After several verbal jabs and insults over the years, world famous pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill has finally has brought forth an argument against Christian pacifism. Interestingly, he anchors his argument around the 6th command “Thou shall not murder.” The blog is titled Is God a pacifist? and you can find it on The Resurgence website.
I find three major issues with Driscoll’s blog. 1) He clings to the Mosaic Law far too much for Christian ethics and 2) He poorly interprets the New Testament witness of Jesus so as to turn the Saviour into a vengeful and violent person, and 3) He isn't all that kind about the matter. But before I start let me just say that this guy (Derek Vreeland) said some really beautiful things about this and you should read his blog more than mine.
1) Let's start by saying that Driscoll shows rightly than the wording of the sixth commandment is dealing with a specific type of killing; a murderous type. He is also right that the Mosaic Law in Exodus allows for lethal self defense and capital punishment within the Israelite community. He is also right that God allows his people to kill enemies in war at many points in the Old Testament. That’s all scripturally obvious and undeniable. So we agree that God throughout scripture is not properly labelled as a pacifist.
However, Driscoll is arguing that the Mosaic Law is still the expectation for believers today. In answering the question “What does the sixth commandment mean for us?” he claims that killing a person is often justified and even necessary (the Exodus passages are his support). He claims that “God’s prohibition against murder in the sixth commandment is not intended to apply to lawful taking of life, such as self-defense, capital punishment, and just war.” While the sixth commandment is specific in forbidding murder, the Mosaic Law commands capital punishment and self defense, and God sends Israel to war in the Old Testament, that doesn’t mean God has the same expectations for us today. While we must look at the Old Testament along with the New Testament to get an accurate picture of God, we must also understand that God has continued to reveal himself, kingdom, and will for his people through time and thus there is progression in ethics for believers. The finest place to find expectations for believers today is in Jesus who is the fullest revelation of God because he is God.This makes the gospels useful since they record Jesus' teachings and example.
Jesus tells us that we were given the law (seen in Exodus) because of our hardness of heart (Matthew 19:8, Mark 10:5). We weren’t meant to always live that way but rather meant to be freed to live in a greater righteousness (Matthew 5:20) and that is why Jesus tightens the reigns on a lot of teachings like “love your enemies” and “thou shall not murder” (not only can we not murder someone, we can’t be angry at them).
The Apostle Paul teaches that we are not held to the Mosaic law (especially us Gentiles) because Christ has freed us from it and called us instead to the law of love as exampled by Christ. We are not meant to function the way ancient Israel functioned in the time of Exodus but rather we are meant to function like Jesus when he walked the earth (Ephesians 5:1). This is the picture of the early church who suffered mistreatment and were said to be imitators of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2:14, Hebrews 6:12)
Jesus, though not claiming to be what would later be called “pacifist”, lived a life of nonresistance and nonviolence. He taught people to do good to enemies, to bless and not curse, to turn the other cheek, to put away their swords, and to embrace forgiveness and mercy as they suffered and endured wrongdoing so that in doing so they might be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus told us that it is the peacemakers who will be called children of God. Then he allowed himself to be tortured and murdered unjustly, telling us to follow him with crosses on our back all the while. Maybe that’s not pacifism but sure it gives a lot less permission for violent and lethal action in the life of a believer than the Mosaic Law. Driscoll overlooks this migration from the Mosaic Law to the law of love.
2) Driscoll argues that the Prince of Peace is not a pacifist because he must "vanquish his enemies." The problem with this argument is that it must ignore the wisdom of scripture which shows that Jesus does overcome and defeat his enemies through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The victory is secure already and it came through nonviolent means. Jesus becomes our sin, suffers our sin, and covers it by the cross and resurrection. In the same way he absorbs our violence through the cross and shows it lacking as he defeats our violent ways in the resurrection. In that line of thinking, is it any wonder that his last words to us are “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John14:27)?
The notion that Jesus can not be nonviolent because he must defeat his enemies implies that Jesus must employ violence to defeat his enemies but we know this is nonsensical in light of Jesus’ own words when he teaches, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). And have we forgotten that Jesus could use all the force he wanted for his kingdom purposes but never did (Matthew 26:52-54)? Why would he when his/our enemy is not flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:2) and his/our weapons are not ones made by men (2 Corinthians 6:7)?
It seems that Driscoll is still promoting his notion that Jesus “Jesus took a beating to atone for sin; on his next trip he will hand them out to unrepentant sinners instead” (source) Driscoll has described his view of Jesus before stating in a 2007 Relevant magazine interview, “...I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”*
He also stated that the book of Revelation chapter 19 shows that “Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand and the commitment to make someone bleed.” (source) This is not exactly accurate and it shows that Driscoll takes a strictly literal interpretation of Revelation, which most notable theologians would rightly dismiss.** A few key things to know about this passage is that the blood Jesus is soaked in is his own because he shows up drenched in it (remember the cross) and the sword comes from his mouth and is most likely imagery for the Word of God which brings judgment and defeats evil with truth. The language may be violent but the Jesus it describes is not. It's the same Jesus John earlier described in his gospel. If one of those descriptions is wrapped in imagery and is confusing then it is best to refer to the more clear description.
