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Assessing a weird career

Mark Driscoll as a barometer of evangelical cynicism

Pastor Mark Driscoll preaches at Mars Hill Church in Seattle on Feb. 11, 2007. Associated Press/Photo by Scott Cohen

Assessing a weird career
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Me: “Do you want me to write about this Driscoll thing?”

My Editor: “Sure, but I’m not sure I really understand it.”

Me: “Me neither, but that’s part of the appeal, I think.”

Here’s the “thing” as I understand it: Mark Driscoll (more later), 53, was invited to speak at a conference. Now, the conference struck me as unspeakably stupid to begin with, inasmuch as it included fire, cage fighting, monster trucks, and some Christian stuff … all under the banner of “manliness” or “manhood” or whatever. When people make fun of Christians and the Church, this is often the kind of stuff they’re making fun of (and they should). Anyway, this conference included a guy “sword swallowing” (much like it sounds, I guess?) which swallowing also included gyrating around shirtless, in a suggestive way, around a pole.

Anyway, Driscoll decried the scene as obscene and overtly-sexual (he was right) and “of the spirit of Jezebel,” while also actively promoting a new book about the spirit of Jezebel. The Charismatic-Megachurch-Pastor/Event-Promoter took offense, then they had a contrived “reconciliation” thing onstage, then they continued beefing online because that is what people do. The whole thing felt very “made for social media” and, (no disrespect to professional wrestling), WWE-ish.

And that’s where we are now.

This has, as you can imagine, reopened a lot of Driscoll-related dialogues. Being that we’re roughly the same age (he’s a little older), he and I were “around” at the same time as young Christian authors and we (at the time) shared the same theological persuasion. From a distance, I wished him well and liked him. Here’s a quick history of Driscoll:

  • Early-2000s: Driscoll is a young, feisty, charismatic (not the theological way, the other way), guy who probably got to both pastor a church and become a popular author, way too early. He became famous for his directness, calling men to be men (back when you could do that), and writing books that were pretty interesting because they were neither shallow devotional pap nor hard theology. They seemed to celebrate the Bible and Christ and repentance and all the things we would affirm. People basically liked this Driscoll and thought he was cool because he wasn’t a wimp and wasn’t boring and wasn’t old.
  • 2010s (or so): Driscoll is at the center of a bunch of controversies, including one on plagiarism, one on “sexual talk,” and a big one that involved him getting removed from his church, The Gospel Coalition, Acts 29, etc. People disliked this version of Driscoll because it looked like he turned out to be kind of a domineering jerk and maybe we were all wrong about him in the early 2000s.
Driscoll and I need Jesus. Our industries—publishing and conferences—need Jesus, even though there’s absolutely nothing sacred about publishing and conferences.
  • 2015s (or so): Driscoll kinda disappears and goes quiet for a couple of years. Incidentally, I always root for public figures disappearing and going quiet because it strikes me as peak “self-respect” and I’m very drawn to it. This almost never actually happens because as it turns out, people who taste a little bit of fame/money usually end up being unable to live without it.
  • The “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast series: This is a sort of ambulance-chasey, lurid, narrative account of the dissolution of Driscoll which turned out to be wildly popular, and which I didn’t listen to, due to it not being about football or boxing. People seemed to love dancing all over Driscoll’s professional grave, via this podcast, which struck me as semi-gross, regardless of how you feel about Driscoll. All in all, it was a bad look for us (evangelicals).
  • Last few years: Driscoll reemerges as a tanned, affluent, middle-aged Scottsdale Guy (vests, expensive boots), who is pastoring a church again, is kind of charismatic (the theological kind this time), and is still really good at marketing his stuff and making money (which he was always good at). He seems to have found a church tradition that is completely at ease with both unabashedly making money, and overlooking his shortcomings. People still dislike this version of Driscoll, but nobody is really taking him seriously anymore as a real Christian writer, because of all the above stuff. We sort of regard him the way we regard Vince McMahon from the WWE. Like, he’s a really good promoter, and is capable of being entertaining, but he’s not the guy you want running your church.

What a weird career.

The nice thing about living a relatively quiet life, in a place nobody cares about, and worshipping at a church with nobody famous in it, is that it’s not required of me to have a perspective about Driscoll or this latest incident. It just doesn’t matter to anybody who matters to me. I like this. And yet, it time-capsules as an interesting cultural cynicism check-in. I mean, if Driscoll was just a shock-radio host (actually a decent outcome for him), none of this would matter or move the needle. What matters is that it has always involved the Church. The bride of Christ. This is the part that makes it hard to just laugh it (or him), away.

I wish for him what I wish for anybody I know who knows Christ: real repentance, real enjoyment of God’s grace, real heart change and growth. I also know that I am utterly unqualified to judge this in Driscoll, as I am not God, and as I also often struggle with the same things—a preoccupation with fame, obsession with money, overweening pride, etc.

Driscoll and I need Jesus. Our industries—publishing and conferences—need Jesus, even though there’s absolutely nothing sacred about publishing and conferences. We need real humility. Not just the kind that knows what to say and how to say it.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the award-winning internationally published author of 30 books, and his journalism has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, and many other outlets. He is screenwriter and co-producer on the upcoming feature film Silverdome and co-hosts The Happy Rant Podcast and The Kluck Podcast.  Ted won back-to-back Christianity Today Book of the Year Awards in 2007 and 2008 and was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Award winner for his football memoir, Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football.  He currently serves as an associate professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and coaches long snappers at Lane College. He and his wife Kristin have two children.

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