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Jun 26, 2009


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Travis Greene

"That was then … this is now."

I'd counter that it's just-war theorists who are absolutizing behavior, such as Israel's engaging in war practices, that are now inappropriate in light of Jesus' teaching and example. War, to me, is like polygamy. God didn't address it for a long time, even seemingly endorsing it by setting up rules to regulate it (accommodation and ambiguity), but just because God allowed that in the past, doesn't mean taking multiple spouses would be acceptable for us today. Jesus' comments on Moses' teaching about divorce are illustrative here.

Of course, to counter my own counter-argument, I'm not sure what the response of Christians moving into presently-polygamous societies should be. Tell husbands to ditch all but their first wives, throwing women and children to the economic wolves? I don't know.


"God who finally will coerce the whole universe back into line."
That is a dangerous and false hope.

Michael W. Kruse


Stackhouse spends pages talking about the war/violence issue. I've greatly compressed it. What I don't see from Jesus, or the apostles, is disassociation from the OT wars. I don't see condemnation of military service ... and in fact see high praise given to the faith of centurion without a requisite command to "go and sin no more" (i.e. quit being a soldier). What we have is a positive ethic of love for other and self-sacrifice, sometimes taught with hyperbole, coming from Jesus. The argument against participating in violence is one from silence, not prescription.

Stackhouse notes that he opposes capital punishment ... not because of the biblical prohibition ... but because the room for error is so great. We can protect ourselves through incarcerating evil doers (probably in more reliable ways than in the past) and avoid such errors.

There is no teaching against capital punishment or military/police in the NT. Stackhouse looks at the circumstances now and sees wisdom for prohibiting what was not prohibited in the Bible. I might look at participation in military/police and come to similar conclusions. But we did not get there out of a culturally-transcendent mandate against such things. We got there by wrestling with the particulars of our present circumstance in light of biblical ethics ... not adherence to some culturally-transcendent posture toward culture we are to assume. That is the difference.

The point isn't that we must always have military service (or capital punishment) because the Bible condoned it. The issue is that we cannot preclude military service just because it may not have been appropriate for Jesus and NT folks in their particular context. We have to look elsewhere for discernment.

Michael W. Kruse


I'm uncertain why you consider this dangerous or false. Judgment establishes what is just but condemns and eradicates what is evil. 1 Peter uses imagery of creation passing through the refiners fire on the way to the new creation.

What are judgment and new creation if not coercive?

LeVon Smoker

"It seems to me, then, to indulge in a weird kind of “second naivete” (Ricoeur) to continue to advocate an ethic that depends on the strong expectation of imminent coming of the Lord – as Yoder conspicuously does. (276)"

Having read a fair amount of Yoder, it seems to me that Stackhouse has misread him. One of Yoder's main themes was the "already" and the "not yet" of the kingdom of God. In Christ, the new age has arrived, but it is not yet fulfilled. It looks like Stackhouse might be mis-characterizing Yoder in order to easily dismiss him.

Also, the attempt to distinguish between "a culturally-transcendent mandate" and "a biblical ethic" doesn't seem possible. What is a biblical ethic if it is not a culturally-transcendent mandate? Wishful thinking? A nice ideal if it can be managed? Resurgent situation ethics?

Michael W. Kruse

There is actually a footnote at the end of the quoted sentence.

“9. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Anugs Noster (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), ch. 9. A particular instance of this sort of mentality is telling. Yoder writes, in a discussion of Romans 13, that “the instructions to the Romans are to be subject to a government in whose administration they had no voice. The text cannot mean that Christians are called to do military or police service” (205). He means that “subjection” does not mean complying with conscription – a very live issue for him, as he was writing in the United State during the Vietnam War. Yet the argument seems obviously to be workable the other way. Precisely when Christians do have a voice in a government, what are they to then to do? Yoder never seems to address this question directly.”

Stackhouse is not challenging Yoder on an “already, not yet” understanding of the Kingdom. On this they would both agree. Rather the question is, Was Jesus’/Paul’s/NT’s posture toward culture normative for all times and cultures or more specifically in response to that time and context? We no longer live under Caesar and the imminent return of Christ (within one generation of his death) as an expectation. Does this change things? Stackhouse believe it does and so do I.

"a culturally-transcendent mandate" vs "a biblical ethic"

Think in terms of an ethical ladder with rungs top to bottom, moving from general to specific:

Love your neighbor as yourself.
(Ultimate ethic)

There shall be no poor among you.
(Penultimate ethic)

Leave the edge of your field for the
poor to glean. (Culturally-
transcendent mandate?)

