Friday, May 18, 2007

Jesus: the bigger picture...

Some of you are probably familiar with Mars Hill Church, the large, "interdenominational" mega-church located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. They have grown extensively over the last 10 years, and now have several "satellite" locations as well in the Seattle metro area. This is due in no small part to the fiery preaching of Mark Driscoll, who founded the church and is their primary teaching pastor.

Driscoll has been a source of controversy ever since the church's beginning, with his "edgy" and sometimes antagonistic methods of communication, and his penchant for combining cultural progressiveness (i.e. cussing and tattoos are ok) with a strict conservative reading of Scripture (i.e. women should not be pastors, etc). The latest flap is over an apparently unintended lightning rod in the form of a video on church planting. (if you are interested, you can watch the video here.)

I have struggled over the past few years with the proper way to respond to Driscoll's teaching, and to Mars Hill in general. There are many points where I disagree with his interpretations of Scripture, and I think his ways of speaking are often reckless and unnecessarily provocative. But I also recognize that many people, including several of my friends, attend Mars Hill and their relationships with Christ have grown as a result. So I try to temper my frustration with the recognition that God is at work in that community.

I guess what bothers me most about Driscoll (and the last 4 minutes of the video is a good example of this) is that he often paints an incomplete picture of Jesus. He loves to rant on about how Jesus was not a "herbal tea loving, yellow dress wearing, hippie..." But his own portrait of Jesus seems to be equally lacking: Driscoll imagines Jesus as a sword-wielding warrior, who has the physique of a body-builder and only eats steak medium-rare. This "Jesus-as-tough-guy" image fits in nicely with Driscoll's own agenda, which is to build up an army of young Christian men who are warriors for Christ, poised to take back the world from the forces of darkness.

There is certainly an aspect of Christ as "warrior-king" that Christians must pay attention to, and I am glad that Mars Hill is trying to reach out to the many disenchanted young men in our city. But Driscoll is still painting an incomplete picture of Christ. By downplaying Christ's compassion, patience and humility, and focusing only on Christ's toughness, Driscoll is presenting his listeners with a one-sided view of Jesus. Driscoll's Jesus may be appealing to those who desire a faith that will be bold and unapologetic. But Christ himself remained bold and unapologetic while still gently caring for people in a way that seems absent from Driscoll's image of Jesus.

Furthermore, it concerns me that this incomplete picture suggests an implicit approval of Driscoll's own behavior, rather than challenging the militancy and insecurity that seem to be at the root of so many of his statements. Is Jesus really at the right hand of God, sharpening a sword, getting ready to come down and slaughter sinners, and then laugh as the Christian warrior-men bathe in the blood of the heathen? Anyone who views Jesus even remotely in this way needs to pick up the Bible and re-read the Gospels. I also wonder whether Jesus is really worried by the fact that Christians are having fewer children, or really excited that Mars Hill has grown so large in such a short period of time. We all like to assume that growth of a ministry equals God's blessing. No doubt that is often true, but we should be careful not to infer from church growth that our methods and ideas are sound. Having a huge church is not an excuse for offering a false image of Jesus.

I believe that Mark Driscoll and all the leadership at Mars Hill love Jesus and desire to bear witness to the Gospel. What worries me is that, in their efforts to develop their ministry, they have settled for an image of Jesus that is incomplete. But I am thankful that God is working in each of us to daily draw us into a deeper, fuller knowledge of who Jesus really is. I pray that God would continually make me aware of who Christ really is, and I pray that for Mark Driscoll as well.


Josh said...

Everybody preaches the parts of Jesus's humble character that you are talking about.

Few preach about the parts that Driscoll is famous for preaching about.

Both are important, and contrary to popular conception, Both aspects are taught frequently from the pulpit of Mark Driscoll.

I believe Driscoll preaches about the peaceful and humble parts of Christ's character much more effectively than other preachers that I have heard because it is contrasts who Christ chose to be with who he is by nature. Philipians 2:5-11.

Driscoll is calling men to lay their lives on the line just as Christ laid his life on the line. Not because they are weak, but because they are strong. From what I can tell, it is working.

With that said, I though the 8 minute video was pretty weak. He couldn't develop the context well enough in the time he had to get his point across effectively to those who are outside his camp.

Kevin said...

Check out my blog entry about Pastor Driscoll's video. I agree 100% with him that the Church needs to get beyond presenting Jesus as a "hippie in a dress". We need to show Jesus as a man of action. This may help Jesus and the Church become relevant to more men.

Geoff said...

Hey guys, thanks for the comments.

Josh, I am glad that Mark is calling men to lay their lives on the line in the same way Christ did. I guess I just haven't heard much about that in the (admittedly) few sermons I've heard him preach. I only went to Mars Hill a few times and then decided it wasn't for me... even though, culturally, I have a lot more in common with the people there than at the church I currently attend.

But I think your use of Phil. 2:5-11 is flawed, because it seems to imply that Jesus is not, by nature, humble and peaceful and compassionate. Such a view reflects an inadequate Christology, which was my point in writing that post.

As for "everybody" preaching about Jesus' humility... all I can say is that I've lived in the Midwest, the South, and now the Northwest, and I can honestly say that the majority of sermons I've experienced, both first- and second-hand, are not too different from Driscoll's. In fact, I would say that it is Driscoll's cultural "edginess" that are the biggest difference between him and what is commonly called the "religious right." Doctrinally, I don't think Driscoll's that much different than Falwell or Dobson. Which, I guess depending on your view, could be a good or a bad thing.

Kevin, I agree that we need to show Jesus as a man of action. The question is, what kind of action? Reading through the Gospels shows that Christ's acts of compassion and humility far outweigh his acts of "toughness". And further reflection upon those Gospels should make it clear that Jesus preached a message of peace and forgiveness. These things are definitely important for "real men," but I don't think painting an image of Christ-as-tough-guy is sufficient.


Roy said...