Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Jesus Smackdown

The New York Times Magazine recently ran an interesting feature on Marc Driscoll, the pastor of a mega-church in Seattle, Mars Hill. I must confess that the first thing that popped into my mind while reading this article was the YouTube "sermon" by Steven L. Anderson entitled "Him That Pisseth Against the Wall." If you never saw it you need to watch it. Religion can be so entertaining.

Driscoll is very entertaining. He "has the coolest style and foulest mouth" of any preacher you have ever seen. He talks frankly about sexual acts. He swears. He is "cool" with tattoos and rock music and latte-drinking and body piercing. He is not "cool" with women in leadership in the church or home, or homosexuality, or the Jesus who looks like "a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ."

About that effeminate Jesus, is there anyone whose Jesus really looks like that? I suppose if your image of Jesus is shaped by "What a Friend we Have in Jesus" and "In the Garden" Jesus might look something like that. But my guess is that the Jesus Seminar-inspired picture of Jesus has an edge that is harder, not to mention truer, than Driscoll's.

Driscoll preaches a form of Calvinism that holds that everything that happens to us is the will of God. Good and evil; Beethoven and cancer. It all comes from God. We ultimately are not in control of anything. We are, however, completely fallen in sin and utterly deserving of eternal damnation. We are all hanging by that proverbial spider's thread over the eternal fire. And for some of us the chord is going to be cut. All for the glory of God. But some have also been elected to go to heaven. But how would one know? Well, the early American Puritans were among those Calvinists who obsessed about this very question. Although they knew they could never be sure - the ways of God being inscrutable - they came to believe that there might be certain signs of God's election made visible by the manner of ones living. You couldn't know for sure, but you could be pretty sure that if those signs were not present you were not among the elect. My guess is they would have held that swearing, body-piercing, and rock music were not among those signs. I have to wonder, really, how much his congregation understands or lives with the paradox and uncertainty of Calvinism. I wonder if Driscoll does himself.

Here is my take on Driscoll's popularity. First, he is edgy. Think Lenny Bruce for Christians. His audience loves the way he pushes the envelope with his language, music, and style. Their parents' Christianity doesn't look anything like this. There is nothing new about this, of course. Bill Hybel's Christianity didn't look anything like that of the previous generation's. It, too, was hip for a while. There is something that comes along like this for every generation.

But there is also a dark side to Driscoll's popularity. If you really want to know what Driscoll is all about you have to take in this paragraph:
Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.
Who is attracted to this kind of leadership? Who thinks that this kind of leadership is healthy? Who wants to be this kind of leader? Driscoll is appealing to an age-old male fantasy that if everything was really right with the world our spouses would have dinner ready when we get home from work and our children would be quiet and obedient and our subordinates would unquestioningly follow our every order. And no-one, ever, would dare question our decisions. To his credit, I guess, physical abuse is not allowed. But systemic abuse is built right into the fabric of church and home life. And it is all according to the will of God.

It is no surprise to me that Driscoll has a following. He's a way-cool dictator.

Update: GetReligion covers the NYTimes story here. In the comments section we get this Driscoll quote about pastors cheating on their wives:
“It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness,” Driscoll wrote. “A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.”
Wrapping a sick male-fantasy world in on old-time religious doctrine.

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