On President Obama’s second inauguration, noted pastoral iconoclast Mark Driscoll tweeted the following, to a reception of thousands of retweets: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church (Photo courtesy of MarsHill.com)
It may seem like a bit of an exaggeration to refer to Driscoll as an iconoclast, but I can’t think of a better descriptor for his brand of cultural engagement, particularly when aimed at those he sees as liberal.
See, the literal definition of iconoclast is, according to Professor Google, “a destroyer of images used in worship.” Which seems like an odd pastime for a pastor, really. When I ponder this definition, my mind conjures up a performance artist in the middle of church, swinging a sledgehammer at a bowl of communion grapes. Like the evangelical equivalent of Gallagher at a farmer’s market, he gleefully causes a tremendous spectacle, and seems to enjoy the mess he’s making in the process.
So when you think of someone who seems to derive enjoyment from tweaking the tenets of leftist Christian socially-acceptable orthodoxy, is there anyone else who comes to mind more than Mark Driscoll? Probably not.
After all, this is the same guy who used his bully pulpit to mock effeminate male worship leaders and decry the evil occult influence in Avatar and the Twilight films. And despite the respect I have for Driscoll for the latter, I can’t get over my palpable sense of disgust over the former. Being a worship leader by heart and by trade, I take special offense at the idea that being sensitive is the same thing as being effeminate. Hasn’t this guy read the Psalms?
Given his well-documented misdeeds on social media, perhaps “iconoclast” is no longer the best term to describe Mark Driscoll and his brash, in-your-face style. Maybe we should just call him what we would call anyone else on the internet who intentionally does this – a troll.
See, trolls are internet citizens who intentionally say outlandish things to provoke arguments because it delights them to see so many people upset by the things they say. I’m not in Driscoll’s head and I truly don’t know what motivates him to say the things he does, but with this latest tweet, Driscoll seems to be joining the ranks of political trolls like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter. And that distresses me greatly.
I’m distressed because it’s clear Driscoll didn’t consider the unintended consequences of the tweet before he sent it out. It’s possible that this was his misguided attempt at trying to hold the President accountable for the theological implications of some of his policy decisions. If so, Driscoll would probably be shocked to realize just how ignorant and racist his words appeared, and that by so openly casting doubt on the authenticity of our president’s Christianity, he unwittingly allied himself with birth certificate conspiracy theorists, 9/11 truthers, and the sign-waving congregants of Westboro Baptist. Part of the cost of restricting your argument to 140 characters is the way it can be open to interpretation. Even in the best light, that one didn’t do him any favors.
Even more so, actually, I’m distressed because of the partial truths therein. There are legitimate reasons to question President Obama’s theological beliefs. After all, none of his advanced degrees are in divinity. He’s the Commander-In-Chief, not the Theologian-In-Chief. He could be wrong about some things. His stances on abortion and/or gay marriage can be considered by some as antithetical to some of the Bible’s more relevant passages on those subjects.
But even if that’s true, it was still a bad idea to be so cavalier about it. By tweeting in such a blatantly antagonistic manner, Mark Driscoll unintentionally justified the prevalent atheist and agnostic liberal contempt with all things related to God and the church, because most liberals were taught by experience that being a Christian is synonymous with being a harsh, unloving, hypocritical blowhard. That lie, obviously false to anyone who’s had a life-altering salvation experience with Jesus in the context of authentic Christian community, receives another veneer of legitimacy with every time something like that is said.
And the thing is, Mark Driscoll should know that. He probably does know that, actually, and probably just let his emotions get the best of him. It happens to the best of us.
But what distresses me the most about all of this is that his tweet was retweeted over three thousand times, probably by people who feel the same way. How many of those people have non-Christians among their Twitter followers? How much damage was done to the credibility of the local church because of one celebrity pastor’s flippant judgment?
Such tweets tend to be less about engaging others who feel differently than they are about rallying people to your side who already agree. In politics, as in sport, few things are more effective at firing up your support base than thumbing your nose at the competition.
But the end result is a mess of unintended consequences. The people who need to see us at our best, end up seeing us at our worst. Our unsaved neighbors – or even worse, our brothers and sisters in Christ — become our enemies. This is how churches become beholden more political objectives than gospel objectives. This is how culture wars are waged.
So people, use more care when tweeting your political dissent. It’s important to take a stand on the issues that matter to you and your church, but bear in mind that recklessly upsetting people off is a poor way to transmit the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the ecumenical equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bath water, then bashing that baby against a rock.
I’m sorry, was that too strong a metaphor? I was just looking for a psalm reference that Mark Driscoll wouldn’t think was effeminate.
REFORMED MIX: Rapper Lecrae inspires both praise and debate with his blend of solid beats and Reformed theology.
