Is Christian Maturity a Pipe Dream?


maturity1

*Edit: This post has received a lot of attention, so let me add a disclaimer. If you are a Rachel Held Evans fan, please read the entire article before commenting. You will see that I am not a Driscoll-ite, nor am I attempting to defame RHE (she has written some great stuff). I am bringing up a serious concern over the manner in which Christians debate. This particular scenario just happens to provide an excellent object lesson.*

If you are an evangelical Christian, run in those circles, or know anyone who does, you have probably heard the name Rachel Held Evans spoken at some point. Evans is, by all accounts, a dynamic, intelligent progressive Christian blogger, who has gathered quite the following in the last few years for her over-the-top style and ubiquity in the media.

Evans has had a particular negative interest in Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll for some time now. She takes issue with his anti-feminist teachings, blatant machismo, and authoritarian attitude toward the running of his church families’ lives.

To be sure, his antics, which are often featured in newspaper articles as examples of Christian extremism, are many times detestable to those of us who believe women have an important role to play in the church and world. There have been a number of recent outcries for his silence or discipline from outside Mars Hill Church, and there has even been some dissent from inside his own flock.

But Evans has taken her hatred (and I don’t use that word lightly) of Driscoll to new, and unhealthy, levels. A quick search on her website reveals that she has mentioned Driscoll on her blog at least a staggering 66 times. All of it painting Driscoll in a negative light, and often employing words like bullying and ranting to describe Driscoll’s words.

Recently, Evans posted another article about Driscoll that has been picked up by major news outlets and is spreading like wildfire across the internet. In it, she shares several thousand words scraped together from Mars Hill’s internal message boards by angry former church members, where Mark Driscoll (under the pseudonym William Wallace II) makes some incredibly distasteful comments about both men and women in the church. It is significant to note that these are not recent comments, but ones Driscoll wrote fourteen years ago.

Evans’ gleeful response to this new ammunition in her war against all things Driscoll is, in my opinion, just as distasteful as the comments themselves. As she claims to take her readers “Inside Mark Driscoll’s Disturbed Mind,” her hatred is unrestrained. It puts me in mind of all those nature documentaries I watched as a kid, where predators would single out the wounded prey, separate them from the herd, and then pounce in a bloody flurry of claws and teeth.

It all makes me shudder.

In a day and age not too far removed from now, this sort of vitriolic speech would be called something else entirely – slander – and the one issuing it could be held to account. These days, it seems anything goes, so long as it helps to sell add space or validate personal feelings of mistreatment.

Let me be clear about something. My concern here is not for Mark Driscoll. He has demonstrated an unbiblical approach to masculinity, femininity, and sex and has too often given Christianity a black eye with his mouth and his antics.

I don’t like what he says, and I don’t allow him to speak for me as man or a committed follower of Jesus Christ.

My concern here is not for Rachel Held Evans, either. Her approach to her disagreement with Driscoll is little better than the target of her outrage.

My concern is for the people of Mars Hill Church, many of whom do not understand what all of the humdrum is about, and who will be left leaderless, confused, and possibly jaded if Evans has her way and Driscoll is suddenly forcibly removed from his position as pastor.

And my concern is also for everyone else whose Facebook and Twitter feeds are inundated with flowing hate-speech from two sides of a very public argument, both of which claim to be Christian.

Yes, when Jesus walked the earth he made jabs at self-righteous religious leaders. But his mission was not to start a hate campaign against the Pharisees and Sadducees. He spent the bulk of his time healing the sick, loving the poor, and preaching the good news of his Father’s Kingdom and reconciliation with God through himself.

No one can claim either Evans or Driscoll are walking in Jesus’ footsteps in this. 

Our society has largely lost the ability to discern fact from fiction, truth from hype. If you question whether or not this is so, I offer you the case of the recent internet prank in which a Facebook user posted an old picture from the set of Jurassic Park with director Steven Spielberg sitting in front of an animatronic dinosaur with the caption labeling him as a disgraceful hunter posing next to the Triceratops he slaughtered. The public outrage was swift and real. Really people? You can read about it here and here.

What concerns me most is that this lack of discernment seems to have worked its way into the church as well. I watch with amazement, every time one of these articles is released, as faithful followers of Christ devolve into mobs of internet trolls taking one side or the other, spewing uncontrolled hatred through their keyboards, and making a mockery of the cross through their actions.

We must be more discerning than this.

As those called to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ, we must find a better way – the way of humility and self-sacrifice. We must learn to take in what we read and hear, then filter it through the the message of scripture before reposting it with our self-righteous sound bytes.

Let me be clear: it is not un-Christian to have opinions, or to express them, or to point out folly and false teachings where they exist. These are right and good. But we should do so in a manner that conforms to the message we have received. In other words, we must respond with spiritual maturity.

