I suppose, one of the greatest things one can do in the in-between times is remember how God always comes through. Remember how, in the very next chapter, what they were waiting on arrived and things began happening.

And, so, we tell ourselves stories in the waiting places. We try to remind ourselves of where we’ve come from and where we’ve been and that the whole world isn’t in-between, just this place. We try to remind ourselves that we are here, though we’ve been here before, and will probably be here again but at least will have to be somewhere else before we get here. We try to remind ourselves that there may even be worse places than in-between places and so we don’t want to rush things which shouldn’t be rushed, even though it feels like there is no worse place than this.

And we try to remind ourselves that when we are finally free of this place, it will look smaller and less hopeless than we thought it was when we were in it.

Maybe we even try to quote ourselves the words which have been spoken before by people who have been in this place before us who have given it many different names: Sheol. Limbo. Purgatory. Hades. The “Pit.” The Valley of the Shadow of Death.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

3     he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk

through the darkest valley, a

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

forever. [1]

For the psalmist, the in-between place was a place of reflection because for him, it was the place where God’s presence was felt and needed the most. This psalm reminds me of a song I used to listen to by a band called The Call.

I been in a cave / For forty days / Only a spark / To light my way / I wanna give out / I wanna give in / This is our crime / This is our sin

But I still believe / I still believe / Through the pain / And through the grief / Through the lives / Through the storms / Through the cries / And through the wars

Oh, I still believe

Flat on my back / Out at sea / Hopin’ these waves / Don’t cover me / I’m turned and tossed / Upon the waves / When the darkness comes / I feel the grave

But I still believe / I still believe / Through the cold / And through the heat / Through the rain / And through the tears / Through the crowds / And through the cheers

Oh, I still believe

I’ll march this road / I’ll climb this hill / Upon on my knees / If I have to / I’ll take my place / Up on this stage / I’ll wait ’til the end of time / For you like everybody else

I’m out on my own / Walkin’ the streets / Look at the faces / That I meet / I feel like I / Like I want to go home / What do I feel / What do I know

But I still believe / I still believe / Through the shame / And through the grief / Through the heartache / Through the tears / Through the waiting / Through the years

For people like us / In places like this / We need all the hope / That we can get

Oh, I still believe

Stay busy. Keep working. Nose to the grindstone. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Keep trying. Keep believing. Keep hoping.  Remind yourself that you’re not alone in the in-between places; that God exists in those places, he even thrives in those places.

Remember that the in-between places are always here and all around us. Remember that enduring them is a part of the human condition. Remember that people stronger than you have been shaken deeper than you and this means that this is not new and not different and not specific to you. You are not alone. Don’t lose faith.

[1] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ps 23:1–6.

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“This is a Book about Heaven.”

I just finished by favorite book ever…again. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I want to dedicate this post to Wendell.

Everything ends. Everything begins. Everything dies. Everything is born.

Generations are born and raised and go about their lives making mistakes and enduring failures and priding themselves in small successes and searching for something they do not understand or realize or even know how to articulate.

And when they are gone those who come after them go on in much the same way making the same mistakes and enduring the same failures and priding themselves in their own small successes and searching for the same intangible things without realizing or remembering that they themselves are only links in a chain of humanity and nature. They forget that someone else has walked where they walk and lived where they live and that there wouldn’t be enough paper on which to write their stories if we could remember them. All of the libraries in the world couldn’t hold all of the books which would be written if we could remember all of those stories and what they meant and how important they were and still are.

The only place they are still remembered is the mind of God.

And, too often, because we do not remember them—because we make the mistake of thinking that somehow we got here on our own, under our own power, because of our own brilliance and ingenuity and our own ambition—we forget what is most important in this world. That we were created to be like God. To love and be loved and to create and to care for creation and to make peace and to enjoy life together under the sun on this beautiful planet full of wonders and joys and gifts that God has graciously given to us out of his endless love and creativity and joy.

