This entry is part [part not set] of 8 in the series Christians and Violence

Okay ya’ll, this is the post many of you who have been following the discussion have been waiting for. In the previous 4 posts, I’ve argued that a form of pacifism known as “non-resistance,” which says that Christians should not kill people, but they can join the military as long as they serve as non-combatants (psychologist, medical doctor, etc.). The premise behind this view is that Jesus advocated for non-violence in his life and teaching, and this was repeated by the latter New Testament writers whenever they discuss the relationship between Christians and violence (Rom 12; 1 Pet 2). But the question often comes up—and it’s come up many times in your comments thus far: What about the person who breaks into your home and tries to kill your family? You’re telling me that I just sit back and watch my family die? In other words, are there any allowances for violence by Christians as individuals?

We’ll get to that in a second, but first, please consider again the more fundamental questions: does the New Testament ever portray violence by the hands of the church in a positive light? How did Jesus say we should respond when we are mistreated? How should we treat our enemies? How does God deal with injustice and evil in the New Testament? You say, “I know, I know, you’ve already talked about that; you’re a pacifist and I’m not, and I want to see what you’re going to do when someone breaks into your home and…”

But wait.

Before we deal with hypothetical situations outside the text, we need to make sure we have a firm grasp on what the text is actually saying. Before we move on to contemporary application, we need to have a solid understanding of how God views violence through the lens of the cross of Christ. Situations regarding uncle Bob who served in Nam and was a good man who fought for our freedom must be considered after the words of the King have been considered, meditated on, and digested. If you haven’t been stunned by the radicalness of Jesus’ ethic in Matthew 5, and by Paul’s counterintuitive demands of Romans 12, and the shameful road we are to follow according to 1 Peter 2, and if you haven’t begged God for waterfalls of grace to be able to love your local rapist who is also your enemy and desperately needs Jesus just as much as you do, if you haven’t been bewildered by the outrageousness of turning the other cheek and never retaliating evil for evil—against all human logic, against all cultural norms, against our innate sense of justice—then I would dare to suggest that you have not meditated on the scandal of the cross long enough. Calvary and the Garden Tomb are the hermeneutical lenses through which followers of the slaughtered Lamb must view violence.

So before we move to hypothetical situations, I would urge you to once again consider what Jesus and the New Testament say about violence. (I’m still quite shocked when Bible believing Christians immediately dismiss Pacifism as weird and unbiblical, using only the “killer at the door” argument devoid of any scriptural backing.) As I’ve said before, the inspired Word never views the church’s relationship to violence in a positive light and oftentimes paints it in a very negative light. I’ve yet to see a convincing scriptural argument otherwise.

So what do I do when a potential killer pulls a gun on my family?

I shoot the thug, and here’s why.

Here we have a case where we are faced with two different decisions, yet both are evil. First, if I kill the killer, this is evil in light of everything I said. By killing him, I’m not loving him, I’m using preemptive violence, I’m taking the life of another man, possibly expediting his trip to hell—where we all would go, but for the grace of God. And yet, if I let him kill my family, I’m not loving my wife and kids or caring for my household. So, if I have to choose between the lesser of these two evils, I would choose the route where killing someone will actually defend and preserve the life of my family. And by doing so, I’m exposing the particular ethical framework known as “Graded Absolutism.”

Most people don’t consider it, but there are different ethical frameworks that all people operate under. Graded Absolutism (which is quite different from “Situation Ethics”) states that there are lower laws and higher laws. When a lower law conflicts with a higher law, then the Christian has a moral obligation to obey the higher law while breaking the lower law. Lying, for instance, is immoral. And yet saving a life is a higher law. And so the answer to the question: “Is it ever right to lie in order to save a life,” Graded Absolutism would say “yes,” because saving a life is a higher law than lying (Cf. loads of stories about saving Jews during the Holocaust.)

There’s quite a bit of biblical support for the idea of higher and lower laws. Jesus talks about the “weightier matters of the law” (Matt 23:23) and the “least” and “greatest” commandment (Matt 5:19; 22:36). He also said that Judas had committed the “greater sin” (Jon 19:11) and that causing someone to stumble is exceptionally bad (Matt 18). And of course, there’s the unpardonable sin (Matt 12), and Paul talks about love as the greatest virtue (1 Cor 13:13). In the Old Testament, there are intentional sins and unintentional sins, and then there’s the one who “sins with a high hand” (Numb 15:30). Point being: not all violations are considered equal. So when faced with a dilemma where two evils are the only options (killing, or letting someone kill), then killing the killer to save innocent life is the higher law.

And we see this in the Bible on several occasions. The midwives of Exodus 1 lied to Pharaoh in order to preserve life and are praised by God (see Exod 1:17 and then 1:19). So also is Rahab, who lied to the authorities of Jericho when she hid the two spies (Josh 2). The same logic is put on bold display in Acts 5:29, where Peter is commanded to stop preaching the gospel and he responds: “It’s better to obey God than man.” He deliberately went against his authorities, to whom Christians are obligated to submit (the lower law), by obeying God (the higher law). Rebelling against the state is wrong, but in some cases it may be the lesser of two evils. Lying is wrong, but in some cases it’s the lesser of two evils. Killing is wrong, but in some cases it may be the lesser of two evils.

Let me wrap things up with an important clarification: Pacifists do not advocate for letting injustice run rampant. Nothing could be further from the truth, and yet it’s often assumed to be inherent to the view. Pacifists don’t shy away from confronting injustice; rather, they argue for a different means of confronting it. The world says confront evil with evil—you bomb me and I’ll bomb you—but Jesus says that non-violent love is the means through which the church should extend the kingdom of Christ. All forms of injustice and wickedness are ultimately rooted in human rebellion against the Creator, and no amount of C-4 can fix that. Only the gospel can.

Comparing Malcolm X and Martin Luther King is a case in point. Interestingly, X was a Muslim who had an “eye for an eye” mentality and yet his movement (the Nation of Islam) was only minimally effective in accomplishing justice. King, however, was adamant that the injustice of racism must be confronted through non-violent means. Similar causes, but very different means. And while there were other factors involved, of course, sociologists often credit King’s success to his counter intuitive means of fighting injustice through non-violent means, even when every fabric of his body wanted to strike back with a sword instead of plowshare.

Series Navigation


  1. Thank you for making me a part of this discussion Preston. Your approach to a difficult topic is exemplary to all. The way you handle this topic embodies the kind of non-violence you espouse. I hope the same can be said with my past and present comments. I’m sure I have a lot to learn. Thanks again.

