Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Driscoll, Acts 29, and the Demerging Church

Some of you know that I have been working with an association of Baptist churches with a focus on helping their church planting team. This job made it possible for me to attend the Acts 29 church planter's bootcamp last week in Raleigh and to experience the latest edition of Mark Driscoll's attempt at being the personal paraclete for the emerging church movement. I went knowing that I wouldn't fit in with the theological agenda of Acts 29, but I guess I assumed that there would be enough room for me to breathe and learn about how they have effectively networked to plant churches. I say this because despite my rather harsh assessment of the event, I have no problem with people starting all kinds of faith communities that connect people to God even if they have a different theological imagination.

The host church, Vintage 21, in my hometown of Raleigh, is a place friends of mine worship and serve in, so I am thankful they exist. Acts 29 is an organized and effective machine, run by a group of Dudes who are passionate about their faith and network. With that said, I would like to just say that what I experienced was far from anything emerging. I have been to a bunch of minister's conferences with Emergent leaders, those friends of Driscoll who he was slandering the next day at the Convergent conference () and who have been part of the 'conversation' for a while.http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif

At the bootcamp we had 6 sessions of monologues that amounted to theological diatribes in which the only viable theological stance was surprisingly theirs, a compassionate conservative Reformed theology. (OK, Chan Kilgore didn't diatribe and this doesn't apply to him. In fact he was the only one I was thankful to have heard.) So in this two days of Reformed 2.0 rhetoric what did I learn?

* That to be "gospel-centered" you have to hold to a list of theological conclusions that were not all developed and connected until the 17th century.
* That what the postmodern world needs is more white Dudes preaching hour-long exegetical sermons in which all texts mean Christ and Christ means Acts 29 Reformed 2.0 Christianity.
* That no pastor's wife should have a job or desire "household duties to be divided equally between the man and woman"
* That you can insist all elders be "not violent" while at the same time saying that, should a church planter deviate from the Reformed 2.0 agenda in an egalitarian way (e.g., "getting pushed around by a feminist"), Mark Driscoll will personally fly out to your church and "kick you in the throat."
* That a bootcamp of called church planters need not include dialog until after the full 8 hours of Reformed 2.0 downloading is done (and then discussion is moderated, filtered, and nothing more than a pony show for Driscoll to say more entertainingly outlandish things).

I have a big list of things I noticed, but what bothered me most is that the Acts 29 response to our new postmodern situation is to grip a thoroughly modern Reformed theology in the Dude's right hand really tight and then think he is better than a fundamentalist because he has a beer in his left hand. This isn't emergent, it is demergent. This is the disgruntled indie rocker's version of the Reformation.

There is much to learn and keep from the Reformation, a movement that was thoroughly modern, but there is reason to give pause to returning to it with a clinched fist. Right now I think the last thing the Church needs are white dudes with clinched fists, especially when what they are clenching is "God's Truth." Throughout modernity white Dudes have had God's truth in their hands too much, and behind them are ditches filled with God's and\or their enemies. (This confusion is easy when you have truthtightly gripped in a fist)

The emergent "conversation" Driscoll is so scared of, and the questions that many of us at the bootcamp had in our minds and couldn't ask, are important. It may be my depravity talking, but I imagine God not scared of conversation, I imagine that truth is not dependent on myself, Doug Pagitt, Karen Ward, or Mark Driscoll, and I am confident that, as the Church finds its bearing in a new world, we don't need any more clinched fists, for it is God's world and God's truth after all.


Andrew said...

interesting post. sounds like acts 29 has changed a lot since i attended. like to more of your thoughts.

Terry-Michael said...

I heard about Driscoll's time at SEBTS and, like you, I am disappointed at how ego drives much of Acts 29. Where are the black lesbian women supposed to find grace?

On another note, we need to get together...soon.

Zach Roberts said...

Doesn't seem like generative friendship or conversation has a place in the Acts 29 model.

I agree that these cats should be able to practice their smack like the rest of us. I guess we need to make sure they are not the only, nor the dominant voice of the 21st century church. A voice among many others, tempered by many others.

Good post!

tony said...

So good to hear from someone who was really there, you Pirate.


Justin said...

