Levellers

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

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism: The Sermon on the Mount II

Sorry it took so long to get to this entry, Gentle Readers.  I was interrupted by the move.. 

I argued that Jesus does not teach impossibly hard ideals in the Sermon on the Mount. Despite the New Moses typology in Matthew’s Gospel (Jesus goes up on a high mountain to deliver the new teachings), this is not “new law” in the sense of new burdens, harder rules to keep.  It is, as I argued in the section on the Beatitudes, grace–the delivering love and empowering grace which enables faithful discipleship.  The Beatitudes describe the virtues, the character traits, of disciples living into the Kingdom/Rule of God which Jesus brings.  We aren’t burdened with this “hard teaching” as a way to earn divine favor, but are invited into the adventure and joy of the in-breaking Rule of God.

After the Beatitudes, the Sermon can be diagrammed as 14 (twice the holy number 7) triadic statements in which the first part of the statement gives a traditional moral rule or principle (all but one of them drawn from the First Testament), the second part describes the “cycles of bondage” or “mechanisms of enslaving sin” that keep us from following that moral rule or principle, and the third part (Jesus’ commands) shows the process of deliverance out of those sinful cycles of bondage.  In this exposition, I am closely following my teacher, Glen H. Stassen and will also draw from the work of NT theologian Walter Wink.  (See Stassen’s full exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount here which reproduces an article he first published in the Journal of Biblical Literature.)

Now, scholars have often been misled at this point.  They haven’t seen 14 Triads, but 7 antisthenes or contrast statements (“You have heard it said of old/But I say unto you.”) But this view sets Jesus in opposition to the First Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures that were his own Bible and the Bible of the earliest Christians.  But that cannot be right because Jesus constantly affirms the Hebrew Scriptures, indeed, in the very Sermon on the Mount, he rebukes those who would claim that he comes to replace the Torah or Law instead of fulfilling it (Matt. 5:17-19).  Also, in the phrases following Jesus’ “but I say to you” refrain there are no commands–no imperatives.  What follows instead are participles and gerunds–i.e., forms of speech showing continuous or ongoing action (the cycles of bondage).  The commands, the Greek imperatives, come later–showing the way of deliverance.  So, we have a three part structure in which Jesus does not contrast the traditional Jewish teaching, but rather affirms it, shows why it is often hard to keep, and then shows a way of deliverance than goes beyond the older teaching but does not contradict it.  The following chart shows the entire pattern from Matt. 5:21-7:12.

THE FOURTEEN TRIADS OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT 

 TRADITIONAL               RIGHTEOUSNESS              VICIOUS     CYCLE                  TRANSFORMING                    INITIATIVE  
         
1. You shall not kill   Being angry,or saying, You fool!   Go, be reconciled
              
2.  You shall not commit adultery    Looking with lust   Remove the cause of temptation (cf. Mk 9:43ff.)
         
3. Whoever divorces,give a certificate   Divorcing involves you in adultery   (Be reconciled: I Cor 7:11)
         
4. You shall not swear falsely   Swearing by anything involves you in a false claim   Let your yes be yes, andyour no be no
         
5. Eye for eye,tooth for tooth   Violently/revengefully resisting by evil means   Turn the other cheek; Give your tunic and cloak; Go the Second mile; Give to beggar & borrower
         
6. Love neighbor & hate enemy   If you love those who love you, what more is that than the Gentiles do?   Love enemies, pray for your persecutors; be all-inclusive as your Father in heaven is
              
7. When you give alms,   blowing a trumpet like hypocrites   but give in secret, and your Father will reward you
         
8. When you pray,   making a show like the hypocrites   but pray in secret, and your Father will reward you
         
9. When you pray,   babbling like Gentiles, thinking the wordiness will be heard   Therefore pray like this: Our Father….
         
10. When you fast,   appearing gloomy to others,like the hypocrites   but dress with joy, and your Father will reward you
         
11. Do not pile up treasures on earth (cf. Luke 12:16-31)     Where moth & rust destroy, and thieves enter & steal    But pile up treasuresin heaven
             
12. No one can serve two masters   Serving God & wealth, worrying about food & clothes   But seek first God’s reign and God’s justice/righteousness
         
13. Do not judge, lest you be judged   By the measure with which you judge, you’ll be judged   First take the log out of your own eye
         
14. Do not give holy things to dogs, nor pearls to pigs   They will trample themand tear you to pieces   Give your trust in prayer to your Father in Heaven

The items in bold show places where Jesus’ teaching is paralleled elsewhere–in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6, in Luke 12, in Mark. There are also partial echoes in Paul’s writings, in the Epistle to James, and even in Revelation.  These echoes are seldom in the sections describing the cycles of bondage (which some have viewed as impossible teachings or new rules) but either in the first section (reaffirming the Hebrew Scriptures) or in the third section (describing the way of deliverance and new life)–thus showing where Jesus was heard to place his emphasis.  

