Molly Worthen on Mark Driscoll (and Calvin)

You should probably read Molly Worthen’s essay on Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill (HT: Justin Taylor). I don’t know if she gets Driscoll right. If (that’s a big condition. It means if the condition isn’t met then what follows is irrelevant) what she says about how they practice discipline is true, however, I suggest they look into a Reformed church order. Reformed Churches do not practice discipline that way. It usually takes us a couple years before someone is actually excommunicated and shunning is an Anabaptist practice. We have local, regional, and national assemblies to hear appeals and to give advice on matters of discipline. In our polity, our consistory cannot proceed to the final steps of discipline without consulting the regional assembly of ministers and elders!

More to the point, she resurrects the worst caricatures of Calvin. I suppose her resuscitation of them a good reminder that we have to keep repeating the history. I admit, I don’t remember hearing or reading any story about Calvin making “a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness.”  As far as I know the polity in Geneva, he didn’t have that sort of authority. Typically the Consistory fined people. I’ve never seen any instances of this sort of discipline. If everyone who criticized Calvin in Geneva was made to do this there would have been no place to walk!

Update

As a follow-up, I admit that I don’t know much about Mark Driscoll. As a historian I’m generally much more interested in dead people than the living. I do think, however, that the R&R folks need to dig a little more deeply into the Reformed confession. We have a theology, a piety, and a practice. I’m glad that folk are enthused about aspects of the Reformation but welding those aspects to American revivalism and pietism and evangelicalism will probably create a monster. If these emerging/R&R guys want to be “Reformed” why don’t they identify themselves with the Reformed Churches? I have my guesses as to why not but it says something about folk who like Calvin’s soteriology but who reject his church.

Ms Worthen was kind enough to respond to a query about her about this passage:

The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. [Benedict cites the Calvini Opera 21:21, 367, 370-77 and several secondary texts as evidence for this episode].

In fairness, Worthen has a word count and an editor so things get compressed. Nevertheless, this compressed account of Calvin’s authority in Geneva reinforces the old and false stereotypes about Calvin, Calvinism, and the Reformed Churches as inherently authoritarian and tyrannical.

Here’s the text of my reply:

Hi Molly,

I won’t detain you long.

Thanks for the quick reply and the lead. I appreciate the difficulties and compromises required by editors! You can imagine, however, that my concern is that the sort of shorthand you used feeds what P. E. Hughes called “the popular fantasy” of Calvin as tyrant of Geneva. Calvin was more refugee than tyrant. At any rate, church-state relations in Geneva were fluid and complex.

I have Benedict (Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed) in front of me (very good memory you have!) and on p. 103 he says,

When Ameaux’s words found their way to Calvin, he demanded action from the council. It decided to have Ameaux apologize on bended knees to Calvin before the assembly of the Two Hundred, but this was not a public penance enough to suit the minister. He refused to present himself for the ceremony and was not satisfied until the council condemned Ameaux to process through the city, kneeling at every major square or intersection to proclaim his regret at having dishonored the Word of God, the magistrates, and the ministers.

Yes, it happened because Calvin insisted, but technically it was the city council who effected the sentence and, more importantly, it was part of a metaphorically bloody political fight, dating to the mid-40s, over the direction of the city and the church. This was less about Calvin’s person than it was about the authority of the church to make ecclesiastical policy. Ameaux was a member of a party contesting the Consistory’s authority and especially Calvin’s. Benedict’s account, in this respect, is a little overdrawn. In a survey a certain amount of nuance goes by the boards.*

As to authoritarianism and Calvinism generally, there’s a serious argument, that Bruce Gordon, I, and others have advanced that Calvinism in the period was a religion of refugees not tyrants. After all no other group suffered more martyrs in that period than the Reformed.

As to Driscoll and Mars Hill, he would not be admitted as a member of most [confessional] Reformed Churches much less as a minister. He’s a typical evangelical religious entrepreneur, part of a long line of such going back to the 18th century, but he’s hardly Reformed. The Calvin-Driscoll link, in that respect, is quite tenuous.

Thanks for your time,

Best,

Scott

ps. I see Gordon has a biography of Calvin appearing in May. I expect it will be terrific.

