The evangelical world once again finds itself preoccupied by the words and acts of Restless and Reformed megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll. A pioneering founder of the Acts 29 network of church planters, Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church gathers around 14,000 people at 15 locations in five states each Sunday. The polarizing yet popular figure has garnered criticism for cursing from the pulpit, then reported plagiarism (as Warren Throckmorton recorded), and most recently for hiring a firm to “make” his book a New York Times best seller through controversial publishing industry techniques. Of course, Driscoll also receives censure from some naysayers simply for his complementarianism and skull-crushing New Calvinism.
These are not necessarily new developments. Driscoll-mongering has become old hat; the pastor has cheerleaders and critics. However, something most astounding has happened: Mark Driscoll has publicly repented to his congregation.
In a letter released to his congregation and leaked online, Driscoll announced, “I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father.” As for the publishing strategy, he declared,
I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong. I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again. I have also asked my publisher to not use the “#1 New York Times bestseller” status in future publications, and am working to remove this from past publications as well.
Noting that he is often labeled a celebrity pastor, Driscoll said, “I don’t see how I can be both a celebrity and a pastor, and so I am happy to give up the former so that I can focus on the latter.” He will be taking a sabbatical from social media for at least the rest of the year and will cut down on speaking engagements.
Driscoll credited the Board of Advisors and Accountability for their help in correcting unhealthy habits and weaknesses at Mars Hill. Nevertheless, the transition into a more stable church structure had been bumpy. In a statement that Religious News Service and World magazine understood as referring to staff turnovers, Driscoll confessed, “We are fully aware of and grieved by ways we could have done better with a more effective process and more patience, starting with me. I am deeply grieved and even depressed by the pain we have caused.”
Moving forward, Driscoll outlined his calling:
Love [my wife] Grace and our family. Preach the Bible Train leaders (especially men). Plant churches. Other things may be good, but I do not have the time or energy for them right now. My family and our church family need me focused and energized, and that is my deep desire. Therefore, I will be spending my energies growing in Christ-like character by grace, staying connected to Grace and our kids, loving and serving Mars Hill Church which continues to grow, teaching the Bible, and serving Christian leaders through such things as blogs and podcasts at Resurgence. Starting this fall, I will also be teaching at Corban University and Western Seminary in Bellevue to invest in young leaders. For a season, I want to pull back from many things in order for us to focus on the most important things: glorifying Jesus by making disciples and planting churches as a healthy, loving, and unified church, with our hands on the Bible and our eyes on Jesus.
Now Christians in general and Driscoll’s critics in particular must shoulder their own burden: how will they respond to repentance? While the broader evangelical world will most certainly keep Driscoll accountable to his confession, we may soon find out who is truly concerned about theological-ecclesiastical harm and who just loves to hate Mark Driscoll. Indeed, while criticisms of Driscoll’s theology, style, and congregationalist evangelicalism may remain, Christians should be cheering for him, interceding for him, and thanking God for Driscoll’s moral courage in confronting his own sin and failures. Would that more leaders and servants had the same penitent spirit!
As we find ourselves in the church season of Lent, we especially focus our energies on throwing off the sins that so easily beset us, finding true liberty in Christ. Driscoll has taken very real steps to turn away from his disorders; true repentance seems to be at work. Now is the time to help him along in his pilgrimage, extending mercy ourselves. On the other hand, if you reject repentance and forgiveness, then Christianity probably isn’t the religion for you, for grace and mercy are the very things our Savior extends to all of us.