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Newsletter #77: Mark Driscoll's Gender Teachings
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Mark Driscoll is the former pastor of the now defunct Seattle megachurch Mars Hill Church. Driscoll was a mega-celebrity in his heyday, attracting 14,000 people to his multi-site church, appearing on major network television, and becoming an innovator in podcasting and videocasting his sermons. His charisma; his brash, edgy style; and his stand-up comic style delivery helped him draw a large audience of young hipsters and creatives in one of America’s most secular cities. This success in that environment, especially in reaching younger men, was a big part of his claim to fame. He was plugged in with a who’s who of New Calvinist superstars. He was a founding member of the council of the Gospel Coalition, and was promoted by the likes of John Piper.
A cascade of scandals that included various allegations such as plagiarism, paying to get one of his books on the New York Times bestseller list, and inappropriate use of funds from his Mars Hill Global venture eventually did him in. Driscoll resigned from Mars Hill, which promptly imploded. He later moved to Arizona and started a new venture called the Trinity Church. It appears to be successful, although Driscoll’s popularity is a shadow of what it once was.
The story of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill was covered in an extremely popular podcast called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, produced by Christianity Today magazine.
I noted last a fews weeks ago that Jordan Peterson’s daughter now attends Driscoll’s church, and was tweeting endorsements of him, which I thought was an interesting convergence.
Mark Driscoll on Marriage
While Driscoll is no longer as influential today, this prompted me to go back and review his teachings on marriage, which were among his most controversial. He was an adherent of the evangelical “complementarian” gender theology in which the husband is the head of the home and only men can serve as a pastor or elder in a church. That obviously would attract criticism from feminists by itself, but he was also criticized for crudeness and toxic masculinity even by some conservatives. Very conservative megachurch pastor John MacArthur was a major Driscoll critic, for example.
Driscoll’s teachings on marriage have already been extensively criticized in the past by people like the Christian manosphere writer Dalrock. Many people today have never looked at Driscoll’s actual teachings or read his critics. But he’s worth looking at because, though his style was certainly different, in many ways his actually teaching are very similar to what other New Calvinist complementarians believe. That’s one reason they welcomed Driscoll into their fold. So a look at him helps illuminate that general position, even today.
I’ve probably watched closed to 100 Mark Driscoll sermons. But today I am going to look at two sermons from his sermon series called Trial, which covered the book of 1 Peter. These sermons cover 1 Peter 3:1-7, which is one of the key biblical passages on the relationship between husbands and wives. One was called Women & Marriage, which covered verses 1 through 6. The other was called Men & Marriage, which covered verse 7. These sermons were originally given in 2009.
Men and Marriage
Men and Marriage is one of Driscoll’s most infamous sermons because it contains his “How dare you!” rant which we will examine in a moment. Some observations from this sermons.
1. Mark Driscoll adopts a highly abusive style of speaking towards men, and men only.
In this sermon, Driscoll lays out his approach to communicating to men vs. women:
Now – my tone is for the men. We speak to men differently than women. Part of this is theological. Peter will say it in 1 Peter 3:7, that women are the weaker vessel. Think of a goblet. And men are like a thermos. You can drop a thermos, bang a thermos, you can dent a thermos, it will be fine. You treat a thermos differently than you treat a goblet. If this were a women’s conference, I would not call you all idiots, and imbeciles, and fools, and that you’re a joke. But you men – this is where it needs to go. You’ve been glad handed, and buddied up, and positive thinking, and ‘you’re a winner,’ and ‘Jesus loves you better,’ and I’m telling you you’re a joke.
