Home > Book review > Book review: Religion Saves by Mark Driscoll

Book review: Religion Saves by Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll is one of those guys you love or hate, and, perhaps, both.

He is lauded by men like John Piper as having “rock-solid” Reformed theology, and derided for such things as leadership decisions, his stance on complementarianism and his teaching of the Song of Solomon. He will say or do something you want to applaud, and then say something else that makes you want to scream.

His book Religion Saves hit bookstore shelves last June. Earlier this year his latest book, Doctrine, co-written with Gerry Breshears, was published and I tentatively plan to review it very soon. Today I’ll repost a review of Religion Saves I previously did for Phoenix Preacher.

Religion Saves is based on nine sermons he preached early last year at his Seattle church, Mars Hill. The sermons were based on the idea of having Driscoll preach on whatever topics people wanted him to address.

The questions were presented on a website set up by Mars Hill, and tallied, then voted on by users, and Driscoll preached on the top nine questions in his sermon series (and wrote on them in Religion Saves). That is what ties those nine subjects (birth control; humor; predestination; grace; sexual sin; faith and works; dating; the emerging church; and the regulative principle) together.

I listened to the sermon series via podcast when Driscoll preached it. You’ll get the gist of the book from his sermons (all of which can be viewed here). The book does put his sermons into written form. It also gives you footnotes, which will be very helpful if you want to further investigate the topics in each chapter. And, each chapter is well-written and is a useful resource for anyone interested in the topic.

The biggest weakness with Religion Saves for me is that, unlike Driscoll’s other books, there’s no strong unifying theme per se. The closest thing here is that these topics were chosen by popular vote, to be preached upon. Conversely, Vintage Jesus was about Jesus, Vintage Church about Driscoll’s views of the church, and Death by Love on various aspects of the cross.

Mark’s explanation in the introduction to Religion Saves – that these topics are ones brought up by religious people, religion never saved anyone, and the questions reflect misconceptions held by religious people that need to be answered with Scripture – doesn’t go far enough for me.

It would have been good, I believe, if Driscoll had framed the chapters with an additional one on religion in general. There is no chapter in the book that directly addresses its title. I wish Driscoll would have written that chapter, and woven the theme more strongly through the rest of the chapters. As is, Religion Saves consists of nine very different topics loosely tied together.

I also question having the chapter on the emerging church, because while it was still relevant in early 2008, today I think it’s largely irrelevant. The most helpful portion here is discussion of the biggest players in the emerging church, all of whom are still active and influential.

The sermon on the regulative principle was the one topic I personally objected to when Driscoll preached it. I didn’t understand how it was relevant outside theological circles, and from what I understood the sermon series to be about, I saw the topic as not very helpful and applicable to a general audience, and in particular the crowd Driscoll preaches to in Seattle. Here’s the question:

Do you believe that the Scripture not only regulates our theology but also our methodology? In other words, do you believe in the regulative principle? If so, to what degree? If not, why not?

Today, I don’t object to the subject itself. As it received the most votes of any question, Driscoll was obligated to answer it – and he does by relating it to worship. I would have liked for him to have related the topic more for a general audience.

It’s a topic that is discussed mainly in seminaries and among theologically-minded Christians, and Mark acknowledges this in the beginning of the chapter. He does define the regulative principle (do things strictly according to Scripture) and the normative principle (all things are permitted unless Scripture forbids it).

The discussion though was framed in terms of how the regulative principle affects worship. I would have liked for Driscoll to have discussed how the regulative principle affects everything we do in and outside of church, from what kind of music to play to how the church serves its community. Is the regulative principle applicable only to the set list the worship band goes by, or does it affect every aspect of ministry?

Also, as this was the question that got more votes that ones on predestination, dating and birth control, why should the average person care about the regulative principle, and how does it affect them? Or does it? If it’s that important, then the audience deserves a good explanation of how it affects what they see in church, and in turn how it affects them personally.

I’m still waiting for the answers to those questions; perhaps one of our fine pastors who frequent PP will be kind enough to do so for me :)

The chapter on humor may be enough for some to reject the book altogether, particularly given Driscoll’s recent appearance on CNN with D.L. Hughley and his preaching through the Song of Solomon.

It’s just about everything you would expect Driscoll to be in regards to humor, but it’s not a bunch of Pastor Mark one-liners (thought the now-infamous analogy he uses regarding masturbation and Ecclesiastes does make an appearance). This chapter explains well his position on humor and why he uses it the way he does, but it probably won’t sway too many people who already agree or disagree with him.

