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Father’s Day

Call me an unreconstructed softie, but this post by Chance Scoggins could cause the fall of precipitation on the faces of even the most hardened of Dads. (HT: Vicky Beeching.)

Well, OK, not everyone; one commenter on Facebook described it as

Complete mush and the usual patronising Internet twaddle that gets over emotional people interested. Thank goodness there’s plenty of love in my family without this ‘Barney The Dinosaur’ drivel.

While that guy returns to his Chuck Norris DVDs and his Mark Driscoll books, I’ll tell you why it touched a nerve with me. Yes, there is some gooey stuff in the article, like the point when Mr Scoggins’ little daughter says, “Daddy, when I was still in heaven, I wished for a Daddy like you.” But give the little lass a break. It may be inaccurate, but hear the heart of a small girl who feels utterly safe with her father.

It’s like this for me. I didn’t get married until I was 41. I had had the odd girlfriend and one broken engagement, but mostly I was the kind of man who attracted the “Let’s just be friends” response from the fairer sex. For me, it was never a case of when I got married, but if I got married. And then to marry at an older age meant lengthened odds in the parenting stakes, and shortened odds in the disabled baby stakes.

For a long time, I’d wanted to be a Dad. I have a sister and no brothers, and I felt that strange male desire to keep the family name going. I would have felt like I was a failure if it hadn’t happened. I know that’s irrational, but that’s how I felt. I wanted children, and I especially wanted a son. For different but equally strong emotional reasons, my wife wanted a daughter.

As some of you know, we had a daughter, and then a son. I never knew how much I would adore having a daughter, and I don’t think my wife knew how much my wife realised how much she would love having a son. I love having a son, too: we have a common understanding. It’s great to go to football and cricket together, or watch rugby. I love the fact that he has inherited my talent for Maths. My wife gets on a wavelength with our daughter, and I see them connecting in special ways, too.

Childbirth is precarious, and we certainly saw that with our two. Both were born by Caesarean section. In our daughter’s case, it was an emergency section. Debbie was a week and a half overdue, and was taken into hospital to be induced, but little or nothing happened. The medical staff increased the hormones being pumped in, hoping this would bring on labour, but all that happened was that our daughter’s heartbeat started going all over the place. We went to theatre quickly.

In our son’s case, we had booked an elective section for health reasons with a supportive consultant, and were relieved to have done so, because the cord was around his neck. We could have lost either of our children at birth.

So I never care on Father’s Day whether Debbie has organised big presents from the children, because nothing can beat two blue eyes looking into mine and saying, “I love you, Daddy. You’re my real Daddy, my only Daddy, not a step-Daddy and I won’t have another Daddy.”

Inside, I blub. Even though I too can’t bear Barney the Dinosaur.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Backing Off From Controversy? Contrasting Christianity Magazine’s Interviews With Mark Driscoll And Richard Chartres

It’s been a month since it all kicked off. I know that, because my subscription copy of Christianity magazine belly-flopped onto the welcome mat today. Last month it was that interview of Mark Driscoll by Justin Brierley in which Driscoll accused British preachers of being cowards.
This month, their main interview is with Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London. He’s a worthy subject for the in-depth treatment. He’s known to be close to the royal family, and hence preached at William and Kate’s wedding last year. My post citing his sermon led to the busiest day on this blog ever. He’s been part of defusing the stresses between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp. These topics and others are covered.

But there’s one dimension missing. I’m surprised and disappointed. Why does the interview not cover Chartres’ decision last year to suspend one of his area bishops, Pete Broadbent, over his controversial remarks in social media about the chances of William and Kate’s marriage lasting the distance? What exactly is the working relationship between royalist Chartres and socialist republican Broadbent?
As I see it, either party – Chartres or the magazine – could have nixed the subject. Chartres might have made it a condition of being interviewed that the question were not asked. Or Christianity magazine itself might have had reasons not to go there, because Broadbent is one of their consulting editors. Surely its omission is not accidental. That would suggest an incompetent journalist, and I don’t believe that.

But either way, when I saw the front cover, my natural inclination was to go straight to the interview and see whether that issue was covered. But no, it isn’t even publicly disallowed, say, by the bishop saying, “I’m sorry, that touches on areas of confidentiality and so I can’t discuss that.”

So can someone offer an explanation of this strange hole in the interview? Was it ruled out by Chartres? Did Broadbent ask the magazine not to raise it? Or did the magazine want to step back from controversy after last month? I’d be surprised if it were that last reason, because I think they came out of the Driscoll feature with great credit.

Whatever the reason, this loyal subscriber would be keen to know. And I imagine I’m not the only one.

Mark Driscoll And The Mars Hill Churches: When Discipline Becomes Control Becomes … ?

