Sunday, January 03, 2016

Swami Jesus

I wasn't planning to do another post on pacifism, but a friend drew my attention to this:

Furthermore, in addition to being both divine and human, he is also the most truly human person who has ever lived (Col. 1:15)

The most "truly human" person? What does that even mean? And how does Col 1:15 establish that claim?

and the definitive revelation of who God is and what God is like 

Does that mean the OT representation of God is unreliable? Keep in mind that OT theism stands in studied contrast to ANE paganism. Among other things, God's self-revelation in the OT is a corrective to false worship, to false concepts of God. So God really is like that–even if that's incomplete. 

Jesus, true God and true man, lived nonviolently (Matt. 26:51-53; Mark 15:16-20; Luke 23:34) and directed his followers to replicate his example, rebuking them when they failed to do so (Matt. 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-36; 9:51-56; 22:47-51).

i) The reference to the Sermon on the Mount presumes that's about assault and battery rather than slighted honor. 

ii) The reference to the arrest of Jesus is ridiculous. Naturally it would be inappropriate to prevent Jesus from going to the Cross. That's why he came here in the first place. But that's hardly a universal paradigm.

There is no intervening material that might persuaded us to live otherwise than how Jesus directed his first disciples. 

Sure there is. Loving enemies is not the only NT command. Take the filial duty to provide financial support for indigent parents (Mt 15; Mk 7). If grown children have the lesser obligation to keep aging parents fed and sheltered, surely that entails the greater obligation to spare them from physical harm. In both cases it's a question of physical wellbeing. 

Or take Christ's analogy between Christians and children (Mt 18). That builds on the natural instinct to protect the young. Surely he doesn't mean we only have a duty to protect Christians rather than children. Rather, protecting believers from harm is an extension of our natural duty towards the young. And Jesus has taught us to use a fortiori reasoning (e.g. Lk 13:10-17; Jn 7:21-24). 

In fact, the early church (include the ante-Nicene fathers) was uniformly nonviolent in its convictions. (Acts of the Apostles; Rom 12:9-21; Eph. 6:10-20; Didache 1:2-4; see Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Marcellus, Cyprian, Martin, et al).

There's a difference between nonviolence in practice and nonviolence in conviction. You can be nonviolent because it would be imprudent to be violent in a particular situation, and not because you are opposed to violence in principle. 

The answer, like the argument, is also simple. A semi-automatic firearm is a not a way of conforming to the cross. 

Taking a shower is no way of conforming to the cross. 

You cannot love your enemies and kill them at the same time. 

i) I think that's often the case. But by the same token, you can't love your neighbor and refuse to defend them at the same time. So his appeal cuts both ways.

ii) It also depends on what he means by "love". Is he defining "love" in attitudinal or behavior terms? In principle, I can shoot someone for whom I have no personal animus. 

Like God himself, we do not wait until our enemies are nonlethal in order to love them (Rom. 5:8).

Well, that's very selective. Does God love all his enemies? Isn't Bible history and prophecy replete with examples of God raining down judgment on some of his enemies? 

On this account of things, both our neighbor and our neighbor’s enemy are each our neighbor if we love them as Christ commanded us to (which de facto excludes killing them). 

He doesn't begin to demonstrate that Scripture treats neighbors and enemies as interchangeable categories. 

Arguments to the effect that killing or war ‘may be a form of love’ are simply bizarre concessions to the NT’s teaching about enemy love. 

I tend to agree. So what? 

Christians defend the innocent, of course, but we do so peacefully—employing the example of sacrificial love provided for us in Christ. 

i) The assertion doesn't match reality. If you refuse to prevent harm to the innocent when it's within your power to do so, then you didn't save them from death or injury. 

ii) At this same time, this reveals a tension in his position. If he were honest, he'd admit that pacifism abdicates protection of the innocent. Our absolute duty to love the enemy prohibits us from safegaruding the innocent. 

But he refuses to bite the bullet. He senses the moral inadequacy of that position. Surely we have an obligation, where possible, to protect the innocent. But he has nothing to back it up.

We have no command, nor any New Testament basis, to treat Jesus’ commands concerning violence and peace the way that he, for example, treated the sabbath. 

i) That's a strange way to frame the issue. Jews had no command to treat the Sabbath the way Jesus did. 

The question is not whether one command commands us to break another command. The question, rather, is the rationale for a given command. Paradoxically, there are times when obeying a command subverts the ultimate intention of the command. If  you never take circumstances into account, you may end up defeating the purpose of the command. Many commands have an implied context.

To take a secular example, it's dangerous to drive on the wrong side of the road. That invites a head-on collision.

