John Piper’s lack of discernment
The purpose of this article is to show the close link between Pastor John Piper of Desiring God Ministries and Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, who founded the Acts 29 church planting network.
The relationship begins in 2004
The relationship between the two men began in November of 2004 when Mark Driscoll invited John Piper to the Reformission Conference at Mars Hill Church. The Conference coincided with the release of Mark Driscoll’s first book The Radical Reformission. The title of Piper’s sermon was ‘The Whole Glory of God: Governing and Knowing All that Will Come to Pass’. He exhorted believers to glorify God by being satisfied in God.
At the Conference Piper must have received an early copy of Radical Reformission, and therefore he was aware of Driscoll’s flippant and irreverent use Scripture.
National Desiring God Conference 2006
In September 2006, Piper invited Driscoll to preach at the national Desiring God Conference on ‘The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World’. Also speaking at Piper’s 2006 Conference were Dr Tim Keller and Dr Don Carson. Driscoll participated in a panel discussion with John Piper and Tim Keller on the role of culture in preaching the gospel.
Piper introduced Driscoll as the author of Radical Reformission (2004) and Confessions of a Reformission Rev (2006). [See video of introduction] Piper said:
Mark combines the commitment of a historic reformed vision of God and God’s work to save sinners, with a robust view of manhood and womanhood that calls for the raising up of Christ exalting men in the eldership of the church…
In his Confessions Mark Driscoll wrote:
Our church was still nearly all college students and singles, with a few young married couples and families with small children mixed in. I assumed the students and singles were all pretty horny, so I went out on a limb and preached through the Song of Solomon in the fall. I printed up a nice lengthy introduction to the book, with a lot of information about sex and marriage… Each week, I extolled the virtues of marriage, foreplay, oral sex, sacred stripping and sex outdoors, just as the book teaches, because all Scripture is indeed profitable. I was frank but not crass and did not back away from any of the tough issues regarding sex and pleasure. This helped us a lot because apparently a pastor using words like “penis” and “oral sex” is unusual; and before you could say “aluminum pole in the bedroom”, attendance began to climb steadily to more than two hundred people a week. (pp 94, 96).
Despite the flippant and vulgar nature of Driscoll’s writing, the Desiring God bookshop promoted his books.
Within a month of addressing the Desiring God Conference, Driscoll preached a series of sermons on Vintage Jesus. Here is an extract from the sermon ‘How human was Jesus?’ (15th October 2006).
Grunge Christianity (December 2006)
By this time Driscoll’s foul vulgar mouth and salacious handling of sexual matters was all over the internet and widely known in Christian circles. In December 2006, John MacArthur wrote a severe critique of what he referred to as Grunge Christianity Shortly after the Desiring God Conference an article entitled, ‘Counterculture’s Death-Spiral and the Vulgarization of the Gospel’, was published in Pulpit Magazine 11th December 2006, John MacArthur wrote:
Worldly preachers seem to go out of their way to put their carnal expertise on display—even in their sermons. In the name of connecting with ‘the culture’ they want their people to know they have seen all the latest programs on MTV; familiarized themselves with all the key themes of ‘South Park’; learned the lyrics to countless tracks of gangsta rap and heavy metal music; and watched who-knows-how-many R-rated movies. They seem to know every fad top to bottom, back to front, and inside out. They’ve adopted both the style and the language of the world—including lavish use of language that used to be deemed inappropriate in polite society, much less in the pulpit. They want to fit right in with the world, and they seem to be making themselves quite comfortable there.
Mark Driscoll is one of the best-known representatives of that kind of thinking. He is a very effective communicator—a bright, witty, clever, funny, insightful, crude, profane, deliberately shocking, in-your-face kind of guy. His soteriology is exactly right, but that only makes his infatuation with the vulgar aspects of contemporary society more disturbing.
Driscoll ministers in Seattle, birthplace of ‘grunge’ music and heart of the ever-changing subculture associated with that movement. Driscoll’s unique style and idiom might aptly be labeled ‘post-grunge’. His language—even in his sermons—is deliberately crude. He is so well known for using profane language that in Blue Like Jazz (p133), Donald Miller (popular author and icon of the ‘Emerging Church’ movement, who speaks of Driscoll with the utmost admiration) nicknamed him ‘Mark the Cussing Pastor’.
