It’s no surprise the lingo of “boot camp” spread into evangelicalism through Acts 29’s church planter gatherings. The atmosphere of “telling it like it is,” being “confronted by the truth” and “doing whatever it takes for the kingdom” had massive appeal to a generation of young men who came from homes where fathers were hooked on porn before the sons discovered it themselves, where the meaning of manhood and the pathway toward character development was left undefined.
In a radio interview a couple years ago, long after the implosion of Mars Hill Church and his departure from Seattle, Mark Driscoll attributed the resurgence of Reformed theology among evangelicals to “father wounds.”
That whole Young, Restless Reformed—God is father but he’s distant, he’s mean, he’s cruel, he’s non-relational, he’s far away. That’s their view of their earthly father. So, then they pick dead mentors: Spurgeon, Calvin, Luther. These are little boys with father wounds who are looking for spiritual fathers, so they pick dead guys who are not actually going to get to know them or correct them. And then they join networks run by other young men so that they can all be brothers. There’s no fathers. And they love, love, love Jesus because they love the story where the son is the hero because they’re the sons with father wounds.
I was surprised by this interview, primarily because Mark went on to repudiate Calvinism after painting Reformed theology with a broad brush. But also because, while making a valid point about how father wounds can influence one’s theology, Mark didn’t address the ways his ministry benefited from the phenomenon of absentee and passive fathers. It would be much easier to connect fatherlessness to Driscoll-fanhood than to make the case that all Reformed theology is really about a distant, angry, “non-relational” God.
Mark’s persona—the dude who, unlike your wimpy father, will get in your face and tell you the truth—was compelling to younger men confused about the meaning and purpose of manhood. That’s why the infamous “How dare you!” sermon took off. More on that in a moment.
Fatherhood and Reformed Theology
First, let’s acknowledge the kernel of truth in Mark’s assessment (if you can look past his caricature of Reformed theology): one reason for the recent rise of Reformed theology can be attributed to a hunger for healthy, assertive, promise-keeping, full-of-character fathers who reflect the fatherhood of God.
Collin Hansen touched on this desire in his 2008 book Young, Restless, and Reformed, when he described younger Calvinists referring to John Piper as a father figure. One young lady talked about Piper as being like “a dad” to her, although they’d never met.
At the time, I wrote about the strangeness of that phenomenon and the implications for a new generation’s vision of God’s fatherhood. What does it say about God as Father if young people think “father” is the appropriate term for a prominent preacher with whom they have no relationship? This is how I put it then:
Fathers image God. To reach for descriptions of spiritual fatherhood in relation to a powerful preacher, disconnected from a young person relationally, demonstrates a skewed vision of who God is: far off, transcendent, distant, thundering. If fatherhood can take place without ever meeting, then something has gone sideways regarding a more balanced view of fatherhood, one that includes transcendent authority combined with relational immanence, expressed most clearly in God’s gracious condescension to us in Christ.