I kinda like Rob Bell. I’ll probably buy his new book when it comes out and read it.
You could hardly go wrong with Brian McLaren’s new book, “A New Kind of Christianity.”
This book is certainly continuing to stir up not only healthy dialogue about important topics of faith, but also controversy in the Christian arena. It seems that there is very little middle-ground of opinion in regards to this book. People tend to either love it or hate it. And like it or not, in Christian circles this book looks to be THE “most talked-about” read of the year.
So, why endorse something that is the source of such controversy? Well, for several reasons:
Lots of people will be talking about this book and the questions that it raises. And make no mistake, they are important questions, no matter what you think are the correct answers. These are the questions of 21st century Christianity; questions of both those inside and outside the mainstream church today. Whether you realize it or not, you will be a part of this discussion. In fact, your voice will help shape this discussion.
And let me suggest that you actually read what is being stated by this intriguing side of the discussion. I have and will continue to read many disparaging comments and blogs about Brian McLaren’s view from people who disagree with his answers, which by the way is just part of the healthy dialogue. But, what is not healthy is that many of the people on the opposite side of the debate have not actually read McLaren’s books.
“That Brian McLaren has really gone off the deep end. I think he’s dangerous.”
“Have you read his book?”
“No, but I’ve heard he said such and such.”
Maybe we ought to be a bit more informed as we enter this discussion. Whether it is McLaren or MacArthur, maybe we should actually LISTEN to what they have to say and the context in which they say it before we criticize them. In fact, while you may disagree with either person in many areas, you may find some common ground as well. Or perhaps even more importantly, you may disagree with the conclusions, but may find a respectful appreciation for the spirit of the person and their questions.
In a recent interview, McLaren makes a case for this in responding to the way people easily dismiss his questions as “liberal” without considering his possibly more complex stance:
“I wouldn’t want to overlook the many ways in which my proposals differ from traditional liberal theology. My attitudes and commitments regarding Jesus, the Holy Spirit, scripture, spiritual experience, institutionalism, personal commitment and conversion, evangelism and discipleship, and many other subjects make many of my liberal friends think of me as conservative. Sometimes I wonder if evangelicals simply use the word “liberal” as a way to say, “Let’s stop listening to this person. He’s too different from us, and so is not worth our time and attention.” I hope that’s not the case, but sometimes, this is what I feel like when evangelicals use “the L word.”
For me, liberal is not automatically a bad word. If liberal means free from tyranny, I’m for it. If liberal means generous, I’m for it. If liberal means believing that our best days are ahead of us, I’m for it. If liberal means welcoming honest questions and giving honest scholarship a fair hearing, I’m for it. If, on the other hand, liberal means without restraint, or careless about tradition, or dismissive of scripture, or institutional and lukewarm regarding commitment to Christ, and so on, then I wouldn’t want to be associated with that. And we could say parallel things about the word conservative.”
Huh, maybe he’s not as crazy as people say. But, that’s not important. You don’t have to agree with McLaren, but maybe we should give him a fair-hearing (or rather reading). It may be that he is not as “off-the-deep-end” as we think. Or even if he is, that he is at least still committed to the best of his mental and reasoning ability to Jesus, if only incorrect.
What I like best about this book is that it forces us to wrestle with concepts we take for granted and THINK. Controversy can only exist where people are seriously grasping and thinking and reasoning. And in that way, a healthy dose of controversy is probably very good for the modern church.
I work with high school students on a regular basis, and by far my greatest goal in my time with them is not to give them all the answers. Do I want them to have good answers? Of course. But more importantly, I want them to learn HOW to question, HOW to find good answers. I want to help them learn HOW to THINK. Many more questions will come up in their lives long after I am gone, and I’d rather they learned how to critically think about those questions sure-to-come in the future rather than just have some spoon-fed responses from me about the ones they are asking right now.
Ironically, many high schoolers I know are better at wrestling with questions and learning to think than a lot of adults. And maybe that is a bigger problem in our churches today than we’d care to admit. We just don’t think for ourselves. We’ve accepted long-held answers (many of which might be correct, by the way) to many old questions (some of which people aren’t asking anymore) without ever thinking it through ourselves. We are lazy. Lazy theologically. Lazy mentally.
