Monday, 27 July 2009

The things that make for peace

I’ll be in Canberra tonight, launching a new book on justice and peacemaking: Heather Thomson, The Things That Make for Peace (Barton Books 2009). Here’s a brief excerpt from the talk I'll be giving about the book:

The book’s whole argument is grounded in an analogy between divine justice and transitional justice – where an unstable and turbulent political order mobilises new instruments, such as judicial mechanisms, amnesties and truth commissions, in order to move into the peace and justice of a new regime. God’s own justice is like this, Thomson argues. Divine justice establishes a new constitution and a new political order, and issues amnesties so that we may enter into the new regime with a clean slate. In this way, we are enabled to make the transition from the regimes that govern this world into the reign of God.

This vision of divine justice, Thomson observes, is something we see in Jesus, the one whose entire life was an argument – to the death – about ‘what God is like, what God requires of us, what God’s justice is like’. The atonement is not about satisfying divine justice, but about establishing a new reign that differs fundamentally from ‘the authoritarian, violent and repressive rule that belongs to this world’. The atonement ‘mediates a regime change’, so that we are led out ‘from the power and kingdoms of this world’ into the kingdom of God. As part of this transition, God forgives our sins – just as a new regime may issue amnesties so that citizens can leave behind their former political allegiances and enter guiltless into the collective project of a new common life. The death of Jesus thus opens up a space of metanoia, a change of mind in which we renounce our former allegiance to the violent powers of this world, and enter into the new reign of the Prince of Peace.

12 Comments:

bruce hamill said...

What a fascinating argument... thanks for the heads up on this Ben. Any further postings on the strengths and weaknesses of the argument will be greatly appreciated

Steve Martin said...

"The death of Jesus thus opens up a space of metanoia, a change of mind in which we renounce our former allegiance to the violent powers of this world, and enter into the new reign of the Prince of Peace."

For a little while, anyway.(over and over and over again)

Doug Harink said...

Ben, describing Thompson's argument, you wrote:

"Divine justice establishes a new constitution and a new political order, and issues amnesties so that we may enter into the new regime with a clean slate. In this way, we are enabled to make the transition from the regimes that govern this world into the reign of God."

I'm assuming you would have a rather rigourous critique of such a view, which strikes me as fairly old-fashioned humanist progressivism.

roger flyer said...

@ Steve-
Every day we choose...

Zwingli 2.0 said...

Good point, Doug. I find lots of the current writing on the church as polis or counter-culture (Hauerwas, Yoder, et al.) very sexy. (I haven't read the book in qustion, so I don't know if it falls in this category.)

In the end, however, this rather optimistic view of churches doesn't jibe well with my own experience of churches or Christians for that matter.

If it were true that Christianity signified a "new political order" then Christians and their churches would be manifestly different from everybody else and their organizations, wouldn't they? But isn't that wishful thinking?

Unless we're prepared to say that the true nature of the church has only been discovered in the last 40 years, don't we need to submit "political" ecclesiologies to the test of the cross, and see whether they're instances of a "theology of glory"?

Alas, my local church seems to belong to the wider Church of Esau.

roger flyer said...

Church of Esau? That's a new one on me, Zwingli. Hairy experience?

Zwingli 2.0 said...

I can't take credit for the phrase, Roger -- Barth uses it in his commentary on Romans as he tries to give an adequate account of the visible church.

As I understand it, the idea is that you can describe the church the same way as its incarnate Lord:

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2).

Which is to say, that the church's relationship to God is just as concealed and hidden as Jesus' divinity.

roger flyer said...

Oh yeah Barth. I've heard of him. He's the one who stole the blessing, right? ;)

bruce hamill said...

I take it a lot hinges on the way in which the 'analogy' is established

Zwingli 2.0 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these comments. I've drafted a brief article which tries to interact critically with the book (in relation both to juridical and theological questions). I'm not sure if I'll go ahead with publishing the article, but I'll keep you posted.

Doug, although I really don't think her argument is "humanist progressivism", in the paper I try to argue for a greater critical distance between divine justice and any worldly judicial system. (I must admit, I'm not a fan of restorative justice either, but in the paper I don't really touch on that.)

Anonymous said...

This perspective sounds inspiring. However, I am confident that penal-substitution still lays the foundation. God's wrath was laid on the cross as His Son took the penalty of our sins. I have found that deviating from this will always 'drain' ones gospel/kyregma of any staying power. And when the substance is gone, people will always be spiritually unfocused.

Matt

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