Calvinism Jesus Christ the Church USA

‘Daddy’ Driscoll

Mark Driscoll is back!  Only this time it is a new anti-Calvinist incarnation of the ‘look at me, I’m controversial’ preacher.  For those of you who don’t know of Mark – one of the most influential preachers of the past 25 years – here is a brief recap…


I met Mark in 2008, in my first stint as editor of the Record…Dissing Driscoll – some lessons from the rise and fall of Pastor Mark   He was the rising star of the New Calvinism and one of the first to be perceived as a celebrity pastor.  A superb communicator, he offered hope and encouragement to those of us who wanted to see the presence of a robust but contemporary Reformed theology in the market place – although his unhealthy obsession with Song of Solomon (which he seemed to perceive as a sex manual) and his reputation as the ‘cussin’ pastor, did cause some concerns.

His fall was spectacular…accused of bullying and plagarism, as well as using church money to promote his book onto the bestsellers list,  he was removed from Acts 29 (which has gone on to thrive) and his Seattle Mars Hill megachurch collapsed.  He resigned in 2014.  Pride went before his fall.    However, he has now moved to Arizona where he is the founding pastor of Trinity Church.   The hope was that his fall would have taught him humility and that he would have come under the oversight of a wider church (denomination) and would have been able to use his considerable gifts for the glory of God and the good of the kingdom.

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Sadly it appears as though the opposite has happened.   He now has Mark Driscoll ministries where you can ‘Ask Pastor Mark’, get daily devotions from ‘Pastor Mark’ and even more amazingly get lessons in leadership from ‘Pastor Mark’, the failed leader.   You can also give to Mark Driscoll ministries and buy Mark Driscoll books.  In a bizarre tweet last week he even offered to send you a personally signed copy of his sermon notes if you signed up for his ministry. Protestant indulgences anyone?!

Mark, to his credit, has admitted that he has done a great deal of harm and damage and that he has been a bully – see his interview with Brian Houston.  The interview, given in 2015 after Hillsong cancelled his appearance at their conference,  is fascinating – amongst other things Mark repents of his criticism of Joel Osteen.  He appears to be seeking a new tribe with mega church pastors such as Perry Noble, but it looks as though he is just adopting the same methodology and persona.

Any hope that Driscoll has repented of his bullying, obsession with fame and money, and desire to be known as a writer and leader, has been dashed. ‘Pastor Mark’ is back to his empire-building and belligerent bragging – although now his connections are with the mega pastors and those who share the same obsession with money and fame. In my interview with him in 2008 he seemed more concerned about what I thought of Tim Keller charging for online sermons than he did anything else  His concern was whether this is a good way to make money.

A New Tribe

He seems to have learned nothing from his arrogant attempts to be a ‘father figure’ to the whole church – for example his stab at prophetic analysis at Terry Virgo’s New Frontiers, or his attempt to put Sydney Christians right, or his bullish and cringeworthy appearance on ‘Unbelievable’ with Justin Brierley.   His latest interview has gone viral (which I suspect was the purpose) – it shows a crassness, a crudeness and an ignorance which is breathtaking – (although for those who knew Mark in his previous online incarnation as William Wallace – this can be seen as part of an ongoing pattern).   This time his target is his former friends – the Young, Restless and Reformed.

Although he claimed to be ‘Reformed’ in his interview with Houston, Mark has apparently moved on since then.  ““I don’t hold with the five points of Calvinism – I think its garbage”.   

He then goes on to declare his understanding of this ‘garbage’ theology (a theology he used to espouse with as much vehemence, as he now denounces it – I should add that of course it’s ok to disagree with Calvinist theology – but it is a sin to misrepresent and lie about it).

” Reformed theology is I have a dad who is powerful, in charge, not relational, he lives far away, and don’t get him mad because he can hurt you”  

“Then they pick dead mentors, Spurgeon, Calvin and Luther – these are little boys with father wounds who are looking for spiritual fathers so they pick dead guys who are not going to get to know them or correct them”.  

It’s deeply saddening to read such language from any Christian pastor, let alone one who considers himself to be a teacher of others and a father figure.  It’s not so much the amateur psychology or the abusive language…but rather the ignorant or deliberate misrepresentation of Reformed theology, as Uri Brito, in the Kuperian commentary, points out.