I don’t know what Driscoll’s language is like in private conversation, but I listened to several of his sermons. To be fair, he didn’t use the sort of four-letter expletives most people think of as cuss words—nothing that might get bleeped on broadcast television these days. Still, it would certainly be accurate to describe both his vocabulary and his subject matter at times as tasteless, indecent, crude, and utterly inappropriate for a minister of Christ. In every message I listened to, at least once he veered into territory that ought to be clearly marked off limits for the pulpit.
Some of the things Driscoll talks freely and frequently about involve words and subject matter I would prefer not even to mention in public, so I am not going to quote or describe the objectionable parts. Besides, the issue has already been discussed and dissected at several blogs. Earlier this year, Tim Challies cited one typical example of Driscoll’s vulgar flippancy from Confessions of a Reformission Rev. The sermons I listened to also included several from Driscoll’s ‘Vintage Jesus’ series, including the one Phil Johnson critiqued in October.
The point I want to make is not about Driscoll’s language per se, but about the underlying philosophy that assumes following society down the Romans 1 path is a valid way to ‘engage the culture’. It’s possible to be overexposed to our culture’s dark side. I don’t think anyone can survive full immersion in today’s entertainments and remain spiritually healthy.
Unperturbed by MacArthur’s critique, The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, published in 2007, was based on messages given at the 2006 Desiring God Conference. Six leading pastor-theologians—John Piper, Voddie Baucham, Don Carson, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, and David Wells—joined together to offer Christians what they claimed was a practical, biblical vision of Christ’s supremacy.
In February 2007 Roger Moran, research director of the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, made a speech to the SBC Executive Committee meeting in Nashville. Moran said that one of the most dangerous and deceptive movements to infiltrate the ranks of Southern Baptist life has been the Emerging/Emergent Church Movement, and argued that Acts 29 was part of the emerging church. Moran said:
The president of Acts 29 is Mark Driscoll, best known by his peers as ‘Mark the cussing pastor’. Driscoll, who claims to be theologically conservative, pastors the non-denominational Mars Hill Church in Seattle, where this past New Year’s Eve, his church hosted a ‘Red Hot Bash’. Those who attended were encouraged to dress ‘red hot’, and those planning to drink were advised to bring their ID’s.
I mention Driscoll because he is scheduled to appear in chapel at one of our seminaries, and one of our cherished professors from another seminary will be preaching at Driscoll’s church later this year.
These ‘young leaders’ [Patrick, Stetzer and Driscoll] are being hailed as the great church planters in America and through what they call their ‘Acts 29 boot camp’ they are training young church planters across the SBC. But the question we need to ask is: Exactly what kind of churches are they planting? Let me give you a glimpse.
The pastor of one particular Acts 29 church plant in the Northwest United States stated in an interview with the San Diego Reader.com that: ‘Beer is one of our core values. We enjoy it and like to drink it.’ The article continues with an increasingly common argument among young emergents: ‘We want to go where people are. We don’t expect people to come to us. In [Pacific Beach], people are at the bars, parties, and drinking beer, so this is where we go.
In November 2007 Mark Driscoll preached an outrageous sermon, entitled ‘Sex, a Study of the Good Bits from Song of Solomon’ in Destiny Church, Edinburgh, Scotland. Some people were so offended by Driscoll’s sermon that they sent a CD copy to Rev John MacArthur in the USA.
On 5th February 2008 Mark Driscoll gave a seminar on spiritual warfare, entitled Christus Victor to church leaders and counsellors at Mars Hill. He talked about how Jesus is our victory over Satan and demons, and answered some common questions about spiritual warfare. He informed the audience that God has given him the gift of spiritual discernment that enables him to ‘see things’ like on a TV screen.
