A Jesus I Can Beat Up
There were quite a few in the comments on my post over at JNNPR who accused me of misjudging Driscoll, of making a “mountain out of a mole hill,” and of taking him, of all things, out of context. (That last one confused the heck out of me, as it was a one-off FB status…I put him IN context).
Regardless, I’d like to expand a bit on this muscular Christianity thing that Driscoll propounds. Both his fans and his detractors are familiar with his ideas about “the left” of the Church recasting Jesus as a “limp-wrist hippie.” For context, as always, here’s the stuff surrounding the phrase:
'There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.'
Everyone who is even vaguely familiar with Driscoll knows that quote, especially that last part: “I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”
Um. Does anyone else see the same problem here that I do?
If you are a mainstream Christian, then you assert that Jesus WAS beaten up. One whole hell of a lot (pun intended).
He was whipped. He was forced to carry the instrument of his own death. A crown of thorns was shoved onto his head, to the point that he bled.
While you may not like it, the fact remains: If you believe that Jesus died and rose again – in other words, if you profess the Christian faith – you ALSO must believe in a man who was beaten to a pulp, a man who took a massive beating and who did not praise the violence.
Yeah, yeah, it happened willingly – I hear the response now. If Jesus wanted to fight, he would have.
But he didn’t. He didn’t fight back – he, in fact, told his followers not to fight back. The only moment of violence we see from Jesus during his life here on earth comes when he is mad at the money-changers, those taking advantage and oppressing of the weaker members of his church. And he doesn’t beat anyone up. He turns over a couple of tables and chases them out of his temple, but he doesn’t direct his violence toward humans.
Oh, but Mark’s referring to the Revelation picture of Jesus? My mistake. Let’s have a look at Revelation 19.
It opens with a great multitude in heaven praising Jesus for judging “the great harlot.” Now, I fully admit I’m no exegetical genius, but usually, in the Scriptures, when some vague “her” is referred to as “the great harlot,” they mean the Church or God’s people in the nation of Israel. We see here the terrible works of the Church judged and broken down, and then renewed in the next few passages. And then Jesus shows up:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Now, I could get myself into a lot of trouble by trying to exegete this passage, because that just opens up a whole can of worms about eschatology. Instead I’m just going to note a few thoughts that arise from a quick look at commentaries and different translations.
- Yes, this is a violent image. But how violent? It never says the blood on his robe is that of his enemies and distinctly, in the New Testament, “blood” almost always refers to the blood of the Cross.
- Jesus is continually referred to as the Word of God, most notably in John 1. And we also know that "sword" is a pretty common metaphor for words; indeed, even the Word of God (Psalms 55:21, 59:7, 64:3, Proverbs 12:18, Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12). And, most importantly, it is a sword extending from his mouth – kind of an odd place to hold a sword if the sword is literal, which we can guess from the tradition of Hebrew poetry, it’s probably not (just like how the woman’s breasts aren’t ACTUALLY deer in the Song of Solomon…what a weird image). So, sword, yes, violent image, but likely metaphorical – he isn’t LITERALLY striking down his enemies with a gigantic sword.
- Winepress? He treads the winepress? Right after this, the writer of Revelation discusses a feast, so is Jesus cooking? Oh good lord, how UNMANLY.
- Um, Mr. Driscoll, I’m pretty sure “on his thigh a name is written” doesn’t refer to a tattoo down his leg. Clarke’s commentary gives us an interesting idea: “It appears to have been an ancient custom among several nations to adorn the images of their deities, princes, victors at public games, and other eminent persons, with inscriptions, expressing either the character of the persons, their names, or some other circumstance which might contribute to their honor; and to that custom the description here given of Christ may possibly have some allusion.” Another commentary writes: “It may here denote the perpetuity of Christ's name, power, and dominion, which will continue to the latest posterity, Psalm 72:17 which spring from the thigh; and it may denote the subjection of his people to him, signified by the putting the hand under the thigh, Genesis 24:2.” Or, even possibly, John Wesley’s explanation: “And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh - That is, on the part of his vesture which is upon his thigh. A name written - It was usual of old, for great personages in the eastern countries, to have magnificent titles affixed to their garments.” So, pretty sure that’s symbolism, not, y’know, a tattoo down his leg like a Hell's Angel biker.
Mainly, at this point, Driscoll’s comments about “I can’t worship a guy I can beat up” speak more to me about Driscoll’s own eschatology and masculinity than that of Jesus and his Gospel of self-sacrificing love. Because Jesus was beat up, and it’s really hard to take the image of Revelation literally in light of what we know about the crucifixion, as we are called to do in every aspect of the Christian faith.
Here’s the thing that any first year theology student knows: EVERYTHING must be read in light of the crucifixion, in light of the complete sacrificial love. It is the redeeming point in humanity. It is the climax of our religion. We proclaimed a crucified Lord, a guy who was beaten up and killed, for our sake. Every single moment after the crucifixion, in the Christian religion and in the Christian’s life, reflects the torment and glory of the cross. And if what we see on the cross is a man who can be beat up, who can be broken and torn apart – because, after all, he was a man as well as God – then we MUST deal with that reality.
Putting our own insecurities upon him because we like the metaphorical image from Revelation better than the crucified Christ is to put the wrong focusing point to our faith. And, if we take it a step further into the average evangelical doctrine and say "our sins put him there," that, by extension, means that WE beat him up. So, Mr. Driscoll, you are worshipping a guy you can beat up, because you did.
We have to realign what we think and know of Jesus to get ANY traction on this “gender in the church” issue. We need to recognize, first and foremost, that the crucifixion is the center of our faith – we need to start on the same page. And in the crucifixion, we see both submission and power, we see weakness and strength, we see both our King and, more importantly, our servant. We see, in other words, less of a Tyler Durden and more of an Atticus Finch. And that’s what we need.
“I can’t worship a guy I could beat up” becomes patently absurd in light of the crucifixion, the event that must be the starting place for all discussion.