I’m sure many of you have read Mark Driscoll’s recent public apology. I wanted to respond, but I wanted to wait to see what the general response was, observe it, and comment on that as well.
I want to address two responses to his apology: some are inspired by it; some are disappointed with it.
Some are inspired because his apology is:
- Spiritual: His apology brims with talk about prayer, answered prayer, the Bible, God, hearing from God, Jesus, church, boards, elders, mission, vision, the Holy Spirit, love, sermons, Christian leaders, maturity, prophets, spiritual fathers, seasons, burdens, sin, reconciliation, grace, pastors, encouragement, confession, reaching people, growing the church, focus of the church, community, authority, glorifying Jesus, unity, blessing, joy, obedience, revelation, submission, accountability, ministry, scripture verses, Father’s affection… and so on. The whole apology sounds epistolary, apostolic, biblical, New Testament. He promises to make changes that most believers would applaud, like focusing on the family, focusing on the local church, curbing habits like social media, praying, studying and teaching the bible, being accountable to others, working for reconciliation, fulfilling one’s call, etcetera. For many, this is very comforting, meaningful, and anoints and blesses Driscoll’s apology. This is confession and repentance on display. Here is a man who was called by God to serve Jesus by the power of the Spirit as a pastor of a church, who began as a young, angry prophet, grew the church beyond his dreams, got famous, distracted and unaccountable, and who now wants to return to his call, his family, his church, his personal relationship with the Lord, and fulfill his role as spiritual father. This is very impressive and very spiritual.
- Specific: Driscoll’s apology names specific things he’s sorry for. This makes for a good apology. It’s not enough to say, as he’s done in the past, things like, “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry you think this” or “I’m sorry I was misunderstood” or “I’m sorry you can’t handle the truth”… false and empty apologies. Not this time. Driscoll is sorry for very specific things he regrets doing, like being “angry in a sinful way”, immaturity, causing pain in others by the way he ran the church, the book marketing scandal, and even though he doesn’t outright apologize for these things, he does imply that he is sorry he’s been less accountable than he should have been, not focused enough on the church rather than public speaking and writing, neglecting his family, generally being too busy, and reluctant to fulfill his role as a spiritual father. It takes humility and courage to be that specific about the wrongs he’s committed.
- Smart: This apology promises radical change. Driscoll has been through a lot lately and it shows. Although he says he’s in good health and his family and church are fine and even prospering, he recognizes and admits that he has to do things differently. It is smart and admirable for a public man to admit where he has made mistakes, apologize for them, and promise to make the necessary changes. Many consider this kind of public and volitional self-humiliation as very godly and heroic. They believe this is a sure sign of his call and anointing. It not only guarantees that he and his ministry will be blessed, it also promises that Driscoll will never give up, even under incredible pressure. He might be down but he’s not out. We can expect him to get back up, continue fighting, and win the match. I’ve read lots of responses to his apology and many believe it indicates Driscoll’s intimacy with God as well as his wisdom. This probably rescued his own soul, family, church and ministry. Smart.
What is interesting to me is that for those who are disappointed in Driscoll’s apology, they are disappointed for the very same reasons as those who are inspired by it. Because Driscoll’s apology is:
- Spiritual: For those who are familiar with the use of religious language to color what’s being said, they also believe it clouds what’s being said. This is just another example of spirituality being used to conceal the real human issues. The bottom line for many is that Driscoll’s anger, his treatment of others, his leadership style, his climb to fame, his misuse of his celebrity status, his lack of accountability to anyone or to the broader church, and his questionable business, writing and publishing practices, are all glossed over with so much Christianese that the seriousness of his wrongs is diluted. Many responding to Driscoll’s letter know from experience that soaking an apology in spiritual language has a cloaking effect and somehow removes the blood and guts accountability from the equation. Also, it’s impossible to argue with or challenge or correct it. It just feels petty, wrong and unspiritual to challenge an apology that sounds so biblical. Some even fear being punished for touching one of God’s obviously anointed servants. For many, the language of Driscoll’s apology is so holy that it feels profane to question it.
- Specific: Even though Driscoll apologized for specific wrongs, he also didn’t apologize for specific wrongs. It has been noted that because there are such huge problems with Driscoll’s ministry that cannot be brought to trial, so to speak, critics can only go after the little things. As Sarah Cunningham wrote, he gets pulled over for the proverbial broken headlight. Driscoll keeps getting called on the relatively small stuff because it is impossible to get him on the big stuff. Issues that concern some, such as homophobia, disdain for un-macho men, the ridicule of certain kinds of people, misogyny, an authoritative leadership style, ambition, disregard for the corrective opinions of others, etcetera… these bigger and more important issues are not addressed in his apology. So, even though he was very specific about very certain wrongs, it seems that he is unaware of or doesn’t care about what many critics believe are the more damaging issues that permeate his ministry. He was specific about certain issues, but for many it was a disappointment because he didn’t apologize for the things that really matter. What some believe are core justice issues concerning, say, gays, women and spiritual abuse, remain unattended.
- Smart: I’ve talked with many people about this apology, and most of them look upon it with suspicion. They think it was very smart of Driscoll to make this public apology at this time. Of course, as I’ve already written, many of these people feel guilty for being suspicious, so most will remain suspicious in secret. But suspicion can be healthy, natural, and life-saving. In fact, I can imagine Driscoll saying something like, “You may not believe me, and you might feel very guarded and even suspicious and skeptical, but give me time. I hope to prove you wrong and live up to my promises.” A good apology assumes that it doesn’t have to be believed or received. Words are only half of the cure. Actions are the other. Mature people know this. What this apology does, many fear, is put Driscoll back in the driver’s seat. It couldn’t have been planned more perfectly. His reputation, though always mixed, was certainly getting worse. What a better way to restore faith in his followers and to impute doubt into the minds of his detractors than to publicly apologize and promise to change?
For the non-skeptical, this was a smart move. But for the skeptical, this was a smart move. Because of his public apology, Driscoll’s fans know he’s here to stay. Because of his public apology, Driscoll’s critics know he’s here to stay. For some, it is Driscoll’s faith that makes him so appealing. For others, it is his faith that makes him so dangerous.
Both sides of the same coin. What is the coin?
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