This story has been modified from the original version. This version contains an additional quote from Mark Driscoll in the 28th paragraph. (Paragraph begins with “Driscoll has expressed regret ….”
Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language concerning sexuality.
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (BP)–One of America’s largest Christian radio networks interrupted one of its programs in mid-show because it featured the controversial Seattle, Wash., pastor Mark Driscoll.
The Bott Radio Network then cancelled another interview with Driscoll that had been scheduled. The Bott network provides conservative Bible teaching, news and information to a potential audience of more than 40 million people in 10 states.
A May 18 interview with Driscoll, on the syndicated “Family Life” program hosted by Dennis Rainey, was halted in mid-broadcast after Bott Network founder Dick Bott learned Driscoll was the guest. Bott then cancelled another scheduled interview and ordered all Bott stations not to carry any programs featuring Driscoll.
However, Bott stressed that his respect for Rainey had not waned and that his radio network’s relationship with “Family Life” remains strong.
Bott said he made the decision because of what he saw as Driscoll’s penchant for using vulgarity in his sermons, especially his questionable interpretation of the Song of Solomon in a Nov. 18, 2007, sermon preached in Edinburgh, Scotland, and subsequently in a multi-part series entitled “The Peasant Princess.”
“I’ve seen a lot [about Driscoll] that’s on the Internet and that only makes the whole thing worse,” Bott said. “I’ve seen what he said at that church in Scotland and as far as I know he’s never addressed it in any repentant way or apologetically tried to explain why on earth he got so far off the reservation as to think that that’s the way to address people.”
Driscoll’s Edinburgh sermon included graphic detail to explain his idea that Song of Solomon 2:6 encourages husbands to stimulate their wives by touching private parts of their bodies. He said chapter 7 of the book gives biblical justification for spouses “stripping” for each other and quipped that while lovemaking is better than wine, “lovemaking is great with wine.”
During the sermon, which was entitled “Sex, a Study of the Good Bits from Song of Solomon,” Driscoll interpreted Song of Solomon 2:3 as referring to oral sex and then said, “Men, I am glad to report to you that oral sex is biblical…. The wife performing oral sex on the husband is biblical. God’s men said, Amen. Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It’s biblical. Right here. We have a verse. ‘The fruit of her husband is sweet to her taste and she delights to be beneath him.'”
Driscoll went on to tell an anecdote about a wife who he said won her husband to Christ by performing oral sex on him. Driscoll said he told her that giving him oral sex would be following the admonition of Scripture. A transcript of the sermon quotes Driscoll saying he told her, “1 Peter 3 says if your husband is an unbeliever to serve him with deeds of kindness,” referring to oral sex. Verses 1 and 2 of that chapter, however, tell wives it is their “pure and reverent” conduct that will win their unbelieving husbands.
In response to the idea that the Song of Solomon is an allegory about the relationship between Jesus and the Church, Driscoll said: “If so, it is weird, because Jesus keeps making out with me and touching me in inappropriate places. It’s bizarre, Jesus has his hand up my shirt. That doesn’t help the interpretation in any way. Now I’m gay … or highly troubled … or both.”
In a Q&A that accompanies “The Peasant Princess” series, Driscoll puts his approval of “anal sex” within marriage and the use of “sex toys.” In answering the question, “Can I perform anal sex on my wife?” Driscoll writes: “The body is not well suited for this so make sure your wife is agreeable, do your homework, be careful if she is willing, and do not go from this to normal intercourse since you will infect her with bacteria.” He also directs visitors to a website called Christian Nymphos, which he describes as run by “Christian women.” Essentially, it is an electronic bulletin board for individuals to list and describe for others their favorite sexual positions and techniques (e.g. the “Cowgirl”) under headings which include “Tame,” Erotic” and “Acrobatic.” Driscoll calls the use of sex toys “a matter of conscience” and says they “should be used together [with one’s wife] for building oneness.” He points readers to what he calls a “Christian” website that will assist in selecting sex toys and adds that he does not endorse everything on the site, warning that images on some toy stores and websites may contain “pornographic images that can be disturbing.”
