heapin' helpin' of hospitality

So are you shocked that I am troubled by the Driscoll links I posted yesterday? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Most of you are ready to click next blog, especially those who have clicked through from Seattle, and for wading through the rest of this rather than doing so, I say God bless you.

Now, what is so troubling about Pastor Driscoll’s interview at DGM? Let’s be clear that one of the things which is troubling is his theology -- but it’s troubling in the same way my theology is troubling (I hope), and TeamPyro’s theology is troubling, and Doug Wilson’s theology is troubling. It’s troubling in that it causes troubles. Personally, I think there’s something pretty interesting going on when a guy can run a techno-goth dance club for a church and still get people angry enough when he preaches the Gospel to make them want to picket his church or punch him in the face.

And I’m a little off-kilter because Pastor Driscoll and I agree that America is not being evangelized. Listen: for all the alleged 16-million Southern Baptists and all the alleged non-denominationals and what have you, there’s not much change of heart going on in this country. If we are doing anything, we have a really nice bunker, and if that’s Driscoll’s point, I guess we agree.

But those things aside, he did say this:
And so for me, it’s a hospitality issue. Our building is black on the outside. There’s no natural light. The ceilings are black. There’s half a million dollars of sound gear ... I mean, we started as a Bible study with 10 people in my living room, I’ve seen this thing grow to almost 5,000 in 9 years and plant, in our network now, a hundred churches. So, I mean, God has certainly blessed it in every way, but, um, as far as our style goes? It’s real Seattle vibe. Seattleites walk right in, feels like home. It’s high-tech, it’s industrial, it’s urban, it’s arty, it’s highly educated, it’s literate, it’s sarcastic. All o’that works, but at its core it’s reformed classic Protestant theology just presented in a way that non-Christian arty tech single, sexually-active universalistic non-christian would actually feel welcomed into the church style-wise, and then hear the truth of the Gospel.
And before we take out the decapitation cloppers on this quote, let’s consider a few things.

For example, let’s consider that the reason we have this interview clip is because John Piper’s DGM has invited Pastor Driscoll to the fall conference. Now, why could this be? One of the reasons could be, of course, that Dr. Piper has gone soft. I doubt it, but it’s in the logical deck of cards, right? But isn’t it at least as-likely that Dr. Piper has had more than a passing conversation with Pastor Driscoll and has found something compelling and resonant in the view of men and the Gospel that he is elaborating here? And can we take a minute and trust John Piper -- listen, why should I have to say “trust John Piper” out loud unless we (the people of the blogosphere) are considering to distrust him in this matter in spite of the credibility and reliability he has as a christian, a baptist and a pastor -- enough to at least give Mark Driscoll a fair hearing when he has been civil enough to make his case in a very calm and rational way?

Let’s also consider that I am the one who has gone on-record to say that conducting witch-hunts is a disreputable past-time. Trying to find ways to take away somebody’s “truly reformed” decoder ring over what are secondary matters -- even if they are important secondary matters -- is exactly what the New Testament is warning us about when it says not to be or associate with men who are divisive and quarrelsome.

So as we cast a steely baptist eye upon what Mark Driscoll says here, let’s continue to have a little grace for the guy who said (as I would have said in his place) that Brian McLaren’s take on the morality of homosexuality was “gay”.

So is there anything right about what he said here? For example, is hospitality a Christian virtue? Well, of course it is -- and I would agree with Pastor Driscoll that what is hospitable in Beijing, China, is different than what is hospitable in Owasso, OK. No question: culture makes a difference in that example.

And is there actually anything wrong with a half-million dollar sound system? Man, after spending 500-Large, I sure hope not -- it would be a shame if it didn’t shock and awe, to be honest ... oh, you meant “morally wrong”. Let me say it this way: there is not anything any more or less wrong or right with that sound system than there is, for example, in buying the Compaq Center to worship in, or building your own civic-arena-sized building in which to do what you do on Sunday morning. Meaning: if it’s OK for there to be churches the size of the town that I live in, then it’s OK that they have a sound system that does not require cheerleader megaphones.

So what’s left? I have a short list.

[1] I think there’s a question -- which never gets resolved, so I am not going to try to clear it up -- about whether we can measure God’s blessing on a church using a census (you know: our growth rate is 50,000% over 9 years, so God is blessing us). My suggestion is that it is possible that God is blessing Mars Hill, but that the raw numbers are not any more or less indicative of that than they would be at any given SBC church that has rolls filled with “members”.