In other words, Jesus doesn’t say, “You have heard of old “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” but I say to you “Don’t be angry.”  Who could never be angry?  Jesus was moved with anger (at the way that ritual rules harmed the sick) when he healed a man with a withered hand (Mark 1:41) and he demonstrated anger at the moneychangers in the Temple (an incident we will revisit later in this series).  Nor does Jesus say, “You have heard it said of old, “Thou Shalt not Commit Adultery,” but I say to you, “Don’t ever lust.”  Nor does Jesus say, “You have heard it said of old, “Whoever divorces must give a certificate,” but I say to you, “Never divorce.” 

Instead, Jesus says, “You have heard it said of old, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” but I say to you that nursing anger (the Greek is the verb for holding onto –the way some people treasure grudges) and calling people “Fool!” leads to judgment. ” So, how to get out of this bondage to anger than leads to various forms of judgment and sin–including, often enough, killing? Here comes Jesus’ gracious command! “If your brother has something against you GO TO HIM and seek to be reconciled.”  This is so important it must take precedence even over worshipping God (leave your sacrifice and go).  Now, THAT we can do!  We cannot guarantee that the brother will want to make peace (Jesus’ audience would surely have remembered Cain and Abel).  But we don’t have to wait for him to come to us.  We can take the initiative, no matter who was at fault. We can seek to repair the breach in fellowship (“brother” was probably also heard by Matthew’s readers as referring to “fellow church members”) instead of nursing our anger or calling names or congratulating ourselves on our self-righteousness.

And nations can do this, too.  One government offends another.  Can we ask that a government not be angry? No, but we can ask that it not nurse that anger or refuse to speak to the enemy nation or congratulate itself on its own righteousness.  We can ask that one government go to the other and seek to make peace.  After all, when you speak of the grievance between you it may include hard words of truth that the other might not want to hear–so we should be prepared to hear such ourselves.  Will this guarantee peace? Of course, not! But REFUSING to speak almost always guarantees strife and war–vicious cycles of violence and judgment.

Likewise, we avoid committing adultery by removing the causes of temptation that lead us to lust.  Here, Jesus uses typical Hebrew hyperbole.  We should not literally pluck out our eyes (I can lust with both eyes closed) or cut off our hands (I can lust without any hands!).  But we should remove ourselves from temptation.  If working late nights with a beautiful colleague alone is tempting you to break your wedding vows, then don’t work with that one alone–always meet where there is plenty of light and crowds.  If you have to, get another job.  Don’t troll the internet for pornographic sites.  Don’t do things which are likely to lead to your lusting (“committing adultery in your heart”) which will all too often lead to actual adultery.  Walk away from the conditions or people or contexts which tempt you.

In order to keep this post brief enough, we will skip several of these to go to another that bears directly on our topic of Christian pacifism.  The 5th Triad (5:38-42) gives the traditional teaching, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Even in the First Testament, the intent of this rule was to limit revenge.  The common pattern in the ancient world, and today, is for unlimited revenge.  You take my eye, I take both your eyes. You take my tooth, I just may take your life. You take my life, my brother wipes out your family.  This is the “morality” of the Mafia or the Japanese Yakuza. It is the “morality” of street gangs–and of most nations during wartime.  To this, the Hebrew Scriptures tried to place a break:  All you may take in revenge for a lost eye is the enemy’s eye.  All you may take for a tooth is the enemy’s tooth.  But Jesus knows this is not sufficient.  If we seek revenge, we get caught in escalating cycles of vengeance and violence.

Now, most English Bibles are not helpful here.  Verse 39 is usually translated as “Do not resist evil” (KJV) or “Do not resist an evildoer” (NIV).  The first is ridiculous. Jesus resisted evil every time he cast out demons or confronted the Scribes and Pharisees.  “Resist the Devil,” we are told, “and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7).  The NIV translation is grammatically possible, (taking ponero as a substantitive dative) but it doesn’t fit much with Jesus’ own actions, either.  As Clarence Jordan and others have noticed, ponero is most likely an instrumental and so should be translated as either with evil or by evil means.  Further, as Walter Wink’s exhaustive search of secular Greek shows, antistemai doesn’t mean any kind of resistance, but VIOLENT resistance–it is the term used for rebellions and armed insurrections.  So, 5:39 should be translated something like, “You have heard it said of old, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but I say to you “Do not resist violently or by evil means.”  Rather, if someone strikes you on your right cheek. . .

