The purpose of this article is to show that Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST) and their new partners, the Porterbrook Network, are actively promoting the false teachings of Pastor Mark Driscoll, thereby placing themselves firmly in the compromised New Calvinist camp.
Mark Driscoll – founder of the Acts 29 Network
It is well known the Mark Driscoll, senior pastor of the mega Mars Hill Church, Seattle, and co-founder of the Acts 29 church planting network, is one of the most influential men in the New Calvinist movement. Driscoll has also founded The Resurgence, a theological cooperative that provides resources for the Acts 29 Network of churches.
The Acts 29 Network, which claims to have planted over 400 churches, is active in the UK and thirteen other nations. A paper prepared for a boot camp in Chicago in January 2008 explains the vision: ‘Acts 29 is a network of like-minded, yet diverse churches that have banded together to plant emerging churches that are missional minded and culturally engaged… Acts 29 is helping churches, and church planters, move beyond tradition, style, and methodology, and embrace a philosophy that is free to reach our culture for Christ… God is significantly using our network to influence and shape the church planting culture through both rock-solid theology and contextualizing the gospel’ [my italics]. So we see that Acts 29 aims to contextualise the gospel in order to reach our culture for Christ.
Driscoll’s Reformed credentials
Driscoll claims to be firmly in the Calvinist camp. He is on record as saying that Calvin is one of the greatest Bible teachers in the history of the Church. ‘I really appreciate his work, and I named my middle son Calvin Martin, after John Calvin and Martin Luther. This tells you what team I’m on.’
Driscoll is also a great admirer of Charles Spurgeon. In many ways he has attempted to model himself on Spurgeon, whom he refers to as ‘arguably the greatest Bible preacher outside of Scripture… the writing of Spurgeon is incredibly inspiring to me… I find a mentor with whom I can relate, as there are few who understand the weight of leading a large, fast-growing urban church at a young age without a pastor to mentor you, in the face of great adversity and criticism.’
But Driscoll ministry is highly controversial for his conduct in the pulpit is frequently crude, flippant and irreverent. The Driscoll Controversy website provides ample evidence of the corrupt fruit of Driscoll’s false ministry. Here are six characteristics of Driscoll’s ministry:
1) Driscoll’s perverse language and corrupt communication.
2) Driscoll mocks Scripture from the pulpit, and in his books.
3) Driscoll has promoted sexual licentiousness from the pulpit and in his writing.
4) Driscoll promotes worldly punk-rock music and ‘Christian’ rap.
5) Driscoll promotes tattoos in the church.
6) Driscoll claims the ability to see supernatural visions.
There is no doubt that Driscoll’s ministry promotes sinful behaviour in the church. He has turned the grace of God into licentiousness. His teaching perverts holy living by encouraging worldliness among Chrisitans. He is promoting a carnal, fleshly, counterfeit version of Christianity that revels in the lusts of the flesh. He encourages Christians to walk according to the ways of the flesh, to set their minds on the things of the world, which are licentiousness, immorality, impurity and sensuality (Galatians 5.19).
Our Lord said, ‘Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.’ As a corrupt tree brings forth corrupt fruit, so a false teacher produces sinful conduct in the church. Therefore, Mark Driscoll must be judged by his fruits.
Driscoll and the Porterbrook connection
Despite the irreverent nature of Driscoll’s ministry, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis of Porterbrook Network have entered into a close relationship with Driscoll and his Acts 29 church planting network over many years. The affinity between Mars Hill Church, Seattle, and Porterbrook is so close that in 2009 Mark Driscoll made Steve Timmis director of the Acts 29 Europe church planting network.
The relationship between Porterbrook and Acts 29 came about in this way. In 2007, Timmis was invited to speak at a Seattle Acts 29 boot camp. Driscoll and Timmis clearly had a similar approach to church planting, and so in June 2008 Tim Chester was able to announce: “The Porterbrook Network is partnering with Acts 29 to host the first Dwell London day conference under the title ‘Grace for the City’ on 12 July. Mark Driscoll and Scott Thomas will speaking along with our own Steve Timmis.”
On the day following the conference (13 July 2008), Tim Chester’s blog proudly informed his readers: ‘On Saturday the Porterbrook Network and the Acts 29 Network co-hosted the first Dwell London conference with around 200 church planters or aspiring church planters. The speakers were Mark Driscoll and Scott Thomas from Acts 29, and our own Steve Timmis from the Porterbrook Network.’ The association between Driscoll and Porterbrook was now firmly in the public arena.
The relationship between Porterbrook and the Acts 29 was so close that Timmis sent the manuscript of Total Church to Pastor Scott Thomas, then the president of Acts 29 and an elder at Mars Hill Church, for comment. Scott Thomas said he was ‘thrilled at the theological clarity combined with the gospel-oriented praxis’ of the manuscript he received from Timmis. And Driscoll heartily endorsed the book: “In an age of ambiguity and apathy for the church, Total Church accurately and insightfully identifies the local church as a gospel community on mission with Jesus.”
