In 2006, John MacArthur wrote an article called Grunge Christianity? It was mostly about “hip” pastors who are trying to be too much like the unbelieving culture. In it, he kind of railed on Mark Driscoll and said that he is leading this hip preacher movement.
Last month, Driscoll posted on several theologians who are a part of the “New Calvinism” movement (which, as Driscoll explains, isn’t so new, but that’s besides the point). He paid a nice tribute to MacArthur as a part of that series.
But yesterday, MacArthur spoke out against Driscoll’s so-called “hip” approach to preaching yet again. This time, the focus was preaching on the Song of Solomon.
Apparently the shortest route to relevance in church ministry right now is for the pastor to talk about sex in garishly explicit terms during the Sunday morning service. If he can shock parishioners with crude words and sophomoric humor, so much the better. The defenders of this trend solemnly inform us that without such a strategy it is well-nigh impossible to connect with today’s “culture.”
This was the first paragraph of the article. He went on to say that an exposition of the Song of Solomon “is filled with euphemisms and word pictures. Its whole point is gently, subtly, and elegantly to express the emotional and physical intimacy of marital love—in language suitable for any audience.” In other words, don’t get too specific about sex. Keep it G-Rated.
If MacArthur feels this way, then that’s fine. I have no problem with not getting too specific about sex. I agree that we shouldn’t “talk dirty” during church. But where’s the line? Why can’t we unpack Song of Solomon and understand the Hebrew just like we unpack Romans and know the Greek? People are confused about sex. We need to tell them the truth.
The problem with the article isn’t MacArthur’s opinion. It’s that he practically blamed Mark Driscoll for all of this.
I have listened to Driscoll’s sermons on the Song of Solomon twice and I have never felt anything was over-the-top. There were perhaps some remarks that could be taken as crude, but overall, the sermons are more about marriage and holiness rather than how to have great sex. There is only one sermon that is for “mature audiences,” as the Mars Hill site advertised — but that’s because the passage is explicit: the wife strips for her husband!
Driscoll only goes as far as the text allows. If he seems explicit, it’s because the text is explicit. I wonder if his critics know that Jewish boys weren’t allowed to read the Song of Solomon until they were mature because it might arouse sexual passions? I wonder if they have read these verses as well:
- “My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts” (1:13).
- “As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste (2:3).
- “How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon” (4:10-11).
- “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” (5:1)
These, and many more, seem pretty explicit to me.
Besides all this, let’s remember three things:
- Driscoll preaches in Seattle, where the culture is a wee bit different from Southern California where MacArthur preaches.
- The people who go to Mars Hill would never set a foot in Grace Community (MacArthur’s church). This doesn’t mean that Driscoll is drawing people — God does that. But God uses different people in different contexts to reach different groups. Paul said we need to “be all things to all men that [we] by all means might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). Let’s be honest: it would be very hard for MacArthur to “be all things” to a grungy, guitar playing, tattooed, 20-something in Seattle. Likewise, it would be very hard for Driscoll to fit in in So Cal with MacArthur’s congregation.
- Our culture is so highly sex-charged that we need to be honest about what God’s design for sex is. What better place for people to learn how to do marriage and sex than at church from their pastor?
Bottom line, MacArthur’s article makes me sad. I’m sad because I want to be a pastor. I hate when pastors pick on other pastors, especially in the cyber world. I hate when pastors pick on other pastors who love Jesus, want to see people saved, and are being used by God to literally transform a city and region that is the most anti-Christian in our country.
If you read the comments on MacArthur’s article, you’ll see people say things like,
“Mark Driscoll is so wrong on so many levels and he needs to immediately repent…In my opinion, John Piper is getting used by Driscoll and the favored line that “Driscoll has repented and is changing and John Piper is mentoring him” is baseless in reality. (Note to John Piper: if Driscoll stays on present course with you providing cover, beware lest your ministry and the glory of God be tarnished.)”
Are you serious? Are we doing this? Are Christians writing this? Are we really taking aim at other Christians? Are we really nagging about a difference in cultural lingo and cultural differences in preaching styles? Are we picking fights because some preacher wants his people — and everyone around the world — to experience God’s plan for sex…and enjoy it?
At the Desiring God National Conference last September, Driscoll said that he loves his critics because he learns from them. That’s something I need to learn. During his message on harsh words in Christianity, he also said, “I think we put the pastors up high in the pulpit so we can get a better aim from the pews. Pray for your shepherds instead of criticizing them.” This is worth remembering because we all know that pastors get shot from all corners of the congregation.
Now, however, bullets seem to be coming from other pulpits, too.