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.”