*I should add that this followed a legal and an ecclesiastical case (Register of the Company of Pastors, 1.309-10) concerning Ameaux’s wife, so there was some history there. Further, Ameaux wasn’t just “some guy.” He was a member of the city council (i.e., a member of either the Petit Conseil or the Two Hundred, it’s not clear) and a leading member of the “Libertine” party seeking to discredit Calvin and the Reformation in Geneva. Pierre Ameaux was a businessman who manufactured playing cards. According to Bernard Cottret, Calvin, 187, “he was sentenced to make a circuit of the city, his head bare, a lighted torch in his hand.” This is a translation CO 21.377, Registres du Conseil 41, fol. 68.

Here is the text of the French:

Ameaulx. Ayans vheu le contenuz de ces responces par lesquelle nous appert que il a meschamment parle contre Dieu le magestral et M. Calvin ministre etc. comment amplement est conpensez voz que ce pays soyt vostre? il est a moy tenus en ces responces: Ordonne qui soyt conet a mes compagnyons et serez gouvernés par nous dampne a debvoyer fere le tour a la ville en chemise teste nue une torche allumee en sa maien et dempuys devant le tribunal venyr crie mercy a Dieu et a la justice les genoulx a terre confessant avoyer mal parle le condampnant aussy a tous despens et que la sentence soyt profere publiquement.

Surely it strikes us as severe today—It wasn’t for nothing that Calvin was called “The Accusative Case” by his fellow students—but remember the times and the context. See Parker, John Calvin: A Biography, 99. According to Parker, what was at stake was the authority of the Word. Was it a confusion of the two kingdoms for Calvin to demand civil penalties for being identified with the sufferings of Christ? Absolutely! From the perspective of the 2 kingdoms, Calvin might have had a case before the Consistory but not before the Two Hundred.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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35 comments

  1. Worthen may not be the place to go to understand either Calvinism or Driscoll. But I am far from convinced that Driscoll is where to go to understand the Reformation. Methinks he is what one gets when it is believed that soteriology saves, as it were, or when Edwards gets a pass.

  2. I too am not sure if we should give such credence to Worthen’s account of church discipline at Mars Hill, if she got church discipline in Geneva so wrong. But it is no anomaly that a journalist fails to do proper historical research when it comes to the Reformed tradition (and for her editors to let her get away with it!)

  3. Yo Dr.C,

    Several WSC students (myself included) went up to Mars Hill last year to check the church out. Driscoll’s preaching is fantastic–largely because he is unambiguous in his presentation of the Gospel. He speaks often and clearly about doctrines like imputation, and avoids superficiality. He is an avid reader of Horton, and is more than SoRe (soteriologically-Reformed).

    At the same time, while many accounts of his iron-fisted, tryannic rule of Mars Hill are likely overexaggerated, his soteriology should give any confessionally-Reformed person pause. All the leaders of the church are “pastors,” though most have little to no theological training. Driscoll believes in baptism-at-conversion and the charismatic gifts. There is no measure of accountability for Driscoll from any of the other “pastors” or other churches of the Acts 29 “network.”

    He’s a tough nut to crack. In general, I love and appreciate the work he has done and believe that he has shown some useful (yet faithful) paradigms in engaging postmodern/neo-pagan culture. At the same time, I didn’t particularly care for your comments on the importance of ecclesiology until I made that trip. I am now a full-fledged Presbyterian.

    -Your Favorite Student Ever 🙂

  4. I’ve heard Driscoll preach, and it is *not* fantastic. But anyone can hear for themselves on the Mars Hill website.

    Moreover, Driscoll does not even embrace a Reformed soteriology, unless hypothetical universalists are Reformed. When Driscoll comes out in defense of orthodox reformed soteriology, let me know.

  5. “I’m glad that folk are enthused about aspects of the Reformation but welding those aspects to American revivalism and pietism and evangelicalism will probably create a monster.”

    Hasn’t it BEEN creating a monster since at least 1741? This problem has had some serious staying power.

  6. Dr. Clark,

    I am a regular reader of your posts, an Acts 29 lead pastor, and someone who knows Mark personally. I appreciate your concerns based on what you read. However, please know that the church discipline explanation given is not accurate for Mars Hill at all. In fact, I think the article unfairly characterized Mark’s theology, character, and ecclesiology. My question is what you meant by the following:

    “If these emerging/R&R guys want to be “Reformed” why don’t they identify themselves with the Reformed Churches? I have my guesses as to why not but it says something about folk who like Calvin’s soteriology but who reject his church.”

