Seattle-based megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll is no stranger to controversy.
He recently wrote a blog titled “Is God a Pacifist?” that has garnered much attention and reaction.
Driscoll is currently in the midst of a sermon series that is journeying through the Ten Commandments and the blog is expanding on his ideas about the sixth commandment: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
In the series, he takes delight in informing us that the Hebrew word used for “murder” or “kill” is the word retzach, which is usually used in terms of intentional murder or accidental death, but is not used in terms of war.
Driscoll then moves on to the New Testament. He laments that there are those who portray Jesus as a “pansy or a pacifist.”
As evidence for this “butt-kicking Jesus,” Driscoll cites a lengthy passage from Revelation 14:14-20 to demonstrate how Jesus is a guy who spills the blood of his enemies so that it flows as high as a horse’s bridle.
I think Driscoll is grossly abusing this passage by interpreting it as an act of mass genocide.
He might be surprised to find that this is a passage about nonviolent resistance and peacemaking. As is often the case when interpreting passages in Revelation, misunderstanding begins with the issue of the book’s genre.
Apocalyptic literature was known to use language, visions and ancient myths that functioned as pictorial and symbolic. To read into the text a straightforward account of either the end of the world, or even of the nature of Christ, is to misunderstand and abuse Revelation.
Let’s take this passage that Driscoll quotes. It is important to remember that Revelation is addressed to those inside the early Christian community, not to outsiders. Revelation 14:1-5 speaks of 144,000 male virgins who are recognized as the true redeemed from the earth
The rest of Revelation 14 includes pictures of some bloody punishments. However, the chapter clearly tells us why these images are included: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).
In his commentary on Revelation, Mitchell Reddish writes, “This is not descriptive language intended to give the readers an actual description of what God’s punishment on the wicked will be like. Rather this is a rhetorical speech intended to shock complacent hearers/readers into action.”
Revelation 14 is meant to shake us out of apathy by reminding us that God takes following the Gospel-life very seriously.
That means we are called to recognize where the Gospel infiltrates our home life, economics, politics and even our views on violence.
Whenever I hear pastors or leaders like Driscoll using Scripture to promote violence, I am always reminded of the same question I am sometimes asked by teenagers: “How far is too far?”
The nature of the teenagers’ question is most often voiced in the context of wanting me to give a clear answer as to what is the very furthest boundary they can meet in their physical relationships.
It is a question based not on seeing Scripture as speaking life or grace into our lives; rather, it sees Scripture as a restrictive force of clear ethics.
I also feel that both the teenagers’ question on sexuality and Driscoll’s use of Scripture to support violence have very little to do with humility and have much to do with trying to justify already established perspectives.
In both cases, we’ve got to stop approaching Scripture with a narrow-minded, letter-of-the-law literalism. We have to recognize that our calling is to recognize how the Spirit is leading us to walk out our faith in the 21st century.
Driscoll feels that it is wrong to portray Jesus as a pacifist. I am not sure he and I are reading the same New Testament.
When I read the Gospels, I see a Jesus who told Peter, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52), who did not violently resist being crucified upon a cross, and who was most upset by religious leaders misunderstanding the Scriptures (Matthew 23:1-36).