Monday 20 November 2006

The question of pacifism: a response to Kim Fabricius

Over at Nothing New Under the Sun, Andrew Errington has started a new series in response to Kim’s various posts here on Shalomism (i.e. pacifism). Andrew agrees with Kim that the question of pacifism should be settled christologically – but his counter-question is: “Does the pacifist position inevitably end up with a Jesus who dies but is not then exalted?”

It will certainly be interesting to see how this series unfolds!


byron smith said...

Thanks for the link Ben. I hope this topic hasn't been beaten to death yet.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I look forward to this, even though it seems fundamentally misguided to me. A christocentric pacifism demands an exalted Christ, but also follows the biblical insight that the exalted Christ is "this same Jesus" who was crucified. To preach another is to preach an alien "gospel."

Anonymous said...

Exactly, Michael, exactly.

Anonymous said...


What do you make of the God-sanctioned wars of the Old Testament? Is not Yahweh "The Lord mighty in battle"? Your position seems to imply a Marcionite distinction between the the God of Israel and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Why are soldiers sometimes portrayed in a positive way in the New Testament? (Luke 7, Acts 10). If the NT teaches pacifism as you suggest, is not this rather strange?

We must not use violence to propagate or defend the gospel because Jesus' kingdom is not of this world. But the State does not carry the sword in vain (Rom 13). The State is entitled to use force to defend its citizens and punish lawlessness.

Anonymous said...

Hi Exiled Preacher.

Regarding the OT "Lord of hosts (armies)", I refer the honourable gentleman to my Proposition 4!

By the way, you wouldn't think of justifying, theologically, the ethnic cleansing of the native Canaanite population, would you? Along the lines - as one interlocutor put it a while back at Connexions - that the buggers had it coming because of their unholy living? And doesn't it make you nervous that the original sin of the European invasion and conquest of America was justified precisely by your argument?

As for Romans 13 - not so fast! This is a very contentious passage, with respect not only to state violence but to the state in general, including the issue of civil disobedience. Certainly the argument is not over simply by citing Romans 13:4. For one thing, Paul is not talking about war, he is talking about the judicial and policing functions of government. He also, needless to say, assumes a pagan, idolatrous government: here is no "kind of charter or constitution for the political realm" (Yoder). And in any case, Paul's point is that Christians are under obligation not to resist - and, a fortiori, not to engage in - violence in whatever form (Romans 13 continuing the argument of Romans 12).

But I have said enough on this topic for now. I'll let other folk have their say.

Anonymous said...

I'm also looking forward to this series very much - and No Byron it hasn't been beaten to death. Frankly with the present state of our foreign policy (speaking as an American here) it is the most timely and relevant possible discussion.

Exiled Preacher:
regarding a OT God that is violent I'd also like to humbly refer you to my post on violence in the OT here:

Also, Soldiers are portrayed at times positively in the NT in the same way that tax collectors, samaritans, gentiles, women, children, poor and diseased people are portrayed positively. The point is that these are sinful people, the least and the last, who, because of their faith, are saved while the righteous people (the pharisees etc...) are being condemned.

I also vehemently disagree that Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world. See Byron's series on Heaven for that. The idea that Jesus Kingdom was an otherworldly phenomenon is an idea that comes along after constantinian reform to resolve the cognitive dissonance created by having a Christian government, but not yet having the eschatological Kingdom on Earth.

Anonymous said...


I am still left with concerns that you seem to have a Marcionite view of Yahweh. Are you saying that all of the God-sanctioned OT wars were immoral?

While Romans 13 may not address the question of war directly, I think that the sword is given to the state for more than decorative purposes.

The Miner,

In saying that Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, therefore we should not fight to defend it using the weapons of this world, I was alluding to John 18:36. I expected that people would realise that rather than jump to conclusions about my eschatology.

Re Byron's series on heaven, I galdly believe in the resurrection of the body and the renewal of the physical universe.

As a Nonconformist, I believe in the separation of Church and State. The Constantinian settlement was one of those wrong turns in Church history. My whole position is that the State may use force. But the Church must never resort to violence.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these thoughts folks. I hope to at least be interesting in the coming installments.

Kim, although you may not agree, have a look at O'Donovan's critique of Yoder in Desire of the Nations pp.151-2.

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrewe.

I know The Desire of the Nations (bought and read it in '99 when the paperback came out). On p. 152 O'Donovan says that Yoder's distinction between military and police functions is an anachronism because all order in the Pax Romana was maintained by the soldiery. But even if that is true, why is it an anachronism to draw a distinction between the two functions qua functions - i.e. soldiers soldiering and soldiers policing? Yoder's point stands.

O'Donovan goes on to say that, similarly, "the question whether Christians are permitted to engage in military service, is simply not envisaged by the text." Indeed - not envisaged because unimaginable!

