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From the Blood of Abel: Humanity's Root Causes of Violence and the Bible's Theological-Anthropological Solution Paperback – November 7, 2016
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From the Author
Over the course of our lives, we will likely undergo a variety of changes, which can come in a wide array of forms. Some of us will move all over the map, like nomads, sojourning from one place to another. Others will go from having zero children to five in a matter of a decade. Sadly, some of us will witness the untimely deaths of our loved ones; will face personal health or financial issues, or all of the above. And yet others--such as myself--will set out on a spiritual journey that ends up utterly destroying just about everything we once believed.
And this change is ultimately a good thing.
Looking back, I have to admit that if you told the Matthew of 10 years ago that he would be writing a book about the "good book" and its chief character, Jesus of Nazareth, he would probably think you were insane. You see, the twenty-something version of myself was, from time to time, borderline atheistic on the worst days and devoutly agnostic on the best. So, needless to say, discussing the Bible at-length was not even close to being on the radar.
Roughly ten years later, thanks in large part to those who have endured the journey prior to me, I am still amazed at how much I've changed.
Now, I have set out to primarily do two things in From the Blood of Abel: 1) diagnose humanity's root causes of violence and 2) offer the antidote. And with the world in the situation it finds itself in, this couldn't come at a better time.
As we all know, humanity seems to be at a crossroads of sorts. Yes, violence on the whole is down. But tensions between nations are rising. Economies are in bad shape. The ecology of the globe is at a tipping point. And the answer to these problems, far too often it seems, is to beat the drums of war. This can't go on. We are better than this.
Jesus showed us as much.
At a time like this, what we need--desperately--is the Gospel of Peace, as it is known as in the book of Ephesians. We need to learn how to beat our swords into plowshares, how to cut off the chariots of war, as well as the bows of battle.My hope, then, is that this book helps us learn how to do that by placing Jesus Christ front and center as our leader. After all, his biggest request was that we follow him, and if we do, then perhaps we can follow him in becoming peacemakers, or in other words, in ushering in the kingdom of God.
That is my hope, anyway.
So, may you find this book liberating and useful in your journey. And may the peace of Christ Jesus comfort you during any darkness you encounter.
From the Inside Flap
In this marvelous follow-up to All Set Free, Matthew Distefano synthesizes Girard's 'mimetic theory' and Becker's 'death anxiety' to diagnose the causes of human violence right to the roots. He then faithfully applies the Christ-solution as our effectual, life-giving remedy. It is especially striking that the author moves easily from theology and theory into real-life scenarios and testimonies. He recounts the excruciating reality of violence and exclusion--but does so to spotlight the power of the beautiful gospel.
Brad Jersak, Editor at CWR Magazine, Faculty at Westminster Theological Centre, and author of A More Christlike God
Humanity has a problem . . . In From the Blood of Abel, Matthew Distefano shows this in force, while making the necessary, important connection between the deity we worship, the theology we espouse, and the wars we wage in the temporal--all while remaining faithful to those serious students of Girardian philosophy and theology. Whether or not we will ever be free of the cancer that is human violence remains to be seen, but the more we have voices like Matthew's, flooding the scene with this truth, the greater hope I have for that end.
Caleb Miller, author of The Divine Reversal and Saving God
Matthew Distefano's From the Blood of Abel is the book that our country and our world needs right now. In a day where Christians are known for our violent rhetoric, persecution complex, and scapegoating of all those who don't fit within our theological paradigm, Distefano powerfully speaks the truth of the Gospel of peace in an accessible and deeply moving way that will shatter the false images of God so many of us have been taught to believe in. In place of the false images, Distefano unveils that the face of God is revealed in Christ, a face that has the power to truly redeem our world. This book is a must read!
Brandan Robertson, author of Nomad: A Spirituality for Travelling Light
If you have stayed away from the Bible because it's filled with violence and superstitious myths or because the God of the Bible seems violent, wrathful and prone to punishment, you may have overlooked a singular resource for peace. Matthew Distefano offers a persuasive case for reading Scripture as revealing two intertwined realities: humanity's violence and God's nonviolence. Making good use of the mimetic insight of René Girard, Distefano guides his readers gently but confidently to a new understanding of the unity between the Old and New Testaments, between the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the God revealed by Jesus' death and resurrection. Distefano believes that the Bible contains God's plan for achieving peace in the here and now. When you have finished From the Blood of Abel, you will find yourself believing, too.
