Monday, March 3, 2008

In Defense of Irreverence

There is something to be said for irreverence. It is politically incorrect, it cuts through the ether of "sensitivity," and it often results in clarity being brought to an issue. Front and center for this discussion is Mark Driscoll, who is both loved and hated in the Reformed world. There are many for whom his style is simply too crude or crass. Others, such as myself, find his use of language and humor refreshing and culturally engaging.

But the larger issue here is the idea of irreverence in our speech. I am not here, going to defend crudeness, filthy speech, dirty jokes, or coarse profanity. What I am referring to, here, is a way of speech which is humorous but not profane; satirical but not cruel. This is a way of speaking which reflects the culture of the day without compromising one's integrity or the clarity of one's message.

In one of the first speeches I heard Driscoll give, he defended using the culture's language and interests when communicating the Gospel. He offered examples from Scripture (such as having Titus circumcised for the sake of the people he was going to minister to, because they believed circumcision was important) of Christians adapting to the culture. Essentially, what Driscoll did was point out that contextualization is a biblical notion. Now, I would say that the way in which Driscoll speaks (both during his sermons and in his books) is a contemporary example of contextualizing language to fit the culture being reached out to. In Driscoll's case, this is Seattle, WA; a place filled with indie rock, irony, and Starbucks at every turn. He speaks the everyday language of the people who come into his church and read his books. For example, instead of saying that Mary was accused of sexual impropriety, he says that everyone thought she probably was knocking boots in the backseat of a car at prom. This manner of speaking engages the ears of his audience, he engages their sense of humor (which few would deny is important in communication), he communicates in a way which shows that suspicion of lurid sexual behavior between the time of Mary and our time is really not that different, and he speaks in a way which connects with the other six days of the week for his listeners.

Essentially, church people have a way of speaking which makes sense within the confines of Sunday morning or seminary classes, but which doesn't really reflect their way of speaking for the rest of the week, because they are going into a world which does not speak that language. Many communicators have been taught that they should be ultra-conservative, trying not to offend others with their words. Now, this is often true. But if we were so cautious as to never offend anyone, we would often not be able to say anything. And we certainly couldn't say anything true.

Have I been clear enough? As Christians, we should be loving in our words, we should speak in a normal way that our listeners will understand, and we should contextualize to our listeners. If we believe that communicating effectively is important, then I would suggest we do what Driscoll (in this example) has done, and sometimes that involves ruffling the feathers of the more conservative listeners for the sake of effectively reaching those who are not from that same background.

Again, I would say that Driscoll has not crossed any moral lines with what he has said, and any examples should be taken on an individual basis, one at a time. I don't think there are any examples of Driscoll speaking in an unloving or biblically impermissible way.

Excuse me now, folks. Let me make it even plainer. Though Driscoll's way of speaking is very different from the way your average pastor speaks from the pulpit, it is not Biblically forbidden. As such, it is a matter indifferent and a question of Christian liberty. This means that if you don't like the way that he speaks, you should go pick up your collection of Spurgeon or Edwards and stay away from Mars Hill Church; though I actually recommend that you get a sense of humor, instead, and lighten up.


  1. Good job Adam. many of us have been debating this point at
    Driskol and John Piper have come up in the discussion. I do however like your approach. Many people just have different tastes is humor and how it should be used in the pulpit. It's not an easy thing to navigate.

  2. The Irreverence of Mark Driscoll is indefensible.

    I think Mark Driscoll is a disgrace to the high calling of a pastor in the Christian Church and should resign and step down before he causes more people to stumble and fall with his unclean, filthy lips. I am an ex-bike gang member and ex-prison inmate and Mark Driscoll and his cultural contextualizing is no laughing matter to me, he is no godly example for me to want to aspire to. Imo, he makes a mockery of Christianity and most cannot see this fact, let alone him. He should be absolutely ashamed of himself and if he was around when I first became a Christian I would not have wanted a bar of Christianity if he is what it is supposed to be one.

    Quote of the Day

    Does any one of the Driscolletes here think that the constant use by Driscoll of smutty language, scatological speech, graphic sexual descriptions of a woman’s private parts, using Scripture to humorously justify masturbatory acts, using the name of the Lord as a punch line in jokes, twisting Scripture to support degrading stories, and demonstrating little or no reverence of the fear of the Lord in public worship… and all this taking place, mind you, while ‘preaching the Word” from the pulpit, is acceptable pastoral practice and demeanor? (All of this is well documented by Driscoll’s own vodcasts and podcasts and, yes, I have read his two books and virtually listened to everything that he has released on podcast and vodcast the past three years). Aren’t any of you offended by this?

