The Mark Driscoll Fiasco: What the Latest Flap Teaches Us About The Neo-Reformed Movement

You can stop reading this post if you think I am going to review Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book Real Marriage. I have a much more boring post in mind.
Driscoll’s Real Marriage book is to the NeoReformed what Rob Bell’s Love Wins was to the Emerging church last year. They both stir up humongous sales with a media frenzy and in the process reveal the “cracking” (to use Scot McKnight’s word) taking place within the mainline N. American protestant evangelical church. As with Bell’s book, so also with Driscoll’s book, each brouhaha (to use Bill Kinnon’s word) reveals something of the theological pulse driving their respective movements.

This time the Driscoll fiasco revolves an interview done by the Driscoll’s about their book with Justin Brierley on the British radio program Unbelievable (here’s the podcast of the entire hour-long interview with Mark Driscoll). There was a “dust-up” on the interview. Driscoll was offended. He then calls it “the most disrespectful, adversarial, and subjective” interview he’s ever had. And now it’s all over the internet driving up sales of his (and his wife’s) new book.

My take (and the angle I want to pursue) on the interview is that Driscoll’s “act” simply doesn’t translate well into the very post-Christendom context of Britian.  In fact the whole encounter reveals the Christendon assumptions that drive his theology. There are three missional “bugaboos” that he clashes with Brierley on. Each bugaboo represents a theological position we Missionals fear/resist because of the way these things work against mission.  In this interview, these bugaboos  are a.) Driscoll’s singular obsession with penal substitutionary atonement, b.) his commitment to hierarchical male authority in the church, and c.) his blind belief in the importance of preaching/successful preacher to the church’s identity. These bugaboos represent the Christendom assumptions behind Driscoll’s theology and way he operates. Yet I think we can make a case for interpreting Driscoll as  a symptom of the wider Neo-Reformed theological movement. So I think this episode reveals more than just Driscoll’s Christendom theology and mode of operation. I think it speaks to why the current Neo-Reformed revival and its theology will have a hard time leading missional–incarnational-externally driven church. So I put this theological psychoanalysis to the test before all my neo-Reformed friends. Let’s converse. Here goes!

(FYI: I’m riffing off of the account of the interview here and here, Driscoll’s response to the interview here, and Justin’s response to Driscoll as reported here).

1.) The Focus on the Substitionary Atonement. Towards the end of the interview, Driscoll asks Brierley if he believes in the penal substitutionary atonement. When Brierley affirms it as one of many ways to view the cross, Driscoll suggests he’s being cowardly about it.  Driscoll then insists on singular commitment to penal substitutionary atonement is essential to the success of the gospel.

To me this speaks to the singular focus on the penal subtitutionary atonement that is central in many parts of the Neo-Reformed matrix regardless of contextual considerations. Am I right? Driscoll is blind to contextual considerations concerning salvation. In other words, the atonement is many faceted (read McKnights Community of Atonement for example). One size does not fit all. It could be argued that penal substititionary atonement makes the most sense in Christendom, amidst a culture shaped under Medieval Catholicism, it’s theology and penitential system (Driscoll grew up Catholic). Moral guilt, you could say, was (and is) the singular Christendom condition into which Reformed theology was born. It is not however as universal in the West as it once was. If we insist on being locked into this one view of the atonement, we will in essence be narrowing our context for mission.

The atonement is wider, bigger and more multitudinous than substitionary theory. And the hurts and pains of the world we are engaging cannot be put fit into this one theory. I believe in the substitionary theory of the atonement. But it is limited. The work that God is doing in the world includes reconciliation, healing, restoration, justice, and the victory and authority of Christ over Satan, evil, sin and death. It is in short God at work through Christ making all things right.  A narrow focus on substitionary atonement disables the church from engaging the world outside Western Christendom culture. It discounts the manifold ways God in Christ has come to set the whole world right. Mark Driscoll can’t understand this. And so when he enters a post-Christendom context he gets frustrated.

Does not Drsicoll’s frustration then reveal the atonement myopia at the heart of the Neo-Reformed movement. Does it not reveal the weakness inherent in Neo-Reformed theology for those of us minsistering in post Christendom contexts (like Brierley’s Britian)? Does not his whole fiasco reveal how the singular focus on subtititionary atonement hinders missional engagement? Yes? no?

2.) The View that Authority is Hierarchical. Towards the end of the interview the issue of women pastors came up. It caused a bit of a flare-up in Driscoll’s intensity. Driscoll ends up suggesting that the reason why more people did not show up at Brierley’s church was because of a woman in leadership. To me, this has been a subtle persistent theme within Neo-Reformed ecclesiology: that men should be over women in authority in the church. Now it explodes on a radio interview in the UK. This I suggest is a Neo-Reformed habit learned and sustained in Christendom.

Authority in Christendom is viewed in hierarchical terms. Hierarchical patterns of leadership exist readily in established church systems where you have Christianized people who are already conditioned to respect clergy authority, where things can get done, goods and services distributed, decisions made, disputes arbitrated more efficiently among Christians who already submit. It is because of these ingrained habits of hierarchy that most Neo-Reformed views of church authority have struggles with women in authority over men (OK this is at least one of the reasons). Take hierarchy out of the authority question and it becomes much harder to interpret Scripture in a way that excludes women from leadership in the church.

In the post-Christendom world, authority is flattened in the church and pushed outward (Read this post for more info). Positional authority of anyone over someone else is not the way things work in the Kingdom (read Mark 10:42). Instead we work alongside each other out of our giftedness in the communities appreciating one another gifts and mutually submitting one to another in each one’s gifts (read Eph 4, Rom 12:3-8). The authority lies in one’s recognized gift. The idea that women are over men is as unthinkable as the idea that men are over women.

Flattened authority structures push leadership out amidst the organic work of ministry in context. Hierarchy pushes church ministry inward and upward for approval. Hierarchical authority inhibits dispersed missional engagement. Its structures will miss with people who submit to authority only as encountered via authentic relational engagement. Driscoll seems blind to these issues. He’s absolutely frustrated with Brierley’s inability to be impressed with the importance of top down male leadership. My question is: are these assumptions part of the larger Neo-Reformed movement as a whole and does this mean that the Neo-Reformed will always be inhibited somewhat from true missional engagement? (Can I say “just asking?”). It will always be a movement prone to attracting Christianized people who are already habituated to submit to a pre-established hierarchical (male) authority.

3.) The assumption that “success” is best measured by the number of people who show up to hear a male preacher preach. When Mark Driscoll finds out that Justin Brierley’s wife is a pastor and is questioned on the validity of a wife whose husband supports his wife’s leadership, Mark asks about the size and growth of his wife’s church.  He says among other things “You look at your results and you look at my results and look at the variable that is the most obvious.” In other words I have thousands in my church, and you have a few hundred. That proves female leadership is inferior.

To me this is more than blind Driscollian machismo. This reveals something deeper in the Neo-Reformed ethos. There is a tendency in the Neo-Reformed movement to put a large emphasis on the gathering to hear preaching. I believe in preaching! But I see its function differently in the mission of the church. For the Neo-Reformed – correct me if I am wrong – there is a confidence that non-Christian people will still come to church to hear a good sermon. There is therefore a default tendency in Neo-Reformed churches to see success in terms of the numbers of people gathering on Sunday to hear a male preacher preach. This is a missional bugaboo. Success in mission will not always look like big numbers listening to a preacher (has Driscoll ever heard of Fresh Expressions in UK?). I see preaching as formational for a missional people, not a place where mission actually takes place (although I am uncomfortable with making that split). As a result, though often unintentional, the Neo-Reformed movement often devolves into a male led preacher attracting already existing Christians to come hear a good sermon. It thereby mistrains the congregation to think this is what church and mission is all about. That’s perhaps an over-characterization. But is there any truth to it?

Again, I think Driscoll’s question about the size of his wife’s congregation is more than a slip of the Driscollian machismo, I think it reveals something at the heart of the Neo-Reformed movement that will hinder it in the formation of congregations for mission. What say you?

In Conclusion

I see in the Mark Driscoll dust-up with Justin Brierley a revealing of some of the Christendom habits deep within the Neo-Reformed movement although often covered over by the many good things they do. The fact that Mark Driscoll’s flare-up happens in the UK – a very post Christendom place – only reinforces my case.

Some have said in response, that Mark Driscoll’s church is in Seattle, the most post-Christendom city in the US. But here, in this post, he says boldly admits going to Canada or the UK is much harder to do ministry than even in Seattle. He states “You are in a cultural context that is more non-Christian, and even anti-Christian, than even the most liberal cities in the United States. I’ve taught across Scotland, Ireland, and England. Each one is more difficult to reach than my hometown of Seattle, which is one of the historically least-churched and most secular-minded cities in America. I’ve said for years that Britain and Canada are more secular and difficult than the United States.” He basically admits that he himself with his particular approach to ministry would have difficulty succeeding in his own approach to ministry. Does this then not reveal what I am saying here? Driscoll is largely dependent upon the harvesting of already Christianized populations in Seattle area (what’s left of them)? Is this then why he then goes with video churches to go capture other such populations elsewhere? Does this then reveal some things that my Neo-Reformed brothers have to examine about their own theological modus operandi? I genuinely ask these questions for the furtherance of God’s Mission in our times.