Because we think that we got here ourselves and have our minds set on what our ambition sees and we forget these things, we take them for granted and see them as nothing more than assets and tools to be used and exploited in the pursuit of our ambition. We are then tempted to forget that being mortal should teach us that we really are not the “be-all-end-all” of this kosmos but each and every one of us is one small part of it…no lesser or greater than any other part of it—special only because we were created by the Creator for his good pleasure. We are a part of the story that he began and asked us to continue.

That all things end, including ourselves (something which we have worked so hard to keep from remembering), is, perhaps, God’s greatest gift to fallen humanity. Yes, you read that correctly. Perhaps death was not a punishment from God but a gift. That the Fall was and still is daily every person’s attempt to make himself a god and to create a new world in his or her own image (because of their dissatisfaction with being mere images), meant that God knew we would need a constant reminder that we are definitely not gods. That we are small and, in ourselves, insignificant and dependent and powerless.

That we are born and we die is, perhaps, meant to be a reminder that we need to be rememberers. We ought to be people who value the memory of people, places, and creatures above all other things. No treasures or inventions or acquisitions or any of the idols we work so hard to earn the money to purchase (or to pay off) are more valuable than the memory of those people, places, and creatures who have come and gone before us, no matter how small or powerless or insignificant or even loathsome we think they may be. And we should do this because we, too, will want to be remembered and valued. This is why the Lord told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Of course, forgetting that we are part of a story—forgetting that there is a story that has gone on before us and will continue after us—helps us maintain the illusion that we are the authors of that story. It gives us license to be careless of those around us and makes us free, in our own minds, of the responsibility we have to God’s creation—to his creatures. It helps us forget statements like, “Whatever you have done for the least of these….”

That, I think, is why there are always wars and rumors of wars. And that is why the ambition of those at the top will continue to use up and grind under those people, places, and creatures that they see as pawns in their schemes or cogs in their machines without realizing that they themselves are almost always pawns or cogs in someone else’s schemes and machines. And it is why those of us at the bottom rarely think of anything else than trying to partner with those at the top in hopes that we ourselves will someday be those people, as if being at the top will make us something more than God had intended us to be. All of us trying so hard to be the masters of the knowledge of good and evil and the power-holders of our corners of the world. Forever defining life as a violent struggle to survive by making war, making profit, making “something of ourselves,” making things bigger and shinier and flashier and more impressive so that we will think ourselves bigger and more impressive.  Gods.

Without realizing it, even the faithful assume that this is the way things just must be. So, they reinterpret the words of Jesus so that they don’t hear him and his close followers teaching us to have the mind of Christ who,

“Being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant. And being found in appearance as a man humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.”

We all love the idea of being raised and living forever. We love Paul’s words in Romans 8 which insist that the suffering we have here will not compare to the glory which will be revealed in us. But we try too hard to avoid acknowledging that Paul says just prior to this we are heirs of that resurrection only if we share in Jesus’ suffering.

In other words, we cannot enjoy the rewards God has for us unless we are willing to partake of the death he has modeled for us.  And that is an even greater gift he has given us. That he gave us death to remind us of who we really are and was willing to submit to it himself to teach us how to be who he intended us to be.

Small.

It is in acknowledging our end that we find ourselves slowly being restored to God’s image. That image which is demonstrated in the life and death and teaching of Jesus Christ is what we aspire to. And that image will restore us to fellowship with God and with one another and with this creation.

In other words, it is through the experience of death and suffering that we find ourselves at one with God himself, who was and is willing to experience death and suffering with us, for us, and because of us.   Freed, now, to define life in terms of peace, smallness, generosity, and simplicity.  Freed to be willing to bear a cross–to die even for those who kill us–to demonstrate that peace.

And, so, the story of scripture has always been the story of a God desperately trying to teach his people to remember. “Remember where you were and what you were when you cried out to me. Remember what I’ve done for you and what I call you do to for me. Remember what I’ve told you and why I told it to you. Remember….”

