Gospel Vision or American Dream?

Well some might consider it a bit rich for someone blogging at stephenmcalpine.com to question someone whose website is markdriscoll.org, but that’s what the word chutzpah was invented for, so here goes…

The recent news that Mark Driscoll is starting a church in Phoenix really does have a rising from the ashes flavour to it.  And what’s the chance his next book will have a title somewhere in that semantic ball park.

You can read the announcement here.

Markdriscoll.org has a slug line  on its front page “”It’s all about Jesus”, followed by a sub header “Pastor Mark every year since 1995”.  I assume that means Pastor Mark has said that it’s all about Jesus every year since 1995.

Which is both comforting and a little disturbing, because somewhere in the past couple of years it patently stopped being about Jesus as much as it was at the start.  I listened to Driscoll in the early years and it was all about Jesus.  A whole lot of the time.  And as someone who came to Driscoll through Reformed theology, as opposed to someone who came to Reformed theology through Driscoll, it was often a heady experience, given how such rich theology was so often rendered so dry by so many keen, but patently uninspiring men.

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That Jesus focus changed somewhere along the line to the point where I simply stopped listening. Too much anger.  Too little sermon prep. And too much Mark.

And no, since you asked, since I didn’t draw my theologically Reformed convictions from Driscoll, I didn’t jettison my theology when I jettisoned Mars Hill from my podcasts. If anything, what happened to him simply confirmed it!

What worries me about that “since 1995” statement is that it is an implicit refutation of the sustained and sustainable accusation that somewhere along the road he took his eye off the Jesus ball.  That airbrushing/photoshopping of history is not a sign of repentance, which he had previously said he was offering when he left Mars Hill.

That many in Mars Hill accused him of it being all about Mark Driscoll makes his slug line more than a little defiant.  And just in case you missed the defiance, it’s followed up with the sucker punch on the next line.  Mark Driscoll, contrary to all of the hand-wringing, never was really convinced that he hadn’t been all about Jesus.  Then again, “It’s all About Jesus: Pastor Mark every year since 1995, excluding 2009-midway through 2014” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Perhaps my biggest concern is that this reinvention is more aligned to the American Dream of reinvention after failure, than it is to the Gospel Vision of repentance after falling.

 The very framing of the website, the church plant announcement, and the general tone, taps into the can-do American attitude that so often, at his best, Driscoll tried to debunk.  This latest iteration is akin to the businessman losing a ton of money in one city, then trying his luck elsewhere.  The past can be airbrushed/photoshopped in a land as expansive as America. The next big city can absorb you while you lick your wounds before surfacing for a second bite at the American Dream.  The only difference being, in this age of social media, Phoenix is only a millisecond away from Seattle, not merely the 2300 kilometres of the pre-digital age.

That Driscoll should be forgiven is a no-brainer for anyone who is committed to the gospel.  That he should be restored to Christian fellowship is presumed by anyone who is committed to the church.  But pastoring again as a well known celebrity preacher now under his own brand just two years later?  Surely not. But that’s how the American Dream works, right there.


  1. Yeah, I used to listen, but then the hour long sermons became repetitive, interspersed with the occasional angry rant. I just couldn’t listen any more. I’m really hoping he’s learned, but I fear otherwise.

  2. Just went to Mark Driscoll’s website. It says…”Pastor Mark Driscoll is a Jesus-following, mission-leading, church-serving, people-loving, Bible-preaching pastor” . Could be you Steve!! Pastor Steve McAlpine is a Jesus-following, mission-leading, church-serving, people-loving, Bible-preaching pastor.

    Actually, it reminds me of “Top Line” Christians which I’ve just read about in a little book by Rev F.S. Webster entitled ‘Christians and Christians’ (probably from the 50’s). He says that many Christians make the same mistake as children when learning to write in their copy – book “ … The “top line” of each page is printed as a pattern to be copied. In this “top line” everything is done to perfection…..By the time we have written three or four lines we generally forget about the “top line” and copy the lines we ourselves have written…..Our mistakes are all repeated and instead of becoming better and better, it becomes worse and worse…. The life of Christ is the “top line” which we ought to imitate. How often we lose sight of this.”

    We’re all flawed and we’re all at risk but I think Pastors have a particularly tough time as role models, teachers, mentors etc etc and particularly when they become celebrities!


  3. hi Pauline. Wise remarks as ever. Yes I think the lure of celebrity is hard to keep away from and that works at the “A” list, “B” list, all the way down to “P” list celebrity! I am sobered by the Driscoll thing, and want it to caution my own tendencies too. There’s been a lot of Schadenfreude from those who never liked him, but the Scripture tells those of us who stand to take heed lest we fall, so gloating is out.

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