Archives For Christians and Violence Revisited

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.

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the seriesChristians and Violence Revisited

Whenever Christians discuss the issue of violence, it’s only a matter or seconds before the question comes up: What about the guy breaking into your house trying to kill your family?

In a blog a year ago, I said that I’d “shoot the thug.” Even though I don’t believe that Christians should kill, I argued that there might be cases where an ethical dilemma forces Christians to choose between the lesser of two evils. (More accurately, I argued for a position called “Graded Absolutism,” where one chooses not the lesser of two evils but the higher moral law.)

For example, lying is wrong but there may be a case where you might lie in order to save a life (e.g., Corrie ten Boom lying to save gun in pocketJews during the Holocaust). In the case of violence, even though killing is wrong, perhaps there are cases where killing in order to save the life of an innocent person is the lesser of two evils, or the higher moral law.
This seems to make sense. It certainly resonates with my intuition. The only problem is that the gospel often counters our intuition and challenges our sense of justice. Our intuitive ways of dealing with evil often fail to magnify the counterintuitive way of the cross. After all, when Jesus conquered evil on the cross, He didn’t use violence—He absorbed it.

Back to the attacker at the door scenario. Biblically, the moral conflict could be framed as: Loving your neighbor (the innocent party) versus loving your enemy (the guy with the Glock). If you shoot the thug—the enemy—then you believe that loving your neighbor is the higher moral law (or the lesser of two evils).

Again, this is the position I took in my previous blogs and in several previous drafts of Fight. It seemed to make sense. However, I just couldn’t get around that nagging, sometimes annoying, exegetical question: Does Jesus say that loving your neighbor trumps loving your enemy?

No.

Jesus never does.

In fact, there’s little (some would say no) evidence from the New Testament to make a case that Christians should kill enemies to save innocent lives.

Even if moral conflicts are real (which is debated), it’s not altogether clear that loving your neighbor trumps loving your enemy. To shoot the intruder, you would have to argue that neighborly love is higher than enemy-love, something that is hard to justify biblically.

In fact, Jesus redefines enemies as neighbors in Matthew 5:43-44. Note the parallelism between “love your neighbor and hate your enemy” and Jesus’s improvement: “love your enemy and pray for those persecuting you.” Jesus just transformed our enemies into our neighbors, which pulls the rug out from under the belief that loving our neighbor trumps loving our enemy (props to Andrew Rillera for pointing this out to me). Jesus illustrates this in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where an enemy (the Samaritan) became a neighbor (Luke 10:29–37).

So, killing your enemy to save the life of your neighbor has a problem: your enemy is your neighbor. Plus, enemy-love is the hallmark of Christianity, that which sets us apart from everyone else and imitates the gracious action of the Father (Matt. 5:44-47).

We’re also left with the nagging truth that Jesus never endorses take up your crossviolence as a means of loving your neighbor or protecting the innocent. Since there’s no proof that He did—and there were plenty of opportunities for Him to do so—there’s no proof that He would. Killing the attacker as the lesser of two evils seems logical, but if you seriously consider the counterintuitive ethic of Jesus, killing to save innocent lives lacks clear New Testament support.

Now, let’s say you did kill your enemy to save innocent lives. It was in the heat of the moment. You acted on impulse and passion. You were driven by love for the innocent. What now?

You should still explore how you can redeem the enemy-love command in this unfortunate situation. This may mean publicly mourning his death, paying for the attacker’s funeral, or giving his family a generous financial gift. Perhaps you could set up a college fund for his kids, who are now without a father, even if it means that you have to get an extra job to do so. None of this will bring him back to life, but we must be salt and light so that the onlooking world sees that there’s something different about us.

Killing enemies is expected. Loving them isn’t. The church that worships an enemy-loving Lord should also love its enemies because we were once God’s enemies, and He didn’t shoot us—even though we busted into His house and tortured and killed His one and only Son.

