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.
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.