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.