Sunday, January 29, 2012

Envious Preachers: Attacking Driscoll...and Spurgeon

I'm preaching through Philippians at the moment--still in chapter one.  Philippians 1.12-18 mentions those who are preaching Christ now that Paul is in prison.  There is a group who is doing this from less than "pure motives" (v. 17).  Verses 15-17 describes the situation in this manner:
Some to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.
I've often wondered how these selfish preachers were reasoning--how is it that they thought they might cause distress to Paul in his imprisonment?  D. A. Carson in his little book Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Baker, 1996) describes the selfish preachers this way:
"The preachers to whom Paul makes reference here are a different sort.  They propound the true gospel, but sometimes do so from the strangest mix of motives.  In this case, the people Paul has in mind are those that must be understood to lie behind verse 12.  They think that Paul has done damage to the Christian cause by getting himself arrested.  Probably they magnify their own ministry by putting Paul down.  We can imagine their pompous reflections: 'It really is sad that so great a man as Paul has frittered away his gospel opportunities simply because he is so inflexible.  After all, I and many others manage to remain at large and preach the gospel.  One must assume that Paul has a deep character flaw that puts him in the path of trouble. My ministry is being blessed, while he languishes in prison.'  Thus, the more they speak, the more their own ways are justified and the more Paul is made to look foolish."  (p. 25)
It is helpful to distinguish Paul's perspective on these preachers and the preachers' perspective on themselves.  These preachers did not see themselves as envious and selfish.  I bet they thought they were "wise and discerning."  Paul's analysis goes to the heart and he challenges their motives.  Their actions and words (which Paul had undoubtedly been told of) were enough to manifest their mixed intentions.

Such "selfish ambition" among the people of God still happens--that's probably not a "newsflash" to anybody!  I've often wondered if some (much?) of the criticism that Mark Driscoll draws is not motivated by at least a modicum of envy.  Of course the man and his ministry is imperfect.  He is a public minister reaching a national audience so his mistakes are broadcast far and wide when they happen.  Of course he is not beyond criticism and disagreement is not necessarily bad or motivated by selfish ambition.  Even with all of the qualifications I still wonder if there is not a sense of envy that is mixed in amongst some of his detractors.  Some of the comments I've seen in the comments sections of blogs go way beyond theological or pastoral analysis and border on down right hateful.  It is the lot of faithful servants of Jesus who are given a place of prominence in the public square to draw fire upon themselves and their ministries.  I was reminded of this when thinking of Charles Spurgeon.  The newspapers of his time did not hesitate to "run him down" as evidenced by this piece from The Sheffield and Rotherdam Independent (April 28, 1855):
"Just now, the great lion, star, meteor, or whatever else he may be called, of the Baptists, is the Rev. M. (sic) Spurgeon, minister of Park Street Chapel, Southwark.  He has created a perfect furor in the religious world.  Every Sunday, crowds throng to Exter Hall--where for some weeks past he has been preaching during the enlargement of his own chapel--as to some dramatic entertainment.  The huge hall is crowded to overflowing, morning and evening, with an excited auditory, whose good fortune in obtaining admission is often envied by the hundreds outside who throng the closed doors.  For a parallel to such popularity, we must go to Dr. Chalmers, Edward Irving, or the earlier days of James Parsons.  But I will not dishonor such men by comparison with the Exter Hall religious demagogue.  They preached the gospel with all the fervour of earnest natures.  Mr. Spurgeon preaches himself.  He is nothing unless he is an actor--unless exhibiting that matchless impudence which is his great characteristic, indulging in coarse familiarity with holy things, declaiming in a ranting and colloquial style, strutting up and down the platform as though he were at the Surrey Theatre, and boasting of his own intimacy with Heaven with nauseating frequency.  His fluency, self-possession, oratorical tricks, and daring utterances, seem to fascinate his less-thoughtful hearers, who love excitement more than devotion.... I have glanced at one or two of Mr. Spurgeon's published sermons, and turned away in disgust from the coarse sentiments, the scholastical expressions, and clap-trap style I have discovered.  It would seem that the poor young man's brain is turned by the notoriety he has acquired and the incense offered at his shrine.  From the very pulpit he boasts of the crowds that flock to listen to his rodomontade....This is but a mild picture of the great religious lion of the metropolis."
The article then ends this way:
"He is a nine days' wonder--a comet that has suddenly shot across the religious atmosphere. He has gone up like a rocket, and ere long will come down like a stick.  The most melancholy consideration in the case is the diseased craving for excitement which this running after Mr. Spurgeon by the 'religious world' indicates.  I would charitably conclude that the greater part of the multitude that weekly crowd to his theatrical exhibitions consists of people who are not in the habit of frequenting a place of worship."  Quoted in C. H. Spurgeon Authobiography: Volume One--The Early Years (Banner of Truth, 1962) pp. 321-322
As I read that description of Spurgeon some of the very language used to attack him is now used today to attack Mark Driscoll--"impudence", "indulging in coarse familiarity with holy things", "a ranting and colloquial style, strutting up and down the platform."  Spurgeon popularized a new style of preaching that was profoundly effective.  Iain Murray describes Spurgeon in these words:
"It was an impudent thing in the eyes of the religious world for a young upstart to popularize a new style of preaching.  But that is, in fact, what Spurgeon did, and in doing so he proved he possessed a self-confidence and an originality of no common order.  He scorned a dignified, impersonal presentation of the gospel and spoke to his hearers as though he was seizing them personally by the hand and talking to them in the street."  The Forgotten Spurgeon (Banner of Truth, 1966) pp. 30-31
 History has judged Spurgeon much differently than the newspaper quoted above.  (Even that newspaper, after Spurgeon's death, referred to him as "this noble Puritan preacher and saintly Chrisian"!)  How will history judge Driscoll?  We will have to wait and see.  He has started off in a similar manner to Spurgeon--may God's grace give him as fruitful and glorious ministry all the way to the end.