    - Steve Camp, in a comment deleted from Tim Challies’ site for being “sufficiently inflammatory.”

    "Now if only we could get Tim to treat Steve Camp’s biblical challenges with the same even-handedness he uses with foul-mouthed Mark Driscoll! Here is Sexpert Driscoll on YouTube. **Warning** See also Driscoll’s sex conference video here. He’s decided to travel the country on a Song of Solomon tour where he can talk about all things sexual and justify it because, after all, it’s in the Bible. If you haven’t already, see my post on the Moses Code below. While the Christian pastors in the land fixate on sex, the enemy is oh, so busy."


    It is not the first time Mark Driscoll has carried on like this, denigrating the full-orbed holy nature and charater of the LORD Jesus Christ, nor will it be the last the way he is going.

    I have not come across one person, Reformed or Arminian, who hates Mark driscoll so it is a lie you saying that. I for one hate the way Mark Driscoll makes a mockery of and taints with his coarse jesting and so forth something I treasure dearly with my whole being.

    The Bible does speak to this issue of Mark Driscoll's rude, crude and vile, gutter speech, it says: DON'T DO IT!

    Do you tremble at God's word? I do. Do you fear God alone? I do.

    I believe there is a terrible downward slide, a downgrade, in the professing church today and it is like it is spinning out of control. I pray to God that He brings about a deep, abiding sense of repentance for His people.

    I see no fear of God in Mark Driscoll's life that's for sure, it is not obvious to me. I don't bother wasting my time anymore listening to Mr. Driscoll, Seattle can have him.

  3. Well, Douglas, I suppose I'd like to see some individual examples: some quotes, if you will. I think these things should be taken on a case by case basis. I do see that you've pointed out Driscoll's video on Song of Songs, and I would only say that he doesn't say anything in the video that The Bible doesn't say. He is simply repeating things which are right there in your Bible, if you will only open up Song of Songs. This may be too racy for some, but we ought to take that up with God, not with someone who is simply repeating it. Geez, no wonder a literal reading of Song of Songs is so unpopular: you get jumped on for being a disgraceful monster if you don't make a metaphor/analogy out of it in your preaching.

  4. Adam,

    I just watched the Driscoll video in question and there are MANY things that he say that are "irreverent" that are not in the Bible.

    The biggest example of this is at the beginning when he is disagreeing with other methods of interpreting the Song of Songs. He says that is the Song of Songs is about the Church and Jesus then that is weird because he would be gay and making out with Jesus.

    I am not sure where the line is between reverent and irreverent, but that comment is over the line. We ALL have to agree on that.

    Also, as a side, that method of interpretation is well attested in church history and should not be dismissed so quickly. In addition, Mark misses the point of this method because it is not about individual believers and Jesus but the Church and Jesus.

    Hope this adds to the discussion.

  5. Well, it is true that he appears to dismiss the allegorical method far too quickly out of hand, but the video is just an introduction to his series, so I could only hope that he will spend more than a sound bite dealing with his hermeneutic of Song of Songs.

    Myself, I am not sure which position I take. I tend to read the book as a literal love song with real reference to the husband and wife, but it can also be read as allegory.

    "He says that is the Song of Songs is about the Church and Jesus then that is weird because he would be gay and making out with Jesus." You can admit, if this were true, it might give one pause when choosing their hermeneutic with regard to Song of Songs. If he is right, there is nothing wrong with putting it that way (since it would not be true). The same can be said about his comment about Mary you had trouble with. It would be one thing if he said Mary did "knock boots," but the point is that she was accused and found innocent. Same with this example; Song of Songs is not a gay love letter, and that's a good thing.

  6. Adam,

    First, thank you so much for going over these issues. I for one am enjoying our conversation.

    Second, and now to the point, is there not something in you that just screams that it is wrong to speak about the God of the universe as making out with you? Even if this point is made to say that this is not the case. There are many things (very vulgar) that are not the case about Jesus that I would not want to EVER say.

  7. Whatever one thinks about the Westminster Divines and the work of the Assembly (1640's) to create the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, they are helpful in illustratively defining what it means to love the Lord our God by keeping the 10 commandments and by avoiding that which dishonors Him.

    Larger Catechism question 113 asks, "What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?" (For a reminder, God in the third commandments commands us to not take His name in vain.)