Few would consider the third a culturally-transcendent mandate. Our context has changed. We move up the ladder to a broader principle that applies and then discern what moving back down the ladder would mean for our context.

I see nothing that teaches that pacifism is a culturally-transcendent mandate. However, it is conceivable, that in some future configuration of the world, prior to Christ’s return, that we might find a way to eliminate war. We would do so because it comports better with the higher level ethics and the new context now makes it possible. That context does not yet exist and I find no culturally-transcendent mandate that bars circumscribed uses of violence ... to the contrary.

As noted in the previous post, Stackhouse is fully aware that those who subscribe to deontological ethics (“…duty no matter the consequences”) will level the charge of situational ethics. He fully acknowledges the perils of his position. This debate has been going on for centuries and we won't resolve it here. But let us be aware of the deontological risk: we retreat from a life of dependence on God for discernment and bold engagement with the world, to our neatly ordered morality that lets us escape the untidiness of being Christ’s hands and feet in an ambiguous world. Both positions have their risks.

Jamie Pitts


J.S.'s reading of Yoder, as you've presented it, is a willful misreading. Since you've taken up his reading as your own, allow me to respond:

(1) Yoder "conspicuously" believes in an immanent return? He never says or implies anything of the sort. Christians are meant to be an exilic people, "seeking the peace of the city" over the long haul. The essay "See How They Go with Their Faces to the Sun" in For the Nations and Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited spells out Yoder's "jeremianaic" politics. The critique leveled here is a weird Schweitzerian redux; taking Jesus' ethics seriously does not mean you think the end is coming soon.

(2) The Christendom critique is faulty, because it is a "natural" outcome of mission. This distorts history and logic. I'll only tackle the logic: the conversion of an emperor may be a "natural" outcome of mission, but the politics of empire are not. Yoder envisions an emperor converting and relinquishing his post--that is that natural outcome of mission.

(3) "I believe there are different postures and responses for different culture contexts." That's great, Yoder nor I would disagree. The question, however, is whether the specific, historic patterns of Jesus' life are normative in the different cultural contexts. The question is if you think there are sources for Christian living which are distinct from Christ. The answer to this question has nothing to do with "absolutism"; the imitation of Christ can and will be quite dynamic, as it's an historical process. But you seem to want to imitate someone or something else besides or in addition to Christ. In contrast, Yoder confesses that Christ is Lord. At issue here is whether or not you believe Jesus was truly God and truly human.

(4) "Creation commandments." Again--you think you have a source of revelation that contradicts Christ? You think what the Father reveals in creation is somehow in contrast to the Son? Please see John 14:6-14 and Colossians 1:15-17.

(5) "Dissociation from the worldly powers." Serious critics of Hauerwas and Yoder like Jeffrey Stout and David Fergusson don't even bother making this argument anymore--because there's no support in the texts for it. Over and over Yoder talks about how we engage the powers discerningly. Selective "dissociation" is accompanied by selective "association." Every power is different and requires a different response.

If you want a clear picture of Yoder on these issues I suggest you read his response to H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture in the book Authentic Transformation.

Michael W. Kruse


Three things. First, I would remind folks I’m skimming across the surface of this book, leaving out considerable nuance and detail. Second, this is post #26 in this series. I don’t expect that you may have read all that has come before but some of the issues you raise were covered in earlier posts. Third, while Stackhouse is often very critical of Yoder and friends, he also finds points of agreement in a gracious manner. To your five points ….

#1 Stackhouse does not say that, “Yoder ‘conspicuously’ believes in an immanent return.” He says that Yoder “conspicuously” indulges in a “second naivete.” That is, Yoder seems unaware that texts upon which he is basing culturally-transcendent conclusions are contextually bound … bound to an era of expecting an imminent return of the Lord. As Yoder interprets the Bible, Yoder is projecting his own context of not expecting an imminent return on to a text written by be people who were expecting an imminent return. That is the criticism.

#2 “Yoder envisions an emperor converting and relinquishing his post--that is that natural outcome of mission.” The cultural mandate is to exercise dominion over all creation which includes human institutions … that includes government. If being emperor is wrong, why not use that post to foster a new legitimate form of governance? I don’t read Yoder just saying he opposes emperors. I read Yoder to say, in significant ways, we are not to participate in governance outside the Christian community. To me, that is rejection of the cultural mandate which has not been repealed.

