As the Mark Driscoll drama has unfolded, I continue to reflect on how this has happened and what it says about contemporary evangelicalism. Clearly, his behavior and myriad of charges against him have simmered under the surface for far longer than it should have. Now, that it’s boiled over, one thing is clear – everybody knows who Mark Driscoll is.
In fact, he was pretty popular even before the eruption . . . For a long time. And people praised and applauded him. They loved the splashes that he made, or more like the tidal waves he caused with machismo brand of Christianity and his (rather stunted) version of the new Reformed movement. And for me, this just further confirms the celebrity factor in evangelicalism. Just look at how his story was displayed in Vox, Megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll was an evangelical rock star.
Yes, a rock star. Famous. Known. Applauded
I believe this was a contributing factor to the longevity of his antics. Over at Cripplegate, Jesse Johnson wrote a pointed but needed commentary, Driscoll Drama: to those who sold tickets. He rightly criticizes other notable evangelical leaders (we may be able to translate that “celebrities”) who not only gave a pass to what should have been obvious disqualifications for pastoral leadership, but actually endorsed it.
Let’s not be fooled. It’s not just the leaders but the fan base in general. Yes, fans. Because that’s what happens with celebrities. It really didn’t matter what was going on in the course of actual pastoral relationships, Driscoll drew a crowd. He got men to come to church. He wrote books (well, kind of). He spoke at conferences and challenged the status quo (or at least what he thought needed to be challenged). And, he had a big church. A really big church. And people praised him.
This is why I cringed when I saw this article on the Blaze, He Survived Brain Cancer and Now Leads a Church of 11,000 – but have you heard of him? No, not Driscoll but Matt Chandler. Now, I am in no ways comparing Driscoll to Chandler. I’ve heard him speak a few times and know people who attend the Village Church where he pastors. He certainly doesn’t have the reputation that has surrounded Driscoll.
Hear me when I say this is not about Chandler but about us. And by us I mean evangelicals and our need for celebrities. This is not just an article about how Chandler dealt with his brain cancer and remained faithful to his pastoral duties. We do need to encouraged by the testimonies of others. No, this article has a different tone.
Look at how great this guy is and why you need to know who he is.
Look at the size of his church and how much it is growing because of him.
Sorry, but this smacks of veneration.
This is what happens when we elevate a person to rock star status. It starts off with this kind of praise. When we do this, we aren’t really that different from the crowd in Acts 14:8-18. When Paul and Barnabas healed the crippled man at Lystra, the crowd cheered and worshiped them as if they were gods. Of course, this was part of their cultural fabric that gods were to be praised and sacrificed to. Sure, they were pagans and had no knowledge or fear of the one true God. So what does it say about us when we carry on the same way? Yes, that’s a bit of hyperbole but I fear that sometimes we come awfully close.
It doesn’t take much for a person given this celebrity cheering to buy into it. And of course its not the fault of the person being praised. But if they are not careful, they’ll put themselves above others. Sorry, I’ve seen it and I can’t help but wonder if this is what happened with Driscoll but who knows. The temptation to buy into the publicity is so strong.
That’s what makes Paul and Barnabas’ response to this Lystra crowd so compelling;
“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men, of like nature with you, and we bring good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them.”
The onus on the one being praised is to deflect that attention to where it rightfully belongs. The onus on the celebrity is to not make much of themselves but of Christ. It’s not about your platform, or books or crowds but the one who should command the crowd – Jesus Christ. The faithful attitude is commended in 2 Cor. 4:5 – “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
Listen, the body of Christ will have folks who we applaud because they teach well, have good insights, and otherwise help us think faithfully about faith and practice. Yes, let’s honor them and give credit where it is due. But let’s not turn into the Lystra crowd and produce idols of church leaders. We don’t need that kind of celebrity.
As I wrote about in Dear Obscure Pastor, we need servants who faithfully care about others maturing in Christ, even when the spotlight is not on them. You may not hear of these folks but their congregation knows them well. And I’m thankful you have not heard of my pastor.