Prophets And Teachers And Pastors, Oh My!
THESE DAYS I WATCH the goings on in the evangelical subculture like a guy who watches football on a Sunday afternoon just because it’s on TV: with little emotional investment and a high deal of amusement.
I don’t weigh-in on evangelical controversies because they seldom concern me, I’m small potatoes, and there’s already too much squabble posted online. If I could paraphrase Cicero, “Times are bad: Children are disobedient to parents and everyone is writing a blog”.
Well, I suppose this blog might be adding to the drivel, so to borrow from another quotable source, “You know I’m bad. I’m bad, you know it.”
But every once in a while something controversial happens that I think can help us see a living principle, and so I stick my head into the tracer fire to take a shot that I hope hits a target.
Them Mars Hill Boys, Again
Apparently, Mark Driscoll (who else?) caused a ruckus by turning up last week at John MacArthur’s anti-charismatic conference, Strange Fire, to soft-peddle/distribute his new book that differs with MacArthur’s narrow views on the Holy Spirit, which MacArthur lays out in his own forthcoming book.
Well, it seems MacArthur’s people seized Driscoll’s books upon arrival. Driscoll claims they were confiscated, while MacArthur’s folks say they were taken to be doctrinally examined (same difference) before an approved distribution.
This was understandable, though probably unnecessary, since I don’t think Driscoll has ever been known to say anything unorthodox… reckless, yes, but heretical, no. Anyone who knows Driscoll is aware that he’s Reformed, but describes himself as “a charismatic with a seat belt”… in other words, he embraces the charisms without the crazy.
Jonathan Merritt (who has labeled Mark Driscoll this generation’s Pat Robertson) took a more cynical view of the episode tweeting, “What happens when one pastor desperately promoting a book clashes with another pastor desperately promoting a book? #strangefire”.
Well, as I said, that’s the cynical view.
But I think what we have here is a classic clash between a prophet and a teacher: Driscoll is clearly a prophet and MacArthur is clearly a teacher, and their individual behavior in this particular case matches the grace they’ve each been given.
Both prophets and teachers were given to the church along with apostles, pastors, and evangelists (I betray my Continuationism) to help her reach maturity, and a quick examination of these two graces may help us escape a skeptical approach. (It could be argued fairly that both men are pastors, or that pastor/teacher is its own office, but for sake of argument, let me focus more on the dominant aspects of each man’s ministry.)
Prophets and Teachers
As a general rule, if the prophet uses God’s word like a canon (and sometimes a loose canon, at that), then the teacher uses it as a laser. Both graces are necessary if the church is to be militant, because diverse battlefronts call for diverse specializations. You can’t bust through a fortified wall with a ray gun, and you can’t perform eye surgery with a howitzer.
Unfortunately, the prophet often thinks the teacher deals with words too rigidly, while the teacher thinks the prophet deals with it too recklessly. Look through history and you’ll find prophet-teacher clashes about this issue in every age: Jesus and the Pharisees (inasmuch as Jesus stood in the office of Prophet, as well as Priest and King); Barnabus and Paul; Luther and Erasmus; as an example from secular history, Hamilton and Jefferson.
The prophet uses God’s word as a rototiller to turn up dry ground, and he is always looking for a field full of crusty fundamentalists in order to bust up some dirt clods with his plow. The prophet usually gets his kicks from this provocation, and is exceedingly confident in the confrontation, not because he is a megalomaniac, but because God’s grace flows to him as he uses the Word “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:9).
It seems clear that the prophetic grace in Driscoll was provoked by MacArthur’s graceless dealing with 5 million charismatics worldwide, and so he arrived at Strange Fire with the intent to disseminate the truth about the Holy Spirit, and have a little fun boxing the ears of the crew-cut, coat-and-tie boys.
The teacher, who uses the Word as a precision drill to mine for oil, guards every word of the truth like a prospector guards his gold. What jazzes a teacher is discovering the logic in God’s word; the more fastidious he gets about the Scripture, the more excited he becomes. He dislikes the prophet for not being doctrinal always, even if he is always orthodox, and he distrusts him for rephrasing God’s Word to capture it’s essence.
So it was only natural for MacArthur to have a cadre of customs officials waiting to meet Driscoll upon his arrival. Just like they make you send your carry-on through the x-ray scanner at the airport, harmless as it may be, a teacher is going to ask you to hand over your literature before walking into his conference. He may also ask you to shave your beard and put on a collared shirt before flying, but that’s another issue.
And Pastors, Too
Someone who has a pastoral grace or gift of mercy (Merritt, perhaps), and who is given to maintain peace and quiet in the church, is naturally uncomfortable with any heads of wheat in the church that rise above the others, because it can create division or oppression. The pastoral man may be prone to see MacArthur, the teacher, as putting on a conference in order to gain personal publicity, and Driscoll, the prophet, as unreasonably stirring up controversy for the same reasons.
Moreover, pastors are often uncomfortable with teachers, and especially prophets, because the former are too exacting, and the latter too demanding. This worry is not always bad: pastors are given to the church to protect and comfort the sheep, so that immature teachers don’t discourage them for their ignorance and immature prophets don’t kill them for their disobedience.
But the prophet needs some leeway to be the prophet, and the teacher, the teacher. This doesn’t excuse their respective sins, nor their immaturity, but it does mean each of us should give the prophet some grace when he gets too broad, and the teacher some grace when he gets too narrow. And, to be fair, we should bear with the pastor, also, when he gets too fussy about brothers doing some boxing in the House.