How do we coax the cameras of the celebrity-addicted faithful off the mega-church parking lot and into the homes of genuine saints? Maybe we can video a documentary about the life of Remington Lewis, an 82-year-old community bulwark who epitomized kindness and hospitality – or of 85-year-old Lucy Bunnell, a gentle, soft-spoken family matriarch, known for her gardens and crafts and empathy.
I think of Rem and Lucy and their recent funerals amid my skepticism in another sphere: I’m not wielding my credit card in a bookstore dash for A Call to Resurgence, which a press release characterizes as a “prophetic warning to the church that ‘dark days are ahead’ if we don’t stop the in-fighting and refocus our efforts on preaching the gospel immediately.” Great message, but Jonathan Merritt notices the messenger on his Faith & Culture blog at the Religion News Service. It’s the ever-abrasive Mark Driscoll, author and preaching pastor of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church and the tweeter of shabby tweets. An example: “So what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?”
Mars Hill elders had a little sit-down with him after that one. He confessed he was “flippant.”
The problem, says Merritt, is this was standard Driscoll, and he supplies a gallery of boorish quotes as evidence. Perhaps his coarsest moment came when he crashed John MacArthur’s party at the recent Strange Fire conference. MacArthur, a fundamentalist pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, was resurrecting his long-dormant attack on charismatic Christians and censuring anyone cooperating with them (MacArthur is a cessationist and thinks gifts such as prophesy, tongues, and healing halted when the New Testament was written; charismatics believe those gifts still thrive). He’s also publishing a book called, coincidentally, Strange Fire. One alleged charismatic evil: they’re too divisive.
Driscoll, whom MacArthur once assailed as “grunge,” arrived at Grace’s campus and began plugging his own book, whereupon security personnel asked him to stop. A youtube video – which has since been removed – supposedly showed Driscoll freely giving them copies, after which he posted on Instagram: “Security confiscated my books.”
To sum up: Two rival, bull-headed pastors pulled publicity stunts for their books, one of which calls for a halt in all the feuding while the other criticizes acrimonious opponents. As if to twist the knife, Driscoll later blasted Christian pacifists, contending that Jesus was no “pansy.” He never acknowledged pacifism’s three-century dominance at the dawn of the faith. He merely sparked infighting: “Some of those whose blood will flow as high as the bit in a horse’s mouth for 184 miles will be those who did not repent of their sin but did wrongly teach that Jesus was a pacifist. Jesus is no one to mess with.”
I’ve reluctantly embraced the “just war” theory — which originally limited the use of force and should really be called “modified pacifism” — but Driscoll mischaracterized and disrespected pacifism. He’s burlesque and tawdry.
Maybe we should pretend these two don’t exist in hopes they’ll buzz away – especially in light of Katelyn Beaty’s caution at Christianity Today against “outrage hunger,” which she compares to a “heaping plate of sour candy.” Devouring it is “making us quite sick.” She was even prescient. She singled out Driscoll-bashing because he “gives fans and haters alike plenty of sour candy to satisfy our outrage hunger. Outrage at his comments, or outrage at comments about his comments. Whatever one thinks of the Seattle pastor’s teachings, our virulent reactions keep us spinning in the dirt, each side further convinced of the rightness of its views.”
Point taken. Driscoll and MacArthur become magnets for holier-than-thou snarkiness, especially when they launch disruptive publicity ploys in their calls for peace. The anti-Driscollites mutate into mirror images of their nemesis, raising their blog hits but accomplishing little else. Yet that initial question (“How do we coax the cameras …?”) still nags. Why do Driscoll and MacArthur receive the speaker invitations and author contracts? The simple answer: Numbers. Both lead non-denominational mega-churches. Mars Hill spans 14 campuses and draws about 14,000 people while MacArthur’s attracts roughly 8,000. Both can afford sophisticated web sites and – in MacArthur’s case – radio spots on Christian broadcasting networks. Neither represents the evangelical consensus, which no longer embraces cessationism and emulates congenial leaders like Russell Moore, the new president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
But they’re given a volatility license because their ministries are bloated and loaded. Hats off to them for drawing those crowds and their indisputable communication and organizational skills, but there’s more to Christian success than fund-raising and reaching a target audience. Otherwise, we’d be scolding Jesus for losing his following as he hung on the cross. Christian success would at least embrace Proverbs 14:17: “A quick-tempered man does foolish things” as well as James 1:19-20: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
All of which brings me back to Rem Lewis and Lucy Bunnell. Rem was a deacon, Sunday School leader, trustee, custodian, and member of the church I now serve as an interim pastor, Quaker Hill Baptist in Waterford, CT. He also led the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and was a lifelong volunteer fireman. Most important, he was a father, grandfather, and devoted husband in a 60-year marriage. And he laughed and did everything with a joke and a smile. Rem would never dream of cheap publicity stunts while calling for unity, nor would he chastise all pacifists as sinners, nor would he broadcast a misleading tweet. He assumed Christians cultivate integrity. I wasn’t surprised at his funeral’s standing-room-only crowd a few days ago, nor was I surprised by the tears I fought back as I led the service.
And there’s Lucy, the avid gardener, accomplished seamstress, and maker of ragdolls, which she gave to entire neighborhoods. Like Rem, she possessed something intangible: Call it “grace.” People gravitated to her because she made them feel safe. So many flocked to her funeral that she needed a police escort. Again, I fought back my own tears while leading the services.
Suddenly, a strange hope sneaks in. Rem and Lucy erase my worries over dire predictions. I’ve seen the influence of unpublicized saints and I know there are countless coaches and teachers and volunteer firemen and town officials and librarians for every Driscoll. Their quiet legacy shines brighter than a hotheaded superstar clergyman’s – and, come to think of it, they don’t need those documentaries. Their stories are told and re-told in the many they loved and inspired, and those stories will spread no matter where the cameras wander.