Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Review of "A Faith Not Worth Fighting For"

       I have not posted anything in quite a while, so I figured what better way to possibly start back than with a book review for a book I just finished. This book is titled, "A Faith Not Worth Fighting For," and it is a collection of essays dealing with difficult questions that come alone with holding a position of Christian pacifism, written by various pacifists including one of our brethren in the church of Christ. Before we get into a review of the book, I'd like to give a little bit of a set up about how I came across this book, and why I chose to read it.

          Before reading this book, I was not a pacifist. So you don't get distracted, I'm not saying I am one now or that I am not, just that before reading this book, I was not a pacifist. Growing up I had little thought of war, and after 9/11, when the set up to invade Iraq was taking place, I was in support of it, and did support that war for a good many years. Over time and study of the events that lead to the war, along with examining myself, and the act of war in general, I came to the conclusion that I could not support the Iraq war, or any other war that has spawned because of it for various reasons, but logically and religiously. That didn't mean that I was against war altogether, but in this situation, with this war and it's background, I did not feel that I could support it. Basically speaking, I was a holder and advocate for the Just-War position, believing that war should not be sought after, yet in a time after we have been attacked and needed to defend ourselves, war could possibly be justified. I could not believe that the constant, what I believe to be, war mongering done by politicians and upheld by citizens on both sides of the political spectrum was justified though, whether it be about Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Iran. I had a Christian Facebook friend who is a very strong pacifist though, and a mutual friend of his recommended this book, hoping the pacifist friend could give feed back. In seeing what this book was about, I knew I had to read it. I had been struggling with a lot of tough questions that this book promised to touch on, and the Kindle sample I read sealed the deal. I thought it might also be helpful in getting a review from, not only a pacifist who would already hold such positions, but from a non-pacifist who might be changed one way or another by reading this book, and thus I began to read.

       This book is not a book that makes a basic case for pacifism. Those involved in writing for this book assume that you are already a pacifist, or that you understand the position fairly well, and understand some of the difficulties that come along with that position. Before we get into the meat of this review, here are the chapters of the book:

Foreword -Stanley Hauerwas
Introduction: Why Refusing to Kill Matters for Christian Discipleship -Justin Bronson Barringer & Tripp York
Chapter One: Isn’t Pacifism Passive? -C. Rosalee Velloso Ewell 
Chapter Two: What About the Protection of Third-Party Innocents? On Letting Your Neighbors Die - D. Stephen Long
Chapter Three: What Would You Do If Someone was Attacking a Loved One? -Amy Laura Hall & Kara Slade
Chapter Four: What About Hitler? -Robert Brimlow
Chapter Five: Does Christian Pacifism Entail the Rejection of a Police Force? -Gerald W. Schlabach
Chapter Six: What about those men and women who gave up their lives so 
that you and I could be free? On Killing for Freedom -Justin Bronson Barringer
Chapter Seven: Does God Expect Nations to Turn the Other Cheek? -Gregory A. Boyd
Chapter Eight: What About War and Violence in the Old Testament? -Ingrid Lilly
Chapter Nine: What About Romans 13? ‘Let Every Soul Be Subject’ -Lee C. Camp
Chapter Ten: Didn’t Jesus Say He Came Not to Bring Peace, but a Sword? -Samuel Wells
Chapter Eleven: What About the Centurion? A Roman Soldier’s Faith and Christian Pacifism  -Andy Alexis-Baker
Chapter Twelve: Didn’t Jesus Overturn Tables and Chase People Out of the Temple with a Whip? -John Dear
Chapter Thirteen: What About the Warrior Jesus in Revelation 19? He Has Trampled out the Vintage -J. Nelson Kraybill
Conclusion: A Faith Worth Dying For: A Tradition of Martyrs Not Heroes -Tripp York
Afterword -Shane Claiborne

        As you can see, these are mostly topics that are very complicated, and can be very offensive depending on the answer given, and the tact used in the answer. In fact, I'm sure my review will end up being offensive to some, just noting some of the contents and conclusions of the chapters, as well as my thoughts on the book, so let's go ahead and get into it.

       Outside of the Bible, this book has been one of the most challenging books I've read in a long time. While I don't know anyone that is an outright fan of violence, and violent methods, it did help me to notice how quick many seem to be to seek violent solutions, or imagine that a violent act is the best method of dealing with an issue while still proclaiming Jesus as the Prince of Peace and Christianity as a religion of peace. Many seem just as ready to pick up a gun as they are a bomb. Many seem just as willing to drop a bomb on enemies of America as they are to drop food on the needy of the country. One note was constantly made throughout the book that Christians seem to be some of the only people that don't take Jesus' call to turn the other cheek, never seek vengeance, or bless and feed an enemy as literal, constantly trying to find situations where one can get around that call. We all seem to believe that pacifism is passive, and thus to take action, it could easily lead to violence and thus violent act is justified. The book really begins though, with proving that pacifism is not at all passive. Passiveness is not doing anything at all, yet Christian non-violence not only suggests, but demands that we stand up and take action, but that we do so in a way that doesn't result in violence. One may suggest that this wouldn't work, and might even lead to death, and I would echo the authors of this book as well as the early Christians and Jesus himself and say, "Exactly." It is shown that the early Christian, up until the time of Constantine and the acceptation of Christianity, that the early church was strongly non-violent, noting that they could not be Christians and violent, not only in times of persecution upon the church, but at any time. In fact, quite often, if one was part of the Roman army, they were expected to quit that service due to the fact that it would command them to kill their enemies, and that was not acceptable for a follower of Christ. While one could remain in the army, they would most likely soon be booted out due to their unwillingness to practice violence against any enemy. 