Now, many people read the Sermon at this point to be teaching a “doormat” approach to life.  In fact, in popular speech, “turn the other cheek,” is code for “let people abuse you–even invite their abuse.”  Even many who see a positive dimension to these teachings often view them as “surrending one’s rights” for the sake of God’s Rule.  Instead, I follow the work of New Testament theologian Walter Wink in seeing Jesus’ transforming initiatives here as teaching nonviolent resistance to evil, a “third way,” other than surrender or violence.  Wink urges the reader to pay close attention both to the language of the text and to the historical and cultural background in first-century Palestine.  “If someone strikes you on the right cheek. . .”  In Jesus’ culture the left hand was reserved for “unclean” acts (it was an age before toilet paper) and the cultural taboo against touching someone with the left hand was very strong.  In fact, one could be fined heavily for touching someone with the left hand.  So, we are to imagine that the striker used his right hand.  But the only way to strike the right cheek with the right hand is to use the back of the hand.  So,  this is not a punch, but a backhanded slap across the face.  But this immediately tells the audience that this is not a fight between equals, but the abuse of a social inferior by a social superior.  One does not backhand someone except to humiliate him or her, to publicly put the inferior in his or her “place.”  Equals do not backhand each other.  Masters backhand slaves or servants; the rich backhand the poor; abusive husbands backhand wives; tyrannical fathers backhand children (maybe even an adult or nearly adult son who is being deeply humiliated).  In such a situation, the social inferior usually does not dare to strike back. The rich man who backhands his servant has guards or can get them.  The wife, in a culture where divorce can only be initiated by the husband and where restraining orders for domestic abusers are unheard of, must live in the home.  Does the inferior nurse resentment and plot revenge in the night? Does s/he instead simply “take it” and cooperate with her or his own oppression and self destruction? No, Jesus says, “turn to him the left cheek also!”  But the social superior cannot backhand the left cheek without using the taboo left hand–which would humiliate the oppressor and leave him open to court action!  If he strikes with the right hand, he has to punch the inferior, which involves treating him as an equal!”  In “turning the other cheek,” the abused person refuses to be a victim, but also refuses violence and revenge. Instead, the “victim” confronts the abuser with her or his full humanity and demands to be treated as an equal–inviting repentance from the abuser.  If the humiliating slap was public, the tables have been turned.  Like the nonviolent activists of the civil rights movement, the abused one is told by Jesus to refuse to cooperate with evil or to respond with violence–a way of deliverance from the cycle of abuse–culturally specific–is demonstrated.

Jesus’ next example of this “third way” involves corrupt law courts.  “If anyone would sue you for your coat. . .”  The basic attire in the Palestine of Jesus’ day, as it had been for centuries, was two long robe-like garments, a lightweight inner robe and a thicker, heavier, outer robe.  If someone was so poor (homeless) that they needed a loan and had no other collateral, the Law of Moses, allowed the lender to take the outer garment in pledge.  But, the outer garment or cloak had to be given back at every sundown because, of course, the poor man would need to sleep in it. Without it, he could die of exposure in the desert air.  But courts can become corrupt and side with the rich against the poor.  Centuries before Jesus, the prophet Amos had condemned those whose corruption was so great they were copulating on “garments taken in pledge,” (Amos 2:8). This may have been hyperbole, but it shows the prophet’s anger at the abuse of the poor and the rejection of the protections for the poor in the Law of Moses.

Jesus shows similar anger at the courts of his day who were letting lenders actually sue homeless people for their outer garments–in effect condemning them to death by exposure!  So, Jesus says, “give to him your tunic also.” In other words, strip butt naked in the courtroom!  Now, remember, that while Jewish society had strong nudity taboos, the shame fell mostly on those VIEWING the nudity rather than on the nude person.  Thus, drunken Noah’s curse on son Ham and grandson Canaan for laughing at his drunken, naked old body. And thus, the faithful sons walk backward to cover Noah. (Gen. 9:20-27).  So, Jesus is again advocating a nonviolent protest that could shame the court (literally EXPOSING its lack of justice) and of the lender! (Jesus’ original hearers were probably dying of laughter at the imagined scene.) Of course, this move probably would result in getting the nude protester thrown in jail, but he would at least not die of exposure.  And it probably would result in some new rule against nudity in court or something. Jesus is not giving hard and fast rules, but trying to teach a METHOD of confronting evil and oppression without violence.  Thus, he is also inviting his hearers to use their own liberated, sanctified, imaginations to think of continuous similar examples in ever-knew situations as one lives the Third Way of the in-breaking Kingdom in the midst of this still-Fallen, often oppressive, world order.

Jesus’ third example comes from the Roman occupation of Palestine–which, like all occupying armies, was hated by the locals.  But Rome was a smart empire that liked to limit the times it needed to use the Legions to suppress local uprisings.  So, Roman law had limits placed on the oppressive actions of the occupying troops and strict penalties (usually death) for breaking them.  One of those rules allowed for any Roman soldier to grab any local in a conquered territory and force him to carry a burden, such as the soldier’s pack, for the soldier.  (When Jesus is crucified, this is what happens to Simon the Cyrene, who is forced to carry Jesus’ cross.  See Mark 15:21) But the local could be forced to carry such a burden only one mile.  After that, the soldier had to take back the burden or get another carrier.  The Roman roads were marked throughout the empire with mile markers for many reasons, but they made it easy to check that this rule was carried out.

