Driscoll On Britain: Offensive, Wrong or Neither?
“Let’s just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don’t have one – that’s the problem. There are a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.”
As a young Bible teacher who speaks across Great Britain, I ought to be offended, not just on my own behalf, but also on behalf of many of my friends who I regard as good, young Bible teachers. Krish Kandiah certainly was, and immediately wrote to say so; he will doubtless be followed by many others, particularly after the offending article is published this week. But I’m not. So here’s a few words on why.
Firstly, full disclosure: I am personal friends with Krish, Justin Brierley (who did the interview) and Ruth Dickinson (who edits Christianity). I’m also a consulting editor for Christianity, although that sounds grander than it is (I don’t get consulted before publication, for example). But for all the things about Mark that I find challenging and sometimes infuriating - and I dare say I’d have said the same about Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon and lots of others - I find him to be a compelling preacher who loves Jesus and loves the gospel, a deeply courageous man, and an inspiration. All of which makes me want to think well of him when he says things like this.
Secondly, I simply do not believe that the sentences I just quoted mean that Mark thinks all young British preachers are cowardly and rubbish. This is how some are choosing to hear what he said, but I’m certain that Mark would regard Joel Virgo, Tope Koleoso and a bunch of other young preachers he knows as courageous, gifted communicators who are passionate for the gospel. What he said was that none of them were known across Great Britain. And on that, he’s probably right: Joel might preach to 7,000 at Newday, and Mike and Andy Croft to 30,000 at Soul Survivor, but the reality is that hardly anybody in Britain, outside of a small Christian bubble comprising up to 5% of the population, has ever heard of them. Like it or lump it, but the mainstream exposure of our American brothers - Rob Bell, Rick Warren, Francis Chan, Driscoll himself, and a fair number of others - dwarfs that of our most well known British preachers. In that sense, Mark is just pointing out a fact that many of us don’t like hearing.
Thirdly, there is a flipside to this in what Mark said, which is that those British preachers and church leaders who are well known in the secular space - which is not many! - are not, by and large, young and courageous. (Listen to Thought for the Day for a week, or read the “Faith” op-ed pieces in the broadsheets, and you’ll see what I mean; few contributors would qualify as young, even if they were courageous and clear on the gospel, which sadly they often aren’t). The fact is, there is a lack of clear, young, gospel-articulating Christian voices in Britain amongst those whom the society around us would recognise as speaking for the church. That may not be the fault of anyone in particular - Rico Tice and Krish can’t help being largely unknown in contemporary Britain, any more than Rowan Williams or Tom Wright can help being (relatively!) old - but it may well contribute to the relative dearth of young men in the church, which is what particularly animates Mark.
So I’m not offended. If I was a Martian looking at British Christianity, I would conclude that in most places, it was still generally perceived to be something for older rather than younger people, and women rather than men. And while we’re on the subject, I’d also be struck by how many spokespeople for Christianity wore cassocks and beards, rather than the things that normal people in Britain wear (which was another one of Mark’s throwaway broadsides).
But although I’m not offended, I still think he was somewhat clumsy in what he said (which, when the dust settles, he may well happily concede. Do enough interviews, and you’ll say some silly things on occasion). You see, Mark Driscoll is not a Martian, so he can’t talk about British Christianity as if he were. He knows enough about the UK to know that there are lots of good young preachers who articulate the historic gospel courageously, week in and week out, and that their not being noticed, in comparison to the US, is the result of a far lower Christian population and a disinterested-to-hostile media when it comes to robust evangelicalism. There are happy exceptions, as Liam’s recent article pointed out, but most opinion forming newspapers in the UK do not give column inches to the faithful proclamation of the gospel, even when it’s being done by hip young men in jeans and funky glasses. Similarly, the fact that British books do not sell in their millions like Crazy Love or Real Marriage does not indicate that there are no young writers prepared to articulate the gospel boldly and clearly: it just indicates that there are nearly one hundred times as many professing evangelicals in the US as in the UK, so getting on the bestseller lists is significantly harder. So to contrast the courageous young men we need with the cowardly dress-wearers we have (which is implicitly what Mark was doing in his comments, both in the interview and his follow up blog post) is not, in my view, to diagnose the problem correctly. The young men are there - Joel, Tope, Krish, Rico, and the many you have never heard of and never will - and they are doing exactly what they should be doing: preaching the gospel faithfully and clearly, whether the headline writers talk about them or not.
One further point, which was made by the ever-insightful Carl Trueman over at Reformation 21, is that Mark’s comment reflects an unspoken assumption that what we need are (a) individual leaders who are (b) young and (c) famous. These, he wryly remarks, are three things that the apostle Paul was not unduly preoccupied with, as far as we can tell. Fair point.
With all that said, Mark and I agree on the key point he was making, whether or not it was expressed in the ideal way: both of us would love young proclaimers of the biblical gospel to be more widely known, if only because that would mean the gospel was getting more deeply into the culture; and we’d be even more keen to see the widely known Christians in the UK articulate the gospel, along with (where necessary) some of its less culturally palatable implications, more clearly and courageously. Mark Driscoll, for all the controversy he attracts, has done both of these things with passion and fervour, and has blessed many of us in the process. If he’s a bit clunky and offhand about British people sometimes, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.