Where I agree with Mark Driscoll: Judgment As Solidarity

Where I agree with Mark Driscoll: Judgment As Solidarity August 3, 2011

I was originally thinking about going after Mark Driscoll’s complementarianism by comparing him with Juan Gines de Sepulveda, the 16th century Spanish theologian who argued that the massacre of the Indies was justified because of the divine ordenamiento de mandar y obedecer (ordination of command and obedience) by which humans are divided by God into masters and slaves. I still plan to write at some point about the “divinely ordained” racial complementarianism of the colonial New World and how 16th century human rights activist Bartolome de Las Casas faced a much more uphill argument against Sepulveda’s Biblically airtight defense of slavery and colonialism than feminist Biblical scholars face today against people like Driscoll.

But when I saw Driscoll’s response to Rachel Held Evans’ (somewhat opportunistic) attack, it sounded humble and genuine enough that I reproached myself for wanting to be yet another blogger taking a swing at his low-hanging fruit. It hit me that he’s just another Christian brother trying to find his way (I could easily see myself making an ignorant facebook post about metrosexual worship leaders too; I can’t stand them any more than any other guy who hasn’t learned how to cry on cue about Jesus).

I’m not down with Driscoll’s binary conception of gender because there’s nothing in the Bible which says that gender has to be a binary (100% M or 100% F) rather than a spectrum (0-100% M + 0-100% F). Why shouldn’t “male and female He created them” be taken to describe the mixture of male and female that we all are? And in my opinion, the specific directions given by Paul about women’s roles in 1st century church leadership were part of a carefully negotiated calculus for a renegade religious movement trying to survive Roman culture and Judaism.

BUT… Mark Driscoll has this to say about God’s judgment (which I like):

Outside of the gender debate, other debates about such things as God judging people, punishing them, and pouring out his wrath in the conscious, eternal torments of hell are in some ways asking if God is more like a Father who defends his children from their enemies or a Mother who loves everyone until they inevitably and eventually decide to join the family.

You might say well, what’s there to like in this statement. He’s saying that moms don’t stand up for their kids and good fathers should be willing to torture their kids’ bullies eternally. I’ve seen enough mom brawls in the hood and  enough diminutive, weak, but emotionally available fathers to say that on the level of gender, Driscoll’s statement is garbage.

But there’s something that I was surprised to find coming from the mouth of a neo-Calvinist. And I agreed with it. It’s subtle. And it’s likely more of an apologetic tactic than a theological commitment, but I want to hold Mark Driscoll to it. He’s defining judgment in terms of solidarity. In other words, if God’s primary identity is a protective Father, then He judges not because He’s the supernatural version of a mean middle school gym coach who’s allergic to imperfection (like the horrifying Nietzschean caricature of God whose abstract infinite honor is the only important reality in the universe). Driscoll is saying that God judges instead because He “defends his children from their enemies,” i.e. His judgment is grounded in His solidarity with His children. This is a huge concession for a Calvinist to make, and I want to hold Driscoll to it.

I believe that solidarity is the Biblical basis for divine judgment. Isaiah 2 is an exemplary prophetic text that explains this perfectly, as I’ve written about for Red Letter Christians. In all the Hebrew prophets, the day of the Lord (which is an important root concept for all subsequent Jewish and Christian apocalyptic thinking) is the day on which God’s wrath is poured out on the old oppressive social order in its entirety so that people who trust in the Lord and accept His righteous judgment can then live together in peace. It doesn’t have a thing to do with God being a tight-short-wearing schmuck with a whistle who never smiles and considers the smallest of our infractions to be infinitely offensive and eternally damnable to Him. That whole trajectory of thought is the fruit of an unhappy, multiple century, extra-Biblical rabbit-trail started accidentally by a medieval theologian named Anselm that I describe somewhat in this post.

Hell does not exist because God is infinitely picky. A much better explanation for its existence comes from Frantz Fanon’s text The Wretched of the Earth. It’s an explanation of why the Algerian rebels weren’t willing to let the French colonists gradually transfer power over to the Algerian people in a “civilized” way. To allow that would mean that the old social order was allowed to persist in a different form (paternalistic trade relations, etc) rather than being completely smashed and overthrown so that the Algerians could enter into their new independent reality with their complete dignity as human beings. So the Algerians bombed and assassinated the French out of their country. It was messy; it wasn’t Christian; but it’s a good modern metaphor for the ontological need that the Biblical day of the Lord addresses.

In the same way, if God just sort of lets everybody into heaven without wrathfully destroying the old order (and anyone who remains a part of it), then the oppressed who have faithfully cried out to God all their lives will continue to persist in the same state of indignity while their clueless oppressors will keep on sipping martinis and living the good life oblivious to how they’ve mistreated other people. Of course, we’re all oppressors and we’re all oppressed at the same time, some more one than the other, but no one exclusively one or the other. That’s why it’s so complicated. But we need God’s judgment in order to live together with Him and each other eternally. Without judgment, it would be eternal conscious torment for the victims of sin to persist in a farcical reality where sin has won the final victory. And so God judges infinitely because He loves us infinitely. Those who can’t face God’s judgment will hate their existence eternally, not because God is infinitely picky, but because He loves all of His children enough to stomp out every vestige of their oppression even if some peoples’ entire identities get caught under that heavenly boot. But when we trust in Christ’s atonement, we are happy to let God stomp out all of our sin, since it’s no longer part of a self that we’re defending from His wrath.

So I agree with you, Mark Driscoll (even if you were speaking flippantly and not making any kind of doctrinal commitments).

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  • phil merten

    There’s so much good here I don’t know where to start. Keep this going, please, Morgan!