Mark Driscoll and the Song of Songs

To declare that Mark Driscoll has become a polarizing lightening rod, both within and outside of Christendom, is trite observation. Google his name and a cartload of hostile web sites will likely populate the screen; many of them emanating by those purporting to Christian Regeneration and Conversion. And the manner by which this opprobrium is manifested by these Christian authors and commentators is often just as ungracious, unfair, dissembling and deceitful and downright slanderous as secular critics.

I lost it with one web site web site, which thought that the type of slanderous crap that Seattle’s “The Stranger” flushes is acceptable if uttered by Christendom. The blogger was irritated, not so much with Driscoll, but with Scriptural adages against nagging wives. However, it was the snide slanderous assertions and vitriol, which were permitted without moderation that attested to the virtue, or lack thereof, of those site authors and their allies. The following is a sampling of the tone of the comments.

Muff Potter on Wed May 01, 2013 at 10:17 PM said:

Dana & Katie,

I think some men greatly fear the raw and elemental power of women. That’s why I think they’d just as soon cover it up, whether it’s with stretched Holy Writ in the Christian world or burquas in the Islamic regimes. I’d pay money to see a Bene Gesserit sister use the power of voice to make Driscoll get down on all fours, howl at the moon, lift his leg, and pee on a fire hydrant.

 William Birch on Wed May 01, 2013 at 07:56 PM said:

Masturbation is a form of homosexuality if one’s wife is not present.

I can’t help but wonder how many bouts with “homosexuality” he has experienced in his many years (wink, wink).

Pam on Thu May 02, 2013 at 12:22 AM said:

Also, maybe it’s just my unmarried female naivety, but I’d have thought a man who was comfortable enough to hear and respond to criticisms/questioning/disagreeing by his wife would be a heck of a lot more respected than a whiny manchild who’d rather have an obsequious and mostly-mute cheerleader bedroom toy than a flesh and blood woman with opinions and independence of thought.

This ignorant and uncharitable manner of discourse has become a hallmark of the larger plurality of those who deem themselves as Christian, especially towards those outside the church in the various culture wars. In the act of examining oneself to determine if one is indeed Regenerated, by the criteria found in Epistle of John 1, these persons would be miserably failures.

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However, that rant must be reserved for another day. The purpose of this day’s ruminations emerges from one of the few thoughtful and gracious critiques of Driscoll’s famous commentaries on Song of Songs (Solomon); (found here, here, here, and here). And although I can empathize and concur with her arguments and concerns, I think it prudent to expand the debate to include some other considerations.

Conscious or not, spokesmen propagate their message with certain agendas and stresses that they feel need to be addressed. And to Driscoll’s credit, he shows much self-awareness and willingness to disclose those motions of his own heart. In this age of political correctness, gotcha politics, inclinations to plead the fifth and public persona and masks; such refreshing openness has winning appeal; even if one must suffer scorn for one’s honestly held beliefs, for allowing oneself to being ‘naively’ exposed to such ridicule, and exploitation by sociopolitical adversaries.

I cannot genuinely claim to speak for Driscoll’s frame of mind. However, I can speak of my own and what Driscoll represents to me; which is namely a welcome tonic against the detrimental trends and corruptions of the modern Evangelical church.

Significant sections of orthodox American evangelicalism have become locked in a 19th Century moralist time capsule; which can only survive and sustain itself in separatist isolation. It is unintelligent and unintelligible. Those who desire to utilize their subjective rational faculties will drift off into incorporating many of the transitory secular ideas into their worldview; largely because of the general intellectual bankruptcy of an Evangelicalism, which decided in the early 19th Century that the First Commandment love of God needed not the mind. These seemingly innocuous secular adjuncts to faith often furtively and insidiously undermine the survival, the strength and/or vitality of their Faith.

But while Evangelicalism is largely unable to proffer a credible and superior rational defense of the Gospel and Full Counsel of God to the outside world, my integrated understanding of Scriptures lends me to believe that the Counsel of God is more than sufficient for the task. For while Evangelicalism is engaged in defensive rearguard actions in the U.S. and timid compromises to protect their myopic self-interests outside of the U.S., I note that Scriptures does not speak of the forces of Hell not being able to break down the Church; but of the defenses (gates) of Hell not being able to prevail against the Holy offensive through the truth that the Church purports to hold. Christianity is supposed to be the ideological aggressor. Driscoll is an ideological aggressor.

The 19th Century throwback of orthodox American evangelicalism, self-isolated in their gated ideological and ethical community of Churchianity subculture, is neither relevant nor resonant in the hearts of unregenerated and broken humanity. Many attempt to overcome this by faddish Madison Avenue manipulative devices, while preaching an inane Hallmark Card Christianity.

I have been cursorily acquainted with Red State America and even its (rural and urban) backwoods. Otherwise, I would not believe the moral integrity of statements by some Evangelical spokesmen that purport to protect the eyes and ears of their wives, children and congregations from the ‘vulgarity’ of a Mark Driscoll and the world that he dwells within. But I suspect that such preachers are somewhat naïve as to what their children and congregation is familiar with nowadays.

