I’m working on the next installment of the series on pacifism and the Bible, but here is a small interlude. I have on this blog tried to describe major people who have influenced my life and thought, both from within my Baptist tradition, and from other traditions in the Body of Christ (and, indeed, Jewish influences, too). But as a Christian pacifist from a branch in the Believers’ Church family, I have been more influenced by people from the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonites, Brethren, Friends/Quakers) than any other segment of non-Baptist theologians. I owe special gratitude to Mennonites–I feel very close to Mennonites. This is a small token of my deep gratitude.
I am probably one of the few Baptists to have read the collected works of the Dutch Anabaptist leader, Menno Simons (1496-1591). I’ve actually read through Menno’s works 3 times. He has areas of weakness, such as his strange adoption late in his life of Melchior Hoffmann’s “celestial flesh” theory of Jesus’ virgin birth. But Menno’s Foundation of Christian Doctrine, which was deeply influential on first generation Particular Baptists in England, is absolutely brilliant. I have not studied other 16th C. Anabaptists as deeply as with Menno, but I have read parts of the works of Conrad Grebel and Michael Sattler, Balthasar Hubmaier (whose defense of believers’ baptism and theological repudiation of the persecution of heretics is brilliant), and Pilgram Marpeck. I have not been influenced by later Mennonite thinkers between the 16th and the 20th centuries.
Of course, the strongest Mennonite influence on me has been from the late John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) but I have written on that elsewhere. I first encountered Yoder’s works in 1982, shortly after leaving the U.S. army as a conscientious objector. Yoder was my introduction to Anabaptists and Mennonites–so, for the longest time, I thought that Yoder was typical of Mennonites and did not realize that he was somewhat controversial within his own tradition–though also a major influence on that tradition.
Other Mennonite influences include:
Ronald J. Sider, Mennonite from a Brethren-in-Christ background, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry, and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary, Wynnewood, PA (formerly known as Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary). Sider first radicalized me in my concerns for the global poor.
Perry B. Yoder (Yoder is a common name among Mennonites), Professor of Old Testament, Emeritus at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary first helped me to find the strong peacemaking (with justice) theme in the Old Testament. Other Mennonite Old Testament scholars who have been helpful to me include Jacob Enz, Millard C. Lind, Waldemar Janzen, Elmer A. Marten, and Ben Ollenburger. Lind’s work on the Holy War texts has been very helpful (if not completely satisfying at every point), and Janzen’s “paradigmatic” approach to Old Testament ethics makes a great compliment to that of Methodist OT theologian Bruce C. Birch. (Get both Birch’s and Janzen’s works on Old Testament ethics–and ignore that of Christopher Wright.)
Willard Swartley, is the Mennonite NT scholar who has influenced me the most (though I disagree with him on “homosexuality”). Other Mennonite NT scholars with whom I regularly interact include Tom Yoder Neufeld, Lois Y. Barrett, Dorothy Jean Weaver, William Klassen, Donald Kraybill, and David Rensberger.
Among Mennonite theologians and ethicists who have had major impacts on my thought are: J. Denny Weaver (especially for his rethinking of atonement in light of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence), Clarence Bauman, Ted Grimsrud (whom I think is fast becoming a major theologian among Mennonites whom non-Mennonites need to hear), Thomas Finger (who interacted with the eschatological theology of Moltmann in a VERY helpful way), C. Norman Kraus (missionary cross-cultural dialogue that keeps Jesus at the heart of theology), my friend Mark Theissen Nation (who, in addition to being one of the leading experts on the thought of John Howard Yoder, also interacts helpfully with Stanley Hauerwas, Nancey Murphy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, my own teacher, Glen Stassen, and with his own teacher, James Wm. McClendon, Jr.), my friend Duane K. Friesen (especially for using conflict resolution studies, and the work of Gene Sharp to forge a post-Reinhold Niebuhr realist form of Christian pacifism, and for his more recent work on theology of culture beyond Troeltsch and H.R.Niebuhr), my friend Ted Koontz (for his interactions with Just War thinking and his helping to forge the emerging ethic of Just Peacemaking) and his better half, Gayle Gerber Koontz ( for Mennonite feminist theology, for several collaborative works and for helping disciples of H. Richard Niebuhr and disciples of John Howard Yoder better understand each other).
The African-American historian (and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.), Vincent G. Harding, is a Mennonite historian who has influenced my view of both U.S. history and the civil rights movement.
I need also to briefly mention such friends as Leo Hartshorn, Susan Mark Landis, Gerald Schlabach, Keith Graber Miller, John K. Stoner (who was also my employer for a time), Ray C. Gingrich, Marian Franz, and Joseph Kotva. I am doubtless forgetting many. Suffice it to say that, as an “Anabaptist-Baptist,” Mennonites have given me a second spiritual home. During my time as a Visiting Professor in far-off Pasadena, CA, I split my church attendance between First Baptist of Pasadena and Pasadena Mennonite Church. I have also been welcomed into the congregational hearts (and sometimes the pulpits) of Peace Mennonite Church in Dallas, TX, First Mennonite Church, Allentown, PA, Lancaster Mennonite Church, Lancaster, PA, College Mennonite Church, Goshen, IN, Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, IN .
Church of the Brethren influences: Smaller in number, but still significant. I love the blending of German pietism with Anabaptism in the CoB. I am still reading the great founders of the Dunker/Brethren movement, Alexander Mack, Sr. and Jr.
The C o B. church historian, Donald Durnbaugh wrote a study of the Believers Church tradition that I continue to use in courses on ecclesiology and ethics. I am deeply impressed by the feminist C o B theologian, Lauree Hersch Meyer and by philosopher of religion, Nancey Murphy, who was raised Catholic and converted as an adult to the Church of the Brethren after a course on 16th C. Anabaptism. Widow of the late Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Nancey is a friend and a powerful scholar who does much work on the interaction of science and faith and on post-liberal approaches to theology and ethics.
Vernard B. Eller was very wrongheaded in his attack on all feminist-inspired inclusive language for God, and his laudable efforts to communicate to non-experts could sometimes give his writings a non-scholarly look and feel, but he introduced me to the importance of Jacques Ellul and “Christian anarchy,” and he showed how to re-think Kierkegaard in a direction more appropriate for a more communal, less individualistic, ecclesiology.
Dale W. Brown has continued to be a model of communicating Biblical pacifism to mass audiences.
Dan Ulrich in New Testament and Stephen Breck Reid in Old Testament both are Brethren biblical scholars who deeply influence me. Reid, who is African-American, is a major voice in cross-cultural biblical interpretation.
I doubtless need far more contact with scholars in this Historic Peace Church. The first peace studies program in North America came from a Church of the Brethren college and one of the C o B programs inspired the birth of the Peace Corps.
Influences from Friends/Quakers: The early 17th C. Friends, growing out of a radical Puritanism, combined a high Christology with a mystic theology. I identify with those Christocentric early Quakers. But the movement splintered (especially in the U.S.) in the 19th C. between liberal (Hicksite) Friends who kept the unprogrammed meetings and resisted conforming Friends to the rising evangelicalism, but which seemed, in many cases, to lose the Christocentrism of George Fox, Margaret Fell, Barclay, Woolman and others. Many in today’s liberal Friends (part of the Wider Quaker Fellowship) embrace a relativistic form of universalism that is not concerned that Quakerism remain Christian. On the other hand, Evangelical Friends have programmed meetings, pastors, and look and feel much like evangelical churches (hymn singing, lack of silence) that simply do not practice water baptism or physical eucharist. These evangelical Friends have lost much that is distinctively Quaker, including, in many cases, the peace witness. In between are Conservative (Wilburite) Friends which attempt to hold onto the original Quaker ethos, but which are very tiny in number.
All this unhealed division has affected Quaker theology and scholarship: Liberal Quakers often dismiss theology altogether and Evangelical Friends are simply apologists for the creed known as the Richmond (IN) Declaration. All this is distressing to this outsider who believes that without a vibrant Friends’ testimony, the wider Body of Christ will be the poorer.
George Fox’s Journal is very influential on my devotional life as is John Woolman’s Journal. I admire the deep abolitionist witness of the Grimke sisters and Lucretia Mott. Among modern Quakers, my spiritual life has been enlivened by the late Thomas R. Kelly, and the late Douglas V. Steere.
Bayard Rustin, an African-American Quaker who played a tremendous role in the Civil Rights movement was behind the scenes for much of the movement because he was gay. Rustin had flaws, but I find his witness compelling.
