I received my first pre-released book from a publisher for the purposes of reviewing it. Crossway sent me a copy of Mark Driscoll’s Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions thanks to my involvement in Library Thing, and I am obliging with this review.
This book is inspired by 1 Corinthians, in which Paul addresses several pressing questions of the Corinthian church. While Driscoll’s book is obviously not on the level of inspired Scripture, it is an intriguing concept. It reminds me of “Ron on the Spot,” at which high schoolers would fire questions at my dad. Driscoll’s church members and website visitors voted on hundreds of questions, and he agreed to preach and write through the top nine. In this book, he starts with the ninth most popular question (birth control) and moves to the most popular (regulative principle/worship).
Each chapter briefly introduces the topic, explains the topic, and gives many applicable principles on the topic. The chapter on dating, for one, contained 16 principles for both men and women plus 14 questions to consider for men and women regarding dating. Likewise in other chapters, he discusses 13 manifestations of grace, 11 ways to break free from sexual sin, and 10 aspects of regeneration. Though this tendency borders on information overload and can be repetitive, they are effective in provoking reflection.
First, I have to say that I am probably not part of Driscoll’s intended audience and probably wouldn’t purchase this book if I had casually run across it. That said, the book is solid overall and Driscoll is mostly deliberate, thoughtful, and thorough. However, I found the very good middle chapters to be unfortunately book-ended by four somewhat frustrating chapters.
Driscoll’s answers to birth control (#9), humor (#8), the emerging (“missional”) church (#2), and the regulative principle (#1) are not his best work and are characterized by vehement and at times crass writing. There are good elements in these chapters, including his clear explanation of the dangers of some types of birth control, and calling out liberal emergents like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. But almost in an effort to prove that he is not legalistic and is, in fact, hip, his writing style in these chapters takes a too casual, if not flippant, tone.
For example, his answer to “Why do you make jokes in sermons about Mormon missionaries, homosexuals, trench coat wearers, single men, vegans, and emo kids, and then expect these groups to come to know God through those sermons?”, he hurriedly glosses over arguments in an effort to sound loose and fun. Instead of answering this personal question personally or even thoughtfully, Driscoll dodges it by turning to the biblical precedent for humor. While I agree with him that God employs humor and satire in Scripture, he never answers the question posed to him. Instead, he points to humorous occasions in Scripture, many of which are iffy examples at best. From describing drunk, passed out Noah as “obviously a camping redneck because only a camping redneck would make his own liquor and pass out naked in his tent wearing nothing but a John Deere ball cap” to describing the Jesus pictured in Revelation 3:20 as “being locked out of a church potluck and pounding on the door”, Driscoll’s attempts fall flat. Either I’m getting old and stodgy and I wouldn’t make it in Seattle as a hipster, or this chapter is not very helpful.
In these subpar chapters, Driscoll emphasizes that he’s not legalistic or uptight. But in doing so, he seems as if he’s trying to prove that he’s better than his audience because he’s not legalistic or uptight. He calls out everyone else without calling himself out (other than examples from his pre-conversion past). Perhaps why he writes this way in these chapters is to prove that he’s loose, relevant, and cool. To me, it rings hollow.
That said, the middle chapters on predestination, grace, sexual sin, faith and works, and dating are flavored with humility, are grounded in Scripture, are characterized by sober yet convicting exhortations, and are thoughtful considerations of the topics. The chapters on predestination and grace are especially powerful, concise defenses of these biblical doctrines that clearly and effectively lay out Scriptural proof while providing good answers to the most common objections. Each is dominated by Scripture, with 150 Bible references combined between the two. While they are not exhaustive treatments of the topics, they are effective summaries on difficult issues, and I will probably go back to them when I am in need of a quick answer or a reference.
At the very end of the book, he yet again calls out what he considers letter-of-the-law Reformed Christians (I think he has New Saint Andrews‘ students in mind, given the context and description of them), writing that “They tend to argue a lot for being biblical while ignoring the Bible verses that say things about love and respecting your leaders or about being humble. Every time, it grieves me that they have such a little view of worship and such a big view of themselves.” I agree that this principle is helpful for everyone – especially me – to keep in mind, but I honestly think that Driscoll would do well to apply this principle to himself to see if he has too big a view of himself.
In conclusion, the book is helpful overall. Don’t bother with the bookend chapters, but the middle chapters are excellent. I’d have no problem recommending it to some people. Overall, it would behoove the reader to take Driscoll’s own advice found in the chapter on humor as he quotes Charles Spurgeon regarding oddball preachers: “Get all the good you can out of him, and pray his Master to put more good into him.”