Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Reformed Pacifism

Bryan Peters, who runs the Young Evangelical blog, is beginning a series on “Reformed Pacifism.” Bryan is an evangelical American Baptist who considers himself both a Calvinist and a pacifist and is trying to show how the two parts of his identity fit together.  Although I think his definition of the Reformed tradition is too narrow (he rules out such prominent Reformed pacifists as Ellul, Trocme, and Lassere as not part of the main Reformed tradition), the series should be extremely interesting. As I said, I think Bryan construes the tradition too narrowly: Reformed pacifists include Jean-Michel Hornus, Paul Ricoeur, Jacques Martin, Charles Delizy, Eduourd Theis, Henri Roser, G. H. C. MacGregor, D. M. MacKinnon,  G. J. Heering, George A. Buttrick, Nels F. H. Ferre, Maurice McCracken, George H. Hunsinger, Beyers Naude, Allan Boesak, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (U.S.A.), the United Reformed Peace Fellowship (U.K.). Not to mention such Reformed theology bloggers as Kim Fabricius, D.W. Congdon, Ben Myers (I think), Chris of Disruptive Grace, Aric Clark, etc.   But I think Bryan is referring to conservative Calvinists:  Those who see themselves as being able to affirm the Synod of Dordt, or the Westminster Confession, or, perhaps, as the heirs of the Hodges and Warfield.  Even in this narrower definition of “Reformed,” I think there have been more pacifists than Bryan seems to acknowledge in this first post in the series, but the series definitely bears watching closely. Those who are Calvinists and challenge Christian pacifism from within that tradition should pay close attention as should pacifists (especially Anabaptist-influenced folks like myself, or Franciscan or Quaker types) who are suspicious of the Reformed tradition because of its historic opposition to nonviolence, should also follow the series.  It promises to be a very interesting series.

Maybe others from other theological traditions would like to respond:  A Wesleyan argument for pacifism, an Orthodox pacifism, a Processs theology pacifism, Lutheran pacifism, Boston Personalist pacifism, etc.  The Anabaptists and the Quakers and the Franciscans have done this often enough.  I am not convinced that any and all theologies will support gospel nonviolence equally.  But given that the gospel commands of peacemaking are so clear, it would seem that any theology which undermines that must, at least, be in serious need of revision, right?

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May 2, 2007 - Posted by | Baptists, nonviolence, pacifism, Reformation, theology

20 Comments

  1. Well, I am pretty Reformed and also very much a pacifist.

    Comment by Aric Clark | May 2, 2007

  2. In specific, I am attempting to deal with confessional Reformed theology as seen in the symbols such as the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession. Of course, certainly such definitions will always be up for debate. I know that many Presbyterians would scoff at the inclusion of the Second London Baptist Confession as a representation of Reformed confessional theology, and I know that many Reformed Baptists would scoff at my self-identification as as Reformed Baptist since I do not find myself in agreement with the 2nd London Confession’s views on the Sabbath. Nonetheless, my basic intent is to bring the developed covenant theology of the Reformed confessions along with several other distinctive features to bear on the issue of lethal violence under the New Covenant. Thanks for the plug and I’m looking forward to some interesting conversation.

    Comment by Bryan Peters | May 3, 2007

  3. Oh, and my perception is also that such pacifists are “few and far between,” not that they are necessarily nonexistent to this point. Please do help me to find more pacifists that stand within this confessional Reformed tradition and articulate their theology accordingly. I haven’t spent hours perusing Westminster’s archives or anything, so I’m sure that there’s much I have to learn.

    Comment by Bryan Peters | May 3, 2007

  4. I’ll give a pacifist response from a Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement perspective.

    Comment by Thom Stark | May 3, 2007

  5. The 1st London Confesson was modeled on the True Confession of the Calvinistic Congregationalists with additional input from the Puritan theologian William Ames’ The Marrow of Theology, but also with Anabaptist input from Menno Simons’ The Foundation of Christian Doctrine. The 2nd London Confession, the most thoroughly Calvinistic Baptist confession ever, was modeled in great detail on The Westminster Confession, but retained the same Anabaptist influences from The Foundation of Christian Doctrine. Unfortunately, one of the segments of Westminster that the 2nd London Confession took over was specific endorsement of Just War Theory. When that Calvinistic Baptist, Charles Spurgeon tried to get the Baptist Union of Great Britain to adopt a confession (it refused), he used the 2nd London Confession, but dropped the dogmatic endorsement of JWT.

    In the U.S., the 2nd London Confession was the model for the Philadelphia Confession of the Baptists, but the specific, dogmatic, acceptance of JWT was dropped. Later, the milder Calvinism of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith was adopted more widely, itself becoming the model for the Baptist Faith and Message adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925, updated in 1963 and then revised beyond recognition in 1998 and 2000.

    Even confessional Calvinism comes in many different forms: The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, etc. Unfortunately, most of them specifically reject pacifism as “the error of the Anabaptists.” So, a Calvinist pacifist will have to be “liberal” at least to the extent of being willing to break with the confessions at this point. But that means that he or she will not be as creedal as more conservative Calvinists would wish.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 3, 2007

  6. Good historical review and analysis. I’m certainly going to be going outside the confessional heritage at the point of pacifism. The argument will be that the pacifist position is more consistent with the greater confessional theology (and of course, biblical).