It may seem unfair to stigmatize the entire Neo-Reformed movement with the likes of a Mark Driscoll temper flare-up. But I’ve learned that these kind of escapades are the best places to look at the cultural forces at work in theology and poitics. For myself, Mark Driscoll is an irruption of sorts on the skin of the Neo-Reformed movement.  His flare-up, if closely examined, can reveal some of the theology at work and the forces behind these theological allegiances. How other leaders in the movement respond to him, like Tim Challies,  Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, Tim Keller, Collin Hansen,  James McDonald, will reveal perhaps even more. Is Mark Driscoll just an outlier for the Neo-Reformed movement or is he the truth that lies at its core?

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123 responses to “The Mark Driscoll Fiasco: What the Latest Flap Teaches Us About The Neo-Reformed Movement

  1. First off, Driscoll is not Neo-Reformed. He’s a Neo-Puritan. This makes sense is light of Puritanism not the Dutch Calvinism. http://neopuritan.wordpress.com/neo-puritanism-vs-neo-calvinism/

    1. Anthony, … can you give me a break 🙂 … Yes, yes yes … we know Neo-Reformed does not equal Calvin, Kuyper etc.

      I’ve heard this, seen it for years. NOBODY IS SAYING THAT.

      What people like myself are saying is that in Calvin, Kuyper etc. once transferred to American democracy, turns into Neo-Reformed evangelicalism. This point is a good one to wrestle with, why/how did Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide,etc… translate into something totally foreign once removed from the Majesterial Reformation in Europe? But this is not the point of this post.
      I forward this piece by Hauerwas for your perusal in the meantime … http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/08/08/2947368.htm

      1. [email protected] says:

        Also see America’s God by Mark Noll.

      2. [email protected] says:

        As a graduate of Calvin College, a reformed christian school in America, founded by dutch immigrants, this distinction is pretty important to me. I find Driscoll’s obsession with heirarchy obnoxious and in many ways counter to the spirit of the reformation, and therefore find calling him “neo-reformed” a bit frustrating. I don’t want the tradition I grew up in lumped in with these trends that I dislike!

        1. Their is a considerable difference between the Neo-Calvinism of Kuyper, Bavinck, Dooyeweerd et al and the neo-reformed practices of the Young, Restless and Reformed.

          1. IMO there is a difference, a big cultural difference, but there is a linkage that is nonetheless undeniable. Calvin never would have recognized his own thought or vision of church in Piper, Mohler etc., but nonetheless, he sowed the seeds which led to this especially as it trasnferred across “the pond” from a Christendom culture built on Medeival Catholicism to a Christendom built on Modern democratic liberalism. 🙂

          2. You need to have this conversation with my friends, Gideon Strauss and Jonathan Chaplin. I’m in over my head, Dr. Dave. 😉

        2. [email protected] says:

          Hi Bethany, Hi Fitch,
          This is my first-ever post on any blog site. However, to whom it may concern, including Bethany, the kind of Reformed people we are talking about are exclusively the heritage of the English-language Reformed movement. The differences of the English from everybody else on the Continent during the 16th and 17th centuries lay in the English Bible (different from the German) and the Confessions – Westminster is very different from Augsburg and Heidelberg (you can fill in about Dort). In particular, the “biblical” ENGLISH word for the doctrine of penal subsitutionary atonement is “propitiation” (KJV at Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), but no word meaning “propitiation” ever stood in Luther’s Bible, though there is the idea in the Augsburg Confession, sec. 3. The Neo-Reformed we are talking about are co-extensive with the promoters of the English Standard Version. In my experience the Dutch Reformed are about an entirely different cluster of debates. I guess “Neo Reformed” can be a historical term for Kuyper, Bavinck, etc. But in that case, someone else coined “Neo Reformed” again to refer the 5-point Calvinistic BAPTISTS who now have set themselves up as the “Protestant Magisterium”* for American conservative evangelicalism. Think Piper, Mohler, Carson, Grudem, and Mark Dever.

          *Incidentally, the phrase is the title of an M.A. thesis at Northern Seminary (where Fitch teaches) by Kevin Franco, which I am supervising.

          It can indeed be the case that someone re-uses a term with no reference to its classic meaning, and that’s how I understand the term Neo-Reformed as used by Fitch. What is “new” is the idea that some evangelicals would try to steal the moral high ground and split evangelicalism, and this has only begun to happen since the early 1990s, around the time Mohler became president of Southern Seminary. That’s why we have the “new” phenomenon of promoters of the ESV trying to ruin the reputation of the NIV, even though the NIV 2011 revision editor is a sane and sober conservative, Doug Moo, formerly of Trinity (and a friend or at least co-author of Carson’s) and now at Wheaton.

          Hey, I’m a biblical scholar now working as an engineering manager and writer of federal grant applications, I do not follow this stuff, I cannot help but get wind of it and have had some first hand experience of it (in a pretty harmless form) in churches.


        3. Bethany,I too am a graduate of Calvin College (& Calvin Seminary). Yet, the points David are making are fair. In particular, there continues to be a perceived reality that sermons (generally preached by men) are how the gospel is transferred to the next generation. It is perceived as the heart and core of creating new disciples.

          The emphasis of Calvin Seminary is theology and preaching. The emphasis is not on missions, contemplating the mission of the church (aka missiology), and nor are their classes that teach future pastors how to have a grew conversation about the ways of Jesus at the local brewery…. or anywhere else outside the walls of the church building.

          Not to be hard on Calvin College as I have a deep passion for the school, some good places such as Calvin are still in need of reforming.

  2. David,
    I enjoyed the post and you make several good points. However, I think that the behavior says more about Mark Driscoll than it does about the theology you discuss. A temper tantrum has little to do with one’s theology and much to do with one’s personality and view of him or herself and surrounding environment.

    In Christ,


    1. Greg,… all I’ll say is … not always. I’ll let my case speak for itself. 🙂

    2. I have to agree with that, Greg. I can’t imagine, say, a Tim Keller answering questions in the same defensive, my-way-or-the-highway style, and Keller is squarely in the camp, as you point out.
      Driscoll’s style and some of his message have troubled me (yes, a reformed believer, U.S.) for a long time, and I think many of “the elders” of this wing of evangelicalism are waiting and hoping for him to grow out of this. It’s like a prolonged “cage stage,” and it’s given way too much air time. Many of us are indeed wincing — though probably not for exactly the same reasons as you are, David.

      1. I should have said “as David points out.”

      2. I hesitate to comment on Keller because he is highly favored in most camps – but what Dave is making a case for is actually true of Keller too. The three main points made by Dave are all true of Keller. Keller is just more palatable as a person, but he could not recant any of the distinctions for his church movement that Dave makes of Driscoll’s movement. The distinction regarding substitutionary atonement is where Keller is more slippery. He does hold penal substitutionary atonement as the “one ring” that rules them all – he just more subtle about it.
        The nature of one’s theology does shape the “how” of one’s theology and vice versa. Matt Chandler has said it himself, “that he loves Reformed/Calvinist Theology but just doesn’t like the people.” I am not talking about the Dutch Reformed tradition. The way that a tradition’s theology coalesces with their praxis and practices does engender a certain kind of response in its adherents. I don’t think it is too far fetched to say that we will know a theological tradition by its fruits. Driscoll might be the most sour of those fruits but his flagrance cannot be divorced from his theology.

        The other aspect is that he is drawn to the tradition he has found himself in for the same reasons I’m repelled by it. So whether it’s his personality or his tradition – we are drawn to traditions that allow us to feel at home in our own skin. There has to be reciprocal relationship between Driscoll’s flare ups and his theology.

      3. Good perspective Wendy. Thanks.
        “I think many of ‘the elders’ of this wing of evangelicalism are waiting and hoping for him to grow out of this.”

        They should stop waiting and call him to accountability. It is their responsibility and duty.

  3. [email protected] says:

    Excellent post …. and response to Anthony……
    Driscoll’s obsession with guilt now falls into place.

  4. Interesting post David. So far as I can tell, the three points you mention here are all sticking points among those who aren’t Christians or those who are younger Christians. I suppose an important question would be whether we can think of anyone outside of the Christian fold who would respond to Driscoll’s theology. Will it only appeal to former Catholics and former mainline Christians? Does it have the ability to reach out to those who are completely post-Christian? And if it can’t, I think the next matter would be how the neo-reformed apply Paul’s statement that he became like the Greeks among the Greeks, etc.

    1. [email protected] says:

      Ed, hey I’m a former Catholic, who crossed the aisle to the mainline in the form of a Methodist. Obviously not Calvinist. What the Driscoll’s of the world push me to is back, back, back far back theologically. The reality that this narrow view IS the only view or right view of atonement spells catastrophe for my view of the future church.

  5. Excellent stuff, David. Thanks for this. I will probably direct some friends this way. I think your last question is an important one – how central is a Mark Driscoll to the neo-Reformed movement? A friend just asked on facebook this morning: “what do you think guys? are your favorite big-shot evangelical leaders becoming the new fundamentalists?(driscoll, mohler, piper, macarthur, etc).” Now obviously he’s throwing some different people together there, but it seems Driscoll’s approach is wearing thin, and as you noted, ultimately untenable in post-Christendom.

