A Mennonite Responds to Mark Driscoll

by Todd Gusler Todd G

The theological musings of Pastor Mark Driscoll are as prevalent and well documented as those of his detractors – of which there are many.  It is not just wimpy pacifists like myself who are concerned about the implication of the aggressive neo-Calvinist and uber-masculine version of Christianity which Driscoll promotes.  It seems every time Driscoll opens his mouth from the pulpit or on the web, believers from all over the Christian tradition are ready with a response.  Personally I tend to ignore Driscoll’s rants since they are usually completely opposite from my own views anyways.  Typically he’s lucky if he gets more than an eye roll or a shrugged shoulder “eh, whatcha going to do?” reaction out of me.

However, one of Driscoll’s more recent postings on his website (titled “Is God a Pacifist?” ) caused me to turn from my typical indifference.  In it, Driscoll makes the case that the 6th commandment (Thou shall not kill) is actually a call to violence.  More alarming was the statement “Some of those whose blood will flow as high as the bit in a horse’s mouth for 184 miles will be those who did not repent of their sin but did wrongly teach that Jesus was a pacifist.”  (You can read the entire post here).  Together these statements riled up this non-manly, sissy boy peacenik into responding in the only way I know how: a nonviolent internet response.

Driscoll begins with an argument I heard many times as the token Mennonite at the Evangelical college I attended.  The premise of the argument is that in Exodus 20:13 the Hebrew word which follows “Thou shall not…” is best translated to mean murder, not kill.  The implications of this is that in God’s eyes while a premeditated attack which takes someone’s life is always wrong, killing is not specifically prohibited.  After all as Driscoll argues, “there are situations in which, sadly, the death of a person is both justified and necessary” and “that God’s prohibition against murder in the sixth commandment is not intended to apply to lawful taking of life, such as self-defense, capital punishment, and just war.”  Pacifism then he argues is based on an incorrect understanding of scripture.

Before us doves can bring up meek counter-arguments such as the words of Jesus: “Love your enemies” and “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Driscoll cements his point by declaring “the Prince of Peace is not a pacifist.”  He rationalizes that the bloody God of the Old Testament is the same God of Jesus.  Furthermore, Jesus as understood in his interpretation of Revelation, waits patiently today for the time when he will get to destroy all those who refused to repent and believe.  This is where we find the friendly warning we read earlier that the blood of pacifists may be mixed in with other heretics after the slaughter is over.

So, as a pacifist, seminarian, and all around unmanly man, what is my response to Driscoll?  Surprisingly it is one of both commendation and caution.  I appreciate that Driscoll brings up an idea that pacifist Christians like to ignore – that the bloody God of the Old Testament is the same God of Jesus.  After all, we’re all about a New Testament God who is loving, forgiving, and offering second chances.  We cannot, as the heretic Marcion did in 2nd century, propose that there are two gods – a vengeful bloody OT God and a peaceful nicer NT God.  Instead it is with an uneasy tension we need to accept that the God of love is also a God of judgment.  While I’m sure Driscoll and I would disagree over what exactly this judgment means, God’s judgment is a real thing.  This fact makes us uncomfortable, and perhaps rightly so.

As a Mennonite I would also counter that the place to start with understanding the mindset of God is with Jesus.  Jesus, as God in the flesh, lived a life we believe to be, well, Godly.  This included loving those who hated him and responding to them without violence.  If this is who God is, as revealed by Jesus, perhaps we should use that lens when looking at the seemingly violent God of the OT.  It will not make those brutal OT deaths go away, but it does begin to give us a framework to understand why God acted in the way God did.

As for Driscoll’s point about the Exodus scripture I can concede that “Thou shall not murder ” is a better translation than “Thou shall not kill.”  However, I do think it might be rash to conclude this proves killing is occasionally justified.  Even if we ignore Jesus’ thoughts on the matter it is hard to get past the effect murder has on the perpetrator.  Look no further than the high rate of PTSD among our returning soldiers or the nightmares which haunt those who killed in self defense as evidence that there is something fundamentally wrong with killing another human being.

Perhaps my final response should be to pray for Mark Driscoll.  Not for him to shut up (although that would be nice) but that I see him not as an enemy but as God sees him.  Perhaps the next time Driscoll says something inflammatory, instead of shrugging my shoulders, I should offer up a prayer.

