Pacifism vs. Christology (by T)

Pacifism vs. Christology (by T) November 9, 2011

Pacifism or Christology?

We’ve had several good discussions here lately which were triggered by Who Is My Enemy?: Questions American Christians Must Face about Islam–and Themselves, by Lee C. Camp.  Those conversations, though, left me thinking we had paid insufficient attention to the core issues underneath Christian pacifism debates, and perhaps not just in these conversations, but in evangelicalism in general.

What I mean is, before we can talk intelligently and fruitfully about Christian ‘just war theory’ or ‘pacifism’ or even Christian involvement in military or police work, which are clearly not the focus issues of the New Testament’s witness, I think we need to look more deeply at our Christology and the central doctrines that Christ himself gives us, in word and deed, and look for whether there is anything in these core doctrines that speak to these secondary issues, or at least shape our thinking about them and what is at stake with such things.  Such a discussion will, by definition, have us treading upon some of the most powerful teachings and themes of the entire New Testament witness.

What do you think?  Has Western Christianity intentionally or unintentionally changed the cross from a virus to a “once-and-never-repeated” phenomenon?  Do you see God’s intent with the cross as being more isolated to Jesus or viral—the intended symbol of king and people alike?  How central is our cross-bearing to being Christ’s follower or representing him accurately and powerfully in the world?  Is the cross-bearing to be a 24-7 pursuit or only when we do evangelism, as some have suggested? Is the cross more like the Mona Lisa, or the first Seed of a new kind of human in the world?

Specifically, I’m thinking we’ll give one post each to Cross (Christ’s and ours), to Resurrection (his and ours), to Love (his and ours), to Incarnation/Character (his and ours), to Story/Strategy (his and ours), and maybe one to Kingdom (his and ours).  In all of this we will be asking what it means to be a disciple of this most unique King, and a citizen and ambassador of this most unique kingdom.  For those of us who are persuaded by Scot’s thesis in The King Jesus Gospel, and I am one, this will be an exercise in seeking to allow the story of Christ—as the gospel—to shape us more than anything else.

The first place I see some disjointedness in western Christianity when these issues arise is Christ’s Cross. Too often in “pacifism” discussions, I hear something like this: “Jesus played a unique and never-to-be-repeated role as the sacrifice for sin, and no one, including his followers are going to die a substitutionary death for anyone else’s sins.”  There’s some obvious truth there, but let me begin by making this bold statement: that statement includes far more error than truth.

The central error stems from this: Christ never talked much (at all) about how different his cross was from his followers’ crosses.  He just said—repeatedly—that he was going to die on a cross (and rise again) and that anyone who was going to be his disciple needed to get ready to do the same. If our emphasis on the cross has become distinguishing his path and vocation from ours, then our emphasis has become the opposite of Christ’s.  Jesus himself repeatedly made sacrificial death of self not just a side note to following him, but central.  When Jesus finally started predicting his own crucifixion, he quickly made it clear he wasn’t the only one destined for a cross.  Anyone, he said, who wanted to be his disciple also had to pick up his own cross, and follow.  Anyone who wanted to save his life, he said, would lose it, but anyone who lost it for his sake would find it.  (Interestingly, this is one of the very few texts in all four gospels).  Unless a seed dies, he said, it remains unfruitful and alone.  But if it dies, it produces several more seeds.  Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body, he said.  If the world hates me, it will hate you too, he said.  If it persecutes me, it will do the same to you.  No one could be his disciple, he said, without giving up all he had.  No disciple could love anything or anyone, not even his own life, more than Christ and still be his disciple.  All must be trusted and subordinated to Christ.  Count the cost he said, and the cost is all.  Again and again, and in a variety of ways, Jesus made it clear not only that his vocation required a cross, but so did the vocation of being his disciple.

Jesus was disturbingly clear on this point.  And in being clear, he wedded together two central features of his work: cross and disciples.  And Jesus wasn’t the only one to wed these together.

The apostle Paul tells us to make our attitude the same as Christ’s, who humbled himself to accept death on a cross.  Paul said he himself desired to be made like Christ “in his death.”  Paul said he himself had died, and he no longer lived, but Christ lived through him.  He was dead to this world and it to him.  He had counted everything as loss.  He told churches they were also dead to the world, but alive to God.  Paul said we had not just been called to live for Christ, but also to suffer for him.  The references are really too many to name.  Paul clearly tied following Christ to embracing a cross.  When lawsuits broke out in Corinth, he announced the church’s complete defeat and ended with this startling pair of questions that expose Paul’s cruciformity: “Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?”

