Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, April 21, 2008

Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll (Book Review)

It just so happens that although I've read all of Mark Driscoll's published work, this is the first book I've actually reviewed. So in writing this, I have a sense of backstory that I'll try to convey briefly.

People tend to assess Driscoll in one of a handful of ways: Mark Driscoll the shock jock Reformed dude, Mark Driscoll the rock star church planter, Mark Driscoll the tough pastor-theologian with a big heart.

While I can understand the various other responses, I've come to see Driscoll as primarily occupying that last category. Yeah, he's bombastic at times. Yeah, he's doing all he can to usher out the suit-and-tie era of pastoring, bringing grungy back. But for me, Driscoll needs to be understood in the context of his love for Seattle, his passion for the Bible, and his remarkable ability to explain the relationship between biblical theology and contemporary culture.

If you read that last sentence and thought, "I didn't know they were related," then you may be about to grasp the value of Driscoll's role.

Along these lines, Vintage Jesus is an excellent book and it actually makes sense that it's earned eclectic accolades from the likes of university professors, record company owners, and mixed martial arts fighters. Vintage Jesus is a very accessible introduction to the theological category of Christology, a biblical understanding of who Jesus is.

Driscoll presents the goods by asking blunt leading questions and following up with responses that are framed by cultural references and are right on the mark in terms of orthodox Christian belief. He is aided by co-author Gerry Breshears (blog), a professor at Western Seminary who supplies supplementary Q&A after each chapter. Breshears is an accomplished theologian, and also does a respectable job "keeping up" with Driscoll as he builds tough, clear arguments and drops references to Jack Bauer, Star Wars, and chili con carne, occasionally ripping on guys like Dan Brown in the process.

By way of qualification, let me add that Vintage Jesus is not an apologetic work, is not presented as such, and thus doesn't address basic postmodern questions like Why trust the Bible? Does God even exist? Why is "your" truth exclusive? (For concerns like this, see Tim Keller's The Reason for God.) Also, Driscoll's love for written stand-up comedy sometimes fails to blend seamlessly with his theological writing. Occasionally I had the sense that theologian-Driscoll was playing tag team with Chris Rock-Driscoll, and the book's style isn't completely uniform as a result. However, these are minor gripes.

Clearly, Driscoll is setting out to popularize theology, and he's uniquely qualified for the task. People who would never crack a tome by renowned scholars like Ajith Fernando (The Supremacy of Christ) and John Stott (The Cross of Christ) may give Vintage Jesus a shot--a book rife with red neck jokes, sarcastic one-liners, and impassioned descriptions of Jesus' glory, goodness, and ability to change lives.

If you can handle Mark Driscoll's love for sarcasm and his rough and tumble style, I recommend Vintage Jesus highly. If you're looking for a better handle on what Jesus was all about and why it matters, you may want to grab this title. I award it three stars--don't miss it.

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Tiffany said...

What if you view Mark Driscoll as a hyper-conservative pompous ass-clown? Hypothetically, of course.

Ariel said...

What if you actually made a case instead of calling names?

What if you approached this post as a book review, not a referendum on Mark Driscoll's character?

You know, hypothetically.

Tiffany said...

Driscoll makes the point all on his own. I really don't have to say much. I was merely pointing out that while you're giving a "review" of this book, you're coming from a perspective of having little or no criticism of Driscoll. People see him in a lot more of the handful of ways you offer. It's a bit like Steven Colbert's schtick - "George Bush - Great President or Greatest President."

Mark Driscoll is modern in post-modern drag, a bibilical literalist and as conservative as they come, theologically, which is fine, but let's not conserve casual dress with cultural relevance. He's also fairly power hungry and has done a lot to completely restructure his church so that his decisions are never opposed. Sounds pretty old school to me.

Ariel said...

Tiffany, you're right that I don't have much criticism for Driscoll, "the man." My assessment relates to what I know about him based on what I've read and the handful of times I've heard him speak. If I did have an axe to grind, a book review is not the place I'd get after it.

let's not conserve casual dress with cultural relevance.

Agreed. But I think the ability to speak about Jesus to thousands of people in a clear way is a decent gauge of relevance.

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