  6. [email protected] says:

    Philosophies aside, if I were an outsider looking in….I would want to turn around and walk away from this thing called church. Driscoll seems to have forgotten who he is representing to the lost world. His particular brand of Jesus is unrecognizable and ugly. God help him.

    1. Agreed.

      1. [email protected] says:

        double agree

        1. Triple

          1. [email protected] says:

            Just out of curiousity, how many outside of the Church (or even Evangelicalism) do you suppose have even heard of Mark Driscoll? I think it’s a shockingly small percentage of people in the U.S. which just goes to Dave’s ongoing point about attractional vs. missional. I think this interview will thankfully just bounce around the echo chamber.

  7. I don’t know David, your adherence to a Kingdom ethic of mutual submission makes you sound weak. Next you will insist that Jesus taught things like turning the other cheek, that he consistently abandoned the crowds and their adoration to invest his life into a hand full of people and that Jesus found a use for women outside of fulfilling his own sexual needs and raising children. Are you sure a guy like you can play hockey? 😉

  8. Driscoll was core but is quickly moving to outlier.
    As for how those guys will respond, Challies already has several times, including here: http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/book-review-real-marriage

    “Having read the book through two times, I’ve found myself wondering how to best measure or evaluate it, but perhaps these criteria are useful: Would I want to read it with my wife or would I encourage her to read it on her own? Would I recommend it to the people in my church? In both cases the answer is no. This is not to say that the book is entirely without merit; Real Marriage does have things to commend it. But in my assessment the negatives far outweigh the positives. Its disjointed nature, the way it is unhinged from the gospel, the way it evaluates sexual acts through an improper grid—in all these ways and more it inadvertently lowers marriage rather than elevates it. With so many good books on marriage available to us, I see no reason to recommend this one.”

  9. [email protected] says:

    Terrific post! The last paragraph is gold: will other leaders dismiss your post’s points b/c they see Driscoll as an ‘outlier’ and not take the time to really examine anything of their own theology and practices? They’re too busy planting ‘churches’… er, um, lecture halls and TV rooms.

  10. DeYoung thinks the answer to this… in fact, to everything, is more teaching.
    What I find intriguing in this latest Driscollian fiasco is the sound of crickets from those in Driscoll’s end of the theological swimming pool. (Referencing UK interview.) Of course, I think they’re in the shallow end of the pool — but I would now, wouldn’t I. 🙂

    It seems they are hoping it will simply blow over. One might wonder if they will “man up” and publicly rebuke him. More crickets.

    1. …which would lead to David’s next post “The NEW Mark Driscoll Fiasco: What the Latest Flap Teaches Us About How The Neo-Reformed Movement Is Turning On Itself And Why I saw It Coming”

  11. Hey David,
    Such a great post. Thanks as always for helping me crystallize some thinking.

    Even up in Northern Ontario we’re continually wrestling with the Cultural peculiarities of Canada and how they fit or don’t with the Neo Reformed Voices that take up so much of the discussion these days.

    The Church is very much in an identity crisis these days. Thanks for weighing in.

  12. [email protected] says:

    David, Excellent post. I think Mark Driscoll, if I may use a distinction from my roots, is the “blue collar” representative (as opposed to the “outlier” model) of the neo-reformed movement. He’s a little rougher around the edges and won’t be as measured in what he says, as say a Piper or Mohler (the “white-collar” brand); they will claim Driscoll, though they might “look down” on him a bit and will often (as they have) chastise him for his “immaturity.” (and they are liable to do that soon) But I think you’ve correctly alluded to the “core” being the same.

    1. [email protected] says:

      That, my dear, is an insulting statement to blue collar workers everywhere :mrgreen:

  13. so much being said in the ‘driscoll conversation’ is not helpful; here, i think your post brings up some questions to be wrestled with :: regardless of someone’s view of him, his ministry, or the infamous interview.
    helpful. thanks, david. God help us.

  14. “I believe in the substitionary theory of the atonement. But it is limited.”
    Wait. You mean like ‘limited atonement’?

    Just kidding.

  15. Thanks, David.One question: Who is Mark Driscoll?

    1. Tony, awesome response. Even if you aren’t kidding. 🙂

  16. Please, more on this: you said, “Authority lies in one’s recognized gift…mutually submitting one to another in each one’s gifts (read Eph 4)”. Yes, yes, yes! In my view here’s the deal: His authority is in His body, the church…and it is incarnated in giftedness; it’s not inherent by position…though gifting/function may at some point be recognized corporately by title, (elders etc.) their authority and role in leadership is by His grace, “according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph.4:7). It is not about hierarchy, no, it’s giftedness and order. The supernatural giftedness to equip, to serve…

  17. Driscoll very clearly stated that he believes the cross means something more that substitionary atonement. What he pressed the host on is if he believed in it and supported it.
    He didn’t say it was the only facet of the cross. He merely showed the host how the vice could be turned on him if Driscoll were allowed to ask the questions.

    1. When I *USED TO* listen to MD sermons, I also heard him talk about the multi-faceted (like a diamond) nature of what Christ accomplished beyond (but including) Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

      1. from my listen of the interview he does what J.I. Packer does with penal substitution – he makes it the defining and organizing atonement for the rest of the theories – a “one ring to rule them all.” He doesn’t deny the other theories – they are just subordinate to penal substitution. This is another example of his view of putting almost everything into a hierarchy.
        I think Dave is right – hierarchy for everything is second nature to Calvinists. Jonathan Edwards was the same way. He applied hierarchy to everything – acts of God, the Godhead, etc. I think they apply Reagonomics (I know – anachronistic) to theology; i.e. find out what theory or definition is the king and then hyper-focus on it and then depend on the trickle down effect from your hyper-focuson one aspect to positively affect every other aspect without being directly involved with those other “lower” aspects. Piper does the same thing with much of his work.

  18. Great rendering of Driscoll and others. Hadn’t seen the parallel with Bell’s book, but it’s helpful. It’d be a lock if Driscoll leaves his church like Bell did…

  19. It strikes me, from the comments you record from Driscoll himself, that you’re imputing something to him in (3) that he did not intend to say. You seem to be equating a male leader being a determining variable (Driscoll’s claim) with a male preacher’s preaching being the determining variable, which is not what he said. I doubt Driscoll would claim that the only way in which a male leader influences the church is through preaching services. FWIW.

  20. [email protected] says:

    If I understood what I just read, I might have a comment or too, but since i am writing this post let me give a try. Does Paul write in Phillipians that it doesn’t matter why the gospel is preached he is just glad that it is? So unless you feel that Mark Discoll is wolf is sheeps clothing and that he is actually decieving people with a false doctrine – what does it really matter. God uses me and I am far from perfect and he uses you too imperfection and all.
    I guess I am just tired of all nitpicking and bickering over how we think Christianity should be when the truth is we are all wrong in some fashion just as we are all right in some fashion. Personally, I think it is a horrible witness to anyone outside of Christian circles looking in.

    for what it’s worth I am not on Marks side or against your point of view.

    Have a great day and God Bless.

  21. Forgive my ignorance, but to me its made clear throughout the scriptures that church leadership, (pastoral, elders, deacons) is to be limited to men. I’m sure we all know the passages. I fully understand the difficulties associated with reaching an audience with no “church” background, but are we to adjust the scriptures (God’s infallible word) to fit our cultural context?
    I think Driscoll’s pompous attitude and combative arguments do harm the the male-leadership position, however it seems that the argument on that point is shifting from him being a jerk to saying that women in pastoral or other official leadership positions is ok and within biblical guidelines…

    1. And Danny, there are many of us who read those same Scriptures in their totality and hold a completely contrary view to yours — one we also seeing being made clear. I confess that I get rather frustrated by patriarchal arguments which appeal to a “clear view” reading of Scripture.

    2. [email protected] says:

      The text that best supports your statement is 1 Timothy 2:12. The challenge to your statement is its context: would you as strongly state that women must not wear jewellery or braid their hair in public worship (2:9) or that women are saved only through having children (2:15)?

      Perhaps instead of reading Paul’s letters and deciding what they mean for the role of women in leadership, we could read the entirety of scripture and see what role women played in leadership, and then read Paul through that lens.

      1. [email protected] says:

        For those who would like to know about the context and the Greek in understanding 1Timothy 2:12 and other scriptures dealing with the place of women in the church, a good book to read is Philip B. Payne”s book MAN AND WOMEN ONE IN CHRIST. Philip is one of the foremost Greek bible scholars in the world. Be ready to read 463 pages of detailed scholarship.

    3. If scripture is that clear, make sense of Romans 16 for me. Scripture is not simple instruction – and the very essence of Paul’s own wrestling and transformation, much of which we get to witness through his writings, is how both Jews and Gentiles can be called and respond despite important differences.
      Are we really to ignore the gifts of women based on one reading of a handful of texts, which as others have said, only one (Timothy) is really verbatim supportive of exclusion and we have so easily ignored the rest of the message of that passage.

      Seems counter to Jesus’ way to many of us.

      I wonder what our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the Church at Cenchreae and Prisca, a teacher and evangelist who is uncharacteristically listed prior to her husband in “working with (Paul) in Christ Jesus and all the other women cited in this series of greetings might say to us on this?