Remember.

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Doubts and Communion with God–My Problem with Praying

It’s not a popular thing to say, but the truth is, I’ve always struggled with prayer. I mean, I can pray with people and I can lead people in prayer. In fact, sometimes I can give a really great, bang-up, perfectly worded prayer that just says exactly what it needs to say. I can say long prayers or short prayers. Serious prayers which address serious specific issues. Even prayers with humor in them. As long as I’m with other people. But prayer on my own is difficult for some reason.

I’m sure it’s tempting to think, “Well, that must mean that his prayers in public are just an act.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe in God. I believe he is listening. I believe he responds to prayer—and I mean freely responds, not just “knows what he’s going to do.”

There’s just something about praying with other people that makes it easier for me. I think it’s that when I’m praying with other people or leading them in prayer, the burden of agreeing with them in prayer distracts me from all the stuff in the back of my mind, the questions and the doubts that are there which make it so difficult for me.

Typically, when I try to pray, it’s because I know that I need to. There’s something I need to bring to God. Some worry or concern or problem that is just too big for me. And I know the only one to take it to is God. But, when I do I find myself unable to find words. My mind goes blank. Or worse, it wanders to whatever’s in front of me, what I’ve got to do tomorrow, or some conversation I had today. I’ll catch it wandering and try to force it to concentrate. “This is ‘God’ you’re talking to, Rodenbeck. Show some respect.” But God is quiet. He doesn’t respond. He leaves me feeling like I’m talking to myself in an empty room. Like there’s nothing there.

The effect is stunning when I’m really suffering. When I’m retching my emotional guts out in some kind of horrible agony because of something that is happening to me. My divorce is the prime example. Nights I spent crying on the floor, soaking the rug with my tears, crying out to God. But it feels empty. And I find my mind wandering desperately, looking for words to say into the empty room.

I’ve met people who just seem to have this thing by the tail. I’ve had people tell me that they pray for three hours a day. Sometimes it’s probably baloney…but there are people I’ve known from whom I believe it. They probably do. But when they say it, I think, “What on earth do you say for three hours?” I open my mouth to pray and my mind goes blank. I mean, I can have conversations with a friend which last for hours because we react to what the other is saying and we talk about new topics and we respond to one another. But God is so quiet. He says nothing. My mind is spinning with thoughts and worries and cares and frets and everything going on that I think about and I open my mouth to talk to him about it and…nothing. Silence. Even when I’m not asking him for anything…just trying to share my thoughts or praise him or thank him for something, there’s no “voice” except the voice in my head asking questions and wondering what the point is.

I’ve tried to take comfort in Paul’s words in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit knows what to say when we don’t. Sometimes that helps me. But sometimes I think, “But what if the Holy Spirit doesn’t even think I’m trying?” What if I’m not trying? What is it? What are my issues with prayer? Why does my mind wander?

For some reason, when I sit down to pray alone I always find myself thinking about the absurdity of prayer. Me…me…talking to God as if I’ve got anything to tell him that he doesn’t already know and understand. How much sense does it make to praise him and tell him how wonderful he is? Does he not know this? And how much sense does it make to say that my praise for him is nothing more than my acknowledgement of what he already knows? Doesn’t he already know whether I think he is great?

And how much sense does it make to tell God the things on my heart when he already knows them better than I do? I find myself opening my mouth and feeling hopeless about how to communicate—like I’ve got to tell him everything but I don’t even know where to start. I mean, there’s so much to say about whatever issue or thing I’d like to talk to him about. But telling him anything is pointless because he already knows it. What problem can I share with God that he doesn’t already know? And what is the point of saying it if he already knows it? And then I find myself just sitting there overwhelmed with the magnitude of what it would mean for a person like me to talk to God and ask him to help me anyhow. Who am I? I’m a single created being and he is God.

Well, the pat answer to that is, “You’re a human created in God’s image whom he loves and sent his son to die for. Of course, he wants to listen to you. He loves you.”