Driscoll’s sex advice offers no other scriptural basis for his views other than his interpretation of Song of Solomon. Nor does he discuss scriptural precepts that are at odds with his interpretation, like the Romans 1 warnings about anal sex — “natural for unnatural” — or the exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 4 about “sanctification and honor” in the marriage relationship, rather than “lustful passion, like the Gentiles.”
While no vulgar language was used by Driscoll in his interview with Rainey, Bott said he could not trust Driscoll, given his track record, and that he worried what might be said could damage or offend Bott’s reputation for offering family-friendly programming to a wide range of listeners.
“All I know is that when a man behaves badly he’s not a role model,” said Bott who was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame March 11. “And when a man’s mouth, you know, speaks of things that will embarrass people in the audience he certainly isn’t a gentleman.”
Scriptural admonitions about “unwholesome” speech (Ephesians 4:29) and “filthiness” and “coarse jesting” (Ephesians 5:4) should give pause to any Christian, especially preachers who stand to publicly proclaim the Gospel, Bott said.
“It (vulgar language) has no place in the pulpit and it has no place around your dinner table. I mean it has no place in the company in which you find yourself at any time. I mean vulgarity for goodness sakes, you know, if a person does that sort of thing and they try and justify it by being relevant, well, relevant to whom? I mean acting like a bum, talking like a bum, and frankly looking like a bum, how does that help the bum?”
Bott praised ministries like that of Ravi Zacharias who is reaching the lost for Christ, particularly those in their 20s and 30s. “He’s talking to college kids all over the nation and I’ll tell you you’re not going to hear him acting like a bum or talking like a bum or embarrassing anybody,” Bott said. “Where did a person ever get the idea that that’s the way to spread the Word of God or to change a life?”
Bott said he never thought he would see the day that decorum, good taste and being a proper role model would be issues in our churches, much less on Christian radio.
“No, I don’t think any of us would have ever supposed that we’d be sitting around trying to explain why same-sex marriage [for example] is absolutely a crazy idea … and it certainly is condemned in God’s Word in every aspect thereof,” Bott said. “No, we couldn’t have imagined anything [like this]. But in the same way then could I not imagine that somebody who is held up as some sort of a role model would stand in the pulpit and say the things that Mark Driscoll says and then kind of cover it with some sort of theological religiosity.”
He said some of Driscoll’s interpretations of Song of Solomon passages are extreme at best and he is concerned that Driscoll is being hailed as a role model and mentor to too many, particularly young pastors.
Driscoll is senior pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a city known for its secularism, growing it from nothing to more than 7,000 members on seven campuses across the city. Although his sermons are edgy and sometimes vulgar, his supporters defend him as an “inerrantist” and “complementarian,” suggesting he is a conservative who should be accepted for his like-mindedness about the Gospel. Driscoll’s sermons are downloaded from the Mars Hill Church website in droves and he frequently speaks at national conferences alongside Christian luminaries like John Piper and C.J. Mahaney.
The national media have taken notice as well. Zondervan pronounced him to be among the 50 most influential pastors in America. He has been the subject of extensive feature stories in the New York Times Magazine, Christianity Today and ABC TV’s “Nightline.”
Consider this passage from a New York Times Magazine article on Driscoll published earlier this year: “An ‘Under 17 Requires Adult Permission’ warning flashes before the video cuts to evening services at Mars Hill, where an anonymous audience member has just text-messaged a question to the screen onstage: ‘Pastor Mark, is masturbation a valid form of birth control?’ Driscoll doesn’t miss a beat: ‘I had one guy quote Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, laughing, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ The audience bursts out laughing. Next Pastor Mark is warning them about lust and exalting the confines of marriage, one hand jammed in his jeans pocket while the other waves his Bible. Even the skeptical viewer must admit that whatever Driscoll’s opinion of certain recreational activities, he has the coolest style and foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen.”
