All Your Objections to Christian Nonviolence Finally Answered (Video Blog)

All Your Objections to Christian Nonviolence Finally Answered (Video Blog) May 14, 2015

Crown of thorns and bible on old wooden background

In the context of discussing the issue of Christian Nonviolence (perhaps the most common issue I discuss here) a lot of objections come up– objections I appreciate, because I once had them myself when I was first discovering what Jesus actually taught.

As we’ve journeyed together, I’ve found myself answering many of the same objections over the span of multiple different discussions. As a result, I decided to do a first ever video blog (something I hope to do more of) where I systematically go through all of the common theological objections to the nonviolent/pacifism position, and provide my theological answer to those specific objections.

I hope you’ll find this helpful, and that if nonviolent enemy love is something you wrestle with from a theological perspective, you’ll join me as we walk through these common objections. If you’re already an evangelist for enemy love, pass this along to friends who bring these same objections to you, and we’ll all walk through them together.

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  • Good vid! Covered most of the important one’s here.

  • Connor Haskins

    Benjamin – college campus shootings and incidents like them are not uncommon in the 21st century. In those instances, shooters are often armed to the teeth and threaten bystanders who cannot defend themselves in a way that takes a “middle ground” in which both attacker and groups of attacked come out alive. In those cases, is it better for crowds of individuals to perish (let’s hypothetically say a mix of believers and non-believers) and the attacker to live, even though many unbelievers will die without further chance to accept the Gospel message? Obviously this argument is based on a sort of pseudo-Christian utilitarian moralism, but I’m curious about what you’d say.

  • nice! more vlogs!

  • Interesting points. I think a gradual social change is occurring and I hope that it springs from Christian influence on society. In reading older personal writings, I find quite routine references to “my enemy.” Yet unlike those journal keepers of generations past, through all my sixty-nine years, I cannot name a single person whom I would consider my enemy. I am sure I am not alone as no one I know ever speaks of anyone else as an enemy.

  • Cindy Harthorne

    Great job with this! Excellent content. V-blog is a good vehicle for you, giving the opportunity to hear your tone, which is good, my friend.

  • Julian Washio-Collette

    The passage I still have trouble understanding from this perspective is Romans 13. Can you recommend any resources you’ve found helpful here? I think this is especially important given how often it has been and continues to be used to justify systemic violence in varied contexts.

  • BTW, I don’t think pacifism is the only biblical principle we need to apply, and doing so in isolation leads to abuse and failure to do justice for the weak. The balancing principles which I outline in my article are: http://www.wholereason.com/2015/03/the-limits-of-christian-non-violence-02-the-balancing-principles.html

    1. Refusing to Enable Sin – Reproof and Rebuke
    2. Stewardship
    3. Protection of the Innocent and Punishing the Guilty (Rom 13)

    To say that Christians can not serve in the military or law enforcement is to deny the history of Israel. Jesus did not reverse that, and you seem to be applying pacifism without reference to other principles. It’s imbalanced. Jesus’ lack of rebuking the Centurion might be an argument from silence, but so is your argument regarding Christians in law enforcement.

    While Paul did ask us to respect and obey civil authority, it is not that simple. In fact, there are at least three New Testament approaches to God and government, as outlined in http://www.wholereason.com/2007/11/uneasy-neighbors-church-and-state.html

    I agree that Jesus’ command to take a sword were part of fulfilling prophecy, not an endorsement of violence. But I think you are conflating all possible roles Christians take (disciple, citizen, etc.) by forcing pacifism to be a global overriding principle.

    In the example of someone breaking into your home, I like your example about intervening and limiting lethal force, but if you can’t save both, you kill the aggressor. That’s justice. Your example does not eliminate the use of lethal force, and I think you’re fudging. To prevent slaughter (for example, by Jihadis) of innocents, total pacifism allows Hitler to kill Jews, or Jihadi’s to kill thousands.

  • XTheist

    Benjamin, I watched the whole video and I noticed you glossed over Old Testament violence as simply the actions of humans. I have a few questions:

    1) Are you a Trinitarian?
    2) If yes to (1), do you believe the Hebrew bible is generally accurate when it speaks about the things that Yahweh commanded and did?
    3) If yes to both (1) and (2), how do you square your nonviolence with the “fact” that Jesus as the second member of the Trinity condoned acts of violence done by himself and his followers in the Hebrew bible?

    Is the God you worship an imperfect one who repented of his previous barbarity? If so, I don’t see why anyone ought to worship him.

    Do you take the approach of writing off violent commands attributed by scripture to Yahweh as misunderstandings and/or rationalizations that people came up with to justify their conquests? If so, you ought to take the same view when it comes to purported commands of Yahweh that are favorable to your point of view, otherwise you are just cherry picking.

    Are you just a Marcionite? That’s great, it’s just too bad Christian orthodoxy counts you as a heretic.

