Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (32) Living in the victory of the cross

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

We are in Chapter 9, ‘The Apocalyptic War: Christus Victor’ and in this post we are looking at the Christian life lived in light of the victory of God in Christ.

The question Rutledge turns to is how does apocalyptic battle imagery ‘work’ as a guide to Christian living? Several points can be distilled from the conversation – and these are my headings.

Non-Violence

There is a profound paradox at the heart of Christianity. God’s decisive victory is won through the suffering and self-giving of his Son at the cross.

So, while an apocalyptic battle is being waged, the ‘method’ of warfare is non-violence (of God).

The most fully apocalyptic book in the New Testament is of course Revelation. As apocalyptic literature it is packed full of violent, bloody and graphic images of battle. Yet. At the heart of the story is “the lamb who was slain”.

Rutledge quotes Volf again from Exclusion and Embrace,

At the very heart of the “one who sits on the throne” is the cross. The world to come is ruled by the one who on the cross took violence upon himself in order to conquer and embrace the enemy. The Lamb’s rule is legitimized not by the “sword” but by its “wounds” (Volf 300-01, quoted 383)

What I call this “powerful powerlessness” is so deeply woven into the ‘essence’ of Christianity that I struggle to understand how Christians manage to evade both the biblical witness and the testimony of the early Church – to follow Jesus is to be non-violent.

You don’t have to use physical weapons to be in a battle.

The language of struggle and combat is not incompatible with a commitment to nonviolence. The nonviolent combatants are sustained by their trust in God, who has promised that “vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (384)

Rutledge returns to stories of the Civil Rights movement and the path of nonviolent resistance being uniquely inspiring and powerful, as well as a path of suffering.

No-where else will you find this story – no religion, no philosophy …

In the unique event that is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, it is revealed that God is acting. In the divine invasion of this world, the Powers that have been allowed to rule in “the present evil age” are disarmed by the Powers of the world to come, that is by the weapons of the Spirit. Christ the Lord is Victor even in the midst of the suffering of his followers. (386)

Realism

Rutledge wisely observes that, despite the fact that we are more aware than ever today of the broken state of our world, we are awash with sentimentality. Christmas is a good example:

Despite the terror and suffering all around us, we demand soft-focus peace-and-joy images for our Christmas cards. By contrast, the apocalyptic gospel dramatizes a cosmic struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, day and night in a symbolic world that grants evil its due and girds itself ahead of time for the irruption of such events as terrorist attacks. (388)

An apocalyptic perspective, Rutledge argues, will be fiercely realistic

Reality is about evil, and suffering, and ultimately victory over suffering. (389)

My comments: Christians should be aware, more than anyone, that life is a battlefield. Therapeutic soft-pedalling of the gospel as that which brings me happiness and fulfilment just do not cut it in the real world. It trivialises the gospel and sends Christian ‘soldiers’ out to battle utterly ill-equipped for the conflict ahead. Its false promises lead to immaturity, disillusionment and cynicism.

Hope

If the gospel is a message of deliverance from the forces of evil, it is therefore a message of hope.

The cross is God’s initiative from start to finish, it also ensures that God’s victory won there will, one future day, come to completion. The Powers continue to exist, Christians remain in a cosmic battle in the in-between times of cross and final victory. This is a hope

“beyond any human hope (Rom. 4:18) because it is grounded in the promise of the future of Jesus Christ.”  (390)

Christians are therefore not prisoners of the Powers but are ‘prisoners of hope’.

Final Comments on Christus Victor

One thing so likeable about Rutledge is her integrity – there is no sleight of hand or subtle twisting of truth to make it ‘fit’ her own preferences. At the close of this chapter she acknowledges weighty criticisms of an apocalyptic perspective.

  1. It seems to locate the battle at a cosmic remove, detached from humanity. (Rutledge argues this need not be the case if understood rightly – believers participate in the battle).
  2. It seems to locate blame on evil Powers and attributing too much goodness and innocence to us.
  3. Linked to this, it can “give Christians a pass” from responsibility for our own actions.