Hear these words from Paul to the church at Philippi, while he was in prison for preaching the gospel in Rome.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. (Phil 1:27-28a)

Mark Driscoll’s reign will likely come to an end, if he doesn’t change his tune. We should pray for his change of heart before that happens, and for the people under his spiritual care in either case.

In the meantime, I hope we as a church will learn to discern what is the good and proper way to disagree with one another, offering the grace that we first received in the place of hatred and contempt.

Let us be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16), so that, in our disagreements, we do not bring shame upon ourselves and damage our witness to the gospel.

 

image_pdfimage_print

Isaac Hopper

Isaac Hopper (PhD, Manchester) is a United Methodist Pastor serving churches in the Indiana Conference. He writes publicly about Christian discipleship, faith, and living the called life. He also writes academically about Wesleyan theology and practice.

  • Ajay Pollarine

    One of the things that I often think about is the four religious groups of the Messianic period (the period in which Yochanan HaMatbil AKA John the Baptist preached and then Yeshua came).

    We had Pharisees, Saducees, Zealots and Essenes.

    When you start looking at it through that lens you start noticing not much has changed among men.

    Nice post, much love.

    • So true! Thanks for your comments, Ajay!

  • Ben Butler

    Isaac, very much appreciate these thoughts!

    • Thanks, Ben! Good to see you on here.

  • Jenny Bond

    I just have to suggest that perhaps the most mature thing ANY community member can do when faced with an abusive person is name that abuse, refuse to tolerate the behavior, and speak truth to whatever forum is available to them.

    Sure, it’s unpleasant – even uncomfortable – that we must witness this public shaming. I don’t what to know about the horrible things people do. But RHE has no official place to register a complaint, how else can she work to prevent future abuse? I admire anyone willing to name sin when it occurs so as to prevent future harm to vulnerable people.

    • Thanks for your comments, Jenny! I agree with you, as I said in my post. However, I would add this: we must be careful that in naming the sin of others we do not sin ourselves. The manner in which we lodge complaints is important as well. I tell my kids all the time that their anger is not sinful, but the way they respond in their anger might be. We must be cautious in this. And that is doubly true for those who hold the attention of significant audiences.

    • “A complaint” is one thing, but 60 plus complaints becomes trolling at some point.

  • Dean

    Completely disagree, RHE is simply exposing MD for what he has said and done. If MD hadn’t written or said completely ridiculous things, both in the past and in very very recent memory, there would be nothing to write about. Why can’t MD defenders see the logic in that? Not only that, those who bask in the light of social media stardom and reap it’s many rewards should expect scrutiny and criticism for what they say and do, particularly celebrity pastors. This is the life he chose, he can step down at any time if he can’t take it. And yes, there will someone there to replace him as shocking as that may sound. Finally, those who dish criticism shouldn’t be surprised when it comes right back to visit them. If you compare the things that MD says about people who disagree with his particular brand of theology, the things people accuse him of pale in comparison, particularly since 99% of the criticism he receives are people simply calling him out for behaving inappropriately, meaning, there is no excuse for a leader of a mega-church to think he is above the decorum that comes with public discourse, especially, and this should come without saying, in the community of the church. So no, if MD is the manly man he says he is, he doesn’t need anyone, especially random bloggers, to come running to his defense, lest he be decried as becoming “pussified”.

    • Dean, you clearly didn’t read my post thoroughly. I didn’t defend Mark Driscoll. In fact, I specifically said I find his actions and words deplorable.

      I suggest that, in the future, if you want to make a point, you should at least read the article before you do.

      In the meantime, thank you for proving my point about the lack of maturity in Christian disagreements.

      • Dean

        I did read it and you are defending him. I’m not sure we shouldn’t be gleeful that MD’s abuses are being openly revealed and I don’t get why it’s so taboo to criticize Christian leaders using the same passion that Christian leaders criticize those who disagree with them. I’m all for taking the high road, but I’m not going to tell RHE that what she’s doing is wrong simply because MD is the pastor of a megachurch. If you think people like MD are just going to step down one day on their own accord then you really are naive. He’s not. It’s only to happen when people who stand for what Jesus really taught speak the truth. Jesus used much harsher words against the religious leaders of the day than RHE ever has, she should be applauded not chided. The new Calvinists are a brood of vipers, there is no other group of Christians today more fitting for that title. Also, and just for your own information, there is an iron clad defense to an accusation of slander in our legal system, it’s called the truth. You can’t sue someone for slander if what they said was true and there’s a reason for that.

        • I said: “Let me be clear about something. My concern here is not for Mark Driscoll. He has demonstrated an unbiblical approach to masculinity, femininity, and sex and has too often given Christianity a black eye with his mouth and his antics. I don’t like what he says, and I don’t allow him to speak for me as man or a committed follower of Jesus Christ.”

          If that is what you consider a defense, then you and I have completely different ways of understanding the English language.

