Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions By Mark Driscoll. Crossway Books, 2009. 287 pages. (I will be starting a drawing tomorrow for a free copy of this book.)
After 343,203 online votes on the Mars Hill Church website, nine questions for Pastor Mark Driscoll emerged as the ones most urgently calling for answers.
Inspired by 1 Corinthians, in which Paul answers a series of questions posed by the people in the Corinthian church, Pastor Mark Driscoll set out to determine the most controversial questions among visitors to the Mars Hill Church website. In the end, 893 questions were asked and 343,203 votes were cast. The top nine questions are now each answered in a chapter of Religion Saves.
After an introductory chapter devoted to the misconception that religion is what saves us, Driscoll tackles nine issues: birth control, humor, predestination, grace, sexual sin, faith and works, dating, the emerging church, and the regulative principle. Because the purpose of this book is to address commonly asked questions, all readers will find relevant, engaging material, written in Driscoll’s distinctively edgy, yet theologically sound style.
In his distinctively edgy, yet theologically sound style, Pastor Mark Driscoll addresses the nine most controversial questions posed by visitors to the Mars Hill Church website. This book is part of the Re:Lit series.
I like the concept of the book as found in its title Religion Saves. As much as a book debunking that religion saves needs to be written I think it is hard to do in the format Mark Driscoll has chosen. Letting others pick your topics and then finding an appropriate title would not be an easy task for anyone. I say that as I ask the question of whether or not the topic of religion saves was actually tackled. Most of the topics aren’t really salvation issues. They are moral issues for the world and Gospel issues for the church. Driscoll is very good at addressing moral issues, their practical outworking in one’s life and practical solutions. Let’s browse through the topics.
Question 9: Birth Control
This chapter is to be appreciated. Driscoll goes over the biblical view of people as God’s creation, families and children. He then lays out a helpful over view of the history of birth control. Birth control is looked at in five different levels. No birth control (19), natural (33), non-abortive (34), potentially abortive (37) and abortive murder (40). He walks the reader through the different forms of each type of birth control and attempts to give biblical guidance for each. Mixed in with Driscoll’s answers are historical and medical research. I found this chapter helpful as it offers a good over view and wisdom from which to make decisions.
Question 8: Humor
Next to the question what is too crude for a pastor and the pulpit, this is a much wondered about question from Driscoll’s perspective. I appreciate much of Driscoll’s humor. Not all of it. Even though no particular group is under his radar as names them off I wonder at times just how pastoral this approach is. Is there a time when you stop making fun of the guy downloading porn and sleeping on Star Wars sheets and bring the Gospel to light as the solution. (45)
As he seeks to answers the question of whether or not humor is biblical, he simply asserts his position. Showing that humor is biblical is not the same as pointing out what an individual personally finds humorous. Driscoll points to the greek word skubalah, meaning “s**t” according to Greek scholar Dan Wallace, in Philippians 3:8 as scatological humor. While the language might be scatological I don’t see it as humorous and neither does Wallace as Driscoll has quoted him. Just as the reference to Noah who is referred to as a camping redneck when he became drunk.(49) Again, this doesn’t prove that the Bible is humorous. Actually, these acts aren’t acts of humor, but of showing the sinful side of men that needs to be repented of. He uses a similar approach when quoting the Wisdom books pointing out God laughing at the wicked. There are just too many assumptions built on Driscoll’s personal taste to prove the point he is trying to prove.
Driscoll goes on to quote Elton Trueblood’s The Humor of Christ to build his case about Jesus and humor. I don’t know enough about this book to comment either way. I do agree that Jesus laughed. He was God and Man. While I appreciate Driscoll laying out his ten ways humor is helpful (61) and ten commandments for sanctifying humor (64) I wonder if he could stand up to his own test at times.
