Monthly Archives: May 2011

Brand New Book!

Compassionate Eschatology: The Future as Friend has just been released by Cascade Books. This collection of essays, edited by Ted Grimsrud and Michael Hardin, shows how beliefs about the “end times” may actually be the building blocks for peaceable living instead of fear and retributive violence.

Prominent writers such as Walter Wink, Barbara Rossing, Richard Bauckham, J. Denny Weaver, and Jürgen Moltmann explore biblical, theological, and cultural themes, offering critiques of “end times” beliefs that underwrite violence and presenting alternative, peace-0riented perspectives.

As the book has not yet officially been published, it is not yet available through online retailers such as Amazon (but it will be soon). A home page has been established by the publisher and the book may be purchased at this site.

The first essay in the book, “Biblical Apocalyptic: What is Being Revealed?” by co-editor Grimsrud, sets the tone for what follows. Grimsrud suggests that standard understandings of biblical apocalyptic by both the future-prophetic doomsdayers and many contemporary academic interpreters actually agree in linking apocalyptic visions with violence and end-times catastrophes. However, a careful look at the way the Bible itself uses the motif of “apocalyptic” (or, “revelation”) shows that biblical apocalyptic is actually thoroughly peace-oriented.

If we start with the book of Revelation, we see that what is “revealed” is the way of Jesus—”victory” through persevering love and the sustenance of counter-cultural peace-oriented communities of resistance to the way of the Beast (that is, the way of Empire). In light of the message of Revelation, we may then read the rest of the Bible as reinforcing this notion of “apocalypse” as a call to the “Lamb’s War” to be fought with the “weapons” of compassion, forgiveness, and mutuality.

What does Jesus’ resurrection mean?

When we think carefully about the New Testament story of Jesus’ resurrection and its role in Christian theology, we may well find ourselves considering a lot of questions. The one I focus on in my May 15, 2011, sermon (called “Resurrection Questions”) is quite simple: What does Jesus’ resurrection mean?

I suggest that questions of historicity are not the most important or useful. Rather, the bigger issues concern how Jesus’ resurrection relates to his life and teaching. And linked with that connection, we face the challenging question of what Jesus’ resurrection tells us about God’s power (and ours).

This sermon is the 14th in a series on Jesus’ life and teaching. The concluding sermon will return to the question that began the series—”Why do we pay attention to Jesus?”

What is the book of Revelation really about?

I am gearing up for a new “assault” on the book of Revelation in a few months. I plan to preach a lengthy series of sermons that I hope can evolve into a book. This time, more than when I have worked with Revelation in the past, I will focus in our present-day context as we read Revelation. I actually do believe Revelation speaks to our world in profoundly urgent and relevant ways—though not at all in the ways writers like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye think.

So I have gone back to look at some of the earlier writing I did on Revelation. I found this series of four sermons from 1996 particularly interesting. This series came near the end of my two-year stint as co-pastor with my wife Kathleen at Salem Mennonite Church in Freeman, SD. Several people had been encouraging me to do something on Revelation before we left. So I tried to boil down in four sermons what I thought was most important about Revelation.

When I return to Revelation this fall, my take on what the book is really about will probably be a bit different, at least in emphasis, than it was 15 years ago. But in rereading those old sermons, I feel pretty good. Which is why I am posting them here. I show how one might read Revelation as a source of ethical and spiritual encouragement.

I was interested to discover that in the midst of my series, I had to find a way to relate Revelation to baptism, as we baptized three teenagers the Sunday of my third sermon. I don’t know how many baptism sermons draw directly on Revelation, but I am pretty happy with how I linked baptism with the critique of Babylon in Revelation 18.

“Romans 13 supports pacifism!” and other recent reflections

For my blog writing on May 8 at, I addressed the issue of how Romans 13 actually might be read as supporting pacifism—instead of serving as the main anti-pacifism prooftext.

I faced Easter this year with a questioning spirit, I’m afraid. So I wrote a blog post about it: “Resurrection ‘Faith’?” I posted that piece at

The previous week I wrote on some issues related to the role of the American military in “peacebuilding” activities—and whether “military peacebuilding” might not actually be an oxymoron. The post is called “Can the Military Do Peace?”

On April 10, I rekindled my long-standing interest in the Book of Revelation, an interest that does not seem to be diminishing. Like all great literature, Revelation yields new insights the more it is read and considered. I have just posted reflections on Revelation under the title, “The Book of Revelation and the End of Christianity.”

These are some other recent posts: April 3, 2011— “What’s really at stake in the debate about universalism?” I argue that the most important issue is not about whether everyone goes to heaven after they die (or not), but is actually something else.

Please note that it is very easy to start an email subscription to the blog posts—just use the email subscription link on the top right of any Thinking Pacifism page.

The two prior blog posts were: “Why did Jesus die?” (March 28) and “What do you do with those who ask what to do about a bully?” (March 20).

My March 13 blog was called “Pacifism and the Civil Rights Movement.” On March 6, I put up another post outlining an article I hope to write where I  critique the “just war theory” in light of World War II. My previous entry was an essay on Dietrich Bonhoeffer as interpreted by Mark Thiessen Nation.

My February 20 blog entry reflects on World War II’s moral legacy. In my post, “World War II and America’s Soul: Christian Reflections,” I respond to a pro-World War II editorial in The Christian Century. I argue ultimately that if we place our priority on the preciousness of life we will recognize why we can’t affirm that war. On January 21, I posted “How Should a Pacifist View World War II?”, where I reflect on the ways that just war reasoning can be helpful even for pacifists in thinking about the War.

Peace Theology continues to serve as a repository of my more formal writing.

A case study in the “gay issue” and Mennonite “church discipline”

Even though Mennonite communities in North America have been engaged in debates and controversies over the “gay issue” for decades, little careful historical writing has yet been done on these controversies. I am sure there are writings I am not aware of, but most of what has been published so far has been limited to first person accounts (as collected in Roberta Krieder’s excellent books), more generalized sociological and/or rhetorical studies (such as works by Michael King and Gerald Mast), and a few short historical overviews (such as Lin Garber’s article in the book edited by Norman Kraus, To Continue the Dialogue).

We now have a very specific but quite illuminating, carefully researched and clearly written study of one case of conference discipline of a dissident pastor. Kelly Miller, a 2011 graduate in history from Goshen College, has written her senior thesis on Kathleen Temple, the former pastor of Shalom Mennonite Congregation in Harrisonburg, Virginia. [Full disclosure: Kathleen is my wife; I figure tangentially in the story Kelly tells.]

Miller’s paper is called, “Behind Mennonite Same-Sex Sexuality Debates: Kathleen Temple and Virginia Mennonite Conference, 1998-2002.” It may be read here.

Certainly, Miller’s lengthy paper (it’s 53-pages printed out) is of great interest for those of us directly involved in the events that ended with Temple’s loss of ministerial credentials. However, it’s importance also lies in providing a careful look at how “church discipline” worked in this one case and the problematic consequences of the actions taken by Virginia Conference. Miller quite helpfully provides us with concrete, on-the-ground, information that can contribute to growth in our understanding of how these controversies have worked out in actual history with actual people.