I find the theological writings of Chuck Fager (peace activist and editor of Quaker Theology), to be helpful in many cases, along with the different emphases of co-editor, Ann K. Riggs, (who directs the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches, USA). I am just discovering the theological emphases of Rachel Muers, Douglas Gwyn, and Stephen W. Angell, along with the New Testament studies of former Baptist-turned-Friend, Michael W. Newheart.
In beginning our examination of Holy Scripture on the questions of war, violence, nonviolence, and peacemaking, we will begin with Jesus, as presented in the 4 canonical Gospels, then turn to the rest of the New Testament before examining large sections of the Hebrew Scriptures or “Old” Testament. Why are we taking this approach? Why begin with Jesus?
We begin with Jesus (and, in a different sense, end with Jesus) because, for Christians, Jesus is the ultimate authority on matters of faith and practice, of doctrinal and ethical convictions and living. The earliest Christian confession, found repeatedly in the New Testament, is “Jesus is Lord!” That is the ultimate title of authority in the first century Roman empire in which the NT was written. The Romans proclaimed that Caesar was lord–was supremely sovereign. For the early Christians to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord!” was to say “Caesar is NOT lord! NOT supreme! NOT our ultimate authority!” It should carry the same political weight today. No Christian can give ultimate authority to anything or anyone else than Jesus. There have been many attempts at political or religious or other Powers and Authorities to try to usurp that authority. In the days of the Third Reich, the Nazi ideology claimed by the “German Christian” movement argued for “Christ for the Church, Hitler for the Fatherland!” They proclaimed that considerations of “Blood” (racial-ethnic identity), “Soil,” (national land ownership, but also implying cultural superiority), and “Volk” (Peoplehood, a term having far more racist overtones in German than the English equivalent of “Folk” carries) could be valid revelations of God alongside biblical revelation. This is what led the Swiss theologian Karl Barth to reject the ancient tradition of “general revelation” of God through nature and reason, along with the particular revelation of God in and through the unfolding history of Israel and the Church recorded in Holy Scripture. The Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church (which arose to combat the heresy of the German Christian movement), written by Barth declares in Article I, “Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we must trust and obey in life and in death.” Then along with this affirmation, it gave a denial, “We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and and truths, as God’s revelation.”
In considering a biblical case for Christian pacifism, we do well to heed the lessons of Barmen. I am not claiming that any particular government is “another Hitler,” (a charge that is flung about by both Right and Left far too quickly). I am saying that governments make idolatrous claims and they want obedient subjects whenever they want to wage war. Even liberal democracies like the U.S., which allow for conscientious objection to military service, prefer that the numbers of conscientious objectors remain small. They give out propaganda campaigns through military recruitment commercials and military recruitment in public school classrooms and this seeps into the minds of churchmembers almost by osmosis.
In the 1990s, I was slightly irritated with the U.S. evangelical fad of wearing “WWJD?” (for “What Would Jesus Do?”) on bracelets and T-shirts and other paraphanelia because I didn’t think that this was accompanied by any serious examination of the Gospels to see what Jesus did in his time and place as any kind of guide to what the Risen Christ would have his disciples do here and now. The question WWJD? was not, it seemed to me, being answered by serious Bible study, but by mere guesswork–informed no doubt by sermons and praise songs, etc., but not tested by serious NT study. Yet, immature as that fad was, it was onto something. It could have led to a great reformation of the Church in these United States. It at least understood that Jesus’ life, teachings, and death are a model for Christian discipleship (1 Peter 2:20-22). But since the attacks on the U.S. on 11 Sept. 2001, these have all but disappeared. Most ordinary American Christians are not asking themselves anymore “What Would Jesus Do?” certainly not in responding to terrorists (or suspected terrorists), to Muslims, to immigrants, to treatment of “detainees.” These ordinary Christians are not asking, “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” or “Who Would Jesus Torture?” but are taking the name of Christ as a totem in all out war against declared national and religious enemies. (I remember how shocked I was when newspapers ran a picture of a tank in Iraq with the words “New Testament” painted on it. See below.)
See also my previous post on the “Military Bibles” with accompanying quotes by George Washington, George W. Bush, General Patton, etc. designed to remake Christianity into a religion of war and conquest.
Beginning with Jesus, and reminding ourselves via Barmen, of how crucial it is to begin with Jesus, and to expect that the gospel message of Jesus will be one that other Powers and Authorities don’t quickly welcome, is a helpful corrective to the many insidious ways that rival messages try to pour Jesus into their preexisting molds: Jesus as CEO of a Fortune 500 company preaching a gospel of capitalism; Jesus as Therapist, preaching a gospel of self-actualization; Jesus as Self-Help Guru; Jesus as Super-Patriot (forgetting that Christians are a global community, called out “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9); Jesus as Warrior and not the Prince of Peace.
This brings us to another problem: If we “begin with Jesus,” whose Jesus? That is, what view of Jesus guides our interpretation? The “politically correct” Jesus of the so-called Jesus Seminar is very different from that planned by the folks at “Conservapedia.” The Jesus of Rod Parsley stands in great contrast to the Jesus of Jeremiah Wright; the Jesus of Rick Warren is vastly different from the Jesus of Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis. Whose Jesus? How do we keep from making Jesus over into our own image? Well, as the late theologian H.Richard Niebuhr said, we have the “Rosetta Stone” of the original Gospel portraits. There are no absolute guarantees against misinterpretation, but we will consult a range of contemporary New Testament scholarship, and the Gospel portraits resist attempts to fully distort Jesus into an idol of our own making–as often as that has been tried.
An objection to this method of beginning with Jesus is that God’s revelation begins with the First or “Old” Testament–with Abraham and Sarah and Moses, with the faith and history of Israel, and the critique of the prophets. This is true. One does not fully understand Jesus apart from his context and heritage–his teaching in parables paralleled the teaching style of the sages of the Wisdom tradition (as found in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job ) and he stood deeply rooted in the tradition of the prophets of Israel/Judah. Those not familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures miss all the “Old” Testament quotations, paraphrases, themes, and allusions throughout the New Testament and especially in the Gospels and on the lips of Jesus. We also misunderstand Jesus by not understanding the rival factions within first century (i.e., Second Temple era) Judaism–rivalries so sharp that some scholars speak of the rival Judaisms of the Second Temple era–prior to the “normative” rabbinic Judaism of the 2nd C. We will have to situate Jesus (and the Jesus movement that became the early Church) within the rivalries of the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots (or proto-Zealot revolutionaries and social bandits), Essenes, or Hellenized philosophical Judaism like that of Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE-50 CE). And it is important to note that what we call the “Old” Testament was the Bible of Jesus and the early church.
But we must still learn to read the Hebrew Scriptures as Jesus did. For us, all these centuries later, there is often a tendency to develop our theology from a particular reading of the Old Testament and then decide to fit Jesus in and be sure he says or does nothing to disturb our view of biblical revelation. Yet Jesus was constantly surprising both his rivals and his disciples–who read the same Scriptures. Flat Bible approaches end up subordinating Jesus to a doctrine of biblical authority or a reading of Scripture derived apart from Jesus. They end up becoming religions “about” Jesus that stand in contrast to the faith of Jesus. The NT writers resist this tendency. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is they that speak of me.” John 5:39. Or, as the writer of Hebrews put it, “Long ago at many times and in various ways God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but in these final days God has spoken to us supremely by a Son.” Heb. 1:1.
Christians throughout history have reacted to previous moldings of Jesus into mistaken shapes by affirming the supremacy of Jesus himself as revelation. Thus the Southern Baptist Convention, for instance, in 1925 and 1963 said, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”
So, we will begin with Jesus, with the portraits of Jesus and his teachings found in the 4 canonical Gospels. In our next installment, we will consider ways in which people try to avoid or water down Jesus–often without realizing that’s what they are doing. And we will argue for reading the “Old” Testament as Christian Scripture, as the Bible of Jesus and the earliest Christians.
