Why I Appreciate Mark Driscoll’s e-Book: Pastor Dad

A Godly father models submission to authority and the welcoming of correction by repenting of his own sin, receiving forgiveness, and walking in restored intimacy with God the father by empowering grace…practically, this means that a good father lives out the gospel every day in fellowship with God and his child.  –Mark Driscoll (Pastor Dad. P.8)

Before any father disciplines his children, he is commanded to delight in them. -Mark Driscoll  (Pastor Dad. P. 6)

Those Christian nerd-types who know me well probably know that I often and readily take issue with Mark Driscoll’s theology and ministry. They might even know that the embarrassing fact that I hastily get upset with him even after hearing a quote without much context or finding a website without much credibility (just Google the words “Mars Hill Abuse” and you’ll find plenty). So when I found Pastor Mark’s e-book, Pastor Dad: Scriptural Insights on Fatherhood a few days ago, I thought I would try something new: reading every single word of it and trying to respond charitably yet critically.

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I really do appreciate Mark Driscoll’s relatively new e-book, Pastor Dad. But as you may have gathered, I appreciate it in a certain underhanded sense. As the child of a broken home I honestly appreciate Driscoll’s interest in developing a theology of the family which I’m certain Pastor Mark believes will help heal and hold together relationships through the love of Christ. I also was excited to find a few great quotes about the father/child relationship, two of which I used to open this post. The depth and simplicity of the second quote in particular, I find breathtaking.

As for my response, I hope to simply represent opposing scripture and personal insights which I believe might serve to balance out some of the arguments of Pastor Dad which I found to be unfounded and in need of critique. In doing so, I hope to offer a deeper exploration into theological discussion of the family. What follows is simply sections of direct quotes from Pastor Dad (about 45 pages long in content) in which the author contends for a certain theological conclusion. These statements are then followed by a chosen scriptural citation and/or a personal question of my own.

Mark Driscoll on Biblical Manhood/Fatherhood

Mark Driscoll (MD): Before a man can be a good father, he has to be a good Christian.” (P. 5)

Michael Wiltshire’s Response: Do our lived experiences tell us that this is simply not true (an atheist friend and wonderful father named Peter comes immediately to mind in particular)? Doesn’t the Bible teach that non-Christians are also good creations made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27)? Is there really not one good and faithful father among all Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc. in the entire history of the world? What about father’s before the existence of Christianity (e.g. Father Abraham)?

MD: “…single men should aspire to marriage and fatherhood, and if they do not there is something seriously wrong with them.” (P.14) “Any notion of avoiding marriage and parenting to do ministry is simply antithetical to biblical thinking because those things both train and qualify a man.” (P. 23)

Response: When Paul says singleness is good, is he mistaken (1 Corinthians 7:8-40)? Does Jesus’ singleness have anything to say about this? What about Jesus’ calling of his disciples away from their families to do ministry? Due to their sexuality, have nuns, monks, priests, and Jesus and Paul alike all lived lives which are anti-biblical?

MD: “Ultimately, it is men who are responsible because they chose their wives, they let them continue in sin, and let them destroy their children.” (P.15) “Practically, this means everything in the life of the child is ultimately the responsibility of the father.” (P. 20)

Response: Where is God’s headship and sovereignty in these sorts of statements? Shouldn’t we have faith that God ultimately responsible for leading our children (Prov. 16:9, 19:21; Romans 8:28) instead of assigning that role to one particular man? And what role do our communities (e.g. churches) have in being responsible for our children’s formation?

MD: “It is completely impossible to read the Bible and wind up with the inane idea that a Christian father can be a stay-at-home dad while mom goes to work. Anyone who thinks these things are acceptable is by definition worldly. (P.25)

Response: What do Israel’s female judges and military commanders such as Deborah (who many believe to be one of Moses’ successors) have to say about this? Is the story of Queen Esther really a narrative about the kind of attitude and bravery one should not exhibit as a Godly wife? Did Priscilla and Aquila not lead their church together (Acts 18, Romans 16:3, 1 Tim. 4:19)? Were Zipporah and Rachel not working as shepherdesses as they watched their flocks?

MD: “When Zac was two, I laid down on my bed with him on my chest and held him as I began to pray for him. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would convict Zac of his sins. I then started repenting Zac’s sins for him, naming each of them he had committed that day in great detail His crying was so deep that he heaved on my chest for over 10 minutes, having difficulty breathing through his crying. He was broken.” (P. 35)

Response: Does a two year old understand sin, confession, forgiveness, and brokenness at a level sophisticated enough to trigger an emotional response? Or does Prov. 22:6 mean something different than the intermediary repentance of toddler-sin when it talks of “training up a child in the way he should go”?

