While Jonathan read the entire book, I (Carrie) only read three chapters of it. So Jonathan wrote up the gist of this and our comments are intermingled throughout and, well, you'll see....
Jonathan: Although Carrie does most of the reading in the family, occasionally I'm drawn to a particular title and am able to devote a few hours to a good book. Such was the case for Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions by Mark Driscoll. We'd heard of Mark Driscoll before, as the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, with a particularly bold leadership style that has attracted a large following.
Carrie: I have to say that this book made me nervous because I was confusing Driscoll's Mars Hill Church with Rob Bell's Mars Hill Church. They are not affiliated with one another. Bell is part of the emergent church movement. Mark Driscoll stands opposed to it. Once I understood that fact, reading this book was not a problem.
Jonathan: The fundamental concept behind this book caught my attention immediately. Driscoll set out to discover the most controversial questions facing the current generation of Christians, with the intention of writing a book to address those specific issues directly from scripture.
After working through the 343,203 votes cast in his online poll, the following "grab bag" subjects presented themselves, with each receiving a chapter in the book:
- The Regulative Principle (How concretely does scripture dictate the methodology of a church service?)
- The Emerging Church (What aspects of theology and methodology are seeing revision in "emerging" churches?)
- Dating (How does a Christian date righteously?)
- Faith and Works (If salvation is by faith alone, why are there so many confusing verses about works?)
- Sexual Sin (How should Christians pursue breaking free from the bondage of sexual sin?)
- Grace (How does the grace of God and salvation apply to the various stages of our Christian lives?)
- Predestination (Why would God create people he foreknows will suffer eternal condemnation?)
- Humor (What kind of sarcastic jokes are appropriate in addressing sinful behaviors, knowing that we are called to evangelize the lost?)
- Birth Control (What kind of direction does the Bible give that can be applied to a policy around birth control?)
Carrie: I read three of the chapters in this book. First, I read the chapter surrounding questions involving the concept of the Emerging Church. I appreciated the way that Driscoll laid out his explanations for the various church movements, pointing out the differences between the reformed vs. liberals. I thought he did a really good job laying out the perspectives and it helped me make sense of things and understand who some of the key players are and where they are coming from.
Secondly, I read the chapter on Birth Control (and was offended by about half of its content because I thought it was more explicit than it had need to be) and lastly I read the chapter on Biblical Humor and really can't say that I think much of Driscoll's method of communication. Basically - he thinks he's funny and I don't. He likes to reference Doug Wilson. A lot. But I walked away feeling like he was using Wilson as an excuse to attempt his variety of humor, and it wasn't backed up by anything really solid in the scripture department, and therefore I was less than impressed.
Jonathan: In my reading of this book, I found that, in general, my theology agrees solidly with Driscoll's arguments. His theology is practical and down-to-earth reformed doctrine, without much sugar-coating. His writing style is conversational, yet at the same time very studied, like listening to an engaging lecture series by a seminar professor on "Apply Christian Doctrine To Our Lives And Culture".
Carrie: I agree with Jonathan in saying that my theology tends to agree with Driscoll's. He just communicates in such a way that really grates on my nerves and makes it hard(er) for me to admit to the fact. As Jonathan said, his writing style is conversational which also makes it controversial. That said, I'm willing to extend some grace here because I really like Doug Wilson and, having sat under his teaching for almost a year when I lived in Idaho, I can "hear" him talking in his writing. I have seen how Wilson can be misquoted and misunderstood, because the way that he communicates is risky. However, "knowing" him helps. I don't know Driscoll which makes reading him somewhat problematic. I've never heard him speak. And so I read what he has written here and I have to grit my teeth and try to catch the gist of the message and assume his attitude. When the smoke stops pouring out of my ears long enough, and I go back and re-read paragraphs, I find that I typically agree with him.
Jonathan: Driscoll's responses to each of the questions in this book are pretty thorough, but they stop short of becoming tiresome. They are extremely rooted in scripture (very much appreciated!) and he includes as much foundational doctrine as is necessary to address each issue, without going overboard or off on tangents.
I particularly appreciated the analogies he used to drive certain points home. One that really struck me was related to the issue of, "If God has predestined the eternal condition of people, why does he include us in the process of evangelism?" Driscoll writes,
"We should evangelize the lost because God has chosen to work through our ministry efforts to save people. He does this so that we would share in his joy and get to know the heart of our Father better. Similarly, when I was a little boy, my dad was a union construction worker who hung sheet rock. I still remember the times when I dressed up like my pop, donning overalls, a white T-shirt, steel-toed boots, and a miniature hard hat, and packed up my lunch box and thermos to go to work with my dad. He would give me a few tasks throughout the day, and by working with my dad I got to know him better and spend time in his world. God is a Father like that. He needs people like me to evangelize the world no more than my dad needed a little boy to build an apartment complex, but he takes his kids to work because he loves them and wants to be with them doing what he loves." (p. 97)His approach of teaching directly to the controversial questions being asked by people is similar to the book of 1 Corinthians, where Paul answers a series of questions posed by people in the Corinthian church.
Carrie: As I said, I could see Driscoll's points after a brief moment (wherein I was screaming into a pillow). Not to sound like a broken record or anything, but Driscoll's arguments for humor, in my opinion, fall short of Biblical justification. He quotes some scripture references and then makes an argument like "Why You Should Read the Bible As You Would a Comic Strip" (ok, ok, ok...I'm paraphrasing. Nastily, I admit.) In fact, the references he listed were so not funny I was bewildered. That said, I really do have a big bone to pick with the Emergent Church and I DID think Driscoll's response to the movement was, um, suitably humorous. For example, in talking about the movement's desire to be humble:
"If you would like to see this pride, just log on to an emergent discussion board online, chat with an emergent pastor, or attend an emergent event and say you are a Calvinist who believes that only men should be pastors and that Jesus died in our place for our sin and that anyone who does not repent of sins like homosexuality and trust in Jesus will spend forever in the conscious eternal torments of hell. I bet you two Left Behind trading cards that you will learn that all the nice talk about not having any theological certainty and being humble about it is about an honest as a politician behind in the polls near election day. After all, one way you can know that people are not humble is when they write a book and say that they alone are humble enough to see their own humility, and when they call you arrogant if you disagree with them." (page 240)I admit I laughed out loud at that.
Jonathan: Overall, my opinion is that Driscoll did a good job addressing important questions in a broad spectrum of topics. At the same time, the "9 misconceptions" described by the title are not really addressing misconceptions at all, but just applying the truth of scripture to some important areas of life.
Carrie: I do like the premise of Religion Saves and I do like how much it really makes you grapple with your beliefs. I think he laid out his thoughts and his arguments well. I just have a hard time with his communication style, though, and that makes it something of a struggle for me to deal with.
In conclusion - we talked about this book again after we wrote up this review and we both agreed that Driscoll's communication style makes it hard to hear his message at first. Definitely don't plan on reading just one chapter to get a feel for who Driscoll is and expect to think you have him all figured out. He's complex, which, in this case, is a compliment!
For what it's worth - them's our thoughts!