Vintage Jesus is written by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Driscoll is the reformed/emergent lightening-rod pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. Breshears is a Professor of Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, OR. Driscoll is the author of the majority of the content and Breshears comes alongside to write the conclusions of each chapter.
The book intends to answer a number of relevant questions about the person and work of Jesus Christ. To Driscoll’s credit he tackles some of the most common questions asked by unbelievers and endeavors to answer them biblically and within the realm of historic protestant orthodoxy. There are some really good sections of the book where we are given clear, biblical answers to common questions.
Some of the chapter titles include:
Is Jesus the Only God?
How Human was Jesus?
Why did Jesus’ Mom Need to be a Virgin?
Did Jesus Rise from Death?
Why Should We Worship Jesus?
I feel that it is necessary at the outset of this review to show my hand a bit. I have been a Driscoll supporter for a number of years now. I have read both of his previous books and enjoyed them. I have also been a subscriber to the Mars Hill podcast for over two years. I have benefited from the ministry of Mark Driscoll in a number of different ways. All of this to say, I am not the ‘anti-Driscoll guy’. However, I did not enjoy this book. In fact, I repeatedly found myself wincing and much like an argument amongst friends, just wishing it would end soon and without further damage.
One criticism that has accompanied Driscoll for years is his language. Ever since his days of being labeled “Mark the cussing pastor” by Donald Miller in his book Blue Like Jazz we have heard folks decry the language used by Driscoll. To his credit, we have heard what appears to be humility in the pulpit and in writing that seems to indicate that this is behind him.
For those who are interested Driscoll did not drop ‘F-bombs’ in the book, neither did he employ any of the other socially relegated ‘cuss words’ that he has been criticized in the past for. However, in Vintage Jesus Driscoll repeatedly dips his pen into the sewer for illustrations. For example, I do not know why he feels it necessary to draw vivid pictures in his readers’ minds of groping women at frat parties (he went into some detail here). He also spoke of stumbling upon a naked woman in the frat house. (p.80-81) Is this the best illustration possible for whatever the point was that he was trying to make? As a pastor and a man I work hard at trying to keep men’s minds fixed on what is pure and good. The human heart does a fine job itself birthing temptations and lust in the heart without pastor Mark priming the pump.
I know that some folks will say that Driscoll is trying to ‘contextualize’ and reach out to those who are unreached; those who don’t know Jesus and don’t go to church. Who else is going to reach the urban, jacked-up, fornicating, pot-smoking, violent, ungodly deviants? Well, I was that guy. And speaking as a guy from that background it turns my stomach to see appeals to the third rail of culture in order to relate. Do you know how Jesus related to me? He showed me my sin. Like those that Paul referred to in 1 Cor. 14, the secrets of my heart were disclosed and so falling on my face, I worshipped God and declared that God is really among the church. (1 Cor. 14.24-25) It breaks my heart to see Driscoll attempting to ‘sanctify’ sin for the sake of illustration. This is really pointless when you think about it.
Driscoll states that it seems that “every generation is guilty of giving Jesus an extreme makeover.” (p.42) And of course we (guys like me) tend to like much of what Driscoll says about the need for men to act like men and the fact that Jesus is not weak and effeminate but rather strong and masculine.
However, is Driscoll not guilty of doing the same thing but with a little more spiritual testosterone?
For example, Driscoll, in his run through The Gospel According to Mark, describes Jesus as a guy who,
“[tells] a leper to shut-up”
“does the equivalent of breaking into a church on a Sunday morning to make a sandwich with the communion bread..”
“needs sensitivity training”
“has his guys take a donkey without asking like some kleptomaniac donkeylifter”
“[Is] an obvious workaholic who needed to start drinking decaf and listening to taped sounds of running water while doing aromatherapy so he could learn to relax.”
We are talking about Jesus…right? The Son of God? He needed Paxil? This isn’t even funny. Look, I am guilty of laughing when we hear Driscoll going after the environmentalists, the charismatics, the fundamentalists, and the pastorettes, but…come on…we are talking about the Lord Jesus Christ. And I think this is what has me up in arms. Jesus did not need medication, a vacation, or sensitivity training, he is the perfect Son of God! The only thing he ‘needs’ is to be bowed down before and worshipped. Driscoll would do well to put away his sarcastic comedy routine and his sketchpad, for he, himself seems to be giving Jesus an extreme makeover. And the more I look at this Jesus that he is drawing the more it looks like Mark Driscoll.
Some of the unnecessary references in this book to Jesus’ incarnation are included below…
“Jesus’ mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit. Most people thought she concocted a crazy story to cover the ‘fact’ she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of a car at the prom.” (p.11)
“Jesus’ humor was often biting and harsh, particularly when directed at the Pharisees. For example, he called them a bag of snakes, said that their moms shagged the Devil, and mocked them for tithing out of their spice racks.” (pp. 40-41)
“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 grinding to really loud music with a lot of bass. When word got out to the religious folks, they 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.” (p.77)
“Some Catholic theologians taught that Jesus was not born in the normal fashion through Mary’s birth canal. Rather, they say he was born via something much like a miraculous C-section, as if Mary were some Messiah-in-the-box, and Joseph cranked her arm until the Messiah popped out of her gut.” (p. 93)
From a theological perspective I found the book to be pretty tight. It was your basic Protestant defense of biblical faith. However, I was shocked to find this quote in the middle of the book (I quote the context):
On the cross as our substitute, Jesus was made to be the worst of what we are. This does not mean that Jesus ever sinned. Rather, it means that he was made sin. As a result, in that moment when Jesus cried out that he had been forsaken by God the Father, Jesus became the most ugly, wicked, defiled, evil, corrupt, rebellious, and hideous thing in all creation. In that moment, Jesus became a homosexual, alcoholic, thief, glutton, addict, pervert, adulterer, coveter, idol worshiper, whore, pedophile, self-righteous religious prig—and whatever else we are.” (p. 114—emphasis mine).
Jesus became a whore? Jesus became an idol worshipper? Really? So now we have Jesus with a new nature? He is sinless human, perfect God and a pervert? This is not what the Scripture teaches. He became sin (that is he was imputed or charged with our sin) on the cross he did not become the sinner (2 Cor. 5.21). I realize that he says, “This does not mean that Jesus ever sinned.” But that is exactly what he says. He could have said Jesus was judged in our place, being charged with our sins. He was treated like the homosexual, alcoholic, thief, etc..should have been treated (though he was sinless). I do not believe this is theological semantics, but rather the heart of the gospel. The numerous endorsers and his co-author should have caught this error. It seems to me that Driscoll’s penchant for dramatic hyperbole got the best of him and unraveled his explanation of the gospel. Regrettably, this really becomes a good picture of what you have in this book; Driscoll’s drama getting in the way and ruining a clear explanation of Jesus.
Along with many people, I have been praying for Driscoll that things would get better and that he would not crash and burn. This book, in my view, goes backward rather than forward. As I read the book I found myself thinking of the NFL running back who gets up and draws attention to himself after every first down. I find myself saying, “Just go back to the huddle and run another play.” In this book I find myself saying, “Just go back to the Bible and give us some more Jesus. Enough with the ‘extra & unnecessary stuff’ it just gets in the way.”