This has direct consequences for our witness to the world. Because while we are busy being content with answers to questions we’ve never genuinely asked ourselves, the rest of the world is actively and honestly seeking answers. The church is irrelevant because by and large we can’t speak authentically to these questions. We appear to be a second-hand, consignment store of truth because we are primarily selling the “hand-me-down responses” of generations before us rather than doing the hard work of wrestling with the deeper questions and making sense of them in this time and context for ourselves.
Consider just these few questions: How is the Bible unique and why should it apply to my life? What makes the Bible authoritative in my life? How do I know it is the “Word of God?” What does it mean that it was “inspired?” What in the Bible is culturally-conditioned for people at the time of it’s writing and what is a universal-truth that applies to me? How do I know the difference? Can I know the difference? Is there a difference?
While just the tip of the proverbial ice-berg, these questions alone go a long way in helping answer modern dilemmas such as human sexuality, the character of God, the purpose of Jesus, social justice, and other ethical considerations.
Some will agree with the conclusions of the author and others will not. But no matter what you think of McLaren’s answers, what is undisputable is that these questions need to be asked. Or rather, these questions are already being asked by many people (friends, family, co-workers) around us. McLaren is not by far the first person to ask these questions, but he is suggesting that rather than dismissing the people who ask them maybe we ought to spend some time struggling with them as well and as a community “led by the Spirit” recalibrating the answers to this time and in our current context.
As McLaren says:
“That’s why, in the end, I hope people will actually read the book with an open heart and mind. I’m not expecting that anyone will agree with everything — that’s not my point. But I am hoping that people will be stimulated to think, and maybe even to dream of better possibilities … so the Christianity of the future can continue to learn and grow and not simply repeat the past or be stuck in the present.”
Is it dangerous to read a book that challenges things that you believe and causes you to ask some rather unsettling questions about your core beliefs? Possibly. But far more dangerous for the church today is not reading these books and not asking these inquiries.
So go ahead and risk it. It’s okay to hang up the “under-construction: please come back later” sign on your theology for the weekend. Pick up the book and let it mess you up a little bit. Be okay to let the questions move you to a place of uncertainty for a while. Inhale the ambiguity and breathe deep the tension of inquisition.
It may be that once the smoke and fog has cleared you find yourself with some “real” answers. Or at the very least, a greater understanding & compassion for and a stronger, more respected voice into the life of seekers around you.
It could be the church will be healthier for the controversy.
“What is the Christian response to healthcare reform?”
Facebook & Twitter are great for those kind of trap questions, aren’t they?
An incredibly complex topic (does anyone really know all the ramifications of reforming or not reforming?) about a controversial American bill (does anyone really know everything that is in this thing?) and you’ve got 140-characters to concisely explain the Bible’s definitive view (does anyone really know what 1st century Jesus & his disciples would actually think about 21st century American healthcare?) on something you’re really not sure about. Hahaha… classic.
And yet, I’ve found myself answering this and a bunch of similar questions online a lot this week. Really, they are the questions I’ve been asking in my head too, struggling to formulate an opinion. Questions like:
“What is the Christian view of healthcare reform?”
I’ve read literally dozens of articles and blogs in recent days seeking to answer this very question. Some people say that when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” that he had this type of idea in mind: a society that progresses and values those who have more giving to those who have less. Jesus, they say, would be all for this type of bill.
Other people use the same quote from Jesus to explain that he meant uncoerced, self-sacrificial love, not compelled assistance of those around us. Jesus, they say, was not discussing government intervention, but individual generosity. Clearly, Jesus would be against this type of bill.
“What would Jesus say about healthcare reform?”
He’d love it! He’d hate it! He compels us to support it! He demands we reject it! The views out there are strong, compelling and fairly exhaustive.
I can literally scroll through the newsfeed on Facebook and place people into their camp. I read status updates like:
“healthcare reform is a sign of the end times.”
“win for Jesus, as healthcare reform passes.”