I've read through the boot camp manual you gave me, and the more i read the more I think it's just messed up. I agree completely with your assessment of his departure from fundamentalism being nothing more than the "appearance" of being raw and authentic, as well as the loosening up on the alcohol issues. In my experience with leaders of conservative Christian organizations is that they will be conservative on every issue except the one they enjoy themselves, usually alcohol (i use that only as an example in my experience). They are die hard against it until they have their first beer.

Honestly, everywhere i turn i hear Driscoll's name. From his response (and later apology) to McLaren's pastoral response to a homosexuality question:
(which he had to apologize for)
and the profile in Christianity today: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2006/01/brian_mclaren_o_2.html
to his own blog:

He constantly pops up whenever (good or bad someone speaks of EV, Jones, Pagitt, or ESP. McLaren:
(a person who gave Brian's new book a poor review)

It seems to me that He is simply someone who cannot keep his mouth shut, employs public sarcasm and insult, and then hides behind an Emergent/Convergent/PoMo title which to them says: I can't control myself, so i'll justify it as being "authentic and raw".

That is what the mass appeal to the Acts 29 Ch. is. On the surface it looks like what a lot of postmodern people are searching for: authenticity (albeit staged not real), yet offers the same comforts of the ridged, proof-texted religion they grew up in.

That was what struck me the most about the manual. IT HAS A NON-CONTEXTUALIZED SCRIPTURE PASSAGE FOR EVERYTHING THEY ARE LEGALISTIC ABOUT (30 pages worth of stuff). Honestly, poor EV and it's spokesmen and women who is trying not to be labeled "Liberal" because they (rightfully so) cannot be tucked into any of the prepackaged labels, cannot escape it while people like Driscoll, dress up something old (fundamental beliefs) with something new (unauthentic authenticity) and no one wants to pin him down for what he is! I truly believe that EV and the Emergent movement is asking the right questions, and purposely leaving them unanswered so that people can find their own path. Authenticity is asking the questions and admitting you don't have all the answers. Again, that is the opposite of what I see in the acts 29 model, and in Driscoll in particular. Sad how many people are drawn to that.

Bravo Tripp!

Justin said...

sorry, the profile in Christ. Today link is wrong. It should be:

my apologies!

Preachin Jesus said...

Driscoll did great this past weekend and I think he is on the right track with where he is going.

Acts 29 is a network of churches who are like-minded. If you don't like them don't affliate. Pastor Mark is doing some great stuff in his church and really connecting with those who need it.

He freely admits he was wrong in the past in regards to his arrogance and biting manner. I saw a man who was contrite and honestly broken over his past error. That said I also see a man who stands on Scripture as his foundation for ministry, theology, and philosophy. I really respect him.

I don't know if it is ego so much as an earnest desire to reach people with the Gospel that drives Acts 29. We can still call a spade a spade and be loving about it as we seek to redeem and heal people from their sin...regardless of what it is

Here's the thing, sooner or later you've got to have some kind of foundational truth at some level. You can't claim truth to be completely variable, contigent to your circumstance because at some level you have a foundation of truth. The big deal is when you acknowledge it and how to reply to others around you.

Not to speak for Acts 29...because I'm an a Acts 29 guy, I'm not reformed...but if you are really passionate and firmly believe your convictions go out and start your own work and your own network with like minded people. Stop being the pajamahadeen and start being contributors to the solution. Just my thoughts. Thanks for the blog!

Peace, love, and keep Jesus First

roy said...

yvbggaehI love the descriptor of "demergent"

The problem with the clenched fist theology is that it makes for a very small god who can be contained in a thoroughly modern box. I much prefer a God who is outside of my pre-conceptions

Brisa said...

Do you ever notice that people who say say things like "...sooner or later you've got to have some kind of foundational truth at some level." almost never leave room for truth to be found later?

Just like Fox Mulder, I believe "the truth is out there," but I don't have to assume that I am capable of knowing it or understanding it if I see it. I really don't see Christ calling us to a pillar (foundational truth) to rally around, but instead to a journey through the fog.

Pete said...

let me be clear:

if there was a foundation, it would have been found by now. There is no foundational truth. If I think a truth is foundational, that I can judge other truths by it universally, I am mistaken.

the jesus story which is rife with historical and other errors in it's WRITTEN form is the closest one can get to a foundation.

paul was anti-foundationalist when he said we see through a glass darkly.