#3 “But you seem to want to imitate someone or something else besides or in addition to Christ.” I’m not sure what you’re driving at here and I have no idea how anything Stackhouse or I have said remotely suggests that we do not believe Christ is fully God and fully human.

Jesus lived in a particular context. The record we have of him deals almost exclusively with the unique circumstance of him inaugurating the Kingdom of God. Unless you are single, unemployed, living off the gifts of others, gathering a crowd of disciples, and are preaching to crowds around your community, you aren’t “imitating” him either. You and I use interpretive grids to discern what is relevant and culturally- transcendent.

As Stackhouse wrote (see here), the question for us today is not “What would Jesus do?” but rather “Who are we for Jesus Christ today?” We are members of Christ’s body, not microcosms. Our imitation of Christ will be inextricably bound up with our personal circumstances, which includes our personal particularities as well as the cultural milieu in which we find ourselves. There is no static unmediated access to what it means to imitate Christ in our context. We discern it through the tetralectic … Scripture, tradition, reason and experience … engaged in through community and dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

#4 Stackhouse identifies four commandments of two varieties:

* Creation Commandments: The cultural mandate and the great commandments.
* Redemption Commandments: The new commandment and the Great Commission.

The cultural mandate is the key for this discussion. In the creation accounts, humanity was mandated to exercise dominion over all creation and to bring the earth to its fullness. The mandate was given by the Triune God, which includes Christ. That mandate has not been revoked.

God’s formation of Israel was inextricably tied up with a chosen group of people living as stewards over a chosen piece of land. The aim was drawing all people to God and bringing all the earth under God’s care. Israel failed. As Christopher Wright points out, the vision expands in the NT from Israelites to everyone and from the land of Israel to all the earth.

You wrote:

“Again--you think you have a source of revelation that contradicts Christ? You think what the Father reveals in creation is somehow in contrast to the Son?”

On the contrary. I think it is the Anabaptist position that contradicts the Triune God’s (and therefore Christ’s) explicit command to participate in the cultural mandate. The Anabaptist position elevates the Redemptive Commandments to the exclusion of the cultural mandate portion of the Creation Commandments. I fully embrace John 14:6-14 and Colossians 1:15-17. It is the Anabaptist position that seems to me not to take these to heart in its selective participation in Christ’s mission in the world.

#5 I didn’t parse all this out but Stackhouse isn’t arguing that all Anabaptists like Yoder or Hauerwas advocate total disengagement. He is arguing that they nevertheless advocate disengagement from key elements of the cultural mandate.

As to Yoder’s critique, it is deeply flawed. It falsely equates “typology” with “taxonomy.” Yoder critiques Niebuhr’s formulation as a taxonomy, which it is not. Unfortunately, Niebuhr slipped into a taxonomic mode with his own typology when he critiqued Anabaptism. When Niebuhr’s five types are properly used as a typology, they can generate helpful insights. We discussed this early on in this series here.

Travis Greene

I think Yoder was primarily concerned with the government as sword; that is, the use of violence, not all involvement with government.

The position he critiques is the one that says, since we are called to govern, and governments have to kill people, well, sometimes we have to kill people. And then a nice dichotomy is set up so we can "spiritually" love our enemies while, in fact, killing them.

The question turns on whether the use of violence for a righteous cause is or is not forbidden to the Christian. If it is, then obviously certain activities will simply be off limits, just as a faithful Christian cannot be a slaver or pornographer, regardless of how these activities may be leavened by Christian influence. If it is not, voila, just war doctrine. This is where we must agree to disagree. Which is fine...this isn't a non-negotiable to me, of which there are very few.

I also very strongly believe in Colossians 1:15, which is why I do think Jesus' behavior and teachings are largely normative, and cannot be simply attributed to his unique circumstances, so I don't find that a compelling counter-argument.

LeVon Smoker

It seems like Stackhouse has not read the first chapter of The Politics of Jesus. Yoder deals at length with the questions related to how we follow Jesus when we know that we are called to do so in various cultural and temporal contexts. Plus I'm not convinced that Yoder accepted that the early church was expecting Christ to return "Real Soon Now."

The question of "dominion" seems to be the crux of the disagreement. Michael, thanks for acknowledging the Anabaptists are not in total disengagement from culture. I would argue that they have had a more consistent biblical engagement with "the least of these" in a few specific areas which mainstream Protestantism were ignoring. The mental health reforms of the 1940's and following are one example where the disgraceful treatment of the mentally ill was rampant. They both spoke up about it to the immediate authorities and began setting up their own hospitals to 1) help patients in a Christlike way and 2) to model that better way for other institutions. Their efforts "trickled up" in a way that made Mental Health reform a national issue. My key point is that this began "from below" not from the top down. It models the kind of authority that Jesus spoke of in Matt. 20:25-28.

