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See you in Seattle, Pastor John MacArthur?

Mark Driscoll » God Systematic Theology Conferences Holy Spirit

Dear Pastor John MacArthur,

Let me start by saying thank you.

Thank you for preaching the Bible year after year. As a new Christian, I listened to a lot of your sermons via technology and learned a lot of Bible from you.

Thank you for staying faithful to your wife. You’ve been in ministry long enough to see a parade of scandals, and young men need examples of fidelity to their marriage covenant.

Thank you for staying at your church for so many years. It’s become vogue for a pastor to sell enough books that they can quit ministry in a local church and go do something else. Thank you for serving one church for the long haul. I hope by God’s grace to do the same.

Lastly, thank you for having courage and boldness. Admittedly, we disagree on some things that I would consider secondary and you would consider primary, but a man who takes the Bible seriously and has passion to defend truth is rare in our day.

 You have made deposits in my life through your ministry and for that I thank God and appreciate you.

About my visit to Strange Fire

As you may have heard, I dropped by your recent Strange Fire conference. I happened to be in the area speaking at an Act Like Men conference in Long Beach. I intentionally came during a break so as not to interrupt the sessions, and I met some great people. I got to pray with a number of great young leaders in your seminary who also podcast my sermons. Out of respect for you, I said nothing unkind about you or your ministry to anyone on my visit.

Your pastoral staff was very gracious and hospitable. I met your executive pastor, Michael Mahoney, who offered me water, asked if I needed anything while signing books, and was very gracious. I also met Austin Duncan, your college pastor who hung out for my entire visit and was very enjoyable.

The volunteers on your security team, most of them seminary students, were also very kind. They helped me park and enter the event, and some came by for a photo or a free book and brought great practical questions about their future ministry and how they could serve Jesus most effectively.

Everyone I asked who is attending your seminary said they chose your school because they wanted to learn to preach the Bible. As a Bible preacher, I rejoice in that. I actually considered attending your school myself after I finished my undergraduate work, but I was newly married and could not afford any seminary at the time. Some years later, I was thankfully able to get my master’s from Western Seminary.

The only difficult moments on my visit came during my interactions not with your pastoral staff, but with a few of the apparently staff security personnel. I had been handing out advance copies of my new book for free; the pastoral staff said I was welcome on campus. They were kind, and some of them even asked for photos and books, which I gave them and signed with a pen I borrowed from your son, Mark. He kindly lent it to me, we visited, and he too was very kind, very welcoming, and very gracious.

However, there were two security guards who seemed to operate in a manner inconsistent with the permission I received from the pastoral staff. These two men took turns approaching me as I was talking with and praying for people, and things got confusing.

Security said I could not hand the books out, so I stopped. But people started helping themselves to the books that remained in the box, so security said the books had to be removed. One of the security guards said if I did not remove the books, he would “have to take it to the next level.” I asked him what that meant, curious, as his tone was different than the pastoral staff I had encountered. He admitted he did not know what the next level was. The other security guard then approached, saying the books had to be removed. He told me that they were taking them to put them in a Mustang, which they apparently thought was my vehicle. I did not know what Mustang they were referring to. In any case, it was obvious that my gift books were being removed.

It was at this point that I told the security guard that, since they were going to confiscate the books anyway, they could just keep them as a gift from me. Apparently, someone recorded the final words of this conversation on video, but nothing of the prior conversations that led up to it.

As Bible teachers, we both know that people often arrive at the wrong conclusion when they extract a line out of an ongoing discussion, ignoring the context, and then wrongly impugn someone’s character. I am guessing the security team and pastoral team were not entirely rowing in the same direction, and that security thought they were just doing their job.

Mistakes happen. I understand. And since no one owes me anything, I am grateful I got to hang out for a bit and meet some of the pastoral staff and your son. I would’ve been glad to have met you as well.

Maybe that can still happen?

Two books, God’s timing 

Despite taking numerous shots from you over the years (some of which I deserved, as I had erred and needed to publicly repent and grow by the Spirit’s grace), I have never responded publicly with anything negative regarding you.

Pastor John, though we’ve never met, I think I know enough about you to assume that you and I both know that our names don’t really matter much, but that the name of God the Holy Spirit matters greatly.

