Accurate diagnosis by a good doctor who is loyal to your health can provide the gift of new life. I know Paul Alexander well. His whole life shows his deep loyalty to the health of Pentecostalism. In Peace to War, he has paid impressively extensive and accurate attention to the health that is intrinsic to Pentecostalism, and his diagnosis is full of suggestions for the direction of new life. Peace to War is not only about recovery of the peacemaking witness; it points the way to spirit-filled, Christ-centered, faithful-to-God new life.
Alexander shows how strikingly biblical and Christ-centered early Pentecostalism has been. And this life is still in the body. Pentecostals generally and Assemblies of God in particular were wonderfully biblical in their initial ethics on peace and war. Alexander (p. 301) quotes John Howard Yoders foreword for Jay Beamans book, Pentecostal Pacifism: Pentecostalism "becomes rather directly and simply pacifist in the first generation. The simplest reason is that they take the whole Bible straight."
Alexander (p. 305) helps us hear Roger Robins on the difference between original Pentecostalism and later, culturally compromised Pentecostalism:
Those "political considerations" overwhelm the biblical teachings.
Murray Dempster diagnoses the shift similarly. Alexander sets the stage by noting (p. 306) that "neither the authority of Scripture nor any specific biblical texts were mentioned. . . ." He then quotes Dempsters analysis that thus "The Pentecostal believers conscience on war no longer needed to be formed specifically by biblical teaching but was now to be informed by knowledge of certain political, theological and ethical propositions."
Paul Alexander shows that pacifism without practical proactive practices that help solve these "political considerations" may be too weak to carry the day. But with practical just peacemaking practices, pacifism has an answer to those political questions. That is why John Howard Yoder moved in his last writings to proactive practices that make for peace, especially in his Body Politics, For the Nations, and his forthcoming The Lambs War.
Peace to War suggests that if we are to lead Christians to witness consistently to the way of Jesus for peacemaking, we need to deal with those "political considerations." We need to specify practices that are faithful to Jesus and that solve problems practically. We need to elaborate the practices of just peacemaking that form consciences to resist authoritarian nationalism.
The first generations of Pentecostals were wonderfully biblical in relation to what we should not do: engage in killing. But they seem not to have developed a sufficiently articulate ethic of the dangers of nationalistic power nor proactive alternatives to warmaking that could solve injustice without making war. As Yoder wrote (according to Alexanders quotation, p. 302), "But this originality (both the pacifism and the racial integration) was not deeply rooted. . . . The Pentecostals . . . had no alternative view of the meaning of power, the meaning of nationalism. . . . " So when World War II obtained strong nationalistic support, many pacifists had no clear answer pointing to the initiatives pacifist Christians could be taking.
The book of Acts is a call to repentance for narrow nationalism that hinders the gospel. The Holy Spirit again and again moves people outside Judaism to repentance and to new life in the gospelSamaritans, Gentile God-fearers, Gentiles who have no relationship to Jewish faith, jailers, the Ethiopian eunuch. The Holy Spirit called Paul and calls us to repentance for closing the gospel off from people who do not share our nationalistic loyalty.
Paul Alexander shows us we need to think deeply about making both pacifism and just peacemaking "biblically rooted, eschatologically informed, and appealing to the work of the Spirit" in sanctification, conversion, and creation of a new people. His accurate diagnosis points us the way to this new life.
© 2008 by Cascadia Publishing House LLC