About one hundred emails have come in from listeners regarding Mark Driscoll, and your relationship with him. Mostly the questions are centered on whether you now regret partnering with Mark Driscoll in the past? Secondarily, are there any lessons you’re taking away from your relationship with him? And third, do you agree with the decisions of Christian bookstores that have decided to pull Mark Driscoll’s books off shelves?
Well let me take the the first and the last — the issue of regret and the issue of books on or off shelves — and just dispose with those quickly and then tackle the lessons I’m taking away a little bit more extensively.
First, no regret. John Piper has no regret for befriending Mark Driscoll, or going to Mark Driscoll’s church and speaking at his events, or having him come to the Desiring God conference. I do not regret that. My regret is that I was not a more effective friend. Mark knew he had flaws. He knows he has flaws. And I knew he had flaws. He knew that I knew he had flaws. There were flaws of leadership attitude, flaws of unsavory language that I think is wrong for Christians to use, flaws of exegetical errors, say, in regard to the Song of Solomon. I wrote a long critique of his use of the Song of Solomon, and I wrote him personally about these flaws. But I always hoped that in those cases, the relationship with me and with others would be redemptive and helpful.
He certainly gave me more time and counsel than I deserved. I remember him sitting in my dining room, spending a long time with Noël and me, giving us good counsel about the last chapter of our ministry. Then he went home and produced a long paper to give guidance to me and to the elders. He didn’t have to do that. I didn’t even ask him to do it. So there was a mutuality in our relationship — I felt loved by Mark and I wanted to love him in return. I still do hope for the best in Mark’s life and ministry. So, no, I don’t regret it.
With regard to his books, whether they should sit in shelves in bookstores or churches or homes, that is a tough call. If he is disqualified from being an elder, should he still exercise the teaching office of an elder through his books? That is how one might ask the question.
But sooner or later, a book becomes detached from the personal life of an author and stands on its own merits as true and helpful or not. And I can see a temporary reaction to Mark stepping down by bookstores or churches where they pull those books back so as not to give any kind of public affirmation of mistakes that Mark may have made. However, maybe in years to come the books will emerge as helpful since I think most of what he has written has been true and helpful.
Let me turn to the lessons. What have I learned? What can we learn from these recent events? Number one, people are very complex. They are multi-layered. They are often paradoxical. The psalmist cries out, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent of hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). That is an amazing statement. Some of our sins, he is saying, are hidden to ourselves. He just said, “I cannot discern my sins.” We have flaws and sins that we ourselves cannot fathom.
“We desperately need to take seriously what wise counselors tell us about ourselves.”
The second lesson follows from the first: We desperately need to take seriously what wise counselors tell us about ourselves. If we have sins that are hidden from ourselves, then perhaps they are not hidden to others, and we do well to listen. I think that lesson is implied in Psalm 19:12.
The third lesson also follows from the first two lessons: Sometimes — and I have experienced this — sometimes you can see what others are pointing out to you about yourself, and sometimes you can’t. If you can see it, then you repent and you fight the sin. But what if you can’t, even after others tell you what they see? You look and you don’t see it in the way they see it. What then? Well, in order to have any integrity, I think you have to go with what you see. Otherwise, you will always be jerked around by everybody on the street that tells you they see something and you respond, “Well, I don’t think it is there.” Paul certainly did not agree with all the criticism that came against him, nor did Jesus. When they said he had a demon, he didn’t have a demon. They were wrong. His critics were wrong.
The result of such a disagreement about sin is either a struggle (in other words, when you have people around you who say, “This is true of you,” and you don’t think it is true of you, then the result is there is a struggle for leadership) and one or both stand down, or there is a fight and somebody wins. And that is the ugliest of all. Mark stood down. That is probably a concession: Yes, much of what you say is true. And probably it is a measure of: I don’t think you saw me right. And that is just life. I mean, Paul and Barnabas couldn’t work together because they did not perceive their own flaws. Somebody was amiss, and they couldn’t see it. I have seen it over and over again. It is just one of the heartaches of relationships.
“Paul and Barnabas couldn’t work together because they did not perceive their own flaws.”
A fourth lesson is that biblical leadership structures are not luxuries. I think the trend among some mega churches to put in place outside councils with authority that are not based in the elders of the local church is an unbiblical, unwise approach towards church leadership. I think the biblical pattern of leadership is that every church should have a team of elders — vocational and non-vocational — all with one vote. The preaching pastor has greater sway, not by having a veto power with all the votes, but by being a wise, thoughtful, and exemplary leader. As soon as I could, I put in place at Bethlehem a leadership structure that gave me one vote, first among twenty, then among thirty, then among forty. And that is where it ended. I had one vote, which means I could be voted down easily. But I never doubted that I had great authority at that church ever, because of the pulpit and because I tried to be a teacher-leader. I attempted to lead with truth, not with official constraints. I never wanted to use the pastoral office or political power to get my way. I wanted people to be persuaded. So I think structure really matters, and there are some mega churches today that are going off in an unwise direction.
The fifth lesson is about money and the salaries of pastors. I think it is a huge mistake to view pastors as corporate executives with huge salaries in the two, three, four, five, six, seven, or eight hundred thousand dollar range. That, to me, is a clear danger signal that the elders and the pastor have their heart in the wrong place. I don’t know Mark Driscoll’s salary, but I think the corporate mindset was too prominent, and so the warning to us stands.
Sixth, there is a lesson about how the same theology (Reformed or Arminian) can coexist on paper with very different personalities and leadership styles and sins. There is no theology on paper or merely in preaching that keeps a man from sin. Peter’s withdrawal from eating with the Gentiles in Galatians 2 was sin, and it was not owing to a defective theology. Paul said very clearly in verse 14, “I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth” (Galatians 2:14). And he means the very truth they believe. Human beings don’t live up to their theology. Therefore, when a person falters in their behavior, it is a mistake to jump immediately, without wider considerations, to say, “Oh, defective theology,” because there are sinners (and some serious ones) in every branch of theology. Peter knew the truth, and he didn’t walk in it. And that is always a possibility with whatever truth is at stake. Mark Driscoll has done much good in speaking and writing much truth. Thousands of people really have been saved and really have been built up in biblical gospel truth. Those people should not question their salvation or gospel truth just because he might, in some cases, have walked out of step with that truth.
“God’s kingdom and his saving purposes in the world are never dependent on one man or one church or one denomination.”
Seventh, God’s kingdom and his saving purposes in the world are never dependent on one man or one church or one denomination. God is God, and his kingdom is coming, and no one can stop it, and his word is not bound.
Finally, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). “Restore such a one in the spirit of meekness lest you, too, be tempted,” Paul said (see Galatians 6:1). I think it would be sinful and unbiblical for any of Mark’s detractors to simply say, Good riddance. It is a sin to feel that way. No, we pray for truth to hold sway and for grace to transform and renew and restore all of us, including Mark.