Archives For America

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.

 

 

If religion was opium for the masses: perhaps politics has become “Meth” for America. The reaction from Christians to a tweet that I sent out today suggests that many believers are as addicted to the GOP as my students are to the hit-show, Breaking Bad. The tweet:

How many believers will rationalize Mormonism as ‘basically Christianity’ because they want to vote for a Republican—or against Obama?

I promise I meant neither to mar Mitt nor to back Obama with 140 characters or less. Rather, my concern was more theological—that some might conflate Christianity with Mormonism for the sake of  Nationalism.[1]

 In Breaking Bad, there is a climatic conversation between the teacher-cum-methmaker and his wife. She trembles out the question: “Are you in danger?” To which he growls back: “I AM THE DANGER.” As I listen to various opinions on politics, I fear that the American Church is not in danger, but that We Are The Danger. That is to say, our greatest threat is not in (passively) being conformed to the pattern of this world but in us (actively) conforming ourselves to it.  Below are three dangerous questions that have resulted from my recent conversations.

A few qualifications. Firstly, I am neither anti-Romney nor pro-Obama. Frankly, I do not plan to vote for either of them. Nevertheless, I am committed to praying for both candidates and not bashing either—although Mormonism is fair game. Secondly, I am not a political scientist; I do not understand all of the complexities of the process. My expertise is in New Testament Backgrounds, so I admit to knowing more about Herod’s administration than Barack’s and to having spent more time in Plato’s Republic than in the U.S. Constitution. Finally, I am spewing forth ideas here that I have not fully digested. Don’t let the sarcasm fool you: this is my way of “reasoning together.”

 

Christianity and Nationalism: “Who is Lord?”

Christians may not go so far as to ignore orthodoxy and excuse the cult, but many of them have already confused the Kingdom of God with the American Empire. They have exalted the national agenda above the Great Commission.[2]  Mike Huckabee demonstrated such a priority when he confessed: “I care far less where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do where he is going to take this country!” My translation: “I am more concerned with the immediate destination of America than I am the eternal destination of my friend and his wife as well as his children and grandchildren.” (Caesar is Lord.) But even if Christians don’t scoff at Mike Huckabee’s pronouncement, they should shudder at Paul Ryan’s:

“United States is still the greatest force for peace and liberty this world has ever known!”  (Caesar is Lord.)

 

Christianity and Mormonism: Does Religion Matter?

One of the most common responses I’ve heard is that it doesn’t really matter what religion the candidate is.[3] But doesn’t such a statement collide with the claim by many believers that this is a Christian nation? I heard one “theologically conservative” Christian say he would vote for a Muslim or a Hindu if that candidate could fix our country. Although I demur at calling our nation a Christian country, I find it odd that patriotic Christians would put their trust in the hands of someone who believes the sort of things that other religions and cults believe. Comedian Daniel Tosh had a skit where he played a Scientology-recruiter who had a wall poster that read: “Scientology: Making Mormons look sane since 1952.”[4] The religion of Mitt really matters to Mormons. If Scientology can make them look sane, perhaps a Mormon president can make them look legit.

Mormons see having a Mormon president as a further help in legitimizing them. It’ll be hard for ordinary Americans to think of Mormonism as a cult or a crazy religion when (if) their president is Mormon.[5]

Again, I am not attempting to dissuade anyone from voting for Mitt, but I am trying to dissuade every Christian from ever saying—with respect to anything—that religion doesn’t really matter.

 

Christianity and ‘Mammonism’: “Whom do we really serve?”

“A person cannot have two masters…you cannot serve both God and Money.” Color me cynical, but when it comes down to it, I suspect most politicians follow Mammon more than they do Jesus, Joseph Smith or even Reverend Wright. And it’s likely that most Christians do too. In truth, American Christians are far less worried where our President takes his family to church than with the amount of money he puts into our “offering plates.” As Dr. Kevin Motl puts it:  “The preponderance of American voters privilege religious identity only once questions of economic self-interest are satisfied.” In other words: we got our mind on our money and money on our mind. Because the American Church doesn’t want to be broke, I fear we are breaking bad.