With the release of his new album, Gravity, earlier this month, Lecrae is growing in popularity as a hip-hop artist among audiences Christian and non-Christian, black and white. The Associated Press, among others, praised the album, saying, “Lecrae delivers a strong piece of work. He’s not afraid to rap about his past mistakes, supplying inspirational rhymes filled with Christian values backed by well-produced secular hip-hop beats.”
Lecrae (his full name is Lecrae Moore) stands at the intersection of two contrasting cultures: the urban vibe of historically black hip-hop and the theological leanings of the historically white Reformed tradition with its roots in Calvinism.
It’s a cultural mix common in Holy Hip-Hop, says author and “hip-hop theologian” Efrem Smith. Holy Hip-Hop artists often appear in front of white evangelical audiences and receive support from white Reformed pastors like John Piper and Mark Driscoll (who have both interviewed Lecrae). But the artists themselves tend to be young black men from inner-city backgrounds who ironically struggle to find an audience among urban youth.
The reason for that, Smith argues, is because the African American church has too often rejected hip-hop culture and because urban youth sometimes dismiss Holy Hip-Hop as inferior to secular hip-hop music.
“Lecrae and Reach Records are the main reason why Holy Hip-Hop is growing in popularity in urban American and African American communities,” Smith said in an interview with UrbanFaith. “Put the Christian stuff aside for a minute; Lecrae is more gifted and talented than many artists being pushed by secular companies today.”
Lecrae’s Scripture-packed music hits a variety of urban issues, like fatherlessness, drug addiction, and violence. Lecrae himself was raised by his mother in the inner city of Houston and was involved in gang activity before his conversion at age 19. He went to a black church when he first became a Christian, but later visited a white Reformed congregation and was attracted to their take on the Bible.
But as Lecrae said in a video produced by The Gospel Coalition, “To drop Calvin’s name (in the black community) is to drop a curse word.” The Reformed tradition has historical links to racism in the U.S., going back to Calvinists who used their theology to justify slavery.
For that reason, Smith cautioned Holy Hip-Hop artists against depending solely on Reformation theology (which he wrote about in a blog post). Rather, he said, they need to draw upon other theologies that address the concerns of the oppressed, like liberation theology, reconciliation theology and missional pietism, to speak a prophetic message. Smith suggests that’s one area where Lecrae could grow musically, although he likened this constructive critique to criticizing LeBron James’s basketball skills.
“He does a great job of talking about individual sin and individual responsibility and the importance of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and living by the Holy Spirit,” Smith told UrbanFaith. “What I’d like to see him do more is raise the systemic issues — the corporate issues of sin and injustice in our country and the world — and point to kingdom justice and mercy to deal with these corporate sins.”
For Lecrae, the Reformed tradition describes how he interprets the Bible, and his adoption of that theology is a way to bridge the racial divide.
“I don’t feel like I’m under theological imperialism or whatever,” Lecrae said in a video produced by The Gospel Coalition. “I feel like I’m in search of truth, and I’m going to get it wherever I can find it. And I feel like I am in some senses a contextual ambassador, a cultural ambassador, and I do want to bridge those gaps and tear down those walls.” Check out the video below.
What do you think of Lecrae’s music and Holy Hip-Hop?
ON THE HOT SEAT: Last month, Bishop T.D. Jakes discussed his views on the Trinity with Elephant Room leaders James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll. (Photo: The Elephant Room)
There has been considerable discussion regarding the Elephant Room 2 in light of T.D. Jakes’ invitation and appearance. For those unfamiliar with the controversy, check out UrbanFaith news editor Christine Scheller’s roundup of reactions to the event. In short, the Elephant Room is a gathering of evangelical megachurch pastors who discuss the theological and ecclesiological “elephants in the room.” The second convening of the event took place on January 25, and the headlining “elephant” was Bishop T.D. Jakes and his beliefs regarding the doctrine of the Trinity.
Much has been written about the strange interrogation Jakes endured and the wisdom of inviting such a polarizing figure in the first place. Here are a few more thoughts:
1. While there is admittedly something intriguing about the concept of the Elephant Room, where prominent church leaders with significantly different approaches to ministry come together and speak frankly with each other, I wonder how much all of this plays into the problems of celebrity evangelicalism. It is good to get successful leaders together in settings like this, but do these events also run the risk of suggesting that certain forms of success in ministry also equate with the highest levels of biblical and theological expertise? I don’t know the various educational backgrounds of all the participants, so I can’t make any claims about their theological backgrounds, but it is worth asking how we grant authority to the opinions of successful church leaders, particularly given the populism of evangelicalism.
2. I don’t know the circumstances of Jakes’ invitation, but some of the controversy relates to whether his presence at the Elephant Room 2 was a tacit endorsement of his ministry and whether he truly preaches the gospel. I wonder what would have been the kind of circumstance where his invitation would have been okay with everyone and where there could have been not only a conversation about the Trinity but also the other elephant that lingers — Jakes modified, marketable, and therapeutic version of the prosperity gospel. The conversation needs to happen, but how does that occur? What event could have been created to have this conversation without the cloud of controversy?