Suzanne Ross, co founder of The Raven ReView and author of The Wicked Truth
Matthew Distefano's From the Blood of Abel is a provocative examination of the problem of human violence through the lenses of mimetic theory and Christian theology. Distefano marshals theology, sociology, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and history to lead readers through humanity's horrifically violent past and present, and challenges us to look more closely at the ultimate hope for peace that Christianity provides.Distilling insights from René Girard, Ernest Becker, and Michael Hardin, Distefano offers a vibrant and astute assessment of humanity's seemingly implacable violent tendencies and skillfully shows how the Bible effectively--and often surprisingly--addresses our most fundamental problem.
Dan Wilkinson, editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians blog
Matthew's book, From the Blood of Abel is an excellent book to recommend to seekers who have begun to question traditional Evangelical teachings on alleged God-sanctioned violence, a sacrificial hermeneutic, doctrines of hell and eternal punishment, and much more. Matthew has processed weightier works on these topics and synthesized their salient points into a volume that is reachable to the majority who may have neither time nor inclination to read academic-level treatments on those subjects. In doing so, Matthew has done the body of Christ a great service. I wish I had read a book like From the Blood of Abel when I was twenty-one. If I had, my life would have charted a much different and much more Christ-conformed path, much earlier.
Stephen R. Crosby, D. Min., founder of Stephanos Ministries and author of multiple books
Matthew Distefano's From the Blood of Abel is a literary construction of power, precision and depth perfectly positioned for such a time as this. Navigating through layers and angles of human history, psychology, and spirituality, Matthew tactfully backs the reader and all humanity into the corner--dissecting, diagnosing and disarming our intoxication with violence. One cannot help but to be changed and perhaps even a bit haunted by the revelation of this monumental writing.
Chris Kratzer, pastor and blogger
Matthew Distefano offers us a robust and intriguing approach to the Gospel. Having had his Christianity restructured both by Girard's insights into violence, and by Becker's understanding of death, he makes available a much stronger and richer sense of what Jesus was about in undoing those things than so many approaches which pile quote upon quote,leaving readers at the mercy of their own violence. Those questioning received notions of hell, of wrath, and of an exclusive God will find solid food here.
James Alison, Catholic Priest, theologian, and author
Matthew's desire to heal the human spirit is palpable in his writing. He rightly identifies the human problem of violence as a temporary means of relieving spiritual tension or uneasiness. Following the insights of René Girard, Matthew walks the reader through the many reasons we create, or become, victims of violence. Finding a solution to our collective problem leads the reader straight to the heart of Jesus. By the final chapter, Matthew passionately implores the reader to imitate the peaceful, forgiving image of God, modeled in the person of Jesus Christ. A good read for those who dare to hope for a better tomorrow.
Carol Wimmer, author of The Clock
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As a missionary child in the evangelical, charismatic tradition, I grew up with many questions about God. It seemed like Christians (the ones I knew) had made up their mind that God was all about love, grace and forgiveness even though the events and prophecies found in the sacred text suggested otherwise. The belief that God was about love, grace and forgiveness seemed little more than a self-comforting rhetoric. God can be love, grace and forgiveness but not as we know those terms. We need to redefine the meanings of those terms to “defend” God, even by incorporating aspects of God that would be unloving, ungracious and unforgiving in the “Christian” definition of love, grace and forgiveness.
Needless to say this kind of perpetual mental summersaulting could not sustain a genuine faith in God. Like many others, I went through what is called a ‘deconstruction’. And when you explore God in a way that was not conditioned or allowed by your tradition, that is when you truly begin to discover “the length and width and height and breadth of His love (Ephesians 3:18). You realise how God’s disposition to us is love and only love. You realise the cross is not a placation of an angry, vindictive God but a revelation of an all-loving, merciful, compassionate God who receives the ugliness of sin upon himself, dying to show the extent of his love rather than repaying us to show the extent of his power. His Kingdom is manifest on the cross of Calvary, not the throne of Rome.
Distefano’s retelling of Girard’s mimetic theory skillfully elucidates human propensity to violence and scapegoating. The brilliance in Girard’s work is that it not only offers a logical and compassionate narrative of Christ’s redemption and atonement, but it completely demasks the mechanism of human sinfulness and its repetitive nature. One of the criticisms often heard from more conservative Christians (especially the penal substitutionary ‘atonement’ brigade) is that such redemptive narratives “don’t take sin seriously enough”. But Distefano shows these criticisms to be utterly lacking. By expounding on the anthropomorphosis of God’s wrath and placing it rightly where it belongs (humans’ own painful experience of sin’s consequences), we begin to see not only the ugliness but the perpetual mechanism of our sin. This a much more resolute treatment of sin than simply saying “we are all born sinful.”