[3] This week CT presented “three views” on whether it’s wrong to vote for a Mormon. Wanting a rhetorical cage-match, I was disappointed to discover that they all agreed that it’s okay to vote for a Mormon. Even Fuller President Mouw said he’d vote for a Mormon just not a Jehovah’s Witness or a Scientologist; I find this argument inconsistent at best. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/september/is-it-wrong-to-vote-for-mormon-president.html

When Francis Schaeffer looked at our modern society, he saw a lot of apathy. He would trace the ebb and flow of Western Civilization, highlighting achievements, revolutions, and the longings of mankind. Many idealists, revolutionaries, and power-hungry people have changed the course of history—some for better, some for worse. But when Schaeffer looked at his own generation in the twentieth century, he didn’t see a whole lot of ambition either for good or for evil. Instead, he saw mostly apathy.

Schaeffer identified what he called “two impoverished values” that dominated the middle class in America and in other Western nations: personal peace and affluence.

Our American society is shockingly rich. Of course, we’re too used to it to feel the shock. But you’ve heard it before. As science was put to practical use in the Industrial Revolution, we began producing goods and therefore creating capital on a scale that the world had never known. We take our single family residences, our ratio of at least one car per adult, our electric everything, and our endless supply of running water for granted. We even protest when state colleges raise their tuitions, claiming higher education on our terms as a right.

So to Schaeffer’s point: affluence became one of our highest values. We want to be well off. We don’t need be as wealthy as the Wall Street execs (and we’ll occupy their sidewalks to show how money-hungry they are), but we’re not okay without a specific level of wealth-derived comfort. We take our stuff for granted, and we’ll hang on to our stuff and defend our right to own it, even if that means that other people will have to go without.

Schaeffer referred to this as a “noncompassionate use of wealth.” When we have more than we need, we subtly raise the bar of needs vs. wants. Other people are suffering, and we have the means to help them, but we’re so committed to affluence that we’re not willing to part with our money. We don’t use our wealth compassionately. Look around at our modern society and tell me you don’t see that as a trend.

And then there’s what Schaeffer referred to as “personal peace.” By this he meant that people simply want to be left alone. I’m okay, you’re okay. Let’s avoid all conflict. Even if it means that injustice prevails, I don’t want to get dragged in to any controversy. Just leave me be.

Schaeffer traced this into the political realm, saying that our society would vote for any candidate that could promise them their personal peace. I’ll give you my vote as long as it doesn’t upset my lifestyle. As long as things can stay the way they are, I can get behind anyone.

I err on the side of agreeing with (almost) anything Schaeffer said, but I really think he’s spot on with his analysis here. Apathy does prevail in large swaths of our modern society. The only thing that will get people riled up is a tanking economy or a threat to their personal freedom. It’s probably not wise to try to decide whether an evil regime would be preferable to an apathetic mass populace, but Schaeffer is certainly right to call these two values “impoverished.” Much of what plagues our society stems from our unswerving allegiance to these two values.

Schaeffer’s voice was prophetic. We should use his warning as a wake up call to our society as a whole. But beyond that, Schaeffer’s warning should be heard by individuals as well. How are you living your life? How much do value affluence? What is your level of commitment to personal peace?

Don’t be too optimistic about yourself in this regard. A vague passion is not enough. A generation rose up during the 60s and 70s to protest their parents’ commitment to these two values. They vented their passion, but in the end they took these values as their own. Tomorrow I’ll explain what this movement was about, why it collapsed into personal peace and affluence, and why that is important for the way we live our lives.