These criticisms have weight, which is why Rutledge welcomes the necessity of Christus Victor to interact with other New Testament motifs. While the overarching apocalyptic framework of the New Testament provides the overall context to understand the cosmic scope of God’s victory at the cross, this is never divorced from atonement for sin and rectification (justification) of sinners.

We need all the motifs to begin to appreciate the cross in all its complex glory.

Next we begin chapter 10 dedicated to a surprising theme for a book on the cross – ‘The Descent into Hell’.

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Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (31) Christus Victor

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

We are in Chapter 9, ‘The Apocalyptic War: Christus Victor’

In this post and the next one we are focusing on the victory of God in Christ at the cross.

This is perhaps the most important chapter in the book and this is therefore a longer than usual post. Hope you can bear with me!

How much does ‘battle’ and ‘conflict’ frame your understanding of the cross and the Christian life? Does this all sound a bit extreme? Why are we uncomfortable with these biblical themes today do you think?

Rutledge argues that the apocalyptic ‘war’ against God’s enemies is decisively won at the cross and this atonement theme embraces all others which represent, in different ways, aspects of that victory.

It was Gustav Aulén in 1931 who first coined the Latin phrase Christus Victor. His book is famous, although probably one of those people know about rather than have read.

Rutledge takes us on a quick recap of Aulén’s argument. She proposes that his definition is close to the apocalyptic perspective rearticulated recently by Beker and Martyn and Ziegler et al.

“The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory of Christ over the Powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death and the Devil … the victory of Christ creates a new situation bring their rule to an end and setting men free from their dominion.” (Aulén, quoted 361.)

Aulén’s argument was in part polemical; he saw victory rightly emphasised in the Fathers, eclipsed in the Middle Ages, partly recovered, particularly in Luther, and then effectively suppressed again.

Luther in WormsIn terms of Luther, it is his sharp awareness of the dramatic invasion of God’s power in and through the death and resurrection of Christ, that leads him to celebrate the decisive defeat of his enemies – sin, death and the curse. This is very close to apocalyptic in its focus on God’s supreme power, human inability, comprehensive victory and the incursion into human history of something decisively new.

Rutledge comments

This underscores the nature of the apocalyptic gospel as a drama encompassing all the other themes in various ways. (363)

Rutledge gives some examples of what we could call ‘battle scenes’ from the New Testament. These are everywhere.

A personal comment here

In the tradition I grew up in – middle of the road, softly Reformed, middle-class Irish Presbyterianism – generally has little place for drama. In this it probably echoes much evangelicalism. There are lots of strengths, I’m not ‘having a go’ here. But Aulén was right in how the mute button has been firmly pressed on the Bible’s apocalyptic framework.

There would be a book or two in this for someone I suspect – but Reformed theology’s main emphasis is on continuity, most obviously in covenant theology. The theology of infant baptism and its link to circumcision is another example. Its ‘heart’ is a reading of justification in forensic legal terms that tends to dominate understanding of ‘the gospel’ and interpret the cross primarily as effecting righteousness in the believer.

The work of the Spirit, within a new age that has broken into the ‘present evil age’ (Gal. 1:4) tends to be subordinated and / or somewhat detached from the primary focus on justification.

And so it is perhaps other Christian movements like the Charismatic churches and Pentecostalism which are closer to the radical apocalyptic ‘feel’ of the spiritual conflict that pervades the New Testament.

Back to Rutledge and scenes from the apocalyptic battlefield

Romans 5-6

Paul’s thought is thoroughly eschatological. Try reading Romans afresh with an eye for just how much talk there is of ‘powers’ reigning – Sin, Death, the Law.

People are enslaved under them – they are almost personified in how they imprison people. Paul’s radical point is that BOTH Jews AND Gentiles alike are under their destructive power.  His shocking conclusion is that

The righteousness of God is made known apart from the law (Rom 3:21)

In Romans 5-6, the imagery is of the whole human race under the power of Sin and Death (in Adam). Sin reigns in death. Its ‘weapon’ is the Law – but the good news is that deliverance is possible.