Given that men and women are different, I would agree that they warrant a different communication style. But we see here that Driscoll believes that it’s appropriate to publicly abuse and berate men. The sermon is full of it. In fact, it starts in the opening prayer:
Father God, I pray that our time would be pleasing to you, that it would be profitable to us. Lord God, as well I pray for those men who are here who are cowards. They’re silent, passive, impish, worthless men. They’re making a mess of everything in their life. And they’re such sweet little boys that no one ever confronts them on that. I pray for the women who enable them, who permit them to continue in folly, those who are mothers and sisters and girlfriends and wives. I pray, Lord God, for those men who are chauvinists, those who are mean, who are brash, who are rude, who are harsh, who, Lord God, think they are tough when in fact they are satanic. God, I pray for those men, that they would have the courage today to not fight with a woman but to fight with you, to actually find their rightful place in creation, that they might receive a good rebuke so that they can become honorable rather than dishonorable sons. God, I pray for my tone. I pray for our men. And I pray for the women who are listening in. I pray, Lord God, that they would know this comes from a heart of passion, deep concern, and love. I pray Lord God that we would think biblically, and critically, and humbly, and repentantly. And that, Lord God, there would be dramatic life change by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, amen.
The sermon is full of gems like this one:
Some of you guys are a total joke. I have no respect for you at all. You can’t get a job, keep a job. You can’t keep your hands off a girl. You can’t stop downloading porn. You can’t pay your own bills. You can’t get out of bed in the morning. You know what? If you can’t even take responsibility for yourself, you shouldn’t even get a pet, let alone a wife, let alone a kid. See, marriage is for men. It’s not for boys.
There’s also this one:
Some of you guys are such losers. You’re a joke. Some of you guys are in your mid-20s, you still haven’t become a member of the church, you can’t find your Bible, you’re not in a community group, you don’t have any guys to speak into your life. You’re trying to find a woman. You don’t even know what you’re doing. You’re a joke. You think you’re cute. You’re not. You’re a joke. You’re a freaking joke. And deep down you know it.
I’m sure there are some men who respond positively to this sort of message, but probably a minority. It comes across as a caricature of a drill sergeant, something like Douglas C. Niedermeyer from Animal House telling his ROTC cadets they are “all worthless and weak.” It’s notable that Driscoll doesn’t offer much in the way of building back up in this sermon. It’s mostly tearing down, with simply a call to shape up and man up in response.
This makes Driscoll very different from, say, Jordan Peterson or other online men’s influencers, who, while they often directly challenge men to do better, also provide significant practical advice and encouragement about how to actually do that.
Few evangelical pastors regularly go to this extreme in the way Driscoll does. However, the highly asymmetric rhetoric in which women are treated gently and largely positively while men are characterized very negatively and told how they are failures and need to shape up is common.
Here is a video of the very end of the Men and Marriage sermon, which is one of his most infamous tirades, “How Dare You!” As the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast revealed, this was a pre-planned way to end the sermon. Many of you won’t watch his entire hour long sermon, but this clip is definitely a must watch.
2. Mark Driscoll denigrates men in front of their actual or prospective wives and girlfriends.
The venue is also notable. Driscoll is not preaching this sermon at a men’s retreat. He’s preaching it on Sunday morning in front of a mixed audience. Many of these men are in church with their wives or girlfriends. For men who are single, the women in the audience are one of their prime pools of potential people to start dating.
Yet Driscoll dishonors these men in front of the women. In fact, one might even suggest that those women are the real audience he is preaching to. Early in the sermon he says, “If you brought your boyfriend, you picked a good day.” So he’s fully aware of what he’s doing.
He says that the men are terrible, and if the women in the audience don’t agree with him about how bad their man is, it’s because they’re deceived:
You’ve been glad handed, and buddied up, and positive thinking, and ‘you’re a winner,’ and ‘Jesus loves you better,’ and I’m telling you you’re a joke. And the real men in the room know it. And they see it. And maybe there’s one woman that you’ve fooled and she doesn’t see it – like Eve, she’s deceived.
In fact, Driscoll says there are only a “handful” of good men in his church:
Shame on you. You guys are a joke. And there’s a handful of good men that are tired of picking up your mess so you step up, you shut up, you man up, and you use all that anger you have toward me right now to repent. You do business with God. I’m gonna let you sit in this for a while.
Dalrock called this the “only real man in the room” strategy. Only Driscoll himself (and perhaps a few others) are real men. Everyone else is an idiot, loser, joke, etc. Driscoll makes himself look big by making men of his church smaller. (He might claim that this “handful of good men” is only in reference to the subset of good men who are picking up the pieces from the losers he is specifically referring to here, but the general tenor of the sermon suggests that he thinks at best a small minority of Mars Hill men are getting it right).
