Jan 13, 2012

Why I’m still listening to Mark Driscoll even if other British Evangelicals are not

What would you like to ask the man whos church baptised 1392 people in 2011 in one of the most secular, least churched, cities of the United States of America?

I had the privilege of gathering a small number of people, including a Bishop, to have dinner with Pastor Mark in Birmingham last May. He gave us two hours of his time to listen to the challenges that face our city in how we get the gospel out to a lost generation. Not one of us had any connect with Acts29. He neither asked for, nor took, any of our money. We did a lot of listening and learning.

A number of people including some good friends of mine argue Driscoll goes too far. I don’t doubt it for a moment but he’s right to say that he does it in a church culture where hardly anybody goes far enough.

I live on a council estate in Birmingham and the one thing I know for sure is that men where I live are not going to church and there is no church I could think of many of them would want to go to including my own. Millions of people are going to hell and the church is not ready or able to do something. I’ll take all the help I can get from a guy who is helping me see how to get working class, blue-collar workers to hear about Jesus. Driscoll preaches expository sermons, over an hour in length, promises no-one wealth or health, talks honestly and openly about the reality of heaven and hell, calls upon people to live radically holy, self-denying lives and above all else talks about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus AND people are converted. It’s time to listen.

Whatever we think Driscoll has got wrong it pales into comparison with what he’s got right and for that I praise God. If I had to choose, I would rather he continued to go too far than not far enough provided that his basic conclusions are sound. The trouble for British evangelicalism, as it seems to me, is that we don’t like it.

The decision of Christianity Magazine to pre-lease a web article with highly edited and potentially misleading quotations from a Driscoll interview on his views on the British church can hardly be considered responsible publishing, and Mark Driscoll has  a point when he questions the motives of the magazine in choosing to do so. I for one would not appreciate such a pre-release.

Whatever Mark Driscoll may have got wrong he’s got a whole lot more right. So come on British evangelicals – let’s take the medicine – and learn.

If you want to know Pastor Mark’s views on the British church at greater length in his own words then this might be a place to start A Word for all seasons.



  • Thanks Neil. I totally agree that the Christianity article is a cheap shot at Driscoll and that he is a godly man with a blessed ministry for which we should thank God and from which I personally have learned a lot.

    I think it’s a shame though that Driscoll’s response is of the “sorry you misunderstood me” variety when it was quite clear at the time that a number of people were upset/irritated by what he said.

    On the substantive issue I think Driscoll was completely wrong for a number of reasons which are worth exploring, but I also think we have much bigger fish to fry and shouldn’t get too excited by this small “in-family” squabble.

  • A couple of points. Firstly, many people seem to be getting confused between different magazines here. Christianity Magazine are the ones who had the interview and got Justin Brierley to conduct it for them. He played an excerpt of about 5 minutes on his Unbelievable radio show. The excerpt he played was continuous and while it included the quotes that have set things ablaze, it would be a long bow to draw to say that he chose the most salacious or controversial part or the most detrimental to Mark Driscoll.

    Christian Today magazine have obviously come across this excerpt and written an article about it. It may be innocent but it sure looks like they’re trying to steal some of Christianity Magazine’s thunder, and the headline certainly invites controversy. I think they certainly have a charge of irresponsible journalism to defend. Especially since these comments were played on the radio almost two weeks ago. The stirring of the hornet’s nest is obviously of their doing.

    Christianity Magazine meanwhile are copping flak, from you and from Mark Driscoll, when in fact it seems they are more sinned against than sinner.

    The second point is that the way that Driscoll has treated the interviewer Justin Brierley in his blog post is disgraceful. He appears to have chosen the person least able to defend themselves and conducted a character assassination. It is bullying at its worst and has no place in the church.

    • Thanks, Karl. Did you mean Christian Today, the online Christian news organ, or Christianity Today, the magazine? [Too many similar names!]

    • Karl, thanks for taking the time to make clear a couple of important points particularly the difference between Christianity Magazine and Christian Today. Appreciated. But it would appear from Justin Brierley’s own comments that Christian Today actually got the quotes from Christianity Magazine itself. Brierley writes ‘We released some extracts from the interview ahead of publication in the February issue, which was widely reported online, including Christian Today.’ It seems to me therefore that maybe both magazines face a charge of irresponsible journalism although Christian Today is, as you say, mostly to blame for negative reporting.

