Jesus and Nonviolence: A Response to Mark Driscoll

I appreciate Mark Driscoll, maybe even more than my friends do. I first stumbled upon Driscoll in the late 1990s when I was in seminary and wrestling with postmodernity and the mission of the church. Mars Hill was in its infancy and some around the country were pointed to Driscoll and Mars Hill as an example of a church plant responding effectively to a shifting culture. I began listening to Driscoll via podcast in 2006. I appreciate his emphasis on theology. I enjoyed his weaving together of humor and theological themes in his preaching. He gave me a greater respect for the Reformed tradition. I find him less offensive than others, I suppose. I for one chuckled at his appearance at the Strange Fire conference last week. Most of all I appreciate Driscoll’s devotion to Jesus Christ. “It’s all about Jesus. It’s always about Jesus. It’s only about Jesus,” is one of his mottoes. Driscoll loves Jesus, and so we are brothers in Christ.
Driscoll’s devotion to Jesus is without question, but I do question his view of Jesus related to the issue of violence. In a recent blog entitled, “Is God a Pacifist?” describes a Jesus who is “coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom.” According to Driscoll, Jesus is neither a “pacifist” or a “pansy,” but rather a patient King burning with anger waiting to kill his enemies.

In all humility, I would like to ask: “Pastor Mark, is it possible you misunderstand Jesus?

We agree the kingdom of God is a peaceable kingdom. Many of the descriptions we see in Isaiah of the coming kingdom of messiah are clothed with metaphors of peace: swords beaten into plowshares and lambs laying down with wolves, etc. Where Driscoll and I disagree is the way in which the kingdom comes. Driscoll believes the coming of the kingdom is only possible through the violent vanquish of the enemies of God. I would argue the kingdom has come (and is coming) through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We agree Jesus is the way, but in what way is Jesus the way? The way of Jesus is the way of nonviolence. He became the point in which the kingdom broke through into human history not by slaying his enemies, but by being slain. The kingdom has come through the death, burial, and resurrection Jesus. Through his ascension, Jesus is ruling over this kingdom. And at his return, the kingdom will come in fullness. This kingdom was, is, and shall be a peaceable kingdom.

Jesus embodied this peaceable kingdom. Jesus practiced non-violence and it cost him his life. It seems like Driscoll implies that pacifism (or the term I prefer is “non-violence”) and healthy masculinity are incompatible. While Driscoll did not state this explicitly, it seems to me that, for Driscoll, masculinity includes violence in some form and non-violence is to be associated with a “pansy” or less masculine man. Am I reading Driscoll wrong at this point? If to be non-violent is to be weak and less-than-masculine, then Jesus upon the cross is the worst example of masculinity. I do not think Driscoll would want to say, “Jesus was a pansy because he died on the cross instead of killing his enemies,” but it seems like this statement in the logical conclusion to Driscoll’s implications regarding masculinity and violence. I appreciate his desire to rescue Jesus from the feminine caricature he has become in the eyes of some. In the past I even used Driscoll’s “ultimate fighter Jesus” motif, but I was wrong. Proving the masculinity of Jesus by arguing for a violent Christ is not the way to go.

The text Driscoll quotes in making his point about Jesus, violence, and masculinity is Revelation 14:14-20. From this text, Driscoll concludes that at his return, Jesus will kill his enemies. I struggle to sum up my thoughts on Driscoll’s eschatology here; words like: abhorrent, mistaken, ridiculous, sickening, erroneous come to mind. Driscoll’s conclusion is faulty and it is built on some theological miscues. First, Revelation is highly speculative and not the place where we get the clearest picture of Jesus Christ. Yes the book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ, but it is a revealing Jesus to us through symbol and metaphor. If you believe the son of man in Revelation is literally going to shed blood and that literally blood will flow for 184 miles, then you must literally believe this son of man will be conducting his warfare with a sickle. Why is the bloodshed to be interpreted literally, but the sickle is a metaphor? The book of Revelation does reveal Jesus Christ to us, but because of the highly symbolic nature of the book we interpret the symbols through the Jesus we see in the gospels and in the rest of the New Testament. A standard method of biblical interpretation is we interpret unclear passages by clear passages. Where do we ever clearly see Jesus killing his enemies or advocating the killing of his enemies?

In attempting to harmonize the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament, Driscoll has put at odds the Jesus of the Gospels with the Jesus of Revelation. If the Jesus of Revelation is coming to kill his enemies, then the Jesus of the Gospels who taught enemy love was wrong. I too struggle with understanding the violent texts in the Old Testament associated with the commands of Yahweh, the God of Israel and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. What we cannot do is attempt to harmonize the violent texts of the Old Testament with the non-violent texts of the New Testament by marginalize the teachings and actions of a nonviolent Jesus. If we must prioritize the texts, let’s put the Gospels at the top and allow the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to interpret all the other texts.

Jesus calls us to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing, and teaching them to obey all he commanded. If we begin to teach an eschatological violent Jesus, we nullify his teachings of enemy love. I understand the call to nonviolence is complex, but I would rather work through the hardship of the complexities of enemy-love, than disobey the commands of Jesus. I agree “Jesus is no one to mess with,” but he is not to be messed with because he is the benevolent Lord not the violent warrior.