    I think the non-canonical, yet very early church tradition about Jesus preserved in John 8:2-11 (women caught in adultery) is an incident as close as we are going to get with how the church perceived Jesus would have responded in one of these “What if…” scenarios. (Note that motive for attack is irrelevant in hypothetical questions-the *reality* of unjust attack is what matters.) Much like Jesus’ brilliant reply to the myopic entrapping question of the Pharisees regarding taxation in the Gospels (Mark 12:13-17 and parallels), in John 8:2-11 Jesus transcends the two options (assumed to be *the only options*) by such hypothetical questions (i.e. attack the attackers and save the victim, or “do nothing” and let the victim be killed). “He met their lethal force with a far different kind of power” (Dale Aukerman). This was also Jesus’ way of dealing with His arrest which should have included the 11 as well had Jesus not drawn the unjust arrest onto Himself only. Jesus’ way of defending is to draw and absorb the evil onto Himself. He left us with the pattern of martyrdom to follow (1 Pet 2:21-25; 1 John 2:5-6; 3:16 [This the John 3:16 that should be the verse all the world knows about Christians!]). In short, the *last resort* for Jesus is supreme forgiving love at *all* costs. Obviously, there will be times when non-violence (combined with *active* forgiving love!) will not “work” to soften the heart and violence of the offender (see my comment regarding the effectiveness of non-violence to Adam F in blog part 3) and the cost will be death. But this is why forgiving love is the *last* resort, namely, because no one can say they have exhausted non-violent means unless it’s to the point of death. For Jesus there is no room for violence once non-violent means have been exhausted precisely because non-violent means are only exhausted when one *dies.* Jesus exhausted forgiving love to the point of death and this is what His followers are precisely called to follow Him to (the cross). If suffering forgiving love failed there was nothing else that could be done to accomplish the goal He had in view. The cross was such a failure. His lamb-like posture did not soften His enemies’ hearts; it made Him all the more vulnerable to their violence. However, this failure is precisely the victory of God insofar as it is the expression of loving God and one’s enemies to the very end (i.e. loving as the one and only “last resort”). When Jesus’ was suffering and dying, He “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet 2:23) which meant trusting God to bring His victory (resurrection) through His *death.* There is no wavering on this point (of violence) for Jesus. This is the pattern Christians are called into. Like Jesus, “those who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their lives to a faithful Creator *in doing what is right*” (1 Pet 4:19). In context, “doing what is right” is being unwaveringly non-violent.

    One more comment regarding the effectiveness of non-violence…Even though Christians should *not* advocate for cruciform non-violence because it is an (more) effective alternative means to secure safety and security but rather because this is the only way to follow the Crucified Messiah in faithfulness, the history of the church has provided innumerable instances of cruciform non-violence “working” insofar as God providentially provided at the least a way out for the potential victim(s) and at most the salvation of the attacker(s). Thus, the options of these hypothetical “What if…” questions (kill the attacker and save oneself and the potential victim or be a pacifist and let tragedy result) are shown to be false options that the God of the Crucified and Resurrection One actually transcends for those willing to imagine and have faith in such alternative options.

    Here are some provocative thoughts from Dale Aukerman:

    “The intent of the hypothetical questions is to show that there are situations in which it is necessary to resort to a lesser evil inflicted on the attacker. But if this is indeed the case, Jesus was without sin only because of his good fortune in not having had to face that type of situation; and he was therefore not tempted in every respect as we are (cf. Heb. 4:15)”

    “The skandalon (stumbling block) for the church through most of its history has not been the defenselessness of Jesus (which has been regarded as necessary for the salvation drama) but rather the corollary that his people should be defenseless in the same way. The prevailing protests within the church against acceptance of that defenselessness have come as a sort of echo of Peter’s outburst: ‘God forbid, Lord! This mustn’t happen to *us*’ [his emphasis]. Peter with his plea was for Jesus a skandalon (Mt. 16:23), a lure tempting him to turn from God. In wrongheadedness too he was a representative first-start for the church; and for followers of Jesus that modification of Peter’s plea against suffering at the hands of adversaries has continued to be the primary lure away from God.”

  2. I also meant to ask you these questions regarding Graded Absolutism. First, what is the standard/criteria used to discern what command trumps another and/or what evil is lesser than another? That was a genuine question because asking it got me thinking of further asking, second, what do you think of seeing non-violent love of one’s *enemies* as the highest command, and therefore the standard/criteria on the basis of Matt 5:43-48? I didn’t realize I may be holding to a form “Graded Absolutism” until you mentioned it. Usually people go to something like Mark 12:28-34 when they want to discuss the greatest commandment(s) for obvious and appropriate reasons. But loving one’s neighbor as oneself isn’t a reinforcement of “love your family” for “if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32). Much less then can “love your neighbor” mean to love your family even by violently defending and preserving their lives. Loving one’s neighbor as oneself is seen to be fulfilled only to the extent that one sees his *enemies* as one’s neighbor (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27-28, 35-36; 10:27-37). If the person attacking your family isn’t your enemy, then who is? Therefore, I follow Stanley Hauerwas and John Yoder in their interpretations of Matthew 5:48 which take it to mean that being “perfect” isn’t absolute moral perfection, but having perfect love of one’s enemies. Context seems to make this plain coming off the four rhetorical questions: For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?.

    “Perfection names our participation in Christ’s love of his enemies. Perfection does not mean that we are sinless or that we are free of anger or lust. Rather, to be perfect is to learn to be part of a people who take the time to live without resorting to violence to sustain their existence. To so live requires habits like learning to tell one another the truth, to be faithful in our promises to one another, to seek reconciliation” (Hauerwas, Commentary on Matthew).

    “Jesus is saying that we should not love only our friends because God did not love only His friends….We are asked to ‘resemble God’ just at this one point: not in His [knowing all things, His moral perfection, His powerfulness, etc.], but simply in the undiscriminating or unconditional character of His love. This is not a fruit of long growth and maturation; it is not inconceivable or impossible. We can do it tomorrow if we believe. We can stop loving only the lovable, lending only to the reliable, giving only to the grateful, as soon as we grasp and are grasped by the unconditionality of the benevolence of God. ‘There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds.’” (Yoder, The Original Revolution).

    So basically, since Jesus instructs us to resemble God’s perfect *love of enemies*, (and in Jesus see the One who is God who displayed perfect love for His enemies to the point of death–the One in whose Image we are being transformed and conformed into), then on the basis of Graded Absolutism, wouldn’t we have to say that “loving my wife and kids or caring for my household” is not as high of a command as to have perfect love (i.e. non-violent love of you enemies resisting Him through offering forgiveness and love)? Or even that the supreme way for one to love one’s family is through embodying the kind of non-violent forgiving love God has shown us (His enemies!) in Jesus and giving them an example to follow? Therefore, according to this ethical framework (Graded Absolutism) and the Sermon on the Mount, would not the lesser of two evils be allowing oneself and one’s family to be killed? (Obviously from my above comment I don’t think it’s as simple as two options-kill or be killed-but for sake of the hypothetical question as it is posed I’m saying the choice to “be killed” is the lesser of two evils according to Jesus.)

    Let me be honest and say that I don’t know what I *would* do, but I know what I *should* and am *called* to do. Given my current situation where I am not actually faced with this crappy situation, I will pray to be delivered both from and through such temptations to use violence to secure my life or the lives of others. I’m terrified of having to face such a situation and of believing that training up Eden (my 10 month old daughter) in the discipline and instruction of the Lord will require than I train her to learn to live her life in such a way that she will die a good death. In other words, my wife and I are training her, like ourselves, to die early and for the right reasons. That what training in the Cross means. I’m scared and nervous, but I’m confident and have faith that this is the only way to live one’s life according the way we have “learned Christ” (Eph 4:20) to be the cruciform God.

    • Andrew,

      I’m on a break so I can’t respond in detail. As far as Graded Absolutism, it’s been a while since I studied it, but I remember a very clear explanation by Norm Geisler in his Ethics book. He lays out all the different ethical approaches, including GA. (You actually read this in class, Andrew, but it was like 3 years ago so I don’t hold it against you!) I’d have to go back and check it out to see how he lays it all out.

      • Ya I remember reading it :). I remember coming away thinking that I must not hold to any of the views presented in the book (probably since none make the cross either the ethical norm or the standard/criteria by which to determine the gradations). Now reading this blog and revisiting the chapter, I think GA is where I would land. It fits my view that loving one’s enemy to the point of death is the highest command. But given that Geisler never made it explicit that loving one’s enemies is the highest command (the perfect expression of one’s love of God) (and it was like a 3 week summer class so we all had to blaze through the reading!), I somehow never thought of myself as holding to a form of GA.