I also know O'Donovan's more recent The Just War Revisited (2003). Reading it was an underwhelming experience. Here is a darling of the evangelical political right who does not (cannot?) appeal to scripture to support his case. He simply assumes - he certainly doesn't argue- that pacifism is impractical and unworkable. That the crucified is risen seems to make no difference to O'Donovan's political ethics.

byron smith said...

The second post in the series is now up here.

michael jensen said...

Of course pacificim is impractical and unworkable! That's the whole point, right?

Anonymous said...

Michael w-w has hit the nail completely on the head.

A christocentric pacifism demands a Christ that is all of the following: crucified, resurrected, exalted. I.e., this is not "the Christ who overcame death in having his crucifixion erased" but the "Christ who is exalted with his crucifixion wounds."

I see Jesus as the final and complete revelation of who God is and what God's intention is toward humanity. There is a tension in the Old Testament as to whether Israel's mission was to define itself as "not gentile" or whether it was to define itself as having a salvific mission to all nations (I know that Liberal Jews today believe the latter, so this is not far-fetched even in the context of reading the Hebrew Scripture on its own).

The crucifixion, resurrection and ascencion help Christians to understand that God's purposes were for all to enter his Kingdom, not just Israel. This was Paul's great revelation and why he was so insistent about inclusion of the Gentiles over and against the Jerusalem church.

I'm sure many conservative Christians will argue that this lens of interpretation "doesn't take the Old Testament seriously" but I actually think that it does. There is no need to read everything in the bible as "actions recommended by God" - which is the fatal flaw of modernist inerrantism and its children.

In fact, a violent exalted Christ seems to me a non-sequitur. A violent exalted Christ (one who "paid the debt demanded by the Father's wrath so that justice could be served") offers a narrative something like:

Christ became incarnate in the world and taught humanity the necessary lesson that the person who hurts me must be punished by being hurt at least as much as I do.

This is clearly not something we needed to learn since our sinful nature urges us to hurt the person who hurt us. The lessons humanity needed to learn was that "God is love. God is the Prince of Peace".

Anonymous said...


The position you advocate is the one I am trying to gentle push back against (see especially the final post).

I'm not sure your caricature of an alternative position really helps anything. It's very easy to throw stones, but no one is saying what you suggest. It's a lot harder to be careful, considered, and faithful.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, I'm trying to be careful, considered and faithful; please do not imply that I am not.

I've read your blog and I don't see any sort of systematic elucidation of why you think that God approves of violence, creates violence or uses violence as a tool. Is it supposed to be obvious to everyone?

If you think I've taken a cheap shot, then I apologise. I was simply trying to draw a stark picture of what I see the problem is.

As I said, I think it's a matter of hermenutic. I suspect that you either don't agree with my hermenutic or you don't "see" it. That doesn't make pacifists willfully unfaithful. You implied you wanted to understand the pacifist position, but I don't see how you are going to understand it if you put those sorts of pictures on us. It is perfectly possible to end up understanding our point of view and disagreeing with it at the end of the day, after all.

(Or maybe since I'm but a minister and not a professional theologian, I simply shouldn't be participating here at all.)

Ben Myers said...

Hi Pam -- yes, you should certainly be participating here! In any case, both Andrew and Kim are also ministers rather than academics -- so you're in excellent company!

Anonymous said...

As a Mennonite theology student it has been interesting to follow the unfolding of this discussion. Thanks to all of you who continue to engage this difficult issue thoughtfully. If I might, I’d like to drop a shameless plug for a symposium being held in Toronto on the work of John Yoder (who has been mentioned several times here already). This conference is geared toward graduate students and will welcome participants of all backgrounds, May 25-26.

Anonymous said...

i'd love to hear more about this symposium! please let me know some details...
mikeswalm at gmail dot com.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I'd also like to hear more about the Yoder symposium and hopefully attend. JHY is a huge influence on me (and some of my teachers) and, during his last five years of life, as I was a newly minted Ph.D., he took an interest in my work and gave me huge encouragement.

Pam, thanks for saying I hit the nail on the head--high praise. Although trained as an academic theologian, I have not taught for 4 years now and have been involved in various faith-based peace ministries. And my wife is a minister who is my first dialogue partner and running feminist critique. So, you deserve as much right here as I do!

Anonymous said...

Sorry for not including more info about the symposium on Yoder’s work ("Inheriting John Howard Yoder:A New Generation Examines his Thought"). Here’s a web address for more info: . One more thing, I hope that ‘non-professional’ theologians continue to participate in discussions like this one. Although Scripture does speak to a plurality of gifts, I can hardly imagine a worse dichotomy than between professional and non-professional theologians.

byron smith said...

Andrew Errington (whom I have hosted on my blog for this series) is also an assistant minister. Is there anyone in this conversation who is a full-time theologian? Ben perhaps? (though he seems to be more a full-time blogger!) Michael Jensen is a PhD student. Not sure about Anthony or Theoblogian. Aric (the miner) and I are seminary students (or I was until last week).

Anyway, thanks again to Ben for the link.

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