Question 7: Predestination
Driscoll starts by defining monergism and synergism. Then he gives a brief history of some key theologians throughout church history and their views on this topic. Getting to the heart of the chapter is when Driscoll lays out the five points of Calvinism and the Arminianism.(74) He explains some of the nuances of each position. Showing his cards he lets the reader know that he named his second son Calvin Martin after Martin Luther and John Calvin.(75) He explains that he doesn’t base his fellowship with other Christians on this issue. The real meat of the chapter is where many questions about predestination are answered in light of salvation, free-will, God being unfair,etc. Though this is a pretty good and thorough chapter it is another one of those topics that will be debated until our predestined life ends. As a bonus, there is a very helpful appendix with Bible verses on predestination.
Question 6: Grace
“Grace” answers the question for Driscoll of what is the hardest part of Christianity for him to grasp.(105) I can’t help but relate to his thinking here. The grace of God in my salvation is beyond my comprehension. Driscoll relates this by telling the story of his life as a sinner. As a “good” moral guy. It’s a good recounting for all to reflect on.
He then expounds on grace in Scripture. The reader is walked through 13 experiences of grace. These include the aspects of grace working in electing, preaching, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, ministry, sanctification, empowering, provisional, miraculous, persevering and glorifying. (117) Understanding grace in this way if very helpful so that we understand it is God sustaining us in all we do not just in salvation, but in life as a whole.
Question 5: Sexual Sin
This chapter deals with the question of breaking free from the bondage of sexual sin.(127) Driscoll starts by describing something I’m not familiar with called “Naughty coffee”. His description of what happens while ordering this coffee might be enough to make a man’s mind wander where it shouldn’t. The author moves to briefly describing sexual sin in Scripture and then sexual sin today. A whole barrage of different types of today’s sins are given. Included in these descriptions are historical, medical and societal statistics. These statistics are helpful and informative as far as facts go. It will probably be eye-opening to those out there who take such things for granted. An excerpt of an interview with Ted Bundy just before his execution certainly puts these issues in a different light.(138)
Winding the chapter down are 11 tips for breaking free of this sexual bondage.(140) These tips are helpful and rooted in Scripture. However, the Gospel seems to be assumed rather than explicitly applied. The redemptive aspect of the Gospel and the Christian’s identity in Christ could be a bit stronger. I’m reminded here of what Bryan Chapell calls the “deadly be’s”. “Be” like this person in Scripture, etc. is the message and it must be accompanied God’s grace.
Question 4: Faith and Works
Not only is this a debate between Protestants and Roman Catholics, it is also a type of wrong thinking that occurs in religious people as far as works go. Good works are certainly the religion of the world. Driscoll does a decent job of laying out the doctrine of justification. I really appreciate how he explains that justification is about Jesus.(162) He then takes 12 pages on the doctrine of regeneration in the middle of a chapter on faith and works. Finishing the chapter is about one page on the doctrine of sanctification. Even though I appreciate the author’s presentation on regeneration I don’t understand why it was inserted in this chapter. The biggest disappointment is that Driscoll doesn’t deal with the exegetical work of concerning faith and works with James and Paul. Instead, he assumes his position.
Question 3: Dating
This is a another good topic for Driscoll. He seems to do well with the social, moral aspects of life. Again, the reader will find some decent research of dating in times past into the present. The author tackles cohabitation citing statistics touching on who engages in, and some of the outcomes of, this practice. The issue of singleness is up next touching on the gift of singleness (1 Cor. 7) and those who might create different idols within it.
Driscoll nicely lays out 16 helpful Christian dating principles for men and women.(191) He offers much wisdom here from maximizing one’s singleness for God to agreeing theologically with a potential date.(195) Many of these points are over looked by today’s Christians. The chapter ends with seven Christian dating questions for men (198), seven for women (200) and dating methods.(202) Again, this is where Driscoll shines and gives some good practical advice.
