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Jul 06, 2009


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Travis Greene

I still think Christendom, for all its supposed benefits, was still a turn in the wrong direction. Part of that is for the violence reasons (the Crusades, the Inquisition, and so forth).

But a big part of it also has to do with the nature of faith. Stackhouse describes Constantine's conversion as a success story for the church. I don't see it. Constantinianism leads us to centuries of people being baptized as Christians simply because they're citizens of the state. I'm still evangelical enough to find that alone deeply troubling.

What's the difference between Stackhouse's realism and the option 2 he describes above?

LeVon Smoker

I can't help but think of Hauerwas' description of the certain understandings of the Incarnation: Jesus came into the world, looked around and said, "Looks pretty good to me!"

Michael W. Kruse

Travis, the challenge I find in discussing this is that it is a paradox. Two realities:

1. We are sent into a sinful imperfect world and told to work for the greatest shalom.

2. We are sent into a sinful imperfect world where true shalom is unattainable (this side of the consummation of the New Creation.)

I see Stackhouse’s Christian Realism as a thorough embrace of these two realities. I speaking for myself with what follows but I think I’m near Stackhouse’s views.

The radical Anabaptist (ex. Amish, Hutterite) ignores #1 in favor of becoming a pure community separated out from the world. The worldly Kingdom cannot be redeemed and we should not try.

The transformationists lean heavily into #1 frequently forgetting #2. The more Reformed versions of this tread near an idolatry that says if we can just get a hold on the institutions and levers of power we can do an extreme makeover of the world into God’s Kingdom. Remember from earlier this can be everything from liberationists to Religious Right. Transformationists come in many ideologies.

My take is that the Yoder/Hauerwas model is clearly not radical Anabaptist. It frequently comes across to me as transformationist with a twist. We will still participate in certain select institutions of society but we will radically separate from the exercise of power, form alternative semi-separatist communities, and thereby draw people into our new communities. We just haven’t been radical enough and if we would get radical, an extreme makeover of the world will occur.

So how would Christian Realism evaluate these three groups in light of the two realities above:

Radical Anabaptist – Affirms the understanding that the culture of this world can be fully redeemed but disagrees with withdraw from engagement.

Transformationist – Affirms the understanding that our call into the world to seek the greatest shalom. Disagrees with the means by which it is believed the Kingdom can be built (i.e., people cannot be coerced into the Kingdom but coercion can be used to bring a measure shalom through justice and defense) and often the degree to which the Kingdom can presently be realized.

Yoder/Hauerwas – Affirms the understanding that we are sent into the world but disagrees about the robustness of engagement. Expectations of Kingdom realization through radical semi-separatism are too high and the semi-separatism actually hamstrings the greater shalom that could be realized through full engagement.

I think Stackhouse sees the Kingdom … it is certainly my view … along the lines of virus, except instead of killing all it touches it heals and brings new life. It is ever discontented with the status quo, seeking the improved shalom of everything it touches, but always without the hubris of believing that we live in a consummated new creation or can bring it about. Embracing both realities avoids both accommodation and triumphalism. Use of the tetralectic through the power of God is what guides us.

Michael W. Kruse

I'll also add here, going back to the first part of the book using Niebuhr's Typology, that Stackhouse said that "Christ in Paradox with Culture" was Niebuhr's least well developed type within the typology. Niebuhr identifies the paradox but offers no thought on how the paradox is to be navigated.

Stackhouse sees his approach as a "Christ in Paradox" animal with two important qualities. The pursuit of shalom is our driving mission in all we do and the tetralectic (interaction of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) is our guide. Stackhouse also offers some thoughts about being in community which is absent from Niebuhr's work.

LeVon Smoker

On Constantine: No big deal that he had his wife and son put to death? Or is that just one of the necessities of wielding coercive power?

Michael W. Kruse

Constantine did not so much impose Christianity as surrender to it. Rodney Stark documents the process of how nearly three centuries of explosive grow created a circumstance where Constantine could not ignore.

Two separate issues here. First, was this swelling tide of Christians that overwhelmed the empire the right trajectory? I think yes. It is the inevitable outcome of successful evangelism and discipleship.