“He paints an image of Calvinism where God is distant and cold. Driscoll’s description, however, is foreign not only to Calvin himself but to all those who came through the doors of the Reformation. “

I regularly read Calvin, Luther and Spurgeon.   I suspect that anyone who argues that they present a cold and distant view of God has read about them, but has not read them.  Or they are so obsessed with making a point and getting their own view imposed that they invoke a reinterpretation of the Reformers and Puritans that would make the most ardent post-modernist blush!   I have found Calvin to be warm and so focused on the love of God that it is rare for me to read him without my heart being ‘strangely warmed’ (something that happened to John Wesley as he heard Luther’s – that other cold reformer – preface to Romans being read ).

I also have no problem with a dead man being my mentor – John Flavel has been my pastor for many years and has rescued me from many a dark night of the soul.   The notion that somehow Driscoll could replace Flavel because he could know and ‘correct’ me is as risible as it is arrogant.  Driscoll ain’t the Daddy – the father figure he aspires to be.  He comes across more like Boney M’s ‘Daddy Cool’ than our Father.  Give me Flavel anytime.

But where Driscoll’s comments really have the potential to be harmful, and indeed border on blasphemous, is in his views of the love of God.   We love Jesus just because we want to be brothers and not fathers (what does that even mean?  Although if you listen to link above with Perry it seems clear that whereas in his previous ministry he viewed himself as a macho Jesus type ‘Son/Saviour’ figure, now he views himself as a Father/Saviour figure).   As I was thinking about Driscoll’s drivel this morning I thought about John Owen – whose depths of insight into the Fatherly love of God, are beyond anything I have known, and way beyond the shallow, soundbite, shock-jock language that Driscoll employs.   And then as I am reading  through Owen’s  “On the Doctrine of the Saints Perseverance”  (one of the now despised five points) –  I came to these words this morning: (Works vol 11 p397 and 398)

“I say then, our doctrine gives the love of God the glory of its fruitfulness.  It asserts it to be such a fountain-love as from whence continually streams of grace, kindness, mercy and refreshment do flow: “Because he loves us with everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness he draws us” Jeremiah 31:3

“And now, what flint almost in the rock of stone would not be softened and dissolved by this love? When we shall think that it is from the love of God that our wasted portion has been so often renewed, that our dying graces have been so often quickened, our dreadful backsliding so often healed,our breeches and decay so often repaired,  and the pardon of our innumerable transgressions so often sealed, unless we suck the breast of tigers, and have nothing in us but the nature of wolves and unclean beasts, can we hold out against the sweet, gracious, powerful, effectual influence that it will have upon our souls?  “

It’s a million miles away from Driscoll’s caricature.  Owen describes the doctrine of the love of God as the foundation of everything – and the reason for our obedience and holiness.  Communion with God – John Owen

John Owen on The Glory of Christ – A Feast for your Soul!

Spiritual Abuse

Driscoll’s attempts to ingratiate himself with a new tribe (witness his apology to brother Joel Osteen), his disavowal of his previous theology and his bitter language, cause a great deal of personal distress and even doubt.  How can someone who sounds at times so humble and is such a good communicator, and seems to have such a love for Jesus,  be so wrong?    At times he seems to have an attitude of humility and repentance but then blows it in the next breath.  For example, he states “I have no right to criticise others’, before going on to criticise others.    He reminds me of an abusive husband, who says sorry to his wife (and probably means it) but the next time (and there always is a next time), he beats and abuses her again – before saying sorry again and repeating the pattern.   Driscoll is not an abusive husband, but he is an abusive spiritual teacher – one who seems to keep repeating the same mistakes.    For the many young (and not so young) men who have benefited from his ministry in the past – we feel the pain, but we must not be sucked into his orbit again.   We don’t need charismatic (in the non-theological sense of the word) entertaining self-promoters.  We need Christ.

It’s all about Jesus

There is an important lesson to be learned here – one that is exemplified by this banner from his website –

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The website designer seems to have missed the irony of having the ‘It’s all about Jesus!’ tagline, in smaller text and duller font, underneath the “ABOUT PASTOR MARK DRISCOLL” in stand out white – which then goes on to tell us about Pastor Mark!

John the Baptist said, ‘I must decrease, He must increase”.  Leaving aside Pastor Mark, I find that for myself, the biggest problem in Christianity is precisely that –  my self.  I am naturally inclined to be ‘me’ centred.  For it to be ‘all about Jesus’, I have to get out of the way – but I keep getting in the way.  The Lord does not need us to fulfil his ministry.  We need Him.  It is a privilege and joy to serve Him, not his joy and privilege to serve us.    I fear that far too often I am more ‘Pastor Mark’ than I am the undershepherd of Christ.    So I leave the last word with the Word….something to reflect on from James 3.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Two Kinds of Wisdom

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving,considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.