However, I dwell in Canada. And I backpacked through Europe in the late 1970s. And the ol’ time religion of American Evangelicalism has no resonance outside of that diminishing choir and enclave of Middle America. And that American enclave is quickly losing its own because this mindless Evangelicalism is not up to the secular challenges; although the resources are already within their grasp. Effeminate modern Evangelicalism fights by retreating, not by attacking with superior confidence in a superior message.

Seattle, more than most American cities, represents the cosmopolitan milieu pervading the world; a return to the ancient Roman pluralistic pantheon in which early Christianity flourished and quickly propagated. The ol’ time religion mindset sustains on nostalgia and a virtuous and sweet ethic that lacks an intelligible justification. Mark Driscoll represents a confident Christianity that can take on the ideological challenge of the secular, ‘post-Modernist’, post-Christian world.

A holier-than-god, super-spiritual, ‘higher-plane’ living infects modern Evangelicalism, which tends to denigrate the elements of this world, by which the Christian ethic and ethos are supposed express itself through. In sexuality and alcohol use, what is deemed Puritanical is more often a case of 19th Century Methodist moralism. The spiritual and moral arrogance towards those without, all too often seep out. Such pretend that Christians are a species apart; instead of failed human beings just like their non-Christian counterparts, who must both contend with the same horrid conditions of human existence and a perilous spiritual state. Christians are but endemically depraved beings, called out and given grace and power to overcome. (That we are set apart operates at the Sovereign level to which we are not privy. We do not know at our human level, what persons belong to that set. We are not to make such inordinately strong distinctions.)

Such Christian Pharisees imprison themselves in their own ersatz sanctuaries, afraid to muddy their feet, fearful of their unbelieving counterparts and all too ready to condemn those who do muddy their feet and engage with the wider world. Such Pharisees demand that a potty-mouth preacher be defrocked while that false prophet from Virginia Beach, who seeps with hatred and periodic fatwas, remains a membership in the SBC. Such are ignorant that Martin Luther was a great fan of scatological discourse and was deemed just as vulgar and a wild boar in the vineyard by the Pharisees of his day. Give me my 21st Century wild boar in the Evangelical vineyard any day over these hypocritical prigs!

The most virulent of ‘Christian’ critics seems to stem from the Christian feminist, who resent the push back against the feminization and effeminization of the Church that Mark Driscoll represents. Marital egalitarianism within marriage is a formula for battle-of-wills, war-of-attrition social disorder within the family, as any political theorist without an agenda could attest. And the protagorean arrogance of this feminine mindset has seeped into the Church, trampling over clear Scriptures and on legitimate concerns by men and would-be male converts. Even as if I believe that Mark Driscoll pushes too far in his jock mentality; it has been a welcome tonic to counterbalance the pietist and gnosis sentimentality, the ‘love’ without truth, holiness and justice, and the nunnish and self-centered attitudes of these Christian feminists.

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Saying all this, the critique of Mark Driscoll, noted above, has gracious value; (even if elsewhere, that person betrays a less than gracious attitude). She notes the critiques of Mark Driscoll’s interpretation of Song of Songs (SoS) as…

a)   being so erotically explicit that the holier-than-God crowd deem his understanding pornographic

b)   cavalierly repudiating the allegorical interpretation of SOS, the so-called “venerable interpretive tradition within the Christian faith”

Her complaint is that Driscoll’s repudiation of the allegorical interpretation that SoS refers to Christ and His Church (or God and the citizens of Israel, both physical and spiritual) violates Scriptural principle that everything contained therein speaks of Christ. (“These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,” John 5:39).

To summarize her points

The problem resides in Driscoll’s hermeneutic of erotic at the expense of both the perspicuity of scripture and of Jesus’ own words about His fulfillment of Scripture.

1. Driscoll’s rejection of Christ typology in Song of Songs forces him to reject the words of Christ about scripture regarding Himself.

2. This rejection also compels him to reject the Bridegroom/Bride metaphor only for Song of Songs while affirming it in every other genre.

3. This rejection of Christ typology in Song of Songs transforms the book into a type of Christian porn that has no teaching value for the unmarried, for the widow, or for a child. In Driscoll’s hands Song of Songs is no longer a gift given by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the whole church and instead becomes a sex manual of special value to the married.

4. This rejection of Christ typology in Song of Songs of necessity rejects the one place in the Scripture besides the eschatological Wedding Feast of the Lamb in which the marriage between God and His people could be presented in a positive light.

That the Christian Church has generally had a horrible history with regard to matters of sexuality is trite observation. Humanity, in general, has had a horrible history with regard to matters of sexuality. Humanity has tended to pendulate between moralist and lascivious extremes, both within societies themselves and between historical epochs. Francis Schaeffer’s “freedom within form” has very rarely prevailed in matters of sexuality.

A modern barren sexuality, devoid of soul, personality, relational connected and romance is hardly a freedom worth talking about. It is a tree, transplanted in a desert wadi, sustaining itself by eating its own stores of nourishment or seeking further afield for fresh water and nutrients before dying an early death.

