Monday, January 18, 2010

guns and butter

“What would happen if we were to do away with our armed forces?
If that sounds foolish it’s probably because the idea of disarming would be as unwise today as it would have been in ancient Israel. It doesn’t make sense to lay down weapons in a world where God has often used them to protect His people.”

These words, from the 1997 edition of Our Daily Bread (yeah, I’m a bit behind in my reading . . . ) were jarring to me.
Perhaps because immediately after I read the first line, I was filled with a feeling of peace and excitement. What if we were to do away with our armed forces? What if everyone was to? What if there were no guns or projectile weapons? This sentence enabled me to envision a world which offered more peace to people than the world we live in today.

But then I read on. And apparently I am foolish, and am denying God’s blessing of violent weapons, as this article states.

I simply can’t find God within violent acts. Or violent weapons. Or violent toys, or violent words. I cannot reconcile the person of Jesus with my country’s commitment to violence overseas, and violence to its own people.

The idea of ancient Israel laying down its weapons doesn’t seem foolish to me. Instead, it seems radical. Loving. Countercultural and meaningful. It seems embracive of a different way of living, a way in which all God’s children are respected and nurtured.

Unwise? Most certainly. Radical? Yes. Affirming of God’s life, creation, peoples, words of peace? Most definitely.

13 comments:

chrish said...

So then what do you do with the chunks of the Old Testament in which God commands his people to kill every living thing, and punishes Saul for disobeying? Is God not in the Old Testament (or at least those parts), or has He somehow changed despite His assurances that He does not? What about where Jesus is described in Revelation as bringing the sword to the world? Or where God pours out wrath in bowl form on the world? Or where Jesus says that He comes not to bring peace, but the sword?

This is the stuff in the Bible that makes me wonder about pacifism. Lovely idea, to be sure, but I don't read any compulsion in the Bible toward that stream. I'm not suggesting Christians are called to pick fights and look for chances to go to war, but I don't think we're called to avoid it at every cost.

Zac said...

Chris,

Your comment holds merit only on a particular view of scripture that assumes that all of the many varied threads and images of God portrayed throughout scripture are completely reconcilable. I know this may not be a popular position in some circles of thought and belief, but where I come down on this is simple: I simply cannot reconcile the image of a God who commands the killing of women and children with the God of Jesus Christ. If this is the same God, as I believe you and I both believe, then either Jesus Christ does not reveal to us the very image of God (his essential nature and posture, ie. one of complete self-giving, outpouring love, peace, forgiveness) or Jesus just decided to change his approach for the incarnation and then pick the same "kill them bastards" approach when he returns at the end of days. Just doesn't jive...

bre said...

hi Chris. And Zac. Much welcome to you.

The bible is full of contradictions - contradictions which need to be struggled through and dealt with.

what has helped me most on this journey of reconciling these contradictions is a thorough study of patriarchy and its influence upon the biblical stories, as well as focusing on God's character as I know it. I no longer read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, with a literal interpretation or an unquestioning mind.

Many of the OT rules and communications, including purity laws, laws of ownership, etc. are rules which encompass values of marginalization, harm, oppression. The God of the Old Testament and the God of Christ seems irreconcilable. And I believe that they are. Christ is the best example of how we are to live, and how we are to treat people.

I believe that many of OT laws and writings reflect a patriarchical, hurtful, and ungodly perspective. i no longer believe these to come from God, but from a skewed sense of religion and culture based on values including racial and gender supremacy.

I cannot envision Christ taking up a sword, acting violently, or doing anything except living and calling us to live a countercultural life. Christ is my model for living, and the Gospels show him to be a gentle man who believed in equality and love at all cost.

I simply cannot reconcile violence of any kind with Christ's expressed second commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself." That commandment alone should steady our hand in as many circumstances as possible.

Our current philosophy of war also stems from our ethnocentric ideas of race as well patriarchical values. Again, inconsistent with God's character. There is no such thing as a just war when even one child is killed. I don't believe that God supports the idea of collateral damage.

I encourage you to speak to individuals - many are in Winnipeg - who have experienced war firsthand, and who have have innocent friends and family killed because they were caught between sides and conflict which had little to do with them. I encourage you to visit a refugee camp and see what has been done to humanity because of violence and force. I encourage you to dialogue with people affected firsthand and try to find Christ within the bullets.

Additionally, I think that your reference to Christ claiming he came not to bring peace, but a sword is a gross misrepresentation of that particular scripture. It was in no way a call to physical violence or war in Christ's name. Instead, he was speaking of the reality of violent persecution against believers. If anything it supports pacifism, as it does not instruct or outline any form of self-defense against these violent acts.

