why Mark Driscoll’s apology inspires some and disappoints others

"Two Responses to Mark Driscoll's Public Apology" (by nakedpastor David Hayward)

“Two Responses to Mark Driscoll’s Public Apology” (by nakedpastor David Hayward)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

A man.

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39 Responses

  1. Sabio Lantz says:

    When anyone says “God told me” (or anything resembling that), you know their thinking is fundamentally flawed and dangerous.

    For as you said, David, he is simply a man.

    A man or woman who pretends to talk to a god or know what a god thinks is dangerous.

    Driscoll has not changed.

  2. Sabio Lantz says:

    All to say, as long as “I talk to and hear God” is part of a person’s public persona, outward changes are deceptive.

  3. Don Rogers says:

    I’ll go with the response on the right…..

  4. Pat Pope says:

    I think there’s a third, more moderate response for those who have not been directly exposed to his ministry, so we’re not entirely skeptical, but we’re cautious. That response is more like, “Hmmm…we’ll see; hopefully he’s sincere.”

  5. Jake says:

    I was not fond of the apology because of the way it began. He opened the thing with a long list of bragging on how big and wonderful the ministry he started was, as a subtle but very real way of stacking the deck to show that because his ministry is so very blessed that means that he MUST therefore be a Jesus’ Wonderboy. It’s a very real form of manipulation that he employed and I despise that.

  6. JT says:

    Mark 13:6,947,352

    “Follow the money, it leads to the promised land”

  7. Bondservant8 says:

    “What is the coin? A man.”

    Well then, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

    Being a double-minded man – Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. James 1:8

  8. Cecilia Davidson says:

    I said this on twitter – if you have to write a long apology that demonstrates how you’re mature and humble, you’re neither of those.

  9. Chris Wileman says:

    This was VERY insightful and true!
    Thanks for writing it.
    I’ve always enjoyed your ability to openly speak about this figurehead of religion.
    Yes… he’s JUST a man.
    I need to keep reminding myself of that fact because he sort of is the mascot for a bunch of people who have hurt me in the name of religion….
    I need to hope for the best….
    Because HOPE…they can’t take that away from me no matter what!

  10. Pam says:

    Meh. It’s very easy for those who have not been hurt by this man, his ministry, and his teaching to sit on the sidelines and tell me and others how to feel.
    But it’s even worse when people who know them (and the pain, chaos, and deconstruction that have happened as a result) ride the fence and give him an out because he’s a man. That is weak.
    Anyone who has closely (and by closely I mean not just read articles when Driscoll catapults himself into Christian media) followed the events since 2007 and knows the dark underbelly of MHC knows that Mark Driscoll is a narcissist and that he is simply manipulating the bigger picture by sending this love letter to the people who are still drinking his kool-aid.

  11. David says:

    I hear you Pam. What I was trying to do was explain why there are two such divergent reactions to his apology: one that is inspired because they are his fans, etc., and one that is seriously skeptical and disappointed because they have been directly affected by his ministry or ministries like his. You’re right. I am not a direct recipient of his influence. Which is why I chose to not speak from a personal perspective but from one that is trying to observe and understand the vastly opposing responses. The article isn’t intended to “give him an out”, but is intended to try to explain why there is praises for and protests against his apology. I don’t see where I was trying to tell people how to feel. I do see where I am trying to describe how people are feeling though. Sorry if the post didn’t make that clear.

  12. Shae says:

    David, if memory serves me correctly, which I admit it may not, you’ve offered your perspective on Driscoll before. I’d be interested in your opinion on his apology. It seemed like, in your opening in the article, you were going to…and I was a bit curious when you didn’t.

  13. Pam says:

    I wasn’t referring to you when I said that about bloggers telling me how to feel. I am talking about all the people who have chimed in (who you linked and many others). How I “should” respond, what my interpretation “should” be, what I am obligated to do as a “good Christian” (which I am not).
    People are acting like this was public repentance. It’s not. It’s a leaked private message meant solely for the congregation, most of who are not victims (yet).

  14. Pam says:

    There is also another category of people…
    Those who are not Christians, have never been personally affected in any way, and see through his bullshit anyway.
    I feel like a lot of blogs are dismissing those of us who have been affected. They imply that because of that, I am jaded, and cannot possibly be thinking clearly so therefore my opinion doesn’t count as much. Actually, we know better than any of these people trying to score blog hits with a Driscoll post.
    I assure you that my opinion has been well thought out and I am able to see quite clearly.
    It is only within Christianity that we put the onus on the victims to do the heavy lifting. In the real world we would not ask this of anyone. So, meh.