I am recently on record as having grave reservations about Mark Driscoll‘s teaching and attitudes to those he disagrees with. But as goes the man, so goes the church and group of churches he has founded. Here are some gruesome links. The stories are so consistent.
Matthew Paul Turner tells in two parts the story of a young man who confessed to sexual sin and sought help, but who was then placed under draconian discipline with a ‘contract’ that could be described as voyeuristic. When he deems it unfair, he is removed from Mars Hill’s social network and those in his home group are told not to associate with him and are even given a form of words to say, indicating their assent to Mars Hill’s decision. Frankly, the way they put words into the mouths of people could come from North Korea.

A couple separately tell of the pressures they were put under by church leaders when they decided to leave a Mars Hill church, even though they tried to do so diplomatically. Detailing Scripture just isn’t good enough in a church that likes to talk more about correct doctrine than Jesus.

Earlier, when another member queriedwhy he was being asked to shun a sacked staff member when he doesn’t see evidence of the kind of outright sin that would lead to ostracisation in the New Testament, he is told by an elder, “When dad and mom are having an argument the kids don’t need to know what’s going on.” The church member concludes,

So when dad and mom live off the tithe checks given by the children they don’t have to explain why dad decides to fire mom?

Later, his membership covenant (which has to be renewed every few years – a strange kind of covenant that, he observes) is voided by the elders.

Time and again, if you click on these links, you will see people are using words like ‘control’, ‘spiritual abuse’ and ‘cult’.

Bill Kinnon understandably asks why that bastion of the neo-Reformed movement, the Gospel Coalition, hasn’t spoken out against Mars Hill. Driscoll is one of their council members, and they have had resignations before on grounds of doctrinal controversy, as Bill points out. But what does Driscoll have to do for that to happen? Let’s suppose that actually it’s being addressed behind closed doors. If so, that would be a good start. But this has gone on for a long time now. The sacking of two key leaders (one of whom was the person to be ostracised in the last story above) happened in 2007. It’s unthinkable to consider that any such measures were still at the first level of New Testament discipline, the private stage.
Why, then, is there a conspicuous silence in the public arena? Could it be that Driscoll is the poster boy of the movement, untouchable due to the numbers he and his churches draw in? Could it be that he is regarded rather like a mercurial and talented footballer who is something of a rebel, when he might be more like a Paul Gascoigne character, out of control?

And if Driscoll’s friends can’t deal with this, who can? Is it surprising that in desperation some outside that camp (either always outside or, like those above, people who have left) raise strong voices?

Those of us who are critical nevertheless have the responsibility not to lower ourselves to the standards we find objectionable in Driscoll in the way we speak out. We have to be careful that the fear we have for the damage that we believe is being done to people and will be done to Christian witness does not make us act out of fear and hence just lash out. If we do, it just gives an excuse for Mars Hill/Driscoll to say, there you are, look at how our opponents behave. It is hard not to be cynical and sarcastic, though, but we must guard against it.

Yet on the other hand, to be too soft is to give in. What else would those who exercise control want than to make people fearful to criticise?

Then there is the question not only of tone, but of language. Are words like ‘cult’, ‘spiritual abuse’ and ‘control’ unfair? If the evidence above is at all reliable (and the consistency tells us something, I think) then certainly we’re talking about control issues, and that raises the issue of ‘why?’. You can’t help thinking about fear and power, maybe a combination of the two, a fear of power being undermined, perhaps. If the structure is hierarchical, with all vision and pronouncements coming down from on high as if Driscoll has descended from Sinai carrying two stone tablets, then anything that questions that approach is not an isolated problem, but an attack on the foundations. And jolly good, too, because no frail mortal can cope with that kind of elevation. Even Moses didn’t.
What about spiritual abuse? Fifteen years ago, near the end of a difficult phase in my life, I heard Marc Dupont speak on the subject, and I bought his book, ‘Walking Out of Spiritual Abuse‘. Helpfully – in my opinion – he draws lessons from King Saul. On the one hand, the people of Israel got the king they deserved, because they rejected seeking the face of God in favour of having a charismatic personality. If that doesn’t ring alarm bells in all sorts of ways on today’s church scene, I don’t know what does.