Note: My approach is not the only way to present a biblical case for pacifism. One could read the entire Scripture through lenses shaped by Jesus but present such a reading in a “Genesis through Revelation” canonical order. That is the approach taken by Church of the Brethren scholar Vernard Eller in his classic, War and Peace from Genesis to Revelation (Repr. Wipf and Stock, 2004). It’s also the route chosen by Mennonite theologian Ted Grimsrud on his website, PeaceTheology.net in a blog series that will become a book, The Bible on Peace. I recommend both works strongly. But I have seen so many recent attempts to remake Jesus and distort Jesus’ message (see the picture above for an extreme example) that I am taking extra precautions that, in the words of the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, “We Do See Jesus.” (The phrase comes from the essay, “But We Do See Jesus”: The Particularity of Incarnation and the Universality of Truth” reprinted as chapter two in Yoder’s The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (University of Notre Dame Press, 1985). )
I love to read spiritual or theological memoirs. This type of literature has been around almost since the beginning of Christianity (although found in some other faiths, too). One of the great classics is St. Augustine’s Confessions which also includes his theological concept of time. Others include St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul, The Life of St. Teresa of Avila by Herself, John Woolman’s Journal, George Fox’s Journal, and so many others. The Baptist tinkerer-turned-preacher, John Bunyan, wrote two, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and the allegorical Pilgrim’s Progress.
I got hooked on spiritual/theological memoirs in college. I was attending a conservative evangelical college (now university) in South Florida and I didn’t really fit in–my style of faith and spirituality (not to mention my politics) went against the stream of the cookie-cutter conservatism that was the official ideology. (I really should have transferred to another college.) The major target was “liberalism.” I was a political liberal, but not a theological one. One day I came across Harry Emerson Fosdick’s The Living of These Days. I loved it. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t just adopt Fosdick’s theology as my own. That’s not the value of spiritual or theological memoirs. They help you get past the stereotypes and see the other’s struggles and God’s presence in the person’s life. You get to wrestle with their questions and your own and find your own answers. So, I have found help in theological memoirs from many places in the theological spectrum, including those far more conservative and far more liberal than I am. Here are a few of the contemporary spiritual/theological memoirs that I have found especially fascinating. Please, tell me your list.
- Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Living of These Days. Harper, 1967.
- F. F. Bruce, In Retrospect: Remembrance of Things Past. (Posthumous Edition). Baker Book House, 1980, 1993. I read the posthumous edition right after finishing my dissertation–as a break. Wow. Bruce is so chock full of pastoral wisdom that I wish was more widely shared by his fellow evangelicals.
- Ray S. Anderson, Soul of God: A Memoir. Wipf and Stock, 2004.
- Frederick Beuchner, The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days. Harper, 1991.
- Frederick Beuchner, Telling Secrets: A Memoir. Harper, 1992.
- Frederick Beuchner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation. Harper, 1993.
- James H. Cone, My Soul Looks Back. Abingdon Press, 1982.
- Lesslie Newbingin, Unfinished Agenda: An Updated Autobiography. Wipf and Stock, 2009. This Anglican missionary bishop has had one of the largest impacts on the shape of Christian missions and interfaith dialogue. A truly amazing life.
- Carter Heyward, A Priest Forever: One Woman’s Controversial Ordination in the Episcopal Church. Pilgrim Press, 1999. Originally published in 1976, two years after the ordination, with a new forward by Heyward, now an out lesbian and a famous theologian, and an afterward by one of the other 11 women ordained that day in 1974.
- Lewis B. Smedes, My God and I: A Spiritual Memoir. Eerdmans, 2003.
- Samuel D. Proctor, My Moral Odyssey Judson Press, 1989. A major memoir from one of the most important African-American pastors and educators in post-WWII America, a one time president of the Peace Corps, president of two historic black colleges, and of Rutgers University. I have ordered his second volume, finished just before his untimely death, The Substance of Things Hoped For: A Memoir of African-American Faith (Judson Press, 1999).
- Hans Kung, My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs. Eerdmans, 2003. Just finished this. Very powerful.
- Hans Kung, Disputed Truth: Memoirs II. Eerdmans, 2005. Looking forward to this, which is on order.
- Jurgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography. Fortress Press, 2009. Halfway done. One of my biggest theological influences.
- Cornel West, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud: A Memoir. Smiley Books, 2009. On order. Cornel West is one of my favorite Christian public philosophers.
- William Stringfellow, A Simplicity of Faith: My Experience in Mourning. Wipf and Stock, 2005. In some ways all of Stringfellow’s writings were autobiographical, but this is expressly a memoir from this brilliant lawyer and Episcopal lay theologian who was a guide for many in the ’60s and ’70s.
- Henlee H. Barnette, A Pilgrimage of Faith: My Story. Mercer University Press, 2006. Yes, Barnette was my teacher, but this incredibly moving memoir would touch many others who never knew this gentle saint who died only weeks before its publication. One of the best saints Southern Baptists ever produced–and the kind of life the current SBC CANNOT produce without changing what the SBC has become.
- Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness. Harper & Row, 1970. Repr. HarperOne, 1996. The deeply honest story of the conversion of the founder of the Catholic Worker movement.
- John M. Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down. 1976. Repr., Wipf and Stock, 2006. The memoir of one of the most amazing African-American Christians. His brother shot down in his arms by a racist white sheriff in the Civil Rights era, Rev. Perkins never stopped believing in the humanity of white people and the triumph of gospel grace. Founder of Voice of Calvary ministries in Mississippi, which combines evangelism with community development–a pioneer in faith-based (no government aid) anti-poverty efforts.
- Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Speech, Silence, Action: The Cycle of Faith. Abingdon Press, 1980.
Of course, many important Christian leaders are far too shy or modest to write personal memoirs or autobiographies. Sometimes outside biographers have shed important light or have created a classic that is almost as helpful as the author’s own writings–a major example is Peter Brown’s biography on St. Augustine, which is a major companion to Augustine’s own Confessions. Another is Roland Bainton’s unforgettable biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand! The kind of biographer that is especially helpful to people of faith is sympathetic with the object of the biography (one doubts seriously that Brown could have written so helpful a biography of Augustine’s nemesis, Pelagius!), but has enough critical distance to show the warts and feet of clay. Hagiography, uncritical “lives of the saints,” that make the subject seem like plastic statues, are really not helpful, but nor are vicious attacks. Here are a few theological biographies I have found especially helpful:
- Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. Eerdmans, 1975. Repr. Wipf and Stock, 2005.
- Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography. Eerdmans, 1970. Revised and Supplemented, Fortress Press, 2000.
- David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2004.
- William D. Miller, Dorothy Day: A Biography. Harper & Row, 1982.
- Mark Theissen Nation, John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions. Cascadia, 2000. A revision of the author’s dissertation at Fuller Theological Seminary, the opening chapter is the most complete biography available to date of JHY, whose writings are still being published posthumously.
- John Allen, Desmond Tutu: Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography. The Free Press, 2006. Authorized biographies can be “tame,” but they also usually have greater access to private sources. This is the best biography we have to date of Tutu.
- Christopher Evans, The Kingdom is Always but Coming: A Life of Walter Rauschenbusch. Eerdmans, 2004. This is a great supplement to the earlier work by Paul M. Minus, Walter Rauschenbusch: American Reformer. Macmillan, 1988.
- Daniel P. Fuller, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: The Story of Charles E. Fuller. Fuller Seminary Press, 2004. Reprint of an earlier edition by Eerdmans. This is an intimate but fair biography of the radio evangelist who founded Fuller Theological Seminary by his son, Daniel–who changed its original shape and reshaped it to the “progressive evangelical seminary” it has become.
- R. Alan Culpepper, Eternity as Sunrise: The Life of Hugo H. Culpepper. Mercer University Press, 2002. In similar fashion, New Testament scholar (and founding dean of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology), Alan Culpepper has written a sympathetic-but-fair biography of the amazing life of his father, Hugo. Hugo Culpepper, NT scholar and missionary to the Philippines, captured by the Japanese during WWII and held for 4 years, and later professor of Greek and Missiology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
- Geoffrey Wainwright, Lesslie Newbingin: A Theological Life. Eerdmans, 2000. An excellent complement to Newbingin’s own memoir.
Please, Gentle Readers, share your favorite spiritual memoirs and theological biographies.
We are exploring a biblical case for or defense of Christian pacifism. To get started, we need to define our terms and approach to the problem. First, this is a biblical case for Christian pacifism, not the only way the case can be made from Scripture. There are a variety of interpretations and approaches to Scripture held by Christian pacifists–and a number of legitimate ways of laying out the case. This is simply the case I am making and the approach I, as a Christian pacifist who has long studied these matters, have chosen to proceeed.
