Is Jesus a pacifist? Apparently not, according to Mark Driscoll.
In a recent post (“Is God a Pacifist?”), the mega-church pastor actually presents the person and work of Jesus as evidence against the idea that God is a pacifist. My advice to anyone who is not immediately taken back by this statement? Read the Gospels. That Jesus (in the Gospels) embodies and commands a posture of nonviolence appears to me to be an axiomatic truth.
However, Driscoll accuses “those who want to portray Jesus as a pansy or a pacifist” as “prone to be(ing) very selective in the parts of the Bible they quote.” He goes on to say that, “If we want to learn all about Jesus we have to read all that the Bible says about him.” He thus quotes a particularly gruesome passage from Revelation (14:14-20) that seems to suggest that Jesus will one day command angels to crush his enemies until their blood flows miles high into the sky. Here is definitive proof, says Driscoll, that “Jesus is no one to mess with” and that God is not a pacifist.
I disagree with Driscoll’s assessment of Jesus’ attitude towards violence.
As a quick response, allow me to highlight three immediate problems with Driscoll’s argument:
1. In fact, there are many viable nonviolent interpretations of the book of Revelation.
(Greg Boyd has a nice bibliography of such readings here.) Indeed, there are even ways to read Revelation 14 nonviolently (perhaps the topic of another post). It is likewise worth noting that even with the abundance of violent imagery one finds throughout Revelation there is an equally obvious message that nonviolence is God’s way of conquering evil. Jesus is repeatedly praised as worthy to rule the universe precisely because he is nonviolent (he conquered by his blood) and his people are repeatedly told to likewise endure suffering nonviolently even until death. Even if one is not convinced by a nonviolent interpretation of Revelation, the abundance of world-class scholars who read it in this way should alert us that passages such as the one Driscoll quotes above are not as clear-cut as he’d like them to be. The accusation that pacifists are falsely making Jesus out to be a “hippie” can easily be turned around on Driscoll, who seems to make Jesus out to be the embodiment of his ideal, Americanized version of masculinity.
2. We should not be so quick to ignore the (clear) nonviolent picture of Jesus in the Gospels in order to embrace a (seemingly) violent portrayal of Jesus in Revelation.
I find it nonsensical to imagine that one should attempt to read the four Gospels through the apocalyptic (and wildly confusing) imagery of Revelation. Would it not be more appropriate to read Revelation through the (much clearer) picture of Jesus we receive in (not just one, but four) Gospels? Driscoll appears to think that he can hold the tension together by positing a fundamental change in Jesus’ relationship to evil between his first coming and second coming. But I think this is grossly inconsistent and mistaken. Jesus had the option to destroy his enemies by violence (Matthew 26:52-53) and he explicitly rejects it. What has caused him to change his mind since then? To reject or ignore Jesus’ refusal to fight evil with evil during his lifetime is to not take the Gospels seriously in their portrayal of how Jesus inaugurated God’s Kingdom.
3. Driscoll is making the same mistake that Jesus’ contemporaries made: desiring a militaristic Messiah who will shed blood (like a UFC fighter).
Jesus rebuked many during his lifetime for wanting God to deliver Israel (and through them, the world) through violent means. This is a consistent theme throughout the Gospels (particularly Mark). At the end of his post Driscoll says, “Some of those whose blood will flow as high as the bit in a horse’s mouth for 184 miles will be those who did not repent of their sin but did wrongly teach that Jesus was a pacifist.” What he fails to realize is that the sin of desiring to bring God’s Kingdom by violence is actually one of the primary sins that Jesus calls people to repent of throughout his lifetime. As N.T. Wright so often points out, repentance should be understood as Jesus’ call to “abandon our own ways of bringing about God’s will and adopt his.” His way of bringing God’s Kingdom is nonviolent. Yet somehow along the way, we’ve forgotten that we can trust the revelation we have received in the person and work of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. We’ve forgotten that Jesus’ life shows us exactly who God is and what he is like (John 1:14-18, Hebrews 1:1-4).
My question to Driscoll, and to you, is this:
Is Jesus’ (and thus God’s) character more fully revealed on a cross (dying as an act of forgiveness for his enemies) or in an octagon (killing his enemies in an act of vengeance)?
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend,
expecting nothing in return, and your reward will
be great, and you will be sons of the Most High,
for he is kind to the ungrateful and evil.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
- Jesus of Nazareth
Update [10/24/13]: You can find a continuation of my “Response to Mark Driscoll” here: Interpreting the Violent Imagery of Revelation.