Book review: 'A Faith Not Worth Fighting For'By Tom Airey
We live in an era rife with violence that begs for a faithful Christian response.
In a new book, A Faith Not Worth Fighting For (2012), 38-year-old professor and theologian Tripp York and seminary student Justin Bronson Barringer have teamed up to offer answers to 13 questions often lobbed at Christian pacifists. York and Bronson Barringer recruited a diverse selection of scholars to address issues of biblical interpretation, theological analysis, historical problems, hypothetical situations and matters of daily living. This writing is bookended by a foreword from Stanley Hauerwas and an afterword from Shane Claiborne. Contributing Mennonite theologians are J. Nelson Kraybill and Gerald W. Schlabach.
Overall, the book is a highly inclusive work with a Christological account of nonviolent resistance. Both men and women write essays, and a variety of denominations are represented.
For example, Duke Divinity School’s Amy Laura Hall and Kara Slade are asked, “What Would You Do If Someone Were Attacking A Loved One?” Hall, a professor of theology, says this question is “bound up intimately with particular assumptions about masculinity and the role violence in the performance of masculinity, whether in a Christian context or outside of it.” In order to be a man, you’ve got to fight for your woman, you know? Surely, following Jesus requires an alternative masculinity altogether. Slade, a professor of engineering and current divinity graduate student, makes the point that every man misses: “Sooner or later, the prospect of rape enters this discussion…” The inclusion of rape in a discussion about pacifism serves to emasculate males and imprison females, whose idealized sexuality is always under the control and authority of men.
The Christological strand of Christian pacifism comes across most bluntly in Minnesota pastor Greg Boyd’s answer to “Does God require nations to turn the other cheek?” Boyd conjures up two different types of pacifism: kingdom pacifism (for disciples of Jesus) and political pacifism (for governments). Boyd eschews the naive demand that Jesus’ followers must passionately shun every violent government solution — “associating Jesus with war protests represents a potentially harmful confusion of categories” — by liberating pacifist Christians from dealing with the messy “political” stuff altogether. Boyd writes, citing Scripture, “it’s highly significant that neither Jesus nor any New Testament author reflected the slightest interest in the politics of their day. Outside of the simple instructions to pray for peace, to not stir up trouble, to respect and submit to authorities and to pay our taxes, we’re told absolutely nothing.” Although I deeply respect Boyd’s desire to communicate a more useful and less naive form of pacifism, I was not compelled by his awkward categories, which seem only suited for folks who do not want to get their hands dirty with governmental politics.
My favorite essay was from Samuel Wells, the British former dean of Duke University Chapel. He answers the question “Didn’t Jesus Say He Came Not To Bring Peace, But A Sword?” He makes the case that Jesus was ultimately proclaiming the inevitability of a “sword of division” for disciples who, like Jesus, were called to confront the powers of the world with the truth. Wells, citing the work of Princeton’s Jeffrey Stout, exposes the failure of President Obama’s own “top down” approach of beginning the health care conversation by coddling drug and insurance companies and allowing them to define the issue on their terms: “Barack Obama becomes the epitome of a bland quest for peace — a naive ethic that believes that there can be peace without the sword of division.” Indeed, this vision of pacifism reclaims the original revolution of Jesus by infusing much needed courage and confrontation.
Although some essays were a bit lengthy, or overly philosophical, or lengthy and overly philosophical, this book is an accessible, enjoyable and highly usable script for Christians of all 29 pacifist brands.
Tom Airey teaches economics and world history at Capistrano Valley High School. He and his wife, Lindsay, graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary and are experimenting with Anabaptist intentional community in Orange County, Calif.
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