I have been eagerly anticipating Mark Driscoll’s message at the Desiring God National Conference not because I thought he was the perfect choice to speak about speech, but because he presented the most risk in dealing with this topic. Driscoll is edgy, sarcastic, courageous, and sometimes irreverent in his use of language. He has been the target of much criticism in evangelical circles because of this.

Driscoll employed a five-point outline for the message. Here’s a brief summary:

  1. Feed the sheep. Obviously this is the responsibility of pastors/elders, but in some sense, all believers are called to do so. We are all called to speak the gospel to one another in ways that promote our sanctification and maturity in Christ. This is especially evident in the call to be “kind” to other believers (Ephesians 4:32). The importance of this point is this: we are called to be kind, gracious, encouraging, edifying, etc, in our speech towards the sheep. But we are not expected to be kind to wolves.
  2. Rebuke the swine. Throughout the Scripture we see repeated examples of God rebuking his “believers” when they fail to act like sheep and instead act like swine. The book of Proverbs is filled with rebuke. Isaiah 3:16-26; Amos 4:1; 6:4-6; Ezekiel 23:17-21 are all examples of God rebuking his people. And we should notice this rebuke is personal. Driscoll says insightfully, “The Bible is easily read when talking about them. It is painfully read when talking about us.”
  3. Shoot the wolves. Obviously the wolves are false teachers and even Jesus has no love loss for hypocrites and false teachers (see Matthew 23:1-36). Martin Luther said, “With the wolves you cannot be too severe. With the weak sheep you cannot be too gentle.” You shoot the wolves because you love the sheep.
  4. Bark at the dogs. This point is similar to shooting the wolves.
  5. Pray for the shepherds. This was really a powerful call for believers to pray for, defend, encourage and support their shepherds.

I’ve got a couple of thoughts about the message overall. I thought it was well-crafted, powerful, insightful and inspired courage in the way we use speech to deal with those inside and outside the church. When Driscoll was talking about shooting the wolves he said, “Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is destroy someone before they are destroyed in hell.” What Driscoll meant was that sometimes we must use speech to bring people to an end of themselves. I think Driscoll is right in as much as this is the pattern that we see in Scripture. Wasn’t this Jesus’ goal with the Pharisees in Matthew 23 or God’s goal with Job in Job 38:1-40:1? I would like to have seen Driscoll unpackage this loaded statement more from a biblical perspective. I don’t believe that strong language, biting sarcasm, irony, etc, are necessarily sinful. But they can be. So what keeps us from using them in sinful ways in the way that we speak to others. I think it boils down to motivation. The Scriptures use harsh language and the motivation is always to humble man and exalt the greatness of God. Sometimes we do the same thing with the same motivation. Humble man and exalt – not God – but ourselves. We need to be careful that we have a righteous motivation when we employ sharp language.

I also thought that the sermon lost focus during the discussion about barking at the dogs. Driscoll certainly had not refrained from using humor and wit in his sermon to this point, but it was at this point that Driscoll really unleashed his wit. My concern is that Driscoll kept pressing that Jesus was really a funny guy (which I believe he was), but that in an effort to justify the use of humor at the expense of others that Driscoll himself began to take center-stage.

The closing of the sermon was powerful and gave a profoundly insightful perspective into the kind of front-line battle Driscoll and his church are engaged in in Seattle. Can you imagine your church being the target of Hump Fest (HF is an amateur porn festival where people submit their amateur porn. To be considered you have to include something that was predetermined by the organizers. This year every submission has to include some kind of visual reference to Mars Hill Church where Driscoll pastors)? Driscoll seemed sincere and repentant of his past public verbal indiscretions.

All in all I grew in my respect for Mark Driscoll and his ministry after this message. He isn’t a perfect man but none of us are. I’m grateful for the evidence of grace that I see at work in his life and ministry. I’m thankful for his humility and willingness to put himself under the tutelage of John Piper and CJ Mahaney. I’m eager to pray for him when the Spirit brings him to mind because he is a brother in Christ serving Jesus in a dark place where people obviously both hate him and love him. And, finally, I am thankful because I am reminded in this message that I have a responsibility to speak courageously and thoughtfully both inside and outside the church. God give me grace to do so.