  15. David says:

    Oh thanks for the clarification Pam. I agree. Even though I linked to other posts, it doesn’t mean I endorse their opinions but are just sources. I totally concur though. I’m a huge advocate of validating peoples’ feelings. I haven’t sat under Driscoll, but I’ve sat under other pastors and leaders with similar styles. Some famous and some not as much so. The kind of repentance some are looking or waiting for I think would exhibit some kind of traumatic, personal devastation that would look much different than this apology.

    Which leads me to Shae’s question. This post was about explain why there are different reactions to Driscoll’s apology. However, I lean on the skeptical side because of my extensive experience with these things. I’m generally skeptical. I’d like to not be cynical. But I’m also one of the first ones to admit that just because I’m skeptical doesn’t mean I’m right. I have no idea what his motives are. I believe he is sincere, but sincerity means nothing in terms of ethics. It’s how it’s played out in real lives that matter. Like I said, words are half the cure. Without the other half… actions… the words are no cure at all. It’s like poking in the needle without the serum.

    That’s my take.

  16. David says:

    I agree Pam. I’m not sure what the “meh” means. But I agree completely with your comment.

  17. David says:

    BTW Pam, I would love to read your response to the “apology”.

  18. tad says:

    apology? where was it? i missed it.

  19. kris799 says:

    For that little marketing scheme, he should apologize to God for not having enough faith that He/She/It would make his book a bestseller.

    I feel like he pulls these stunts for four reasons: 1) the stunt gets attention; 2) the stunt gets the attention of the media and 3) the “apology” gets attention and 4) those of us debating it give him attention. There will always be those who say “well he was wrong but he is building up the kingdom so let’s move on and not cause division and blah blah blah” and all the while Driscoll gets to bask in the attention.

  20. Pam says:

    I won’t be writing a response to that apology, as it wasn’t directed at me.

  21. David says:

    I agree kris799… i try to look through the spiritual language to see what’s actually being said.

    I suppose Pam what I technically meant was opinion, not response. np.

  22. Pam says:


    On the stuff Christian culture likes FB thread I expressed my opinion pretty thoroughly. I call bullshit. Let me know if you can’t find the thread. I tire of Driscoll lol

  23. Becky Garrison says:

    So far the deeds have yet to match the screed – Mark was absent from the pulpit the Sunday after this broke and his sermon preached on 8/16 was only done live in front of the small 8:30pm service at Bellevue which is where his sermons are taped for distribution to the other campuses the following week. A videotape of the sermon was shown at the other larger services where Mark normally preaches live. The topic of the sermon was worldly v godly ambition and NOWHERE in the sermon was anything about these latest rounds of snafus addressed – it was like hearing an alcoholic preach about the need for sobriety while sipping a beer.

    IF Mark is genuine here then some format will be set up whereby he will work to heal the heart and souls he shattered. FYI – there are hordes of people that need to be given not only an apology but reconciliation and in some cases restitution. Careers were ruined, lives torn apart and other moves starting in 2007 when the bylaws were changed to centralize power from 24 elders to 3. This escalated in 2011 when Sutton Turner was brought on board as an executive elder and people began leaving like rats on a ship – to this effect, Mark will make the needed changes in staff so that a healthy system is in place instead of what exists today.

    And he will create transparency in the church’s financials which to be honest are godawful – this is the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed. Any time anyone asks “where’s the money,” they are vilified. I’ve never seen a church with so many LLCs in use.

  24. Juan says:

    I don’t know him – can’t guess his intent – I have never seen a motive, his or anyone else’s. I wish him the best – and I am grateful for the grace God extends me in Jesus.

    BUT the main part I don’t like is that he is doing nothing to give that book money back to the church. It is an apology, but no reconciliation. If I was tithing to that church, I would feel deeply wronged.

    He used church money to buy books to give to church members so he could make the NY Times list. Not only did he take church money for his personal ambition, he also made a lot of money in that deal – say, like $2 a book. He needs to give ALL that money BACK to the church – and then lower his salary to repay at least some of the $200k over the next several years.

  25. Charis says:

    David, I have an idea for a cartoon but I’m not artistic. To me what popped in the “apology” is that Grace has no voice and no influence in their marriage. She is not allowed or is too afraid to speak plainly to him. The cartoon is Mark doing a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, but his hands are over Grace’s mouth instead of his own.

