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25 February 2013

Who does he think he is?

Who does he think he is?

Editor Chine Mbubaegbu talks to influential and controversial US pastor Mark Driscoll…

I have settled down to write up this article and – as if on cue – my interviewee has set the cat among the pigeons yet again. While the Twittersphere is set alight with fawning over President Obama’s inauguration, Mark Driscoll posts the following words on his Facebook and Twitter pages, each with
hundreds of thousands of followers: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.” Fury follows from some. Praise follows from others. And once again the ‘shock jock’ pastor has divided opinion. 

Driscoll, or ‘Pastor Mark’ as he is affectionately known, is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and was named one of the 25 most influential pastors of the past 25 years by Preaching magazine. Not many church leaders have the reach that he has. His controversial book Real Marriage, which he co-authored with his wife Grace became a number one New York Times bestseller. Whether or not people agree with what he says, he certainly gets people talking. 

Last year, in an interview with Christianity magazine, he upset a whole swathe of people by describing the UK Church as “a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth”, led by “guys in dresses preaching to grandmas”. Driscoll does not mince his words and the backlash against him is often brutal. He is well aware of his critics. 

“I understand I’m a public figure,” he says. “I put out a lot of content and information to a lot of people. That’s a great honour. Sometimes I don’t do that well and there’s a backlash to that because of my sin and failure. Sometimes it’s just the price of being able to speak to a lot of people on a lot of issues. 

“Not everyone’s going to agree and sometimes there will be criticism that comes back. And as much as I’m able, I want to hear that. I want to learn from it and grow from it. I’m not always right; I know that for sure. Sometimes the critics can be helpful to help you do a better job.” 

Driscoll’s new book Who Do You Think You Are? aims to help people find their true identity in Christ rather than in all the other labels that life throws at us. “You can start to define yourself by any number of things: single, married, young, old, rich, poor, black, white, liberal, conservative. I’ve pastored a church for 16 years and you start to see that a lot of the decisions people make are predicated on the identity they think they have.” 

Driscoll has been extremely outspoken on the issue of women in leadership. Regarding the Church of England’s veto on women bishops, he says “the right vote was made from my theological and biblical convictions”. So does it follow that a woman’s identity should be different from a man’s? “No, I don’t think so. Sometimes the roles can be different. But you see in Genesis 1 that God made us male and female in His image and likeness and so men and women are absolutely equal – they’re different but equal. Because they both bear the image and likeness of God equally. I think it’s  incredibly important for a woman to know that her identity is not in ‘wife’, it’s not in ‘mother’, it’s not in ‘worker’, it’s not in her appearance or dress size or her income level or her grade point average. Her identity is in Christ and out of that she can proceed and go forward to do the things God has asked her to do in the various roles in her life.” 

I wonder who Mark Driscoll thinks he is. Do the things the world says about him tally with who he really is? Is there a disconnect; a case of mistaken identity? “For sure,” he says. “[But] in the age of social media, it’s true of everyone to varying degrees. Because you’re trying to create an identity. You think about what you are going to post, what photos to put up, how you are going to present yourself when it comes to filling in the boxes: what bands do I like? What’s my marital status? We live in an age where social media forces you to create an identity; to present yourself as somebody. Then as soon as you’ve created that identity then others come to criticise the identity. They’ll make comments; they’ll dislike things that you have said, things you’ve shown, or things you’ve done. I think it does strongly affect people’s identity. 

“We live in a culture where people really don’t know who they are so they try on different identities for size. But the best place to start to answer the question of my identity is in Christ. Jesus loves me. Jesus made me. Jesus saves me. Jesus is my perfection. Jesus is my righteousness. And that allows me to be a husband, a father, a pastor, the different roles that I have. But it changes the way I approach those things because those things might explain me; but it’s really only Jesus who defines me.” 

Like all of us, Driscoll knows this is true – that our true identity can only be found in Christ. But he too has occasionally succumbed to the human condition of forgetting where we should seek to find our identity. “My identity was in performance. If I was winning and succeeding then I felt good, but I actually got really proud and arrogant and smug. If I failed or things didn’t go well, or I didn’t perform and I got criticised, then I got despairing and got discouraged and got depressed. And that’s really not a way to live your life – vacillating between pride and despair. But again, if your identity’s in your performance and not in Jesus’s performance – if it’s in what you’ve done or failed to do and not what he’s done for you – then where you invariably end up is either proud or sad. 

“There’s a biblical understanding that we’re made under God but above other animals and lower creation. You either lose your dignity because you think you’re basically just a highly evolved animal or you lose your humility because you think you’re divine or that part of God is within you. Even at the most basic level people don’t even know where they fit. Am I like God or am I like an animal? The Bible says that we’re over the animals but we’re under the Lord.” 

One of the prominent identities we have as Christians is our identity that we are adopted into God’s family, as Driscoll explores in his book. That’s why he is a big fan of adopting children. “My brother adopted a little girl and my sister-in-law adopted a little girl. The Bible describes God as a father and one of the salvation metaphors is adoption. We’re not born as children of God, we’re adopted into the family of God and Jesus is like our big brother and the Church is like our extended family with brothers and sisters. Paul gets into that in his letter in Ephesians – this fact that adoption on a human level demonstrates adoption on a divine level. Historically the Church has always been for adoption. In the early Roman empire there was often infanticide and children would be literally thrown out with the trash; they would be sold into gladiator games or prostitution or slave labour and it was the Christians who would adopt these children into their family and raise them in Christ. So it’s a hugely important ministry.” 

I ask him whether he thinks it’s actually possible to understand our true identity before we die. “I think like the rest of the Christian life, the goal is progress. In this life we’re not going to experience full perfection. That’s for the life to come. But there can be progress. There can be progress in understanding who we are in Christ. There can be progress out of living in that new identity in Christ.”

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