Friday, February 23, 2007


Counterculture's Death-Spiral and the Vulgarization of the Gospel

by John MacArthur

One of the favorite topics on the evangelical agenda these days is how the church should "engage the culture." Do Christians need to imitate the boorish aspects of a quickly-decaying civilization in order to remain "relevant"? Some evidently think so.

We keep hearing from evangelical strategists and savvy church leaders that Christians need to be more tuned into contemporary culture.

You have no doubt heard the arguments: We need to take the message out of the bottle. We can't minister effectively if don't speak the language of contemporary counterculture. If we don't vernacularize the gospel, contextualize the church, and reimagine Christianity for each succeeding generation, how can we possibly reach young people? Above all else, we have got to stay in step with the times.

Those arguments have been stressed to the point that many evangelicals now seem to think unstylishness is just about the worst imaginable threat to the expansion of the gospel and the influence of the church.
They don't really care if they are worldly. They just don't want to be thought uncool.

That way of thinking has been around at least since modernism began its aggressive assault on biblical Christianity in the Victorian era. For half a century or more, most evangelicals resisted the pragmatic thrust of the modernist argument, believing it was a fundamentally worldly philosophy. They had enough biblical understanding to realize that "friendship with the world is enmity with God. Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).

But the mainstream evangelical movement gave up the battle against worldliness half a century ago, and then completely capitulated to pragmatism just a couple of decades ago. After all, most of the best-known megachurches that rose to prominence after 1985 were built on a pragmatic philosophy of giving "unchurched" people whatever it takes to make them feel comfortable. Why would anyone criticize what "works"?

Whole churches have thus deliberately immersed themselves in "the culture", by which they actually mean, whatever the world loves at the moment. We now have a new breed of trendy churches whose preachers can rattle off references to every popular icon, every trifling mime, every tasteless fashion, and every vapid trend that captures the fickle fancy of the postmodern secular mind.

Worldly preachers seem to go out of their way to put their carnal expertise on display, even in their sermons. In the name of connecting with "the culture" they want their people to know they have seen all the latest programs on MTV; familiarized themselves with all the key themes of "South Park"; learned the lyrics to countless tracks of gangsta rap and heavy metal music; and watched who-knows-how-many R-rated movies. They seem to know every fad top to bottom, back to front, and inside out. They've adopted both the style and the language of the world, including lavish use of language that used to be deemed inappropriate in polite society, much less in the pulpit. They want to fit right in with the world, and they seem to be making themselves quite comfortable there.

Mark Driscoll is one of the best-known representatives of that kind of thinking. He is a very effective communicator, a bright, witty, clever, funny, insightful, crude, profane, deliberately shocking, in-your-face kind of guy. His soteriology is exactly right, but that only makes his infatuation with the vulgar aspects of contemporary society more disturbing.

Driscoll ministers in Seattle, birthplace of "grunge" music and heart of the ever-changing subculture associated with that movement. Driscoll's unique style and idiom might aptly be labeled "post-grunge."His language, even in his sermons, is deliberately crude. He is so well known for using profane language that in Blue Like Jazz (p. 133), Donald Miller (popular author and icon of the "Emerging Church" movement, who speaks of Driscoll with the utmost admiration) nicknamed him "Mark the Cussing Pastor."

I don't know what Driscoll's language is like in private conversation, but I listened to several of his sermons. To be fair, he didn't use the sort of four-letter expletives most people think of as cuss words, nothing that might get bleeped on broadcast television these days. Still, it would certainly be accurate to describe both his vocabulary and his subject matter at times as tasteless, indecent, crude, and utterly inappropriate for a minister of Christ. In every message I listened to, at least once he veered into territory that ought to be clearly marked off limits for the pulpit.

Some of the things Driscoll talks freely and frequently about involve words and subject matter I would prefer not even to mention in public, so I am not going to quote or describe the objectionable parts. Besides, the issue has already been discussed and dissected at several blogs. Earlier this year, Tim Challies cited one typical example of Driscoll's vulgar flippancy from Confessions of a Reformission Rev. The sermons I listened to also included several from Driscoll's "Vintage Jesus" series, including the one Phil Johnson critiqued in October.