    Comment by Bryan Peters | May 3, 2007

  7. Which is the “greater” confessional theology? What is your criteria for determining that?

    Comment by Thom Stark | May 3, 2007

  8. Sorry, I meant the greater scope of confessional theology. In other words, my contention is that the particular affirmation of JWT in the Reformed symbols may be seen to stand at odds with the theology otherwise articulated in these confessions. I’m going to engage some of the foundational structures of Reformed confessionalism, such as covenant theology, the popularized “five points” drawn from the Canons of Dordt, and others.

    Comment by Bryan Peters | May 3, 2007

  9. Very good. I’m looking forward.

    Comment by Thom Stark | May 3, 2007

  10. This is fascinating to me. As an Anglican–and of course my tradition has frequently been accused of being theology-less, and is certainly confession-less–my Christian pacifism is based on Jesus’ teachings and life. It’s never occurred to me either to base it on a confessional theology, or to feel the need of one.

    Comment by Kerry | May 3, 2007

  11. Kerry, Anglicanism is “confession-less?” What about the 39 Articles? And, of course, Anglicans continue to affirm the early ecumenical creeds: Apostolic, Nicene-Constanipolitan, Athanasian, Chalcedon. Of course, the heart of Anglican theology is not found in the 39 Articles or any other confession, but in the Book of Common Prayer. The tradition is formed out of a common pattern of worship–doxology forming theology. Or am I wrong?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 3, 2007

  12. I should point out that there is an argument among Baptists as to how confessional we are. Some very Calvinistic Baptists, including the current leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, think we are very confessional–and think the distinction between confessions and creeds is minimal. Other Baptists (myself included) point out that (1) no single Baptist confession ever took on creedal authority for us, (2) we mostly wrote confessions as explanations to others that we were not heretical or, at best, as “guides to biblical interpretation.” (3) Many Baptist groups avoided all confessions, claiming “no creed but the Bible,” and even groups that did adopt confessions, tended to give them long prefaces saying that they were not binding on local congregations–they added no requirements beyond simple faith to salvation.
    The central Baptist tradition always viewed confessional statements as limited, revisable, provisionary–not as infallible tests of orthodoxy. We put far too much stress on “liberty of conscience” to be truly confessional.
    The heart of theology in most Baptist congregations can be found in our hymns and church covenants, rather than in any statement of faith (a term we prefer to either creed or confession).

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 3, 2007

  13. Kerry, what about the Thirty-Nine articles? I understand you’re probably not in a ecclesiastical body that requires any sort of subscription, but I certainly don’t perceive Anglicanism to be confession-less.

    Comment by Bryan Peters | May 3, 2007

  14. Whoop, Michael got there before me. Great minds think alike? ;)

    As for Baptists and confessionalism, of course I do lie within that stream of Calvinistic Baptist thought that is very confessional. This is a whole fascinating and important debate which I intend to devote a series of posts to at some point, but I’ll just make a few comments now. It is important to avoid caricatures of what we Calvinistic Baptists have been saying. I don’t think you’re going to find anyone claiming that confessions have ever been regarded as “infallible tests of orthodoxy.” I tend to understand there to be no “central Baptist tradition” if you’re talking about contemporary North American Baptists. Thus, I’d say that your characterization of such a tradition is certainly an accurate portrayal of one stream of Baptists, but not the one I most strongly identify with.

    Comment by Bryan Peters | May 3, 2007

  15. Good question about the 39 Articles. They’re no longer considered “mandatory” and they were never considered confessional. The Anglican tradition prides itself (rightly or wrongly) on its via media tradition, which tries to steer a middle course between Roman Catholicism on the one hand and Protestantism on the other. This means (minimally) rejection of centralized ecclesial/doctrinal authority on the one hand and both sola scriptural and confessional statements on the other. Obviously, there are “low” evangelical Anglicans and “high” catholic ones (yours truly, e.g.), but no Anglican I know of thinks of the tradition as confessional.

    Comment by Kerry | May 3, 2007

  16. Very interesting discussion.

    The Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, coming mostly out of Presbyterianism but also out of Anglicanism, is of course famous for its stanch anti-creedalism. “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible.” And then the motto, “Speaking where the Bible speaks, silent where the Bible is silent.”

    There are a host of problems with these ideas, based as they are in rationalism; nevertheless, I do sometimes get a head-spin reading book after book about how to get Aquinas to be a Wittgensteinian or Luther to be a post-liberal, etc., etc. Nonetheless, I will be excited to see if this acid test of pacifism helps me to see more of the Bible in covenant theology than I’ve heretofore been able to recognize.

    Comment by Thom Stark | May 3, 2007

  17. If I understand you right, you’re using the term “confessional” to denote a certain type of creedal subscriptionism. I think that’s the confusion, since I usually use it more to describe the expression of a tradition’s theology in confessions of faith, regardless of the degree of subscription required.

    Comment by Bryan Peters | May 3, 2007

  18. Bryan–I think you’re quite right. When I think of “confessional,” I’m thinking in terms of a credal subscription. Thanks for clearing up the equivocation.

    Comment by Kerry | May 4, 2007

  19. I posted a response to Bryan’s first argument (from depravity) here.

    Comment by Thom Stark | May 5, 2007

  20. Actually, the above link is bad. Try here.

    Comment by Thom Stark | May 5, 2007


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