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May 23

Review: Confessions of a Reformission Rev: by Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll’s Confessions

Mark Driscoll is pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a church Driscoll started ten years ago in one of the most unchurched areas in America. The church has since grown to a number of several thousand, but not without many encountering many valleys, weirdos, Pharisees, and curveballs along the way. The book presents an inside look at the growth of the church, the mistakes Driscoll made along the way while trying to be cool more than godly, and the Biblical foundations that, once laid, facilitated the growth of a Christ-centered church.

For those who may not be aware, Driscoll is something of an enigma. The church he pastors has the heart of a traditional, orthodox Christian church, and the arms of an emergent, post-modern congregation reaching out to the surrounding community. I’ve commented in the past on the need for churches to both know Bible doctrines and practice service ministries, as both are advocated in the New Testament, and the tendency most of us have—both individually and corporately—to gravitate to one half of the gospel while ignoring the other. Mars Hill seems to have managed to find some measure of balance between both ends of the spectrum without becoming an island unto itself. The journey has not been easy, and Driscoll shares from the heart the discouragement, trials, fires, and furies that have come his way. Evangelicals on both the right and the left find it annoying that Driscoll’s first response to an issue or criticism seems to be to first find out what Jesus and the New Testament have to say on the matter rather than Drs. Dobson or Chopra. The good news for us, and for the American church, is that Driscoll persevered through more hell than most of us would have either the guts or the heart to endure, and he now leads what may be one of the most biblically balanced communities of faith in America. The bad news is that occupying that biblical territory of both tough-love, Jesus-based sound doctrine (Christology) and loving, culturally engaging ministry (missiology) sets him up to be shot at by both liberals and conservatives. On the one hand, those who lack sound doctrine and want to reinvent a new religion and hijack the moniker "Christian" are disappointed that Driscoll has migrated towards the historical creeds of the faith at a time when many of them were opting to move away from them. These "emerging liberals" see Driscoll as little more than a Bible-thumper in post-modern appearance, and delight more in his past reputation of cussing than they do his present reputation as a preacher. On the other hand are those who pride themselves on knowing the Bible but have insulated themselves in a quasi-Christian subculture bubble of isolation, and whose missiology and outreach models tends to consist more of a "come and be like us and our view of Jesus" mentality rather than a call to simply "come to Jesus." As I have written before, I call these "submerging conservatives" due to the observation that as the liberals are once again emerging out of the culture, many conservatives are simultaneously submerging beneath the culture. What we need are "converging biblicists" who bring both a love for truth and for people into the world. Driscoll seems to fall into that category.

Driscoll is a gifted communicator and writer, whose observations about various evangelicals and liberals emerge as a blend of commentary one might hear from an urban version of Jeff Foxworthy (of "you-might-be-a-redneck-if" fame), mixed with a dash of Chris Rock and woven into an ongoing stream of commentary not unlike that of his friend Donald Miller, who, ironically, wrote about Driscoll in his book "Blue Like Jazz". (Alas, "Mark the Cussing Pastor" is indeed Mark Driscoll; the two crossed paths years ago during a period when both were on individual journeys seeking to reconcile the literal Bible with self-centered, consumeristic, contemporary versions of Christianity.) For example, Driscoll recounts several humorous stories related to his ongoing quest for a worship leader: "I am not supposed to say this but most of the worship dudes I have heard are not very dudely. They tend to be very in touch with their feelings and exceedingly chickified from playing too much acoustic guitar and singing prom songs to Jesus while channeling Michael Bolton and flipping their hair." And another comment regarding some of the oddballs that came to his church from time to time: "…would not have been so traumatic if I were trying to plant one of those shake-and-bake, holy-roller churches where I smacked people on the nugget in Jesus’ name so they could like on the floor and twitch like a freshly caught trout on a dock and call it the work of the Holy Ghost."

