Archives For Nonviolence

Mark Driscoll recently argued that “the Prince of Peace is not a pacifist” and that “those who want to portray Jesus as a pansy or a pacifist are prone to be very selective in the parts of the Bible they driscollquote.” Driscoll argues his case ironically—some would say comically—by selecting portions from the Bible, including the “bloody Old Testament” (my apologies on behalf of Mark to our British readers), Romans 13, and the book of Revelation (or more specifically, a Hal Lindsay-like interpretation of Revelation that interprets the apocalyptic imagery in hyper-literal terms).

I found Mark’s article entertaining, sort of like watching six-year old boys play baseball. I laughed, I cried, and I rubbed my eyes wondering how a responsible Bible teacher could make such embarrassing interpretive moves. Like watching a mini-slugger whack the tee 10 times before he smacks the ball and when he finally hits it, it dribbles down the first-base line into foul territory.

Mark rightly distinguishes between “killing” and “murder” in the Old Testament, but then he heroically leaps over biblical books in a single bound. After summarizing the “bloody Old Testament” as supporting “lawful taking of life, such as self-defense, capital punishment, and just war,” Mark jumps past the Sermon on the Mount, the life of Christ, Jesus’s prohibitions against violence in the gospels, and Paul’s commands against violence in Romans 12, finally landing on Romans 13 for a quick touch and go before he flies over the rest of Paul’s letters, Hebrews, and 1 Peter, ultimately arriving to the book of Revelation.

I actually really like Mark Driscoll. He’s a former ball player, and so am I. He loves red meat, craft beer, and has no time for diaper wearing pansies behind the pulpit. Mark is a manly man, and since I was recently labeled a “manly pacifist,” I think we have a lot in common. Mark says it like it is. So do I. So let me say it like it is: Mark’s assumption that pacifists are pansies is historically naïve, theologically horrendous, and shows that Mark’s been more influenced by the worldview of those who put Jesus on the cross rather than the One who hung on it. Everything Mark says about violence is eerily close to what Rome said about it 2,000 years ago. Contrary to Rome, Jesus taught that suffering leads to glory, cross-shaped weakness radiates divine power, and loving your enemies showcases the character of the Father (Matthew 5:44-48).

Mark’s selection of passages that talk about violence has been violently ripped from the cruciform flow of the New Testament itself.

I’ve already addressed Romans 13 in another post, and I have four chapters on the Old Testament in my book Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. I also have a whole chapter in Fight that documents 300 years of Christian pansies, who refused to use violence against their enemies. But what about Revelation 19? Doesn’t this chapter depict a tatted up, commando Jesus hacking his enemies to pieces with a sword?

Yes, Jesus returns as Judge in Revelation 19, and we see Him “clothed in a robe dipped in blood” (19:13). But his clothes are bloodied before He wages war against the enemy. Why? Because it’s His Own blood. The robe dipped in His own blood (crucifixion) gives Jesus the authority to conquer, to boldly announce His victory over His foes. Jesus doesn’t need to hack His way through enemy DeJesuslines like a crazed warrior. He doesn’t need to do anything but declare with cosmic, cruciform authority that He has already won.

And yes, Jesus has a sword. But contrary to Driscoll, the sword comes “from his mouth,” not His hand (19:15, 21), which in Revelation always refers to a word of judgment, not a literal sword. Jesus doesn’t run a carnival. He doesn’t pull rabbits from His hat or swords from His throat. The sword is symbolic and refers to Jesus’s “death-dealing pronouncement which goes forth like a sharp blade from the lips of Christ” as one non-pacifist commentator puts it.

The Lamb—the crucified not crucifying Lamb—has conquered!

But it’s Driscoll’s rhetoric that is more entertaining than his exegesis. He still, after all these years, considers Christian pacifists—including Martin Luther King, Charles Spurgeon, Leo Tolstoy, Dwight Moody, and most of the pre-Constantine leaders of the church—to be pansies. Those who pick up their crosses and follow Jesus’s nonviolent journey to the cross are pansies. Those who take Jesus’s counterintuitive, life-giving words seriously, to turn the other cheek and love their enemies, are pansies. But for Driscoll, not only are these Christian heroes pansies, but all who teach that Jesus was a pacifist will be slaughtered by Mark’s (De)Jesus when He returns—Uncrossed:

Some of those whose blood will flow as high as the bit in a horse’s mouth for 184 miles will be those who did not repent of their sin but did wrongly teach that Jesus was a pacifist.