MD: “People love sex, but they don’t love marriage; they love sex, but they don’t love children. This is because they don’t love God.” (P. 39)

Response: Is there healthy and thoughtful reasons that couples choose to not have children other than their hatred of God? Can God call certain couples to not have children for the sake of his glory?

Mark Driscoll on Biblical Womanhood/Motherhood

MD: “Grace got off the corporate ladder to stay at home as a wife and mother. Men often then ask curiously, ‘How did you get her to do that?’…”I married a woman who agreed with me about the beauty of raising a family.” (P.14)

Response: Does this imply that working mothers don’t value their families? Are working mothers less faithful in God’s eyes, or are they faithful to His specific calling for their own lives and situations?

MD: “This does not mean that it is a sin for a wife to work when a couple is first married, or for a wife to make money on the side as a secondary priority while remaining at home with the children or even for her to work once children are grown if the motives are pure and her primary duties are not neglected.” (P. 23)

Response: Aren’t some of the primary duties of the Proverbs 31 women are largely connected to her work outside the home? She works with her hands (v. 16), makes her arms strong (v.17) and makes money (v. 18, 24). These primary duties can be beautifully reflected in wives everywhere.

MD: “Nonetheless, there is no way anyone could read the Bible and wind up with the silly notion that both husband and wife are to be providers” (P. 24)

Response: Who besides a wealthy western and white male could be so confident in such a statement? Most of the world simply cannot survive on one income. If your theology doesn’t work on the ground among the poor and disenfranchised is it really theology at all?

My wife Alli always reminds me to consider that even when I do find something I’m willing to label unhelpful, there are people out there who will take one step closer to God and others through the very thing I’ve rejected – I think she is right on. Pastor Dad indeed may help many fathers and mothers take one step closer to the heart of God. Yet, the primary assumption in my responses above is this: Pastor Mark’s idea of biblical fatherhood/motherhood requires dramatic adaption/reworking when important biblical insights scripture are included in the discussion. Therefore the book’s eagerly confident conclusions should not be a final resting place for readers who may have taken an important step in the direction of Christian family-making.

Pastor Dad may be helpful at a certain level, yet it is certainly representative of one particular theology of the family which has chosen to expose readers to only a select set of biblical passages while neglecting to mention scriptural insights which might oppose the author’s own ideologies. I wish Driscoll would have simply owned that approach. This sort of picking-and-choosing passages is nothing new or uncommon—in fact, I do it all the time. Yet, the harsh dogmatic tones of Pastor Dad reveal (unintentionally or otherwise) a certain authoritarian ethos behind Driscoll’s thesis which leaves this reader with the sense that when it comes to being the best mother or father or single that God has called you to be, it is Pastor Mark’s way or the highway.

This post is simply a rebuttal to that sentiment as I hope to hint at the complex and ambiguous idea that what the Bible teaches about family systems is not a systematic theology of authoritarian one-size-fits-all masculine-only leadership but rather a principle of faithfulness to God and neighbor within whichever family context you have been given. There is no one “Christian” way to do family, there is only a text which shows many persons and families listening to God’s call in a variety of complex and unique situations. Let’s find hope for our own family context through that vision of wonderful and biblical ambiguity.

UPDATE:: Originally this post was tilted, “Why I Appreciate Mark Driscoll’s New Book: Pastor Dad.” It has been brought to my attention that Driscoll’s book may have actually been published in a few years ago and only the e-book version I was originally directed to was a new re-release of the book. Regardless, Pastor Dad is Mark Driscoll’s latest book on parenting. 

    • Deborah

      As a woman in school to become a minister I appreciate this post. My husband is delighted in my calling and looks forward to supporting my ministry as I support him in all things.

      • Michael Wiltshire

        Thanks for your comment Deborah. Always great to hear stories like yours!

    • http://tracimsmith.wordpress.com/ Traci

      I like that your critiques are phrased in the form of questions… I’d be curious to see MD’s responses… :)

      • Michael Wiltshire

        I would also be curious to hear those responses, Traci! I’m sure Mark has many other blogs he could respond to first, but it is the internet so you never know!

    • http://www.taylorbaker.com/ Taylor Baker

      This is very level-headed and gracious response to Pastor Dad. As a married and childless co-provider with my husband, I greatly appreciate your perspective!

      • Michael Wiltshire

        Thanks for reading Taylor! My wife and I are also married childless co-providers….but to be honest as I’m a seminary student, her financial co-provision is much greater than my own.

    • Rachel Heston-Davis

      Thank you so much for providing a level-headed critique of this book. Often, serious questions about Driscoll’s theology are brushed off by his supporters because they are delivered with harshness, but you’ve managed to gently point out areas of concern in a way that (I hope) people won’t find offensive. The focus can thus be on the questions, and not on your rhetoric.

