He makes it manly to worship Jesus

2010-03-06 00:00

MANY a lustful You-Tuber has come face to face with Pastor Mark. With sermon clips entitled Biblical Oral Sex and Masturbation as Birth Control, it’s not hard to see how a Google search could go awry. But for Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of Marshill Church in Seattle, Washington State, this is no mistake.

Driscoll, who developed Marshill from his living room into a 10 000-strong congregation in one of the most liberal states in the U.S., is anything but the conventional preacher.

Dressed in his trademark black shirt and jeans, he is known for his helpful hints on how to pleasure your wife, his public repentance from alcohol abstinence, and his choice of Fight Club over Fireproof for a boy’s night in.

You can follow him on Twitter, he has a YouTube post apologising because he has maxed out his Facebook friends, at 5 000, and his sermons incorporate a live question-and-answer session, in which anonymous text messages are sent to an on-stage screen, from where he answers them: “If I have given or received oral sex, would you consider me a virgin?”

“I don’t know what I would consider you,” Driscoll responds after reading the screen. “Among God’s people there should not even be a hint of immorality — this would be more than a hint … The issue is not how far can I go, the issue is you don’t get going until you’re married … I don’t know if I would consider you a virgin, I would consider you a sinner who needs to repent.”

It’s this kind of straight talk that has won Driscoll a hearing in a state where church attendance is not big. And in a land where the pews are usually filled with women, Marshill’s congregation is comprised mostly of young men.

Driscoll has made it manly to worship Jesus again: “Some want to recast Jesus as a limp-wristed hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship.”

Though focused in Seattle, ­Driscoll’s influence is global. He has been interviewed on a number of TV programmes and he has written numerous books.

In one year, his church recorded 4,4 million downloads from his media library — from South America to Australia — and this year his itinerary for speaking engagements includes South Africa.

It is this influence that lead Time Magazine to highlight Driscoll as one of the leaders in “Ten ideas that are changing the world right now — New Calvinism” (March 12, 2009).

“Old Calvinism,” Driscoll writes, “ was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretised with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.”

This approach — theologically conservative, but culturally liberal — has brought Driscoll under fire from all sides.

The religious right are enraged because he pokes fun at all their rules: “While lovemaking is better than wine, lovemaking is great with wine.” The liberal left are enraged because he calls them names: “The problem with our churches today is that the lead pastor is some sissy boy who wears cardigan sweaters, has The Carpenters on his iPod, gets his hair cut at a salon instead of a barber shop, hasn’t been to an Ultimate Fighting match, and works out on an elliptical machine instead of going to isolated regions of Russia, like in Rocky IV, to harvest lumber with his teeth.”

In fact, the only people who really seem to like Driscoll are the men in Seattle, who are filling up his church.

According to a New York Times Magazine article (January 11, 2009) four of the top tattoo artists in Seattle attend Marshill Church, and many of their clientele — although they have exchanged their tattoos of pin-up girls on their arms for ones of Christ enthroned on their back.

But by his own standards, Driscoll has billed no compromise — winemaking, lovemaking and straight talk are all long ignored Christian virtues: “The Bible has some very strong language,” Driscoll explains.

“The opening of Galatians, when Paul tells a bunch of guys who are into circumcision to go all the way and emasculate themselves — it’s probably not something that you’re going to have on the flannel graph, for the children, in Sunday School.”

However, perhaps Driscoll’s methods have unintentionally stretched the first commandment. On most Sundays, Driscoll preaches live at one Marshill campus, while his sermon is broadcast to the nine others. Large congregations watch him, laugh at him and endlessly note his quotes.

After Driscoll’s talk, the auditorium lights dim and the spotlight shines down on a trendy young worship-leader: his eyes shut, with one hand clasping his microphone, while the other rotates his guitar, rock-band style. The audience look up at him and clap, as he begins to sing.

It’s part comedy, part concert — and sometimes you can’t see the God for the men.

Driscoll will be at Glenridge Church in Durban today and tomorrow. Telephone 031 304 8841.


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