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

Outline: The Biblical Basis of Christian Pacifism

We have more posts to come in the Economic Justice Primer, but I think this series on Christian pacifism will start this weekend. I have written on this blog of my pacifism in terms of testimony of my conversion to that view and brief explanations of my version.I have interviewed many people in the blog ring, Christian Peace Bloggers, and some of those interviews were reprinted here.  I have also written on Just War Theory and the practices of Just Peacemaking.  But I have never laid out a full biblical defense of Christian pacifism. I started to as a debate with a Just War Theorist, but he suddenly quit blogging and the series never materialized.  So, it is long overdue. With constructive criticism from you, my Gentle Readers (there must be a dozen or so of you by now), I may turn it into a small book geared for those with no theological training, rather than for scholars, pastors, or seminarians.  Here is the outline as I now envision it–although my experience with previous series has shown that I may need to adjust in light of your comments.

  1. Prologue: The Bible and the Christian Life. 

                 a. Why Start with Jesus?

                 b. The Old Testament as Christian Scripture

       2.  Jesus’ Teachings and Example on Peacemaking and Nonviolence

              a. The Sermon on the Mount:  Matt. 5-7

               b. How the Sermon on the Mount fits the Rest of Matthew’s Gospel (5 teaching blocks; Jesus’ actions in Matthew; The Judgment of the Nations; The OT in Matthew: Moses and Isaiah; The Great Commission and Pacifism)

                c. Binding the Strong Man:  Mark’s Gospel Structured Around Two Campaigns of Nonviolent Direct Action

                 d. The Politics of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (The Nativity Stories: The Coming of the Prince of Peace; The Nazareth Sermon–Jesus Platform; The Sermon on the Plain: Luke 6; The Parable in Luke; The Passion of the Peaceful Messiah)

                 e. The Acts of the Holy Spirit:  The Peacemaking Missionaries of the Earliest Church

                  f. Becoming Children of God: Johannine Faith and Nonviolent Liberation

       3. The Pacifism of Paul the Apostle (including Deutero-Pauline Letters)

                  a.  Paul’s Peaceful Actions in Acts and His Epistles

                   b.  Paul’s Cosmic Christology and His Soteriology of Peace

          4.  Pacifism in the Book of Hebrews

           5.  The Practical Pacifism of James

           6.  Violence and Nonviolence in the Revelation to John at Patmos

Looking Back:  New Testament “Problem Texts” for Christian Pacifism:  (Roman soldiers as Christian converts; The “two swords” at the Last Supper and in Gethsemane; Jesus’ Anger in the Temple; Paul’s admiration of soldiers; Romans 13; Revelation 20)

            7.  The Old Testament Paves the Way to NT Pacifism I:  Peaceful Creation, Violent Fall, God’s Response

             8.  The Old Testament Paves the Way II: Violence and Nonviolence in the Patriarchal Narratives

             9.  The Old Testament Paves the Way III: Exodus and Torah; The Failure of  Judges and the Monarchy

             10.  The Old Testament Paves the Way IV: Breakthrough Scenes in the Former Prophets

              11.  The Old Testament Paves the Way V: The Latter Prophets (Jeremiah as War Resister; The Exile and Israel’s New Mission)

Excursis II: Remembering to Read the Old Testament as Jesus and the Early Church Did.

Excursis III:  The Problem of “Holy War” in the OT, Especially Joshua & Judges.

Excursis IV:  Christian Pacifism Was Normative for the First Four Centuries of the Church. The Challenge of Constantine and Imperial Christianity.

Summing Up and Loose Ends from Reader’s Questions.

Suggestions as to how I could better organize this at the beginning of this process?

September 29, 2009 - Posted by | Biblical exegesis, empire, nonviolence, pacifism


  1. This outline looks very promising. I look forward to reading!

    Comment by Jonathan Marlowe | September 29, 2009

  2. I hope you also include Peter in this, and I assume you will in Jesus’ Example.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | September 29, 2009

  3. Steven, do you mean Peter’s attack in the Garden or Peter’s desire for Jesus to be a military leader at Caesarea Philippi? I will probably include those incidents. I doubt I will do much with I & II Peter, though. I’d love to cover the entire Bible thoroughly, but that would be a VERY long series. I’m trying to cover the broad outlines–and will respond to as many questions and challenges as possible.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 29, 2009

  4. Jonathan,I look forward to your interaction. I need Christian pacifists who are preachers, like yourself, needing to preach weekly, to let me know if I am communicating well with those with no theological training. Keep me on track.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 29, 2009

  5. I love this and will very much look forward to the series and the book!

    As for the beginning bit, the only thing I’d suggest is maybe doing one section on the Synoptics (combining 2a and 2b into one piece on Matthew – at least for the book if not the blog), then one on Acts, then one on Johannine faith, and then working through the rest of the NT as you do here. (You could call chapter/part 2 “Synoptic Witnesses to Jesus as a Nonviolent Peacemaker” or something like that.)

    I hate to see you not include 1 Peter considering how central “following Jesus’ path of suffering in the face of imperial hostility” is in that book, but I understand that you can’t cover it all.

    Comment by Michael DeFazio | September 29, 2009

  6. Thanks for the comments, Michael. The problem with just a chapter on the Synoptics is that the distinctive emphases get lost–especially Mark’s. I’ll think about 1 Peter.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 29, 2009

  7. Oh definitely, I wouldn’t you to smash them all together. The individual pieces on each Gospel are one of the things I’m most excited about. I was thinking about the headings – instead of 2 a, b, c, d, e, f… 2 a, b, c. 3, a, b. But it’s neither here nor there. Looking forward to this!

    Comment by Michael DeFazio | September 29, 2009

  8. I think it would be useful to have some sort of section at the end that addressed practical application or at least some information for other resources to address. I.e. if people are convinced by the theological arguments in your book they still may be at loss what to say to people in their congregation who are in the military – so often calls for peace are seen as attacking the troops. I think having resources that would help answer things like “what should I say to my friend/child/fellow church member if they tell me they want to join the military” or how do we care for people who were in the military.

    Comment by Rebecca | October 2, 2009

  9. I think you may be right, Rebecca. I’ve been at lectures where no one asked me a biblical question.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 2, 2009

  10. I meant 1 Peter 2 “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

    Also, Paul alludes to a violent attack against him by a metalworker named Alexander in 2 Timothy 4. He commented “And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.”

    Comment by Steven Kippel | October 29, 2009

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