17 thoughts on “Peacemaking: The Quiet in the Land Speak Up”

  1. Another excellent article Dwight….thanks for sharing and challenging in a good way! I was so pleased a while back when I discovered this book by a Reformed author supporting nonviolence. As an Anabaptist, I do not agree with all his conclusions (such as the issue of serving in the police force) but am very relieved that he is wrestling with this honestly and has come to a very Christ-centered conclusion. We need to highly respect brothers and sisters from various traditions who are earnestly seeking the way of Christ-like love in the midst of our violent world and the noisy clangor of “Christian” saber-rattlers. For one, I find it encouraging that there are those in Evangelical, Reformed, Catholic, or whatever circle who support Christ’s teaching of love of enemies, welcome the stranger (immigrant) in their midst, care for refugees, feeding the hungry….or whatever the issue might be. May we be truly transformed in the mind and heart of Christ! I appreciate also your calling us to engage those open to conversation. Our Anabaptist heritage is full of those stories and they need to be an example for us today! Thanks again for all the good articles that are Christ-centered and Biblically faithful!

    1. Thanks much for the encouragement, Michael!

      You write: “We need to highly respect brothers and sisters from various traditions who are earnestly seeking the way of Christ-like love in the midst of our violent world and the noisy clangor of “Christian” saber-rattlers.” I agree!

      I just double-checked what Sprinkle says about serving as a police officer (thanks for the prod). Here are a few excerpts, for the sake of clarity here for other readers who may be wondering:

      “Not all types of policing require the use of violence or lethal force… Today, police in England, Scotland, and other countries still don’t carry firearms… Inasmuch as police officers seek peace, protect the innocent, and work for the good of society, certainly a Christian can take part… I agree with [George] Fox, [John Howard] Yoder, and others that Christians may serve in the police force. But I don’t agree that they should kill. how could I? If Christians shouldn’t kill, then Christian police officers shouldn’t kill. One’s vocation doesn’t change the ethical standard. Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount transcends all vocations. So if a police officer is called upon to kill someone whom Jesus would not have him kill, then he must put away the sword and follow Jesus—even if it costs him his job… The only credible argument that *may* justify a Christian’s use of lethal force would be the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument I gave previously. But I have my doubts about whether this *best* reflects the cruciform life of Jesus.”

  2. Dwight, thanks for your thoughts on this. I thought, too, that Challie’s response was interesting although I haven’t had time to digest it. The thoughts that went flying through my brain at the time were, “Did he not bother to look?” and “Maybe there isn’t anything out there in support of Piper.” As I have been joining in some discussions on FB, I am starting to think that it is the latter rather than the former. It has been a major wake-up call for me seeing how Anabaptists (or at least former Anabaptists) are responding to this issue. Probably the biggest surprise is the vehemence with which they are responding. The fact that it is an open/shut case to people is bothering as well. I don’t feel like people are engaging with the deep issues here: issues like the sanctity of life and the Lordship of Jesus. I think this should raise an alarm for our Anabaptist leaders to pass on this teaching and not gloss it over but to wrestle with the hard issues with their young people.

    1. Conrad, thanks much for giving energy to this topic recently. I value your insights and Christ-centered passion. I especially affirm these words you just said:

      “It has been a major wake-up call for me seeing how Anabaptists (or at least former Anabaptists) are responding to this issue. Probably the biggest surprise is the vehemence with which they are responding… I don’t feel like people are engaging with the deep issues here: issues like the sanctity of life and the Lordship of Jesus.”

  3. Excellent summary of the issue. As someone more deeply anchored in the Reformed tradition I can say unequivocally that Piper is really the lone voice in the contemporary Reformed world that is even the least bit open to non-resistance. The virtual firestorm response he has gotten is pretty typical for those in the Reformed tradition and in American evangelicalism alike. Among the Reformed more broadly there are three reasons why non-resistance has gotten little traction:

    1) A general hermeneutic of covenant theology which tends to blur the distinction between the Old and the New, making the Old Testament written and lived out under the Old Covenant, to be as authoritative and more spherically as applicable to the church as the New Testament. This is the source of so many of Piper’s detractors turning to Old Covenant civil laws for their Scriptural sources to reject what Piper is saying.

    2) A broad acceptance of Just War theory with more than a little theonomy thrown in for good measure. Given Augustine’s position as the father of Christian just war theory and the very high regard most Reformed give to Augustine, his teaching on just war is given broad, and in my opinion, uncritical acceptance by most prominent Reformed teachers.

