Is “father love” welcome in the church?

  • Jesus clears the templeMark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and founder of the Acts 29 church-planting network, has endured withering criticism from both conservatives and liberals, Christians and non-Christians, even as his church has become one of the largest and most influential in the Pacific Northwest.

    Mars Hill has been compared to a cult. Left wing outlets such as Slate and Huffington Post have been scathing in their critiques. There’s an entire web site devoted to Driscoll’s downfall, recording every controversial statement the church planter utters.

    Megablogger Rachel Held Evans called Driscoll a “bully” for poking fun at the effeminacy of some worship leaders, and launched a letter writing campaign against him. A number of prominent pastors have called Driscoll to account for his occasional use of swear words, including Ed Young and John MacArthur, who declared the Seattle pastor, “unfit for the ministry.” Driscoll recently managed to offend every preacher in England by calling them “cowards.”

    As I read the critiques, a question keeps popping into my head: Wouldn’t people accuse Jesus of these same things if he were to walk among us today?

    In fact, they did.

    Read John 10:20: Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” Even his own family thought he was insane. Christ and his disciples angered people so much with their words and deeds that many were imprisoned and even killed.

    The point of this blog entry is not to justify everything Mark Driscoll says, does or believes.  The accusations lodged against Mars Hill Church by former elders, if true, are disturbing to say the least. And simply being controversial is no sign of Christlikeness.

    Whether you agree with Driscoll’s methods or not, larger questions remain: Is Driscoll a bully, or is he loving people exactly as Jesus did – with a “father love” that we no longer recognize as such?

    Is there room in today’s church for this kind of love?

    Many believers see God as a two-act play: the ferocious Old Testament God and the gentle New Testament God. It’s almost as if God was “born again” after the book of Malichi.

    But the Bible presents just one God, and He is often just as “mean and wild” in the back of the book as he is in the front. Both God the Father and God the Son are plenty harsh throughout the New Testament. Here are a few examples:

    • God proclaimed Jesus as “his beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Then He immediately cast that beloved son into the wilderness for a brutal testing.
    • Jesus rebuked adoring crowds, calling them “a wicked and perverse generation.”
    • Christ ridiculed his own disciples, calling them “dull” (more accurately translated, “stupid.”)
    • Jesus called a desperate Canaanite woman and her people “dogs.”
    • God struck dead a couple that made a generous gift to the church after they fudged on the amount
    • Of course we can’t forget the Pharisees, Jesus’ perennial foil. The Gospels contain page after page of stinging rebukes, curses and condemnations for these religious know-it-alls.

    Reason with me. Did God love Jesus? The crowds? The Canaanite woman? Ananias and Sapphira? The Pharisees?

    Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. And this is how he treated people he deeply loved. He dealt with them through deprivation. Rebukes. Insults. Even death.

    What’s going on here? How could God be so mean to people he loved so intently? People he wanted to bless? People whose repentance he sought?

    He was practicing father love. When Jesus swung the whip and cleared the temple? Father love. When he called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs?” Father love. When he accused his dinner host of murdering the prophets? Father love.

    Father love is like a vaccination: it causes momentary pain, but promotes long-term health. We hate to be on the receiving end of a needle, but we know we need it.

    We are a generation of Christians nursed on mother love. We expect God to bless us, comfort us and accept us as we are. Our sermons, songs and self-help books reinforce this idea. We expect nothing but kindness from fellow believers, and when we are treated harshly in the church we freak out. Instead of examining our own lives, we default to the role of victim. “He couldn’t possibly be speaking for God, because he was so unloving,” we think. We often judge the appropriateness of another believer’s actions not by sober assessment – but how they make us feel.

    Now don’t get me wrong. We need mother love in the church. We must comfort the hurting. Men in particular need to learn to be gentle, patient and kind.

    Yet as wonderful as mother love is, it will never propel us to something higher. If we are accepted as we are we will never change. If we are comforted but never challenged, our lives will accomplish little.

    What is father love? It’s the love of a drill sergeant hurling abuse on his troops in order to steel them for battle. It’s the love of a coach yelling at his players to shame them into giving their all. It’s the love of a teacher rebuking a lazy student. It’s the love of a dad spanking a rebellious toddler to keep him from running into a busy street.

    Young men crave father love. Why do they join the football team? The Army? Street Gangs? The mosque? These are among the few venues where men can still find the unyielding style of love they are not getting at home (one in three boys is raised in a father-absent home).

    Of course, not all harshness is love. There is no place in the church for abuse, misuse of authority and egotism. When church leaders consolidate power and surround themselves with sycophants, this is a sign of danger.

    But we must also recognize that love doesn’t always make you feel good. Sometimes love comes wrapped in barbed wire.