When Peter defends Christ using a sword, Christ orders him to put it away. Christ's refusal to use violence to defend himself when unfairly condemned is a powerful example I believe that we are to follow.

Best,
Bre

chrish said...

Thanks for the responses. I appreciate the dialogue.

I recognise the seeming difficulty in reconciling the commands of God in the OT and the commands of God in the NT. Those are tough to blend, and I don’t claim to have all of the answers. But here’s how it seems to me:

If you reject the Old Testament as being unreliable, then you have to reject the New. Over and over, Jesus quotes the Old Testament, points back to it and comments on where it points to Him. He accuses the Pharisees of not believing Moses, because Moses wrote about Him. If Moses is considered the greatest of the prophets in the OT, but is getting it wrong when he passes on Levitical law and speaks God’s word to the Istraelites, why should we believe what he’s said about Christ? Then, if you reject the Old Testament, then you have nothing to do with Paul's epistles, because they are the foundation of his understanding of Christ as well. That eliminates as suspect a large amount of the Bible.

But then if you also reject Revelation's violence, then you reject the Apostle John's gospels and epistles; if Revelation is unreliable, so must be everything else he wrote. John was describing what he saw; bowls of wrath poured out on the world included.

If all of these are rejected, then what are you left with? You have a Christ who has no Old Testament prophecies, effectively nullifying Him as Messiah. You have no gospel of John revealing Him most clearly as God. You lose the epistles of Paul, and of John as being suspect due to their rootedness in the previously rejected Old Testament.

In short, you have very little upon which to base your life, and no hope of forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to the most Holy and Just God. You have commands to love your neighbour (which I affirm), but they would not issued by the Incarnate God, because He based His claims as such on the OT which has been denied. Further, they’re issued by a man you would reject because of how often He speaks of Hell, judgement, and affirms the words of the OT.

This isn’t easy for me to say; I don’t have some sort of smug smile as I arrogantly point out all of these things. My conscience is held captive by the Bible, to paraphrase Luther. Your theology - though rooted in a genuine concern for the plight of humanity and a deep desire to work real change in the world (which I do applaud) - has rejected Scripture as authoritative and therefore denied Christ as God. If that is hard to stomach, I hope it will become easier if you read Romans, and especially 3:4 - “Let God be true, and all men be a liar.”

I do want that for you. I recall wonderful conversations years ago with you about God and being encouraged as you challenged me. This liberation theology misses too many key points, Bre, to be much of a salvation.

In Him,
Chris

bre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bre said...

i in no way reject the Old Testament. I consider it very dear to my heart, and I wrestle daily with its words and message.

The large picture of the Bible as a whole is a beautiful, beautiful story of redemption, love, and salvation. Which I believe is highlighted throughout the OT and NT.

I believe that the OT and NT need to be addressed and interpreted within the cultural framework and context at their time of writing. This is key to extracting the core message.

I believe the Bible to be authoritative. Completely. But it is not a textbook. It is a mystery to be unfolded, and its methods of communication are not cut and dry. A literal interpretation denies the purpose and agency of its writers to communicate their truths as they saw them.

I understand i was not clear about this in my above writing. Rejecting the origin of things like OT purity laws does not mean that I reject the overall message of the OT. It is an acknowledgment that humans have written these words and, as such, are rooted in culture and assumptions that do not necessarily come from God.

If you are able to offer a truly biblical based ethic of war, using seriously the commandment to not kill as well as Jesus' refusal to use violence, I eagerly invite that.

On a more personal note, your charges of my lost salvation, my rejection of Christ, and the hopelessness of my life is not only a misunderstanding of my position, but crosses a line of respect and friendship and hurts me deeply. Please don't pretend to know who I am, and the status of my soul. I live daily in the arms of Christ, and depend upon God's grace for my every breath, knowing that nothing can separate me from the Love of Christ. Romans.

You have grossly overstepped your bounds, Chris.

chrish said...

I'll work on the first and reply a little later.

I've read your blog for a long time, and read the links you post, and read the statements of faith from groups you affirm and support (such as SCM). I see in that group a liberation theology that denies Christ's sacrifice as the sole means by which I am saved from the consequences of my sin (Hell), and which can reconcile me to God. I see a watering down in the name of "tolerance" the morality to which the Bible commands. I hear no gospel in their words except the social gospel, and it does not save.

I did not mean to tell you definitively that I know the state of your soul; I meant only to say that the things you affirm from the SCM (as an example that is most prominent) will not save. It has no good news because there is no bad news.

I had no intention of overstepping my bounds, Bre. It is only because I respect and care about you that I would even dare to say something. If I offended, I will humbly ask for consideration in light of Proverbs 27:6. I did not intend anything malicious, but only what I hoped might prove fruitful.