  22. [email protected] says:

    Bethany –
    I understand how you feel about being lumped in with the likes of Driscoll. I have a son at Dutch reformed high school. I agree that the reformation was a time in history when man was waking from a spiritual darkness and evaluating the church of their day with the teachings of Christ and the early Church. I pray that we are in, or approaching, a spiritual awakening today. I have been a Christian for 30 years and from my perspective, the Church has become church and many small serdoms of church. Something that frustrates me is much teaching about church history and/or this man or that man and their ideas on theology, while leaving out the teachings of Jesus and examples of his life. Jesus told his discilpes to follow him. Maybe it’s/I’m too simple minded?

  23. [email protected] says:

    David –
    Great article! Thanks for articulating your thoughts on Driscoll and the Neo-Reformed movement. We do seem to see a “preaching to the choir” mentality today. Is that because the pastor’s funtion is to shepherd the flock? I guess the question then becomes “what does the pastor shepherd the flock for? To proclaim who? Or to proclaim their doctrine and a multitude of secondary issues?

  24. [email protected] says:

    Wil – what do you think non-christians would think if they listened to Mark’s interview? Did they hear the gospel? Did they hear that Jesus loves them? Did they hear that he died for them? Did they hear grace to continue their Christian walk once they are saved? Did they hear the kind of person that Jesus calls us to be as we follow him? Did you hear these things? What did you hear (I am completely serious) Did you hear the gospel or “another gospel?

  25. I provide what I hope is a balanced and corrective response to further the conversation and the church here:

  26. Excellent analysis of the fault lines in evangelical theology. I do see how penal substitution pushes mission aside into a secondary, and unnecessary, concern within the neo-reformed.
    But, the bigger problem I have with Driscoll’s interview is that on his own terms he blew the interview. I blogged about it here.


  27. David
    Really good article – and I think you’ve got the balance just about right in all three of your main points….

    As a Brit trying to communicate the gospel in our secular, post-Christendom culture, I just rolled my eyes when I heard Driscoll’s comments in Justin Brierley’s interview. My immediate response was to dismiss him as living on a different planet…but when I thought about it, I realised he was still on the same planet but living in a different ‘world’, or more specifically living in the past….at least as far as the UK is concerned.

    Over here we are learning the hard way about how to be ‘missional’ – because we have no choice…..we have to live the gospel out in the real world, being good news to the lonely, broken and needy – the majority of whom do not have penal subtitutionary atonement, male hierarchical leadership and oratory preaching at the top of their lists of concerns….

    Welcome to the real post-Christendom world, Mark…maybe you should come across the pond a bit more often, it might knock some humility into you…..or is that me just being coward 😉

    Bless you, David – love the blog, keep the post coming 🙂

  28. Thanks David,I listened to that interview recently and almost spit out my coffee numerous times listening to Mark’s responses and challenges. He was very much a bully at times during the interview which was unnecessary. He belittled Justin numerous times but was rebutted graciously. Like Brian and as you wrote this movement cannot stand with these narrow views of scripture.

    Excellent blog David.

  29. [email protected] says:

    David,I’m sure you’ve seen David Clawson’s essay (On R. Olson’s blog):


    THoughts?? neo-reformed = neo-fundatmentalist?

  30. [email protected] says:

    David, I have to say you “nailed” this. I am not reformed, nor Calvinist, but it is clear that most of any good that could come out of those traditions has been completely hijacked by the likes of these fellows. I am convinced for the most part without parsing every little theological nuance that you got this right. There are good people leaving institutional church and churches everywhere because they have been completely boxed up by the likes of these charlatans and have grown exhausted from the nonsense thrown their way by those who seemingly control the bully pulpit and mics in our culture. The Jesus whose feet walked this planet would and must be appalled. These people continue to “steal” the “glory” due the Risen One in the name of correct “mega” doctrine. Are you kidding me!

  31. I just listened to the interview. Driscoll was highly disrespectful of his host, not the other way around. Also, the interview was supposed to be with his wife as well, but he nearly completely her shut from the conversation. Near the end, he denigrated all women when suggesting that God was “male only” in the way God chooses to relate to humanity. None of that all embracing kindness, love and mercy we weak women have such a tendency to fall into!
    As for the emphasis on numbers, and to say that the only difference between Brierley’s wife’s church and his own is that one has a female pastor and the other has male leader (Driscoll is not a pastor), has no basis in logic or truth. Without documentation of any kind, or awareness of radically different cultural contexts, he declared unequivocally that, since the one with the man in charge has more butts in the seats, it is the more successful church.

    I am appalled that this man is held as a model for others to follow as church leaders.

    1. [email protected] says:

      hear hear

  32. [email protected] says:

    The interesting thing is that, by creating a kind of stereotypical, overbearing, opinionated male leader model, Driscoll may have inadvertently made us all long for more women in leadership!

    1. Bingo. A reverse object lesson is exactly how this could play out… I hope so!

  33. […] he conducted an interview on UK radio that caused more buzz than the book he has been plugging.  David Fitch at Reclaiming the Mission does an excellent job of analyzing how Driscoll highlights the present divide between Postmodern […]

  34. [email protected] says:

    Few thoughts,
    I do think that Driscoll is symptomatic of the larger, Neo-Reformed movement that has taken shape in the past decade or so. In general it is a very stripped-down, wide appeal theology.

    A few key theological points become over-articulated and over-representative: substitutionary atonement, male hierarchy, and the role of the pastor in this case. These become litmus tests to determine true blue believers.

    To a wider point, I think this tendency thwarts any kind of functional ecclesiology. There is no forward mission, just on-off belief systems. The litmus tests serve to signal exclusion, not inclusion.

    In any event, I’d suggest that Neo-Reformed can’t escape the Evangelicalism that has engulfed much of American Christianity and Christendom. It’s an Evangelicalism with variegated belief systems, Neo-Reformed is one example, none of which disturb or provide an alternative to the status quo of the dominant, world systems.

  35. Dave,
    Thanks again for some great thoughts. I will be posting it on Facebook. I listened to the interview and did want to defend one distinction of Driscoll’s. He gives pre-eminence and primary organizing focus to the penal substitutional theory rather than exclusivity. It seemed that your report of his comments made it that he was focusing on penal substitution as exclusive rather than his approach to it as the cardinal, chief or greatest atonement theory that rules and organizes the rest.

    This view of penal substitution is still problematic (I view it as the most accessible and immature, though still necessary, but by no means the chief of the theories). Keep em coming.

    1. fitchest@gmail.com [email protected] says:

      Nathan, I don’t think I said “exclusive” did I? I said “singular” or “narrow” focus. Whatever I did, I like the way you put it and find it just as troubling: “gives pre-eminence and primary organizing focus to the penal substitutional theory.”
      This to me is the problem with the way soteriology is worked out within these camps, even with someone as geniel and gospel driven as Tim Keller. It enforces a singular view of the atonement on a context. And the history of the atonement, even within the West, where the subtitionary atonement made eminent good sense, is one of contextualizing the many orbed work of Christ in the atonement. It is that all understandings of salvation and justice muss pass through this portal. I’m not sure that’s the right portal … for me the new popularized books of Scot McKnight “King Jesus gospel” and N T Wright “Simply Jesus” make a case for a more faithful way to articulate the gospel from which it can take root in context, people’s lives in Christ’s Kingdom 🙂
      peace bro

      1. Dave, I think I was working off of these two phrases in your article,
        “Driscoll then insists on singular commitment to penal substitutionary atonement is essential to the success of the gospel…

        “If we insist on being locked into this one view of the atonement, we will in essence be narrowing our context for mission.”

        I really agree with your assessment in this 1st point about the atonement, and I did see the place where you did address the singular focus of Driscoll. It did sound more like “exclusive,” but I hear you now. As per the first sentence I posted above, I do think that he doesn’t require singular commitment but more of what Brad suggested – the one theory to rule them all.

        Either way, I haven’t thought through the context aspect as much as I’d like to have. I do think that the atonement theories correlate very closely with different ethical theories and developmental stages. I know that you challenge developmental theories in global humanity based upon different contexts, but I think they still hold and can coalesce well with the theories of the atonement (something that I am writing on). My thought is that penal substitution is the most immature because it coalesces well with the most basic of ethical theories – consequentialism (cause+effect) – something children need in order to understand their world but that is insufficient for adults (the goal being Teleology).

        This is the direction that I take it and therefore consider churches and traditions where penal substitution is made pre-eminent, singular or the organizing king of all theories – immature and unready to invite its adherents into more mature faith (Hebrews 5:12-14) or maturity for its leadership.

    2. I’ve been following this conversation for a few days now, and Nathan’s point really struck me: “[Mr. Driscoll] gives pre-eminence and primary organizing focus to the penal substitutional theory rather than exclusivity.” This issue of integration point is a critical feature of the entire theological issue here, I think.
      As a student of how people process information, and the paradigm systems different such epistemologies inherently create, it makes sense to me that those with a predominantly linear/analytic way of processing things end up with a hierarchical structure for leadership and for society. Analysis is about dividing things asunder, then categorizing and systematizing them after atomizing them. That analytic epistemology also provides the internal logical consistency for creating a monoculturalism where one theology or culture separates itself from the rest. That can – in the extreme – lead to a singular “we’re right, everybody else is wrong” kind of supremacism. Sometimes this turns nasty, but maybe that depends on the (im)maturity level of the debater rather than the content of the debate.