“I’m moving to Canada…wait… ughhhh”
“should we rename Reagan International Airport after Obama or Pelosi?”
I mean, who needs a USAToday poll about what people think when I can just read it on Twitter?
Now, of course, everyone’s got an opinion. I myself have an opinion. But, it turns out that Jesus has the same opinion we do too. Whether we are pro-reform bill or anti-reform bill, it appears that Jesus is too. We quote Jesus and explain our correct theology and justify why Jesus is on our side and not on the other. But the reality is, either Jesus has gone schizophrenic or we have. And one way or the other, God has some serious mental illness in his family.
“What do YOU think about healthcare reform?”
Maybe that’s a better question. I’m not trying to ride the fence here and take the easy way out. I’m not gonna say I think both sides are right and try and appease everyone. I definitely have an opinion on this topic (however ill-informed it may be). But, let me just OWN it. It’s my opinion. I don’t know what Jesus thinks. My politics aren’t necessarily Jesus’ politics.
I formulate opinions based off what I believe to be true about Jesus, but as with many things in life, I operate out of faith and in environments where I don’t see clearly. I stumble through decisions and opinions, praying they reflect Jesus heart, but sometimes unsure; many times evolving and changing as I learn and grow.
“What does Nick think, right now, about healthcare reform?”
I’m in favor of this healthcare reform. I think its good for a whole lot of reasons that many other people have at great length explained. But, I’m not writing this to convince you to agree with me or to argue that Jesus does. In fact, I’m hesitant to say what I really think for fear it will come across that way. I’m only saying what I think to show I’m not neutral. I have an opinion.
But, it’s MY opinion. I don’t speak for Jesus when it comes to politics. No one does.
Does Jesus have a strong opinion about healthcare reform? Maybe. But, he hasn’t ever told it to me. I have absolutely zero words from Jesus (in the Bible or audible discussion) addressing the specific topic of the American healthcare system in 2010. Everything I think and endorse in this arena is at best my limited view of what I “think” Jesus would approve of, and I’m completely open to thinking that possibly Jesus doesn’t really care one way or the other.
“So, Jesus isn’t on either side?”
Actually, I think it is a bit more profound than that. Jesus is on BOTH sides.
As I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed I see many good people that I call “friends” outside a computer screen who deeply love and try to follow Jesus. And as I divide them into their pro and anti reform bill categories, it occurs to me that I don’t have the market on Jesus any more than they do.
My anti-reform bill friends are trying their best in their experiential framework of life to reflect Jesus in the same way that I am with my framework. We both agree that Jesus says, “Love your neighbors as yourself,” we just have different conclusions about what that looks like in Seattle, Washington in 2010.
When I claim Jesus is on my side, I’m right. But so are they.
Will we ever agree on American politics? Probably not. But maybe we don’t need too. Maybe we just don’t need to make Jesus agree with us either.
How many Owner’s Manuals have you actually read all the way through?
Yea, me either. In fact, I’ve got a whole drawer full of owner’s manuals that we keep in case we need them. If it was up to me, I would have thrown most of them away long ago. But, my wife is much smarter and more thorough than I am and keeps them filed in case the dishwasher ever breaks down and we need the document that tells us how to fix it. (Not that I could do it anyway).
So, they sit in a file. They don’t help me with my day-to-day life. Most days I forget they are even there. They are just kind of an emergency reference I can pull fix-it info from if things don’t go as planned with appliances I take for granted.
In a similar way, I often treat my Bible that way too. As a teenager, many well-meaning people told me that my Bible was like the Owner’s Manual of my life. It told me what to do, what not to do and how to fix what was wrong. And while there is certainly some direction in these areas, I have discovered in reading the book that its description as a Manual is quite poor. The collection of material in Scripture is much more complex than this.
What’s more, this view of the Bible has lead to me treating it like a Manual. Most often, I’ve left it filed in the drawer, inapplicable to my daily life, ready to pull out and scan for a nugget of “fix-it” advice when necessary. Too easily the manual is left unread or if finally read, read poorly, too simplistically and ripped out its natural context and applied incorrectly.
