Ted Grimsrud

Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category

Pacifism, God, and the punishment of children

In Justice, Pacifism, Restorative justice, Salvation, Theology, Uncategorized on May 17, 2014 at 10:05 am

Ted Grimsrud—May 18, 2014

[This paper originated as a presentation at the conference, “Mennonites and the Family,” at Goshen College in October 1999. It has been published in Ted Grimsrud, Embodying Peace: Collected Pacifist Writings, Volume 4: Historical and Ethical Essays (Harrisonburg, VA: Peace Theology Books]

What difference does it make to assert that nothing is as important for our theology as pacifism (i.e., the cluster of values which include love, peace, shalom, wholeness, kindness, mercy, restorative justice, nonviolence, and compassion)?

I propose that one difference pacifism makes (or should make) is to cause pacifists to look critically at all justifications for violence – and to question all theological underpinnings for such justifications. In this essay, I will focus critically on one case – theological underpinnings that help justify acting violently toward children (what is commonly called corporal punishment).

I want to discuss six points concerning the theological problem of the justification of violence against children.

(1) Human beings tend to be reluctant to act violently toward other human beings. We usually require some kind of rationale to justify such violence. We must believe some value is more important than nonviolence. For Christians, this value or conviction is usually expressed in terms of “God’s will.”

(2) A theological framework, that I will call “the logic of retribution”, underlies the rationale for the use of violence against children. In “the logic of retribution,” God is understood most fundamentally in terms of impersonal, inflexible holiness. God’s law is seen to be the unchanging standard by which sin is measured. Human beings are inherently sinful. God’s response to sin is punitive. Jesus’ death on the cross is necessary as a sacrifice to provide the only basis for sinful human beings escaping their deserved punishment.

(3) Consistent pacifists must raise theological concerns here. When God is understood, as with the logic of retribution, primarily in terms of impersonal holiness, legal requirements, and strict, vengeful justice, the biblical picture of God as relational, compassionate, and responsive is distorted.

(4) Not only is it justified according to problematic theological assumptions, corporal punishment also has problematic practical consequences. It may well intensify the dynamic of responding to violence with violence, actually educating young people into the practice of using violence. It may also contribute to a stunted experience of life for its recipients.

(5) Given that all theology is humanly constructed, we may (and must) reconstruct our understanding of God in order to foster consistently pacifist theology and practice.

(6) Foundational for such a theological reconstruction, the Bible may be read as providing bases for a “logic of restoration.” According to the logic of restoration, God’s holiness is personal, flexible, dynamic, and relational. God’s justice is concerned with restoring relationships and community wholeness, not with punishment, vengeance, and balancing the impersonal scales of an eye for an eye. God’s mercy is unconditional, not dependent upon human beings in any sense earning it. Read the rest of this entry »

New Book!

In Biblical theology, Jesus, Pacifism, Restorative justice, Salvation on April 23, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Instead cover

Ted Grimsrud. Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Wholeness. Cascade Books, 2013. x + 270pp.

For more on this book, including purchasing information, follow this link.

How to Read Revelation

In Biblical theology, Eschatology, Pacifism, Revelation, Salvation, Theology on November 25, 2012 at 3:57 pm

[This is the eleventh in a series of sermons in interpreting America in the 21st century in light of the Book of Revelation. The series will continue, monthly for about two years.]

Ted Grimsrud

Shalom Mennonite Congregation—November 25, 2012—Revelation 14:1-20

Last weekend, Kathleen and I had the privilege of once again attending the massive annual convention of over 10,000 religion scholars in Chicago, the joint meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. As always, we had a great time and had our thinking quite stimulated.

Several sessions raised a big question for me—in our quest for peace on earth, for the healing of our brokenness—is the Bible our friend or is it mainly a problem? We heard presentations that pointed in each of these directions. A session on the book of Revelation, though, was pretty clear. The presenters, what I would call “cultured despisers of Revelation,” presented the book in its worst possible light. As you can imagine, I wasn’t pleased.

A “jiu jitsu” approach to the Bible

This is what I think, though. In our all-too-violent world, and in our-all-too-violent Christian religion, we can’t afford to squander this amazing resource for peace—the Bible in general and the book of Revelation in particular. We who seek to be peacemakers, instead of a superficial dismissal of unsettling texts, should wrestle with them, wrestle until (like Jacob of old) we get blessings from them. And there are blessings to be had. We should take what I call a “jiu jitsu” approach to biblical interpretation. Jiu jitsu is a form of martial arts. “Jiu” means “gentle, flexible, or yielding.” “Jitsu” means “technique.” So, “jiu jitsu” is a gentle technique of self-defense that uses the opponent’s force against itself rather than confronting it with one’s own force.

