Mark Driscoll’s “Pansy-Post”: Jonathan Merritt Gives Non-Violence a Platform to Resist the Macho-Gospel

I’ve taken some flack for commenting on Mark Driscoll’s antics now and then. Each time I criticize what the megachurch pastor is saying or doing, I get emails and comments telling me I should just let it go. The problem is that I can’t just let it go, because I think Mark Driscoll represents something truly dangerous to the heart of the gospel. Driscoll is distorting Christianity and he has a huge, devoted following. Like it or not, Driscoll is impacting men in my church, and in my community with this message. An alternative narrative has to be shared, and the deep issues with Driscoll’s narrative and theology need to be exposed.

Jonathan Merritt at RNS, has been working a similar angle from a much larger platform. In recent weeks, Merritt has been shining a spotlight on Driscoll’s behavior. He’s completely fair with Driscoll (no strawman tactics), which I appreciate, but he’s drawing a bead on the essence of Driscoll’s bad behavior and bad theology.

Recently Merritt highlighted Driscoll’s decision to promote his new book in which he criticizes the church for being too confrontational, by showing up uninvited to John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire,” conference, to confront him for being too exclusionary. Merritt followed up with an interesting piece concerning Driscoll’s article confronting and dismissing the theology of Christian non-violence. Merritt’s tack is good – he allowed some of the leading voices for Christian non-violence to speak up. Merritt’s work is worth reading. Here are a few good pull quotes.

Shane Claiborne: “Jesus was not a pansy. Nor was Jesus “a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand, and a commitment to make someone bleed,” as Mark Driscoll has contended. “Fight Club” may have been a good movie, but it makes for really bad theology. Mark may see things like “kindness, gentleness, love and peace” as feminine, dainty things for pansies, but the Bible calls them the “fruit of the Spirit.” These are the things that God is like. We need only look at the cross to see what perfect love looks like when it stares evil in the face – love forgives, love dies, love does not kill. Jesus was not violent, and surely not passive. Jesus shows us a “third way” that is neither fight nor flight. He teaches us that evil can be opposed without being mirrored, oppressors resisted without being emulated, and enemies neutralized without being destroyed.”

Scot McKnight: Pacifism isn’t quietism or withdrawal or inactivity, and it isn’t simple submission. Pacifism’s root is connected to the peacemaking beatitude, rooted in love, and expressed when the follower of Jesus actively seeks peace. Pacifism isn’t a lack of interest or non-involvement, but the hard work of seeking peace. Pacifism is non-violent resistance not non-resistance. What Jesus teaches his followers to do illustrates the sort of pacifism he advocates: turn the other cheek, surrender even more clothing, go the extra mile, lend and do not charge interest or require a payment back. Hardly the stuff of the inactive. These acts subvert the Roman system.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: I like Mark for his clarity. He knows what he thinks, and he makes it plain. Mark Driscoll right: murder is not the same as killing. He’s making a basic moral distinction. It’s part of the Old Testament law. And it’s written into American law. Involuntary manslaughter in our society’s criminal code is not the same as second degree murder, for example. As anyone doing time in prison can tell you, these distinctions matter.

But his clarity also betrays his misunderstanding of Christian pacifism. He insists that Jesus “is not a pansy,” by which I think he means to say that Jesus does not roll over and give up in the face of evil. This is true, of course. But this is not what Christian pacifists claim. We believe, instead, that Jesus along with all the martyrs of the church exhibit the highest degree of courage when they refuse to return evil for evil. Jesus is not a pansy before Pontius Pilate. He is Christus Victor.