    It’s been a long time since the church offered this kind of love. It can be dangerous to the pastor’s career. Members might leave. Donations could plummet.

    How can we introduce healthy father love back into the church? First, we should grapple with these fundamental questions:

    • If a pastor seems to offend both believers and non-believers at every turn, is this a sign of strength or weakness? Godliness or carnality?
    • Is it ever appropriate for a minister to make fun of someone? If so, how might this benefit the body of Christ?
    • Is there room in today’s church for a leader who is harsh, salty and shockingly frank in his language?
    • Does God expect ministers of the gospel to guard their speech, never saying what they really think (like politicians)? Or should they let fly, regardless of the consequences?
    • Where do we draw the line between a pastor/elder who is exercising father love and one who is abusing his power?
    • Should churches adopt specific behavioral standards, and should they be allowed to discipline and “shun” members who fail to meet these standards?

    The next time you hear an account of some pastor who’s in hot water for saying or doing something controversial or hurtful, withhold judgment. Get the facts. And consider the possibility that this leader may be exercising a kind of love that’s frightening but necessary. A kind of love that young men respect – and desperately need.

    Mark Driscoll is human. He’ll make mistakes. I’d encourage you to judge him not by the latest controversial thing that pops out of his mouth – but by the thousands of young men who are following Jesus because of his ministry.


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    August 29th, 2012 | David Murrow | 21 Comments |

About The Author

David Murrow

David Murrow is the director of Church for Men, an organization that helps congregations reach more men and boys. In his day job, David works as a television producer and writer. He's the author of four books. He lives in Alaska with his wife, three children, three grandchildren and a dachshund named Pepper.

  • Justin

    If it truly is father love, then it wouldn’t be a mistake, it would be helpful. Mark Driscoll’s hot water is kept hot by his doctrinal errors, not his methodology.

  • ansonheath

    Outstanding, David! And long overdue, I might add. I have thought for a long time that the church’s slide into feminism is one of the prime reasons, if not the prime reason, for the perilous state of our country at this present moment. When the church and family are rudderless, what can we possibly expect from its effect on the community at large? Christ is the head of the church, but which Christ are we worshipping?
    Thanks again for a great column!

  • ansonheath

    Please spell out his doctrinal errors. The reason I am asking this is that I have had, and am sure still have, some errors, as ‘we all see through the glass darkly’. We obviously don’t all agree. That is why my standard is ‘prove all things and hold on that which is true’. A lifetime job, isn’t it? Too many of us make the standard as ‘US’!

  • jtm

    “Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (NASB, Titus 2: 6-8).

  • Phil Smith

    “Yet as wonderful as mother love is, it will never propel us to something higher. If we are accepted as we are we will never change.” – David, I think this is the weak point in your argument. In the same way that you ask us to struggle with the question of what is ‘father love’, compared to bullying, perhaps you need to better define genuine “mother love” before such a sweeping generalisation. Phil Smith Brisbane. (Keep us thinking, mate.)

  • Danny Bell

    Thats the kind of opposition we run into in the churches in Oz but. Whenever we hint at or say that the church is feminised or say anything that remotely says that mothers love or nurture in the church is not enough – churchy men jump up and down as if its an act of gallantry to protect womens reputations in the church. Little do they realise they are killing the church by doing this.

  • will

    The bible is offensive enough taught properly and accurately so we don’t need to go overboard with the tough love approach.

  • Jamiel Cotman

    I was just discussing this at our
    church’s’ men’s’ group.

    We’ve heard of father absent homes,
    but I grew up in a father absent neighborhood. Except my own, [and he
    left for a while too], our city block was full of mothers [upward of
    200 families]. Its funny, only since I’ve delved into mens ministry over
    the last few years have I recognized how we turned out.

    Most of them
    are absentee fathers … repeating the cycle.

    My closest friend and next
    door neither went to jail when I finished high school, he recently
    came home, but after 2 months went back for another 7 years for attempted

    Another friend is doing life for
    murdering his girlfriend’s’ father

    Another didn’t finish high school
    and is working at a fast food restaurant

    Another is a career criminal, who,
    as far as I know has never been caught

    Another is a drug addict

    Only 2 of us finished high school

    Only 1 of us went to college

    NONE OF US had men of integrity
    [fatherly love] in our life.

    Thanks for the column Dave.

  • KenS

    Thought-provoking. Good insights, David. One caveat for those considering the list of questions we grapple with: There is no “one-size-fits-all.” We need to learn that God is a god of differing applications: He doesn’t open the earth and swallow all those who follow in Korah’s footsteps or give heart attacks to those who act similarly to Ananias and Sapphira. But he reserves the right to. Nor does he promise everyone who wants to build him a temple an eternal lineage, as he did David. Nonetheless, he does treat us each one with the love, respect and discipline we need (and probably deep within, really long for!).