If, however, a hurricane is bearing down on a city, authorities may turn the road into an evacuation route. Traffic on all lanes is headed out of town. 

ii) Jesus didn't merely set aside the Sabbath command on some occasions because he had unique authority to do so. He also faulted Jews for their failure to do so. Unlike Jesus, they didn't have the personal authority to override a divine command. Yet he condemns them for failing to take the rationale into consideration. He condemns them for refusing to break a lesser command when it conflicts with a higher obligation.

iii) Moreover, the Sabbath controversies demonstrate both the possibility and reality of competing obligations. 

We are not entitled to edit his teaching according to our intuitions. 

I, for one, haven't used that argument.

What competing duty could dare compel the Christian to disobey Jesus? 

i) That's not a serious question. To begin with, Travis himself is selective about obeying Jesus. He absolutizes enemy love to the detriment of other commands.

ii) In case of conflicting duties, you don't have two simultaneous duties to obey. Rather, the higher duty temporarily supersedes the lower duty. 

Personal security is not the priority of the Christian. 

i) That's such a shallow, thoughtless statement. To begin with, the gift of life is something we should ordinarily cherish. It is disrespectful to God to disvalue life. That's why Christians oppose abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. 

ii) In addition, lives are often intertwined. Take Jeffrey Babbitt. He was the 62-year-old son and sole caregiver for his 92-year-old mother–before he was murdered. Her well being was dependent on his wellbeing. Travis doesn't make a good faith effort to consider the consequences of his slaphappy slogans.

And nothing is as gravely unjust as the arrest and execution of an innocent man. Yet, Jesus himself rebuked Peter for engaging in armed resistance over this very thing (Matt. 26:52).

That's the same willfully obtuse comparison. Obviously it would be inappropriate to interfere with the plan of salvation. 

Jesus’ death on the cross is the definitive interpretation of his teaching on enemy love. 

What makes that the "definitive" interpretation rather than this:

5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[b] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed (2 Thes 1:5-10).

Or this:

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh (Rev 19:11-21).

If anything, isn't the second advent more "definitive" than the first advent? The second advent completes unfinished business.

I'm not saying that's a model for Christians. I'm just responding to Travis on his own terms. If you're going to cast the issue in terms of what constitutes the "definitive interpretation" of how God treats his enemies, then the final installment is more definitive than an earlier phase.

It is Jesus’ life that is itself the clearest interpretation we have of his teaching. The NT material presents a comprehensive case for Christian nonviolence from the way that the Lord lived, and it his life that is the premiere and authoritative pattern for Christian discipleship today. In every concrete situation, we are obligated to live and to die the way that Jesus did. 

So Christians should forego marriage and children, like Jesus did. By the same token, since Jesus left his mother in the care of a friend, we should delegate the care of our parents to second parties. 

We are always and everywhere his disciples, and we are to integrate our lives of sacrificial love into the daily suffering of the world, renouncing its perpetual cycles of violence, and overcoming its evil with good. 

"Renouncing" cycles of violence does nothing to end cycles of violence. "Renouncing" cycles of violence doesn't overcome evil. To the contrary, that exacerbates violence when there's no check on evil. 

In fact, the Great Commission itself involves obeying the command to replicate and recapitulate the life of Jesus, and to teach others to do likewise. 

Except that Travis is myopically focused on a single command, to the exclusion of all others. 

Who will take our message of peace and reconciliation seriously without a principled refusal to instrumentalize the dehumanizing chaos of weaponry and warfare? 

Innocent suffering is dehumanizing. 

What should the world think when God commissions a community of peacemakers to arbitrate cosmic healing, yet they are as violent as the world to which they’re sent? Is this not absolutely ridiculous?

The world thinks that pantywaists like Travis are absolutely ridiculous. 

The command to love your enemy is not an abstract ethical entity, but a concrete way of life patterned after the example which the Lord provided us through his own life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ life is itself a demonstration of his command to “not resist an evil person” (Matt. 5:39). 

If Jesus is our example, then we should exact retribution on our enemies, just like Jesus will do (see above). I'm not speaking for myself–just responding to Travis on his own grounds. 

There is simply no basis for compartmentalizing Jesus’ example of nonviolence, peacemaking, and enemy-love (with the consequence that he lived a life that we are not also manifestly required to live). 

Pacifists like Travis are forced to compartmentalize the teaching of Jesus. When push comes to shove, that's the only part of Jesus' teaching they think we're required to live. 

While others might respond with an argument to the effect that Jesus’ death was unique and not normative, the NT seems to have no issue directing us to imitate the example of Jesus in every regard, including his death.

In that case we should emulate the example of Jesus by punishing our enemies (see above).

—and it does so without having to raise counterexamples to create context-specific exceptions to his commands. 

In the nature of the case, commands are typically context-specific. A command to honor your parents has a parental/filial context. A command to provide for your family has a familial context. A prohibition against illicit sex has a sexual context. Travis isn't thinking–just emoting. 