Question 2: The Emerging Church
The question is what can established/traditional churches learn from emerging churches?(209) A brief history of Driscoll’s association with emerging church leaders kicks off the chapter. He gets into the differences of the emergent, emerging and missional categories of churches. Rob Bell is singled out as the exception among acquaintances and friends of Driscoll’s in these movements.(210) Concerning the church the author explains the cultural shifts, the need to be missional and the friendships that blur theological lines with in these movements. These things are said to account for confusion in understand how the differing positions are defined.
The reader is then given four lanes on the missional church highway.(213) They are missional evangelicals (214), missional house church evangelicals (215), missional reformed evangelicals (216) and emergent liberals.(217) Driscoll goes on to finish the chapter with strong critiques, really rebukes, of the emergent liberals. He takes on Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell by analyzing their theology where some key problems lie. This chapter ends with a damning prognosis. Driscoll states that the emergent leaders and their churches are not leading people to Christ and His Gospel. There is actually no Gospel and no salvation found amongst these communities. This is an important chapter that needs to be read by today’s post-moderns.
Question 1: The Regulative Principle
Full disclosure, I was one of the folks who helped Timmy Brister get this question through by using my votes on it. Driscoll starts off explaining that this is a foreign topic to most aside from single guys in seminary in need of a wife who are reading dead authors.(243) He does admit that this is an important topic though. The answer to what worship is and isn’t is first laid out. I appreciate that he contrasts solo scriptura with the correct doctrine of sola scriptura as he looks to Scripture to answer the question of worship. These definitions will give the reader an understanding of Driscoll’s method of worship that he employs and how he draws it from Scripture.
Getting to the heart of the chapter, the author lays out what he sees as strengths and weaknesses in both the normative and the regulative principles of worship. While I would fall somewhere between the two principles I don’t think Driscoll is fair in his critique of the regulative principle. He uses a reductio ad absurdum strategy to argue against it. That is, he attempts to take this worship principle to it’s logical conclusion to show that it falls apart. For example, he claims that churches that forbid instruments during worship must posit that the Bible sins when instruments are mentioned.(254) This approach is really unhelpful as it doesn’t really deal with the actual arguments for the regulative principle. If we applied this to Driscoll in a similar manner we’d have to granted that those he lists as holding to the regulative principle – John Calvin, the Puritans, Presbyterians, those following the Westminster Confession – are all seminary students who need to find a wife.
He closes with a position he created called the missional worship principle. This is basically where everything is done that God commands, nothing He forbids is followed and everything else prayerfully considered.(257)
First, this book is not for everyone. Driscoll uses very direct and mature language. I think can be good as it doesn’t let the reader skirt around the issue. The reader also knows exactly what Driscoll is talking about, but I’m not sure everyone can handle such frank talk.
My opinion is that it’s strong on morality, but weak in places on the application of the Gospel. Please don’t hear me as saying that Driscoll doesn’t preach the Gospel. I’ m saying that in this book his application of the Gospel as the solution to “religion saves” could have been more thorough. See my comment on Chapell in question 5. There are, however, tons of Scripture references and 13+ pages of footnotes. It was a little confusing at first to have the Scripture footnoted at the bottom of each page and the bibliography noted in the back of the book. Then, I realized why the numbers weren’t matching correctly.
If you are interested in Driscoll’s approach to Scripture and his hermeneutic this may be a good book for you. This is also the book for you if you are curious about what the attraction to Driscoll is in the Seattle culture. Though I very much line up with Driscoll theologically and appreciate much of what the Lord is doing through his ministry, there are better books on some of these topics. The strongest chapters are on birth control, predestination, grace, sexual sin, dating, and the emerging church. So I’m recommending six out of nine chapters. Some of the more theologically astute will want more exegetically inclined works on these topics. However, this book can certainly help communicate in a more modern, contextualized manner, if you accept this approach.
I appreciate being chosen t be part of this blog tour. You can follow it and see what others have to say at Blog tour for Religion Saves by Mark Driscoll.
For what it’s worth…