Mark Driscoll. Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons from an Emerging, Missional Church. Zondervan, 2006. 208 pp.
One of the more interesting developments within American Protestantism over the last decade has been the emergence of Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. As Collin Hansen states in his recent article in Christianity Today, the thirty-six-year-old pastor almost defies categorization. “His unflinching Reformed theology grates on the church-growth crowd. His plan to grow a large church strikes postmoderns as arrogant. His roots in the emerging church worry Calvinists. No one group can claim him.” Such a complex of ideas in one person makes the history of his church immediately intriguing. Combine that with his humor, sarcasm, and wit, and you have the makings of a very enjoyable read.
Confessions of a Reformission Rev. is a survey of the first ten years of Mars Hill Church, from its first meetings “in one of those epically awful youth rooms . . . [in a] fundamentalist church” (38) to its current weekly attendance of thousands. “This book is my telling of the blow-by-blow history of Mars Hill Church, which we planed in Seattle, a city that I love like a drunk uncle” (9). Peppered throughout Driscoll’s account are theological and philosophical issues that both explore the church’s historical evolution and coach younger pastors who are wrestling with the same matters. Few readers will agree with every conclusion of his. Nevertheless, Driscoll has provided a helpful, thought-provoking resource that discerning pastors (and pastors-to-be) will appreciate and enjoy.
The driving purpose for planting Mars Hill was the recognition that the Church was doing a poor job reaching eighteen- to thirty-five-year-old men. Citing statistics from George Barna, Driscoll writes, “It seemed that young people went to church with their parents but upon graduation from high school often dropped out of church altogether.” Consequently, Mars Hill set out to target exactly that group–and God has been gracious to bless their efforts. “Though we are seeing an increase in older people, the average age at Mars Hill remains in the midtwenties” (10). And, according to Hansen, forty percent of its growth has come through the conversion of unbelievers. “In saying this,” Driscoll observes, “I am not boasting but rather pointing out the obvious miracle of God that we are a part of” (9).
Driscoll’s methods range from the traditional and ordinary to the innovative and unorthodox. For example, he espouses an expository preaching philosophy. “We occasionally preach topics that need to be addressed, but the majority of the preaching simply goes through books of the Bible chapter by chapter and verse by verse.” Multi-year series, however, are out of the question. “[I] move through the Bible books fairly quickly rather than lingering forever in a book by drilling down on every word to the degree that the people in the church lose sight of the overarching mega-themes and purposes of the book” (95). On the other hand, one of their first missional ventures was to open an indie rock concert hall, called the Paradox, as a venue for connecting his people with unbelieving young men. “The Paradox only rarely hosted Christian bands since our main goal was getting non-Christian kids to come to the concerts. Our focus was hospitality.” On that basis, the church “welcomed kids into a safe place where we could build relationships of grace on Jesus’ behalf rather than preaching at the kids or doing goofy things like handing out tracts” (126-27). In just a few years, the Paradox witnessed 65,000 people come through its doors, a number of whom have “come to faith through relationships” (127).
Throughout the book, Driscoll offers breakout sections called Coaching Corners. In them he addresses a range of topics, such as a church’s phases (infancy , adolescence , and maturity ), assessing people (79-80), and the danger of comfort zones (141). There are additional charts and diagrams that illustrate ideas like the Missional Ministry Matrix (41), various forms of ecclesiology (103-8), and options for elder organization (170-75). These distillations of Driscoll’s philosophy of ministry are helpful for those who are wrestling with the practical outworking of one’s theological foundation.
Concerning his theology, the author makes no bones about his Reformed soteriology, crediting his understanding from a study of Romans. A Sunday evening series in that epistle “helped to clarify our doctrinal convictions as a church and cemented us a church with a reformed view of God and salvation.” He goes on, “If you don’t know what that means, the gist is that people suck and God saves us from ourselves” (85). An issue that has made him the target of local criticism has been his complementarian view on gender roles. “I will now simply come out of the closet,” he writes, “and reveal that I am an intense biblical literalist who believes that the man is the head of the home, that the man should provide for his family, that children are a blessing, and that we would not have so many deceived feminists running around if men were better husbands and fathers because the natural reaction of godly women to godly men is trust and respect.” This frames the way he conducts marriage counseling, leading some to leave the church. “But the more than one hundred couples we trained in the first few years of the class remain happily married today and serve Jesus as missionaries, knowing that their marriage is for the gospel as much as the gospel is for their marriage” (66-67).
Mark Driscoll has written an incisive book on church life that is sure to generate conversations among church leaders across the country. Readers may find his humor at times to be crude or even gratuitous. Nevertheless, his sharp wit is part of the beauty of the book. There were times that I was literally doubled over in laughter. That is certainly not the norm for a book on church philosophy! The great value of Confessions, however, is its frank, provocative discussion of the contemporary church as it seeks to live out the gospel for the glory of God and the salvation of the lost. Many applications that Mars Hill has made will not–and probably should not–be copied elsewhere. But understanding how this church arrived where they are will prove to be immensely valuable for other pastors who share a similar vision.