I’m in week three of Mark Driscoll’s sermons on Esther, and I wanted to provide an ongoing commentary on the sermon series. As a bit of a backround on men, being a young reformed guy, Mark Driscoll more or less travels in the same circles of people that I look up to, whose sermons I listen to, whose books I read, and whose conference I livestream. I’m talking about the usual reformed suspects. I’ve appreciated many aspects of his ministry and have been built up and edified by a lot of what he has said, and more often than not I really like the way he says it. I love about 80% of what he says, am uncomfortable and disagree with 10%, and find the last 10% of what he says intolerable and dangerous.
A few days ago I read his blurb on Esther and was not surprised at the level of controversy it generated. I thought some people were spot-on in their pushback, and others were being too critical and unreasonable. As a results I took an hour or so and shared my thoughts here. I hadn’t even heard the sermons yet, but had based that solely on the release. This post has generated several thousand views, and I take that as encouragement that people are looking for information on this. As promised, I said I would review his sermons only as far as they relate to that initial statement, and I intend to do just that, with this one being the first in the series.
Jesus is a better King. [Esther 1:1-9]
I really enjoyed this sermon. I thought he did a thorough job at explaining the critical background, historical context, and the settings and characters. I’ve always believed that Mark Driscoll is a gifted communicator, and this sermon is no exception. He delved into the reality of Xerxe’s power, dominion, and the debauched situation he had created- which was a cesspool of sinful decadence and excess. He also effectively and convictingly related it to us in our modern context, using just the right amount of contextualization and relatability to sear our consciences. I think its a gift that, by the end of the sermon, I found myself staring into my soul and seeing all the Xerxes in me- where suddenly a wicked, immoral king wasn’t so far removed from the motivations of my own heart. This was a very good sermon by all accounts.
I found his final few minutes an amazing riff, and worth pointing out.
Here’s what Xerxes says about himself from an inscription that the archaeologists uncovered: “I am Xerxes the Great King, the only king, the king of all countries which speak all kinds of languages, the king of this entire big and far-reaching earth.” Xerxes thought he was Jesus. Some of you think you’re Jesus. Some of you honor, obey, worship, follow, adore people who think they’re Jesus. Jesus is a better King. Amen, Mars Hill? Jesus is a better King.
Xerxes was the son of Darius, but Jesus is the Son of God. Xerxes never tasted poverty nor humility, but Jesus tasted both poverty and humility to identify with us. Xerxes used his power to abuse women, but Jesus used his power to honor women. Xerxes spent his entire life being served, but Jesus spent his entire life serving others. Xerxes killed his enemies with an army of millions, but Jesus died for his enemies, saving billions.
Xerxes sat on a throne in Susa, but Jesus sits on a throne in heaven. Xerxes was the most powerful man on earth, but Jesus made the heavens and the earth and he rules over all creation. Xerxes said he would rule wherever the sun set, but only Jesus made the sun and rules over all of creation.
Xerxes died and today, no one worships Xerxes as god; but Jesus conquered death and today, billions worship Jesus as the only God. Xerxes thought he was a man who became god, but only Jesus is God who became a man. Xerxes’ kingdom had subjects from many nations, but Jesus’ kingdom has joyful worshipers from every nation. Xerxes threw enormous banquets, but the one Jesus is preparing for us makes his pale in comparison. Xerxes’ kingdom came to an end, but Jesus’ kingdom has no end. Xerxes declared himself king of kings, but he died. He stood before and was judged by the one and only King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mars Hill Church, today is our day of celebration. We are citizens of a greater kingdom. We have received a greater gift. We are looking forward to a greater blessing, and we gather in the name, and the presence, and the fame of Jesus Christ. He is our great King. He is a better King than any king and every king. He is the King of kings, and so now, we will celebrate Jesus Christ. And if they were willing to throw lavish, extravagant, fun, joyful parties for a demonic, false king, how much more should we rejoice and be glad that our King knows us, that our King loves us, that our King saves us, that our King seeks us, that our King serves us, and our King is preparing a banquet for us. Amen?
