Concluding Thoughts on REAL MARRIAGE

I have been remiss in my task of reviewing Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book Real Marriage. I apologize for not getting the sections of the review out, but I have had a lot going on lately.

Last night, I finished up reading the book and I think I am missing something. Everyone was talking about how controversial the chapter “Can We ______?” was because it addressed sexual matters openly.

Maybe I am just hardened from my years of ministry, but I did not find the content of that chapter all that controversial. The Driscolls discuss some sexual behaviors and whether couples are free to indulge in them. For the most part, they drew what I consider a normal line. They wrote things I have thought were common sense.

Now, I am aware that there are a lot of camps in Christianity that behave as if sex is an awful thing you should be embarrassed about. I guess I am just so distant from those groups that I forget the exist from time to time.

Last week, Mark and Grace appeared on The View – that bastion of wisdom and clear thinking (sarcasm) – and I thought Mark summarized things better in five minutes than he could have in this book. When one of the women on the show asked Mark about a particular sexual practice, he said, “I’m not going to put on a striped shirt and blow a whistle for you in your bedroom. That’s between you and your husband.”

That summarizes my view on sexual practices, I think. I am not ashamed of the fact that the Scriptures teach that sex is reserved for the monogamous, heterosexual relationship we call marriage. In that relationship, do whatever keeps that relationship sexually and spiritually (I think in marriage, they’re the same thing, but I digress) engaged. Don’t draw others into that relationship (even in print or on film), but whatever takes you and your spouse deeper into your physical commitment and fulfillment – embrace it.

If you want more details, well – you’re out of luck.

So, while I agreed with the Driscolls, I did not understand why the book was controversial. Is it a good book? Sure, parts of it are ok. It was badly edited, but the content was mostly good. Is it revolutionary? I don’t think it was. It certainly wasn’t for me. But it might be a good tool for those who are struggling with the questions they address and don’t have the biblical literacy to study the Scriptures themselves without a starting point.

The Church Celebrity

I have previously blogged on the danger of celebrity and the pitfalls that pastors and church leaders may fall into when the Christian media machine gets a hold of you. Lately (I think spurred on by Mark Driscoll’s most recent book and his rockstar persona), there have been a lot of posts about Christian celebrity. The topic seems to be at hand right now. Here are a couple I found worth reading:

Paul Stewart: The Celebrity Pastor

Mike Breen: Obituary for the American Church

To be honest, the American celebrity pastor has been around as long as I can remember. In my childhood, it was John R. Rice and Jack Hyles. In college, it was Bill Hybels and Rick Warren. Now it’s Mark Driscoll or Andy Stanley or Rob Bell or whoever it is that gets the big publishing contract this year.

Let me tell you who should be our celebrities. Men like my dad who has spent 35 years of his life in ministry – sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing but always committed to teaching the Scriptures. Men who devote their lives to the Scriptures and shepherding God’s flock, knowing it will never make them famous or popular. Most of all, men who refuse to compromise the Scriptures and their beliefs to court celebrity.

The megachurch movement is a momentary blip in history. Everyone who is obsessed with the idea of “big is better” and rockstar preachers has their priorities twisted. The job of the pastor is to teach the Scriptures, to be the servant of Jesus Christ – not the servant of the media. We are not called to tour the nation and build our own denominations.

Real Marriage: Part 3 – Men and Marriage

You know, for a book on “biblical marriage” there isn’t a lot of Biblical exegesis in here.

The Driscolls do eventually get to the Scriptures when talking about marriage as a covenant instead of as a contract, and I thought that section of this chapter was decent.

Only three chapters in and it is fairly obvious just how inconsistently this book was edited. Some chapters are obviously refined. Others are just plain poorly handled. This chapter sadly falls into the latter category.

It was very uneven, beginning with a strange set of “caricatures” dealing with poor models of manhood. It was more in keeping with something Bill Hybels might have written in the early 80′s than something I would expect from Driscoll in the year 2012. I think it was intended to be humorous.

I felt that the chapter tripped around the edges of being powerful but never got there. While the Driscolls wrote a lot about covenants, they did not really set it in terms of relationship. I would have liked to have seen them draw the parallel of Jesus’ submission to the Father because of their relationship to the submissive relationship of marriage partners.