‘Grace can reign through righteousness to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 5:20-21)

“Paul clearly envisions hostile, active Powers that must be dethroned to make room for the new Adam and the sphere of power that is ruled by the Spirit of righteousness and life.” (365)

This is a battle between two reigning powers. But they are unequal powers – look for how the gift of God in Christ is NOT like the trespass of Adam.

“… Death is a great power, but dikaiosyne (the righteousness of God) is an even greater Power – “all the more” so – and it is actively at work, in tandem with God’s grace, to overturn the rule of Sin and Death, recapturing the creation and inaugurating a new rule of righteousness and eternal life. This is what has happened in the cross and resurrection. (366)

Jesus is the risen Lord (kurios) – he rules over the new dominion of righteousness.

“To this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Kurios both of the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:9, quoted 367)

An Aside on N T Wright

In a footnote Rutledge strongly criticises N T Wright and his resistance to apocalyptic interpretations of Paul. First time I have heard Wright judged as lacking in imagination!

I do not wish to devalue Wright’s work and influence … However, he does not work in the dimension of imagination that has enabled apocalyptic theologians (whose work he greatly dislikes) to give us a vastly expanded understanding of the cosmic vision of Paul. (367, n. 43)

Other examples of the apocalyptic battlefield

This is a brief list

  • Slavery and Freedom – huge themes in Romans and Galatians
  • The Garden in Gethsemane – a classic example of an apocalyptic confrontation between Jesus and the forces of darkness. This is why it depicts such an intense struggle prior to the Messiah’s arrest, trial and execution.
  • Luke 21:12-19: “… some of you will be put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”
  • 1 Peter 4:12-17: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you ..”
  • Col 2:13-15 “He disarmed the powers and principalities and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in him.”
  • Heb 2:14-17: “… through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and deliver all those who through the fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage …”

The Powers

Whether modern rationalist and secularised Christians ‘see’ it or not, the New Testament is NOT simply a story about God and fallen humanity and how their broken relationship is restored. In the ‘middle’ of that relationship are the ‘Powers’

Ephesians 6:10-12: 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Romans 8:38: 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[ neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Mark 5:9 – “Satan and his legions”

1 Cor 2:6-8: We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Paul names Satan ten times – usually in association with Sin, Death and the Law, or linked with principalities and powers – thrones, lords and other authorities.

Volf EandERutledge has sustained interaction here with one of the best theological books written in the last 50 years, Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation (1996).

[This book inspired me to pursue a PhD related to Christian identity and reconciliation in a context of violence and division (Northern Ireland). [You can buy the published version here for a mere snip of £160. Bargain !!]

Volf brilliantly saw how Jesus’ death was far more than a mere injustice of an innocent man being found guilty and experiencing horrible violence as a result. No, the cross is God’s invasion of enemy territory through non-violence.

It is, paradoxically, a powerful ‘weapon’ that leads to victory through suffering and self-giving death.

ALL of us are under the influence of the Powers, yet are loved by God. The powers are the real enemy to be overcome and destroyed so humans can be set free. This is why God’s wrath represents him beiing “actively engaged in warfare” (381).

Rutledge quotes Volf and with this we had better bring this post to an end.

Without an eschatological [apocalyptic] dimension, the talk of God’s wrath degenerates into a naïve and woefully inadequate ideology … Outside the world of wishful thinking, evildoers all too often thrive, and when they are overthrown, the victors are not much better than the defeated. God’s eschatological anger is the obverse of the impotence of God’s love … A ‘nice’ God is a figment of liberal imagination, a projection onto the sky of the inability to give up cherished illusions about goodness, freedom, and the rationality of social actors. (Volf, quoted 381)

It is because God is a God of judgement that we are to leave judgement to God and not engage in violent retribution ourselves. {For me this is one reason why support of the death penalty is not a Christian option]

In the next post we continue within chapter 9 and especially what it means to live today in light of the victory of God through Christ’s death on the cross.

Paul’s non-violent Gospel is for all believers

Let me be upfront in this post – any believer who argues that Christians, in particular circumstances, are justified in engaging in war and violence is pushing against the overwhelming ethos of the New Testament and early Church History.