The point I want to make is not about Driscoll's language per se, but about the underlying philosophy that assumes following society down the Romans 1 path is a valid way to "engage the culture." It's possible to be overexposed to our culture's dark side. I don't think anyone can survive full immersion in today's entertainments and remain spiritually healthy.

Let's face it: Many of the world's favorite fads are toxic, and they are becoming increasingly so as our society descendsfurther in its spiritual death-spiral. It's like a radioactive toxicity, so while those who immerse themselves in it might not notice its effects instantly, they nevertheless cannot escape the inevitable, soul-destroying contamination. And woe to those who become comfortable with the sinful fads of secular society. The final verse of Romans 1 expressly condemns those "who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them."

Even when you marry such worldliness with good systematic theology and a vigorous defense of substitutionary atonement, the soundness of the theoretical doctrine doesn't sanctify the wickedness of the practical lifestyle. The opposite happens. Solid biblical doctrine is trivialized and mocked if we're not doers of the Word as well as teachers of it.

We could learn from the example of Paul, who engaged the philosophers on Mars Hill. But far from embracing their culture, he was repulsed by it. Acts 17:16 says, "while Paul waited for [Silas and Timothy] at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols."

When Paul spoke to that culture, he didn't adopt Greek scatology to show off how hip he could be. He simply declared the truth of God's Word to them in plain language. And not all of his pagan listeners were happy with that (v. 18). That's to be expected. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19).

Even Jesus' high priestly prayer included a thorough description of the Christian's proper relationship with and attitude toward the world: "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:14-16).

Whenever Jesus spoke of believers being in the world, He stated that if we are faithful, the world will be a place of hostility and persecution, not a zone of comfort. He also invariably followed that theme with a plea for our sanctification (cf. John 17:17-19).

The problem with the "grunge" approach to religion is that it works against the sanctifying process. In fact, in one of the messages I listened to, Driscoll actually boasted that his sanctification goes no higher than his shoulders. His defense of substitutionary atonement might help his disciples gain a good grasp of the doctrine of justification by faith; but the lifestyle he models, especially his easygoing familiarity with all this world's filthy fads, practically guarantees that they will make little progress toward authentic sanctification.

I frankly wonder how any Christian who takes the Bible at face value could ever think that in order to be culturally relevant Christians should participate in society's growing infatuation with vulgarity. Didn't vulgarity and culture used to be considered polar opposites?

-- John MacArthur, Does Doctrine Really Matter


Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Kenny and Keith,
Uzzah and the ark come to mind. Helping God to communicate better is like Uzzah grabbing the ark so it wouldn't tip. God killed him for it.

I love MacArthur. He has stayed straight.

Appreciate you guys, too.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

10:41 AM  
Blogger DennisS said...

Of course, we are seeking transformation in Christ - not seeking fuller immersion in the worldly culture.

I DO see a need to take the Gospel into the worldly culture. This is fulfilling two commands - Love Neighbor, and Make Disciples.

This is WHY we reach out to those around us with the Gospel message.

Yet, we have poeple spending energy in a tiring argument of HOW this is to be done.

We can find fault with HOW just about anything is done. But if we agree as to WHY, then perhaps we can release all the anxiety about HOW.

It has been said, "The Devil is in the details." Another way to say that is "How things are done gets people riled up."

The truth is, the people listening on Mars Hill required a different approach than the people in Philippi, which is different than those in Samaria.

The truth is, it takes often takes significant time for the Gospel message to reach the heart, and it is sometimes necessary to get them to hang in long enough for this to happen.

I don't think we need to go into entertainment mode, nor water down the Gospel, nor continue to prepare bottles of milk. But I do think we need to be careful of criticizing HOW another person is called to preach & teach. Besides, it's unbiblical to do such a thing through the media - rather than following Mt. 18.

My main caution here is to consider WHY, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide HOW. When we concentrate on WHY, we head in the right direction. When we concentrate on HOW, we get lost in circumstances and often fail to proceed toward the prize for which we run the race.

When we are feeling trapped, we might have various ways of trying to get across the Red Sea. Let's allow HOW to be the work of God, and WHY to be what guides us towards glory.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Rick Frueh said...

So as long as your heart is in the right place you are free to create your own methods and paths? Doesn't Paul say that a man must strive lawfully meaning within the parameters of God's Word? And at what point do the methods detract from the message and the people are responding to the clever theatrics and not the conviction of the Holy Spirit?