Second, was Constantine a model of good governance? Was the way state and church governance were merged a good idea. I think not. It was the first time the issues were confronted version 1.0 wasn't so hot. So do we pick up and learn more about a version 2.0? 3.0? 4.0) are do we give up? Stackhouse is not endorsing Constantine or the the specifics but the rather the impulse of mission that lead Christians to believe that government must be redeemed.

Because Constantine and the church blew it in the 4th Century doesn't mean we aren't called to pursue how the church is to influence to the state through direct participation today.

LeVon Smoker

Theodosius did impose Christianity later in the 4th century. It became illegal to be other than Christian and "evangelization" took the form of forced conversion at the point of a sword. Good thing?

"The government shall be upon his shoulders." Government has been redeemed. The task for Christians is to govern in the way of the God most fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ - nonviolence being one (not the only one) of the differentiating (holy/called out/separating) aspects of that way.

It seems to me that in the description of Christianity that Stackhouse gives, there is a huge "chink in the armor" for folks like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, et al, to easily claim that Christianity is a fundamentally violent religion. I think the problem is rooted in Stackhouse's Creation account.

Michael W. Kruse

Levon, thanks for the exchange of ideas here. I do appreciate the conversation.

“Good thing?”

Clearly not. But by way of analogy, have there been Christian parents who abused their children, Christian business people who ripped off their employees and customers, or Christian doctors who mistreated their patients? Certainly. Should Christians therefore foreswear parenting, business, and medicine? No. We continue to look for ways that we can live out these callings justly without the fantasy that we will fully succeed this side of the consummation of the new creation.

“Government has been redeemed.”

I don’t agree. Government is being redeemed. It will only be fully redeemed at the consummation of the new creation.

“The task for Christians is to govern in the way of the God most fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ - nonviolence being one (not the only one) of the differentiating (holy/called out/separating) aspects of that way.”

I find no place where God reveals total forswearing of violence as the mode of governance this side of the consummation of the new creation. To the contrary, I’ve given four examples in the post where John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul all give tacit or explicit affirmation of soldiering.

The Sermon on the Mount lays out the ethical posture of the coming Kingdom (often in hyperbolic language) in our daily relationships but not as a model for governance. Teachings like “turn the other cheek” can’t be transported unreflectively into other modes of human activity. (Is a parent to “turn the other cheek” when a child defies the parent’s orders?) The behavior can’t be directly imported into discussion about government. Furthermore, I’d submit that Jesus was teaching about how to address unjust violence and not teaching that violence is never needed in the case of circumscribed government authority.

I’ll also add that I believe that nonviolent governance, this side of the consummation of the new creation, is an oxymoron. There is great evil in the world. There are people who are not going to comply with legitimate governmental authority. Coercive force, or the threat thereof, is essential. That is why an all or nothing stance towards government seems the only way to me … why picking and choosing which aspects of government we will join in with seems suspect.

One of the ironies I found with the last election with many emerging church Christians who have a pacifist Anabaptist take is their claim for pacifism and yet a giddy embrace of Obama and his desire to regulate the financial industry, create government healthcare, stop carbon emission, redistribution to the poor … all of which depend upon coercion (i.e., ultimately the threat of violence) to be achieved.

I don’t think Dawkins, et al are pacifists and nothing Stackhouse has written, or I have commented on, endorses making Christians through force. Religious institutions and religious practice should be separate from governmental institutions. (Separation of powers is critical with fallen humanity.) The way religious institutions have an impact on government is be instilling the citizenry with values that they take into the marketplace of ideas and compete with other ideas. The church’s institutions are not to be engaged in violence. Individual Christians in their roles as government officials with circumscribed authority to use violence, may use violence in that context.

LeVon Smoker

1. The so-called examples of "tacit or explicit affirmation of soldiering" are very weak at best. Arguing a point from silence is not good exegesis. Should we also assume that it was okay for these soldiers to go on worshiping the emperor? And isn't it possible to begin following Jesus but still have some unredeemed beliefs?

2. When I say the government has been redeemed, I mean it in an eschatological sense, not in a "everything is hunky-dory" sense. But I still mean it.

3. Who brought up Obama? I don't giddily embrace Obama either. I didn't giddily embrace McCain. ??

4. Again, you are overstating government's recourse to violence. Police officers don't first say, "Pay this traffic ticket or we will kill you." Most of the ones I encounter don't have itchy trigger fingers.

