There are things I truly appreciate about Mark Driscoll. I love that he knows and preaches the Gospel (the "matter of first importance" - 1 Cor 15). I love his zeal for evangelism and evident compassion for the lost. I love his desire to teach doctrine so that his church is not shallow and untrained. I love his desire to return to the church an understanding of and respect for biblical manhood.
But like all of us, Mark Driscoll is a bit of a mixed bag. He is a very public figure who has stirred up no small amount of controversy. Some of that controversy has been the result of his faithfulness to the Gospel, biblically prescribed gender roles, and biblical sexual ethics. However, much of the controversy has been due to some rather unfortunate behavior and statements on his part. All of us have said and done things that we would like to take back. But for an internationally known "rock star" pastor, author, and church network leader the margin for error is precariously thin.
With the release of Mark and Grace Driscoll's new book, Real Marriage, there is fresh conversation about the pastor's tendency to preach, teach, and write about sex in frank, and, some would argue, inappropriate ways. Others are weighing in on this matter helpfully (Carl Trueman [here and here], Denny Burk, Tim Challies). I hope that Driscoll will listen to and learn from these brothers. I won't, at least for now, seek to add to their comments.
But I offer a plea to Mark Driscoll. It is a plea that flows from concern over his repeated claims to receive direct revelations from God. It all began, according to Mark, when his conversion to Christ, his call to be a pastor, to be a mentor to men, and to marry Grace came to him via the audible voice of God. Specifically, my plea is for Mark Driscoll to stop making claims of direct revelation from God.
My concern is four-fold:
1. It seems arrogant.
History is somewhat spare of those to whom God spoke directly. There was Adam and Eve. There was Noah, Abraham and, later, Moses. There were the prophets that followed. Later, the apostles received direct revelation as they recorded the Scriptures we call the New Testament. But even in their case we do not have any evidence that God spoke to them in an audible voice (except of course through the incarnate Christ). And now we have...Mark Driscoll? Is it wise to repeatedly claim to have heard the audible voice of God? What purpose does this serve? Is it important to broadcast the reception of continued, direct revelation? Those few men who truly did receive revelation from God suffered on account of it. Paul points out that because of the revelations he received (the purpose of which was for the writing of Scripture) God gave to him a thorn in the flesh that he might not become proud (2 Corinthians 12:5-9). It seems arrogant for a preacher in our moment of redemptive history to repeatedly make claims to receive direct revelation from God. It places one in rarefied air indeed.
2. It is pastorally unwise.
It seems that every cult and man-made religion begins with someone claiming divine revelation: "God speaks to me," "I am a conduit of the divine," or "I found these golden tablets that only I can interpret!" I am not accusing Mark Driscoll with being a cult leader. I do not believe he is. Again, I am grateful that he proclaims the gospel. But his claims to direct revelation can easily lead to a cult-of-personality. Who can argue that this has not already happened?
Don't misunderstand. A pastor ought to be the best educated man in his congregation in regard to the Scriptures and doctrine. It is right to honor such a man (1 Timothy 5:17). However, claims to direct revelation and hearing the audible voice of God can easily lead to a kind of elitism that goes well beyond healthy honor. It can create a sort of hierarchy in which the pastor is placed on a super-spiritual plane the average parishioner will never reach.
On the other hand, a pastor's claims to direct revelation can create within parishioners an expectation to experience the same phenomena. We don't have to imagine the sorts of confusion and chaos this sort of expectation can cause. We need look no further than some of the titles being released by Christian publishers where the fanciful and fantastic is valued over that which is biblical. Or simply tune in to Trinity Broadcasting Network to see a whole motley parade of men and women who claim to speak for God.
The claim to direct revelation begs the question why? What is missing in the Bible that Mark Driscoll, or anyone esle for that matter, can provide? Given the contemporary church's notorious biblical illiteracy, why should we be seeking additional revelation or words from God? I fear that Driscoll's claims will seriously undermine his congregation's confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture.
3. It is, at least, potentially blasphemous.
As a preacher I know what it is like to have words placed in my mouth. People routinely "hear" me say things from the pulpit that I never said. The consequences are potentially severe of misquoting a person or, worse, fabricating statements that were never said. Even if the words are innocent or inconsequential, none of us want to be given credit for statements we never made.
It is bad enough when that happens to me or you or anyone else. But when God is misquoted or entire statements are mistakenly (or intentionally) attributed to Him then the consequences are grave. The Bible reserves some of its harshest condemnations for false prophets who do not speak God's words but their own vain imaginings cast as God's words. It is no small sin when we say, "God said," when God did not say.
Mark Driscoll has claimed from the pulpit of his church and in the pages of his new book on marriage that God reveals to him, in vivid detail, the sexual sins of others. Please understand, Driscoll's claim is not that God makes him aware of certain sinful patterns in other people's lives. That would be odd enough. Rather, his claim is that God runs in his mind, movie-like, graphic images of sexual sin that others have committed (including those of his wife in the days before they were married!). This is troubling, not least of all because it makes God responsible for projecting sexually graphic images in Driscoll's mind. But what if Mark is wrong? What if God is not running these disgusting images in his mind? Can it be anything less than blasphemy to falsely attribute these revelations to the work of God?
4. It is almost certainly not true.
Now, before anyone freaks out, let me explain. God is alive and powerful. He is a personal God who speaks to his people. And, no, I do not believe God spoke audibly to Mark Driscoll. Why? Because God no longer speaks to men in this way.
I can hear the protests. "Aha! You're just an anti-supernaturalist who is trying to put God in a box!" But this could not be further from the truth. I am not trying to limit God in any way. I am only suggesting that we believe what God himself has said about the way He speaks:
"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV).
God has spoken supremely through the Son. And where do we find this word of the Son? In the Scriptures of course. All of the Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, points us to the Christ. Jesus himself taught the disciples to read the Bible this way (Luke 24:25-27).
The days of the prophets and apostles are over. Direct revelation is closed by God's own design. The Scriptures are complete. God's plan is on the move just according to His design. Rather than listening for a voice in our heart, from the sky, or along a river bed we are promised something far better. God promises to speak to us through His inscripturated Word which never goes forth without accomplishing His purpose. No need to rely upon mystical experience. No unclear impressions required or ever warranted; just God's clear, powerful, and sufficient Word faithfully and lovingly recorded for us through the Spirit's work of inspiration.
The newly united brothers and sisters whom God formed into the first church at Jerusalem were "devoted," not to mystical experience or discerning a voice (audible or otherwise), but to "the apostle's teaching" (Acts 2:42). It is that very same teaching that we have today in the form of the New Testament. This, along with what we know as the Old Testament, continues to be the blessed means by which God graciously speaks to His beloved people.
So, I plead with Mark Driscoll to stop relying on and proclaiming these extra-biblical revelations. It is pastorally unwise and could imperil the souls of the men and women with whom he has been entrusted.