Whichever view you take on this difficult issue, you need to make sure you’re not just thinking logically but also theologically and biblically about it.

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the seriesChristians and Violence Revisited

I wanted to give one more teaser from my book. But before I do, let me give one qualification and one advertisement.

First, the views represented in my book don’t necessarily represent the views of Eternity Bible College. We have a broad range of perspectives on Christians and violence; mine is only one. So if you come to Eternity, or if you send your son or daughter to Eternity, you’ll/they’ll be forced to think biblically through the issue. They won’t be spoon-fed nonviolence.

Second, if you wanted to court my book before you buy it, you can download the first chapter for free on your iPad or iPhone here.

Okay, so back to our topic. One question that often comes up whenever I talk about nonviolence is: do you think America should have a military?

Whatever answer we give to this question must be transferable to other believers living in other nations. In other words, if we as believers in America say “yes, America should have a women_military_-_from_veterans_todaymilitary” then I think that believers in Argentina, Canada, North Korea, or Iran should say the same thing. That is, unless we think that God has a special place for America and not for other nations, which has no biblical support.

So, should the nations, all nations, have militaries? The answer the New Testament gives is…(chirp, chirp). Nothing. Because the New Testament is not meant to tell secular governments how to operate. (Jesus never seemed to care about Rome’s military, apart from reaching out to those in the military.) After all, people are unable to conform to God’s will unless they are in Christ and have the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 8:5–16). Outside of Christ, they are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13), which is why Paul has no interest in judging those outside the body (1 Cor. 5:12). The nations will act like the nations.

Neither does the New Testament show much interest in the politics of the day. We are to submit to the governing bodies, pray for them, and pay our taxes. But the kingdom of God is not commanded to make the kingdom of Rome more moral. Interestingly, whenever Jesus was lured into political debates, He always “transformed these kingdom-of-the-world questions into kingdom-of-God questions and turned them back on His audience (Matt. 22:15–22; Luke 12:13–15)” (Greg Boyd). That’s because our mission is not to solve all the world’s problems but to embody and proclaim the kingdom of God as the place where those problems are solved.

So do I think America should have a military? It all depends on what we mean by “should.” If we mean “can,” then sure. They can have a military. Or they can choose not to have a military. For citizens of God’s kingdom, the question is a moot one, because militaries don’t advance the kingdom of God—and neither can they stop it. Jesus’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church didn’t have any footnotes.

The New Testament doesn’t say that Rome should or shouldn’t have a military. That’s because the New Testament isn’t concerned with advancing Rome’s kingdom. Rather, it tells us how to advance God’s kingdom. God doesn’t command America to have a military, nor does He command them to get rid of their military.

I therefore disagree with Wayne Grudem, who thinks that “military weapons for governments are God-ordained” or that “because of the great military power of the United States, we also korean militarycarry a great deal of responsibility for maintaining world peace,” or even that “superior military weaponry in the hands of a nation that protects freedom … is a good thing for the world.” Such statements are wrongheaded, if not bizarre. World peace comes through Jesus—the one who doesn’t need a military to rule the world.

Should governments turn the other cheek? Sure, that’d be great. If all governments turned the other cheek, there’d be a whole lot less violence in the world. But that’s not the solution to evil in the world. Jesus is the solution to evil in the world. And trying to follow Jesus’s teaching without following Jesus is ultimately bankrupt. The command to turn the other cheek is directly connected to the person and work of Christ, who turned the other cheek when attacked by sinners.

Our hope does not lie in enforcing our ethic upon secular governments. We can’t legislate the kingdom of God into existence. We could end all wars, yet Satan would simply find another way to destroy us. He could use the thin veneer of world peace to make us think we don’t need Jesus. Our hope and victory lie in the crucified Lamb. Jesus is the solution to war and violence.

I’ll leave you with the trailer for my book. If anything, it’s evidence that I made a good choice by not becoming an actor.  :)

 

Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence – Preston Sprinkle from Skyline Videography on Vimeo.

 

 

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