      As a student of Tolkien, we know that the “one ring to rule them all” was the product of the personification of evil … namely, Sauron … and surely no Protestant in his/her right mind wants to buy him off!

      So, for what it’s worth, it may be that we should switch our Tolkienesque metaphor to the “three rings for the elves.” At least, I’d like to suggest a three-fold integration point and paradigm because, as a student of culturologies, I believe there are three major cultural systems globally and that there is one different major aspect of Christ’s death that seems to resonate contextually with each of them:

      * Guilt-based cultures – Christ’s substitutionary death on our behalf removes the penalty of sin. No big surprise that Western, individualistic cultures are basically guilt-based, which suggests that those who over-emphasize this theological element may be reading Scripture too much through a grid of Western philosophy and therefore syncretizing with Western culture. Just sayin’ …

      * Shame-based cultures – primarily communal cultures rather than individualistic, so the restoration of face-to-face relationship with God and adoption into God’s family and removing shame and restoring honour is what seems to find appeal there – – NOT so much the removal of personal sin.

      * Power/fear-based cultures – primarily animistic cultures, where there is far more awareness than in the West of the unseen spiritual world. So in these cultures, the fact of Christ’s triumph over Satan and demonic hosts may most hit where they live.

      Maybe neo-reformed/puritan teachers somehow integrate all that into their theology, and somehow do so with penal substitution theory as the integration point. But if so, I guess I’ve missed those nuances along the way.

      But I do know this: Since we in North America find ourselves in an increasingly multiple-culture world, shouldn’t we consider whether a singular integration point approach to the scope of human problems resolved by Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection actually sets us up for blind spots toward other cultures on the one hand, and syncretistic enamorment with Western/Christendom on the other? And that, it seems to me, is the chain of consequences that directly affects our perspectives on being missional. Which means this is more than a tempest in a teapot (with apologies to our British siblings).

      1. [email protected] says:

        I like your groupings, Brad, but where would you place groups that yearn for Christ the King, in terms of standing against the powers of this world. Would these belong in the power/fear based group? I’m thinking of Latin American churches, Black churches in the U.S., etc.

        1. I think you’ve got it, Jeff.
          The themes in the various groups are guilt/right-and-wrong, shame/family-and-relationships, and fear/power-and-protection.

          So an emphasis on guilt/Christ the Lamb of God in court, shame/Christ our Brother in God’s family, and fear/Christ the King in the Kingdom.

          P.S. I didn’t invent these categories, but I see the need to develop them as a lens for understanding cultural contextualization and ensuring a balanced SYSTEMS theology in the long run. (For what it’s worthy, I see systematic theology tending to disconnect elements that should remain connected in a context, and this leads to serious consequences a generation down the road …)

        2. P.S. The overemphasis on ANY of these three elements can lead to some similar kinds of black-and-white thinking that ends up in strident you’re-in-or-you’re-out and coercion.
          For instance, from the power/fear emphasis on the supernatural and overcoming the power of Satan and his forces of darkness, we see some extremes of the New Apostolic Reformation movement and dominionism and the Lakeland Outpouring scandals with Todd Bentley a few years ago.

          And in the shame-based emphasis on community and continuity, I’ve observed some Asian American church cultures where innovation is not really allowed, and the very people God has providentially designed with learning styles and spiritual gifts that could help these cultures survive in a world of constant change are instead shut down and forced to conform.

          So, there can be dire consequences, though not always quite as rancorous as what we’ve seen over time with Mr Driscoll.

      2. [email protected] says:

        I find you groupings very helpful in understanding some of the basis of our differences. Where can I read more on this?

  36. [email protected] says:

    i just recently offered my services to work with a university ministry in the UK (UCCF) and i was told i could not unless i held to penal substitution as the only view of the atonement. i am a peace loving anabaptist and their singular view of the atonement is the opposite of how i understand what was accomplished by the death of Christ. these neo fundamentalists are everywhere.

    1. tim,
      That is sad but I would check into it further. I don’t think that that is a UCCF standard and may just be a local chapter’s opinion. I’m not sure they can do that so it might be at least worth another try if you think it’s worth it – though there are other options, I’m sure.


      1. i think UCCF require you to sign the UK Evangelical alliance statement of faith which does mean you have to sign up to phrases that clearly do state penal substitution but they do not phrase this is in a way that says this is the only right view – i have on several occasions signed this on the basis I think it is one amongst many metaphors the bible uses to talk about the atonement and feel happy doing so – not sure if that helps you Tim ;o)

  37. Thabks for the article! It was interesting & found it informational. But, what I thought was most interesting, for myself, was the lack of Scriptures that directed your opinions behind the doctrines which you spoke of. One thing I truly enjoy about the reformed camp is that their opinions are driven and supported by Scripture. Opinions aren’t only opinions, but are strong convictions driven by and through Scripture. I only found a few places in this article where Scrupture was used. And, if our opinions aren’t driven and supported by Scripture, then our opinions are only merely opinions.
    I don’t think that Mark was out-of-place in Reformed Theology, but I do think that he could have been nicer in his approach and should have respected his brother in Christ, rather than disrespecting him. Whether or not we agree or disagree on the Non-Essentials of Christianity, we should always do it through and with love.

    1. fitchest@gmail.com [email protected] says:

      Josh,in all seriousness, what part of this piece would you like me to explicate from Scripture. Because quite seriously, I don’t think I should be prooftexting here eh? On my plea for a wider atonement, I referred you to Scot McKnight’s Community of Atonement, an accessible theological exposition of Scripture on the multitudinous aspects of God’s atoning work in Christ. On my plea for flat leadership, I referred you to an accessible article where I exposit from the whole NT, how authority is exhibited and organized in the NT church. Granted, on the third point, on drawing a crowd as not a good measure of success, I was making a cultural argument. BUt I’ve written on this with deep exposition of NT in my book the Great Giveaway.

      Having said all that, this post was meant to uncover what the theological tendencies are in Neo-Reformed and highlight why the problem might be that none of these rigid themes make sense in a post-Christendom context (i.e. the UK)

      So, I guess I’m frustrated with your argument I didn’t “support” my arguments with Scripture. And secondly, I’d urge a more nuanced read? …
      peace bro

  38. [email protected] says:

    what a feeding frenzy. pharisees and anti-pharisee pharisees…zzzzzzzzzzzz.
    “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Cor 2:4-5)

  39. […] I got into a heated discussion with someone I consider a good friend, Jared Wilson. It was around Dave Fitch’s post on the Neo-Reformed Movement in light of the most recent Driscoll brouhaha, and Jared’s take on […]

  40. Davidfirst time here from the other side of the pond, on which shores this all makes a lot of sense – as you rightly point out the UK and US are very different contexts – though whilst to some extent that will always be so – we are different cultures in spite of the amount we share ( i have lived in the states and go there when i can to connect with church contacts there ) that said my analysis of the trends suggest the US is following Europe into Post-Christendom ( this stuff is my job BTW though that doesn’t mean i’m right ;o) so think this is an important set of issues to raise.

    i know Justin and did smile at this also because the whole point of his show is that it allows it’s UK evangelical audience to listen to people who would not normally get on the station as they are seen as too risky or are not Christian – wonder if Driscoll knew that folks like Druids, Wiccans and Psychics are amongst Justin’s other guests ;o) – and all of which is why Justin’s show is so good IMHO.

    i think the points you make are good – but do have one reflection that for me might suggest a slightly different slant. not only are these Christendom assumptions i think they are modernist assumptions. now that makes sense in the light of Reformed theology being in the context of post Renaissance and the rise of the kind of didactic thinking that generated scientific method. so i think the emphasis on the primacy of penal substitution – or indeed rejection of the theory – rests on he assumption that we need to understand how atonement works in order to be saved – a modernist obsession with scientific analysis that is hard to find in any pre-reformation writings about the atonement including i would suggest the bible which is interested in that the atonement works and what it achieves and not how it works – offering instead a lot of pictures to convey what it does rather than the kind of detailed explanations of the mechanics that have been the fare of the last few centuries. indeed it is quite hard to find any references to the penal model in scripture beyond Peter and Isiah not better explained by other metaphors.
    the emphasis on preaching is similar – it is based on an assumption that evangelism is about explaining faith so people can understand and conversion as a change of thinking – again very modernist assumptions – but also as you point out Christendom ones. what has become clear in the UK context( well OK to many not all would agree ;o) is that old style preaching evangelism largely worked in Christendom because people already knew the Christian story as they had largely been raised in Church – this was not clear when most British people were raised in church, as was the case 100 years ago indeed even 50 years ago more were than not, but is so now only a minority are. we now find ourselves having to do incarnational cross-cultural mission and learning from good foreign mission approaches – this is increasingly true in parts of the US too and will if tends continue with the loss of young people from church become more so.
    following this through does make me wonder of the male headship issue is not then about hierarchy, a very medieval Christendom approach that the reformation challenged to enable the individual to access God and read the bible. but with issue of authority and modernist notions of the objective truth – there can only be one right way to do things and it’s all about authority is the logic here?
    all this also highlights how the word missional means so many things – over here it means fresh expressions thinking and not at all anything Driscoll would be associated with;o)

  41. [email protected] says:

    Interesting post. But me thinks you protest too much. You’re using Driscoll’s personality to drive home a point that may or may not be true and hence, give emphasis and power to your argument – I say no. You even conjure O’Reilly’s ‘What say you’ to give humorous consent vicariously. Another responder pointed to Keller being very strong on PSA (Pen Sub Atone) but added he was more subdued or controlled in his personality. So they can be wrong as long as they’re wrong quietly. Hmmm. The church has it’s neo-Armenians in some liberal circles and now neo-Reformed in Driscoll, Keller and the like. But as I look at how they are feeding their sheep and how they are loving those un-churched around them, I more ask is it they who are missing the mark? (pun intended). Who was it that said don’t judge your ability as a parent until your kids turn 40 and we can see how they have matured. I maintain the same applies. If we have a problem with Keller or Driscoll, take Matthew 18:15 and go to work. We don’t have to answer in the same fashion – we can use love as the answer. That is, if we are truly reformed….

