Archive for the ‘Nonviolence’ Category

Mother Teresa on Peace

Friday, March 19th, 2010

“If everyone were capable of discovering the image of God in their neighbors, do you think that we would still need tanks and generals?”

—Mother Teresa, No Greater Love, pp. 47-48

Lamb Power and the Church

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Perhaps the following excerpts from (1) a chapter of my forthcoming book on Revelation and (2) Udo Schnelle’s New Testament Theology might have something to say to the church, especially to the American church. (It is only coincidental that this appears on the day of the “State of the Union” address in the U.S.*):

It is critical that we not miss the paradoxical significance of this Lamb of God sharing in the identity and sovereignty of God. In his exaltation Jesus remains the Lamb, the crucified one. He participates in God’s identity and reign, making him worthy of worship, as the slaughtered Lamb, and only as such. This is the consistent witness of the New Testament: that the exalted Lord remains the crucified Jesus. When this witness is neglected or forgotten, trouble follows swiftly. Any reading of Revelation—and any doing of theology more generally—that forgets this central New Testament truth is theologically problematic, even dangerous, from its very inception. It is doomed, not to failure, but to success—and that is its inherent theological problem. Human beings, even apparently faithful Christians, too often want an almighty deity who will rule the universe with power, preferably on their terms, and with force when necessary. Such a concept of God and of sovereignty empowers its adherents to side with this kind of God in the execution of (allegedly) divine might in the quest for (allegedly) divine justice. The reality of the Lamb as Lord—and thus of Lamb power—is, or should be, the end of all such misperceptions of divine power and justice, and of their erroneous human corollaries. Of course, both historically and today, it is not.

Revelation is often misread as a demonstration precisely of this kind of divine power in human history, especially in interpreting the visions of judgment. We will need to return to this issue in a later [post]. For now, however, we need especially to say that only when chapters 4 and 5 are read as Revelation’s hermeneutical key to reality, divinity, history, and ethics will we be able to place the visions of judgment in proper perspective.

—M. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly (Cascade, forthcoming)

[I]n worship, the community of faith realizes its new identity under the lordship of the Lamb and under the conscious, intentional rejection of the claims to lordship made by Babylon/Rome. As the place where the new being is repeatedly practiced, worship is also a locus of resistance against the anti-God powers, and, since the Apocalypse was read out in worship, also a place of hearing, seeing, learning, and understanding/insight.

—Udo Schnelle, New Testament Theology, 767

Does this sound like your experience of worship??

*Plus ça change, plus ça reste le même. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

A Blessing for the New Year

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

A Franciscan Benediction (anonymous), courtesy of Christian Peace Witness:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

A Foretaste of my Review of Campbell’s “Deliverance of God” (2)

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Campbell on the Nonviolent Paul

One of the real gems in The Deliverance of God is an excursus entitled “The Case—Briefly—against Coercive Violence in Paul” (pp. 89-94). It is offered in as an argument for the superiority of Campbell’s “alternative theory” to “Justification theory” because the latter leads to coercion and violent punishment. (Bear with me if you are not so sure about that.)

Campbell makes six main points:

1. The cross, the center of Paul’s soteriology, is noncoercive and nonviolent. Those who participate in Christ participate in his nonviolent reaction to injustice.

2. Despite their sinfulness, Paul views non-Christians essentially benevolently. He is fundamentally not interested in retributive justice for them.

3. Paul’s attitude is especially important given his violent past, which, in Christ, he has repudiated.

4. Paul never uses coercion in his evangelism.

5. Paul repudiates vengeance by Christians.

6. Paul reinterprets military images metaphorically.

It is about time that NT scholars start taking Paul’s perspective on violence and nonviolence seriously! I have made some similar arguments in chapter four of my book Inhabiting the Cruciform God, though there I focus more on the role of the resurrection in Paul’s transformation and the resulting ethic, and also, more briefly, in Reading Paul.

