One thing I have to admit about Pastor Driscoll is that he is an incredibly talented preacher. Part of this is his unmatched charisma and a gift for teaching. He also has a highly developed understanding of his audience, and he knows how far he can safely push them. This last gift gives us a unique window into modern Christian culture.
The overt message of Driscoll’s sermons on men and women is that modern Christian women are too passive and submissive, while the mass of Christian men are in rebellion, refusing all authority and misusing headship as an excuse for despotism. Yet his preaching betrays just the opposite. Driscoll knows Christian men are eager to submit to authority, and are delighted to be corrected. He knows he can abuse the men in the congregation with impunity, and they will not only keep coming, but other men will learn of this and seek his church out. He knows he can accuse the men of being abusive and lording their authority over their wives, and that delivering this message is an ideal opportunity to abuse the men while lording his authority over them. Driscoll has no reason to fear the husbands and fathers in the congregation, and he knows this. But Driscoll does have reason to fear the women in the congregation. Our society celebrates feminist rebellion as the highest virtue, and this is part of modern Christian culture. Even the mighty Driscoll fears this rebellion.
An excellent way to see this dynamic in action is to review Driscoll’s matched pair of sermons on biblical marriage roles; one sermon is to the women, and the other is to the men a week later. I’ve already written about the one to the men. It is a sermon packed tightly with abuse and disparagement of the men in his congregation. It is so tightly packed with abuse that this begins with the opening prayer and continues on even in the closing prayer. When preaching to men, Driscoll has the boldness and self confidence of a bully who knows he has picked the right victim. Yet when preaching to women his demeanor is one of fear. We can see this in the other sermon in the pair, Driscoll’s sermon on Women and Marriage.
Driscoll knows the women in the congregation are in open rebellion against biblical marriage. If he teaches biblical marriage roles for women he will become the focus of the rebellion of half of his congregation. This is made worse because the source of this rebellion is the wives usurping headship, so as de facto heads of the family the women are the ones who hold the purse strings and ultimately decide which church the family will attend. He knows that he couldn’t survive such a rebellion and remain in his position. Yet teaching on biblical roles in marriage is one of Driscoll’s signatures. He simply has to teach headship and submission, but he has to find a way to show that he has taught it without offending the women he is terrified of.
How Driscoll manages this is nothing short of fascinating. He begins by taking a page out of Jacob’s playbook in Genesis 32 when he was terrified of meeting his brother Esau. Driscoll starts by sending wave after wave of peace offerings to the wives he lives in fear of offending. The first peace offering is an explanation that what he is going to teach today is optional for Christian wives, but he thinks they will be happier if they elect to adopt this optional form of marriage. He also explains that while he believes what he is teaching to be true, it is highly controversial:
I’ll say this as well, that Christians disagree, actually often times very vocally, on this issue. You can be a Christian and disagree on this issue, but in my humble opinion it will have negative consequences if you are unbiblical in how you organize your marriage. You can be a Christian but I don’t think you can be a fully biblical happily married Christian as God intends, unless you obey the things that He has set forth as principles today.
The peace offerings don’t end there. Next he reminds the wives that they have the power to punish their husband via the police or the church if they ever feel that he is sinning:
What this means is that the husband is not the highest authority, ok, God is. And that over the husband there are other authorities like the government, we already dealt with that in chapter 2. And the church, we will deal with that in chapter 5. What that means is if a husband is in sin the wife and kids don’t need to live under unjust tyrany; they appeal to the higher authorities of God, and the authorities which God has established both by the state. She can call the cops, and the church, she can call the elders and begin church discipline.
For his next peace offering Driscoll assures the women that he isn’t just going to preach this week on the (optional) role of wives in 1 Pet 3:1-6. He also has a sermon prepared for husbands next week on the (not optional) role of husbands in 1 Pet 3:7.
Proceeding forward to 1 Peter chapter 3. He says this, these are commands and exhortations to the ladies. I’m not just picking on the women this week, we’ll pick on the men next week as well so do come back.
Elsewhere in the sermon he reinforces this message (emphasis mine):
Submission Does Not Mean that a husband is in ultimate authority. Above the husband is the church. If he is sinning, call the elders, lets start church discipline. Also, there is the government. If he is breaking the law, call the police. A husband is not an ultimate authority. All of his authority is derived. It’s derivative authority, it is not innate authority. He’s not God. Some guys think they are. We’ll deal with those guys next week and it will be unpleasant.
He continues minimizing the authority of headship, then pivots to suggest that submission is only required if the husband is godly enough:
And this same word here for being subject to or submitted to is what kicked off the whole discussion of 1 Peter chapter 2, verse 18. It is the theme of the second half of the book of 1st Peter. Now, what we mean by be subject to or submit to is that the husband is to lovingly, humbly, sacrificially, selflessly, let me put lots of words behind this, lead his family. And that the wife is to respect him and follow his leadership.
