Post By: David Marshall, Contributor
You don’t have to go deep into the blogosphere these days to hear about “Marcionism” in its many different forms and flavors. The main targets tend to be Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd for their declarations that Jesus reveals the true face of YHWH, and whenever you see something in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus wouldn’t do in the New Testament, then it’s simply a shadow image, so to speak. While I do agree with Boyd and Zahnd (and, more importantly, the author of Hebrews) that Jesus is the “shining reflection of God’s own glory, the precise expression of his own very being” (1:3, KNT), I do not always agree with the extremes that many of their “fans” reach; that is, ignoring the surplus of texts within the Hebrew scriptures about God’s mercy, compassion, and long-suffering by only focusing on events such as Joshua’s conquest of the Canaanites.
When you only focus on one element of the story, it’s easy to lose sight of the narrative as a whole, and this, I believe, is one of the largest elements of Marcion’s error: not that he found tensions between the two volumes of scripture, but that he ignored certain elements of scripture in order to promote his own subjective agenda and shaped scriptures to fit his own image. This is also something that I feel is more prevalent within Christianity than many of us are willing to let on.
For example, as many of you already know, Mark Driscoll made his public proclamation that “those who want to portray Jesus as a pansy or a pacifist are prone to be very selective in the parts of the Bible they quote”. In his article, he talks about the meaning of the word “ratsah” found within the Ten Commandments (translated as either “murder” or “kill”) which sets up his foundation of saying that God is not a pacifist, nor is Jesus, as they are one and the same. He then rightly says that “if we want to learn all about Jesus we have to read all that the Bible says about him”. In a day and age where theology can be shared in 140 characters or less, I could find myself agreeing with the general message of that statement, but putting it back in its context betrays the entire article. Why?
Because in writing this article, Mark actually ignores a large part of where we even get our ideas about Jesus, and these parts are where the pacifists he is so quick to call out find their support to say that Jesus did, in fact, promote a lifestyle of non-violence.
I am not going to use this article to defend the belief of pacifism, as there are many much smarter and gifted than I that have done this already. Rather, what I want to address is that the mentality many condemn Marcion and others for (emphasizing and/or focusing solely on parts of scripture that align with our worldview at the expense of others) is found within Christianity as a whole.
When I left Mormonism nearly five years ago, I had to re-learn how to read most of the Bible, and one of the first stories that took up a lot of my attention was the death and resurrection of Lazarus. My theology was initially formed by Reformed minds such as John Piper and Driscoll, so when I came across this story, there was a lot of sudden emphasis on the fact that Jesus did not rush to Lazarus’s side in order that “the son of God will be glorified through it” (John 11:4); that is, the focus was more on Jesus being okay with Lazarus’ sickness and death rather than the resurrection that took place.
Now, I am not saying that these preachers are solely responsible for this newfound focus (as I mentioned before with Boyd and Zahnd, my issues are more with their “disciples” rather than their actual theses), but there is a widely-held belief that death comes from God’s hand and that He is glorified in the process. Even though this is a widely held belief, it oftentimes ignores verses such as John 10:10, where Jesus makes a distinction between his ministry and the ministry of false prophets; between life and death. Proponents of like-minded beliefs also tend to appeal to passages such as Luke 13:1-5 to say that natural disasters happen as a form of judgment, despite forgetting that Jesus himself said that these things did not happen because they were worse sinners and that if his hearers did not repent, they would experience a similar fate. In the same way, many Christians, especially with the rise of popularity of Christian universalism, point out sole passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 to support their beliefs, and although there are those that do try to reconcile their views with the entirety of scripture (see Robin Parry, “The Evangelical Universalist”), it is not uncommon to see scripture thrown away in the name of the New Covenant of Christ, etc., despite their remaining relevancy within a Christian’s life.
The problem that underlies all of these situations, I believe, is not that we have itching ears or that we are purposefully trying to mold the Bible into our own image. No, when I see situations like this, I try to remember Paul’s statement that “[we] know in part, for now, but then [we’ll] know completely, through and through, even as [we are] completely known” (1 Corinthians 13:12b). Even if one holds to the idea that the Bible contains everything one needs for salvation and life in general, Paul seems to give off the impression that we are not going to fully understand what is contained within and, if I can be bold enough to say, entertains the thought that we will get something wrong from time to time. It is hard for me to imagine Paul, the Pharisee-turned-apostle for the Messiah, having everything about the Gospel figured out and never having problems with his past (and present) experiences coloring the way he viewed Jesus, ministry, and everything in between.
If Paul, the author and forerunner of the Gospel to the Gentiles, is making a statement this bold, what are the implications for us as twenty-first century Christians, so-far removed from that day and age? It’s easy to look at people like Boyd and Driscoll, considering they are constantly in the spotlight, and judge them for their shortcomings, but do we ever turn this same kind of discernment and skepticism towards ourselves? It’s easy to see how someone is missing part of the story, yet do we acknowledge that we are capable of doing the same thing?
If I had a chance to sit down with Mark Driscoll and grab a beer (does he drink? I’m sure there’s a blog about that somewhere), the last thing I believe Jesus would want me to do is condemn him for something I’ve done myself. In fact, I would most likely have no problem laughing at how many times I’ve interrupted Paul mid-sentence in Romans 3, thinking I was some worthless sinner, only to realize that if I would have kept reading, I’d see that Jesus is in the business of justification. I’d also lament over my shortsightedness in thinking that John 3:30 was a call for humility before God instead of looking at John the Baptist’s entire conversation. In a way, I know it would hurt, admitting my faults; humility is one of those things that never tends to be easy.
But I think it would be a step in the right direction.
And who knows: maybe he would take that step with me.
One can hope, right?
David Marshall grew up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but decided to switch things up in the spring of 2009 by becoming a Christian. After touring with the Burial (Strike First/Facedown Records) for a few years, he ended up at Ottawa University, where he is currently working towards two Bachelor's degrees (in English and Studies in Christian Ministries), with the hopes of earning his Master's and PhD in theological studies in the future. Apart from reading and writing, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, his family, aand working at his job where he shines shoes full-time. Fun fact: he has the four-star ball from Dragon Ball tattooed on his left shoulder.