The Jesus way isn’t suffering from the slightest amount of machismo or male-bravado, but it’s not a pansy message. Violence is weakness. Peace is power. Vulnerability is the only way to change the world. I believe there’s a much better model for manhood than the one Driscoll is pushing, and we find it in the cross of Jesus. Here’s a section on Christian non-violence from my book An Evangelical Social Gospel? I hope it will provide a little historical context to the question of non-violence:

“In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus advocates for a nonviolent response to evil; not that evil wouldn’t be resisted, but that Christians must not resist violently. Early Christians seemed to take this teaching very seriously. There is no historical evidence that Christians served in the military before AD 170–180, and after that it was exceedingly rare. Origen, an early church father, had to defend Christians against Celsus, an early opponent of Christianity who was attacking them for their lack of military service. Origen argued, “You cannot demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests. We do not go forth as soldiers,” (Against Celsus VIII.7.3). Justin Martyr wrote, “we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ,” (First Apology of Justin Martyr, ch. 39).

All throughout the writings of the first few centuries of the church, one can find a consistent message against violence of any kind. We find these in the teachings of Justyn Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Hippolytus, and many others. Early Christians were prohibited from violence. Nonviolent resistance of evil was the typical teaching in the first century, and Christians were criticized for it. AfterConstantine, and more pervasively during the rise of the modern nation-state, Christian theology had to adjust its convictions in order to allow Christians to fight in wars.

After centuries of this teaching, those who hold to the conviction of nonviolent resistance of evil have now been relegated to the station of the radical, even though their position is clearly advocated by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, and by the first few centuries of his followers. War is now considered noble in our society. [Walter] Rauschenbusch noted war had become “the supreme test of manhood and of the worth of a nation.” Nonviolence is considered cowardly or naïve. The theological convictions of the church have become so privatized and individualized that there is no widespread contemporary evangelical critique of the violence that is continually exercised in the name of the state. Our society has trumped the clear teachings of Jesus on nonviolence through its spiritual authority. Forget the Beatles, the nation-state is bigger than Jesus.

This is an example of sin that is transmitted socially, and which has been significantly fueled by individualistic and privatized notions of Christianity. Those who oppose violence on principle are held in check and branded as radicals. Their voices are pressed to the margins of society. The resulting idealized view of war is actually just an idealized view of sin, which is now generally espoused by the church itself. The idealization of sin becomes the way social systems, even the church itself, can transmit and perpetuate”

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  • Colleen Kristich

    Thanks, Tim, for hitting the nail on the head. The best way I’ve heard pacifism explained so far is that, if violence was the best way to overcome evil, Jesus would’ve done it. But he shows us the better way of peace.

  • Mark Evans

    If I’m being honest I have to say you do seem a bit obsessed with Driscoll. Having said that I agree that he is over the top with his tough guy persona at times and I was very disappointed to read if his actions at MacArthur’s conference. The flip side is that when you get past his bravado I find that most of what he says is pretty biblically solid. Take pacifism for example. I think Christian Pacifists have gone a little extreme but I don’t fault them and believe they are following their convictions.

    For example, I know a case in which a person called police and reported seeing a woman being forced into a car against her will. Police were able to find the car driving and enacted a stop, not a “please stop if you don’t mind” but a “you will stop.” Ultimately through threat of force they were able to take the man into custody and free the woman from the car. Inside the car very concerning things were found that would suggest he meant to do unspeakable things to the woman and potentially kill her. She also believed very bad things were imminent. Should the police have just stopped following when he declined to let her go? That would be the only alternative. How about when police arrive to find a man actively beating his wife and they have to use force to stop him? Should they Just ask him to stop while he beats her to death? Bear in mind these are all real scenarios that happen frequently. If your reaction is that your happy the police stopped these horrible acts but don’t feel it would have been right for a Christian Pacifist to wouldn’t that be a tremendous cop out? So in other words you’ll let someone else do all the work that you enjoy the benefits of because it wouldn’t be right for you to do it. I don’t like the idea of violence and would only employ it if it was absolutely necessary but I can tell you if someone attacks my 2 year old daughter I’m doing everything I can to protect her and if you would act passively and not actively intervene I don’t know what to say to you.

  • Mark Evans

    I also think it’s important to mention that Christ’s plan of action for his time on earth is two fold. The first part of course to come and provide a path to salvation which was done through non-violence and allowing himself to be the lamb dr our sacrifice. It should be noted that he did use a whip he made to drive out the money changers, not exactly the move of a dedicated pacifist.

