Deflating Walter Wink’s “Jesus’ Third Way”

Sacred cow tipping
Warning: Sacred cow tipping in progress.

Jesus’ ethical advice is largely, if not almost completely, irrelevant given it is so entangled in magical thinking and the end of the world that never transpired in the 1st century when he predicted that it would (and hence presumably leading his initial disciples to ruin, much like a Harold Camping of today). Regardless, Jesus’ adoring fans of all stripes simply must find profound advice on his literary lips even when it’s not actually there and even when his ridiculous advice so obviously plugs directly into Jesus’ grossly irresponsible apocalyptic delusions.

Today’s example of scholarly brand bullshit is from the late Walter Wink’s “Jesus’ Third Way.” Wink wants to imagine Jesus as a meaningful champion of social justice and an earthly revolutionary, but in order to do so he has to ignore Jesus in context of himself and, you know, reality. Wink’s book, “Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way” I’m guessing doesn’t pay much tribute to the fact Jesus’ apparent pacifism (as Dr. Hector Avalos points out in his book, “The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics“) was merely the eye of the storm of endorsing a genocidal theocracy and an upcoming apocalypse led by Jesus himself where billions of people would be set on fire for all eternity.

But what’s today’s specific lesson in Jesus nonsense about?  Yet another abusive extreme.  Being an earthly doormat while waiting for Jesus’ “deferred violence” to arrive.

In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus teaches his disciples to be doormats for his Kingdom of Heaven:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

Walter Wink disagrees with the “doormat” assessment, but describes it well:

“Many otherwise devout Christians simply dismiss Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence out of hand as impractical idealism. And with good reason. ‘Turn the other cheek’ has come to imply a passive, doormatlike quality that has made the Christian way seem cowardly and complicit in the face of injustice. ‘Resist not evil’ seems to break the back of all opposition to evil and to counsel submission. ‘Going the second mile’ has become a platitude meaning nothing more than ‘extend yourself’ and appears to encourage collaboration with the oppressor. Jesus’ teaching, viewed this way, is impractical, masochistic, and even suicidal—an invitation to bullies and spouse-batterers to wipe up the floor with their supine Christian victims.”

You can read his whole essay (linked above), but Wink sums up his interpretation thusly:

“To an oppressed people, Jesus is saying, Do not continue to acquiesce in your oppression by the Powers; but do not react violently to it either. Rather, find a third way, a way that is neither submission nor assault, flight nor fight, a way that can secure your human dignity and begin to change the power equation, even now, before the revolution.”

And more specifically:

“Turn your cheek, thus indicating to the one who backhands you that his attempts to shame you into servility have failed. Strip naked and parade out of court, thus taking the momentum of the law and the whole debt economy and flipping them, jujitsu-like, in a burlesque of legality. Walk a second mile, surprising the occupation troops by placing them in jeopardy with their superiors. In short, take the law and push it to the point of absurdity. These are, of course, not rules to be followed legalistically, but examples to spark an infinite variety of creative responses in new and changing circumstances.”

One wonders how exactly endlessly lending things to people cleverly backfired in their cultural terms? Pretty sure that’s a recipe for being endlessly taken advantage of doormat style and Wink apparently just ignores that last bit in verse 42 conveniently and other places Jesus advocates the same theme (Matthew 18:21-22 & Luke 17:3-5). Wink also seems to ignore the entire context of Matthew 5 and 6 which is relentlessly about being ultra-good only for the sake of heaven (with no substantive positive earthly outcome). See especially Matthew 5:10-12, 5:44-48, & 6:19-21 where Jesus tells us what the point of all his advice is, which is storing up treasure in heaven, in stark contradiction to Jesus as an earthly revolutionary. Luke 6:27-36 also points us with this doormatism to a heavenly reward (i.e. verse 35).

Contrary to any hint of a doormat theme, Wink assures us that:

“Jesus never displayed that kind of passivity.”

Lmao, you mean Jesus was never like a sheep led to the slaughter? I suppose Romans 8:36 and Acts 8:31-35 don’t count as early Christian sensibilities for some reason. The whole point of the passion narratives is Jesus being a quintessential doormat for our sins. Despite supposedly having an entire army of angels available at his disposal at any time (Matthew 26:53, John 10:18, 18:36, etc.), the powers that be literally CRUCIFIED the guy in his overly deliberate passivity. He supposedly sweat blood (Luke 22:44) knowing he was going to have to endure all that like a doormat. Jesus rebuked his disciple for drawing his sword so that Jesus could implausibly roll over for every earthly authority in town (Matthew 26:52-54). How exactly did Wink miss this in Sunday School? Oh that’s right…Wink was too busy thinking hilarious Christian thoughts like these:

“…in fact that on every occasion Jesus himself resisted evil with every fiber of his being.”

