Professionally brash pastor Mark Driscoll and quintessential fundamentalist John MacArthur found themselves in a sort-of-feud last Friday, as Driscoll protested outside MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference and had copies of his book sort-of-confiscated.
It was weird. It was particularly weird given that both men are staunch theological conservatives, strident Calvinists, and megachurch pastors.
For those who don’t know him, John MacArthur is an old school fundamentalist whose church draws over 8000 weekly attendees. He also believes all Charismatics are blasphemers, and ultimately hell-bound, which is the premise of his Strange Fire conference, based on his recent book of the same name. MacArthur spent the conference denouncing the prosperity gospel, the social gospel, charismatics…so basically, everyone except him and his ever-shrinking group of friends.
Driscoll, perhaps trying to distinguish himself from MacArthur, argues that MacArthur’s approach is exclusionary; that dismissing charismatics is to dismiss “the majority of Christianity globally.” Of course, it may seem rather cynical that Driscoll critiques MacArthur for not being big-tent enough while he promotes hisbook A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity have a Funeral or a Future?, which claims that only 8% of Americans are true evangelicals. A little math here shows that Driscoll believes around 11% of self-identified Christians are really Christians.
ANYWAY. In this theological dispute, a sort-of-feud was born. Driscoll happened to be spending the weekend of Strange Fire at his own “Act Like Men” conference, coincidentally held a mere forty-five minute drive away in Long Beach, California. So on Friday, Driscoll took a break from espousing his creepy patriarchal gender philosophy to bring a message of sort-of-inclusion forty-five minutes up the road to Sun Valley.
Once he arrived, Driscoll handed out copies of A Call To Resurgence, shook some hands, and prayed with a few people. But it wasn’t long before trouble started. Driscoll tweeted, “Security confiscated my books.” As evidence, he posted a photo of himself being stared down by several intimidating-looking men in suits.
Others saw the scene differently. According to one attendee, Driscoll told security that the books were a donation. After an elongated exchange where security tried to reject the books and help Driscoll move them back to the car, they eventually just took them, probably in hopes that doing so would make Driscoll go away.
A Christian Post article took a third position, one that Driscoll has since endorsed via Twitter: everything was cool between Driscoll and the event organizers all along! The guys wanted to take the books, but Driscoll was totally like, “You know what? Consider them a donation!” Then security was like, “Thanks, bro. We will totally read these and not put them in the dumpster.” (I may have embellished the dialogue a bit.)
The CP article then offered lots of friendly quotes from Driscoll and Strange Fire organizers that made the whole thing seem like a nice, quiet theological dispute, giving both sides the chance to show just how much they respected one other.
Ironically, this whole incident highlights another similarity between Driscoll and MacArthur: besides both being relentless self-promoters who make their names by loudly denouncing others, they also hate when people call them out as self-promoters who loudly denounce others, preferring to be known as quiet, humble men of God who love and respect their enemies – despite all tweets to the contrary.
Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt perhaps best summed up the similarity between MacArthur and Driscoll via Twitter, “What happens when one pastor desperately promoting a book clashes with another pastor desperately promoting a book?”
The answer? Everybody wins. MacArthur’s conference is quite literally attached to his book. And Driscoll’s performance guarantees his book, which is already destined for high sales given Driscoll’s popularity and a title like “A Call to Resurgence”, gets some extra press. Ultimately, their relationship is symbiotic: Christians like Driscoll and MacArthur thrive on conflict.