Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Calvinist cool?

January 13th, 2009

The New York Times, no less, has a feature on Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll. He cusses, he preaches about sex, he is alternative, he uses hard rock music in worship; and yet he lambastes seeker-sensitive services and has been described as “seeker insensitive.” For all his modern pop culture styling, he waters down nothing. He is, in fact, a thorough-going Calvinist who has made Calvinism cool.

Mark Driscoll is American evangelicalism’s bĂȘte noire. In little more than a decade, his ministry has grown from a living-room Bible study to a megachurch that draws about 7,600 visitors to seven campuses around Seattle each Sunday, and his books, blogs and podcasts have made him one of the most admired — and reviled — figures among evangelicals nationwide. Conservatives call Driscoll “the cussing pastor” and wish that he’d trade in his fashionably distressed jeans and taste for indie rock for a suit and tie and placid choral arrangements. Liberals wince at his hellfire theology and insistence that women submit to their husbands. But what is new about Driscoll is that he has resurrected a particular strain of fire and brimstone, one that most Americans assume died out with the Puritans: Calvinism, a theology that makes Pat Robertson seem warm and fuzzy.

For all his modern pop culture styling, he waters down nothing. He is, in fact, a thorough-going Calvinist who has made Calvinism cool.

At a time when the once-vaunted unity of the religious right has eroded and the mainstream media is proclaiming an “evangelical crackup,” Driscoll represents a movement to revamp the style and substance of evangelicalism. With his taste for vintage baseball caps and omnipresence on Facebook and iTunes, Driscoll, who is 38, is on the cutting edge of American pop culture. Yet his message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time. Yet a significant number of young people in Seattle — and nationwide — say this is exactly what they want to hear. Calvinism has somehow become cool, and just as startling, this generally bookish creed has fused with a macho ethos. At Mars Hill, members say their favorite movie isn’t “Amazing Grace” or “The Chronicles of Narnia” — it’s “Fight Club.”

So what do you think about this? Isn’t this still just church growth methodology under another name? Macho and harsh rather than touchy-feely, but isn’t it still culturally-conforming?

On the other hand, maybe you can do this with Calvinism. We Lutherans have a theology of worship that should theoretically keep us from such innovations (though that doesn’t stop some of us). And we have a theology that mitigates the fire and brimstone with, as has been said, the Theology of the Cross. But does Rev. Driscoll’s show that a confessional theology can, in fact, be cool? And should a confessional theology aspire to coolness?

I’m curious too, so let me ask you Reformed readers whether Rev. Driscoll’s tone, approach, and worship style are acceptable or controversial in PCA and other confessionally Reformed circles. If any of you are familiar with Rev. Driscoll’s ministry, please report.


Adam Wilson said...

I have a few of his books, and have listened to hours of his sermons via iTunes as I live in West Michigan, not Seattle. He has a style that some seem to dislike. But as you mentoned in the article, in comparison to Swindoll or robertson, he is a stark contrast. His "no games" aproach is refreshing. If i hear one more sermon that gives me advice on how to do something based on a pastors opinion, I may implode. He brings the hard truths that nobody likes to talk about to the main stage, and not as an opening act into a analogy ridden warm fuzzy fest. He knows what he is talking about, and will not back down. I am off the opinion that it is about time. I live near another Mars Hill...the one in Grand Rapids Michigan. Driscoll is the "Bizarro" to Rob Bell and his "Hall of Earthly Justice". (see Super Friends) In a nutshell, calvinist or not, Mark knows who he is, and knows where to stand. He is a powerful speaker, and although the article above mentioned the details of his clothing, and his music style, and his speaking style....at the core, and throughout all of that is one thing, his will to show the Glory, power, and Grace of God to all who choose to hear him, without changing the Word.

Robert Tewart said...

Thanks for your comments Adam. You make a lot of really good points. I like Mark Driscoll too. In fact, his theology and doctrine are really on track. I think even men like John MacArthur and John Piper would agree with that.

The biggest question that has arisen is Driscoll's use of course language and I have to agree with that. You wrote:

"....at the core, and throughout all of that is one thing, his will to show the Glory, power, and Grace of God to all who choose to hear him, without changing the Word."

I think God's glory, power and grace are deserving of Godly language and demeanor.(Eph 5:4,Eph 4:29,Coloss.3:8)

That said, I still would listen to Driscoll, but I'm not sure I would personally attend his church if given the chance. Until of course this was resolved.

Larryk12309 said...

Swearing in sermons! Unbelievable!

What next, beer and worldly magazines in the cafe?

I think the salt is losing it's savor!

beencalled said...

Hey, i kinda struggled with this myself. His theology and teaching is spot on and biblical(minus his exegesis on Song of Solomon) but yet his abrasive language kinda makes him hard to talk about because that's the first thing people think of.

I don't know him personally, but from watching him preach and just looking at his ministry as a whole, i really think his heart is in the right place, he's just rough around the edges. Almost like John the Baptist. Or the apostle Paul. I just found this the other day, but in Galatians 5:12, Paul says about false teachers that he wished they would emasculate themselves! Pretty harsh stuff. Man, if my pastor said that from the pulpit, people would die and be on the way to glory themselves!

As far as Mark Driscoll, he ok by me as long as his theology is straight.

Robert Tewart said...

Thanks for commenting. I think that the way I am going to approach Driscoll from now on is by "taking in the meat and spitting out the bones." His teaching really is very good. I don't think I would sit under his leadership though if I had other choices. If for no other reason than to no lose focus on God. I probably wouldn't refer anyone to his ministry at least until this controvery is dealt with. I wouldn't want to contribute to a new believer stumbling.

Thankfully, Mark Drisoll is under the leadership and mentoring of the likes of John Piper and CJ Mahaney. Godwilling, everything will get straightened out without giving the church a black eye.