    I understand your question, but would love more information as to your insinuation in your last sentence. I am not baiting you. I seriously want to understand the comment. I am a guy who grew up and evangelical, dispensational, arminian. I went to Talbot for training. I later became soteriologically reformed. I then became covenantal (yet remain baptistic). My ecclesiology and eschatology are currently a bit of a project for me. I would like to know what it says about me and others like me that we have rejected “Calvin’s church.”

  7. Last note:

    Driscoll holds to the same view as Bruce Ware who seems to be a mentor for him. Piper did a stellar job of debating Dr. Ware and pointing out the weakness of his argument. Most of the A29 guys hold to limited atonement, with no modifications or moderation as is posited by Dr. Ware and Driscoll.

  8. Hi Chad,

    Here’s what I mean: imagine applying to have Mars Hill admitted as a congregation recognized by the Genevan Consistory. Imagine petitioning the Synod of Dort to be allowed to be seated at the Synod or the Westminster Assembly or the Savoy Conference. Would any of those assemblies recognize the theology, piety, and practice (the confession) of Mars Hill as “Reformed”?

    For more on this see this earlier post. See also Recovering the Reformed Confession. There’s more in this series.

    The measure of the adjective “Reformed” is the Reformed confessions, most notably (but not exclusively) the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, and the Westminster Standards. To what degree is the theology, piety, and practice of Mars Hill (and Acts 29) consonant with these things?

    I’m happy to see people interested in becoming Reformed but I don’t want to re-define the word to mean merely “predestinarian.”

  9. >I’m happy to see people interested in becoming Reformed but I don’t want to re-define the word to mean merely “predestinarian.”

    Five solas. By your definition – and I know you’ve been told this over and over – John Owen is not Reformed.

  10. Jackson,

    Nonsense!

    There were independents at Westminster. You can’t just make up history. Owen was a congregationalist but none of the three forms or the WCF stipulate polity.

    Owen wrote about MUCH MORE than the 5 points. He held to every single point of Reformed doctrine. He held our Christology and defended it. He held our covenant theology and defended it. He held our soteriology and view of the sacraments and defended it.

    This isn’t true for the R&R folk and it’s not true for a good number of evangelicals who want to call themselves Reformed. If they held Owen’s theology, piety, and practice I’d be thrilled but they don’t.

  11. Dr Clark,
    What’s the minimum criteria to be considered Reformed?

    Can you delineate the articles of faith in regards to theology, piety and practice without pointing to the confessions per se, unless of course you believe that the very act of subscription to those confessions is a criteria, that a church must accept to be considered Reformed?

  12. GAS,

    That’s why I wrote the book (RRC). I can’t re-write the book here. To be Reformed is to hold, confess, and practice the Reformed faith as held, confessed, and practiced by the Reformed Churches.

    What’s necessary for being a sailor? If I say I love sailing but it’s purely theoretical, I’ve never been on a sailboat (I haven’t), if I wouldn’t know the boom from the backstay (and I don’t), if I can’t tie a nautical knot, then in what sense am I sailor? Am I sailor if I drive a jet ski? They’re both on the water and they’re both means of propulsion, but they’re very different.

    Evangelicals may attend congregations and they may hold some Reformed doctrine(s) but does that make them Reformed? Are there as many definitions of Reformed as there are definers?

    Is there an established, objective, fixed definition of the adjective Reformed? Yes. What is it? It’s what the Reformed Churches confess (in their theology, piety, and practice).

    Where do they confess it? In the Three Forms and the Westminster Standards.

    Where do they practice it? In those churches that actually believe the Word as confessed by the churches in the Three Forms and Westminster Standards.

    Where are those? Well, most of them are in the North American Council of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches (NAPARC) http://www.naparc.org,

  13. GAS,

    That’s why I wrote the book (RRC). I can’t re-write the book here. To be Reformed is to hold, confess, and practice the Reformed faith as held, confessed, and practiced by the Reformed Churches.

    No, I can’t delineate the criteria here without transcribing the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. That would be the bare minimum but there’s a lot more. That’s why I distinguish between confession defined narrowly and broadly.

    Yes, the very act of subscription is a criteria.

