Resurrection “Faith”?

Ted Grimsrud—Easter Sunday (April 24) 2011

What happened on that first Easter Sunday, nearly 2,000 years ago? Does it really matter? Do we have any way, truly, of knowing?

Or, a parallel set of questions, is the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection credible? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? How do we connect (or not) our beliefs about what happened with Jesus after his death and what will happen to us after our deaths?

My entire life I have loved asking questions and desired powerfully to understand, to make sense of life’s big questions. However, issues related to resurrection never really caught my imagination. Certainly, I did not grow up with an embedded theology insisting that the belief in the resurrection was the one essential Christian faith commitment. So, I have always had a bit of a detached attitude about questions such as those stated above.

I remember as a kid going to church on Easter occasionally—one time, at least, our family got up early and went to a sunrise service (what I remember is having to get up early, not the service itself!). Of course, we had Easter egg hunts and Easter candy. But we would never have talked about the meaning of Easter in a serious way that I remember.

In the largely secular environment of my youth in rural southwestern Oregon, Easter was not very deeply ingrained in my surrounding culture. I was surprised many years later to learn, while pastoring in South Dakota, that Easter weekend was a holiday for everyone there (e.g., no school in the public schools on Good Friday). Continue reading “Resurrection “Faith”?”

Can the military do peace?

I recently took part in a panel discussion at Eastern Mennonite University that addressed the question, “what should the role of the military be in peacebuilding?” The planners did a good job pulling together the panel—we had a retired Navy captain, a retired military chaplain, a professor of peacebuilding at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), and myself. I was the only pacifist.

Our first question was about our own personal experience with peacebuilding and/or the military. I never served in the military (though, I not growing up Mennonite, I was not taught to be a conscientious objector). I just missed being drafted—the year I turned 19 was the year the draft ended in 1973, near the end of the Vietnam War. If I had been drafted at that time, I would have accepted the call. I was happy not to have to go in, but not because of my moral convictions.

Both of my parents were in the military in World War II, one of my uncles died as an Air Force pilot in Greece in the late 1940s, and my oldest sister married a career Army man. So, I grew up with a positive view of the military. But when I was 21 I became a pacifist, largely simply due to grappling with the issues of violence and warfare in light of my newly energized Christian faith. A few years later I learned about and then joined the Mennonite church near where I lived due largely to the Mennonite peace position. Eventually I became a Mennonite pastor and professor.

One of my central interests for a long time has been peace theology, working at understanding the relevance of Jesus’ teaching about love of enemies and other core convictions that lead to a rejection of violence and warfare and an embrace of a commitment to active nonviolence.

So I am very interested in question of what the role of the military should be in peacebuilding. We need to start by asking what we mean by “peacebuilding.” This term can have many meanings, from something like maintaining order (as in calling policemen and policement “officers of the peace”) to an academic discipline having to do with conflict resolution and group processing (as in EMU’s graduate CJP program and its undergraduate major in Peacebuilding and Development) to something more related to a deeper vision of human flourishing.

For my purposes in these reflections here, I would say that “peacebuilding” has to do with active participation in work to resolve conflicts, to assist people in face of major disasters, to prevent warfare and other types of violence, in general to work to cultivate the kind of social well-being that the Bible calls shalom. So, the broader more universal sense of human flourishing is at the root of authentic peacebuilding. Continue reading “Can the military do peace?”

The Book of Revelation and the End of Christianity

Ted Grimsrud—April 12, 2011

The book of Revelation was written in the early generations of Christianity. At the time of Revelation, Christianity still was in most important ways a sub-community within the broader Jewish world. There were tensions between Christians and non-Christian Jews over how best to understand the Jewish heritage and what role commitment to Jesus should play in the life of faith.

We have good reasons to think, though, that Revelation was meant to be thoroughly Jewish and an authentic expression of biblical faith centered on Torah. Jesus would have been seen not as a replacement for Torah-centered faith but as providing one way to embody Torah-centered faith. The vision of Revelation should be seen in the context of other, mostly complementary, Jewish visions of faith.

Of course, once Christianity and Judaism parted ways, the approach to faith in Revelation would be interpreted as a distinctively Christian approach. We make a big mistake, though, if we today interpret Revelation as underwriting Christian exclusivism.

One way to avoid such exclusivist readings is to approach Revelation first of all as a political vision meant to be in continuity with Abraham’s promise to bless all the families of the earth. Revelation speaks to a particular strategy of furthering this promise that has more to do with embodied ethics than with religious rituals and doctrines.

Early Christians sought to follow Jesus’ path of creating space for human flourishing that paid special attention to the flourishing of vulnerable and exploited people. Living in the “Pax Romana” that was actually characterized by profound systemic violence challenged people of good will to go against the current and created pro-human space where they could.

John’s vision in Revelation (my use of the singular for “vision” here is intentional; the many sub-visions of Revelation all serve the one overarching vision of God’s healing work among human beings) focuses not on making promises about the future but on providing a method in the present for people of good will to serve pro-human healing work. Continue reading “The Book of Revelation and the End of Christianity”

What’s really at stake in the debate about universalism

Ted Grimsrud—April 3, 2011

Years ago I met a guy who pastored in Canada in the Mennonite Church. He struck me as a good person, seemed pretty gifted, someone I could easily imagine being successful in ministry. But he told me (and this was confirmed by others later) that he had gotten in trouble pretty often, even lost a couple of jobs. What was the problem? He was a universalist. He believed all people would find salvation, and he was willing to state that openly.

Ever since that conversation, I have noticed that for whatever reason, universalism seems like about the worst heresy there is. It seems like, at least in circles I’m familiar with, that it is much more objectionable for Christians to be too welcoming than it is to be too strict.

I have been aware of this dynamic surfacing again in controversy among North American evangelical Christians over a new book by a young superstar pastor named Rob Bell (the book is called: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived; here’s one long highly critical review and a here’s link to the Google page for “rob bell love wins”). Before Bell’s book was even published, some of his theological enemies caught wind that he argues for a view that struck these thought police as dangerously close to universalism.

This debate about Bell’s book is fascinating, and has stimulated me to reflect a bit more on the universalism controversy as I have experienced it over the years—and to think some new thoughts about what I think may actually be at stake. I think the real issues that matter are a bit different than those generally discussed. And, I think this in large part because of what I understand the Bible to teach. Continue reading “What’s really at stake in the debate about universalism”