Driscoll and the Calvinist Revival

Molly Worthen writes in the New York Times about Mark Driscoll’s ministry and its place within the revival of Calvinism among evangelicals. I think Worthen does some good reporting here, though her assessment of Driscoll’s theology is pretty negative.

“What is new about Driscoll is that he has resurrected a particular strain of fire and brimstone, one that most Americans assume died out with the Puritans: Calvinism, a theology that makes Pat Robertson seem warm and fuzzy. . . His message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time. Yet a significant number of young people in Seattle — and nationwide — say this is exactly what they want to hear. Calvinism has somehow become cool. . .”

Worthen even slips in a personal jab at Driscoll at the end of her piece:

“Driscoll’s New Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents.”

The article talks not only about Driscoll’s Calvinism, but also about the fact that he is a complementarian (Mark it down as perhaps the first and last time you’ll see the word “complementarianism” in a New York Times article!). I think Worthen and the wider culture are scandalized by both of these. There’s nothing more politically incorrect than to say that humans don’t have libertarian free will and that wives should submit to their husbands.

And therein is the paradox of Driscoll that Worthen is grappling with. On the one hand Driscoll is the coolest and most relevant personality one can imagine, and on the other hand he holds to a retrograde, Puritan, patriarchal theology. This is a fascinating read, and I encourage you to check it out.

“Who Would Jesus Smack Down” – by Molly Worthen (New York Times)

(HT: Justin Taylor)

11 Responses to Driscoll and the Calvinist Revival

  1. jigawatt January 11, 2009 at 12:42 am #

    being a persecuted minority proves you are among the elect

    Exactly who was she talking to?

  2. Russ Ware January 11, 2009 at 2:02 am #

    “On the one hand Driscoll is the coolest and most relevant personality one can imagine…”

    Driscoll is also one of the most disturbing pastoral figures to gain such mass popularity I can think of. And I am not so much talking about his theology. I may not agree with John Piper on all points of theology, but I still have great respect for him.

    I’ve kept up, to some extent, with Driscoll ever since I saw him years ago at a sort of ‘proto-emergent’ conference in New Mexico. Doug Pagitt and Mark Driscoll were on the same team that week. Those were the days. 😉

    I always expected that Doug would get further and further from the reservation… and he has… and that’s disturbing too.

    But I never expected Driscoll to become what he has become. I don’t even know how to describe it.

    Read this article, and then poke around a little more if you like… he’s basically the edgy, hip version of John MacArthur if you ask me. The same power, popularity and vitriol… without the suit.

  3. Charles Halton January 11, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    Note to self: I guess my theology needs to be judged and constructed on the basis of “fashion” and “American values.” 😉

  4. Josh Orr January 11, 2009 at 3:43 pm #

    I enjoyed the article. I don’t expect much of any secular writer to explain calvinism or predestination well and sense a negative feel at points but overall I think the article did a good job of explaining what is different about Driscoll from the evangelicals (in the negative sense) he had tried to separate himself from.

    (I do not think that all or even most evangelicals are bad. I would probably label myself as one. I am just referring to the negative aspects of american evangelicalism.)

  5. Darius T January 11, 2009 at 4:04 pm #

    “Read this article, and then poke around a little more if you like… he’s basically the edgy, hip version of John MacArthur if you ask me. The same power, popularity and vitriol… without the suit.”

    Yeah, he’s pretty solid.

  6. Russ Ware January 11, 2009 at 4:13 pm #


    Well played, sir. 🙂

  7. Darius T January 11, 2009 at 5:32 pm #


  8. Brian Krieger January 12, 2009 at 12:21 pm #

    Good question, Mr. Thomas! I would venture that she is indicating that (taking a shot at) Calvinists believe that they are persecuted and if they are persecuted, they must be going to heaven. It seems like Ms. Worthen wrote her piece on soundbites, wikipedia and attending one Sunday’s services.

    While there’s a ton in the article that makes me get a puzzled look, the article says “[t]raditional evangelical theology falls apart in the face of real tragedy…” I think that is sort of true. I think prosperity gospel (prosperity-centered “theology”) does. Evangelicals (those committed to bible doctrine rather than bible guidelines) do not. In many folks’ minds, prosperity = evangelical = business plan-based church.

    Funny quote:

    “New converts stay in touch via blogs and Facebook groups with names like…‘Calvinism: The Group That Chooses You.’”

  9. jigawatt January 12, 2009 at 7:18 pm #


    I joined that group on facebook about a year ago. I hardly ever look at what people are saying on it – I just like the name.

  10. Aguirre January 15, 2009 at 3:44 pm #

    That was a fair, balanced, solid article by Ms. Worthen.


  1. » Are Calvinism & Complementarianism Related? | Denny Burk - January 26, 2009

    […] couple of weeks ago, we noted Molly Worthen’s piece in the New York Times about Mark Driscoll and the revival of Calvinism among […]

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