Rather than Christian non-violence being seen as a ‘minority report’ within much of later Western Church history, it should be the other way around – that there should be a default scepticism and ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ around Christian ‘just war’ theory because it is so manifestly out of step with Jesus, Paul and the rest of the NT.

This isn’t just an ‘ethical issue’ – non-violence is integral to the gospel, it should shape the lives, attitudes and words of all Christian disciples.

Below is a review of mine of a book making a convincing case along these lines for Paul. Jesus’ teaching to love enemies and of non-retaliation is not just some idealised unrealistic ethic that can be left safely with the ‘perfect man’ – it was embodied within Paul’s own experience and understanding of the gospel itself.

Have a read and see what you think – comments welcome

Jeremy Gabrielson: gabrielsonPaul’s Non-Violent Gospel: The Theological Politics of Peace in Paul’s Life and Letters (Pickwick Publications: Eugene OR, 2013. Pbk. pp.204. ISBN 978-1-62032-945-0)

This book represents the fruit of a PhD completed at the University of St Andrews under the supervision of Bruce Longenecker. Gabrielson’s theme is that non-violence for Paul was “not simply an ethical implication of the gospel, but is itself constitutive of the politics of the gospel.” (168)

By this he means that the gospel forms a counter-cultural political body that responds to evil and enmity not with violence or force but with good. The motive for such counter-intuitive enemy-love is not to avoid suffering. Rather, quoting Yoder, it “heralds to the cosmos that in God’s kingdom ‘the cross and not the sword, suffering and not brute power determines the meaning of history’.”(169)

A distinctive element of Gabrielson’s articulation of Christian non-violence is his focus on how Paul’s personal biography of violence informs his theology. In other words, Paul’s teaching of peace and non-retaliation are not merely generalised ethical principles drawn from his Jewish context (important though that is) but should be interpreted through the grid of the apostle’s dramatic experience of supporting and subsequently renouncing violence.

This thesis is unpacked in most detail in the longest chapter in the book, ‘Trajectories of Violence and Peace in Galatians’. The ‘pre-Christian’ Paul is a violent persecutor (1:13, 23) who tried to ‘destroy’ the fledgling messianic movement of Jesus-followers. Gabrielson is cautious about filling in the details of Paul’s account via the later writings of Luke; he argues that Paul’s own words (‘destroy’ and ‘persecute’) presuppose physical violence. Based on parallel examples in Philo, he suggests that Paul’s exceptional zeal could have been understood as a virtue whereby perceived transgression of the Torah would rightly have been violently punished. So, while there is no explicit mention in Paul of being involved in killing, his own language, the Jewish context and the documented experience of the first Christians of violent persecution all combine to support such a possibility.

This leads Gabrielson to propose that Paul’s experience of the risen Christ not only causes deep and profound shifts in his understanding of the law, faith and righteousness but also in his understanding of a peaceable life that pleases God. Gone is the notion of ‘righteous violence’. Instead, the humiliating and debasing horror of crucifixion is reimagined to a degree that the apostle can rejoice that he has been ‘crucified with Christ’ and his former self no longer lives (Gal. 2:19-20) now that he is a ‘slave’ (1:10) of Christ. Gabrielson concludes

“The violent Paul died when Christ was apocalypsed in him; now Christ-in-Paul shapes Paul’s life in the flesh in a cruciform existence.” (95)

This stance frames the author’s unpacking of Galatians’ rich understanding of the Christian life. New life in the Spirit will embrace and overcome suffering. It will be a life of love and giving; bearing burdens and enacting forgiveness. It leads to the paradox of Christian freedom, where freedom takes the form of voluntary ‘slavery’ of love and obedience to the risen Lord.

This new life leads to a new political order of ‘doing good’ to all, especially the household of God (6:9). Yet peaceableness does not mean that violence will not come one’s way. This is why Paul warns his communities that the violent world would probably do its violent worst – they should expect suffering and trouble.  But their response was to repay evil with good; to embody a politics of peace in the face of a politics of violence.