An adaptation of this article is now on Premier Christianity 



  1. It’s really sad to read about Mark Driscoll now. In the early 2010s when I was a new Christian and a stay at home mom listening to lots of Driscoll’s teachings, he really helped impact my faith, even though I am not a Calvinist. His preaching on the Cross of Christ in particular so blessed me that I can still remember it years later. I didn’t want to believe it, when just a few years later, I read of his disappointing and alarming fall from grace. I had definitely hoped he would have repented and come back anew ready to make a fresh and humble start. The portion of James 3 you quoted seems to uncannily describe pastor Driscoll. I feel really badly for his church, his wife and 5 children. May God convict him mightily and have mercy on his soul .

  2. Another classic illustration of the cult of personality that is so much a part of American Christianity. Driscoll is without doubt very good at public speaking and he quickly became the main drawcard at Mars Hill; unfortunately with his high profile came his increasingly obvious high opinion of himself – you only have to look at his YouTube videos to see this.

    After the collapse of Mars Hill and his dramatic resignation it was only a matter of time before he resurfaced and began the climb all over again – it’s not as if he is going to make a living any other way.

  3. The words of Romans 12:3 seem apt for all of those who seek to promote themselves over Christ:
    For by the grace given to me I say to each one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

    It seems that the more faith we have, the less we will think of ourselves.

  4. When I was in college, a lot of my friends loved Driscoll. I had never heard of him and one day I was in a bookstore browsing around and saw the cover of a book with what looked like a traditional happy church going family leaving the Sunday service, only with flames in the background. Of course, this was the cover of Driscoll’s “Religion Saves” book. As someone who grew up going to a traditional American Presbyterian church, I was appalled. Because my friends loved him, he was a source of truth in my mind at the time and it scared me a lot quite frankly. If someone weren’t to read the book, you’d think he was condemning all traditional church going families to hell. It’s very disturbing and judgemental. Here is a link to the book:

  5. Our society if filled with those who espouse to a different Gospel; Beth Moore, Steven Furtick, Andy Stanley, Troy Gramling, et alia… However, one does not preach or teach the Gospel by only pointing-out the over-the-top buffoonery that is be spewed by many of these so called Bible teachers.

    Just last night, I was debating with a Baptist pastor who had never heard of lament Psalms. The level of Biblical ignorance that is demonstrated by many Church leaders today, is unbelievable.

    Our biggest mission field is the modern American Church. And how wonderful it is that G-D placed us in the greatest period in history, to bring about His redemptive plan for mankind.

  6. Thanks for this! As I have not read any Flavel or Owen, which of their books would you most recommend?

  7. As I read the paragraph where you quoted John the Baptist, I was reminded of, I think, G.K. Chesterton, who answered a newspaper editorial which had invited readers to give their opinions on what was wrong with the world. He wrote, ‘I am.’

    Some honest self examination goes a long way to correcting our self importance!

  8. I am not defending Driscoll, but I read his comments differently.

    He’s a four point Calvinist, if I recall, as most of us down in Sydney are. So his point about the five points wasn’t that Reformed theology is itself garbage but that the points are.

    Also, his critique of Calvinists daddy issues is not the same as a critique of Calvin. Pointing out that Calvin’s theology of the love of the father is warm doesn’t negate Driscoll’s point about the contemporary Calvinist movement that he was a part of. It just shows that they are bad readers of the old texts.

    1. Hi Michael – thats a generous interpretation (at least for Driscoll!) but I don’t think it works. He doesn’t call one point ‘garbage’ – – he calls the lot. His critique is of reformed theology as a whole – calling it dead, cold – portraying a distant father. He then goes on to attack those who read dead guys like Calvin, Luther etc because they are dead and therefore cannot interact and ‘father’. The subtext is very clear. Driscoll is the father they need – not the cold, dead, reformed ‘fathers’ – nor I suspect, the early church fathers. Anyway looking forward to meeting all the four point Calvinists here!

      1. One of Driscoll’s sons is named Calvin, so he at least at some point, held the man in very high regard.

  9. So sadly Driscoll has come out of the wilderness more of a caricature of himself than when he went in. Personally, I doubt whether he will regain many of his former followers. Those who are more vulnerable to a personality cult are likely to be his prey. May the Lord have mercy on him and his hearers.

  10. Another false prophet.
    “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
    – 1 John 2.19

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