3. Race and evangelicalism remains massively complex. Some applaud Bryan Lorrits’ comments on his blog and on a video regarding the centrality of white leaders in this movement that tacitly claims to speak for all evangelicals and (for some) the apparent desire of the approval of such leaders in the critique of Jakes. While there may be truth to Lorrits’ comments, here is why this is difficult. Any African American who comes into evangelicalism and attends seminary will be primarily taught by white professors, and if they embrace what they are teaching and then have some critique of the black church (not that there is one tradition, because there are many), of course it will seem like their critique is one that gets “approved” by white leaders. It is certainly possible that some desire this approval, but it is also true that some bring their critique on the basis of convictions that they fully embrace apart from any affinity for white approval (this is not only about Reformed theology — it can happen with Arminian theology or other traditions as well).
What makes this so complicated is the fact that the ripple effects remain from centuries of racism, and the issues of power, respect, and control all hover around situations like this one, making it difficult to see where this is simply about disagreements about correct doctrine/practice or about participation in contexts that remain largely white (whether it is the Gospel Coalition or any other evangelical institution/group).
Perhaps there is opportunity in this to look more closely at these complexities and then make some real progress on issues of race — we may have taken some steps forward but we have miles to go.
I hope constructive conversation lies ahead.
Bishop T.D. Jakes
Bishop T.D. Jakes has embraced an orthodox view of the Trinity and no longer holds a “Oneness” view of the Godhead (as noted in our interview with theologian Estrelda Alexander), that says the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three aspects of one God rather than three distinct persons, Baptist Press reported.
A Room Full of Elephants
Jakes was interviewed by Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll and pastor James MacDonald at MacDonald’s suburban-Chicago church during the second annual Elephant Room conference, where evangelical Christian leaders gathered to discuss potentially divisive topics.
Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, told Christianity Today he takes the bishop at his word about his newfound orthodoxy, but apparently wasn’t all that impressed, saying, “A Christian pastor affirming least-common-denominator Christian doctrine should hardly be news, much less an elephant in the room. This can only happen in an American evangelicalism that values success, novelty and celebrity more than church accountability.”
What Jakes believes matters a whole lot to The Gospel Coalition, a theologically conservative group whose leaders “allegedly began pressuring MacDonald to ‘pull the plug’ on Bishop Jakes’ appearance at the Elephant Room conference, which eventually led MacDonald to resign as a TGC council member,” according to The Christian Post.
Texas pastor Voddie Bauchman said in a blog post that he was invited to participate in the conference after another pastor pulled out over Jakes’ inclusion. Bauchman ultimately declined, in part because he views the Word of Faith gospel that Jakes preaches as “heterodox” and “harmful” and he says Jakes’ influence in the Dallas area has been “negative, at best.” Bauchman, who is African American, also was concerned that his invitation would be viewed as tokenism.
Loving Issues More Than People
At the event, MacDonald said hosting Jakes had cost him relationships, The Christian Post reported. Jakes said affirming belief in the Trinity had cost him relationships with Oneness Pentecostals, who now apparently view him as a heretic.
Calling theologically Reformed critics of the discussion to repent of their love of issues over people, Memphis Pastor Bryan Crawford Loritts highlighted a race angle in the controversy, writing on his blog that “the implicit message that is being sent is that the varsity section of the kingdom of heaven in 2012 is white, middle aged and Reformed.” He finds this “disheartening.”
Humbly Stepping Into the Firestorm
Loritts also noted Bishop Jakes’ humilty in response to Driscoll, who is himself under scrutiny for alleged spiritual abuse. “This is the man that’s been on the cover of Time Magazine, and yet he steps into the firestorm and is willing to be questioned and opened up for ridicule,” Loritts said of Jakes.
Texas pastor Brandon Smith also noted Jakes’ humility in an open letter to the bishop that was published at the SBC Voices blog. Smith went to college at Dallas Baptist University, near Jakes’ The Potter’s House, and expressed regret for having previously judged the bishop harshly.
At his Lifeway Research blog, Ed Stetzer noted that Jakes said much the same thing about his evolving Trinitarian views on a 2010 Australian radio program. Apparently few American evangelicals heard him.
Speaking ‘Undignified’ Truth
Credo House Ministries founder C. Michael Patton was cautiously optimistic about Jakes’ newfound orthodoxy in a post at his Parchment & Pen blog, saying he appreciated the Bishops’ reminder that “none of our books on the Godhead will be on sale in heaven.” He noted, however, that among his peers it would be “undignified” for him to quote T.D. Jakes.
What do you think?
Are you glad to hear Bishop Jakes affirming orthodox beliefs about the Godhead?