Some of you may have seen this post by Phil Johnson from the TeamPyro blog on Mark Driscoll. Johnson claims that Driscoll’s position on what he calls the “gift of discernment” is actually some kind of “pornographic divination” and that Driscoll is really more part of the charismatic movement’s “lunatic fringe” than really Reformed.
As it turns out, Driscoll has been invited to Moscow by our sister congregation, Christ Church, for their upcoming Grace Agenda Conference, so there might be a few questions out there about what this is all about.
Here are a few, brief thoughts on the TeamPyro post and our connection to Driscoll.
First, I read Driscoll’s Confessions of a Reformission Rev last year and found it overwhelmingly helpful and encouraging. With a few qualms, I would heartily recommend it, especially to pastors. In Confessions he refers to some of the sorts of things that Phil Johnson points out, but my takeaway from Driscoll’s accounts was quite a bit different from Johnson’s post.
I really appreciated Driscoll’s take on spiritual gifts, particularly those that seem a bit more unusual or more miraculous than others. Driscoll notes that in the early days of the church, there were at least a few occasions where he believes demons were attacking the church plant. He recounts a few close calls in church where he had to do some fast thinking and preaching on his feet to deal with people apparently sent from the enemy or possessed by one of his spirits. Likewise, Driscoll talks about a number of strangely vivid dreams that were apparently prophetic in nature, and on at least one occasion the Spirit leading him to a woman whom he had never met before who was being abused by her boyfriend.
There were several things impressive and refreshing about Driscoll’s take on this stuff. First, he isn’t sensational at all. He comes off as the first skeptic, and because he’s skeptical of his own take on this kind of stuff, he readily gets advice, feedback and accountability from his fellow elders, pastors, and wife. Secondly, he says he grew up in the Roman Catholic church and was converted in college, and has never really been a “pentecostal” sort. He wasn’t out looking for something weird or supernatural, but in the last analysis concludes that these gifts are given by God to various people at various times in His Church and they should be received and used. So obviously, as he notes, he isn’t a “cessationist” although he is clear that he believes that the Bible is the final authority on everything, the canon is closed, and that these gifts should be exercised within and under the accountability of godly elders and friends.
When I was ordained and when I was interviewed for pastoral ministry at Trinity, I registered my stance on “cessationism” as strongly qualified. While I recognized that certain manifestations of miraculous gifts were unique to the first generation of apostles (writing the New Testament, for example, and perhaps some of the healing and prophetic gifts to confirm their authority to do so), I nevertheless was and continue to be uncomfortable insisting that all miraculous gifts have ceased from the Church. Church history is just too plum full of odd stories and miraculous interventions. Just read a missionary biography for instance. Lastly, this isn’t a central theme of the book by any stretch, but just as it assumes a subtle but authentic role in Driscoll’s story, it apparently remains a subtle but significant part of life at Mars Hill. And there’s something about that subtlety that seems, again, refreshing and biblical. The error of the “pentecostals” is to make these sign gifts the center of Christian life and experience, but the error of cessationists is to reject them entirely and pretend they don’t exist. We need a biblical balance between these two extremes.
People have and do abuse and misuse the gifts of the Spirit, and others lie and oppress and divide the body through gimmicks and shows. But this doesn’t mean that God isn’t free to do what He wants. He isn’t bound by our tidy little theological boxes. But the standard is always love, and this means that love sees the dangers and potential challenges of strange and miraculous interventions and love sees how and when to receive the gifts of God for the blessing of His Church. And because the love of Christ is always manifested in love for His Bride, authentic spiritual gifts will always delight in real accountability and submission to pastors and elders and the communion of the saints. People who view miraculous gifts as a license to disregard godly elders have already proven their gifts to be a sham.
And I would just add two additional comments more specific to Johnson’s claims that what Driscoll is doing is “pornographic divination.” First, I agree that some of the stuff that Driscoll mentions is strange, weird, abnormal, and as my friend Doug Wilson would say the French say, le goofy. But that’s not the same thing as immoral, sinful, heretical, or evil. And honestly, I get the impression that Driscoll would probably agree that some of the things he’s seen do sound weird and goofy. I listened to a chunk of the lecture that Johnson’s clip came from here -which by the way, was directed to other pastors and counselors, and I’ll admit that Driscoll’s description of demons and how to deal with someone possessed or influenced by demons sounds very strange to me. I’m a Presbyterian, and I grew up Presbyterian (my only experience with Charismatics was my short spell in an Assemblies of God middle school), and for a number of his claims, I want to ask, “How do you know that?” “Really?!” But at the same time, the thing that is striking is how orderly and thoughtful his approach is. It is not sensational. It is not ecstatic. And he returns again and again to Scripture, to the fruits of the Spirit – particularly self-control, and he underlines the need for accountability again and again. So do I think Johnson has a point when he’s concerned about what people might do with what Driscoll says? Yes, but I don’t believe they rise nearly to the level of sin or scandal that Johnson suggests.
Second and last, the point of having a Christian conference is not to get everyone hooked up to the same theological motherboard and download the same data to our mental hard drives so that everyone goes around with that hazy-eyed, slack-jaw look that people always have in really old black and white pictures. The point of having a conference is to have a conversation. The point is for teachers to teach and for attenders to attend. But everyone involved is wholly committed to the final authority of Scripture, and so everyone has the duty to search the Scriptures, just like the Bereans did with Paul. And hopefully through this conference in particular a few bridges can be built between Seattle and Moscow, between Driscoll and Wilson, between us Presbyterians and the more groovy parts of the body of Christ. Hopefully we can learn from Driscoll, and hopefully, like good friends, we might have something to offer him.