taking the words of Jesus seriously

Mark Driscoll, the attention grabbing minister of the Mars Hill megachurch, is at it again. He’s pushing his badass Jesus who has, as he put it a few years ago, “a commitment to make someone bleed.” Driscoll has a personal need for a sacred tough guy because he has some sort of theological kink or character twist or… whatever, that leads him to declare, “I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” It sounds to me like he’s looking for a swaggering gang leader to follow, not One who said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

In a recent blog piece based on one of his sermons, Driscoll asks, “Is God a Pacifist?” From there he turns his attention to the sixth commandment. Now we might ask what bearing the sixth commandment has on whether God is a pacifist. After all, the commandment was for us creatures, not for the Creator. Someone has remarked. “Only God is wise enough and good enough to use violence.” Whether God is or is not a pacifist doesn’t necessarily suggest what humans should be or do.

Regardless, Driscoll argues for a restrictive understanding of the commandment, noting that “Thou shall not kill, ” in the King James Version and other older versions of the Bible is a questionable translation. Most newer versions use the English word “murder” instead of “kill.” He engages in a bit of word study to bolster his point, that being, the commandment doesn’t forbid killing in self-defense, capital punishment and in war. Hebrew scripture scholars like Wilma Bailey would take issue with him regarding the meaning of the commandment. But I don’t think his take on the sixth commandment is the biggest problem in his position.

First of all, anyone who turns to the Hebrew Bible for justification for the use of violence and war will find that they have bitten off more than they can chew. There is nothing resembling the just war tradition in those pages. Genocide and the enslavement of enemies are not condemned but commanded (Deuteronomy 20). God is the primary warrior. War is an exercise in the miraculous (Exodus 14:13-14; Deuteronomy 1:30). God is the one who calls the people and guides them to battle (Judg. 20:18; 1 Sam. 6:8-10; 14:6-10; 30:6-20; 2Sam. 5:17-25). Human strength is irrelevant for the outcome of war and in fact the pursuit of great military power suggests a lack of trust in God (Isaiah 7:4, 7, 31:1-5; Psalm 20:7-8). Wars would cease if modern nations had to use biblical standards.

Related: I Hate Loving Mark Driscoll – by Christian Piatt

Second, while Driscoll looks for room for deadly force in the sixth commandment, he fails to recognize that Jesus radicalized the law –“fulfilled” it- by broadening the reach of love. We see this happening in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous”(Matthew 5:43-45).  When our Lord teaches, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself, ” he stretches the definition of neighbor so no one is excluded (Luke 10:27-37).

Despite to the claims of those who have followed the lead of Augustine, it is farfetched to maintaain that the love of enemies that Jesus commanded “is not a bodily action, but an inward disposition” (Against Faustus, 22.79). Jesus did not in fact only oppose vicious anger and blood-thirstiness. There is no hint in any of his words that if someone’s heart is free of animosity and a desire to do violence then killing for a just cause is acceptable to God. To the contrary, Jesus called upon his followers to “bless” and “do good” to enemies (Luke 6:28, 35). There is no room in Jesus’ teaching to allow for the killing and maiming of enemies regardless of whether one has the “right” attitude or the authorization of the state. Love for enemies cannot be reduced to dispassion toward them.

The teachings of Jesus regarding loving enemies does not stand alone but are reflected in the entire life and message of Jesus. The beatitudes also commend qualities of character not typical of those who wield deadly force: humility, tender-heartedness, meekness, mercifulness and peacemaking (Matt. 5:3-11; Luke 6:20-22).  He urges his disciples to be “as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus blesses those who are persecuted but speaks of no similar blessing for those who would defend the persecuted by violent means (Matthew 5:11).

Jesus taught standards for a redeemed community, a community that is to exist as “salt” and “light”, embodying an alternative to the world characterized by the quest for dominance (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus responds to the disciples’ argument about greatness by contrasting the coercive power of Gentile leaders with the servant’s ways appropriate for his disciples (Luke 22:24-27). At no point does Jesus suggest that violence has any role in the lives of his followers. Finally, from the very cross from when he was nailed, Jesus looked to his torturers and uttered, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:24).

Does any of this sound like the badass Jesus of Mark Driscoll? Not so much. And there is a reason for that. His Jesus never existed, certainly not in the Gospels.

So Driscoll turns attention entirely away from the Gospels to get his vision of Jesus. The Gospels simply don’t serve his purpose. He looks to the highly symbolic book of Revelation as his source. And without question, we find in these pages a picture of Jesus that sometimes jars and clashes with Jesus as presented in the Gospels. For those of us who seek to follow Jesus, is the Book of Revelation the best place to look for guidance? I think not.

I frequently suspect that the leaders of the early church made a bad call including the book of Revelation in the canon. Certainly it was not a favored piece of literature by all the early church leaders. At least until the end of the second century it stood on shaky ground, not being included in every early collection of authoritative Christian writings. But in the end it gained official standing, but not without some misgivings. The Greek Orthodox Church never included it in the official lectionary. But now Revelation is included in the Bible and we have to deal with it.

Mark Driscoll’s way of dealing with it is about as bad as it gets. He puts the Book of Revelation at front and center as a source for learning the character and actions of Jesus. With his selectively literalistic approach to this highly symbolic book, Driscoll proclaims, “In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg.” And this is the Jesus he wants to follow so he can happily embrace “authorized killing.” He is not interested in a Jesus who is “a pansy or a pacifist.” He doesn’t pay nearly as much attention to the history of the church or the world around him as he needs to if he thinks those committed to nonviolent love are not people of strength and courage.

Also by Craig: Shall We Celebrate the 1%?

What Driscoll is really attempting to do is justify human blood-letting as a faithful expression of following Jesus by presenting the Lord as the ultimate Slayer. Even as he accuses others of selectively reading the Bible, he does plenty of selective scripture reading of his own, even as he looks to the book of Revelation. Never mind the nonviolent teachings and example of Jesus throughout the Gospels. Never mind that the primary image of Jesus in the book of Revelation is the “Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 5:6, 8, 12; 7:9; 12:11; 17:14; 19:7). Never mind that the people of God are never told to take up arms but to fight by means of “the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).

And never mind that when faced with the threat of death and imprisonment the followers of Jesus were not told to clash with the enemy in a show of deadly force but were instructed, “If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:10). The command here sounds strikingly like to words of Jesus to Peter when he fought back when the Lord was being taken captive: “Put your sword back in its place, ” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

Following Jesus has nothing to do with emulating the Christ symbolically depicted in the role of eschatological judge. Not one time in the New Testament are Christians instructed to follow Jesus in ways of judgment or look to the example of the apocalyptic Christ in righting wrongs with deadly force. However, we are told, “If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps…. When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten” (1 Peter 2:20-23). It is the self-giving Jesus who we are to follow in ways of radical nonviolent love.

So Mark Driscoll can keep his badass Jesus. I’m going to encourage people to follow the compassionate servant-savior who is the Christ of the Gospels, the real Prince of Peace.




About The Author

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Craig M. Watts is author of Bowing Toward Babylon: The Nationalistic Subversion of Christian Worship in America (Cascade Books 2017) and minister of Royal Palm Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs, Florida.

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