EPILOGUE – An Admirable Emergent: Mark Driscoll
(2016 Note: Mark Driscoll has now parted company with his church after difficulties of a different nature concerning his conduct. These do not have a bearing upon his analysis, ten years earlier, of the issues with which this paper is concerned and so this section is retained in the 2016 edition)
The example of Mark Driscoll – the most qualified critic of the Emerging Church
You can still be an authentic evangelical bible-believing Christian and a culturally-sensitive emergent. Mark Driscoll is a case in point.
Amidst all that is so exciting in the modern church, it is sad to have to devote so much time and energy to exploring such a negative subject, no matter how important it is.
If there has been one positive aspect to this research it has been to discover the ministry of Mark Driscoll – a man who shows how you can have an effective, emergent, culture-sensitive ministry without biblical compromise – and the Acts 29 church planting network which he leads.
Driscoll is pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, planted in 1996 (not to be confused with Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, planted two years later). On a typical Sunday over 7,500 people attend. Mars Hill Seattle is rated the eighth most influential church in the United States. It currently meets at ten locations and holds 25 services each Sunday. Driscoll is also a highly accomplished preacher and is rated one of the 50 most influential pastors in America.
He is also uniquely situated to critique the Emerging Church movement. Some credit him with being the founder of the movement; whether or not that is true he was one of the original group of church leaders who joined together in the 1990s to look at new ways of relating church to contemporary culture. He knows ECM leaders like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Tony Jones personally. Cultural relevance remains a hallmark of his ministry but, significantly, without backtracking on the fundamentals of the cross and the bible.
Around 2001, Driscoll felt the movement was drifting dangerously away from orthodox Christianity and he left it. Since then he has watched the slide continue and the divergence between his own stream and the liberals widen. Today, he is one of the movement’s most articulate (and qualified) critics.
He believes his association with the key emergents was no accident:
I believe God perhaps providentially put me at the fountainhead of what has become the emergent movement to know the people, understand the issues, then leaving them to provide [a] clarity I consider more theologically faithful.
In September 2007, Driscoll spoke at a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary conference, a speech which become a landmark in the mainline church’s response to the Emerging Church movement and provoked extensive criticism from those still within the movement. The video of the speech is essential viewing for everyone who wishes to get an understanding of the origins and ideas of the Emerging Church (the link is below).
Speaking in 2007, Driscoll still called himself an emergent and identified the different streams into which the ECM has split. Since then, the liberal stream of the ECM has become more clearly defined as the dominant stream – which is why this paper refers to it only as ‘the Emerging Church’ rather than the ‘liberal wing of the Emerging Church’. In his speech he was unequivocal on the departures from orthodox Christian doctrine of the ECM. From the platform he addressed the organisers of a Southern Baptist youth conference who had invited Doug Pagitt to speak at a forthcoming conference. ‘Shame on you’, was his final comment. The invitation to Pagitt was withdrawn soon afterwards.
As for the adequacy of the ECM as a model for responding to the needs of the postmodern culture, his advice was characteristically blunt and might remain a warning to us too: “Might I submit to you if you are thirsty for insight on theology you not drink from the toilet even though there is water there”.
Driscoll’s observations on the Emerging Church are important and well worth viewing:
(1) Mark Driscoll on the Emerging Church (7mins)
Driscoll applauds D.A.Carson and Wayne Grudem, makes useful distinctions between the three orthodox streams of the Emergent Church and is critical only of the Liberal Emergents among whom Driscoll specifically names Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Doug Pagitt. That stream, he says, is ‘totally off the highway and lost in the woods’. This is an extract from a longer 60 min talk to his church on:
(2) Mark Driscoll Discusses The Emergent Church at Southern Baptist Seminary (2007) (80mins)
This is an extremely important talk (80mins) and well worth listening to. Driscoll was one of the leaders in the early days and left because of his concerns that it was becoming heterodox.
Mark Driscoll, his own church, its plants and his Acts 29 church planting network provide viable models for those who wish to remain culturally relevant without abandoning their faithfulness to scripture. The Acts 29 website is full of useful resources. Their doctrinal statement is particularly interesting in that, of necessity and to avoid being tarred with the liberal emergent brush, parts of it are specifically written to respond to the shortcomings the liberal Emerging Church. Its ringing declarations make a suitable manifesto for every modern church planter who rejects the new liberalism and are a fitting way to end this paper:
Because Acts 29 is often associated with other movements we frequently get questions about emerging theological controversies. To help clarify our beliefs we believe it may also be helpful to declare what we do not believe. In stating what we are not, we do not seek to attack those who disagree with us, but rather distinguish ourselves so that pastors considering joining our network are aware of who we are, as well as who we are not.
- We are not liberals who embrace culture without discernment and compromise the distinctives of the gospel, but rather Christians who believe the truths of the Bible are eternal and therefore fitting for every time, place, and people.
- We are not fundamentalists who retreat from cultural involvement and transformation, but rather missionaries faithful both to the content of Scripture and context of ministry.
- We are not isolationists and seek to partner with like-minded Christians from various churches, denominations and organizations in planting church-planting churches.
- We are not hyper-Calvinists who get mired down in secondary matters, but rather pray, evangelize, and do good works because we believe that the sovereign plan of God is accomplished through us, His people.
- We are not eschatological Theonomists or Classic Dispensationalists (e.g. Scofield) and believe that divisive and dogmatic certainty surrounding particular details of Jesus Second Coming are unprofitable speculation, because the timing and exact details of His return are unclear to us.
- We are not Open Theists and believe in the sovereignty and foreknowledge of God in all things.
- We are not religious relativists and do believe that there is no salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ alone.
- We are not nationalists seeking to simply improve one nation but instead ambassadors of the King of Kings commissioned to proclaim and demonstrate the coming of His kingdom to all nations of the earth.
- We are not moralists seeking to help people live good lives, but instead evangelists laboring that people would become new creations in Christ.
- We are not relativists and do gladly embrace Scripture as our highest authority above such things as culture, experience, philosophy, and other forms of revelation.
- We are not Universalists and do believe that many people will spend eternity in the torments of hell as the Bible teaches.
- We are not naturalists and do believe that Satan and demons are real enemies at work in this world and subject to God.
- We are not rationalists and do believe that not everything can be known but that God calls us to live by faith with mystery and partial knowledge regarding many things.
- We are not evangelical feminists and do believe that God reveals Himself as a Father and is to be honored by the names He reveals to us without apology.
- We are not embarrassed by the bloody death of Jesus Christ and do believe He died as a substitute for the sins of His people in selfless love.
- We are not ashamed and do proclaim a loving gospel of grace which sounds like foolishness and offensiveness to the unrepentant while also saving multitudes with ears to hear good news.
And finally, still setting distance between ourselves and the heresy hunters we can warmly endorse their final clause:
- We are not polemicists who believe that it is our task to combat every false teaching but are passionate about preserving the integrity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps, as we seek to develop authentic, orthodox, culture sensitive models of 21st Century church, Acts 29’s declaration could become a manifesto for us to follow.
 10,000 attend Bell’s church each Sunday. Size authenticates nothing.
 Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary conference, Sept 2007