    The divines helpfully and clearly and fully answer, "The third commandment forbids: not using God's name as is required; the abuse of it through ignorance, empty or unholy treatment, irreverence, superstition, or any wicked reference to his titles, qualities, regulations, or works; blasphemy; perjury; all sinful cursing, oaths, vows, and casting lots; violating our oaths and vows, if lawful, and keeping them, if aimed at unlawful things; complaining and quarreling about or misapplication of God's decrees and acts of providence as well as unwarranted curiosity about them; misinterpreting or misapplying God's word or perverting all or part of its meaning in any way; blasphemous mockery of his word, pointless arguing, meaningless talk, or supporting false doctrines; abusing God's name, his creatures, or anything included under his name in the practice of magic or to promote sinful desires and activities; maligning, scorning, reviling, or opposing in any way God's truth, grace, and actions; pretending to be religious or using religion for evil purposes; being ashamed of God's name or a shame to it by stubbornly refusing to obey him and by living unwisely, unfruitfully, or in such a way as to offend him or backslike away from him."

    Now, that is a full answer way beyond the scope of this discussion; however, there are some applicable points. (For Bible references that support the points of the divines do a web search and get the Standards online.) The Westminster Divines, who we would all agree were spiritually mature brethren, would take issue with Mark Driscoll as breaking the third commandment with his "irreverence", and his "blasphemous mockery of his word".

    Mark, it seems, doesn't subscribe to the Westminster Standards as a pastor; but, he should take a lesson from them and stay as far away from the line as possible.

  8. Josh: I know Driscoll's reference (I assume this is specifically from his Song of Songs video) is troubling, prima facie (remember that memorable phrase?). But I think it is crucial that you see he is, essentially, setting forth a reducio ad absurdum. The "absurdum" is stated in the phrase, "then I would be making out with Jesus, and that's just wierd." He's right. That is just wierd. And blasphemous, which is why I'm glad that is a line of thinking he is rejecting in the course of the talk (let's resist the temptation to actually deal with the literal/allegorical interpretation of Song of Songs, as I'm not equipped for such a discussion; I don't spend much time worrying about Song of Songs.)

    "Is there not something in you that just screams that it is wrong to speak about the God of the universe as making out with you?" I would say this is probably a case of conscience, because I, for example, am not bothered by it because of the context in which it takes place. I admit Driscoll's turn of phrase was an awkward (and I would say, for once unsuccessful) attempt at humor and out of place, but I would not, as some have suggested, remove him from the pulpit or boycott his books over something like this. I am aware that he consistently talks this way, but he is trying to humorously point out what he takes to be absurd viewpoints.

    An already used example: "Jesus was born in a dumpy, rural, hick town, not unlike those today where guys change their own oil, think pro wrestling is real, find women who chew tobacco sexy, and eat a lot of Hot Pockets with their uncle-daddy. Jesus' mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit. Most people thought she conconcted a crazy story to cover the 'fact' she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of a car at prom." (I thought I'd give some context, this time. I really think it's helpful!)

    First of all, the sentence matches the tone of the paragraph, which was intended to demonstrate, with a laidback sense of irony, just how common Jesus background was. He can relate to us and came from what we would consider to be low-class rednecks. This is the context. I think the sentence is perfectly acceptable and doesn't offend my sensibilities in the least bit. Now, I consider myself to be a lot looser in my speech than many, and I make no bones about that. But I do not believe there is anything sinful about this. Again, I believe this to be a matter of liberty.

    Though you pointed out to me over the phone, Josh, that you wouldn't want someone talking about your mother like this, I can honestly say I wouldn't mind. A valid point is being made, and the reader is really getting the point: Jesus came from an unassuming, totally ordinary background (for his day and age).

    I would only say, as a sidenote, that knowing you personally, I couldn't be more surprised that you're up in arms about Driscoll's speech. That's not saying anything detrimental about you, but because you personally exercise freedom in the way you talk, is it not hypocritical to demand a greater level of linguistic control from someone, pastor or not?

    I personally feel that we should not require a pastor to be any more "holy" in the pulpit than we do in day-to-day life. This means being a person who delivers God's Word to his people, but it also means that he delivers it "as himself," that is, not taking on some other persona while he preaches and then being someone else for the other 6.8 days of the week.

    I hope I'm not coming off as combative; I don't think I am, but it's hard to be objective sometimes.

  9. Brad: "Mark, it seems, doesn't subscribe to the Westminster Standards as a pastor; but, he should take a lesson from them and stay as far away from the line as possible."

    I think what you are saying would be valid if he was actually being irreverent towards Jesus, but as I pointed out in my response to Josh (above) this is nor irreverence towards Jesus, but rather, a false view (in Driscoll's mind) of Jesus. I can appreciate your saying he should simply stay away from the line altogether. I often struggle with whether we should be cautious in matters of speech or throw caution to the wind. Honestly, I tend to do more throwing. Maybe this is why I am being so generous with Driscoll. Maybe that is why I tend to like his preaching and writing so much; he talks very much the same way as me.