      The book is very honest too. Many oppose Christian pacifism because it entails sometimes that the conclusion of an event might not only lead to the death of oneself, but also to the deaths of innocent people involved. While this is a very good argument that is very emotionally charged, it is one that goes both ways. Even in acts of violence, innocents can and do get harmed and even die. Because of the fact that evil exists in the world, bad things happen, and so the main question to be asked is not about which one might produce a certain end result, but which one is more faithful to following after Jesus and the life he showed us as recorded in the scriptures? This book is open about their own struggles though as well. Many have friends and family that serve in the military, or on the police force, so how does one go about handling that in a way that isn't destructive. How can one show appreciate for those acting if one does not approve of the actions they are doing, if that can be done at all? Thankfully, these authors are willing to admit that they don't have all of the answers for all of the questions. In the chapter about Christians taking advantage of the police force, or even being part of a police force, the conclusion is more of a vague ending, noting that there isn't always a clear answer, and one must use their own conscience, a similar ending given to chapter six concerning those who give their life for the civic freedoms of this country. They are willing to admit that it isn't a clear cut position, just as is with a Just-War theory, though they still hold to the belief that a Christian should never engage in violent acts.

     One issue that I was very thankful for was addressing the issue of Romans 12 and Romans 13, that is, the role of the secular government in comparison to expectations of the Kingdom of God. This is handled primarily in chapters 4, 7, and 9. One position I've always been taught, and always held onto, was that Romans 13 was a sanction and approval for the government to use violent force when needed, and that because Christians are to be subject to the government, they can thus take part in the offices of the secular government and are thus approved to use violence in what they feel are justifiable situations, that is, for good.  It is noted though, that the end of Romans 12 could very well set up for a scenario where Paul is noting that Christians are expected to act in a certain way, never seeking vengeance, not repaying evil with evil, blessing and feeding their enemies, while Romans 13 notes that that secular governments operate in a manner entirely different from God's Kingdom, yet God can still order or arrange them, to be his tool of vengeance, that is, to accomplish good and to be a terror to those who do evil. It does not mean that God approves of their actions, but can very well providentially use them to accomplish his means. This is something we see occurring in the Old Testament through and through, were God used the Israelites to destroy nations, and even later, God used evil nations and their violent spirits, to punish Israel, only to later destroy them as well. It never meant that God approved of their violent natures, but certainly he was capable of arranging them, using them as they were, to carry out his will. As we noted though, this follows a chapter that ends with the description of the Christian life, where one seeks peace and sacrifice. Paul wrote, "
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary,“if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:17-21). 

    Now this is not all said without noting that the book does have a few problems, at least in my opinion. Some of the chapters were left wanting severely. For instance, chapter three dealt with what one would do if someone was attacking their loved one. The author barely actually dealt with that issue, gave Biblical backing or thought to her writing, or really gave any idea of what one should do. Instead it seemed almost like she used her space to write about her feelings on the powerful white-male culture in dealing with rape and race relations. To me, this chapter seemed utterly useless. Chapter eight felt like a let down in dealing with violence in the Old Testament. This was a big question for me, and still is, yet the authors solution for this issue was basically to believe that the Old Testament was a collection of stories formed later to tell of Israel's history, and so the very violent sections just didn't really happen. Instead of Joshua being true, it's said that Israel really took the Promised Land in a form shown in Judges, of basically slipping in unnoticed, and taking over bit by bit until they had it all. It seemed as if the author was basically trying to ignore the violence of the Old Testament instead of dealing with it. Finally, chapters 10-13 seemed a bit overly complex concerning the topics at hand. It felt like the solution should have been simple, but the authors needed to fill space and so they took the overly complex route to a pretty good conclusion. Certainly there was good material in there, and I learned a few new things, but the chapters could have been much shorter while being more edifying and hard hitting as well.

    To try and conclude, am I pacifist now? I don't know. I'm not any more in support of violent actions, and certainly have moved closer to a position of Christian pacifism, but I've yet to really meditate on these issues, pray to God for wisdom, and deeply search the scriptures myself for what Jesus says about such things. If you were to ask me who should read this book though, I would passionately respond with a strong, "Everyone!" Regardless of your political position, thoughts on war, thoughts on self-defense, thoughts on the army, or anything else that may involve someone having to act in a violent way, if you are a Christian, you need to read this book. Despite some of the above mentioned weaknesses, when it does hit, which is more often than not, it hits heard, and forces you to deeply examine your devotion to Jesus, your walk in following him, and how you react to situations. In the end, their conviction to stay non-violent in all situations is strengthened by the fact of the resurrection. We have no concern about what our enemies can do to us here because the end of this life, is not the end our the Christian's life. Never underestimate the power of peaceful approach, but even if it does end in death, it isn't the end of you.


  1. You could always post Jamaica pics for those of us who weren't able to go and who do not have FB..... :)

  2. I guess I won't send you all the photo CD I'm putting together for everyone since you wanted them on here =P

  3. Ooooh! You're making CD's??? Well, whichever way you do it, we would love to see what went on down there...;)

    Oh, and I would like a copy of that 2 hour and 10 minute sermon you preached too. :)

  4. When I preach one that long, I'll get you a copy =P.

  5. Too bad they didn't record your sermon in Jamaica....