It was now clear that Driscoll’s Acts 29 Network and Timmis’s Total Church were like-minded in their approach to church planting. With the support of Mark Driscoll, Total Church was re-published in the USA by Crossways in 2008 as part of the Re:Lit series of books (Driscoll’s media and publications initiative). The concepts of Total Church are so much in tune with Acts 29 thinking that a free study guide has been created to go along with the Re:Lit book.
In March 2009, Driscoll’s first ‘World Church Planter’s Summit’, sponsored by Acts 29, was held at Mars Hill Church. Driscoll called for 900 men to join his church planting initiative. ‘Anyone interested in being an Acts 29 church planter and/or Mars Hill campus pastor needs to join us.’ Driscoll’s message was clear.
Mars Hill and Acts 29 are going global. We are deadly serious about the great commission and loading all guns to storm hell with the gospel of grace. And we need more men. Nine hundred men. Not boys—men. Real men… But if you think you have the stuff, by God’s grace, to plant a church for Acts 29 or launch a campus for Mars Hill, we invite you to join us in Seattle.’
Timmis attended Driscoll’s ‘World Summit’, where he led a seminar entitled ‘Total Church Community Training’, in which he gave an overview of the concepts in Total Church, paying particular attention to the formation and mission of ‘gospel communities’. He made such an impression on Driscoll that following the Summit he was invited to lead the Acts 29 Europe network. On 4 May 2009, at the Acts 29 boot camp in San Diego it was announced that Steve Timmis, author of Total Church, would be the new Acts 29 director for Western Europe. Pastor Scott Thomas said:
We are honored to have Steve Timmis join our network as a proven pastor, trainer, church planter and author. We pray that he will be a movement leader through Acts 29, that will help assess, train and send out hundreds of church planters into a post-Christian world that needs the gospel desperately.
The Mars Hill blog confirmed the appointment.
‘Many at Mars Hill Church are familiar with Steve Timmis; he spoke at the Ballard and West Seattle campuses earlier this year, and his book Total Church (co-authored with Tim Chester) has become required reading for our community group leaders. This week Pastor Scott Thomas announced that Steve Timmis is now a regional director for the Acts 29 Network.’
In November 2009, Steve Timmis was one of the speakers at the Acts 29 Network ‘Ambition’ Boot Camp, Louisville, KY, which focused on planting and leading churches with God-given ambition. In conversation with Scott Thomas, Timmis expressed his deep thankfulness for the tangible support he received from Mars Hill Church and acknowledged the close fellowship they shared in the gospel.
In May 2011, Mark Driscoll held a number of seminars in the UK promoting his church planting network. He writes: ‘I’ve been excited to see the growth of the Acts 29 church-planting movement into Great Britain and Western Europe under the direction of my friend Steve Timmis.’ Acts 29 hosted the England boot camp, ‘For All Seasons’. Mark Driscoll, Steve Timmis and Neil Powell spoke and then fielded questions from the audience on church planting.
Acts 29 and Porterbrook
From the above it is clear that Acts 29 and Porterbrook share a close working relationship. In February 2013, the Acts 29 Europe annual conference, entitled Explicit, was addressed by Matt Chandler, the current president of Acts 29. Joining Chandler on the platform was Steve Timmis, director of Acts 29 Europe, and Pastor Sam Ko, Chairman of the board of Trustees of Wales Evangelical Theological College (WEST), the man who translated Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life into Korean. The video shows the event in Saddleback Church, with Rick congratulating Rev Sam Ko on the sale of the millionth Korean copy.
Acts 29 Network actively promotes the books of Timmis and Chester. All the evidence before our eyes shows that Porterbrook actively promotes the Driscoll brand of Christianity in the UK.
WEST’s joins with Porterbrook
In full knowledge of the link between Driscoll and Porterbrook, WEST Evangelical School of Theology has appointed Timmis and Chester to their faculty. By doing so WEST is endorsing the ministry of Mark Driscoll in the eyes of both the evangelical world and its students. The implication is that hundreds of students, who are being led to believe that they are attending a Reformed theological college, are being exposed to Driscoll’s false teaching.
An article by Ruth Palgrave has challenged WEST’s assertion that it is a Reformed evangelical theological college. The well documented article (it has 122 footnotes), published in the Bible League Quarterly (editor Pastor John Thackway) and Sword and Trowel (editor Dr Peter Masters), examined WEST’s policy with regard to the issue of separation from those associated with error and apostasy. To read the full article: http://www.bibleleaguetrust.org/articles/west.pdf
‘Tragically for biblical Evangelicalism, WEST is most definitely not heading in the right direction. It can no longer be considered a Reformed college as it is now closely associated with dangerous false teachers…’
In a ‘brief response’ to Palgrave’s article, the ministry of Mark Driscoll is defended in an article posted on WEST’s website that refers to Driscoll as a well known ‘Reformed Evangelical preacher’. Here we should note the vast difference in WEST’s assessment of Driscoll’s ministry and that expressed by Pastor John MacArthur, commenting on Driscoll’s book Confessions of a Reformission Rev: MacArthur writes,
‘There are statements in that book that are so sexually explicit and unnecessary and purely gratuitous humour at the basest kind of level; I saw a video from a service in the church in January in which comments were made from his pulpit, which were then put on the website, which again, were sexually explicit and gratuitous and unnecessary… in which he referred to a certain sin and actually twisted out-of-context a Bible verse as a kind of way to mock that sin.’
