A History of (non)Violence

A popular – and controversial – pastor started a minor firestorm online this week when, after his Sunday sermon on the 6th Commandment tweeted and then blogged about the fact that when the bible says; “Don’t Murder!” that doesn’t include a number of “just” methods of killing people.

… and so …

This post will be a strange one because I am going to try to limit my personal opinions – although I definitely have them (and they are very strong – the fact our family has chosen to fellowship/align with a Mennonite Brethren church within the anabaptist tradition should tell you everything you need to know about my thoughts on the matter). Despite that, naturally the things I present here will align with my personal convictions.

Instead of spending all my time on my own thoughts (I’ll share a few at the end), I am going to present some resources I have found helpful in learning more about the history of non-violence. My goal is simply to provoke some thoughts and questions in your mind about how Christian’s should be living their lives in the world …

It all started with a “tweet”:

This was followed up with a blog post, which can be found here, and you can watch the entire sermon from which this was taken here (* I have not watched the entire sermon)


Now, for me nonviolence is one of the core “ethics” by which I believe Christians should live … and so, I wanted to present some recent rebuttals as well as other resources that pre-date this recent skirmish:

1. Brian Zahnd – You’re Not a Pacifist Are You?

2. Preston Sprinkle – Driscoll’s DeJesus Uncrossed; Sprinkle has also written a great book on the subject, which you can download free this week at BookShout

3. Halden Doerge – A One-Two Punch on Non-Violence

4. A Teaching Series I listened to in 2007 titled “Calling All Peacemakers”

a) Week 1 – The Myth of Redemptive Violence

b) Week 2 – The Questions of a Kingdom

c) Week 3 – A Brief History of Non-Violence

5. For the book lovers among us, check out “Fight”, mentioned above, or the “go-to” source in this field; “The Politics of Jesus” by John Howard Yoder

6. (Edit – added; I was waiting for this one to weigh in) Greg Boyd – Responding to Driscoll’s ‘Is God a Pacifist?’ Part 1 (look for the other 2 parts soon)

7. (Edit – added; I can’t believe I forgot to include/mention) Read anything Shane Claiborne has ever written. Here’s one – The Myth of Redemptive Violence (in the article, he also recommends a publication I have not yet read – Conspire)


There is much more I could post – and if you’re interested, please ask – but the main thing I want to do is help start some questions about whether or not violence can ever be considered a “kingdom” response.

I’ll end with some personal thoughts and questions:

  • To me the thinking that violence could ever be an appropriate response skips over the entire gospels, where Jesus clearly tells his followers to “love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you”, misses the point of the Sermon on the Mount and ignores Jesus’ statement that “all who take the sword will die by the sword” and made sure Peter understood that the kingdom would not be ushered in by force. Is there anything in the four gospels that suggests violence in any form should be supported?
  • The belief that God ever “inspires” or “sponsors” violence seems to be driven by what I would call a mis-reading of both the Old Testament and Revelation. To get a better understanding of how that works in the OT, well that would take an entire “book” (which it just so happens I have written) that is too complex to get into here. To get to how that works in Revelation, some of the links above address this but to be succinct, it is all in how you interpret Revelation as a genre … do you read it literally or take the genre (apocalypse) seriously? Isn’t the type of literature being used to convey God’s message important when we try to figure out what it means?
  • My biggest issue with a literal reading of Revelation is that it belittles the work of the cross – it suggests the battle has not actually yet been won and that in order for the kingdom to finally appear in full, God needs to wage war … something he was not willing to do before when he claimed the battle was actually finished. Does it not seem more likely that Revelation is giving a heavenly perspective of what ALREADY HAPPENED on the cross? (At least think about it and read a bit more about it from people much more well-spoken than myself). Yes there are obviously things that speak to a future, but how literal is this? (Read more about the genre, the cultural and historical setting, and more – many people believe what is written had to do with Rome).
  • I am not the expert on this subject, but there are many debated ways to read Revelation that do not envision Jesus returning like a vengeful super-hero to finally and at last destroy everyone who opposed him the first time.

And with that … could you at least think about it? Is violence something that can ever be said to have a place in the kingdom of God?


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