Crux probat omnia (The cross probes everything)

Monday, July 20th, 2009

The Latin verb probare means to test, examine, evaluate, probe, prove, approve. Luther wrote, “crux probat omnia,” usually translated “the cross tests everything” or “the cross puts everything to the test.” I like to use the cognate verb “probe,” as in “scrutinize.”

On this blog and elsewhere, especially over at Daniel Kirk’s Sibboleth, people have been wondering how the so-called violence of God in Judges and elsewhere, including Revelation, squares with the kenotic, cruciform, restorative love and justice of God revealed in Christ, especially in his cross.

At root, this is at least as much a hermeneutical issue as it is a theo-logical (doctrine of God) one. That is, what will determine our reading of such difficult texts? The answer, it seems to me, is crux probat omnia.

Though we have no right to dispense with certain parts of the canon, we do have the right (and the obligation, as Christians) to read such texts through, and in light of, the cross. The cross does not delete them, but the cross provides the lens through which we consider them, the framework within which we understand them. That is, if we believe in the incarnation and if we believe Paul’s claim that the cross is the definitive theophany, the self-revelation of divine love, wisdom,power, justice, etc. (1 Cor 1-2, etc.)

In reference to Revelation, this problem of problematic images seems particularly acute. But some interesting things happen, especially an ordering of the images. That is, not all apocalyptic images in Revelation are created equal. As Christian readers of this ( I believe) Christian text, we have to order our images Christianly or, better, align our ordering of them with the ordering of the book of Revelation itself. That is to say, images of God as liberator, warrior, judge, etc. have all been re-imaged and reconstituted by the coming, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The slaughtered Lamb is the central and centering image of the book, and through it we see God’s liberation, warfaring, and judgment quite differently, to put it mildly, than we would without it. Similar controlling images appear elsewhere in the NT.

In Revelation, this means that the conquering Jesus is a warrior who sheds his own blood, not that of others. He conquers with words, not literal swords. And his disciples are expected to follow suit on both counts.

Thus as Christians we affirm God as liberator, warrior, and judge, but only as those images are scrutinized by the cross. That is because we believe with Paul that the cross is in fact the ultimate theophany and, with the early church, that crux est mundi medicina: the cross is the medicine of the world—and of the church. Which is why the church’s mission and its cruciform existence—or its misguided belligerent crusading—always go hand in hand.

Paul and Violence?

Friday, July 17th, 2009

In my new book on Paul, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, I have a chapter arguing against the idea that Paul had a violent personality and for Paul as peacemaker and practitioner of nonviolence—which, I argue, is rooted in Paul’s gospel and especially in the resurrection.

A sympathetic and astute reader of the book, Brad, posed some very interesting and important questions.

One particular question keeps coming to mind and I was wondering if you would mind giving me your thoughts on it. You do a really nice job of showing in a succinct and compelling way how the kenotic view of God (and its non-violent implications) does not necessarily conflict with eschatological wrath/judgment, but I am left wondering what exactly Paul might have thought about the images of God as “Divine Warrior” in the OT, especially as this image is used for the sanctioning of nationalistic war (e.g. Joshua and Judges). How do you think Paul would have related these two images of God, kenotic and Warrior? A somewhat related point is that, while Paul does seem to leave the Phinehas understanding of zeal aside in favor of the model of Abraham, Genesis seems to think that a climactic expression of Abraham’s faith was in his willingness to sacrifice his own son (the “Akedah”). Paul apparently is comfortable appropriating the Akedah as a prototype of Christ’s obedience, but how do you think he would have thought about this act of violence as an expression of faith?

[More specifically,] I’m wondering is what Paul would have thought when, so to speak, he picked up Judges and read it: given its Scriptural status I don’t think Paul would have thought that God as Warrior who authorized and even demanded nationalistic military engagement was “not the same” as the God of Jesus Christ (as, e.g. Marcion) or that God had previously acted contrary to his character. So the question I’m thinking through is how would Paul have put together his view of God as fundamentally kenotic with the prior revelations of God as a (nationalistic, militaristic) Warrior who leads his people in battle. Or to put it another way, if God now approaches his enemies in restorative love, it seems that Paul also would have been compelled to acknowledge that in previous times and perhaps also in the future at the eschaton, God had acted on the principle of retributive justice (so sapiential literature, the Deuteronomistic History, etc.) and through the mode of military conquest.

