Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Learning from the Old Men First: Driscoll, Keller, and Marriage Books

Having read parts of Tim Keller’s and Mark Driscoll’s new books on marriage, I have been struck by one thought.  A man ought usually to wait until he is older before he offers his wisdom to others.

When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, began his reign, the Scriptures tell of how he consulted first with the old men, then with “the young men who had grown up with him” on how he ought to rule. This was a matter of wisdom – the application of truth to a certain situation. There were specific principles for the kings of Israel to follow, but Rehoboam’s question was more in the line of ethos or style. What would his reign feel and look like. 1 Kings 12 goes to rather extensive pains to show that Rehoboam’s folly was in listening to the young men, rather than the old men. And this notion holds true in general.

I recall an old pastor telling me once, “You may want to wait a few years before you preach on parenting.” That was good advice since my kids were 5 and 2 I pretty much thought I knew all there was to raising children – everybody’s children! I also tended to think the Bible had much more to say about parenting than it really does. Thankfully, I mostly kept my mouth shut other than to say specifically what the Bible said on the topic.  That has enabled a few less regrets at this stage of my ministry.

This has been one of my fears for Pastor Driscoll through the years. I think he has tended to write “too close to the lesson.” Even this latest book, if I read the chronology right, seems to say that all the good things he is directing us to do are things he has really only applied in his marriage in the last 3-4 years. I am glad where Biblical truth is changing any marriage, but I think it is not wise to speak of seeing huge long-term results so close to their application.

In comparison, Pastor Keller purposefully waited until he was older in years and experience to write a book on marriage. Frankly, I think he has a lot more to say not only because of the manner in which he approaches the subject, but because he has lived through 37 years of applying this Truth in marriage. His own and others.

In a fast-paced culture like ours, we do well to remember that God has created things in such a way that our older folks ought to be sought out for their opinions first. And if you are a young man, you do well to work out your salvation in fear and trembling and a certain level of quietness now. Your day to impart wisdom to others will come soon enough, and you may find that the humbling of years gives you far less to say.


  1. Excellent stuff Paul. I think this is a truth that ought to be applied in many more settings in the reformed camp. I have finally learned not to believe all the hype that gets attached to a lot of books written by the barely-out-of-adolescence of the reformed movement. Saves money too.

  2. Great point. I need to remember my place when I write about these issues too! Thanks, brother!

  3. I agree that if Driscoll is commenting on things only learned in the past 3 -4 years, he probably does need to wait longer before teaching them.

    I realize that you were referring to his experience with his own marriage rather than his age, but I'm struck by how often Driscoll is referred to as a "young pastor." While I would prefer to be thought of as young (Driscoll is only a year or so older than I am), it's only recently that a 40-year-old would be considered a young man.

  4. Tim Keller may have been married 37 years, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he's been "applying Truth in marriage" for all 37 years. Likewise, just because Mark Driscoll may have only been applying things in the last 3-4 years (although I suspect that is only true for some of the things in the book), it doesn't mean that he hasn't been learning them for the last 19.5 years of his marriage.

    I, for one, am glad that we have both of these books, rather than just one of them.

  5. I don't disagree with your point, mrben, but what I was trying to point out was what I think is something of a pattern. Pastor Driscoll's book, Reformission Rev, would be another example. I am not suggesting that it is all rubbish, but I think younger men should wait before they make strong statements of opinion on matters of wisdom or preference. At the very least they ought to couch their ideas more in the lines of suggestions.
    An old man can be a fool, no doubt. But I am eager to learn from an old man who has taken the time to read his Bible faithfully and apply what he learns there into the warp and woof of his life.
    I always tell my wife her soup is better on the second day. That 24 hours of seasoning just does something! Similarly, letting Truth get seasoned in our lives adds to its attractiveness and gravitas when it is offered to others.

  6. Wouldn't this to some extent also be influenced by the type of audience each is likely to reach? E.g. Keller seems to target more "secular" publishers, and thus is able to escape the Reformed bubble more than a lot of others and might thus be able to reach people that a book by someone more experienced is unlikely to.

