“Worse Than An Unbeliever”

According to the Driscolls, your favorite street pastor is officially “not a man” and “worse than an unbeliever”.  I spent the first year of my daughter’s life at home with her.  In a recent Facebook discussion, one friend of mine pointed to this video as a reason why he cannot consider himself an evangelical.  His comment got me thinking about the meaning of that word.

I tend to distinguish between “evangelical” and “fundamentalist”.  Classically, the evangelicals are a subset of Protestants who emphasize personal piety and the study of Scripture.  In other words, we love Jesus and we love the Bible.  Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are a group of reactionaries emerging in the last century (or so) in opposition to the influence of “modernity” (e.g. Darwinian evolution, Freudian psychoanalysis, & historical criticism of biblical texts) on the Christian churches.  It was only in the last half of the 20th century that people realized “fundamentalist” was becoming a bad word, so they co-opted “evangelical” from the rest of us.

The (post)modern world is a scary place.  We are inundated with a glut of information and choice, but we are not told how we ought to sort all of it out.  I sympathize with the perceived need for guidance, but if we let that need lead us toward the abdication of our own moral and intellectual responsibility, we leave ourselves open to all kinds of unsavory characters who would use our cry for help as an opportunity to garner personal power and increase their profit margins.

I still consider myself an evangelical in the classical sense, although I am a gender-egalitarian, I accept the theory of evolution, I don’t believe in eternal damnation, and I support LGBT equality in church and society.  All of these criteria disqualify me from identifying as a fundamentalist.

I refuse to let my love of Jesus and the Bible excuse me from doing the mental work required to be a mature Christian and a responsible citizen in this society.

The Protestant reformers risked everything on their belief that common people have the right (and the responsibility) to read the Bible for themselves.  They stood up against an oppressive institution that preferred to spoon-feed people with easy (if somewhat arcane) answers.  It seems to me that fundamentalism is quick to return Christians to the same state of thinking from which Luther, Calvin, and Simons tried to liberate us.

As an evangelical Christian and an inheritor of the Reformation, I cannot in good conscience allow someone else to do my mental and moral homework for me.  This is why I am inclined to disagree with the Driscolls’ basic cultural and biblical hermeneutic.

10 thoughts on ““Worse Than An Unbeliever”

  1. Jodi

    Amen!! I think the evangelical is truly apostolic, seeking to show others the way that Christ first showed them. Whereas fundamental, instead of being “back to basics” seems to be more about judging how others are following the way. I know my judgement is faulty and that is why I continually fall on grace and forgiveness. That doesn’t seem to be the advertised medium of popular fundalmentalism.

    On another note, having spent an afternoon with that amazing child you have spent so much time with, I can say and indeed did say “Watching Zanna is a worship experience”, seeing the image of God in power and joy working in her life is a concrete sign of hope in the world. That is not an accident but a mom and dad, family, faith community, and faithful friends that are following a God who has great things in store for us. As always the evidence is in the fruit of our labors and the strengthening of our faith. Thank You, for speaking sooooooo clearly. AMEN!

  2. Jon Stovell

    That video is disgusting. I can’t even get through a minute of it. I think I need to go think about something else for a while so that I am not overwhelmed by rage.

  3. Aaron Blue

    Thanks for the heads up Jon. I am critical enough as it is and don’t need any more material to feed that right now. Gonna hold off on watching but just having a pretty good idea of what it says is problematic. Jon and Barret, I miss you guys.

  4. Drew

    I was curious about what they said since I’ve also stayed at home while my wife worked and thought I did a pretty good job and bonded with my daughter in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    But, did anyone else notice that the biblical reasoning behind men having to work came from the book of Timothy? I had to read both of the letters in whole to find out what they were talking about since they didn’t give chapter and verse and the only thing I could find was 1 Timothy 3:1-13 which are talking about elders and deacons. Here’s what it says that sounds like their reference:

    “[The overseer] must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him.” Later, “A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well.” Nothing that I can see about men in general and nothing that I can see about making money. It actually sounds like Driscoll’s wife is the one who is managing the family anyway.

    Lastly, in the same book of the Bible, the writer says “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.” (6:1)

    So does that mean that abolishing slavery is just baptising our culture with an unfaithful reading of the Bible? I need answers.

  5. @Drew:

    The Driscolls are referring to I Tim 5:8:

    “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. ” (NRSV)

    This verse appears to be part of a larger discussion on the care of widows as the most vulnerable members of the community. Gender-oriented, role-specific behavior is not discussed in this section.

    The Greek term “pronomei” literally means “to consider in advance”. It is used in 2 other places in the NT (II Cor 8:21, Rom 12:17). In both of these other instances, it refers to having regard or respect. This is the only place where it might refer to material provision.

    There is no indication that this passage refers to the spiritual necessity for able-bodied men to work outside the home (vis a vis the concordant requirement that women should not do so).

    Understood in context, I take this statement to mean that our treatment of the most vulnerable members of our community reflects the overall quality of our faith.

  6. Jon Stovell

    This kind of sharp distinction between a parent who is supposed to stay at home and one who is to go away to work has only really become possible since around the dawn of the modern period of Western civilization. For the typical ancient or medieval person, work and home were THE SAME PLACE. There certainly were gender roles, but staying at home vs. going away did not figure into the equation at all. So trying to suggest that stay-at-home dads are somehow unbiblical makes is as nonsensical as suggesting that Scotsmen wearing kilts are somehow unbiblical.

  7. Drew


    Well, that must be why i didn’t see it. It was in the widow section and I just skimmed over it (and it didn’t mention husbands or wives). I still want to know what they would say about 6:1.

  8. Amy Haegele Bowers

    It’s taken me a while to comment because I watched the first 30 seconds of the clip and literally turned it off to wait until Julian (my daughter) was asleep because I didn’t want her listening to that drivel, in fear that she might understand and absorb something.

    there are a lot of things that offend me about that–the condescending tone, the ripping of scripture from any cultural context, the presumption that all men and women are the same and all marriages like theirs–but what truly terrifies me is how divorced they are from the economic realities of the culture that that they are aiming to minister to. In the real world, many couples have to space their children or limit their family size because they can’t cover basic expenses on one parent’s income and can’t afford to put more than one child in daycare. Also, I’ve read that in this economy it’s becoming increasingly common for women to work and men to say home because the wives can get jobs while the husbands can’t . If a man in his congregation came to him feeling depressed and humiliated because he can’t find adequate work, would Driscoll tell him that he’s not a man? That he can’t adequately care for his own children? That the bible demands that he bring his family to financial ruin by making his wife quit a job that is providing for them adequately so he can take a minimum wage service industry job? Do the Driscolls really think that is what the bible demands of this hypothetical congregant?

    I’m going to shut up before I slip (further) into enraged incoherence. But I just want to say that I am grateful for you and Reid and every other man/husband/father who is willing to serve his family in the way that makes the most sense given his gifts. his partner’s gifts, and what makes the most sense in the current circumstances. The notion that A Real Man Provides For His Family is a powerful myth in Western culture, and it is so sad that people like the Driscoll continue to teach that lie as biblical truth.

  9. @ Drew:

    I have an educated guess about what they would say about 6:1.

    Some would say that, while slavery was rightly abolished, this command still applies to the employer/employee relationship. There’s not much “biblical” basis for that crossover, but it’s where they would likely go with it.

    Had these folks been around when abolition was a live issue, I’m guessing they would have opted to lean on the ample “biblical” justification for slavery as an institution.

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