Gabrielson’s argument is well made and persuasive. A vast amount of scholarly attention has been, and continues to be, focused on Paul, righteousness and the law. This is perfectly understandable given the weight and breadth of the theological issues at stake. Those debates revolve around questions such as how exactly did the ‘new’ Paul differ from the ‘old’ Paul?; what was Paul ‘converted’ from?; what were the continuities and discontinuities in his understanding of the Torah? It is refreshing to see another, frequently overlooked, angle to these sorts of questions unpacked in this book – that of Paul’s shift from violence to non-violence.

Paul, Gabrielson argues, did not come to such a remarkable and counter-cultural position lightly. In an opening context-setting chapter on ‘The End of Violence in Matthew’, he argues that the Gospel makes plain, on multiple levels, that Jesus was remembered as the Messiah who, despite living in a culture steeped in violence, chose non-violent resistance – and that choice cost him his life.

Paul’s general commitment to non-violence is traced in a subsequent chapter on ‘The Memory of a Non-Violent Jesus in Paul’s Letters’. After careful analysis of Jesus Tradition in Paul, Gabrielson concludes that Paul, ‘like virtually every early Christian author’, included the most memorable and startling elements of Jesus’ teaching. Living peaceably in a violent world was one of the

“most salient features of the teaching and example of the historical Jesus … because it was this Jesus who was recognizable as staying true to the living voice of Apostolic testimony” (78).

A further chapter focuses on supporting evidence for this conclusion drawn from a study of 1 Thessalonians. The case made here is that as early as 50 CE Paul is exhorting Thessalonian Christians to imitate the peaceful response of non-violent perseverance to suffering earlier demonstrated by the Judean churches (1 Thes 2:14-16). If referring to the Judean church’s suffering under Paul’s own persecution in the early 30s CE, this locates Christian non-violence at the earliest possible stage of church history in a non-Pauline church. The implications are significant: the practice of Christian non-violence was demonstrably evident in every geopolitical context (Palestinian, Asian, Greek and Roman Christianity) and under different founding missionaries and leaders.

In other words, non-violence is intrinsic to the gospel of Jesus Christ – who pioneered the non-violent politics of the kingdom of God for his disciples to follow.

A significant hermeneutical question lurks in the background of Gabrielson’s analysis. Namely, is Paul’s biography of violence paradigmatic for all believers?

While not exploring contemporary implications in detail, Gabrielson believes it is. A life of non-violence is not just a personal ethical ‘choice’ for a Christian; it is an intrinsic part of belonging to the new age of the Spirit.

“The sway of the cosmos, the old-age modus operandi, led to Paul’s violence, but Paul’s new modus operandi, his new trajectory involves living into the new creation which has as its gravitational center the cross of Christ” (99-100).

At one point Gabrielson quotes approvingly from Michael Gorman’s excellent book, Inhabiting the Cruciform God (158-9) that

“If the conversion of Paul, grounded in the resurrection of Christ, is paradigmatic, it is paradigmatic in multiple ways, not least of which is his conversion from violence to non-violence.”

Such a conclusion is, of course, highly contested. The biblical and theological case for Christian non-violence has been well mapped out, as have Christian counter arguments. While this book does not offer anything radically new to those discussions, it does add a fresh, coherent and strong strand to the case for Christian non-violence.

There are some weaker points and omissions. It is not clear that Galatians 2:10 is Paul speaking autobiographically of his ‘old’ violent self. The link from righteous violence in Philo to righteous violence in Paul is possible, but theoretical. The conclusions drawn from 1 Thessalonians are implicit rather than explicit. It is surprising that there is no discussion of Romans 13 given its significance in how Paul’s relationship with violence has been interpreted historically.

But overall, if Gabrielson is right, and I believe he is, this work has profound implications for all Christians globally.

It also highlights how, such is the coherence and unified witness of Paul and the other writers of the New Testament, that a Christian argument for a just use of violence is almost inevitably forced to go beyond the biblical texts to try to find other grounds on which to base its case.

