Sunday 15 January 2012

Storm in a teacup at Unbelievable?

I listened this evening to Justin Brierley's interview with Mark and Grace Driscoll (though Grace's participation was relatively minor). What have I, an atheist, to say about what is essentially a conversation between Christians about matters of tone and style? Isn't that kind of discussion irrelevant to me? Here's the streaming audio:{B568EE6E-C425-4285-BCE0-BE1CF6A6DF31}

In other circumstances I would have no interest in an interview of this type, concerned as it was with differing interpretations of Christian scripture and how they are to be applied to Christian ministry. But the audio of this interview was released on the Unbelievable? podcast feed, apparently as a response to some statements Mark Driscoll made on his blog regarding how the interview was conducted. Justin states in his introduction that the audio now aired is the full interview, and as someone who's been in the position of recording an interview (or at least a conversation) that has subsequently been the subject of comment by all participants, I have some sympathy with his apparent wish to put the record straight with the complete version of what transpired.

Having read Mark's blogpost I'm at a loss to understand his complaint. He's written (with his wife) a controversial book, and I would have thought he would want to promote it. Doing interviews for radio programmes and magazines is an obvious path to fulfilling this objective. Interviews about a controversial book will naturally focus on the most controversial parts of the book. Those parts are inspired by the authors' controversial views, so the interview will also deal with those views. But here's an excerpt from Mark's "A Blog Post for the Brits":
I have a degree in communications from one of the top programs in the United States. So does my wife, Grace. We are used to reporters with agendas and selective editing of long interviews. Running into reporters with agendas and being selectively edited so that you are presented as someone that is perhaps not entirely accurate is the risk one takes when trying to get their message out through the media.

With the release of our book, Real Marriage, we have now done literally dozens of interviews with Christians and non-Christians. But the one that culminated in the forthcoming article was, in my opinion, the most disrespectful, adversarial, and subjective. As a result, we’ve since changed how we receive, process, and moderate media interviews.
This does make me wonder what those "literally dozens of interviews" were like. Justin was entirely respectful of his interviewees while asking the questions his audience would want him to ask. I also wonder what good Mark's degree in communications did him when he seems so upset by Justin's quite reasonable questions and appropriately probing approach. For his part Justin did not flinch when Mark turned the tables at the end of the hour and probed him on his personal theology. Given the style of preaching Mark declares himself to use, his characterisation of Justin's interview as "the most disrespectful, adversarial, and subjective" beggars belief.

Justin's response on Christianity Magazine's website (his interview appears in the magazine) includes this:
My wife is a church minister so I asked the final question of the interview a bit tongue in cheek (for my own curiosity really). Pastor Mark then turned the tables and started asking me questions; we discussed whether my wife's church was the poorer having a woman up front. We disagreed on that! Then he asked me my view on Eternal Conscious Torment ‐ I admitted I side with John Stott ‐ an annihilationist. He asked me if I believe Penal Substitution ‐ I said it’s valid and one of a number of ways to view the cross, but can be expressed in an unhelpful way. He said I was wishy washy for qualifying things like that. That's just me, I'm not overly dogmatic on that issue.
Storm in a teacup? Probably, but it's a useful lesson for interviewers — including those doing interviews for podcasts — that one should distinguish facts from opinion, and be prepared to release one's original recordings.