If you want to argue that Matt 20:25-28 is too contextual to have any impact on contemporary Christian practice, then how would avoid making all (or 90 pct or 80 pct) of the NT contextual and not normative for the church?

LeVon Smoker

FYI, here are 2 books about the impact of Mennonite, Brethren, Quaker, etc, conscientious objectors in WW2 on Mental Health practices:

Acts of Conscience: World War II, Mental Institutions, and Religious Objectors (Critical Perspectives on Disability)
The Turning Point: How Men of Conscience Brought About Major Change in the Care of America's Mentally Ill

Jamie Pitts


Thanks for your respectful response. I did not realize the history of your discussion, and unfortunately I don't have time to go through the past posts right now. I'm happy to withdraw my participation if it's inappropriate at this point.

But in case you don't mind an Anabaptist interloper for a comment or two....

(1) I understood Stackhouse's argument completely. He's interpreting Yoder through a Schweitzerian eschatology in which Jesus and the early church's ethics are seen as irrelevant because they were formulated for a brief interim before the Kingdom of God arrived. Yoder, however, studied extensively with Oscar Cullmann and was highly critical of Schweitzer's eschatology. In Cullmann's view the kingdom had arrived in a significant way, thus reopening the relevance of Jesus' eschatological ethics--not to perfectionism, but to concrete, faithful performance.

(2) On the cultural mandate: Your logic breaks apart the Trinity. If the Father is seen through Jesus, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, then the cultural mandate (or creational ordinances, or the Spirit's teaching or whatever) will not be alternative sources for ethics. There won't be tension among them or three different claims on our lives, but a harmonious call to a concrete, spiritual life of solidarity with the redeemer in creation.

(3) I happen to be a doctoral student so, per your description, I find I am well qualified to speak as an imitator of Christ. But seriously, obviously interpretation is involved. No one is talking about wooden imitation of a first-century Palestinian. What we are talking about is taking the central teachings and deeds of Jesus, understood in their historical context, and as widely recognized across the ages, as bindingly relevant for our very different context. Hermeneutics is no exit from the question of obedience either.

(4) If Jesus is fully God then the way he chooses to live as a human displays the new humanity. If Jesus is fully human then the concrete, central patterns of his life are practicable precisely because they're human.

(5) I did check your link for the thread on Yoder's critique of Christ and Culture. There you admit you haven't actually read Yoder's essay, so I'm not sure what to make of your negative criticism here. It seems Stackhouse was working with James Gustafson's preface to the recent reissue of Christ and Culture, where he makes this taxonomy/typology argument against Yoder, also after admitting he had not read the final essay. As a scholar I find this sort of practice hard to stomach. Yoder's contention that there ought to be some historical veracity to Niebuhr's typology is a miniscule part of his argument. Unless you have actually read this essay and would like to engage its central themes, I suggest you withhold judgment on its adequacy.

Furthermore, you quote Stackhouse defending ideal typology as a standard social scientific tool. Ideal typology was developed by Max Weber and is a highly questionable form of sociological classification. If you want to defend ideal typology, you need to make arguments for it vis-à-vis other classificatory methods, not merely state its existence.

Michael W. Kruse


“The question turns on whether the use of violence for a righteous cause is or is not forbidden to the Christian.”

I think that is probably true, but therein lies the rub for me. Violence is not a peripheral issue for government. Government , if it is to legitimately be called such, must exercise coercive power. Deep behind ever law is the reality that if the citizen will not comply with the state, the state ultimately has the authority to deprive that person of liberty against. If the person is not willing to be deprived, then coercive force is legitimate. It is not possible for me to parse out military or police service from other aspects of government.

I knew an elderly Mennonite man when I was in graduate school (early ‘80s) who had never registered to vote and was a conscientious objector during WWII (a stance for which he suffered considerable criticism.) He had been in jail at times for failure to comply with other government directives. While I was never in agreement with his theology and I was inspired by his conviction.

The more recent Yoder/Hauerwas version is baffling to me. One hand there is pacifism. On the other there is a willingness by so many of the Yoder/Hauerwas folks to use government to advance everything from wealth redistribution, to government healthcare, to climate change legislation … all achieved via, in the ultimate sense, coercive force to back it. While I may disagree with my Menno friend I can appreciate the consistency with which he was trying to live his life. I can’t see how the new Anabaptism can justify rejection of violence and embrace of government.