Now, even though this was limited, naturally locals hated ANY forced labor by occupying troops. It reminded them that they were not free. Specifically in Palestine, it reminded faithful Jews that the Holy Land was occupied by godless, pagan, Gentiles who could, like Egypt of old, treat God’s people as slaves any time they felt like it.  Imagine the anger, the resentment that could build up, the cycles of bondage to violence that could result. (Note to American readers: Then imagine how the local Iraqi or Afghan people, EVEN IF THEY FIRST WELCOMED THE U.S. TROOPS as an alternative to Saddam or to the Taliban, respectively, feel about the occupying troops. The longer those troops stay, no matter how noble they believe their mission, the more hated they will be.  Think how the average American would feel if foreign occupying troops paraded down our cities and towns!  Back to Scripture.)

In that situation, many Jews associated with the resistance movement (later called Zealots) advocated assassination of Roman soldiers.  By contrast, the Herodian puppet government and the Sadducees and Temple elites, urged cooperating with the Romans no matter what they did.  Jesus does neither. Instead, he says, go a second mile.  The enemy soldier wonders what’s going on. Is this Jew trying to get him in trouble with his commander? Is he leading him into an ambush? Is he insulting his strength, saying that the mighty soldier is too weak to carry his own pack?  Imagine him begging to get his pack back or ridiculously knocking down the pack carrier to take it back! On the other hand, the second mile, provides the pack carrier time to confront the soldier with the injustice of forced labor and of the occupation at all. It gives time to sow seeds of repentance and peacemaking. At any rate, the pack carrier is transformed from a forced laborer–an object–into a volunteer–a free moral agent.  Here is the pattern. Jesus teaches not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent, creative, transforming, resistance to evil that can deliver both oppressors and oppressed from cycles of destructive anger and revenge.

 The 6th triadic statement reinforces our theme.  The traditional teaching is to love one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:9) and, in Jesus’ day, many interpreted that to mean also “hate your enemy.”  There is no command to hate enemies in the First Testament.  But that is how the command to neighbor love was understood in Jesus’ day–Love your fellow Israelite.  Much as contemporary Americans seem to think they are to love only other Americans (or only “REAL” Americans) and hate people in other countries–a view surprisingly found in many U.S. churches!  The second section, the mechanism of bondage, is given as a rhetorical question, “If you love only those who love you, what more are you doing than the Gentiles?” Even the pagans have THAT much morality! By giving this as a rhetorical question, Jesus calls into question the supposed moral superiority of God’s people and reminds them of how often they have failed to be a “light for the nations,” and fell under God’s judgment. He invites them to remember the destructive cycles just described as the results of just loving those who love you.

The way of deliverance is to love your enemies. (This command of Jesus, to love enemies, is quoted throughout the New Testament and throughout early Christian literature. Nothing else Jesus said was remembered by the early church as being so central as this command.) And Jesus tells how one is to love enemies: praying for them.  This will show that one is “perfect” (i.e., perfect in compassion) as God is–giving rain and sun to both the just and unjust. 

Here is the heart of Christian pacifism because one cannot love an enemy by killing him or her.  Notice how practical Jesus is–he assumes his hearers, including his disciples, will have enemies.  This is not pie in the sky naivete.  Too many Christians think they are too “nice” to have enemies.  Jesus is more hard-headed and practical.  He often is matter of fact about how following him will give one enemies.  But the key to Christian living is how one deals with enemies–loving them and praying for them.  Working to make peace.  One may have to confront their evil actions as the previous triadic teaching showed.  One may need to confront massive evil with massive nonviolent direct action. But one must hold out hope for the repentance of the enemy, for their conversion.  One must not respond with violence that continues the cycle of revenge.

We’ll stop here for this post.  The biblical case for Christian pacifism, for gospel nonviolence, is much broader, but nowhere is it clearer.  This is the heart of God’s call in Jesus to a new life, a new way of life, which shows a new pattern to the world.  The church, as the disciple community of Jesus, is to be the first fruits of the in-breaking Rule of God–and this is what that fruit looks like.  The heart of Christian living is love of enemies.

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November 6, 2009 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, discipleship, ethics, Jesus, love of enemies, New Testament, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, Sermon on the Mount | 17 Comments

Obama and the Sermon on the Mount: Contradictions Galore

This video was also courtesy of Derrick Crowe.  Tomorrow (Sunday), I should have the next installment ready of my series on the Bible and Pacifism which finishes the section interpreting the Sermon on the Mount.

October 24, 2009 Posted by | Sermon on the Mount | 1 Comment

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism: The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Pt. 1

 The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is the largest block of Jesus’ teaching we have recorded.  For our purposes, it does not matter whether or not Jesus gave the Sermon at one point or whether Matthew has arranged various of Jesus’ teachings into this current form, as many scholars believe. (A wandering preacher would most likely repeat many teachings in different forms before different audiences.) Many have believed that Jesus’ here gives incredibly hard teachings–counsels of perfection–that only saints can live (the Medieval Catholic view) or that no one can fulfill and which drive us to the sheer grace of God (Reformer Martin Luther’s view).  I contend (with others) to the contrary that the Sermon is full of grace and shows us the God’s gracious way of deliverance from bondage to mechanisms of sin.  (I will give a small bibliography on the Sermon on the Mount in a separate blog posting, but I will say that I am drawing strongly from the work of Walter Wink and Glen H. Stassen for much of what follows.)