Driscoll’s view of a violent Jesus is restated in this new blog about pacifism. He writes, “[Jesus] has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning. Once the wick is burned up, he is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom. Blood will flow.” The slaughtering Jesus that Driscoll desires isn’t the Jesus described in Revelation.
Again, Driscoll misreads the scriptures of Revelation when he comments on Revelation 14. He attributes all the slaughtering to Jesus but really the passage is imagery of harvest. It’s farming/vineyard language and it resembles Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) or the wheat and chaff (Matthew 3:11-12). Driscoll misses that Jesus reaps only the good harvest and some other angel reaps the grapes for the winepress of God’s wrath. Also, the sickle is a farming tool and not a weapon (even in this passage). Driscoll wants Jesus to be the guy who hurts other people and brings about a river of blood but the scriptures don’t show that at all. Scripture shows a river of blood pouring from Jesus' hands, feet, side, and brow due to suffering the violence of evil men. The man Driscoll describes wasn’t on the cross but was the one that put the man on the cross. That's scary.
3) The absolute worst part of this blog is not the poor reading of Revelation or the lack of Gospel and Epistle passages*** from a man who is calling out pacifists for being selective in their use of scripture to support their position. The worst part is Driscoll’s inability to speak on the subject of Christian pacifism without insulting his brothers and sisters in Christ who live a lifestyle of nonviolence. Not only this, he can’t avoid insulting their attempt to worship Jesus. Even if we agree with Driscoll’s face-value interpretation of scripture we should disagree with his treatment of others (because it is completely unfaithful to Jesus’ way - pacifist or not).
Driscoll describes the Jesus worshipped by pacifists as “The European, long-haired, dress-wearing, hippie [created by]..a bad artist who mistook Jesus for a community college humanities professor.” This, of course, is an uncivil and unloving attempt at describing the pacifist position. Driscoll shows no intention to accurately represent those with whom he has disagreement. He chooses to insult them and attempt to shame them in Christian circles with this statement. He’s done this in the past when he stated in his blog championing MMA, “Their picture of Jesus is basically a guy in a dress with fabulous long hair, drinking decaf and in touch with his feelings, who would never hurt anyone.” A poor argument is often proved by attacking language.
Driscoll ends his blog stating, "Some of those whose blood will flow... will be those who did not repent of their sin but did wrongly teach that Jesus was a pacifist. Jesus is no one to mess with." The implication is the threat that Jesus is coming to slaughter the pacifists in his wrath because they taught that Jesus promoted a lifestyle of nonviolence and they discouraged killing other people.
Nevermind the fact that Jesus never did hurt anyone according to scripture, Driscoll's demands a violent Jesus. Even if Jesus isn’t a pacifist Driscoll is still wrong in how he treats his Christian brothers and sisters (and it is probably because he does a poor job of reading the scriptures in a coherent fashion). I'm not saying God doesn't have a wrath and that those choosing sin won't suffer it. I'm not saying God is unjust and that there is no condemnation for sin. That's what makes God's grace seen in Jesus so beautiful! I'm saying we need to rethink Driscoll's presentation of Jesus because it doesn't seem to match up with the full presentation in the New Testament.
As we all seek to know Jesus rightly, may we approach the entire scriptures with open hearts and minds. May we believe what Jesus has said as the ultimate truth and let his words and example guide us into his already ushered in kingdom. Even if Jesus doesn't turn us into pacifists, may he turn us into people who love everyone with the fruit of the Spirit, regardless of how weak or strong they may appear.
*This is ironic since Driscoll (along with every other human being in history) did beat up Jesus and then killed him. And in the midst of it Jesus forgave him (and everyone else) before giving them peace and calling them to follow his way.
**Driscoll shows these interpretation colors in his MMA Evaluation blog as well when he states, “Jesus said both to turn the other cheek and to bring a sword to defend oneself. So let’s not simply quote one thing he said as if it were the only thing he said.” Jesus said that first part but never the second. That’s a message Driscoll believes in implied by a command of Jesus that most scholars would say is metaphorical (and even promotes the teaching of nonviolence).
***Driscoll only references the gospels to point out a quoting of the sixth commandment (perhaps to suggest that the commandment is still in effect). The problem with this is that in those passages Jesus is explicitly saying that that teaching is not the ethical expectation for his followers but rather he calls them to an abandonment of simple anger or to move beyond law into relationship and sacrifice. The only Epistle references are to Romans 13 which is used in a way that dismisses Romans 12 and shirks the place of the sixth commandment in the life of a post-resurrection believer.