        In any case, in my questions above I am taking GA for granted and asking for you to respond to Jesus making having “perfect love” (i.e. non-violent forgiving love of one’s *enemies*) as the highest command. Therefore, for this hypothetical situation, choosing to kill the assailant would be violating the highest command and would be choosing the “greater evil,” whereas choosing to lay down one’s life for the sake of the enemy would be fulfilling the greater good and choosing the “lesser evil” (family martyrdom). It’s kind of ironic because martyrdom is perceived as the deepest and most profound way of knowing, imitating, and having union with Christ in Scripture and the early church (i.e. being killed because one refuses to resort to violence is a very good thing!), yet this is precisely the option most want to avoid by supposing (violent) defense of one’s family or personal goods is the higher command. I hope that clarification helps for replying to my earlier comments.

        • Andrew,

          Thanks for your thoughts here. I’m a bit humbled by your serious and intense desire to follow Jesus where you see him leading, even to the point of death without resorting to violence.

          Personally, I don’t have a hard time with that, at least in theory, though I’m certain I would have a hard time not defending myself out of pure instinct and self-preservation if someone attacked me. It all tends to break down for me when I think of making my wife, or children if I had them, into sacrificial lambs as well. On a personal level, this extreme non-violence makes sense to a point, but I just don’t know how to make that decision for someone other than myself. Especially when my wife and children, or perhaps the person who lives down the street, are just as much my neighbor as my enemy.

          What has led you there?

          On a related note, do you define martyrdom as refusing to resort to violence even to the point of death, or as dying for the sake of Christ? Jesus obviously died for the sake of his enemies, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of extreme non-violence to the point of death called martyrdom, unless it was specifically in a situation of denying Christ, or some other cause, as opposed to someone who is a victim of genocide or a violent crime.

          • Thanks Luke. I believe if you have read all my comments thus far you have a good idea of what has lead me here. In short, a conviction that the cross is not simply the source but the very *shape* of salvation. There’s no salvation without the discipleship of the cross (death by refusing the options of either violence, assimilation, or complete withdrawal). My wife shares the same view. With respect to my daughter (and future children), this view is precisely what we think our primary parental role is to instill. We seek to so captivate her by God’s vision for the world through her participation in the community of God that she chooses to narrate herself as a non-violent member of God’s Kingdom as well. Additionally, we believe (along with the early church) that being made into a sacrificial lamb is a gift. Saying “making” them into sacrificial lambs isn’t correct. It’s not something I or anyone else can “make.” It’s received; it’s a gift; and it’s by the Grace of God (cf. Phil 1:29–Paul uses the word “grace” but most translations avoid it and say “granted”). Because of Christ, we are given the power to transform fate (an un-narrated and therefore meaningless action) into destiny (a narrated and meaningful action). In other words, an attacker is going to kill you and your family (fate), but because of your loving resistance to his evil, and your loving welcoming, forgiving, and accepting of his person, you’ve just received the gift of martyrdom (destiny)–living into the story of Christ Crucified–should the attacker chose to go through with the ultimate violence of murder.

            Regarding your question: Do you define martyrdom as refusing to resort to violence even to the point of death, or as dying for the sake of Christ?

            I believe refusing to resort to violence even to the point of death *is* dying for the sake of Christ. If dying that kind of death isn’t a witness to the Crucified One I don’t know what is. Christ, after all, cannot be known except as the One who was Crucified because He chose to make forgiving love the last resort and therefore, He can only be imaged by people we are willing to be co-crucified with Him. Once someone becomes a Christian every moment is supposed to be lived for Christ (Phil 1:21), therefore I can’t comprehend making a distinction of the kinds of deaths Christians can die–all Christian deaths should be “for the sake of Christ” because of the way Christ’s death was made known in their very lives (2 Cor 4). Therefore, I can’t understand how if faced with this (hypothetical) situation, choosing to love my enemy to the end *wouldn’t* be dying *for the sake Christ* and therefore martyrdom. I think refusing the non-violent suffering active love and persuasion of the “enemy” *is* a denial of the Cruciform God (inspired by Ignatious’ letters). However, I am also confident that Jesus’ prayer, “forgive them, for they know not what they do” applies to those who deny and blaspheme the Son (Luke 12:10) in this way either unwittingly or in a moment of intense fear (who knows, like I already admitted, what I would *really* do!). The mercy of God triumphs. That’s a testimony to God’s non-violence right there.

            In any case, for this hypothetical question, according to Jesus love of one’s enemy supersedes love of one’s family and therefore, according to GA, the choice is straightforward (I think). I would oppose the assailant to my death and I don’t think physical restraint is the same thing as violent assault/defense. But I must say, I think hypothetical questions are most misleading. Among other reasons, suppose this was posed to Hitler’s parents and they killed an attacker that was going after baby Adolf (because the attacker came across a genie and his wish was to go back in time and kill Adolf when he was child in order to avoid the Holocaust–but he failed because Adolf’s parents were convinced that killing the person threatening their child was morally required). In other words, hypothetical questions should be met with hypothetical answers and it this response highlights the presumptuousness behind such questions that assumes we are omniscient and know what will happen if we killed the assailant or were killed ourselves. There are too many assumptions behind the question to discuss here as well as a neglect of at least 5 other outcomes (in addition to the two assumed –kill or be killed). If you are interested in reading what other pacifists have to say regarding the issues surrounding such hypothetical questions I suggest John Yoder’s book What Would You Do? ( It’s really brief and has contributions from others such as Leo Tolstoy and well as a plethora of actual instances of non-violence in real personal situations “working” (in the way I have written about). Also, Voice of the Martyrs and Jesus Freaks contain more modern day witnesses to the fact that when these hypothetical situations become someone’s horrific reality, God never abandons them to the fated two options the question assumes. So long as we aren’t determined to refuse the openness and freedom of God to provide a way out, we are are free to imagine fresh possibilities from God and thereby embody and be agents of God’s vision, God’s imagination, for the world. After all, it’s precisely when things look bleak and death is inevitable that the God of Resurrection shows His power to deliver and create a new way through death for life (cf. 2 Cor 1:8-11).

          • Thanks for clarifying and expanding on what you wrote earlier. It’s very challenging stuff.

            I have a few follow up questions to ask if you don’t mind answering. Please know that I’m wrestling with what you’ve written and am trying to engage with it, not just trying to tear it down.

            First question regards your understanding of the cruciform life. You equate discipleship of the cross with “death by refusing the options of either violence, assimilation, or complete withdrawal.” Is there a chance you’ve made the MANNER of Jesus’ saving work more important than his actual purpose in coming? Jesus did willingly die, even asking his Father to forgive the men who killed him, but the act of dying was not itself the goal; it was the power that his death held to make reconciliation between God and man. He did not die for the sake of non-violence. He died for the love of the world.

            If I die as you have suggested, I would have made a great sacrifice, counting my own life as less valuable than that of my enemy. But who have I saved? It seems like you’re saying the highest example of Christlikeness is denial of self unto death. That would certainly image Christ in form, but I’m not sure it was his highest purpose. Thinking of Philippians 2, I wonder if the power that Christ’s submission to death carries has everything to do with who he is and how infinitely undeserving of death he was. The power is not specifically in self-sacrifice itself but in the fact that his sacrificial death satisfied God’s wrath towards mankind. I fear I’m rambling at this point, but I hope you understand my question.

            After writing this, I seem to have lost the other questions that came to mind earlier. I’ll have to return to this tomorrow and see if I can drag them up again.

            Thanks so much for the stimulating discussion and for the encouragement to never let myself get comfortable in my pursuit of Jesus.

          • Well, you’ve really got my mind churning now, because I tried to go to sleep but failed.

