Dreamweaver: The Visions of Mark Driscoll

Although cooling off some, the controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll’s publications is not over. Over the last 10 days, two more publishers disclosed that reviews of Driscoll’s books are in progress. I’ll have more to say about another Driscoll book soon.

Late last week, Driscoll was briefly in the news for another reason. The New York Times ran a story identifying him as one of a new breed of megachurch leaders who embrace the teachings of John Calvin.  While I understand that Driscoll’s teachings on redemption appear to be consistent with Calvinist doctrine, I was surprised to see him in the list of exemplars for two reasons. One, the Gospel Coalition seemed to declare him to be outside their camp via Jared Wilson’s December call to repentance. And two, Driscoll’s teaching on demons and spiritual gifts seems outside the Calvinism mainstream (and as I will show below, his stories don’t always match up).  I think he could be called a Calvismatic.

I should mention that I don’t consider myself a student of religious movements and don’t know that much about who is on what Christian team. I am not making a scholarly statement here. Rather, as an evangelical for just over 40 years, I speak from my experience with those who proudly wear the label Calvinist. I can’t think of anyone, other than Driscoll, that embraces both Calvinism and what appear to me to be apostolic spiritual warfare teachings at the same time. There may be many, but in my narrow experience, I can’t think of others. I feel sure my readers will educate me if I am incorrect.

With that said, I will introduce a video that really bothered me when I first saw it last week. Still bothers me. This is Driscoll teaching on spiritual warfare (you can review the transcript at this link):

This video was posted to You Tube by Phillip Johnson in August, 2011. The teaching was originally recorded at Mars Hill in early 2008 as a part of a series on spiritual warfare and as far as I can tell first discussed critically at Here I Blog on August 4, 2011.

In the video, Driscoll says he tells people that they have been abused. The people may have no memory of any such event but Driscoll says he can see it happening. Furthermore, he says that, at times, he sees the sins, specifically sins involving sex and aggression, of his congregation and others who cross his path. In this clip and elsewhere, Driscoll doesn’t claim to always be correct but is clear about his belief that his visions are from God and therefore true.  He said he sees the actual acts of others as if on a screen in front of him that others can’t see.

On many levels, I find this problematic and more troubling than the plagiarism controversy. The potential for error, trauma and false reports of assault is great. He even tells his audience that some of them can do the same things he can do. As a psychology prof, I cringe at this video as well as the other similar material I have found on the Mars Hill website.

In my experience, intuitive people do seem to have insight into feelings of others. However, when making interpretations, they respond to non-verbal cues and make inferences from little bits of material presented by clients. It is a natural process, even if not well understood. When pressed, intuitive therapists can tell you what they saw and heard which led to amazing guesses about the actions and feelings of another person. Such experiences happen with Christians and non-Christians alike; one does not need to invoke angels or demons as explanation.

The skeptic in me really wants to meet some of the people Driscoll describes.  In his sermons, there are several other illustrations of what Driscoll sometimes calls the gift of discernment, sometimes the gift of prophetic dreams. In November 2013, the blogger Wenatchee the Hatchet described two of Driscoll’s prophetic dreams,  both involving worship leaders at Mars Hill. The post raises questions about how both dreams could be true.

Sometimes the accounts differ significantly. For instance, in 2005, Driscoll said that in the early days of Mars Hill, an Asian family drove all night to visit Mars Hill Church because God told them to ask Driscoll what they should do about their current church. Here is the account from the 2005 sermon:

I had one occasion where I actually did interpret a guy’s dream. It was the strangest dream. It was at the old building. We had six services, and I was between services. And this guy drove – he came into the church. And he was an Asian guy from Canada. He had his wife and a few kids. They all looked very, very tired. He came up to me. He said, “I really need to meet with you right now.” I said, “Man, I just preached three. I gotta get a bite to eat. I gotta preach three more. I really can’t leave right now.” He said, “No, we just drove all the way from northern Canada. We haven’t slept all night.” Apparently God’s not in Canada. God has to come down.

So, I tell this guy. I’m like, “All right, cool. We’ll do that. Now tell me your story.” So, he tells me his dream. And his wife’s literally falling asleep. His kids are exhausted. They’ve been up all night driving. It was the weirdest thing cause I don’t know how or why. I just told him. “Well, here’s what it means, and here’s what God’s gonna do. And you need to quit working at this church. God’s gonna have you hired at this church. And these people are hard hearted. And God doesn’t want you to serve them anymore because he’s gonna judge them, but he wants to take care of you and your family. So he wants to move you on before he judges.”

