Tweet, Tweet: Mark Driscoll’s Simple World

A friend of mine asked me for my professional, psychological analysis of Pastor Mark Driscoll today after this tweet:

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He wasn’t surprised at the content of Driscoll’s tweet, per se. My friend, an evangelical himself, understands that this line of thinking is par for the course in terms of many evangelicals’ theological viewpoint.

Instead, he was trying to understand “the motivations for such a post. Is it solidifying of rightness? Overcompensation? Narcissism? I’m just fascinated by the need for a public figure to say such divisive things unless it’s part of empire building.”

In other words, unless Driscoll has an ulterior motive to build or defend his own kingdom in some way, why choose a forum like Twitter, with its limited ability to express subtlety and nuance, to make such a polarizing statement? It’s the antithesis of an approach like that of Billy Graham, who made long and convincing oratories to help people understand the love of God.

Even though I’m a professional counselor, it’s probably not a great idea to perform armchair analysis on a man I’ve never met, whose work I have read precious little of, and that I don’t particularly like based on what I do know.

But I’ll give it a whirl anyhow.

I suppose if I was speculating, it seems Driscoll is pretty concerned with helping people know how simple all this nonsense really is. That they can trust him, in spite of the fact that the world seems really complex, to have summed up all they need to know in 140 characters. It just ain’t that difficult. Or at least, he doesn’t want it to be.

“God loves you, see, and he’s sending you to hell if you don’t love his son, see. And I love you, so I gotta tell you that, see.”

It’s simple.

Well, not really.

To understand why these statements wouldn’t be mutually exclusive, how it can be true that God loves us in light of them, and no less that Mark Driscoll’s spouting them off is somehow evidence of his love – even if these are true, they don’t seem to fit together neatly. And, if one has genuine interest in people understanding them (as we are to reason Driscoll does by virtue of his status as a pastor), it seems rather abrupt and unthinking to spout them off as if that wasn’t the case.

After all, countless Christians (even ones who agree with Driscoll, though there are many who don’t) have spent countless hours and words trying to make all of this make sense for people. It took God himself at least sixty-six books to make it plain.

So why would Driscoll want to make things simpler than they really are?

Driscoll

If a client of mine is anxious and feels the world is unmanageable, I encourage him to look at how he is experiencing his world as unmanageable. I believe the best thing he can do is a bit of cognitive restructuring.

“Perhaps the world is unmanageable, but I don’t have to manage it. The world can be overwhelming without requiring an overwhelming response from me. My world is only unmanageable if I believe I must manage the complexity of the world.”

In other words, I encourage my anxious clients to direct their efforts at making their thinking more simple, in the face of the complex world around them.

Conversely, we might reason that Driscoll is anxious and experiences the world around him as unmanageable as well, but instead of managing his thinking to make it more simple, he attempts to manage the world to make it more simple – more simple than it really is (Non-Christians are going to hell, duh.).

In The Wounded Healer, Fr. Henri Nouwen said:

“It is a painful fact indeed to realize how poorly prepared most Christian leaders prove to be when they are invited to be spiritual leaders in the true sense. Most of them are used to thinking in terms of large-scale organization, getting people together in churches, schools and hospitals, and running the show as a circus director. They have become unfamiliar with, and even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the Spirit.”

When you get used to being a manager of the world rather than a shepherd of your inner life, you naturally move away from an acknowledgment of complexity to an assertion of false simplicity. This is why so many people find American Christianity to be anti-intellectual.

But true simplicity, and perhaps true Christianity, involves accepting the chaotic world for what it is, and finding a way to understand our faith within it, rather than in spite of it.

When Mark Driscoll quips carelessly about how easy it is to understand a loving God he believes sends non-Christians to hell, it’s not a large jump to suspect that you’re seeing the mental scaffolding of an anxious man, largely constructed in an effort to resolve that anxiety by managing the world rather than himself.

If the world would just behave as he sees fit, be more simple, everything would be fine. He’s so convinced of this that he wants you to believe it too.

pokeBut Christians don’t have to prod and poke at the world through orthodoxy or dogma. We don’t have to try to get the world to believe something, or to convince them how simple things must be even when they seem complex. Instead, we need to be more vulnerable, less defensive. To be come more uncertain and less cocksure. We need to understand our fellows rather than ostracize them.

If we are anxious, we must learn to acknowledge that it is the complexity of the world that drives us there, and to manage our thinking rather than wishing it all away with Christian platitudes.

We may find that in spreading the true gospel of Jesus Christ, our explanations are very limited. So limited, in fact, that often one of the best things we can do is to simply shut our mouths.

“Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing. God takes it from there, and there is not much point in comparing who is better, right, higher or lower, or supposedly saved.” –Fr. Richard Rohr, Contemplation in Action

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This post is part of an ongoing series called, A Therapist Goes to Church.

This post also appeared at Ryan’s blog at The Huffington Post.

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Author: Ryan Thomas Neace

Ryan Thomas Neace is a counselor, professor, husband, and daddy. Please contact him for counseling via skype or in-person at ryan@changeincorporated.org.

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  • Tom (aka Volkmar)

    As Fr. Rohr suggest, true spirituality is more subtraction than addition. Also, when Believers make statements like Driscoll’s it indicates a mind imprisoned by the egoic rather than the freedom of the unitive mind.
    Good article. Thank you.

  • Daniel Adams

    Hey Ryan. What are the five best books you’ve ever read? Great article by the way. I was almost getting ready to criticize it. Then I read it all the way to the end. You came full circle. It is simple. So simple in fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not need my convincing proof or religious dogma in attempt to set people free. Last I checked there are still no opening for “Asst Holy Spirit”. Thanks again for sharing your gift with us.

    • Ryan Thomas Neace

      Daniel,

      Thanks for writing. Here are 10 of my favorite books that I’ve read in the past 10 years (I’d stop short of the calling them the “best” – that would be a much longer thought process):

      1. The Wounded Healer, by Fr. Henri Nouwen

      2. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris

      3. Struggle & Contemplation, Brother Roger of Taize

      4. Searching for the Invisible God, by Phillip Yancey

      5. Manhood for Amateurs, by Michael Chabon

      6. Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World

      7. The Liturgical Year, by Sr. Joan Chittister

      8. The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of Therese of Lisieux, by St. Therese of Lisieux

      9. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker Palmer

      10. The Art of Letting Go, by Fr. Richard Rohr

      Thanks for reading and commenting!