      That being said, I think you let him off a bit easy on his surprisingly iron-clad assertions about who is the financial provider. You bring up a lot of good counter-arguments, but the most important one (in my mind) is to question what his scriptural evidence is? I haven’t read the book, but I know in the past, Driscoll has appealed to the verse which says that anyone who refuses to provide for their own family is worse than an unbeliever–and he appeals to it by ignoring its original context (that it’s about orphans and widows) and pretending that the English masculine pronoun is also masculine in Greek, which I am given to understand, it’s not–therefore meaning it’s not just directed at men. Has he come up with any better scriptural evidence in this book?

      I guess my point is that he has used some borderline deceptive exegesis in the past to support that point, and I would like to see people hold him to a higher exegetical standard…although you are right to ALSO bring up questions of logic and Biblical texts that seem to counter his interpretation.

      • Michael Wiltshire

        Rachel your point here is spot-on in my opinion. I think due to the questioning-response nature of this piece it was easy to leave us exegetical methods, however they ultimately MUST be an essential part of this discussion. I’m glad you brought it up.

        The verse you are referring to, 1 Tim. 5:8 does make a least one appearance in Pastor Dad when Mark says,

        “My point is simply this: if you want to be a godly man who provides for his wife and children, you will need to out-work and out-earn other men and take to heart Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 5:8: “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” P. 23.

        He does not go into exegesis here and I would suspect he would say that is due to the short and simple nature of the book. Or likely he would conclude that “the text is clear” and leave it at that. It seems then that Pastor Dad’s understanding of 1 Tim. 5:8 is typical of Driscoll’s previous works.

        I would agree with you about the context of 1 Tim. 5:8 and that the context of the passage offers a picture much deeper and wider than what Driscoll is offering. To say that this passage is only or primarily applicable to men providing for their families is to neglect the other applications of the text. “Provision” for family does not equate only finical stability but much, much more.

        As far as the Greek goes, I would have to do a bit more studying. However, I will say that every English translation I’ve ever read uses the words “Anyone” or “whoever” and NOT any-man or any-father in 1 Tim. 5:8. Obviously women and mothers fall into the “Anyone” and “whoever” categories.

        • Pam

          He says you have to out-earn other men? I’m hoping that’s just clumsy wording on his part, because that’s like half a step away from concluding the being poor is sinful.

    • http://daddydoctrines.com/ Chris Routly

      Wait… is this actually a new release? The URL for the ebook appears to be dated March 2011, and the link in Mars Hill’s site to “buy the book” goes to a Lulu press page that says it was published in June 2009.

      I just want to be sure before I get all internet-ragey about Driscoll again.

      Either way, thanks for the good, fair response to him.

      • Michael Wiltshire

        Chris,

        I can’t find the exact publishing date for the book. The link I was originally directed to said it was a brand new book. I also checked on Amazon but didn’t find the book on there. I figured this was because it was an ebook. It does seem from the Mars Hill site that the book itself is not brand new but simply the re-release on the resurgence site is new. I’ll make the correction in the post in case this book is not actually as new as it seemed. Thanks for bringing this to light.

    • Westcoastlife

      You are so calm while you write this. I would have much more vitriol to spew if I were to write about Mark making his son cry over his sins. He acts like the Bible was written for him in 2013 in Washington state, USA. And he acts as if it is all about marriage. Did he not read the parts where Paul says it is better not to marry? The early church widely practiced celibacy and celibacy is a Gift from God! But, alas, he preaches to an audience who is less informed about the Bible than he is. A quick glance through a Bible shows he does not read the Bible carefully. I have caught misinformation passing from his writings one too many times. That guy should not be a teacher of the Bible nor have the audience he does. That he is famous does not bode well for the future of Christianity in North America.

      • Michael Wiltshire

        Thanks for the comment and for taking time to read my post. I agree that the scene you mentioned is troubling. Honestly, I wonder how easily an example like that could lead to spiritual abuse. However, I think it’s important to remember that you and I and Mark likely have many common goals. I’m sure we all desire healthy families, responsible parents, and children who feel loved. A practice we try to follow at Restoring Pangea is trying to never loose sight of those commonalities especially when we judge that the methods behind the other’s motives are in need of critique. It’s not easy and I’m not that good at it, but I think it’s a practice worth pursuing.

    • jhurshman

      The dichotomy between “going to work” and “staying at home” is a product of the Industrial Revolution. Before that, there was no firm line for most people between “work” and “home.” Most “work” happened in the context of “home,” whether it was farming or practicing a craft of some kind.

      It bothers me to see such a recent development projected back into the world of the Bible.

      • Michael Wiltshire

        Great point J. Thanks for adding that insight to the discussion. I agree completely.

      • LauraWL

        A million times this. Every direct female ancestor I have worked. Literally no women in my family history have NOT worked. Its like he doesn’t understand how poor families function… It drives me CRAZY!