In this second interview with www.theooze.tv, Brian McLaren speaks briefly about how we might re-frame our view of Scripture. Instead of the metaphor of a Manual, he employs the picture of a legal-document (or constitution), which is another common well-meaning but misguided view of the Bible.
Just another addition to his new book, “A New Kind of Christianity.” A good source of enough thought-provoking material to open a dialogue. Watch the video and leave a comment to join the conversation.
Well, our friends at the conversation-starting website: www.theooze.tv are currently doing a video series with Brian McLaren about his new book: “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith”.
Each video features McLaren discussing one of the specific questions raised in his book. And, due to the subject matter, I’m sure there will be much conversation generated! And really that is the goal. There may be more than one thing that you find yourself at odds with him about, but according to McLaren himself, these questions:
“are not intended as a smash in tennis, delivered forcefully with a lot of topspin, in an effort to win the game and create a loser. Rather, they are offered as a gentle serve or lob; their primary goal is to start the interplay, to get things rolling, to invite your reply. Remember, our goal is not debate and division yielding hate or a new state, but rather questioning that leads to conversation and friendship on the new quest.”
So, here is the first of these videos. It discusses briefly, McLaren’s first few chapters on the “storyline” of the Bible and how to properly frame our picture of Jesus. Give it a quick view (less than 5 minutes) and feel free to comment here on your thoughts or go to www.theooze.tv and watch them all as they become available.
Books have been boring lately. Well, maybe it’s not the books. But, it just seems like nothing has piqued my interest too much in things I’ve been reading. Until recently…
I picked up Brian McLaren’s new book, “A New Kind of Christianity” last week.
And while I usually enjoy reading his books, I found that this new book has put excellent words to thoughts I have been thinking and even blogging about here for quite a while.
I’m still processing some of his thoughts, but i was especially drawn to McLaren’s focus on the supremacy and centrality of Christ in our understanding of God. This is something that I have argued for many times, especially in our discussion of non-violence.
(to read my related post–“God’s Character in Reverse”– click here)
Here is how McLaren explains it:
“The Quaker scholar Elton Trueblood approached the Bible this way. One of Trueblood’s students told me that he often heard his mentor say something like this: “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.”
In other words, the doctrines of the incarnation and deity of Christ are meant to tell us that we cannot start with a pre-determined, set-in-stone idea of God derived from the rest of the Bible, and then extend that to Jesus. Jesus is not intended merely to fit into those pre-determined categories; he is intended instead to explode them, transform them, alter them forever and bring us to a new evolutionary level in our understanding of God. An old definition of God does not define Jesus: the experience of God in Jesus requires a new brand definition or understanding of God.
Trueblood’s insight, in my opinion, is the best single reason to be identified as a believer in Jesus, and it is an unspeakably precious gift that can be offered to people of all faiths. The character of Jesus, we proclaim, provides humanity with a unique and indispensable guide for tracing the development of maturing images and concepts of God across human history and culture. It is the North Star, if you will, to aid all people, whatever their religious background, in their theological pilgrimage. The images of God that most resemble Jesus – whether they originate in the Bible or elsewhere – are the more mature and complete images, and the ones less similar to the character of Jesus would be the more embryonic and incomplete – even though they may be celebrated for being better than the less complete images they replaced.
This is why we cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through the Bible (especially the Bible read as a constitution, or cut and pasted to fit in the Greco-Roman six-line narrative). Rather, we can say that, for Christians, the Bible’s highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God.”
– A New Kind of Christianity, pages 114-115
Very well said. And I don’t think I can over-estimate the importance of this placing of Jesus as the central focus of the question: “what God is actually like.” It is maybe the most singularly critical aspect of our faith that I think we need restored today.
This is a very, very crucial discussion that has implications for all aspects of the Christian life. And, I’m glad to see other people chiming in on this most important component of how we see and understand God. I would highly encourage you to pick up this book today and give it a read. You may not agree with everything, but it will certainly challenge you to stretch your conception of God.
I think I’m in the 80th percentile of nose length for humans.
Okay, maybe 85 percent . . . I’m definitely helping bring up the average.