Attempts to separate disciple and cross are not just going against the entire NT’s own clear trajectory and core teaching of being Christ’s disciple, they misunderstand and, specifically, minimize the power of cross-bearing that Jesus sought to unleash among his nation of followers, who would be the light of the world as he was.   All the teachings of serving others, of the last being first, of being different than the Pharisees or the Gentiles, of being like little children—all of these find their foundation and cutting edge at the cross, as the vocation of the people who would be like Jesus.  If we were going to make a more accurate statement (compared to the one I began to critique above), it might be this: “Jesus was the first King to finally pave the Way forward in this world, and it was through his cross.  His clear plan is that just as he gave himself up for the world—for sinners!—as a fragrant and pleasing sacrifice to God, he would be the first of many brothers to live and die (and rise) that way.”

Our next post in this series will be focused on Resurrection.

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  • T, Thanks for this. Yes, I see this issue as big in my own church, within a denomination which has both Christian just war proponents and Christian pacifists. You might look at this, I consider it interesting. Both positions are stated as means of being Christ’s disciples. For me to do so as a just war proponent is a head scratcher. But I think there is a strong contingent in our church who very much holds to that position.

    I look forward to your series. Good post in refuting that mistake. I put this on my Facebook profile yesterday:

    “Not only through Christ in his cross (death and resurrection) are we saved. But also through taking the way of the cross in following him — all in and through Jesus.

    Mark 8:31-38

  • …of course you point out, or at least infer that it is not only blessing to us, but through us to the world in Jesus.

  • phil_style

    Scott, may I demand once more that we investigate the work of Rene Girard?

    Sorry for harping on about this each time 😉

  • Peter

    I really appreciate what’s been expressed here. Reminds me of Michael J Gorman’s “Inhabiting the Cruciform God.” Thank you.

  • Scot McKnight


    Well, friend, I’ve read Girard, and I have mentioned him a time or two on this blog, he does come up in my A Community called Atonement, and his scapegoat theory has some good points to make. Some day maybe.

  • Steve

    I’m not sure one would need to choose an “either/or” platform here. It’s both. Jesus on the Cross is the one off moment in history, never to be repeated, that God defeated sin and death through Jesus.

    Jesus followers are called to implement what Christ initiated by picking up our crosses and yes, suffering and perhaps dying for the Gospel.

    However, our deaths would not atone for the sins of the world in the sense most Christians understand it, I would say. Perhaps in the sense that Jesus died for the sins of Israel at the time of the 1st Century as has been pointed out in some of Wright’s books (or how Jesus in essence died in Barabbas’s place) but not in the more ‘cosmic’ sense.

    Perhaps I misread the intent of the post though.

  • We should consider the cross as both objective and subjective. Objectively, we believed into Christ and His death and resurrection, thus, making it ours own. But, subjectively, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ. Nature and Scripture both show the importance of the 24/7 experience of Christ’s death and resurrection. Each night we have a mini-death, and each morning we have a mini-resurrection. In each day in Genesis 1, “there was evening and there was morning”. Death comes before resurrection, and we are to experience Christ as our death and resurrection.

  • I apologize if I’m missing part of the discussion here, but I’m not seeing the connection in the post to pacifism/just war theory. Yes, as Christ followers, we are called to die to self–a metaphorical death–and to die in persecution if need be–a literal death. But what does this have to do with military service, pacifism, just war theory, police work, etc.?

  • Joe Canner

    Will #8: Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any Scriptural reason that we should only be willing to die if it is the result of persecution. The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t distinguish persecution from any other kind of abuse when calling us to turn the other cheek or love our enemies (although we are blessed if we are persecuted and called to pray for our persecutors). So, we should be willing to die (and not take up arms to defend ourselves) regardless of the reason.

  • Rick

    Joe #9-

    “So, we should be willing to die (and not take up arms to defend ourselves) regardless of the reason.”

    Good point.

    Now the question becomes: what about defending others?