I am not saying you are not really real, or that quarks are not real, or that jesus's death was not real.
i am saying that no truth is foundational like a house.

truth is like a web (I steal from mclaren here).

THere is no one foundation for why I believe in jesus. The total addition of things/events/people/ideas etc that lead to to see Jesus as Truth cannot be reduced to propositions nor can some even be strutinized.

If I had to have objective truth, that would be scary. I DO mean to sound flip when I say, "no foundation is fine by me as long as I gots Jesus" sometimes that was not enough. the gospel story as I knew it failed me in 1994. the narrative that saved me had been labeled the enemy of the gospel. I found that ironic.

no firm foundation.

merely the arms of jesus.

Justin said...

This is my friend Jeff's blog who works with EV. I thought you all would find this new anti-Driscoll movement amusing.!


although it doesn't look like it shows the whole link, if you highlight what you can, copy and paste it, it works fine!

Jeff said...

Thank you for being someone who actually went to this conference, and is sharing his opinion.

I like this point you made:
"The host church, Vintage 21, in my hometown of Raleigh, is a place friends of mine worship and serve in, so I am thankful they exist."

As someone who does go to V21, but understands the POV of the Emergent Village people (even though it's not really my cup of tea) I am fascinated by this whole debate about Driscoll.

The EV folks, at least in the context of this debate, seem to want to hammer Driscoll for making strong statements. Whereas, Driscoll wants to hammer people for not making a statement or making statements he doesn't agree with.

Am I the only one that hears the irony here?

We all have a personal theology, and I feel like it's human nature to kind of look down your nose at those at those who don't believe the same. The EV folks look down at people who are not as enlightened as them and not as capable of the high values of tolerance and "questions". The Driscoll crowd looks down at those who they feel like are diluting the Gospel.

I wonder if maybe we could all agree on a few issues and then just agree that the rest isn't that big of a deal. Things like...
-penal substitution
-Jesus as God/man
-The trinity
-human depravity
And then sort of leave the rest to "we'll agree to disagree". Maybe we could even have a "conversation".

If we don't have some agreement on that, I sort of feel like we're talking about different things anyways?

But go ahead, call me a modernist. I'm sure that will make you all feel intelligent.

Tripp said...

thanks for all your comments. i actually had 5 comments that were all cursing at driscoll or cursing about people who don't like driscoll, so you all be proud.

just to be clear I am not worried what driscoll thinks, i just wanted to be clear that he is not emergent. he can think what he wants, but if you put the 5 Fundamentals that Christian Fundamentalists have in your fisted right hand, you can have a beer in your left and giggle about the Left Behind novels and still be a Fundamentalist. The list is usually something like this: virgin conception, physical death and resurrection of Jesus, penal substitutionary atonement, Trinity, inerrancy of scripture, and return of Christ or the solas depending on the list.

Jeff, it is good to find you in the blog-o-sphere. You are not a modernist. I don't know too many emergent types who would get rid of the incarnation or the Trinity and if human depravity can mean the problem of sin and not complete depravity necessitating a TULIP, the sure I am ready for that conversation. Penal Substitutionary atonement on the other hand is one among many orthodox metaphors for atonement and one that is older than many of the others. If it took over a thousand years for Christians to find it in scripture then I wouldn't put it on the level of the incarnation.

Jeff said...

Right on. I think the thing that I would add to the conversation (and I was trying to do this with my last comment) is that I think it's in our nature to plant our flag in the ground and stomp our feet and say "I'm right".
I see it in the comments to this post. I see it in Driscoll's comments.
If you truly want to BE different, you've got to act different.

Jeff said...

One other thought I had this morning...is this argument good for the church? I think it could be.
Liberal leaning folks will be drawn to the Emergent Village. Conservative leaning folks will be drawn to Acts 29.
And all the people who think they're both crazy will be drawn to the old mainline denominations.

And if there's anything the presidential debates have shown us, it's that a good polarizing argument tends to make people get really attached to their sides.

So is the end result that more people meet Jesus?

Sorry for filling up your wall Tripp, I'm trying to think this out and adding comments as I do.

Andrew said...