    3) There is a startling absence of any voices in the Reformed tradition that hold to any sort of non-resistance or if there are they are not well known. The Reformed lean heavily on scholastic writings of the forefathers in the tradition (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Edwards, etc.) and upon their historic confessions. When there are no contemporary or historic voices affirming a position, it is going to get little thought or attention.

    Of course one overarching factor needs to be stated. In America non-resistance = pacifism and pacifism=liberalism. No good red blooded American Reformed Christian is going to stand for being called a liberal. This has led to a unilateral surrender of this issue to the religious left. That complete abdication of this topic to, for want of a better term, the liberal wings of the church. That is why I was likewise so pleased to find Preston Spinkle’s book. I was familiar with Preston for his work with Francis Chan on a defense of the traditional understanding of Hell in the book Erasing Hell, so seeing him taking on this topic was encouraging. The only other book I have run across that deals as deeply with this issue is Guy Hershberger’s “War, Peace and Nonresistance” but given that he is a Mennonite his writings have a very narrow audience (as proof the only review on Amazon for this book is mine).

    Ironically, on almost any other topic, the same Reformed who are flogging Piper would agree with him over Jerry Falwell, Jr. and yet these same brothers have exploded with negative responses to Piper including some pretty over the top, frothing at the mouth replies from less thoughtful brethren.

    You also touch on some broader themes and one of them has to do with the relative lack rigorous scholasticism in Anabaptism. Simon Fry touched on this in his recent post. I have seen some examples of “this is what we believe because this is what we believe” with no attempt or interest in engaging him contrary voices. As someone who is an interested outside observer I can see that there is trouble coming down the road for the young adult generation in conservative Anabaptism as they tap into non-Anabaptist sources and see arguments that they have never heard before. Lots of interesting things to ponder on this topic.

    (as a side note for those unfamiliar with Tim Challies, he is a Canadian and that in part explains why he hasn’t given this topic much thought because even owning a gun in Canada is a difficult task)

    1. Arthur, excellent comments—you have added much that I mostly know but did not have the insight, time, or skill to share as well as you just did. Thank you!

      And thanks also for reminding me of Guy Hershberger’s book, which I have not yet read.

      You say: “As someone who is an interested outside observer I can see that there is trouble coming down the road for the young adult generation in conservative Anabaptism as they tap into non-Anabaptist sources and see arguments that they have never heard before.”

      Fellow Anabaptists—and all peace-loving brothers and sisters—let’s take this as a wake-up call to do a better job teaching on this topic! If we don’t, some of our own church fellowships could soon look more like Challies’ Reformed world than we might ever imagine.

      1. “If we don’t, some of our own church fellowships could soon look more like Challies’ Reformed world than we might ever imagine.”

        Some of us might see this as a good thing…. 🙂

  4. Well you cover a lot and bring up a lot interesting thoughts here. I had a lot of thoughts running through my mind as I read it.

    First of all, thank you for leading the way in charging Anabaptists to speak up regarding their beliefs of non-resistance. I have long thought that being known as “the silent in the land” is a curse for our people.

    It seems we get confused between being “non-resisters” and “conflict-avoiders”. The Anabaptist movement would never have gotten anywhere without speaking out as pointed out in this post. Jesus did not resist authorities with violence, but neither did He avoid conflict. He spoke truth clearly without wavering even in the midst of conflict and confrontation from religious leaders.

    You also made mention of Anabaptists posting statements in support of the military on Veterans Day. I struggled with knowing how to feel about that for a number of years. I finally came to this conclusion for myself:

    Romans 13 says God established and “ordained” the government (including the military and the police as the arm of the government), and has put it in place to be a “revenger” and to “execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (verse 4). Since I am part of a different kingdom, I won’t be the one doing those things. But is it wrong to thank or give honor to someone for doing what God has established for them to do?

    Verse 7 says “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due…honour to whom honour.” I finally just decided that I could show honor to someone for doing what God has put him there to do, even if it is not what I do.

    And I guess I would use these same verses when grappling with the question of calling 911. If God put them there to be a “revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil”, than why not? Verse 4 also says “he is the minister (one who executes the commands of another) of God to thee for good”. If God put them there for our good, why refuse the help?

    Don’t know if I make sense, I don’t think I’ve ever expressed my thoughts-written or otherwise- on this subject before. It causes to much conflict. 🙂

    1. Simon, thanks for weighing in! I do agree with what you said here: “It seems we get confused between being “non-resisters” and “conflict-avoiders”. ” A true peacemaker does not try to avoid conflict. Rather, he takes proactive and often risky steps to stem off and resolve conflict. This takes courage as well as discretion!