  • Randy Gabrielse

    “What I mean is, before we can talk intelligently and fruitfully about Christian ‘just war theory’ or ‘pacifism’ or even Christian involvement in military or police work, which are clearly not the focus issues of the New Testament’s witness…”

    What about turning the other cheek or walking two miles rather than one? These seem to me to be precisely the day-to-day issues that an occupied people would have faced from Herod’s soldiers and perhaps Roman soldiers any time that they interacted.

    Randy G.

  • I have heard the “orthodox” card played against a Christian pacifist position, by the way, the point of this post. If early Christian practice of not participating in the Roman military was due to the conviction that such is not the way in following Jesus, they did not speak of it in the creeds. One professor I know and teacher dismisses early pacifism with the note that this was strictly a matter of not being able to participate due to the emperor cult. Of course that all changed with Constantine (and Augustine).

  • T


    Thanks brother. Seems we’ve been drinking from the same fountain lately!

    Phil, I’ll put him on my growing stack of “to be read!”

    Peter, I think Michael Gorman is fantastic and has much to offer the whole church. If anyone enjoys this series, they’ll love Gorman. I’ve only read small works of his and bits of the larger ones and had a few online conversations with him. He’s a gem.

    Will, Randy and others,

    We’re hitting the pacifism issue indirectly for now, intentionally. Even though, as Randy rightly points out, we could jump right to the verses that arguably are the most “on point” I want to talk about some fundamentals of the faith first (Cross, Resurrection, Love, etc.) so that we can deal with the issues in that larger context. Of course, today’s issue is cross, so Will’s question is fair game. What are the contexts in which our cross bearing will be relevant? Is it really just for missionary work/evangelism? Or is it to be the mark of God’s people? What say you?

  • T


    I do want to sit with the doctrine and example of the Cross for a while; let it “dwell richly” among us for a bit. So I hope to talk about cross more than anything else today. But we will get to the issue of defending others. For today, let’s try to limit that question to Christ’s own example and how he did it, as ‘the Good Shepherd’ and our Teacher and Lord, who is our example. I want to focus on these things within our Christology; specifically within the story of Christ, which is our gospel. Fair enough?

    Certainly no one has had more leadership responsibility than Christ. Within that context, I’m thinking of how he “defended” his disciples and even of how Peter tried to defend Jesus and the other disciples. Does Jesus’ own story, the gospel, inform your thinking on defending others? If so, how? Did Jesus bear some responsibility to protect his sheep better or differently than he did? How did Jesus “protect” his sheep, both prior to and after his own death? How did Jesus prepare them to handle the violence coming their way, that he himself predicted for them on many occasions? Again, my concern is whether the story, example and teaching of Christ is really shaping our own.

  • T


    Certainly the behavior of the early church is relevant. But before we get there, I want to focus on Christ himself, and specifically on the doctrine of the cross. I’m concerned, like you, that we’ve made the cross much more into Jesus’ thing than our thing. I think that’s contrary to Jesus own teaching on the subject as well as Paul’s. Further, if we make that mistake, what hope is there to arrive at sound answers on when to be pacifist? I’d say very little. If we’ve already signed up to be crucified (every day!) as a prerequisite to following Christ at all, won’t that change our perspective when faced with violence or the opportunity to use violence? I think it will.

  • I will be interested to see where this goes. I admit that I do not fully understand pacifism … I see Jesus and Peter and Paul interfacing with soldiers — but no calls for them to forsake their positions. Rather, I see a call to behavior that is counter-cultural — which is consistent with what is expected of everyone who calls Jesus Lord: love that submits to the best interest of the other, grace that serves the true needs of the other, and mercy that initiates actions that build up the other as true representations of Kingdom leadership.

    This topic, as all topics, deserves deep, clear thinking … the kind that makes us uncomfortable … and allows the Spirit to speak into each heart to guide according to their situation.


  • Amos Paul

    I agree with this in part… mainly because you seem to be distinguishing ‘The Cross’ as death and separate Resurrection from this concept. This is a distinction I have grown up with, but have come to disagree with.