Wow. Yes, that’s an exact quote. I have so many words swirling in my head, but if I said them here I’d have to repent later.

Look, I’m all for being manly (if you’re a man). But let’s not be pansies by letting our gun toting, rib eating, Harley riding culture tells us what it means to be a man. I own guns. I love ribs. I ride a Harley. But I don’t let these cultural artifacts dictate my theology. The New Testament is clear: Real men love their enemies, never return evil for evil, and never resist evil by using violence. Real men suffer. Real men pray for those who persecute them. Real men submit to the sword, but they don’t bear it. So go ahead and eat raw meat, vote Republican, shoot your guns (just not at people). But let’s invite the word of Christ to reconfigure and confront our cultural view of manhood.

Now that attention has turned from Miley to the civil war in Syria, people everywhere are wondering: Should America intervene?

The cause for intervention, of course, stems from August 21, when Syrian President al-Assad allegedly used chemical weapons against rebel forces, leading to the death of over 1,400 people including several hundred children. (Evidence that al-Assad is responsible is still inconclusive.) Should the U.S. intervene against Syria? Even though Obama is pushing hard in favor of an attack, the response from the American people has been an overwhelming “no.”

news.yahoo.com

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According to one poll, 7 out of 10 Americans are not in support of a military invasion, and Christians of all denominations (Catholics and Protestants) have been united against a military intervention. Even conservative Evangelicals, who in recent years have been the most eager for military intervention in the Middle East, are largely opposed to a U.S. backed invasion of Syria.

But why?

While I too join my Christian brothers and sisters in opposing a military intervention, I’ve been less than enthusiastic over some of the reasons people give for not intervening.

For instance, some say that America shouldn’t intervene because it wouldn’t advance American interests. Maybe it wouldn’t, but we are all made in God’s image and advancing the interests of one particular nation (possibly at the expense of people in other nations) doesn’t seem to vibe with a Christian worldview.

Or, we should not intervene because it would cost too much money. This is true, but I think we need to ask deeper questions. Let’s say that an invasion would cost 10 billion dollars and thousands of lives were spared, then we could morally argue that it was worth every penny. The question isn’t so much is it expensive, but will intervention accomplish peace? More specifically: should Christians support the use of violence to confront evil?

I’ve already argued where I stand on this, so I won’t belabor the point. Another related question is: how will an intervention affect the kingdom of God in Syria? Christians need to think theologically and ecclesiologically—not just politically—about the potential western invasion of Syria.

Syria has a long, rich Christian tradition. Currently, an estimated 10-15% of the population are Christian—many of them are former Iraqis who fled to Syria after the U.S. invasion of Iraq (2003) nearly decimated the Christian church. If the U.S. does in Syria what it did in Iraq, it will most probably wreak havoc on our brothers and sisters, who will be killed, maimed, tortured, exiled, and raped. Even worse, if the U.S. helps topple the Syrian government, this will create a power vacuum that will most certainly be filled by Islam extremists, who will further propound the violence towards Christ’s bride in Syria.

Religious historian Philip Jenkins rightly concludes:

If the U.S., France, and some miscellaneous allies strike at the regime, they could conceivably so weaken it that it would collapse. Out of the ruins would emerge a radically anti-Western regime, which would kill or expel several million Christians and Alawites. This would be a political, religious, and humanitarian catastrophe unparalleled since the Armenian genocide almost exactly a century ago.

Even if a Western invasion was inexpensive, even if no Americans would lose their lives, even if it would hugely further American interests, and even if success was guaranteed, I would still oppose a military invasion. How could I support something that will rip apart the body of Christ?

But do we only care about Christians who are, or will, suffer? Shouldn’t we also care for the non-Christian people who are suffering?

Yes, absolutely. The global community should do something. But I don’t think that either a military strike or doing nothing are the only two options. Traditional just war theory teaches that war should be waged as a last resort; that is, after all other nonviolent means have been exhausted. Has America exhausted all those means?

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.

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.

 

 

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.