Why we should think of God as pacifist—(3) Addendum

Ted Grimsrud—June 10, 2014

I am about ready with the final part to this series on “Why we should think of God as pacifist.” But before I finish that post, I want to spend a little time responding to a concern raised by my friend Scott Holland in his comment to my previous post. Because Scott’s comment has pushed me to try better to clarify my argument, I wanted to put my response up as a regular post.

This is Scott’s comment:

“Ted, I’m a bit surprised to see a serious reader of [Gordon] Kaufman become so anthropomorphic about the divine. If God is a pacifist is the deity also a man, a monogamist, a moralist and an all around good guy?

“It seems one thing to call humans to a life of non-violence and peacemaking. However, given the awesome and awful force of the ruach, pneuma and winds of life, I would think only a Manichean could easily confess God is a pacifist? But then, heresy is sometimes a blessed thing!”

I did have this kind of concern (of being too “anthropocentric” in talking about God) in the back of my mind as I wrote out my ideas. And I expect to have it be part of my further reflections. And I also had Gordon Kaufman, who is indeed an important influence for me, in the back of my mind. Avoiding “heresy” was not part of my thought processes, though (however, if I thought I might be accused of being “Manichean” I might have thought about “heresy” a little bit). Continue reading “Why we should think of God as pacifist—(3) Addendum”

A pacifist at the AAR/SBL

Ted Grimsrud

Last weekend, my wife Kathleen and I made our annual trip to the big city to hobnob with 10,000 religion scholars. That is, we attended that convention of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature in Chicago, November 17-20. As per usual, we had a great time. This year, things were pretty low key—both in the sense of not having many responsibilities and of not attending any high powered, life changing sessions (no Cornel West, Judith Butler, Jeffrey Stout, or Robert Bellah this year).

As always, the biggest highlights were the times with friends—especially those who I usually only see at these meetings, but also some new friends (including meeting in the flesh a couple of cyber friends) and even some good times with people I see regularly.

Because I didn’t have much business to attend to and didn’t really have much interest in the book fair (I’m not quite sure why this was; in the past, I spent as many hours as I could with the always amazing collection of books from hundreds of publishers—maybe as I get older I realize just how many books I already have that I will never read), we spent most of our time attending sessions. While my socks stayed securely on my feet throughout, I still found the sessions interesting and stimulating of thought—even if mostly it was to argue against much of what I heard. Here are some highlights. Continue reading “A pacifist at the AAR/SBL”

Gordon Kaufman and theological “orthodoxy”

Ted Grimsrud—September 18, 2011

Gordon Kaufman’s death has provided occasion for me to reflect on how his constructive theology has shaped my own. I was a pastor when I first started reading Kaufman seriously. I found his thought helpful for me in that setting. He challenged me to recognize the need to present my own theology in my sermons, Bible studies, classes, and conversations as something fallible and finite. Since all theology is human work, it is all to be held lightly. Kaufman helped strengthen my already present anti-authoritarian tendencies. [See my two earlier posts that discuss Kaufman: “Gordon Kaufman, R.I.P.” and “Mennonite Theology and War: Kaufman and Yoder”.]

I had the sense from when I first seriously read Kaufman that what was most important for my purposes was his understanding of theological method. To recognize that every bit of our theology is a human construction would not be to reject out of hand traditional theological “orthodoxy”—rather, it would be to demand that the received beliefs be subject to the same scrutiny as all other human statements. The received beliefs, in light of Kaufman’s theological method, did not have a privileged status that rendered them impervious to criticism, impervious to rational evaluation in light of evidence, or impervious to experiential confirmation (or dis-confirmation). But if they could stand up to scrutiny, they could still be affirmed as true. According to his method, at least, Kaufman had no basis simply to reject a belief because he didn’t like it. His approach called for a quest for genuine objectivity (recognizing that this is never fully achievable) wherein one’s theological conclusions would be based on what is discerned to be true—not based on either an uncritically accepted “orthodoxy” or a knee-jerk anti-orthodoxy. Continue reading “Gordon Kaufman and theological “orthodoxy””

Mennonite Theology and War: Kaufman and Yoder

Ted Grimsrud—July 31, 2011

With Gordon Kaufman’s passing, an era in the Mennonite world is nearing an end. Kaufman, like his contemporaries, was decisively shaped by his personal experience with World War II and its immediate aftermath. (The era isn’t quite over given the still-productive pen of the remarkable Norman Kraus, an exact contemporary of Kaufman’s and John Howard Yoder’s—here’s Norman’s most recent book.)

In an interview given near the end of his life, Kaufman talked briefly about how as a young adult he was planning to pursue a career in mathematics. Then he was drafted in the midst of World War II and chose to be a conscientious objector. He served for several years in Civilian Public Service in lieu of entering the military. By war’s end, he had redirected his aspirations.

John Howard Yoder, the other Mennonite theological giant of the 20th century, also had his life’s aspirations redirected by World War II-based service. Yoder, who was a couple years younger than Kaufman and thus not liable to the draft during the war, went to war-devastated Western Europe on a service assignment shortly after the end of the war, an assignment that determined his educational and vocational pursuits.

With all their differences, Kaufman and Yoder shared something quite profound. They both obviously were brilliant and ambitious young men who had multiple options for career paths. Both also were deeply committed Mennonites. Contrary to the stereotype of Mennonites as withdrawn, “sectarian,” and purity-focused, both of these two extraordinarily gifted people decided to devote their lives to grappling with the world’s most complicated and relevant issue: how to live humanely in a war-devastated environment still in thrall to the myth of redemptive violence. Continue reading “Mennonite Theology and War: Kaufman and Yoder”