The Tweetable-Tale of Two Mars Hill Pastors

When Mars Hill Grandville pastor Rob Bell wrote Love Wins, John Piper sent out the now infamous “Farewell” tweet.

On Sunday, Mars Hill Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll announced he would be taking a six-week leave of absence as the elder while the leaders of the church conduct an investigation into the accusations against him. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the controversies surrounding Driscoll over the last couple of months. I can only imagine what this has been like for those who attend Mars Hill, Driscoll’s family, and Mark himself. I know others will disagree, but we should pray for Mark, his family, and the church. If we confess to believe in grace, then we should pray that grace abounds and that God’s kindness leads to repentance. While I would say it differently, I agree with the sentiment behind John Piper’s tweet to Mark:

That said, putting these two tweets next to each other reveals, what seems to be, the continued impact of Enlightenment emphasis on right thinking over right living. It seems one can think the right things and yet act wrongly (Driscoll) and receive grace. But if one acts rightly and yet thinks the wrong things (Bell) you get farewelled from the Christian community.

But doesn’t grace cover our thoughts as well?

There has always been a tension in the Christian faith between orthodoxy (right thinking) and orthopraxy (right living). We are saved by faith, not by works, so that no one may boast. Our right living does not save us, rather it is a faith in Jesus Christ. Understanding and accepting the atoning work of Jesus on the cross is what saves us and restores us to right standing with God. And yet, if we believe the right things about God and and our relationship to him, then we will act rightly in the world. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy go hand and hand.

Looking at those two tweets next to each others, I can’t help but wonder, are we as a church in danger of conflating right thinking with salvation, thus making it a work by which we are saved?

Are actions more forgivable when a person’s theology is right?

The church has always struggled with the book of James and his emphasis on right living. I wonder how much more we would have to wrestle with it if we took some translational liberties.  “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if a person has all the right theology but has no deeds?…Show me your right theology without deeds, and I will show you my theology by what I do.”

Or look at Matthew 25 where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. Go read it and notice the criteria by which they are divided. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” No where does it say the sheep will be identified by having the right theology.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe right thinking matters. As a pastor, I take the idea of false teachers and false teaching very seriously. I believe that it is worthy of discipline by the church just as much as any other sin. We must watch out for false teachers, correct them, and protect the body of Christ from them. What I don’t understand is why we wouldn’t work to restore them like we would anyone else. Why does Rob Bell and his questionable teaching get farewelled and Driscoll and his documented abuse get grace?

I get that false teaching can lead people astray, away from the truth about Christ and the gospel. But I also understand that when one lives in such a way that the truth they preach is discredited by their sinful actions it can lead people astray, away from the truth about Christ and the gospel. Right living isn’t better than right thinking, nor is right thinking better than right living. Both matter. Emphasizing right thinking as more important than right living can result in the brushing off of, and quick forgiveness of, so many despicable acts. The attitude is, “Hurry up and get them back in the pulpit so we can get some good teaching,” all the while neglecting that it isn’t just what they say from the pulpit that teaches.

Heresy are beliefs that are contrary to historical Christian orthodoxy. Beliefs that deny the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the resurrection are heretical ideas because they contradict what Christians have thought throughout the centuries. But what about our actions? Should our actions be labeled as heretical? Can they be? If I act in a way that is contrary to historical Christian orthodoxy, does that mean I am heretical? If I live contrary to the fruits of the Spirit, fail to live at peace with everyone as much as it depends on me, and am easily provoked to unrighteous anger am I in danger of living as a heretic?

Probably.

And if our actions can be heretical, then we all need to admit we heretics in need of grace.

 

  • http://www.tonyjalicea.com Tony J. Alicea

    I would say that right thinking plays a more significant role when we’re not in relationship with the other person. I’m always awestruck by how much grace we show to people we know, regardless of the terrible things they do. On the contrary, the smallest indiscretion by someone we don’t know, and even more so when we have some disagreements in the way we think, gets used as ammunition.

    It’s ugly and hurtful and something that the church as a whole struggles with. So many people who cry out for justice, forget that their emotional justice is nothing like God’s perfect justice. Grace is for all, not just those who agree with your line of thinking. And not just if they show the proper contrition. And not even just for when they repent! When we take the time to be in relationship with people, it’s so much easier to see each other as human, not just ideas. It’s only then we’re more liberal with giving grace.

    We LOVE punishment for our enemies and grace for us and ours.

