Thursday, November 25, 2010

Book Review: Religion Saves

Religion Saves and Nine Other Misconceptions is one of the books from Mark Driscoll's pen, which is a straight sermon-to-book set-up. It's a series that Driscoll preached a while back, having established an elaborate voting system on the church website to find the most popular questions being asked by those coming along on Sundays.

The pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle is becoming increasingly well known, having recently preached at Mandate in Belfast, and is one of those controversial people, whom some love and of whom some aren't as fond. Let's be honest, I'm not really a fan of Driscoll, with some major objections to the way things seem to be done in his church, but as many of our young people are reading and listening to Driscoll, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

There are things to commend Driscoll - his passion for Jesus shines through, as well as his commitment to the gospel as revealed in the Bible. He's also seeking to communicate that gospel to his generation in the least churched city in America. These are good things, and yet there are some issues I have with this book, and in particular his style of communication.

First of all, his title seems a bit harsh. To instantly label the genuine questions being asked as misconceptions may not be the best way to approach and answer those questions! The themes themselves include birth control, humour, predestination, grace, sexual sin, faith and works, dating, the emerging church, and the regulative principle (which I had never heard of before!).

As I've said, some of our young people are reading Driscoll, and I'm not sure it's always appropriate reading. He can be quite (unneccesarily) explicit sometimes, in his description of sexual acts, and particularly in claiming that these are mandated in Scripture, in the Song of Solomon / Song of Songs. (On a side issue, in the past few years, he has preached through Song of Songs twice, which is an unusual overemphasis for any church, I would think).

Again, later, he's fairly rough when speaking of 'the Pharisees. Jesus called them a bag of snakes and said that their moms had shagged the Devil.' He's referring there to John 8:44, which actually says 'You are of your father the devil' - where Jesus is saying that these people were not from God, but were on the devil's side - not that their mothers had had illicit sexual relations! Is it that he sometimes loses the run of himself and goes for the controversial line to make it stand out, or does he just not realise what he's actually saying?

Perhaps the biggest frustration I had with the book was that, despite each sermon/chapter being set out to answer a genuine question from someone in his congregation, he rarely actually answered or engaged with the question! In some chapters they could stand quite separate from the question they were supposed to be answering, with no attempt to engage with what had been asked at all.

An example is the chapter on faith and works. The original question was: If salvation is by faith alone, then why are there so many verses that say or imply the opposite - that salvation is by works? Yet he never actually tackles the question, suggesting what those verses may be, and what they actually say in context, or how they may appear to speak of works judgement; or how the judgement of our works fits into the grand scheme of the gospel. Instead, he focused only on regeneration - great stuff, for sure, but not really what the question was concerned with.

Similarly on the emerging church, and specifically what the traditional church can learn from emerging churches, he never really answers the question, but goes on a rant against the way out emergents. All in all, a better approach on this particular subject will be found in Don Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.

I'm not sure I would recommend this book - perhaps it's a style issue, but there are substantial issues too, I think. The same topics and themes are probably handled better by other authors, in a more gracious way, with less offense caused. Plus, all the audio transcripts of the book (in the original sermon format) are available to download from the Mars Hill website!

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