    On the one hand, I’ve learned from the more traditional churches that many Christians have historically not separated the two (Ex: Theories of Christ’s work such as Christus Victor). Moreover, I don’t think that *Jesus* separated the two either. Whenever he spoke of dying, he generally spoke of rising. It was his disciples that, at least at first, saw only the death–while He kept insistently holding it simultaneously in tension with new and true life. Indeed, this within your reference to whoever would ‘lose his life’, as the intended consequence is ‘to find it’.

    That’s the completed concept I think that Jesus wanted to make clear. I think that He was trying to tell us what life *really is*. For, indeed, He went around promising and telling people how to achieve ‘eternal life’. True, life. And, moreover, you speak of the Cross as ‘following Jesus’, but I say ‘following Jesus’ entails ‘knowing Jesus’ which is, itself, the definition of eternal life:

    John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

    Bearing one’s Cross is simultaneously both losing oneself and finding oneself via God. It is the death and resurrection, the cost and the reward, selling all one has and gaining the pearl of great price. At the same time. Simultaneously.

  • …okay, it took a long time (many interruptions) for my last comment … but I see a big difference in what Jesus was doing within cultures of his day, where there was no difference between church and state. I think things went off line for “Christian” soldiers when things changed from being honorable persons employed by the state to protect the Empire and its citizens … and morphed into soldiers using the sword as a means of coersive “evangelism”, as it were.

    The cross we all bear calls us to be willing to lay down our lives at any time for the good of the Kingdom. That includes ego, career, security, ambition…there is a lot of tangled thinking to be straightened out.

    Thanks for leading this effort, T 🙂

  • T. Thanks! Well yes, I think the focus on Christ himself is where it’s at, and all else in a true sense must flow out from that. We must major on Christ’s identity. And then from that we can find our own true identity in him. Before we begin to seek to understand how that’s worked out in this world. Of course scripture, as you point out here, does tie Christ’s identity and ours together, through Christ in his incarnation and death/resurrection. In his coming as King as the one who ushers in the kingdom and all that means.

    I think too we can come to understand this more clearly when we contrast the way in Jesus with other ways. But looking forward to better understanding this.

  • @Peter, I love Gorman’s book. It has helped me to put a lot of things together, which, they way they are often presented seem to have nothing to do with the other: cruciformity, justification, etc. Another resource for discussing the way of non-violence is Richard Hays’ “The Moral Vision of the New Testament”, particularly chapter 14, but the book as a whole is helpful in understanding how to read and interpret scripture in regards to Christ’s ethics.
    Btw, I think pacifism is an inaccurate term for non-violence. I think it takes a great deal of will, creativity and energy to deliberately place oneself last and think of others first, which is what Jesus calls us to do. There is nothing passive in that.

  • T


    I agree; it’s not really my preference to separate them either. I prefer to discuss them all at once. But for space limitations, we gotta break it up a bit. Of course, you could just think of this series as one long conversation. 😀 In fact, one of the things I want to do towards the end of this series is take a big picture view and discuss if the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

  • T

    Peggy, on this “The cross we all bear calls us to be willing to lay down our lives at any time for the good of the Kingdom. That includes ego, career, security, ambition…there is a lot of tangled thinking to be straightened out.” Exactly.

    Not to add additional fuel to the fire, but I can’t help but think that this conversation changes within what Scot calls a “gospel culture” vs. a “soterian culture.” If a community’s gospel is focused most on justification by faith, or some other soterian framing/articulation of the gospel, it will be different than if a community is focused on the story of Jesus as gospel. I hope this discussion becomes an exercise in “fixing our eyes on Jesus” and seeing what happens.

  • T


    Agreed. Part of the frustration I had in the discussions around “just war theory” or “pacifism” is that I’m not committed to those things per se; I’m committed to a person. We need to discuss that person, Jesus. We should be able to ground our ethics in that person, in his story, his values, his strategies, first and foremost. All the more when this story is our gospel. Even if we distill this or that position or theory or ethic from him, our commitment is always to that Person, and he should define the boundaries and reasons behind any action or ethic.

  • DRT

    I’d like to add the arrest scene to this debate (don’t think it has been…) Jesus did not want Peter to defend him. Then he healed the enemy.

  • JHM

    I have a couple questions and I hope T, or Scot, or somebody else could help me out with them.

    1) I understand the idea of Jesus being an example for us, but does that mean he was an example in *everything* he did? I’m not so sure because it seems like he had a very particular mission. I wonder if the point of Jesus’ pacifism at the cross because he was a pacifist or was it because it was the way to fulfill his mission?