Those who appreciate wit, sarcasm and satire will appreciate his humor, while those less inclined may be offended at some of the stories and references. Admittedly, even for those of us who laugh more than we cry, there are a couple of instances where references to sexual immorality in the church seem to serve no higher purpose and while they hardly qualify as blasphemous or terribly crude, neither are they defensible under the admonition of Ephesians to avoid "coarse joking," and their inclusion will limit Driscoll’s influence among some who are looking for reasons to write him off rather than listen to his message. Nonetheless, Driscoll’s fumbles deserve grace here as he is on the frontlines striving to do ministry the way the Apostle Paul did, working in the lives of people whose definitions of "coarse" may differ from ours, just as ours may differ with those who hold to a highly fundamentalistic view of the faith. We would do well to remember that there are some verses of the Bible that if translated literally would be similarly offensive. Perhaps we can all pray that God will continue to work in Driscoll’s life to further sanctify his humor, while also praying that God will work in our lives, and in the lives of his critics, to birth a zeal, love, and commitment to the gospel across America that is even half of what Driscoll’s is. The sin of occasional crassness is not as horrendous as the sins of gluttony, gossip, or idolatry, the latter being defined as loving anything or anyone more than Jesus. As an ex-football player, I can overlook the occasional fumbles made by a teammate who is in the game, on the team, and making a difference more readily than I can accept the criticisms and complaints of a spectator who, having never actually played the game of football, still sits in front of the TV, smug in the fact that he himself has never fumbled, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the real reason he has never fumbled is due only to the fact that he has never played. The failures of those in the game are more public and visible than the failures of those who have never strapped on a helmet and run with a ball through a gauntlet of people trying to take their heads off. So while we hope future writings from Driscoll will leave out gratuitous crudeness for the sake of spreading the gospel, we won’t hold it against him since most of it simply reflects and illustrates the realities he has had to experience while trying to reach out to people most of us would prefer to ignore until they adopt our hairdos, buy a minivan, take a shower, get a job, start collecting gospel quartet CDs, and sit down in our bright, new, shiny churches amidst an assortment of little old ladies of both sexes.

Those who have started churches, or have been involved in past startups, will appreciate the honesty with which Driscoll bares his soul. Driscoll extols both his failures and his successes. The sub-title is "Confessions of a Reformission Rev", not "10 Can’t-Miss Steps to a Guaranteed Television Mega Church." Driscoll begins the book by answering 10 questions that most people who know Driscoll might want to ask him had they the opportunity to do so. He points out that in today’s evangelical world most groups fit into one of three categories: Parachurch, Liberal, and Fundamentalist. The group you are in is determined by the chief ingredient among the following words that are missing: the church (a love for which is missing in the parachurch model), the Gospel (the presence of which is strikingly absent among liberals), or culture (which has been largely abandoned by fundamentalists). When you get all three ingredients in the mix—Gospel, culture, and the church—, you have reformission. Driscoll goes on to point out that the traditional institutional church has given way to the contemporary and evangelical church, which is now giving way to the emerging and missional church. Driscoll gives bulleted points clarifying the distinctives that each of these three groups exemplify, and as you read the lists you’ll probably see the church you are in, the church you grew up in, and the church across the street.

Driscoll also comments on his growing concern with many in the "emergent church", a movement he initially was heavily involved with but from which he has recently distanced himself. He writes on the growing schism: 

"…the emergent church is the latest version of liberalism. The only difference is that the old liberalism accommodated modernity and the new liberalism accommodates postmodernity… I am particularly concerned , however, with the growing trends among some people: the rejection of Jesus’ death on the cross as a penal substitute for our sins; resistance to an openly denouncing of homosexual acts as sinful; the questioning of a liberal eternal torment in hell, which is a denial that holds up only until, in an ironic bummer, you die and find yourself in hell; the rejection of God’s sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, as if God were a junior-college professor who knows only bits and pieces of trivia; the rejection of biblically defined gender roles, thereby contributing to the "mantropy" epidemic among young guys now fretting over the best kind of loofah for their skin type and the number of women in the military dying to save their Bed, Bath and Beyond from terrorist attacks; and the rejection of biblical names for God, such as Father, which is essentially apologizing before the unbelieving world for the prayer life of the flamboyantly heterosexual Jesus, who uttered the horrendously politically incorrect "Our Father" without ever having the decency to apologize for being a misogynist patriarchal meanie. This is ultimately all the result of a diminished respect for the perfection, authority, and clarity of Scripture, all of which was written by patriarchal men." 

Driscoll goes on to stress the importance of being faithful to Scripture and being biblical both in theological and missional terms, and in not succumbing to the false gospels of the day, which include not only emergent liberalism, but self-centered prosperity teaching that elevates us to the center of the universe and make God out to be interested primarily in making us feel good about ourselves. Driscoll also spends time discussing the differences between attractional churches, whose plan to reach the lost consists mostly of developing a means to attract consumers (i.e., church members), and missional churches, often populated by people who need to hear the gospel preached in tough love, who then go out into the culture to spread the gospel. Jesus’ ministry modeled both, yet on the landscape of today’s churches many line up on one side or the other, promoting their own approach as the biblical way, and discarding the other approach as unbiblical. He also goes into lengthy discussions about the best type and size of a church. "The problem with most churches is not that they don’t want to experience conversion growth but rather that they do not want to change, which negates their ability to grow and is a sin to be repented of."