  • will
  • will

    On a side note dave do you accept linkage?

  • David Murrow

    What is that?

  • Mark Munsey

    One of my pastors has said a number of times from the pulpit, “I’m going to step on some toes here, but I know God can heal those toes.” If something desperately needs to be said to his people but the pastor is afraid to say it because someone might get offended, he’s not doing his job and is cowardly. I think men need to be spoken to as men – directly, with respect but such that you’re not left guessing at what the speaker is saying. This will, however, offend some – they need to grow up.

    Could this in part be what Paul is talking about in 1 Cor. 14:34-35? Were pastors in his day more free to speak to men as men because their wives weren’t whispering “I can’t believe he just said that! He should be ashamed.” in their husbands’ ears and jabbing them in the ribs?

    Jesus said some things that caused people to walk away from Him, but He didn’t run after them trying to help them see things from His perspective – “Can’t we all just agree to disagree…?” Some things that need to be said are like that, especially in the church.

    (It’s late, and I’m not sure this went anywhere near where I meant it to – hope so, though.)

  • ansonheath

    Exactly, Danny! The first step in the resistance to this correction (or even examination of the issue) is defensiveness, including words like ‘never’ or ‘always’. Sound familiar? The next step is an accusation that you lack God’s love. You might get lucky and get through a sentence, but not a complete thought. At this point you are a neanderthal caveman who doesn’t deserve a hearing. Next case?

  • ansonheath

    I read this now (and have seen it before), but I fail to see Driscoll’s ‘doctrinal errors’. In fact, I tend to agree with his basic premise. There is a first cause in the feminization of the church, and that first cause is our adversary, who appears as an angel of light and appeals to our sinful nature to be our own God. What better place than right in the church, eh?
    The second part I wish to emphasize is that if we judge our society and culture by its fruits, it seems to coincide with the feminization of the church. Coincidence? I think not!
    Just like in the Garden of Eden, Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed his wife. Reading the rest of scripture has convinced me that Adam was more culpable than Eve. Therefore I tend to agree with Driscoll. You can’t have truly feminine women before having a manly man.
    “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee!”
    It’s time to man up!

  • UK Fred

    I’ll lay my cards on the table right away and say that I think that Mark Driscoll is wrong in some of what he says, but one thing he is most certainly not wrong about is calling the clergy in England cowards. I’m not a clergyman and I believe that God has not called me into such a ministry. But, with a very few exceptions Like Dr Liam Golicher and Michael Nazir-Ali, they do not want to put theirs heads above the parapet.

    One thing that I am not aware that MD has said is that too often in England, Christians are more interested in being nice than in being good. I wish he had, because he will get much more publicity saying it that i ever will.

  • bryan

    A big part of the problem is that so many people only see/teach one side of Jesus. Someone else here replied and quoted Titus 2: 6-8. OK. But what about the REST of the Bible. What about the part where Jesus called the Pharisees sons of the devil. Isn’t that much WORSE than calling someone a son of a bitch? But Driscoll is probably the only Pastor in America who has ever said the “b-word” in his life (with the probably exception of Doug Giles who pastors Clash Church in Miami). Speaking of Doug Giles, I urge everyone to check him out. A real man’s man there – quite refreshing for a Pastor.

  • Fourester

    I don’t think there is room in today’s IC for Father Love. Pastors are too worried about their current (or next) job,

  • David Murrow

    If you read my blog entry it lays out exactly how we did our Men’s Super Supper:

  • Danny Bell

    yeah, true. I am an outcast with what I call core church men. Fringe men (fingee’s) seem to like me but the churchy guys are suspicious. This was brought out in Daves recent interview on FB where he said churchy guys “They
    are comfortable, and more concerned with protecting their own power in the
    current structure”

  • Nona Raybern

    Comparing Driscoll to Jesus? I don’t even have the words to explain how blasphemous that sounds. I understand this concept of “father love” (or “tough love”, which is still bullying), but do you forget how Jesus welcomed all sorts of people into his church, to come as they are? Jesus didn’t berate the prostitute, he berated the tax collectors in his church. If you want to compare Driscoll to anyone, you should compare him to the pharisees that Jesus condemned. Just how much money has Mars Hill spent on Easter services alone versus how much they’ve spent helping the poor? Driving his SUV instead of driving a humble car and then giving the rest to the poor. Maybe if he did that, you could compare him to Jesus.

    Your theological anecdote is bad and you should feel bad.