Mark Driscoll and Gabe Lyons

Deciphering the Nuanced Differences Between Neopuritanism and Neocalvinism

The last of my comparisons between neopuritanism and neocalvinism looks at two young, cutting-edge guys that represent these two streams of Calvinism.


Mark Driscoll has been a representative of avant-garde Christianity since the mid 1990s when he planted Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He was also with Leadership Network then, which spawned Emergent Village. In 2001, Driscoll split with Emergent Village. He wrote,

“I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God's sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake.”

Driscoll is a hard-hitting, in-your-face kind of guy who revels in Mars Hill being “Seeker-Hostile and Seeker-Insensitive.” The hard-line Bible preaching and Calvinistic theology of Mars Hill stands in stark contrast to the liberalism of Seattle, but that is part of its appeal. Driscoll is abrasive and doesn’t care what people think of him. The goal is to proclaim truth in the Seattle culture, and to allow God, in his sovereignty, to save those he is going to save.

Even though Driscoll has distanced himself from “Emergent,” he is still what is often called “Missional.” Missional churches are communities that live into the culture in which they've been called. They hold fast and strong to their core doctrines, but they also speak the language of the culture in which they have been placed. Mars Hill is attempting to do this.

Driscoll’s philosophy of ministry is that the Sunday worship and sermon are meant to equip its members to be missionaries within their communities throughout the week.

“God’s mission is not to create a team of moral and decent people but rather to create a movement of holy and loving missionaries who are comfortable and truthful around lost sinners and who, in this way, look more like Jesus than most of his pastors do.” (Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, p. 35, as cited in Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed)

Members are trained in the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement and understand TULIP so that they can better do the ongoing work of evangelism – in their homes, at their work, and when they are at their kids’ soccer games. The neopuritan heart of Driscoll beats to see conversions and to see new churches started up to see even more conversions. Driscoll’s gospel is summed up when he says, "people suck and God saves us from ourselves." Mars Hill has been successful – the church has grown to over 5,000, and has founded the Acts 29 Network, which starts and nurtures church plants with the goal of planting 1,000 churches in the next 20 years.


Gabe Lyons, the creative force behind the Fermi Project (now called "Q"), has been deeply troubled by what he’s seen in American Christianity. He writes in his article, “Influencing Culture: An Opportunity for the Church,”

“Christianity has gained more conversions in America over the last two hundred years than any other faith. Simultaneously, Christianity has steadily lost cultural influence despite its rapid conversion growth.”

Lyons believes that the gospel is no longer having a powerful influence in our culture.

“I believe God is calling the Church of America to grasp its calling to influence the greater culture... I can’t imagine anything more important or significant in our lifetime, than to be a part of the church recapturing its role in shaping culture. When we do this, the life-giving message of Jesus Christ will go forward in ways unprecedented throughout the 21st century.”

Lyons believes that the full Gospel message was compromised by two influences on American Christianity: In the wake of the Enlightenment, “the basis for human existence began to shift away from God and toward humanity. Human reason, scientific research and individual achievement had no need for divine intervention.”

In the wake of the large conversion movements of the early 1800’s, “The great orators of this time used emotional preaching and proclaimed boldly the most dramatic points of the Christian story; ‘You are a sinner, and Christ’s death and resurrection can give you new life. If you get saved, you will have eternal life in Heaven.’ They initiated special invitations to capture the most possible conversions from a given audience in a limited amount of time. They didn’t have the benefit of living among the people and modeling the life of a Christian over the course of years. Their demanding schedule of traveling by horseback from town to town gave them weeks, and sometimes just days, to convey the depth of the message of Jesus."

The result?
“In the process, Christianity was losing its profound and life-giving answers to central questions, no longer representing an entire life-system and worldview. It had become relegated to a personal, spiritual decision about where you would spend the afterlife.”

In true neocalvinist form, Lyons points to the full gospel story of Creation- Fall- Redemption- Restoration (click on the chart on the left). For Lyons and neocalvinists, the gospel is not just about sin and salvation, but about a whole life and world view, based on this four-chapter story. The gospel is about “grace restoring creation,” not just about the salvation of individual souls.

Not that neopuritans like Mark Driscoll would disagree with this, for it is clearly a biblical teaching. It’s just that in practice, Driscoll and neopuritans narrowly define the gospel as mainly being about salvation of individual people, saying that the heart of the gospel is Christ’s Substitutionary Atonement on the cross for the Justification of human beings who place their faith in Christ’s work on the cross. It's all about salvation.

And not that neocalvinists like Gabe Lyons are not interested in the salvation of individuals, either. Lyons was the one who commissioned the very important Barna study that resulted in the book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters, which he co-authored with David Kinnaman. In this book, Lyons shows that the younger generation is fed up with the form of Christianity that is just out to get conversions. They want to see authentic faith lived out. Lyons' contention is that the best way to reach young Americans is to proclaim the fullness of the gospel through word and action, not just to try to make conversions.

