Mark Driscoll is known for teaching in a bold and…um, gutsy (for lack of a better word, because I believe my mom and grandma sometimes read this) manner and I jumped at the chance to review his newest book for a blog tourReligion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions is a response to nine issues voted by Driscoll’s church to be the most important facing Christians today. It can be a bit textbooky at times, so I wrote a short review for those who aren’t so interested in that sort of thing and a longer review for nerds those who are more interested in what Driscoll has to say on the issues at hand.

Short review: scripturally-grounded responses to 9 major issues facing the church today, a good read but can be a bit heavy, not sure what the title and subtitle really have to do with anything, I like that he’s not afraid to name names but surprised he got those parts published, nice texture on the cover.

Long review:
Birth Control
I really admire the way Driscoll handles this issue: he provides a balanced, wise view that is full of truth but also grace. He starts off by exploring the reasoning behind the “no birth control at all” school of thought and then outlines his response, which can be summed up with this statement:

When a Christian couple chooses this approach, trusting that whatever happens is God’s good will, it is acceptable. When this form of family planning is dogmatically pushed as the only faithful Christian option, such foolish legalism can lead to both self-righteousness and harm.

His facts and figures are well-documented as he then discusses various types of birth control and the moral/ethical considerations for each. He ends by saying that Christian couples considering birth control should “prayerfully and carefully reflect on their decision” and proceed, understanding that God may have a different plan for other couples. I was really impressed with this, because I think he’s right and unfortunately Christians tend to fall into one of two camps on this issue – either believing that all birth control is bad and those using it are in sin, or automatically assuming the pill is ok. I think he does a really good job actually examining the issue and (refreshingly) not landing in either of those two camps.

Honestly this chapter seemed a little unnecessary to me…but then I have never had a problem with light-hearted joking, making fun of people (so long as it’s not cruel), or sarcasm. I suppose, however, that others do not necessarily see this issue the same way, because each of these topics was selected by a vote. So I read this section but I can’t say it was earth-shattering for me.  He did say, “When…the feces and fan have interfaced…” and I thought that was just hilarious.

Driscoll does a pretty good job at outlining the two basic positions on this issue and their historical roots, but from the get-go he is pretty biased toward the Reformed/Calvinist view. I guess I was hoping he could explore the issue in a similar manner to the birth control one: explain what different “sides” believe and why, and then get around to his personal beliefs on the subject. It just didn’t seem like the best example of his writing ability, so I was a bit disappointed. His summary thoughts on the issue are that

“Sadly, the doctrine of predestination too often devolves into Reformed and Arminian Christians quoting from their favorite pile of verses until they cease to be loving to one another, and winning the never-ending argument takes precedence over glorifying God and helping people.”

And I agree with that whole-heartedly. But then he goes on to say he “would be deeply grieved if this chapter were simply yet another pile of rocks for Christians to throw at each other,” and unfortunately I think this chapter could be taken that way because the vast majority of it seemed to be an attack on free-willers.

This is actually a response to the question “What parts of Christianity do you still wrestle with? What’s hardest for you to believe?” The winner is God’s grace, because it seems too good to be true. Starting with common grace and saving grace, Driscoll then moves on to thirteen “experiences” of grace, which he lists and then briefly describes. It was a little cumbersome, I thought, but a good primer in the doctrine of grace.

Sexual Sin
Wow. Well-written, hard-hitting…this section is powerful. Let me say as an aside that my inner nerd thrilled to see the sheer volume of footnotes for this chapter, and even more so to realize that most of the sources listed were scholarly and respected even in the secular world. That said, the statistics cited in this chapter both sickened and angered me. Driscoll covers God’s plan for sexuality, sexual sin in the Bible, and then sexual sin today (“Paul accused people in his day of worshiping their stomachs as god, and in our day it appears that the god we worship has moved a short distance south”). He covers premarital sex, pornography, sexual addiction, and prostitution. And yes, he does also talk about masturbation. There is also a good section on breaking free from sexual sin. I think this is the best chapter of the book, both in writing and importance.

Faith and Works
Driscoll explains the doctrine of regeneration, which basically means the Holy Spirit changes believers, and that change is what prompts good works. Nothing new or revolutionary here, but good if you’re new to the concept.

I know there are a lot of books about Christian dating, or not dating, or whatever. Seriously, this chapter is probably a better place to start. There is no talking down to singles or patronizing, but a lot of Biblical wisdom as well as common sense and practical advice. If I was going to have a chat with my single friends about dating, assuming they wanted my advice (and you know what they say about assuming), this is what I would tell them.

The Emerging Church
I had no idea that “emerging” and “emergent” churches were even different, so I really appreciate his explanation about the very important differences between them. Driscoll outlines particular persons associated with the emergent movement and his concerns with each, which I thought was pretty…um, gutsy. Overall a brave and helpful section.

The Regulative Principle
Um…what? Apparently this refers to how a particular church conducts their corporate service. The normative principle means a church must do the things Scripture commands, and can do whatever else they want as long as Scripture does not prohibit it; the regulative principle means a church must do the things Scripture commands and nothing else. Driscoll lands somewhere in the middle, which is where I would assume most people of sense land, in a sort of loose regulative principle; he calls this the missional worship principle. I am floored that this was voted the #1 question out of the original 893. Christians argue about the stupidest stuff sometimes.

So, all in all I would recommend this book; I did like it, but can’t say I loved it; it can be a little heavy on the statistics in places and in others is a bit more theologically deep than your typical “Christian living” fare. I will definitely keep it on hand as a sort of reference for some of the issues mentioned, and for many readers (by which I mean, non-nerds) that may actually be the best way to use it.