    2) What happens when we have conflicting examples from Jesus? As others have commented, what happens when “taking up the cross” includes defending the innocent and helpless against injustice and evil?

    I really liked this post T, thanks for taking the time. This is a very complicated issue, but one I think we need to think more about.

  • T


    Your first question speaks to why we’re going to look at this from several angles. There are many, and they all add dimension and depth and insight. Of course, as I said in the post, Jesus was sent to do things which we are not sent to do, but I think that statement is more misleading than helpful. The clear general rule is: “A student who is fully trained will be like his teacher. As the Father sent me, so I send you. Anyone who believes in me will do what I’ve been doing. A student is not above his teacher. You call me Lord and Teacher and you are right . . . I have set an example for you. As I have loved you, so you must love each other.” And on and on and on it goes, specifically even on the issue of following him to a cross. We need to see that cross-shaped living is at the core of what Jesus sought to pass on to his disciples. I think I’ve laid out plenty of support for that idea, and I’m open to hearing the counter-argument, but no one has provided any so far. I think the fact is that Jesus (and the rest of the NT) is just ridiculously clear on that point; we just have been understandably unwilling to take it in. It’s like the advice to the rich young ruler; it’s tough to hear.

  • Gina wrote,

    “I think pacifism is an inaccurate term for non-violence. I think it takes a great deal of will, creativity and energy to deliberately place oneself last and think of others first, which is what Jesus calls us to do. There is nothing passive in that.”

    Well said and I definitely agree here.

    Thanks also, T., for giving this some clear direction – and Scot, as always, for hosting!

  • It’s ironic that the word passive is derived from passion which comes from the Latin, passivus, which means to suffer or to feel deeply. What it now stands for in our society is one who sits on the sidelines or hasn’t enough will or strength to do anything. I wish we could reclaim the root meaning of the word somehow, but think we will probably have to use different terms for clarity’s sake. Too bad.

  • JHM

    T (#26),

    I’ll be the first to admit that it can be a struggle to “take it in”, but I think for many people it’s not a matter of being unwilling as much as not knowing what to do in their every-day life.

    I think Jesus and the NT are ridiculously clear, as you put it, but that doesn’t mean we know what to do with what they said. I really don’t know what it means to follow Jesus much of the time. The words on the page are clear, but that doesn’t mean I know what he’s talking about 🙂

  • Sorry to be commenting so much here, but this has really been on my mind a great deal this year. To bring this home and out of the “should I ever have to go to war or defend my children” realm, I have tried to think very deliberately about my motives in the actions I take. When I get angry, is it because I haven’t gotten my way or am I more concerned for the other person? When I have somehow been taken advantage of, can I be happy that someone has gained and pray that God will be present in and bless that other person’s life? I come up short every time, but this is what I think Jesus calls us to do. I sometimes try to justify self-protection, but then I see how Jesus deliberately walks,(the opposite of passive, btw),into the trap laid for him by the Pharisees, Sanhedren and Judas, loving them and telling the truth every step of the way.

  • T


    You are probably right on that front, which is why we’re going to look not just at Cross, but several other themes, which should give more clarity by the end. Cross does have a purpose, and it’s the purpose that matters.

  • Luke Allison

    Anybody else looking forward to Greg Boyd’s “The Crucifixion of the Warrior God”?

    Most of my questions on this topic are informed more by the Law and the Prophets than by the Gospels.

    Holding the fact that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God”, “the exact imprint of His nature”, and the final word from God on all matters in tension with the only real descriptive record of this God is a challenge.

    I’m not willing to dismiss the witness of the Scriptures (mainly because Jesus wasn’t willing to), and I’m less than impressed by the “evolutionary” view of divine revelation. Progressive revelation, yes.

    This all comes back to the fact that Jesus uses the Old Testament as the foundation for revealing Himself as God. He doesn’t seem to make any disclaimer about the descriptions of God found in the Old Testament being anything less than accurate. We’ve all inserted those disclaimers depending on our level of culturally-induced offense at what we read in the Old Testament.

    I’m not really asking questions, just rambling…but what are some proposed solutions here?