 

I’ll be honest. I’m not going to answer that question. I’ll leave that to Preston. But here is what I will say: We don’t always think things through the way we ought. On the one hand, we can start “celebrating” holidays merely because they give us a day off and never consider the implications of the holiday. On the other hand, we can celebrate a holiday like July 4 a bit too fervently, in a way that actually dishonors God.

Here are three brief thoughts that may help you think through your Fourth of July celebration:

1. Enjoy the rest that holidays offer. As I have said before, God designed human beings to need rest. God himself rested, and in doing so, he became our model for resting. It glorifies God when we rest. Inherent in our resting is an admission that we can’t do everything ourselves, and that the world continues to turn without us. God wants us to labor diligently, but we are not the Savior, and God does not intend for us to do it all. Taking a day of thankful rest is appropriate and important. Just don’t be like the sluggard:

As a door turns on its hinges,
so does a sluggard on his bed.
The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. (Proverbs 26:14-15)

2. Enjoy the unique freedoms you have been given. Christians have always been persecuted, and our modern age is no exception. As our brothers and sisters around the world suffer for their faith, we need to be thankful for the freedom that we have been given. Such freedom also carries a temptation toward apathy, so push yourself to be thankful for your freedom and to use that freedom for God’s glory, rather than your own comfort.

3. Take some time to pray for the people in America, and for the people around the world. Our Fourth of July celebrations will dishonor God if we simply declare our superiority and our desire to be blessed for our own sake. God loves Americans, and He loves the people in every nation of the world. Remember that we don’t deserve God’s blessing. Any blessings that God gives are meant to be used to bless the world around us. This is the example of Abraham, who was blessed by God so that he could be a blessing to the world. So pray for the people in America. But also pray for the people around the world. Don’t let your Fourth of July celebration be a declaration of supremacy. Use it as an opportunity to be thankful for what God has given you and to recommit to blessing the world around you.

 

In this post, we’ll dig into the issue that’s been lingering in the back of many of your minds, I’m sure, and one which has come up here and there in the comments thus far: What about the Old Testament? Surely the Old Testament’s clear allowance, and in many cases command, of violence would suggest that Christians are also allowed to use violence. After all, we don’t want to say that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New, right?

Of course not. But the issue of the Old Testament is much more complex than that. Here’s a few things to consider.

First, the nation of Israel was a theocracy, and this relates to their command to wage wars, act violently, etc. In other words, Israel was a nation of God’s people under God’s law with God as their president, so to speak. If you wanted to “get saved” and join God’s covenant, you had to pack your bags and move to Israel (in most cases). Church and state were one. Since wars and violence are part of the fabric of a broken society, Israel as a nation would be partakers in this societal structure, but it was never the ideal (as we’ll show in our third point).

But today, God’s people are not a theocracy; we are a global community scattered among the nations. The myth that America is, or ever was, a Christian nation has been so thoroughly disproved that I won’t even get into it. Needless to say, we as the church give our allegiance to Jesus and our citizenship is in heaven—whether you’re reading this blog in Andorra, Angola, or even in America. In short, while the nation of Israel fought wars and acted with violence in the Old Testament, this does not in itself carry over as part of the mission of the church. The church is never commanded or even allowed (explicitly) to act violently, but to “love our enemies,” “turn the other cheek,” “never repay evil for evil,” “overcome evil with good,” and to “never avenge yourself” (Matt 5 and Rom 12). So the difference between Israel as a theocracy and the church as a dispersed group among many nations necessitates that we view national warfare differently.

Second, most of the wars in the Old Testament were explicitly connected to the land promise. The conquest of Canaan (Josh 6-12), wars against the Philistines (1 Sam 4), and the slaughter of the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:1-3) were all tethered to the ongoing struggle to settle in, and maintain control over, the land of Israel. The point being: the land promise was unique to Israel’s relationship to God under the Old Covenant and is not carried over into the Church’s mission; hence, one of the many reason why violence and warfare has no place in the mission of the church. Our covenant relationship with Israel’s God is not wedded to a strip of real estate in the middle east.