According to Driscoll, God has allowed him to see things that have happened in the past, personal things, immoral things, disturbing things. In this seminar Driscoll makes the statement: ‘Some people actually see things. This may be gift of discernment. On occasion, I see things. I see things.’ Here is the hyperlink. The clip contains salacious Driscoll crude talk. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVyFyauE4ig
Phil Johnson of Grace Community Church responded to Driscoll:
Goofiness and gullibility are necessary by products of a belief system that fails to take seriously the principle of sola Scriptura and its ramifications (i.e., the authority and sufficiency of Scripture). Here’s a sample of the kind of thing I was referring to: The video below features Mark Driscoll, claiming the Holy Spirit regularly gives him graphic visions showing acts of rape, fornicators in flagrante delicto, and sexual child molesters in the very act. WARNING: This is an extremely disturbing video, for multiple reasons:
•This is bad teaching. The biblical ‘Gift of discernment’ has nothing to do with soothsaying and everything to do with maturity, clear understanding, the ability to make wise and careful distinctions, and (especially) skill in differentiating between holy and profane, clean and unclean, truth and falsehood (Ezekiel 44:23; Hebrews 5:14).
•The counsel Driscoll gives is bad counsel. If by his own admission Driscoll’s divinations are not ‘a hundred percent always right’, he has no business accusing people of serious sins—including felony crimes—based on what he ‘sees’ in his own imagination. Much less should he encourage his congregants to dream that they have such an ability and urge them to ‘use that gift’.
•The salacious details he recounts are totally unnecessary. They serve only to reinforce the concern some of us have raised: Why does Driscoll have such a fixation with obscene subject matter, ribald stories, and racy talk? The smutty particulars regarding a counselee’s tryst in a cheap hotel are not merely unnecessary; ‘it is disgraceful even to speak of [such] things’ (Ephesians 5:12).
•For that same reason (among others), these yarns aren’t even believable. The Holy Spirit’s own eyes are too pure to behold evil, and He cannot look on wickedness (Habakkuk 1:13). So why would He display pornographic visions to Mark Driscoll, whose mind and mouth are already too lewd anyway?
•This proves that cessationists’ concerns are not far-fetched. Reformed charismatics frequently complain that it’s unfair for cessationists not to expressly exempt them when we criticize the eccentricities of the wacko fringe mainstream of the larger charismatic movement. But Reformed charismatics themselves aren’t careful to distance themselves from charismatic nuttiness. John Piper was openly intrigued with the Toronto Blessing when it was at its peak. (If he ever denounced it as a fraud, I never heard or read where he stated that fact publicly.) Wayne Grudem to this day endorses Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, despite the way Deere lionizes Paul Cain. Sam Storms aligned himself with the Kansas City Prophets’ cult for almost a decade. I can’t imagine how anyone holding Grudem’s view of modern prophecy could possibly repudiate what Driscoll insists he has experienced. Does anyone really expect a thoughtful analysis or critique of Driscoll’s view of the “gift of discernment” (much less a collective repudiation of this kind of pornographic divination) from Reformed charismatics? I certainly don’t.
John Piper visited the Mars Hill scene in February 2008, to speak at the Text and Context conference, held at the Ballard campus of Mars Hil Church. On 25th February Piper preached on ‘Why I Trust the Scriptures’ and on 26th February 26 he answered the question, ‘How Do I Distinguish between True and False Gospels?’ Driscoll’s book Vintage Jesus was published on 28 February 2008.
On his blog, Mark Driscoll commented on his exciting week. His recorded that his book Vintage Jesus has just been released:
At the conference I also had the honor of spending some personal time with John Piper and CJ Mahaney. They were kind enough to give me some very helpful pastoral counsel that I am grateful for so that I can mature in my service of Jesus and the people I pastor alongside the other elders at Mars Hill Church.
Vintage Jesus (2008)
Here we must assume that John Piper was aware of Vintage Jesus and some of its contents. Yet there is no word of disapproval. Here is an extract from Mark Driscoll’s book, quoted from pages 43-44:
In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus starts off by yelling at complete strangers to repent of their sin, like the wingnuts with billboards who occasionally show up at shopping centers. Shortly thereafter, Jesus orders some guys to quit their jobs and follow him, and before long Jesus is telling a demon to shut up and healing a leper only to tell him to shut up too. In the second chapter, Jesus picks a fight with some well-mannered religious types and does the equivalent of breaking into a church on a Sunday morning to make a sandwich with the communion bread because he was hungry.