  • Taylor

    It’s important to differentiate between defending ourselves and others. I believe the Cross is a better example of this than many of us realize. We tend to look at the Cross as a passive event, in the sense that Jesus was submissive to the will of the Father, and, offering no resistance, gave His life to break the power of sin and death.

    We easily miss the active component of that. In giving His life for humanity, Jesus on the Cross went to war with the power of evil. He actively defeated Death. It’s not inconceivable to look at that example from the perspective of a soldier, submissively going into battle, ready to lay down his life (passive) to defend the helpless (active).

    Should we give our lives to the active defeat of mass murderers, even to the point of death, of doing battle with them for the sake of others? The example of the Cross doesn’t say no.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    As T said: “We need to see that cross-shaped living is at the core of what Jesus sought to pass on to his disciples. I think I’ve laid out plenty of support for that idea, and I’m open to hearing the counter-argument, but no one has provided any so far.”

    That most of the Christian church is so unwilling to acknowledge how intimately Jesus tied his own cross-bearing to our right to be disciples has for my more than 30 years as a believer been perhaps the most painfully festering splinter in the shoulder of my own cross-bearing. That most of the evangelical church doesn’t affirmatively support Christian (cross-bearing) pacifism has left me doubting that it will ever take discipleship seriously. As you note T, no one has brought forth an argument (here) to say otherwise. In each of the synoptic Gospels, when Jesus acknowledges that he is the Christ, he couples that declaration with an insistence that no one can be his disciple unless they do the same. Since Jesus identified his kind of cross-bearing as essential to being his followers, if we don’t get this I think we’ve lost an essential part of our identity.

    The best argument against Christian pacifism is that the most loving thing to do is to protect the innocent with violence if necessary. This argument, however, undermines the significance or neutralizes the essence of love exemplified by Jesus, and the powerful witness of Christian martyrs in the centuries following. If our willingness to and actually take up our crosses instead of using violence to achieve justice and peace isn’t the most loving mode of discipleship then His willingness and actually taking up His cross wasn’t the most loving act either. It was the “witness of the martyrs” that transformed the pagan world, and it can do so again in our world if we can regain our calling as followers of Jesus rather than just being believers in Him.

    BTW: every Islamic jihadist act of violence is form of persecution, so in our main context for asking WWJD in relation to officially sanctioned violent conflict I think we need to avoid suggesting that it is only right to act as a Christian pacifist if “I am personally being persecuted.”

    Taylor: You say: “It’s not inconceivable to look at that example from the perspective of a soldier, submissively going into battle, ready to lay down his life (passive) to defend the helpless (active).” To me, this “there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for a friend” kind of thinking turns the reality of cross-bearing on its head. One does not go into battle to “lay down one’s life” (passive) but to lay down the lives of the enemy (active); it is completely opposite from what you and so many others have argued. Your argument hides the truth.

    PS: T, is there some reason for the anonymity created by using only an initial? Uh, perhaps the symbolism of the Tau, the T that is the form of the cross of Jesus, is appropriate, but who is hiding here and why?

  • Taylor


    I’m not hiding the truth, I’m exploring its full implications. My kind of thinking may not appeal to you, but it is certainly worth considering, as it takes in the full implications of why one would lay down their life.

    It also forces us to deal with the reality that there may be times when a non-violent sacrifice of ones life is not death for a friend, whom it will not help, but death for our own principles. Bonhoeffer, a man who examined and lived out discipleship in light of the cross better than I ever will realized this, and rather than simply confessing against evil and being ineffectively killed for it, actively worked towards overturning evil.

    Finally, your view of the cross appears one-dimensional in that it fails to consider one of the ends it achieves. The destruction of evil, including the enemies of God (see Rev 19:11-16).

  • T


    No hiding. All my friends and family actually call me “T.” My last name is Freeman, I just am not in the habit of typing it out for blogs.


    I will look at your argument in more detail in later posts, but I think you’ve got a hard time squaring your argument with Paul’s description of who our enemies are and how we fight them, not to mention the explicit rebuke by Jesus of using the sword. I totally agree that there is an active and powerful dynamic at work in cross-bearing, and not just for Jesus, which makes sense since he didn’t just bear a cross himself, but also commanded his followers to do the same. But again, we’ll get to this in more detail, as well as my thoughts on police work, etc. in later posts.