Driscoll then goes into a detailed, and at times intensely personal, account of growing the church in various stages. First, he begins with the early stages of his ministry with a college ministry where he realized these young students needed something other than typical life-stage Sunday School. "What my college students needed was to mentor high school students and hang out with singles who had phased from college into the work world and married couples who had learned what kind of person to be and to marry to make a family work. What they did not need was to hang out with the same immature yahoos they spent all of their time playing "pull my finger" with anyway and going to a free event that was like day care for twenty-one-year-old hormonally enraged porn addicts and video-game aficionados trying to stretch junior high into the retirement years." Here he gets into good commentary on four areas that need to be resolved and solidified by anyone involved in building a church:

• Christology
• Ecclesiology
• Missiology
• Ministry

Driscoll then proceeds to go through the various stages his church went through as they passed various milestones in size. He talks candidly about the multiple times the church struggled when he insisted that only Jesus be taught and moved the heretics and lazy Christians out the back door of the church, and the challenges of leading a church when there are far more lost people than mature believers. He writes of the burnout, poverty, heartache, health issues, family conflicts, and general frustration that came along the way as people close to him disappointed him, and of the joy that came from seeing others grow in faith and put the cause of the gospel and the health of the church ahead of their own ambitions and dreams. Then there is the season when the church lost its building overnight and had to essentially start over in another location. Also discussed are the challenges of doing ministry in a city that is openly hostile to Christianity. Driscoll writes of one instance of being harassed by police for baptizing in a public lake: "In the same area where we were baptizing people, an annual solstice parade is held for eco-whacko earth worshipers, complete with a nudist bicycling team that no one complains about—and we were getting yelled at by cops with bullhorns for conducting baptisms." Driscoll’s sarcasm and criticism is not directed only at others; he pulls no punches when referring to his own mistakes. He writes of one season in 1999 (perhaps about the time he met Donald Miller?) he began to blow gaskets over the immaturity in his church and challenged the men to be men, and began to see tremendous life change in his church… and in his own life. "This season was messy and I sinned and cussed a lot, but God somehow drew a straight line with my crooked Philistine stick. I had a good a good mission, but some of my tactics were born out of anger and burnout, and I did a lot of harm and damage while attracting a lot of attention. I was justifiably angry, but did not faithfully heed Paul’s command not to let anger lead me into sin."

Other topics discussed at length along the way include various forms of church government and the effectiveness and challenges of different size churches, management/leadership issues learned in the heat of the battle, and stories of the supernatural that led Driscoll away from the cessationist position in favor of a more charismatic position on the use of spiritual gifts and engagement of demonic warfare.

Most readers won’t agree with every position held or action taken in this book, but neither would any one of us agree with every past decision and position of our own. It is simply refreshing, and convicting, to see how God is using and maturing a young man who seems to desire to know the Jesus of the Bible more than anything else. This book is highly recommended and should be read by every pastor, elder, and worship leader. Those who have a desire to reach an increasingly post-modern culture without compromising doctrine will be encouraged to know they are not alone in either their struggles or their passion to reach the world for Jesus.

I’ll let Driscoll close this review the way he closes the last few pages of the book—pages which, by the way, I might recommend you read before getting into the meat of the book if you already have a negative view of Driscoll or find yourself developing one as you read the book. I’d reproduce the entire last three pages if I could do so without getting into copyright trouble with Zondervan, so I’ll try to reduce the gist down to just a few sentences instead. Hence, Driscoll: 

"It is my deepest desire to be fruitful for Jesus. And according to his frequent kingdom parables, fruit comes not simply by growing but by his strategic pruning. Jesus prunes us through hardship, suffering, failure, loss, discipline, and pain. I have found Jesus’ pruning of my life, marriage, family, and church to be incredibly painful, but it always results in bigger, sweeter, and greater fruit. Some pruning has been so overwhelming that I did not know if I could endure it and even questioned the goodness of God despite my knowledge of Scripture, which led to bouts of despair and anger… I wish I did not have to… but Jesus has called me to trust him by faith and to endure more pruning so that more fruit can be harvested for his kingdom. And for this reason, it is my deepest wish that Jesus keep pruning me, because I love him, want to be with him, want to be like him, and enjoy being on mission with him more than anything. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Amen."

Amen, indeed.

–Josh Riley

(C) 2006 Josh Riley |  All Rights Reserved.

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