Second, this is a biblical case. Although bypassing debates over terms like “inerrancy” or ‘infallibility,’ I will be writing with the assumption that most readers are Christians who hold that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are uniquely authoritative for both the doctrinal convictions and also for the ethics or moral practices of the Church, both collectively in its gathered life together and individually as members. Protestant Christians generally belong to Reformation or post-Reformation groups which confess the Scriptures as the supreme authority, sometimes even saying the ONLY authority, in these matters. Eastern Orthodox Christians place the Scriptures within the interpretive framework of the early ecumenical councils of the undivided Church, especially the Apostolic and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creeds, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Roman Catholic Christians hold that Scriptural authority is part of the twofold teaching authority of the Church Magisterium, the Teaching Church, along with ongoing church tradition as embedded in councils and papal pronouncements. (Under certain very limited circumstances, Catholics hold that the pope can and does teach ‘infallibly.’) Some Quakers and some Pentecostals view the authority of the Scriptures through the authority of the living voice of the Holy Spirit discerned within the local church. But all Christians have the Scriptures in common and I will appeal to those books which all consider canonical or forming the teaching norm of the Church universal.
For this reason, though some references to historical scholarship will be made from time to time, I will not here be trying to reconstruct “the historical Jesus” behind the four canonical Gospels, nor engaging in a “quest for the historical Israel” different from that presented in the historical accounts of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. This study is not aimed at scholars, but at ordinary Christian laity. I assume that if I cannot show that the Bibles they actually read point to pacifism and nonviolence as a Christian norm, it won’t matter what case could be made to academics. I may from time to time alert readers to matters they may want to pursue in-depth in other works, but I have to keep my attention on the goal: understanding the Biblical message as calling for nonviolence and pacifism on the part of all Christians.
Defining some key terms in this study:
- Christian: refers here to all who make the earliest Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord,” whose faith in God is mediated by Jesus, and who seek to follow Christ. “Christian,” means “Christ-follower,” and before the earliest believers were called “Christians” at Antioch (Acts 13:1) they were simply called “Followers of the Way [of Jesus–as opposed to the Way of the Pharisees, Zealots, one of the Greco-Roman mystery cults, etc.]. So, in this study I am not writing to those who, as Clarence Jordan used to mock, simply want to admire Jesus, but to those who sincerely want to follow in the Way that he opened up. “Christian” in this study does not mean someone who had a certain religious experience (whether they call it being “born again,” or by another name), but then live just like their non-Christian neighbors, but those who realize that being Christian involves addressing claims that Jesus Christ makes on their lives. It will be the burden of this study to show that living without violence or revenge or waging war is one of those claims on the lives of Christians. Engaging in the pursuit of justice and peace is another strong claim Jesus makes on our lives. So, negatively, we avoid killing or violence, and positively we work for justice and peace.
- Violence is defined in this study as “using force or the threat of force to overwhelm the will or violate the rights or bodily integrity of another human being.” Questions of violence to property or to animals or other living things will be bypassed in this study. But mental or psychological violence is covered in our definition by means of the threat of physical violence. For more on this definition see, Glen H. Stassen and Michael L. Westmoreland-White, “Defining Violence and Nonviolence” in Teaching Peace: Nonviolence and the Liberal Arts, ed., J. Denny Weaver and Gerald Biesecker-Mast (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). Update: Mark Congdon thinks this definition needs to change “or” to “and.” I’ll think about that. He may be right. But we need to separate the definition of violence from arguments about whether or not it is right or wrong. After all, Just War Theorists will agree that war is violent; it involves shooting, bombing, stabbing with bayonets, etc. Nevertheless, they would argue that, under precise conditions and terms spelled about by JWT (many of which are now codified in both U.S. and international law), these would be justifiable (they claim) to prevent conditions they would think of as even more evil. Likewise, there may be some things that would not technically count as violence under the definition given–such as assisted suicide, perhaps, that one would still want to argue are morally (and maybe legally) wrong. We need to define violence correctly, but then also argue for it being wrong. The article cited goes into far more detail and is more philosophically precise. Here, we are just getting our bearings for a biblical argument on pacifism. There will be many “borderline” discussions and “grey areas,” but the main argument against war or terrorism, violent coups, spouse or child abuse, etc. will be clear. Once we have moral clarity about the general direction of the life of discipleship as Christians, we can worry about “grey areas.” But we don’t want special pleading–to say that “I don’t believe in violence but I do believe in X, therefore X is not really violent.” We need to separate the definition of violence (whether or not that definition needs refining) from the argument about an action’s morality so as not to hide some types of violence behind definitions.
- As such violence is distinguishable from two related terms force and coercion. Force refers to any power to set an object or a course of events in motion. Coercion refers to all practices that pressure others to take actions or refrain from actions against their own desires. Violence always involves coercion and usually involves force, but not all force or coercion is a form of violence. If I swing a baseball bat, it always involves force, but it is only violent if my intended target is my neighbor’s head rather than the spheroid thrown by my neighbor called a “baseball.” However, if I poison someone without her knowledge, I have not used force, but my action was still violent. Similarly, if I insist that my children do their homework when they would rather not, I am being coercive, but I am not being violent just by using my moral authority as their father (nor is Kate when using her authority as mother to achieve the same end). If I threaten to lock them in a closet otherwise, or beat them into submission, my coercion has been violent.
- These distinctions may seem petty, but they are important. Many have objected to Christian pacifism by claiming that it does away with authority (and thus is always anarchistic) and that Christian pacifists are hypocrites if they discipline their children. That is not so. Some pacifists are against spanking, but not all. (My own objections to spanking do not involve the claim that spanking is always wrong or always child abuse–but that the difference in adult strength is so great, and adults are usually angry when they employ spanking, that abuse is always a strong potential outcome. Once I grabbed one of my daughters by the arm to prevent her from running into an oncoming car. I did the right thing. My action, though forceful and coercive, was hardly violent. But I still accidentally bruised her arm. So, I refrain from spanking because I do not trust my own strength when angry. I do think that parents for whom spanking is the USUAL form of punishment are failing as parents, even if they manage to spank in such a way as to not be abusive.)
- Consider other examples: If someone is attempting suicide by jumping off a bridge and another prevents this by tackling the jumper, the rescuer is being forceful and coercive, but not violent–not even if they injure the jumper in the rescue. Workers in a mental hospital who practice safe methods of restraint against a violent patient are not being violent, but if they fight the patient they are being violent–defensively violent, but still violent. Nor are intentions everything: If a pilot accidentally releases his bombs over a wedding, we still call the resulting carnage violence. The argument being made in this study is that Christians are forbidden violence (and commanded to engage in practices of justice seeking and peacemaking), NOT they are forbidden to ever use force or coercion.
- Nonviolence is a term that has evolved in meaning. It once meant only refraining from violence. It has evolved to mean, and I use the term here, to refer to active practices against injustice and war that are not themselves violent. Examples of such practices include: strikes (if the strikers remain disciplined and nonviolent), boycotts, demonstrations, walkouts, nonviolent protests, symbolic actions, work slowdowns, general strikes throughout a nation, fasting (under certain conditions), etc. We will see numerous such examples in Scripture and history throughout this study. Nonviolent direct action is a form of conflict, of struggle against injustice. It is not passive or submissive or cowardly. It is an alternative to flight or fight, to submission or armed, violent, resistance.
- Conflict resolution or conflict transformation refers to a series of evolving practices for peacemaking in the midst of conflict, including in the midst of war or armed violence. These practices are distinct from the practices of nonviolent direct action, but they are not in tension with them. The practices include negotiation, cooling off periods, etc.
- Pacifism refers to the ideological conviction, often religiously rooted, that all war and violence is morally wrong and may not be used even as a “lesser evil.” In this study, I refer to Christian pacifism, the claim that Christians (Christ-f0llowers) must attempt to live without violence, especially without lethal violence, and, positively, to engage in practices of nonviolent struggle for justice and peacemaking. For this reason, at a minimum, Christians must refuse to go to war or to prepare for war by serving in national militaries (or by serving in armed militias or guerilla groups, for that matter). (The question of police work is more complex than can be addressed here, but it cries out for more attention. See further Tobias Winright, “From Police Officers to Peace Officers,” in The Wisdom of the Cross: Essays in Honor of John Howard Yoder, ed. Stanley Hauerwas, Harry J. Huebner, and Chris Huebner (Eerdmans, 1999, repr. Wipf and Stock, 2005). This is based on Winrights unpublished Ph.D. dissertation in Christian ethics from Notre Dame, which I hope will be published in full in the near future.)
- Nevertheless, as we will see, the major thrust of the biblical message is not on what we should refrain from doing (violence, making war), but on what we should be doing (working for peace and justice). This point has come to have wide agreement beyond Christian pacifist circles. Christian pacifists and those from the “Justifiable War Tradition,” are beginning to agree on a set of normative practices in Just Peacemaking. I have discussed those in depth elsewhere on this blog. I may refer to them again at the end of this study, but not in detail.