So, I suggest we let the difficult, seemingly “pro-violence,” texts of the Bible swing away at us, but step inside the punches and use those very texts as part of our peacemaking repertoire. Today, I want to give an example of how to read Revelation in this way by taking on one of the more troubling passages in the book, chapter 14. Read the rest of this entry »

Salvation project completed (or, is it, abandoned?)

In Biblical theology, Jesus, Revelation, Salvation on August 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Ted Grimsrud

The project on the Bible’s salvation story that I have been working on for some time has come to its conclusion (at least for the time being). I submitted a manuscript in early August, 2012, to Cascade Books. The book is under contract and hopefully will be published some time during the summer of 2013.

The book will be called Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Wholeness. I do challenge traditional atonement theology, in large part for the sake of advocating for Christian peace theology. The main focus of the book, though, is on the biblical narrative itself. I try to establish that the Bible as a whole follows a logic of mercy rather than the logic of retribution implied in mainstream atonement theology. I will leave it to a sequel to address the history of atonement theology in the post-biblical epoch and speak to the diversity among the atonement models. Read the rest of this entry »

The Christian Alternative to Vengeance

In Justice, Pacifism, Restorative justice, Salvation, Theology on June 19, 2012 at 10:45 am

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #E.3

[Presented at Theologica Pacis conference, Akron, PA, January 2007]

The faith community is central to biblical religion.  In the Bible, from the start (the calling of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12 to bring forth a community meant to bless all the families of the earth) to the end (the vision in Revelation 21–22 of the churches witness leading to the healing of the nations), this community has the vocation not simply to serve its own interests but to serve the interests of all the families of the earth.

I have written a little book reflecting on this vocation as a central theme of the Bible as a whole, suggesting what I call “God’s healing strategy” as a narrative key for interpreting the overall message of the Bible.[1]  The “strategy” is simply that God has called together a faith community to know God’s healing love in its common life and to witness to that healing love in a way the serves to bless all the families of the earth, that brings healing to the nations.

This motif recognizes the need the human family has for healing.  We hurt each other.  We violate each others’ dignity, sometimes in terribly destructive ways.  A key aspect of the healing motif then may be seen as the issue of how to we respond to the inevitable harm we do to each other in ways that does not add to the harm.  Based on the Bible’s core message, the community of faith is central in the effort to respond redemptively to harm.  And a key part of redemptive responses, of course, is forgiveness.

When Michael Hardin asked me to prepare a discussion paper for this conference that would discuss the theme of “how the church might look if it was grounded not in victimage but in forgiveness,” I said sure, that I would be happy to since I was in the midst of teaching a course at Eastern Mennonite University I called “Topics in Theology: Vengeance and God.”  I figured I could draw on materials from that class.  This was a new class for me and back in mid-September when Michael contacted me, I wasn’t quite sure where the class would go.

As it turned out, the class pretty much did go the direction I hoped it would – concluding with a lively discussion on forgiveness and the centrality of the church in the embodiment of forgiveness as the ultimate Christian response to harm-doing.

Forgiveness may most usefully be understood not simply as pardon, a letting of wrongdoers off the hook, so much as a way of life, a set of practices, that brings an end to the cycle of enmity but also effects transformation in the wrongdoer, the survivors of the wrongdoing, and the broader community that is effected by the wrongdoing.

When we look at the dynamics loosed by the manifold violations of human dignity in our world today, we may easily recognize how crucial reflection on and, much more importantly, putting into practice forgiveness has become.  Much more common, it would seem, that seeking to break the cycle of harm triggered by violating acts, human beings tend to heighten the cycle with the “automatic” (?) quest for vengeance.  From the perspective of the Bible and its account of God’s healing strategy, we may want to claim, as Christians, that our tradition offers powerful resources for freeing human beings from the spiral of violence.  As we should.  But, of course, Christianity has, as Michael’s wording in his request implies, all too often embodied vengeful, violent dynamics more than healing, forgiving dynamics. Read the rest of this entry »

What does Jesus’ death mean?

In Biblical theology, Jesus, Pacifism, Revelation, Romans, Salvation, Theology on June 5, 2012 at 8:23 am

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.5

[Published in Willard M. Swartley, ed. Violence Renounced: René Girard, Biblical Studies, and Peacemaking (Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing House, 2000), 49-69.]

There is a paradox with the human religious experience.  On the one hand, religion is a main (perhaps the main) dynamic in death-dealing violence in the world.  On the other hand, religious faith also often provides the main basis for the fruitful rejection of death-dealing violence.

We certainly see religion as a main dynamic in death-dealing violence in generation after generation of “holy” wars—the Crusades, the Thirty Years War between Protestants and Catholics in the seventeenth century, the conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in newly liberated India in the 1940s, conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and the ongoing hostilities in the Middle East among Muslims and Jews.

