Monday, August 11, 2014

Mark Driscoll, Rachel Held Evans and book burning

The above is one of my favourite scenes from Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, for it highlights that the challenge to all empires and regimes is not weaponry but ideas. A person I once knew at a church I was at, who I'd have to describe as theologically more liberal than myself (a hard term to define, but nonetheless) said that "It was easier to burn people than ideas". True enough, but we can burn books, or at least pull them off shelves.

A bookstore chain in the US, LifeWay stores, has recently pulled all of Mark Driscoll's books from their shelves after the various controversies that have surrounded him. Was this a good thing to do? It is also notable that they did not stock a book by Rachel Held Evans because a book she wrote contained the word "vagina" in it. I suppose if I ever expand my blogpost with Red Letter Christians entitled A Theology of Farts and Orgasms into a book, I can forget about their support? In all seriousness, Christian prudishness is no excuse for not facing the earthiness of Scripture and its implications for real life - but see the post for my views on that.

The issue is, when is it ever appropriate for a bookstore to either not stock, or remove from shelves, a book? I've only ever owned two books by Mark Driscoll. One is on mission which I've glanced at but not dug into. The other is one on marriage. The chapter on friendship is excellent, but I don't have it anymore. Mark is Calvinist and complimentarian, I'm Arminian and egalitarian. I've listened to some of his sermon series, seen him on the Elephant Room and been to an Acts 29 church for a time. I have ambiguous feelings about him. I think his personality has amplified all of the aspects of his theology I disagree with. But I think pulling his books was wrong.

Now of all of his sins (and let's call them that), the only two that really relate to books directly is the plagiarism (unintentional or not) and the dodgy attempts to promote sales.  Even then, only the book where the plagiarism occured provides reason for pulling it from the shelves, if at all. The dodgy promotional activity of paying someone to buy a bunch of copies doesn't change the usefulness or truth content of the book in question.

As for Mark's controversial character - Luther was an anti-semite and Calvin was a bourgeois snob implicated in Servetus' murder. Do we pull their books? Where do we draw the line on people's behaviour? And what about theology? Rob Bell perhaps? Brian McClaren?

Now all bookshops have to make stocking choices, and a Christian bookshop should stock books by Christian authors propounding a Christian world view. But what does that look like? For me, John Shelby Spong puts himself outside of historic Christianity by denying central tenets about the person of Jesus, but he was a bishop? Do you have a heretics section? Or ignore him? Or be brave and have a few copies? I don't think there is an easy answer, but it's an insult to book buyers to make up their minds for them, particularly if the filter is narrow.

Banning books, or protesting them is no where near as effective as loving the authors. I'm not about to jump into any Mark Driscoll, though in writing a book on mission I will be digging it out. Likewise I have just bought some Rachel Held Evans, and will buy her vagina book at some stage and see for myself just how liberal her exegesis is, as one person I know has contended.

Not stocking books for insubstantial reasons is a few steps behind book burning, but still too close for my liking.

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