Again, as to the use of violence, the OT said not to kill but there was capital punishment and participation in war. Does Jesus’ ethic of “turn the other cheek” and “pray for your enemies” function as an inviolable mandate or is it more akin to the way “Thou shall not kill” functions in the OT? There is no explicit rejection of military service in the NT. Both Jesus and Peter minister to Roman Centurions with no reprimand like “go and sin no more.” Paul says approvingly that the state carries a sword for a reason in Romans 13.

Now slavery was taken for granted in the NT as well and we have concluded it should no longer to be practiced. So is military service like being a slaver or pornographer? It may be. But my point would be that we come to such a conclusion not from mandates by God in Scripture but through something akin to Stackhouse’s tetralectic. Said differently, the trajectory from Jesus’ day has not been from Jesus prohibiting participation in circumscribed violence toward accommodators figuring out how to get around it, but from a tacit acceptance of circumscribed violence in Jesus’ day toward us figuring out how to build a world that is so thoroughly in tune with his ethic that even circumscribed becomes obsolete. Personally, I do not believe that will emerge prior to the return of Christ, but it is one of the trajectories we aim for.

Michael W. Kruse


N. T. Wright says that he estimates better than 80% of what he writes is solid and the other 20% is in error. He only wishes he knew which was which. :-) I think that is true of our church traditions as well. I don’t want my critiques (or Stackhouse’s) of Anabaptism to be seen as total dismissal of the ministry adherents bring to the world. In an earlier post, I presented how Stackhouse fully acknowledges that the thorny presence of the pacifists among us may be an instrument God uses to check us even in the use of legitimate violence. I’ve known several flavors of Mennonites over the years and partnered with the Mennonite Central Committee. I can recount many stories of my own of remarkable service.

As to Matt. 20:25-28, I see a difference between power and authority. Power is the ability to compel people to comply with your will whether they want to or not. Authority is something we are granted based on our ability to influence people t o comply with our will because we have so consistently and diligently sought to do what was in their best interest. In every aspect our relationships we want to lead on the basis of authority. But we also live in a fallen world where, for the good of communities, some people need to be vested with power so that evildoers can be restrained. I think what Jesus was targeting here was the human tendency to use every point of leverage as an opportunity to expand our power, not a rejection of the use of restrained circumscribed power for the common good.

Thanks for the links! I’ll take a look.

LeVon Smoker

"On the other [hand] there is a willingness by so many of the Yoder/Hauerwas folks to use government to advance everything from wealth redistribution, to government healthcare, to climate change legislation … all achieved via, in the ultimate sense, coercive force to back it."

Where do you see this in Yoder or Hauerwas? Don't conflate them with everyone who might quote them.

Furthermore, coercion does not always have to mean violence or death. Incarceration is an option. I think your argument makes the government seem too violent.

Michael W. Kruse


1. “He's interpreting Yoder through a Schweitzerian eschatology in which Jesus and the early church's ethics are seen as irrelevant because they were formulated for a brief interim before the Kingdom of God arrived.”

You really need to read Stackhouse. :-)

No … he is not saying the early church’s ethics are irrelevant. He does not share a Schweitzerian eschatology but rather articulates something very close to what I read in N. T. Wright or Christopher Wright. He is saying that every teaching and passage in scripture must be read in the context from which it emerges. We cannot lift texts in Scripture out as non-contextual entities. To believe we are doing so is a sure sign we are unconsciously substituting a preconceived context. Stackhouse believes Yoder has not dealt sufficiently with context and I will say that this matches my concerns about a number of Anabaptist readings.

2. You are not seeing my point. My point is that you may be breaking apart the Trinity. You write:

“.. then the cultural mandate (or creational ordinances, or the Spirit's teaching or whatever) will not be alternative sources for ethics. There won't be tension among them or three different claims on our lives, but a harmonious call to a concrete, spiritual life of solidarity with the redeemer in creation.”

Precisely! Therefore when Christ at creation mandates humanity to exercise dominion over creation (thus the cultural mandate) he does not then contradict himself in the gospels or elsewhere. Teaching that Jesus taught against participating in the cultural mandate via government (with its circumscribed use of violence) in the New Testament when there is no explicit teaching to this effect, is to discern an ethic that places Christ in conflict with Christ. All of that is predicated on whether I have accurately interpreted whether Christ taught pacifism. But I am categorically not setting up a tension between the members of the Trinity.

