An interview on justice, mercy, and God’s love

Ted Grimsrud—June 17, 2015

In February, 2015, I was privileged to be a guest on a radio show, Community Justice Talks, on KHEN-FM, Salida, Colorado. The show’s host, Molly Rowan Leach, interviewed me for about half an hour. We talked about an article I had written,“Violence as a Theological Problem” and my two books, Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Justice, and The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters: World War II’s Moral Legacy.

The recording of that interview is now available. Here’s a link to a page that allows visitors to listen to the interview directly or to download a podcast. Or it can be listened to here as well. I have also post an edited written transcript of the interview on my PeaceTheology website.

I appreciate Molly’s excellent interviewing skills that helped me articulate some of the main ideas I have been working on that relate to the connection between theology, our current dynamics of retribution, and the promise of restorative justice.

Should Jesus determine our view of God?

Ted Grimsrud—May 26, 2015

The question of how to understand the peaceable message of Jesus in relation to less than peaceable pictures of God in the Bible and in the Christian tradition has challenged ethically concerned people of faith almost since the very beginning.

The arch “heretic” Marcion in the second century after Jesus infamously jettisoned the Old Testament and much of the New Testament in his effort to sustain an authentically Christ-centered faith. Though Marcion’s proposed solution to the problem probably made things worse, his impulse to support a coherent view of God and Jesus together is understandable and perennial.

The spiritual descendants of the 16th century Anabaptists certain have a stake in this on-going conversation. By lifting up Jesus’s life and teaching as normative and by accepting high claims for the authority of the Bible, we really can’t avoid questions about how to harmonize what seem to be powerful tensions among the various sources of information about God.

In recent years, the broader Christian community has seen an uptick in interest in revisiting these themes. Prominent writers such as John Dominic Crossan (How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis to Revelation) and J. Denny Weaver (The Nonviolent God) are very recent examples of dozens of books that have been written in the past two decades that struggle, often very helpfully, with the theological (as in doctrine of God) implications of interrelating the peaceable impulses of Christian sources with the more violent aspects of how the tradition has presented God.

A welcome contribution to an important conversation

For those, like me, who welcome this conversation and think we still have a ways to go to achieve a genuinely faithful resolution, Bradley Jersak’s new book, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel (Pasadena, CA: CWRpress, 2015), will be seen as a singular contribution. Jersak does significant original thinking. Perhaps even more importantly, he writes accessibly in a book aimed at a broad audience. Jersak writes about deep issues in a clear and lively style reflecting the combination of his academic training (a PhD in theology and present vocation as a professor) and two decades work as a pastor and church planter. His own varied ecclesial journey (early life as a conservative Baptist, a stint as a Mennonite pastor, current connection with the Orthodox Church) is seen in his empathetic and inclusive sensibility. Continue reading “Should Jesus determine our view of God?”

Pacifism when “life happens”: Further thoughts

Ted Grimsrud—October 2, 2014

Christian pacifism seems to be an issue that people care about a lot, even if they aren’t always very sympathetic toward it. I’m still trying to figure out how to think about it and talk about it, and I’ve been working on that for a long time and with a lot of energy.

I appreciate the stimulus to thought that the exchanges concerning Christian pacifism this week have provided. Thanks to Rachel Held Evans for her initial brief but stimulating Facebook comments that pushed me to write the blog post I put up on Monday (“Is pacifism for when life happens? A response to Rachel Held Evans”). And thanks to her for putting up a link to that post on her Facebook page, to those who commented there, and especially to those who commented directly on my blog and my Facebook page.

As always, when this kind of thing happens, my mind races. I have a few thoughts that seem like new thoughts for me that I would like to add to the conversation.

The meaning of “Christian pacifism”

In my “Is pacifism…” post I tried to make two main points—that (1) Jesus does call Christians to pacifism, which is for all times and places according to his teaching, and that (2) since the United States military is not an agent for genuine justice, Christians should not look to it as a possible answer to the question of what to do about ISIS (which is what I understood to be the trigger for Rachel’s original Facebook comments last week).

This is what I mean by Christian pacifism: Basically, in my mind, thinking of myself as a Christian pacifist is the same thing as thinking of myself as a Christian. Not because I want to add a pacifist ideology onto basic Christian faith. Rather, I believe that “pacifism” is simply a shorthand way to say “Christianity as if Jesus matters.”

I explain this in the other day’s post where I use the story of the Good Samaritan as the central image for summarizing Jesus’s teaching (and his living). What matters the most? What is the ultimate “salvation issue” for Jesus? It’s the call to love God and neighbor. And who is the “neighbor”? Anyone in need and anyone who cares for someone in need—even if one or the other might be considered an enemy.

The term “pacifism” is useful because it reminds us that the kind of love Jesus calls us to is love that does not allow for exceptions. It is love that does not allow for killing, preparing to kill, or supporting those who kill others (that is, it does not allow for warfare). However, it appears that at times this term can be misunderstood. The point for Christian pacifism as I understand it not to insist on the necessity of the term “pacifism” but to remind Christians of the core message of our faith. Continue reading “Pacifism when “life happens”: Further thoughts”

Is God violent? Naming the questions

 Ted Grimsrud—February 29, 2012

This question (“Is God Violent?”) seems to me to be one of those great questions that challenges us to wide-ranging theological reflection. And it triggers a bunch of further questions that are worth thinking about in order to get at our main one. I will raise nine here. I owe a debt of gratitude to Brian McLaren’s short but thoughtful and provocative article in the January 2011 issues of Sojourners (also titled “Is God Violent?”).

What are our options?

McLaren offers a helpful fourfold typology of the different options for how Christians might answer our question: (1) God is violent and human violence is okay, sometimes even good. (2) God is violent and only in limited cases might human violence be morally acceptable. (3) God is not violent, so human violence is always a violation of our being created in God’s image—hence it is always tragic and regrettable; it is never justified. (4) God is not violent, so human violence in any form is always absolutely forbidden.

I had to read this list several times before I could figure out what the difference between #3 and #4 is. There must be a difference, since McLaren says, regretfully, that he holds #3 and not #4—though he aspires to #4. Finally I figured out that he had left out an additional sentence in his description of the third view that would have made him more clear: “Sometimes violence happens in ways that are the lesser evil; it’s not morally good but it may be the most realistic and least bad possibility.” To this clarification, McLaren might also have wanted to add a thought borrowed from Reinhold Niebuhr that in such cases we rely on God’s pardon; we don’t claim we are doing something that is not sinful.

Unfortunately, McLaren leaves out another option that probably is the most common option for Mennonite pacifists who have thought about these issues. At least it’s a very common option among Mennonite intellectuals. This would be the belief that God is violent but that human beings are called not to be. On the one hand, it is “God’s prerogative to exercise God’s sovereign power however God sees the need to;” on the other hand, God forbids human beings to take this expression of governance into their own hands. They interpret “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Romans 12:21) as a call to leave the violence to God. Willard Swartley, Miroslav Volf, Mary Schertz, and Millard Lind  all have published various versions of this view—as did John Howard Yoder (see John Nugent’s account of Yoder’s Old Testament interpretation, The Politics of Yahweh). Continue reading “Is God violent? Naming the questions”