I think we will end this first installment here so as to refrain from making these too long for busy readers to follow. The next installment, then, will deal with two more “getting started” questions: “Why Does This Study Begin with Jesus and the New Testament?” and “How Ought Christians to Read the Old Testament?” From there we will begin our biblical studies.
Miguel de la Torre (left) is a friend of mine–and a rising voice in baptist theology in the 21st C. He is one of the leading voices of Latino-American Liberation theology today–which is funny considering that he was once a staunch Republican who sold real estate in Miami.
Born in Cuba just months before the Castro revolution, Miguel’s family escaped to the U.S. when he was 6 months old. For awhile, the U.S. government considered him to be an “illegal immigrant” (as they did the part of my family that came from Ireland during the late 19th C. and, finding the quota on Irish filled that year, stuck across the Canadian border). He grew up in Queens, was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church while his parents became priest and priestess in the Caribbean religion of Santeria. He left Queens and moved to Miami in his teens.
At 19, Miguel formed his own real estate company, earned an M.P.A. from American University (Washington, D.C.), founded the West Dade Young Republicans, and eventually became president of the Miami Board of Realtors. In 1988, he ran for Congress but lost in the Republican primary to Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL -115), who still holds that seat.
In his early 20s, Miguel’s life took some dramatic turns. He became a “born again” Christian and joined University Baptist Church by believers’ baptism. Feeling called to gospel ministry, he dissolved his highly successful real estate company to finance his theological education, beginning at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY (where we met–Miguel helped me hone my mediocre Spanish enough that I could pass Theological Spanish for grad school and study Latin American liberation theologies in the original–except for the brothers Boff, who, being Brazilian, of course, wrote in Portuguese! ). He was ordained to the gospel ministry and served as pastor of Goshen Baptist Church in Glen Dean, KY.
Like many of us, Miguel found his seminary experience transforming. Almost against his will, he changed from a social and political conservative to a proponent of liberation theology–who thinks most Democrats are far too tame. When he completed his M.Div. at SBTS, he entered Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, earning a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, specializing in Christian Ethics and Sociology of Religion. Miguel has applied social scientific models to study Latino/a religion in the U.S. as well as pioneering in theological ethics from a Latino/a liberationist perspective.
From 1993-2005, Miguel taught Christian Ethics at Hope College, Holland, MI. Hope College is a Christian liberal arts college associated with the Reformed Church of America, and a Latino Baptist somewhat stood out in an institution historically related to Dutch Calvinists–but both African-American and Latino/a students were a rising percentage of enrollment. Things went mostly fine, Miguel earned tenure, until he wrote a column in the local newspaper that satirized James Dobson’s attacks on the supposed “homosexuality” of the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants. (The article was called, “When the Bible is Used for Hatred.”) Dobson and his supporters caused enough trouble for Miguel that he eventually resigned his tenure and moved to Denver, CO. Since 2005, Miguel de la Torre has been Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology, an ecumenical and interfaith theological seminary connected to the United Methodist Church. [Corrected slightly per comments from BDW] Formerly, regular columnist for EthicsDaily, now more often for Associated Baptist Press, Miguel is a prolific author–so much so that I will only list below the books he has authored by himself. He also co-authored several books, edited others, and contributed articles to dictionaries, journals, chapters in books, and magazines and newspapers. In all these ways, he is a powerful influence–a new voice and face to 21st C. Baptist (and baptist) theology in North America.
A partial bibliography of Miguel de la Torre’s works include:
Reading the Bible from the Margins. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002. Personal note: This was a groundbreaking and very challenging work. I REALLY advise reading this–several times.
The Quest for the Cuban Christ: A Historical Search. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2002.
La Lucha for Cuba: Religion and Politics on the Streets of Miami. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003.
Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.
Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004. Not quite as ecclesiocentric as this Anabaptist-type would desire, there is still much that is essential in this fantastic book.
A Lily Among the Thorns: Imagining a New Christian Sexuality. Jossey-Bass, 2007. Haven’t had time to read this one, yet, but want to do so. Miguel goes where angels fear to tread.
Liberating Jonah: Toward a Biblical Ethics of Reconciliation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007. Excellent.
Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on the Current Immigration Debate. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009. I have this one on order.
Social Justice from a Latina/o Perspective: Constructing a Latina/o Ethics of Survival. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, Forthcoming in 2010.
Genesis: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, Forthcoming in 2011.
If I were to add all the co-authored and edited books or his chapter contributions, you’d wonder how Miguel de la Torre ever finds time to teach his class or be with his family! I envy his ability to write faster than I can read! And I commend his works to you heartily. You will find his perspectives challenging, always.
In a series of short essays for EthicsDaily.com, Dr. Bruce Prescott, of the Mainstream Baptists Network, who hosts the radio show “Religious Talk” in Oklahoma, shares the events that became steps leading him away from the shackles of fundamentalism.
Unlike the last entry in this series, I do not know Dr. Snarr personally: We’ve missed each other at meetings of the Society of Christian Ethics and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion. We’ve never met, though we have mutual friends. But my encounter with her work leads me to believe she will soon be a very important voice in baptist life and thought.
Dr. Snarr’s areas of scholarship and teaching include: Christian political thought; Christian theological ethics; Feminist theological ethics; Contemporary Islamic political thought; Ethics pedagogy; Sociology of Morality; Social Movement Theory; and Sociology of Religion. She is an activist-scholar in the contemporary U.S. Living Wage struggle and in struggles for gender justice and equal justice for all sexual orientations.
A 1992 graduate (B.A., Religious Studies and Philosophy, magna cum laude) of Furman University (a historic, very selective, private university in Greenville, SC, rooted in the non-creedal, Free Church/Baptist tradition), Snarr was a scholar-athlete who won numerous awards and honors. She earned her Master of Divinity degree at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (magna cum laude) in 1995. After spending time working in church-related social work and social movement struggles, Snarr finished her Ph.D. from Emory University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Program in Religion (Ethics and Society) in 2004. After working for Emory’s Servant Leadership School and Emory’s Center for Ethics, Dr. Snarr became Assistant Professor of Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, TN. She also serves as core faculty in Vanderbilt’s Graduate Department of Religion and is affiliate faculty in the undergraduate School of Arts and Sciences where she teaches Women and Gender Studies and Community Research and Action.
Dr. Snarr is an active member of Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville–a progressive congregation affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship , and American Baptist Churches, USA and is a partner congregation with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and a member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. It’s a great congregation, co-pastored by Dr. Amy Mears and Rev. April Baker.
Snarr’s doctoral work focused on differing Christian views of moral formation how that effects their political participation. This has been recently published as Social Reforms and Political Selves: Five Visions in Contemporary Christian Ethics. London: T & T Clark/Continuum International, 2007. Focusing on the differing views of social selves held by Christian social ethicists Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, Stanley Hauerwas, Beverly Harrison, and Emily Townes, she identifies strengths and risks in their views and considers their adequacy for producing social reforms. She concludes the book by arguing for six core convictions about the social self that might form a Christian social ethic capable of responding to our current crises.
Snarr’s sec0nd book(forthcoming), like the majority of her social activism, focuses on the role(s) religion and gender play in the U.S. movement for a living wage. I look forward to All You Who Labor: Religion and Ethics in the U.S. Living Wage Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2010). She is teaching courses on religion and war in an age of terror (comparing Christian and Islamic views) that I hope will issue in another book.
It’s easy to see that Melissa Snarr is a figure to watch in baptist life and thought.
My friend, David Fillingim, currently Associate Professor of Philosophy, Shorter College, Rome, GA, will be annoyed to find himself listed as a “new voice” in baptist theology because he has always insisted that he “doesn’t believe in theology.” If you press him hard, he’ll break down and admit that what he really means is that he doesn’t believe in systematic theology. A native born Georgian (with a soft drawl that was pleasantly out of place amidst the twangier sounds of Kentucky when I knew David as a fellow Ph.D. student of Glen Stassen at SBTS in the early ’90s) with a Southerner’s Faulknerian sense of narrative, and tragedy, and the giveness of place and people, David knows that theology, like life, is too messy to come in neat systems–and so is God. To me, that makes him a perfect candidate for this series of brief profiles of “not-yet-famous” voices in baptist/Believers’ Church life.
