"A Call to Resurgence" by Mark Driscoll (Book Review)
You may love him, you may hate him, but you’ve definitely heard of him and you’ve undoubtedly got an opinion about him. Mark Driscoll is pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, co-founder of the Acts 29 Network, and the author of several bestselling books. The newest of these books may well prove the most controversial. A Call to Resurgence poses this question: Will Christianity have a funeral or a future? This is a book about the past, the present and the future of the Christian faith, particularly in the United States of America.
The fact is, Christendom is dead. The Christian faith that once existed in the background of American life and culture has diminished to such an extent that America is now a post-Christian nation. “Christians are ostracized. Gay marriage is celebrated. Abortion is literally destroying an entire generation. The bandwagon has stopped carrying us and has started running over us.” This is happening all around us, yet many Christians remain oblivious. “The church is dying, and no one is noticing because we’re wasting time criticizing rather than evangelizing.”
But, says Driscoll, this is not the time to debate. This is not a time for retreat but for resurgence. “We’ve got work to do. There are lost people to reach, churches to plant, and nations to evangelize. Hell is hot, forever is a long time, and it’s our turn to stop making a dent and start making a difference. This is no time to trade in boots for flip-flops. The days are darker, which means our resolve must be stronger and our convictions clearer.” “This book is an unflinching look at what we’re up against and what it will take to not just survive but to thrive and accomplish the mission God has given us to extend a hand of rescue to those drowning all around us.”
Driscoll believes he has been providentially situated to help the church in this time. He has spent the last twenty years of his life pastoring a church in the mission field of Seattle and believes that what was once unique to that city is now true of the entire nation. “I am convinced,” he says, “that what my church has seen become normative in our city will soon become normative elsewhere. The tsunami of cultural change hit our beach first, which puts us in a position to help others learn from our fruit and our failure. Maybe our little church plant was like Noah’s dove, sent to explore the landscape of a new world.” Thus he regards A Call to Resurgence as a kind of prophetic book through which he can lead the church in her response to these new realities.
Let me give a flying overview of the book to show how he builds his case and what he proposes as a solution. I will then share a few of my observations.
In chapter two, titled “Standing Knockout: How We Got Our Bell Rung,” he provides a brief history of evangelicalism. He traces its decline to Christians happily existing by themselves in their own little enclaves without seriously engaging the world, without earnestly evangelizing, and with far too much bickering with other Christians. He looks at some of the cultural forces that have pummelled Christianity with a series of hits: New Paganism, homosexuality, pornography, intolerant tolerance, bad dads, and cheap Christians.
Chapter three is titled “A New Reality: From Modernism to Everythingism to Tribalism.” With a nod to Seth Godin, he shows how tribalism is now more prominent than denominationalism and describes some of the common tribal commitments within Christianity. He highlights four questions and shows how Christian tribes may be distinguished by their answers to these questions.
- Are you Reformed or Arminian?
- Are you complementarian or egalitarian?
- Are you continuationist or cessationist?
- Are you missional or fundamental?
He then builds profiles based on the possible answers. So, if you are Reformed, complementarian, cessationist and fundamentalist, “you probably like Together for the Gospel, the Gospel Coalition, Nine Marks, R.C. Sproul, reading books by dead guys, expository preachers who wear suits and have bad bands at their services, and wish this book had more footnotes and fewer jokes.” Driscoll himself is a tribal chief within the Reformed, complementarian, continuationist and missional tribe. “You probably have an occasional bad attitude, tattoo, impressive theological library and liquor cabinet, ESV Study Bible, entire collection of the latest indie rock, flannel shorts, and boots for no reason as you do zero logging.”
While tribalism is an unfortunate reality to life in a sinful world, it also represents a great danger to the church because it tempts us to fight one another instead of fighting for gospel advance. For Christians to continue to make a mark in this world, we need to avoid the extremes of “theological hard conservatism (which fights for too much) and theological hard liberalism (which fights for too little).”