5. Which flavor of Christianity should hold sway (rule?) in the US? Reconstructionist, fundamentalist, liberal, etc? You have said that Christians have a "cultural mandate" to be involved in coercive (sometimes violent) governance. My question is "which Christians"? Clearly there are some whom you don't want to govern and (maybe?) some whom you do.

Michael W. Kruse

#1 “Arguing a point from silence is not good exegesis.” Ironically, that is my point as well. There is silence on the issue of how Christians should relate to the use of violence by the state in keeping the peace or enforcing laws. Pacifism as it relates to governance is an argument from silence.

“Should we also assume that it was okay for these soldiers to go on worshiping the emperor?” Certainly not. The last sentence in the post: “I think the line comes when total allegiance to, and worship of, the state is mandated for participation.” Rome crossed the line in demanding worship. In this case, the issue is not rejection of all violence but rejection of idolatry.

This goes back to our earlier discussion of Stackhouse’s point that some Anabaptists take the response of early Christians to the specific context of the Roman Empire and then make it a culturally-transcendent to all other circumstances. We left Rome centuries ago. What about now where such allegiance is not required?

#2 I hear ya. But my response back is that we do not live in a time when the eschatological vision has been fully realized. What about now … this time of the already but not yet?

#3 This wasn’t directed at you and the issue wasn’t Obama. The issue was emerging church Christians among whom there is a strong contingent of Yoder/Hauerwasian Anabaptist identification. I was trying to illustrate the seeming disconnect between foreswearing violence in one area and uncritically (unwittingly?) embracing it another.

#4 The prevalence of violence by the state is a different question from violence (or the threat of violence) as an essential quality of state.

Certainly violence is rarely used. In a democratic society we work hard to engender willful compliance with law and willful compliance with authorities when we screw up. Some comply out of a genuine desire to be good citizens. But we know that some comply only because they fear the negative consequences. Some will not comply at all and will resist authority when compliance is ordered.

“Police officers don't first say, "Pay this traffic ticket or we will kill you."” Agreed. No law enforcement officer or government official begins with violence. They follow a protocol that starts with attempts to persuade a violator to comply and they work their way to violence as a last resort. That officer who may not be saying "Pay this traffic ticket or we will kill you," is standing there with a handgun, a tazer, a baton, mace, and handcuffs. What is the clear message to the perpetrator if they fail to comply? If officers could not ultimately back up their instructions with coercive force their authority would crumble and social order would disintegrate. Deep behind every law there is ultimately an armed officer who will enforce should other methods of resolution fail. That this violence is rarely needed is irrelevant to the question as to whether or not it is essential for government to work.

#5 I’m not in favor of any flavor of Christianity ruling. I’m in favor of Christians of all stripes bringing their values and ideas into the market place of ideas, building alliances with Christians of all stripes and with non-Christian, persuading others on the merits of ideas, and building societal consensus toward what actions should be taken.

The cultural mandate requires us to be engaged with the whole of society including in restraining evil, keeping the peace, and administering justice … and that requires the participation in state circumscribed violence.

LeVon Smoker

1.a. My point is this: John the Baptist's silence on violence in his encounter with the soldiers should not be taken as implicit approval as John was also silent on emperor worship. Therefore, don't make an argument for a Christian endorsement of violence because the writer or main actor is silent. My friend, Dan Seifert, was in the National Guard when I first got to know him, but I didn't shove pacifism down his throat when I learned this. My silence did not mean approval. It meant, "I won't shut you out." He eventually became a pacifist.

1.b. On allegiance to the nation: It certainly is not required in a way that closely resembles Christian worship, but the uncodified expectation is there. Pacifists have been treated badly by those who were not at various times in the US. Brethren Elder John Kline was killed during the Civil War for preaching pacifism in his church. Also, sending people off to fight for their country is a sacrifice. See Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion (http://www.asc.upenn.edu/usr/fcm/jaar.htm). Sacrifice is a religious function even if it's done voluntarily.

