beating up jesus: garry wills gets it right, driscoll…not so much

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Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

beating up jesus: garry wills gets it right, driscoll…not so much

let’s just hop right into the good stuff, shall we?

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 prize 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.

as yes, our friend pastor mark. this isn’t the first time i’ve used his now-famous quote here on the blog and it probably won’t be the last. things never die on the internet and this little gem from a relevant magazine article has floated around now for several years. mark driscoll, of course, has famously gone on record many times stating that women are an inferior class within the church and that manly, blood-thirsty, testosterone-driven, UFC-loving (this is a genuinely stupefying youtube clip…) men are the missing link to true biblical christianity. thus, the above statement.

ok, remember this. we’ll get back to it very shortly.

we’ve just started a new small group at eikon church in which we’re reading through shane claiborne’sjesus for president. (if you’d like more info about this group, it’s just getting started tonight—wednesday, october 27 at 6 p.m.—so you can get in on the front end.) i read this book a couple years ago and blogged very briefly about it, so it’s good to be reading it 2 years later and still finding new insights—this time in the context of community (whereas i read it before in isolation).

one of the things we’ve decided to do is to divvy up the footnotes throughout the book and each week, someone will “report” on the fuller context of the footnote. this week, i took on garry wills’what jesus meant (footnoted in claiborne’s discussion of the purity codes, which is something in which wills offers some great insights in his book). i’ve read one other book by wills, but knew very little about this particular book. i’ve found it to be a refreshing surprise.

i was struck, particularly, by a passage in which he writes about the manner in which jesus called his disciples. almost tangentially (but yet brilliantly non-tangential), he offers some commentary on the physical appearance of jesus. wills writes,

We do not know what Jesus looked like. Presumably, since he was a Jewish man, he looked like a Jewish man. But that does not get us far, since there is no one type (or stereotype) of a Jewish man. Some imagine that only a perfect human physique could be worthy of housing the incarnate Word of God. But that, too, is not very helpful, since ideals of human perfection vary. Was he a perfect athlete, muscular and graceful, or a more sensitive and poetic man? Some think he had to have every masculine quality carried to its height of perfection. Others feel that he could only express the fullness of humanity by combining the strong point of both genders.

My own guess is that any attempt to Christianize the Apollo Belvedere and call him Jesus takes us down the wrong path. The holy person is often slight and frail, with spiritual powers fretting their physical envelope. That was the case with many saints, whether Saint Francis or the Baal Shem Tov or the Quaker Anthony Benezet. People instinctively feel the companionship of such men with the afflicted. The energy radiating from them has partly consumed them. They burn with banked fires and they are in the fires…

Hurt people are not drawn to the aggressively healthy, to the televangelist’s plummy voice, the fire-hose gush of bonhomie. People are instinctively drawn to Jesus, certain that he understands suffering, their particular suffering, that he sees it in their eyes even before they speak. God’s chosen are the suffering ones, whose inner luminescence is emphasized by the fragility of its container. The idea that Jesus was a great athlete or captain of industry or persuasive salesman does not square with the fact that he was too weak to carry his own cross, though that was a normal part of the penalty of crucifixion (Lk 23.26). Pilate was surprised that he died so soon, before either of the two men executed with him (Mk 15.44)…

I think the least convincing image of Jesus is a macho one, a tough guy, impassive like John Wayne. Wayne did not cry, as Jesus does on two occasions in the gospels (Lk 20.41, Jn 11.35). Even when he towers in wrath, as in the cleansing of the Temple, this is the breathtaking explosion of the man not easily aroused, the searing sincerity that does not depend on muscles to impress. Nothing stuns others more than the sudden eruption of a normally quiet man.

um, pastor mark? what say ye?

well, i think i know what he’d say, but at this point, i’m much more interested in hearing garry wills go on and on because i think he’s spot-on correct.

i’ve spent quite a bit of time lately (over the last few months) really thinking through the implications of an ordinary, broken, servant jesus, rather than the driscoll-esque jesus that is dominant in american evangelical christianity. what does it mean that jesus—in terms of being a peace-making, non-militant messiah—would have been a colossal disappointment?

contrary to mark driscoll’s desire to get suplexed by jesus, the jesus i find in scripture—that garry wills describes above—is one that i can beat up. more to the point, it’s a jesus who would allow me to beat him up.

a jesus that i, quite frankly, have already brutally killed on a cross.

much like wills, ultimately, i don’t really know what jesus looked like. quite frankly, i’m not terribly interested nor do i have a burning desire to know.

what i do know is that jesus calls us to nonsensical, self-sacrificial nonviolence and peace-making. we walk in the way of a god who offered no rebuttal to his wrongful conviction and violent death. who told the oppressed to turn the other cheek. who asked only the ones with no sin to violently kill a woman caught in sin. who commanded us to love our enemies.

not a prize fighter. not an amped-up, blood-thirsty animal in a cage. not someone interested in making others bleed.

but someone who i can beat up.

someone who would allow me to beat him up.

we follow in the way of a broken, bleeding, actively peaceful servant. and that is a beautiful thing.