First, the bare facts. Born and raised in the absolutely beautiful seaside city of Savannah, GA, the son of a family physician, Fillingim grew up in the same kind of conservative-but-non-fundamentalist Baptist life that produced former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He was cross-pollinated by the more radical stream represented by Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Partners (Americus, GA) and Black Baptist life–during a childhood that saw segregation end, and teen years and adult life that never quite saw racism healed. (Glimpses of healing occur across the South, and across the nation, daily, but there are always setbacks.) He was educated at Mercer University (Macon, GA), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC), finishing his Master of Divinity there just as the fundamentalists took over that institution. He pursued his Ph.D. in Christian Ethics (under my own Doktorvater, Glen H. Stassen) at SBTS in Louisville, KY–even as the fundamentalists closed in on it. (David said he felt like Jonah, bringing darkness whereever he went!) His major influence include Clarence Jordan, Will D. Campbell, Morris Ashcraft, Elizabeth Barnes, Glen H. Stassen, Paul D. Simmons, Henlee H. Barnette, H. Richard Niebuhr, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Of Bonhoeffer, Fillingim has said that he finds it impossible just to relate to him on an intellectual level, always responding to Bonhoeffer as a novice contemplative responds to a spiritual guide. (There is another set of influences to which we’ll attend in a moment.)
After finishing his academic work, Fillingim taught for several years at Chowan College in North Carolina before coming to Shorter College. He has returned to his home state of GA, but lives now at the opposite end (NW instead of SE) from his childhood home.
Fillingim has written or edited 3 books. Extreme Virtues: Living at the Prophetic Edge with a foreword by Glen H. Stassen (Herald Press, 2003) is a contribution to “virtue ethics” or the “ethics of character” rooted in a study of the biblical prophets. Too much of the literature of virtue ethics, even when written by Christians, is more indebted to the writings of Aristotle (and modern Aristotelians like Alisdair McIntyre) than to the biblical literature, but Fillingim’s contribution is a welcome exception. According to Fillingim, the virtues extolled by the biblical prophets are: self-sacrifice, personal responsibility, justice, steadfast love, hope, courage, and peace. I expect more in this line to come, perhapps from the Gospels, which, following Jesus himself, were deeply informed by the prophets.
Fillingim’s other two books show a second side to his scholarship: the relation of Southern religion to aspects of Southern popular culture, especially musical culture. A guitarist himself, Fillingim wrote Redneck Liberation: Country Music as Theology, Music and the American South series (Mercer University Press, 2003). Here Fillingim stands in company with Methodist theologian Tex Sample in studying blue-collar culture for clues to its religious life. (See Tex Sample, White Soul: Country Music, the Church, and Working Americans [Abingdon Press, 1996], and Tex Sample, Blue Collar Resistance and the Politics of Jesus: Doing Ministry with Working Class Whites [Abingdon Press, 2006].) But Fillingim’s initial inspiration, other than the music itself, and the love of Country music by his icon, the maverick Baptist minister, Will D. Campbell, was Black Liberation theologian James H. Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues (Orbis Books, 1972, rev. ed., 1992). Fillingim centers on the “hillbilly humanism” of Hank Williams (Sr.), the eschatological hope portrayed in strands of Country music, and the tension between subordinationist and feminist strands among female Country artists. I would like to have seen a chapter on the tension between strands of Country which glorify nationalism, militarism and violence (e.g., Toby Keith or Lee Greenwood) and those which resist these features of Southern culture (e.g, John Denver, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson).
Finally, to this point in the witness of this “new voice,” is More Than Precious Memories: The Rhetoric of Southern Gospel Music, ed. Michael P. Graves and David Fillingim (Mercer University Press, 2004). This edited work is similar in genre to Redneck Liberation but concentrates on Southern Gospel– church approved Southern white music which stands in the same kind of tension with Country music as the Spirituals do with the Blues. Graves and Fillingim co-wrote the introduction “More Than Precious Memories” and Fillingim’s chapters include “Oft Made to Wonder: Southern Gospel as Theodicy,” and Appendix: “Flight from Liminality: “Home” in Country and Gospel Music.” In all these cases we see the recurring Fillingim theme that the distinctive music of Southern culture reflects and illuminates the best and worst of real lives of faith and doubt and brokeness and hope among working class white Southerners.
Fillingim clearly has a strong sense of place: These are my people, no matter what. It is not uncritical and seeks change–away from the historic racism, sexism, heterosexism, militaristic nationalism, and violence of Southern culture. But Fillingim’s loyalties to the South also lead him to see its best features and to feel that they are threatened by globalized mass market “culture” and the acids of both modernity and post-modernity. His is a theology of resistance and hope–that speaks and sings with a soft patrician Georgian drawl. Like Hank Williams, sometimes Fillingim doubtless is “so lonesome [he] could cry,” but is sustained because he “saw the Light.”
Here is a baptist theological voice from the South to watch closely for more to come.
Starting this weekend, I’ll begin this series. Looking at the “not yet famous” important voices in the “baptist” or Believers’ Church tradition. I may start another series looking at other important new voices, but I think it always important to know one’s own tradition, first.
This is a long overdue contribution to my series on Dialogue-Partners in Theology. I first wrote a post on My Favorite Liberal Theologians outlining those theologians in the liberal/modernist tradition that I find to be indispensible conversation partners in my theological reflection. I then did the same for Conservative Evangelicals and for Jewish theologians and philosophers. But I had promised to list my conversation partners in the wider use of the term “evangelical,” (gospel centered) where the term “conservative” might not apply. I have neglected this now for too long. Part of the neglect was because it is impossible to define the term “evangelical” in a way that invites consensus–and the term has different connotations in the U.S. than outside it.
So, I here refer to those theologians (and theological ethicists) and biblical scholars who are rooted deeply in the Protestant Reformation (both Magisterial and Radical Reformations), Puritanism, Pietism/Wesleyanism, and/or 19th C. Revivalism (and/or the way any and all of these movements have made encounters in Asia, Africa, indigenous cultures in the Americas, etc). They are “gospel centered” in their approach to theology, rather than deliberately beginning with human experience as with liberals. (This is not to say that experience plays no role: the experiences of conversion and/or later “baptisms” or “fillings” with the Holy Spirit play major roles.) The centrality of Scripture for the life of the church is assumed–whether or not a term like “inerrancy” (by whatever definition) is used. There may be correspondences between such theologians and persons in Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditions, but there are also differences in both style and substance.
Now, since I have already described my major dialogue partners among “Conservative Evangelicals,” who are within shouting distance of Protestant fundamentalism–at least at times, I am here not including them. Rather these individuals either moved away from conservative evangelicalism or (as in the case of many “post-liberals”) began with another tradition and moved in a more evangelical direction–or simply always had a more mainstream, or ecumenical, or “catholic” perspective on “the evangel,” the Good News of Jesus Christ for the beautiful but sad world. What follows is not an exhaustive list of such persons, but merely the ones who are the dominant conversation partners in my own theological reflection: MY favorite non-conservative evangelicals, if you will. Lack of inclusion should not be seen as a judgment on merit–but no one can seriously engage ALL the important thinkers in any adequate fashion.
For the sake of limiting the size of this post, I will omit all thinkers before the late 19th C. when liberal and evangelical theologians began to diverge sharply in methodology, at the least. (This means I’ll need another post on Voices from the Reformation to the late 19th C. Sigh.) I will include some (not all) of those otherwise classified as “Neo-Orthodox” or “Post-Liberal.” I no longer find either term especially useful.
