Monday, July 10, 2006


last friday CT’s main page featured an interview with mark driscoll. when asked to differentiate between reformed and emergent theology, driscoll responded thus:

“The two hot theologies today are Reformed and emerging. Reformed theology offers certainty, with a masculine God who names our sin, crushes Jesus on the Cross for it, and sends us to hell if we fail to repent. Emerging theology offers obscurity, with a neutered God who would not say an unkind word to us, did not crush Jesus for our sins, and would not send anyone to hell.”

before i say anything, i would like to offer the following qualifications:

a) driscoll was obviously trying to provide a quip or quotable quote that would stick with the reader. he is an extremely bright man who is not afraid of theological complexity, so i am not going to prop up this isolated comment as a straw man.

b) emergent is not a monolithic group that has a written statement of faith and/or embraces a particular theological tradition. thus, the mere term “emergent theology” is a rather egregious misnomer.

c) i have been thinking about this interview for several days now and last night turned it over time and again in my head as i drank beer, chased it with wine and alternately stared at sunday night baseball and the moon (hence, the bad poetry that precedes this post). yet i have yet to reduce my ruminating to any substantial conclusions.

now that we’ve got that out of the way, i’d like to confess that although i was repulsed by the patriarchal*, theologically reductionistic and philosophically certain synopsis of the gospel, i sometimes wish i could reduce my theology or mission to a sound bite.

in fact, i’ve been so attracted to driscoll’s simplicity that i’ve given the sound bite theology thing a try. in my mind, i’ve envisioned a well-intentioned seeker asking me “what is the gospel?”** and i’ve responded by saying:

a) “it’s just about following Jesus.” i think there is a whole lot of truth in this simple assertion, but it tends to ignore the rather large part that the Christian tradition and our cultural setting plays in shaping our understanding of who Jesus was and what following Jesus really means. this sound bite also sounds a bit too “JEPUSAy” for my taste. i don’t mean to be prideful, but i don’t want my life script to read like a grade school adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar.

b) “the gospel is an invitation to believe that Jesus is the way to God and an opportunity to live in the way of Jesus.” okay, right up front i’ll admit that is one catchy statement. however, the former part of the assertion simply begs questions about the exclusive nature of Christ’s salvation (something i definitely believe in, but am less and less sure how his salvific act operates) and the back end of the assertion would be much stronger if i fleshed it out in a more concrete way (like the L’Arche community does when they say they are a community that focuses on forgiveness and celebration and serves as a sign of hope in the world)***

c) ugh, i don’t really know what else to say so insert your own pithy response here:

i know that i am not alone in my antipathy towards christian jingoism and twelve-step Christian spirituality. in fact, a little birdy told me that even the high, holy gods that sit on the throne of emergent village – which i’ve heard is located somewhere between minneapolis and st. paul – find it incredibly difficult to reduce the mission of the emergent village or the unique contribution we are making to the Kingdom of God into words of wisdom, quotable quotes or even reader’s digest sayings for those loosing hope. however, whether we want to admit it or not, i think that being able to simplify our understanding of the gospel is essential for inviting others to the way of Jesus. moreover, i believe that clear statements of mission will be absolutely essential if we are ever going to participate with God in the replication of churches.

so if you’ve got answers, please share them and so throw a line to an old friend who is afraid of drowning in abstractions.

* i know, i know, this perspective on gender is often called complementarianism and a more generous sort would use that less inflammatory handle to describe driscoll’s thought. i suppose i’m simply a fan of calling things what they are. sue me.

** i am well aware that the chance of someone asking me such a question is about as likely as an unknown atheist bumping into me on the subway and saying “brother, what must i do to be saved? this is a hypothetical scenario, keep your realism to your damn self.

*** in case you are wondering, yes, it always does come back to L’Arche for me. if you are single and you want to learn to love people and practice an earthy spirituality, go serve with daybreak!


g13 said...

for a more coherent response to driscoll's comments and for a wonderful expression of the podcast sensation that is sweeping the nation, visit josh brown's blog.