    Here is the clip where I see Grace walking around on eggshells afraid to confront him and crying out in prayer that God would intervene:

    QUOTE MD APOLOGY (Relevant Magazine, 2014): “When we recently discussed this [decisions I have come to with our Senior Pastor Jesus Christ] to reset our life together, late at night on the couch, she [Grace] started crying tears of joy. She did not know how to make our life more sustainable, and did not want to discourage me, but had been praying that God would reveal to me a way to reset our life.”

  26. David says:

    Yes Charis I noticed that distinctly when I read it. It does make for a great cartoon. Let me think on it. Thanks!

  27. Gary says:

    I think the reason why the apology smacks of such a lack of sincerity to me is because he used the opportunity to go out of his way to cast himself in the leadership/fatherly role.

    I actually see it as very passive aggressive.

  28. I wrote more about this on my blog (http://christythomas.com/2014/03/17/mark-driscoll-and-the-art-of-unrepentant-repentance/) but my deep concern is that in the letter, he very much sets himself up as the “father” of the congregants. In his male-centered/male-power theology, that continues to leave him unaccountable to anyone because the “father” has the final word. I have thought for a long time that Driscoll is a deeply damaged human being, greatly in need of good therapy. If he were truly repentant, he would actually take a year or two completely away from ministry to sort this out. But he appears convinced that people will not be “saved” without his actions. A very dangerous proposition, indeed, and one that equates him with God.

  29. tad says:

    as for him being a “father” to his church, he is, in the same sense that the other thousands of churches and denominations have set up their own system of fathers and hierarchies. many bodies, many heads. in the beginning it was not so, nor was it the intent of “the church.” he is merely another in a 500 year old tradition.

  30. Kaeli says:

    I am up for the positive. He’s a messed up man like all of us. Opening up to Christ to change us (even if it has a few ounces of boast) is such a great step. Number One in recovery.
    I am aware of the negative, but I see it as one step forward in the right direction. God knows how many wake up calls it will take for us to Trust Him and let Him govern our lives. If it takes Driscoll 40 times to do whatever he has to do, he might have just bumped down to 39.

  31. Tim says:

    Didn’t somebody once warn about when the medium becomes the message?

  32. Melissa S says:

    I too am skeptical regarding his apology and have been personally affected by his ministry approach in a negative way but The Lord and some very wise and mature believers have helped me through it. And I’m very thankful for what I learned in the process. Regarding the cartoon idea involving Grace, David I would implore you not to do this! My husband was the pastor of a church for five years and so I understand enough to know that she is in the most vulnerable position of all. Unless there’s specific evidence against her that suggests that her husbands words and actions are hers as well then shouldn’t we as her brothers and sisters in Christ seek to honor and protect her? Posting an image of her as a monkey with no ability to think for herself is simply cruel.

  33. David says:

    I would never draw her as a monkey.

  34. Melissa S says:

    Forgive me if I’m wrong about the origins but don’t you think that a “monkey” is implied due to the original use of “hear no evil, speak no evil” even if she isn’t drawn as one?

  35. David says:

    And I wouldn’t draw the cartoon for her specifically, but for all women who live under silence generally.

  36. Heidi says:

    Hi David, thank you for your insight.
    This issue has been a big deal to me. Not because I was personally affected by MD but I had my own MD in my life that pretty much destroyed myself and my husband. We are still picking up shattered pieces of ourselves after 2 years of being out of our abusive church experience.
    So when I read about him it is like a mirror image of what took place for us. We endured abuse for a few years before finally speaking up. In the process we were silenced and vilified. I cannot get into all the details, but we were abused again and again from the top down. We were isolated and he quit his job and gathered sympathy. His consequence for destroying us and others was that he was given a brand new position in a bigger church in no time. We were told to keep our mouths shut and stop trying to get our pound of flesh.
    Laws were broken and lives were shattered. We will never be the same again. We and others are still suffering from the consequences but nothing has ever been done to fix the damage. Which makes me think, how can someone truly be sorry and realize the extent of the damage if they haven’t bothered to participate in healing the brokenhearted. So reading this brings it all back. And being through what I have my heart breaks for the victims.
    People need to stop telling them how they should get over it and just forgive, it is so invalidating and solves absolutely nothing.
    I have never read of Driscoll visiting with the wounded to make things right! We need to encourage the victims by giving them a voice, that is half the healing right there.
    MD’s apology looks like a publicity stunt to me. I have seen it all before and it makes me sick.

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