First, to help us see the empowering joy of the Sermon on the Mount, we need a better definition of grace.  Too often we understand grace only in terms of forgiveness, of “God’s unmerited favor on sinners.” But grace is not only forgiveness, but empowerment to follow God. Grace enables our faith to be lived out in faithfulness.  Of course, we are never perfectly faithful. We fail and need forgiveness.  But to use that as an excuse for continuing in disobedience is simply wrong–and leads us back into the bondage from which Jesus delivers us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the German Lutheran pastor who defied Hitler, ran an underground seminary for anti-Nazi pastors, was marginally involved in a plot to overthrow Hitler, and whose work to smuggle some Jews out of Germany led to his arrest and execution, called this kind of thinking “cheap grace.”  He contrasted that with the costly grace of the gospel.  Likewise Miraslov Volf, a theologian from war torn Croatia, says that to accept the comfort of the Crucified One while rejecting his Way to advocate not only cheap grace but a deceitful ideology in place of the gospel.  So, let us approach the Sermon on the Mount prepared to hear it as a Word of empowering grace, delivering us from the mechanisms of bondage to various patterns of sin, enabling us as Christ followers to live by a new pattern, a way of life profoundly different from the world-system we know.

The Beatitudes (Matt. 5: 3-12).  The Sermon is given to Jesus’ disciples/followers and to crowds who are potential followers.  The crowds are not just any non-believers, but are those who have heard of Jesus (maybe even heard him directly) and are interested. They may even be half convinced that he is the Messiah, God’s agent for the redemption of Israel.  In presenting it in his Gospel, Matthew is saying that the Sermon is to be of continuing guidance for his Christian community–and the Church’s decision to include it in the New Testament is their recognition that Jesus continues to intend this Sermon to guide disciples and potential disciples, now.

The Sermon begins with words of grace, of blessing for those who are citizens of the Kingdom or Rule that Jesus brings.  Building on themes from Isaiah 61, these “beatitudes” are not commands or rules.  They proclaim God’s blessing or joy on those who display the grace filled virtues of the inbreaking Rule of God.  Because the characteristic of joy is so strong, Glen Stassen translates the beatitudes this way:

Joyful are the humble poor who know their need of God, for theirs is the very Reign of God.

Joyful are those who are deeply saddened to the point of action, for they will be comforted.

Joyful are those whose wills are surrended to God, for they will inherit the earth.

Joyful are those who hunger and thirst for restorative justice, for they will be filled.

Joyful are those who practice compassion in action, for they will receive God’s compassion.

Joyful are those who seek God’s will in all that they are and do, for they will see God.

Joyful are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

Joyful are those who suffer because of working for restorative justice, for theirs is the reign of God.

Joyful are you when they criticize, persecute, and slander you, because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in God.  For in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.

 

The “poor in Spirit,” are called simply the physical poor in Luke 6:20 (which we’ll examine more fully in our chapter on Luke) and are contrasted with those who are “rich now.”  So, who does Jesus bless, the poor or the poor in spirit?  The problem disappears when we realize that Jesus is referring to Isa. 61.  The anawim in Hebrew are traditionally the “humble poor.”  They are economically poor but they also, perhaps because of their poverty, realize their need of God. The rich often believe they have no need of help from God or anyone.  They trust in their riches.  But if you are poor, one lost paycheck can lead to hunger; one serious illness can lead to foreclosure and homelessness. One divorce (perhaps even against one will), one catastrophe, is enough to turn their lives from barely liveable to disastrous.  So, many poor more naturally turn to God.  Luke emphasizes the Old Testament theme of God’s care and protection for the economically poor (e.g., Ex. 22:25-27; 23:10-11; Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 15:7-11; 2 Sam. 22:28; Ps. 72:2, 4, 12; Isa. 26:6, 49:13, 66:2; Zeph. 3:12).  Matthew does not exclude this, but he puts the emphasis on their empty hand of faith before God.

The 3rd Beatitude is usually translated “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake,” but the same Greek word (dikaiosune) means both righteousness and justice.  And today’s English tends to mean by “righteousness” what the Bible means by “self-righteousness.” They make it about ourselves, about a personal quality of righteousness.  But Jesus wants disciples to be other directed, to seek to set right what is wrong.  He wants us to hunger and thirst for the kind of healing  justice that tends the wounds of individuals and societies. 

