The Tragedy of No Discernment – What We All Need to Learn from the Hillsong-Driscoll Fiasco

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So Hillsong have folded to the typical media firestorm and revoked their invitation to Mark Driscoll to speak at their upcoming conference here in Sydney later this month. The Herald have the story

The Australian visit of a controversial US pastor who once described women as “penis houses” has been cancelled after a public backlash.

Hillsong’s founder Brian Houston decided Mark Driscoll would no longer attend the church’s Sydney conference this month after a “personal interaction” on Sunday.

“It is my hope that Mark and I will be able to speak in person in the coming weeks to discuss some of the issues that have been raised, what – if anything – he has learned, and for me to understand better how he is progressing in both his personal and professional life,” Mr Houston said in a statement.

“The teachings of Christ are based on love and forgiveness, and I will not write off Mark as a person simply because of the things that people have said about him, a small minority of people signing a petition or statements he has made many years ago for which he has since repeatedly apologised.”

“However, I do not want unnecessary distractions during our conference, particularly as this 30 minute interview was only a small part of this five day event. It was clear to me that Mark’s attendance had the potential to divert attention from the real purpose of Hillsong Conference, which is to see people leave encouraged in their own spiritual journey.”

All true, and I particularly like “not writing Mark off”; none of us should. But the final paragraph is so horribly telling:

“Clearly Mark has held some views and made some statements that cannot be defended. One or two of the more outrageous things he is purported to have said, I have heard for the first time through the media exposure over the past week.”

“I have heard for the first time…

For the first time.

Get your head around that. They invited Mark Driscoll, they kept the invitation in place after he stepped down from pastoral ministry, but Houston claims he had no real idea about these allegations. You have to ask, why not? How could you possibly not? It’s one thing to be a reader of the Sydney Morning Herald who wouldn’t know Mark Driscoll from Deepak Chopra, quite another to be a lead pastor in a major Christian church inviting your main platform speakers to what is Australia’s largest Christian conference. How can one move in evangelical circles and not be aware of the allegations and controversies surrounding Driscoll, even before he finally resigned? How can you invite someone to speak at that conference and not make sure that they’re not going to bring your organisation into disrepute?

Moreover, in this particular case, how could Hillsong so flagrantly undermine the disciplinary and pastoral process that Driscoll should still be under? He was asked to step down from ministry at Mars Hill and to go through a period of no public ministry while restoration was sought. Driscoll has, in recent months, chosen to decide for himself when this was over and Hillsong have placed themselves in a position that undermines the whole process; it’s a great disservice to those faithful church leaders in Seattle.

Mind you, this is the same Hillsong that has had false teachers lined up at the conference year after year; people who deny the Trinity and preach all sorts of prosperity gospel nonsense. Don’t they know? Don’t they care? How can one move in evangelical circles and not be aware of T.D. Jakes? How can one in any way breathe the air of American Christianity and not understand the criticisms levelled against Joseph Prince, who will preach from the Hillsong 2015 Conference stage? I think it’s the claimed naïvety  that troubles me almost as much as the invitations themselves.

And yet there is a danger for all of us to do exactly this, to prize something else over and above simple Biblical faithfulness. Where have I thought that numbers was the main game in measuring success at church? Where do I fall prey to the temptation to make sure the music, above all things, is right? What else do I naïvely and without discernment accept something when actually I should know far better? We ought to take this latest round of foolishness from Hillsong as a somber warning for all of us.

And let me make something clear. I long for Hillsong Conference to be something I could confidently send people to. Long for it. But something will have to change.

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  1. Ian Rutherford

    As one amongst many measures, I would have thought Sydney Anglicans and the like should reflect on their own connection with Mark Driscoll. They’ve mostly promoted and praised him over the years, had him speaking at rallies and speaking to leadership. We’ve barely heard a peep from Sydney Anglican leadership to publicly warn or assist others regarding Mark Driscoll prior to the last six months. Of course now it’s all collapsing in the last year they’ve been a few tut tuts and told you so’s. Most have kept quiet. But of course now another Sydney church is copping flak for a planned first association, out come some such as yourself David. As I said I’m happy to chat (personally) or continue to reflect on things with you here.