    What’s necessary for being a sailor? If I say I love sailing but it’s purely theoretical, I’ve never been on a sailboat (I haven’t), if I wouldn’t know the boom from the backstay (and I don’t), if I can’t tie a nautical knot, then in what sense am I sailor? Am I sailor if I drive a jet ski? They’re both on the water and they’re both means of propulsion, but they’re very different.

    Evangelicals may attend congregations and they may hold some Reformed doctrine(s) but does that make them Reformed? Are there as many definitions of Reformed as there are definers?

    Is there an established, objective, fixed definition of the adjective Reformed? Yes. What is it? It’s what the Reformed Churches confess (in their theology, piety, and practice).

    Where do they confess it? In the Three Forms and the Westminster Standards.

    Where do they practice it? In those churches that actually believe the Word as confessed by the churches in the Three Forms and Westminster Standards.

    Where are those? Well, most of them are in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) http://www.naparc.org.

    See also “Who or What Defines ‘Reformed’?”

  14. I said five solas, not five points.

    I know you guys are currently running Jonathan Edwards out of the camp. You are currently merely ignoring Calvinists such as John Bunyan. Zwingli apparently never existed. Your treating of classic confessions as play-doh while claiming so piously to hold to the same confessions doesn’t appear to faze you. I’ve heard you say Puritans aren’t Reformed. You rightly condemn all the bad theology of the 19th century while holding to the worst of it: the revival of the same corrupt manuscripts the reformers defeated with their lives. Forgive me for suggesting you may not be in the best position to be an authority on what is and what isn’t Reformed.

  15. Since the confessions don’t prescribe church polity, in what sense is congregationalist discipline not reformed?

  16. Scott,

    Just to be clear, I don’t think I suggested that congregational polity is, per se, not Reformed. Our (URCNA) church order says that broader assemblies are not essential to the church. I think we’ve usually agreed that the broader/higher assemblies are of the bene esse not of the esse of the church.

    Jackson,

    Have you lost your mind? I’ve never said that “the Puritans” aren’t Reformed. First of all I don’t usually speak of “the puritans.” The movement was far too complicated to speak that way. I much prefer to speak of British and European Reformed theology. Were some, who are called “Puritans” not Reformed? Sure. Baxter wasn’t Reformed. There were probably others, but Perkins was Reformed as were his followers, as were the English/Scots/Welsh/Irish Presbyterians and many of the congregationalists and Anglicans. So I don’t know what you thought you heard but it wasn’t what I said or what I think.

    I hold to the worst of the 19th-century theology? Old Princeton was the worst? Get off.

    The Reformers laid down their lives for God’s Word. They didn’t lay down their lives for a family of MSS. That’s just bizarre.

  17. Dr. Clark,

    Speaking of URC church order, will you and/or Pastor Hyde be at classis this Tuesday?

  18. This is interesting reading and concerning.

    How easy it is for most confessing Christians to lose sight of the clear and essential teachings and doctrines of Jesus and Paul (not to forget the rest of canonized scripture).

    The bible is the standard of truth. All teaching and doctrine and confession must pass muster against the understandable Word of God. This is the perfect template and can be understood efficiently if anyone really wants to understand. This was Luthers argument.

    For me, the problems arise when more effort is used to conform the Word of God to the conduct and doctrine of the creature rather than the creator. Again, nothing new, just revisit the exchange between Eve and the serpent.

    As a side, Mark Driscoll is not original. Gene Scott (now deceased) was non-conforming to the entire Word of God to develop a more anti-religious, grace abusing church. This does not lend to “unity in the body”. Just because someone decides to start a counter trend does not justify neglecting the admonition of scripture. Wasn’t there an extreme outbreak of vengeance against the Catholic church after its failed persecution of Luther, which he condemned?

    Objective truth, righteousness, and the fear of God are easily sacrificed for pragmatism. This battle will only be finished when Jesus comes back again.

  19. I’ve always wanted to attend one, and it looks like I might be able to finally make it. I’ll practice my secret crypto-Lutheran handshake just in case…

  20. Slackerina,

    I didn’t see anything in the crosscut piece re church discipline. What do you mean by “nuts about church discipline”?

    Some people (or most people) might think we’re “nuts” too. We practice church discipline, but we use a process that’s laid out in our church order. It follows Matt 18. We have to keep records and we have to explain ourselves to the regional assembly of churches and the elders and pastors are accountable to them and to the congregation.