So, you can imagine my excitement as I see my daughter grow up and realize that I think she’s inherited her mother’s genes for that particular part of her facial structure. Either that or my genes have just been diluted with the smaller nose genes of my wife, which has some how diminished the long-nose genes I was contributing. Kind of like going on a long, healthy run and then indulging in a deliciously caloric Chick-Fil-A binge; they just cancel each other out.
Or, Paytyn is adopted. But, if that’s true, I wanna know what that heck that thing was I saw come out in the delivery room!
Anyway, it seems as though my daughter is not inheriting at least one unfortunate part of my physical makeup. Now she just needs to find good teeth, sturdy tendons and a little more height from some other branch in our family tree.
It’s funny the things that we pass onto our kids, isn’t it? I was watching Paytyn laugh and play the other day, her golden curls bouncing in her face and her eyes alight with joy and I could see in her face the beautiful outline of her mom. In other moments I see the slightest resemblance to her Nana (grandma). And, I’m told that she has a certain sarcastic expression that looks like me (figures).
She is made in our likeness.She looks like us. But not exactly. Paytyn is a strangely inimitable mixture of my features and the elegant characteristics of my bride. And that’s the thing about “likeness,” it’s not a photocopy. It’s a likeness. She looks like each of us, at various moments, but at the same time she is her own unique recipe of person. Like a blend of coffee that tastes so familiar and yet has traces of flavor you can’t quite place.
So, in the first book of the Bible, the writer records that God made us in His likeness.
“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.’”
Created in the “likeness” of God.
Think about that for a moment. Every one of us carries in us some sort of divine imprint or substance. We are made of God-stuff. From day one, we are inherently birth-marked by the beauty and goodness of the Creator. Knowingly or not, we exist and move and breathe with what amounts to the DNA of God that gives us life. It is with God that all our genetic material finds its origin and it is His genes that flow freely through all the family trees of humanity.
Try remembering that next time you feel ordinary. To be human is to truly be more than just a mundane collage of cells, but to be made in the image and likeness of God.
We are not God. He is unique and strange and wonderful. But we are “like” Him. And His icon in us makes every one of us beautiful, exceptional and invaluable.
Now, my worry for Paytyn is not this amazingly divine heritage, but her more earthly one. Because you see, it’s not just that she inherits the “likeness” of God in her genetic makeup, but also the “likeness” of me in many areas of her life and personality. Read the very next verse in Genesis:
“When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.”
For better or worse, for long or short noses, we also create our kids in our own image. The things that haunt us, often haunt them. The things that plague us, frequently make them sick too. And the many inadvertent examples we live-out become their learned patterns for life.
You can be sure that Adam already knew this. Because of Adam’s big mistake, his first two sons learn the art of sin and the one kills the other in the first murder in the Bible. Seth, whose name means “appointed” or “compensation,” is born as a “replacement” for the lost son. Talk about a lot of pain and hurt to inherit.
Made in the image of God, but born into the fallen pattern of Adam.
Such a strange mixture of beauty and tragedy we all are. Like an otherwise beautiful and healthy body that is dying from cancer. We are like God. But, we are also like Adam. At least for now.
Often times now, I find myself wondering which Paytyn will inherit from me more. The beautiful goodness and compassion of God? Or the messed up, mistake-driven selfish patterns of me?
You see, I know God is re-making me. Almost as if He is, through Jesus, working to re-write the uncorrupted file of His DNA back into my life. For though I am made in the “likeness” of God, Hebrews states that Jesus is the son who is:
“the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation (image) of his being.”
Jesus isn’t the “likeness” of God, He is EXACTLY GOD. He is the purest expression of God.
And though he is working to help me unlearn patterns of my selfishness, I still struggle in my paradox; struggle that will inevitably bleed into the inheritance of my daughter. I just hope that Paytyn grows up seeing the incredible progress He is making in me and not just all my mistakes along the way.
Though I will try my best, unfortunately for Paytyn, she might have been better off with a long nose than some of those other characteristics I’m sure to pass on.
Somebody asked me the other day, “So does your daughter look more like you or Tania?” And really, I’m not sure. There seems to be a good compliment of us both in her.
