A Review of Mark Driscoll’s recent book Vintage Jesus
When you think of the person of Jesus, what image comes to mind? A gentle poet who encouraged peace? A political rebel who took a beating? A humble peasant that proclaimed the kingdom of God? How was it that the son of a Jewish carpenter born out of wedlock to a teenage mom would have the greatest influence on history of anyone before or since?
The premise of Mark Driscoll’s new book, Vintage Jesus, is that the perception of Jesus in popular society is much different from the Jesus of the Bible. We often try to tame this Lion of Judah, it seems, but only to our own dismay. Driscoll’s aim is to strip away the cultural baggage that has been loaded onto the person of Christ and recapture a refreshing, though often unnerving, portrait of the “vintage” Jesus of Scripture.
For example, Driscoll writes, “Because Jesus worked in a day when there were no power tools, he likely had calluses on his hands and muscles on his frame, and did not look like so many of the drag-queen Jesus images that portray him with long, flowing, feathered hair, perfect teeth, and soft skin, draped in a comfortable dress accessorized by matching open-toed sandals and handbag” (p.31). This view of Jesus as an effeminate wimp, says Driscoll, “is precisely the cause of so many people thinking that going to church and going to the dentist are synonymous” (p.39).
Each chapter of Vintage Jesus tackles a vital question about the person and work of Christ: How Human Was Jesus (c.2)? Why did Jesus’ Mom Need to be a Virgin (c.5)? Why Should We Worship Jesus (c.9)? What Makes Jesus Superior to Other Saviors?(c.10). Driscoll answers these questions with solid biblical teaching and he doesn’t shy away from controversy. Each chapter concludes with common objections skeptics have about the claims of the Bible: “Since the Bible says God cannot die, yet Jesus died, does that not prove that Jesus cannot be God?” (p. 29); “Is the idea of Jesus’ resurrection a myth borrowed from other religions?” (p.145); “How can you be so bigoted as to believe there’s only one way to God?” (p.197). Driscoll does not ridicule those with doubts about Christianity, but addresses each argument with respect and intellectual honesty.
Though Vintage Jesus is primarily a book of theology, the author speaks in language that everyday people can understand. He is savvy with the jargon of pop culture and delivers spiritual insight with a biting wit and audacious humor. His use of words will come across refreshing to some and irksome to others. I found myself laughing aloud just about every other page and reading sections to my wife-“Hey honey, listen to this!”
It was a scandal when Jesus went to the house of a tax collector and Driscoll conveys this in his own unique style; “Joining them later at the party at Matthew’s house was nothing short of a very bad hip-hop video, complete with women in clear heels, dudes with their pants around their ankles and handguns in their underwear strap, lots of gold teeth, bling, spinners on camels, cheap liquor, and the religious folks were perplexed as to how Jesus could roll with such a jacked-up posse. Jesus’ answer was purely priestly. Jesus said that they were sick and needed mercy. The religious people in Jesus’ day, as well as every day since, stood at a distance to point out the sin in people’s lives in a prophetic way. But they failed to take the next priestly step of pursuing friendship with sick sinners in an effort to expose them to the patient, loving mercy of God, which alone can heal our sickness and sin” (p. 77).
Driscoll’s humor has a point and he doesn’t mince words when it comes to the uniqueness of Christ nor the implications this has for our lives. We often try to soften the image of Jesus so to keep him at a safe distance from our lives. But again, this is not the Jesus of the Bible.
In describing the return of Christ in Revelation 19, Driscoll affirms “Jesus is not revealed as a glass-jawed hippie wearing a dress. Rather, he is the Ultimate Fighter warrior king with a tattoo down his leg who rides into battle against Satan, sin, and death on a trusty horse, just like every decent Western from Picos Bill to the Rifleman, the Cisco Kid, the Lone Ranger, Buffalo Bill, and Wild Bill Hickock. If we were to see Jesus, we would see him in glory, not humility. We would see a Jesus who will never take a beating again, but is coming again to open a can on the unrepentant until their blood flows upon the earth like grapes crushed in the violence of a winepress” (p.150).
Much more than a mere description of Christ, Vintage Jesus is a call to discipleship. To be confronted with the real Jesus is a devastating thing and Driscoll rightly concludes that our understanding of this Jewish carpenter has significant consequences for our lives; “Jesus is not just the King who rules over nations on the earth and principalities and powers in the heavens, but he also rules over our pants, web browser, refrigerator, debit card, cubicle, and car horn” (p.79).