When the guns went quiet

Had the privilege of preaching at MCC on Sunday. Since it was the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 it seemed appropriate to think of Jesus’ teaching on loving your enemies (Luke 6:27-36).

end_of_the_warI finished the sermon with this picture and associated sound clip. The picture is of film onto which different microphones in the trenches were recording the sound intensity of enemy guns. Using triangulation, they could then pinpoint the location of those enemy guns.

The films were unearthed a while ago in the Imperial War Museum. The most dramatic one is of the 11th of November 1918, the day the guns went quiet. The film shifts from spikes of sound to the flat line of silence (above).

Clever people have reverse engineered the film to recreate the sound it first recorded. So, although there are no sound recordings of WW1, we can now hear the ending of the war and the first moments of peace after years of senseless slaughter.

Have a listen to the arrival of peace

The closing point I made in the sermon is that this is an image of Christian eschatological hope. Christians believe that one day the guns will go quiet for ever: no more war, no more mass shootings, no more violence, no more arms industry making billions from deaths of others. God’s kingdom will come, the Prince of Peace will rule, God will be ‘all in all’.

And in the here and now, it is the calling of those who belong to that King and his kingdom, to live lives of peace within this violent world. To lives that point to another kingdom to that of the world. A kingdom in which disciples refuse to take part in war, but follow the even harder calling of loving enemies.

Because this is what God is like – a God of kindness and mercy to the undeserving.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“War is necessary to protect the country and the true faith”

We had reason to be in Sweden last week. A particular highlight of a memorable week was seeing wonderful friends again and being taken on a tour of Stockholm.

One of Stockholm’s main visitor attractions is the Vasa – a huge and nearly perfectly preserved 17th Century warship whose maiden voyage made the Titanic look good.

Built with all the resources available to King Gustavus II Adolphus, this magnificent ship made it about 1800 metres before it toppled over and sank in Stockholm harbour where it lay largely undisturbed for over 300 years.

It was overladen with canons and elaborate carvings celebrating the king’s power and status. No-one dared question the orders to build another row of canons. This was to be the most powerful and intimidating warship on the seas. And it is magnificent to see today. The photograph cannot capture its scale.

No-one was found to blame by the subsequent 17th Century inquiry – funny that.

Some photos showing that ‘religious nationalism’ of ‘God and nation’ is nothing new. And how war, sanctified in the name of God, acts to reinforce national identity and the power of the ruling elite.

I couldn’t help but think of America and this book – but the same dyanmic has been, and continues to be, played out across the globe.

The cross of Christ proclaims that there are few worse heresies than “peace requires war”.

Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas (7) on non-violence and Yoder’s sins

This is a series of short excerpts from each chapter of Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas edited by Leixlip lad Kevin Hargaden.

The outline of the book is in this post. This excerpt is from Chapter Six, JUST WAR, PACIFISM, AND GENDER.

Hauerwas’ critique of Christian just war theory (eg Reinhold Niebhur) is a defining mark of his public persona – even if his work extends far beyond pacifism and just war. Brock elicits some very interesting responses in this chapter, not least on the actual details of what pacifism might look like in practice for a Christian.

But before we get there, what emerges is Hauerwas’ main concern – to attempt to get followers of a crucified Lord who rejected violence to at least have a major ethical and theological problem with going to war.

Christians belong to a different story to that of the modern nation-state. Theirs is a much older and deeper story; the story of God’s redemptive work in the world through his Son. They belong to his ‘peaceable kingdom’ which has arrived with the coming of the King. We live in the overlap of the ages as people of his kingdom and are called to humility, peacemaking, justice and love.

Hauerwas has tough words for American exceptionalism that has led to the hubris of multiple disastrous and unnecessary wars.