I guess until she gets a little older we won’t know for sure which nose she actually inherited. I don’t know which of us she’ll end up looking like more.
But, just between us, I pray she looks a lot more like God than either of us.
“One more kisses?”
Laying on her back with her blanket tucked up under her chin and a smirk on her face, my 21-month old daughter confidently asks the question she knows will postpone bedtime.
“One more kisses?”
It happens at the same time each night. I put her in the jammies with the pink hearts on front, help her brush her teeth, turn on her night light, start her lullaby music, rock her in the chair, read a story and pray with her. And then, to complete the daily routine, I lay her down in her bed and pile her animals and blanket around her.
All the right people are present. The old school version of Pooh Bear is there. So is the fluffy, white bear that I named “Bernard” but Paytyn decided should be called “Meman” instead. And, of course, the blanket. Each is an essential member of the bedtime routine.
I kiss her goodnight. I run my fingers through her hair and tell her I love her and to sleep well (and secretly pray it will be late into the morning).
And as I walk away, knowing she is waiting for just the perfect timing, I reach the bedroom door about to leave and I hear a delicate voice….
“One more kisses?”
Here is our final guest-blog of the “Jesus & Non-violence” series. I’ll be following up with some concluding remarks in a few days.
I’m grateful for Dr. Gregory Boyd allowing me to post this excellent article on a topic that is often brought up in this discussion. It relates to the worst-case scenario that few in our country face, but that of course we must answer, as many of our brothers and sisters face it on a daily basis.
“What happens if someone breaks into your house and tries to kill your family? Would you protect them by any means necessary, even if it meant killing the intruder?”
Worst-case scenario, to be sure. Not a question any of us hopes to have to answer in a way other than theoretical. And though I’m not sure any of us knows how we would truly act in such a stressful and difficult circumstance, Dr. Boyd gives us glimpse into how we might uphold Jesus’ Kingdom value of “non-violence” even in a Kobayashi Maru.
The New Testament commands us never to “repay evil with evil” but instead to “overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:17; cf. I Thess 5:15; I Pet 3:9).
Jesus said, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”(Mt 5:39).
He also said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6:27-28).
The teaching seems pretty straightforward, yet this very straightforwardness presents us with a dilemma.
On the one hand, we who confess Jesus as Lord don’t want to say that Jesus and other New Testament authors are simply off their rockers in telling us not to resist evildoers, to repay evil with good, to love our enemies and to do pray for and bless people who mistreat us. If our confession of faith means anything, we have to take this teaching very seriously.
On the other hand, we have to frankly admit that it’s very hard to take this teaching seriously when it comes to extreme situations like having to protect ourselves and our family from an intruder. Not only would most of us resist an evildoer in this situation, killing him if necessary, but most of us would see it as immoral if we didn’t use violence to resist such an evildoer. How can refusing to protect your family by any means be considered moral? Isn’t it more loving, and thus more ethical, to protect your family at all costs?
How do we resolve this dilemma? It helps somewhat to remember that the word Jesus uses for “resist” (antistenai) doesn’t imply passively allowing something to take place. It rather connotes resisting a forceful action with a similar forceful action. Jesus is thus forbidding responding to violent action with similar violent action. He’s teaching us not to take on the violence of the one who is acting violently toward us. He’s teaching us to respond to evil in a way that is consistent with loving them. But he’s not by any means saying do nothing.
Still, the teaching is problematic, for most of us would instinctively use, and feel justified using, violence to protect our family from an intruder if necessary.
The most common way people resolve this dilemma is by convincing ourselves that the “enemies” Jesus was referring to are not our enemies – e.g. people who attack our family (or our nation, or our standard of living, etc…. ). Jesus must have been referring to “other kinds” of enemies, less serious enemies, or something of the sort. We tell ourselves that when violence is justified – as in “just war” ethics – Jesus’ teachings do not apply. This approach allows us to feel justified, if not positively “Christian,” killing intruders and bombing people who threaten our nation — so long as we are nice to our occasionally grumpy neighbors. Unfortunately, this common-sensical interpretation makes complete nonsense of Jesus’ teaching.