In a memorandum to church leaders in the USA (January 2009), Kathy Mickels writes:
“As I implied at the beginning of this memo, some of the information and material advocated by Mark Driscoll is so tawdry and immoral that I do not even feel comfortable detailing it in this memo. 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”
“What comes out of the mouth of Mark Driscoll, and how he handles Scripture is not only shameful, but also an embarrassment to the Body of Christ. Regardless of Mark Driscoll’s ability to deliver a serious presentation of the gospel message, and draw people in off the streets of Seattle, something is spiritually unhealthy and wrong with this ministry. Based on the concerns raised by others and the questions raised in this memo, it is all the more confusing that evangelical leaders are excusing the conduct and teachings of Mark Driscoll.”
The real case against WEST
Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST) claims to be ‘Reformed, Evangelical, Bible-centred, keeping the Spirit and the Word connected; teaching an integrated framework of biblical, systematic and historical theology…’ Principal Jonathan Stephen explains the ethos of the School: ‘We teach theology from an unashamedly Reformed stance, but without any of the traditional cultural baggage.’
WEST is presenting itself as a Reformed, Evangelical and Bible-centred College. As a theological college it is undoubtedly full aware of Driscoll’s doctrine, conduct and writings. It is clearly aware of Driscoll’s books, such as Confessions of a Reformission Rev, Vintage Jesus and Real Marriage, and yet it chooses to stand alongside him and form a spiritual alliance with his Acts 29 Network.
Denny Burk, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, in a review of Real Marriage writes that in chapter 10 the Driscolls gives an ethical assessment of a variety of sexual activities by invoking 1 Corinthians 6:12, ‘All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything’ as the basis for their evaluation. Burk writes:
Yet the Driscolls give explicit instructions to wives about how they might sodomize their husbands in a pleasurable way (p. 188). Yet where in the Bible is such an activity ever commended? The Bible only contemplates such activities in the context of homosexual relationships. The Bible condemns the “unnatural” use of bodies between persons of the same-sex (Rom. 1:26-27). Why would Christian couples emulate that unnatural use in the marital bed?’
The warning of Scripture
The Apostle John warns that many deceivers are entered into the world (2 John 7). ‘Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds’ (2 John 9-11). True believers, therefore, must not provide food and shelter for these deceivers, since this would be joining in with the evil deeds of false teachers by giving them public approval.
Scripture warns that God’s people should not form an affinity with wickedness. The story of Jehoshaphat and his affinity with Ahab is given for our learning. The sin of righteous king Jehoshaphat, a good king who ‘sought the God of his father, and walked in His commandments’ (2 Chronicles 17:4), has a warning for believers who stand alongside Driscoll and promote his false teaching.
King Jehoshaphat did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and the Lord established his kingdom. He took delight in the ways of the Lord and removed the high places and wooden images from the land of Judah. God blessed Jehoshaphat and he had riches and honour in abundance. But righteous Jehoshaphat, towards the end of his reign, committed a great sin by forming an alliance with apostate Israel, by allowing his son Jehoram to marry Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab the wicked king of Israel. When Jehoshaphat visited king Ahab he was asked to join a campaign against Ramoth Gilead. The good king answered, ‘I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war’ (2 Chronicles 18:3), thereby joining himself with the wickedness of Ahab, and doing so despite a warning from the prophet Micaiah.
God was extremely angry that righteous Jehoshaphat had allied himself with wicked Ahab. The prophet Jehu strongly rebuked the king, ‘Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord’ (2 Chronicles 19:2). The failure of Jehoshaphat to hate wickedness brought the wrath of God down on his head. God’s judgment against the house of Jehoshaphat was delivered through his son Jehoram, who killed all his brothers when he became king of Judah, and later through Athaliah, who became queen of Judah and murdered all the royal heirs of the house of Judah, except for Joash, who later became king, to fulfil God’s promise to David.
The great sin of righteous Jehoshaphat was to align himself and his household with wicked Ahab. His example is quoted in Scripture as a warning to God’s people that they should not form an alliance with wickedness. Our attitude should be the same as that of the psalmist. ‘I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers (hypocrites). I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked’ (Psalm 26:4-5).
This story has great relevance to those Christians who have involved themselves with false teaching. We have seen the worldliness and irreverence of Driscoll’s ministry, which is doing great harm to the Church. And so the leaders of WEST College need to examine their conscience and ask if they have been faithful to Scripture. Do you really believe that the Church of Jesus Christ should be aligned with the teaching of Mark Driscoll?
You can learn more about Pastor John Piper, Dr Tim Keller and Pastor Mark Driscoll 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