My answer? I believe that. I really do. But I am one person out of around six billion on the planet. What can he do for me and why should he do it for me? What about all the other people out there who are asking him for the same things, carrying the same requests and cares? What about all the people out there who are praying for totally opposite things (mothers on both sides of a war, praying that their sons would be victorious in battle and come home safely)?

And here’s something else. Can he help me? This is where my struggle with God’s relationship to time plays. If the future is predestined by God (I don’t believe this to be true, but for the sake of argument) and what is going to happen was decided by God prior to my prayer (in fact, prior to my existence), then what is the point of asking him for anything—even comfort in trial or some sense of his presence to endure it? In this case, what will be will be. And it will be what it will be whether I pray for it or not. In that case, my prayer is just one predestined piece of an unfolding story and my prayer is just me following my programming. What will be will be and, at best, prayer is just me reconciling myself to accept what will be.

Yet, when I read Jesus’ instructions about prayer in Luke 11:11, he seems to tell me that if we ask for the Holy Spirit, God will give it to us…because we asked him for it. It is not because God programmed us to ask him for it and then gave it to us because that was his plan all along. It seems to be because God freely responded to the request made by the person praying.

Here’s the question, though, which always bothered me as a child. Assuming that God has not predestined all of time but that he, as Arminius claimed, already knows everything that is going to happen—then what is going to happen is simply what God knows is going to happen. If God has always eternally known what will happen, then how can he change it in response to our request? If he changes what he knew would happen based on a request (and consider even the smallest request, such as, “Lord, please give me something to eat tomorrow”), then answering that prayer by granting my request would be changing what he knew would be (such as knowing that I would not have anything to eat tomorrow) to something he did not know would be (such as knowing that he would give me something to eat). In other words, how could God change the reality he knows is going to happen? What is the point of talking to him at all if everything is already settled in his mind (whether he chose it or not)? And saying that “he already knew what you were going to pray and responded to it before you prayed it” doesn’t help.   If God has eternally known what will be, how much sense does it make to say he has any control over what will be?

And what about free will? If anything I ask for is predicated on the actions of others (a new job, a loan, a raise, a promotion, a healed marriage, a child to return to Christ, a nation to reject going to war), then what is the point? If Paul is correct in 1 Timothy that God desires that all people would be saved (choose to be in right relationship with him), and yet we know that not everyone does, then we must conclude that God either does not or cannot cause other people to choose to be with him. And, if he will not or cannot coerce people to be in right relationship with him, then how much sense does it make for me to ask him to coerce someone to be in a specific relationship with me? Those who have promised that God will bring an erring spouse or erring child back if only we pray hard enough are sorely mistaken.

And what about the fact that I can count on one hand the number of times I have prayed to ask him for help, for things, and he has not given them to me? Of course, there have been times when what I prayed for was not as good as what happened instead. In those cases, it is easy (even satisfying) to say that God answered my prayer in a way better than I’d asked. That said, if what I did receive in lieu of what I had asked for was better, one wonders what the purpose of asking him was. If he already had something in mind to do, then what was the point of the exercise?

But there are these scriptures which tell us to “believe and not doubt” when we pray (James 1) and which remind us of how faithful people prayed and God gave them what they asked for, such as Elijah (James 5). But, when I pray earnestly for things…nothing seems to happen. I could chalk it up to “lack of faith,” but I’m at the point where I haven’t the foggiest idea what that means. I don’t know how to “not doubt.” It’s one of the questions I have for James.

Most of the time when I admit that I have these kinds of doubts, it bothers people. There are many people I’ve shared them with who just seem unable to understand the questions or why they bother me so much. But the bottom line is, when I sit down to pray by myself, these things go through my mind. It feels empty and hollow to me and I can’t imagine what’s really happening. So, what good is it, I think? How much sense does it make to pray?