    The second act of Jesus’s time on earth which is yet to occur will see a decidedly more aggressive stance. Revelation describes him as being on a white horse with a sharp double edge sword coming from his mouth. It also discusses his robe dipped in blood and appears to at least make it possible that he does indeed have what could be considered a tatoo on his thigh (I’m not a tatoo advocate but the implication there seems to be that Jesus has a tatoo on his thigh). Without quoting a whole bunch of revelations it’s clear that is telling us that when Jesus comes back the second time around he is going to be acting in a very violent manner in specific instances. I think that Martin Luther did a wonderful job of covering this question when he discussed the issue of government authorities using force to maintain order and stop victimization, which he felt was Biblical under Romans 13.

    Ultimately this is a difficult question without a seemingly some answer and I think you only do more damage when you constantly follow after Driscoll to point out his errors. How about just putting your point of view out there and why you think scripture supports it rather then going after a brother on the internet?

    Oh I forgot this idea that there weren’t Christians in the military before 170 AD seems incorrect as there are mentions of Roman Centurions who through practice appear to be saved who were in active service. See Cornelius as an example.

  • Tim_Suttle

    Mark, Thanks for your comments. I just wanted to add one thing that might help you understand where Christian non-violence comes from. Non-violence is not a strategy with which to rid the world of evil. Non-violence is not meant to be the most effective way to fight the darkness, or keep men from pushing women into cars to cause unspeakable harm to them. Christians are to be non-violent not in order to stop war, murder, violence, and harm being done to innocent people. Christians are to be non-violent because after Jesus, we cannot imagine being any other way. The only strategy to rid the world of evil is Jesus. Anything else is idolatry. Anything else and we have climbed up on the throne ourselves, pushed the lamb off onto the floor, and taken over.

  • Tim_Suttle

    One more thing on your second comment, Mark. I could not disagree more with your interpretation of Revelation. When Jesus comes back in the book of Revelation, he does so with a sword, but the sword is in his mouth. It is so clearly a reference to the word. The sword is his word; the word that spoke creation into being; the word that saves us; the word that is able to divide between joint and marrow.

    When the lamb comes back, the blood that is on his robe is his own blood. He’s already bloody when he shows up. The sword coming out of his mouth isn’t a literal sword, it’s a symbol for the truth. Very few biblical scholars I’ve ever read (none of whom I would call serious biblical scholars), believe that this is a literal sword. To take it literally is to use pretty grotesque imagery for Jesus. Revelations patent image for Jesus is the Lamb. There’s no way around that.

    Also, if you are going to try and build a doctrine like that out of the New Testament (Rambo Jesus who returns to kick ass and take names later), you would have to do it from more than a single passage out of Revelation – especially when the whole thrust of the New Testament bends so clearly toward peace, and when the dominant image for Jesus in the book of Revelation is a lamb.

    I’m not saying you have to take a strict passivist stance, either. It’s not hard to imagine a situation in which a strict passivist stance could be considered such a terrible evil that we could call it violent – or more violent than actually acting (as was the case you cited with calling the police). But that’s not the point. Even if we do exactly as you described in your example we would need to confess any actions that are complicit with violence as sin.

    The overall passivist or Christian non-violence stance is pushing in a good direction. Christians should not be so eager to jump on the band wagon when the state decides to use violence. We should certainly not be invoking God to ratify our violence. And once it’s done, we should all confess the sin of war (not just the soldiers… we ask them to do our dirty work & then just leave them to deal with it… something I think is really wrong). Once violence has been done in our name, we should all confess it as sin, and repent of what we’ve asked other human beings to do in our name.

    On the day to day, human level. Most people are non-violent – Christian or otherwise. In that situation, the main thing a commitment to non-violence does is it allows us to confess the ways in which we choose violence in order to avoid suffering the same fate as Jesus; in other words we confess that we do not want to take up our cross and follow him.