Living the Gospel Wholeheartedly in a “Yes, But” World

How does Christian faith frame our understanding of community security?  We’ll often hear that yes we’re called to live out the ideals of the gospel, but we live in a broken world.

The sentiment is true enough.  But what strikes me about this line of thinking is the subtle way it seems to imply that the gospel–the good news about and by Jesus–is something not quite fit for the violent world we live in.  Love your enemies, give to those who ask of you, turn the other cheek, forgive as your Father has forgiven. Those are lovely sentiments–to be honored, for sure–but seemingly designed for a gentler world, a softer, safer, more pastel world where bad guys with guns don’t mow down school children.  It’s a dangerous place out there. And so in this great, big, rough and tumble world–many suppose–we’ve got to footnote and bracket and asterix the gospel to make it possible to live it out. We’ve got a good gospel in a broken world, so we split the difference.

I get it.  Hard choices abound.  The gospel of Jesus can seem like teaching for kinder and gentler times.

Except Jesus didn’t live and teach in kinder and gentler times.  The Roman world was a empire-building, slave-keeping, barbarian-skull-crushing society where it was the citizen’s duty to kill malformed infants by exposure.  Jesus got crucified–that most debased and debasing form of execution–for his teaching. The great rabbi wasn’t even offered hemlock. Jesus knew what he was teaching, understood the implications, was not naive to the ways of the world.  He taught precisely what the world needed to hear.  If anything, we’re living in kinder and gentler times, times impacted by two-thousand years of the gospel rejigging the Western mind.  Human rights. The value of every person, regardless of age or capacities. Those are gospel values.

We so often hold a “yes, but” concept of the gospel.  We’re called to love our enemies. Yes, but they want to bomb us.  We’re called to be merciful. Yes, but they only respect force. We’re called to turn away from hatred, adultery, lies, revenge.  Yes but, what can we say? TV leaves its skim.

It’s interesting that in the fifth century when St. Augustine put his prodigious mind to the challenge of Christian governance and the use of force, his theological angle was not to punch an escape hatch in Jesus’ teaching.  Augustine counseled that the use of force must never be undertaken with hatred toward the enemy, must see peace as its goal, and must be carried out within the broader matrix of the Christian virtues, like chastity, sobriety, and moderation.  Just war, for Augustine, was waged (hesitantly, with reservation) as an expression of love of neighbor. That is to say, for the Christian even war must be waged as the outworking of the gospel.

Regardless of whether or not we ultimately agree with Augustine’s conclusions, his instinct to live the gospel wholeheartedly is compelling.  Augustine does not offer a yes, but approach to the Christian life.  For him, the teaching and example of Jesus informs everything we will undertake as his followers: work, play, speech, worship, family, community.  Even war. All of human life is inflected and informed by the gospel.

What this means is that as followers of Jesus, our goal is to do all things as an expression of Jesus’ teaching and ways.  This is true for those who heal and help. But it’s just as true (and maybe even more urgently so) for those who police and protect–sometimes with deadly force.

It turns out that yes, but is a cul-de-sac that actually marginalizes and diminishes the gospel.  There’s no halfway with Jesus.  We follow his gospel wholeheartedly.

Or we don’t.

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