A good friend and I were talking just today about this. He’s far smarter than I am and much better read. He said, “There is value in knowing that somebody is holding you in their heart even if nothing else comes from it.”

I guess, the truth is, the reason I’ve always struggled with prayer is because I don’t think God has the kind of control over the universe that makes him answering all of our prayers possible, or even conceivable. Because I think that God created this universe in such a way as to make us his partners in what would be and happen here. And, because of that, this means that God has given over some control of what will be to the universe itself.

And, so, I’m trying to see prayer as a “communion” of sorts. And this is what makes my friend’s statement make sense. Prayer, then, becomes my communion with God in which I share my burdens with him and he listens. I don’t know if it means he will do anything about them, or what he will do when he does it. I don’t know if there is any promise we can count on regarding all that. I am trying to believe, now, that it matters and that it means that God has a place for me in his heart.

So, I am working on praying scripture. I am working on praying the Lord’s Prayer. I keep a couple of psalms printed out in my Bible or in my pocket and pray those sometimes. I am trying to see prayer as a crying out to God for his presence and his justice. And a waiting for his action. And, of course, that means that I am (we all are) implicated in our prayers.

Perhaps prayer is the opportunity to treat God like a friend—a better friend than all of the ones who have ever abandoned me or let me down or ignored me. When my friends are silent, they are ignoring me. God’s silence is not his ignoring me. It is his intent listening and his admission that, perhaps, the answers to my questions are far harder to understand than I could fathom.

I’m always reminded of Job’s prayers and the way God answered them. I always felt like God’s answer to Job was harsh—but now I feel like what God was telling Job was, “OK, pal. You want answers? I could give them to you, but you wouldn’t get it still. You’re just going to have to trust me.” And Job’s conclusion? “I see now that I was talking about things I’ll never understand.”

I see now that I am talking about things I will never understand. But, perhaps, some day, all of this will make sense to me. But I do not know that it ever will.

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Mark Driscoll’s Resignation is Sad, but I Don’t Think it’s Wrong to be Encouraged by It

Facebook and the blogosphere have been abuzz the past few days with Christians talking about Mark Driscoll’s resignation as the teaching minister at Mars Hill Church. Driscoll’s ministry the past few years has been steeped in controversy, largely stemming from complaints made by people who worked for him, as well as major public faux pas such as inflating reports of his book sales and even accusations of plagiarism and gross misbehavior on church discussion boards. Despite all this Driscoll has remained a “successful” minister, maintaining a large, multi-campus church—even though the Acts 29 church planting organization he was a founding member of called him out on some of the accusations some time ago in an open letter.

I, for one, have recently followed Driscoll’s success with trepidation. Years ago, I downloaded his podcasts weekly and listened to his sermons. At first, I found his messages poignant and valuable. In fact, I often encouraged other people to listen to them. However, after months of listening to Driscoll, I began to sense an obsessive arrogance in his messages regarding the Mars Hill Church. I found it difficult to put my finger on it, but I often felt after listening that Driscoll had little regard for churches which weren’t Mars Hill. For this reason, I stopped listening to Driscoll. That said, I had no ill feelings about him.

Years later, I began to see more from Driscoll which concerned me. One magazine article I read concerning the emergent church movement (of which Driscoll was initially considered a part) contained some strongly worded criticisms of Brian McLaren. On the one hand, this did not bother me greatly, however, the language he used went beyond criticizing McLaren’s theology but was personal in nature. There were also comments which revealed assumptions about Christians who did not hold to Calvinist doctrines which I found troubling. I am not Calvinistic in my theology at all. And I often felt like Driscoll had little openness to people with my own theological ideas.