It’s hard to reconcile Driscoll’s words here with his nominal theology that says men are the head of the home. How could any woman respect the men of Mars Hill after what he has to say about them?
Unfortunately, this dishonoring of husbands and fathers is all too common in the evangelical world, even if typically in a less extreme form. There’s a decent chance you’ll hear something negative about men at your church even this upcoming Sunday on Father’s Day, for example.
Again, one has to wonder who the actual intended audience for this sermon is, the men or the women.
3. Mark Driscoll’s vision of what it means to be a husband and father is very unappealing
In Mark Driscoll’s world, men have little independent value or valid needs. Instead, their lives are supposed to be essentially non-stop work and sacrifice on behalf of other people. He says:
What this means gentlemen is that your priorities will be Christian, husband, father, employee. These are your first four duties. It will take most of your life. You’re not going to have a lot of time. You’re probably going to need to put down your tools, your hobbies, your car, your projects, your golf clubs, your Xbox. And you’re probably going to need to put down your remote control, and your laptop, and your iPod to honor your wife parentally. You’re not going to have a lot of time for a lot of other things.”
Evangelical pastors frequently present a vision of marriage that is so unappetizing that it’s no wonder so many young men (and women) decide to hold off on getting married. I dedicated newsletter #28 to this very topic.
This vision in part results from Driscoll’s view that the man is called to be the sole breadwinner in the household. While some evangelicals do hold to this view, I would say it’s a minority and that Driscoll is an outlier on that point.
4. Mark Discroll blames men for the things women do
While not a major theme of the sermon, he does make a point that he periodically returned to, namely that out of wedlock births, divorce, etc. are a result of men’s failures. He says:
The latest statistics: 40% of all children are born out of wedlock. It is now at the point where women aren’t even pretending they are going to ever get married. They go to college, get a good job, get pregnant, have a kid. They’ve lost any hope of every finding a guy who can actually carry the load. And that’s tragic. We’re a culture that is working hard to protect women and children, and no one has the common sense to beat on the guys, who are the cause of so much of the pain.
Undoubtedly there was a man involved in these out of wedlock births. But last I checked, it took a man and a woman to have a baby. Driscoll presents the women as essentially forced into out of wedlock childbearing by the lack of Good Men. They bear no moral responsibility for their decisions. This, again, is a common theme in evangelicalism. In fact, it’s a very longstanding Anglo-American theme in Christianity, something documented by British academic Callum Brown and others. Newsletter #3 goes into depth on this.
Women and Marriage
Unfortunately, Driscoll’s companion sermon Women and Marriage does not appear to be available online anymore. It has been scrubbed from the internet. But luckily, I have a copy so I am able to tell you some of the key points from this sermon.
Again, Driscoll holds to the so-called complementarian gender theology. This means that he affirms that men are the head of the home. That’s a very unpopular stand in today’s world, and is in direct conflict with the cultural norms and legal environment of the country. Whatever criticisms one can make about these pastors and their teachings, the deserve real credit for being willing to publicly state something that’s very unpopular, will likely generate complaints from within their congregation (or even cause people to leave it), and could possibley lead to a media blowup.
So I want to note right out of the gate that while Driscoll does, as we’ll see, massage the practical outworking of this teaching, he does state it. For example, he says this:
1 Corinthians 11 is really what this comes down to, that the man was not made for the woman but the woman was made for the man. Back to Genesis 2:18 that the woman was to be the helper to the man. And so ladies if you’re single, you want to marry a guy that you agree with the course of his life. And if you don’t agree with the course of his life, then you shouldn’t marry him. Because wherever he’s going, you’re to join him in that direction.
Actually, that’s good advice for anyone. If two people aren’t in agreement on the big directional issues of where they envision life going, they probably shouldn’t be married.
In terms of how the teachings play out from the sermon, which again is based on of 1 Peter 3:1-6, he first defines headship as essentially servant leadership (a topic I will return to in depth in a future newsletter), saying, “Sacrificial, humble, selfless leadership.” This again is standard complementarian evangelical preaching.
Like others, he also spends time making clear all the ways husbands don’t have authority, and all the other authorities that the wife can appeal to if her husband is behaving badly.