  2. Matt Patchon

    In my first post here this is the exact same concern I expressed about The Gospel Coalition. Maybe if you are liberal it may not bother you that Keller is a Theistic Evolutionist. And the way he confabulates on homosexual issues is concerning, from my viewpoint.

    At the very least we should be discerning enough to be skeptical of something like TGC coming in and shaking up the system. I would rather be proven wrong than turn around and say, “Look, all the churches are as good as burnt down. I told you so!”

    If we bemoan not being discerning enough re Driscoll (who has his TGC connections) then why would we not be discerning where TGC is concerned?

    At the least be informed of a number of people’s TGC concerns.

    1. David Ould

      hi Matt, thanks for posting.
      I’m a contributor to TGC and will be part of their initial consultation. Happy to hear more from you about your concerns.

      As for the particular question of origins, I know there are a number of different positions and I, myself, am certainly not a theistic evolutionist. But I’m not convinced it’s the first-order issue that others think it is.

      Either way, thanks for commenting here. If you want to inform us some more of your TGC concerns then that’s ok.

      1. Matt Patchon

        Hi David, thanks for the response. At face value TGC does seem to push New Calvinism, over which I am sure you are aware of criticisms. The books New Calvinism Considered, and, The New Calvinists: changing the Gospel, are worth a read on this front. Maybe you can assuage my concerns here, David.

        I take your point that Theistic Evolution is not a first order issue, but it does lay a foundation for other liberal interpretations on bible teachings into the future, or off to the side. It has the potential for a snowball effect later on. If TGC compromises on the origins of man, what happens when you scratch the surface on other points of doctrine?

        As a conservative member (by no means a theologian) in a Reformed church, it seems to me that TGC pushes and/or endorses a worldliness into the churches – the casualisation of the church so to speak. So it’s a subtle thing, seemingly innocuous,but a move toward an experiential church practice. I think the safest way forward is to look backward, at characters like Pink, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Ryle, Calvin, Luther, etc.. While they may not be perfect, we know where these boats have sailed to, whereas the TGC boat has not reached its destination – so there is a leap of faith, so to speak, to jump on board with it. TGC proposes a middling effect: conservative churches will become less conservative and liberal churches will be made less liberal.

        When you look at how TGC has positioned itself regarding Ferguson, it looks like it is very much continuing in the vein of the Social Gospel from the early 20th century, and we know how that panned out.

        Finally, how many times can you say to yourself “Oh, that bit of doctrine is not a game changer,” before you notice that your destination has shifted by significant degrees.

        Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those that enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

        1. David Ould

          thanks Matt. All very helpful. Can you link to some specific examples on the TGC website of what you’re refering to and how it demonstrates the point you’re making?

          1. Matt Patchon

            Hi David, give me a bit of time and I will see what I can dig up in the way of references to support my argument. I must say it is defensive and presumptuous to demand references from the TGC site itself. This presumes direct evidence only and precludes the fact that TGC has its fingers in many pies. Evidence from those pies should be admissible so that a thread of circumstantial evidence may be built.

          2. David Ould

            hi Matt.
            Not “demanding” anything. Just a gentle request for you to substantiate your claims, which are very serious ones.
            Every movement will have something that others disagree with, but when you charge them with being dangerous for the church then I think that requires some flesh and skin on the bones. Look forward to seeing what you have and, perhaps, engaging with it.

  3. Jonathan L

    As I said on David’s post from a year ago (see, think of Hillsong as a business. Their focus is numbers and money – they want bums on seats to give offerings and buy merchandise. Biblical doctrine is largely irrelevant for them. What matters is big names who will bring in the crowds and pump them up with a pep talk. This is not christianity.

  4. Anthony Whitney

    Sadly I see a fair degree of ‘lack of discernment’ amongst many Pentecostals I know (though not all to be fair). They happily embrace all kinds of weird teachings and ministries, for eg healing, end times, prosperity etc etc. I’m no biblical expert, and I know these friends/family of mine read from the scriptures often, yet there is this really worrying blind spot when it comes to dodgy teaching and practises. Just a massive lapse in discernment. Or maybe I’m just grumpy cause I keep getting Joseph Prince devotionals for Christmas!

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