Sunday, 27 October 2013

‘Jesus is not a pansy.’ Appropriate language for gospel people?

I’ve not posted much in recent months, a combination of busyness and waiting for an issue to arise that I feel strongly enough about to write. But a few days ago, I read Mark Driscoll’s post, ‘Is God a Pacifist?’ where he explains distinctions between killing and murdering, before coming to the conclusion that the coming of the kingdom ‘is only possible if an all-powerful, benevolent Authority vanquishes his enemies. In other words, the Prince of Peace is not a pacifist.’

Greg Boyd has already provided a response to Driscoll which is more articulate and cogent than anything I could produce. Leaving aside Driscoll’s failure to acknowledge than the vanquishing he speaks of is actually achieved through the non-retaliation that takes Jesus to the cross, where he disarms the rulers and authorities and triumphs over them, his article has also got me thinking about the sort of language which is appropriate for us to use when we talk about Jesus.

The line which stood out most to me in Driscoll’s article, and which has been disturbing me ever since, is the statement that, ‘Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist.’ Maybe my perspective is skewed by the three years I spent at Junior High School as a prime target for bullying (in case you’re wondering I wasn’t a pansy, I was the school swot instead, and I’m still getting over the scarring that comes from a sustained period wearing 1980s style NHS children’s glasses). But since when has it been acceptable to use the word ‘pansy’ when talking about Jesus? I’m not just angered by the thinly-veiled homophobia, but rather the bigger implication than anything which smacks of being gentle, sympathetic or kind-hearted isn’t somehow tough or impressive enough to keep up with people’s expectations of all action hero figure God. Are there any other clarifications we need to offer about Jesus: that he wasn’t a namby-pamby or a goody-two-shoes?

I know that I write from the perspective of a European with a humanities degree (it appears from later in his article that these are two further attributes which could earn someone the dis-approval of Driscoll). But can there ever be any place for this sort of vocabulary when we speak of Jesus? To me it betrays the insecurity of the playground intimidator, who doesn’t like what he sees when he comes face-to-face with the ways in which God has worked to bring in his new kingdom, a disappointment that God has revealed himself to be different from the tough guys who are celebrated by our culture.

Earlier this week, David Cameron was rebuked in the Commons for his use of the phrase ‘con-man’in relation to Ed Miliband. It wasn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened to our Prime Minister. Under pressure, he has a tendency to hit out with disdain, but these moments stay with us, the use of language which reveals our true colours to others. All of which goes to underline the need for each of us to use such care and precision in the words we use to talk about God, and in our relating to each other.

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