For some time, there has been major buzz in the blogs and Twitter about pacifist re-readings of theology and biblical texts. This “new pacifism”, as it is being dubbed, is not merely a rehashing of older arguments for non-violence (which was primarily based upon the example of Jesus in the Gospels) but takes on the harder texts of scripture, such as the OT portrayals of God as the warrior God who annihilated whole tribes and the image of God in Revelation as the one who will cover the earth in the blood of his enemies.
For one, I am not inherently opposed to pacifist readings of Scripture. As a high schooler, I was both enthralled and disturbed by Leo Tolstoy’s work The Kingdom of God is Within You. His ideal of one who would never return blow for blow even if that meant the death of a loved one made me wrestle with the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ unique call to a righteousness “greater than the Pharisees”. Over time, I came to a more moderate understanding of the role of violence, namely, that it is only used to protect the innocent and punish the guilty (I am thinking specifically of Paul’s argument in Romans 13). However, based upon new works such as Preston Sprinkle’s Fight, I am again forced to reconsider the argument for non-violence. I do want to offer a few warnings for those who are attempting to interpret the Scriptures through this lens:
(1) Remember that the whole Bible has to be taken into account for this to work. Unlike older methods which pitted Paul and Moses against Jesus, a consistent, non-violent hermeneutic will seek to unify the teaching of Scripture instead of dividing it.
(2) At the expense of jettisoning the clear meaning of Scripture, do not fit “a square peg into a round hole.” This happens more often then not when it comes to various readings of Scripture (whether it be Marxist, deep ecology, feminist, Calvinist, etc.) A sustained, non-violent reading of Scripture will stop speaking when it has said all that it can say.
That said, I look forward to continue to read New Pacifist readings of Scripture. “Dogmatics is the self-examination of the Christian Church in respect of the content of its distinctive talk about God.” (Barth, CD I/I, 11) May we continually reevaluate our God-talk to be in conformity with Who He is.