            A few more thoughts then…

            I too am frustrated with the use of hypothetical scenarios in this discussion, but I feel they are important, despite their limitations. Obviously they can spiral into absurdity as you pointed out, but how else are we to consider the consistency of our principles?

            It is frustrating to have a discussion about something that 99% of us will never face, but the fact that 1% does face these types of situations means that we should engage them. Understanding how my idea of discipleship functions in extreme circumstances I will likely never face can give me confidence and courage to follow it in my day to day life. I do agree that suggesting there are only the choices kill or be killed is a false dichotomy and leaves God’s ability to act out of the question in many ways. This is one of my quibbles with GA, though I still think it works the best out of the various systems.

            I think the discussion might bear more fruit if we discussed the implications of the cruciform life instead of the cruciform death, since we know we will face at least the one tomorrow.

            How does this fit in with the overpowering emphasis throughout scripture on taking care of and loving the orphan and the widow, the poor, the alien, the lame, the disadvantaged, the outcast, the unlovable.

            Can you unpack this statement a little bit?
            “I would oppose the assailant to my death and I don’t think physical restraint is the same thing as violent assault/defense.”

            I know you don’t like hypotheticals, so feel free to ignore this question, but what would the above look like if you came home to your family being physically assaulted? I’m not trying to poke holes in your view, just trying to put some feet to it. I’m having a really hard time seeing how one does this while at the same time protecting those who can’t take care of themselves. Perhaps it’s just a matter of seeing love for enemy as a higher calling than love for the innocent and helpless.

            Where does your language about fate and destiny come from? I’ve not seen it put like that, and never heard it in this type of discussion. I’m afraid I’m misunderstanding the point you’re trying to make with it as I’m not entirely sure how it applies here. I doubt you’re making a point about the sovereignty of God or suggesting that a righteous act has meaning whereas a wicked act is meaningless? Anyways, I’m not sure what is meant here.

            I hope what I just wrote makes sense in the morning…I’m a bit doubtful.

          • “I too am frustrated with the use of hypothetical scenarios in this discussion, but I feel they are important, despite their limitations.” Agreed! I’m ok wrestling with the hypothetical, but only after we have thoroughly wrestled with and embraced what Jesus actually says about violence. But many people skip that part.

          • Thank you for the engagement and interaction Luke! I appreciate it and it’s humbling to have someone seriously interact with my thoughts (and politely!) so thank you again. You raise great questions! I never anticipated commenting on this blog would take up this much of my time and mental capacity haha :). I’m going to try and address each question briefly but ultimately I want to punt to the scholars that have shaped my thought. I would hate for my articulation to be the cause of your (or anyone’s) rejection of pacifism simply because of my incompetence so I want to direct you to those who have said it way better than I could have myself. (Also, excuse the **double asterisks**…I wrote this in Word and single asterisks make the word emboldened which I don’t think translated to the blog.)

            “Is there a chance you’ve made the MANNER of Jesus’ saving work more important than his actual purpose in coming?”

            I would say that according to what I read from Scripture the **manner** of Jesus’ saving work is **just as** important as His actual purpose in coming. “**As the Father has sent Me, **so** I send you” (John 20:21). Jesus’ death wasn’t a strict substitution in the sense that one can say: Jesus died and therefore **I don’t have to.** Rather, Jesus came to enable humans to be conformed into the Image of God (Himself) whom He reveals to be Cruciform (“cross-shaped”-kenotic, self-sacrificing, self-humbling, self-giving, etc.). Therefore Jesus’ substitution means: Jesus died **so that** we can share in **His** death with Him and fulfill our original human calling/”telos” (made **in** and **according to** the Image of God) by becoming fully transformed and conformed into that same Image. Also, Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of the covenant (Love God, Love neighbor) and He revealed **how** that is to be fulfilled (i.e. He revealed the manner/means)–namely, the cross/cruciformity. Jesus’ makes our covenant faithfulness **possible** (by virtue of our union with Him) and He gives it a more fine tuned focus. He tells us who our neighbor is (our enemy! The Samaritan—The Muslim—the random assailant, the terrorist, etc.). He tells us how (manner/means) to embrace them (laying down our lives for them no matter what the circumstance/cost). He tells us what the purpose is: Resurrection/New Creation. The resurrection was a vindication of the way/manner/means of the cross; not its repudiation. The purpose is resurrection (life from the dead) and Jesus reveals that this can only be attained via the manner/means of the cross/cruciformity (life **through** death; cf. Phil 3:10-11; 2 Cor 4:7-10).

            “He did not die for the sake of non-violence. He died for the love of the world.” Very true, but death is the inevitable result of the kenotic (self-emptying) and self-humbling God who embraces His violent enemies—non-violence is a correlative reality of that that kind of God with that kind of mission/purpose. The manner of Jesus’ saving work can be summed up by the word “cruciform” (cross-shaped) and qualified by the words kenotic, self-sacrificing, self-humbling, etc.. Michael Gorman defines it as this, “**although/because** [x] one possesses a certain status, one **does not** [y] exploit it for selfish gain **but** [z] acts for the good of others.” This is the pattern Paul Himself imitates and enjoins all Christians to make this their pattern as well (cf. Phil 2:4-5; 3:10-19; 1 Thess 2:6-8; 1 Cor 9; 2 Cor 4:7-12; 6:4-10; 8:7-9; 12:15; 1 Cor 4:8-17; 11:1).

            “The power is not specifically in self-sacrifice itself but in the fact that his sacrificial death satisfied God’s wrath towards mankind.” Philippians 2:4-5 makes me disagree. The power is precisely in self-sacrifice (both literally self-sacrificing and being self-sacrificing in one’s everyday life/habits) (cf. 3:10-11; 1 Cor 1:18; 2:5; 4:9-13, 20; 2 Cor 1:8-11; 4:11-12). And see my response to your “manner” question above.

            “If I die as you have suggested, I would have made a great sacrifice, counting my own life as less valuable than that of my enemy. But who have I saved?” This is not an intelligible/comprehensible question within my framework because we don’t save (I’m sure you agree otherwise you wouldn’t have asked this). Our deaths don’t save. But our deaths (or our “living deaths”—cruciform lives) are witnesses (the definition of the term martyr) to the Death that does save and we thereby participate in what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings (Col 1:24). So you’re right, our deaths don’t serve as a ransom (although some of the early church writers’—specifically the bunch known as the “apostolic fathers”–interpretation of martyrdom is on the verge of claiming it as a ransom sacrifice. I’ll don’t have have the references handy but I just read through The Apostolic Father in English translated by Michael W. Holmes and I recall reading this kind of language regarding martyrdom a lot.). However, this fact doesn’t at all diminish our calling to live the death of Christ in our bodies whether through our cruciform living (poor, serving, visiting, etc.) or through our own actual deaths.

            “It is frustrating to have a discussion about something that 99% of us will never face, but the fact that 1% does face these types of situations means that we should engage them.” I agree that we need to engage them but only insofar as they reveal our self-deception, presumptuousness, and pride in construing them they way we do (refer to the book What Would You Do If?). I agree with Preston’s comment regarding this point as well. Too often this is the **first** question asked once someone learns I’m a pacifist. Additionally, we should **actually attend** to the stories and testimonies of the countless Christians who have “faced these types of situations” and learn the wisdom and love of God to either grant them the gift of martyrdom or deliver them for the time being and/or transform the assailant(s). These actual stories are a judgment on the way we construe such hypothetical scenarios. And as I have already mentioned, John 8 and Gethsemane is as close as we will get in Scripture to Jesus facing such tragedies. So simply appealing to the fact of personal tragedy as a way to get entangled in badly construed situations isn’t helpful and that’s what I’m against. I obviously have already put forth my answer to this question since as you said, “we should engage them” (albeit I have a different purpose for engaging them). What we should do is engage the actual instances of these tragedies and learn from them. “An additional danger of hypothetical questions is that they may be a way for us to escape dealing with the real questions. Instead of dreaming up or responding to hypothetical questions for topic to debate, we need to be discussing the real ones. Is it right to destroy villages [and cities] in order to save them? Should millions of men be trained to hate and to kill?” (Dale Brown).