The paradigm of neopuriatans and neocalvinists are different, though they both affirm doctrinally what the other teaches. Neocalvinists believe in Penal Substitution and the Doctrines of Grace that assure God's soverignty over individual salvation, but this is not the primary paradigm from which they operate.

Mark Driscoll does a wonderful job of applying the theology of atonement to the needs of hurting people. However, neopuritans like Driscoll often get so fixated in explicating precise doctrine that they don't always get to the missional heart of God and the implications of the God's Kingdom for whole-life discipleship in the world. They see “Missional” as merely the Christian’s role in evangelism outside the walls of the church.

Neocalvinists, in contrast, see “Missional” as including the local church, but also a whole lot more. It is Christian cooperation with God in making all things right – seeking justice and shalom in all aspects of life (in church, in our vocations, in politics, in caring for the environment, in making our schools better, in making business enterprise better, in helping families flourish, etc.)

The vision for Gabe Lyons’ Q Ideas is to call the church and all Christians of our time...

“...to rediscover the cultural mandate, embracing the opportunity to influence culture. In the church, we must teach about calling and cultural influence and provide vital support to cultural leaders. We must become an integral piece of the local culture, convening and encouraging creation of future culture that serves the common good. We must become connoisseurs of good culture, recognizing and celebrating the good, true and beautiful to the glory of God and begin to lead the conversations that will shape future culture."

This call can certainly be embraced by Neopuriatans and Neocalvinists alike. It is so biblical that it can be also embraced by Arminians and any other stream of evangelical Christianity too. It's hard to argue with!

As a wonderful example of how neopuritans and neocalvinists view the gospel differently, look at the conferences they sponsor and attend. Neopuritans sponsor pastor's conferences emphasizing church-centered methods of evangelism, the proclamation of the word through sermons, and how to make the church more effective to proclaim the gospel to the culture.

Lyons, on the other hand, has successfully launched the annual "Q Gathering",
"a place where church and cultural leaders come together to collaborate and explore ideas about how the Gospel can be expressed within our cultural context."

The Q Gathering hopes to encourage Christians to engage and shape the culture.

"By bringing together leaders from the channels of media, education, politics, arts and entertainment, business, the social sector and the church to learn from one another, it instigates lively interaction and learning that seldom takes place in other environments. We believe that inherent in Christian faithfulness is the responsibility to create a better world, one that reflects God’s original design and intention. Q is a place leaders can explore what that might look like and how God’s intention is showing up in the lives of their peers and the cultural projects they create."


Posts in this series on Neo-Puritanism and Neo-Calvinism




Ted M. Gossard said...

I really do resonate with the neo-Calvinist, Kuyperian school, and think they better represent the genius and gift of John Calvin, than do the neo-Puritans.

I am wondering just to what extent Jonathan Edwards in his theological thinking is helpful or can be appropriated on the Kuyperian side.

Great series, Bob.

Ron Henzel said...

I think you've supplied a very helpful analysis of the distinct emphases of Driscoll and Lyons, but I would consider them both different flavors of neo-Calvinists, since the original Puritans were in fact Calvinists, and shared with Calvin a deep commitment to what you refer to as "grace restoring creation." Calvin sought to make Geneva a model of Christian culture, and the Puritans who came to Massachusetts were bent on making it "a city on a hill" that would shine the light of the whole of Christian faith and practice around the world. (See especially Leland Ryken's book, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were, [Zondervan, 1986], along with other titles on the same subject by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, and others.)

Dan Walsh said...

Hey Bob,

Given the nature of the series you just finished here I think you'll find this post very interesting and even worth commenting upon here: http://www.challies.com/archives/book-reviews/book-review---unfashionable.php



Great Googly Moogly! said...

Hey Bob,

What happened to the post about Driscoll slapping himself silly? I linked to it on my facebook page and now people have told me that the page doesn't exist. Did you remove it because it wasn't factual?


Bob Robinson said...

It's because I actually quite respect Driscoll and I didn't want this site to appear like I don't. I felt deeply that posting that satirical piece didn't honor him.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Thanks Bob. I can't say that I feel the same way, but I respect your decision. I appreciate you listening to your conscience (the Spirit) and acting accordingly.


MattP said...

interesting distinction you've made. I have not read or listened to Gable Lyons but I will say that I feel Driscoll does include much about redeeming the whole culture in his teaching. I am also suspect of Barna's various books and wonder how Gabe's take on the research done pans out. My friends who have gone whole hog about Barna's stuff have lost some of what I consider to be good ecclesiology-overreactive. Thanks for the article