(Continued in the next comment)

Michael W. Kruse



3, 4, & 5 “I happen to be a doctoral student so, per your description, I find I am well qualified to speak as an imitator of Christ.” Uh oh. This explains a lot. :-)

If you go back and read the early posts in this series you will see that Stackhouse is not building his work on Niebuhr. The first four chapters virtually function as one book and the rest as another. Stackhouse explores Niebuhr’s typology from the angle of being an important (though flawed) contribution thinking about Christian Realism. He looks to Reinhold Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer, and Lewis as some examples of Christian Realism. After that, we hear almost no explicit reference to this background. The first part surfaces some issues to get us started but Stackhouse is not building on any of these folks.

Now that said, Stackhouse does find some usefulness in the Niebuhr’s typology when it is used as a typology and taxonomy. Stackhouse does not give blanket endorsement of Niebuhr’s work and would affirm a number of the critiques that Yoder made.

I’m not sure how I gave the impression that Stackhouse had not read the Yoder article but that is not the case. He clearly has. I had not. I now have and I fully agree with Stackhouse’s assessment. (Note: one of my degrees is an M.A. in sociology and my thesis involved an analysis of the Sect to Church typology. I’m very well versed in sociology and sociological methods.)

You are right that ideal types are a “… highly questionable form of sociological classification.” That is because they are not intended to represent real world phenomena. In sociology, taxonomies classify, not typologies. They are conceptualizations of pure types regarding some variable or variables. Using the ideal types as a lens through which to view various real world examples and their degree of approximation to ideal types can tell us useful things about one observation relative to another. Regrettably, Neibuhr crossed over and out of using his own typology correctly, and you see even sociologists in the literature making the same errors.

Yoder spends the first dozen pages of his article recapping Niebuhr’s ideas. He then spends the next ten pages or so showing how all sorts of things don’t fit well in the categories … and that is my point. It is not possible to have taxonomy where few real world examples conform to the categories. It is entirely plausible to have ideal types where no real world example matches the types. That is why Yoder’s critique, while making many important points about Niebuhr’s work … which Stackhouse readily acknowledges … is also deeply flawed.

You have written considerably about imitating Christ and I think that is an essential aspect of our personal discipleship. I’m not sure it is very effective as means of thinking about societal entities and how to relate to them. Jesus (and the rest of the NT) seem to have little to say about societal structures and their redemption, though there is clear statement that all will be redeemed and brought under Christ. Most instruction is related to personal and micro level of human interaction. Therefore, to say we should follow Christ and his instructions … that alone isn’t going to get us very far when we think about societal change.

Stackhouse finds the idea of pursuing shalom to be the key. We have considerable insight from the OT, from Jesus’ teaching and example, and from the rest of the NT, into what shalom is … that is, the state of the world in the new creation. Thus, what guides our engagement with culture are not so much specific instructions (although there are some to follow) or imitating Jesus’ behavior (although imitation is paramount to grasping what shalom is and being personally transformed.) It is the relentless pursuit of bringing the future reality of perfect shalom in the consummated new creation into the present, all the time being aware that that future reality is not fully attainable until Christ returns. It is the communal engagement with Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, all with God’s leadership, that helps us make the connection between future shalom and our present context. This strikes as more legitimate than either inaction due to ambiguity that characterized too much of Niebuhrian realism or the rather simplistic WWJD? approach. That is why I appreciate his book so much.

Michael W. Kruse


“coercion does not always have to mean violence or death.”

Wise government clearly develops willful compliance and minimal use of force. But most government action has at its base the threat of violence and coercion for those who won’t comply.

If I get a speeding ticket and don’t pay it, then I get a fine and a court date. I still don’t pay and refuse to show up in court. Next comes a knock at my door from an officer with a warrant for my arrest. I tell him I’m not coming with him. Does he use force to subdue me and take me to lockup, denying me my freedom under threat of physical confrontation if I try to escape, or just say “Oh well,” and walk away?

While most people will comply willingly, the threat of escalating negative consequences if they don’t comply contributes to the likelihood of compliance. And without that threat, order would ultimately collapse. Thus, passing a no-smoking ordinance, a carbon tax, or a license requirement for a business are all undergirded by the state’s right to ultimately result to coercion and violence to gain compliance. Granted, in our world, it is heavily circumscribed violence, with many alternatives needing to be exhausted before it is employed. But it is ultimately there. To participate in government is to be in league with legitimized violence. I don’t see how that is escaped.

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