  • Another proof that Jesus did no violence when he cleared the Temple is the prophecy about the Messiah from Isaiah which says:

    “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,…though he had done no violence…” Isaiah 53:9

    So, if Jesus DID use violence, then he disqualified himself as the Messiah, according to Isaiah.

  • Yes, I am a trinitarian but no, I don’t believe the Hebrew scriptures are generally accurate when it comes to describing/revealing God. They are stories of an ancient tribal people written about their past from the post-exilic period (as in, long after the fact) and do not record history the way Westerners would do it. I am not a Marcionite because I do not believe in two separate Gods, I simply believe that God is fully revealed in Jesus which requires we re-interpret the Hebrew scriptures in light of him. When we do that, we see that they are not describing the same person- which leads to either a position of Marcion, or a position that they didn’t always accurately describe God in the ways they described him.

  • XTheist

    Hey thanks for your response. I certainly think the view you take is much more reasonable than those that try to fit the square peg god that the OT describes into the round hole god that we see in Jesus. So what’s your view on old testament law? Man-made?

  • Very well done, Ben. Succinct, clear and thoughtful. A quick go-to synopsis for sure. Thanks for putting it together!

    In reflecting on Jesus’ SOTM, I’ve found it helpful to use the phrase, “do not give in the same manner as you have received” as a way of capturing his focus on enemy love (i.e., do not return a face punch, give your tunic, walk an extra mile, etc).

    Furthermore, as you mentioned, Jesus’ death on the cross is the most powerful demonstration of God’s self-giving, sacrificial, enemy-love we will ever find. In this instance, Jesus revealed God’s nature and character as love, not just for those who followed him, but for those who did not; loving those who more than likely would never reciprocate his love.

  • Hard to say. I really recommend For the Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns, who I think handles that really well. Certainly, the law reflects their ancient tribal culture, so whether it was man made, a mix of the two (them getting parts right and parts wrong) is hard to say. As an Anabaptist, we believe that “Jesus was the focal point of God’s revelation” and that we start with him and re-interpret everything in light of him. (Example: if God is Jesus saying “love your enemies because that’s what God does” then he can’t also be someone ordering innocent babies to be slaughtered.) It is a hot topic in today’s theology as to “what to do about the OT violence”, but for us the OT violence ultimately becomes irrelevant because we believe in following the teachings of Jesus, and don’t need to reconcile the serious issues of the Hebrew scriptures (which is why we’re often called “red letter” Christians).

    We are often accused of being Marcionites as well though, so we’re used to folks thinking that’s what we believe. But the truth is we believe that “God has always been Jesus” which means those descriptions of him simply cannot be accurate descriptions of the ultimate reality.

  • Excellent verse– thank you!

  • XTheist

    Interesting. And just when I thought I was acquainted with Christianity’s myriad forms!

    I hope you don’t mind but I’d like to ask another question. If the Old Testament authors can get stuff so wrong about God, why not the gospel authors? You say you’re often called “red letter Christians” but why should the red letters be given precedence? God may well be revealed in Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that the humans who wrote about his actions and his sayings did so accurately. Would you agree?

  • Theoretically, but I don’t think it’s a functional equivalent. In the OT you have a tribal people writing about their God (who interestingly enough, wants them to slaughter the people who are living in the place they’d like to live), but in the NT people are writing about an actual person- how he lived, who he interacted with, what he said, did, etc. Could they get some stuff wrong? Certainly- but we’re not nearly talking the same situation as tribal people trying to describe a God they are trying to understand and people writing about an actual person who they experienced in the flesh. So, it’s a theoretical yes, but not nearly to the same degree– one is describing a concept, something in the distance, and one is describing a person that you’ve spent three years living with. I have infinitely more confidence in the accuracy NT than the old, and I’d feel that way even if I were an agnostic scholar instead of a Christian scholar- they’re just two different literary works.

  • XTheist

    Thanks again for your response :)

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Benjamin,
    Amen, and amen! I love your impassioned and unwavering commitment to the teaching of Jesus regarding following him in every way possible, taking up our crosses, and actually doing what Jesus taught his followers to do. Preaching brother!

  • Wes Bergen

    thanks for this. I’m wondering why you use “nonviolence” (non-action) rather than “peacemaking” (action).

  • I can’t speak to Ben, but I have the connotation of “peacemaking” that it does allow violence, i.e. you make peace by putting everybody else back in line through force. I have heard it used that way as a way to whitewash violence. Sadly, it does not automatically equate to using peaceful means.

    I think my favourite term would be “nonviolent resistance.” It makes it more clear that you do resist evil, but you do it in a way that overcomes evil with good (Romans 12, I think) rather than using more evil.