    If you’re interested, I wrote about Emotional Justice a few years back:

    http://www.tonyjalicea.com/2011/05/emotional-justice/

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      Thanks for that comment, Tony. I think that is a really important point, and in this case, must be paid attention to. I can’t help but wonder if Piper’s personal relationship with Driscoll is part of the reason he more compassionate and gracious. I don’t think (although I don’t know for sure) he has that relationship with Bell, and so it is much easier to dismiss him.

  • Trisha

    Seeing these two tweets next to each other really got my attention–wow. I need grace for both my thinking and my acting–and I need to offer it to others in the same way. And I completely agree with Tony below–relationship (or the absence of a relationship) is everything.

  • CCW

    I think context is important. The tweet involving Driscoll is in response to what is hopefully a positive response to correction regarding his behavior whereas the tweet involving Bell is in response to his refusal to respond to correction regarding his teaching. Not saying the idea of relationship doesn’t play a part but the context also should be considered when comparing the two tweets.

  • Bo

    Good points made in this post. Digging deeper, my question is how orthodoxy and orthopraxy relate to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7 that we will know false teachers “by their fruits” (v. 16). If, for instance, the predominant fruits of Driscoll’s life are not in keeping with those of love, joy, peace, patience, etc. (as detailed by Paul in Galatians), would it be incorrect to say Driscoll is a false teacher? Reciprocally, would Bell’s observed orthopraxy argue against his being a false teacher despite the popular opinion of him in evangelical circles?

    My point is, is it better to identify false teachers by their behavior instead of the theology they proclaim, since, as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words? Or is this unfair, a judgment made without the lens of grace? If I continue to commit sinful actions, is that proof that my orthodoxy is out of whack to some degree (no matter what I say), or is it just a sign that I have certain weaknesses and that I struggle with sin like everyone else?

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      Great questions. I’d also include, not only the fruit of their lives, but the fruit of the ministry. Both have incredible amounts of fruit in their ministry. That said, having pastored just down the road from Bell’s church, there isn’t nearly the hurt coming out of the doors either.

  • Alastair J Roberts

    I think that you make some important points here, Nate. My concern is that you are conflating thinking/beliefs/theology with teaching. It is one thing to hold mistaken beliefs: it is a very different thing actively to propagate error. Beliefs as such aren’t heretical: it is the way that beliefs are held and taught that makes them heretical. Provided that a person is prepared to submit to the authoritative teaching of the Church, believing error need not be an obstacle to fellowship. We have many people with mistaken beliefs as members in good standing of our churches, just as we have many sinners.

    The crucial things that we are looking for are submission to orthodoxy/orthopraxy and repentance. The person who holds false beliefs, but doesn’t spread them and submits to the doctrinal and teaching authority of the Church, allowing themselves to be educated into orthodoxy, demonstrates these two factors. So does the sinner who confesses their sin, submits to discipline and training in righteousness, and turns towards God and a new pattern of life in repentance. I suspect that this is where we will find the difference between Bell and Driscoll in Piper’s understanding. Bell has shown no sign of submission to orthodoxy (at least as Piper understands it), while Driscoll has made expressions indicative of some level of repentance (again, as Piper understands it). I think that the basis in principle for such a distinction is a very sound one, while the application in these particular instances may not be so clear.

    The real question for me is whether we believe extending forgiveness to people means that they don’t have to face the consequences of their actions. Where there has been catastrophic moral failure or the teaching of profound error, I think that one of the consequences of this should be removal from public office. One of the criteria of Church leadership is being above reproach and, once someone’s doctrine or life has been found to be deeply sinful in some regard, they shouldn’t be allowed back into leadership any time soon, if at all in some cases.

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      Thanks for the comment, Alastair. Always appreciate the thought you put into these.

      I don’t think I am conflating them as I specifically state false teaching as worthy of church discipline. I think the key, in this situation, is what you state in your second paragraph. Orthodoxy, and one’s submission to both it and to the discipline of others, is somewhat fluid. Stating that Bell seemingly refuses to submit to orthodoxy “as Piper understands it” recognizes that what is orthodox is wide and negotiable – to an extent. Some would argue Bell still within the boundaries of broad church orthodoxy, while others would say he stepped out of it. The fact that there is no one definitive definition of orthodox Christian thought should quicken us to humility rather than farewell pronouncements.

      To another point, I think many would take issue with idea that Driscoll has made expressions of repentance. While he has publicly apologized regarding acts in the past, and in this shown some submission to others, he has simultaneously consolidated church power as to be accountable to less and less. That doesn’t seem like repentance, to many, but rather a sort of slight of hand trick.

