Top

In Response: Thoughts about Jesus, Peace, the Atonement and the Way of the Cross

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : December 4, 2006

In a comment to a recent post, God is a Warmonger? Jesus is a Hippie?, my friend Luke writes:

It appears you are saying that post-Calvary, God does not need to punish wickedness with violence (killing people through the Israeli army or direct means), because he relates instead through the redemption of Jesus. I don?t want to take too much of your time, and of course will manage your own time in responding, but will you elaborate your argument for me, provide supporting Scriptures, or especially point me to Christian literature that makes the same argument you are making, please?

Here’s my initial response:

There are lots of passages in the New Testament that support the idea of pacifism. If you are interested in those, I’d encourage you to start here and then go here. But you asked specifically for how the cross changes God’s relationship with humanity. Just to clarify, I didn’t say that there is no need for God to punish wickedness with violence anymore. I said “If Jesus took the evil of humanity upon himself on the Cross, then there is no longer a need for God to punish the wicked with the Israeli Army.” I am willing to explore the idea that God will never do anything violent towards humanity again, but that takes the concept of hell of the table (or at least significantly challenges the conventional understanding of hell). I’m not sure if I am prepared to go that far. But I am willing to go so far as to say that God doesn’t call his people to do violence any longer. I think the links I offer above give a better argument for this than I am currently able to offer.

But I want to focus on the way in which the atonement changes the divine-human relationship. Romans 5:12-21 teaches us that Jesus became what we are–human–in order that we might share in what he is–the true image of God. By our participation with Christ, we not only experience “new birth”, but also a death to the power of sin. What seems most important to Paul is not that the Cross provides atonement for past transgressions (though it does indeed do this and Paul does indeed argue for this as well), but that, by sharing in Christ?s death, we die to the power of sin, with the result that one belongs to God. We, the people of God, participate in Christ’s death WITH him and are now dead to the Fallen world and part of a new humanity.

Colossians 2:13-15 tells us: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” The cross is a victory over God’s enemies. Ephesians 6 tells us that we no longer battle against flesh and blood “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

The Cross seems to be a turning point in human history, not simply because those who believe in it (Jew or Gentile) no longer have to go to hell, but rather because it opens up a new way of relating with God and being human–centered on Christ. We, the People of God, are called to follow Jesus and his Way. When we see what Jesus did on the cross as the purging away of our wickedness (instead of primarily the appeasing of God’s wrath) and find in the writings of Paul that Jesus has opened up for us a new way of being human and relating with God, and when we find Jesus telling not to resist evil doers but to love them (Matthew 6, see also 1 Thess. 5.15) or that since his kingdom is not of this world, his servants would not fight (John 18.36), then it is hard to see how God would ever use his people to do violence ever again. The battle has already been won. We, God’s people, now battle against cosmic powers and love our enemies. Because of the victory of the Cross, we no longer are called to destroy the wicked.

* * * *

Well if this is the case, how are we to live within a nation and a world where violence and power are used all of the time to secure rights and protect the innocent? In a recent comment, my friend David writes:

I think the issue here is whether Christians can participate in the administration of the sword/rule of the state and whether the state can have a death penalty for some offenses as part of its mandate of using evil means to constrain human evilness.

I believe Xtn participation in the right administration of the sword of the state can be done in ways consistent with our mandate to overcome evil ultimately with good, though there is risk to it.

As for the death-penalty, it is only justified if it deters deaths and that is an empirical question that we oftentimes do not have the proper evidence to decide. See here for my pragmatic proposal for anti-death penalty advocates.

Indeed this is an issue. I personally believe that a Christian cannot participate in the administration of the sword/rule of the state. THis is why I am a sort of “soft” Christian Anarchist. Whether or not the state has a death penalty is up to the state. God raise up rulers and brings them down. He is Sovereign. But the People of God must embody the alternative, not use our voting numbers to bring about the sort of change we should be bringing through our kingdom embodiment. Jesus refused to be made king or judge (John 6:15; Luke 12:13, 14). The New Testament never speaks to the government, and very rarely to Christians as a part of the government, but always to the Christians about the government. Romans 13 presents a challenge to this view, I’ll grant. But the passage doesn’t say anything about participation, but submission. Supplemented by 1 Peter 2, then there is plenty of room for a non-violent, non-participatory Christianity. By no means am I advocating a form of passivism. We should be engaged with the world–prophetically and compassionately. We need to embody a bold witness of loving resistance.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of JesusManifesto.com. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He and his wife Amy have been married since 1997. They are expecting their first child in April.


for further reading . . .

Comments

6 Responses to “In Response: Thoughts about Jesus, Peace, the Atonement and the Way of the Cross”

  1. Luke on December 4th, 2006 9:50 pm

    Thanks, Mark. I’ll be studying. You should know I’m pestering you because I want you to win me over to pacifism because it agrees with the Biblical Jesus, whom I prefer to the cranky OT God. And then one day I hope to reconcile Jesus and the cranky OT God in my heart and mind. :)

  2. dlw on December 5th, 2006 12:56 am

    Indeed this is an issue. I personally believe that a Christian cannot participate in the administration of the sword/rule of the state. THis is why I am a sort of “soft” Christian Anarchist.

    1. This also shd be applied to the administration of corporations and businesses who rely on the sword of the state for the protection of their property rights.

