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FightRegular readers of our blog will know that Preston Sprinkle has just published his book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence with the help of Eternity graduate Andrew Rillera. While Preston has said enough about the subject matter of the book to make most readers uncomfortable and/or angry (jk, jk, jk—sort of) and to turn father against son and son against father, I’m going to take a moment to officially recommend the book and give a brief review.

I suspect that some potential readers will be hesitant to pick up Fight because they’re sure they’ll disagree. For a few reasons, I encourage you to read it anyway.

We should always be looking to sharpen our understanding of Scripture and challenge our opinions. I know of respectably mild-mannered American patriots, skeptical biblical scholars, and full on gun-nuts with second amendment tattoos who are all reading the book. Good for them. Even if they don’t find their views changing, they will find their views sharpened and will be more biblically knowledgeable in terms of why they believe what they believe.

But that’s the beauty of Fight. Preston isn’t sharing his opinion in the book. At times, he will tip his hand and let the reader know what he would do in a given situation. But throughout the book Preston is concerned with exploring what the Bible says about violence.

Throughout Fight, Preston asks several questions of the biblical text:

  • Was warfare God’s solution to Israel’s problems in the Old Testament?
  • Did Jesus really teach nonviolence?
  • Won’t Jesus’ return mean a violent battle?

I think most readers will be surprised at how much time Preston spends interacting with the Bible. Fight isn’t about the second amendment, foreign policy, or World War II. It has implications for each of these issues, but the book is about what the Bible says about the way Christians respond to their enemies.

Though the book addresses questions we can’t help but be fascinated with (Wasn’t Bonhoeffer right to try and assassinate Hitler? Shouldn’t I use violence to protect my family against an intruder?), it addresses them only after having surveyed the biblical teaching on violence. Even then, Preston only answers them reluctantly. In each case, he lays out the biblical teaching that comes to bear on the issue, lays out a few responses that would fit within the Bible’s framework, and cautiously offers the way he thinks (or hopes!) he’d respond.

The strong point of Fight, however, is not the answers it offers to these specific questions. Even though we fixate on them (who doesn’t want to know how they should respond to the midnight intruder?), you’d be misreading Fight to skip directly to those sections. It’s not that Preston’s answers are weak here; it’s just that they’re not the point.

What Fight gives us is careful and insightful teaching on crucial biblical passages. The question is not how much we love our nation, our military, or our right to bear arms. Nor is the question how effective we think a shotgun would be in deterring a rapist or how far Hitler would have gone had the Allies not used military force.

The most important question we can ask here is how Jesus would have us fight against evil. And this question raises other important questions about violence in the Old Testament, the relationship of the Christian to the government, the example of the early church, etc.

These are the issues that Fight addresses. So while you may not find yourself agreeing at every point, Fight will help you think through the most important passages of Scripture that relate to the use of violence. I’m biased, of course—I found myself convinced by nearly everything in Fight—but I urge you to give it a shot (no pun intended). The American church would be so much healthier if we all gave this issue the careful thought it calls for.

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.