      To your third point – in my mind, no. Grace and forgiveness are not an excusal from consequences. In my experience, the consequences come and are part of what lead me to repentance.

  • bongojim

    I think it’s teachableness. However “nice” Rob Bell may be, he’s clearly the arbitrator of his own beliefs. He stands above the Bible. It had been coming for a while, and the Love Wins book just confirmed what had seemed to be behind much of his “conversations” for a while.
    Mark, on the other hand, has always been aware of his shortcomings, and has always been teachable when confronted with error (he’s made a great number of apologies!). Humility is the mark of a disciple – I see that it Mark, I don’t see it in Rob. Not all that glitters is gold, and often gold is tarnished!

    • lyzl

      Just because you apologize, doesn’t mean you are humble. And I think it’s important to realize just how damaging Driscoll’s theology and actions really are. Systematically treating others like less does more to ruin God’s work on earth than “mistakenly” thinking that everyone can go to heaven.

      • Noah

        Agree with the first statement totally. The second is situational.

    • http://adelasteria.blogspot.com/ K. Elizabeth Danahy

      Out of curiosity (since I haven’t read “Love Wins”), does Bell believe in universal salvation through Jesus? If so, that’s not heretical, nor above the Bible, because there are certainly verses in the Bible that imply such.

  • Bret Hammond

    Farewell, Nate Pyle.

    Sorry…. I couldn’t resist ;-)

  • lyzl

    Wait. How does Mark Driscoll have good theology? Because acting horribly toward women is pretty bad theology to me. The duality here is pretty false. Just because Mark Driscoll says all the “right” things about Jesus (meaning the things you believe) doesn’t mean he isn’t a false teacher. Although, I agree with you, a guy who honestly doesn’t want people to suffer shouldn’t be treated with any less love than a man who systematically demeans and entire gender in the name of God. But this is John Piper we are talking about his Biblical Manhood and Womanhood books showed he was no friend of women in the church a long time ago.

    • Noah

      I don’t know much about how they don’t like women in church, except for the fact that you appear to disagree with their view of biblical leadership. Funny, many women don’t. They must hate themselves, apparently.

      Unless I’m missing something, I don’t think either are acting horribly to women.

  • Brett FISH Anderson

    Ah Nate, love this piece so much. spot on. well said. what? both are important. have never understood why people have not loved the book of James – it seems to express things so simply and directly. love your work.

    brett fish

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      Thanks, Brett!

  • Tim McMeans

    A Christian can accept and believe Truth, still act wrongly, be forgiven and be restored. On the other hand, if someone rejects Truth and Biblical doctrine, it doesn’t matter how nice they are – they are still in rebellion towards God’s revelation. I think that’s the big difference.

  • megara

    Thought provoking, awesome post Nate. Thanks.

  • Tyler

    this isn’t a fair comparision to make… Rob Bell is a teacher and influencer who is/was leading his church into humanistic theology and through his theology excused himself from the cover of orthodox Christian faith – Driscoll on made poor choices in leadership – who hasn’t?

    • Roman Hokie

      If you are defining orthodox Christian faith as being the same as Western Protestant Evangelicalism, you would be incorrect.

      • Tyler

        if you are defining my use of ‘orthodox’ Christian faith as ‘Eastern Orthodox’ or denominationally driver you would be incorrect. Orthodox Christian faith “right belief” or conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early church. Stoll trolling. Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll are not in the same category – one is clearly a gospel believing Christian (Driscoll) – the other, we cannot be sure about – but most evidence would point to Bell having excluded himself from the ‘orthodox’ Christian faith – as not being one.

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  • Casey Hobbs

    Really good point, Nate. I too was surprised by Piper’s (Rob Bell) tweet, although I too was concerned about the orthodoxy of his teaching. And the extension of grace to Driscoll, juxtaposed is a very stark reminder that we are not to choose orthodoxy over orthopraxy, or visa versa. I’d be interested to see how Piper would address your observations. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Matt Parkins

    This would be an accurate analysis if Mark Driscoll did indeed say the “right” things, but he doesn’t and it was just a matter of time before his actions reflected his character. I genuinely do hope he makes a full recovery and is fully rehabilitated and reconciled to all, and despite his failings you’ll not catch me saying goodbye to him or anyone whose theology I don’t agree with.

    It’s absolutely appalling that someone would break fellowship with another believer over doctrine – does God do that? No, so what makes Piper think he has a better idea than God?