In the third chapter, Jesus gets angry and also grieves and apparently needs Praxil.
In June 2008 John Piper released a video explaining his reasons for inviting Mark Driscoll to the National Desiring God conference.
Well aware of the controversial nature of Driscoll’s ministry, Piper explained that he invited Driscoll because he loved Driscoll’s theology, because Driscoll was a good communicator and because he liked to hang around with Driscoll. Later in 2008 (4th September 2008), shortly before the 2008 Desiring God Conference, John Piper sat down with his friend Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill to talk about his life. The outcome of the interview is posted on the Mars Hill website.
Desiring God Conference 2008
John Piper again invited Driscoll to speak at the September 2008 National Desiring God Conference on ‘How Sharp the Edge? Christ, Controversy, and Cutting Words’. During the Conference Driscoll participated in a panel discussion that featured Sinclair Ferguson and John Piper, with questions by Justin Taylor. As a token of their deep friendship, Driscoll presented Piper with a new coat [see video].
During the 2008 Desiring God Conference the book store highly recommended Driscoll’s Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out with this blurb:
Yes, this is Mark’s first book. He’s published several since, and that may have left this one forgotten by some. But it shouldn’t be. It’s instructive, inspiring, and written by a guy who manifestly loves Jesus, the gospel, and lost people in Seattle (and models how to love lost people in your city).
In this book Driscoll describes Eve as ‘a perfect woman who is beautiful, sinless and naked —the same kind of woman every guy ever since has been searching for’. He tells us that ‘God works through a cowardly man named Abraham, who is happy to whore out his loving and beautiful antique of a wife to avoid conflict’. He says Jeremiah ‘cries like a newly crowned beauty queen all the time’. Then Driscoll writes: ‘God comes to earth. He has a mom whom everyone thinks a slut, a dad whom they think has the brilliance of a five-watt bulb for believing the “virgin birth” line…’ This is the disgraceful book that John Piper advertised and sold in his Desiring God bookshop.
Mark Driscoll’s ministry publicly criticised in 2009
In 2009 four Christians made public their criticism of Mark Driscoll’s ministry.
1) John MacArthur
John MacArthur responded to Driscoll’s sermon on Song of Solomon preached inScotland, in a four part series entitled ‘The Rape of Solomon’s Song’ (April 2009).
MacArthur said that it was hard to think of a more appalling misuse of Scripture than turning the Song of Solomon into soft porn.
When a speaker deliberately arouses lusts that cannot possibly be righteously fulfilled in unmarried college students or when his personal illustrations fail to guard the privacy and honour of his own wife that is far worse than merely inappropriate. When done repeatedly and with the demeanour of an immature bad-boy, such a practice reflects a major character defect that is spiritually disqualifying… The fact that it is so controversial now is simply more proof that evangelicals have become too much like the world, and too comfortable with the evil characteristics of our culture. (Part 3)
MacArthur responds to the claim that the church should be patient with Driscoll for he will mature overtime.
These problems have been talked about in both public and private contexts for at least three or four years. At some point the plea that this is a maturity issue and Mark Driscoll just needs time to mature wears thin. In the meantime, the media is having a field day writing stories that suggest trashy talk is one of the hallmarks of the New Calvinism.
Mark Driscoll asked for his Scottish sermon to be taken off the internet before MacArthur posted his series of articles. (See the following blog entry, posted before Easter http://theresurgence.com/spring_cleaning – in which he acknowledges criticisms that have been sent to him about the sermon and agrees with them). Driscoll writes:
I received two emails from an older pastor whom I respect very much. In love, he brought to my attention a piece of content from me online that some of my critics have picked up on. It was a message I did out of the country a few years back on the more controversial sections of the Song of Songs. To be honest, I was unaware the content had been posted on The Resurgence. Apparently it was from 2007, and the file was posted about a month ago as part of clearing a backlog of content. Thankfully, I got to preach the entirety of the Song of Songs at the end of 2008 and did a better job with the text than I had done previously.
Some people claimed that by withdrawing this sermon, which had been online for quite some time that Driscoll had repented. But this is not the case. It appears that Driscoll removed the sermon because it was embarrassing for his friends to support such crude vulgarity, especially in the face of MacArthur’s criticism.
