On worshiping the 'Big Jesus'
Last year, in the magazine 'Relevant', he was part of a seven-person panel of church leaders asked about where they see the church headed. One of the questions was as follows:
What do you see as the greatest challenge for young Christians in the next 10 years?
Mark Driscoll: 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. I fear some are becoming more cultural than Christian, and without a big Jesus who has authority and hates sin as revealed in the Bible, we will have less and less Christians, and more and more confused, spiritually self-righteous blogger critics of Christianity.
[From:7 Big Questions; Seven Leaders on where the church is headed. 8/28/2007]
I think this has massive, serious problems with it. First, this shows a troubling tendency towards simplistic black-and-white thinking: either Jesus is a ‘limp-wrist hippie in a dress’ or ‘a pride fighter’. There is no sense that Jesus, whom we confess as being ‘fully God and fully man’ might be strong enough to genuinely elude our own neat and tidy categories. Moreover, Driscoll’s characterisation of Jesus, taken from Revelation 19, betrays a great selectivity. True, in this one passage in Revelation (although Jesus is not named, his identity seems clear from context) he is presented as wielding a sword ‘to strike down the nations’ (9.15). The sword is metaphorical – it comes ‘out of his mouth’ – but the author of Revelation thought it a fit metaphor for the act of God in Christ. This cannot be explained away and needs to be, somehow, incorporated into our language about Jesus – although in a manner that reflects this as one minor element in his overall character, since most of Scripture presents Christ otherwise.
The odd selectivity of Driscoll’s judgement can be shown in two ways. First, although he states that he can worship someone who is committed to ‘making someone bleed’ and ‘cannot worship a guy I can beat up’, he seems unaware that Revelation more often presents Jesus as the Lamb who was slain. This is purely a passive image, not that of a warrior or fighter, and relativises presenting Jesus as a warrior without reserve.
Moreover, and perhaps even more troubling to Driscoll, in the same chapter which presents Jesus as killing with a sword, presents the church, the saints, as the ‘bride’ of the lamb, who has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (19.7,8) The text makes clear that this language is just as metaphorical as Jesus as a warrior or a lamb, explaining that the linen represents the ‘righteous acts of the saints’ (19.8) Nevertheless, Driscoll and those like him who want to emphasise the (stereotypically) masculine characteristics of Jesus must explain why they pass over other images of Jesus (as slain lamb, for example).They also need to explain why they see Jesus’ stereotypically masculine characteristics as underwriting their embracing of the same, rather than, in the light of their identity as the saints of God, embracing (stereotypically) feminine characteristics. Otherwise, one seems justified in suspecting that Driscoll has simply co-opted Jesus into a project which he has arrived at by other means- to put it bluntly, idolatry.
There is also, just as troublingly, no sense that there might be a problem with allowing who one can ‘beat up’ to be a sure guide to who one may worship. It seems to me rather that (to borrow Driscoll’s polemical terms, which I do not accept) the power of the decaf-drinking ‘limp-wrist hippie’ is that he can change us, quite despite ourselves, into someone who no longer needs to worship only someone he can’t beat up, but is willing to worship God – who is both infinitely ‘bigger’ than us, yet can also, because he wants to, embrace radical vulnerability and contingency in the incarnation and cross. A God who loves the creation enough to act for its salvation, even though it is entirely his creation and has no being of its own apart from him. A God who is wrathful at our disobedience, sin and injustice, yet who has repented of and foresworn violence. A God whose power is not the simple power of force. A God who can take the humiliation of a cross and turn it into life for the world. A God whose ‘extraordinary power’ is entrusted to ‘clay jars’ such as us so that it is ‘made clear’ that the power isn’t our own. (2 Cor. 4.7) This is a gracious God whose glory and honour works itself out through honouring sinners such as ourselves with new life, making those who were his enemies adopted sons and daughters, and brothers of his only son, whom we killed. (Rom. 5) This is a God who graciously reveals himself, but loves us enough not to let us control him.
Despite all this, there is something right in what Driscoll says, although perhaps not in the way he intends: despite our best efforts otherwise, Jesus is not safe. That’s not to say that he is a violent hothead liable to be out looking to ‘make someone bleed’. It’s to say he cannot be captured and used to our purposes; he can’t be domesticated by our own expectations, whether of the ‘pithy Zen’ or the ‘big Jesus’ variety. And to the extent we insist that only one of those two varieties – or any one of the vast number of other varieties – and exclude anything else, we’ve missed out on the real Jesus.
More than that, he isn’t safe because he isn’t content to leave us alone and unchanged, either. If we dare to come to this Jesus, the real Jesus, then perhaps in the bargain we might be changed into someone who doesn’t need to beat up another but can allow the power of God to transform us into someone new – someone who, for his sake and by his word, might even be willing to suffer for the truth, or give his life on behalf of another.
(Just so that you know - and so that he knows that I know - Halden over at Inhabitatio Dei has also written on this, with much that I would endorse, but I felt the need to elaborate my own thoughts on the matter.)