And I just talked for about 10, 15 minutes. And he’s like, “How do you know that?” I was like, “I have no idea.” I never met this guy. I don’t know this guy. I don’t know anything about him. And he says, “Well, then that’s the interpretation.” His wife gave me a big hug. She’s crying. She says, “You know, that’s what we needed to hear.” They get in the car and leave. They go back to Canada. I never heard from them again.

In a 2006 sermon, Driscoll tells the story again, but this time he knows how things turned out.

I had another one, when we were over at the old building. The church was just starting to grow. We had a couple services and I remember I did one of the morning services and I was getting ready to do the other one and this Asian family walks in and they all look exhausted and they’re all tired and the kids are kinda falling asleep on mom and she looks tired and dad’s there and he says, “I – we need to meet with you right now.” I said, “I can’t meet right now, dude. I just got done with one service. I’m doing another service. I don’t do meetings right now. I just got, like, a little bit of time between the services.” He says, “God told us to come to you. We need the word from a prophet.” I was like, “Well, if you find one, you know, tell him I said ‘Hi!’ and send him over. I got stuff I wanna ask him, too. I don’t got anything for you, man. I’m not the prophet.” He says, “No, God said you’re the prophet and you have the word for us.” I said, “Well, where are you from?” He said, “We drove all night from Canada.” Apparently there are no prophets in Canada, so they had to come down. I said, “Okay.” I said, “You drove all night?” He said, “We drove all night,” from somewhere up in central Canada. I said, “Okay, so that explains why you all look so tired. You’ve been in the car all night.” So I didn’t know anything about this guy. I said, “Well, I’ll meet with you for a few minutes, pray for you. I mean, least I could do, you drove all night with your family.

Sat them on the couch. Prayed. Looked at them. Then went off on this whole rant. I said, “Look, the church you’re in is a Godless church. They have a hard heart. Some of the leaders have hidden, unconfessed, unrepentant sin. They are just not participating with God. God needs to judge those leaders, remove them, cleanse and purify the church, then if they are repentant, he will grow it. If not, he will shut it down. You’re in the same situation as Revelation 2 and 3. You, however, keep holding on to the church, trying to salvage it and save it and make it work because you’re being proud and you think that it’s a reflection of you. It’s not a reflection of you, it’s a reflection of Jesus. You need to get out of the way. Quit your job. Jesus has another job for you at this other church. You take that job. He’ll bless you there. Get out of the way. Let him deal with this church. That’s what his word is to you. You’re a pastor, right?” I mean, I didn’t know. I gave him this whole thing and I’m like, “Are you a pastor?” He’s like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Then that’s what it is.” So – and he gives me a big hug. He says, “Okay. That’s what we’ve been wrestling with. We didn’t – I want to leave but I didn’t know if it was me or the Lord that was moving me on and I needed confirmation.” His wife’s crying. Gives me a big hug. She says, “In my heart, I knew that’s what God had for us, but I didn’t wanna tell my husband because I wanted him to hear from God. Thank you so much.” I pray for them.

They go home and I see them a few years later at a conference. He said, “Everything happened just like you said. I’m at the other church. We’re happy. It’s growing. God’s blessing it. Massive sin came out in the leadership of the other church. They now are in the process of either repenting or not and the church is gonna live or die. It’s teetering on the edge, just like you said.” I’m like, “Okey dokie. Okay.” You know, I don’t understand this all the time.

In the first account, the man has a dream which Driscoll interprets. In second, Driscoll doesn’t mention the dream but instead provides a prophetic word. More significantly, in the first account, Driscoll says he never heard from them again. In the second, he says he saw them “a few years later” and got confirmation that his prophecy was correct. Which account is true?

Perhaps there is an innocent explanation for the differences. Perhaps, Driscoll’s memory failed him in 2005 but he remembered more of the details when he retold the story the second time. It seems unlikely that one would forget such a thing but I can’t take any position on motive or accuracy. However, I can point out that memory is subject to bias and misinformation and Driscoll’s differing stories provides a caution about relying on the dreams and visions of others. How does one know when he is getting it right or not?

During the controversy over repressed memories during the 1990s, many therapists told clients that the depression, anxiety or other symptoms were probably related to and could be explained by experiences of child abuse. Even though clients had no memory of such events, therapists pressed on confidently with the narrative. Some clients “remembered” horrible abuse and some had great confidence in their “memories.” Some, like the woman in the video below, lost families over faulty narratives derived from a therapist’s efforts to read their minds.

Even though bloggers and others have raised these concerns previously, I can’t see where they were ever addressed by Driscoll or Mars Hill Church. The sermon material remains live on the Mars Hill website so it seems fair to believe Driscoll and the church still approves it. It is hard for me to see how this teaching can be considered mainstream.

For all posts on Driscoll and Mars Hill, click here.