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Tim Keller’s Double Standard for Mark Driscoll

In August, Michael Paulson of The New York Times wrote an article about Mark Driscoll entitled, A Brash Style That Filled Pews, Until Followers Had Their Fill.  It was well done and covered all the important issues concerning Driscoll.

In this article, Paulson quotes Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and co-founder of The Gospel Coalition with Don Carson.  Here’s what he says about Mark Driscoll.

“He was really important — in the Internet age, Mark Driscoll definitely built up the evangelical movement enormously,” said Timothy Keller, the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and one of the most widely respected evangelical intellectuals in the United States.  “But the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships — which he himself has confessed repeatedly — was obvious to many from the earliest days, and he has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”

These comments by Keller arrested my attention.  Here’s why.

First, he is well aware of Driscoll’s “brashness…arrogance and…rudeness in personal relationships.”  Second, he points out how Driscoll has repeatedly confessed these sins but effectively not changed.  Confession alone doesn’t change you.  Genuine repentance does by the grace of God.  Third, these sinful patterns were “obvious to many from the earliest days.”  Driscoll started Mars Hill Church in 1996.  Fourth, from then to now, Driscoll has “definitely…disillusioned quite a lot of people.”

In light of this assessment, I have several sincere questions for Tim Keller.  Why did you ever allow Mark Driscoll to be on the prestigious and nationally recognized leadership Council for The Gospel Coalition in the first place?  And furthermore, why did you and Don Carson commend him when he stepped off the Council in 2012.  Here is what you wrote.

Driscoll Steps Down from TCG Council
March 28, 2012 

Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle has recently announced he is stepping down from the Council of The Gospel Coalition.  Mark let us know in advance of his intentions, part of a major reorganization of his priorities and a changing of the guard in Acts 29.  We are saddened by his departure but understand that all busy people must establish priorities. 

The Council is grateful to Mark for his contributions to TGC during the past decade.  In the months and years ahead, we will certainly be praying for him, his family, and the ministries he influences. 

Here is what Mark said about TGC with regard to his departure: 

I was a founding member of The Gospel Coalition and to this day enjoy deep friendships and theological unity with the men.  But I’m no longer going to be a Council member, as I seek to focus my energies on a handful of things.  If I’m honest, with the continued growth of all the ministries in which I’m involved, it’s not sustainable for me to keep up with all of them.  So, this is a season of pruning for me. 

For the record, no one has asked me to leave the Council, and I have no relational conflict with anyone and no disagreement theologically.  The men remain friends who are welcome to speak into my life, and I’m transitioning for no other reason than I find myself at the end of my tether with time and energy.

I’m deeply thankful for the Council and have been deeply honored to be a part of it.  Thankfully, Acts 29 fellow Board members Matt Chandler and Darrin Patrick are already on the Council to represent Acts 29, along with one of our network captains, Ray Ortlund. 

Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition.

Tim Keller is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, New York, and author of numerous books.  He is also co-founder and vice president of The Gospel Coalition.  For more resources by Tim Keller visit Gospel in Life.  You can follow him on Twitter.

This letter is an endorsement by all the Council Members and especially by Keller and Carson.  They “are saddened by his departure, “the Council is grateful to Mark for his contributions to TGC during the past decade,” and everyone “will certainly be praying for…the ministries he influences.”  There is no hint of concern for Driscoll.  Only sadness, gratefulness and prayer.  Equally troubling, Keller and Carson allowed Driscoll to put himself forward to the evangelical world as a model citizen. 

"For the record, no one has asked me to leave the Council, and I have no relational conflict with anyone and no disagreement theologically.  The men remain friends who are welcome to speak into my life, and I’m transitioning for no other reason than I find myself at the end of my tether with time and energy."

Keller and Carson permitted this paragraph to be put in print; thereby, approving of its content.  In my opinion, it was a promo piece by Driscoll; not just a statement to avoid misunderstanding.  Here’s what I mean.  No one asked him to leave – implying there were no concerns for his role on the Council.  He had no relational conflict with anyone on the Council – implying he got along with everyone all the time.  Keller and Carson, et al., were welcome to speak into his life – implying he was humble and responded humbly to past correction.  To be honest, I find this hard to believe.

You always have to ask follow up questions in order to discover the truth.  I’d like to ask Keller and Carson, “Did anyone want him off the Council?”  “Did anyone have conflicts with him while on the Council?”  “Did anyone feel unwelcome to speak into his life?”  This paragraph by Driscoll gives the impression that the answer to all these questions is NO.

Bottom line, Keller and Carson commended Driscoll and allowed Driscoll to commend himself in 2012.  Two years later, Keller tells us Driscoll has been brash, arrogant, and rude in personal relationships going back a long time.  In fact, these sins were “obvious to many from the earliest days.”  Therein is the problem.  Many people knew about Driscoll’s disqualifying sins but practically no one did anything.  Paul Petry (locally) and John MacArthur (nationally) being notable exceptions. 