Attempts to wrest Natural Law ethics from the natural, nonviolent meaning of the enemy love antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount are simply shallow.

I haven't used that argument, myself. 

Our enemies don’t cease to be objects of our love when we or others are threatened by them. 

But if others are threatened by them, then how does he propose to love both groups? 

If we consistently employ the example of Jesus as the paradigm for Christian faithfulness, rather than argue from counterexamples down to the text, we won’t need to retreat into the Bible’s silence in order to develop a non-pacifist ethic (as many do). 

I, for one, haven't retreated into the Bible's silence. To the contrary, I've drawn attention to Biblical commands which the pacifist nullifies. My counterexamples come straight from Scripture. Usually the NT.

Jesus did not pause enemy love in order to engage in neighbor love. Neither should we. 

Jesus is omnipotent. Jesus planned the world. Even if Jesus never found himself maneuvered by circumstances beyond his control into a choice between competing duties, it hardly follows that mere creatures like you and me have the same freedom of opportunity. 

The innocent is protected and defended and the enemy is loved and reconciled in the same self-giving event: the cross. Christians do fight, they do protect, and they do defend, even aggressively, but they do so as Jesus commanded them to.

How does the cross protect a woman from being gang-raped? How does the cross protect the elderly from physical abuse? How does the cross protect a child from a schoolyard sniper or pedophile? 

There's no thought behind these slogans. No truth behind these slogans. These are empty phrases on a billboard. They sound nice, but mean nothing.

Our faithful suffering on behalf of our neighbors and our enemies serves to recapitulate the unique death of Jesus. However we protect others from an unjust death, we do so, as Jesus did, without violence. 

Travis is drunk on his own intoxicating rhetoric. What's unique can't be recapitulated; what's recapitulated can't be unique. 

The Tanakh might have accommodated Israel’s national life of violence, but it also contained a non-militarized trajectory toward a ‘perfected’ community of nonviolence (Josh 6:1-7; Ps. 20:6-9; Isa. 2:1-5; Mic. 4:1-5).

In Isa 2 & Mic 4, world peace is the result of divine arbitration, not the philosophy or lifestyle of pacifists. 

The true enemy is not the mugger, the murderer, or the maniacal fascist, for “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The true enemy operates on the visible front through human marionettes. He cannot be bested with bombs and bullets, and we serve his narrative when we succumb to his tactics.

Classic false dichotomy.

Through cruciform love we embody the imminence of the world to come, recycling its weaponry of hatred into ploughs of redemptive peace. Christians are the presence of God’s peaceful future. 

Nothing like bad poetry as a makeweight for the poverty of argument.

True Christian love is suffering love, for violence can never be said to be a form of love if love is to look like Christ. Love is too gentle, too vulnerable to be violent. It would rather die than kill. 

Travis is playacting. Swept away by gushy vacuous oratory. 

And God will always raise this kind of love from the dead. 

What does that even mean? Is it supposed to mean anything? It's like a throwback to the hippie Jesus. Swami Jesus with the Nehru jacket and love beads. 

Should bombs succeed in deconstructing the world, the church will go about her eucharistic identity in its ashes, reconstructing what was lost to bombs by offering herself up as a gift from God—a tree of life, planted at the very heart of worldly horror, in order that those ravaged by violence might taste and see that God is good, and his promised future of peace has already arrived in Jesus. 

More sophomoric poetry. Pacifism is a literary construct. String together pretty phrases on paper. 

Peacemakers exist to manifest the reign of God through faithful reconstruction of the human condition—a vocation that violence cannot upend.

Pacifists aren't peacemakers. Talking isn't doing. 


  1. It's pretty obvious the author lives a safe, comfortable, bubblegum life.

  2. Hays arguments are so bad I recon most pacifists will be tempted to leave their pacifism just for him!

    1. In which case his arguments succeeded in terms of persuasive force.

    2. How are his arguments bad?

  3. Steve, thanks for this. I've not yet seen a pacifist who has been able to establish that the guidelines for pacifism is not a new form of legalism - a new mosaic law.

    keeping things simple as this gentelemen seems to do, is a necessary strategy in order to reach the conclusion they require. As conditions change, their arguments remain simple. No doubt the pharisees had the same approach as they do when the scriptures instructed - YOU SHALL NOT DO ANY WORK!

    Funny I'm far more libearl in my theology but at least can admit I'm inconsitent in many ways. I'd like pacifists to at least admit that much as well. They're dismissal of Anninias and Saphira is a great example. They always claim God is as Jesus does. Ok so did Jesus kill Anninias? They're only retort is to hit the eject button - bail out - jump ship - drop exegesis.

    Thanks again Steve.