Well I think America hasn’t come to terms with being a genocidal nation, in relationship to Native Americans. We don’t tell that as a part of the story. I don’t think we’ve come to terms, still, with being a slave nation. Basically, we’re caught on the presumption that slavery has been defeated by the Civil War and by later developments that challenged segregation. Martin Luther King won. The radical implications of the fact that you are a slave nation and how to make that part of the story is just very difficult in America.  Often I say: if Americans had taken seriously that we were a slave nation, would we be in Iraq and Afghanistan now? The kind of humility that enables the historical acknowledgment that in turn funds a humble posture toward the contemporary world would give you a very different kind of foreign policy than we currently enact. (161)

And later on in a long and detailed discussion he explains his goal this way,

People oftentimes, as I’ve said earlier, ask “What about Hitler? Wouldn’t have you been a soldier in World War II?” I’m sure I would have been. It’s not like the position is saying, “You fought. You didn’t. The one that fought is wrong. The one that didn’t is right.” Those kinds of retrospective judgments do no one any good. The question is not, “Did someone, by being one of Caesar’s Legions become less Christian?” The question is, “What are we to do?” I’m just trying to help us recover why those that fought in Hitler’s Legions might have been better off if Christians had offered them a different life. I’m sure we could have! And what now, do we do, as Christians? I just want Christians to be able to say “no.” They probably won’t do it on just war grounds, but they should be a people who can maintain the kind of critical edge toward the nation- state that helps us keep the war- making potential of those states limited. (174)

I found this helpful. Christian pacifism is a minority pursuit historically. The predictable ‘What about Hitler?’ question is thrown out routinely as an obvious one-line defeater of the impracticability of non-violence. It blithely assumes that there are no other alternatives; it precludes critical analysis of nationalist narratives of war; it stunts the imagination of asking what does it mean to follow Jesus in a violent world; and it all too easily gives a ‘free pass’ to the inevitable unjust practices of war – since pretty well NO war ever matches up to the idealistic and impractical criteria of Christian Just War Theory.

What Hauerwas wants to see is real alternatives on the table for Christians – a bit like the story of Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge I guess.

Brian Brock pushes Hauerwas to spell out what he means in practice it means to be a Christian committed to non-violence. It means a basic unwillingness to kill.

BB I think it will be very helpful to continue to probe a little bit more around the edges of this position. For instance, could a Christian be a law enforcement officer if they had to train on the gun range, shooting at human-shaped targets?

SH:     No.

BB:     So they couldn’t really be trained on guns?

SH:     They couldn’t really be trained on guns. They could be trained on certain kinds of physical response to people threatening violence that would look coercive. A kind of judo? I think that’s pretty interesting; that they learn to use the violence of the attacker against themselves. I don’t know that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

BB:   And, as you suggest in that passage, a Christian who was a prison warden or a cop and was in a police force where they were trained for choke holds should quit?

SH:     Absolutely. That’s exactly right. No question.

BB:     That’s a pretty robust hermeneutic for thinking these things through. But you haven’t really laid it out in this type of detail before.  (178)

What do you think of these practical positions?

Towards the end of the chapter the conversation switches to discussion of the revelations that have emerged over the sexual misbehaviour of Hauerwas’s friend and theological mentor John Howard Yoder.

Brock asks a fascinating and disturbing question – how is it that people like Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Yoder, all deeply committed to peaceful revolution and justice for the disempowered, were all implicated in blatant unjust exploitation of women? They misused their power and prestige over the powerless by ‘cashing in their fame by taking sexual liberties with women.’

Hauerwas has been criticised for too quickly ‘closing the case’ on Yoder’s misdeeds, after a church disciplinary process and failing to acknowledge just how damaging his actions had been. Here, he admits he hadn’t appreciated the ‘violence’ done by Yoder and how that process had not been complete.

But it shows that men have been socialized in ways that are destructive for us and clearly are destructive for women. I myself think that I did not appropriately appreciate the damage that John was doing to women, in terms of my own involvement in that situation, which was clearly on the side. But I don’t think that the disciplinary process was as successful as I thought it had been. (184)

Hauerwas also comments that

SH: It’s called self-deception, isn’t it? I mean, who knows what kind of stories Martin Luther King was telling himself. Yoder had this stupid theory. Gandhi was a Hindu so in terms like this, who am I to speak? I don’t know how to account for them. (185)

I think some more could be said on how to account for King and Yoder’s hypocrisy, self-deception or double-standards as Christian men, but the conversation moves on.