      Now, if I can respond to your latter points without stirring up conflict… 🙂

      I still feel discomfort with the idea of thanking our miltary (see—there I did it myself—is the military really “our”?) for their wartime sacrifices. A big reason for my discomfort is that I understand Romans 13 a little differently than you are describing. If you read the following excerpt from a Sprinkle blog post (the one I recommended above), then you might understand where I’m coming from. If Sprinkle’s interpretation is correct, and I think it is, then can I really say “thank you” to anyone for participating in an action that God doesn’t truly approve? And should I really invite them to commit such actions on my behalf?

      I do see Paul taking advantage of his legal rights and protection as a Roman citizen, so I agree there is some complexity here. But I am not aware that Paul ever “called 911” in a situation where the result was that the authorities killed his attackers to defend him.

      Tough questions! Let’s keep thinking and seeking to follow in Christ’s steps.

      Here is the Sprinkle blog post excerpt. (My copy and paste did not transfer his use of italics and bold.) Sprinkle:
      Paul’s statement reflects a widespread truth in the Old Testament about God working through secular nations to carry out His will. For instance, the Old Testament calls many political figures “God’s servant,” such as Cyrus, king of Persia (Isa. 44–45); Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Jer. 27:6; 43:10); and the ruthlessly wicked nation of Assyria (Isa. 10:5), which God calls the “club of my wrath” and the “rod of my anger.” Please note: Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar were pagan dictators.

      The phrase “God’s servant,” therefore, doesn’t refer to Rome’s sanctified service to Israel’s God, but to God’s sovereign ability to use Rome as an instrument in His hands.

      You can probably see where I’m going with this. Just because God uses secular—and sometimes quite evil—institutions to carry out His will does not mean that God approves of everything they do. Much of what they do—whether it be Assyria’s sadistic practice of skinning civilians alive, or Rome’s crucifixion of thousands of people in the first century—does not reflect the law of Christ. But God can still use such godlessness, because He channels evil to carry out His will.

      The so-called government’s “right to bear the sword” is not a moral “right” at all, any more than Assyria had the “right” to slaughter the Israelites in 722 B.C. Assyria and Rome (and America, and North Korea, etc. ) are objects under God’s sovereign control. That’s all Romans 13 says.

      This doesn’t mean that God approves of the evil itself. In fact, all those who are ministers of God’s wrath become the objects of God’s wrath themselves precisely because of their violence when they were the “rod” of His anger (read Isa 10 and the book of Revelation).

      If you want to serve as God’s agent of wrath, well, you better watch your back when God’s through with you.

      1. The use of “our” when speaking of the military is a troublesome practice and I do it all the time, particularly since I come from a family with a dad who served in the Navy and I myself was one step away from joining the Air Force as an officer shortly after 9/11. What is troubling is that we see “our” American forces s worthy of thanks and honor but what about Christians who lived in Nazi Germany or who live today in North Korea? Romans 13 wasn’t written exclusively to Christians living in democratic countries, quite the opposite. It is a hard question and another one that rarely gets any thought from the wider evangelical church.

      2. Well you’ve given me food for thought. I suppose I will need to add this book to my ever growing pile of books to read.

        While I understand the point Sprinkle makes in this excerpt, if governments (regardless of the evil they may do) are ordained by God and God does use them to accomplish His purposes, why not give show gratitude for the good that they do accomplish? Maybe this is a stretch, but could we view it as showing gratitude to God for His justice and protection?

        I’ve sent a note along with my check for real estate taxes occasionally, thanking the tax collector for the (thankless) job he does. Does that mean I agree with him or like paying those taxes? I don’t even like what my tax money is being used for most of the time, but I am thankful we don’t live in a lawless society.

        As for calling 911, there may be another aspect of that as well. It may not always be to have the authorities kill your attacker or to defend you. To what degree are we held responsible if we do not report a crime? What if your attacker moves on to the next victim because you didn’t call?

        Thinking specifically of crimes of sexual nature, how often have we seen prosecution of those who chose to “forgive” and did not call to report what was known to them? Should a wife report a husband that has molested their children to the proper authorities? Is that taking revenge or just doing what the law requires?

        For sure, governments have committed atrocities that we could never give approval to, and like Sprinkle pointed out, God still uses one evil institution to punish another. Though we are part of a separate Kingdom, we are still under the laws of the government that God has ordained for our good.