            “I think the discussion might bear more fruit if we discussed the implications of the cruciform life instead of the cruciform death, since we know we will face at least the one tomorrow.
            How does this fit in with the overpowering emphasis throughout scripture on taking care of and loving the orphan and the widow, the poor, the alien, the lame, the disadvantaged, the outcast, the unlovable.” I absolutely agree with living the cruciform life (see also my comments on blog 4). However, there is no discontinuity between the two (cruciform life and death) and this is the way I see the logic working out: Since the Scriptures (cf. 1 John 3:16-17) **expand** the application of participating in the cross of Christ from actually dying like Christ to loving the orphan and the widow, the poor, the alien, etc. Even though living the cross is expanded to include living the cruciform life how could the plain meaning of actually sharing in literal **death** by changed? The application of following Christ to the cross is broader than simply being theoretically “ready” to die should such a circumstance present itself. But, the fact that we are called to transform every living moment into narrating the death of Christ through our cruciform lives (cf. 2 Cor 4:7-12) doesn’t mean that if we are presented with the actual situation in which we would have to love our enemies even to death that we are free from that act of obedience to lay our actual lives down because we know that being cruciform includes “taking care of and loving the orphan and the widow, the poor, the alien, [etc.].” Again, the fact that we are called to a cruciform life doesn’t **exclude** that fact that we are called to a cruciform death should we be presented with the opportunity. In fact, being called to a cruciform life makes being called to a cruciform death all the more potent. I fear that we will deny Christ in our opportunity to share in a cruciform death if we aren’t serious about either having a cruciform life, or if we think living a cruciform life excludes the possibility of actually having to love and non-violently resist and embrace one’s enemy(ies) to the point of death **precisely because we won’t actually see the situation as such an opportunity to be witness (martyr) of Christ’s enemy embracing death.** The plain meaning of sharing in the sufferings of Christ still stands although it’s expanded to involve **every** aspect of life.

            “Can you unpack this statement a little bit?
            ‘I would oppose the assailant to my death and I don’t think physical restraint is the same thing as violent assault/defense.’” There are physical means of restraint and resistance such as Non-violent Crisis Prevention Intervention (NCPI) which I am certified in (I have to be for my work). That’s just one example. But to get real concrete, tackling someone and putting them in a submission hold is in no way the same and blowing their brains out or smashing them in the face once they are submitted.
            “Perhaps it’s just a matter of seeing love for enemy as a higher calling than love for the innocent and helpless.” Yes! Matthew 5:47-48 and Luke 6:32-36 make this plain. See Ryan S’s comments too. This is my main point with this blog concerning GA. Loving one’s enemy is the higher calling.

            “Where does your language about fate and destiny come from? I’ve not seen it put like that, and never heard it in this type of discussion.” My bad. I was alluding to Sam Wells’ book Transforming Fate into Destiny ( “I doubt you’re making a point about the sovereignty of God or suggesting that a righteous act has meaning whereas a wicked act is meaningless?” Ya I’m not making that point. Forget I used that language. Read Wells book or Stanley Hauerwas’ book The Peaceable Kingdom if you are interested in that discussion. I apologize for using words that obviously carry rather different connotations than I meant to communicate. In short, everyone turns mundane acts/events (“good” or “evil”) into some sort of “destiny” via their narration of the world (i.e. their worldview). As Christians, we are giving the opportunity to narrate our historical contingency through the story of the cross (hence living the cruciform **life** as you mentioned). Because of the Christian story, we can discern the particular cruciform meaning in every situation. So we are not simply people **willing** to die (1 John 3:16), but we are also people who know how to share in Christ’s death through giving and service (1 John 3:17). Therefore, when it comes to confronting a violent aggression, the story of the cross gives us the resources to interpret the violence that “overcomes” us into God’s way of “overcoming” their violence through our defeat (i.e. our being “overcome”). This is the way I take the “overcoming” language in Revelation which is a play on words. The saints “overcome” the beast insofar as they are willing to be “overcome” by the beast. That’s the paradox and scandal of the cross.

            Wayyy toooo looong, but you asked ☺. (No one will probably read this but you and Preston…if that haha). Thank you again for the thoughtful and polite discussion! I know I didn’t do justice to your excellent questions, but hopefully it had some value. Are you around Simi Valley/Moorpark area in southern California (I obviously have no idea where you live ☺)? At this point I fear we can perpetuate questions/responses endlessly and a coffee would be more fruitful and beneficial.

            Books to look up: Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace. Michal Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God; Reading Paul; and Reading Revelation Responsibly. Stanley Hauerwas’ Community of Character; and The Peaceable Kingdom. John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus; The War of the Lamb (This would be really interesting to you since I gather that you are a Just War theorist. In this book Yoder unpacks the relationship between pacifism and Just War and gives a lot of practical advice/wisdom),;and What Would You Do If? Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament. Richard Bauckham’s Theology of Revelation.

          • Thanks for your responses Andrew. You’ve certainly given me plenty to ruminate on and I also appreciate the resources you’ve mentioned. I’m in Portland for now, so, regrettably, coffee is out of the question unless you ever happen to be in the area. When I go home to California, I try to stay in the good half of the state, so I rarely get down your way.

  3. The idea of ‘lesser of two evils’ is interesting. Do you believe that God really presents us with situations where we have to choose ‘evil’? It seems that there is either a third, non-evil option, or that killing the thug isn’t really evil (i.e. sinful) in this situation.

    • Tim,

      For the reasons stated in the blog (Exod 1, Josh 2), and there are others I could cite, there are at least 2 examples in the Bible where there was such a dilemma (assuming, of course, that “lying” is an “evil”).

      But there is a debate about this. There are those who simply hold to “Absolutism,” which says that all commands are absolute and there is never a situation where a lesser evil is the only option. I think this view, however, is hard to substantiate.

      Various ethical approaches that advocate for some sort of “lesser of two evils” framework go back as far as Augustine and were developed during the Reformation. But it’s been a while since I’ve read up on it.

      • I guess I always thought that there were situations where lying wouldn’t be wrong/sinful. I think there are situations where lying (or giving partially true answers) to my kids for instance is the right thing to do. I haven’t explored the topic as much as you, I’m sure, so it’s interesting to hear a perspective where it seems we’re ‘forced’ to sin.

        • I think there are actually two different views being discussed here. One which says that ethical dilemmas do happen and that we must choose the lesser of two evils, but by so doing, we do commit sin, albeit not as bad a sin as we could have committed.

          Graded Absolutism also affirms the reality of ethical dilemmas, but makes the distinction between “greater good” and “lesser evil” so that by choosing, for instance, to steal a loaf of bread to feed my starving child, I have not actually sinned.

          It might seem like arguing semantics, but is a helpful distinction, especially given the difficulty in the idea of being in a situation where we are forced to sin.

          • Hello Luke! You are definitely right. The book Preston referred to in his reply to me (and went and looked up the photocopies Preston gave our class 3 years ago) makes the same distinction you did under Conflicting Absolutism (forced to sin in some sense) verses Graded Absolutism (the “greater good” or “lesser evil” isn’t in fact a sin in that instance).