    1. [email protected] says:

      My knowledge of Armenian Christians is minimal, but most of the Arminian ones I know are far from liberal….

      1. I think the Kardashians are Neo-Armenian, aren’t they? 🙂

  42. […] nach Ägypten und in den Iran schlägt, fand ich die Parallele von den “Neocons” zur Kritik von David Fitch an der neoreformierten Bewegung und ihrem Exponenten Mark Driscoll (via Jason Clark) spannend, der in jüngster Zeit in Großbritannien mit einem kontroversen […]

  43. This is one of those “just asking” questions.
    Please help me understand how giftedness equates to qualification when it comes to women in leadership. It seems to me that they are two separate categories.

    For instance, a very gifted person under the age of 35 is not qualified to run for President of the United States, nor is someone who is foreign born. If you would like to become a Senator or a Representative you have to be 30 or 25 years old respectively regardless of your giftedness.

    Though this is a secular example, it has been helpful to me to distinguish between qualification and giftedness.

    1. So. Are you suggesting that we not allow anyone to pastor before they are 35? I’m just asking.

    2. fitchest@gmail.com [email protected] says:

      David Zook,It’s a good question.
      The word for elder (prebyteroi) of course refers to “older,” more experienced. And when we realize this, it is odd that we don’t recognize the times “elder” is used in the female gender in pastorals to also refer to female elders. I can’t look this up right now, but I’ve got a master’s thesis on it and will try to get the textual data on Monday … But I make the case in this thesis…playing off Kasemann, E. Schweizer and other NT scholars of the structure of authority in NT… that everytime the NT uses “elder” or “overseer,” they are qualified by their giftings and the recogition of their giftings, even in the later Pastoral epistles.
      So the bottom line is… yes maturity of character is recognized for authority in church, speciifally for the teaching gifts, but the basis of this authority and all authority in the NT is the charismatic gifts (1 Cor 12-14, Rom 12, Eph 4 etc.) … If this is true … then the Spirit gives this authority irrespective of gender … See Peter’s quoting of Joel 2 in Pentecost sermon … or the woman who prophesies with a head covering on in 1 Cor 11 … etc.. etc… The problem with women being silent, or usurping authority in Pauline corpus … always has to do with the woman, in her new found authority in the church, using it to disregard her marriage.

      1. [email protected] says:

        Interesting piece, Dave. There is no doubt not enough space in a blog to go into great detail on each of these three broad points you bring up; so I understand that (especially since entire books have been written on all of them).
        However, let me add that seems to be present a tendency to offer perspectives on each, definitively (case closed – Scot McKnight wrote a book on it. :). I didn’t find the link, for example, on “flat leadership” to be an exposition of the whole NT (granted, same challenge of space, understood). But I also detect this certitude in the statement about the pastorals including references to feminine use of “elder.” I know of two (1 Tim. 5:2; Titus 2:2) and, while it’s possible to take those as a female elder, the contextual markers point just as strongly to an older woman (competing masters theses notwithstanding ;). The problem with presbuteros is the similar one to gune & aner. The words can be technical or generic. We should remember the sword of hidden cultural assumptions/inclinations cuts both ways. And the qualifications relating to “husband of one wife” et al, do point to men (more to that issue, of course). No doubt, there are many, many abuses on the conservative side in this area (probably more so than the opposite). And, a case (not necessarily 100% definitive) can be made that the usurping authority passages point to wives, not women in general. Yet, the known apostles were all male (arguments for female apostles have not held strong sway).

        All leadership, of course, is humble-servant leadership (Mark 10:42ff). It is not to be dictatorial or authoritarian. Some would say that alone “flattens” everything. Really it does not. It did not take away the fact that the apostles were leaders and did make decisions for the church. The use of Mark 10:42 for egalitarian views on “roles” is not in keeping with the context. It could be used to say there is no leadership if applied universally, it seems apparent. And there is an emphasis on “subjection” in the roles of wives to husbands (as well as servant, humble, sacrificial leadership from husbands) – 1 Pet. 2:21-3:7.

        God’s view of everyone as equal in “value” (e.g., Gal. 3:28); and everyone seeking the leadership model of Jesus in the whole of their life (Mk.10); does not necessitate everyone as qualified to potentially fulfill the same “role.” Distinctions between the “roles” and focal points of men and women in marriage are clearly present. There is still a case, biblically, all egalitarian passages included, for male elders. And, this does not, of necessity, undermine the practical matters of growth outside of Christian circles any more than Christian moral teaching does (e.g., proscriptions against sexual immorality). Whatever view we hold, we should hold with grace; with a willingness to restudy it; and hear others. On this, which actually is vital because it is a weightier issue, Tim Keller has been exemplary and that is a bigger factor than the egalitarian issues themselves.

        Blessings & Grace.

        1. Jeff,I am sorry you read me as making clear definitive statements … if anything I was trying to show (very briefly) the one perspective I come from … You are right to recognize several times the limit of time and space to present an argument – exegetical or otherwise. Having said that, the history I work out of (anabaptist-holiness) disagrees with the way you have parsed persbyteroi … and of course we see the way you have articulated flat leadership as a cave to Christendom Constantinian culture … So, all this to say, I admit we all come from our histories of interpretion, our traditions of exegesis.
          I was trying to show, how the point of view I was articulating here bases authority not in hierarchy but the charismatic structure of the church (read Yoder’s Fullness of Christ). In my opinion, both evangelical complementarian and mainline egalitarian view of womne in ministry reflect their assumptions that authority is hierarchical in the church. Not for mine. WE see it as charismatic, where the differences are not abnegated, they are meted out (Rom 12:3) according to the Spirit.
          I see you as blowing right past this point of view in your presentation and not even giving it the respect of a response (and it could be because you are totally unfamiliar with it – you would not be rare if this is the case 🙂 )
          Is that fair?

  44. John MacArthur spent much of 2011 being highly critical of Driscoll and those who conduct themselves like he does. I agree with some comments above; that this says more about Driscoll than the New-Reformed movement. Keller, Piper, MacArthur, Moler, etc., would never have handled the interview that way. But I applaud the effort of some to lump everyone in the same category. Though anybody intellectually honest knows that is not the case.
    As a supporter of penal substitutionary atonement being an integral part of the gospel, that in no way puts me into the same realm as Driscoll; nor does that mean it is the end-all of Christ. But I get it, Driscoll is the easy punching bag and increases blog traffic. I just wish people realize that the Neo-Reformed movement is made up of individuals who can think for themselves and can critique when the critiquing needs done. MacArthur and others have done so; sometimes in public and sometimes in private.

    Also, while I disagree with the way he handled the interview, what the reaction against the interview is showing is how so thin-skinned we have become in the west. I am certain that western “Christians” would have never made it past the 3rd century. God help us when real persecution ever enters our lands.

  45. [email protected] says:

    David, insightful as always.
    1. I must take some responsibility for assigning this group the term NeoReformed. A former student of mine, Bob Robinson, told me a few years back that he had read a careful church historian who thought NeoPuritanism was more accurate. Jamie Smith also pushed back against using the term Reformed for this group; Vince Bacote thinks NeoCalvinist is not fair to Kuyper; Ken Stewart’s book proved to me again the Reformed movement is too big for this new development of mostly Baptist Calvinists we often call NeoReformed. So there is some protection of terms here and I have now myself landed on NeoPuritan as the heart of this movement. Puritanism is, of course, personal zeal before the Lord for holiness and, also, zeal for reforming church and society according to biblical (and not ecclesiastical) teachings. So I agree, we should probably start using NeoPuritan.

    2. On Driscoll representing the NeoPuritan group. We probably need to distinguish the movement/group from its leaders, and see the ordinary participants — say, in TGC or T4G — as diverse and more pastorally and local church in orientation. Driscoll represents the theology of its leaders but his brash and crude edges clash dramatically with the sanity, care, caution and focus of the Puritans. So, to me, he is an outlier who, because of his charisma and strength of influence, can’t be ignored by the NeoPuritan leaders but who surely vexes them with his over-the-top sexual angst and desire to talk in crude and strong ways about it.