I'm really liking this discussion. However, I think that the "Reformed" position needs to be presented in a more robust and nuanced way than has been provided. I know what Driscoll, Acts29 and their ilk mean when they talk about "reformed theology" and I do not like it.

However, to dismiss human depravity (as it appears some in this discussion tend to do) as an active force in the world is to stand on thoroughly shaky theological ground. Human depravity and the inability of the human being to do good apart from a Spirit-initiated embodiment of the Gospel are ideas that have been present throughout the history of the church - from Origin to the desert fathers to Augustine and, subsequently, to Calvin. This is not to suggest some "apostolic succession of reformed dogma." However, I am suggesting that such an inability to do good apart from God is indicative of a doctrine of human depravity that finds solid root in the traditions of the church. To run willy-nilly over church tradition is theologically suspect and tantamount to ecumenical treason (and I'm sure that no one in the Emergent "conversation" wants to run rampant over historical understandings of the human condition and God's role in history).

It occurs to me that the minute the idea of human sinfulness is ruled out (or questioned without adequate care), we run the risk of thinking that Christian practices of hospitality, peacemaking, prayer, and fasting are things that we do out of our own desire and initiative. This point of view, to me, is more thoroughly "modern" than any of the "reformed" theology of Driscoll and Acts 29. It capitulates to the modernist Newtonian idea that places the individual (and his/her desires and will) at the center of human experience as the locus for authority in daily life and it runs the risk of leaving God and the Christian community out a life of Christian discipleship altogether.

I may be exaggerating or missing something but it seems that while reformed theology has had its negative moments in history (especially in its dogmatic, un-nuanced, and more extreme forms), its virtue is that it offers humanity a view of of God as sovereign and sustaining in all aspects of life that needs to be re-appropriated by contemporary Christianity in ways that are life-giving and intuitively doxological. Sorry for the lenght...I guess this should've been a a separate post on my own blog...but here it is anyway. Can't wait to see you sometime Trip!

Tripp said...

yo andrew
i agree that human depravity is important theologically. i don't however see total depravity, as i have read it, to be a fruitful doctrine. as much as original sin may characterize our situation i think our status as image bearers of God and God's original blessing of creation (humanity after women were created was very good) should not be without function in our anthropology. Moltmann does something similar to this and points out a interesting facet of traditional reform theology, namely that often total depravity has developed in a world view where God is separate from creation. if this is not true and God is where we "live move and have our being," if "God is before all things, and in God all things hold together," then i think we can understand human beings as depraved while recognizing that because of God's self-investment in creation and creation's location in God that total depravity is not a metaphysical possibility. despite our sin God has chosen life with and for us, so at each moment of history God is present, active, and working for coming of the kin-dom of God.

Well that was something though it may not make sense and relates to a bunch of things running through my head.

Andrew said...

Tripp, I agree with what you are saying. I have many tendencies theologically and one of them is latent five (or seven) point Calvinism. I agree with what Scott Said that Calvinism (even in its extreme forms) is quite doxological. What I have a problem with (within the Calvinist system) is people, like Driscoll, who want to equate holiness with masculinity and God's sovereignty with pride. I think that one of the virtues of a highly nuanced reformed theology is to make us aware of the ways that God is active and fully present to us at all times (not removed from the wold but implicit in all parts of it). That's why I love Jonathan Edwards so much. He saw that God is active, revealing and healing in our lives - and he saw evidence of this in the beauty of nature (hardly an abstract, far-off God). This evidence should awaken us to the knowledge that God is never far from us (and thus we are not without hope). Depravity, therefore (and I think this is where we agree a great deal) should always be understood in contrast to God's love (and investment of God's image) for humanity. I'm glad we had this conversation. Now I know for sure that you're one of the elect (hehe) ;-)

nate said...

well said sir! well said indeed!

Joy said...


I am so sorry that you had to endure hours of Driscollism... I feel like we need to send you to therapy or something!

I agree that MD is NO emergent. I barely find him Christian. I watched his Youtube "tolerance rant"... He is still so out of control. But I've found a new name for him...

wing-nut! LOL

We met at one of the Charlotte Cohorts. It is good to find your blog. Seems I have much to learn. I'll be hanging out for a while! Thanks.