Zac said...

Chris,

You said:

"I see in that group a liberation theology that denies Christ's sacrifice as the sole means by which I am saved from the consequences of my sin (Hell), and which can reconcile me to God."

How, exactly are you saved, Chris? Are you saved "in your soul"? Are you saved in "eternal standing"? Are you saved "in the eyes of God"? While you may want to affirm all of the above, and while there are some legitimate reasons to articulate salvation as such, perhaps you also need to conceive of being saved "for others"...of being saved "in the real world to do real things like loving people, which undeniably includes at times taking a role of opposition to structures of social violence"... of being saved to "love the least of these"... I am a little concerned that, in opposition to the supposed "social gospel" of SCM, the only way you can articulate the practical and real outworkings of salvation are in the abstract. Obviously, I know that this would not REALLY be your position, but you do not help yourself out by avoiding the work of articulating how this salvation changes the world, as Paul most certainly did in his Epistles.

I would not say that everything that SCM says I see as Gospel (quite the contrary), but I do see that SCM is seeking to discern God's will as it pertains to real life and so I listen to their voice as a voice wherein God's will CAN shine (notice, it does not by necessity shine because of their "project", but CAN shine and I believe often DOES).

You also say:

"I did not mean to tell you definitively that I know the state of your soul; I meant only to say that the things you affirm from the SCM (as an example that is most prominent) will not save. It has no good news because there is no bad news."

If you had really read any of the SCM affirmations, you would understand that there is profound "bad news" pronounced and that it does not purport to be salvation as such. This bad news articulated by SCM is that there are oppressive and dominating structures in the world that are against God's plan for his world. This bad news is the same bad news that the Gospel proclaims, and that Paul proclaims where he says that the powers of sin that affect us individually are the same powers of sin that affect real world powers and authorities (Eph. 6:12)Thus, these powers are not just "spiritual", "abstract" or "demonic" in the sense of a mysterious force that we need to pray against abstractly, but realities and political structures that manifest themselves in the real world. These powers who Jesus unmasked in his life, death, and resurrection(Col. 2:15) are real powers who still rebel to this day. Our mission, as Christ followers, is to act as Christ did, proclaiming freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19) and to do so, if necessary, by standing up to the powers even to the point of our own death "on the cross". How we take up this mission is certainly of huge importance too. If we wish to live as Christ did, we will reject the Devil's temptation to reign and rule by human power and might, but will proclaim Christ's rule in our acts of non-violent love and especially love for the poor (Matt. 25:31-46).

I do not disagree with you (as is clear from the above Matthew text, esp. vs. 46) that judgment is real and that it occurs, I only question your supposed assurance that your idea of salvation secures you against your idea of judgment and that somehow SCM's idea of salvation (as the poor experiencing God's love through real people as a foretaste to the fullness of time) is actually the primary reason their actions will be called damnable. Once again, just doesn't jive...

chrish said...

Zac,

But that isn’t the bad news identified by the Bible. The bad news isn’t about the poor, the violence inherent in the system, or inequality of any kind. The bad news is this: left to ourselves, we are, without exception, damned to an eternal Hell because of the sin nature we inherited, because God is just, and holy, and can tolerate no sin whatsoever (Rom 3:23; 6:23). That is the bad news. Whatever earthly consequences follow (violence, oppression, etc), the truly bad news is of an eternal kind. The bad news ought to terrify as it convicts, and spur us to look to the Incarnate God in Jesus Christ. Through grace by faith we are reconciled to God because of His death and resurrection. His message isn’t a political one; His resurrection wasn’t to overthrow the systems. He is not to be seen as something that gives us our desires; a better job, better relationships, better system, better justice. Rather, “The Word became flesh and we beheld His glory; glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth,” and as He’s called by John the Baptist, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” If there is anywhere in the SCM literature that affirms an eternal Hell for those who are not saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, I have yet to read it, and would very much like to.

Am I called to love? Of course. Am I to be charitable and demonstrate concern for the people around me? Absolutely. But those come as fruit from the Vine; they are not the means by which I am saved. They are evidence of my faith being placed solely in Christ. As I recognise my absolute wretchedness apart from His grace, I demonstrate my love for Him by loving others.
I am also called to obey God in what you term “abstract” ways; by calling sin sin, by challenging others who claim Christ to hone their beliefs to match the Bible, by refusing to tolerate what God refuses to tolerate. This is the area that I see SCM (and liberation theology in general) failing so miserably at: for example, by affirming as acceptable LGBTTQ* lifestyles without calling people to repent from that sin, they name themselves as knowing better than God, who condemns such behaviour with the same force as the hypocrites, liars, thieves and gluttons; by focussing on the systemic evils rather than calling individuals to the cross and therefore to salvation.

