Archives For Violence

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dzhokhar TsarnaevLast week we followed the horrifying news of a terrorist-style bombing, the murder of a police officer, a manhunt, intense shootouts, and finally the death of one suspect and capture of the other. As all of this unfolded, probably the last thing most of us thought to do was pray for these suspects.

Yet that’s exactly what we should have been doing, and with one suspect still alive, that is what we should be doing still. Here are three reasons we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

 

#1 – Jesus Commands Us To Love & Pray for Our Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

Maybe you read that and think, “Okay, fine. I will love and pray for my enemies. But this guy is a terrorist. He committed one of the worst crimes of our time. Surely Jesus didn’t mean him.” But Tsarnaev is exactly the kind of person Jesus had in mind. Jesus says that everyone loves their own friends, but he calls us to love people who would ordinarily be hated. Enemies.

So Tsarnaev’s unbelievable deeds only serve to cement his status as the kind of person Jesus was talking about: a hated enemy. This kind of person, Jesus says, we are to love and pray for.

 

#2 – God Loves Wicked People

The reason Jesus gives for loving and praying for our neighbors is startling. We should do this “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” God, he says, sends his sunshine upon everyone, and dispenses his rain to all of his creatures. So why should we respond in love to such a heartless killer? Because that’s how you reflect your Father. After all, he is the one who sacrificed his own life to show his love for hardened sinners like us (Rom. 5:8).

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezekiel 33:11)

 

#3 – We Shouldn’t Underestimate the Wrath of God

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil…never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17, 19–21)

Paul’s words here echo those of Jesus in Matthew 5. When evil rears its head—and last week it did to a disturbing degree—we don’t overcome it through violence, vengeance, or any other form of inflicting harm. We overcome it with good.

Paul’s statement in verse 19 is intriguing: “leave it to the wrath of God,” or “leave room for the wrath of God.” In situations like this, we want blood. We want to see Tsaraev punished for his crimes. And this cry for justice is right. We need to be careful not to minimize the pain of the victims, nor to simply brush aside the atrocities under a banner of cheaply-defined forgiveness. But when we think that a humanly- inflicted punishment will satisfy justice, we are actually trivializing the evil deeds and—even more seriously—we are underestimating God’s wrath. Indeed, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

So Paul tells us to do good to those who do evil to us. To bless those who persecute us. God promises to repay the evildoers; our job is to show them love. God has indeed placed human authorities on earth to handle such matters (see Romans 13). And our government will respond as it sees fit. But as for the church, our call is to be on our knees. After all, God is in the business of loving and even saving sinners—even the worst of them:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” – The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15