Oh, that makes me giggle. Spoken like a True Believer(TM). I especially like the part in the gospels where Jesus epically “resisted with every fiber of his being” the evil of the fig tree that wouldn’t bear fruit out of season (Mark 11:12-14).

Wink flat out denies:

“Jesus does not encourage Jews to walk a second mile in order to build up merit in heaven, or to be pious, or to kill the soldier with kindness.”

Even though all three of those things are explicitly advocated by Jesus (or Old Testament scripture and Paul), but Wink’s “third way” gets no mention. Jesus repeatedly tells us to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven (right there in the surrounding context it is spelled out over and over again: Matthew 5:10-12, 5:44-48, 6:19-21), to be perfect like his heavenly father is perfect (i.e. piety), and surely Jesus’d be familiar with the proverb to kill your enemy with kindness (Proverbs 25:21-22), much like Paul reiterates in his letters (Romans 12:20). But no, Jesus is a social justice earthly revolutionary despite all the actual Jesus evidence to the contrary.

Wink seems to brag about Jesus’ meta-cultural accomplishments:

“[Jesus] did lay the foundations for a social revolution, as biblical scholar Richard A. Horsley has pointed out. And a social revolution becomes political when it reaches a critical threshold of acceptance; this in fact did happen to the Roman empire as the Christian church overcame it from below.”

So even though this happened virtually by accident over 200 years later (as though Jesus prescribed an earthly Christian empire and as though theocracy is awesome!), long after Jesus promised to return to burn all his enemies (i.e. “Jesus’ nuclear way”), Jesus *still* gets credit as a social justice golden boy?  Wow.

Wink even imagines how his scenarios play out further:

“Such tactics can seldom be repeated. One can imagine that within days after the incidents that Jesus sought to provoke the Powers That Be might pass new laws: penalties for nakedness in court and flogging for carrying a pack more than a mile. One must therefore be creative, improvising new tactics to keep the opponent off balance”

So Wink admits you’re likely to get beaten even more. But that *definitely* wouldn’t make you more of a smug martyr who is going to get even more brownie points in Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven. Because Wink’s Revolutionary Social Justice Golden Boy Jesus is all about earthly concerns.

At best, Jesus is telling his disciples to non-violently piss off their oppressors so that they can be more beaten and therefore more rewarded in Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven. He’s not Martin Luther King Jr. as Wink would like to imagine. King’s “kingdom” clearly was for his dream of racial equality to happen in earthly terms largely by human means (with divine support though I’m sure) and so had much more specific advice about how to pull such non-violent social resistance off. Where is the comparable material from Jesus? Instead Jesus is all about his Kingdom of Heaven and so pretty much all his advice is about blowing this world off for the next one. Feel free to demonstrate otherwise, but one cannot just turn Jesus into King because that sounds cool to Jesus-friendly ears.

From a mainstream Christian perspective, if what Wink is arguing is 100% true, it appears that Jesus in his infinite wisdom decided to be too clever for our own good, saying things that hinged on missing cultural knowledge over the ages, and giving empires and ordinary Christians for many generations the appearance of absolutely horrible doormat advice. That’s hilariously negligent from a theodicy perspective and a sad stain on Western history from a humanistic perspective. I’m glad I don’t have to excuse Wink’s god in either event.

Whatever may be gleaned from Wink’s “third way” (assuming Jesus intended his advice to at all play out how Wink imagines) is likely just a bonus part of the same doormatic “first way” (not to mention, as I did in the beginning here, that Jesus’ “way” is also ultimately combined with the pending infinite violence of the “second way”).  It’s doormatism with a subtle twist. Who cares?

I call this a “concept negation by free association” fallacy. Believers often simply love to pretend like a well-evidenced negative concept afflicting any given scripture of theirs is somehow negated merely because some other somewhat nicer sounding concept may *additionally* be involved even though the two concepts aren’t at all mutually exclusive. But hey, *they* are arbitrarily looking somewhere else for an explanation they like, therefore the criticism doesn’t apply, right?

Jesus’ doormatism is not meaningful advice for social change in this world. It makes you a better martyr for Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven and even Wink’s analysis inevitably betrays this. What Wink says doesn’t erase the context Wink either ignores or explicitly says doesn’t exist. Wink has a prefabricated social justice Jesus in mind that is not in the texts and then says just massively ridiculous things that even contradict fundamental New Testament concepts. It’s laughably bad retconning.

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