The whole point of Jesus’ teaching is to tell disciples that their attitude toward “enemies” should be radically different from others. “If you do good to those who do good to you,” Jesus added, “what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Lk 6:32). Everybody instinctively hates those who hate them and believes they are justified killing people who might kill them or their loved ones. In contrast to this, Jesus is saying: “Be radically different.”
This is why Jesus (and Paul) didn’t qualify the “enemies” or “evildoers” he taught us to love and not violently oppose. Jesus didn’t say, “Love your enemies until they threaten you; until it seems justified to resort to violence; or until it seems impractical to do so.” Enemies are enemies precisely because they threaten us on some level, and it always feels justified and practically expedient to resist them, if not harm them if necessary. Jesus simply said, “love your enemies” and “don’t resist evildoers” – and note, some of the people he was speaking to would before long confront “enemies” who would feed them and their families to lions for amusement.
The teaching could not be more radical and as kingdom people we have to take it seriously. At the same time, what do we do with the fact that most of us know we would not take it seriously, let alone obey it, in extreme situations like our family coming under attack?
As with all of Jesus’ teachings, it’s important to place this teaching in the broader context of Jesus’ kingdom ministry. Jesus’ teachings aren’t a set of pacifistic laws people are to merely obey, however unnatural and immoral they seem. Rather, his teachings are descriptions of what life in the domain in which God is king looks like and prescriptions for how we are to cultivate this alternative form of living. In other words, Jesus isn’t saying: “As much as you want to resist an evildoer and kill your enemy, and as unnatural and immoral as it seems, act loving toward him.” He’s rather saying: “Cultivate the kind of life where loving your enemy becomes natural for you.” He’s not merely saying, “Act different from others”; he’s saying, “Be different from others.” This is simply what it means to cultivate a life that looks like Jesus, dying on a cross for the people who crucified him.
How does this insight help address our dilemma? A person who lived with the “normal” tit-for-tat kingdom-of-the-world mindset would instinctively resort to violence to protect himself and his family. Loving his attacker and doing good to him would be the farthest thing from his mind. As with the Jerusalem that Jesus wept over, the “things that make for peace” would be “hidden from [his] “eyes.” (Lk 19:41-42). Indeed, from this kingdom-of-the-world perspective, Jesus’ teaching seems positively absurd.
But how might a person who cultivated a non-violent, kingdom-of-God mindset and lifestyle on a daily basis respond differently to an attacker? How might a person who consistently lived in Christ-like love (Eph 5:1-2) operate in this situation?
For one thing, such a person would have cultivated the kind of character and wisdom that wouldn’t automatically default to self-protective violence. Because he would genuinely love his enemy, he would have the desire to look for, and the wisdom to see, any non-violent alternative to stopping his family’s attacker if one was available. He would want to do “good” to his attacker. This wouldn’t be a matter of him trying to obey an irrational rule that said, “look for an alternative in extreme situations.” In extreme situations, no one is thinking about obeying rules! Rather, it would be in the Christ-like nature of this person to see non-violent alternatives if they were present. This person’s moment-by-moment discipleship in love would have given him a Christ-like wisdom that a person whose mind was conformed to the pattern of the tit-for-tat world would not have (Rom. 12:2). Perhaps he’d see that pleading with, startling, or distracting the attacker would be enough to save himself and his family. Perhaps he’d discern a way to allow his family to escape harm by placing himself in harm’s way.
Not only this, but this person’s day-by-day surrender to God would have cultivated a sensitivity to God’s Spirit that would enable him to discern God’s leading in the moment, something the “normal” kingdom-of-the-world person would be oblivious to. This Christ-like person might be divinely led to say something or do something that would disarm the attacker emotionally, spiritually, or even physically.
For example, I heard of a case in which a godly woman was about to be sexually assaulted. Just as she was being pinned to the ground with a knife to her throat, she out of nowhere said to her attacker, “Your mother forgives you.” She had no conscious idea where the statement came from. What she didn’t know was that her attacker’s violent aggression toward women was rooted in a heinous thing he had done as a teenager to his now deceased mother. The statement shocked the man and quickly reduced him to a sobbing little boy.