But on the other side was the character of Saul himself. He looked the part, but his fears and insecurities led him into control and manipulation. At the conference where I heard Dupont speak, he talked about the incident where Saul is picked out as king. You may recall how Samuel ‘drills down’ through tribes and families before finally picking him out. Dupont pointed out that it says that Saul was found ‘hiding in the baggage’, and while the ancients didn’t use the notion of ‘baggage’ metaphorically as we do and so this is strictly bad exegesis, we can say from painful experience that it often is people with ‘baggage’ who cause spiritual abuse. As he says in the first chapter of the book,

Most leaders who end up with a harsh and demanding style of leadership are not individuals who would deliberately hurt others. (Page 13, author’s emphasis)

Could it be that Mark Driscoll is a man with unresolved baggage? He has owned up to fair amounts of difficulties in his marriage. Is he a man who wants to see many people come to Christ? Might it therefore be that this is a man with deeply good intentions, but whose emotional pain has led to the founding of a chronically misshapen church, leading to the problems described in the testimonies cited at the beginning of this post? On this basis, the accusation of spiritual abuse is possible – religious power misused in a way that consistently harms others, and done so by a wounded person who has been elevated to the level of celebrity, one place where a Christian minister probably never should be.

The most contentious allegation, though, is that of ‘cult’. This is a loaded term for Christians. It is a term often applied to religious movements that are essentially heretical deviations from Christianity, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons or Christian Science. However, these should more properly be regarded as heretical sects, not cults. Or it is applied to heretical groups that engage in spiritual abuse – the Children of God, the Moonies and the like – and perhaps end in extreme dangerous devotion to the leader, such as David Koresh at Waco or Jim Jones at Jonestown.

On the surface, Mars Hill’s devotion to neo-Reformed theology still puts it in the Christian mainstream, which is why I can raise issues about whether the Gospel Coalition is doing anything about one of its Council members. But some cults began with orthodox Christian leaders who then deviated – David Berg of the Children of God could be a case in point here. Mars Hill cannot be regarded as unorthodox, and many of its currently contentious doctrines have been held by large numbers of Christians for a long time. Theologically, it would be wrong for Christians to call it a cult.

However, there are other definitions of ‘cult’ that operate not merely theologically but more sociologically. Is there intense devotion to a particular individual other than Christ? Are there behavioural patterns enforced which lead to, or are based on, a sense of superiority or exclusiveness? Exclusivity can be ruled out, due to associations with other Christian leaders such as John Piper and Terry Virgo (and, presumably, the Gospel Coalition leaders), even if they come from a fairly narrow field.
Even here, then, it is hard to justify using the word ‘cult’ of Mars Hill, but it must be admitted that the warning signs are there in the intimidatory and manipulative tactics to which those who have left testify. Authoritarianism certainly seems to be present, and if you read the ten signs of authoritarianism that Scot McKnight quotes from Wade Burleson, you will see a number of similarities.

But given these warning signs, the only right thing to do is to continue to raise the alarm. Today, much of that is going to mean doing so on the Internet.

I repeat: I do not think Mark Driscoll is evil. I think he has good intentions. He wants many to find Christ. He wants a disciplined church. He wants healthy relationships and for young men to be responsible. He wants to preserve the historic Gospel. All these things are honourable. I disagree with some of his emphases, as I do with some of what the Gospel Coalition stands for. I do not believe that Calvinism is the pure Gospel. Nor do I believe that the arc of Scripture points to a complementarian view of relationships, or to a view of hell as eternal conscious torment. I believe in substitutionary atonement, but I believe other images of the atonement also come into play in the New Testament. I also believe the Gospel Coalition intends well (I should point out that another of their council members is an old friend), although my expression of evangelical Christianity differs from theirs in almost exactly the same ways, and I have severe ideas with a sense that anything other than their exposition of the Christian message is unsound, just as Driscoll tends to label his detractors as automatically ‘liberal’.

Yet … for all the sincere intentions with which I believe Driscoll and Mars Hill started out, the combination of what looks like a possibly wounded (or maybe ‘undiscipled‘, using Bill Kinnon’s word) leader and a church celebrity culture makes for an explosive mixture. And when it does explode – quite regularly, it seems, because it is also volatile – great damage is caused. And for that reason, those of us who are concerned must keep raising our voices.

Mark Driscoll: The Christianity Magazine Interview Is Published

I received my subscription copy of Christianity magazine yesterday, complete with the now infamous interview with Mark Driscoll, about which I wrote on Friday. In addition to the well-publicised insults to British Christian ministers, a couple more things took my breath away.

Justin Brierley pushes Driscoll about some of his more controversial statements, including the one where he said he couldn’t worship a Jesus he could beat up. Brierley points out that Jesus was beaten up – namely his suffering and death on the Cross. But that’s actually OK and manly for Driscoll, because that was like the valour of a soldier. (He forgets that a soldier would have been trying to dish out pain and suffering on his enemies, which I guess he might like, but there’s not exactly any evidence for Jesus doing that.)

But more, he then goes on to the Second Coming and says that the purpose of Jesus coming again is precisely so that he can ‘give a beating’. Well – yes, Jesus will judge and condemn sin, there will be eternal punishment for the unrepentant (although I disagree with him that it is an eternal, conscious torment – that doesn’t take apocalyptic language seriously). But to frame it in terms of Jesus coming to give people a beating is not going to put the right kind of fear of God into people, is it?

