Yesterday was the 2nd Anniversary of the Earthquake in Haiti, it was also the day when Christian Today website published a quotation in which American preacher Mark Driscoll appeared to suggest that British preachers were a “bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth” (source).
Unsurprisingly many people in the UK were furious (eg: Krish Kandiah here ), though Driscoll has form in making outrageous comments. Then as Twitter got excited Driscoll posted a blog seeking to pour water on the fire by providing context. It was, he suggested, the result of ‘disrespectful, adversarial, and subjective’ interviewing (here) and that the best thing is ‘not to waste time blogging, twittering and talking about me”. Fair enough except:
1. The radio version of the interview (listen here from 34 mins in) suggests he is not being taken out of context. Neither is he being sensationalist in a Jeremy Clarkson way for publicity. He really does appear to believe that those who don’t share his interpretation of the faith, his values and preference for loud mouthed populist mega-preachers are wrong.
2. Whilst claiming in the radio interview that he doesn’t believe in a one size fits all and, in his blog, that the important thing is preaching the gospel, he repeatedly asserts that we don’t have any good young preachers.
3. His response to the initial criticism is not to say ‘I was making a point, it was hyperbole but I’m happy to note the good work being done’ but rather to suggest that although he is an expert in communication, well used to reports, he has been made a victim. No doubt at some point there will be a ‘I’m sorry if people were offended by my comments’ apology but the manner of Driscoll’s response could be likened to that of the bully. A bully who claims he was the victim first and who covers his own inadequacies by resorting to psychological violence whilst rationalising it by seeking to present it in a socially acceptable manner.
4. Driscoll is a well known preacher. Large numbers of people listen to what he says. He therefore has a duty to seek to be truthful and to model Christian discipleship. I’m not expecting him to be perfect, we are all growing in faith and being transformed, but a bit of humility would be good. Instead of cultivating an image through the bravado of certitude and self assurance by claiming that anyone who doesn’t agree with his understanding of essential Christian doctrine is a liberal Christian and that he is a better preacher than everyone else (or in his language ‘I may go too far but every other preacher I know doesn’t go far enough’) he should seek to build positive relationships with other Christian leaders.
5. Some of the points Driscoll is addressing, such as the under representation of men, particularly young men, is important. But when the antics of the messenger mean that the preacher becomes the story rather than the message it is an abuse of preaching.
No doubt more details will emerge which may mean that my initial impressions of Driscoll are unfair to him but, in the meantime, are there any lessons to be learnt from all this?
1. Beware of any Christian leader who makes him or herself seem good by doing others down.
2. Beware of any Christian leader who is not willing to engage with people who hold alternative opinions or who have criticisms.
3. Beware of getting dragged into playing the same game, with aggression rather than assertiveness, denial rather than recognising personal inadequacies, blaming others rather than taking responsibility for our words and our actions.
By all means let us preach the faith with vigour, let us champion the cause of Christ, let us take risk for the sake of the kingdom. But let us do so in imitation of Christ, the one who came full of grace and truth, the one who gives peace and encourages love for others. Let us be bold preachers but not empire builders, confident communicators but not attention seekers and faithful followers of the one who came to bring life.
Update 17 Jan: the full recording is available here. The 'cowards' bit is about 28 mins, the 'women' bit is from 50 mins.
Wholeheartedly agree with your final points on Christian leaders Neil (can’t enter the debate on Driscoll as I have neither the time or inclination to listen to what he has to say). One observation – it struck me on reading your final points that these are criticisms that can be levelled at many of the recent vocal atheists (Dawkins and Pullman being most obvious), most notably the belittling of anyone with a different viewpoint and the refusal to enter into reasonable and mutually respectful debate. Sounds from your analysis that Driscoll’s behaviour is completely incongruent with the message he thinks he is preaching!