I submit we have long since crossed that brook and people like Driscoll have blazed a fleshly trail that is now fodder for discussion when he should be roundly rebuked in love by other men of God. Anyone who breaks the commandments of God and teaches others to do so is considered the least in the kingdom of God. (Somebody once said that)

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the devil is in the details ?
Your comment is very detailed....
A little convoluted, hard to follow.
How long have you studied this issue?
It matters that you call on people , preachers that are out of line when they are speaking and leading others .

10:34 PM  
Blogger DennisS said...

Rick - you sure can mix the metaphors. Three in the same sentence? (crossing a brook, blazing a trail, fodder for discussion)

Do you know why psychologists and sociologists rarely end up on a jury? They realize that a person doesn't just do something on their own, but that there have been many, many different influences in their lives.

I'm not trying to make excuses for anyone - but do realize what is true and proper. In the case of someone who others consider to be successful (because of numbers), it's tough to get them down off their pedestal.

I don't think we should be pointing out the sliver in the eye of another before we dislodge the mote in our own. Are we really supposed to judge others?

So often our reason for speaking out is from our own jealousy.

What did Jesus say when the disciples tried to stop a man who was casting out demons in Jesus' name? "No one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of thes little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:39-43).

1:20 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

You asked, "Are we really supposed to judge others?"

Yes. Jesus said so. Matthew 7.

You quoted Jesus when He said, "If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of thes little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea."

False-teaching is a stumbling block. So even though, at this particular time Jesus was speaking to the disciples, he also warned them of false shepherds. Read John 10.

And Paul told Timothy that he was doing a godly work when warning of false teachers. Read I Timothy 4:1-6.

Interestingly, too, is the fact that when Jesus used the sliver-and-mote metaphor, He was speaking to false-teachers. So using this passage as a reason to allow false-teachers continue is incorrect.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Hank said...

I am not certain as to how it can be said that the statement in Matthew 7 is too only false teachers. In the 15th verse same chapter He says beware of the false teachers. Why would he be warning the false teachers to beware of the false teachers. It would be logical that He would be speaking to both believing and non alike. It would only be logical if one insists hypocrisy is the only unforgivable sin which I do believe it is not. Particularly when Peter was apparently guilty of it when he changed his hat in relationship to his behavior when in company of the Jews as apposed to other non Hebrew believers. I am inclined to believe the discussion here is related to the regulative normative argument of Church polity in the area of style of worship. I am inclined to think Denniss is saying doctrine is not necessarily compromised when addressing in your worship, styles that are reflective of the culture you are addressing if you are not conflicting with the principles of proper doctrine. I believe the default should reflect Matthew 22 :37-40.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Good point. I'd misplaced that in Scripture in my mind.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

On the stuff other than the sliver-and-mote, what I was getting at is it is easy to simply sweep away all sorts of criticism of the clergy. The Scripture, though does warn of false teachers and the entire assembly is to be vigilant about both their doctrine and their lifestyle. See the qualifications of leaders in Timothy. MacArthur's concern about Driscoll is Driscoll's lifestyle. Just because Dricoll is claiming sincerity is not a reason to believe him. His lifestyle of vulgarity and speaking of woman like objects disqualifies him.

Also, I know I say this all the time, but I'll say it again. And this has to do with your reference to Mat. 22. Love is not what you think it is. If I reject and refute an evil leader, I am loving. The contrast you make is an illusion. Read I John 5:2. "By this very thing we are knowing we are loving the children of God, if God we are loving and His commandments we are performing."

According to a biblical understanding of godly love, it is unloving not to oppose false teachers.

One more thing to consider is Paul's treatment of Peter. Peter was not teaching error. He was living error by showing partiality. Paul cornered Peter and rebuked him publicly.

Was Paul unloving?

Thanks for the correction on the misquoted passage.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

7:32 PM  
Blogger DennisS said...

Thank you, Hank. Let love show the way, and take priority - Mt. 22:37-40.

In regards to Matthew 7 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye."

I don't see how this passage could be used to say that it is normative to judge others. I don't see how this is specifically against false teachers - other than being hypocrites ourselves.