Thus far, this is the weakest chapter of the book simply because it should have been (and with some editing could have been) so much more than it is. And what is it? It is a weak self help chapter with a little pseudo humor thrown in. That’s my take anyway.

Bloggers and Church Authority

Out of Ur posted an interesting discussion from the Elephant Room that touched on non-pastor bloggers and authority in the church.

In the panel discussing the topic are a couple of my favorite pastors: Matt Chandler and Perry Noble. I have respect for their ministries primarily because they have respect for God’s word. Also present were David Platt and Mark Driscoll, both of whom are also solid (if Driscoll is annoying and rude sometimes, he comes from a long tradition of cranky, rude preachers I have known and even liked).

What intrigues me about this conversation is that several of these guys blog extensively, especially Perry Noble. I felt that the article tried to give the impression that these guys were attacking blogging. I don’t think that was the case. They were, however, expressing concern about bloggers who God has not placed in pastoral ministry who are challenging and attacking those He has.

This is a very real issue. While I have several online friends who are not pastors and blog on Christianity, I do not view them in the same way I do other pastors. Whether people want to accept it or not, the Scriptures are very plain that pastors are uniquely gifted among the church (Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 5). We should never take leadership cues from those God has not chosen, gifted and called.

It is simply too easy to sound authoritative when you have no biblical authority.

That might upset the online Christian community, but it is biblically true.

Real Marriage: Part 1, Chapter 2 – Friends with Benefits

I am on to chapter 2 of Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together. Sorry it took me so long to get the second chapter out, but I have had a few other things going on that have kept me busy.

This second chapter develops the idea of marriage beginning as a friendship. This is an interesting theme that, despite the Driscolls’ insistence that it appeared in none of the books they read on marriage,  I have seen in just about anything I have read on the topic. (No doubt, this is a curious inconsistency which I can only attribute to reading different books on the subject.)

Mark develops the story of Martin Luther and Katherine von Bora’s marriage as a prime example of marriage trumping attraction, and given what I know about Katherine, I would have to say you could not have picked a better illustration. Katherine was, to put it charitably, not a looker.

Katherine von Bora

Over time, Martin and Katherine seem to have developed a bond grounded more in their shared interests and their own peculiarities than on physical attraction. Given that they had six children (two lived to adulthood), one can assume that the couple got past their physical differences and found happiness.

Personally, I feel that Driscoll is right on about the necessity of having friendship with your spouse, and he develops a theme that people forget too easily in this world of easy-out relationships. He writes:

…true friendship involves conflict and hard discussions as God reveals sin and repentance, and reconciliation takes place.

This declaration is beneficial not just in marriage but in all relationships. I have any number of friends who, over the years, have found some kind of small fault or slight on my part and abandoned the relationship. The most recent trend seems to be to declare their intention by “unfriending” me on Facebook. This is rather childish, if you ask me, but it is grounded in a fundamental misunderstanding of friendship.

Driscoll hits the nail on the head. Friendship must involve those hard discussions. My friendship with my wife has had to incorporate some very difficult conversations, about our pasts, our present and our future. At times, we have screamed until we wept; and more times than we care to remember, we have sat across from one another with no words left. Because we bare our souls to one another, our souls are able to entwine more closely. We find the Spirit of God healing the wounds by knitting us together.

You cannot assume you are friends with your spouse. You must take the time necessary to build that friendship, to know when and where certain things are appropriate, to know each other’s boundaries.

Of course, then Driscoll descends to one of my least favorite mnemonic devices, acrostic, to drive home the point. I shall reproduce the acronym without comment because I loathe devices like this like a snail loathes salt and a Yankees fan loathes the Red Sox:

F – Fruitful
R – Reciprocal
I – Intimate
E – Enjoyable
N – Needed
D – Devoted
S – Sanctifying

I have no problem with Driscoll’s point. I just don’t like acronyms and acrostics.

Let’s close with the closing line, written by both Mark and Grace:

also found that by always working on our friendship, the rest of marriage seems to sort itself out in time. So we would commend to you the goal of devoting the rest of your life to being a better friend to your spouse.

(As an aside: I would heartily agree, although I would also recommend that you develop one other, confidential and trusting relationship with a godly friend of your own gender – someone who can encourage you in your relationship to your spouse as well as be an outlet for you. This can be your pastor, a friend, a mentor or a peer. What is important is that they are going to encourage you by letting you vent and then giving godly advice that will strengthen your friendship with your wife.)