Most pre-meditated death-dealing violence requires some sort of fueling ideology which justifies humans taking other humans’ lives.  Often this ideology has a clear religious element; what is claimed to be a divinely sanctioned rationale for coercion, even the taking of human life.

At the same time, religious faith is also one of the keys for people finding the way toward somehow breaking this spiral of violence.  For many people religious faith affirms that that which is beautiful and worthwhile about the human project comes from God—the merciful and loving creator who desires human flourishing and wellbeing, and who grieves at the costly spiral of violence.  The heart of many people’s religious faith moves them at their deepest being to care passionately about finding a way out of this spiral of violence.

For many people, Christianity claims that we have in Jesus a model of a human way of living that breaks free from the spiral of violence.  Jesus models—in life and in teaching—a way toward genuine peace.  Therefore, despite the bloody hands apparent throughout the history of Christianity, many people believe one of our main sources of hope remains the story of Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »

Violence as a theological problem

In Current Events, Justice, Pacifism, Politics, Restorative justice, Salvation, Theology on May 29, 2012 at 10:04 am

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #D.2

[Published in Justice Reflections, Issue 10, #70 (December 2005), 1-25.]

We live in a world where all too many people “purposefully contribute to the harm of another human being, either by action or inaction” (my working definition of violence).  In such a world, an unavoidable moral question arises, how do we respond to violence, how do we respond to evil?

Despite widespread occurrences of inter-human violence, the case may be made that most human beings tend to want to avoid lethal violence toward other human beings. If this were not true, the human race could never have survived to evolve to the point it has. In human experience people need some overriding reason to go against the tendency to avoid lethal violence.  To act violently, especially to kill other human beings, is serious business, undertaken because some other value or commitment overrides the tendency not to be violent.

Almost all violence emerges with a rationale that justifies its use. Psychiatrist James Gilligan, who worked in the criminal justice system for many years, argues, based on his extensive work with extremely violent offenders, that even the most seemingly pointless acts of violence usually nonetheless have some justification in the mind of the perpetrator.[1]

Other more obviously rational uses of violence (for example, warfare, capital punishment, corporal punishment of children) generally follow a fairly self-conscious logic. At the core of this “logic” rests a commitment to the necessity of retribution. When the moral order is violated by wrongdoing, “justice” requires retribution (that is, repayment of violence with violence, pain with pain).

The legitimacy of retribution is widely accepted in the United States.  Where does this commitment to retribution come from? One key source is Christian theology, the belief that retribution is God’s will, or that the need for retribution stems from the nature of the universe.   That the nature of the universe requires retribution is a part of what most Western Christians believe, leading to strong support for retribution (that is, for justifying violence as the appropriate response to violence). Read the rest of this entry »

Sketching a Contemporary Anabaptist Theology

In Anabaptism, Jesus, Mennonites, Salvation, Theology on August 12, 2011 at 9:44 am

Ted Grimsrud—Presented at the London Mennonite Forum, September 2009[1]

Theology is important, and it’s human work. The best theology, I believe, motivates and guides peacemaking. In my essay, “Contemporary Theology in Light of Anabaptism,” I propose that theology in light of Anabaptism should be “practice-oriented” more than “doctrine-oriented.”  I suggest that such a focus will distinguish Anabaptist theology from mainstream ecumenical and evangelical theologies—especially when it is Jesus-centered, pacifist theology.  In this sequel, I will flesh out a bit the kind of theology I have in mind.

Theology and Our Hierarchy of Values

I believe that our “theology” is made up of the convictions that matter the most to us.  We each have a hierarchy of values.  At the very top of this hierarchy is our god, or gods.  The term “theology” literally means “the study of God (theos).”  To understand the actual theology we live by, we should ask first of all how we order our lives.  What in practice are the priorities in our lives that reflect what we truly accept as ultimate?  These priorities tell us a lot about what our actual god or gods are.

Think back to your earliest memories. What did you value? What would you have said about what was most important in your life?  How we answer these questions reveals a great deal about what we could call our “embedded” theology.[2]  This theology did not come to us through our own choices.  It was given to us; we inherited it.  Then, when we face the world as bigger, when we suffer, when we face questions that shake us up, when we are asked by someone else what we believe and why, we will be pushed to move from embedded to “deliberative” theology.  Then we think and apply and expand and understand and articulate.  Read the rest of this entry »

What does Jesus’ resurrection mean?

In Biblical theology, Jesus, Pacifism, Salvation, Theology on May 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm

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?

In Biblical theology, Eschatology, Pacifism, Revelation, Salvation, Theology on May 5, 2011 at 12:19 pm

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.