  • I find it interesting when people cite Romans 13 without reading Romans 12, where it tells Christians to live at peace with everybody and to overcome evil with good. To me, 13 is a concession that in the fallen world, the state does bear the sword – that’s the reality, not the ideal – but when you pair it with 12, it is pretty clear that Christians shouldn’t have anything to do with that sword. It only becomes a contradiction if you presuppose that Christians are supposed to rule the world, which was far from the minds of Paul’s readers.

  • If you keep this up, your enemies won’t be enemies any more, then you will have to find new enemies! :)

  • Laying the foundation for ‘love your enemies’ let us keep this clearly in mind, that Jesus’ died, not for really good people, but for enemies: https://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/good-friday-dying-for-the-ungodly-2/

  • Amen. That is a key point of context that is missed by so many people who supposedly know their Bible. https://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/romans-13-in-context-sword-pacifism/

  • Matthew

    Thanks so much Benjamin. I really appreciate the responses you offer to XTheist re: this topic. I struggle greatly with some of what is revealed in the OT as compared to the person of Jesus we meet in the NT. Your viewpoint certainly seems consistent and I really want to embrace it as doctrine, but when we begin to theologically question the inspiration and accuracy of either testament doesn´t that bring into question the accuracy of the entire biblical revelation? I mean if we cannot trust the Hebrew Scriptures as being accurate (and they are indeed part of our canon), then what about the NT?

    Also (and finally) if we cannot fully trust the OT as being accurate, then what about all the prophecies about Messiah found therein? Aren´t those prophecies critical to our Christian apologetic?

  • RonnyTX

    Good video. :-) But I had problems with it,since I’m hard of hearing/legally deaf. I clicked on the You Tube part to watch it there,so I could get the captions. But I think those were not always right. Now here’s the part I didn’t catch and or understand. And I’ve been reading and talking about it lately in another group as well.

    First I will say,that I am a pacifist. So if the US government told me I had to go to war with this or that group of people,I would decline and suffer whatever consequences came from that. But thinking of some of my little great nieces and great nephews-these under 10 years old. Now what would I do,if I saw someone threatening and hurting them? Well,I know what I would do. The other person would have a fight on their hands and I would do whatever I believed needed doing,to protect those little ones. And for the life of me,I can not see where Jesus Christ would tell me to do differently,in a situation like I’ve described. And I couldn’t tell if such a situation was covered in the video or not?

  • RonnyTX

    Ben,I would have to disagree with you somewhat here,with regard to the Old Testament and God actions at times, described there. Take for example,the utter destruction of Sodom. Now take for example if we human beings were to completely destroy a city,either in the Old Testament or New Testament times. Why,we couldn’t bring back and restore those people;but the grand and great thing is,God can do that and God will do that. :-) And we all know the story of Sodom and how God so utterly destroyed that city. But how many know of Ezekiel chapter 16 and us being told there,that God was going to restore Sodom? That’s the thing to me. That is,we human beings can do evil and we can never bring good out of such;but just the opposite is true with God. For God can do evil to a person and or people and then restore them and bring good out of that. And that,God will do and for everyone.
    :-)

    A good article below,on both God destroying and restoring,the people of Sodom,

    http://www.tentmaker.org/books/SpiritOfTheWord/021Sodom.htm

  • oe_leiderhosen

    “if we cannot fully trust the OT as being accurate, then what about all the prophecies about Messiah found therein? Aren´t those prophecies critical to our Christian apologetic?”

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, because for me, those prophecies actually aren’t “critical” to my beliefs in the divinity of Jesus. Maybe it’s because I see them in the context of prophets speaking to a people who had just experienced the incredibly traumatic Babylonian Exile, maybe it’s because I just choose to take Jesus at his (His? the capitalization feels so forced) word, but I haven’t put much stock in the importance of Jesus fulfilling prophecies. I’m not sure what I think about it yet.

  • Matthew

    I think I see where you are coming from, but the fulfilling of OT prophecy was indeed important to even Jesus so it should be to us as well. On the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), Jesus explained to the two all that was said about him in the scriptures beginning with Moses and all the prophets. From my perspective, I´m nearly certain Jesus wouldn´t quote the OT if these prophecies were not critical information coming from a reliable source.

  • Trilemma

    In Luke 22:36-37, Jesus told his apostles to carry a purse, a bag and a sword in order to fulfill a prophecy that said the Christ would be numbered with criminals. It seems to me that in order to actually fulfill the prophecy the apostles would have to be actual criminals. How would carrying a purse, a bag and a sword make them criminals or were they already criminals? Also, Mark 15:28 indicates the prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus hung on the cross.

    Luke 4:28,29 says, “And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.” Obviously Jesus had to do something to defend himself or he would have been thrown down the cliff. Unfortunately, we can only guess at what He did to defend himself. Did He do something anyone can do or did he do something only He could do?

    It sounds like you’re not against the use of force. In the example of the older brother chasing the younger, I assume you would not be against grabbing him and physically restraining him until help arrived. What is your opinion on the use of Tasers, tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, etc…?