Some of my response to these questions follows:

1. It is clear that Paul (and perhaps also the Pauline tradition, if Ephesians is not by Paul) can occasionally use various forms of military language and images for both God’s and (especially) believers’ life and activity. This language comes from the Scriptures, other Jewish literature, and Roman military life, etc. (Nijay Gupta, finishing a PhD in NT at Durham University in England and now teaching at Ashland Seminary is beginning a study of the last of these three, and that should be interesting.) This Pauline language is fully denationalized and is “theologized,” specifically “apocalypticized”: it is used to describe the conflict between God and/or believers on the one hand, and evil powers, Satan, false gospels and ideologies, etc., on the other. In some sense, believers participate in the divine apocalyptic battle, as in other Jewish literature. But this battle is in no sense actual military combat or physical violence. Nor is this battle a form of “soft violence,” that is, non-lethal coercion. The battle is waged with such weapons as proclamation, prayer, persuastion, and suffering. The use of military imagery may be a bit off-putting to us who are sensitive to its abuse, but it in no way justifies the use of violence. In fact, God is the kenotic warrior! God’s means of initiating and waging the apocayptic battle is to send into the world weapons of righteousness that embody the divine character: the Son, the Spirit, the church.

2. Paul’s rejection of violence is firmly rooted in his gospel, so the question of the Akedah/Abraham’s sacrifice, to which Paul alludes in Romans 8, is also significant. The key to this problem is how Paul views Christ’s death (itself a form of violence, with or without the analogy to the Akedah). For Paul, Christ’s death is both the donation of the Son by the Father and the donation of the Son by the Son himself—a self-donation. It expresses both the love of the Father and the love of the Son. Because of this close and inseparable connection between Father and Son, the Father’s giving of the Son is ultimately an act of self-giving. The Father gives the Beloved, Son, the One who shares in the very divine status of God. Although, of course, Paul does not state this interaction in specifically Trinitarian terms, he does indicate the deep self-involvement of the Father in the giving of the Son by the use of the reflexive pronoun iin Rom 8:3 and the parallel adjective idiou in Rom 8:32—God’s own son. To put it in theological language that Miroslav Volf and others have used, Paul sees the atonement fundamentally as a two-party “transaction,” not a “three-party” transaction. That is, God in/through Christ (one party) lovingly reconciles the world (second party) through Christ’s incarnation and death, rather than God (one party) sending and punishing Christ (second party) in Christ’s death so that the world/believers (third party) do not have to die.

3. I struggle theologically with the freedom of God/constrained by his own character of love. But I am very leary of the hint of divine change (e.g. from OT to NT) or the perception of divine change (e.g. “progressive revelation”). Paul would absolutely say that the “God of the OT” is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is not Marcion. So, how might Paul read those bloody narratives? I think he would read them, and did read them (as seen in his “apocalypticizing” or “spiritualizing” [I hate that term] of the divine warrior tradition), allegorically, as did Origen, though Origen did so with a different allegorical strategy. I am not trying to say that Paul and Origen were thoroughgoing hermeneutical brothers, only that violence drew them both to some form of allegorical interpretation.

4. On the practical side, it seems to me that Rom 13:1-7 does not sanction believers’ participation in anything that contradicts the explicit exhortations in the context (all of Rom 12 and 13). That passage is a very Jewish nod to established authority, but the sword it approves is not the sword of the soldier. My point is primarily that, given all the interpretations of Rom 13 out there, no interpretation can be valid that allows Christians to violate the explicit command, for instance, to love enemies. So even if one concludes that 13:1-7 says God installs governments to carry out violence when necessary, Rom 12 and Rom 13:8ff prohibit believers from doing so. Which means either one goes the path of Luther (bifurcating the individual into two roles) or one becomes Anabaptist theologically if not ecclesially). Facing this heremeneutical and existential dilemma, I choose the latter, or perhaps it chooses me.