The second observation I had is where Driscoll refers to those who do not believe in penal substitution. Now let me make it clear that I believe in substitutionary atonement, but I am aware of the dangers in how it is framed and explained. I want nothing to do with those in the ‘Young, Restless and Reformed’ camp who explicitly talk of the Cross as a place where God killed Jesus. That says it all about the worst of this teaching.

However, what made my jaw head for the Southern Hemisphere was Driscoll’s supposed reason for why people reject penal substitution. Is it about concepts of justice or love? No! People reject it because – wait for it – it’s too … masculine.

So now you know.

Unbelievable.

Mark Driscoll And Jeremy Clarkson: A Blog From The Brits



Mark Driscoll
. Jeremy Clarkson. Separated at birth? By the evidence of Driscoll’s latest rant, maybe. If they ever make an American religious version of Top Gear, he’s your man. And I mean ‘man’.

His response to the furore is fascinating. You can’t comment on the blog post. What’s the matter, Mark? Are you afraid those cowardly Brits will beat you up online?

He didn’t like the aggressive line of questioning from the journalist. Can I just say the words ‘pot, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’, Mr Driscoll? I thought you liked men to be aggressive.

And he accuses the journalist of being liberal, because – amongst other things – he doesn’t believe in hell as a place of conscious, eternal torment. So, would you have been man enough to call John Stott a liberal to his face in his lifetime for his annihilationist views, pal?

As for bemoaning the lack of famous young British Bible teachers, please don’t get sucked into celebrity culture: a preacher can choose in ambition between making Jesus famous and making themselves famous. You can’t go for both. If God raises you up to prominence, fine. But that’s God’s business, not yours or mine.

Some wonder whether we should take Mark Driscoll seriously. Part of me would like to think of him as Christian comedy, the same way I laugh at Jeremy Clarkson, but not with him. However, ask in any school playground whether you should take bullies seriously. Because this kind of accusation amounts to bullying.

Most of all, what sticks in my throat is the way I see the word ‘Pastor’ in front of his name all the time. It’s Pastor Mark this, it’s pastormark.tv, and so on. What exactly is pastoral about this behaviour? We all slip. I do. But Driscoll has been called out as a bully before, and his elders have taken him to task. I think it’s time for a repeat. And a look at why this kind of behaviour keeps recurring.

Masculinity, The Church And Christian Faith

Oh, good grief:

And worse?

(HT: Matthew Paul Turner)
Has Mark Driscoll been out-Driscolled by Pastor Ed Young? Maybe Harry Hill should get Young and Driscoll together. Because, in the words of his catchphrase, there’s only one way to settle this – fight!

Only a couple of days ago, The Guardian reported on ‘muscular Christianity’, complete with art of a tattooed, muscle-rippling Jesus, who sadly doesn’t look remotely Semitic. (And conveniently overlooking, as one commenter noted, the Jewish prohibition on tattoos.)
That article is at least slightly serious but sadly a little short. It ends by quoting Eric Delve, the vicar of St Luke’s, Maidstone, saying,

Men are looking for action figures. That’s why they follow footballers.

This is a theme Eric has had for many years.  In the midst of how easy it is to laugh or to throw up our hands in horror at the Young/Driscoll approach (how dangerous is it when combined with hard-line complementarianism?), it’s also important to remember that while this is a deeply defective and distorted image of Christ and faith, these guys are knowingly tapping into a well-known perception by men of Christianity. Faith is a lifeboat affair: women and children first.

An acquaintance at college did some research into the different ways in which women and men came to faith. While all this must be seen on a spectrum rather than expecting everyone of a particular sex to behave in the same way, he noted that women responded more to a message of forgiveness and men more when the message was couched in terms of giving a purpose for life. This would make some sense of Delve’s quotation, although it still leaves no room for the Young video that sees nothing wrong with people punching the lights out of each other. It’s an irony, perhaps, that the forgiveness message is usually preached by … men.

So however crude and ugly some of the he-man Christianity is, there is still a fair point. We’ve known for a while that church is thought to portray a wishy-washy image of Jesus. But the he-man approach gets the notion of strength all wrong. It isn’t strength to inflict pain on someone: the strength of Jesus is in the courage to suffer.

Meanwhile, some of us feel we don’t fit into either the wishy-washy camp or the muscular lot. Me, I like sport but I wasn’t born with the build to get into all the heavy physical stuff. I was born with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, so I’m probably disqualified from Young or Driscoll’s churches like some defective animal that wouldn’t be sacrificed in the Old Testament.

What, then, is a healthy attitude to maleness and Christian faith? Thoughts?