    2. What if such administration serves to make the sword wielded less arbitrarily and more effectively in discouraging human evilness and thereby attracts people to the Xtn faith?

    Whether or not the state has a death penalty is up to the state. God raise up rulers and brings them down. He is Sovereign.

    God orders authorities. God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean that part of Christian freedom lies in how we choose to relate to the state.

    But the People of God must embody the alternative, not use our voting numbers to bring about the sort of change we should be bringing
    through our kingdom embodiment. Jesus refused to be made king or judge (John 6:15; Luke 12:13,

    dlw: nice strawman, but it’s a bit musty and overused. Gee, now that we can vote, we don’t have to worry any more about loving our neighbors!

    I’d be concerned about misusing scripture as such. We’re not talking about being made king by force or establishing a theocracy to judge all legal disputes. We’re talking about whether the principle “no taxation without representation” is consistent with loving our neighbors as ourselves when we realize that we are bounded in our ability to love our neighbors and limited in our understandings of their needs.

    14). The New Testament never speaks to the government, and very rarely to Christians as a part of the government, but always to the Christians about the government.

    dlw: Everytime they said Christ is Lord, the dominant political ideology of the NT times was being subverted. The desacralization of the state is a key part of modern day policy analysis.

    And Jesus did critique severely the Jewish rules that he had voice wrt, as well as the Temple the base of political-economic power in his region.

    Romans 13 presents a challenge to this view, I?ll grant. But the passage doesn?t say anything about participation, but submission.

    Submission includes participation. When you submit to an authority willingly, you will alter the manner in which they wield their power and thereby participate in how the Sword of the state is wielded. Submission is never is a one-way power street, though it has some asymmetry to it.

    Supplemented by 1 Peter 2, then there is plenty of room for a non-violent, non-participatory Christianity. By no means am I advocating a form of passivism. We should be engaged with the world-prophetically and compassionately. We need to embody a bold witness of loving resistance.

    Once again, nonviolent submission to authorities does not by anymeans preclude participation in legal change or change in the specific authorities. It just does not follow.

    Christian freedom permits us to innovate in the ways we self-sacrificially act on the behalf of others as we also may act on behalf of ourselves as a group. The key is to value changing our opponents’ hearts so that temporary alliances will not be entrenched and there’ll be guaranteed continuity on reforms made, regardless of who is in power.

    dlw

  3. Van S on December 5th, 2006 2:55 am

    dlw, I just simply disagree with what you are saying. I can’t see how to integrate the subversive politics of Jesus with full participation within democracy. I don’t think we should completely avoid any and all participation, but it should be profoundly restrained. Submission by no means requires participation–at least not in the conventional sense. Jesus submitted to the authorities on the cross, but that isn’t “participation” in the way most people use it.

    There is indeed a strong connection between political participation and nonviolence…at least at the national level. I don’t advocate full non-participation.

  4. dlw on December 5th, 2006 12:31 pm

    What do you mean by full participation?

    It’s hardly impossible not to be subversive in one’s strategies for political action.

    I don’t know what “profoundly restrained” means either. My pov is that at the end of the day, we need to make sure our measured time spent preparing for participating in politics ultimately helps our witness to others.

    Submission requires acceptance of the unequal decision-making powers. It does not abnegation of what participation we are permitted, though as Christians we need to be disciplined in this regard so that we do not make the capture of the state an idol.

    Jesus’ death at the cross demonstrated that human justice/order is an ugly necessity that it shd not be prettified or extolled, but neither shd we pretend that we can somehow avoid it.

    The issue is not whether we get political, but whether we deliberate on how we act politically to make it complement our greater purpose of the advancement of the kingship of God.

    dlw

  5. Van S on December 5th, 2006 2:15 pm

    dlw,

    I think we have some agreement on this–I am simply more restrained in how much involvement we should have within the American governmental system.

    Submission doesn’t necessarily accept unequal decision making–if by “accept” you mean condone. Jesus didn’t accept injustice on the cross, he gave himself to it in a way that defeated it. That is what I am suggesting we do–not to condone injustice (which the State is based upon) but to suffer as we nonviolently embody the sort of life we would have all live–even if that embodiment is illegal.

    I see so much of political involvement these days a “necessary evil.” While we are all enmeshed within the system, much to my dismay, we must resist complicity whenever we can. What it comes down to for me is this: I don’t want to endorse or encourage any act of intentional complicity with a necessary evil.

  6. dlw on December 5th, 2006 2:43 pm

    I see it as in continuity with Daniel 2. We are to accept that there will be powers in power. Right now, we are in the last divided kingdom stage that is an unstable mixture of iron and clay(aristocracy and democracy). The rock that is to bring the end to tyranny is Jesus, but the anabaptist approach is not the end-all-be-all to the politics of jesus, particularly with its totally depraved/ irreversibly pagan view of the state.

    It’s not something that can be settled once and for all, what it means to follow Jesus in disciplines and suffering. What Jesus did on the cross defeated injustice by slaying its head, but the body is still kicking and we, after the deep scars of the 30 years war, have become too easily legalistic in dealing with injustices in a nonviolent manner that does not entail us lording it over each other.

    So don’t endorse, be upfront with how you view political involvement as a necessary evil and the fallible nature of the choices you and your community are making, but do help get the debate going on the house church model for political activism!

    dlw

Got something to say?





Bottom