Chapter 4 explores how tribes can hold to their convictions and still work together. He provides a picture based on geography.
- Your local church is your home;
- churches you partner with are your neighborhood;
- the tribe you identify with most closely is your state;
- the tribes most like yours are regions within a nation;
- and “Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, sin-repenting, Kingdom-serving Christianity” is the nation.
So for Driscoll, Mars Hill is his home; like-minded churches are his neighborhood; the distinctives of Reformed, complementarian, continuationist and missional form the borders of his state; his region is other evangelical churches that love Jesus, believe the Bible and are led by Bible preaching; and Protestant Christianity is his nation. He can and will work with anyone inside that nation, even when there is loving disagreement on issues like Arminianism, egalitarianism, cessationism, and/or fundamentalism.
Of course for this to be effective, there needs to be agreement on the “national boundaries,” the doctrines that unite us by separating true believers and true churches from those that are fraudulent or outright heretical. Here Driscoll puts forth thirteen theses, each of which has to do with a specific doctrine.
Chapter 5 is titled “The Holy Spirit: Empowering the Church For Mission.” Driscoll is convicted about maintaining the unity of the Spirit and believes that unity of the Spirit requires unity about the Spirit. He provides a brief theology of the Holy Spirit that is consistent with his continuationist convictions. He affirms the existence of the miraculous gifts and gives a fair bit of attention to speaking in tongues, acknowledging the validity of this gift, but saying he does not have it. The main focus of the chapter, though, is giving attention to the Spirit’s role in empowering evangelism and bringing about conversion. He says, “Any truly Spirit-empowered ministry is not marked primarily by private spiritual experience but rather by the public proclamation of the gospel that leads to the salvation of sinners.”
Chapter 6 deals with “Repentance: A Biblical Response.” Here he revisits the cultural issues that have rung the church’s bell (see chapter two) and suggests how we can repent of these, not simply admitting our faults, but making real and lasting changes. In every case, Christians can go to the Bible and learn how we can stand out from the world around us.
The seventh and final chapter, “Mission,” offers seven principles for resurgence. “As we seek to encourage the preaching of the gospel for, the planting of churches by, and the discipling of the Gentiles of our day, there are some missiological principles that have proved helpful in Seattle.” He warns that these are principles, not methods, and provides a stern warning against “methodolatry.” They are:
- Preach the Word. The primacy of preaching.
- Love the Church. The centrality of the local church and the special importance of cities.
- Contend and contextualize. Be willing to contextualize the Christian faith without tampering with it.
- Be attractional and missional. Every church needs to be cautiously attractional with a commitment to being missional.
- Receive, reject, redeem. Cultural engagement involves three options: receiving some, rejecting some, redeeming the rest.
- Consider the common good. Do good to the people around you and not only the Christians and not only to those who receive your acts of love with immediate joy.
- Evangelize through suffering. The cultural shift away from Christianity necessarily entails future suffering; be prepared to use such suffering as a platform to share the gospel.
He closes the book with one more call to see before us an unprecedented opportunity for mission. “Christendom may have died, but in that death there is a real opportunity for a resurgence of biblically faithful, personally humble, evangelistically fruitful, missional Christianity.”
There is much to agree with and to commend in A Call to Resurgence.
I appreciate his desire to waken a slumbering church. We are, indeed, in a new age and Christianity’s influence has clearly waned. What we once took for granted, what we once assumed, we no longer can. Too many Christians have missed this great shift in society as they’ve remained safe inside their holy huddles. Driscoll’s desire to see the saved awakened so we can see the lost saved is commendable. I appreciate his clear and bold calls to action.
I appreciate his emphasis on tribalism. While I hope we eventually come up with better terminology than “tribe,” I agree that denominations are fading in favor of less formal and more fluid relationships built on common commitments to secondary matters. I believe this tribalism is a product of this new, digital world. Whether it is a good or bad development will have to be a topic for another day.
