Jesus was a maker of havoc, said the award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died from a heroin overdose.
“My image of Jesus is someone who is exciting … Were he alive today, he would be causing havoc!”

Perhaps by “havoc,” Hoffman meant disorder, rather than other meanings of the word, such as destruction, confusion or devastation.

Jesus, indeed, created disorder, as in turmoil, turbulence and uproar.

When Jesus spelled out his moral agenda in the synagogue on the Sabbath in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19), he spoke to economic transformation – good news to the poor, release to captives, freedom to the oppressed, the year of Jubilee.

He pressed the confounding actions of the prophets Elijah and Elisha that ran counter to the religious expectations of the Jewish people.

Upon realizing what he was saying, those in the synagogue “were filled with rage.”

Jesus had created havoc.

But it wasn’t the only time he did so. Rather, he had a pattern of making havoc.

Calling Levi, a tax collector, to be a disciple upset the religious establishment.

Healing the Gerasene demoniac with the resulting loss of a herd of swine created such turbulence that the people asked Jesus to leave.

Entering the house of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, created turmoil both for Zacchaeus and his neighbors. Zacchaeus converted and committed himself to doing justice by restoring ill-gotten gains. His Jericho neighbors grumbled that Jesus would associate with such a man.

Of course, cleansing the temple of those who profited from religion cobbled together a coalition committed to killing Jesus.

Hoffman has offered a strikingly different way of thinking about Jesus – havoc maker.

Havoc was an experience with which Hoffman had a first-hand knowledge given the havoc that resulted from his destructive behavior of substance abuse.

That, however, is the dark side of havoc.

One wonders if Hoffman experienced the positive side of havoc – the transformation that comes out of disorder and turbulence that Jesus offers, that Christianity ought to be offering.

One could say that Pope Francis is a havoc maker. He has created disorder – turmoil without and outside Christianity.

He affirms an orthodox faith while he frames the practices of faith in unexpected ways, upsetting the equilibrium of liberals who want him to abandon the Catholic church’s stance on abortion and gay marriage, and conservatives who want him to bless the Darwinian ideology of free-market capitalism.

Consequently, the havoc-making pope has the world’s attention and admiration.

The concept of havoc-making is certainly not unique to the faith community.

“Disruptive Innovation Ahead!” was the title of a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in which corporate leaders spoke about forthcoming change from new technology.

Technology has certainly caused disruptive innovation in church life – worship styles, congregational communications, global connectivity with other Christians, and even reading the text on a screen. New technological innovations will create even more disruption with Christianity.

Havoc-making or disruptive innovation challenges the old ways. And Lord knows, the American faith community is trapped in patterns and practices of sharply diminishing returns and spiking public disinterest.

We, especially Baptists, prefer “to beat a dead horse rather than to dismount.” We fund nonproductive programs, repeat failed conference programming, maintain organizational structures that are barren, seek leadership without a record of innovation, and replicate approaches of other Protestant traditions that haven’t worked in decades.

Havoc or disruptive innovation isn’t valued in our tribe.

Yet Jesus was a havoc maker who changed the world. Francis is a havoc maker seeking to change the global culture. Some corporate leaders are innovators disrupting the future.

The church needs to spend a lot more time considering the upside to havoc or disruptive innovation.

Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

Share This