Further, as my own thinking began to be more and more influenced toward Christian pacifism, I began to read very strongly worded criticisms from Driscoll about Christians who believe that Jesus taught us to reject violence. I remember Driscoll’s preaching having many violent assumptions, but I was taken aback to find comments such as “I don’t want to worship a guy I can beat up” (despite the fact that a Jesus we could “beat up” is the entire story of the Gospel) and the incendiary comments quoted in this article in which Driscoll claims that the blood which Jesus will shed when he returns to take vengeance on all of his enemies will include those who believe that Jesus is a pacifist. Comments like these which Driscoll has made seem to imply that people who read the Gospels as I do are nothing more than panty-waist, girly-men who anger his butt-kicking Jesus. In fact, Driscoll’s teaching for many years has emphasized a view of masculinity which has informed his understanding of Jesus…a view, I think, that is far more influenced by worldly ideas about manhood than by the Gospel.

Whether or not a person’s study of Jesus leads them to embrace pacifism, the bottom line here is that Driscoll DOES teach a very different Jesus than the one in the Gospels.  It seems to me that Driscoll has made the same mistake as those Jews in the first century who rejected Jesus because they couldn’t imagine a Messiah they could “beat up.”  Driscoll has, in fact, rejected Jesus.

Overall, my opinion of Driscoll’s teaching and behavior the past few years is very, very poor. And there is little I have read from him or about him which has helped this. Now, this in itself would not cause me to be greatly concerned. There are many “jerks” out there and it makes no sense to pay any of them a great deal of attention.

What has bothered me about Driscoll for these past few years as my disillusionment in his ministry grew was his seemingly increased popularity. On the one hand, I think we should have great patience with people who hold to Driscoll’s, sometimes, ignorant and arrogant positions. On the other, it has bothered me that someone like Driscoll had such an impressive platform from which to teach what I take to be some very dangerous doctrines…dangerous because of the way they are antithetical to the Gospel. I have many friends whom I love whom I did not want listening to Driscoll. I feared he would teach them things which are not proper for Christians to believe.

For this reason, I have found myself increasingly interested in what was happening with Driscoll at Mars Hill Church. I have often posted articles and open letters to him on my Facebook wall because I think it is important that people see the reality behind the teaching there. The truth is, because I find Driscoll’s teaching so far from Jesus’ teaching, I want people to share my disillusionment with Driscoll. I feel that if they are disillusioned with him, perhaps they will be influenced toward a more proper view of the Gospel.

Recently, though, I have found an increasing number of people who are critical of people for being critical of Driscoll. I’m finding articles and posts written by both friends, colleagues, and published writers which are very harsh in their criticism of people who they take to be “celebrating” Driscoll’s demise as a minister. Frequently these essays and posts are accompanied by pictures of Driscoll with his family. This, of course, in logical terms is called an appeal to pity—a logical fallacy which tries to distract people away from an issue by trying to cause people to feel sorry for the person involved.

On the one hand, I want to recognize that it is, indeed, wrong to “delight in evil” as Paul calls it in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul’s monologue about love in this chapter is intended to cause the Christians in Corinth to desire to have a faith which emphasizes love and not the selfish faith which seeks to abuse the gifts Paul referred to in chapter 12.

However, if we are going to take Paul seriously, I think we should not stop with “Love does not delight in evil.” We should also read the next line, “but rejoices with the truth.” This, to me, is the issue in being so cautious to be critical of teachers like Driscoll.

James tells us in his third chapter that “Not many of you should be teachers, my brothers, for as such we will inquire a stricter judgment.” It’s tempting for us to always assume that when the word “judgment” is used we should think about it in terms of God’s judgment. And that is likely very much in view here. But I don’t think that precludes the notion that it isn’t just God who rightfully “judges” teachers, but the people who hear them. In other words, what James may be telling us is that “If you are going to be a teacher in the church, you are going to have to be far more careful of the things you say. Because, as a teacher in the church, you are going to be held to a far higher standard by God and by the church to be responsible for both the things you teach and your interactions with people.” In fact, the rest of James’ teaching on the tongue in chapter 3 is quite relevant to Driscoll (as well as to all of us).