2) Dick Bott founder of Bott Radio Network
The second to criticize Driscoll’ ministry was Dick Bott, the founder of the Bott Radio, one of America’s largest Christian radio networks. On 18 May 2009, Dick Bott interrupted a program mid-show because it featured the controversial Mark Driscoll. He also cancelled another scheduled interview and ordered all Bott stations not to carry any programs featuring Driscoll. An article in Baptist Press, posted by Don Hinkle, reports: ‘Bott said he made the decision because of what he saw as Driscoll’s penchant for using vulgarity in his sermons, especially his questionable interpretation of the Song of Solomon in a Nov. 18, 2007, sermon preached in Edinburgh, Scotland, and subsequently in a multi-part series entitled ‘The Peasant Princess’.
‘I’ve seen a lot [about Driscoll] that’s on the Internet and that only makes the whole thing worse,’ Bott said. ‘I’ve seen what he said at that church in Scotland and as far as I know he’s never addressed it in any repentant way or apologetically tried to explain why on earth he got so far off the reservation as to think that that’s the way to address people.’
3) Post by Pilgrim of Defending and Contending
A third critique came from the Defending and Contending blog. ‘I’ve had it with Mark Driscoll and his mouth. Now it’s personal!’ was posted on June 24, 2009 by Pilgrim.
In the past DefCon has taken issue with Mark Driscoll on several concerns including his gutter mouth, lack of reverence for God, and even his mocking of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Most of the time I’ve played a less-than-active role in these matters as other contributors have mainly been on the front lines. Well today I’m getting in the trenches because I’m furious at Mark Driscoll and Pilgrim Radio for what transpired yesterday. Here’s the story:
My wife told me about a sermon Pilgrim Radio was playing on the radio as she was returning home from the grocery store with our young children in the car. She said that the man preaching (she had no clue who he was so there were no preconceived notions or expectations) was talking about “prostitutes,” “whores,” and “lesbians” and that he kept using these expressions as if trying to be shocking. My wife who knows very little—if anything—about Mark Driscoll hit the nail on the head in her evaluation of him.
She then told me that this same man began talking about wives in submission to their husbands and how oftentimes men abuse this. Instead of using an innocuous example to make his point he chose to expound on such abuse by illustrating an example in which men misuse their wives’ submission by making them watch porn!
Seriously? Are you kidding me? That’s the best example he could come up with? For crying out loud, my kids were in the car and heard this trash before their mother turned it off. Does this guy’s mind ever come up out of the gutter for air?
Consider, if you will, all the images that were conjured in the minds of those who heard this man go on about porn yet again (he was talking about porn in another sermon just a few weeks ago on Pilgrim Radio). Does he not care about all those who are struggling with pornography who listened to this pastor expecting to hear the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ preached in reverence, only to have their minds drawn back to the gutter? How many men and women at that moment had impure thoughts rush into the battlefields of their minds because of Mark Driscoll’s seemingly insatiable appetite for discussing all things sexual in a public forum?
How dare he stand in a pulpit spewing such juvenile, perverse, and debase ideas under the guise of preaching? And how dare Pilgrim Radio air such filth from the ever-flowing open sewer of the mouth of Mark Driscoll?