        • Tim,

          Please read Luke’s comments below. I’ve actually blurred two different ethical approaches in the original blog (I was being more general than precise). The so-called “lesser of two evils” approach is actually called “Conflicting Absolutism” and it was promoted within Lutheran tradition (not sure if Luther himself promoted it). This view responds to the question: “Is it ever right to lie in order to save a life” by saying Yes, because lying, though evil in every instance, is a “lesser evil” than allowing someone to die.

          This is actually different from “Graded Absolutism” (promoted in Reformed traditions) since for GA, the the answer to the question “Is it ever right to lie in order to save a life,” is Yes, because saving a life is a higher law than lying. In this case, it is not that lying is the lesser of two evils; rather, when lying comes against saving a life, the lie actually becomes the morally right thing to do (not just a lesser of two evils.)

          And again, I think this the best way to understand the midwives of Exod 1 and Rahab of Josh 2. It’s not that they were “forced to sin,” but that they chose the higher law of saving life. (Of course, they didn’t think in these ethical categories.)

  4. In addition to Andrew’s question about determining what is the greater good in a given situation, I think there is one other question that must be asked.

    If we assume that you have assessed the hierarchy of morals correctly, such that it is better to save your family than to not resist an evil man, what is the criteria used to determine whether or not one is in the type of situation where one should resort to violence in order to save another?

    If this same principle were writ large, it would seem to be an echo of the just war theory, which you rejected in your first post. Why do you accept this principle for an individual, but reject it on the national scale? I have my own thoughts as to your reasoning here, but I’ll wait to see if we agree.

    Since you do allow, however hesitantly, for view # 4 in some extreme situations, (you mention executing Hitler as an example, though I’m not sure that fits into the situations you would deem acceptable) I would like to know what criterion must be satisfied before violence is an acceptable response (or required perhaps, based on Graded Absolutism).

    Thanks again for all your thoughts here. I really appreciate the discussion and dialogue.

  5. I’m glad this specific topic was finally dropped in this series. It’s for sure a tough one (and I also think it exposes some issues). I have a few thoughts and I’m hoping you’ll be interested in interacting with them.

    First, couldn’t this same Graded Absolutism argument also be the justification for doing all sorts of heinous crimes under the guise of “well it’s better than_____”’?
    What I mean to say is that violence can’t and was never meant to actually fix anything. But that sacrificial death and humility was always meant to. Jesus’ being sentenced to death and slaughtered is the ‘norm’ of conquering; the way things work. Jesus’ sacrifice “belongs to the way that God rules” (Gorman, Via Revelation 5). Specifically note Philippians 2: 5-11, for our purposes. So how can it then be said that anything but this type of humility and sacrifice is beneficial for conquering? Evil can only produce more evil- to oversimplify things. To love my enemy; to preserve a life that was headed for hell; to seek the kind of faithful witness (martyrdom for my family and I) that is made explicitly and implicitly good and right and true in Jesus’ example seems to be my only option.
    I do not have a wife and I certainly don’t have any kids, at least that I know of (totally a joke- trying to lighten the mood). So it’s much easier for me to hypothetically say these things. But what I can provide to the discussion is—at least a partially—unbiased look at what scripture implies is right and good over-against what our minds might see is good. I think, largely, we have an inability to see past this life and truly hold fast, as our one and only security, to the resurrection of the dead. Once one starts to secure their life on this earth for all her joys and pleasures, I would say we’ve hit a little bump in our understanding of what *this* really is; what true life actually means *in* Jesus the Messiah. This is a clear representation of our living for this Kingdom and not for God’s. If we live for God’s this entire discussion would be a much easier, much less heated one. But the reality is we are continually giving up and forgetting to see and trust God’s Kingdom as the scandalous knowledge that it is. It’s a complete and totally flipped upside-down Kingdom that cannot be seen or known with the Knowledge of mankind.
    Additionally, I think even bringing this hypothetical situation up potentially robs the last 4 posts of their beauty and scandal. Not that you’re wrong it writing about it—it’s good to see where you stand. But all the leg work and conclusions that were established are now hidden behind the practicality of a ridiculous situation that will likely never happen to anyone who reads this blog. A healthier—though much less desired—practical implication of this pacifist conclusion would be to live a sacrificial, humble, scandalous, cruciform life. Just like Jesus did. To live without the constraints of this world but to live with the complete and total freedom that is offered in Christ’s Kingdom. To not attempt to secure one’s life (outside of securing it with Christ) at the expense of another’s (or for any reason for that matter), but to wholly see one’s life as a conduit and catalyst of grace for everyone you come into contact with.
    Even without pacifisms capabilities (to bring people to faith in Christ through the faithful witnesses laying down their wishes and lives), those should not be our loudest horn blows. The strongest, highest notes that should be blown from the podium of pacifism should be Christ’s imperatives to follow Him unto death over-against the evilness of the world.

    • David,

      Thanks for dropping in and for offering some very helpful thoughts. I’m pretty sure agree with what you’re saying, though I’m not sure that this blog detracts from my position as much as you think. You said:

      “I think even bringing this hypothetical situation up potentially robs the last 4 posts of their beauty and scandal. Not that you’re wrong it writing about it—it’s good to see where you stand. But all the leg work and conclusions that were established are now hidden behind the practicality of a ridiculous situation that will likely never happen to anyone who reads this blog.”

      Yes, I felt that I had to write this post, since this is usually where people immediately jump to when the issue of Christians and violence arises. So in a sense, the very fact that I put it as # 4 instead of # 1 or 2 is in itself a subtle critique of the very “hypothetical” situation. Also, even in this post, I tried to maintain the scandalous nature of Jesus’ ethic even as I addressed this situation. And lastly, as with the comparison with Exod 1 and Josh 2, the point about the killer at the door is that shooting him as a last resort when all other means have been exhausted is not meant to elevate the act of killing as a “good thing” necessarily, but a necessary means of preserving the life of my family as the higher law. As with Rahab’s lie, the act itself (killing) is still not elevated to virtue status.

      It’s getting late, and I’m starting to confuse myself. Not sure if this helps out at all, but…

  6. Thank you for writing this series of blogs Preston. I’ve been on the pacifist side of things since becoming a believer. It wasn’t something that I really had to think too hard about because as I read scripture and applied it to my life I knew that returning violence with violence is wrong. I have a wife and 4 little girls (plus one on the way, pray for a boy) but I still could not see myself shooting someone. I don’t own a gun, don’t want to. “We battle not with flesh and blood…” Our Pastor just did a sermon on God knowing us before we were born and tied it in with his pro-life stance on the abortion issue. Very good thoughts he had, but wouldn’t it apply to adults as well as babies? I don’t believe in captial punishment either. Especially after reading Erasing Hell and just having those thoughts in my head, I would not want to ‘expedite there journey to hell’. I know where my family would go if something happens. They would be with Jesus. Yet, the murderer, if I short circuit his life, then he or she would most likley be in a place of forever torment. I think the debate boils down to do I have the faith to keep a eternal mindset in the face of a spiritual battle like that. Because lets face it, if someone is breaking in the kill a family…then they under demonic influence. Love you brother, your one of the most intelligent blogs that I read.

  7. Luke and Andrew,

    This is just a quick note to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the discussion regarding GA and you both have caused me to think through the issue a bit more. I really don’t have much to say; I’m just trying to process it all. And to be honest (to put my ignorance on bold display), I haven’t really thought too deeply through the various ethical systems, apart from the few hours I put into prepping for Ethics class a few years ago. So Andrew, you may very well be right about your interaction (and seemingly mild disagreement) with GA.

    Thanks for the great dialogue you guys. Really challenging stuff.