4. Here we are bumping into it again: I say that violence is not in the created order - not even in God's authority. Violence (and many other bad things) does not appear until the fall. You seem to say that violent governance is part of the created order. But violence is something that states use because of the fallenness of the world, including their own fallenness - very important - states are fallen as well. Violence reveals fallenness. The kingdom of God is revealed by God in Christ. Now you might say that states can't follow Jesus. Fine. But I'm not conversing with an abstract concept known as "the state" right now, am I? You and I have been called to follow Jesus. There is no higher calling - not even politics or political activism. You might come back and say that we would have to withdraw from society then. I say there are many stories which say just the opposite where followers of Jesus wanting to do God's will brought about great reforms in society by simply speaking the truth, naming falsehood and injustice, and helping those who are the most ignored. (See Charles Marsh's "The Beloved Community").

5. I'm not convinced of the need for a new rubric called "cultural mandate." What we have received is the Gospel which does overcome evil, it is peace, and it is just and righteous, none of which are consonant with the use of violence.

Overall, it seems to me that the hermeneutic that Stackhouse and you use abstracts the Word to the point that the hard sayings of Jesus are made easy because their meaning has been evacuated. I think it's a mistake to say something like "Jesus only said this or did that because he didn't have the political options that we have today." That kind of hermeneutic could also be used to justify same-sex marriage, sex outside of marriage, abortion, genocide, pretty much whatever you have decided you want prior to engaging the Bible.

LeVon Smoker

1. One more thing: There is not silence in the scriptures regarding Christian non-violence. You are right that scripture does not say how a Christian politician or police officer should go about their jobs. Similarly, there is silence about how baseball players, computer programmers, lawyers, and housekeepers ought to go about their jobs as Christians. I don't want to let the silence override what the scripture actually has to say. Christians, no matter what their job is today, are called to follow Jesus and walk as he walked (that's a metaphor for a concrete practice).

Lord, help us.

Michael W. Kruse

#1a I think the way I would categorize the NT’s posture as ambiguous. I agree with you that silence alone can’t be taken as endorsement. While I agree with your observations that use of tact (as with your friend Dan) can be misconstrued as endorsement, I doubt that was the case John. John began his discourse that led up to this question with “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” John has rarely been faulted for being too tactful. :-)

#1b I can relate similar stories about conscientious objectors. The abuse is very real.

#4 “Violence (and many other bad things) does not appear until the fall. You seem to say that violent governance is part of the created order.”

I’m not saying human violence is part of the created order. Clearly human violence begins with the fall in the biblical narrative. But God enters into the world of fallen humans and engages in violence in his governance of the created order. God destroys all of humanity in a flood. He orders Israel to wipe out entire nations. Even though the Bible says though shall not kill, OT law provides for a number of capital crimes. The Old Testament is a very violent book. Even in the New Testament there is the case of Ananias and Saphira being struck dead for lying. The final judgment is cast as time a violence and punishment against evil. Therefore, if “Violence reveals fallenness,” then God is fallen.

As Stackhouse notes, we clearly are not God with his wisdom or knowledge. We do not have the place of bringing vengeance. Yet the OT clearly had the notion of circumscribed violence in the administration of justice as a value. Many who were a part of Second Temple Judaism hungered for the day that God would exercise his violence against their oppressors. Jesus entered their context and showed them the alternative of love and nonviolent resistance to convert individuals who oppress you. It takes several unsubstantiated leaps (IMO) to move from there to say all violence is forbidden, even circumscribed violence in the administration of justice.

The end of violence is certainly a quality of the consummated new creation and the reduction of violence is part of our mission. I don’t see a fully realized nonviolent community in the NT any more than I see a community that foreswears marriage because there will be no more marriage in the new creation or forswears medical service because there will be no more pain and death. I see a community that is infusing alternate values into every corner of human action like yeast into dough and making it rise.

Response to #5 follows below.

Michael W. Kruse

#5 “Cultural Mandate” (or “creation mandate” as it is sometimes called) is not original with Stackhouse or myself. I think the person who coined the term was Dutch Reformed leader Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) but the basic concept was not new with him. The idea of humanity as co-regents over creation has been embedded in centuries of reformed thought and exists in other traditions as well. There is Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15, but there are other passages that speak to this as well. Psalm 8:

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The mandate is there but has frequently been ignored in deference to more “spiritual” matters … a consequence of the pervasive matter and spirit dualism in our culture. It desperately needs to be recovered.

“I think it's a mistake to say something like "Jesus only said this or did that because he didn't have the political options that we have today." “

Do you observe the Sabbath the way it says Christians did in NT … complete rest?
Do you wash the feet of fellow members?
Do you greet others at church with a holy kiss?
Do you speak in tongues?
Do you forbid women to speak in church or wear jewelry in church?
Do you encourage those that own slaves in your midst to be kind to them and encourage the slaves to do their master’s bidding as well?

