Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mark Driscoll: The Face of Contemplative Calvinism

Posted by Christine Pack

Okay, it's official.  Mark Driscoll is a problem.  I hate to say this because I started out really, really liking him.  I first heard about Driscoll when my husband and I were searching for a good church.  Shouldn't be too hard, we thought, after all, there's a church on every corner in the Bible belt.  How naively optimistic we were.  But in the midst of this search that stretched into weeks, then months, and then went well past the year mark, God providentially provided for my spiritual growth by bringing a great radio show called Wretched, hosted by Todd Friel, into my life.  It was clear from listening to this program that Friel was reformed, as my husband and I were.  And as he often featured reformed pastors and teachers, this show was a a treasure trove of good teaching.  So when a pastor or teacher was featured on the show, I would Google them, find their church, and download tons of sermons and great teaching.  I was a happy little sheep.  I was being well fed, even though we still had not yet found a church home.

It was on this show (Wretched) that I was first introduced to - besides Mark Driscoll - John MacArthur, Bob DeWaay, Robert Glenn, Paul Washer, David Wheaton, Alistair Begg, Phil Johnson, Mark Dever, Voddie Baucham, and others.  Wow.  I mean, just right there, you've got a lifetime worth of listening and reading materials.

With Driscoll, as was my usual pattern, I went to his church website and downloaded a bunch of sermons.  There was a lot to like about Driscoll.  He was funny.  He was smart.  He appeared to be all buttoned up with his doctrine.  He was bringing good teaching to the astonishingly Godless area of the Pacific northwest.  And all was well until I began listening to his sermon series on Song of Songs.  I couldn't put my finger on why, but the series made me uncomfortable.  This was probably three years ago.  No matter. I had so many other good downloads from other teacher/pastors, I could just put Mark Driscoll aside, which I did.

Now I have a new reason to be even more uncomfortable with Mark Driscoll: he's promoting contemplative prayer and how to hear personal words from God.

From a recent post by Winfield Bevins at Driscoll's website Resurgence:

Steps for Meditative Prayer

  1. Designate a quiet place. In a world full of distractions, we need a quiet place where we can allow God to speak to us. The most effective place to pray is where you are least likely to be disturbed.
  2. Give yourself 20-30 minutes. Many people only spend a few minutes each day in prayer. Very few people actually spend time in meditative prayer. It takes time to drown out the cares of the world, sit, prayerfully meditate on God's word, and then allow him to speak to us.
  3. Choose Scripture to prayerfully meditate on. Prayerfully select a passage of Scripture that means something to you. Let it either focus on the goodness of God, the promises of God, or the worship of God.
  4. Allow God to speak to you. This is the hardest part. Many people never hear the Lord speak to them simply because they don't allow him to. We need to sit and listen for the voice of the Lord. Samuel was open to hearing from the Lord (1 Samuel 3). He said, "Speak, for your servant hears." 
Just for the record, I'm going to go over what I think is a very remedial point one more time, though I've gone over this in a few posts already.
Mysticism ("personal words from God") = the Opposite of Sola Scriptura
Let me explain.  Reformed Christians believe in the Solas of the Reformation.  It was the Solas that rescued the church out of the mire of the man-made traditions of Roman Catholic Monasticism which had a vice-like grip, up until that point, on Christendom.  Sola Scriptura is one of the Five Solas, and it simply means that we understand the Bible to clearly teach that the way we "hear" from God is through the Bible.  The Bible addresses this very specifically in the book of Hebrews, explaining that before the finished canon, God spoke to his people through prophets of his designation, but that once Jesus came, he was our final and greatest Prophet, and now speaks to us through his Word:
"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Contemplative prayer, on the other hand, is a form of mysticism that has nothing to do with Biblical meditation and study of the Word.  Rather, it is derived from Roman Catholic Monastic practices (which in turn borrowed liberally from the pagan religious practices of the east).  Contemplative prayer involves corralling, or emptying, the mind for the purpose of "hearing from God." Contemplative prayer is a technique which puts the practitioner into an altered state of consciousness. But nowhere in Scripture is this practice described or commanded.  Mysticism is what pagans conjure up in lieu of truth.  Thankfully, Christians already have the Truth and can know it through God's merciful provision of the Word.  We must not yield in this area.

John Wesley had a famous saying that I love: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, but not in the way it is often used today.  Today's Christians will often quote this whenever there is any kind of disagreement, without first ascertaining whether or not the issue of concern is a matter of essential doctrine.  This saying, rightly understood, means that we must first be able to distinguish between the essentials and the non-essentials.  Fellow Christians have tried to convince me that this type of contemplative prayer is simply a matter of personal conviction, or in other words, a non-essential, an area of liberty. It is not.

Another saying - the one that became the motto of the Reformation period - might help steady our thinking in this regard:
"Post tenebras lux" ("After the darkness, light.")
Meaning, after the darkness of the middle ages, which were characterized by a syncretized blend of man-made traditions and paganism, came the piercing light of truth, brought forth by the reformers, and literally paid for with their own blood.  The people of Martin Luther's day, because they could not read God's Word for themselves, were in terrible spiritual bondage to the whims of the Roman Catholic church.  Do we esteem God's Word so little that we would allow it to be paganized again?  Truth must be protected.  We must reject the false teaching of pastors who claim to be Calvinists but who embrace the contemplative practices of the Roman Catholic Monastic period.

I still love Todd Friel's radio show Wretched, and still get great teaching from it.  Those guys do a great job over there, and they must not be faulted simply for giving a forum to someone whose teaching went south on us. This happens with some regularity, but is always shocking nonetheless.  J.I. Packer, for instance, wrote the astonishing Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God......but then signed Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) in 1994.  Billy Graham has had an amazing life filled with powerful gospel preaching, but in recent years has made heartbreaking statements challenging the exclusivity of Christ.

The curious case of Mark Driscoll should simply be a reminder to all of us that we must evaluate all teaching against the truth of Scripture.  As my pastor sometimes jokes, you're never really sure about where anyone stands until after they've died.  Meaning, if they hold the line till the very end, then they're most likely solid (but after all, only God truly knows the heart).

 Additional Resources 

Crosstalk Interview: Evangelical Leaders Pushing Mysticism

Mystical Calvinists?

Neo-Calvinist Contemplative Spirituality

Personal Words From God? by Bob DeWaay (part 1)

Personal Words From God? by Bob DeWaay (part 2)