Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Phil Johnson and Mark Dricsoll, Part I - A Brief History

I think it would be safe for me to say that Phil Johnson and Mark Driscoll have what we can call a strained relationship. Johnson has been critical of Driscoll for his use of language in the pulpit. Driscoll has defended himself, but not said much in return. In the forthcoming days, I will be posting a series of blogs on this recent explosion and try to make some sense out of this whole issue.

Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You, has been closely associated with John MacArthur since 1981 and edits most of his books. Recently, Phil Johnson preached a provocative message at the 2009 Shepherd's Conference. The title? "Sound Doctrine; Sound Words". In this talk he says,

"I chose that text (Titus 2:7-8), frankly, because I'm deeply concerned about the tendency of so many pastors lately to employ profanity, crude and obscene words, vile subject matter, carnal topics, graphic sexual imagery, erotic language, and filthy jokes. Most of you, I know, are aware of the trend I'm talking about. I'm tempted to call it the pornification of the pulpit. The justification usually given is that coarse language and sexual themes are the tools of contextualization. It's a way to make us sound more relevant. Lots of voices in the church are insistent that this is absolutely essential if we want to reach certain segments of our culture. The apostle Paul said otherwise, and that's what I want to look at in this hour." (Source)

In this particular talk he is highly critical of Mark Driscoll. He says,

"When I was considering what subjects might be important for a group of pastors and church leaders as large and diverse as this, I couldn't get away from this issue. The New York Times Magazine recently did a feature article on Mark Driscoll in which this was a major theme. "Who Would Jesus Smack Down?" was the title of the article. Here's the lead sentence: "Mark Driscoll's sermons are mostly too racy to post on [an] evangelical Christian 'family friendly' . . . Web site." (Source)

So Phil Johnson is not a fan of Mark Driscoll. But why? Let me try to explain by explaining some of the history here. The following is a quote from Phil Johnson over at Pyromaniacs. It was written one week ago, March 10, 2009.

"On top of the many comments posted in various on-line forums, I've received about two dozen e-mails from people who have written me directly to ask questions or lodge complaints about Friday's message. All who have written me directly have been very gracious, and I believe all of them have been sincere. Most have asked the same two or three questions, so today I want to answer those questions (plus a few of the not-so-sincere objections that have showed up here, there, and on Facebook). These are roughly in order from the most common questions to the most bizarre:

Have you or Dr. MacArthur ever personally shared your concerns personally with Mark Driscoll?

Yes. I sent Mark a 6-page letter the first week of December, telling him what I was planning to deal with at the Shepherds' Conference. I explained why I thought his message at the Desiring God Conference in September left some of the most important objections to his own use of crass language unanswered. I also enumerated six specific questions that I thought would help my understanding of his position.

Mark didn't reply or acknowledge my letter until one week prior to the Shepherds' Conference. Then he phoned and said he would answer me by video since the timing was late. When the video arrived, Driscoll had addressed his reply not to me but to the attendees of the Shepherds' Conference—as if I had invited him to share my time slot at the conference.

His reply also ignored the six questions enumerated in my letter. Instead, he answered a question of his own choosing, saying he believed that one answer would suffice as an answer to all my questions.

John MacArthur likewise attempted to correspond with Driscoll a year and a half ago. He too received no answer for almost six months, and when the answer finally came, it was routed indirectly, through an e-mail sent by Driscoll's secretary to John MacArthur's secretary. Curiously enough, Driscoll's reply to John came on the first day of last year's Shepherds' Conference.

Driscoll clearly does not take his critics very seriously. Communication with him hasn't done anything so far to convince me that he understands (or wants to understand) the concerns some of us have tried to express to him.

Didn't you know that Driscoll has already repented of using bad language?

So I hear. I mentioned that fact in my letter to Driscoll and cited three well-known instances of ribald jokes and profane remarks that occurred long after he said he was sorry for past sins of the tongue. The first of my six questions to him was, "How do the above remarks differ from things you previously said you had repented of?" He did not answer that question.

I had someone else listen to your message. He went semi-ballistic, claiming that you'd misquoted Driscoll, and used 5- and sometimes 10-year-old arguments against him, etc.

I mentioned Driscoll by name only in two places in my message—once at the start and once at the end. The first time I mentioned him, I quoted from the opening sentence of an article in the New York Times Magazine about Driscoll. I attributed no words to Driscoll himself. The second time I singled out Driscoll by name, I referred to a joke he has told repeatedly. I made no attempt to "quote" the joke, because doing so would have violated the principle I was attempting to affirm. So I described the joke in oblique terms. Again, I attributed no words to him.

Both of those references dealt with material that has been published since January 1 of this year. So I would be curious to know where the critic thinks I "misquoted" or made use of "5- and sometimes 10-year-old arguments against him, etc."

Can you cite a single sermon where Driscoll used "cuss" words?


Not only did I not accuse him of using "cuss" words; I did not even mention Donald Miller's infamous nickname for Driscoll.

