Driscoll’s “Confessions”: The Gospel of Masculinity

confessionsThis book review is part of a series. See Intro | Part 1 | Part 2.

“…I fashion myself as the self-appointed leader of a heterosexual male backlash in our overly chickified city filled with guys drinking herbal tea and rocking out to Mariah Carey in their lemon yellow Volkswagen Cabriolets…” ~ Mark Driscoll

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think that Driscoll is–or at least was, in the early years of his ministry–terribly insecure in his manhood. His preoccupation with “manliness” doesn’t just border on obsession; it has set up a throne in the central district. He appears desperate to be seen as a man’s man in spite of his health and occupation:

“I had grown facial hair, started cussing again…and briefly considered taking up smoking but had asthma, which kept me from achieving my full cool potential” (loc 718).

“During this time, I was suffering from vertigo. I had taught at a conference on a cruise ship, and something got messed up in my inner ear. I spent the year feeling incredibly dizzy because of a strange syndrome that usually happens only to middle-aged menopausal women after a cruise. It was not the manly diagnosis I was hoping for, such as being dizzy because I had too much testosterone in my body” (loc 1929).

“Sadly, the weakest men are often drawn to ministry simply because it is an indoor job that does not require heavy lifting” (loc 775).

That last quote nearly caused me to hurl my Kindle across the room. Driscoll spends more than a little ink putting down other ministers of the gospel, calling into question their passion, faithfulness and manhood. By that point, I had had my fill of it…and I was only in Chapter 1.

A while back, I wrote a blog post in which I mentioned that modern American masculinity is “reinforced and policed by a heavy dose of homophobia.” Driscoll proves the point. He is one of the most homophobic pastors I have ever read, and that’s saying something. It is obvious that gay people and even straight men who don’t fit his narrow version of masculinity disgust him.

“Scrambling for ideas, I agreed to cancel a Sunday service and let some of our long-haired public-radio types take us outside to do a large joint art project they had proposed. They gave each of us a large chunk of paper on which to paint something that symbolized our personality, which they would then string together as a large mural highlighting the different personalities in our church. As a truck-driving jock who watches a lot of Ultimate Fighting, I can honestly say it was the gayest thing I have ever been a part of. I feared ending up with a church of chickified arty dudes drinking herbal tea and standing around talking about their feelings, as illustrated by their finger painting” (loc 1012).

Driscoll’s hyper-masculinity is at the center of his theology. He complains that postmodern churches have created a “vegetable-munching hippie Christ” who “loves people no matter what their lives are like” (loc 598). Driscoll’s Christ, by contrast, has a tattoo “with fire blazing in his eyes and a sword launching from his mouth, with which to make war on the unrepentant.” In Driscoll’s view, teaching men to be Christ-like means teaching them to be masculine. To Driscoll, the main source of sin and depravity in the world is men who drink tea instead of beer and wear pumps instead of boots. His obsession with masculinity even causes him to twist scripture:

“Too often this last point is overlooked, but when Paul said that a pastor must fight like a soldier, train like an athlete, and work hard like a farmer, he had in mind the manliest of men leading the church (2 Tim. 2:1-7)” (loc 774).

First of all, it’s more than a bit presumptuous for Driscoll to claim that he knows exactly what Paul had in mind when he penned that paragraph 2,000 years ago. And second, that’s not what Paul said.

Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. ~ 2 Timothy 2:3-6

So the correct wording is that a pastor (Timothy, specifically) would suffer like a soldier and compete like an athlete. One who suffers like a soldier is one that does his duty as commanded, even when it is difficult or painful. One who competes like an athlete is one who follows the rules of the game and demonstrates good sportsmanship. This show of character on behalf of the gospel is certainly not–nor should it be–limited to men only. There are female ministers and missionaries living as good examples to others and suffering for the sake of the gospel around the world. Driscoll’s obsession with masculinity causes him to mishandle scripture–and create a “gospel” for men only.

So, just how obsessed is he?

Well, in the book, he says he fired a faithful, talented worship leader simply because he couldn’t coordinate worship services at three locations and hired Tim, a youth worship leader in Missouri, who “had never played in a band, written a song, or played an electric guitar. Additionally, he did not know how to sing, and it sounded like he had been hit by a car when he tried to hit high notes” (loc 2082).

With a city literally oozing with professional musical talent, why on earth would Driscoll handpick a talent-less hack from 2,000 miles away to lead worship for a 3,000+ member megachurch?

“But I really liked Tim because he is one of the few manly men whom I have ever seen leading worship. I am not supposed to say this, but most of the worship dudes I have heard are not very dudely. They seem to be very in touch with their feelings and exceedingly chickified from playing too much acoustic guitar and singing prom songs to Jesus while channeling Michael Bolton and flipping their hair. Tim was a guy who brewed his own beer, smoked a pipe, rock climbed, mountain biked, river rafted, carried a knife on his belt, and talked about what he thought more than he felt” (loc 2087).

The thing is, Driscoll started his church in Seattle, one of the biggest art and music centers in the United States. Seattle also has a significant LGBTQ community. Driscoll says he wanted to reach and minister to the whole city, but he cannot even stomach an artistic, alternative-looking person holding a visible position in his church. He cannot muster the most basic respect and empathy for sexual minorities. If I had been a gay person living in Seattle, I would never have attended Driscoll’s church…at least, not after he opened his mouth. Driscoll’s “gospel” isn’t rooted in the redemption of Christ, but in the masculinity of Christ…and those aren’t the same things.