Real Marriage: Part 1, Chapter 1 – New Marriage, Same Spouse

Mark Driscoll can be an arrogant chauvinist. He has admitted that freely, so I don’t think I am revealing anything he has not addressed himself.

When I finally went ahead and downloaded the controversial book Real Marriage, which he wrote with his wife Grace, it was not with the best of intentions. In fact, it was because he had given an interview with Justin Brierley in which Driscoll behaved himself like the animal Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

It takes a lot for me to pick up a book by Driscoll these days. I would like to say his behavior in the Brierley interview was unusual, but it isn’t. He can be a real jerk sometimes, and I was afraid that this book on marriage would be more of the same.

That being said, the book is #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, and everyone in the blogosphere is buzzing about it – both good and bad. So, I laid down my $8 and bought the Kindle version of the book. (Bless you, Amazon, for saving me $14!)

Reading the first chapter, I encountered something I did not expect. First of all, Driscoll openly confesses to his chauvinism and anger issues. He calls his behavior sin, which further surprised me since in other books I have read from him, he justified his behavior.

What really caught me was that he was treading over years he covered in Confessions of a Reformissional Rev and exposing the pain that was going on in his heart during those years. A lot of his bombast and arrogance was tied to a deep, secret problem in his relationship with his wife Grace.

It is never easy to be in the public eye and have deep, emotional, sexual sin causing your spirit to twitch. Driscoll was very much in the public eye – by choice – while his private world was a disaster, despite appearances. And even his explanations that he provided in Confessions were false because he was hiding the real problems – perhaps even from himself.

I expected bombast and arrogance. What I encountered was the honest dialogue from Mark and Grace about their failings and sexual frustrations. It surprised me. It caught me off guard, and I had to put down a lot of the preconceived fears I had about the book.

I’ll let you know tomorrow if I feel the same way after reading chapter 2.

The Danger of Christian Celebrity

One of the most important reads of my ministry life was Confessions of a Reformissional Rev by Mark Driscoll. In a time when I really needed a good old fashion kick in the can, this book was just that.

Of course, when Driscoll wrote the book in 2006, Mars Hill Church was a very different thing than it is now. Driscoll was virtually unknown outside of the Acts 29 network and a few groups that sat on the fringe of Christian conversation. When I read about Driscoll in Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz (which I’ll mention again in a moment), he was the “cussing pastor”.

Today, Mark Driscoll has become the almost de facto face for super hip congregations across the country. With his smirking face, his outspoken ways and his super trendy metrosexual look, Driscoll is seemingly everywhere. He speaks at conferences all around the world, and he writes numerous books every year. It is a wonder that he has time to teach at the growing multi-site congregation that was the basis of Confessions of a Reformissional Rev.

(It takes a lot of guts to dress like this in public – or just an overwhelming desire to look ‘cool’.)

I have become disillusioned with Mark Driscoll over the years. He has become increasingly caustic and mainstream as Mars Hill has blossomed. In some ways, he has become a caricature of the man who wrote Confessions and I cannot help but feel grieved about that.

The same could be said for Donald Miller. His book Blue Like Jazz was one of the best Christian books I’d ever read. It really changed my mind about a lot of things – not the least of which was God’s attitude toward ‘liberals’ – Christian or otherwise. When he wrote the book, Miller was an out of shape, neo-hippy writer who lived in a house with four other guys and attended a secular college. Today, he is a fit, well-off Christian writer who lives in his own place and has given up much of the trappings that made Blue Like Jazz so great.

Donald Miller was once awkward and uncomfortable with his celebrity. He didn’t know how to speak to large groups. He was just a good guy whom Jesus loved. But today, he is like my generation’s Max Lucado. There’s just something formulaic about what he does. There’s no burning passion in his stuff.

All of this leads me to Rocky III – because all roads lead to Rocky movies. In Rocky III, we find that Rocky has lost his confidence and has become a paper champion. He has lost “The Eye of the Tiger” (which thankfully, the band Survivor found for him and put to music).

Something happens to people when they become celebrities – even if it is a tiny niche like the evangelical Christian niches of Driscoll and Miller. People who were once hungry enough to be consumed by their passion are filled, and the hunger fades. They continue to operate, believing they are hungry and passionate, but really they are contented and the edge is lost. They lose their way, and they lose what made them worth listening to in the first place. (Sort of like what happened to bands like The Clash when they hit it big.)

