I picked up a copy of Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five Perspectives at the library recently. It’s one of those point/counterpoint books, in which five church leaders (Mark Driscoll, John Burke, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, and Karen Ward) each write a chapter on what they believe about the church’s role, and the other four authors all make a short response/rebuttal.
The first chapter, called “The Emerging Church and Biblicist Theology”, is by Seattle’s own Mark Driscoll – pastor of the Calvinist hipster megachurch Mars Hill Church, blogger at TheResurgence, and all-around bad-boy of the conservative evangelical subculture (Donald Miller’s famously referred to him in Blue Like Jazz as “Mark the cussing pastor”). Mark’s main objective in his chapter, as evidenced by the 700 (!) Scripture verses he references in the endnotes, is “to defend the traditional Protestant doctrines of scriptural authority, the Trinitarian nature of God, and the substitutionary atonement” (p.16, from the introduction by Robert Webber).
Mark represents a passionate adherence to the particulars of a Reformed evangelical theology, and in that sense, is not typically emerging. He is a theological traditionalist leading a cutting-edge church that ministers primarily to the new emerging generation. (ibid.)
I think that his perspective is valid, and I understand the concern of [some] theological “conservatives” that some doctrinal essentials are being overlooked or ignored [by some] in the “emerging conversation”. With that said, however, I think that Mark setting himself up as the arbiter of truth is a bit disingenuous. “This chapter is my attempt to address three of the hottest theological issues in our day and to correct emerging error with biblical orthodoxy” (p.21). I get the impression that he thinks that he’s the only one that does theology; that if everyone else would just read the Bible and take it seriously, they would come to the same conclusions that he has.
The following lengthy quote is from pages 34-35. It’s the climax of his chapter, in which he defines and defends his position on hell:
The following Old Testament truths about hell are worthy of note:
- Hell is unending, conscious, loathsome torment.159
- Heaven and hell will have people in them forever.160
Also, Jesus had much to say about hell, including the following:
- The pain in hell will be excruciating, causing “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”161
- The torture in hell comes from Jesus.162
- Jesus is coming to throw people into the fiery furnace of hell.163
- The physical pain of hell is like being burned in a fire.164
- Unrepentant sinners will be thrown into a fiery hell.165
- Hypocrites will be butchered and spend eternity in pain.166
- God will send unbelievers to the same fate as Satan and demons.167
- Jesus said the eternal torment of Isaiah 66:22-24 is literally coming.168
- The punishment of hell is like a painful beating.169
- Hell is a place of unending torment.170
Lastly, the apostles also speak of hell in the following terms:
- Jesus will repay unrepentant sinners with everlasting destruction.171
- Jesus today holds the unrighteous in punishment.172
- Jesus will rule over hell as well as heaven.173
- Hell is like spending eternity in a fiery lake of burning sulfur.174
159 Is 66.22-24
160 Dn 12.1-2
161 Mt 8.11-12; 13.40-42, 49-50; 22.13; 24.50-51; 25.30; Lk 13.27-28
162 Mt 8.29; Mk 1.24; 5.7
163 Mt 13.40-42, 49-50; 22.13; 25.30
164 Mt 13.49-50; 18.8-9; 25.41; Mk 9.43-48; Lk 16.19-31
165 Mt 18.8-9; Mk 9.43-48
166 Mt 24.50-51
167 Mt 25.41
168 Mk 9.43-48
169 Lk 12.46-48
170 Lk 16.19-31
171 2Th 1.6-9
172 2Pt 2.9
173 Rv 14.9-11
174 Rv 19.20; 20.10-15; 21.8
Honestly, this section has me fuming. To my reading, Mark’s tone seems to be giddy to “correct [this] emerging error”. I can understand and respect that people hold to the traditional doctrine of hell as “eternal, conscious torment”, but I just can’t deal with the smugness, superiority and presumption that he exudes here.
Additionally, I think that his over-eagerness to stand up for orthodoxy causes him to overstate his arguments. I didn’t have the time or energy to investigate all the verses he cited, but two of the claims struck me as preposterous, if not disgusting – and here I find his exegesis dubious at best:
- The torture in hell comes from Jesus
Mt 8.29 – “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
Mk 1.24 – “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
Mk 5.7 – He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”
So, some demons ask Jesus not to torture them, and Mark sees this as saying that Jesus does torture? That’s just wrong – not to mention that even if it were a valid argument, the passages in question are about demons, not people.
- Jesus is coming to throw people into the fiery furnace of hell
Mt 13.40-42, 49-50; 22.13; 25.30 – all variations on The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Quite simply, these verses do not say what Driscoll says they say.
I’m done. If anyone wants to evaluate the rest of his claims, that’s fine; I think I’m going to wash my hands of this whole thing. It’s neither useful nor helpful in living an authentic, spiritual life – rather, it seems to be only concerned with defining the boundary markers of acceptable belief, in order to decide who’s in and who’s out. I’m tired of it.