My complaint about Driscoll's language in the pulpit is much more serious than the question of whether he cusses or not. And I think I made that fairly clear.

(In a much earlier post [October 2006], Phil Johnson dialogues with an individual on his blog about Mark Driscoll and cussing.) The exchange is as follows:

Phil Johnson:

Frank: "I think Phil makes a mistake lumping Driscoll in with Bell. Rob Bell has been problematic since the first Nooma video was coined (2003? 2004?), but Driscoll has visibly distanced himself from 'Emergent' for doctrinal reasons for at least as long."

I'm not "lumping" them together just because I mentioned them both in the same post. I said I appreciate that Driscoll has tried to distance himself from Bell and McLaren.

Now I think he needs to distance himself from his reputation as "the cussing pastor." Instead, he seems to cultivate the image. I'm making the point that it's a serious problem, not a charming idiosyncrasy.

I'm also making the point that I'm fed up with both extremes (as well as the middle) of the Emerging spectrum.

Frank: "And Pastor Driscoll has the same problem: he's Mark the cussing pastor. If he stopped being Mark the cussing pastor, I don't know what would happen -- and neither does he."

Regardless of "what happens," he needs to stop being Mark the cussing pastor.

It's curious that you cringed when you heard my adult son refer to me as "dude." Multiply your response to the power of infinity and mix it with a conviction that blasphemy is the most egregious of all sins, I suppose that would be something like my reaction at hearing Driscoll make a joke about whether Jesus ever got the toilet seat wet (not to mention all Driscoll's other comments in that vein).

"Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). I'm saying Driscoll's proclivity to raunchy, scatological, and off-color language and subject matter is a breach of the commands in Colossians 3:8 and Ephesians 5:4. That is as morally disqualifying as the other sins Paul names in Colossians 3:8-9. And it's especially a problem when a pastor does it from the pulpit.

8:11 AM, October 25, 2006 (Source)

Did you see Driscoll's Twitter comment right after your message?

There's no reason to assume that had anything to do with me, or that it meant anything sinister. He said he was meditating on Proverbs 26:4: "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself." It's a good verse. I meditate on that verse virtually every day, whenever hostile or hateful comments show up on my blog.

But you know what? Even if I thought Mark was aiming that Tweet at me, I wouldn't make an issue of it. I'm not particularly interested in what his visceral reaction was on Friday afternoon. I'm curious what his response will be when he has had time to think through the biblical substance of my message.

You lumped Mark Driscoll together with Ed Young. That's not fair.

Precisely how did I "lump" them? By naming them both? Both of them have shown a predilection for dealing with sexual topics in lurid terms. But not only did I not draw that connection or imply that the two of them are in any way in league with one another, I don't believe I even made any specific mention of Driscoll's series on sex from Song of Solomon—even though I think some aspects of that series and the accompanying Q&A were even more offensive than Ed Young, Jr.'s smirking interviews on the cable news programs that featured his sex challenge.

I have noticed, however, that all the questions I'm getting are about Mark Driscoll. Where are the defenders of Ed Young, Jr., ChristianNymphos, and xxxchurch's inflatable mascot?

Here's the point: My message was not actually about Driscoll per se. If the problem were just one guy who likes to talk dirty, I wouldn't have even dealt with the topic.

What my message actually decried was the atmosphere in evangelical and post-evangelical circles that deliberately glorifies everything lewd and lowbrow at the expense of any serious call for holiness.

I think I made that pretty clear, too." (Source)

So, there is the history from Phil's vantage point. I am still looking for that video response from Mark Driscoll to the Shepherd's Conference ateendees. When I find it I will provide the link. Until I find that, I will post some videos of Mark Driscoll from the Desiring God conference where he addresses the issue of language in the pulpit head on so you can hear from Mark himself.

It is important that we be charitable in all of our dealing with these brothers. Because I value integrity, my goal in these posts is to provide primary source documentation so that we can sort out the wheat from the chaff and not be guilty of misrepresentation.


Robert Briggs said...

Young Christman, superb blog, you younger men are truly encouraging.

Good stuff too on the Johnston/Driscoll debate. I believe Phil is right in principle regarding the speech of the pulpit, I do believe he came close to misrepresenting Mark but after reviewing his transcript and the CNN video I believe he avoided it, if only just.

I agree that integrity and accuracy must prevail in all these controversies.

Keith Throop said...

Thanks for this series of posts. I look forward to reading the rest of them.

As one who has been involved in campus ministry of late, I am especially disturbed by the influence Driscoll may have had one some of them with regard to inappropriate speech.

Matt Troupe said...

Jonathon, thanks for posting all of this info. I appreciate your work, and I appreciate Phil's desire to communicate with you and share his letter to MD.

This whole discussion has had, I hope, a good effect on me in reminding me of James 3 "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body."

I am reminded of this not only in the pulpit and in conversation, but also in blog posts! I am thinking of the need to be charitable and self controlled in all of our speech..... How we teach, how we represent others, and how we criticize (in sermons or blogs).