        Perhaps it is different to thank God for allowing me to live under the government that we have here in America (as opposed to one like Cuba or Korea) than it is to thank the ones that are in the government He established. Either way, I think gratitude is important.

        As Art pointed out, Christians living in countries like that probably are not feeling much gratitude for their government’s actions, but could there still be things to find gratitude in? Maybe its not about them being “worthy of thanks and honor” so much as it is about my attitude toward the government God has put there for this time.

        We wouldn’t agree with “Obama bashing”, but is it wrong to thank him for the positive (albeit few) things he does? Is that different than thanking a soldier? I don’t know. I’ve never thanked either one, but I’m just not sure that I could be too hard on someone who does.

        I probably have more questions than answers…

        And maybe I should refrain my comments until I have read Sprinkle’s book. Maybe he addresses some of these things. 🙂

        1. Simon, I resonate with many of your questions, and where I think I disagree, I don’t pretend the answers are obvious. It isn’t easy to live in the world, but not of it.

          I’ve spent enough time discussing this topic on Facebook today that I think I’ll just affirm that if you read Sprinkle’s book (or Hershberger’s, or Yoder’s—see Barnhart’s comment below) you will find a worthy discussion partner sure to help you process your thinking further in a Christ-like direction. Thanks for engaging, brother!

  5. Good thoughts Dwight. The writer who forced me to think about non-violence the hardest is John H. Yoder in “Politics of Jesus”. He is a bit of a flawed messenger, but after the third reading in as many years, I still affirm his message of non-violence. I particularly admire how he links passages, ideas and history into a logical system of understanding the relationship of Jesus to “the Powers that be.” It was he who first directed my notice to the fact that the New Testament assumes believers will fill many roles in society, parents/children, husbands/wives, even master/slave (flinch) but government is referred to in the third person (they, them) and there is no reciprocal command to government as in the other relationship dualities. He also lays some groundwork for a theology of effective, engaging non-violence that actively opposes evil powerfully.

    A common misunderstanding about biblical nonviolence is to equate it with passivity, something Jesus never modeled or recommended. Sometimes is seems unbelievers understand this better than believers. I think it was Ghandi who responded to someone who questioned his nonviolence by asking “Which takes more courage, to stand in front of a cannon or behind it?” Perhaps modern North American Annabaptists have grown comfortable standing neither in front nor behind, but to the side. This is not a defend-able position.

    I suspect the engine driving the defense of violence is the understanding that the western nation-state is the tool for improving the world. Agnostics see it as the most effective, Christians see the hand of God. They both agree history will not move in the right directions without it. Thus the nation-state becomes an anchor around which theology must move.

    Anabaptists of my Parents generation often articulated a doctrine of extreme separation in relation to the state which could be summarized as “You don’t tell me what to do, and I don’t tell you what to do.” I’m not comfortable with that. Who will be the prophetic voice if the church self silences? I’m intrigued by the example of John the Baptist who was not dependent on polite society for his sustenance, thus he was freed to speak the truth. The power of his message came only from a commitment to truth yet his words pierced the hearts of the powerful. I think this could be a model to work toward.

    1. Good thoughts all around, Harlan. Thanks much for sharing.

      Yes, John the Baptist. He’s a good model, for sure. Perhaps he is a model for merging the best of black church and Anabaptist theologies of social engagement, something we’ve touched on before.

      If you have any wisdom on the question of when we should or should not “turn over to the state” the activity of using force to protect the innocent, I would be interested in hearing further from you. I still have some unanswered questions, despite being convinced of the general nonviolent stance Christ expects us to take.

      You’ve recommended Yoder’s book often enough that I really should get it off my wish list and onto my reading list. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Dwight, thanks for tackling this issue. You do it well. What I especially appreciate is that while I can tell you are passionate about it, you have done your research and articulate more than mere emotion (unlike many who add their thoughts on the issue).

    I’ve heard a lot about Sprinkle’s book in recent months and plan to read it this year. Sounds like a worthy read, indeed.

    Thanks for pointing us to the call of Christ and for rising to the occasion of addressing this issue in a moment when it seems that for much of American Christians, their boat is being rocked in what they’ve always believed about guns, violence, governments use of force, and the Christians role in it all (referring to Falwell, Piper, Challies and Sprinkle–and fringe conversations I’ve been a part of).

    Keep writing for His glory!

    1. Thanks, Asher! Yes, to bring light and not only heat, that is the challenge. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Sprinkle. He does a very good job of writing to multiple audiences at the same time–using excellent scholarship but speaking in a clear and obviously relevant way. Blessings!

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