4) Cathy Mickels
The fourth significant event in 2009 was Cathy Mickels memorandum to church leaders of the Gospel Coalition. In her carefully documented 11 page article she said that some of the information and material advocated by Mark Driscoll is so tawdry and immoral that she did not feel comfortable in providing details. She writes:
‘Therefore, I am providing the two links below, which contain Mark Driscoll’s sexual advice to Christian couples. With the permission of Dr. Judith Reisman, I am also including her professional response to these sites. Her expertise and knowledge in this area makes Mark Driscoll’s recommendations all the more disturbing: ‘Well, this is, at best, tragic. I don’t know if it is worse to think that these are phony church sites put out by pornographers or that they are real church sites put out by pornified churches. Words cannot describe the ignorance, arrogance and flagrant homoeroticism of these sites.’ JA Reisman, PhD”
Piper’s justification of his support for Driscoll
At the 2009 Basics Conference, John Piper was given the opportunity to respond to John MacArthur’s fierce criticism of Mark Driscoll’s outrageous sermon on The Song of Solomon preached in Scotland. John Piper response has been transcribed from an audio recording of the Basics Conference. Piper said:
I’m right in the thick of it… Everybody knows that I’ve been friendly with Mark Driscoll, because he’s been at two of our conferences and I’ll be with him in two weeks… John MacArthur spent four blog posts criticising Mark Driscoll two weeks ago, and Mark has stuck his foot in his mouth quite a few times. I would encourage nobody to become course, filthy, ugly, trashy… I know how easy it is to create an effect, and with a certain young crowd it’s hip, it’s cool… I don’t think your mouth needs to be dirty in order to relate to 20 somethings in Seattle, and I think Mark knows that… I count him as a good friend; I spent an hour two weeks ago, at the Gospel Coalition, talking about these things. The difference between me and MacArthur is that I’m not drawing the line that John has drawn from the imperfections of Mark’s ministry to his unfitness for ministry. That seems to be where John has gone, he says it’s over, Mark should resign, nobody should go to his church. I’m not going there, not at this point anyway. I’m going to Mark directly, I’m getting in his face and I’ve got more issues than language that I’m talking about in his face… I’m old enough to be your dad and I’m saying, ‘Look, come on, clean this up’. Let’s get really specific for a minute, when I was sent the Song of Solomon Sermon [preached in Scotland] that John critiqued, I listened to it, and I thought it was horrible. I got on my internet and wrote a three page letter to Mark Driscoll—this is horrible… within one hour that was off the resurgence website… that’s significant, that was a son’s like response to this fatherly—‘Come on! That’s over the top.’
Now he preached on Song of Solomon in 2007, and what he did with his church was way more mellow, and way more acceptable, which simply says to me, Mark is growing… he is rock solid doctrinally and he is accomplishing things in Seattle which nobody else is accomplishing…
But Piper’s comment that Driscoll’s preaching series on the Song of Solomon is disingenuous. In 2008 he again handled the book like a sex manual, and discussed perverted sexual activities. Driscoll organised a question and answer session after the series to answer what he called offensive questions.
Pastor Mark here from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. We are putting forth a lot of content, and we’ve broken it down into two categories – offensive and really offensive. This content would fall into the really offensive category, the reason being it’s not the typical kind of thing that is said in a church.
In the question and answer sessions, Driscoll again dealt with questions about perverted sexual practices. His website contains links to two pornographic websites.
In February 2010 John Piper preached at the Resurgence Training Center, and he preached at a public event at the Ballard campus on February 26th 2010. In October 2010, Dr. John Piper preaches on Romans 8:13 in Mars Hill Church, after lecturing at Retrain.
We have seen the sad story of well known Christian leader, who stands at the head of the New Calvinism movement, seeking popularity with men. It seems Piper enjoyed the flattery and excitement of younger men like Driscoll, and foolishly entered into a long time friendship with a false teacher. Piper’s enthusiastic praise for the theology of Driscoll casts serious doubt on Piper’s knowledge of theology. Piper’s support for Driscoll’s crude language, and unbecoming conduct in the pulpit, suggests that Piper is indifferent to the holiness and purity of the church. Despite the appalling vulgarity of Driscoll’s ministry, Piper did all he could to cover over Driscoll’s false teaching. The excuse was that he was mentoring Driscoll—the reality was that he was condoning and even encouraging Driscoll. Please view our video which shows examples of Driscoll’s theology that Piper so much admires.
The effect of Piper’s enthusiastic support has undoubtedly legitimised Driscoll’s ministry in the eyes the New Calvinists—the young, restless and reformed. The apostle Paul warns of the danger of seeking popularity. ‘For do I now persuade men, of God? or do I seek to please men? For if I yet please men, I should not be the servant of Christ’ (Galatians 1.10). It seems highly likely that as more people become aware of Piper’s betrayal of the true gospel, his enormous popularity among true believers will fade.
You can learn more about Dr Tim Keller, Pastor Mark Driscoll and Pastor John Piper in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing. The book is available from The Metropolitan Tabernacle bookshop or from Amazon More on John Piper and his Christian Hedonism at The Real John Piper website