  8. Thanks for the thought provoking posts! Just one question for you. Am I correct in summarizing you to say that you would shoot the guy coming into your home with a gun who might be intent on hurting your family, but wouldn’t drop a bomb on Hitler? (Please note that while this may seem like a rhetorical question, it isn’t, and that I don’t have the answers here, only the question 😉

    • Ha! Good question. In all seriousness, I would only consider dropping a bomb on Hitler if it only landed Hitler. Interestingly, Bonhoeffer struggled with this very thing–using evil as a last resort to take out one man and save the lives of many. I really don’t think there’s an easy answer to this. I don’t have documentation, but I’ve heard that Desmond Tutu, the pacifist archbishop of South Africa has said that someone needs to assassinate Mugabe, who has been doing Hitler like stuff to his own country (Zimbabwe).

      All that to say, I don’t know. I agree with Andrew that violence is not God’s prescribed means of fighting injustice and there doesn’t seem to be any exception clauses to it. But I still struggle with it nonetheless.

  9. I see what you’re saying. I guess my post should have been addressed to the readers of this last post and all the previous ones. I know for me it would be very easy to take just this last blog and for all intents and purposes deny all the previously payed out and discussed conclusions if I hadn’t readily rejected that inclination. I just wanted to encourage all those who read with an encouragement to continue on in the path as layed out in the previous posts and to not use this, instead of all the other scriptural proof, to side on the opposite side that you have. All because of a hypothetical situation that they’re not ok with being a pacifist in. I appreciate the heart to preserve the scriptural proof that I’ve seen and just wanted to reiterate.

    Thanks again for the posts. Love this.

  10. “the incarnation is final, the full disclosure of God” (Augsburger, “Christian Pacifism,” 61-62). [from part 4]

    “What I mean to say is that violence can’t and was never meant to actually fix anything. But that sacrificial death and humility was always meant to.” (David S)

    In my Bible, the final revelation of Jesus Christ was given to John on the island of Patmos. This revelation affirms that the Suffering Servant is also the Warrior King.

    The peace and blessing of the Messianic kingdom on earth directly results from the violence of—Jesus.

    Isaiah 11:5 “He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of his lips He shall slay the wicked.”

    Isaiah 63:1-6
    Who is this who comes from Edom,
    With dyed garments from Bozrah,
    This One who is glorious in His apparel,
    Traveling in the greatness of His strength?—

    “I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

    2 Why is Your apparel red,
    And Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?

    3 “I have trodden the winepress alone,
    And from the peoples no one was with Me.
    For I have trodden them in My anger,
    And trampled them in My fury;
    Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,
    And I have stained all My robes.
    For the day of vengeance is in My heart,
    And the year of My redeemed has come.
    5 I looked, but there was no one to help,
    And I wondered
    That there was no one to uphold;
    Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me;
    And My own fury, it sustained Me.
    6 I have trodden down the peoples in My anger,
    Made them drunk in My fury,
    And brought down their strength to the earth.”

    Revelation 19:11 “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.”

    Jesus gives and gives and is patient with us and the world and violence is His last resort. But it is not absent from His Person. We should not shut our eyes to this, nor to the fullness of our responsibilities in this fallen world.

    With the Memorial Day weekend in view, I thank God for the courage and sacrifice of all those who have put their lives in harm’s way. “For he is God’s minister to you for good” (Rom. 13:4).

    • Robert,

      Thanks for chiming in! Regarding the NT’s application of OT messianic-warrior texts, I’ll let Andrew (or others) offer a different reading of Revelation, since I haven’t looked into it in great detail. In any case, it is clear that: 1) the NT’s use of messianic-warrior texts (Ps 2, Isa 11) usually (if not always) reverses the warrior logic, interpreting the “warfare” motif into conquering the nations with the gospel. Psalm 2 in Acts 4:25-26 is case in point, as is Ps 2 in Rev 2:27-28 and Rev 12:5 (less explicit) and 19:15 (less explicit). Also 2) is Jesus’ robe covered with blood those whom he has slaughtered, or is it his own blood? 3) Is the “sword” coming out of his mouth (19:15) a literal sword (ouch!!), or a metaphor for the word of God by which Jesus will just the nations? (Judgment does not necessarily mean violence). All that to say, from the little I know, it’s not altogether clear that the messianic-warrior motif from the OT is picked up in the NT in the same way.

      Andrew? Anything to add?

      • I think you raised the relevant issues well. I think John 12:47-48 is helpful to keep in mind as well: “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; **the word** I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” Juxtapose this with Isaiah 11:4: “And He will strike the earth with **the rod of His mouth,** And with the **breath of His lips** He will slay the wicked.”

        (I need to learn how to pique curiosity like you, Preston, instead of trying to give an argument because of the limited nature of a blog comment box and the limits of my capacity to present the argument well. I don’t want anyone to reject a view because of my inability to state it well and/or cover all the bases.)

        So Robert, I recommend reading Michael Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly and Richard Hays’ chapter on Revelation in The Moral Vision in the New Testament. There are many other sources, but those are the most concise treatments and thoroughly exegetical.

        Here is a nice sermon on the subject:

        Here is what one of my former professors said regarding this topic (on Facebook dialogue so the quotes may come off choppy). In any case, he can offer a “summary” better than I can:

        No doubt in the Jewish circles with which John and his churches had contact . . . ideas of eschatological holy war against Rome, such as the Qumran community had entertained and the Zealots espoused, were well known. . . . Therefore, instead of simply repudiating apocalyptic militancy, [John of Patmos] reinterprets it in a Christian sense, taking up its reading of Old Testament prophecy into a specifically Christian reading of the Old Testament. He [John the Revelator] aims to show that the decisive battle in God’s eschatological holy war against evil, including the power of Rome, has already been won–by the faithful witness and sacrificial death of Jesus. Christians are called to participate in his war and his victory–but by the same means as he employed: bearing the witness of Jesus to the point of martyrdom. (Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics [Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989], pp.233ff.)

        All judgment has been carried out in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The kingdom has therefore come, but in an already and not-yet. What remains is the advancement of the kingdom to fill the created order as the waters cover the sea. But this is a perseverance of judgment already carried out, and it’s culmination in the return of Jesus involves no retribution other than the evil returning upon the heads of those who do evil which is experienced today in every refusal of divine grace in Christ. The sword that proceeds from Jesus’ mouth is the Word of God, the word of the gospel that reveals the misery of those who reject it.(so yes future judgment, but not in the form of retributive violence actively doled out by a vengeful God playing the part of the offended monarch, but a taking up of that apocalyptic rhetoric in the paradoxical judgement carried out by a lamb standing as if slain. Cf. Gandhi’s idea that one’s nonviolent resistance of evil is uniquely powerful in revealing how violence distorts, crushes, destroys the one perpetrating it. This is what he learns from the Gospel. It is that self-destruction that Jesus brings to light as God’s judgment on those who take judgment out of the hands of God) The judgment of Jesus which is in the present age entrusted to the church through its proclamation of the Gospel will come to consummation with Jesus’ return. But precisely because it IS a consummation of something began now through the proclamation of the Gospel, there is a continuity in the sense of “judgment” involved. What we await is God’s judgment worked out in Jesus running its course throughout the created order until the appointed time.

        • Great words, Andrew. I really need to look into (or at least read 🙂 the book of Revelation sometime in the near future.

          Following your logic through does lead to some interesting views on the nature of Hell. But that’s for another blog, or perhaps a good coffee shop conversation in the near future!

  11. I feel that protecting our family or “the killer at the door” scenario may seem unimportant to us here living in beautiful California … it’s easy for us to classify such “what abouts” as hypothetical questions, but if we lived in a place like Johannesburg, South Africa it would be a present reality. Ask my wife!