What I'm saying is that we too often treat others as the enemy - rather than praying for them, rather than seeking to point out their error. In this it seems we become legalistic - rather than grace-filled.

I'm not saying we are to sit under the teaching of those who we consider to be false teachers. But I do think we need to realize that God works in mysterious ways - that God can redeeem many situations and false teachers. Have we tried to win the brother?

I'm also against painting with broad strokes - suggesting that those in a particular denomination, those in a particular congregation, are hell-bound because of their pastor/teacher/denomination.

1Timothy 4:1-6 doesn't say that Timothy is to preach against specific teachers/preachers. The main topics are faith and sound teaching. The passage is also a warning against false asceticism - denying the flesh by abstaining from food and marriage - everything created by God is good if received with thanksgiving - being sanctified by God's word and by prayer.

No, it seems to me that the Bible teaches us to take the moral high road - to teach proper doctrine, and even to let people know what is not proper doctrine.

False teaching is one stumbling block. But it seems that we put too much emphasis on ourselves if we must personally defend God from such assaults. If that is our God-given gift and calling, to approach those teaching unsound doctrine - then absolutely go after it.

I believe it is our responsibility to teach correct doctrine and teach correct living. I believe we can point out error without naming names of those we believe are in error. But it seems to me that the emphasis should be upon grace and love and proper doctrine - not upon the failures of someone else.

I don't think we have to come up with a name - such as "Grunge" - which suggests our (non-grunge) way is better. How are we superior to other sinners in need of grace? So, let's try to get along, grow in faith, help one another, and actually put love into action.

9:51 PM  
Blogger DennisS said...

Thank you for the post Phil. My last comment was written before I saw your last 2 comments (around 7:30pm).

I largely agree with your latest post.

I'll have to find the reference regarding the rebuke of Peter. One thing to note though, is that Paul did this face to face. He didn't send a letter or a friend to do it. He apparently didn't talk behind Peter's back about what was being done.

I don't have any specific reference to the "vulgarity", nor the treatment of women, by Driscoll. I've taken the time to listen to one sermon (it was over an hour long), and it seemed to me that he had conservative values regarding marriage and family. I didn't note any vulgar language.

I hope that if anyone judges Mark D. that they will judge based upon the fruit - not upon their own standards and context.

The Gospels suggest, by the persons Jesus called as disciples, that it is the message - and not the messenger - which is important.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Hank said...

I am inclined to think that we are to judge but to do so with love. I refer to Psalms 141:5, Proverbs 9:8, Proverbs 27:17 and with time I think we could find far more verses that support that need and responsibility in the Body of Christ. I do not believe I have it all understood but enjoy the fray, as we are involved now. I commend you all for your zeal for our Lord but agree with Denniss' statement 'Let love show the way' I would not go so far as to say that at times that will not be severe.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

The act of judging a teacher is a loving act because we are commanded to do so.

Here is my point as succintly as I can say it: Biblical love = doing what God says to do. I John 5:2-3, II John 6.

We think upside down in this society. Biblical love is not feeling right. It is doing right.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...

Allow me to critique Macarthur's critique here by transposing his words slightly:

Worldly preachers seem to go out of their way to put their carnal expertise on display, even in their sermons. In the name of connecting with "the culture" they want their people to know they have seen all the latest programs on Fox; familiarized themselves with all the key themes of "24"; learned the lyrics to countless tracks of country and western music; and watched who-knows-how-many "Superbowls". They seem to know every fad top to bottom, back to front, and inside out. They've adopted both the style and the language of the world, including lavish use of right wing political opinions that used to be deemed inappropriate in polite society, much less in the pulpit. They want to fit right in with the world, and they seem to be making themselves quite comfortable there.


Let me be blunt. Macarthur is criticising Driscoll because of traits that he himself has - it's just that Macarthur comes from a socially conservative viewpoint, and somehow thinks that the things that social conservatives like must be okay, like watching 24 and the Superbowl.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Actually, MacArthur makes it plain. His criticism is the vulgarity of some of his topics and even the choice of words. Read the articles he mentions by Challies and Johnson.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

11:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hank ,
Don't let your love for someone/ others ..the need to love them above all things ...
overlook the errors that they may speak or what they may stand for or support.
I hear so many people talk of LOVE that it seems more important to some to LOVE than to deal with the errors in one's thinking and their behavior.
Why can't you do both ?
Why interpt the responses of the one who confronts the falsehoods of the people who claim to christian, to not be loving?
I think when you speak of LOVE all the time you look like a push over.
Waiting for an answer.