    1. fitchest@gmail.com [email protected] says:

      Scot … no fair “highjacking” me on Sunday 🙂 … no, thanks for this. I did not know you were the source of that nomenclature. I’ll respond to this Tues or Wednesday with a bigger post. My argument is different, and I’d like to push back on Jamie Smith and Vince’s claims concerning the total disconnect (although I will agree, as I have said before, the Neo-Puritian movement – as you call it – is different. Nonethless there is linkage here that IO am very convinced of) ..

  46. […] (or Piper-Only, et cetera) approach will lead you into Neofundamentalism (info on its development; info on its characteristics). Perhaps that suits you. It doesn’t suit me and it does not suit the Kingdom. Mark and his […]

  47. [email protected] says:

    Why is this filed under Rob Bell? You are aware that these two churches are nothing alike right? This raises a bigger and better question… do any of you know exactly what Mark Driscoll’s beliefs are? Have any of you spent time finding out what the Church’s doctrine actually is?

    1. Dude, I compared Driscoll’s book to Rob Bell’s in the opening paragraphs. That’s where the category came from. No one is confused about the difference between the Mars Hills churches …

      1. [email protected] says:

        it’s all good. I read up your background and the article. It all makes sense now why you don’t like Driscoll.

  48. Thanks for the thoughtful analysis and open dialog. Some random thoughts:
    1. On Mars Hill as missionally successful: what is the actual missional impact? Isn’t it mainly a place for young people who grew up in old fashioned evangelical churches? Just my perception, but I live nearby and know people in the circle.

    2. I’m not sure we should make Mark a part of any trend analysis. He’s unique. He’s got problems. People put up with him. He’s not typical of any movement. Even within his own church planting network, Acts 29, he is unique. A lot of time can be wasted debating this sort of categorization…

    3. A caution about judging theological distinctives in the light of their missional value. Even if they are wrong and are having a negative impact, the best context for the discussion would seem to be whether the distinctives are faithful to Scripture.

    4. Still, “penal substitution” a problem for mission? That doesn’t ring true. Doesn’t it all boil down to saying things like “Jesus died for you” anyway? The phrase is weird (what is that anyway, a sex change operation?) but who uses it? It’s not like Mark is making converts in the US by preaching about “penal substitution.” But I understand there had been a bit of a controversy in the UK about the nature of the atonement, so maybe I’m speaking whereof I know not.


  49. David, I’m a christian in my 60’s. For years and years I have read the gospels, they have consumed my thinking. With this profound redemptive mystery of the kingdom that seems to turn up every corner you take…I have always thought ” redemption ” has to be much much bigger…like a cosmic Big Bang of a new creation…in which the nuclear fall out of that reality touches everything. Much like Eugene Peterson’s Message…the idea of Christ holding everything, all creation together. In a world that creeps closer to the edge of extinction, in which we cal only offer forgiveness of sin…is like offering a band aid to a world that is hemorrhaging its life away. In a post modern, and post christendom we need to plumb the depths of the gospels again with the mind of Christ, to re-imagine a redemption that will not only glorify God…but honor and recapture the imagination of all humanity. Thank you for drawing us into that liminal space.

  50. [email protected] says:

    In response to Rob’s point 4:
    4. Still, “penal substitution” a problem for mission? That doesn’t ring true. Doesn’t it all boil down to saying things like “Jesus died for you” anyway? The phrase is weird (what is that anyway, a sex change operation?) but who uses it? It’s not like Mark is making converts in the US by preaching about “penal substitution.” But I understand there had been a bit of a controversy in the UK about the nature of the atonement, so maybe I’m speaking whereof I know not.

    Dear Rob,
    Thanks for your question. You ask: “Who Uses It?” In the UK, to be sure, but in English-speaking conservative evangelical circles throughout the world, the phrase “penal substitutionary atonement” is so popular as a theological shibboleth that it even has its own abbreviation, PSA. You are right to note that the language originates in the UK, with the InterVarsity movemement there, now known as the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), which essentially started in Cambridge with the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU). Since 1928, the language of Jesus as “representative and substitute” has been part of the UCCF doctrinal statement (as you can read in the famous essay by J. I. Packer, “What Did the Cross Achieve?”):

    6. Redemption from guilt, penalty and power of sin only through the sacrificial death once for all time of our representative and substitute, Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man.

    This language is no less part of Neo-Puritan Calvinistic Baptist orthodoxy in the USA than in the UK. For a prime example, see the article by Mark Dever in Christianity Today, May 2006, here:


    Nothing But the Blood
    More and more evangelicals believe Christ’s atoning death is merely a grotesque creation of the medieval imagination. Really?
    By Mark Dever

    The official title is “Nothing But the Blood,” but the attention-grabbing CT cover art had the headline: “No Substitute for the Substitute.”

    I had my Greek students at Northern Seminary read Dever’s article; we tried to read it out loud in class. The class included a CT employee and a student whose spouse also worked at CT. The class found Dever to be so unfair to his opponents (and to the biblical facts) that they asked me to stop the reading half way through. The CT employee declined to comment, saying, “I plead Switzerland,” i.e., neutrality.

    In sum, these things are not being done in a corner. And there is no book to really introduce the debates about the biblical theology of the atonement: I need to write one.

    Until then, please notice that Anselm’s satisfaction theory has been written right into the Living Bible and its successor, the New Living Translation (1st ed.). (Note that Anselm’s satisfaction to God’s honor, i.e., a positive compensation for God’s slighted honor through Christ’s meritorious act, was reworked by the Reformers as a satisfaction of God’s demand for strict penal or retributive justice, which is supposed to have fallen on Christ when God appointed him to be executed.)

    New Living Translation, Romans 3:25:
    “For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us.”

    The last 14 English words (“to take the punishment … against us) represent just ONE word in the Greek, hilasterion, the “mercy seat,” as in Heb. 9:5 and LXX Pentateuch. See, 14 English words for 1 Greek word. That is Neo-Puritanism in a nutshell.

    The KJV and Neo-Puritan word is “propitiation.” But the literally correct translation is: “God publicly displayed him [Jesus] at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith” (NET Bible).

    The Calvinistic language of “propitiation” is in the Bible — but only in the English Bible. The SUBSTANCE of penal atonement doctrine is also in the Bible, in the sense that death per se is a punishment for sin, as for Adam, so also in the case of Jesus; but since Christians are crucified with him, the “substitution” language is can be, and usually is, misleading.

    The deficiencies of the English Bible at Rom 3:25 come about because of a mistake in the Old Latin translation, “propitiation,” and the murder of William Tyndale in 1536, which removed the idea of Jesus as the one “whom God hath made a seat of mercy” (Rom. 3:25, Tyndale, 1526) from the English Bible up until the NET Bible from Dallas Seminary (thank God, for these 4-Point Calvinists!). The entire history of the English Bible needs to be called into question. Most of the promoters of the ESV seem to be uniformed here, especially their literary editor, Leland Ryken, Prof. of English at Wheaton, who apparently does not do first-hand work in the biblical languages.

    Rob closed by saying: “Maybe I’m speaking whereof I know not.” Well, all I can say is that these things have not been done in a corner; you are right to say that the UK is the ground zero for atonement debates among evangelicals, as in the atrocious book, Pierced for Our Transgressions, with a Foreword from John Piper, but written by theologians who are not specialists in biblical languages or exegesis (Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach). This book has a chilling 10 pages of prefatory endorsements from Neo-Puritans or Reformed Orthodox throughout the English-speaking world: It reads like a hit list of mafiosi who will be out to get you if you disagree. Nevertheless, opposition to Calvinistic Baptist, Neo-Puritan hegemony is also coming up from Scot McKnight and also Joel Green of Fuller (both mentioned in Dever’s CT article). Yet the full-on academic analysis has not been written.

    Best regards,

    Dan Bailey

    1. Daniel…just a question form the old guy in the comment above yours. Could you recommend some books on progressive theories of atonement other PSA. Thanks…Ron Cole

      1. [email protected] says:

        Ron,Thanks for your query. For books about the atonement with views other than PSA, you could start with all the people Mark Dever criticizes in his CT article:

        Nothing But the Blood

        Those criticized include Joel Green, who is Wesleyan (not Calvinist), and also my friend Steve Finlan (see below).

        But for this blog with its “missional” interest, you might read two books which are not accidentally by a Mennonite, Driver, and another Wesleyan, Shelton:

        John Driver, Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church (1986).

        R. Larry Shelton, Cross and Covenant: Interpreting the Atonement for 21st Century Mission (2006).

        See also Shelton’s contribution to the AAR Wesleyan Studies group: Google this: Shelton, “relational atonement-online”

        AAR-Wesleyan Studies Group/Open and Relational Theologies Consultation Session
        Relational Atonement: Covenant Renewal as a Wesleyan Integrating Motif
        R. Larry Shelton

        For the debates about atonement “theories” among evangelicals, see the IVP book:

        The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views: James Beilby, Paul R. Eddy, Thomas R. Schreiner, Gregory A. Boyd, Joel B. Green.

        The four views are referred to as:
        Christus Victor, Penal Substitution, Healing View, and Kaleidoscope.

        I don’t think this is the best typology; what we need is a full-on analysis of CULTIC atonement in the OT and early Jewish sources, including DSS.

        I wrote just such an article together with Stephen Finlan, “Atonement.” In Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism. Unfortunately, the editor printed the wrong version, written by Steve as a draft, with no input from me. The editor got the final version from me, but never downloaded it from the email, therefore the true version was never printed.

