NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – "Mark knew he had flaws, He knows he has flaws. And I knew he had flaws. He knew that I knew he had flaws," said John Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn. and founder of Desiring God Ministries, about the recent downfall of Mark Driscoll, the controversial pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and founder of the Acts 29 church planting network as well as The Gospel Coalition, a hub for advancing Reformed theology.
Piper made his remarks during a Desiring God podcast, Nov. 13, responding to "100 emails" from listeners about Piper's long-time relationship with the controversial Driscoll.
"There were flaws of leadership, flaws of unsavory language that I think is just wrong for Christians to use, flaws of exegetical errors, say, in regard to the Song of Solomon," Piper said.
But Piper stopped short of taking personal responsibility for any of the debacle that now enshrouds the 13 campuses of Mars Hill Church and that taints the two parachurch organizations founded by Driscoll.
"I wrote him personally about these," he said, referring to Driscoll's flaws. "But I always hoped that in those cases the relationship with me and others would be redemptive and helpful."
At least three campuses are closing, according to the Mars Hill website.
Meanwhile, Acts 29 removed Driscoll and Mars Hill from the church planting network in August, because of "ungodly and disqualifying behavior" and the lack of "repentance, change, restitution" despite ample time to follow a "plan of reconciliation that was laid out." He had resigned from The Gospel Coalition about two and a half years earlier, reportedly citing changes in his priorities and at Acts 29.
Drsicoll's un-Christ-like behavior hinted at by Piper was highly profiled in secular and Christian media, but Piper did not weigh in publicly then.
-- The New York Times dubbed him the cussing pastor for his use of the f-bomb in a friend's church in Austin, Texas.
-- The Mars Hill website carried his advice directing couples to a sex site run by "Christian women" who basically describe different techniques and positions to enhance pleasure, and he offered counsel that anal sex is technically permissible. These themes carried over in a book on marriage published by Driscoll and his wife.
Driscoll apologized for some of these offenses, and his apologists excused him for others.
In the past year, however, a dam burst in terms of confessions by leaders at Mars Hill that they had been complicit in enabling Driscoll to wrongfully fire elders and pastors and to harass members, even shun them, for raising questions about his leadership. RepentantPastor.com contains statements from 18 past elders, including Leif Moi, who was co-founding pastor with Driscoll in 1996.
Ironically, it was not these behaviors that triggered his fall, it appears, but a book -- not for what it said, but for Driscoll's alleged use of $210,000 in ministry funds to prop up sales. Details of the apparent scheme emerged this year with an investigative report by World Magazine. Driscoll co-wrote the book with his wife, Grace, and it surged to the top of the New York Times best sellers list January 22, 2012, only to drop completely from the list the next week, raising questions about sales.
Driscoll also was charged with plagiarism in 2013 for using portions of an InterVarsity Press Bible commentary in his book, "A Call for Resurgence" by Tyndale House Publishing, according to Christianity Today.
Piper addressed the book controversy during his podcast remarks.
He said it was a tough call, on whether stores and individuals should remove Driscoll's books from shelves. "But, sooner or later a book becomes detached from the personal life of an author and stands on its own merits as true or helpful or not," he said.
"[M]aybe in years to come the books will emerge as helpful since I think most of what he has written has been true and helpful."
Others have been critical of the one book in question, "Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together," with it drawing fire even from Reformed circles.
Heath Lambert, an assistant professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the book "dangerous and troubling" in a 2012 article, and warned it would "cause confusion and difficulty in many marriages."
Describing the book as "deeply unbiblical," in the Spring 2012 edition of the Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, Lambert said the bad exegesis of biblical texts "on the few occasions" the book actually used them was problematic. He also said the handling of pornography was "irresponsible" and could lead readers to fall into sin. Ultimately, Lambert lamented that readers "will not walk away with a clear vision of the gospel of Jesus as demonstrated in marriage."
Over the years, Piper has preached passionately against the prosperity gospel as an "abomination" and through lengthy exegesis warned Christians "the Gospel is not yoga." He stirred controversy about Rob Bell's book about Hell and commented about a devastating Oklahoma tornado using the wrathful language of the Book of Job. He even linked a tornado in Minneapolis to toleration of homosexuality within the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
But his teaching about bullying pastors came after Driscoll stepped down from Mars Hill Church, Oct. 14, and only in response to "several dozen questions [that] have come in over several months on the abuse of pastoral authority."
In a podcast Nov. 6, Piper responded to a listener who asked what a spiritual bully looked like. In part he said bullies are domineering, giving others the sense "I'm a big shot in this church and you guys ought to toe the line," he said. "That's bullying and that's the opposite of what God calls His shepherds to be."
Closing his Nov. 13 podcast, Piper said he learned a number of lessons in the aftermath of befriending a flawed Driscoll.
1. Some sins are "hidden to ourselves"
2. Take seriously what wise counselors say
3. If you can see the sin others see in you, repent and fight the sin; if not "go with what you see"
4. "Leadership structures are not luxuries" -- the pastor should not set up outside councils, and, should not have more than a vote but instead depend on his sway as a "wise, thoughtful, exemplary leader"
5. Money and salaries in the two-, three-, four-, five-, six-, seven-, eight-hundred thousand dollar range "is a clear danger signal" of a heart in the wrong place
6. "No theology on paper or merely in preaching" keeps a man from sin
7. God's work on earth is not dependent on one man, one church, or one denomination
8. Let him who thinks he stands [strong] take heed that he does not fall (a reference to 1 Corinthians 10:12).
Driscoll is reported to have found a buyer for his Seattle home, according to Zillow.com; and, Warren Throckmorton, professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and a Christian blogger, suggests Driscoll is planning to start a new church in Southern California or Texas.