Petry was unjustly and abusively fired by Driscoll.  In a 2007 letter to the Elders of Mars Hill Church, he stated that “not one Christian leader” including John Piper and C.J. Mahaney were willing to “get involved” and address Driscoll.  I wrote about this in The Twin Brothers Driscoll and Mahaney

“After multiple appeals were continually rejected by Mark [Driscoll] and Jamie [Munson], we discreetly implored some local and then national leaders, who Mark said he respected, to help us, including John Piper and C.J. Mahaney.  No one was willing to get involved.  I was shocked and heartbroken again.  You’re kidding?  The whole Body of Christ and no one is willing to step in, judge the matter, and attempt to make things right?  How can Matthew 18 be carried out if not one Christian leader will stand in to bring peace and reconciliation?” (Paul Petry, To the Elders of Mars Hill Church, October 25, 2007) 

Piper and Mahaney knew there were serious issues in Driscoll’s life and ministry.  Nevertheless, they failed to work with his elders and follow the disciplinary measures found in Matthew 18:15-17.  Instead they shielded him and promoted him.  For example, Piper commended Driscoll’s life and ministry by inviting him to speak at his Desiring God National Conference in 2006, 2008, and 2009.   

Mahaney went even further.  He worked to undermine John MacArthur’s charges against Driscoll in 2007.  That same year, Driscoll was consolidating his power in Mars Hill Church by all accounts.  Mahaney was doing the same in Sovereign Grace Ministries.  These two men were relating to each other at the time.  In fact, Mahaney flew from Washington D.C. to Seattle to meet with Driscoll in February.  It is highly probable he advised Driscoll to centralize his power in a small group of fierce loyalists who would not meaningfully confront his character or challenge his leadership.  That’s exactly what Mahaney did the same year in SGM.    

Here’s the question that must be answered.  Put on your thinking cap because it’s complicated!  Does the Bible apply to high powered leaders?  It did not apply to Mark Driscoll.  He was exempted from Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:19-21, Titus 1:6-9; James 3:1, etc.

Or put another way, how can Mark Driscoll be on the Council for The Gospel Coalition given the teaching of the Bible?  Clearly, Driscoll has not been above reproach for a long time.  I think Keller supplies the answer, though inadvertently, when he says of Driscoll, “He was really important.”  Important people get on the Council.  You don’t find any unimportant people.  That is the crux of the problem. 

Often times, important people, who are usually rich people, get a pass.  A double standard is applied to them.  In spite of his character, Driscoll was on the Council for nearly a decade.  His enormous numerical success with the Internet generation appears to be the reason.

James the Lord’s brother and apostle gives us this command.

James 2:1-4, 9 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes, and if you pay attention to one who wears the fine clothing, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts…. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Partiality is a sin.  There is to be no preferential treatment for the wealthy and no special attention given to the wealthy.  Wealthy people are typically powerful people.  They can help you or hurt you.  That’s why we have this command from James.  We are tempted to treat them differently.  In addition, it’s also why most people don’t mess with the unscrupulous wealthy.  They let them off the hook and show them favoritism hoping to avoid their wrath and benefit from their influence.  Think Donald Trump.

Tragically, the same is true with reproachable but powerful leaders in the Body of Christ.     Who is going to confront a well-known leader with sin issues that endorses your books, invites you to speak at his church or conference, promotes your ministry, speaks well of you in public, has a large following or big blog audience?  Only someone who loves Jesus Christ, is submitted to the authority of Scripture, is free from the love of money and doesn’t care about his reputation.    

Timothy was responsible to make sure the elders in Ephesus met the qualifications laid out by Paul (1 Tim 3:1-7).  When elders were accused by two or three witnesses they were to be judged with impartially and treated without favoritism.  An active investigation was to be done.  Timothy was to make sure it happened.  Those that didn’t stop sinning were to be publicly rebuke and removed from ministry (1 Tim 5:20-22).   No one did this with Driscoll.  Not Keller, Carson, Piper or Mahaney.

Unfortunately, this happens all the time.  Take for instance Dave Harvey.  His local elders had him resign all his responsibilities in Sovereign Grace Ministries in 2013 and begin a nine month disciplinary process designed to address serious issues in his life and family.  Three months later Harvey abandoned the process and three months after that he left the church and SGM.  No problem, he was hired overnight as the pastor of preaching in another denomination.  He also became Chairman of the Board for the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF) and a Board Member for the Sojourn network of churches.  This should not be.  See the sections about Harvey in Mark Prater Is the Best Choice to Restore Trust and Unity.  

In my experience, well known leaders often have little to no accountability.  I first observed this while one of 25 intern pastors at the largest church in America in 1978.  Fifteen thousand people attended and 250 people came to Christ in an average week.  It was led by a very gifted evangelist with little accountability.  The church operated like Mars Hill.  It no longer exists.   

Keller states in the New York Times article, “He [Driscoll] has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”  That is true and that is serious!  Driscoll has stumbled countless believers and unbelievers.  He has brought extraordinary reproach upon the gospel and the evangelical Church.  And yet all of this was avoidable if only great Bible expositors had obeyed the Bible they exposit.  Local elders failed Mars Hill Church but national leaders failed the Body of Christ.  If only we obeyed the Bible we preach!  “Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach” (1 Tim 3:1).  

Mark Driscoll should have been publicly rebuked by Tim Keller, Don Carson, John Piper and C.J. Mahaney a long time ago for his continuation in sin.  This should have led to his removal from ministry.  Instead these men gave him a seat of honor on their councils and at their conferences.  They applied a double standard to Mark Driscoll because of his perceived importance.  Now they share the blame for his fall and the disillusionment it has caused.  


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