Greg Boyd Puts the “Smack Down” on Mark Driscoll’s Jesus

Which Jesus do you follow?  This is the most significant question we can ask.  The New Testament declares that Jesus is the full and accurate picture of the invisible God.  When you stare into the face of Jesus, you’re looking into the face of Almighty God.  So, what kind of a God does Jesus reveal?

Also, the Scriptures provide us with a progressive arc in our understanding of God.  The Old Testament people and prophets give us a partial picture of God, often colored in quite primitive and violent descriptions, that make us question if the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament.  The answer is, of course, yes.  But I believe believers on the other side of the incarnation have a significantly more accurate grasp of the true nature of the God imperfectly revealed throughout the Old Testament pages.

Therefore, Christians MUST re-read all Scriptures in light of the greater, more accurate revelation of God found in the Gospels’ representations of Jesus who is God-in-flesh.  When we don’t insist on a Christological, or Jesus-shaped, view of God, all sorts of whacky distortions can result.

Greg Boyd takes on Mark Driscoll’s violent “prize-fighter” Jesus in a recent blog post.  The focus here in on the violent imagery used in reference to Jesus in Revelation.  I think Boyd’s challenge puts the “smack down” on Driscoll in this theological rumble.  But what do you think?

In an interview several years ago for Relevant Magazine, Mark Driscoll (well known pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle) said,

“In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” (You can find the original interview here).

I frankly have trouble understanding how a follower of Jesus could find himself unable to worship a guy he could “beat up” when he already crucified him. I also fail to see what is so worshipful about someone carrying a sword with “a commitment make someone bleed.”  But this aside, I’m not at all surprised Driscoll believes the book of Revelation portrays Jesus as a “prize fighter.”  This violent picture of Jesus, rooted in a literalistic interpretation of Revelation, is very common among conservative Christians, made especially popular by the remarkably violent Left Behind series.

The most unfortunate aspect of this misreading, as Driscoll’s comment graphically reveals, is that the “prize fighter” portrait of Jesus easily subverts the Jesus of the Gospels who out of love chooses to die for enemies rather than use his power against them and who commands his followers to do the same (see e.g. Mt 5:43-45; Lk 6:27-36). In fact, if you read these passages carefully you’ll notice that Jesus makes loving enemies and refusing all violence the prerequisite for being considered a child of God! Loving enemies like Jesus commands (and like the rest of the NT teaches, e.g. Rom. 12: 14, 17-21; 1 Pet 2:21-23) requires that we crucify our fallen impulse to resort to violence, while the model of Jesus as a “prize fighter” with a “commitment to make someone bleed” allows us to indulge it. If we can dismiss the peace-loving Jesus as a “hippie, diaper, halo Christ,” then we’re free to wish and even inflict vengeance on our enemies all we like — and feel righteous about it!

Read Boyd’s full critique HERE.

This is a divisive issue and the non-violent teachings of Jesus go against almost all of our fleshly instincts and conventional wisdom.  No wonder Christians are called to be “foolish” in the world’s eyes.  So, which Jesus do you follow?

While I have sometimes benefited from Mark Driscoll’s teachings, there are moments when I feel like giving him a non-violent foot in the mouth.  ;)

Dr. Jeremy Berg is the founding and Lead Pastor of MainStreet Covenant Church in Minnetonka Beach, MN, where he has served since 2010. He is an Adjunct Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Bethel University, University of Northwestern—St. Paul, North Central University, and Solid Rock Discipleship School. Jeremy earned a doctorate in New Testament Context under Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary (Chicago). He and his wife, Kjerstin, have three kids, Peter, Isaak and Abigail.

6 comments on “Greg Boyd Puts the “Smack Down” on Mark Driscoll’s Jesus

  1. Boyd and Driscoll both have their “pet” theologies that color nearly everything they say and write. It’s the reason my wife left Boyd’s church after 7 years. You can only listen to the same sermon just so many times no matter how it is repackaged. But I see much more of Driscoll’s depiction of Jesus in Revelation. I think Boyd is arguing against a strawman that Driscoll wouldn’t claim as his reading of Scripture.

    • You have a point. I do admit they major on certain “pet theologies.” However, I’m convinced that Greg’s “pet” theology is his insistence that we let the person of Jesus “color everything” else we say, believe and do. He is ruthlessly Christo-centric in his teaching. Thus, I believe he happens to have the only legitimate pet theology that should color everything.

      I wonder what pet theologies you think Driscoll has? Are they as central as reading everything through the lenses of Jesus? Certainly gender roles, biblical manhood vs. womanhood, the masculinity of Jesus, etc. are far more peripheral issues compared to Boyd’s insistence on preserving the radical character and enemy-love of Jesus displayed at Calvary. Thoughts?

  2. Boyd’s open theism and politics taint all his sermons. He could be preaching from Leviticus 5 and it would somehow fit those themes.

    Driscoll is of course leading with his new reformed views that shape his message. And I would say Driscoll is equally ruthlessly Christo-centric, he and Boyd just come at it from different angles. But both are pointing to Christ regardless of the specific theological differences, they just articulate & nuance it differently.

    Driscoll beats you over the head with Jesus, and some of us hard headed (or hard hearted) need that. Boyd lovey-dovey’s you with Jesus, and others need that too. Neither’s message is really targeted for each others audience. If you swapped them in their churches, each man’s message would be less effective because of the very different cultures they are contextualizing to.

    • Chris – fair points. Reminds me of Paul’s conclusion in Phil 1:18…regardless of how and from what motives, he says: “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” Peace.

  3. I think Dr. Boyd’s criticism of Driscoll hits its mark (pardon pun), but I continue to have a problem with his having to undergird human pacifism with divine pacifism. I think this leads him and others (Bauckham, Caird et al) to interpret Revelation with the tail wagging the dog. For example, does the sword that comes out of Jesus’ mouth have to signify mere words? There are commentators of Revelation who point out that a Roman dagger/sword looks like a tongue. Furthermore, it is noted that Revelation could be drawing from Wisdom of Solomon where “your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying (!) the sharp sword of your authentic command, and stood and filled all things with death…” (18:15-16). Since Jesus is called the “Word of God” in the passage that also mentions the mouth-sword, this becomes plausible. Dr. Boyd also fails to account for the image of striking down and the rod of iron (not very verbal) in the very same verse (Rev 19:15). Also, does the fact that Jesus comes to the battle with a robe dipped in blood have to mean that this is exclusively refering to his crucifixion? This verse (19:13) is prefaced with a description of Jesus as judging and waking war (19:11) so the temporal aspect which Dr. Boyd and others try to exploit is not that strong (see Isaiah 63:1-6). I just don’t see why “genre and historical context” favors Dr. Boyd’s approach when I think both work against him, and for reasons that have little to do with a too “literalistic” reading. Dr. Boyd’s response is that the author uses the genre to “turn it on its head”, which admits that the genre is not conducive to his pacifistic approach! The context could be to offer Christians a vision of justice in order for them to cope with their crises. I think Dr. Boyd would find that he doesn’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

  4. You have to admit that Jesus himself utters some pretty contradictory statements to his popular image as meek and mild, images of people being thrown into “outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” When asked about the signs of his coming, Jesus didn’t point to things as getting better and better but rather worse, that one’s enemies would be in one’s household. And how about the images in Revelation of a judgment seat where people are cast into a lake of fire and a last battle where blood flows as high as a horses shoulders. The popular theory in many circles is that happened with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD but where are the accounts of Jesus returning on a white horse that are also in Revelation. People cry, “Peace, peace…but there is no peace”. certainly not in this day and age.

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