The Resurgence’s Rather Odd Video image

The Resurgence’s Rather Odd Video

A couple of weeks ago, the Resurgence released the following video. It mainly consists of a talk by Mark Driscoll at their 2012 conference, entitled “Gathering the Tribes”, and there is much that is good about it: it is well-presented, it articulates a clear and compelling vision for the church, and it expresses a desire to work with people who differ theologically. I continue to find Mark Driscoll, and the movement as a whole, a huge blessing in many ways, not least in their unashamed practice of courageous leadership. But I also think this video is rather odd.

The essence of the message is a call to gather the various evangelical tribes together. After a brief sketch of evangelicalism over the last fifty years, in which the culture is described as moving from modern to postmodern to pluralist to tribalist, Driscoll homes in on the problem of tribalism in the church. In fact, he says, the reason the conference is situated where it is, and involves the speakers that it does, is that they wanted to have “not one tribe talking trash about the other tribe, but a gathering of multiple tribes for the sake of Jesus.” Consequently, Driscoll challenges the audience to come as listeners and students, not as critics. Speakers may differ from you, but you may be the one who is wrong.

As a statement of purpose, this is highly commendable, particularly given the way conferences can sometimes become echo-chambers for prejudice and misrepresentation of others. Approaching Christians with whom we disagree as learners rather than teachers is always helpful, and particularly in movements where there are lots of young men with high energy, clear doctrinal convictions and a possible tendency to get into theological dogfights. Not only that, but the tendency towards tribalism within the evangelical movement is pronounced, and Driscoll is right to highlight it. People quickly form tribes identified by their leaders, blogs, books, conferences, even Bible translations, and rapidly become isolated from those in other tribes. So, he asks, “Is there a way for the various tribes, and the various tribal leaders, to learn from one another for the sake of meeting Jesus?”

The oddness starts when, in explaining who and what tribal chiefs are, he starts making sideswipes at other tribes and their tribal markers. People who homeschool, for example, freak out on the internet when tribal chiefs talk to each other. (Sometimes, as when Driscoll talked to T. D. Jakes in the Elephant Room last year, seminary professors may freak out about it – and they may even have good reasons for doing so). The emergent movement of the early nineties (?) “went the way of Hymenaeus and Alexander”, which must mean that they’ve “shipwrecked the faith” and been “handed over to Satan” (1 Tim 1:20) – a fairly serious charge to make about a relatively diverse group of people, many of whom continue to preach Jesus, despite Driscoll’s later reference to them as “apostate”. In and of themselves, of course, there is nothing particularly surprising about these comments; Driscoll has been clear about his view of emergent churches (and homeschooling!) for years. What I found puzzling is why they, and various other doctrinal shibboleths (the reality of hell, penal substitution, etc), were inserted into a talk about how the tribes needed to gather and learn from each other.

All that, though, is small beer. In the next section, which maps out the four key questions that separate evangelicals, we hear this:

The first is: are you Reformed or Arminian? Some of you will say ‘both’; you’re confused. Are you Reformed or Arminian when it comes to salvation: that God’s the primary agent in salvation, or that we’re the primary agent in salvation? I know I’m simplifying it.

It’s difficult to know where to start. With the immediate dismissal of the possibility of being Arminian and Reformed (as many neo-Anabaptists would claim to be)? With the implication that no combination of the two is possible? With the astonishingly inaccurate, to the point of being either very ignorant or very dishonest, portrayal of Arminianism as the belief that “we are the primary agent in salvation”? (That is not simplifying; it’s thoroughly untrue. I don’t know of any Arminian theologian who has ever made that statement, let alone defended it, and I know of many who would strongly denounce it as historically and theologically incoherent. Driscoll is talking about Pelagianism here, not anything like Arminianism). With the fact that all of these appear in a short talk about how we need to learn from people from other tribes? Or with the fact that despite the egregiousness of this statement, the talk has been posted without editing it or issuing a correction to it on the website? Odd, indeed.

The other three polarities are complementarian/egalitarian, charismatic/cessationist and missional/fundamental. Although he is clearly sort-of-joking, Driscoll makes a similarly disparaging remark about the charismatic/cessationist debate – “Do you think spiritual gifts continue into the present day, or do you think they ceased in the first century, even though there’s no evidence?” – before referring to “fundamental, which is more just: mental”. Again, there is nothing wrong with joking at a conference. (I’ve even done it myself sometimes). He makes jokes at the expense of his own tribe as well, and is at pains to stress that he has friends in each camp. But there is something rather odd about doing it in a message like this, which after all is purporting to be about how all the tribes should come as learners and not critics. Maybe Arminians, egalitarians, cessationists and fundamentalists – or dare I say it even emergents – have something to teach him about what they actually believe. I say this, of course, as a broadly Reformed, complementarian, missional Charismatic.

Perhaps I’m taking him much too seriously. I imagine that’s the feedback I will get for saying this, and it may well be true. But my question would be: does everyone in the room, and everyone who watches the video, know that Arminians don’t believe man is the primary agent in salvation? Or that all emergents aren’t apostate? Does Driscoll even know those things? And if the answer to any of those questions is no, then I would suggest that he’s doing his audience, both live and online, a great disservice. If his aim is to see the evangelical tribes coming together, then in my view, he’s doing us a great disservice too.

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