In doing this he has substituted a definition of headship for submission, and suggested that only wives with godly husbands need to submit. This is the opposite of the message in the verses he is teaching (1 Peter 3:1-6).
With the waves of peace offerings complete, Driscoll finally starts to get to the meat of the issue. First he explains that ideally husbands and wives should be able to come to agreement. It is only when they are unable to come to agreement that headship applies. He further explains that headship doesn’t apply to day to day decisions. If the husband and wife disagree on anything but a “big” issue, the husband is to give the wife what she wants:
Those are easy, just give her what she wants. Those are easy. Just love her, serve her, do what she wants. What we are talking about here are big issues. When do we start having kids. When do we buy a house. What house do we buy. How many kids do we have, where do we attend church. Some big monumental cataclysmic life decisions. The big ones.
Having excluded headship and submission from all but a handful of occasions in married life, Driscoll then further restricts headship. He explains that for these rare occasions where a husband and wife don’t agree on a “big” issue, the husband is to do one of three things. Driscoll’s rules of headship can be summarized as:
- Delay (do nothing)
- Defer (let someone else decide)
The first choice of a husband is to do nothing, and instead to wait for his wife to agree:
What do you do? Well at that point, the husband has three options. Number one, he can just prayerfully wait for his wife to come to agreement with him. And this isn’t that immediately that the man makes the decision the wife has to submit to it. There are various things that as the head the man can do. The first can be, you know what, my wife is strugling with this, I want to be considerate, I want to be patient, as God is considerate and patient with me. I’m going to love her, pray with her, talk to her, we are going to work through all of the variables, and I think she is going to come around I just need to wait a while.
The next option Driscoll presents is to give the authority to someone else:
Number two: The husband may decide to appeal to a higher authority. He may choose to bring in a mediator. We are deadlocked. I’m going to call a Pastor or a biblical counselor, or an older married couple that we both really respect, and we are going to let them play the role of umpire and we are going to let them make the call. A husband may want to defer that decision.
Up until now Driscoll has been dithering, but now he can dither no more. Having minimized the husband’s authority, explained that biblical marriage roles are optional, that headship doesn’t apply 99% of the time, and for the one percent of the time it does (optionally) apply the husband should mostly either do nothing or give the decision to someone else, Driscoll finally explains that there are extremely rare occasions where a husband will actually make a decision:
The third option, is, he can make the decision– sometimes this is because the matter is pressing and the decision has to be made, and he makes the decision. She is then to submit to him, to be subject to him, to respect his decision, and to follow his leadership as the head of the household. That’s the language that the Bible repeatedly uses. That is what it says.
Driscoll follows up with examples from his own marriage, which he presents as the template to follow. He starts by acknowledging that the women in the audience are going to bristle at the examples he is about to provide because the women in the congregation are feminists (emphasis mine):
Now, I asked Grace, I said can I share some examples from our life, and she said sure. So, these are some examples that she has given. And some of you ladies will immediately bristle at this, because, truth be told, the vast majority if not all of the people that attend Mars Hill church are feminist to some degree. They don’t begin with a biblical understanding, and when they read the Bible, they sort of roll their eyes and [sighs loudly] take those deep heavy sighs, and then start looking for books that say thats not what it means. That’s your natural disposition. Romans 1 calls it suppressing the truth, because you just want to keep on doing what you are doing.
Having warned the women that they will bristle at the examples, he gives three of them. All three involve Driscoll spoiling his wife:
…every example she gave me to share with you is a situation, and this may shock you, where she didn’t want to take as good a care of herself as I wanted to take care of her, and I asked her to submit to me so that I could spoil her. See you think of submission, sometimes all you think of is “well the husband is making his wife do terrible things”. Most of the time, if the wife has godly character, is really humble, works really hard, the husband is trying to spoil her because she is not taking enough care of herself.
One of the examples he provides of headship is the time he gave her “lots of money” and forced her to go on a shopping spree:
Another one was when we first got married, my wife hadn’t updated her wardrobe in a really long time because she didn’t want to spend money on herself. She felt bad. I finally looked at her and I said “Honey, you need to go get some new clothes.” “No I don’t want to spend the money.” So I gave her lots of money and I said “Go buy yourself whatever you want.” She said “I don’t want to.” I said “Well you need to follow the leadership of your husband. Go shopping.” True story. We do that quite often in the Driscoll house.
Notice that Driscoll is playing an old game, signalling to the wives in the congregation that it would be easier for them if they were married to him.
