Thursday, November 10, 2005

Jesus and Redemptive Violence

I have a list of blogs I check every day. Some represent where I have been theologically, and some reflect the direction in which I am moving at the moment. One blog, Pyromaniac, which is definitely "old school" me, keeps me abreast of debates raging in the Reformed evangelical world. It is one of the spiffiest looking blogs around, and while I almost never agree with the musings of its author, Phil Johnson, I have picked up some interesting reading ideas from what is routinely condemned. One book mentioned often, with much opprobrium, is Steve Chalke's The Lost Message of Jesus. So I bought it and found it a mildly interesting, highly redacted depiction of Christ as a loving, welcoming Messiah. No anger, no big stick, no hell-talk.

It wasn't until I came to chapter seven, "A New Agenda," that my interested was peaked. Chalke writes about how repentance is more than regret, confession, and a resolution to "never to do that again." Repentance is a call to follow Jesus into the shalom of God, that is, the abundant life of communion with God in Christ (John 10:10). In Chalke's words, "It is a calling to something rather than away from something." He then turns to Jesus' words in Matthew 5:48, "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." The word "perfect" (telios, τελίος), describes a copy of something, an exact duplicate. Thus, Chalke translates this passage as, "You must always act like your Father in heaven," which Jesus summarizes as loving God completely and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37).

If repentance means living God's way, it means we must stand against what Walter Wink called the myth of redemptive violence. Early Christians were uniformly pacifists, who were willing to be martyred rather than serve in the military. They were merely following their Lord, who said, "For all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). The early church turned its back on the idea that violence could somehow achieve solutions to societal problems. It was St Augustine, amidst a sea of barbarian invaders, who baptized the idea of the jus bellum, the just war. By that time, Christianity had already "conquered" the Roman Empire, not with swords, but by the blood of the martyrs, and the power of the gospel.

I mention all this because today the body count from Islamic terrorists is once again over 100. The situation in Iraq is not improving, and the mood in America is skittish and dark. We have decided as a nation to confront terrorism with violence, and have reaped only further violence, and the deaths of countless innocents. Chalke mentions Carl Jung's oft-quoted words, "You always become the thing you fight." I fear we will become so frightened of al-Qaeda, and so self-righteous in our political theology (and we do have a political theology: America as a shining light, a city on a hill, manifest destiny, etc.), that we will resort to even more violence and become filled with hate. This is not the way of Christ, the way of repentance, or the way of righteousness, and our so-called Christian leaders should know that.


Blogger homo unius libri said...

One cannot seriously believe that if we were to "turn the other cheek" radical Islam would drop the sword and we could all kiss and make up.

Granted we should be offering a bigger carrot, but we cannot drop the stick.

I believe that Jesus advocated peace-making in an individual context and not a national one. Paul's words in Romans 13 hold weight in that regard.

But then again I'm probably just a product of my "evil" republican genetics...

9:11 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

Tis true we cannot expect our governments to act like the church. But the church can speak to the gov't and say, "Hey, before you fire that bullet..."

There are no evil Republican genes, only evil Republicans. Democrats are a different story, as they seemingly have no genes at all (which would account for their lack of spines).

10:27 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Given that the top players in Al Queda and other terrorist groups have explicitly stated that we need to either become Muslims, be subjugated and pay the jizrah, or be killed, I'm not sure what bigger carrot you can offer them. When the media is around, they say that they fight us because we are in Saudi Arabia (bin Laden's original gripe), now Afghanistan and Iraq, or because we support Israel. But in their own writings, they say that the war is "fundamentally religious... the enmity is based on creed." (bin Laden) and "We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you."(Hussein Massawi)

Just one example of their attitude:

"As for those who cannot offer resistance or cannot fight, such as women, children, monks, old people, the blind, handicapped and their likes, they shall not be killed, unless they actually fight with words [e.g. by propaganda] and acts [e.g. by spying or otherwise assisting in the warefare]. Some [jurists] are of the opinion that all of them may be killed, on the mere ground that they are unbelievers, but they make an exception for woman and children sind they constitute property for Muslims."
--Sheikh Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah, The Religious and Moral Doctrin of Jihad, p28

This has no bearing on whether or not we are called to fight back, of course. I'm just saying that as far as these Islamists are concerned, there is no carrot unless the carrot is total surrender. So if you are a pacifist, your choices are to either give up your faith or become a martyr.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Along with Laura,s great stuff, I would ask how we can claim violence is not redeemable, when God tells us the state doesn't bear the sword *for nothing*. God has given that power.

And I see there's a sword in doulos' hand...

11:30 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...

Romans 13 is not a license for the state to wage war whenever it feels. Nor does that passage, which must be interpreted in light of the Sermon on the Mount, and many other passages, speak to the issue at hand. It is about crime and punishment, and civil order, and not about unilateral invasion of another sovereign nation.

I am not advocating a passaive naivete in the face of Islamist aggression, but I am pointing out how the Islamic world is angry over the policies of rich nations like the U.S., which export much that is offensive to their religious sensibilities, and then compound the problem with military violence. The result of this invasion is a situation far worse than what existed before. Now al Qaeda is in Iraq, and over 2,000 American families have had to bury their dead. Not forgetting the $200+ billion (and rising) costs of this war, money sorely needed by the poor of our nation and in the rest of the world.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I don't want to get too political here - the post was about whether Christians should fight. However I would like to point out that Sheikh Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah wrote those words back in the 13th century. He is the Jonathan Edwards of the Wahhabist movement. He was describing and defining the Islamist attitude LONG before America was ever thought of by anyone on earth, so you can't attribute his attitude to anything we've done.

Other than decisively defeating Wahhabism on the battlefield, wherever that battlefield may be, what do you propose? They say these things, why should I not take them at their word that the war is fundamentally religious and they intend to eliminate us? Moderate muslims are not doing anything to put the brakes on this movement because when you read the Quran, the Wahhabists appear to be intrepreting it correctly and more often than not bring the moderates over to their side.

I don't see a choice other than martyrdom or victory, in the long run. I have wondered, given the news and Matthew's "signs of the times," earthquakes, famine, even the beheadings of Christians worldwide, if all the political arguments aren't simply a distraction from Satan to prevent us from focusing on building up the Kingdom in what may well be the last days. I spend a lot more time watching the news and debating politics than I do immersing myself in the bible, and building relationships that would allow me to witness to others.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

My point was that in rushing to war, we have achieved one of the goals of al-Qaeda, which was to frame the battle as a conflict between the Crusaders/Jews vs. all Islam. Thus, we have given power and credibility to a fringe element in Islam. Instead of working with pro-Western regimes in the Middle East to isolate a radical element of Islam.

Jihadism desires a united Caliphate, not world dominion. They divide the world between what they call "near" and "far" enemies. We are "far" enemies, and our warfare has made heroes of the radical fringe leaders like bin Laden, and helped to spread his version of Islam to the wider Moslem world.

An interesting interview on this subject with Professor Fawaz Gerges on today's Brian Lehrer Show (which can be downloaded at

7:42 PM  

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