Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on twitter would know that I like to poke fun at Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of Mars Hill church in Seattle, WA. Before I get into why I think Driscoll is such a compelling figure for many Christians, let me say some good things about him. First, the dude is smart. There’s no question he’s a sharp guy. Secondly, he’s pretty damn funny. He’s certainly got a “dark humor” streak that often times lacks pastoral maturity but that doesn’t mean what he’s saying isn’t funny, even if he’s poking fun at people like me. Third, he’s an effective communicator which isn’t a stretch considering the fact that’s he’s both smart and funny. Ok, with the nice stuff out of the way it’s time to consider the reasons why Driscoll so attractive and repelling to many in the Christian world. Here’s my theory:
I start with the observation that Calvinism is a strange theological system. It may not seem strange to those who consider themselves Calvinists but if you ask Joe Blow on the street what he thinks about the notion of a god who creates billions of human beings knowing beforehand that they will suffer eternal torment in a place called hell because he chose not predestine their good fortune…..you’d probably get a blank stare. Now I get that Calvinism is trying make sense of the problem of evil and the Fall of mankind and so it goes on to frame a way in which it all goes down and I appreciate that, but on the face of it, it seems odd. Fair or unfair, it’s hard for people who don’t find themselves devoted to Calvinism to see how it doesn’t make God into a kind of controlling monster that loves all humanity but not enough to predestine them all for reconciliation.
While I’m sure Calvinists would object to my characterization of their beliefs, I’ve never heard a reply of theirs that made God seem like less of totally soveriegn being who allows a vast majority of his created beings to be tortured endlessly. Because of this peculiar view of the nature of God, I suspect there is a burden a Calvinist might bear. There is an uphill battle for any Calvinist attemtping justify this view of God to the outside world. Instead of carrying the full weight of this understanding of God, at times it might seem easier to skim over these harsh realities about God, just be “missional,” be nice and talk about God’s grace and sovereignty and conveniently leave out the part where God creates souls for the purpose of eternal pain and suffering. When I put myself in their shoes, I can relate to what that burden might feel like.
So imagine you’re a philosophically weary Calvinist, tired of tip-toeing around the one-two punch of God’s ultimate sovereignty and his limited atonement. In walks Mark Driscoll into your life and you see a guy who doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to the oddities Calvinism. Not only does he not beat around the bush but he doubles down on every Calvinistic eccentricity other teachers with the same view might conveniently skip over. He’s bold and he’s brazen and he’s exactly what a weary Calvinist might desperately be searching for. He’s a cold drink of water in the desert of philosophical exile. He’s the big brother that comes with you to school to confront the skeptical bully on the theological playground. If I were a Calvinist I’d be eternally grateful for what Driscoll does and I’d be the first in line to dismiss the criticism aimed his way as a result of all the crazy shit he says.
But the reality is I’m not a Calvinist. I simply can’t accept Calvinism as a theological concept because it points to a nature of god that I find unpraiseworthy, but that’s just me. With that said, Driscoll is a compelling figure to me because he’s the perfect embodiment of the pathologies of Calvinism. Certain statements he makes remind me of what some call an “overshare”. Other Calvinists voices might choose to avoid telling people that “God personally and objectively hates you!” even though that’s an accurate depiction of what their theology reflects. But not Driscoll. He doesn’t leave the crazy out. He doubles down with confidence and boldness. These kinds of extreme declarations from Driscoll represent a bubbling up to the surface the pathologies of Calvinism. With his declaration that “God hates some of you,” Driscoll is simultaneously relieving the burden of weary Calvinists and providing shining examples for critics to use as evidence that the underpinnings of Calvinism lead to dangerous and hurtful outcomes.