Ostensibly, Mark Driscoll preaches the Bible and only the Bible. He gives sophistication to the old catchphrase, “The Bible says it; I believe it; and that settles it.” Nonetheless, if Mark’s sermon on Heaven and Hell was an essay, I would fail him. Epistemologically, he fails to account for anything he states. Moreover, he spends hardly any time talking about the text from which he supposedly is preaching. One would suppose that in order to
preach the Bible, someone would talk at length about the Bible passage they are preaching on. Instead, Mark spends nearly the entirety of the sermon answering difficult questions posed by people in his congregation. To most of these questions he responds with polarization at best or yelling hysterically at worst, and he repeatedly qualifies all of it with telling his congregation, “I love you.” Surprisingly, despite all this talk of preaching the Bible and giving his congregation what the Bible says, in the “Clips” that you can watch of the sermon, he mentions Luke 16.19-31 only once, which is the passage from the Bible he is preaching on! 10 minutes of clips, a sixth of the entire sermon, and Mark manages to only reference his key text once? Even then, his treatment of the text is embarrassing and simple. Let me explain how.
Briefly summarized, Luke 16.19-31 is a story told by Jesus about an extremely rich man and an extremely poor man who are neighbors. The rich man treats the poor man, Lazarus, like a dog, literally. When both of them die, the poor man is taken to Abraham’s side, and the rich man goes to Hades to suffer and burn in torture. The reasons for their respective afterlife destinations are given by Abraham, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony” (v. 25). The rich man begs Abraham to help him or at least to send a message to his brothers who are also rich and living comfortable lives back on earth. Abraham tells the rich man there is a giant chasm between the two of them which cannot be bridged, yet it can be yelled across, apparently. Mark manages to say nothing about the meaning of the text at all, and I have a sneaking suspicion as to why.
A cursory glance at these verses should alarm us. First, a handful of phrases are missing: G-d, heaven, eternity, and faith in Jesus. Never once is G-d mentioned; it is rather unclear exactly where Lazarus goes other than “to be with Abraham”; how long either of them are
to be where they are is unsaid; and they do not go to their final destinations based on any other reason than their earthly experiences. Faith plays no part in this story. Still, that does not stop Mark from indicating that they will be in their respective afterlife location forever because of their faith. In fact the most difficult part of the whole passage regarding why the rich man goes to Hades is totally unnoticed by pastor Mark. He skips right over it. This alone goes to show that when Mark claims to take the difficult parts of the Bible head on, he lies venomously.
Of all the passages in the Bible, this one really should make us flinch. Jesus seems quite concerned with economic justice, and in fact, that is what this passage is about. The themes of wealth and poverty far outweigh the themes of salvation, heaven, and hell which only operate to instigate final economic justice. In context, this is one of Luke’s several difficult teachings on wealth, a theme of which Luke talks at length. Driscoll, intent on refuting Rob Bell, offers his congregation angry remarks concerning the eternal destination of all those who do not believe what the Bible “says” about heaven and hell. Of course, if we take Mark seriously about following what the Bible says, we should be immensely concerned about his ultimate destination. Based on his apparel, I would say he makes a pretty penny, and now that his church will be celebrating Easter in Qwest Field, we should probably all wonder about the fate of the entire congregation based on Luke 16. His congregation will persist in their ignorance, however. From the pews, they will go out into the world to tell everyone about an angry G-d who wants to save people from hell but just has to damn them if they do not believe Jesus rose from the dead.
As preachers like Rob Bell envision a G-d working hard to prevent a megalopolis in hell, Mark Driscoll professes G-d could just not endure a well-populated heaven. Nothing in this world prevents more people from knowing the good news of Jesus than the destructive, self-righteous, counter-logical preaching from pastors like Mark Driscoll. But if not what they think, then what? What will happen after death if anything? Honestly, we don’t know. Fortunately, we do know G-d, and therefore, we can make some guesses about the afterlife based on what we know about G-d. That will be next.