So that was all well and good. It was a very good sermon. But here’s where things get interesting. What stood out to me early in the sermon was this quote, as he was setting up the story and reasons for preaching.
[The book of Esther]…. is that controversial, and part of the reason it is so controversial is it’s difficult to interpret. At no point does the book of Esther tell us what their internal motivations were, what God’s external perspective is. It doesn’t give us any commentary, just history. Some of you will ask, “Well, what does the rest of the Bible have to say about the book of Esther?” Nothing.
I feel the same way about the book of Esther, and I think this is where the biggest disconnect came for me. I tend to take the view that if we don’t know a characters motivations; if the scriptures don’t fill us in on people’s thoughts and reasoning behind their actions, we don’t get to fill that in. We don’t get to assume them motivations that we are not told they expressly have.
This is the great weakness in Pastor Marks sermon. We don’t see this play out in this sermon very much, but we do in the next. After he tells us that the book of Esther does not tell us what Xerxes or Esther or Mordecai’s internal motivations were, he then assigns them some. Whereas in an earlier post I lamented that he was seemingly pulling them from mid-air, I don’t think that anymore. Instead, he seems he to have gotten them from bits and pieces of commentary from the Talmud, either the Jerusalem or Babylonian, and the Midrash. This is problematic however, because unlike the Scriptures which are infallible, the Talmud isn’t. I’ll delve into this further, but suffice to say this is the source of many of his problems.
I said before that his framework of Esther and her actions only works if he assumes the worst of her, and the worst positive motives on her part and this still holds true. But now I don’t think he’s assuming out of the madness of his own mind, but rather taking his cues from a handful of ancient Jewish rabbinic commentators and giving them way too much credit. We don’t speculate and state for certainty what the Bible has not revealed, and I think instead of taking this idea and running with it, Pastor Mark should have avoided it altogether. And even if he didn’t feel that he could, he should have at least qualified his narrative and stated that its one possibility out of many. That would have made a much better exegesis, and would have avoided much needless guesswork and assumptions.
A note on the critics
I used that picture above to make a point, namely that I think its a gross caricature of Pastor Mark. I believe that Mark Driscoll has some bizarre beliefs and theology, and in recent years has done things that have hurt and sown confusion into the greater Church body [needlessly graphic and explicit sermons, so-called visions of peoples sins, and more recently, his involvement in the Elephant Room with TD Jakes], I don’t recommend his sermons or his books wholesale, and tend to treat his ministry with some caution. I like to think I’m pretty charitable as a whole, but some of the comments and critiques have been disgusting.
Right now my post on Esther and Driscoll is linked on a nominally Christian blog which I do not support or respect They are the worst offenders, and their collective views could be boiled down to “Pastor Mark hates women and is a sex-crazed manipulator who gets off on dominating, shaming, and using and abusing them, all the while promoting others to to the same.” They have said that his Esther pre-release notes were essentially a rape apologetic.
That is a crazy, nonsensical, and sinful statement. Driscolls views on Esther in that blurb, while I think are grossly misdirected, are at least consistent with a certain presupposition and framework about Esther, one which at least some Talmudic writers spoke about and postulated. I think it’s wrong, but I’m not so morally and intellectually bankrupt that I would dismiss this whole series as proof positive that Pastor Mark approves of what was going on. Here’s just three small snippets from his sermon which makes it clear that he finds this behavior reprehensible.
“Over in another room, another portion of the palace, is Queen Vashti. She’s got all the women. When no women are present and no rules are in place, men become animals. Amen? What they’re doing is despicable, deplorable, disgusting, and depraved, and there are women there, but these are women who are getting used and abused.”
“He was totally consumed with the harem and all the women who just met all of his evil, sick, sinful, selfish, abusive desires.”
Now at this point, Xerxes, in hearing the story, would feel so proud. “Look at me in all my glory!” But it reveals something of a very wicked, evil, selfish, narcissistic desire to be God, to sit on a throne, to rule over nations, to ravage and abuse women, to indulge in food and drink in excess.”
Like I said- this is a good sermon. It will serve however to set the stage for next weeks, Jesus has a better Kingdom, where the real critique will begin. I’ll be posting it tomorrow.