8:05 PM  
Blogger Hank said...

To waiting for an answer.
Those who know me well are always complaining I speak to harshly at times. Even though I frequently refer to the passage in Ephesians 4:15 & 16 where Paul calls to the Church to speak the truth in love, I don't always do it but I try. I trust God is sovereign in all things and can know His Spirit can correct any of my failings. I pray I will hear His Spirit speak to me through His Word and His people.
I believe firmly that some of the most loving acts I have done for my children has been to punish them for evil intent. I never spanked them for honest error. I believe we are to trust God and pray that we will be lead into truth and then respond as the Spirit leads. As a member of the session at the church where I worship I do not have authority to decide the church's direction. I have a voice and a responsibility to work prayerfully with the men on that board to seek the face and will of God. It is then our responsibility to equip the saints with the truth of the Word that they can do the works of God and all of us be blessed in it. It is my desire to see my children not to grow up to be what I want them to be, but rather what the good and perfect Father has designed them to be. How can I lead the church of God any differently? The leadership of a church is never to Lord it over their charges but rather to serve. I believe I am to take what others say and rather than show how foolish they are show what the word of God says and let His word convict them of how foolish indeed they are. I hope that helps explain.

11:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hank, I understand the responsibility of a session leader in a church, it sounds like your approach to that role is Biblical and humble and the way you discipline your children seems very loving and correct , however when you know that something someone is doing and saying in your church is incorrect and not Biblical do you sit back and just love them and quietly give them a verse from the Bible and then let the continue spewing the falsehoods to the other members of your church?
Or will you confront them and point out the errors and then state the truth ?
I believe that sites like thinkerup , Ken Silva and others are fighting the battle that will determine which church is the true church or the false church .
This is a real spiritual battle that I believe many do not want to fight , people don't like to fight ,some will surrender than fight . I know that Jesus said that not even the gates of hell can prevail against the church so He will maintain and sustain it but we still need to fight it is our responsibly right?
The Church of Jesus Christ( not ladder day saints) is at the crossroads .
Do the leaders of the churches today notice the devil roaming around the pews? Or do they put their heads in the sand because they are too comfortable in their nice churches .
I believe the pastors , elders ,leaders of the real church of Jesus need to rise up and slam these falsehoods that are rising up in the church. Fight ! Love ! FIGHT !
Waiting for an answer

4:48 PM  
Blogger Hank said...

The word for love occurs over 300 times in the Old Testament. Doctrine 4. The word for love in the New Testament occurs over 250 times and doctrine 37. I am not saying we should not teach and exhort sound doctrine but the Bible places more emphasis on love. The 4 Gospels refer to love close to 80 times +- and doctrine 7. I do not minimize the need to teach doctrine but id the reason for it is not love of God and men what does that say? Matthew 15:9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' " says it all. Doctrine of men is not love but knowledge without love is empty and meaningless. Push over? please explain.

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hank ,
enjoying the dialogue. I guess what I mean by push over is too nice or not seeing the wolf in the sheep's clothing or I 'm seeing someone who is always saying "love everyone" and "don't talk about the incorrect doctrines" Or he loves so much that he doesn't want to lose a relationship he has with someone so he will not bring up anything that might cause a riff between them and in turn will be interpted as unloving and his relationship could be done. He loves the relationship more than he loves the Truth .
I do believe love without correction is meaningless .
Maybe we are saying the same thing, I don' know . You seem to lay heavy on the Love .
I think the most loving thing I could do to my friend is to confront him at every wrong turn that he might take and I would hope he would do the same to me.
Of course doctrine of men is not worth a fight . Is not the doctrines of Christ the Word worth the fight?
Can you truly love someone without dealing with their error?
Waiting for an answer

11:27 PM  
Blogger Hank said...

In simple to love someone is to seek there best and wellbeing. You must deal with the error. It is the way in which we do it that defines the love. I am not the harbinger of how its done. I do it as best I can and pray God will bring the results and correct me when I am wrong.

7:55 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home