        You can email me to get the correct version of this article. It explains as much data as possible in about 2,200 words.

        email: [email protected]

        The most important conclusion of my research for present purposes is that God is the initiator of atonement in the DSS and in the NT (and to some extent in the Hebrew Bible), whereas the idea of humans propitiating or appeasing God is found in the Hellenistic Jewish writings of Philo, Josephus, and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha written in Greek.

        I include here only the part on the NT:

        “To make atonement” for persons and their sins is the traditional English translation of the Hebrew verb kpr (piel: kipper) and its derivatives when used in the Priestly materials of the Pentateuch and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and can also be used to translate most occurrences of kipper’s Greek equivalent exilaskomai in the LXX. Both ancient word groups also have a wider range of meaning. Kipper can be understood in terms of “purging” (NJPS) the sacred objects in the Israelite sanctuary. Exilaskomai generally means to “propitiate” or “appease” God in nonbiblical Jewish sources. Studying atonement in early Judaism requires understanding these words and their changing contexts and theologies.



        The two Testaments of the English Bible have been linguistically disconnected for centuries. The Old Testament has spoken of “making atonement” for people and their sins ever since William Tyndale in 1530, while the New Testament has spoken of “propitiation,” implicitly of God’s wrath, under the influence of the Latin Vulgate’s propitiatio (Rheims [1582], KJV, ASV, NASB, ESV). This was later replaced by the “expiation” of sin as a reaction against propitiation (RSV, NEB, NAB). More recent versions such as the NIV and NRSV reconnect the Testaments by speaking of a “sacrifice of atonement” or “atoning sacrifice” in Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:1; 1 John 2:2; 4:10. These versions are correct except in Rom. 3:25. Here Jesus cannot be called a “sacrifice of atonement,” since a victim of sacrifice is never termed a hilasterion in ancient Greek. Paul speaks of a sacrifice of atonement in Romans using the more precise Levitical expression peri hamartias, “sin offering” (Rom. 8:3, NRSV mg.).

        These New Testament uses of hilaskomai and related words are connected much more closely to the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls than to Hellenism or Hellenistic Judaism. In Heb. 2:17, Jesus’ priestly mission to “make atonement for the sins of the people” (NIV) involves an absolute use of the verb in its biblical sense with few nonbiblical parallels (cf. Ps. Sol. 3:8). As in the Scrolls, God is the initiator of atonement when he sends Jesus as an “atoning sacrifice” for sins (1 John 4:10) and as a “sin offering” (Rom. 8:3). Finally, where the Scrolls connect atonement with God’s saving righteousness (1QS 11:14-15; 1QHa 12:37), Paul understands God’s act of setting forth Jesus as the new “place of atonement” or “mercy seat” to be a similar demonstration of God’s righteousness: “God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat (hilasterion) accessible through faith…to demonstrate his righteousness” (Rom. 3:25, NET Bible).

        The controversial translation of hilasterion, root hilaos (Attic hileoœs) by “mercy seat” in Rom. 3:25 is supported by Philo, who understands the hilasterion or kapporet on top of the ark as “a symbol of the merciful (hilews) power of God” (Mos. 2.96; cf. Fug. 100). Although the ark with the kapporet was missing from Israel since the destruction of the first temple (cf. Jer. 3:16; 2 Macc. 2:5; 2 Bar. 6:7; Eup. frg. 4 [Eusebius, Praep. ev. 9.39.5]; Tacitus, Hist. 5.9) and the Day of Atonement proceeded without it in the second temple (m. Yoma 5:2), the Temple Scroll understands the kapporet to be part of the ideal temple (11Q19 3:9; 7:9), and there was even a tradition that the ark would rise at the resurrection (Liv. Pro. 2:12; cf. Rev. 11:19). The identification of Jesus as the kapporet or hilasterion for the age of faith in Rom. 3:25 appears all the more striking against these Jewish backgrounds.

        I know that starts to get a little technical. But you will see that the Jewish sources are not really about “penal substitutionary atonement.” English-spealing Reformed evangelical biblical scholars commonly project their Calvinistic systematic theological theories of Christ’s work back on to the animals that were the sacrificial victims in Leviticus, e.g., the “sin offerings” of Leviticus 4 and 16. It will take some more academic writing to counteract this trend and get a fresh view of the Hebrew and Jewish Greek sources.

        By Daniel P. Bailey and Stephen Finlan
        (actually, these parts are all by me)

        Best regards,


      2. [email protected] says:

        Hi Ron,
        One additional book, just out (2011). If you want to know what someone would say about OT sacrifice and its applicability to the NT, who is not an English speaker but is a Christian BIBLICAL theologian, read this by a German scholar who teaches in Canada, Christian Eberhart, co-chair of the SBL group Sacrifice, Cult, and Atonement:

        The Sacrifice of Jesus: Understanding Atonement Biblically, by Christian Eberhart (Fortress, 2011).

        The book is short, only 134 pages of text. Back matter includes glossary of Hebrew and Greek cultic terms, Bibliography, and End Notes.

        Compared to this, the many popular books on atonement by evangelicals (including even some by professors) are just not up to date with the debates about OT cultic atonement. By contrast, Eberhart is a world leader.



        1. Thanks Dan, much appreciated…just ordered it. Peace Ron

  51. [email protected] says:

    Hallelujah, for the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.

  52. Hi Dave,
    Very insightful posting. I’ve been chewing on it all week. I think it brings the focus off of Mark Driscoll and on to his ideas, for while personalities fade, ideas have force and spread. So, focusing on the ideas that undermine his words is key here. I want to focus my comments to your part 3 above. I recommend folks read (re-read) that section again before listening to my comment here.

    I love a good sermon. I’m a seminary student and hope to preach one day, so I believe it’s an important gift in the church. However, I have to remind myself that when I was a non-Christian, I had no interest in hearing a sermon. I passed by preachers on TV constantly. I turned down the one church invitation I got. It wasn’t until I was saved that I was desperate to hear sermons as God used them to nurse me during that phase. However, it was a two-year long sermon that brought me to Christ. I worked with a woman who lived out Christ’s incarnation day in and day out. I wanted what she had. Once I got What she had, the gift of preaching (and other church gifts) were key in my early formation.

    I realize many come to faith through the preaching of the word, but when Mark Driscoll’s solution to a problem he perceives in the UK is to have more young male preachers, I question that silver bullet. While preaching has its place as a gift in the body, I do not see it as a primary means of growing us in Christ-likeness. Willow Creek, known for their great preaching, were brave enough to perform a study to show us this. (http://www.revealnow.com/key_findings.asp).

    Should the church grow more people like Linda (the woman who witnessed to me at work through her life) to become walking sermons in the market place and beyond, we are on a good road.

    God bless


    p.s. it’s late, I hope this is coherent.

    1. The eyes are the window of the soul. You’re so right in sainyg we need to filter what we watch. It’s not just harmless fun as the world would have us believe. Harry Potter is a different matter for another day lol! I watched it though but the question is what was the key message behind the popular series? Is there any such thing as white magic (supposedly helpful and nice’ magic) or is Satan just dressing up as an angel of light once again?

  53. […] David Fitch wrote a piece entitled, “The Mark Driscoll Fiasco: What this Latest Flap Teaches Us About the Neo-Reformed Movement.&#… Per usual, Fitch’s insights are well worth your […]

  54. […] short of the biblical requirements of leaders in public ministry roles. (As a starting place, read Dr. David Fitch’s post and check out the many comments, commenters’ blogs, and related links and you’ll be able to […]

  55. David,Thanks for this post. I came upon it while doing some research for an essay of my own I was writing about Mark Driscoll, and very much appreciated hearing your perspective.

    The essay I’ve written is an attempt understand Mark and the controversy he generates in a broader context. I thought it might interest you:

    Please forgive the shameless plug. Keep up the good work!


  56. […] was also reading something on the blogosphere about the latest Mars Hill spat – Mark Driscoll throwing his weight around and playing power doctrine games. From the […]

  57. The latest: Acts 29 is undergoing a radical reorganization. Driscoll just announced: “I am resuming the presidency of Acts 29.”

    He just announced that. Was there a vote? Or just a decree? How many heads will roll? Will we even hear about them? How many staff firings are in the offing?

  58. […] (or Piper-Only, et cetera) approach will lead you into Neofundamentalism (info on its development; info on its characteristics). Perhaps that suits you. It doesn’t suit me and it does not suit the Kingdom. Mark and his […]

  59. The substitutionary penal atonement via the blood of Christ is absolutely the ONLY way a soul can be saved from the wrath of God! That is it period! No other way! Christ’s atonement was placed and imputed to our account or we are NOT saved! One may not understand all of the implications or even the basics of this at first, but if God calls, draws, chooses, elects a person and regenerates that person, that person has the total effects of the substitutionary penal atonement made by Christ or he or she is not even near the kingdom of God! We have a lot of lost religious folks who have a large segment of facts or theories about many issues in the Bible, but they are lost as a goose! Again, you are NOT saved if you don’t have that wonderful work of Christ existing in your soul and heart! So repent and trust Jesus and His atonement for your sins or you will perish!!

  60. I do believe that Scotland is a lot harder to reach than Seattle. It has far fewer evangelical christians and most people are nominal christians.

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