There is a paradox here is there not? On the one hand Christians are called, and enabled, to live a new life, pleasing to God. A life of service, care for others, love, kindness, and covenant obedience to God within an accountable community. As Paul says, we are to ‘live a life worthy of the gospel’.  Sin is not to be accepted as inevitable.

Yet, on the other hand, Christians should also know better than anyone else, that the heart is deceitful and wicked. Leaders fail – rare is the leader who does not. As people of the cross we should know about the power and presence of sin. As pastors and pilgrims, we should also know people and all their frailties and contradictions.

So, we should be disappointed and surprised by the infidelities and failures of King and Yoder. But not shocked.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

PS there is also a long discussion on gender and sexuality, so I will do a second post on this chapter.

Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas (5) (living gently in marriage)

This is a series of short excerpts from each chapter of Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas edited by Leixlip lad Kevin Hargaden.

The outline of the book is in this post. This excerpt is from Chapter four ECCLESIAL POLITICS, PEACEMAKING, AND THE ESCHATOLOGY OF WORSHIP.

In this chapter the conversation between Brian Brock and Hauerwas delves into familiar Hauerwasian territory of pacifism, gentleness and the church as an eschatologoical community. It’s rich reading.

One theme that gives me much pause for thought is where Brock and Hauerwas discuss how a theological commitment to pacifism needs to be part and parcel of learning to live gently in a violent world. (Echoing themes of Living Gently in a Violent World that Hauerwas wrote with Jean Vanier of L’Arche).

Brock notes at one point that

It’s at moments like these that it’s clear that you are aware of the danger that your work is easily subverted when people receive it as a challenge and a crusade to establish pacifism, rather than as a sign in the wilderness pointing to intangible practices of living gently in a violent world (106)

And Brock adds later,

In so far as people read you as pacifist and think that somehow excuses them if they are not being gentle, I’d like to insist that is not a venial sin but a complete falsification of your work. (107)

In other words, it is easy to be committed to pacifism / non-violence in an aggressive and violent way – I guess a bit like the evangelist who tells people ‘God loves you’ in a hostile or threatening tone.

Rather, Hauerwas is proposing (against his own instincts to fight and win against his enemies) that gentleness needs to be a virtue that characterises all of life.  Responding to Brock, he gives the example of marriage:

… What is one of the most frightening aspects of marriage? The person we are married to learns to know us better than we know ourselves. That’s why they are able to hurt us the most; they know our vulnerabilities. I think that there’s a certain sense in which it is very important that there be a gentleness between people who are married. It is a learned virtue. (108)

OK – so let’s go off on a Hauerwas inspired marriage tangent here ….

As someone who can seem reasonably agreeable to most people most of the time, who believes that following Jesus means a commitment to non-violence, and is researching and writing about love –  this chapter hit home. For it is possible to present that face and to believe those things – but not live or think or act gently.

What do you think it means to live gently in relationships? In marriage?

If gentleness, as Hauerwas says, is a learned virtue, then the tongue needs to be controlled to speak gently as a way of life. James does not mess about on this – see 3:1-12 and this:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. James 1:26

I have much learning and repenting to do for sure on how and what I speak.

On gentleness or kindness in marriage as a learned virtue see this important and practical article in The Atlantic on research into successful and failed marriages. Successful marriages the researchers found flourish on kindness – expressed a thousand ways. (The Atlantic article describes different examples of kind or unkind interactions).

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters [those with happy enduring marriages] tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

That love and relationships need sustained hard work is the language of learned virtue. The disposition of kindness (or gentleness or love) needs to be practiced and reinforced every day – it unlocks and releases potential kindness and love in return.

Kindness [as opposed to contempt] glues couples together. Research … has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.” That’s how kindness works too: there’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.

A lack of kindness, in other words the presence of aggression, hostility and especially contempt are signs that the marriage is in deep trouble. The researchers could predict with 94% success whether couples would stay together from observing their interactions around kindness (or the lack of it).

This all makes perfect sense. But, as the Brock / Hauerwas interaction reminded me, it is one thing to know something in your head, it is quite another thing to practice that virtue.

Comments, as ever, welcome.