A FAITH WORTH FOLLOWING JESUS FOR
A review of Tripp York and Justin Bronson Barringer, eds., A Faith Not Worth Fighting For (Cascade Books: Eugene, OR, 2012)
Probing and insightful responses to crucial questions about Christian pacifism and peacemaking are offered in A Faith Not Worth Fighting For. Frankly, the worst thing about the book is the title of the book. It should more appropriately be called A Faith Worth Not Fighting For. Regardless, once you get past the cover the book quickly improves.
Editors Justin Bronson Barringer and Tripp York have pulled together a fine mix of authors. Some are veterans in the area of peace issues while others are relative newbies. All of them promote pacifism as an essential aspect of following Jesus. This does not mean that they all agree about how this should be played out. For instance, John Dear’s politically engaged, sometimes confrontational pacifism stands in sharp contrast to Gregory Boyd’s hesitancy about Christians protesting U.S. involvement in any particular war. Still, this diversity does not undermine the unified witness the book provides on behalf of Christian pacifism.
Each chapter addresses a different question that has been frequently asked of Christian pacifists. Some of them are of a pragmatic nature while others pertain to biblical interpretation.
Questions like “What About the Protection of Third Party Innocents?”, “What Would You Do if Someone Were Attacking a Loved One?”and “Must Christians Reject Police Force?” fall into the first category. In the second category are questions like “What About War and Violence in the Old Testament?” “What About Romans 13?”, “What About the Centurion?” and “What About the Warrior Jesus in Revelation 19?” The editors have done a service for the church by having these varied questions addressed in one volume.
Not surprisingly, there is an unevenness in both style and depth of content in this collection. At times I found myself wondering who the audience was. Still most of the authors found a happy medium, providing both substantial content and accessibility.
As the editors say in their introduction, “what is central [in this book] is the conviction that through the life and teachings of Jesus, God has called us to live a life that offers an alternative to that of a violent, vengeful, and hate-filled world. We are called to embody a different kind of ethic, one predicted on the life, death and resurrection of the Jewish Messiah who demanded of us the unusual and different way of dealing with our enemies by loving them” (p. 9). The essays in this volume address not only the need to love enemies but the need to be actively concerned for the potential victims of our enemies and to answer objections to the kind of love from our non-pacifist Christian friends.
The authors are of one mind in their commitment to pacifism as an indispensable expression of discipleship. They are united in resisting any temptation to promote nonviolence as a means to an end, a method that can be measured by its effectiveness in accomplishing good ends we may desire. This is not to say that they are disinterested in consequences. However, they realize that a concern for consequences must never become a reason for discarding pacifism. To turn from utter nonviolence is to refuse to embody the gospel of Jesus.
The authors recognize that nonviolence as a strategy of social change has its limits. There are circumstances where nonviolence doesn’t work. But in those circumstances the alternative is not to embrace the practices of violence. Rather the alternative is to accept suffering and death, trusting in the God who raised Jesus from the tomb with the outcome. Cautioning against naïve optimism about nonviolence as a method, Robert Brimlow writes, “Jesus does not promise us that we will be successful; quite the contrary, he argues against our expectation of success throughout the gospel” (p. 57). It is not the circumstances in which we find ourselves but the character of Jesus that determine our actions. “If Jesus is who we say he is then our practices and habits must reflect this reality. It is on this point that I find the practice of nonviolence to be nonnegotiable,” writes Tripp York in the conclusion of the book.
This fine collection deserves to find a wide readership. The authors take seriously the questions asked by the critics of Christian pacifism. I hope that those same critics will give an honest hearing to these thoughtful responses.