During the Spring of 2012, I have had the challenge of writings a series of (very) short Bible study reflections for the Mennonite World Review (which was Mennonite Weekly Review when my series of articles began in February).
This has been an excellent discipline. I have written these kinds of reflections for MWR several times before, and I always enjoy doing so—not least because I am often asked to write about texts I am unfamiliar with.
For some time, I have wanted to look more closely at John’s Gospel. I have tended to focus on the other gospels much more (including a recent series of thirteen sermons on the Gospel of Luke). John is a bit different, to say the least. Continue reading
What are we doing when we “do theology”? In this essay, “What is Theology?” I argue that our theology has to do with the things in life that we value most. Christian theology should share the hierarchy of values that Jesus embodied–most clearly stated in his call to love God and neighbor. This essay is the first in a series that examines core Christian doctrines, consistently asking what shape they should take if they are articulated in light of Jesus.
Christian pacifists generally focus much of our explanatory energy on Jesus’ life and teaching, as we should. However, we should also be attentive to the relevance of New Testament portrayals of Jesus’ death for our pacifist convictions. This essay, “Christian Pacifism and New Testament Understandings of Jesus’ Death,” which is from my book-in-process, Pacifism with Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case, suggests that one key lesson from the New Testament is that Jesus’ death exposes the tendencies of three central human structures (religious institutions [the temple], cultural ordering systems [the law], and political structures [the empire]) to fuel the spiral of violence–hence, rendering themselves unworthy of our trust. These structures proved themselves to be God’s rivals, not God’s servants. Recognizing this should help human beings give their ultimate trust to God’s peaceable way, not to the violent ways of these Powers.
If we understand Jesus to have proclaimed a socially relevant message–including a call to peacemaking and nonviolence, we need to be attentive to his social context and how he responded to it. This essay, “Jesus’ Confrontation With Empire.”, is a chapter in my book-in-progress, Pacifism With Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case. One argument I make here is that Jesus is in full continuity with much in the Old Testament that expressed strong antipathy toward the world’s great empires and understood the community of the promise to be called to offer the world a social alternative to empire as a way of life.
For Christian pacifism, as I understand it, Jesus provides our basis with his life, teaching, and identity as God’s Son. A core chapter, then, in my book-in-process, Pacifism With Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case, focuses on Jesus. This chapter, “Pacifism and the Story of Jesus,” essentially summarizes the argument of the great Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder, in his classic book The Politics of Jesus.
I believe that Christian pacifism ultimately rests on our understanding of God. As Jesus taught, when we love our enemies we are “children of our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). An important aspect of our understanding of God is how we view that salvation that God offers. In this chapter, “Salvation in the Prophets, Salvation in Jesus: Mercy Not Retribution,” which is from my book-in-progress, Pacifism With Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case, I look at biblical understandings of salvation. I argue for a strong continuity among the teachings of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus–all agreeing that God’s mercy lies at the heart of salvation, not retribution.