A Temporizing Baa-Lamb

Over at Pulpit Magazine, Nathan Busenitz has given us an interesting write-up on an appearance of Mark Driscoll at the upcoming Desiring God conference. The article begins with recapping a disagreement that John Piper and I had during the Q&A at a Ligonier conference eight years ago. John was at that time concerned for those who show an “overfondness for sarcasm,” with particular concerns for the satiric bite that some of my writing exhibits. Busenitz carries this concern over to a talk that Mark Driscoll will be giving at Desiring God on “How Sharp the Edge?” The talk Driscoll will be giving will be addressing all the same issues that arose at Ligonier, it seems to me, and then some.

Let me say just a couple things here. I have already made the basic case in A Serrated Edge, and I have responded to John Frame’s review of that book here. Scroll down for all of that. Those who want to pursue the subject in greater detail are invited to do so. And, incidentally, just in passing, it appears to me that Mark Driscoll and I agree on the principle of the thing, although we would no doubt differ on some of the applications. He probably thinks my language is that of a temporizing baa-lamb. 

Here are my quick responses to the three arguments that Busenitz gives at the end of his article.

1. First, Busenitz says, Driscoll has to show that his use of harsh language is parallel to the kind of harsh language used in Scripture. In principle this is a legitimate call, but we still have to be very careful. Sin and righteousness can get garbled when translated across cultures and centuries, but mutatis mutandis, it isn’t that hard. Sophistical homosexuals want to say that the sodomy condemned throughout the Bible is not the same kind of thing as what they are doing — what with all their loving, caring relationships and all. So whenever someone does something and claims scriptural warrant for it (feeding the poor, lampooning a Pharisee, whatever), and the claim is made that the verse he cites was referring to a different kind of thing than what he is doing in the present, that is certainly possible. But as with all charges of sin, the burden of proof is always on the accuser. If I give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name, it might be that I am showboating, or revealing my latent Pelagianism, or simply imitating Jesus. Before undertaking any obedience, I must prove to myself that what I am doing is true imitation of Christ and not false, but accusations from outside need to demonstrate the existence of the problem. It is not enough to demonstrate that this is a situation that might involve this sin. This is where John Piper’s concerns about Credenda eight years ago fell short, in my view. Everything he said certainly could have been true. But was it? I don’t believe so.

2. Busenitz’s second argument is a very good question that deserves an answer. If I get to talk like Ezekiel and Isaiah, then shouldn’t I be allowed to act like Ezekiel or Isaiah? And if Driscoll had been prophesying naked to the Seattle area for the last three years (Is. 20:3), we can all be pretty sure that he wouldn’t be speaking at the Desiring God conference.

The first thing to point out is that this objection applies to all of us, and not just to me and Driscoll. Any minister of the Word who wants to preach “prophetically” has to figure out where to draw this same line and why. Suppose that someone argued that we ought never to rebuke sin forcefully because as soon as we do, we then have to be willing to go naked as a sign to Ethiopia. That obviously draws the line too tight. But I do believe there are marked differences between a prophetic new covenant ministry and a prophetic old covenant ministry — I just think that those differences ought not to be established by leftover Victorian sensibilities and pieties.

3. And last, Busenitz presents what he believes to be his most important argument — that Driscoll is privileging Old Testament examples over the explicit teaching of the New Testament. This argument fails, not because the verses that Busenitz cites are not authoritative — they are — but rather because this entire discussion can be contained within the New Testament. The same man who said to lay off the coarse jesting is also the one who called his previous Pharisaical righteousness dogshit (Phil. 3:8). The man who said that we were to be sound in speech is the same one who wished that the Judaizers would, in their circumcising zeal, cut the whole thing off (Gal. 5:12). And in the next breath, he tells the Galatians to love one another. So when Calvin calls his opponents barking dogs, and we write journal articles refuting “an esteemed colleague,” who is closer to the language of the New Testament (Phil. 3:2; Rev. 22:15)?

And of course, we have to reckon with the language of the Lord Jesus, the most forceful polemicist in the history of the world (Matt. 23). And to anticipate the standard objection here, which is that “you’re not Jesus, pal,” let me just say that I am not Jesus in any area. I fall short in all areas of my pilgrimage. I don’t love like I should, I don’t sacrifice like I should, I don’t work like I should, and I don’t rebuke theological balloon juice like I should. How is that an argument for abandoning the task? How can that be an argument for giving up?

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