Only then can we look at the solution, and see it as the most profound way to eradicate the disease of sin. As mimetic beings who replicate each other’s violence, we can also replicate the sacrificial love of Christ, shown in its most radical form in His crucifixion. The apostle Paul pleaded, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) As we all imitate Christ, and others imitate those who imitate Christ, we can break the cycle of violence and scapegoating and work toward building the Kingdom of Heaven which Christ envisioned.
Thank you for a wonderful journey through this book. I think there is much more we can explore regarding human violence, scapegoating, and mimetic theory. I hope this conversation continues and we can offer our hurting world a much more compassionate, more powerful, and truer retelling of the Gospel.
I made small talk with them. As an introvert, I’ve learned to ask a lot of questions, which keeps the attention off of me and onto others. But I soon ran out of questions. Thus ensued the dreaded Awkward Silence. A sense existential angst poured into my body as I knew what was about to happen.
“So,” my conversation partner began, “what do you do for a living?”
And here is where I came to my dilemma. Do I tell the truth, which is usually adds to the Awkward Silence, or do I make up something really exciting - the FBI, CIA, or Video Game Tester?
“I’m a pastor,” I replied, “and a blogger for the Raven Foundation and Teaching Nonviolent Atonement websites.”
Yep. Our friend Awkward Silence came for a visit. Few know how to respond to “Hi. My name is Adam. I’m a pastor and a blogger.” But words soon began to fill the silence. Another dad sitting next to us heard the word Atonement and wanted to talk.. I was completely surprised when he said with a great deal of passion, “I don’t think Jesus should have done it. He shouldn’t have gone to the cross. He should have resisted. Think of all the great things he could have done if he’d just stayed alive!”
There was an edge to his voice that made me very uncomfortable. So, I asked the bartender for another drink and looked this dad square in the face and said, “Yeah, so, what do you do?”
Introverts know the art of the pivot.
Still, I wish I’d had a better response. In fact, I wish I’d had a copy of Matthew Distefano’s latest book From the Blood of Abel: Humanity’s Causes of Violence and the Bible’s Theological-Anthropological Solution.
Of course, people have been asking this question for 2,000 years. Matthew asks it like this, “Why does Jesus do this? Why does he lay down his life? Surely, he would have had a better chance of bringing about change had he stood up and fought for himself. All of this forgiveness and mercy talk is good for what, now that he is dead?”
Indeed, that’s exactly what this dad was saying. But he was missing the point, and Matthew explains the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection so beautifully in this book. The build up to Jesus’ death is referred to as the Passion narratives. Matthew explains the Passion and Resurrection like this, “...the Passion and the Resurrection is all about the pouring out of one’s self for the other, in the spirit of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.”
Paul, one of the earliest Christians, claimed that many found the cross to be a stumbling block or just foolish. Many believed it was foolish because Jesus was a failure. He was killed, after all. It’s a stumbling block for many modern people because of a later theological development that claimed Jesus atoned for human sin by channeling the wrath of God upon himself, thus saving Christians from God’s wrath - a wrath that sinners will surely receive.
But Matthew provides an important corrective to both of these mistaken beliefs. Jesus’ mission was to reveal who God is. Jesus went to the cross to show the extent of God’s love. The cross shows that there is no wrath in God. Rather, It reveals that wrath belongs to humans alone. Wrathful humans killed Jesus, not God. This is the biggest problem with our species, for we’ve been wrathfully killing one another since the beginning of human culture.
But how does God respond to the murder of the Son? If we take the Incarnation seriously, then God loves humanity so much that God forgives us even when we kill God. Humans enacted deicide; we killed God in Christ. If God were ever to be wrathful, it would be at this moment. But Jesus changes everything we thought we knew about God by responding with words of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Matthew explains it like this, “...the death of Jesus represents all of humanity’s judgment against God.” Matthew then explains the resurrection in a refreshing way that is consistent with Jesus’ words on the cross. In the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his followers, those who had abandoned him to the cross a mere three day before, and said, “Peace be with you.” In contrast to humanity’s judgment against God on the cross, Matthew writes that, “the peace and forgiveness the Resurrection brought was God’s judgement for humanity.” Jesus went to the cross to reveal that God’s judgment for humanity is forgiveness and peace!
From the Blood of Abel is an exciting and hopeful book. It’s easy to understand and invites us to follow the God of nonviolent love. In doing so, we will participate with God in the healing of ourselves and the world. Indeed, I wish I could have given this book to that other dad at the bowling alley. It’s definitely a strike!
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