I appreciate his desire to promote gospel agreement and gospel advance between tribes. We are bound by Scripture and conscience to hold to our convictions, but we also need to understand that secondary convictions must never become primary. We are always fighting the tendency to flee into our safe little enclaves and to be defined more by what separates us than what unites us. There are ways in which we can and must cross boundaries in order to help one another as we carry out our God-given mission.
These are just a handful of the many commendable qualities of A Call to Resurgence. I also have a few concerns, but will dwell on the two most prominent.
I am concerned about his criteria. Driscoll calls for Christians to work together despite their tribal loyalties. Because there are tribes that are opposed to the gospel, we need to consider the ones we can work with and the ones we cannot. Here Driscoll provides seven black-and-white issues that must be in place for a tribe to be considered evangelical:
- the Bible as God’s perfect and authoritative Word;
- one God in three persons (Trinity);
- human sinfulness by nature and by choice;
- Jesus as fully God and fully man who lived without sin, died in our place for our sins, and rose from the dead;
- salvation bestowed by the grace of God when a sinner turns from sin and trusts in Jesus alone through faith alone;
- new birth through the Holy Spirit;
- eternal heaven for believers and eternal hell for unbelievers.
I believe these criteria are too broad. Sound theology demands nuance, and that nuance is missing in these broad descriptions. Defining Trinity as “one God in three persons” still permits error and outright heresy. It is noteworthy that Driscoll’s list of Christian tribal leaders includes Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Joseph Prince, and T.D. Jakes (whom he has met and commends as a humble, Christian leader). I am not familiar with all of these people, but am comfortable stating that at least Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are false teachers who teach blatant, damnable error. Yet they would also, I believe, affirm the criteria he sets. T.D. Jakes can adhere to the heresy of modalism and still affirm that he believes in one God in three persons.
The criteria Driscoll uses to distinguish true from false Christians are simply insufficient. Either they need to be expanded, or we need an accompanying list of denials to go along with the affirmations. Any methodology that rates the difference between John MacArthur and Joel Osteen or R.C. Sproul and T.D. Jakes as a secondary issue between brothers is more than a little troublesome.
I am concerned with too little emphasis on discernment. I am concerned that A Call to Resurgence quietly commends those who run quickly to the pursuit of unity and quietly condemns those who hold back in an attempt to exercise cautious discernment. I have often observed that we are prone to criticize those who are careful and cautious discerners far more than we criticize those who pursue a reckless unity. Unity is a glorious quality and one we need to pursue, but we must not do so at the expense of discernment. And maybe we saw a glimpse of this in Driscoll’s actions last week, appearing at the Strange Fire conference—sponsored by John MacArthur and opposing charismatic theology—and passing out his own book there before commenting on social media that his books had been confiscated (something the evidence seemingly contradicts). His calls for maturity and unity appear to clash with his own actions.
Holding these two concerns together, I genuinely appreciate Driscoll’s desire to have Christians work with others beyond their tribe, but I believe he errs too far in the other direction and neglects to call out some false teachers and neglects to give clear criteria that will allow us to do so. His desire for unity is commendable, but even while we reach across the aisle to some we will need to be willing to unflinchingly reject and condemn others. I can hardly overemphasize the danger that may come here. I believe wholly in the value and necessity of working across tribal lines, but we must never do this at the expense of the primary doctrinal issues of the Christian faith.
A Call to Resurgence appears to find Mark Driscoll in a kind of transition. He has gained a lot of authority and notoriety in a relatively thin slice of the Christian world. It seems that he is now assuming leadership of a different kind, widening his scope to speak to all evangelicals. If they listen, they will hear much that is good and valuable and much that will spur them to greater action. Unfortunately, A Call to Resurgence could have been a much stronger book had Driscoll given more attention to careful discernment and the necessity of committing equally to truth and love.
(Note: This review was prepared using an Advance Reader Copy provided by the publisher; they warn that content may not be final.)