The woman seized the opportunity to make an escape and call the police who quickly apprehended the man in the park where the attack took place. He was still there, sobbing. The man later credited the woman’s inspired statement with being instrumental in his eventual decision to turn his life over to Christ. The point is that, in any given situation, God may see possibilities for non-violent solutions we cannot see and a person who has learned to “live by the Spirit” is open to being led by God in these directions (Gal. 5:16, 18).
Not only this, but a person who has cultivated a kingdom-of-God outlook on life would have developed the capacity to assess this situation from an eternal perspective. Having made Jesus her example on a moment-by-moment basis, she would know — not just as a “rule,” but as a heart felt reality — the truth that living in love is more important than life itself. Her values would not be exhaustively defined by temporal expediency. Moreover, she would have cultivated a trust in God that would free her from defining “winning” and “losing” in terms of temporal outcomes. She would have confidence in the resurrection. As such, she would be free from the “preserve my interests at all costs” mindset of the world.
Of course, it’s possible that, despite a person’s loving wisdom and openness to God, a man whose family was attacked might see no way to save himself and his family except to harm the attacker, or even to take his life. What would such a person do in this case? I think it is clear from Jesus’ teachings, life and especially his death that Jesus would choose non-violence. So, it seems to me that a person who was totally conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who had thoroughly cultivated a kingdom mind and heart, would do the same.
At the same time, I have to frankly confess that I’m not sure this is what I’d do in this situation. Indeed, I have to honestly admit that, like most people, I don’t yet quite see how it would be moral to do what I believe Jesus would do. Yet, I have to assume that my disagreement with Jesus is due to my not having sufficiently cultivated a kingdom heart and mind. If I felt I had to harm or take the life of another to prevent what clearly seemed to be a greater evil, I could not feel righteous or even justified about it. Like Bonhoeffer who, despite his pacifism, plotted to assassinate Hitler, I could only plead for God’s mercy.
What we must never do, however, is acquiesce to our present, non-kingdom, spiritual condition by rationalizing away Jesus’ clear kingdom prescriptions. We must rather strive every moment of our life to cultivate the kind of mind and heart that increasingly sees the rightness and beauty of Jesus’ teachings and thus that would naturally respond to an extreme, threatening situation in a loving, non-violent manner.
Boyd, G. The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan, 2007)
Brimlow, R. What About Hitler? (Brazos, 2006)
Yoder, J. What Would You Do? (Herald, rev. ed. 1992).
We’ve only got a little bit more to go in our discussion of non-violence, though really the conversation could continue for quite a while. I’ve got another guest-blog on the way and some concluding remarks of my own. I appreciate your willingness to stay with this topic through the dog-days of summer. Hopefully you’ve found something here that is helpful or interesting.
Today, though, I just got home from vacation and read an interesting news story and then blog and thought it was worth mentioning if you aren’t aware of it. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) was discussing this last week the role of homosexual congregants in church and leadership at their convention in Minnesota. Coinciding with this conference, a few tornadoes appeared in the area causing damage to parts of the city.
As commentary to these two events, John Piper (who I’m not a huge fan of for a whole list of theological reasons) wrote a blog entry proclaiming it as the divine judgment of God. It is as irresponsible and backward a commentary as you can imagine, but you need to read it for context.
Now, while I have read multiple other blogs from a wide variety of writers addressing Mr. Piper’s thoughts, our last guest-blogger, Dr. Gregory Boyd, wrote an excellent response. In fact, he sums up my own feelings on the events so well, I’d like to direct you to his blog. If you aren’t already a reader of his blog, you will want to add it to your favorites.
You can read Greg’s blog response HERE.
Anyway, check out the story and the blogs. Very interesting conversation. And incidentally, it is vaguely related to our non-violence discussion, though it deals with more the idea of whether God Himself uses “physical violence” to achieve His own means rather than our mandate to use it or not.
We’ll finish the rest of our non-violence discussion over the next few days. Have a great end of the summer!