John Piper Reflects on Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill Implosion

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Editors’ note: 

The following is a transcript of a conversation between John Piper and Norm Funk, lead pastor of Westside Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the recent controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll. Discussing a difficult and discouraging situation, this video helps us see how God has been at work and what we can learn.

Norm Funk: We were talking yesterday, and I shared with you Vancouver’s close proximity to Seattle, and therefore close proximity over the years to the ministry in Seattle of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll. That made a dramatic impact on many people’s lives. Many people from this ministry and people in and around Vancouver travel down to Mars Hill, watched it, listened, downloaded many of Mark Driscoll’s podcasts.

I know you’ve commented on your relationship with Mark on your own podcast. I’m not asking you to comment on that relationship specifically. I’m more wanting you to speak into those individuals’ lives where coming out of what happened over the last year has really impacted them, called into question the church, leadership—does it work, can we trust it, people throwing even theological leanings under the bus because they equate it with the individual. Can you comment and encourage those individuals who have been impacted in that way?

John Piper: I hope so. First, just to set the stage, I can remember riding my bicycle along the Greenway through the middle of Minneapolis. It’s a quiet place. You can do this on your bike. I can’t do this in the traffic. I’m listening to Mark Driscoll preach. It’s a topical message on the authority and the inspiration of the Bible. I got home and I wrote him, I said, “That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard on this.” Maybe I didn’t say that. I just said, “It was very very good.” That was how I felt about Mark Driscoll. I didn’t like everything about Mars Hill. I don’t like everything about your church.

Norm Funk: What? We should just stop this right now.

John Piper: There is no church that I like everything about, including my own.

With all that to say, I wasn’t blown away by Mark Driscoll, but I appreciated very much what I was hearing. There’s wine and there’s wineskins. The skins were not attractive to me. We had a relationship. We met. We talked. He talked of me as a mentor, an admired older guy, but I didn’t have as much influence as I wished I could.

To your question, it’s not a unique situation. In history, or in our day, Christians are failing. Lay people and pastors are failing every day, and bringing reproach upon the gospel. Individually at your office, if you’re known as a Christian and then you do something out of character, it brings reproach upon the gospel. Who has not let Jesus down? Something you should be witnessing, you didn’t witness. You feel bad in the evening. You let him down. This is not unique to leaders, and it’s not unique to Mark or Mars Hill.

That’s the first thing to say is that historically and now we are letting Jesus down regularly. We should be penitent people and be slow to judge; you got a log in your eye. Jesus says, “No, you got a log in your eye. You need to be careful. Get the log out before you take the speck out” . . . so a humble thing.

The second thing I’d say is biblically God has historically been willing—I’m thinking of Philippians 1 now—to use people to speak gospel truths who have motives and attitudes that are defective. It says in Philippians 1, they were preaching the gospel to make Paul feel bad in prison. That stinks. Paul says, “What then that Christ is proclaimed, whether good motives or bad motives I rejoice.”

One way to process Mars Hill or any other ministry that is defective, whether the defect implodes like Mars Hill or not, is to say, “God is unbelievably merciful to use you and me with our defects to speak gospel truth.” Put it in that category of, if you think Mark was defective in some biblical ways of leadership, which I think is true, and I think he admits are true, then you’ve got to have a category for gospel faithfulness in defective containers. We have a beautiful glorious treasure in a broken clay pot that can be worse than some people think it can be. That’s the second thing I’d say.

A third thing I’d say is, don’t throw the baby of truth out with the bathwater of sin. To walk away from Jesus because Jesus representatives are failures is to make an absurd choice. Jesus is our only hope. That he has bad representatives, including me at times, doesn’t make Jesus defective. Jesus is the one person in the universe who has no defects. He has no failures. If you walk away from the one person who has no failures because his representatives have failures, you’re walking away from the one hope of your life. That’s the main thing, I think, I’d say: “Don’t walk away from Jesus.”

The last thing that comes to my mind is, that when I look at history—I’m thinking centuries—God must be the kind of general over his army that willingly accepts tactical defeats for strategic victories. That was a defeat. That was a tragedy. The debacle in Seattle is a tragedy from untold angles. Lots of people hurt. It was a defeat for the gospel. It was a defeat for Mark. It was a defeat for evangelicalism. It was a defeat for Reformed theology, for complementarianism. It was a defect. Not trying to whitewash anything. It was a colossal Satanic victory, and the general is not out of control.

Norm Funk: Yeah, amen.

John Piper: The general didn’t say, “I don’t know what I’m going to be do in the Northwest now. I don’t have Mark Driscoll anymore. I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do in North America now.” He didn’t drop the ball, he’s not sweating, he’s not anxious. He is totally in charge of this war. He permitted a tactical defeat for the gospel. He has done it.

Just picture, the entire swath of North Africa used to be pervasively Christian. It’s now totally Muslim. Almost the entire Middle East has Christianity that went back way before Muslims came on the scene. Now predominately Islam. What’s God doing? Is he in charge of the world or what? How can he give that kind of tactical defeat to the Middle East and to North Africa? Seattle is small potatoes. North Africa, that’s pretty big. Middle East, that’s pretty big. Turkey? First Peter was written to Turkey. Christians everywhere in Turkey; today 52 million Muslims, and a tiny little handful of Christians.

Is God in charge? I’m totally convinced God’s in charge. He knows what he’s doing in this world. For those reasons, I don’t think people should walk away from Jesus, or Reformed theology, or complementarianism, or the church.

Norm Funk: Specific to that I go, “Pastor John, I’m not walking away from Jesus, but I’m done with the church. Can’t trust the leadership, held this guy in high esteem, so I’m not going to walk away from Jesus, but I’m done with the organized aspect of church.”

John Piper: If you do that, you’re walking away from Jesus. Here’s the reason; to say that I love Jesus, but I don’t submit to his Word is a lie. “He who loves me will keep my words.” Jesus founded the church. I didn’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus founded the church. He established apostles to be, according to Ephesians 2:20, the foundation of the church. Then he built it with prophets, and teachers, and pastors and ordained that there be a structure of local churches in the body of Christ called the church. This is not man’s idea.

There are a lot of young evangelicals who are cool, hip, and leftward leaning, who think they can substitute something for organized church. I would have to look at what they’re substituting and say, “Well, really, are you just creating church, trying to create church?” If you’re trying to create church, just create it biblically or start a biblical church. That means listening to your master, and his Word, and his apostles.

The choice of Jesus over church implies a choice of your opinion over the Bible, because the Bible is where we meet Jesus. You can’t make Jesus up. You can’t make him up. He is the Jesus of the Bible, or he’s the Jesus of your imagination. If he’s the Jesus of the Bible, you take the whole Jesus. You can’t carve him up in pieces. The whole Jesus is the Jesus who loves the church. He died for the church.