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Must Christianity Be Violent?: Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology Paperback – October 1, 2003
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From the Back Cover
KENNETH CHASE is director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics and associate professor of communications at Wheaton College.
ALAN JACOBS is professor of English at Wheaton College. He is the author of A Visit to Vanity Fair.
About the Author
KENNETH CHASE is director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics and associate professor of communications at Wheaton College. ALAN JACOBS is professor of English at Wheaton College. He is the author of A Visit to Vanity Fair.
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Taking seriously the need for ethical reflection, during March 15-17, 2000 the Center for Applied Christian Ethics hosted a faculty conference at Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois whose papers were collected and published into this book, Must Christianity Be Violent, edited by Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs.
In his introduction, Chase writes:
“At its most elementary level, Christianity celebrates peace. Jesus promises to give peace, he advocates forgiveness and mercy, he instructs his followers to be peacemakers and to love enemies, and he died so that we might have peace with God.” (9)
The early church clearly got Jesus’ message of peace and pacifism characterized Christ’s followers’ response to institutionalized war for four centuries after his death and resurrection. The “just war” doctrine, first articulated by Augustine (354-430 AD) and later expanded on by Aquinas (1225-1274 AD), and Calvin (1509-1564 AD), gave theological justification for Christian participation in war, but only in limited circumstances, such as war in self-defense (32).
Chase sees Christianity’s critics as focusing on two main points of contention: a pragmatic criticisms focused primarily on historical events (such as the Crusades, anti-Semitism in Europe, and support for slavery), and, and criticisms focused on problems inherent in Christian doctrine (such as aspects of exclusivism and divine judgment; 10-12).
In view of these criticisms, Chase and Jacobs divide the 13 essays in the book into three broad sections—history, practices, and theology, as follows:
Section one: Histories
1. The First Crusade: Some Theological Historical Context by Joseph H. Lynch.
2. Violence of the Conquistadores and Prophetic Indignation by Luis N. Rivera-Pagán.
3. Is God Violent? Theological Options in the Antislavery Movement by Dan McKanan.
4. Christians as Rescuers during the Holocaust by David P. Gushee.
5. Have Christians Done More Harm than Good? by Mark A. Noll.
6. Beyond Complicity: The Challenges for Christianity after the Holocaust by Victoria Barnett.
Section Two: Practices
7. How Should We Then Teach American History? A Perspective of Constructive Nonviolence by James C. Juhnke.
8. Christian Discourse and the Humility of Peace by Kenneth R. Chase.
9. Jesus and Just Peacemaking Theory by Glen Stassen.
Section Three: Theologies
10. Violence and the Atonement by Richard J. Mouw.
11. Explaining Christian Nonviolence: Notes for a Conversation with John Milbank by Stanley Hauerwas.
12. Violence: Double Passivity by John Milbank.
13. Christian Peace: A Conversation between Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank.
These 13 chapters were preceded by a preface and introduction and were followed by an afterword and lists of contributors and notes.
In reading through these many contributors and insights, it is clear that a summary is impractical because each essay is highly nuanced and contextual. Some insights, however, stand out as unique and can stand on their own in a short review. For example, David Gushee in his essay, “Christians as Rescuers During the Holocaust”, summarized the religious motivations of Christian rescuers in these categories:
• Those having a special religious kinship with Jews.
• Those remembering the experience of religious persecution.
• Those recognizing the incompatibility of Nazism with Christian faith.
• Those honoring the dignity of human life.
• Those with special Christian piety (72-77).
Gushee notes that Christian faith was neither necessary or sufficient motivation for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust; citing Nechama Tec, he observed that only a “certain kind of Christianity” felt compelled to intervene (77-78).
Another essay that stood out in my mind was James C. Juhnke’s “How Should We Then Teach American History?” which cited a number of historical accounts of alternatives, other than “triumphalism” or “radical criticism”, which he described as “constructive nonviolence” (108). Historical accounts of “triumphalism” basically chronicle the rise of “America’s rise to greatness” while accounts of “radical criticism” critique what this rise to greatness did to African American slaves, Native Americans, women, and other minorities (108); accounts of “constructive nonviolence” focus on honoring roads not taken that might have been successful had they been taken. Juhnke highlights these themes:
• Honoring the survival and strength of Native American cultures, especially the peacemakers that made survival possible.
• Honoring nonviolent alternatives proposed but rejected.
• Honoring the Antimilitary idealism of the founders, exhibited in the constitutional restraints.
• Honoring the human conscience against killing.
• Honoring the role of voluntary communities.
• Honoring the opponents of total war (109-117).
Obviously much more could be said just about these topics in American history.
As someone deeply concerned about the future of America as well as our values and image in the world, I firmly believe that war should not be the first option or the only option considered when international conflicts arise. We need to know what other options can reasonably be considered because, as it is, the United States is increasingly in a perpetual state of war for lack of those options and the political will to consider them. As Christians, we should be willing to debate these issues openly and with an eye on how our options form our characters both as citizens and as Christians. Kenneth Chase and Alan Jacobs’s book, Must Christianity Be Violent?, is helpful resource in framing conversations about the issues of war and peace that we so desperately need to have.
Christian practices are also considered, such as teaching American history from a perspective of constructive nonviolence (James Juhnke) and the emerging Just Peacemaking Theory that seeks to bring just war theorists and pacifists together to engage in concrete peace building practices that can prevent wars (Glen Stassen). Stassen continues to improve the approach with both biblical scholarship (from NT Wright, EP Sanders, JD Crossan, etc.) and practical implementations.
Richard Mouw, Stanley Hauerwas, and John Milbank provide the theological wrestlings that conclude the book. Mouw presents a Reformed perspective of the atonement and defends it against the claims that the atonement inherently promotes violence. Hauerwas' "Explaining Christian Nonviolence" admirably explains why nonviolence cannot be explained. It is not an ideal that can be abstracted from Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, the Christian life, and discipleship. It can be lived, it is a skill. Milbank answers with a chapter on the double passivity of violence: the passive watching of violence is itself violent. The transcript of their public conversation about Christian Peace, with questions from the audience, is also included.