Mark Driscoll is not having a good year. This past week news broke that 14 years ago, Mark Driscoll had posted regularly to a Mars Hill Church online forum under the moniker “William Wallace II” to troll his own church members. This wasn’t the “forever alone meme” style of trolling; instead it was full of coarse language and hateful speech I’m not comfortable reposting here. Of course this news took the Christian blogosphere, twittersphere, and at least three other spheres by storm. Driscoll is no stranger to controversy. This year alone he was busted for plagiarism, deceitful marketing of his book “Real Marriage”, and imposed a hiatus on himself from social media. There are entire websites dedicated to recounting stories of alleged spiritual abuse by Mark Driscoll, with stories from even those who were his closest friends. There are other sites and social media groups dedicated to the so-called harmful environment of Mars Hill, which generally place the blame for such an environment squarely on Driscoll.
The Slow Fall
Driscoll rose to fame through the emergent church movement at the beginning of the era of Evangelical blogging. During this time, Driscoll gained a reputation as the “cussing pastor”, with a glimmer of this on display is his famous YouTube sermon clip where he yells to immature men in the audience, “Who the hell do you think you are?!” From there he berates the men for the rest of the clip. After teaching through Song of Solomon in a manner that was a tad crass, Evangelical leader and Grace Community Church Pastor John MacArthur wrote that Driscoll was not qualified for the office of pastor. That’s not to mention controversy surrounding Driscoll following the Elephant Room event, his hard-line stance on things like video games and the movie Avatar, as well as him claims to prophetic (occasionally sexually graphic) visions and gifts of knowledge. About two years ago, Driscoll departed from the neo-Reformed tribe he had been a part of in lieu of a tribe more like him: influential, non-denominational multi-site mega-pastors such as James MacDonald, Perry Noble, and the like.
Recently, multiple pastors and staffers at Driscoll’s Mars Hill have left, some of who have written lengthy ‘insider’s view’ pieces that are less than complimentary of Driscoll’s leadership style and character. All of this has culminated this week in the removal of Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from the Acts 29 Network, which he co-founded, and the Acts 29 board of directors requesting Driscoll resign his ministry for a time. The list of Driscoll’s offenses and failures go on and on, easily accessible by a simple Google search.
Most of these occasions, with exception of the Elephant Room, was followed by an apology by Driscoll. I agree with Jonathan Merritt, who wrote earlier this week that the radical grace of Christ compels us to grant forgiveness when asked for it. The scandal of the cross and the teachings of Christ is such that when someone asks for forgiveness, we are not allowed the prerogative of judging their motives. We are simply required to forgive and to love.
Still, I think there is something we can learn from the fiasco that has been Mark Driscoll’s ‘tenure of influence’. He has, unfortunately for him, become an example for all pastors regardless of their church size or influence.
Well Thought of By Outsiders
The apostle Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3 are often quoted in discussions about pastors who have failed in the public eye. When it comes to Driscoll, verse 7 is particularly germane. It reads, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” Because of the reality of indwelling sin in the believer, we need to realize that every pastor is going to fall short in various ways. Every pastor sins. To pretend that pastors are in some special category of über-righteousness is foolish. They will never be perfect. Still, there is a requirement for elders and pastors, beyond simple striving, that they should be Christ-like.
They should be so Christlike, the text says, that even though we ought to beware “when all men speak well of us” (Luke 6:26), we should still be well thought of by outsiders generally. Wendy Alsup wisely notes that, “If a man is not esteemed outside of his congregation at some level, outside of the Body of Christ at some level, he should not hold the office of elder.” This is not a commentary on someone’s salvation, so much as it is a comment on qualification. God may have qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col 1:12) without our being qualified to pastor. There is a terrifying warning that remains: disgrace is the snare of the devil. Not all men escape such snares.
Not long ago, it wasn’t that difficult to be well thought of by outsiders. Pastors with a long, private history of infidelity or insincerity were formerly exposed to the shock and chagrin of their followers. How could no one see this coming? Were there any indicators? In the era of the internet, a façade of public holiness with a private life marked by sin is not longer a possibility.
The Internet Never Forgets
As a millennial, the ever-present reality of the internet’s permanence is a burden that can not be ignored. Every tweet. Every Facebook post. Every blog post. Every online insult. Every trolling comment. Every picture. It’s still there. Posts that have long since been deleted, sites that are now defunct, browsing histories that seem to have vanished have not truly been deleted, disappeared, or erased from possible discovery. The internet is forever. Mark Driscoll is learning that lately. How many more of us will learn that same lesson, especially those of us who have hardly ever lived without a large online footprint. For some, there are or will be those who desire to discover those online missteps and sinful wanderings. Where have you been?
It’s scary to think that someone could expose my every misstep online. I’ve been using the internet almost my entire life. I have never really known a world without it. It’s sickening to think my high school decisions are discoverable. It’s easy to long for the days where I could hide. It’s easy to lament the loss of a day when privacy was a reality.
God Sees More Than Search History
It’s harder to realize that those days of hiding secret sins never really existed. The internet is the closest we have come to a tangible omniscient thing in our lives. It’s not that the internet knows all— this isn’t a God-like omniscience. This is a pagan omniscience that can see your every keystroke and recover evidence of failures. It makes ads based on your browsing history (Anyone else glad Puritan Hard Drive has stopped stalking them?). For those with the will and desire to make it so, it can be the tool to your downfall. Could Driscoll have known 14 years ago that someone could easily find his lewd, vitriolic rants that were seemingly anonymous and bring them to the fore? Surely not.
The greatest reality of it all, however, is that there is and always has been an omniscience far beyond the internet. The all-seeing eye of God knows perfectly not only the keystroke of the finger, but the desires of the heart. He knows the thoughts, cruel and careless, and judges them fairly. In Matthew 12:36, the Scripture tells us that we will be judged on the day of judgment for “every careless word”. Nothing escapes his sight. No foul thought goes unnoticed. No sin goes unpunished.
It would be easy for Mark Driscoll to simply wish that these words had never been discovered. It would be easy for us all, likewise, to simply hope that our failings and foul hearts will simply go unnoticed and outsiders will think well of us based on the façade we’ve created. But we shouldn’t wish this. Instead, we should bring darkness to light. When the apostles tells us to, “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them,” (Eph. 5:11) that includes our own unfruitfulness. Darkness is not expelled when it is contained. Darkness dies by the power of the light. Repentance for Driscoll, indeed for all of us, is not to hope that we are never discovered, but to wish our sins never were. It is to agree with God about our failure, and utterly forsake them.
All the same, we must realize that the God who remembers every sin is the God who, “while we were still sinners”, died for us. As we strive to live lives worthy of the gospel of Jesus, we should act honorably and morally not out of fear that someone may see but as those who know that God sees all. Fear of the Lord should accompany our every keystroke. For many of us, our Twitter archive, Facebook timeline, or Google history exists as a tangible sign of our certain condemnation apart from Christ. In Christ, all is forgiven. The reality of our sure salvation, however, should drive us away from the snare of the devil and the disgrace that is only a click away. Instead, we ought to ask forgiveness where needed. We should bear fruits in keeping with repentance, treating those around us with charity, respect, and the kindness and love of Christ. We don’t do this to avoid the shame of possible exposure at the hands of the internet. We do this because Christ bore our shame. In the fear of the Lord, tweet.