Over the husband are other authorities like the government and the church. What that means is, if a husband is in sin, the wife and kids don’t have to live under unjust tyranny. They appeal to the higher authority of God, and the authorities which God has established, both by the state – she can call the cops – and the church – she can call the elders and begin church discipline.
I hope it’s common sense that if a husband beats his wife, she should call the police.
What I find interesting here is the claim that the church is over the husband in terms of authority. While he qualifies this in terms of sin, this sort of rhetoric sets up the church as a sort of courts of appeals for unhappy wives who don’t like what their husband is doing. My readings on Mars Hill suggest this is very much how the church operated, with leaders there claiming authority to essentially direct the husband in marriage.
In terms of disagreements, Driscoll says that unless it is a major life issue, husbands should always defer to their wives, saying:
There are, however, moments in the marriage where the husband and wife don’t agree. And we’re not talking here about a lesser, secondary issue. It’s date night and he wants steak and she wants fish and they can’t agree on where to go. Those are easy. Just give her what she wants. Those are easy. Just love her, just serve her, do what she wants. What we are talking about here are the big issues.
Again, note the motif of headship as service, which practically means the husband submitting to his wife’s desires (even selfish ones) in most cases.
If there is a disagreement over a big issue, Driscoll lays out three strategies that Dalrock called “delay, defer, and decide.” The first option is delay:
Number one, he can just prayerfully wait for his wife to come to agreement with him. This isn’t that immediately the man makes the decision, the wife has to submit to it. There are various things that as the head the man could do. It could be, you know my wife is struggling with it. I want to be considerate. I want to be patient as God is considerate and patient with me. I want to love her, pray with her, talk with her. We’re going to work through all the variables and I think she’s going to come around. I think I just need to wait a while.
I would say there are times when this approach is probably a good one.
His second option is defer, or punting the choice to someone else, such as one of the authorities that are over the husband:
Number two, the husband may decide to appeal to a higher authority. He may choose to bring in a mediator. We’re deadlocked. I’m going to call a pastor or a biblical counselor or an older married couple that we both really respect, and we’re going to let them play the role of umpire, and let them make the call. A husband may want to defer that decision. It may be because he has a leaning in one way and his wife disagrees with it, but he’s not fully convinced what is right and he himself is wrestling with the issue. It may be good to seek additional counsel, perhaps even submit to higher authority. The husband has the right to do that. And he’s wise on occasion if he should.
Again, I would say counseling or getting input from others can be a good idea at times. Simply asking someone else to make a major life decision for you seems a bit odd, however. I don’t think this is a common teaching. But it goes along with the idea that the church sits above the husband in the org chart.
Lastly, the husband can decide.
The third option is, he can make the decision. Sometimes this is because the matter is pressing and a decision has to be made, and he makes the decision. She is then to submit to him, to be subject to him, to respect his decision, and to follow his leadership as the head of the household. That’s the language that the Bible repeatedly uses. That’s what it says. And this is how it works in a Christian marriage.
Here again we see Driscoll affirm unambiguously complementarian headship. This paragraph alone would generate a lot of blowback, and so it takes courage to publicly preach it in a sermon.
At the same time, the husband making a decision is presented as a sort of last resort option, and one applicable only to uncommon big issues. This very much is in line with the teachings of others. For example, in the Kellers’ The Meaning of Marriage, they write, “A head can only overrule his spouse if he is sure that her choice would be destructive to her or to her family.”
We see this last resort option presented in an interesting manner. After he finishes the main sermon, his wife Grace comes out on stage to help answer questions. He says that she gave permission for him to use illustrations from their own marriage to show what headship and submission means. Here’s what he says:
So I asked Grace, can I share some examples and she said Yes. And every example she gave me to share with you is a situation where, and this may shock you, she didn’t want to take as good care of herself as I wanted to take care of her. So I asked her to submit to me so I could spoil her. When you think of submission, sometimes all you think of is, “The husband is making his wife do terrible things.” Most of the time, if the wife has godly character, is really humble, works really hard, the husband is trying to spoil her because she’s not taking enough care of herself….So often submission is that the husband wants to take better care of his wife than she’s taking care of herself, and she feels a little bad about that. But he pulls out the, “Hey, I love you, let me make this decision for you.”