You then said:
I do not disagree with you (as is clear from the above Matthew text, esp. vs. 46) that judgment is real and that it occurs, I only question your supposed assurance that your idea of salvation secures you against your idea of judgment and that somehow SCM's idea of salvation (as the poor experiencing God's love through real people as a foretaste to the fullness of time) is actually the primary reason their actions will be called damnable. Once again, just doesn't jive...

If anyone believes that loving another person - no matter how deeply or genuinely - is a suitable substitute for repentance of their sins and placing their faith solely in the grace of God, then that’s a damnable lie. It will not. There is no other name under Heaven by which we can be saved, Paul writes, and Jesus certainly doesn’t leave any other option by calling Himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” using all those definite articles. If anyone believes that there is no Hell for people who refuse to surrender to God, they’ve got a very different notion than Jesus had, and that is a damnable lie as well. These are two of the most dangerous lies to believe, because they rely so heavily on our romanticised notions of God, as opposed to recognising what it says in Hebrews: “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” when you’ve got no one’s righteousness but your own to cover for you.

This is the single most important question a person needs to answer: why should God accept me into Heaven? My answer is solely because of my faith in His grace.

chrish said...

Pacifism, I think, comes down to just this one question: Is there ever an instance in which violence of any degree is justifiable?

If you would even tackle a man who intends to stab a child, you are no pacifist. But if you would work no violence towards him, it seems you're complicit in whatever happens to the child.

Ought it be our first instinct? - no. But if there is no other way, I see no reason to resist defending the defenseless.

bre said...

hi all

i don't have much time, so must make this brief.

i am more than a little bit confused about the direction of this conversation is taking in terms of SCM's theology and statement of faith.

Firstly, please don't assume that my theology is SCMs, or the other way around. They definitely form each other, but are certainly not equal.

I am even moreso confused about the discussion regarding SCM's salvific Christology. Huh? Though it is safe to say that SCM theology considers the salvation work and promise to include our physical bodies and present world, SCM has and will not tackle the task of hammering down a specific theology regarding eternal salvation. As an ecumenical movement, it would make no sense to do so. Our movement is made up of Evangelicals, United Church, Anglicans, Catholics, Atheists, and those of other faiths. An inclusive theology is encouraged in that all are able and encouraged to hold the distinct theology of their faith tradition including specific Christology. Though we may discuss these things and encourage dialogue, we would never claim a statement of faith on Christology beyond our physical world.

Perhaps you are mixing us up with other movements and organizations? Please don't.

Additionally, I find the statement that Christ's work was not at least partly a political one to be somewhat absurd. His words and actions continually referenced the Empire and the political state. To not include these meanings within biblical readings is to miss much of the message.

Zac said...

Bre,

My apologies, especially regarding my last statement:

"that somehow SCM's idea of salvation (as the poor experiencing God's love through real people as a foretaste to the fullness of time) is actually the primary reason their actions will be called damnable."

I had no intention to speak for SCM, neither to attribute to them a "salvific Christology" or an absolute idea of salvation. Realistically, I was moreso projecting what I SAW as a component of what many Christians understand, on the basis of scripture, salvation to be and how that seems to be articulated within SCM's care for the poor.

Chris, as far as your comment that Christ's primary concern is for our "sin stain" inside of us, it reaks of gnosticism. If Jesus came to save people who were sinful, he came to save them because they were sinful in their WHOLE BEING, not just their soul. Sin is a comprehensive problem for the whole of the person and the whole of the world, this is why the creation groans (Rom. 8:19-23) because it too is anticipating the world changing effects that salvation brings. Salvation does not just make our invisible soul secure for an eternal heaven, but it prepares the whole of our being to participate already in the hope began at Easter. Sin is not a problem for a lot of individuals, it is a world problem. If I would accept this, it does not logically follow that salvation is now simply in my hands, or my project, but it does follow that God asks me to live in light of the freedom his sacrifice brings, which is freedom for the individual, but also for a world that sees that Christ has unmasked the powers of oppression and dominating structures that sin has also stained(Col. 2:15). Acknowledging this freedom then means to proclaim to these institutions that their mode of being is a lie and needs to change.

Z

bre said...

thanks, Zac.
I think that the statement that "somehow SCM's idea of salvation (as the poor experiencing God's love through real people as a foretaste to the fullness of time)" is actually pretty accurate; i just am concerned that it is assumed that all SCMers would end there. Indeed, some would. But many would not, myself included. I just wanted to quantify SCM's focus and purpose. Our mission statement spells it out well at http://scmcanada.org/about/mission
- its the closest thing we have to a Statement of Faith.
Best,
b