The Nonviolent Missio Dei (again)

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

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?”

The Nonviolent Missio Dei

Friday, June 26th, 2009

A number of people, not least John Howard Yoder and Richard Hays, have made the case that the NT does not give support to Christian participation in violence but, rather, leads us to practice nonviolence. Glen Stassen and others argue rightly that hearing the NT as a call to nonviolence alone is insufficient, and that we must also practice just peacemaking.

I am not disputing either of these claims and would in fact support them. Without going back and looking at each of their writings in detail, I would also add that each also says, implicitly or explicitly, that the mission or story of God is in fact a mission/story of nonviolent action centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If we think, then, of participating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—that is, of participating in the story and mission of God—as the goal of human existence and the meaning of salvation, then nonviolence is not a matter to discuss or debate as one of so many possible topics in Christian ethics. Rather, it is at the very heart of what it means to be Christian, to be saved, to be a disciple.

Over at Getting Free, T has a brief but excellent post about this very topic: “The Cross and the Plot-line of our Time.” He says:

If this is a Story that we’re in, then the plot of how good beats evil in this world must be central to it. From what I can tell from the New Testament, generous love for people who are (currently) agents of evil (even to the point of giving one’s blood or money in love) is the central strategy of God in this plot line.

If T is right, and I think he is “spot on,” then the way Tom Wright and others tell the story of God in five acts (creation through recreation/redemption) needs to be more carefully articulated with an emphasis on God’s nonviolent, nonretaliatiory enemy love that is the central act of the story.

I wonder if Rev. Pagano and friends (see previous post) have thought about this? What’s the story of God they believe in and tell week in and week out?

T (and I) welcome responses there or here.

It’s Bring-Your-Gun-to-Church Day!

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Maybe you’ve seen this: one of my students passed along this article about an Assemblies of God church in Louisville that is sponsoring a bring-your-firearms-to-church event (not a worship service… or is it?). An excerpt follows:

[Rev. Ken] Pagano [the pastor] is a former Marine and currently a volunteer chaplain for the Louisville Metro Police Department (where he does not carry a weapon). Taking a break from a shift at the indoor gun range where he works one day a week, Pagano tells TIME that he’s an avid sport shooter and a proponent of responsible gun ownership. Despite criticism for co-mingling guns and religion, he stands by his view that Christians are called on to be prepared to defend themselves and their families. “Pacifism is optional for Christians,” says Pagano. “It’s not a requirement.”

(“Pacifism” is not really the issue here, Rev. Pagano.)

Fortunately:

Some locals opposed to Pagano have planned an alternative rally, “Bring Your Peaceful Heart … Leave Your Gun at Home,” which is scheduled to coincide with the New Bethel [Rev. Pagano's church] event.

Douglas Campbell on Justification

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Duke professor Douglas Campbell’s much-anticipated new book on Paul’s soteriology, and justification in particular, will soon be out. The title is The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. This HUGE volume (almost 1400 pages!) will be a controversial book, to put it mildly. In substance, Campbell’s overall reading of Paul is very similar to mine, especially as articulated in Inhabiting the Cruciform God, though we do not agree on some major issues and arrive at our conclusions differently and separately.

Here is my blurb for his new book:

Douglas Campbell’s continuation of the quest for Paul’s gospel is a bold exercise in deconstruction and reconstruction. One may disagree with parts of his analysis, or take a somewhat different route to the same destination, but there is no doubt in my mind about his overall thesis: for Paul, justification is liberative, participatory, transformative, Trinitarian, and communal. This is a truly theological and ecumenical work with which all serious students of Paul must now come to terms.

The price is phenomenally low ($60) for the length, and Amazon’s discount is currently 37%.

Campbell uses the word “theosis” at least twice in this book. He also has an argument for nonviolence grounded in Paul. Both of these are of course near and dear to my heart.

Returning to a missional hermeneutic next week.


google