Monday, October 09, 2006

Mark Driscoll: The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World

Mark Driscoll (pictured here, or is it actually a picture of me?) presented a humorous and compelling message on the issues that are critical for Jesus' church to hold onto steadfastly, and those issues that Jesus' church must remain flexible and open to in regards to culture for the sake of introducing people to Jesus and, through the Word, seeing them birthed into His Kingdom.

Driscoll began his message by reminding us all that Jesus remains "hot" in pop-culture (I must confess that I was disappointed to hear Driscoll quote the ever-relevant eye-candy queen Paris Hilton when talking about Jesus. For those of you who live in a perpetual pop-culture dark cave, Miss Hilton is infamous for declaring all things "hot"). Driscoll humored us with numerous examples of how Jesus remains an icon in secular culture. Examples of this: celebrities such as Ben Affleck wearing "Jesus is my homeboy" t-shirts, Kanye West's infatuation with Jesus and declaration that if he could be anyone (other than Kanye West, and if you know Kanye West you know it is a big deal for this ego-maniac to declare high praise for anyone but himself), he would be Jesus, and Talledega Nights Ricky Bobby's (played by Will Ferrell) eagerness to pray to the 8lb 6oz baby Jesus in a golden diaper who gave him his hot wife. All of these pop-culture references point to the reality that Jesus isn't taboo in the postmodern world.

Driscoll sees two preeminent issues facing the Church: Christology (Jesus) and Missiology (cultural engagement/evangelism). What truths must we cling to regarding Jesus and how should we communicate Jesus to the world?

There are really two emerging, extreme streams of thought percolating in the world regarding Jesus. The first is an emphasis on the incarnation of Jesus. This is the popular view of Jesus in the Emergent Village movement ( The accent here is placed upon the humanity of Jesus. His imminence and presence among us, becoming like us to reach us, is fueling the conversation about Christ and culture today. However, a view of Jesus that focuses predominantly or even exclusively on His incarnation is incomplete.

This leads us to the second emphasis, which is on the exaltation of Jesus. This is the emphasis of the New Calvinists (referencing the recent Christianity Today article; check the archives for this article). The emphasis here is on the glory of Jesus. The accent here is on a biblical theology that paints a majestic picture of Jesus and His power, rule and reign over the earth. One extreme (focus predominantly on the incarnation) paints a picture of Jesus as a humble peasant in a dress who is concerned primarily with mingling with and healing sinners, who we can identify with because he is human and suffered, while the other extreme (focus predominantly on the exaltation of Jesus) focuses on Jesus with a sword who is coming back to destroy His enemies and who has the right to do whatever pleases him.

Driscoll believes (and I think he is right) that what is lacking in most Western churches is a merging of the incarnation and exaltation of Jesus in the world. The Church is not effectively engaging the world with Jesus who is an example of humility and suffering, who we can identify with, who took on flesh, becoming likes us with the intent of redeeming His children, and an exalted Jessu of power and authority. This is a biblical Christology.

Now, our Christology (beliefs about Jesus) are intended to inform and shape the way that we interact with and engage the world for the sake of bringing the Gospel to all tribes, tongues and nations. In our missiology (the way we engage culture), we must begin by contending for the exalation of Jesus. In other words, what are the beliefs that we will fight for to the death? What are the things that we believe about Jesus and the Gospel that we hold in the closed hand that are non-negotiable (what is troubling about the Emerging Church is that so much of what we believe to be true about Jesus is, in fact, negotiable to these new kind of Christians. There is so much negotiation one is left to wonder if those whose versions of truth are so unstable are indeed Christians in the biblical sense of the word)?

Driscoll believes there are nine truths (at least) that we must contend for to keep a biblical view of Jesus:
  1. Inerrancy/Authority of the Bible. This however, is more than contending for a system of beliefs. It is the fight to preserve the truth that Scripture is a metanarrative for all people over all times. We must teach the big story of the Bible and plug the little stories and systematics of the Bible into the larger redemptive narrative.
  2. Sovereignty of God must be defended against open-theism. Open-theists believe, generally, that God cannot know for certainty the future free choices of men. The future is, in fact, open, and thus, God is constantly reacting to how events unfold. He is not sovereign over the future because future events are not fixed. This is a discomforting, but increasingly popular heresy.
  3. The virgin birth of Jesus. Rob Bell, a popular pastor in Michigan whose video series have become a hot commodity at Lifeway Christian Stores, recently wondered out loud in his latest book Velvet Elvis if it would matter if we lost the virgin birth of Jesus (to which Driscoll humorously replied, "Uh...yeah, you'd lose Jesus."). While Bell claims to belief in the virgin birth, it is troubling he would even open the possibility that belief in the virgin birth of Jesus isn't fundamental to Christian faith.
  4. Argue against pelagianism (denial of sin and evil). In our culture sin is no longer a personal issue. As Keller pointed out in a previous post, there is a guilt problem among postmodern people. Christians assume that people feel guilty about their sin. We assume they are troubled that they are sinners, when in actuality, many people experience no guilt for their sinful lifestyle. I've found this to be interesting as I've watched several episodes of The Way of the Master with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. As they interview people and share the Gospel, it is amazing how often people express no remorse, no trouble over the fact that they have been exposed as a lying, cheating, adulterous individual. We must contend for the fact that humanity is sinful and that we are sinners.
  5. Contend for penal substitutionary atonement. By faith in Jesus we have been saved from God's wrath. This is a doctrine that is under heavy fire from within and outside the Church. Some have even said that this doctrine is a form of "cosmic child abuse". And yet, the truth that Jesus' death has placated the wrath of God for those sinners who confess Jesus is the only hope we have to escape God's righteous judgment for our sin.
  6. Contend for the exclusivity of Jesus. Jesus Himself declared that He was the only way that sinful man could be reconciled with God. Either this is true or Jesus is a mentally deranged liar.
  7. Gender. Driscoll did not elaborate much here but we must contend for gender roles in society. We must teach and preach what Scripture says about the difference and sameness of male and female.
  8. Contend for the doctrine of hell. Some say, when talking to people about God, "People don't like hell." Driscoll's response, "You're not supposed to. That's the point!" Scripture teaches that there is a literal, eternal, place of judgment consumed by fire and darkness. Jesus talked about Hell more than He talked about heaven.
  9. God's Kingdom is priority over culture. Among many emerging "Christian" thinkers what we are seeing is an over-realized eschatology. There is much talk about the Kingdom that is "now". There is a postmodern addiction to the present. There is far too much emphasis on the redemption of the present culture. There is a broader perpective than the "now" because the Kingdom is also "not yet".

Not only should we contend for these truths and hold them in the closed hand, but we must also have an open hand that contextualizes the Gospel, becoming all things to all people, in hopes of reaching some. The goal is to communicate sound doctrine to various cultures and subcultures (1Cor 9). Jesus functioned as a missionary in His incarnation and the Church must be missiological in its orientation.

Driscoll asks the question: "Is this dangerous?" To understand this question you must realize how much criticism MD receives regularly for his approach to ministry and the practices of his church. MD's presentation of the Gospel and vision for the Church definately tetters on the edge of Christian decency and acceptance. There are many ways that his church ( are attempting to contextualize the Gospel in Seattle that would come under heavy criticism here in the South. MD tells us that contextualizing the Gospel will require faith. There is risk involved. He sees ministry as two hands. In one hand we put timeless truth (closed hand); in the open hand, timely ministry (open hand). Being anchored to the truth allows for creativity. It makes the Gospel - not relative - but relevant.


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