I skip the details of the other Beatitudes for brevity’s sake.  I note that they all fit together.  Life in the Jesus Way is characterized by poverty of spirit (knowing one’s need of God), by mourning/grieving the things that grieve the heart of God–so much that we are moved to action; by  wills completely surrendered to God.  The Jesus Way people hunger and thirst for justice, who are merciful (practicing compassion in action), by purity of heart, by suffering for the sake of justice, by being persecuted for the sake of Jesus (just as the prophets were persecuted).  In this pattern are the peacemakers–not the warmakers–who are called the children of God.  Again, at this point, there are no commands.  The Beatitude does not command us to be peacemakers in order to earn status as God’s children.  Rather, Jesus’ followers are God’s children and joyfully make peace because they are God’s children.  In describing this vision in the Beatitudes, Jesus is not heaping burdens upon his listeners and potential followers, but describing a vision of JOY and INVITING us to participate.  This is the pattern of participation–a pattern that includes joyful peacemaking. 

Of course, while all of us disciples and would-be disciples want to live a pattern of life like this, full of joy displaying the joyous virtues of the Way of Jesus, but we also know that we often find ourselves trapped in other, more destructive patterns.  In our next installment we will see how the main body of the Sermon address these forms of bondage in 14 Triads that present a traditional moral teaching, describes the mechanism of bondage that make holding to that teaching nearly impossible, and then presents transforming initiatives–Jesus’ new commands that show us the way out of the destructive cycles that bind us–empowering grace, indeed.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, discipleship, ethics, Jesus, peacemaking, Sermon on the Mount | 12 Comments

Bibliographies on Christian Peacemaking I: Biblical Studies

In light of recent discussions, I should also work on getting bibliographies on abortion, the death penalty, and related matters.  But this is a good starting point for examining Scripture and peacemaking.  Future installments will cover theological works, church history, philosophical arguments, and contemporary applications.

I hope biblio-bloggers will give me additional entries, along with reasons why they would make good additions.  MLW-W.

Alison, James.  Raising Abel:  The Recovery of Eschatological Imagination.  Crossroad, 1996.

Allison, Dale C.  The Sermon on the Mount:  Inspiring the Moral Imagination.  Crossroad, 1999.

Bauman, Clarence.  The Sermon on the Mount:  The Modern Quest for Its Meaning.  Mercer University Press, 1985.

Beck, Robert.  Nonviolent Story:  Narrative Conflict Resolution in the Gospel of Mark. Orbis, 1996.

Borg, Markus.  Jesus, A New Vision:  Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship.  Harper & Row, 1988.  (This is the best of Borg’s books on Jesus.)

Bredin,  Mark.  Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace:  A Nonviolent Christology in the Book of Revelation.  Paternoster, 2003.

Brown, Dale W. Biblical Pacifism.  2nd Ed.  Evangel, 2003.  (This 2nd ed. is a MUCH better book and incorporates Stassen’s just peacemaking theory and his 14 Triads interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.)

Brueggemann, Walter.  Peace. Chalice Press, 2001.  New, revised edition of Living Toward a Vision:  Biblical Reflections on Shalom.  United Church Press, 1976.  (Brueggemann is one of the most amazing living scholars of the First Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. )

Carter, Warren.  Matthew and the Margins:  A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading.  Orbis, 2000.

Cassidy, Richard J.  Jesus, Politics, and Society:  A Study  of Luke’s Gospel.  Orbis, 1978.

__________.  John’s Gospel in New Perspective:  Christology and the Realities of Roman Power.  Orbis, 1992.

__________. Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles.  Orbis, 1987.

Collins, Adela Yarbro.  Crisis and Catharsis:  The Power of the Apocalypse.  Fortress, 1994.

Crosby, Michael.  Spirituality of the Beatitudes:  Matthew’s Challenge for First World Christians.  Orbis, 1981.

Ferguson, John.  The Politics of Love:  The New Testament and Nonviolent Revolution.  Attic, n.d.

Ford, J. Massynberde.  My Enemy is My Guest:  Jesus and Violence in Luke.  Orbis, 1984.

Grimsrud, Ted and Loren L. Johns, eds., Peace and Justice Shall Embrace:  Power and Theopolitics in the Bible.  Herald, 1999.

Hamerton-Kelly, Robert.  The Gospel and the Sacred:  Poetics of Violence in Mark.  Fortress, 1994.

Hays, Richard B.  The Moral Vision of the New Testament. HarperSanFrancisco, 1996. (This is an excellent work on New Testament ethics by a very fine biblical scholar. I have disagreed with his conclusions on “homosexuality,” but his arguments and conclusions on “the use of violence in defense of justice” is excellent.)

Hengel, Martin. Victory Over Violence:  Jesus and the Revolutionists.  Fortress, 1973.

Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.  Fortress, 2003.

_________.  Jesus and the Spiral of Violence:  Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine.  Harper & Row, 1987.

_________, ed., Paul and Empire:  Religion and Power iin Roman Imperial Society. Trinity, 1997.

Howard-Brook, Wes and Anthony Gwyther.  Unveiling Empire:  Revelation Then and Now.  Orbis, 2003.