We should pray to God that he save us from our own celebrity. If there are two sins that Christian leaders and writers are susceptible to, they are envy and pride.

We envy the influence and popularity that our celebrities have, and we become consumed with pride when we achieve a bit of the same influence and popularity.

We get comfortable with the acclaim of our peers and the accumulation of followers.

We lose the fire we have when we are barely hanging on, just trying to keep up with the Holy Spirit.

This is not a critique or accusation toward Mark Driscoll or Donald Miller or any other Christian leader/writer. It is more a warning for myself because I do aspire to help others see the glory of Christ’s Church and to use the written word to encourage people in the unorthodox ways God can work.

Radical Reformission – Chapter 2

Launching into tonight’s review of Radical Reformission, I’ve got some classic U2 in the background with The Joshua Tree and October. I apologize for the delay on getting chapter 2 out, but I took a part-time job at Fidelity Investments and it is taking up my normal blogging time. I’m not going to complain because it will help me pay some bills and thus far I have made absolutely no money blogging.

So, let’s start with a quote from Mark Driscoll:

Reformission is about the old gospel answering without blushing the new questions that emerge from new cultures…Every age is filled with sin, sinners, God’s love and work to be done. Each generation has its resistance to the gospel, and each culture is equally far from God because of sin and equally close to God because of his love.

One of the things I really enjoy about Driscoll and Mars Hill Church is their understanding of a sovereign God. They are not foolishness enough to think of God as some distant, spiritual being nor are they so academic as to think of his sovereignty as a reason to never work at ministry. Instead, they find a healthy (and Biblical) balance, understanding God is at work and that we have been invited to be a part of what he is doing.

In concert with a proper understanding of God, we have to have a proper understanding of culture. Although I had not read this book before, I believe something similar. I call it relational matrices, and it is the idea that the Bible occurred in certain matrices of culture, language, environment and personality and that we live in certain matrices composed of the same. In order to understand the original intent of the Scriptures (interpretation), we must know the original matrices. In order to relate it effectively to people in our culture and era (relevance), we must understand our own matrices. Additionally, we must understand that often the Church’s matrix is somewhat different but related to the world’s matrix.

One of the primary components of our matrices is the past. This can be a good thing when the past motivates us to strive for the future, but it WILL set the stage for everything we do or don’t do. As Driscoll points out:

Arguable, most Christians and churches prefer the past to the present of the future, because the past is over, while the present and the future still require a lot of work.

Much of the Christian world seeks out the past rather than explore the potential of the future. We dwell in our cultural matrix, unwilling to alter it for fear of failure.

Livingstone once wrote: “I want men who will come [to Africa] if there is no road at all.” He summarized the nature of true Christian labor, which is pioneering into cultures and become relevant. We must discover the resistances to sin and the doors of opportunity for the gospel. We must speak boldly into these things, tearing down resistances and opening doors. The future requires that we go where there are no roads and make them. And we must continue to go because roads never last without maintenance. Reformission is about continually clearing roads.

Of course, some members of this emerging church, which is literally being born out of the existing church, worship innovation and the future rather than staying close to Christ. This is the ultimate in irrelevance because it compromises the truth we are attempting to communicate in favor of the communication itself.

[These churches] are unable to call lost people from or to anything because they have lost the distinctive and countercultural nature of the gospel.

We must ultimately walk the balance between the matrices of past and our future. We must be biblical but relevant, truthful but clear and committed to the communication process.

To that end, we must pursue language that speaks to people. Every culture has its language and postmodern culture in America is no different. In fact, it has a plethora of dialects to which we must speak. We must humbly and continually ask ourselves whether we are offering the gospel in a form which is most effective to the cultures we are trying to reach.

Ultimately, ministry is not about traditions or procedures but about Jesus. Rich Mullins once said something along the lines of “Christianity is not about creeds and beliefs but about one idea, and that idea is a person.” This Christian thing is about Jesus – pure and simple. Jesus walks among the world in the form of his followers, and he wants to speak to people through us. This charge is something so important that we have to take the risk and do the difficult work of making roads.

That’s what I took away from this chapter anyway. Bono and the boys are not singing anymore, and I should be sleeping because I’ve got another full day tomorrow.

