Mark Douglas, Christian Pacifism for an Environmental Age (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019) viii + 269pp.
Ted Grimsrud—July 3, 2020
Mark Douglas, Professor of Christian Ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary, has written an interesting book that addresses important issues. Most of the book focuses on Christian pacifism and its history, offering a highly critical analysis of how Christian pacifists have presented their tradition. Douglas suggests that the climate crisis provides a challenging context for reconsidering Christian pacifism.
Douglas summarizes “the conventional narrative” of the history of Christian pacifism. It begins with Jesus, the New Testament and early Christians until Constantine as universally pacifist. This all changed with the first Christian emperor who oversaw the aligning of the church with imperial power and signaled the end of pacifism as a core Christian conviction. A just war ethic, especially as articulated by Augustine, replaced pacifism and “constitutes not only a change but a fall away from fidelity to a Jesus-centered ethics” (p. 3).
In much of the book that follows, Douglas uses this summary as a foil for a sharp critique of the narrative of Christian pacifism by recent pacifists (he actually only picks up, briefly near the end of the book, the theme of our current environmental crisis; the book’s title is thus misleading). He portrays the Christian pacifist narrative as being centered on that problematic construal of early Christianity—what he calls, disparagingly, the “myth of return” (pp. 7-10) where pacifists seek to recover the supposed purity of the early Christians. Continue reading