Todd Gusler has served the church as both a pastor and Service Adventure leader.  He currently lives in sunny Elkhart, IN with his wife and daughter where he is in his final year of studies at AMBS.

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11 responses to “A Mennonite Responds to Mark Driscoll

  1. It says: As for Driscoll’s point about the Exodus scripture I can concede that “Thou shall not kill” is a better translation than “Thou shall not murder.”

    I think you meant to concede that “murder” is a better translation than “kill.” Alternatively, you might have meant “cannot concede” rather than “can concede.” I assumed you meant the former when I read it.

  2. I am afraid that I haven’t seen much evidence that Jesus is not a pacifist. Of course the first step in the dialogue should be to define “pacifist.” As a Quaker, I am unwilling to let militarists control the agenda. As a pacifist, I advocate for peace and for vigorous alternatives to violence. The early Quakers did not forbid striking to protect your loved ones from murder. By opening our eyes to the truth that all persons are children of God, Jesus makes us take responsibility for how we treat others. This rules out surrendering the responsibility for deciding whether any given use of violence is morally acceptable to our government, which has made hideous decisions on numerous occasions, including, inter alia, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War, Reagan’s proxy war against Central America, and our second war against Iraq. Going forward, no nuclear war can be morally acceptable, because every nuclear war will kill at least hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. We must work just as hard for a nuclear weapon free world as we would to stamp out small pox, polio, typhoid, and the bubonic plague. As to the Old Testament carried forward to today, I am unwilling to believe that the God I worship commanded the Hebrews to carry out genocide againt the Cananites, the Amalakites, or the Palestinian Arabs.

  3. As to whether the 6th commandment is better translated “kill” or “murder”, you might want to discuss this with Wilma Bailey. The arguments for translating it “murder” are, actually, pretty weak.
    I would also suggest that there are not 2 Gods in the OT, but, rather, 2 narratives. In one, God is, essentially, a bloodthirsty, genocidal, land-grabbing, tribal god. The other narrative sees a loving, “peaceful, nicer” god. While folks like Driscoll tend to choose the former, if we take Jesus seriously when he says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, we must opt for the second narrative. As our (Church of the) Brethren brethren say, “We interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament, and the New Testament in the light of Jesus.”
    Question: If Jesus is the perfect image of God, the one in whom “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”, and the one through and for whom the universe was created, and Jesus lived, taught and modeled for us a profoundly pacifist (not “passive-ist”) way of life, what does that say about how the universe is created?

  4. Mark Driscoll is a real thorn in my side. It’s funny how people can turn Genesis and a couple of NT verses into an instruction manual on gender roles, but they refuse to take Jesus literally when it comes to being “peacemakers” and “turning the other cheek”. We can’t base our beliefs on our culture. I appreciate the thoughtful response, Todd.

    I touched on the topic of loving our enemies recently. As Driscoll rightly points out, the OT does have quite a bit of bloodshed. But, we can’t ignore the pacifism (active pacifism, not just Jesus’ teachings) in the NT. http://www.kristyburmeister.com/hero-christian-church-1/

  5. I believe that everyone agrees that this includes murder as commonly defined, as a minimum. But does it mean “thou shalt not kill” as well? We may never all agree on this, but let us be sure we are not reading this to justify ourselves, like the Torah Scholar in the story of the Good Samaritan.

    I would like to point out some observations I have made in studying the Hebrew text.

    The Hebrew verb, ratsach, occurs about 47 times in the OT. Approximately 34 times it is used in connection with the cities of refuge, and about 20 of them are in Numbers 35.

    Exod 20:13 “You shall not murder. (NIV)
    “You shall not murder. (NAS)
    Thou shalt not kill. (KJV)
    Thou shalt not kill. (ASV)
    ‘You shall not murder. (NRSV) [footnote: or kill]
    You shall not kill. (RSV)

    jxr* * ratsach – to kill or murder.
    ** Note especially this use of ratsach.
    ^ Another Hebrew expression to strike someone resulting in death.
    + A Hebrew expression equivalent to having blood on your hands.

    Note that ratsach is used not only for intentional killing, but also for accidental killing. I see no indication here that the “avenger of blood” was required to kill the killer. The “city fathers”, so to speak, allowed him to do so if it were shown the killing was intentional. They themselves did not do the revenge killing. And if the unintentional killer who was entitled to protection in the city of refuge wandered outside the city wall the avenger of blood was allowed to kill [ratsach] him there.

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