Mark Driscoll recently argued that “the Prince of Peace is not a pacifist” and that “those who want to portray Jesus as a pansy or a pacifist are prone to be very selective in the parts of the Bible they quote.” Driscoll argues his case ironically—some would say comically—by selecting portions from the Bible, including the “bloody Old Testament” (my apologies on behalf of Mark to our British readers), Romans 13, and the book of Revelation (or more specifically, a Hal Lindsay-like interpretation of Revelation that interprets the apocalyptic imagery in hyper-literal terms).
I found Mark’s article entertaining, sort of like watching six-year old boys play baseball. I laughed, I cried, and I rubbed my eyes wondering how a responsible Bible teacher could make such embarrassing interpretive moves. Like watching a mini-slugger whack the tee 10 times before he smacks the ball and when he finally hits it, it dribbles down the first-base line into foul territory.
Mark rightly distinguishes between “killing” and “murder” in the Old Testament, but then he heroically leaps over biblical books in a single bound. After summarizing the “bloody Old Testament” as supporting “lawful taking of life, such as self-defense, capital punishment, and just war,” Mark jumps past the Sermon on the Mount, the life of Christ, Jesus’s prohibitions against violence in the gospels, and Paul’s commands against violence in Romans 12, finally landing on Romans 13 for a quick touch and go before he flies over the rest of Paul’s letters, Hebrews, and 1 Peter, ultimately arriving to the book of Revelation.
I actually really like Mark Driscoll. He’s a former ball player, and so am I. He loves red meat, craft beer, and has no time for diaper wearing pansies behind the pulpit. Mark is a manly man, and since I was recently labeled a “manly pacifist,” I think we have a lot in common. Mark says it like it is. So do I. So let me say it like it is: Mark’s assumption that pacifists are pansies is historically naïve, theologically horrendous, and shows that Mark’s been more influenced by the worldview of those who put Jesus on the cross rather than the One who hung on it. Everything Mark says about violence is eerily close to what Rome said about it 2,000 years ago. Contrary to Rome, Jesus taught that suffering leads to glory, cross-shaped weakness radiates divine power, and loving your enemies showcases the character of the Father (Matthew 5:44-48).
Mark’s selection of passages that talk about violence has been violently ripped from the cruciform flow of the New Testament itself.
I’ve already addressed Romans 13 in another post, and I have four chapters on the Old Testament in my book Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. I also have a whole chapter in Fight that documents 300 years of Christian pansies, who refused to use violence against their enemies. But what about Revelation 19? Doesn’t this chapter depict a tatted up, commando Jesus hacking his enemies to pieces with a sword?
Yes, Jesus returns as Judge in Revelation 19, and we see Him “clothed in a robe dipped in blood” (19:13). But his clothes are bloodied before He wages war against the enemy. Why? Because it’s His Own blood. The robe dipped in His own blood (crucifixion) gives Jesus the authority to conquer, to boldly announce His victory over His foes. Jesus doesn’t need to hack His way through enemy lines like a crazed warrior. He doesn’t need to do anything but declare with cosmic, cruciform authority that He has already won.
And yes, Jesus has a sword. But contrary to Driscoll, the sword comes “from his mouth,” not His hand (19:15, 21), which in Revelation always refers to a word of judgment, not a literal sword. Jesus doesn’t run a carnival. He doesn’t pull rabbits from His hat or swords from His throat. The sword is symbolic and refers to Jesus’s “death-dealing pronouncement which goes forth like a sharp blade from the lips of Christ” as one non-pacifist commentator puts it.
The Lamb—the crucified not crucifying Lamb—has conquered!
But it’s Driscoll’s rhetoric that is more entertaining than his exegesis. He still, after all these years, considers Christian pacifists—including Martin Luther King, Charles Spurgeon, Leo Tolstoy, Dwight Moody, and most of the pre-Constantine leaders of the church—to be pansies. Those who pick up their crosses and follow Jesus’s nonviolent journey to the cross are pansies. Those who take Jesus’s counterintuitive, life-giving words seriously, to turn the other cheek and love their enemies, are pansies. But for Driscoll, not only are these Christian heroes pansies, but all who teach that Jesus was a pacifist will be slaughtered by Mark’s (De)Jesus when He returns—Uncrossed:
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.
Wow. Yes, that’s an exact quote. I have so many words swirling in my head, but if I said them here I’d have to repent later.
Look, I’m all for being manly (if you’re a man). But let’s not be pansies by letting our gun toting, rib eating, Harley riding culture tells us what it means to be a man. I own guns. I love ribs. I ride a Harley. But I don’t let these cultural artifacts dictate my theology. The New Testament is clear: Real men love their enemies, never return evil for evil, and never resist evil by using violence. Real men suffer. Real men pray for those who persecute them. Real men submit to the sword, but they don’t bear it. So go ahead and eat raw meat, vote Republican, shoot your guns (just not at people). But let’s invite the word of Christ to reconfigure and confront our cultural view of manhood.