Bott is not alone in his objection. Driscoll’s vulgarity also has caught the eye of fellow Calvinist John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in California, who criticized Driscoll for mishandling Song of Solomon, first in a private letter to Driscoll, then later in a scathing four-part critique entitled “The Rape of Solomon’s Song” that was posted in April on MacArthur’s ministry Web site, www.shepherdsfellowship.org.
In a letter to Driscoll, MacArthur encouraged Driscoll to take seriously the standard of holiness to which Scripture holds pastors.
“(Y)ou can(not) make a biblical case for Christians to embrace worldly fads — especially when those fads are diametrically at odds with the wholesome speech, pure mind, and chaste behavior that God calls us to display,” MacArthur wrote. “At its core, this is about ideology. No matter how culture changes, the truth never does. But the more the church accommodates the baser elements of the culture, the more she will inevitably compromise her message. We must not betray our words through our actions, we much be in the world but not of it…. It’s vital that you not send one message about the importance of sound doctrine and a totally different message about the importance of sound speech and irreproachable pure-mindedness.”
At one point in his four-part critique, MacArthur characterized Driscoll’s handling of the book: “This treatment of Solomon’s Song is a molestation of the book, tearing off its God-designed veil, publicly defiling its purity and holding it up for leering and laughter.”
Driscoll has expressed regret over his abuse of language. Preaching on the Bible’s use of strong language during a 2008 Desiring God conference, Driscoll said, “I have sinned a lot. I have said things I totally regret…. I have crossed the line. I have gone too far. I am deeply convicted over sin in my past. I am being sanctified by the grace of God. What I have said will live with me forever, and I am deeply sorrowful to Jesus, and this message for me is incredibly painful because it hits on one of the great weaknesses in my ministry and some of the greatest failures of my life.”
Controversy about Driscoll among Southern Baptists surfaced in February 2009 when he was a featured speaker at a student conference held by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The issue of Driscoll’s methods and behavior, however, stretch as far back as 2007.
In a Sept. 21, 2007, story in Christianity Today, Driscoll said he had learned a lot from Ed Stetzer, who at the time was director of the North American Mission Board’s Center for Missional Research but now is director of research for LifeWay Christian Resources. Stetzer was not interviewed by the Christianity Today reporter because a NAMB spokesman told the publication NAMB had “controversial differences” with some of Driscoll’s “views and practices.”
Stetzer, who once served on the board of Acts 29, has since spoken out in defense of Driscoll, specifically in behalf of his teaching on sexuality.
In a Feb. 13, 2009, post on his LifeWay blog, Stetzer wrote: “And yes, some people won’t like frank talk about sexuality (or they will think it is too frank). However, I think frank talk on sexuality is essential. I am not going to defend everything Mark says about it, or how he says it, but I definitely believe most of our churches need to teach more on the subject.” Stetzer also defended Southeastern Seminary’s decision to invite Driscoll to speak on campus.
That decision caught the attention of the Missouri Baptists Laymen’s Association, a conservative watchdog group headed by former SBC Executive Committee member Roger Moran of Troy, Mo. Earlier this year, the MBLA published a document that, in part, addressed the Driscoll controversy. It noted how Stetzer referred to Driscoll as one of the country’s most influential pastors — particularly among young pastors, reporting that his podcasts are downloaded at a rate of more than 1 million a year.
“This goes to the heart of the issue and explains with absolute clarity why Driscoll was the featured speaker at the Seminary’s ‘Preview Day,'” Moran wrote. “Mark Driscoll is an icon among many young SBC want-to-be pastors and church planters. Moreover, Driscoll and his fellow Acts 29 church planters are portrayed as the elite ‘special forces’ of American Christianity.”
The debate over Driscoll and Acts 29 exploded among Missouri Baptists in 2006 and 2007 — not only about Driscoll’s language but also his and Acts 29’s view of alcohol consumption. In 2008, the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board voted overwhelming to no longer use convention missions dollars to fund any church plant affiliated with Acts 29. The Missouri controversy is documented in the MBLA publication, Viewpoint, which has been distributed among Southern Baptist churches in Missouri and will be available to messengers attending the SBC’s June 23-24 annual meeting in Louisville, Ky.
Don Hinkle is editor of The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.