However, the natural religious spirit within mankind has tended to denigrate Eros. The Evangelical church exalts Agape over Eros (C.S. Lewis – “The Four Loves”, Anders Nygren “Agape and Eros”). However, Agape in the Greek language is as generic a term as love is in the English. And God is just as much about Eros as He is about Agape. Justice is all about Eros; a love that is not indifferent in the value of the object. And the purpose of Agape is to make the object of God’s affection worthy of Eros; the desire to be one with and in communion with that which is beautiful.

And in this religious pathology, the theologians defied the first intent of God and allegorized the Songs. That self-castrate (and later deemed heretic) Origen was the first well-known progenitor of this method. It is not sustainable to suggest that Songs have nothing to do with Christ’s relationship with His Church, or God and His nation Israel, or the love that exists between the Trinity. The problem has been that these holier-than-God theologians have circumvented the primary intention of the Songs in order to proffer intellectualist speculation, largely without real experiential insight, in order to avoid confronting the fact that God loves the offering of physical Eros to humanity.

The Songs violates this ascetic, Kantian, functionalist spirit of Hellenist and Romanist Christianity. And thus, they needed to neuter the Songs in allegorical obfuscation and inscrutability. The spirit of John MacArthur or Denny Burk or all the other Evangelical Romanists continue to strive to do the same; to make obscure, to leave in the hazy inscrutability of liberal theology. Their higher-spiritual-plane, super-moralist pretensions cannot fathom a God who gives celebratory freedom to his conjugal subjects.

There are explicit meanings to the euphemisms found in the Songs. Their veiled nature was not to protect the effeminate sensitivities of 19th and 20th Evangelicalism; but to give expressive and expansive metaphorical meanings and purposes to our physicality and sexuality; to escape from the desolate ugliness of scientific understandings of anatomical and mechanistic sex. It was intended that the conjugal couple inhabit the metaphors; that we become the metaphorical and experience the metaphor from within. Only after such experimental knowledge can we truly know, in much the same way as Adam knew (yā·ḏa‘) Eve, the metaphorical understandings, both in psychological terms between spouses and in spiritual terms between Christ and His Church etc.

Thus, the metaphorical significance is not to be disabused. However, the usefulness of Driscoll’s interpretation, even if insufficient, serves to counter the insufficiencies of those pathological commentators of days of yore and even of today. We cannot understand what a metaphor signifies unless we know what the metaphor literally means. Driscoll’s understanding is unbalanced. But so has been every other interpretation. And perhaps it is that the tensions between these extremes of understanding will play against each other to give full and comprehensive appreciation of the Songs.

3. This rejection of Christ typology in Song of Songs transforms the book into a type of Christian porn that has no teaching value for the unmarried, for the widow, or for a child. In Driscoll’s hands Song of Songs is no longer a gift given by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the whole church and instead becomes a sex manual of special value to the married.

I might disagree with Driscoll about some of those sexual acts (in “Real Marriage”) he finds permissible. I might disagree with Driscoll about the stress on the physically erotic in his understanding of Song of Songs and sex in general. (Someone whom I find extremely good at explaining a Sexual Eros of the soul is Tom Nelson (1991) in his rendering of Song of Songs.) However, in the wisdom of God, there are those who are sent for mourning and those sent for laughing.

I find very little in Driscoll’s rendering that is pornographic. His scornful satirical disabuse of literal, correlative allegorical renderings of the Songs is classic Martin Luther. (“They will say that it is an allegory between Jesus and his bride the church. Which if true, is weird. Because Jesus is having sex with me and puts his hand up my shirt. And that feels weird. I love Jesus, but not in that way.”) I will accord the Songs as proffering an enthusiastic ethos of spiritual Eros between Christ and His people. But the historical attempts to map out the physiological and sexual onto the spiritual will give just cause to the very type of squeamishness that children have toward thinking about their parent’s sex life.

And although Driscoll interprets, at times, a little too expansively (“going beyond what is written”) and insists on that which should be left for liberty of conscience, (to which, I believe, he has apologized and repented); the suggested erotic references are not pornographic. For, a spouse to do strip or strip tease to delight his/her mate is only pornographic to those whose “both their minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15). As regards to oral massage of genitalia; Scriptures does not ban it. Indeed, a fair literal rendering of Songs 4:12-16 gives justified understanding of that passage as enjoining it. The “tast[ing] the salt on his skin” (Susan Vega – Calypso) or acts that these pretentious moralists and feminists find acceptable can find no rational boundary in not being extended to the nether places. It is the disgust instinct, typically of the female, who, as Eva Ensler notes in “The Vagina Monologues”, has trepidations about the uncleanness of her female emblem. (Even if Ensler be touted as a sinner; with regard to the female inhibitions and anxieties, her observations are nevertheless true.) It is not Driscoll who is the problem in this regard; typical of the greater (but not exclusive) male proclivity to a free celebration of physical eros. It is the inhibitive pathologies and protagorean arrogance of females, who find his talks too over the top.

To understand the fullness of the Songs of Solomon, one must accept the Montessorian level (pure physiological and sexual), the relational and psychological (i.e. Tom Nelson) and the metaphorical (i.e. Puritans, Spurgeon). To do otherwise is insufficient and incomplete.

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