Out here in Seattle, you can’t swing a cat without running into someone disillusioned with Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. Not just any stick is good for beating on Driscoll or MHC, so we ought to make distinctions between the good and the bad, the helpful and unhelpful. Sincere Christians should shun gossip–negative speech that helps no one–and strive to edify each other. Here are three unhelpful types of criticism followed by an attempt at a constructive one.
Malicious This point is obvious, but someone who tries to tear down the church with openly sinful motives shouldn’t be listened to. I’m thinking of one blog post where the author offered to fist fight Mark at the end of it–not very subtle. Open bitterness, violence, slander, all the obvious signs of people who pick at emotional scabs should be pitied, not promoted. It doesn’t mean they don’t have anything right; they might. It means they’re not judicious, their motives are twisted, and the author of Hebrews warns us that roots of bitterness spring up and defile many (12:15). Many sympathetic readers of these attacks would never talk or write this way, but they are lured into giving ear to it. The enemy of your enemy is not your friend. He may well be an enemy of your Savior, though.
Self Pitying These are not necessarily scurrilous but still extremely unhelpful, and when they continue they can define someone. How would you counsel someone who blogged about their unfaithful spouse for years after the end of the marriage? What if they justified doing it as a warning to others because they too might end up marrying this person or someone like them? There is a deep temptation in the human heart to classify ourselves as victims and to run this line in our heads over and over. It’s plausible because we are truly victims to some degree of the sins of others. But forgiving and letting go, knowing everyone will answer to their own Master, is freedom. Of course this doesn’t preclude appropriate and productive discussion of situations that occur. The question is whether or not it’s productive. Should you tell the whole world about this?
If you want a test whether your complaint is edifying or not, ask yourself, at the end of your conversation or blog post, are you rejoicing in the work of Christ? Or are you feeling like a victim and pitying yourself? The apostle Paul tells the story about his enemies preaching the gospel to injure him as an occasion of joy: “Only in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that a I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18). A true victim of malice, he was anything but victimized, and his whole recounting of it makes everyone thankful for him and God’s greater purpose in his persecution.
Inaccurate For those further away from Driscoll, bitterness is less of a temptation, though envy might well be at play. Who is this upstart who began with no seminary education? But I don’t want to read hearts–critic caveat. Still, some conclusions like Carl Trueman’s–“The overall picture is one of disaster“–are simply false. The overall picture is lots of evangelism, complementarian integrity, a call to masculine leadership, aggressive church planting, lots of outstanding books published, and who knows what other good fruit will fall off the young, restless and reformed tree. Of course, all of these virtues are imperfect since the church is run by people, but they are virtues nonetheless. I’ve met a lot of people who have outgrown the info-tainment worship and other immaturities at MHC, but were either wonderfully converted or discipled or both there. If Paul is thankful for his enemies, how much more should we be thankful for these brothers and sisters and the good work that continues there?
Trueman also makes the point that “there is no real accountability involved”. He refers to the incident where the executive elders at MHC approved the strategy of a marketing firm they hired to spend $200,000 getting Driscoll’s marriage book up the NY Times’ bestseller list. This was a bonehead move but for different, and actually more substantial, reasons than Trueman states. It goes in the same category as the recent exposure of MHC’s policy of having their pastors sign non-compete agreements: worldliness.
The problem is not lack of accountability. The elders took responsibility for the marketing move saying it was “unwise.” It’s not like this was a shotgun decision by a rogue elder. This was something they decided to do, and such elders must steward the large resources they’re entrusted with. What they didn’t confess, but should have, is not that it was unwise, but that it was worldy, wanting to become great by other means than those Jesus allows. He says to become the greatest by becoming the servant of all, not by marketing tricks or by implementing policies that ensure numerical growth in competition with other local churches (!). These are policies that dozens of elders and maybe hundreds of deacons tolerate and de facto endorse, and we don’t need one-sided accounts of private meetings to see it. It’s public.
This worldliness doesn’t ruin all the other good things that are happening at the church for which, like Paul at Rome, we can and must be thankful for, cynics notwithstanding. If we see the situation rightly, this gratitude drives our hope and prayers for this part of His kingdom.