    Why doesn’t Jesus teach or allow for violence (for the preservation of life) in his teachings? I would say – why would he ever need to, if it was already commonly known what God feels about self defense from reading the Hebrew Bible? If a man defending his family was an obvious duty, why would Jesus have to teach it? When Jesus tells a parable about a husband or “owner” (ba’al) defending his house, he didn’t have to explain why this man should defend his home from a robber – it was obvious to all.

    Matt 24:43 – “If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.”

    In a similar way, Paul says in Ephesians that husbands should lay their lives down for their wives, like Christ for his Bride. How do husbands “lay down their lives”? I would think that most people would assume: 1. protecting her to the point of death if necessary 2. Daily serving her by taking care of her needs. I would protect my wife and family, using violence only when necessary, simply because I love them.

    • Adam,

      Despite what I said in blog 5.5, you really raise a good point. Jesus’ doesn’t address a lot of things, including homosexuality, polygamy, masturbation, and pedophilia, but this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have an opinion on the issue, it just means that he didn’t need to correct any view among his audience living in Israel. So (just thinking out loud here), IF the OT law actually discouraged violence more than we often assume (I still don’t think Moses goes as far as Jesus here, but…) and IF Jesus’ “corrections” (cough, cough) of Moses were really a correction over a wrong application of the law and not the law itself, then there could be logical grounds to assume that Jesus may actually allow for Exod 22:4 to be maintained: “If you happen to kill a burglar who breaks into your home after dark, you are not guilty. But if you kill someone who breaks in during the day, you are guilty of murder.”

      Is this what you’re saying Adam? I’m not sure I totally agree with it (there’s tons of stuff in the law that Jesus didn’t bring up in his teaching, like stoning kids who curse their parents (Exod 21:17), but I don’t think this means that Jesus was cool with this.

      Nevertheless, I’m still wrestling with this, Adam. Thanks for bringing it up. It may provide subtle Scriptural vindication for the stuff I said in post 5.

  12. Don’t take this too seriously but – why does everyone always assume that you would have to kill the “gunman at the door”? Shoot him in the foot, people! Protect your family *and* preserve a life.

    Also, on a more serious note, I don’t find the issue of unprovoked attack to be that “hypothetical” – not for women at least. Rape is something settled so deep in our consciousness that we battle the fear of it on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

    • Ya, you don’t have to shoot to kill. But if he’s got a gun already pulled, blowing his big toe off would probably only force him to shoot back:)

      And BTW, “hypothetical” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t or won’t happen. It’s a “hypothesis,” not a fable. It just means that I’m not describing something that has actually happened to me. It’s similar to the so-called “case laws” of the OT. (“If an ox gores your neighbor, then…”)

  13. Hey Preston, just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss the questions I addressed to you a little ways up (they’re that awesome!). Not really, but I am interested in your thoughts. Feel free, of course, to totally disregard them. You’ve put plenty of work into this already.

  14. Preston,

    Thanks for allowing me to join in; I’ll gladly respond to your points/questions:

    Your first point was “(1) the NT’s use of messianic-warrior texts (Ps 2, Isa 11) usually (if not always) reverses the warrior logic, interpreting the “warfare” motif into conquering the nations with the gospel. Psalm 2 in Acts 4:25-26 is case in point, as is Ps 2 in Rev 2:27-28 and Rev 12:5 (less explicit) and 19:15 (less explicit).

    RESPONSE: Acts 4:25-26 quotes Ps. 2:1-2 not Ps. 2:8-9. Revelation 2:27-28 does refer to Ps. 2:8-9—with regard to the reward to the overcomer. We are not to the reward stage yet; this occurs after the “bema” and our glorification. Rev. 12:5 simply states that Christ is to rule with a rod of iron. Rev. 19:15 see below.

    “(2) is Jesus’ robe covered with blood those whom he has slaughtered, or is it his own blood?”

    RESPONSE: The text reads: “Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,”

    “(3) Is the “sword” coming out of his mouth (19:15) a literal sword (ouch!!), or a metaphor for the word of God by which Jesus will just the nations? (Judgment does not necessarily mean violence).”

    RESPONSE: I think everyone understands that symbolism is involved with the sword. What is the symbolism? Here is what we find in the immediate context:

    17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.”
    19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. 21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

    Certainly sounds like the work of a warrior-King, does it not?

    As someone just getting to know you and EBC, I took the time to read the EBC doctrinal statement. It clearly affirms the millennial reign of Christ and connects Revelation 19:11-16 with the warrior-King of Zechariah 14:4-11.

    “We believe in the personal, imminent, and premillennial coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for His redeemed ones and in His subsequent return to earth with His saints to establish His Millennial Kingdom (I Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1:10, 5:9; Zechariah 14:4-11; Revelation 19:11-16, 20:1-6, 3:10).”

    Is this no longer what is being taught at EBC?

  15. Andrew,

    I read the article you linked. The author was out to kill two birds with one stone: destroy premillennial dispensationalism, which is foundational to that portion of the EBC doctrinal statement quoted in my previous post; and interpret the book of Revelation in a manner that supports his pacifistic view-world.
    Quoted from your link:
    More troubling is the extent to which Revelation is fascinating larger numbers of contemporary “evangelical” Christians, especially in the United States, who have made the “Premillennial Dispensationalism” of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882; British preacher) a central part of their faith … there has not been a strong enough voice to challenge the increasing acceptance of the dispensationalist way of reading it.

    Is it time for other Christians to wake up and add their voices to the mix? If that would happen, they would find that there is a more recent trend in the interpretation of this mystifying book that may be even the most surprising yet: seeing Revelation as a call to nonviolence — a 180 degree turn from the Left Behind version. . .

    For those who see the New Testament as a call to nonviolence, being able to interpret the Book of Revelation as part of that overall message depends primarily on a strategy of seeing how Revelation takes violent apocalyptic imagery from the Hebrew tradition and means to subvert it from within, primarily through the dominant actor in Revelation, the Lamb slain. Laboring to offer a thorough-going interpretation from the perspective of nonviolence is admittedly not an easy chore, but it is one that has been taken up in recent years.

    Yes, it will be an uphill climb as Revelation is full of the wrath of God.

    I like the title of Gorman’s book “Reading Revelation Responsibly.”

    I learned long ago that all Scripture is read responsibly only by means of the literal, historical, grammatical method of interpretation and paying very close attention to context.

    • Robert you understood his aims quite well. Those facts don’t argue for or against the veracity of his view though. I’m glad you are committed to that kind of hermeneutic though. So am I. Gorman’s book will be a good resource for you especially with that kind of high view of Scripture. If you are really into researching Revelation exegetically more in depth than Gorman’s book (his is more of an intro–but it’s a superb intro!), then I suggest Richard Bauckham’s Theology of Revelation or his (massive) book The Climax of Prophecy (I’m still not all the way through that one…I need to revisit it).

    • Robert,

      Just to clarify, nowhere does EBC claim to be dispensational. It still has a premillenial statement, but as you know, there are a thousand different types of premillenialism–from Ladd to Saucy. Most of us would resonate more with Ladd’s premillenialism. But we at EBC focus on Biblical Theology and not systematic theology, so those systems are hardly ever discussed.

  16. Preston,

    Thank you for this very helpful clarification. I see now that the doctrinal statement, which seems to imply, but actually neither requires nor defines, an interval between rapture and advent— could be read either from a dispensationalist viewpoint or from that of Ladd’s. Your clarification also explains/confirms many other things observed in the recent series.

    Given the importance of the kingdom of God to the present issues being discussed, I could make no better contribution than to highly recommend Alva McClain’s classic “The Greatness of the Kingdom”(1959 BMH Books).