The flip-side of the question is this: dude -- 100 church plants in 9 years? That’s of the chiz-ain. Even if Mars Hill winds up, in the final account, being a trendy Dolly Madison cake with a secret Gospel filling, and it is planting churches exactly like itself, that’s a lot better than, say, my home church can muster. (no offense, Tad -- you’ve only been here 18 months)

[2] I don’t think corporate worship is the time in which we ape the culture -- even under the cover of “hospitality”, and even if it is to “welcome” people in order to make them hear the Gospel (even if they won’t listen).

The flip side of that -- which I admit is a very challenging flip side -- is that there is no doubt that every tribe, tongue and nation will give praise to the Lamb in the final account, though it might be a little proof-texty to say that “punk rock culture” is what the Holy Spirit had in mind when He got those words penned for the NT. And I say that as a guy who was affiliated with the punk scene in the mid 80’s through college radio -- that is, for such a one as these surely I used to be.

In that, all the hymns and gospel songs and choruses we sing in church are unquestionably products of cultures which may or may not have been associated with the apostles. It’s not a sin, for example, to read the Bible in English. So is it a sin, for example, to praise God with a spiritual song which requires power chords and a drum kit? Can we redeem not just the men and women in a culture, but the culture itself for the work of the Gospel?

[3] Last of all, this “redeeming the culture” stuff seems pretty good as an idea, but does it mean that the Gospel has to be delivered in a package that a “arty tech single, sexually-active universalistic non-christian would actually feel welcomed into the church style-wise”? this goes back, unquestionably, to my post of witch hunts and the use of non-christian ideas to advance the Gospel: what does it mean, for example, to adopt a “style” for the Gospel which is “welcoming” to the “fornicator” (read: “single, sexually-active universalistic non-christian”)?

This is the troubling thing for me, at its core: there is a big difference between getting a Chinese haircut and wearing Chinese clothes and eating Chinese food for the sake of saving some, and finding innovative ways to make the fornicator feel welcome just as he is right now.

Hear me clearly: the Gospel message in undoubtedly repent and be baptized because Jesus is Lord and Christ. It’s not, “first clean up you act and then we can talk about Jesus.” But the message “repent and be baptized” is a much more powerful message than “Just as I am” (no matter how many stanzas you sing) -- and it is a message which is an affront to the fornicator (isn’t that funny? That word sounds like an argument against preaching sin because it’s a word that the fornicator would take as fundy extremism and irrelevance) because it demands that he give up his porn and his hook-ups because Jesus is Lord and Christ. If you dress the Gospel up like a whore to tease him into your event, but when she does her stripe-tease and she kicks him in the mouth for looking at him that way, I suggest that style is, in fact, not compatible with substance. I have no particular examples of Mars Hill doing something like this, but taking Pastor Driscoll at his word it is modeling its style after what the culture thinks looks good to them and draping the gospel in that. I think the metaphor stands.

So my reaction is really two-fold. On the one hand, I honestly think that Mars Hill has a legitimate challenge for American christianity -- and at its center is the right-hearted, right-minded complaint that we are not speaking to the culture but, in many ways, past the culture and around the culture in order to stay safe. It also betrays the idea that we think we are Christian culture, all arrived and be just like us, which is completely stupid.

But on the other hand, there’s a lot more to talk about here. I would agree with Pastor Driscoll that reading the Bible in English is a concession to the culture – but is it the same kind of concession as playing punk rock hymns, or being “welcoming” (whatever that actually means) to the sexual transient (how’s that for a substitute for “fornicator”)?

Here’s what I don’t think Mark Driscoll means: I don’t think he means we need to be permissive with people about sin. But what he does mean seems to be obscured (to me anyway – maybe someone can clear it up for me) under what is frankly still a work in progress on his part. I am interested in what he is doing, and frankly I’m interested in him personally because I think he’s going someplace that is worth going – which is the evangelization of this generation. I would love to get him in the DebateBlog over this stuff and give him a chance to give a little back for all the grief I have (at least inside the walls of this blog) given him. That’s not likely, but I leave the door open.

Have a nice weekend, and spend the Lord’s day in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people. Not on the couch reading blogs in your underwear.