      I don’t know if Driscoll’s words are fair or not we’ll soon be able to tell when the audio is released.

  • Thanks for your comments Neil. It’s nice to have a perspective with a clear context rather than a reaction from a handful of quotes. It builds a conversation rather than seeking to have the last word.

  • Thank you for publishing this.

  • Neil, may I be glad you’re listening and learning from him. As a non-pastor, non-American, woman, I don’t find him that helpful, but I’m totally happy that others are benefiting, from whom I can learn more locally!

    On the substance of his points this time, though, I thought Glen Scrivener put his finger perceptively on the matter: “That famous preachers should be biblical is an excellent criticism. That biblical preachers should be famous (or ‘young and famous’) is not.”

    • Thanks for your reply Rosemary. From his session in Birmingham in May I didn’t get the impression that he was obsessed with fame. His point was that unlike earlier generations Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Packer, Stott, etc. there seems to be a lack of men of their calibre in the church today. I’m sure he’s right. There really are no exceptionally gifted pastors & authors with an international reputation. But I’m not sure that the point – although it stands – is the best guide to the strength of the church in the UK which I believe is actually stronger than during the time of Lloyd-Jones & Stott etc. As a test of the health of the UK scene it’s the wrong one to pick and a surprising one too.

  • Ooh, Eddie Arthur of Wycliffe just posted helpful reflections on the cross-cultural communication issue in this discussion, here.

  • I was at the event in May. Some of it was good- some of what he said was disgraceful. Eg “the rainbow is a sign of judgement on perverts” (where perverts=gay people). Regardless of views on homosexuality this is a terrible reading if the passage.
    It was here he first described British Christians as cowards (almost word for word what he said in Justin’s interview). I was shocked- some loved it. It seems Driscoll plays to a crowd- a crowd of bullies? Or at least a crowd who like to be bullied.
    His numbers are impressive, but if he’s discipling people to be the bully that he is he may be doing more damage to the image of the kingdom of heaven than actually bringing it about on earth as it already is in heaven.

  • […] that I trust (no offence to Kandiah), Neil Powell has responded with a more gracious posting here.  At the outset can I hold my hands up to being a supporter of Driscoll and how he has wrestled […]

  • As an American I have to disagree with a point of yours. You said “A number of people including some good friends of mine argue Driscoll goes too far. I don’t doubt it for a moment but he’s right to say that he does it in a church culture where hardly anybody goes far enough.”
    Quite honestly that is not true. There are plenty of people who go just as far but are not inflammatory or famous. He does it in a way that draws attention, but that certainly does not make him the only one. There is an abundance of Christian sex books all going just as far as him.
    My issue with him is that he is speaking some truths in a blunt, aggressive, and unloving way when there is no call for it.

  • Hi Neil,

    I loved your description of where you live as “in a council estate in Birmingham”! I’m sure “Paul would agree with you”!!

    Very much loving the fact that you went to see Mark Driscoll before forming your opinion. Good for you for doing what you’ve always done, and making your mind up for yourself. Did you make it to see Rob B? See now I would describe him as “an exceptionally gifted Pastor and Author, with an international reputation” And as he set up the Church you’re referring to here with Mark D, I’m guessing you’d agree, even if you disagree with some of his theology, like Mark?

  • This is quite a helpful counter-balance to Driscoll, from Don Carson – http://networkedblogs.com/tk9J1

  • I have to say I learn’t more from Justin Brierley’s interview about the modern church in the UK than I have from going to a contemporary evangelical church for years.

    Finally informed Christian honesty!

    Don’t get me wrong Love and unity is important in the church but sometime the church needs a bit of a spring clean.

    Men are and boys are leaving church in the UK at an alarming rate.

    I help run a Sunday school for 5-11 years olds and one of the painful things for me is watching the boys as they get older stopping going to church, of course some stay but I really think the emphasis on relationship is more suited to girls.

    I don’t agree with everything Mark said but I still pray their were more Christian leaders with that kind of boldness in the UK.

  • […] Driscoll who baptized 1392 people in 2011 alone declares that the UK church are “a bunch of cowards,” “guys in dresses, preaching to […]

  • […] Driscoll who baptized 1392 people in 2011 alone declares that the UK church are “a bunch of cowards,” “guys in dresses, preaching to […]

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