This book’s title and subtitle signal the direction, but readers will encounter surprises. In juxtaposing peace and empire in the full title, one expects Constantinian forms of church to come under fire. But who would guess that “voluntary baptism” would be a culprit (Siegrist)? The book throws curves, good ones at that.
McLaren contrasts Jesus’ peacemaking to unjust war, just war, regulated war, and preemptive war. Jesus calls us to “preemptive peacemaking.” His chapter is a good conclusion to my study, Covenant of Peace (Eerdmans, 2006). Nonviolence may open doors to peacemaking, but in itself fails the Jesus model. In similar vein, Baker’s “keys to the kingdom” identify love, forgiveness, and reconciliation as keys that open the doors to the kingdom’s justice and peacemaking. Abraham Heschel and Chris Marshall witness to biblical and restorative justice respectively.
Carter’s critique of liberalism exposes its inconsistent view of freedom, which wilts before Jesus’ freedom that flows from truth (John 8:32). Some things are wrong—and thus ouch to liberalism’s tolerance that names everything good or okay, except truth-claims, exposing liberalism’s fundamentalism. Jesus’ freedom is not privatized. True peace accepts limits (given in Scripture) on desires, e.g. consumerism and capitalism.
Alexis-Baker blows the whistle on the drift
among pacifists (e.g Cortwright and Schlabach) to think that “policing”
is compatible with nonviolence. “Policing” did not exist in the world
of the Bible (Yoder’s distinction between war and policing is
anachronistic). If one thinks policing sits well with a nonviolent
ethic, read Alexis-Baker, and think again. “Just” policing leads to a
new just Constantinianism that accommodates violence to achieve peace.
Woodard Lehman addresses the tacit
Constantinianism of dominant white anglo churches, an operative of
post-colonialism. Recovery from its “orthodox” sociological dominance
happens only through “density” of relationships with non-anglos,
leading to “orthopraxy” and openness to be under the tutelage of an
African-American church. Amstutz’s later chapter shows movement toward
recovery, through a porch-building ministry of Akron Mennonite that
leads to a cross-cultural liminality, but it also confesses: There’s a
long way to go. Whether
Grimsrud focuses on Yoder’s reading of Romans in The Politics of Jesus. Yoder’s interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 does not passively reify the empire’s violent rule but puts the powers, created and fallen, under judgment yet also with “redeemable” hope, in tension with the cross and the church’s witness. Sum: No to empire; No to violent resistance; Yes to communities of resistance.
Hughes calls for church leadership that exposes the myth of a U.S. Christian nation. The dominant culture lies, and Christian leaders must point the church to Jesus’ kingdom teaching and community. God’s kingdom means care for the poor and oppressed, in contrast to serving the elite and privileged. Hugh’s cites a catena of New Testatment texts, substantiating his theses on Jesus’ kingdom vision. Finger’s essay, focusing on Matthew’s passion narrative perceived from a post-A.D. 70 war perspective, exposes both Pilate and the Jews as “making the wrong choice”—taking the “wide road” to destruction rather than the narrow road of Jesus’ discipleship. Postwar perspective intensifies Jesus’ love of enemy teaching.
Both Putt and Miller challenge our God-image: Putt, theologically; Miller, exegetically. Keith Putt “redeems” Caputo, despite his “devilish hermeneutics,” by focusing on his “theoethic”—God’s weakness in abandonment of Jesus on the cross. His “theologia crucis is genuinely a depravatio crucis, a ‘perversion of the cross,’ in that the cross and all it symbolizes pervert the oppressive and violent powers of the world.” Caputo opposes Constantinianism, embracing the “particularism” of the gospel. Putt connects Caputo to Girard, Yoder, and Hauerwas, ending with his own critique of Caputo.
Miller’s exegetical foray into “by nature children of wrath” in Ephesians 2:3 teases us to rethink why we there connect God to wrath. Rather than attending to internal evidence, commentators resort to intertextual uses of “wrath of God” and read God into this text as the source of wrath—humans worthy of God’s wrath. But Leslie Mitton sees the parallel, “sons of disobedience” in v. 2: “children of wrath means people in whose lives you can see the effect of wrath, that is the punishment that follows sin, the evil consequences of sin” (236).
Siegrist contends that voluntary baptism, now popular as an expected social rite of passage, has become a new Constantinianism that disconnects baptism from belief and ethics. Those voluntarily baptized continue to reflect the dominant culture about them. Baptism ought to lead to costly discipleship and unity in ethical belief and practice. It doesn’t, forcing “rethinking” of the practice. Sauder, on “shunning,” examines the gulf between what this meant to early Anabaptists and what it later came to mean. The latter, protecting the insular community, disconnects from radical discipleship. The “new wine” is now only water for purification, no longer gospel. Both Siegrist and Sauder show how culture betrays gospel.
Risley provides a good resource for
congregational process of conflict, calling churches to reverse the
conditions that empower scape-goating (Girard), namely, how to
These essays provoke fresh thought, and
intrigue at unexpected places, like the Samaritan woman who encounters
a Jewish man at the well offering her “living water.” These essays warn
us not to allow the Constantinianisms of dominant culture to lose the
new wine by reverting to the old wineskins of empire mentality.
Otherwise we’ll miss out on the joy of the wedding (John 2:1-11; 3:29;
—Willard M. Swartley, Elkhart, Indiana, is Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He is the author of Covenant of Peace (Eerdmans, 2006) and many other books.
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