By Jeff Goins, Editor
I’m currently reading a book called Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions by Mark Driscoll, pastor of a megachurch in Seattle. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek in places, but quite appropriate and provocative. Living in the Bible Belt for the past two years, I’ve come to realize how much American culture has become inundated with pop Christian iconography. Where I live in Tennessee, everyone is a “Christian.” Sometimes, it makes me not want to be one. It brings back memories of living in Seville, Spain, where every street corner and public edifice had a picture or reference to Christ or his mother Mary. Yet, most people I ran into had no idea about the biblical Jesus, the God who came to earth as a man to liberate all of humanity from sin and death. Maybe what America (and Spain) needs is a fresh look at the real Jesus, not how we want him to be, but who he was and is.
To introduce such a Jesus, Driscoll’s book begins with a sobering and less-than-conventional Gospel story:
Roughly two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in a dumpy, rural, hick town, not unlike those today where guys change their oil, think pro wrestling is real, find women who chew tobacco sexy, and eat a lot of Hot Pockets with their uncle-daddy. Jesus’ mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit. Most people thought she concocted a crazy story to cover the “fact” that she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of the car at the prom. Jesus was adopted by a simple carpenter named Joseph and spent the first thirty years of his life in obscurity, swinging a hammer with his dad. (Vintage Jesus, p. 11)
Just as his book begins unconventionally, Mark Driscoll’s career as a minister wasn’t your textbook Bible school graduate story. Raised behind a strip club, Driscoll got his start at life by getting into fights, being sexually promiscuous, and joining a social fraternity in college. As a business school undergrad, he became a Christian at age 19. When he was 20, he finally read the Bible cover-to-cover and started questioning what it meant to be part of the mission of Jesus. At age 25, without any formal seminary training, he started his own church with 12 attendees. In 11 years, church attendance has increased to over 6,000.
At Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA, which is reported to be the least-churched city in America, Driscoll tackles taboo topics that many mainline preachers are wary to approach. Having his beginnings with the likes of Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt, he was initially an advocate for the “Emerging Church” movement in the 90s. He has since distanced himself from those who adopt more of a “progressive theology” stance on doctrine. He often criticizes liberal Christians and “their Emergent offspring,” saying that he wants more than the “Jesus in a pink dress” or a God that he can beat up. (In Jesus for President, another book pointing to the cultural success of Jesus as a pop icon, authors Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw actually criticize Driscoll’s treatment of Jesus as being unbiblical. Someone is always reacting to someone else, it seems.) Mark explains his reasoning for disassociating himself from McLaren, Pagitt, and others, despite their common desire to see Christianity represented in a culturally relevant and “seeker-sensible” manner:
In the mid-1990s I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church and spent some time traveling the country to speak on the emerging church in the emerging culture on a team put together by Leadership Network called the Young Leader Network. But, I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God’s sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake. (Wikipedia)
Driscoll is open, authentic, and brutally honest. He is known to regularly shout out not-oft-mentioned sins from the pulpit (such as oral sex outside of wedlock) followed by a call to genuine repentance and to life in Christ. He does not walk on eggshells in his preaching nor in his writing, and this authenticity is what makes him so particularly appealing. With Vintage Jesus, he takes what might be considered dry theological vignettes and makes them extremely relevant by providing real-life examples and injecting pieces of pop culture into each chapter.
By quoting the likes of Hugh Heffner, Ghandi, and Bart Simpson, while juxtaposing that with biblical doctrine, Mark can make you laugh and squirm in your seat at the same time. He pulls no punches, but also preaches a message of hope and salvation based on grace alone.
In his preaching ministry, he uses technology to connect with a younger audience. Whether it’s addressing his 3900 friends on Facebook or utilizing text messaging (within the walls of a church!) to answer difficult life questions about anything from making crude jokes to hating religion, he is passionate about connecting a younger generation with theological truth and a practical Christian worldview. Because of these and other non-traditional methods of incarnating Christ, Driscoll’s church has quickly become the eighth most influential in America. It continues to grow exponentially.
In the spirit of openness, Driscoll encourages his congregantsand the worldto “Ask Anything” of him. He continues this practice in Vintage Jesus by pairing up with theologian Gerry Breshears to answer simple questions about Christian orthodoxy at the end of each chapter .
Mark often marries his passion for the Bible with technology. He recently prepared for a sermon series entitled “Religion Saves and Nine Other Misconceptions” by soliciting questions on his website (www.marshillchurch.org). The results were more than 900 questions, 550,000 comments and 343,000 votes that determined the top nine questions Driscoll would be answering in the series.
This pastor’s rise
to success can be traced back to people’s increasing fascination with a preacher who is curiously liberal in cultural propriety (he is an avid viewer of TV sitcom The Office and calls those who aren’t fans to “repent”), while theologically conservative (he claims John Calvin and C.H. Spurgeon among his personal heroes). To say the least, Driscoll is an anomaly in the church, but one who is welcomed with a sigh of religious relief and maybe a scratch on the head. Every Sunday, he preaches to urban twenty-somethings and young families, many sporting mohawks and tattoos. On each side of the stage are bouncers who wear fitted black T-shirts reading “SECURITY”. Apparently, he has needed them ever since he started receiving numerous death threats and was charged while preaching on-stage by a man with a knife in 2006.
As a preacher and writer, Pastor Mark is indeed provocative, to say the least. Yet, his provocation (although sometimes met with a knife mid-service) is also welcomed by many. His sermon podcast is ranked Number 1 in the “Religion and Spirituality” section on iTunes. Perhaps, no one has yet done such a fine job of combining complex theological truths with cultural relevance and technology, but who knows what Driscoll’s methodologies will provoke. His new book will do probably what his preaching has already done – anger many, while calling others to life-changing repentance. Most likely, that was the author’s intention – to leave no gray areas, but to present readers with a clear decision to accept or deny this Jesus presented.
Although it is still too early to tell, Driscoll’s Vintage Jesus may do for this generation of young seekers what Lewis’ Mere Christianity and McDowell’s More than a Carpenter did for theirs… with the addition of quotes by Marilyn Manson and the described-in-detail bodily functions of baby Jesus.
If you liked this article, check out: Confessions of a Good Christian Guy: Book Review
Jeff graduated from Illinois College, a small liberal arts school, with a degree in Spanish and Religion. He lives in Nashville, TN. He works for Adventures in Missions, edits this silly little magazine, and loves to do new things. He got married in January 2008.