Driscoll reinforces that headship really means the husband spoiling the wife after offering the three examples:
Almost all of the disagreements that we have had, where I have pulled out the “Sweetheart I love you, follow me on this” is that she doesn’t want to spend the money, and she wants to work even harder, and I know that she is busy and I know that she is tired, and I want to do something to help her. And because she works hard and she is a good steward and she has a hard time receiving. So often times submission is the husband wants to take care of his wife, than she is taking care of herself, and she feels a little bad about that. But he pulls out the “Hey, I love you let me do this for you. Let me make this decision for you.”
If you are oftentimes disagreeing, there is a problem in the marriage, and you hit these disagreement points, if it is over fundamental issues you may have a real crisis, because you disagree biblically. But if it is the details of life where the husband is trying to protect, love, serve, and spoil the wife, you are probably on the right track.
With this we can update our summary of Driscoll’s three rules of headship to:
- Delay (do nothing)
- Defer (let someone else decide)
- Decide (spoil her)
Later in the sermon he tackles the fact that Peter offers Sarah as the example for wives to follow regarding submission. He explains that this bothered him initially because Sarah is known for submitting to Abraham even when his directions were foolish, even dangerous. Driscoll then explains that what Peter really meant when he said wives should follow Sarah’s example is that wives should consider her example and learn from her mistakes (emphasis mine):
Additionally, he [Abraham] is the one who said “Uh oh I’m going to get hurt, lets lie to this person and then you go with them and then pretend that we are sister and brother” and she went along with it twice.
And its always bothered me, why would he say, “ladies look to Sarah”? Couldn’t we find someone better, ie Ruth? But see Sarah was the mother of the nation of Israel, and I think he in his wisdom, as I meditated on this, I realized, there is a good strategic reason that God put Sarah in the Bible, not because she is perfect, but because she is imperfect.
What he [Peter] is saying is this: Ladies, you aren’t always going to be a perfect wife, Sarah wasn’t. You are not going to always give good counsel, Sarah didn’t. Sometimes you are going to follow your husband when you shouldn’t, because he is not following God. That is what Sarah did on more than one occasion. And sometimes you will not follow your husband when he is following God, and that is what Sarah did as well. That she was a godly woman but an imperfect woman, and if you look at the totality of her life you will see a godly woman but if you look at segments and occasions in her life, you will see a woman who made some tragic mistakes. And she comitted some actual sins. And that’s hope for you women, you don’t expect to be perfect but you hope to make progress by the grace of God.
Driscoll has turned a clear instruction to follow the example of Sarah regarding submission into a warning not to make the mistake of submitting like Sarah did.
After all of this, Driscoll finally gets around to calling wives out on their feminist rebellion in the most gentle way possible:
Additionally, I think this is perhaps why I find Sara most intriguing. God came to her on one occasion and said “Sarah, this is how your life is going to go”. And she laughed at God. Some of you women even in hearing me read this text, you’ve done the same. Outwardly, chuckle chuckle chuckle, submit to my husband? Here he is, look at him, obviously that will never happen. Or you chuckle in your heart, you chuckle in your mind, like “This is dumb. This is an old book. I went to college. This is not for me. I’m very smart talented gifted and capable, I don’t need this old book to give me old ideas. Many women first hearing God’s expectation for them as women and wives, their first instinct is like Sarahs to laugh at God. What a joke. He must be kidding. I hope He knows He is funny. And what he is saying is that as Sarah laughed at God ladies, some of you have laughed at God. As she thought that God was foolish, some of you have thought God is foolish, in fact that is foolish. God is not foolish He is wise.
And he is inviting you to laugh your laughs and to commit your sins and to make your mistakes, and to learn from them, to repent of them, to grow through them, to increasingly become more godly. So I think Sarah is a wonderful example. She’s a wonderful example, for all the women and wives. Not in that she is perfect, but in that by the grace of God she made progress.
For those who doubt that Driscoll is truly a gifted preacher, revisit that last quote as well as his description of the fall and women’s inclination to rebel here. After explaining women’s inclination to rebel, he explains what original sin means for men:
That’s Genesis 3. It’s a culdesac that humanity has been driving around in for thousands of years. Men abdicate their responsibility, and women are deceived.
In other words, women’s sinful inclination regarding their husbands is to rebel, and men’s sinful inclination toward their responsibility of headship is to err toward:
- Delay (do nothing)
- Defer (let someone else decide)
- Give her what she wants (spoil her)
Note: All of the quotes I provided are from my own transcription of the sermon. If you spot any errors in wording please note them. I have worked to keep the quotes as short as possible while including links jumping to the part of the sermon where they came from. In some cases the links start earlier than the quote so you can get more context of the quote. Despite the length of this post I have only quoted and addressed part of the sermon, so don’t take this as a definitive summary of the sermon. If you are interested I encourage you to listen to the entire sermon. Lastly, I had planned on doing one more post on Driscoll, but with this post I have decided that I’m done with the topic.