The Nonviolent Missio Dei (again)

The discussion in the comments to the previous post is incredibly important, so I recommend them to all. Daniel Kirk has this to offer:

I really like the cosmic vision of Christus Victor, but if we miss that the victory part is attained by self-giving-love (so that others might live), it becomes a total disaster (cf. church history. :-) ).

One thing I say there is this:

The right question [regarding the appropriateness of Christian violence] might be, “Does the practice of violence cohere with or contradict the NT’s interpretation of what God has done in Christ—including his incarnation, teachings, death, resurrection, and exaltation as divine self-disclosure?”

7 Responses to “The Nonviolent Missio Dei (again)”

  1. T says:

    Well, if I may continue to swim out of my depth a bit, I really like Daniel Kirk’s comment, and I think it names an important issue that was the subject of my initial post. Namely, it’s important to talk about how the victory in ‘Christus Victor’ was accomplished and how it continues to be accomplished (or not) by the Church. We need to talk more about how we might get from where we are now to a world in which good has made real progress over and against evil. This is where I think N.T. Wright has done a fabulous job of showing the competing strategies (not mere religious camps) within Judaism in the first century (strategies about how good will beat evil; strategies for how the kingdom will come) to which Jesus presented a striking and risky alternative, culminating in the cross. From a pastoral perspective, we need to talk about the competing strategies for fighting the fight of good v. evil in Jesus’ day and our own, and focus on and practice Jesus’ alternative. We’ve got to tell his story and his purpose within it with more of a “Go and do likewise” edge at the end.

    I think there are pastoral folks who aren’t pacifists, but are strategical thinkers and are serious about good overcoming evil. If more can be said of nonviolence in that way, I think there can be a larger move forward.

  2. Sean says:

    While I’m with the metanarrative being non-violent, I have to confess that we live within a fractured world, and this discussion is therefore slightly more complex. Charle’s Talbert’s book: Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matt 5-7, notes the provocative thought that “there may be occasions when love of neighbour trumps one’s commitment to non-retaliation…” He suggests that our primal instinct and value should always be Love of God and Neighbour, and our ethics flows from this primal value. Obviously our commitment is to non-retaliation, but at times our primal value of love for people may cause us to defend or protect others who are in harm.

    While the metanarrative of non-violence always take priority, are there occassions when due to our current status, we’ll have to engage in acts of violence to protect others? My wife?

  3. simon jones says:

    I was reflecting on Mark’s account of the Last Supper with my Later service group last night. Mark surrounds his account with Jesus’ words to his friends – Judas and tghen the 11.

    What struck me was the depth of Jesus’ friendship even towards the one who meant him harm. By naming what Judas was about to do, he gave him the greatest he could have at that moment – real choice with real awreness of its nature and consequences.

    Often our talk about non-violence is at the global level – should we ever fight, defend our family against maraunding barbarians, serve in the armed forces. Maybe it should start at the elevl of how we do friendship.

    The model Jesus gives us is that he’s a friend to his friends regardless of their behaviour towards him. He loves even when they hate. And he goes on loving even though it costs him his life.

    I wonder whether friendship/relationships is a good place to start our conversation about non-violence. of course, I could be missing something.

  4. T says:


    The rub in these discussions always seems to come down to third parties, generally the wife and children. I’ve thought about this as well, since I am a husband and father. It’s similar to the question of how I teach my young daughter to respond to violent people. Some would argue that I have a duty, based on my duty to protect her, to teach her to protect herself, since I won’t always be around to do it. Now, while I’m still going to teach her to use wisdom (and not flippantly put herself in physical danger), I’ve decided that I’m going to teach her not to fear people who can only hurt our bodies, who try to control us that way. I’m going to teach her, essentially, a SoM ethic, and to trust Jesus for the resurrection (“what can man do to me?”)

    I wonder, though, how much of these discussions, even in my own head, stem from how much we still do fear those who can harm the body, and how little our hope is in the resurrection. Another way of saying it, if we really had ‘the faith of Jesus’, would this discussion change regarding even third parties?

  5. MJG says:


    I agree with most of what you say and like it very much. But I would be a bit cautious about saying (in an unqualified way) that the church’s mission is the overcoming of evil with good. Although you clearly do not go down this road, such a claim can lead in many problematic directions.

    Your point about resurrection is again “spot on,” and has been made (I’m fairly sure) previously by Yoder and Hauerwas in various ways.


    I hope you don’t think any of us is underestimating the complexity of these topics. The major problem, however, with Talbert’s suggestion (which is not unique to him) is that it contradicts the example and message of Jesus and the metanarrative (as we are now calling it) because it allows the means to become violent to attain allegedly good ends. This is an understandablle temptation, but it is precisely the temptation that Jesus resisted (as T reminds us in referring to NTW). I would also echo T here.


    Agreed! Peacemaking and nonviolent, noretaliatory reconciliation begin in the simplest of relationships. I remember when the Presbyterian church began its peacemaking initiatives 20 years ago. The one thing everyone could agree on was that peacemaking begins at home.

  6. Andrew says:

    Yes, I do believe that the character of God revealed in such events as the incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation discloses the character of God in his saving, non-violent capacity (Rom 5.8). I even agree in the way this question framed, but the question might be more appropriately framed in order for us to make proper distinctions in God’s character. We must distinguish the character of God soteriologically versus those character(s) which may be described as creational or sustaining in nature. As in other areas of theology, we must distinguish between being and action. God, in tune with his being, cannot act contrary to his being or nature, but his being or nature at times may disclose itself in properties or actions that may at least appear contradictory to his being, yet this so-called contradictory action merely appears contradictory, but actually comprises a concomitant or accompanying character in the gamut of God’s character. I do not meant to infer that God is schizophrenic in his being, but that his being may manifest itself in different avenues. Thus, God in his salvific capacity embodies enemy-love. On the contrary and in cooperation with God as Creator and Sustainer, he must employ or at least ordain that such structures exist which at times, may invoke their purposeful right to exercise violence. Thus, God as Savior must be seen as different, but not contradictory to his title as God as Sustainer.

    In line with a Reformed understanding of Common Grace (Kuyper), God’s actions in and through the state, which ordains such, is not only different than how he acts within his Church or in Christ, but is expectedly different.

    In the NT there was no blanket or uniform condemnation of the state a priori, but only the state exceeding its ordained capacities given to it by God. Yes, the state is a mediating, arbitrary concoction that will eventually cease. But yet, this mediating, and even arbitrary status, does not negate either its institution or function in the NT. Thus, this allows for the ubiquitous understanding of why NT writers can affirm the necessity of paying taxes (the well-being of the State), while condemning the over-reach of the State by coerced worship and deification (what we see in Revelation).

    Just a few thoughts? Your reaction, Dr. Gorman?

  7. MJG says:


    I tend to agree with your last paragraph (for a recent treatment of this topic [2005?], see Christopher Bryan’s book Render to Casesar), though I think (a) there is something of a spectrum in the NT on this issue, depending on actual context and experience, and (b) the NT material is not intended nor sufficient to construct a political theology. The NT material was intended, and still functions, to form disciples—primarily to live in a divinely ordained (in a general sense; so Judaism) but generally oppressive and idolatrous reality.

    However, as for a distinction between God’s acts and God’s being, I would say that that is theologically very problematic. We know who God is, like we know who we and others are, through actions. Recent theology has stressed this and made a very strong case for it. See, for example, Colin Gunton, Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes.

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