Now, in each of these cases, one could argue that Mark was in fact not exactly just spoiling his wife. Of them was when he told her to buy more clothes. Potential translation: I think you need to dress better. Another was hiring a housekeeper. Potential translation: You’re not doing a good job keeping up the house. The third one is pretty clear in my view. She wanted to homeschool and he didn’t think she’d do a good job, so he told her to enroll the kids in a specific private school. He tries to position it as Grace only wanted to homeschool to save money. But even if that’s true, he says he doesn’t think she’d be good at it, saying, “I love my wife with all my heart – she’s not super organized. She’s not organized. She’s not naturally a systems gal.”
But even if these examples are not necessarily what they are supposed to seem, the framing, and the message being delivered, is that to the extent the husband exercises his last resort authority, it’s usually to not just give his wife what she wants, but to force her to take even more than she wants.
Based on Driscoll’s teachings in these sermons, here is what complementarianism actually means practically: The husband is the head of the home, but what that means is his primary life mission is sacrificing for and serving his wife and kids. He is probably doing a very bad job of this, deserves stern rebuke, and needs to repent. What authority he has should be used to give things to his wife. He is to defer to his wife’s wishes for anything that is not a major life issue. If there’s a conflict on a major issue, he is to try to avoid making the decision if he can, and only do so as a last resort. If his wife is unhappy about that decision, or anything else, she can appeal to the elders of the church to override her husband. She should make sure not to be too submissive to him.
Mark Driscoll is in good company here. This is basically what complementarians in general teach about gender relations in the home, though with some variations of course. It affirms a deeply unpopular view about gender roles, but defines them in a way that minimizing the practical outworking of those role differences, and in some ways can even invert the plain meaning of something like “headship.”
While Driscoll’s moment has probably passed, these sermons give a flavor of why he became so popular. He’s an extremely good speaker, very charismatic, and extremely entertaining. Shorn of his style and various oddities, however, much of the core of his teachings are actually quite similar to what other New Calvinist types have taught. For that reason, it should be no surprised he was invited in to their inner circles.
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Southern Baptist Debate Over Female Pastors
Speaking of gender theology, major disputes over whether women can be pastors will be debated at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting this week. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church is appealing a decision to remove his church from friendly cooperation status with the SBC because they ordain women. He is openly running an aggressive campaign arguing in favor of women’s ordination. On the other side, a pastor named Mike Law has advanced a proposed amendment to the SBC’s governing structure that would explicitly exclude churches with female pastors.
I will be writing more about this in the context of next month’s newsletter, but in the meantime Kevin McClure conducted a survey of a few thousand SBC churches that suggests that there are as many as 1,844 female pastors at 1,225 churches in the denomination. (The SBC has 47,614 churches).
Let me tell you why the “man up” attitude I hear from so many older pastors is not helpful. Telling a man to “man up” assumes that he knows how to be a man and that his problem is mostly tied to the lack of some form of inner-motivation. It’s the idea that what men primarily need is a good kick in the butt. And men do need to be bluntly challenged to step up. My wrestling coach didn’t get the best out of me by whispering sweet words to me softly. He’d say things like “Foster, you sissy. Is that all you’ve got? If you want to wrestle for me, you’ll need to do better.” But my wrestling coach also taught me how to wrestle, told me what to do in between periods, praised me when I did well, and encouraged me when I failed. Broadly speaking, I think the biggest things missing from most ministries to men is practical instruction and consistent encouragement. A lot of guys really don’t know “how to be a man.” Telling such men to “man up” accomplishes very little. The only type of men who will stay under that sort of ministry is men who are given to self-loathing and desperate for male validation of any kind. Ministry to men should have a corrective "man up" aspect to them. But they are an "aspect" of a multi-dimensional approach to discipleship. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul says, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” I think the typical “man up” approach springs forth from pastoral laziness. They aren’t patient, so they don’t listen. Since they don’t listen, they don’t properly diagnose the problem. And since they have the problem wrong, they get the solution wrong as well.
- Michael Foster, via Twitter