Third, and most importantly, the Old Testament (the entire Bible, really) is a dynamic unfolding story that progresses, and the progression culminates in Jesus—the goal of the Law and the Prophets (Luke 24:44; Rom 10:4; cf. Matt 5:17-19). Now, throughout Israel’s history, there were times when God commanded violence. The conquest of the Canaanites and the command to annihilate the Amalekites (1 Sam 15) immediately come to mind. So war and violence is part and parcel with Israel’s existence. However, war and violence are never really viewed as the ultimate goal. Peace is. The whole direction of the Old Testament, especially seen in the prophets (Isaiah 2:4; 11:1-6; Mic 4:2), is that there will come a time when God would bring healing, restoration, and the cessation of violence by means of his suffering Servant. As Isaiah and Micah both creatively proclaim: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Mic 4:3; cf. Isa 2:4). Instruments of war will be turned into tools for agriculturally productivity; as God’s redemptive purposes unfold, we move from war to peace. This is such a consistent theme in the prophets that I hardly feel the need to belabor the point: God’s promised messianic kingdom will inaugurate a time of peace, healing, restoration, and the cessation of war. As Myron Augsburger writes:

“While the Bible is one unit, and one great covenant of grace, it is also an unfolding revelation in which God is continually saying more and more about himself. All through the Old Testament, God had something more to say about himself until he said it better in Jesus Christ. This means that the incarnation is final, the full disclosure of God” (Augsburger, “Christian Pacifism,” 61-62).

Violence was allowed and even commanded in the Old Testament, as was polygamy, divorce, slavery, stoning of children, and killing people for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. But this was not the goal of redemptive history; rather, it was part of God’s dynamic (not static) story of salvation, which climaxes in Jesus who bore a plowshare and not a sword. Jesus inaugurated that promised period of peace and healing, and therefore violence is allowed in the Old Testament but not in the New.

One more passage needs to be dealt with and that’s Genesis 9:5-6:

“5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

Here we have a pre-Old Covenant command where a death-penalty-like law is instituted. If you kill, then you shall be killed. The punishment, in other words, should fit the crime, and the Old Covenant Law is replete with similar “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” commands (Exod 21:24; Lev 24:19-22). In its own context, I would say that Gen 9:6 supports capital punishment: if somebody kills another person, he too should be killed. The question, however, is: Is this ideal? (It certainly moves away from the Edenic way of life.) Does this still apply for Christians today? Should we seek to retaliate life for life?

I say yes and no, but mostly no. Jesus clearly overturned the law of retaliation in Matt 5:38, when he said: “you have heard that it was said, ‘and eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you do not resist the one who is evil.” Don’t retaliate, Jesus says, and Paul says the same thing in Romans 12. So I think that we must read Gen 9 through the lens of the cross and in light of Jesus’ (and Paul’s) own ethical teaching, which prohibits retaliation.

So where does my “yes” come in? As most of you know, Rom 13:4 does say that God uses the government to “bear the sword” to punish evildoers, and (as Colby pointed out yesterday) this is one of God’s ways of avenging evil. (Interestingly, however, as my good friend Andrew Rillera has pointed out, the cross and not the dagger-like “sword” referred to in Rom 13 was Rome’s means of capital punishment.) But God’s vengeance of evil through the government is instead of the church’s own vengeance of evil (note the connection between Rom 12:17-19 and 13:4). Vengeance by Christians is everywhere prohibited and nowhere allowed in the New Testament. That’s God’s business, not ours.

Okay, I know that was a brief treatment of a very difficult issue. There’s going to be a lot of “what abouts” and “ya buts” that I couldn’t cover, and I’ll do my best to wrestle with your comments and concerns. But I’m really eager to get to the issue that most people race to whenever pacifism is discussed: what about the person breaking into your home to kill your family? Do pacifists believe that there’s never a place to use violence on an individual level? Stay tuned…