Do you ever have the experience of reading the first few chapters of a book and you think, “Wow, this author has read my mail!” and you want to tell everyone how great a book it is and how you wish that you could meet the author and share the insights with everyone you meet? And then, after peaking early, the book begins a slow slide down to its inevitable conclusion and you think, “What happened?” That was my experience with Mark Driscoll’s “Confessions.”
The book begins with a really powerful opening chapter entitled, “Ten Curious Questions,” which detail the cultural influences on the church and mission in 21st Century America. Driscoll helpfully and fruitfully looks at Christianity as a missional movement, meaning that Christians can no longer pay someone ‘over there’ to do our mission work. We Christians have to be about taking the gospel into our neighborhoods seriously. He uses some biblical images to build up a Christian community and talks the very real divides in the church along liberal, conservative, evangelical, emerging and emergent lines. I found all of this discussion extremely helpful. The next couple of chapters talk about Driscoll’s plan for investigating Seattle like a missionary and how he helped to build a mega-church. The chapters are peppered with ideas from Malcolm Gladwell, Lyle Schaller, Donald Miller and Dan Kimball. Throughout Driscoll offers some pretty innovative ideas and Biblical concepts alongside a quirky sense of humor. He seemed honest and upfront about mistakes he had made and how he had learned from those mistakes.
Somewhere about mid-book, though, I got a sinking feeling. Driscoll concludes his chapter on ecclesiology by pointing out that his model is ‘biblical’ and that his insights from his ecclesial studies prove that “Jesus . . . only appoints men to the highest position of spiritual leadership.” Here the author seems to deny that there are a variety of biblical ecclesiologies and theologies and his holding out only one as THE biblical way is really reductionist. (And as a UCC pastor, I took issue with his understanding of congregational ecclesiology as a church “led by . . . majority vote.” No, we are not. Our only head is Jesus Christ the Lord.) Driscoll’s arguments here can be reduced down to “I felt this was where God was leading us” but without a context or a tradition or a community, how does the author know any of this is God’s vision? Could it be Driscoll’s alone? Or as Scrooge said in “A Christmas Carol” an undigested bit of cheese? It strikes me as very individualistic, a perspective that I would propose the Bible, by and large, does not share.
About this time the narrative really ramps up the uses of “about me,” “with me,” “my church,” and so on. He made a lot of decisions at this point in his ministry that were of the my-way-or-the-highway-type. The talk of biblical models and Jesus Christ starts to fade and self-talk of the author begins to build. He seems to thrive on conflict and on people playing king of the hill. Several faithful and ‘godly’ (Driscoll’s term) men were let go in organizational shuffles to help advance the mission. My problem here is not so much on the nature of the re-shuffling–it happens all the time–but for one so concerned about the Biblical context for mission to use secular standards and models for hiring and firing, seems to go against the earlier groundwork laid by Driscoll when he claimed he would “repent of everything” that did not conform with Jesus’ mission for the city. Perhaps the most revealing example of this comes in chapter six when, due to the growth of the congregation, the author pulled back from his availability by getting a new phone, email and moving to a new home (in order that most congregants could not find him)! Although I applaud the author’s intent to draw boundaries (it is his responsibility to draw and maintain clear boundaries), I must ask what sort of Biblical model requires a withdrawal from the community of which one is part? I can’t see it. It seems here that the author drops the ball–it may be appropriate from secular or even a practical mega-church pastor standpoint. However, I do have some concerns about the congruence of this withdrawal with the Biblical Witness. It is a shame that the author did not develop this point more.
In conclusion, I like the opening chapters when it seems there was more humility and introspection. There are some great insights before the church begins it fantastic growth spurt. However, the book feels a little unfinished for me–like the principles laid down in the early parts of the book don’t bring the conclusions over the goal line. Another interesting point will be relevance–the book was written in 2006–how will its conclusions look in 10 years? Happy reading!
What to listen to while reading this book: Driscoll name drops Dave Bazan as one time worship leader at his church.