    With Driscoll the same might apply, although likely to a lesser degree - he seems to interact with the "hipster" crowd... like Keller reaching a somewhat younger crowd less likely to read some other, more experienced theologians.

    (Personally I find that Driscoll reads a lot better if you assume that his style intentionally overexerts his emphases. e.g. I seem to recall a previous proclamation by him once upon a time that not having cable was a sin - interpreted as "having cable might not be terrible" makes it sound a bit better).

  7. Pastor Martin,

    I am a young man in the church and in the faith (28 year old man - 5 year old Christian).

    I've often tried to test my conscience as to why I felt slightly convicted after times of expressing (usually over-emphatically) what the Lord has been teaching me in His Word. I read this little post and I think this is where my conscience may have been heading with those convictions.

    So my question is: how does a young man find balance? I can't imagine that you're suggesting to keep quiet all the time and never get involved in serious discussions. Truth is Truth and at times requires standing firm on, right? How do I balance shooting straight and letting it simmer?

    All the while understanding that He is the Ultimate decision-maker and provider of maturity in all aspects of my walk with Him.


  8. I so agree with you.

    Which is why it is troublesome to me that at 41, I am older than every pastor at my large PCA church and with a whopping 9 years of marriage and parenting experience, still have eons more than our 27 year old counseling pastor.


  9. Samuel,

    Three things come to mind.

    1. Remember how long Elihu waited before he spoke to Job and his three faulty counsellors.

    2. Younger men ought to focus on growing personally spiritually strong by overcoming the Devil's work in their life and growing deep in God's Word (1 John 2:13-14).

    3. Waiting to be asked for an opinion is not such a bad thing: "Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent." (Proverbs 17:28)

    From One Who Talked Too Much When He Was Younger...

  10. @Paul:
    Is "growing personally spiritually strong" or "growing deep in God's word" in anyway opposed to asking questions and indeed sometimes challenging people? Did, e.g., Jesus's disciples not ask him quite a few things?

    It would seem to me to be more an issue of the attitude with which you ask questions than questions or challenges themselves. (And if you're disputing, e.g., the definition of a random Greek word that you've got some fairly authoritative source to back up your argument [given that few people in any church are likely to be in any way qualified in such an area]).

    (28-year old Ph.D. candidate [Science not Theology] - the sort of career path in which a failure to ask good questions would be likely to get you booted out the door).

  11. Paul,

    I hesitate to comment. As a 20 year old myself, it is people like me to whom your post was largely directed. So any push back I give could easily be used against me, per se.

    "Ah that's just like the younger generation, they can't take correction"

    "You clearly missed the point and wrote this response hastily without thinking it through. Typical of youth these days."

    And the list could go on. So I want to say, first, that I completely take your point. I wholeheartedly agree. My own, Christian walk has been immeasurably helped by older men--mentors--who have imparted their wisdom and knowledge to me. I don’t think anyone would try to argue that there is wisdom to be learned in age and that us younger people would do well to heed that wisdom. However, what bothers me is the immense one-sidedness of your argument. You do a good job of bringing in the texts that suits your point...and it is a good and biblical point, I might add. But not the complete story.

    But what about the example of Timothy? In 1 Timothy 4, Paul writes to his son in the faith: "let no one look down upon you because you are young." Some translations say "let no one despise your youth." He moves on, "but be an example to the believers in love, and in faith, and in purity. Until I come, give yourself to the public reading of Scripture," then here's the kicker: "[devote yourself to...] preaching and teaching." Timothy, a young man, was supposed to devote himself to teaching.

    Again, I completely understand and respect every point you've made. But the fact of the matter is this: whether people like it or not, Mark Driscoll IS a pastor. Which means he has the authority--nay, the biblical MANDATE, to teach the Word. So let's say he's preaching through the book of Ephesians...is it his prerogative as a young man to simply skip over Eph. 5:22-31 when he comes to it because it deals with marriage? That’s the implication of your argument. No one can deny the undoubtedly biblical principle of the wisdom of holding your tongue, the folly of talking to much, etc. etc. but to advocate silence from the young…I hesitate to say that’s biblical.