With your Strange Fire conference and book you are, insofar as I can tell, pressing for a conversation among God’s people about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. I would agree with you that error and excess are often perpetrated, tragically, in the name of the Holy Spirit. This grieves him deeply.

At the same time, like many, I also think that, since the majority of Christians worldwide are not cessationists (believing that some gifts of the Spirit have ceased), it is unreasonable and unhelpful to broad brush faithful brothers and sisters in Christ along with those who may not be faithful or may not even be brothers and sisters in Christ.

Curiously, we’ve been thinking about some of the same things. In God’s providence, your book, Strange Fire, and my book, A Call To Resurgence, are coming out within a week of one another. In our respective books, we offer very different visions for what faithful, biblical Christianity should look like in light of a culture increasingly opposed to biblical truth. I am convinced there is a more biblically faithful alternative than tribalism and cessationism.

In A Call To Resurgence I lay out the way that culture has changed, and how Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, mission-serving Christians have quickly become an opposed minority. I then explain the cultural trends that have contributed to this shift, and also how tribalism has hurt the Church, as tribal leaders have their own tribes, tribal conferences, and tribal wars with other tribes, which causes us to talk about one another rather than with one another.

I then explain how important it is for us to rightly define our borders: who is in and who is out when it comes to essential Christian doctrines. I discuss the Holy Spirit, how he empowers Jesus’ people for Jesus’ mission—as he did Jesus—and how sad it is that we wrongly divide over the Spirit’s person. This can grieve and quench the Spirit, which of course are two things the Bible he wrote condemns.

From there, I present repentance as something we must preach and practice regularly if we are to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The book ends with a call to mission and practical ways for churches to be faithful to Scripture and fruitful in culture. The book’s appendix includes more details on tribes and movements, as well as some warnings for tribal “chiefs” like you and me.

Since I left half a box of A Call To Resurgence books at your church, you should easily be able to find one to read. And I will be reading Strange Fire once it releases so as to be fair in seeking to understand your vision for what is wrong and what needs to happen to get things right in the church.

My invitation to you

At this point, I believe what would honor Jesus is for us to sit down and talk. So, I am formally inviting you to Seattle to join me on stage for our national Resurgence Conference on November 5–6.

I will pay for your travel. I will give an honorarium to you or any ministry you choose. And, I will cover the travel costs of any of your pastoral staff you’d like join us, as I would actually like to see them again.

Originally, I was going to have a company live stream our conference online for people who paid an access fee, but I recently tore up that contract. We’re now going to show the conference free online for the world in an effort to open up our important discussion to as many people as possible. I would also post our discussion in its entirely—without any editing—for free online.

I am working as an unpaid volunteer for this event, and I believe the loss of live stream revenue is worth it for an investment in the Kingdom. I assure you, I will be very kind and gracious and respectful. Ours will be a dialogue on very important issues, and I pray by the Spirit’s power we can model some graciousness and clarify terms while striving to state what we believe to be biblical truth.

I believe this could be a very profitable discussion—especially for young leaders who will be tuning in to learn as we model how to handle disagreement. In our day when online misquoting and Internet flame throwing hinder real progress, I truly believe we have a great opportunity to model a different way of dealing with important issues for God’s glory.

In an effort to be flexible, I can guarantee any of the following options can work as a time to schedule our discussion, and I assume our time together would last 60–90 minutes:

  • November 5 at 8:20 a.m. (I would gladly give up my opening session for our discussion)
  • November 5 at 11 a.m.
  • November 5 at 3:30 p.m.
  • November 6 at 11:50 a.m.
  • November 6 anytime between 1–3:30 p.m.

If you’d like to join us at the conference but need other options for timing, I would be willing to ask some of our other speakers to change their times to accommodate you. Our event is scheduled to end around 4 p.m. both days, but if you could only make it after that time I would also gladly extend the event to accommodate you.

Finally, I have spoken with Dr. Wayne Grudem, who has taught for both of us. If you would prefer to sit down with him instead of me at our Resurgence Conference, he has graciously agreed and would be happy to have a pleasant and polite public conversation with you about the person and work of God the Holy Spirit for one of the main sessions.

If there is anything you can think of that would help me make this offer more loving and reasonable, please let me know. The fruit of the Spirit is love, and that is my heartfelt hope. Thank you for considering this invitation.

A nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody,
–Pastor Mark Driscoll


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