8 responses to “Driscoll’s “Confessions”: The Gospel of Masculinity

  1. First, let me say how much I am enjoying your writings, April. Second, I think the dude doth protest too much. This type of fixation usually has a history. I’m guessing he has either struggled with homosexual feelings himself or he hash been the object of homosexual love. If I wasn’t so enraged at how his popularity has set women back in the church, I would be sad for him.

    • Kellie, I agree with your comments that Driscoll doth protest too much. There’s a reason he is also fixated on masculinity,acting masculine, and hiring someone who has no skills for a particular job but is very masculine. It goes hand-in-hand with your comments.

  2. Trying to read this made me throw up in my mouth…this “evil” (live spelled backwards) is the same kind of thing I experienced in my 30 year marriage to a gay man. He held and hid behind a bullshit “machismo” while hiding who he was from the world. If not for my severe abuse (sexual, emotional, physical) as a child I would have never fallen for it.
    If women in churches are buying into his stuff, then it speaks to how poorly they are treated. I bailed on the “Evangelicals” as a teenager, but fell into the trap of what looked like a “good” marriage—and was abused emotionally for far too long, because all I had were “pictures” with no knowledge of what the emotional content “should” look like.
    We have fallen so far away from decency that the idea that a 3 times married, porn star wife, morally and $$$ bankrupt jerk is the leading “families value” candidate. And a good man and his family have been put through hell while leading this country through pitfalls and snares left by the previous administration’s nasty financial meltdown.
    Most of the “decent” people I know are like me, having left “churchiness”, “truthiness”, and a lot of the other failed religiousity spaces behind. Some of the most horrible people I dealt with as a child were the “righteous” for they had slipped a little more to the right and become “self-righteous” and were exceedingly cruel.
    There is just what “IS”, and “ISness” tells me that kindness and the idea of ” do NOT do unto others what you would NOT have them do unto you” is the way to go. The “Do unto others” gets messy really fast–i.e. “I wanted to sex her because I wanted her to sex me, so I was just doing unto her as I wished her to do to me”. I can see the “Do not” as being a lot clearer,
    So if people are hungry, feed them. If they need help, pay for it. That’s what I do. I don’t have much, being chronically ill and living on alimony… but I can occasionally buy the grocery cart in front of me’s food, (or have the manager give 20–50$ prepaid cards to each of the cashiers to help the person they choose in line) or pay for the car repair of the stressed out single mother as she’s trying to deal with the hopelessness of a twice as expensive car repair bill than she was expecting…that feels a lot better to me than paying for some mega pastors BMW’s and swimming pools.
    Judgemental?–heck yeah! That’s what I learned from the church I grew up in. I’ve been working on rectifying it ever since! All I know for sure is I like to let the cashiers choose the people to help, because they know better than I do, but if I get moved while standing in line, I act on it. I don’t know how to be good, I just work on being a better me…

    • Elise,
      I just want to apologize to you on behalf of the “evangelicals” that did you wrong (not that you are looking for an apology). As one that left a successful career as a firefighter to answer the call into full-time ministry, it breaks my heart to hear about others sullying the role.

      While I don’t know the full story of what exactly happened to you, it sounds down right deplorable. I do hope that you know that is not the example that Christ laid out for Christians, especially Christian leaders, to follow. Unfortunately, the church (in the institutional sense) is made up of a bunch fallen people that get the Great Commission wrong. But the church (as in the body of Christ, or gathering of true believers), realize that they are in need of God’s grace like everyone else, if not more so. They are the ones that get the idea of “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And to love your neighbor as yourself.”

      Like I said, I know you were not looking for an apology, and definitely not a response from another “evangelical”, but I just felt the need to let you know that Jesus is all about love and his followers (not just in word but in action) are too.

      I do hope that you (and anyone else hurt by “Christians”) will consider giving Jesus another look. Sorry for being so wordy. Take care.

      “For this is how God LOVED the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
      ‭‭John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬
      http://bible.com/116/jhn.3.16.nltJohn 3:16

      “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
      ‭‭1 John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

  3. I haven’t read your other posts on this yet (definitely going to check them out) but just from reading these examples you quoted here, it’s incredible how many times he expresses disgust at other men for feeling comfortable knowing and expressing their own feelings. This is a textbook example of the way rigid gender roles in our society are crippling men emotionally. Like when he says “…most of the worship dudes I have heard are not very dudely. They seem to be very in touch with their feelings and exceedingly chickified…” Since when is being in touch with one’s feelings a negative thing? He’s so rigid in his definitions of gender roles that he consciously attributes not just being an emotional person (the usual stereotype) but understanding one’s emotions with being female. Oh the horror of being a man who knows himself! That can’t create confidence or anything.

  4. Driscoll and I have never met, and that is probably a good thing because I would have ended up similarly portrayed in one of his books. I am an egg headed, glasses-wearing nerd who researches, analyzes, and writes—and feelings (both good and bad) are front and center in my life—love music and art, etc.

    Just as another point of reference on this, Douglas W. Frank (1986) has written a book entitled “Less than Conquerors: How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century.” Doug is a Christian and a professional historian who works (or at least used to work) at the Oregon Extension. (You can Google that.) He makes the point in his book, and belabors it too, that famous American evangelist Billy Sunday was possessed by this very same infatuation with some odd brand of “machismo.” It came out in his sermons where he would talk about “real men” being Christians and how he would like to haul off and slug this unbeliever or that unbeliever like a real man would do. I see so much similarity in the two that I have to wonder whether Driscoll sees Billy Sunday as some sort of historical role model—and he is trying to channel him through the pain that inflicts his own soul. You might want to look into that as you further pursue an understanding of Rev. Driscoll.