    From a student who wants to be a pastor someday and hopes his thoughts aren’t disregarded simply because he’s young.

  12. @Anonymous:
    While I agree with your Timothy example overall, publishing books to the world at large and preaching in a local church are two distinct activities.

  13. Dave,
    Humbly asking questions is a great thing to do and a sign of real spiritual progress. I am not for a second suggesting a younger man should sit silently and watch the world float by.

  14. 20 year old Anonymous -
    I think we are saying essentially the same thing. Of course a young pastor ought to preach Ephesians 5 on marriage and family relations. But he ought to be careful to stick to the text. His own "successes" at parenting or marriage when he is only a few years in will likely ring hollow to the Dad who has been married for 25 years and weathered a rebellious youth in his house.
    You stick to the text as a preacher and I will listen to you any day!

  15. I agree that it's definitely good to offer suggestions on life application when you're young and relatively inexperienced in that application, rather than saying "you ought to do this", especially with things that are as varied and complex as marriage and parenting.
    I taught from Eph 5 for a few weeks and made general application suggestions. I asked some of the older folks who had been married for 20+ years what they thought, and they were a bit frustrated that I didn't go into more detail with the application. I told them that since I've only been married for 6 years and have two toddlers, I wasn't qualified to give more specific advice on how to live Eph 5. I just suggested they get with their spouses, read the passage over and again, meditate on it, pray about it, and talk about it. I have to trust the Holy Spirit will help them make specific application.

  16. Another thought about marriage books by older men like Keller, as opposed to younger men like Driscoll - - could it be a perception by publishers that couples in their 20's or 30's would rather read a book by someone closer to their age than someone more like their parents? I'm not in that demographic, but it seems that today's younger people are less likely to listen to advice from those who remind them of their own parents.

  17. it's important to avoid teaching too close to the lesson not just to make sure you're living out what you're proposing to teach but also to give yourself time to discern whether the lesson you plan to teach is even true. Among those who have actually studied Targums Driscoll is never going to live down the hackwork he did with the Targum Neofiti.

    The trouble with the Driscoll confessions at this late stage in the game is for anyone who was actually listening to Driscoll's sermons over the last ten years it casts a retroactive and grim light on the huge gap between Mark Driscoll extolling the virtues of wifely stripteases and oral sex from the pulpit as though he knew this was in the Bible and it was wonderful and the reality that he and Grace were hardly ever having sex and had trust and resentment and bitterness.

    Famously Driscoll wrote in Reformission Rev he was convicted by 1 Timothy 5 where it says that if a man won't provide for his family he has denied the faith and become worse than an unbeliever. Yet he kept pastoring until he could draw a salary and kept on keeping on. If Driscoll took the extreme rhetorical nature of his interpretations of Scripture to the reductio ad absurdum he applies to people who disagree with him he should have resigned from being a pastor a bit more than a decade ago. Younger guys (as I once was) just won't know the biblical literature well enough to always be able to tell when a guy like Driscoll is "just preaching what's in the Bible" and when he's reading himself into a text (which is essentially what he did for his sermons not only on Song of Songs but also Nehemiah). The gap between the November 2007 Scotland sermon on Song of Songs that got pulled and the start of Peasant Princess was not even quite one year. If Mark repented of making sex a god or overdoing sex from the pulpit we can't be sure that he's had this change of heart since any earlier than "maybe" 2008. I knew that as a rule Mark said he only tended to revisit books of the Bible for preaching if he believed he completely botched the earlier attempt (which is what he said about revisiting 1 Corinthians in 2006 having preached it around 2001), so red flags went up for me as to why he thought he might have completely botched his approach to Song of Songs. I guess this book might be an indirect of way of explaining how, maybe?

  18. Paul,

    Thanks for the wise words. It is a fear that any pastor is an exegetical gunslinger, blasting away with applications, while being less clear what the actual targets are.

    Is it not the case that when boldness is required by a young pastor in preaching a text, the applications are necessarily measured and cautious? Speaking with fear and trembling, even when saying what needs to be said is a better choice than shooting from the hip. And I confess being trigger happy at times.

    I appreciate you brother!