Monday, July 10, 2006

Scott McKnight and John Howard Yoder on Christian Pacificism

As I was writing out some thoughts on praying for peace, I came across an interesting conversation.

On November 22, 2005, Scott McKnight published a "slightly-adapted set of questions [he] used for a discussion [on Christian pacificism] with two others at Willow Creek Community Church’s TruthQuest event last spring. [His] responsibility was to take the pacifist side. [He]took the tack of asking questions, and he include[s] here the outline [he] used that night. Some of the questions are more penetrating than others, but together they ask (for [him]) the right questions." As McKnight notes, " This is an outline, not a full discussion. In light of my last post on the Sermon on the Mount, I thought it might be time to put this issue on the table. "

After I get my thoughts together--at least a little bit--I'll post them as some comments to Mason's thoughtful posting which I read this morning. By the way, John Howard Yoder, who died several years ago, wrote The Politics of Jesus, a most interesting book that I started to read but forgot to bring to Georgia. Here's what one reader said about it:

If I had only one work of twentieth-century theology to read, this would be it (with apologies to everyone from Barth to Brueggemann to Bonhoeffer). In the aftermath of September 11, pacifism has been reviled in the public secular discourse like never before. Most Christian leaders from across the theological spectrum have endorsed one form or another of the "Just War Theory" of Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin.

No one makes the case for the radical, total non-violence of the Christian message better than John Howard Yoder. Though he wrote many books after this one, this is by far the best place to start. Yoder's familiarity with Scripture is magisterial, and the gentle yet firm way he responds to his Catholic and Reformed critics is convincing and exciting. Most timely of all, he devotes an entire chapter to deconstructing traditional Christian interpretations of Romans 13:1-7, the passages most often cited by just war theorists to defend the use of violence by the state. Anyone who believes it is possible for a Christian to bear arms and follow Christ must respond to Yoder's analysis.

Though Yoder was a Mennonite (and though I am an Episcopalian by affiliation, I am an anabaptist in my heart), his work is catholic, orthodox, and accessible to all Christians. Yoder's death in 1997 marked the passing of the man whom I believe may well be regarded as the most important theologian of our time. As even good Christians "rally round the flag" and join in the cries for "just war" and "retributive justice", Yoder's work has never been more important as a vital theological corrective.

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