Lapide, Pinchas.  The Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action?  Orbis, 1992.  (Lapide was a German Orthodox Rabbi who was also heavily involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue. )

Lassere, Jean.  War and the Gospel.  Trans. Oliver Coburn. Herald Press, 1962.

Lind, Millard C.  Yahweh is a Warrior.  Herald, 1980.  (Lind is a Mennonite OT scholar.  This is the best way I have seen in dealing with the “Holy War” texts in the OT, especially in Joshua and Judges.)

Macgregor, G. H. C.  The New Testament Basis of Pacifism. Fellowship of Reconciliation, 1954.  (Macgregor, a NT scholar in the Church of Scotland, kept his commitment to pacifism even as the UK was bombed during WWII.)

McSorley, Richard, S.J., New Testament Basis for Peacemaking.  Herald, 1985.

Myers, Ched.  Binding the Strong Man:  A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Orbis,  1988.

Rensberger, David.  Johannine Faith and Liberating Community.  Westminster, 1988.

Schuessler Fiorenza, Elizabeth.  The Book of Revelation:  Justice and Judgment.  Fortress, 1985.

Schwager, Raymond.  Must There Be Scapegoats?  Violence and Redemption in the Bible.  Harper & Row, 1987.

Sider, Ronald J.  Christ and Violence.  Herald, 1979.  (This is an excellent argument that does not require any background in biblical studies.)

Swartley,  Willard M.  Covenant of Peace:  The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics.  Eerdmans, 2006.  (Swartley, a Mennonite NT scholar and former Dean of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, here gives his magnum opus.  It was well worth the wait.)

__________, ed.  The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament.  W/JKP, 1992.  (A fantastic collection of essays by a wide variety of scholars.)

___________, ed. Violence Renounced:  Rene’ Girard, Biblical Studies, and Peacemaking.  Cascadia, 2000.  (Rene Girard, a literary theorist and anthropologist, studied the connections between violence, religion, sacrifice, and literature.  His conclusions converted him to Christianity as the only religion which unmasks the way that religion justifies violence.  His work is fairly technical and jargon loaded. But he has been very influential in biblical studies and theology–though not uncritically so.)

Wengst, Klaus.  Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ.  Fortress, 1987.

Williams, James G.  The Bible, Violence,  and the Sacred:  Liberation from the Myth of Sanctioned Violence.  Harper, 1991.  (An excellent Girardian argument.)

Wink, Walter.  Engaging the Powers:  Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination.  Fortress, 1992.

_________.  When the Powers Fall:  Reconciliation in the Healing of the Nations.  Fortress, 1998.

Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God.  Fortress, 1996.

Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus.  Rev. Ed. Eerdmans, 1994.

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Bible, books, discipleship, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, Sermon on the Mount | 4 Comments

Two Types of Christian Pacifism

“Pacifism” can  be defined at minimum as the view that war, even defensive war, is always wrong–or that participation in war is wrong.  Another minimal definition is that deliberately taking human life is always morally wrong. 

Minimal definitions only get one so far, of course.  Pacifists come in many different varieties.  Faith-based pacifists may be minimally defined as those who believe their religious faith forbids them to kill human beings, especially in war.  Christian pacifists are minimally those who believe that their Christian faith forbids them to kill in any war.  From there on, the differences abound:  many Christian pacifists would also be against abortion (minimally believing that Christians themselves should never obtain or facilitate abortions; maximally, attempting to outlaw all abortions), but some Christians, while always considering abortion a moral tragedy, would sometimes see them as morally permissable. (I have been on both sides of that debate and am currently “reluctantly pro-choice” for reasons I need a different blog post to delineate.) Many Christian pacifists are also against the death penalty, but some would only see Christian participation in that as sinful.  Some Christian pacifists are vegetarians, but most are not (whereas Buddhist or Hindu pacifists ARE vegetarians).  Many Christian pacifists are against the use of physical punishment in child rearing, but others are not.

Likewise,  the type of theology and spirituality which undergirds Christian pacifism come in great variety:  Franciscan pacifism is different from Benedictine or Catholic Worker pacifism, but they all bear far more resemblance to each  other than either would to Amish or Mennonite pacifism.  Anabaptist style pacifism undergirds Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, the Amish and others (and,  itself, has variations within it), but this is different from Quaker pacifism.  And so it goes.

In Nevertheless, John Howard Yoder outlined the strengths and weaknesses of about 20 different types of religious pacifism without claiming that his taxonomy was exhaustive.  But while sometimes it is useful to multiply categories in order to see the great variety, sometimes it is helpful to boil things down to a couple of choices so that one can see broad similarities.  This is one thing that Catholic theological ethicist Lisa Sowle Cahill does in her book, Love Your Enemies:  Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory. (By the way,  this is a must read.)

Cahill notes that not only do  Christian just war theorists read the New Testament differently than do Christian pacifists,  but that Christian pacifists fall broadly into two types which also read the New Testament differently.  One kind of Christian pacifism Cahill calls the pacifism of obedience and the other as the pacifism of compassion. 