I. “Non-Conservative” Evangelical Dialogue Partners No Longer Living.
- Karl Barth (1886-1968). Arguably the most important theologian since the Reformation and EASILY the most important theologian of the 20th C. Raised in the household of a conservative Swiss Reformed pastor, Barth studied with the great 19th C. German liberals and initially was one of them–but rejected their entire program when he saw almost every professor he knew sign a statement in support of the Kaiser’s war aims at the beginning of WWI. This crisis in faith led him to rediscover the Reformers (especially Calvin), the Church Fathers, and the “strange new world within the Bible.” Barth was almost the first theologian I read when I started trying to read serious theology. (I think I first encountered him through the essays in The Word of God and the Word of Man and then in Evangelical Theology.) Eventually, in seminary, I would study with David L. Mueller, a brilliant Barth scholar who published much less than I wish he had. I took his Barth seminar and we read most of The Church Dogmatics–Barth’s unfinished masterpiece which is sprawling and not without its faults, but attempts to think through everything from the standpoint of God’s freedom to love the world and humanity through Christ. I have not remained everywhere a Barthian–I especially find his reworked divine command ethics to be greatly wanting–but my view of Scripture remains thoroughly Barthian and my Christology at least largely so. I thought Barth should have taken the plunge to embrace pacifism (he hovered at the edge), but appreciate his caution on universal salvation. Like Barth, I WANT to be a universalist, but I have a real sense of God’s judgment on an unjust world. See further The Karl Barth Society of North America and the Center for Barth Studies.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) unites life, faith, and theology in a way that convinces me over and over again of the reality of God in Jesus Christ. A German pastor from a secular university family, who himself encountered Barth in his studies, Bonhoeffer was a major figure in the church struggle against Naziism as well as one of the plots against Hitler–despite having described himself as a pacifist. Nachfolge -badly translated as The Cost of Discipleship–(See Discipleship in the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works, English Edition, for a much better translation.) laid the basis for my first sermon at 19, “Are You Prepared to Live or Die for the One Who Died for You.” (Bonhoeffer is great. I can’t vouch for my teenaged sermon all these years later!) He began my lifelong wrestling with the Sermon on the Mount in a world of war, street violence, injustice, domestic violence, economic violence, and terrorism. Bonhoeffer’s Creation and Fall allowed me to read Genesis theologically–without needing stupidities such as “creation science” or “intelligent design.” His Christ the Center continues to orient my Christology and his Life Together ended the individualism of my ecclesiology. I wrestle with many great concepts in the unfinished Ethics, but find the result (perhaps because it was never finished) to be unsatisfying in several places, but Letters and Papers from Prison continues to serve me as a better devotional guide than most books on “spirituality.” As a pacifist, I disagree with Bonhoeffer’s participation in an attempt to assassinate Hitler, though Bonhoeffer himself didn’t know one end of a gun from another–but even more do I dislike the way many war-loving Christians (and violence prone Christians) have used Bonhoeffer as an excuse–never wrestling with his assertions that there were no exceptions to the ban on killing and that those involved in the plot would have to deal with both God’s judgment and mercy. Here, Bonhoeffer was more honest than Barth–not seeking some general Grenzfall or emergency escape clause from the call to nonviolence–honestly seeing the desperate plot against Hitler not as a “lesser evil,” much less a real good, but as a failure to find another way that was more faithful to Christ. See further, the International Bonhoeffer Society.
- Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), the greatest theologian of the Social Gospel, certainly had one foot in liberalism–especially having been influenced by Albrecht Ritschl. But he remained an evangelical and is still a prophet of Christian work for social justice.
- Dale Moody (1915-1992) the Texas Baptist giant. Moody was raised in a fundamentalist setting (combining elements of dispensationalism, free-will Arminianism, and semi-pentecostalism) that could not contain him. A genius I.Q. had this dirt poor farm boy memorizing the Greek New Testament as he plowed the field. Educated at Baylor University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, and Regent’s Park College, Oxford, Moody became the second Protestant and first Baptist to lecture at the Gregorian University in Rome. An eclectic thinker who once spent a sabbatical living with Emil Brunner in Zurich while commuting daily to Basel to hear Barth lecture, Moody came even more under the influence of Oscar Cullmann and the “Biblical Theology Movement.” Moody’s systematic, The Word of Truth, was an attempt to do biblical theology AS systematic theology. It doesn’t entirely work–but where it breaks down, it usually gives hints at the way forward. Moody’s major influence on me was to reinforce my view that Baptist biblicism could be completely united with critical scholarship and ecumenical concerns.
- Letty Russell (1916-2007) was one of the first women ordained in the United Presbyterian Church, ancester body to today’s Presbyterian Church, USA. She served for years as one of the pastors of East Harlem Protestant Parish, and taught theology at Yale University Divinity School. She was a major voice in ecumenical studies and in connecting first world movements for social justice to those in the Third World. A product of the encounter of Barth and Moltmann with feminism and liberation movements, Russell was a pioneer in feminist biblical studies and feminist theology. I encountered Russell’s work thanks to my own feminist theology mentor, Molly Marshall (now President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary).
- John Howard Yoder (1927-1997). The most important Anabaptist theologian since Menno Simons, it is not true that Yoder’s writings convinced me of gospel nonviolence/Christian pacifism. But his The Politics of Jesus (1972, rev. 1997) was the first theological reflection I read after becoming a pacifist and leaving the U.S. army as a conscientious objector. Yoder CEMENTED my Christian pacifism (c. 1983). I have written deeply on his influence elsewhere. As I predicted at John’s funeral, many secondary studies of Yoder have begun to emerge. Most have serious flaws. I do recommend two secondary studies as showing particular insight, however: Mark Theissen Nation, John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions. Eerdmans, 2005 (which is the long awaited publication of Mark’s Ph.D. dissertation done at Fuller Theological Seminary) and Earl Zimmerman, Practicing the Politics of Jesus: The Origin and Significance of John Howard Yoder’s Social Ethics. Cascadia, 2007. I also recommend both these Festschriften or books of celebratory essays, Stanley Hauerwas, Chris K. Huebner, Harry J. Huebner, and Mark Theissen Nation, eds., The Wisdom of the Cross: Essays in Honor of John Howard Yoder. Eerdmans, 1999 and Ben Ollenburger and Gayle Gerber Koontz, eds., A Mind Patient and Untamed: Assessing John Howard Yoder’s Contributions to Theology, Ethics, and Peacemaking. Cascadia Publishing House, 2004.
II. Living Dialogue Partners in Wider Evangelicalism
- Juergan Moltmann (1926-). A German Reformed theologian who has been in major dialogue with Mennonite scholars, Latin American liberation theologians, feminist and Black Liberation theologies, Moltmann has greatly modified my Barthianism. During my first semester of seminary, I read Moltmann’s The Crucified God (1972, ET, 1974)–and would never be the same. For one thing, although I have always believed in the Trinity (because the alternatives, tri-theism or modalism, were so bad), I never gave it much thought. But in The Crucified God, Moltmann shows that only the Trinity can adequately deal with Jesus’ crucifixion–and so it has been central to my theology ever since. Second, Moltmann made me a profoundly eschatological thinker because he showed me that eschatology was not escape from social action. Third, despite his Reformed viewpoint, in The Church in the Power of the Spirit, Moltmann reinforced by Free Church (baptist) ecclesiology–and made me a “near Pentecostal.” Most importantly, Moltmann made me a liberation theologian. I had already read Gustavo Gutierrez and recognized the importance of liberation theology–but Moltmann showed me that I could be a liberation theologian in a First World context. Moltmann had been drafted into the German army in 1944, and surrendered to the first British soldier he saw 6 months later, and spent time in a prison in England, not repatriated until 1948. I have never known whether this former prisoner of war completely embraced pacifism (his statements seem ambiguous), but he reinforced my own commitment to gospel nonviolence. He also showed me how to be an ecological theologian without embracing some “New Age” nonsense like Matthew Fox.
- Stanley Hauerwas (1940-) is the greatest living theologian in the U.S. He grew up in a blue-collar evangelical United Methodist home in Texas and went to Yale Divinity School (and is still angry about Yale). At Yale, James Gustafson mal-formed Hauerwas’ view of the work of H. Richard Niebuhr. Despite Yale, Hauerwas somehow came under the influence of Karl Barth, interested in work on the virtues (which led to dialogue with Catholics for the rest of his career), and narrative theology. Teaching at Notre Dame, he encountered John Howard Yoder and, against his will, almost, became converted to Christian pacifism. He has spent most of his life teaching at Duke University Divinity School weaving these various influences together–and leading a one-person charge against Enlightenment modernism, against democratic liberalism (thinking wrongly that Yoder iss completely on his side there) and insisting that the church become, once more, a counter-cultural community (he’s right about that part). I have a love-hate relationship with Hauerwas. When he’s wrong, he’s very wrong, but when he’s right, he’s excellent. Because he writes “combat theology”–with passion and fury–he’s often sloppy and makes what I consider to be large mistakes. But he gets more right by accident than most do on purpose. Siblings often fight more than strangers.
- Walter Brueggeman (no dates found) is a retired Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, GA), and a minister in the United Church of Christ, having previously taught at Eden Theological Seminary. Educated in the “Christian realism” of Reinhold Niebuhr, Brueggemann has been brought into a counter-cultural evangelicalism by Scripture itself. He is the most fascinating and provocative OT scholar living. The Word comes alive with Brueggemann and he sees all of it as relevant for re-shaping the church in a profoundly pagan, post-Christian world. Influenced both by Karl Barth and by German critical scholarship, Brueggemann is good at making people uncomfortable with the Word. My teacher, John D. W. Watts, a brilliant Old Testament scholar in his own right, assigned me Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination and I’ve never been the same–and a good deal of disposable income has gone toward purchasing many of Brueggemann’s books.
