This weekend, Mark Driscoll broke the Internet in half. Again.
It wasn’t because he put his foot in his mouth (this time)—but because of a rather heated interview on The Janet Mefferd Show where the host spent the better part of 15 minutes accusing him of plagiarism due to insufficiently crediting Dr. Peter Jones for his considerable influence on portions of A Call to Resurgence (reviewed here).
And then things got a bit crazy online. Some Driscoll defenders declared Mefferd a liar. Some of his critics seemed ready to form a lynch mob. (Incidentally, probably the most balanced piece of coverage has come from Jonathan Merritt.) I found myself in a weird place listening to the interview. Here’s what I mean:
1. I was glad to hear someone willing to ask a high-profile Christian author challenging questions. Too many interviews I’ve read (and even conducted) have been full of softball questions. They don’t really get to the heart of a concern, but come across as the sanitized questions of someone hoping to start a bromance. Or maybe the questions you’d ask on a first date.
As interviewers, we need to do better—and a big part of that is asking meaningful questions. Let’s stop with the silly platitudes and actually deal with concerns. The benefit is you may give the interviewee an opportunity to correct himself if he’s said something in error, or you might receive beneficial clarification.
There also appears to be a disturbing lack of accountability for some pastors and authors, which desperately needs to change, something Carl Trueman points out well. Regardless of whether or not there’s an issue in their churches (and in some cases I wouldn’t be surprised if there were), those of us on the outside must be careful not to treat high-profile people as untouchable, if for no other reason than it reveals we may have a nasty case of idolatry on our hands.
2. I was surprised Driscoll lasted as long as he did on the call. Mefferd says he hung up. Driscoll says he was still there. Regardless of who is right, if it were me—and I say this as someone who has appeared on Janet’s show and had a very positive experience—I likely wouldn’t have stayed on the call as long as he did. While I get, and even agree to some degree, with Mefferd’s concern in addressing the citation (I think he could have been far more clear than a single footnote), he did something pretty unexpected: he said he’d look into it and correct the error if one was made. In fact, he said he’d do it four times.
After the first time, you’d think they could’ve moved on. Instead, it went on far longer than it should have—and I don’t believe either side will come out looking better as a result.
3. Sometimes it’s just easier to think the worst of Driscoll. This is the thing that was most troubling to me—there are a lot of people out there who, no matter what he did, no matter how sincere his apology, nothing Driscoll could say on anything would ever be enough. Some people just want to see him as the villain.
Driscoll’s done himself no favors in this area. He’s said and done, and continues to say and do, some pretty bone-headed things, even in this book (I noted some of my more significant concerns in my review). But you know what I found myself struggling with listening to this interview? The temptation to write off his comments as mere platitudes, instead of taking his statements as genuine. And that’s not okay. If Driscoll is a brother in the Lord, shouldn’t we be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt?[1. By giving the benefit of the doubt, I don’t mean succumbing to a naïve Pollyanna-ish optimism. Be discerning, but don’t immediately rush to crucify.]
At the same time, it’s clear not everyone has this reaction. In fact, I’ve been surprised to see a number of folks, not exactly rush to his defense, but show sympathy toward him. I think Joe Carter summed it up well in one of the many debates I saw (and the only one I engaged in), when he said Janet Mefferd “has done what many people would have thought was impossible: She makes people feel sorry for Driscoll.”[2. This was part of a public Facebook discussion including Paul Edwards, a former radio host on the Salem Network (which also runs Mefferd’s show), Joe, Frank Turk (of Team Pyro), and me, among others.]
In the end, I’m not entirely certain the “did he or didn’t he” question is even the right question to be asking in the whole Driscoll/Mefferd dust-up. Instead, maybe our question should really be: how do we fix the problem of “celebrity-ism” that’s seeped into the church?