Cahill’s “obedience pacifists” include people like Tertullian, Menno Simons, John Howard Yoder.  They are nonviolent out of obedience to the commands of Jesus as they see them.  Their discipleship is one of following.  Their defenses of nonviolence focus on the authority of Jesus (or the Risen Christ) and they read the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus’ platform for his followers.  By contrast, Cahill’s “compassion pacifists” include people like St. Francis of Assissi, Dorothy Day, and (in his pacifist phase) H. Richard Niebuhr.  Their focus of discipleship is on “works of compassion and mercy” to the poor and outcasts.  They reject war and violence out of a prior spirituality that is about serving and vocation, rather than by rules about when, if ever, to use violence.

One must be clear that these are broad tendencies, not pure types. After all, Dorothy Day, for all her mercy and compassion thought  in terms of authority and obedience (and could be a tyrant in running the Worker Houses of Hospitality).  Nor would anyone who knew John Yoder want to suggest that he lacked compassion and mercy or that his view of the NT was in any way legalistic.  Still, these different orientations are helpful to note.

Some other “obedience pacifists” include Alexander Campbell, a majority of first generation Pentecostals, Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis, Culbert Rutenber, Richard Overton, Conrad Grebel, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in his “pacifist days),etc.  Some other “compassion pacifists” would include Muriel Lester, Walter Rauschenbusch, George Fox,  Mother Teresa of Calcultta, Jean Vanier.

But where would one put Stanley Hauerwas?  He eschews rules for virtues, but clearly has an obedience-style structure.  So, the typology has its  limits even if it is helpful in broad terms.

March 31, 2009 Posted by | discipleship, love of enemies, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, Sermon on the Mount | 8 Comments

Book Review: Living the Sermon on the Mount

Those who know the deep, deep regard with which I hold my mentor, Glen H. Stassen, will not be surprised that I am about to plug his latest book, Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance (Jossey-Bass, 2006). This is the second installment in a new series by Jossey-Bass, “Enduring Questions in Christian Life,” which represents a new venture into Christian publishing by a publisher most widely known for publishing textbooks in non-religious subjects. The series is edited by David P. Gushee, another friend, and co-author with Stassen of Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (InterVarsity Press, 2003), now in its 6th printing.

Those of us who have known Stassen personally or through his writings have long known of the serious way he combines biblical exegesis and theological reflection in his approach to Christian ethics. The heart of his biblical work for years has been a new approach to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) that sees it structurally as a series of 14 triads, and roots interpretation deeply in the Jewish background of Jesus’ thought. Stassen has even argued at length for this approach in a long article in the Journal of Biblical Literature, hoping to influence the way New Testament scholars approach the Sermon. (The Matthew Group of the Society of Biblical Literature had Stassen on a panel on the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount at their annual meeting this past November. It is rare that someone who is not employed as a professional biblical scholar is given such an honor and is an indication of the seriousness with which biblical scholars are taking Stassen’s work.)

Stassen wants to avoid historic interpretive errors that have “let Christians off the hook” on following the Sermon, but he also resists the tradition that sees the Sermon as “an impossible ideal” that we attempt to live out, but can’t. For Stassen, the heart of the Sermon is “God’s Delivering Grace,” which diagnoses the particular “mechanisms of bondage” to our patterns of sin and shows us a way out through “transforming initiatives”–all rooted in God’s transforming initiative in sending the world Jesus to deliver us. We aren’t told just not to nurse anger or lust, etc., but given patterns which will enable us to live differently.

This book is designed to be read by serious Christians who are not necessarily biblical scholars or theologians. Technical terminology is kept to a minimum and so is scholarly apparatus, although there are a number of endnotes and a brief bibliography for further reference. Yet this is not just another of the numerous popular biblical “expositions” by TV preachers or other popularizers. It is rooted in a lifetime of study and serious scholarship which has been spelled out in detail elsewhere. It includes a challenging final chapter on “how to tell a true ethic from a false one.”

Two errors must be avoided: (1)This is not an attempt (as with Tolstoy and others) to reduce Christianity to its ethics, or to separate Jesus’ teachings from his life, death and resurrection. But Stassen is well aware that in the early centuries of Christianity, the Sermon on the Mount was the most quoted part of the New Testament; it was at the heart of the early church’s life. All that changed when the church became wedded to empire. Since the Sermon is the largest block of Jesus’ teachings recorded in the New Testament, how we treat the Sermon shows how we treat all of Jesus’ teachings–and the church has too often tried to find ways to ignore or water down that teaching–either reserving them for monks and nuns (the Catholic pattern) or fearing that any concentration on Jesus’ teaching will somehow “get in the way” of focus on the gospel proclamation of saving grace (the conservative Protestant pattern). So, the second error (2) is to think that Christian discipleship is an “option” added on to salvation by grace through faith–rather than the living out of the same.

I hope this book gets wide use in the churches.

February 10, 2007 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, pacifism, Sermon on the Mount | 8 Comments