Anonymous said...

I've been tossing around the following for what is the gospel ... you're far more evil and awful than you could even dream of and far more loved and accepted by God than you could imagine at the same time when you believe in Jesus.

Mike said...


not to start an argument with an anonymous person but...

i like the evil and awful part. it is very augustinian and edwardian.

but the part i would drop is the
"at the same time when you believe in Jesus"

i was under the impression that good Jesus loved be before I believed in him... see Eph and other proof texts.

josh said...

"last night turned it over time and again in my head as i drank beer, chased it with wine and alternately stared at sunday night baseball and the moon (hence, the bad poetry that precedes this post)"

freaking priceless.

sweeping the nation huh?

i hope we get as cool as pogo sticks.

Mike Houghton said...

I'm glad I'm not alone in my concern about the quote in the interview. As a long-time member of a reformed congregation, it continues to frustrate me when the verbal tool of choice is the sledge hammer... no subtlety, no mystery... just BAM!!! - black & white critical certainty.

Thanks for your thoughts. Though he certainly had a sledge hammer in his belt as well, I'm reminded that Jesus once used mud as his tool of choice... and would have enjoyed drinking that beer with you while you watched the game.

g13 said...

"just black & white critical certainty."

the manner in which you framed your comment reminded me of one of my primary concerns about the reformed tradition. i have yet to come across a poor, marginalized or oppressed group of Christians that view the world through the reformed lens. that leads me to wonder whether the reformed tradition, with all its banter about God being the preordinate cause of everything (including genocide, natural calamities and the startling success of american idol), somehow supports the economic, political and intellectual primacy that we westerners seem to assume as a birthright.

as the center of Christendom continues its shift towards the global south it will be interesting to see how our theological systems and sociological assumptions about God change. somehow i doubt whether countries like Brazil or the Philippines are going to become strongholds of reformed theology.

i readily admit this is a non-sequitur and poorly developed thought. let the shit storm begin!

Mike Houghton said...

No shit storm coming from me... the position of "black & white critical certainty" is also one of my biggest concerns about a lot of reformed folks... always has been.

I like that you used the term "lens" instead of "theology." It seems more useful. All of our "God Talk" is inevitably framed by our views, beliefs, hopes, fears, etc. Honestly, I'm not sure that my lens is very reformed, though my congregation does have a reformed view. Anyway, thanks again for the post.

Anonymous said...

g13, are you referring to the JEPUSA of Jesus People USA in Chicago? (from whence came Glen Kaiser and the Resurrection Band- yes I am showing my age)Anyway, very cool reference. Michael of TN

d10 said...

*look, when it comes to reformed theology, i simply believe we should accept what the bible says. point blank. god said it. i believe it. that settles it.*

can God strike you with lightning through a computer? (see what a high view i have of the sovereignty of God!) i should take off my headphones...

now gentry, all fundamentalist joking aside, that's a very interesting point you bring up about marginalized peoples and reformed thinking. i wonder how reformed missionaries approach this topic and what they've learned from years of labor in these type places? anybody have any references on this?

kidpositive said...

i've seen a number of statements leaving mark driscoll's mouth over the past year. i don't know him. but i have a few friends that do know him and have known him over the years, since the beginning of emergent. let me go on the record as saying that mark driscoll is the type of person who is continually encouraging me away from the christian faith. his statements do NOTHING to encourage me towards following Jesus. i wish he'd shut his mouth.

healer said...

To those that have contributed to this thread, please consider doing two things.

1) Read Mark Driscoll's new book, Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church

2) Contextualize his quote and interview a bit more within his own story and personality

I have done both in the past week and have gained insight and appreciation.

So, try those two things. Then let's continue the conversation.

kidpositive said...

yeah i already tried that with pat robertson. it doesn't work.

g13 said...

ok, kidpositive, you smartass:)

jason, if you would like to write a review of reformission rev i would be happy to post it. i have little doubt that it would provoke a good bit of healthy discussion. i hope you take me up on this limited time offer by shooting your review to me at