    For us proper church discipline is a mark of the church, i.e. without any discipline a congregation isn’t a church but we don’t think that it should by tyrannical or abusive or secret.

  21. I wish journalists would get Driscoll’s age right. He and I were born on the same day (October 11, 1970). Last I checked I am only 37, not 38. Oh! the plights of Libras and late birthday kindergartners. I guess I should fight harder for ol’ Mark, but I just can’t shake the persuasion that old man Clark has his finger on things way better.

  22. “Nuts about church discipline”? I was actually wondering how a “megachurch that draws about 7,600 visitors to seven campuses” can practice church discipline AT ALL.

  23. >I hold to the worst of the 19th-century theology? Old Princeton was the worst? Get off.

    Finney, Scofield, Westcott and Hort. This is what people usually think of when 19th century bad theology is referenced.

    Princeton Seminary, by the way, is not the best example. In less than one generation after the downgrade on the authority of the Word of God it went deep-end liberal.

  24. Driscoll, for all of the influence that he wields up here, is not really qualified to be a minister, much less an authority on Reformed theology and practice. His lack of personal maturity, along with his trendy little potty mouth, is enough to disqualify him from any sober-minded reading of the apostolic qualifications. I certainly would not want the children of the church seeing him as a model of the Christian life, which is, if I recall, exactly what the apostles called future ministers of the Gospel to model in their words and actions amongst the flock.

    His theology is a “pick and choose” variety of Reformed though amongst other influences. It’s not entirely his fault, given his background, but the influence that he wields up here is disproportionate to his qualifications. Having studied at Western Seminary years back, and knowing the antagonism that Gary Breshears (who co-authored “Vintage Jesus” with Mark) exhibited toward covenant theology, and confessional Reformed thought, I am not surprised in the least that Mark is a mixed bag.

    What bothers me more, however, is his influence amongst some of our presbyters up here. It has concerned me when I have seen some in our presbytery completely reject the disciplinary process laid out in the BCO in favor of a Driscoll styled authoritarianism. The accused then have no recourse, and sessions can get away with making rash and foolish decisions. It’s like, “Yo, Dude, that little blue binder is so uncool. Only the old, Southern men still stick to that. We’re all about wearing gowns and high-church liturgy (that’s cool), but having the discipline to abide by the BCO process (and our vows as Reformed ministers) – that would cramp my style.”

    I wish the best in future growth for men like Mark, but it would be better for our churches if men such as he were not given a pass on any number of issues just because of the “success” of their goings on in our backyard.

  25. Gil,

    That’s why I wrote the book, RRC. There are a lot of caricatures of Calvinism out there and they are bound to drive people away.

    As to Rod and Mike, were there no Rod, there would be no Mike or Kim, at least not as we know them. Rod is the fount of much good for the Modern Reformation and for the confessionalist movement in the Reformed world. God bless him. We have our disagreements but he knows the gospel and knows how to preach it and beneath that crusty exterior beats a soft heart that breaks for the lost and for the people of God.

  26. Yes, thanks for the comment about both Dr. Rosenbladt and Dr. Horton.

    I didn’t mean to mention that as a criticism of The White Horse Inn but rather to point out that such “co-existence” wouldn’t be possible if those gross caricatures carried the day. The White Horse Inn always has struck me as an example of how Christians with different backgrounds can converse with a high level of maturity.

    When I see some of these tirades I can’t help but think of Luther’s summing up one commandment in the Large Catechism: “Let no one do any harm to his neighbor with the tongue, whether friend or foe.” Some of the caricatures get downright slanderous on a few levels.

  27. Uh, Zrim, was the last time you checked your age a year ago? If you were born in October 1970 you are 38.

  28. On John Pipers web site there is a video of John, Mark Driscoll, and Sinclair Ferguson at 2008 Desiring God Conference. This association of Mark Driscoll with John and Sinclair is very encouraging. John Piper appears to have a mentoring role with Mark Driscoll. If there is any application of the expressed beliefs from Mark on this video it is very likely that any criticism at this time is ill conceived and irrelevant.

    God is able to make any of us stand as He is the Master of His servants. No one is stagnant in their relationship with Christ because of the persistent ministry of the Holy Ghost. If Mark Driscoll is truly appreciative of the vital grace of repentance as he has stated here then there is only hope for him and any of us so minded.

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