- J. Deotis Roberts( 1927-) is often overshadowed among Black Liberation theologians by James H. Cone, the other pioneer in the field, but in my humble opinion (as a white dude), Roberts is by far the better theologian. He combines traditional (evangelical) Black Church theology with classic philosophical training and a very wide ranging ecumenical and multi-cultural engagement. His contention that liberation and reconciliation must be worked on together has made many think him “less radical” than Cone, but it seems to me that it simply makes him more thoroughly gospel-centered.
- Desmond Tutu (1931-) retired Anglican Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa and former Primate of the Province of Southern Africa (now called the Anglican Church of South Africa), the Most Rev. Tutu came to prominence during the struggle against apartheid as a leader in the nonviolent church struggle against white oppression. Since the end of apartheid, Tutu has led the South African Commission on Truth and Reconciliation and continued to be a global worker for justice and peace. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. I have found his theological works, particularly Hope and Suffering and No Future without Forgiveness to be deeply moving.
- N. T. Wright (1948-). Nicholas Thomas (“Tom”) Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham, is one of the finest New Testament scholars living. Since I had already encountered the “new perspective on Paul” through others and not found it controversial, I have most been influenced by Wright as a Jesus scholar. I have said more about this here. I’d also like to recommend the online N. T. Wright page.
- Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel (1926-) was the second woman (the first single woman) to receive a doctorate in theology from the University of Gottingen–a year before her fellow student and soon husband, Jurgen Moltmann. She has been a pioneer in feminist theology. I have especially enjoyed I Am My Body (a theological anthropology) and Rediscovering Friendship as well as The Women Around Jesus.
- Nancey Murphy( no dates found) is Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. Raised Catholic, she has a B.A. in physics from Creighton University and a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science from the University of California at Berkeley. She has a Th.D. in Modern Theology from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley where she met her late husband, James McClendon (see above). She has become a major voice in the dialogue between science and theology, and is a feminist pacifist theologian. She has been a devastating critic of the “Intelligent Design” movement and a major voice in showing how different fields require different canons of reason. She has tried to rework Yoder’s thought into an overall ontology–something Yoder himself resisted.
- Willard Swartley (no dates found) is Professor Emeritus of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and also a former dean of the school. He is a brilliant NT professor whose work has encompassed hermeneutics, interaction with the anthropology of Rene Girard, editing a dialogue between Mennonites and Juergan Moltmann, and a huge amount on the theme of peace within Scripture. He also has written on homosexuality and hermeneutics, where I find him less helpful.
- J. Denny Weaver (no dates found) is Professor of Religion Emeritus at Bluffton College, a Mennonite liberal arts college in Bluffton, OH. He is probably the most important Mennonite theologian since John Howard Yoder. He advances Yoder and the Anabaptists into the post-modern context. Especially helpful to me is Weaver’s The Nonviolent Atonement which argues for a narrative reworking of Christus Victor as an atonement theology which is not at odds with the commitment to nonviolence of the NT. Weaver objects to those theologies which, while claiming that Christians must commit to nonviolence, ultimately have a violent view of God.
- Paul Fiddes (1947-) is a British Baptist theologian, formerly Principal of Regent’s Park College and a Professor of Systematic Theology, Oxford University. In conversation with Moltmann and with liberation theologies, Fiddes has written some profound works that explicate the heart of the gospel, including: Past Event and Present Salvation; The Creative Suffering of God; Participating in God: A Pastoral Theology of the Trinity; Tracks and Traces: Baptist Identity in Church and Theology; Reflections on the Water; and Under the Rule of Christ: Dimensions of Baptist Spirituality.
- Walter Wink (1935-) is a United Methodist theologian and Professor Emeritus at Auburn Theological Seminary in NY. A New Testament theologian and committed pacifist, Wink has one foot in the liberal tradition (including membership in the Jesus Seminar), but was profoundly influenced by the biblical witness of the Episcopal lay theologian William Stringfellow–and through Stringfellow, Jacques Ellul, Karl Barth, and John Howard Yoder. Wink is most famous for his work on the Powers in NT theology and their implications for contemporary church life–in which he proposes not simply capitulation or resistance, but engagement, holding out hope even for the redemption of the Powers. Wink has also been a strong voice for full GLBT inclusion in the church.
- Thomas Oden (1931-) is a United Methodist theologian who, during the 1960s and 1970s, poured himself wholeheartedly into every new theologically liberal fad that came along. Burned out by that experience, he reclaimed his faith from the brink of extinction by rediscovery of the the ancient church theologians, the Fathers (and Mothers) of the Church from the post-apostolic era to Chalcedon. Thus, Oden proposed a return to orthodoxy, but not “neo-orthodoxy,” but paleo-orthodoxy–including a recapture of pre-critical exegesis and an immersion in the consensus theology of the early Church before the split into East and West. He has been also rediscovering Wesley and classic, pre-Freud resources for pastoral care. There is much in Oden’s work I like, including the dismissal of inerrancy as a modern doctrine (it is) and immersion in the work of the Church Fathers (and Mothers). But Oden is a dialogue partner and not a mentor because he seems to see theology as an ivory tower existence–in overreaction to his earlier faddish social activism. Let me put if provocatively: Stanley Hauerwas has often been accused of having a “separationist” or “withdrawal from culture” ethic or ecclesiology. While I think this is a misreading of Hauerwas (a fairer charge would be that those with a tendency toward withdrawal ethics take too much comfort from overly quick readings of Hauerwas’ work), it strikes me as right on the money concerning Oden–which seems odd in an heir of John Wesley whose passion against slavery and against oppression of the poor are a matter of record. Then, too, paleo-orthodoxy strikes me as “fossilized theology.” Like it or not, each age, each cultural context, brings new questions to the tasks of theology that cannot be ignored–although they need not be capitulated to and certainly one might want to address those questions with voices from the far past and not just the recent past. Immersion in Christian classics is never a bad thing–but I don’t see enough in Oden of turning from that immersion back to the world.
- Justo Gonzalez (no dates found) is one of the best church historians and historical theologians living. In his work, I find exactly what I am missing with Oden, the relation of all that went before, and a global awareness of the multicultural church, to today’s questions. (Interestingly, I saw a panel once on “post-modern theologies” which agreed that Gonzalez and Yoder, who were both present, were not post-modern precisely because they had never bought into Enlightenment modernity. Thus, they were not in wholehearted rejection of the Enlightenment,either. )
- Richard B. Hays (no dates found) is a United Methodist theologian and a New Testament scholar at Duke University Divinity School, previously having taught at his alma mater, Yale. Hays began as primarily a Pauline scholar, especially engaging the wok of E. P. Sanders and James D. G. Dunn. But his fame (and infamy) came with the publication of his The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Cross, Community, New Creation a contemporary work in New Testament ethics. In scope it is the most powerful work of its kind currently in print. I loved his defense of Christian pacifism and of sharing possessions, the equality of the sexes, and much else. My disagreement with Hays over same-sex matters (excellent exegesis, but hermeneutics that are inconsistent with his principles and practice throughout the rest of the book) has been well aired on this blog in the series on GLBT inclusion in the church. (It was painful. I like Hays’ work and I didn’t want to be that critical publicly.)
- Miroslav Volf(1956-) is a Croatian by birth and ordained in the Evangelical Church of Croatia, though now a member of the Episcopal Church, USA. He is a professor of theology at Yale Divinity School. A former doctoral student of Juergan Moltmann and a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Volf is immensely helpful in theological reflection on the pain and tragedy of the world. His Exclusion and Embrace written in Los Angeles in the wake of the riots after the aquittal of the police who beat Rodney King, and written while the massacres in the former Yugoslavia were still happening, argues profoundly for Christians as peacemakers in this world–but disturbingly does so by projecting vengeance onto God. (Volf’s views are the kind that disturb Denny Weaver.) He has moved further in his reflections on nonviolence since 9/11 and the declaration of a “global war on terrorism.”
I could add others to this list, including Gabriel Fackre, the late Hans Frei, the late Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Orlando Costas, but these are my major dialogue partners in “wider evangelical circles” except for my personal teachers, but I have spoken elsewhere of the influence of my teachers Glen Stassen, Molly T. Marshall, Dan R. Stiver, and –in my posting on conservative evangelicals, of Craig Blomberg and George R. Beasley-Murray. I think the next installment in this series will focus on Catholic dialogue partners, both ancient and contemporary.