Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mark Driscoll, Luhv, and the Meaning of NeoReformation

I'm not sure why, precisely, so many folks in my social media feeds seem to care about Mark Driscoll.

Driscoll, in the event you do not know him, was the pastor of a large nondenominational Seattle congregation.  He was the purveyor of a hip, muscular, hyperaggressive style of Christianity.  Jesus was a butt-kicker, according to Driscoll, a manly-man who brooked no mess.

I got to know of him during the brief rise of "emergent" and "emerging" Christianity back in the last decade.  Relative to the deconstructive, self-doubting, pomo crowd that tended to make up that movement, Driscoll was something of an anomaly.

Driscoll's approach to faith was an alpha-male testosterama, and he was perfectly willing to emphasize the "tough" part of "tough love" to the point where the latter seemed to evaporate away into nothing.  He yelled a people a whole bunch, to the point where his preaching reminded me of the pre-fight monologues in the WWE.  Sure, he was confident.  Bullies always project confidence, as they cut down everyone and cement their own power.  Tens of thousands flocked to hear him.  But I never understood the appeal, frankly.  Why would I go to church to be yelled at and berated?

Now, his large church is struggling, and his media-empire is shaken.

I struggle to understand why he should matter.  He's just this one guy, who only ever had authority because people--a tiny fraction of the population of a single nation--gave it to him.  Now, as his pattern of aggression has reached a tipping point, his influence within Christian culture is dissolving.  It felt inevitable.  I feel no shadenfreude-glee at the collapse of his work.  It's just sad.

One lingering fragment of Driscoll's work, though, was that he was supposed to represent a "Neo Calvinism" or...more painfully.. a "Neo-Reformation."

Thing is, I could never see anything new or reforming about anything he was doing.  Oh, sure, he wore hip t-shirts and talked the lingo and used presentation software.  But that was just window-dressing.  It meant nothing.

What Driscoll and Piper and others have been hawking as "new" was just the same old judgmental, isolationist, abstracted-from-reality approach to theology that has always defined Pharisaic faith.  It's the kind of theology that presents "love" as if "love" was just a sound we make.

"Luhv," he would say, but though vibrating air that came out of his well worn vocal cords seemed to be the same sound I make, it meant something completely different.  It meant obedience to power.  It meant control.  It meant the dominance of the strong over the weak.

It meant projecting the dynamics of our primate-nature onto the heavens, and declaring that "God's Love" looked just like you doing exactly what I say or else.  The Creator of the Universe is just a tiny bit more demanding than that.

That's not to suggest that a new reformation isn't necessary.  As fundamentalist literalism has done to scripture what Catholicism once did to ecclesiastical authority, there's a real need for a return to what matters.

Maybe one of these millennia, we'll figure that out.