Throughout this chapter, and the book, Driscoll doesn’t use cheap humor for its own sake, nor does he attempt to come across as a Christian version of Tom Leykis or Howard Stern. He has good reasons for what he believes, and each chapter shows him to be a man who is serious about the Gospel and able to articulate well what he believes and why.

This plays out particularly well in the chapters on birth control, predestination, grace and faith and works. He generally eschews humor for humor’s sake (except, of course, in the chapter on humor) and straight-up explains his topic, and his beliefs, with a generous seasoning of the Gospel throughout. Driscoll shows why he would be considered as a ‘rock-solid’ theologian, and in a way where he is solid and deep theologically, and yet understandable to the average person. I would think that is a hard combination for a writer to pull off.

In fact, each of the chapters could be considered to be a basic primer of Driscoll’s beliefs on the topic at hand, from a Reformed perspective. Driscoll breaks down the topics, shows you their relevance and importance, and presents in some form the Gospel.

Mark Driscoll, as I said above, is one of those guys you love or hate. That alone will make or break the deal for some of you.

For those of you who love him, or are willing to give his book a try, the trick here is if any or all of these topics are worth your interest.

As with anything regarding Driscoll and his ministry, I recognize some will be able to embrace it and some will reject it. I understand this. That said, I recommend the book, unless you find him or his methodology to be offensive. In that case, there are other fine, talented, Godly men to learn from.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book myself, and my opinions are my own and not those of the author nor the publisher. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  1. July 5, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Good review. Just one thing that I thought of to mention.

    The regulative principle can’t really be applied to other areas of life, because the principle itself concerns worship. What is the church able to do in our services. Should we do dramas? What about x? It applies primarily to the liturgy of the service (implied or explicit). It’s important to church leaders to know in order to make sure they have ordered the service rightly, or else it would be sinful (as the regulative holders would state it), or if it doesn’t matter. It’s important for the audience in terms of understanding how and why the service is ran as it is, and if whether the church they are attending is in sin (regulative) or not (normative). In the end, its an issue of whether the church can bind the conscious of the worshipper, by involving them in worship acts that aren’t insinuated or described in the Bible.

    That description doesn’t do justice to the arguments of either side, mind you, but it works, I think, as an intro.

  2. July 5, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Would the regulative principle also apply to church planting? I just finished reading Violas “Organic Church,” and he presents the case that the methods of church planting are clearly laid out in the NT, and we have deviated away from them entirely. I agree with him, but I don’t think you can say that just because it’s not in the Bible we can’t do it. Or that we have to just because it’s mentioned.

    For example, the practice of “holding all goods in common,” was, I think, a misguided experiment, and every attempt to repeat it has failed miserably.

    So I don’t think we can make a general rule about following NT practices; these things need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

  3. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Bryan, thanks for coming by and for the kind words!

    I would have benefited from understanding what the regulative principle is and is not applicable to when I wrote the review. So I may go back and revise the article since I missed something that I should have known before writing it 🙂

    That said…asking the question of how the regulative principle applies is a good one because the concept is so obscure to many people. Seminary students like yourself obviously do know what it is. Most people don’t. I didn’t until Tim Brister pushed it to No. 1 on the list when Mars Hill did the internet poll for Driscoll’s sermon series the book was based on. It is not something that Charles Stanley talked about on an episode of In Touch, and even now I’ve heard more sermons throughout my life about the identity of the Antichrist than about the regulative principle.

    The question the regulative principle seems to ask, if I am understanding this right, is how much freedom do we have corporately and individually to worship?

  4. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    As Bryan said, the principle applies to worship. I do wonder – without knowing who originally proposed the theory, and having to go offline shortly – if that is what those who came up with the theory intended it to be applied to.

  5. July 5, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Buster-

    I don’t think it has to do with church planting methods, i.e. whether we plant an organic or simple or etc church. At least, not directly. It is mainly due to the liturgical portion of the service, and answers the question, “has God told us how he wants to be worshipped.” So, to show my hand, I would say yes he has, and would hold to the regulative principle.

    But the problem is, those of us who do hold the regulative principle disagree on what it means that worship is regulated (surprise, surprise). So for me, the liturgical elements are regulated (prayer, music/singing, preaching/teaching, sacraments, etc) but not the form or how they look (this primarily addresses prayer and music/singing). Should we do scripted prayers or extemporaneous. It’s up to the church, though I would argue that the best answer there is both/and. Should we do music style a or music style b? Again, the form is not what is regulated, but whether you are singing as commanded in the gatherings. Of course, that’s not defending the regulative view, just trying to shed some light on what it means.