Radical Reformission – Chapter 1

As Driscoll pointed out in the introduction, reformission is about presenting the message of Jesus Christ in a culture. It is not enough for churches to focus on loving God and loving each other. We must love the people we reach so much that we are willing to consider the differences between our “church culture” and the “secular culture” and, if necessary and Biblical, redefine our church culture.

And so, we move forward into chapter 1. As the Fab Four sing “Nowhere Man” over my stereo, I will attempt to review what Driscoll has to say.

“It is imperative that all Christians continually search the Scriptures in order to see Jesus clearly.”

This is Driscoll’s opening shot, and it is a good one. The gist of the first section of this chapter is that we misunderstand who Jesus is and how he did ministry in his culture. We have divorced a theological Jesus from the practical, real Jesus.

In relating that Jesus was the product of a teenage mother who claimed to be a virgin, his earthly father was considered a few fries short of a happy meal for believing her and his followers were a bunch of country bumpkins, Driscoll opens our eyes to the fact that relevance is not always cool and acceptable. Even Jesus’ first miracle – the conversion of water into wine – is unconventional and yet perfectly positioned in his culture.

But relevance IS speaking truth into the culture, and more importantly, it is overcoming our addiction to the appearances of goodness and morality. He relates a story of visiting a gay cowboy bar with a friend who had recently declared himself to be homosexual. Driscoll – a red-blooded heterosexual – found himself afraid of how Christians would perceive him if they saw him at the gay bar, and even afraid of how the homosexuals would feel if they found out he was, in his words, “a Bible thumper who, deep down, believed they were running headlong to hell in their cowboy boots.”

I will let Mark finish his thought.

That night, I learned that reformission requires that Christians and their churches move forward on their knees, continually confessing their addictions to morality and the appearance of godliness, which does not penetrate the heart and transform lives. In the end, I learned that God’s mission is not to create a team of moral and decent people but rather to create a movement of holy loving missionaries who are comfortable and truthful around lost sinners and who, in this way, look more like Jesus than most of his pastors do.

The tremendous truth of what Driscoll says here will take awhile to sink into our thick skulls. Being comfortable and truthful around people is one of the greatest weaknesses of the church and modern Christianity. Our faith is often something we either wear on our shoulders, daring people to knock it off or something we hide because we are afraid we will offend.

We are often addicted to the appearance of morality and we justify our addiction by quoting verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:22 -

Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Unfortunately, we misread the intentions of the translators because words change meaning. The ESV translates this verse much better:

Abstain from every form of evil.

You see, what the KJV translators meant by appearance was not the idea of looking like you were committing sin, but rather the physical form of evil. They are saying, “Evil takes lots of shapes! Be on the lookout!” We misread this because of generations of holiness preachers who knew less about Greek than they did about Shakespearean English.

(And in case you’re wondering, there is no textual difference in 1 Thessalonians 5:22. The Greek word eidos appears in every known manuscript, and it means “form” or “fashion.” The KJV translation is not an error. In 17th and 18th century English usage, it meant the same thing as the ESV means today.)

“Reformission is ultimately about being like Jesus, through his empowering grace.”

We are not called to become sinners to reach the sinful, but we are called to cross the lines so the sinful can see the power of Jesus and redemption. I think so many Christians and churches live in fear that if you dance too close to sinners, they will infect you. Apparently, they believe that sin is contagious and there is nothing the Holy Spirit can do to immunize you.

Now, before everyone gets mad at Mark and me, neither of us would advocate that a person who struggles with alcohol should commit to spend their lives ministering in bars or that men with a history of sexual sin should set up shop in a strip club. But we are calling for Christians to “be like Jesus, by living freely within the culture as missionaries who are as faithful to the Father and his gospel as Jesus was in his own time and place.”

Again, I will let Mark speak for himself:

Reformission requires that God’s people understand their mission with razor-sharp clarity. The mission is to be close to Jesus. This transforms our hearts to love what he loves, hate what he hates, and to pursue relationships with lost people in hopes of connecting with them and, subsequently, connecting them with him. This actually protects us from sin, because the way to avoid sin is not to avoid sinners but to stick close to Jesus.

I’ve got nothing more to add. The Beatles have a couple more songs to sing before the CD is done, but I have nothing more to write. Looking forward to chapter 2!