Well-meaning people who appeal to a desire for unity within the Kingdom of God to caution us from being critical of Driscoll would, I think, be well-served to note the number of times Jesus and the apostles are very critical and often use very strong language to call out the teachers in Israel and in the churches who either teach falsely or whose behaviors are detrimental to the church, even though popular. Listed below are a few examples.

  • In Matthew 3, we find John the Baptist calling out the Pharisees and Sadducees with very strong language: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.[1]
  •  Jesus warns his disciples, in Matthew 7: 15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. [2]
  • We should probably also consider the lengthy refutation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, where Jesus uses words like “hypocrites,” “children of hell,” “blind guides,” “whitewashed tombs” full of “wickedness,” “murderers,” and “snakes.”
  • Those who teach that it is inappropriate to criticize leaders in the church would do well to pay attention to James 3 (which I have already cited) but also Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians that it is simply not our business to judge those outside the church.  However, within the church we should be far more critical.  12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” f [3]
  • For those who are anxious about using strong language with which to criticize poor teaching and poor behavior in leadership, perhaps Paul’s response to those people who were preaching circumcision in Galatians is appropriate: 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! [4]
  • We might also note in Acts, Paul’s concern that after he left a church “savage wolves” might come in and tear it up (Acts 20:29).
  • Who, also, will forget the way Paul publicly called out Peter for his actions in refusing to eat with Gentiles when Jews were around: 11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? [5]

This last passage is an important one for this discussion. The other apostles might have been cautious and warned Paul not to damage the “unity” of the Kingdom by publicly calling out Peter. And, yet, Paul thought that the unity of the Kingdom was more damaged by not calling out Peter. Paul, I think, rightly knew what James has taught us—that if Peter is going to be a leader in the church, he has a heightened responsibility to be…well…responsible. In this way, what Paul was doing was actually what we Restorationist types might call a plea for “unity” in “truth.”

I do not wish to belabor my point. But, it seems to me that there is much biblical precedent—perhaps in our time even a responsibility—to be vigilant in calling things what they are in the church. In fact, I would probably go as far as to call it a divine mandate to be truthful when it comes to how we respond to the popular voices which claim to speak for God and his church in this world. There is a huge difference between “rejoicing in someone’s downfall” and recognizing that the church has a responsibility to be taught well and to guard its ears from poor teachers and teaching.

This is why I, for one, am saddened by all that has happened to Mark Driscoll. I am sad that it happened because I am sad for the things he has done. I am sad that his worldly views on masculinity and violence blinded him from the true message of the Gospel. I am sad that he got caught up in his own hype and began to believe things about himself that caused him to make poor decisions. I am sad that he was often so judgmental and arrogant. And I am sad that the things he said and did were heard and seen by so many because he was so very popular.

And I am sad for his family.

But, the truth is, I am encouraged that people began to see through the charade. I am encouraged that there are Christians who once might have followed Driscoll but who now will be more cautious in who they listen to. I am encouraged that a voice who, once, was actually leading people away from the Gospels as I read them is no longer in a position to do that. I rejoice that the truth may have been revealed.

I have hopes for Driscoll. I hope and pray that he really comes to true repentance. Some months ago he wrote a letter in which he “repented.” However, it was clear in reading that letter that his apologies and confessions revealed a massive and unshakable ego. It is my hope that now Driscoll will be in a position to reconsider some of the things he has said and taught—to be far more open to a Christianity which isn’t steeped in violence and judgment.

In other words, I agree with Paul that it is wrong to “delight in evil.” And, I agree with my friends who have been worried about delighting in the “evil” which has happened to Driscoll. However, inasmuch as I don’t “delight” in what has happened to Driscoll, I do rejoice in the truth that the Gospel may actually be far better served without Mark Driscoll’s voice for the time being.

And I don’t see anything wrong with that.

[1] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 3:7–10.

[2] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 7:15–20.

[3] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Co 5:12–13.

[4] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ga 5:12.

[5] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ga 2:11–14.

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