    In terms of “holding all goods in common,” which is mentioned in Acts 2 specifically, I don’t think that it’s been a failure–I think a misunderstood concept of it has been a failure. Some try to make it into some sort of social guidelines, when really, what it meant was that if someone was in need, and you had the ability to alleviate that need, you should help them. It’s benevolence and mercy ministries, and not a command to live in communes as some do. Redeemer Church in NYC is excellent at this, and Tim Keller gives a very brief discussion about this in the Redeemer Church planting manual. The church I attend, Sojourn Community Church, also does a good job with this, and they are always seeking to better improve how they help those in need.

    But, back to the original point. because I arrive at the regulative principle deductively instead of inductively, it must be an “open-handed” issue for fellowship.

  6. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Going on blog pause…no food fights 😉

  7. July 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Brian–

    The theory has been followed off and on, mostly implicitly. But it really came about in terms of the reformation, and was vocalized by John Calvin, then picked up by the Puritans. Luther disagreed, I believe, and so most Lutherans today are normative principle.

  8. July 5, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks, Bryan. What I’ve never understood is how those who believe that worship is regulated could forbid musical instruments, when there are clear examples (and even calls for) of their use in the OT.

  9. July 5, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Buster–

    For sure. 100% agreement from me. I would say that those who are non-instrumental, and those who are Psalm-only are…incorrect in their application of the regulative principle.

  10. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Like the Churches of Christ?

  11. July 5, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    hi big guy.

  12. pstrmike
    July 5, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I agree with your assessment on Driscoll. Love the guy and want to ring his neck at times….

    Anyone who would write a book these days with the title “Religion Saves” scores points with me….

  13. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    big guy = monicker BrianD used to use on PP

  14. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Why does it score points, Pstr? I figured most folks would not like the title…

  15. July 5, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I posted this on 50hours, but it seems to fit here as well

    I know our country has many freedoms that others do not…but I hope we do not become like that frog in the pot who does not realize he is in hot water until it is too late… is kind of sad to me that we give up so many of our freedoms that so many men and women fought to very hard for and paid so very dearly for…one day we will look upon the fireworks and cry for the freedom we no longer have…

    It seems to be the same with the freedom God has given us….we seem to be giving it away….for safety…a false sense of safety.

  16. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Amen, Dusty.

  17. July 5, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    big guy = BrianD who is witty, compassionate, and gracious.

    so there. hehe 🙂

  18. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    I’m back…more or less.

    I’m going to stop telling people when I’m leaving…because no one seems to come back (Dusty excepted, for today) 🙂

  19. July 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Is PP down again? Too much controversy???

  20. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    No, not that I know of…you’re going to .net and not to .com, right?

  21. July 5, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    buster maybe you have been banned 😉

  22. July 5, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    big guy, I appreciate all the work you have put into providing a place for people to get together and in keeping the community together this time and last…hope everyone else will see and appreciate your diligence and hard work.

  23. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Thank you, Dusty.

    I’d like this blog to develop its own audience, not just PeePs but people from other walks of Christianity…everyone else knows where this blog is, and that they are welcome to read and to lurk.

  24. July 5, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    ….oh….maybe we’ve been banned.

  25. mn10
    July 5, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    I wouldn’t ban Buster…

    BrianD is doing good work here and I also hope that this thrives.

  26. mn10
    July 5, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Dusty,

    No ones been banned and I can’t imagine why you would think I’d ban either of you.

  27. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    What are you all getting when you go to .net?

    Someone else there asked if Michael was blocking his IP address. Buster’s the expert, but could be an issue with the server or host.

    Or Them 🙂

  28. July 5, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    See big guy, I’m not the only one who think you are great….Michael does too. 🙂

  29. July 5, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    big brother, I might ban Buster…he can be a pretty bad trouble maker sometimes. lol

  30. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    This should be my business card…or not 😯

    http://www.boingboing.net/2010/07/05/mister-jalopys-busin.html

  31. July 5, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Michael, about the banning….I was picking on Buster…

  32. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Michael, thank you, too.

  33. July 5, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    big guy, we don’t get anything….it just does not go there…it keeps searching…we can go everywhere else…I am sure it will resolve it’s self…maybe it is the heat here…Buster sure picked a bad weekend to fix the roof….pray he does not get heat stroke up there….

  34. July 5, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    correction…big guy, I can’t see your link…won’t connect there either.

  35. BrianD
    July 5, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    then how are you getting here?

  36. July 5, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    the grace of God? lol I don’t know how I get anywhere. lol

    I have to get going…working tonight… have a great night everyone.

    love ya

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