If not then I would say, “That kind of hermeneutic could also be used to justify same-sex marriage, sex outside of marriage, abortion, genocide, pretty much whatever you have decided you want prior to engaging the Bible.”

Scripture is not a set of instructions that, similar to mathematical equations, can be transported out of their context into another context and carry precisely the same meaning. Jesus did not speak his words to you and me … he became incarnate in a specific culture at a specific point in history. The NT authors did not write their books to you and me. They wrote from specific socio-historical contexts to specific people living in specific socio-historical contexts. The NT is a faithful witness to what Jesus taught and how the NT church sought to live his teachings in their context. When we read Scripture we are “listening in” on events that God has providentially preserved a record of that document his acts and deeds in history … we are not the direct audience. Context is critical … as is appreciating things like language, idioms, oral/literary devices, and genres. Furthermore, all of scripture interprets all of scripture. No passage can be taken in isolation from the rest of the Bible. We understand it in context and work outward from there as best we can … with the aid of tradition, reason, and experience … led by the Holy Spirit.

What I think I hear you saying is that Jesus’ call us to model nonviolent action in the world and shine a light on injustices, helping correct them. We might ask, “What if they threw a war, and nobody came?” By modeling nonviolence we draw people out of the violence driven milieu and into the positive mission of addressing injustices and living in God’s Kingdom. Therefore, my belief that we are called to participate in those structures where violence exists, compromises the call of Christ and hamstrings the effective witness of the Kingdom. Am I close?

What I’m saying is that we were given the commission to exercise dominion over the earth as subordinate co-regents with God. The fall marred that mission and central to redemption is the redemption of that mission. Christ sets before us the vision of the coming Kingdom where violence will be no more … but that is not now. Our mission is to invade every corner of human activity and like yeast working through the dough transforming structures from the inside out … creating a world where violence goes into remission but knowing it cannot be eradicated until the consummation of the new creation. Therefore, my take affirms the Anabaptist tradition as far as it goes but it leaves significant portions of the dough unleavened.

LeVon Smoker

1.a. "Brood of vipers" was reserved for the Pharisees and Sadducees - groups which should have recognized Jesus and John for who they were but refused to do so. Towards outsiders Jesus and John were usually quite patient.

4.a. I'm assuming that we are talking about human-enacted violence, so no, God is not "fallen."

4.b. The violence in the NT is only enacted by God (except for Peter's violence which Jesus rebuked).

4.c. Anabaptist pacifism doesn't start with the consummated kingdom revealed in Revelation and work backwards to Jesus. It starts with the relatively clear (we think) call of Jesus to love our enemies (and the general tenor of the Sermon on the Mount/Plain). So the marriage and pain/death analogy does really fit. (Plus we're not that stupid.)

5. "Do you observe the Sabbath the way it says Christians did in NT … complete rest?" I observe the Sabbath, but I would note that even Jesus harvested and healed on the Sabbath. And the church eventually decided to move from Saturday to Sunday for Sabbath observance. The spirit remains true to the call to rest and trust God.
"Do you wash the feet of fellow members?" Yes, this is still a fairly common practice in Mennonite churches.
"Do you greet others at church with a holy kiss?" No, not in my current context.
"Do you speak in tongues?" I haven't yet, but I won't say never.
"Do you forbid women to speak in church or wear jewelry in church?" No. Women spoke in churches in Paul's day.
"Do you encourage those that own slaves in your midst to be kind to them and encourage the slaves to do their master’s bidding as well?" I don't know anybody with slaves.

Do I pass? :-O

Seriously, there are differences between the doctrines and practices of the church which are timeless, and the commands of Paul to specific churches relating to specific issues. We do agree on that. We just disagree on where non-violence ought to go. Right? I think you would agree that there are commandments that we ought not to "contextualize away."

"What I think I hear you saying...Am I close?" Derned near.

"...but it leaves significant portions of the dough unleavened." Why? Who drew the boundaries where you stopped? The whole loaf needs leavening. It's actually groaning for it.

samurai sword

Great article. Great Blog. I will visit again.


Tom the Sword Guy

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