    I tend to like humor and irony and sarcasm, and I think there are funny things about my own religious convictions which are, from time to time, amusing to point out. I like to think this is part of the reason why people choose to read my blogs; it is a method of speaking which causes one to stand out, and it reflects the writer's own uniqueness. This is also true, I think of Mark Driscoll; it is a part of his own flavor of speaking, and a feature which, because he is theologically sound, I greatly enjoy.

    I exercise my freedom in this way, but always within the bounds of orthodoxy; I do believe Mark Driscoll does this, as I have heard many of his sermons, and I am convinced that he is 100% within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy (even if he doesn't fit so well with Westminster).

    I hope you enjoyed my grey-area answer, Brad. Thanks, again, for reading our blog and posting in such a generous and thoughtful way.

  10. Adam,

    For the record, I think your picture on this blog is funny.

    But I guess that is because I do not put it in the same category as Driscoll.

  11. For the record, I know it's funny. If you like fart jokes, anyway.

  12. "and I am convinced that he is 100% within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy (even if he doesn't fit so well with Westminster)."

    Driscoll denies particular redemption.Where does Amyraldianism fit within Reformed Orthodoxy?


  13. First, Johnny, thanks for joining in. But second of all, I would need to see a citation for that error, because that is not his church's view. For example, on Driscoll's blog The Resurgence, Tom Wells posted an article entitled "For Whom Did Christ Die?" where he not only defends particular redemption, but very ably, at times mocking Arminians. My favorite line from the post:

    "A frequent complaint against Reformed or Calvinistic people goes something like this: "Your view of the Atonement is not the result of Scripture but of logic. In fact, you are rationalists!" Those are harsh words indeed, but necessary, if true. When I hear that I am a rationalist I am reminded of something Carl F. H. Henry said in another connection: 'Let those who want to defend irrationalism do it with whatever weapons they can find!'"

    Because this is in reference to Mark Driscoll specifically, I looked through Vintage Jesus trying to find a statement of particular redemption, but all I could find were statements where he says, "Jesus dies for our sins." All I can say from reading the book is that he does not teach hypothetical universalism, as far as I can tell. I'm not sure where you have gotten your information from.

  14. I just found this on the Mars Hill Website from a sermon entitled Unlimited Limited Atonement:

    "At first glance, Unlimited and Limited Atonement are in opposition. But that dilemma is resolved by noting two things. First, the two categories are not mutually exclusive; since Jesus died for the sins of everyone that means that He also died for the sins of the elect. Second, Jesus’ death for all people does not accomplish the same thing as His death for the elect. This point is complicated, but is in fact taught in Scripture (1 Tim. 4:10; 2 Peter 2:1). Simply, by dying for everyone, Jesus purchased everyone as His possession and He then applies His forgiveness to the elect by grace and applies His wrath to the non-elect. Objectively, Jesus’ death was sufficient to save anyone, and, subjectively, only efficient to save those who repent of their sin and trust in Him. This position is called Unlimited Limited Atonement or Modified Calvinism."

    I think this is a very complicated way of saying, "I'm a Calvinist, but Arminians don't have to be scared of me." I don't think this is any different than the post Josh put up a few days ago (was it Hodge or Berkhof that he quoted?) where he said that there is a sense in which Christ died for all, and there is a sense in which he died only for the elect. Perhaps I do misunderstand Driscoll, and if he is in error on this point, I don't want to get caught up in defending it.

  15. His sermon on unlimited/limited atonement was brutal towards Calvinists. The view that he is putting forward does not deal with the concept of atonement in any traditional sense. Christ didn't have to die in order to own everyone and everything. He's God and it's already His. Atonement deals specifically with Christ's work on the cross in order to win salvation. Christ did not make propitiation and expiation therefore giving redemption to any other than the elect. This is the consistent Reformed understanding of the doctrine of the atonement. If there is no forgiveness of sins there is no atonement. To talk about Jesus in some sense dying for all introduces senses that are not implied in the concept of atonement. Common grace goes out to the world through the Church as a result of Christ's redemption...but again...only salvific grace in in view with particular redemption.

  16. My favorite part of that sermon is his illustration of his concept with the Day of Atonement. Driscoll says that it proves his universal/limited atonement because it covers all of Israel in that one sacrifice. The irony is that he fails to see that it covers all those in the COVENANT!!! The schmoe down the road in Damascus didn't have his sins expiated. Neither did the guy in Macedonia or Rome.


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