          Incidentally, I also talked about Jesus rebuking religious leaders. Seriously dude, read the post again.

  • I really like this, Isaac. I am a big believer that if you are taking heat from both sides, you’re probably doing something right. And the rabid fanbase for both of these ecclesial personalities are going to be unhappy with you. Kudos, and thanks.

    • Dean

      Or you could just be refusing to pick a side. I usually do like taking the middle road, I am moderate when it comes to most things, but the list of outrageous things that MD is guilty of has grown so long over so many years that as someone who actually did try to see the good in what he does (I actually attended a service at Mars Hills OC specifically to see him preach in person), at some point it just becomes so clear that he is not fit to be a pastor of a church that you just have join the chorus of people speaking out against what he does. Look, I’m sure he’s not a bad guy, but he is simply not fit for Church leadership, he’s been told this by many people, but because he is addicted to this personality cult, he simply can’t see it for himself and you know, people like RHE and others are simply trying to make him see that! It may sound harsh, but it really is the right thing to do, for MD and for his congregation. Just two very recent examples, he mocked Justin Brierley on the guy’s own radio show for having a wife who is a pastor of a church, then he went on to mock all Christians in the UK. Then he basically punked John MacArthur at the Strange Fire Conference and lied about what actually happened, and JMac is supposedly a guy in his own camp? Who does things like this and gets away with it? The criticism from Evangelicals is muted in my opinion, he has basically been able to act this way with impunity. So I actually think the opposite of what Isaac is calling for to be in order, people need to be even more vocal against MD until it has a real impact on his ministry.

      • But there is a parasitic move on the part of RHE in this. Naming the wrong is one thing, but 60+ posts is obsessive and trolling behavior.

        • Dean

          Well, it may have something to do with that, I certainly know that blogging about MD will typically get your numbers higher (this is the first time I’ve been here after all) and lots of people take advantage of that. But I think it’s the content that we should be assessing and for the most part, I usually agree with what she writes (not always of course, I remember one of her posts about a John Piper tweet that I thought she definitely overreacted to). But you know, as always, we are more forgiving with those we agree than those we disagree and there is certainly an element of that going all around big time.

    • Thanks Drew!

  • James Lambert

    Hi Isaac,

    I think you make a good point overall and your post is particularly strong after you get to “my concern” and describe what the social media universe has become. I also share with you (I believe) a general lack of agreement with the theology of either MD or RHE. However, I think you should consider Dean’s criticism. I don’t think he missed the point of your post, but simply disagrees in a couple areas. I agree with him that: 1) Someone (or many someones) needed to publicly rebuke Driscoll because those close to him aren’t doing anything and 2) Evans behavior/language has not exactly reached the point of *slander*. At least, if it has, the example/explanation you provided did not demonstrate that – she was basically, it seems, bringing deeds of darkness into the light.

    That said, I think you are right that one popular Christian writing 60-some odd blog posts about another popular Christian indicates some kind of unhealthy fixation. I agree – but since you, Drew, and I have all now offered that judgment publicly online, are we then guilty of “slandering” Evans? How do we know she hasn’t been given a special calling to harp on Driscoll? (OK, I know that’s unlikely, but just saying, it’s *possible,* right?) Something to think about.

    Again I do think you bring up a good topic / theme in Christian maturity versus what we constantly see on display in the twittery world we live in.

    • I think I need to add a disclaimer to the top of this post saying that it is not intended as a slam against RHE. I like a lot of her work. In this case, though, both sides of the debate are showing a serious lack of maturity, which is the point of the article.

  • OwenW

    Thank you Isaac for what you said. Without going into a great depth of analysis, I will say that bloggers need to be aware of their actions and not let their fandom get to their heads. Just gauging the pattern, this applies to RHE.

    I used to like RHE in my early seminary days but she has changed. When RHE mentions her past criticism of Driscoll’s bullying and then publicly calls for him to see a counselor and creating an email campaign against Driscoll, the line between justice and bullying has become incredibly blurred. Mass campaigns against other people is a tactic of bullys and also publicly throwing questions onto people’s mental stability is another bullys tactic (to clarify, not everyone who does those things may be acting as a bully, but it definitely has the impact on the target’s life and being that bullying has). While Evans is right in the basic point of her criticisms towards MD, tactics and obsessions such as hers brings her into really murky grounds and she is becoming a bully herself. While intelligent, I have lost all respect for her over the past year and a half.

    • Thanks for your comments Owen. I don’t want to pick on RHE, but this particular instance does provide a great example of what I was getting at. You said “the line between justice and bullying has become incredibly blurred,” and I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head. In seminary, I heard lots of hate-speech disguised as polemic. And now we are beginning to see more of the same online.

      I have a rule of thumb. If I wouldn’t say something to a person’s face, I don’t write it online. And that doesn’t mean I should just become a jerk in real life. It means taking seriously what James says about language and the effects our words have on others.