Christians and Violence Revisited, Part 1

Preston Sprinkle —  July 23, 2013 — 3 Comments
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the seriesChristians and Violence Revisited

Last year I posted a series of blogs titled “Christians and Violence” that gained a lot of attention. Much has happened since those posts, including a book on violence that I wrote with the help of my good friend and fightformer student, Andrew Rillera. The book is titled Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence, which comes out in just a few days—August 1st.

I wanted to run a fresh series of blogs about the topic, since I’ve changed some my views about violence. But first, here’s a brief back-story that led to the book.

One night in the middle of that series, Andrew texted me saying: “You should write a book about this topic.”

“Yeah right,” I said. “There’s already a ton of books written on it.”

“Yes,” Andrew replied, “but there is no book written for the average reader that actually talks about what the whole Bible says about the issue. There are scholarly books on the topic, or popular books written by Mennonites that haven’t gained much traction outside that tradition.”

I wasn’t convinced. So I spent a ½ hour on Amazon looking at all the best selling books in this area. I quickly saw that Andrew was right. There wasn’t any book written by a non-Mennonite Evangelical (let alone a Reformed Evangelical, like myself) that looked at what the whole Bible says about warfare and violence.

Given the interest that the blogs generated, I was quickly convinced, at Andrew’s prodding, that such a book was certainly needed and the rest is history. A couple different publishers were interested and I decided to go with David C. Cook publishers since I had such a good experience with them when Francis and I wrote Erasing Hell.

Fight surveys what the whole Bible says about warfare and violence. I have 4 chapters on the OT, 4 chapters on the NT, 1 chapter on the early church, and 2 chapters on the “What about…” questions that often arise in discussions about violence.

Now, after having researched the topic a bit more thoroughly, I’ve adjusted a few of my views on the topic. The first thing that has changed is my use of “pacifism.”

In my previous blogs, I called myself a pacifist. However, I don’t like the terms pacifist or pacifism. Here’s why. (The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Fight.)

There are over twenty different types of pacifism, many of which I would not associate with. The term is too broad to be helpful and greatly misunderstood. The very term pacifism is often thought to mean passive-ness. It’s assumed that pacifists just sit around and let guns run overwicked people wreak havoc on the world. But this is a gross misunderstanding of the type of (let’s say) “nonviolence” that I would endorse.

Moreover, there’s nothing distinctively Christian about the term pacifist. There have been plenty of well-known pacifists who weren’t Christian. They believe that it’s wrong to use violence, but Jesus is largely irrelevant in their view other than being a good role model. But I don’t endorse this type of non-Christian pacifism. Were it not for the life, teaching, death, resurrection, and universal Lordship of King Jesus, I would not advocate for nonviolence. Apart from Jesus and the good news of His atoning death and life-giving resurrection, nonviolence seems ridiculous.

Then there’s all the cultural baggage that comes with the word pacifism. For old Vietnam vets, the term conjures up memories of protestors cursing them when they returned home, or hippies smoking pot at Woodstock. For many evangelicals the term is associated with letting your family be killed, being a socially left Democrat, or with effeminate men who couldn’t win a fight anyway and who don’t like to eat red meat or watch football.

None of this describes me at all. I love sports. I love ribs—medium rare! I’ve never voted Democrat. I own several guns, and I love to shoot them, just not at people. I don’t have any natural aversion to violence. I enjoy watching UFC fights and violent movies, even though I probably shouldn’t. The point is: there’s nothing emotional, cultural, or political that’s driving my view. I know I sound like a fundamentalist, but the only reason I endorse Christian nonviolence is because I believe the Bible tells me to.

For these reasons, I do not use the term pacifist/ism in my book to describe what I think the Bible teaches about violence. I stick to the less loaded term nonviolence.

“Okay, whatever. You’re not a pacifist, you just don’t believe in using violence. But what about that guy who’s trying to break into your home and kill your family? What are you going to do?”

Good question!

In the previous blog series, I said that I would “shoot the thug.” However, after simmering in the words of Jesus over the past year, I’ve changed my view. I’m not sure my Lord would want me to blow his head off. My next blog will explain why.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Series NavigationChristians and Violence Revisited, Part 2: Shoot the Thug? >>
Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle

Posts

I'm married to a beautiful wife and we have four kids (3 girls and a boy). I've been teaching college level Bible and Theology classes for a few years now (since 2007), and enjoy hanging out with my family, running, surfing, and life in SoCal. Before I became a teacher, I was in school. Lots and lots of school. I did a B.A. and M.Div here in SoCal, and then did a Ph.D. in Scotland in NT studies. Before coming to EBC, I taught at Nottingham University for a semester, and Cedarville University for a couple of years. Along with surfing, I also love to research and write, and I've written a few things on Paul, Early Judaism, and Hell.
  • Yes, there are many varieties of pacifism so that we need to be specific as to Christian pacifism.

    As for the baggage of the Vietnam era, “pacifism,” if used, was a distant runner against slogans like “Peace Now”…”Anti-War” or lyrics such as “war, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin.”

    But giving up the word “pacifism” because some un-educated souls equate it with the completely unrelated word “passive” is to squander a teaching moment.

    “Pacifism” could help us with disciplined discussions if we kept the primary sense of “opposition to war or the use of military force.” War and the call to bear arms is the reality that confronts Christians today, not the homicidal maniac who is always attacking the family of that guy who watches too much television.

    Though nonviolence is the historic terminology of the Mennonites [pacifism being a modern word], still, Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder described himself as writing from “a Christian pacifist commitment.”

  • I’m writing a book on this too… I would love to read yours and include it in my research!

  • Refreshing to see how the Spirit can change folks.