  • If you want to explode you standard categories for this matter, you must engage Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder. Hauerwas recently published a book solely devoted to the topic called “War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity.” As one commentator noted, Richard Hays’ book “Moral Vision of the New Testament” has much to say on this, too.

    First, Hauerwas (following Yoder) argues that Christian non-violence flows directly from our Christology (which is what drew my attention to this post). Christians cannot act in violence because of the peaceable person Jesus is and the peace he has made a reality through his death and resurrection. It is not a question of what strategy is most “effective” in stopping violence. That’s a secondary issue and a complicated one (I would suggest Yoder’s “Christian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution.”). The issue is allowing our lives to conform to the life of Jesus.

    Second, Hauerwas asks several insightful questions:
    What is violence?
    What is peace?
    What is war?
    If a conflict fails just war standards, is it still a war?
    How is police action different from war?

    Lest you assume I’m simply a Hauerwas ditto-head, I admit that Peter Leithart’s excellent book “Defending Constantine” has given me much to chew on.

  • Luke Allison


    I’ve always seen Jesus’ ethic as one of “non-violence”, but are we willing to apply the word “pacifism” to it? Doesn’t that word carry a lot of cultural baggage that we’d be inappropriately saddling Jesus with?

    Many pacifists I know seem to have been pacifists before they met Jesus, and merely subsumed Him into their preexisting ethic. Is that what we’re talking about here?

    If not, what explanation do we propose for the fact that Jesus’ foundation for His identity was found in the witness of the Law and the Prophets? That particular witness includes a picture of God which is something distinctly “other” than pacifist. There’s no indication that Jesus or the Pharisees saw the witness of Scripture as it pertained to God as metaphorical or figurative. God’s action in the world was seen as just that: action in the world.

    It’s only as we are contextually offended that we begin to apply theories of “evolutionary revelation” or some such thing to the text.

    I know Greg Boyd is currently working on a book called “The Crucifixion of the Warrior God” which deals with some of this, but what do you think?

    Frankly, I see nothing in the Gospels which contradicts what you’ve said in this post, except for the fact that Jesus’ view of Scripture was very high indeed. And that means we must deal appropriately with a non-pacifist picture of God.

  • T


    I actually share your aversion to the term ‘pacifism’ for very similar reasons. That’s why I titled this series Pacifism or Christology; not because they are opposites, but because the latter is my focus, not the former. If the latter leads me to something that a pacifist agrees with, so be it. But the issue for me is following Christ, not pacifism.

    As for the OT picture, I don’t question Jesus’ commitment to the scriptures, but I also want to take very seriously his teaching and embodiment of his idea of faithfulness to God and to his mission. Especially in light of the way that Jesus contrasted with other Jewish conceptions of faithfulness to God in light of the OT, it is very important to me that we follow him where his teaching and or example differ from his contemporary alternatives.

  • Luke Allison


    Well said, and I agree.

  • Luke Allison

    PS, I think that’s where Greg Boyd is going with his book as well, based on a few things I’ve heard.

  • Drane Reynolds


    #8 It is NOT a metaphor.

  • Drane, there is an aspect of dying to self that seems clearly metaphorical. I’d be interested to hear why you think (so emphatically, it would seem) that there is no metaphorical sense in which we “die to self.”

    Others, thanks for the interaction. After re-reading my comment/question, it makes me sound a bit antagonistic. Quite the contrary. On the spectrum from militarism to pacifism (or whatever other word we want to use), I am definitely far towards the pacifist end. I was just jumping the gun (no pun intended!) looking for a connection between christology and “pacifism.”

    I agree that much of the ethics of the Kingdom of God are clearly non-violent. I’m trying to explore in my own context a solid theological understanding of violence and non-violence.

    And it’s not just a theological brain teaser for me; I live in one of the largest military regions of the country. I’m surrounded by military personnel both inside and outside the church. Many of the elders, deacons, leaders, and others in my church are officers, soldiers, SEALs, etc. My neighbors walk to the mailbox in their military uniforms. I frequently drive past military vehicles on a regular basis. So the question for me becomes very practical and highly pastoral: If “pacifism” or “non-violence” is indeed the ethic of the Kingdom, how do I relate to all of these people around me?